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Posts Tagged ‘dinner’

Incredibly Edible

Yep, this is a picture of my kids in Paris. Paris, France. A couple years ago when my husband was between jobs and the kids were still young enough to miss school, we spent a winter and spring skiing and living in France. But my family’s travels are really not the point of this post. (Although I must say, there’s nothing like a couple months in a the markets and cafes of France to wean the little people off mac-n-cheese and chicken nuggets; so what if the kids discovered baguettes and chocolate chaude, France was still a turning point in my family’s culinary life.)

What is the point here: eggs. I think the French make the best eggs in the world. Ever since the first time I went to France, I’ve loved those little omelettes they serve in just about any cafe or brasserie. (And yes, I know Les Deux Magots is touristy, but to me it’s still the epitome to Parisian literary cafes — and they make damn good eggs.) It seems like the worst omelette in France is better than any of the overstuffed, football-like behemoths you get in American breakfast joints. The French versions are creamy, delicate, and just the perfect size. And believe me, I’ve tried to recreate them many, many times over the years, and always failed.

Then I went to cooking school and — voila! — les oeufs were the subject of our very first lesson. If we had done nothing but chat and drink wine for the rest of the course, I would have gotten my money’s worth. So now I am thrilled to say that French omelettes are not just for European family vacations anymore; they’ve become a large part of our weeknight dinner rotation. With a simple salad (and French bread, mais oui), they are about the perfect meal, even for finicky kids like mine. Yes, you have to cook them one at a time, but they only take about two minutes each.

Here’s how to make les oeufs parfaites commes des Francais:
First, get yourself an 8-inch nonstick pan and protect it with your life. I’m not normally a huge fan of nonstick pans, but for this purpose nonstick is crucial and will probably save your some tears. If your 8-inch pan is old or scratched, get a new one. It doesn’t have to be expensive because you won’t be using it for high-heat applications or anything else actually. Don’t use soap on it, avoid contact with all utensils except a rubber spatula, and store it wrapped in a dishtowel.


French Omelette

Ingredients:
3 large eggs (These will be much better if you have free range, organic, very fresh eggs.)
1 pat of butter (unsalted best)
1 tbs. shredded Gruyere cheese (Any kind of cheese you like will taste great, but this is traditional; you really only need about 4-5 strokes over a cheese grater’s worth here, so splurge on the cave-aged kind if you can find it.)
Salt & pepper
Chopped fresh herbs or herbes de Provence (optional)


Get all your ingredients out and ready to go; this is a very fast-moving process. Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat lightly with a fork; add a pinch of salt. Put the butter in the pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted and gone from foamy to not, pour the eggs into the pan.


Immediately begin stirring the eggs with a rubber spatula and keep stirring them the entire time. When very soft curds begin to form (about 1 minute), you can slow down, let your eggs rest briefly, and sprinkle them with the cheese, pepper, and herbs.


Lift the pan off the heat. The eggs should be very slightly solidified but still very moist. If there are bits that are completely uncooked, tilt the pan and let the egg run over to the edge to cook slightly. The goal here is to have the eggs just cooked but not browned on the bottom at all.


Tilt the pan over a (warmed is nice) plate and use your spatula to fold the top third over, then gently slide the omelette onto the plate, folding the last third back on itself to create a roll.


Eat immediately. (Just like most eggs, they taste crappy when they’re cold.)

Some variations: My son, being a bit of a pain, likes “stuff” in his omelettes (and who am I to turn down a kid’s request for vegetables?). So for him, I first chop and saute whatever veggies I’m using, then set them aside, proceed with the omelette-making, and add the stuff when I add the cheese (after I’m done with the stirring). We’ve made versions filled with diced red peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, and carmelized onions. If there’s any ham or cooked bacon around, that’s obviously a nice addition, too. Me, I love them straight up.

Bon appetit!

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I called this "weirdly satisfying" because it's really just a big bowl of carrots.

As a kid, I loved Cup-a-Soup. Remember those red boxes of dehydrated noodles, cardboard chicken cubes, and powder? Of course the ingredients list includes some real winners, including Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oil, MSG and Autolyzed Yeast Extract (whatever that is, it doesn’t sound too good). Still, when I was 15, this seemed like a good choice, and I suppose it was when you consider most of my friends would sneak to McDonald’s for lunch.

I still love soup. However, nowadays I gravitate to simpler, fresher varieties, like this delicious carrot soup. With six ingredients, it’s a far cry from Lipton’s science experiment concoction, but it’s so thick and satisfying, I don’t think you’ll miss those chicken cubes.

When making soup, it’s important to take your time and allow the flavors to build at each step. Don’t worry, that sounds a lot more complicated than it is. Simply stir, taste, add salt if necessary, then move on. The onions and butter really bring out the carrots’ sweetness. This soup makes a great family supper (with some French bread of course), and it’s also great as a light yet filling lunch. I totally crave it. If your kids like carrots, they’ll love this. If not, well the same recipe works with broccoli or corn.

The big, fat organic carrots with the leaves still on them are usually freshest; they don't languish in plastic bags before you buy them.

Simple Carrot Soup

Ingredients
4 tbs. unsalted butter (organic butter tastes better)
2 onions, diced
1 bay leaf or a pinch of dried thyme (if you happen to have it, toss in one sprig of fresh thyme)
2 lbs. carrots, peeled and sliced into 1″ pieces (again, buy organic if possible)
salt & freshly ground pepper
6-8 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock)

If you haven't done so already, teach your kids to use a vegetable peeler. It's fun!


In a heavy pot (like a Dutch oven), melt the butter and add the onions and herbs. Cook over medium-low heat until the onions are translucent and very tender, but don’t brown them, about 10 minutes. Add the carrots and a pinch or two of salt. Stir well to coat the carrots with the butter, then cook for about 5 minutes. Add stock, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the carrots are tender but not mushy (about 30 minutes). If you want to puree the soup, transfer it in batches to a food mill or blender, or you can do what I do and stick an immersion blender in there. My method makes a soup that’s partially pureed but not smooth. Check seasoning and add salt if necessary. Serve with a healthy grind of fresh black pepper (I’m not sure why, but this step is crucial; the pepper really sets off the carrots’ flavor I guess).

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This is comfort food — not in the same sense as mac ‘n cheese of course, but anything sitting on top of a steaming bowl of sushi rice is comforting in my book. Sushi rice is completely satisfying and very filling. Its gluey deliciousness is worth an occasional departure from brown rice (although short-grain brown rice would also work for this dish) — especially since sushi rice is a key part of what’s referred to as the healthiest diet on earth.

This recipe is from Nigella Lawson’s book Kitchen. The only changes I made were to use chili paste instead of the finely chopped red or green chiles Nigella called for. Plus, I cooked a bunch of broccoli to serve with it. Broccoli works great with the slightly sweet and spicy Asian flavors here, and I definitely felt like the dish — and my kids — needed a veggie. Green beans would also be good, or asparagus. I like that the meal is customizable and can be deconstructed for any kids’ food issues (er, I mean tastes).

The most comforting thing about this dish was that everyone in my family loved it. Especially me.

Salmon with Sticky Rice

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups sushi rice (You can buy this in bulk at Whole Foods; I recommend making more than this because you’re going to crave it for lunch the next day.)
1 lb. slab of salmon without the skin (preferably wild salmon; remove the skin with a knife if necessary)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tsp. red or green chiles, diced (I used Sambal Oelek red chile paste.)
2 tbs. minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tbs. mirin or sake (Nigella called for 2 tbs. of each, but I just used the mirin. Mirin is a sweet Japanese rice wine and is usually easy to find in the Asian aisle of the supermarket; sake requires a trip to the liquor store.)
2 tbs. lime juice (about 1 lime, squeezed)

Cook the rice following the directions on the package (or bulk bin) or in a rice cooker.

Cook some broccoli (or green beans or asparagus spears or all of the above) in salted boiling water until just tender, 2-3 minutes, drain and set aside.

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and add a few drops of oil. Sear the salmon for 4-5 minutes on one side (if you’re using a stainless steel pan, the salmon should release fairly easily when it’s ready to be turned; don’t mess with it until then), turn it over and cook for another minute or so. The salmon should be just barely opaque and cooked in the center. Remove it from the pan and put it on a large piece of tin foil; make a loose package with the foil and seal the edges to keep the fish warm.

Mix the sauce ingredients together and put in a bowl to serve alongside the salmon and rice. You can serve this family style with the whole fish on a platter, which would make a nice presentation for guests, or divide the rice and fish (and veggies) into separate bowls according to your picky eaters’ specifications. I left the sauce off my daughter’s portion and added extra heat (I recommend trying sweet and gingery Lingham’s hot sauce; Sriracha is also tasty with this) to mine and my husband’s.

Tomorrow, leftover sushi rice with sauteed mushrooms for lunch! Mmmm.

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It’s extremely rare that I buy a new cookbook, bring it home from the store, and then cook a recipe from it that very day, with ingredients I just happen to have at home. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s never happened — until this weekend, when I bought Melissa Clark’s “In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite” at my kids’ school book fair.

I bought this book because I'm a fan of Clark's column — and because the cover made me drool.

I was planning on roasting a chicken for dinner. Usually I do this in a Dutch oven (a Cooks Illustrated method), and it works great. But I figured I’d check out what Melissa had to say on the topic, so I cracked open my brand-new cookbook with the chicken already sitting on the counter waiting. As soon as I read the title for the recipe, Garlic and Thyme–Roasted Chicken with Crispy Drippings Croutons, I remembered that a foodie and publishing friend of mine had recommended it a few weeks ago. Since I happened to have a day-old baguette (which I had bought with the intention of bringing it to my sister’s holiday party Saturday night and then forgot it), I decided to try it.

This is one of those brilliantly simple recipes that makes people like me want to scream, “Why didn’t I think of that?!” Basically, all you do is roast the chicken on a layer of bread. The bits of the bread directly under the bird get sort of soft and Yorkshire Pudding-y, and the pieces of bread that were cooked around the edges of the chicken end up crunchy and greasy like the best, chicken-flavored croutons you can imagine. For me, there is no higher compliment for a dish than to call it “delicious comfort food,” and this is definitely that. Plus, it’s very kid friendly and the whole thing took about 5 minutes, plus roasting time, so it’s a perfect Sunday dinner.

Yes, that's toast under there. Crispy, chicken-flavored, beyond-delicious toast.

By the way, I rounded out last night’s meal with some broccoli tossed with lemon and Parmesan and another recipe from Clark’s book, the Spinach and Avocado Salad with Garlic Mustard Vinaigrette, which was also delicious. I added a few butter lettuce leaves to the salad because I had them and I love butter lettuce with avocados, but stuck to her recipe for the dressing, which tasted better that my usual drizzle of oil and vinegar. I’ll post it tomorrow. This is the kind of cookbook — full of fantastic ideas and easy-to-follow recipes preceded by well-written anecdotes that are actually fun to read — that reminds me why I love cookbooks. Now, I think I’ll consult Nigella or Ina for something to do with last night’s carcass.

Garlic and Thyme–Roasted Chicken with Crispy Drippings Croutons (My comments are in italics, just so you know what’s coming from a New York Times food columnist and what’s from yours truly.)

Ingredients

  • Bread (I used a French baguette, but this would also work with whole wheat sandwich bread, leftover dinner rolls, or just about any kind of bread you’ve got, preferably a little stale) cut into 1/2 inch-thick pieces
  • 1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (4 – 5 pound) chicken, patted dry (Melissa doesn’t say this in her book, but get a happy, free-roaming chicken please; not only is it more humane, the difference in taste is remarkable)
  • 1 head of garlic, sliced in half through the cloves (you don’t need to peel it, at least I didn’t)
  • 1 bay leaf (oops, I forgot this)
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 bunch thyme sprigs (I didn’t have thyme so used fresh basil, rosemary, and parsley.)

The other half of the lemon went into the salad dressing.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (I did 400 degrees because my oven tends to run hot and I was a little nervous about burning the bread.) Lay the bread slices in one layer along the bottom of a heavy-duty roasting pan. If you don’t have a heavy-duty roasting pan (or are using a thin, dark or glass pan) try reducing the oven temp to about 375 and/or putting the roasting pan on top of a thick baking sheet when it goes into the oven; this is to prevent the bread from burning. Drizzle olive oil over the bread and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Rub about 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper inside the cavity of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the garlic, herbs, and lemon (I tied the legs together with kitchen string, but apparently this isn’t necessary.) and sprinkle all over with the remaining salt and pepper. Place the chicken, breast side up, on the bread.

Put this in the oven and something magical will happen.

Roast the chicken until it’s deeply browned and the thigh juices run clear when pricked with a knife, about 1 hour 15 mins. (Mine took about 1 hour 25 mins. at 400 degrees.) If at any time, the bread starts to smell burned or begins to smoke, use tongs to pull it out and discard it (just in case the pieces have some undercooked chicken juices on them), but let the chicken continue to cook. When the chicken is done, let it rest for 10 mins. before carving. Serve with the bread from the pan.

In the book, Clark follows this recipe for a variation using chicken parts and spreading the bread with mustard before baking. This sounds fantastic, too, and I plan to try it with the bone-in thighs I have in my freezer.

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Dinner for Two

In those carefree days before we had kids, my husband and I were quite the home chefs. Our courtship involved many ambitious meals prepared in my attic apartment’s tiny kitchen; and in the early years of our marriage, we put all the Wüsthof knives and Calphalon pans we got as wedding presents to good use making everything from paté, duck curry, and pheasant pie (his specialties) to grilled lobster tails with (labor-intensive but divine) potted mushrooms and  pasta with homemade Bolognese. Once, we made the best crab cakes I’ve had to this day. If I remember correctly, we made an entire meal out of those giant, seared-in-butter marvels. Besides cooking, we both love eating, which is a nice thing to have in common I think.

Those were romantic times (sigh). Now we have kids, and our meals are…different. Gone are the days of a leisurely trip to the market, looking for inspiration in the aisles of Wild Oats (now Whole Foods), opening a bottle of (good but cheap) wine, preparing a meal, and eating it at 8:30 p.m. (with more wine).

Well, not entirely gone. Last week we had the extremely rare circumstance of having a night home alone. Instead of going out, which has become a habit — you know, “date night”— we decided to eat in.This dinner is something my kids might have eaten, but I definitely enjoyed not having to worry about toning down the spice or slicing extra veggies in case they didn’t like the curried peas — and of course cooking and eating without a the bath-homework-bedtime crunch was a nice change of pace. I felt a bit like a person I vaguely remember, putting on lipstick before opening a bottle of (good and not cheap) wine, and cooking a lovely, if quick and easy, grown-up meal for a handsome man.

This is just delicious, by the way. It’s a combination of several recipes I’ve seen lately, all of which come from English womens’ cookbooks. Not sure what it is about the Brits and their peas…

Seared Scallops with Puréed Peas

Ingredients

1 lb. frozen peas (get the bright green petits pois if you can find them)
1 tbs. Thai green curry paste
1/4 – 1/3 cup sour cream
about 10 large sea scallops
1 lime
butter
oil
salt

Turn on your oven to its lowest setting and warm 2 plates in it. Cook the peas in salted boiling water for 3 minutes, drain. Put in the blender with green curry paste and 1/4 cup of sour cream. Purée in the blender until the peas are mashed but not smooth. Add salt of needed, and maybe a bit more sour cream.

Heat the 1 tbs. butter and 1 tbs. oil (I used a combination of olive oil and canola) in a large frying pan (not non-stick, you want a nice sear) on high heat. Cook the scallops for about 2 minutes per side until they are opaque in the middle but still tender. They should be slightly browned on the outside.

Put the scallops on the warm plates. Squeeze the lime into the hot pan, de-glazing all the stuck-on bits with a spatula or spoon. Mix well then pour the sauce over the scallops. Serve the puréed peas, and maybe some short-grain brown rice, on the side. There’s something about the combination of these tastes together that is just fantastic.

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