Sunday, October 31, 2010

I just read Michael Pollan's excellent Food Rules - it's a quick read, and full of the kind of sensible nutrition advice that we should all abide by. One of his "food rules" was: eat all the junk food you want... provided that you cook it for yourself. It takes a lot more time and energy to make a batch of ice cream than it does to dash out to the bodega for a pint of Vermont's finest, so you probably won't be inclined to whip up a batch of mint chocolate chip more than every once in a while. (Which, of course, is about how often one should be eating ice cream.)

While I'm definitely not ready to follow all of Michael Pollan's advice to the letter, I think he has an excellent point with the cook-your-own junk food thing. I've been on a Kraft mac and cheese jag lately, and it's really not good for anyone. (And especially not for anyone who's hoping for leftovers, since I can totally dust one of those boxes by myself with astonishing speed.) Solution? This homemade broccoli mac and cheese, which requires barely more time or effort than opening up a packet of neon orange cheese powder.

I set a small pot of water on the stove, then cooked the shells in the boiling water while the broccoli steamed in the steamer insert. In a separate pot, I whisked together a few teaspoons of butter and a tablespoon of flour to make a roux, then added a few cups of milk, a generous pile of shredded cheddar, four slices of American cheese and some salt and freshly ground pepper. By the time the cheese melted and the sauce came together, the pasta and broccoli were both done. Ta da!

And the best part? This is so satisfying and filling, there were actually leftovers to tuck away in the fridge for a hungry boyfriend. Homemade junk food, more satisfying than the "real" thing? Michael Pollan, I think you're on to something!

A simple weeknight dinner: brussels sprouts cooked in bacon grease and olive oil, topped with shavings of ricotta salata and a runny poached egg. This could also be an awesome brunch dish - I'm pretty sure that Maialino serves a similar dish for breakfast, and it covers all the important brunch bases: eggy, cheese-y and bacon-y.

And another one: homemade chicken fingers, maple-glazed carrots and mashed fingerling taters. These carrots were gorgeous - all purply-orange and bright yellow. The awesome purple color didn't survive the peeling and cooking process, but whatevs - they're still pretty, right?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Where the hell did October go?

It's crazy... one day we're sitting in front of fans and air conditioners, sipping iced tea and eating gigantic, juciy red tomatoes - then, all of a sudden, it's fuzzy blankets, fall jackets and root vegetables as far as the eye can see.

I get really excited about fall vegetables, though. The first cabbage of the year might not inspire quite as much excitement as, say, the first ramps of the year... or the first heirloom tomato... but I really love our fall share. Squash and beets and carrots and yukina savoy... fall veggies have such lovely, intense flavors - and many of them are so versatile. Check out this pasta - just rotini, a bit of ricotta, some mashed butternut squash, a little salt and pepper and dinner's ready. I topped this with some bacon bits, but I think the bacon was actually a little distracting. Next time, I'll leave it off and just enjoy the sweet, creamy squash and ricotta by themselves.

Butternut squash is also delicious just by itself, with a little bit of butter and salt. And oh man, check it out - brussels sprouts! We didn't get any from the CSA this week, so I picked these up at the greenmarket. I tossed them with olive oil, smoked salt and maple syrup and then braised them in the oven with half a cup of water. (For some reason, I find that brussels sprouts come out best when they're cooked with oil and a bit of water - they get tender without becoming waterlogged.)

Ed is responsible for that gorgeous, pink pork roast. You think I could cook meat like that? Ha!

Though I can cook meat like this... a chicken breast, butterflied and dipped in egg and breadcrumb then fried in vegetable oil. I love chicken prepared like this, but it begs for a towering pile of vinegary greens on the side. Seriously. A chicken cutlet without a salad is like a Jersey Shore episode without Snooki.

And on the side, a leek and delicata squash risotto. This amazing recipe for risotto from Cooking Light magazine is always my basis for risotto adaptations. I've made it with tomato sauce and seafood, with mushrooms and truffle oil, with saffron and peas, and it's always spectacular. The recipe replaces some of the rice in a normal risotto recipe with chopped leek, which both lightens up the calorie count and provides a reliable way to use up the lone leek in our CSA delivery. This time, I added two peeled and roasted delicata squash and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Autumn, hell yeah!

And one final treat... I've been lusting over this Lenox pattern, Chirp, basically ever since it came out. I dig my cheap IKEA plates and all, but... OMG birdies! Flowers! Watercolors!

Lenox is just a bit out of my price range, though... so I figured these plates wouldn't be seeing the inside of my cabinet for a very, very long time. But then the other day, while I was slogging through the chaotic aisles of my local Marshall's, I came across a treasure trove of Chirp plates. Half price! I snatched up a set of two dinner plates and two salad plates and ran for the registers as fast as one can run when one is carrying four pieces of bone china that, together, cost more than her entire current set of dishes, flatware and glasses put together.

But my heart still leaps every time I see them, and would you look at how pretty they make an apple look? Best investment ever.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Thomas Keller's fabulous Ad Hoc at Home is one of my two coffee table books. (The other one is the French Laundry cookbook. Yeah, in case you couldn't tell, I have sort of a thing for Thomas Keller.) Keeping it in the living room, rather than banishing it to Cookbook Alley in the kitchen, serves two purposes: distracting many of my guests (since this cookbook is like foodie crack) and insuring that I flip through it often enough to keep the recipes in the front of my mind.

Looking through it this morning, I noticed a leek bread pudding that would make excellent use of the single leek in my CSA share, as well as the half loaf of white bread leftover from last week's meatloaf dinner and the cup of heavy cream leftover from last night's ice cream sundae craving. (Come on, if you're making a chocolate sundae, you might as well do it right and whip your own cream. Am I right?) Anyway, I didn't have a ton of bread - or a desire to be eating leek bread pudding all week - so I reduced the recipe by about half, and added some caramelized onions and sage to make it nice and Thanksgiving-y. (You could totally get away with serving this instead of stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner. I couldn't get away with that, though, since my mom's corn stuffing makes folks drive across the country just for a single spoonful. It's spectacular, for real.) I also swapped out the Comte cheese for Parmesan, since that's what I had.

Leek Bread Pudding
(adapted from Ad Hoc at Home)

8 slices of white bread, sliced into cubes
1 c. heavy cream
1 c. whole milk
2 eggs
salt and pepper
one leek
half of an onion
2 T butter
2/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
3 large sage leaves
small bunch of chives

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Slice leek into 1/2 inch rounds. Slice onion lengthwise into strips. Melt butter in a small saucepan, then add onion and leek and cook over medium-low heat until caramelized.
Put the cubed bread into an 8 x 8 baking dish. Add 1/3 c. cheese and the chopped herbs. When onion and leek mixture is done, add it into the dish and mix slightly.
Combine the cream, milk and eggs with salt and pepper in a bowl. Pour this mixture over the bread cubes and let everything soak for about ten minutes. Then add the other 1/3 c. cheese. Pop it into the oven and cook for about an hour. The pudding is done when puffy and golden-brown.

We got the cutest little baby carrots from the CSA this week, which I peeled and cooked with brown sugar, butter and a bit of water until the carrots were tender and glazed. Alongside the leek bread pudding, they made an awesome little early-fall Saturday brunch.

A few weeks ago, we picked up a real bounty of husk cherries from the CSA. I love these little things - they look like miniature tomatillos in their husks, but they taste intriguingly like vanilla and pineapple. I ate tons of them out of hand, but I knew I had more than I could just take down on my couch, so I preserved them in a medium syrup and stuck them in the fridge. They taste super delicious on vanilla ice cream; something about the vanilla and the creaminess really brings out the flavor of the husk cherries. And aren't they pretty?

And finally, a really simple salad: roasted beets, diced apples and crispy bacon in a mustard and herb vinaigrette. Bacon makes everything better. So do beets. And so do these crunchy, tart Greenmarket apples. Apparently we've been having a fabulous year for apple growing - every local apple I've had in the last month has been really uncommonly great.

Sometimes the simplest stuff really is the best.