Category Archives: Food

A Life-Changing Chipotle Introduction

My winter obsession with cooking dishes that have some heat to them continues with this post of a Chipotle Chicken Pasta Casserole courtesy of Pati Jinich. A short while ago I tweeted Ms. Jinich for any ideas on what to make with chipotles in adobo sauce and she came up with a trio of dishes – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Señor Breakfast sandwich was an instant success (and I’ve made it a few times since then). Her recommendation for lunch was this Chipotle Chicken Pasta Casserole, recipe here

It’s a little more involved than I’m accustomed to making, but Ms. Jinich makes it doable and user-friendly enough even for someone like me. It begins with tomatoes and onion, which get cooked and blended with chipotles and adobo sauce to form a pungent sauce. Chicken thighs get browned in oil, then the dry pasta itself gets fried – an interesting twist that lends color and flavor and a delicious toasty smell to the proceedings. 

Once fried, the pasta then cooks in the sauce and some additional chicken broth, at the end of which it becomes a perfectly-rendered consistency and firmness. The chicken gets nestled back into the casserole dish, your choice of cheeses is added to the top, and it goes into the oven to slightly solidify. 

After it’s cooled for a bit, the all-important garnishes come into play – in this case some avocado slices, sour cream, and cilantro leaves for color. This casserole is so full of flavor, however, you need not indulge in anything other than the basic ingredients – they come together that beautifully. 

Many thanks to Ms. Jinich for pointing me in the direction of all these chipotle recipes. If I’m feeling especially brave, I may have to give her dinner recommendation a whirl: Honey Chipotle Ribs

As for this casserole, it’s perfect for a cold winter day, hearty and scrumptious and rich. Confession: I ate it for lunch, then dinner, and then again for breakfast the next morning. It’s that good. 

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Fon-Freaking-Due

When I was a kid, our family always went to the Ko’s for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and everyone would come to our house for New Year’s Day. It was an odd holiday – sort of a throwaway day that fell at the end of Christmas break – but my family hosted it religiously, and my Mom’s side always attended no matter how rough the weather. At those New Year’s gatherings, at least in the first few years that I remember, there was always some sort of sterno or fondue dish that required heating to keep it warm. We’d eat whatever good thing was in it using cocktail toothpicks, assembling a little collection of goodies on small paper plates and square cocktail napkins, the kind that didn’t absorb anything and were just thin paper underneath it all. While the food was good, it was the precious serving process that appealed to me, and that retro throwback of the chafing dish.

In recent years, I’ve started a new tradition around New Year’s involving fondue. It’s returned in some fashionable circles, and when done properly it’s a delicious hoot – perfect for small parties when you want something to do prior to dinner. Suzie and her family joined us for fondue the other day; we’d recently returned their fondue pot (a wedding gift that Suzie had loaned to us and never bothered picking up again) since Andy got me an electric one for Christmas. It worked like a charm, heating up almost instantly, then keeping things at the proper temperature throughout the evening.

I made a simple cheese fondue – lots of gruyere and swiss cheese – both freshly grated by my own hands, thank you very much – along with a Pinot Grigio. Any good dry white will work – though I was warned to stay away from Chardonnay as that overpowers the cheese. I rubbed the inside of the fondue pot with a clove of garlic, added a few teaspoons of corn starch to the cheese, and once the wine was bubbling slowly stirred it all together. It coalesced beautifully, and in quick fashion. I added a couple tablespoons of kirsch and it was complete.

The kids wanted it to be chocolate, but we’re not there yet. Baby steps.

 

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In the Grip of a Great Freeze

The less said about this cold snap, the better. 

The less said about this wind, the better.

The less said about the early days of this winter, the better.

Instead, I’ll focus on what we do when the world turns too cold to enter. In my case, it was a day of cooking and lounging, with quick excursions just to pick up some fresh mint and bread. One of the best meals I’ve found for a cold day is the shakshuka you see being assembled here. I’ve already extolled its virtues here, so I won’t repeat what a treat it is, but I’ll reiterate what a simple but powerful dish this is. The smoky spices lend an added heat to the proceedings, which is perfect for such a frigid day. 

To counterbalance this, and the early staleness of a winter that’s only just begun, there is a plentiful heaping of fresh herbs, including that aforementioned mint. Coupled with cilantro and parsley, it’s a bold bit of green freshness that proves itself more important than just a pretty topping. That’s something I’ve only learned in the last year or two. I used to think of fresh herbs and dollops of sour cream as rather precious and ultimately unnecessary accoutrements; in fact, they are integral to most dishes. Forget that sprig of parsley that we were raised on in American restaurants. This is so much more. 

So much of cooking is in the details, and I’m just beginning to learn that. Luckily, it’s never too late to get better at something, and to better yourself. So I chop up my herbs, I sprinkle my salt flowers, and I toast the bread, brush it with olive oil, and toast it slightly again. There’s nothing precious about it when the results taste so good. On a winter day, there’s a beauty to all of that. 

Outside, the wind raged. The snow drifted in cruel and vicious fashion. Inside, the oven glowed. When the eggs were finished I left the oven door open to seep into the rest of the house. It was a cozy day. 

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Perfectly Pati

My obsession with all things CreateTV continues with this post on the fantastic host of ‘Pati’s Mexican Table’ – Ms. Pati Jinich herself. Because of her, I keep a bowl of avocados on the kitchen table and now a stash of chipotle peppers (in adobo sauce) piled in the cupboard. Better than that, however, is the indefatigable spirit she puts forth on her show (available on Amazon as well). That spirit and grace is like a balm in these crazy times. I can’t tell you how many hours Create has spared me from watching the news – and it’s proved far more valuable in ways both practical and spiritual. Such as the Señor Breakfast Sandwich that Ms. Jinich personally recommended for my first time at the chipotle rodeo, and seen in these photos.

On a frigid morning right before the turn of the year, I stumbled into the kitchen looking for something hearty and warm, with a little extra kick to get me going. This breakfast sandwich, seen on Pati’s site here, was the perfect item. While I’ve always been a big béchamel fan, it was usually of eating them, not making them. This version used the chipotles in the sauce, and that made it infinitely more interesting. It was also super easy. While the sauce was coming together, I turned on the oven and began the sandwich assembly line. At this time of the year we have baked ham overflowing from the fridge, so I used two thin slices of that (so much better than anything found in the deli), then substituted Muenster cheese for the elusive Oaxaca. I added the béchamel and into the oven it went. A couple of quick fried eggs, some avocado, and a sprinkling of salt flowers later, and the sandwich was complete.

The taste that results from such a simple recipe is nothing short of astounding, and while I’ve never been a prodigy in the kitchen, this was definitely a showstopper. And so easy! I’m still in awe that such a thing of delicious beauty came out of our oven.

As for ‘Pati’s Mexican Table’ I highly suggest you give it a viewing if you need an escape, a delectable recipe, or simply a friendly smile. Her enthusiasm for family, food and friends is absolutely infectious, and her passion for cooking is a joy to behold. On to my next chipotle adventure…

 

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Chicken Soup Not Necessarily for the Soul

 

Who cares about the soul when your stomach is the one that’s growling? You’ve got to feed your body before you can feed your heart and mind. Even babies know this. Thankfully it’s soup season, and I’ve got the burner ready and the holy trinity chopped. Toss in some cheap chicken parts (bones intact) and you’ve got yourself a meal. I’ve been a homemade soup convert for several years – the ones you get in a can are too filled with unnecessary sodium and soggy noodles or rice. Try it on your own once or twice and you’ll make the switch too. (A hint from Lidia Bastianich on how to thicken soups: use leftover stale bread and pound it into a powder, then add to any soup for a thicker broth.)

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A French Toast Triumph

Egg nog.

Bring on the egg nog.

Preferably the Stewart’s egg nog, but in this situation any will do.

Last weekend Andy surprised me with this insanely delicious pile of French toast made with egg nog instead of milk, and the results were decadent and to-die-for. There is now no other way for me to abide French toast. It must be made in an egg nog batter.

Andy still knows how to make everything better.

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Shakshuka Splendor

When browsing the Asian Supermarket the other day, I came upon a quartet of duck eggs that I quickly snatched up and put into Andy’s shopping basket. (Hey, I did my part in carrying the 25-lb bag of jasmine rice, thank you.) Since happening upon a dish that utilized a fried duck egg, I’ve been on a subconscious hunt for them. Their richness is intoxicating, their yolks the stuff of sunny golden legend. They’re also a bit bigger than the average chicken egg, which surprises some people. Personally, I’ve never compared a chicken to a duck, and I have no plans to do so in the near or far future. I’m just glad I found a few of the unfertilized quackers for this culinary experiment.

  

 

When one needs inspiration on how best to make use of an ingredient, one cannot do any better than taking the advice of the guy who runs dp: an American Brasserie in Albany. It’s one of our favorite restaurants, so when Dominick suggested I make a Shakshuka with the duck eggs, I thrilled at the idea, then promptly looked it up online. I’m incredibly thankful I did.

 

Opting for this version from the New York Times (but omitting the feta cheese because I wanted my first time to be more simple), I assembled the simple recipe starting with an onion and green pepper. It seems that one of the tricks is to sauté them for a good 15 to 20 minutes, until they just begin to brown, and not stirring them much. A little burn on the veggies only adds to the flavor that will later be brought out by some of the spices (and another recipe I found suggests a heavier browning on all sides). Before things got too crazy, I parted the veggies and let the garlic do a quick mellowing in a hot spot. To this, I added the spices – (using smoked paprika instead of sweet), cumin, and cayenne pepper. This trio is key to the whole affair – that smoked paprika really brings out the browning. Once things were nicely blended, and the aroma turned heavenly, I added a can of tomatoes and simmered for another fifteen minutes until everything thickened.

 

Carving out pockets in the sauce for their placement, I added the duck eggs (and a standard chicken egg or two to compare and contrast) and let them simmer a bit before putting into the oven to finish up. They firmed up perfectly, with just enough runniness left in the yolks to spill out later on – my favorite part of any egg dish. Topped with freshly-chopped parsley, cilantro and mint (the latter lending it exquisite vibrancy), it was ready to be served. I took a bite with a bit of bread and my tongue had an instant orgasm. Try it and see.

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Rainy Dinner: Sushi at Shabumaru

It’s one of those places I pass en route somewhere else, in the go-through walkways linking Copley Place Mall with the Westin Hotel. When planned correctly, it’s possible to walk a great length in such covered fashion – a gift in the colder months of the year (and the hotter ones too). On this day that bled into evening, it was a way of escaping the rain and storms, which came hard and heavy in my last hours in Boston.

We’d had a filling lunch on Newbury earlier, so I just wanted something light, and I recalled a little place where they served Japanese hotpot dishes, but also some sushi. As the rain pounded down upon the windows, I sidled up to the bar and ordered two rolls – a Spicy Tuna and a Golden Lotus. I don’t even remember what the latter was about, only that it tasted good.

A rainy dinner, secluded from the bustle of the city, safe from the driving wind and wet, was the perfect ending to a brief Boston stay.

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Hot Tomatoes

This simple summer dish has a secret ingredient that more people need to know about: white balsamic vinegar. Coupled with a drizzle of olive oil (extra virgin, no sluts), some freshly ground pepper, a bit of sea salt, and topped with some lightly-toasted almond slices, it’s a glorious taste of the season. I garnished the plate with some herbs from the garden, but used them for scent and sight only: the vinegar, oil and tomatoes deserve to stand alone.

Summer demands such simple pleasures, and this one involves little to no work. My kind of dish.

 

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Halibut & Citrus

A simple sumer dinner on the grill can be had if you find a good piece of halibut and slice up some citrus. Here we have a grapefruit and orange salsa of sorts, with some cranberry-pear white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and fresh basil. Slicing off the bitter peel and dividing membrane is what makes this extra sweet, balanced by the tart, savory edge of the vinegar.

As for the halibut, I’m told the trick is not to overcook it – four minutes on one side and three and a half on the other was ample, and the result was a delicate and juicy piece of fish. A simple quick marinade of grapefruit juice, olive oil, fresh basil and salt and pepper (too long and the citrus can wreak havoc with the halibut) was all that it took to make a perfect meal.

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Fruit Salad

I am coming back around to the fruit salad, especially since eating healthier is one of today’s goals. It’s always been a favorite of mine, particularly in the summer months when so many things are ripe and fresh, but I rarely make one because I can’t face all that cutting and chopping. There is just so much cutting and chopping, so much sticky juice going all over cutting boards and counters, and blah, chop, blah, chop, blah… I’m over it before I even began.

If someone else wants to do it, however, and hollow out a watermelon with a melon-baller, I’m all in.

I just love a fruit salad.

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Boston Wedding Anniversary #7 – Part 6

After our wedding ceremony seven years ago, our dear family friend Elaine took us out to the Bristol Lounge at the Four Seasons for a wedding lunch. The meal was divine (they are known for some impeccable burgers) but what took it into stratospheric heights was a sky-high/mile-high/heaven-high chocolate cake. It was a multi-layered decadent experience that must have required its own course for how to slice it – so high did it rise. It was more than enough to feed every member of our party.

Ever since that moment, when we each took a piece of this decadent chocolate goodness, we’ve been seeking out such sweet salvation, but everything has proven elusively out of reach. Andy has come close a couple of times, but nothing could match the towering magnificence of that cake. It has remained a delicious memory all this time.

For our anniversary lunch, I settled in for an oceanic-slanted treat, beginning with the raw oysters you see here, and following it up with a lovely lobster roll (and truffle parmesan fries). We were slated to have a meaty dinner at Boston Chops later that evening, so I stayed seaside for my selection. Andy went with a spicy chicken offering for his choice. We looked out over Boylston to the Boston Public Garden. The rain had started up again, and our timing worked out perfectly. Not so much for the couple that was also trying to get married. Their party stood huddled beneath a makeshift white tent. (I will always be grateful for the beautiful day we were lucky enough to have had.)

As we were putting aside our napkins, our server appeared with the towering delight you see here. Someone had gotten wind of how much we had enjoyed this cake the first time around, and had been good enough to send out a new one for our anniversary. The Four Seasons has some fiercely impressive customer service, and I have to put out this public note of thanks and gratitude for such gracious and thoughtful gift. (I also sent them a traditional hand-written thank-you note because that’s my style, and it was the least I could do for such a wonderful treat.) We are not worthy, but we will spread word of this goodness as far and wide as we can.

It was a highlight of our wedding weekend, and it was a highlight of our 7th anniversary. Boston has always made us feel loved.

Our stomachs more than satiated, we walked back to the condo to prepare for our evening: an early showing of ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ at the SpeakEasy Stage Company, followed by cocktails in the South End, then dinner at Boston Chops. The perfect Saturday plan…

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Stuffing the Cabbage

Galumpki, Halupki, whatever-you-want-to-call-itpki – this is stuffed cabbage, and it’s one of those dishes that I tried as a youngster but didn’t instantly enjoy. I put it from my mind until a co-worker brought some in and I tasted it as an adult. What a difference. I enjoyed it so much I promptly went home and made some myself. (She used bacon in hers, which gave her the edge on taste; I was just happy mine stayed together.)

The hardest part (aside from sticking my bare hands into a bowl full of raw meat, eggs, and cooked rice) was getting the leaves off of the cabbage, though once I got the hang of it, things went smoothly. (The trick, after boiling/steaming a cored cabbage head, was to use a large carving fork and hold the cabbage on that while you delicately peel the steaming leaves off one by one. When they stop coming off easily, boil/steam for a few more minutes, following this process until you’re down to the inner part where they’re too small and crumpled to use.)

There are tons of variations on this dish, which makes messing up difficult to do. Those are the kinds of recipes I enjoy most: the ones with lots of room for error. As I mentioned, my co-worker put bacon in and on top of hers – and I will try that next time. For my first attempt, I wanted to focus on technique and simplicity.

They rolled up better than I anticipated, and the recipe I used called for the tomato/vinegar/sugar mixture to be poured on top of the rolled meat packages (I guess some people mix this into the meat mixture too).

They actually turned out decent. The biggest pain was the cabbage leaves, but with a little practice that should be simpler in the future. I’ll wait until fall to try them again, however, as they feel more like a comfort food.

Besides, with all the steaming and baking and twirling a cabbage head on the end of fork, I was sweating when it was finally done. Not the sort of scene for a coming summer.

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Fry Me A River

My parents gifted Andy and I with a deep fryer this past Christmas, and the past few weeks have been occupied with almost incessant frying expeditions – mostly of the potato sort. The main purpose of requesting this additional kitchen item (which we really don’t need) was to make French fries, and I think I have it down.

There are several tips and tricks gleaned from online looking that helped me out: the first step is to cut the potatoes as you like (but however you slice them be sure they’re a uniform shape and size for even frying), then soak them in water for at least half an hour beforehand. Dry them thoroughly then put them into a fryer heated to 275 degrees. Fry for five minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking. Drain and place on paper towels, then do another batch. (Smaller batches also ensure that the oil stays true to temperature (though this fryer automatically adjusts to maintain it). After allowing to cool, raise the oil temperature to 350 degrees and repeat, with another five minute coking time. Drain, place on paper towels, and immediately sprinkle with sea salt and preferred seasoning.

I served them with a choice of garlic aioli or balsamic vinegar ketchup. Each was divine. It’s the double frying step that seems to make all the difference. Andy got a little fancier, executing a delicious panko-encrusted fried turkey parmesan dish, as well as the eggplant parmesan pictured here. While this deep fryer is doing nothing to help my summer pool body, it’s more than merrily brought joy to my dining options. My next challenge may be one of the greatest: lumpia. It’s my party and I’ll fry if I want to.

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Southwestern Fare Flare

Though they were all over my TripAdvisor account, I neglected putting food stories up during my desert postings, so here’s a quick visual feast for anyone needing a dose of goodies. Needless to say, as one can easily see here, I ate quite well during my desert sojourn, and will bring some inspiration back for a couple of May meals. After all, May is for margaritas.

 

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