Sunday, January 30, 2011

Apple Cheddar Scones

Every now and then I come across a recipe that looks so delicious that I need to try it immediately. And still, somehow, it takes me a long while to get around to most of them (like this one). I saw this recipe on Smitten Kitchen back in October and knew it would be a winner, but didn't get around to it until last week (this was my second batch!). It's a little sad because I know how perfect this scone would be for the fall. But I suppose its flavor is hardly diminished by waiting until winter. Obviously we like them, since the best final product picture I could get had a bite taken out of it. You're lucky Jeff showed restraint - mine was half gone before I realized I hadn't taken the picture.

I'm a fan of scones, in general (the tender, flaky ones you make at home, not the hard, crumbly ones served at many cafes), and yet I rarely ever make them for myself. My grandmother loves scones, so I've gotten in the habit of baking them for her, and not saving any for myself. This recipe has assured that they will come up in my own rotation more often.

Apple and cheddar is such a great combination. I wasn't quite sure what to expect with these - would they be sweet or savory? My conclusion is that they're still sweet. Even the tartest of apples sweetens up when roasted, and the sugar inside also seals the deal. And yet there is cheese. The cheddar is the first flavor to hit your tongue (especially any cheese that's migrated to the bottom and gotten golden-brown and crispy). After that, there's tender butteriness and sweet apple. It's a good way to start or end any day.

The one part of the recipe that scared me off a bit was Deb's comment that these taste amazing the first day, ok the second and terrible the third. I didn't want to do all this work and end up with bad-tasting scones, so I have been freezing them and only baking what I'm about to eat. They freeze really well - just toss them right on the baking sheet and add a few minutes to the cooking time. That way you'll have the delicious right-out-of-the-oven flavor every time. The step I've been haphazard about is the egg wash. I did it the first few times, but I only remembered to sprinkle on sugar once. Since I wasn't baking them all at once, I put the egg wash in a tupperware in the fridge to use when I needed it. While this was a good plan, adding salt to the egg first was not. I think the salt caused the egg to spoil somehow - it was a terrible color the next day, although it smelled ok. I still didn't use it. This time around, I'm skipping the salt entirely and storing the egg by itself. But the long and short of this is that I can attest that the scones are delicious whether or not the egg wash is used. You decide whether you want to put in the extra effort for a golden-brown finish. For me, I think it will depend on how much energy I have and how many vessels I want to wash!

Apple Cheddar Scones
From Smitten Kitchen.

1 lb tart apples (the original recipe said 2, but I used 3 - definitely depends on the apple)
1 1/2 c flour
1/4 c sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp butter, cold and cut into chunks
1/2 c sharp white cheddar, shredded (the color may just be for aesthetics - I'm sure yellow would be ok)
1/4 c heavy cream
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Peel and core apples, then cut into sixteenths. (I estimated this - I don't have a corer, so I could not quarter the apple effectively - and it worked fine. My chunks were probably a bit smaller than called for.) Place them in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, until dry to the touch. Let cool completely.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Place small chunks of butter into the bowl of a stand mixer, along with cooled apple, cheese, cream and one egg. Sprinkle dry mixture on top. (If you don't have a stand mixer, I'd suggest cutting the butter into the dry mixture with a pastry blender and then stirring in the rest of the wet ingredients.) Mix on low speed until the dough just comes together. Try not to overmix - you'll get tough scones. (Yes, the dough is going to be pretty gooey.)

Flour the countertop and a rolling pin. Form the dough into a rough circle and then roll into a 6", 1 1/4" thick circle (I made mine a bit thinner and larger in diameter, so I could get more scones out of it).

Using a dough scraper or pizza cutter (at least, I think those would work best), cut the circle into 6-8 wedges. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet (not the same parchment as before). (If you intend to freeze the scones, this is where you should put the whole baking sheet into the freezer. Then, once they're frozen through, transfer the scones to a tupperware or wrap them individually in foil.)

When you're ready to bake some scones, beat the remaining egg in a small bowl with a pinch of salt (as mentioned above, I think this is optional, especially if you intend to save the egg wash). Brush the scones with egg wash and sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake 25-30 minutes until firm and golden (since I've been making one at a time and mine are a bit smaller, 25 minutes has been enough). You can cool them before serving, but I've been eating them right out of the oven!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Skillet Rosemary Chicken

I've been on a huge comfort food kick lately. I guess it's the cold. And the fact that it snows significantly every five to seven days (or maybe three to five days, judging by the current 10-day forecast). All of my meal choices seem to revolve around having a pot simmering on the stove for several hours (this may also be because I'm in love with my new Dutch oven - it's orange!): chicken cacciatore, beef stew, arroz con pollo, baked potato soup.

I know, I know - you want to know why I didn't blog about most of these. Sometimes one is so concerned with getting the stew in the pot so it'll be cooked by dinnertime that taking pictures falls by the wayside. And other times one takes meticulous pictures of, say, a baked potato soup that comes out more like mashed potatoes (the most delicious mashed potatoes ever, but not quite a soup). These things get filed under "next time."

But what I have for you today is better, in many ways, because it has all the comfort of comfort food in a fraction of the time. Roast chicken is awesome - simple, yet juicy and tender. Carrots and potatoes will soak up all the juices and flavor from the bottom of the pan. But it can take hours, depending on your chicken and your roasting temperature. And you have to handle a whole, raw chicken, which I find nasty.

Never fear, however. You can have all the benefits of roast chicken without all the hassle. This recipe takes about 40 minutes and the results are just as good as if it had spent hours in the oven. The biggest hassle, in my eyes, is portion size. It uses bone-in chicken breast halves, which are far too big for one person. I suppose they could be cut in half, if you had a meat cleaver and felt like butchering raw chicken. If you, like me, do not have such inclinations, you can be careful to only eat half. It's worked for me so far.

Skillet Rosemary Chicken
Adapted from Food Network.

3/4 lb small red-skinned potatoes
2 tsp kosher salt, plus more for potatoes
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, plus 1 tbsp leaves
1 clove garlic, smashed
pinch red pepper flakes
1 lemon, halved and juiced (don't throw away the juiced halves!)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 bone-in chicken breasts (the original recipe calls for four, but I found that two is plenty for my skillet)
3 carrots, cut into chunks

Preheat oven to 450°F. Quarter potatoes and put in a pot. Add enough cold water to cover. Salt and bring to a boil. Boil for ~8 minutes, until tender. Drain and reserve.

Pile rosemary leaves, garlic, 2 tsp salt and red pepper flakes in a mortar and grind to a paste. (Fresh rosemary is obviously going to work best here, since it will release oils which will contribute to the paste. Unfortunately, my rosemary bush is covered in snow at the moment, so I used dried leaves and some extra garlic for lubrication. It seemed to work fine.)

Transfer the paste to a bowl. Stir in the olive oil and half the lemon juice. Add the chicken breasts and turn to coat.

Heat a cast-iron (or other oven safe) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, skin-side down. Cover and cook ~5 minutes, until skin is browned.

Turn the chicken. Pile the potatoes and carrots underneath the chicken and drizzle with the remaining lemon juice. Add rosemary sprigs (again, I skipped this for want of fresh ones and it was still ok) and lemon halves. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast, uncovered, 20-25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the skin is crisp. Enjoy!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sweet Potato and Nut Salad

I made this yesterday primarily to use up some produce that I'd had around for too long. I remembered the recipe as a good one, but in the "good, solid option" sense, not the "I'll eat the whole bowl now, please" sense.

Apparently I was wrong. I was definitely inclined to skip the rest of dinner and chow down on this alone. But I'm still not sure why. There is nothing spectacular about this salad - in fact, the dressing still needs some tweaking - and yet the combination is just right. There is warm and cold, soft and crunchy, sweet and tangy. I think of sweet potato as heavy, but the celery seems to lighten it up. The vinegar in the dressing adds just the right touch. And it takes under 15 minutes to prepare (and I tend to prep really slowly). What's not to love?

Sweet Potato and Nut Salad
Adapted from my Simply Quick and Easy cookbook.

1 lb sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
4 1/2 oz celery root, grated
2 green onions, chopped
1 3/4 oz pecans, chopped (when I read the recipe this time, I read this as 1 3/4 cups, which I felt was too much, so I just poured in what seemed to me a more reasonable amount . . . probably close to the original 1 3/4 oz)
2 tsp fresh thyme (my thyme doesn't look so good right now, so I used a pinch of the dried stuff)
2 tbsp vegetable oil*
1 1/2 tsp light brown sugar*
1 1/2 tsp cider vinegar* (the recipe calls for garlic wine vinegar, but I can't find it at the store)

* The amounts for the dressing are all estimates, as I still haven't gotten all my proportions right. The original recipe called for 4 tbsp oil, 1 tsp sugar and 1 tbsp vinegar, but I thought this was way too heavy on the oil. I was unable to remove any oil when I realized this, but I did increase the other ingredients to about what you see here. I think it would be best with this amount of oil, but since I haven't tried it this way, I'd recommend tasting it and using your own judgement.

Cook sweet potatoes in a pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes, until tender (mine took 7). Drain and set aside to cool.

Stir celery root, celery, scallions and pecans together in a medium bowl. When the sweet potatoes are cool, add them too.

In a small bowl, whisk together thyme, oil, sugar and vinegar until well combined. Pour over salad and serve.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Buttermilk Chive Biscuits

I love biscuits! In fact, I love all bread. When I go to a restaurant that puts freshly baked rolls with butter on the table, I'm the person who needs to be forcibly restrained to ensure that others get some as well. I generally deal with my bread addiction by not buying tasty bread (I have tons of willpower at the grocery store, but it mysteriously vanishes once I get home). And while I have been baking my own bread, as you can see from this previous post, I'm not quite there yet. I can make decent white sandwich bread, but nothing I'm going to sit down and devour.

Except now I can make these biscuits: light and flaky with a lovely chivey aftertaste. This might be a problem.

These biscuits are easy. How easy, you ask? Well, I did them in the middle of making Sunday's chicken cacciatore (ok, so Jeff was monitoring the chicken while I threw these together, but it was still far less chaotic than I expected). Having a food processor to blend the butter and flour is key. As my food processor is new, this is the first time I'd done it and I couldn't believe how easy it was. What used to involve several minutes of frustrated annoyance with the pastry blender (and, ultimately, my hands once I decided the pastry blender was useless), now takes seconds for the food processor. I can't believe I only just discovered how useful these things are. It certainly made biscuit-making a breeze. And now that I know that I can throw these babies together in, say, fifteen minutes?

Let's just say that my diet might be in jeopardy.

Buttermilk Chive Biscuits
Slightly Adapted from Annie's Eats.

2 c flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
8 tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (just a note: I use unsalted butter for everything, so I don't always note when a recipe requires you to use it - for baking, unsalted is generally preferable)
1 egg
scant 1 c buttermilk (meaning, not quite a whole cup, but close - this recipe requires a cup of liquid, and the egg counts as well)
1/4 c snipped fresh chives

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line your baking sheet with parchment paper. In the bowl of your food processor, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Pulse to blend. Add the cold butter to the dry ingredients and pulse to blend, until the pieces are no larger than peas. (This can also be done by combining the ingredients in a bowl and whisking, then combining the butter with a pastry blender.) Pour the mixture into a separate bowl.

Crack the egg into a measuring cup and whisk it a little. Add enough buttermilk to bring the measurement to a full cup. Whisk in the chopped chives. Pour the wet mixture over the dry and mix gently until the dough just comes together, absorbing all the dry ingredients.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work area (I used a cutting board because my countertop was a mess from making the rest of dinner). Pat it into a disc about 1/2" thick (mine was more of an amorphous blob, but it worked - my dough was also a bit sticky still, so I dusted it with some extra flour to make it workable). Use a floured 3" biscuit cutter to cut out the biscuits (I obviously failed at this one - you might note that my biscuits are ginormous. I think I used the 4" cutter - hey, they're new! What do I know?).

Transfer the biscuits to your baking sheet. When you can cut no more biscuits, gently pat the dough into a new circle and continue until it is all used up (I ended up molding some of the final scraps into rounds in my hands - the dough was sticky enough for this to work).

Bake 12-15 minutes, until golden brown and fluffy (mine took about 20 minutes, because they were so large). Remove from the oven and serve!

The blog I got the recipe from suggests that these can also be made, shaped and then frozen. This way you can have fresh, hot biscuits whenever you'd like - just add a few minutes to the baking time (instead of thawing). I take the opposite approach. I froze some of the extras and will defrost them when my current supply runs out. I usually reheat them for a few minutes in my toaster oven at 300°F before serving.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Philly Restaurant Week: Cooperage

When Jeff realized that he had today off (this only happened yesterday afternoon, believe it or not), we decided it might be nice to spend the day in Philly. We've been compiling a list of nearby restaurants we've seen on various Food Network shows, and thought this would be a good time to try one out. But when I started looking at Philly tourism sites for things to do with the rest of the afternoon, I discovered that it's Center City Restaurant Week (Jan 16-21 and 23-28, if you're interested in checking it out).

Initially we had crazy plans involving both lunch and dinner at participating restaurants. Perhaps fortunately, the place we really wanted to try for dinner, Meritage, is closed Mondays, so we decided to limit ourselves to a single three-course meal today. This worked well, because the place we chose for lunch, Cooperage Wine and Whiskey Bar, was quite delicious, and I'm still pretty full.

Cooperage offered a three-course prix fixe menu for lunch: appetizer, entree and dessert. We deliberately chose different items so as to get a nice sampling of the menu. I think we made great choices, and even with six items there are still things I'd be interested in going back to try.

My BBQ Pork Nachos were the hit of the day. Sweet barbecue pork on a crispy tortilla with sour cream, a bit of Sriracha, fresh herbs, and grapefruit wedges. The grapefruit totally made it. I am actually not a huge fan of grapefruit on its own, but its acidity provided a beautiful (and quite unexpected!) compliment to the sweetness of the pork. And Jeff pointed out that the tortilla chip held together really well down to the last bite or two - which is good, because this was hardly a one-bite deal. I think you could make a light lunch out of this appetizer alone. The presentation was gorgeous as well, as you can see.

Jeff's appetizer was the Chipotle-Bourbon BBQ Wing basket. The sauce on the wings was very delicate - I definitely got a bit of sweetness and a bit of smokiness, but it let the perfectly-cooked chicken be the real star. The skin was nice and crisp (I don't usually eat skin, but I enjoyed it on these). It came with a buttermilk blue cheese dipping sauce. I can't comment much on this - I hate blue cheese and didn't enjoy the bit I tasted - but I think (and Jeff agrees) that the buttermilk does provide a nice twist on the usual blue cheese dressing.

My entree was the Pulled Pork Sandwich. I was a little disappointed that it was the same lightly sweet pulled pork from my appetizer, but honestly, who would expect them to make two entirely different batches of pulled pork? It's my fault I didn't like any other entree on the menu (I'm a very picky eater). But there were some differences. The brioche roll was delicious. I love a sandwich on a soft, squishy roll. The slaw was ok - I'm not a fan of mayonnaise and it was more mayo-tasting than any slaw I'd had in Memphis. The best part was the blackberry mostarda that was hiding underneath the pork. It lent a delicious fruity sweetness to the dish - I think fruit complements pork nicely, but I'd never tried it with blackberries. My criticism is that by the time I got to the end, the sweetness of the sauce and the fruit became a bit overpowering. I think it needed some heat to balance it out. The sandwich came with a pile of homemade chips sprinkled with salt, pepper and a little cayenne powder.

Dessert was the crowning glory of the meal. Jeff got the "Coopwich" - their version of a chipwich, but with absolutely wonderful oatmeal raisin cookies. The cookies were nice and hearty, with plenty of raisins and a LOT of cinnamon (and as everyone knows, cinnamon makes everything super-awesome). The ice cream was to die for. I inquired and learned that they get it from the Franklin Fountain on Market St. We're obviously going to have to hit them up sometime soon.

Sadly, I took a horribly blurry picture of my dessert, so you don't get to see it in its glory. Believe me - it was glorious. I had the Deep Fried Oreos. The menu said they were dipped in a homemade biscuit batter, but it definitely didn't taste like a biscuit - it reminded me of a waffle or funnel cake, although quite tender and delicate (not at all rubbery, like some funnel cakes can get). My brain didn't recognize it as an Oreo cookie - I think the batter was the star, though the cookie provided just enough chocolatey crunch at the end. The three cookies came with a scoop of ice cream. The menu said it would be chocolate, but I'm pretty sure it was mocha with a butterscotch ripple. It had delicious buttery notes and a subtle chocolate flavor, and by the time I finished it my mouth tasted subtly of coffee. It was a beautiful smooth and creamy ice cream with great flavor.

To top it off, this place is only a block and a half from Independence Hall and the other tourist sites, where we spent the rest of our day. If you're ever in the area doing touristy things, I would definitely recommend checking this place out. Creative, delicious food in a stylish but casual atmosphere: what's not to love?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chicken Cacciatore

It's good to be back in the kitchen.

The last month or so has been crazy. We've been out of town, at parties - eating everywhere but at home. But we're now back to our regular routine of cooking three to four times a week. Usually, that cooking includes two or three new recipes. When I put together the menu for the current week or so, I was obviously suffering from kitchen withdrawal, because every recipe on the list is new. That's ten new recipes in ten days. Today alone I did two of them.

This post is focusing on the entree: chicken cacciatore. I don't believe I'd ever eaten this before, but it looked like some great Italian comfort food. I've been yearning for something that I could leave simmering on the stove, filling the house with beautiful aromas. This was definitely it. First the house smelled browning chicken. Then like sauteed peppers and onions, then sweet roma tomatoes. And the flavors were as delicious as the aromas. The meat was fairly tender, although I think a longer simmer could make it fall-off-the-bone tender. The sauce was deliciously complex, with layers of flavor interacting: the garlic, the wine, the browned chicken skin, the delicious sweetness of the tomatoes, the fresh herbs.

What surprised me the most about this recipe was its lightness. When I put this on my menu, I expected a heavy Sunday dinner, but it was far from it. Now, part of that was due to our own reduction of the recipe. Jeff and I decided we had too many leftovers lying around and skipped the chicken breasts, which left out more than half the the meat. Also, I really should have put it over some sort of pasta (which is what I think I'm going to do with the leftovers tomorrow!). Still, a single chicken thigh with a thick, vegeabley sauce was exactly what I needed after weeks of sweet and heavy meals. And the buttermilk chive biscuit and roasted broccoli I served with it put it over the top. Don't worry - you'll get the biscuit recipe soon! 

Chicken Cacciatore
Courtesy of Giada de Laurentiis.

4 chicken thighs, skin-on and bone-in
2 chicken breast halves, skin-on and bone-in, halved crosswise
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 c flour
3 tbsp olive oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped (the recipe wasn't specific about this - I did a rough dice)
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3/4 c dry white wine
28 oz can diced tomatoes, with juice
3/4 c low sodium chicken broth
3 tbsp capers, drained
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 c fresh basil, chopped

Sprinkle chicken with 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper. Dredge in flour to coat lightly.

In large sautee pan, heat oil on medium-high. Add chicken to pan and saute until brown, about 5 minutes per side (do in multiple batches if necessary). Transfer chicken to a plate and set aside.

Add garlic, onion and bell pepper to the same pan and saute over medium heat until onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add toamtoes and juice, broth, capers and oregano.

Return chicken to the pan and turn to coat with sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Continue simmering over medium-low heat until chicken is cooked through (20-30 minutes).

Transfer the chicken to a platter. Bring the sauce to a boil until it thickens (3-5 minutes). Spoon off any excess fat. Spoon sauce over chicken, sprinkle with basil and serve.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Organic Food (and Mustard-Roasted Potatoes!)

You get two posts today. Lucky you!

Actually, it's because I never got around to finishing my road trip post yesterday. But you can still consider it a bonus!

So one of the things that has been on my mind lately is when to buy organic vs. . . . standard? (well, I certainly can't call it inorganic) food. I mentioned in my Christmas post that I've been reading The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer (the very controversial ethicist) and Jim Mason. Their book does not deal with personal health issues - it discusses how your personal food choices can impact those around you, including animals and the environment. I was astonished to see the impact factory farming has on our world. I know that organic food is healthier because it isn't treated with pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals, but the cost (especially of organic meat) is generally so much higher that I often balk (except in the case of organic milk - I haven't bought regular milk in ages because I'm afraid of rBGH and what it does to the cows, let alone me). But I think I am no longer going to balk at the cost. This book has shown me that organic food is not extra expensive - standard, factory-farmed food is artificially cheap. The money we save on our food is actually being paid by others - the child who cannot go outside without getting sick because of the nearby factory farm; the fish killed in the Gulf of Mexico when fertilizer run-off from thousands of farms filters down the Mississippi after spring planting; the animals themselves; the cows forced to live in crowded pens and deprived of the grazing and socialization that are their natural behaviors. A decision that I found difficult to make merely for my own health became a lot easier once I saw how many others had a stake in it. 

So when I went grocery shopping yesterday, I made a big effort to put my money where my mouth is. To be honest, it's a lot harder than it sounds. The above pictures are the result. On top are (most of) my standard groceries. On the bottom are the organic products. I shop at Wegman's, which is a better than average supermarket. They tend to have a wide selection of even hard-to-find international products, and their produce is excellent. Yet I was surprised at the number of products I could not find organic versions of. Some of that might be due to the season (like apples) or just the day of the week (the organic banana section was totally empty, but they were doing a lot of restocking throughout the store, so I chalk it up to that). I had always bought Wegman's brand organic milk, which is in the regular dairy section. But this time, I discovered there is a whole organic dairy section as well, carrying Organic Valley products, including cheese. While I have no specific problem with Wegman's organic milk, I cannot find any specific details about where it's from; Organic Valley, on the other hand, is essentially a cooperative of organic farmers (you should totally go to their website - they have profiles of all their farmers, which is almost unheard of in the industry - try to do the research and you'll see what I mean).

The thing that disappointed me most was the sparse selection of organic vegetables. While I do think Wegman's has a lot of organic options compared to other stores, most of the vegetables I needed this week had no organic option. I was especially concerned about the potatoes. How could a store with a twenty-plus-foot potato display have only one organic option? You see that small bag of red potatoes in the bottom right of the organic picture? That's all they had. I needed white potatoes, too, and had to buy the regular version. What is especially distressing about this is that I recently read something (I can't find the website or I'd share it) about the five vegetables that you should always buy organic (due to the quantity of chemicals generally used on them): lettuce, spinach, celery, peppers and potatoes. If my normal grocery store (and one I already drive several miles to get to, when there's a Shop Rite just down the street) can't provide this for me, I may just have to turn to Whole Foods. It might be pricier, but at least I can be certain they'll have the selection I want. And they're an ethical company as well, featured in Singer and Mason's book (seriously - what other company actually profit-shares with its employees nowadays?).

So, finally, my recipe. I used my organic potatoes, mixed with the regular kind, in a lovely mustard-roasted potato dish. This is one I've had bookmarked for awhile. I knew it would be delicious, and still took over a year to get around to it. It's funny, though, because Deb from Smitten Kitchen (where I got the recipe) said she did the same thing! I guess that's one of the down sides of stockpiling delicious recipes you want to try - you can't get to everything at once! I hope you try this more quickly than I did - it's totally worth it!

Mustard-Roasted Potatoes

nonstick vegetable spray (I used an olive oil one - and it's organic!)
1/2 c whole-grain Dijon mustard
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter, melted (wow - I totally forgot this and they were delicious anyway. Imagine if I'd included it!)
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (from half a lemon)
1 tsp lemon zest (from a whole lemon)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp kosher salt
3 lbs red-skinned and white-skinned potatoes, cut into 3/4" wedges

Position one oven rack in the top 1/3 of your oven and another in the bottom 1/3 (but not too close to the heat element or the mustard grains will burn quickly). Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray two large rimmed baking sheets with nonstick spray (I was generous with this and nothing stuck, but I think it caused the mustard grains to burn faster, so I might go a bit lighter next time). Whisk mustard, olive oil, butter, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, oregano and salt in a large bowl. Add potatoes, sprinkle with black pepper, and toss to coat (I did this with my hands - it's messy but effective).

Divide the potatoes between the two baking sheets, leaving any excess mustard mixture in the bowl (if you tossed it on there, it would definitely burn). Roast for 20 minutes, then rotate the trays and roast 20 minutes more, until the potatoes are nice and crusty on the outside and tender inside. Enjoy!

Road Trip: Memphis

Five days, 2300 miles, four new states. And even better, two winter storms avoided. January is not the best month for traveling, in case you weren't aware. Besides the possibility of bad weather, a number of the fun places to stop along the road are closed. Still, it was a good road trip.

One of the things I've learned about eating on the road is the delight of discovering local cuisine. I used to think local cuisine was a Cracker Barrel or a Waffle House (or any other chain restaurant not available in my area). Recently, though, I've tried to turn away from chains. I want to eat somewhere that serves fresh, scratch-made local food (this desire is possibly linked to my love of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network). Of course, unless I've done a lot of pre-planning, that isn't always what I get. But even a mediocre local place is generally just as good as a chain, and taking that risk is part of the travel experience.

On this trip, we did a bit of pre-planning to find some good places to eat. We looked through Food Network's resources (mostly Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and The Best Thing I Ever Ate) to see if we were passing anything promising. We also looked at some Memphis tourism sites to get ratings for area restaurants. We ended up with a short list of places we wanted to stop.

The first was from an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives that we watched back in the fall. They stopped at the Parkette Drive-in in Lexington, KY. We actually planned our route around staying overnight in Lexington so we could eat there. We had thought the plan had fallen through when we learned they opened at 11 am, so there was no chance of having breakfast. We had assumed we'd be in too late for dinner the night before, so we didn't even bother bringing the Parkette's address with us. But a change in our itinerary got us into Lexington around dinner time and we passed right by it on the way to our hotel (right after Jeff told me it was a big city and it was totally unlikely that we'd come across it accidentally). Jeff had their specialty poor boy sandwich, which is essentially a breaded and fried burger patty. I thought it was interesting, but much preferred my own meal, which was two thin burger patties with barbecue sauce and grilled onions in between on two slices of Texas toast. Don't get me wrong - it was greasy, but it was totally worth it. The grilled onions were to die for. And I believe our bill came in under $10. It was a fun retro diner experience with delicious food - I'd totally stop there again.

Since we were in the South, we knew we'd need to have some barbecue. We ended up stopping at the Nashville location of Neely's Bar-B-Q (yes, the Neelys from the Food Network - I am slightly obsessed with it). This time we had the address off of their website, but it turned out to be incorrect. But the food gods were on our side once again - as we were doubling back, I just spied it out of the corner of my eye, tucked into a corner of a shopping plaza.

 I'm glad we didn't miss out on this. Jeff and I had the same barbecue pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw on a nice soft roll. The pork was delightfully tender with a smoky sauce. The heat from the sauce built slowly as you ate it - my mouth was tingly by the time I was done. The coleslaw complemented it deliciously. And while it looks like my sandwich was going to be a hot mess once I picked it up, it actually stayed together and was hardly messy at all.

Although we'd already had barbecue, I knew I'd be missing something it I didn't get some ribs in Memphis. We'd intended to stop at a place called Charlie's Rendezvous, and some locals also recommended we go there, but they were closed for vacation while we were in town. Instead, we ended up at B. B. King's Blues Club on Beale Street (looking at the website, I see that they also seem to be a chain, but this was the original location). I expected a totally touristy place with mediocre food. And yes, touristy it was. But the food we had was phenomenal. 

This picture certainly doesn't do it justice (it was hard to get a good shot in such a dark, crowded place). I had a half rack of ribs with coleslaw, beans, and cornbread. Jeff had the same thing plus half a barbecue chicken. I know Memphis style ribs are dry, but I do love a wet sauce so I had them that way. I was still able to taste the spicy smokiness of the rub, which was beautifully complimented by the sweet sauce. The ribs were so tender that I managed to eat the whole thing with fork and knife, hardly getting my hands dirty (I'm sure I looked a bit prissy, but I hate sticky hands!). The beans were made using some of the barbecue sauce and were probably the best I've ever had. I would have been perfectly happy eating a whole plate of them for dinner. The coleslaw was a bit bland, but was fine when mixed with other items. The same for the cornbread - I thought it was really dry, but it was great for sopping up the sauce from my beans. And while we were eating, we got to listen to a great blues band. What could be better?

On the way back we stopped in Louisville, where our search for good local food was stymied. Apparently many major cities are dead on Sunday nights - the concierge at our hotel wasn't even sure many places would be open. We went to a street that was lined with (mostly chain) restaurants and, though many were open, they didn't meet our criteria. We both just wanted something light - I was hoping for vegetables in some form - and it's amazing how few restaurants can provide this. After a ten minute search in the freezing cold, we ended up at TGI Fridays where we could get the salads we desired. That's one good thing about chains.

Monday we drove all day - 8 am to 6 pm with only about 20 minutes of stops before we had dinner in Adamstown, PA. I had been in the area antique shopping once before and knew there would be something. We ended up stopping at Stoudt's Black Angus and eating at the pub. Since we were in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, I went for the grilled kielbasa (ok, so it's Polish, but I prefer it over bratwurst). It came with sauerkraut, sweet and sour red cabbage and German potato salad. It was delicious. My favorite part was actually the red cabbage, which the waitress said was made with applesauce. I'm going to have to try out some recipes for that because I could eat it by the jar.

So all in all, we had a great food vacation. We certainly benefited from our pre-planning, but also stumbled across some good local cuisine on our own. If you can look past McDonald's and Applebees (which is, sadly, all most of the road signs will advertise), delicious local food adventures await you. So next time you're on the road, don't settle for chain eating and let me know what you discover!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Christmas Goodies

I just wanted to let you know that I'm not dead. I've just been away, and am going away soon. Consequently, the meals I've had to cook over the last several weeks have primarily involved making do with whatever is on hand. Apart from that lovely cabbage from last week, I haven't exactly been making anything I'd wish to share with the world.

Today is case in point. I'm making a classic cheese lasagna. I've actually never made one before - I've only made two lasagnas in my life and both were the roasted vegetable kind from an earlier post. Today's version is not likely to be so spectacular, but it has already served its purpose in that I have used up a number of random food items left over in my refrigerator. I chose lasagna because I had most of a container of ricotta cheese languishing away. I added to that a tiny fragment of cream cheese and a slightly larger fragment of goat cheese. I also used up a jar of tomato sauce and half a bag of shredded mozzarella. Not to mention the leftover lasagna noodles (although I fell just short of using up the whole package). While I love trying new recipes that result in remarkably tasty meals, I also enjoy seeing that the leftover ingredients from those meals don't go to waste. That's what today's dinner is all about.

I also wanted to show off my Christmas goodies and hint at some of the delicious things I have in store for this blog sometime soon. I now have a full-sized food processor, which I believe to be the greatest tool that ever entered my kitchen. I asked for it because I thought it might be useful. When I watched the instructional dvd (yes, a dvd!), I realized that it will be indispensible. I look forward to never having to pick up a cheese grater again. Additionally, I have gained a Dutch oven. I've been wanting one for awhile now. When I walked into Home Goods a few days before Christmas and saw this gorgeous orange one, I jumped at it, despite having one on my Christmas list. Fortunately, no one got me that boring grey model so I get to keep the pretty one. There are also a cookbook, a number of new tart pans, some biscuit cutters and a quesadilla maker.

Finally, there's the book that I'm most excited about reading: The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason. My course reader contained an excerpt from this book - on factory farming - that I assigned last semester. Reading it certainly changed the way I thought about my food, although it has not necessarily changed all of my habits just yet. I felt that reading the whole book might give me even greater inisght into the impact of what I eat and how to make the best possible choices about food. So far, it has done just that, and I'm currently contemplating how to implement what I've learned. While it is, I'm sure, already falling a bit out of date (published in 2006), I think it's a worthwhile read for anyone who is interested in learning more about the ethical implications of the food we eat. If it has done nothing else, it has gotten me to significantly reduce the amount of meat in my menu for the upcoming weeks - something I'd wanted to do for some time with limited success.

So stay tuned for more regular blogging action next week, with some new tasty recipes and far more vegetables than I was able to rustle up in December.