Monday, November 30, 2009

Pasta With Leek Sauce

Mr. Bento bears two helpings of this treat today (accompanied by John's delicious parsnip and Parmesan soup -- recipe courtesy of one version of the New Covent Garden Soup Co. Book of Soups -- and 5 oz. of sardines in tomato sauce). It's a riff on a recipe from Chowhound, which in turn riffs on a recipe from Marcella Hazan. While I initially balked at the amount of butter and the lengthy cooking time, this turned out wonderfully -- this and the soup made for sweet, earthy dinner on a near-winter night (and of course, there were leftovers for today). My version below:

5 medium-sized leeks, white and light-green parts cut into 1/4" rounds (will use 1-2 more next time)
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 tbsp. butter
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/4 cup half and half (original recipe called for 1/2 cup heavy cream)
1 (13.2 oz) box whole wheat pasta (used penne this time)
salt and freshly-ground pepper
2-4 oz. (or more to taste) freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Clean leeks by soaking in a bowl of water or using a salad spinner. Remove excess water, but don't dry them too thoroughly.

Put oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic till it's just starting to brown. Remove garlic (I saved mine for roasting and having separately, but may try leaving it in next time).

Add leeks to the skillet. Sprinkle them with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, till they're extremely soft and almost meltingly tender (about 45 minutes - 1 hour). If they start looking dry, add 2-3 tablespoons of water at a time, then stir. Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted water till al dente.

NOTE: Since my leeks were already turning brown and we were getting hungry, I skipped this step. Turn the heat to high and cook the leeks till they're a pale nut color, flipping them occasionally.

Add half-and-half to the skillet and reduce for about a minute. Season liberally with pepper. Add cooked pasta to skillet (or transfer sauce mixture into pasta pot, whichever you prefer) and mix everything together; then, add a generous amount of grated cheese (enough to ensure a clingy, non-liquidy sauce) and mix again. Correct seasoning and serve.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Today's Bento

I've steamed other things in my rice cooker before, so I'm not sure why it took me so long to wilt young spinach leaves in a strainer while my sausages boiled. While the magic bag is definitely handy, I'll have to start timing various veggies in both the cooker and atop a boiling saucepan of something else.

So, today I'm having:
  • 2 lamb sausages (tasty on their own, but with a small container of spicy vinegar for added kick)
  • garlic steamed rice
  • baby spinach
They all fit together nicely in a square plastic container. I'll probably grab a banana at some point today as well.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bittman: 101 Make-Ahead Recipes for Turkey Day

Another list for the reference tag - not just limited to Thanksgiving recipes, either.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Today's Bento: I Know My [Roast] Chicken

Didn't bring Mr. Bento today - just two small plastic containers: one full of salad greens and homemade balsamic vinaigrette dressing, the other loaded with roasted chicken and vegetables (carrots, potatoes and a nice, plump clove of garlic).

Brining the meat for 24 hours (have to get the recipe from John at some point; he certainly knows both his brines and his chickens) worked wonders. The bird was tender and moist -- ever so slightly tangy but not salty (even the breast meat, some of which I packed alongside a wing for today's lunch). The herbed butter (about 2 tbsp. + 8 sage leaves + salt and pepper, chopped and mixed in a food processer) we rubbed under its skin beforehand probably helped too.

We roasted the bird - breast-down for the first 30 minutes - on a bed of potatoes, carrots, garlic and onions for somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half, basting occasionally, till the meat thermometer told us we could stop. As noted, the meat was very good; the vegetables, alas, were a bit underdone, but that was our fault for not chopping them into small enough chunks.

UPDATE: Brine recipe is here, and in the comment below.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lamb Stew with Dill and Root Vegetables

Yesterday was the first time I cooked with dill. Handling the delicate, feathery herb is such a pleasure, even when you're frantically stripping fronds from stems because you forgot to add the latter to the cooking lamb. Gathering up the loose cupful of leaves to chop tickled my palms and fingertips; the delicate, fresh scent brought back memories of a summer night in Portland and the mild, gentle Bloody Dane I had there.

Herewith, the recipe I used last night - a riff on one of Bittman's riffs. While the stew turned out a tad soupy, it tastes good - lightly flavorful, but filling - and will probably taste even better tomorrow. I can also reduce the sauce a bit later on.
  • 3 lbs. lamb shoulder, cut into 2-in. chunks (original: 2 lbs.)
  • 1-2 tbsp. oil (used vegetable, because that was closest to hand - original recipe doesn't call for browning)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped (original: 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 bunch dill
  • 5 carrots, cut into 1-1/2 in. chunks (about 1-1/2 lbs.; original calls for about 3 lbs. of any combination of root vegetables)
  • 3 potatoes, cut into 1-1/2 in. chunks (another 1-1/2 lbs. or so)
  • 2 cups of liquid (used a low-sodium beef broth this time; may use less next time)
  • salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Brown lamb chunks in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Remove and set aside.

Deglaze pot (I used a wee bit of cider vinegar and some broth, this time).

Strip the the leaves from a bunch of dill. Tie the stems together. Chop the leaves and set them aside.

Return meat to pot along with onions and dill stems. Season with salt and pepper, then add liquid. Bring to a boil, then cover, turn to low, and simmer till lamb is getting tender (about 60 min. in my case, but then again we were also playing Borderlands).

Add the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer over low heat till they're tender but not mushy - about 30-40 min., in this case.

When everything's done, stir in the dill. Correct seasoning, if necessary.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Noble Nombles

We visited George Washington's Mt. Vernon estate today. The house and grounds were beautiful; and the tours and museum exhibits were educational. But one of the best things I got out of the trip was a copy of Martha Washington's A Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, which I found in one of the gift shops. I'm only a few pages (and some random recipe browsing) in, but it's already an engaging read - as both a food history (both the introduction and the recipe notes are very well done) and an historical recipe book.

While I won't be preparing this dish anytime soon (though it sounds delicious), it turns out that humble pie began as anything but. As Karen Hess explains in her gloss of the recipe,
    [t]he humbles are the heart, liver and other organs of the deer. The word comes from Old French nombles...OED is firm; humbles is an occasional spelling of umbles, itself a later form of numbles....In due time, umbles became confused with humble, meaning meek or lowly. There is no basis for this in early culinary history. Indeed, noumbles was a royal dish, and recipes appear in The Forme of Cury, about 1390, which was compiled by the master cooks to Richard II. The earliest citing of humble pie in the figurative sense of suffering humiliation is given in OED for 1830. 
Though historian Richard E. Barkley has declared that "[t]o eat humble pie is in no way related to the food Umble pie," Hess hypothesizes that "[p]erhaps the substitution of pluck [the innards of any animal used as food] from other beasts, as evidenced in our manuscript, gradually lowered the status of the dish and so contributed to the figurative meaning, already prepared for by the homonyms umbles and humbles."

Herewith, the original recipe:
    Take ye humbles of a deere, or a calves heart, or pluck, or a sheep's heart; perboyle it, & when it is colde, shread it small with beefe suet, & season it with cloves, mace, nutmegg & ginger beaten small; & mingle with it currans, verges & salt; put all into ye pie & set it in the oven an houre; then take it out, cut it up & put in some clarret wine, melted butter & sugar beat together. then cover it a little & serve it.
Finally, here's the loveliest piece of humble pie that comes to mind.

UPDATE (24 Nov.): These charming, ambulatory nombles holders currently live on the Mt. Vernon estate:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Seasonal Bento

My lunch looks like fall, today: fluffy white rice; soft yellow-green sauteed artichokes, interspersed with golden-brown bits of garlic and garnished with a bright yellow lemon slice; dappled tan and Maillard-brown sausages, speckled with green inside. The most intense colors congegrated in the top container: deep purple and brown Nicoise olives, five dark green cornichons and two red waxen mini-wheels of Laughing Cow cheese.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chicken Cutlets en Papillote with Grated Vegetables

Last night was the first time we tried "poaching" chicken in parchment packets in the oven. John was skeptical at first. But, after tasting the long-cooked but still moist and flavorful meat, he vowed to "always trust the Bittman." The recipe below is based on the one in the first How to Cook Everything, but halved; where we varied, the original is in parentheses. Next time, I'll try using even more vegetables (and a larger variety thereof) - they cooked down to next to nothing, but were very flavorful. All in all, a satisfying autumn dinner (with scallion-topped couscous as the starch).
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken cutlets
  • skipped the slices of ripe tomato
  • 1-1/2 cups grated vegetables (original: 1 cup, though we'll want to use even more - this time, the veg were squash and onions)
  • 2 sprigs marjoram (original: 6 fresh tarragon leaves)
  • about 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • a few drops of balsamic vinegar
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Grate the vegetables.

Tear off a 1-1/2 to 2 foot square piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper (we were lazy and wrapped both breasts in one packet).

Place the cutlets on the foil/paper. Top with vegetables, then drizzle with oil and vinegar.

Seal the packages. Place them in a large baking dish and bake for about 20 minutes (took us more like 45 minutes); the chicken will be white and tender when done.


Yesterday's Brunch: Eggs Baked in Tomatoes with Basil

Last weekend, I bought two lovely, large tomatoes and 1/4 lb. of prosciutto di Parma specifically for this recipe, courtesy of Almost Bourdain. Thankfully, John's basil plants, which are winding down for the cold season, graced us with a few more leaves. Alas, we overcooked the eggs - they were more hard-boiled than poached - but this still made a tasty brunch. Next time, I may add a bit of pasted garlic or an anchovy to the paste to smear along the inside of the tomatoes.
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 2 strips proscuitto (or pancetta)
  • a small handful of basil leaves (we had 7-8 small ones)
  • 2 tsp. olive oil, more if needed
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (John's oven is more finicky, so we ended up more at 250 degrees).

Cut the tops off the tomatoes and remove their seeds. Set them upside-down over paper towels and let them drain for about 15 minutes.

Wrap a strip of proscuitto around each tomato and secure with toothpicks.

Smash the basil leaves into a paste. Add a bit of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Smear the mixture on the inside of the tomatoes.

Put the tomatoes on a baking sheet or ovenproof Pyrex dish. Bake in the oven till the proscuttio begins to brown around the edges (original recipe said about 15 minutes; took us more like 30).

Remove from oven. Break an egg into each tomato, then return. Bake till the eggs are done, but with runny yolks.

Serve with toast soldiers.