Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Baby (bok choy)!

Happy New Year Readers!

It's almost a brand new year! I know I never told you about our Thanksgiving fun, brining the turkey. I also realize I haven't said a peep about our Feast of the Seven Fishes at Christmas. Here I've been, dropping the holiday ball, but I promise that I will catch you guys up on everything, it has been mostly delicious!

But here we are, about to ring in the new year, and I have something quick and easy to share. I am hoping to stop by a couple of lovely parties this evening, but I am not sure what the actual food plan is besides snack foods, so I wanted to have something substantial in my stomach before the wine starts to flow, and I had a bag baby bok choy in the fridge. Et Voila! Brown rice and bok choy.

Lamb Shank Stew With Tomato and Butter Beans

It is an all too rare occurrence that my co-blogger and I cook and eat a meal together. But a few days before New Year’s, we found ourselves free of plans. Serendipitously, I had a pot full of lamb shank stew that I had planned to serve over rice, and Alyce was…making rice. It was totally like I was a crocodile and she was that bird that picks food out of its teeth, or something. So, Alyce jumped in her car to come pick me up, I threw my pot into a canvas shopping bag (have lamb, will travel!), and we proceeded to have the best impromptu dinner party ever.

How, gentle reader, did I come to have said pot of stew in my possession? Well, the previous night, I had made tomato soup (recipe to come, sooner or later) and grilled cheese sandwiches (with fancy artisanal bread from Brooklyn Victory Garden and Kraft singles from Met Foods) for myself and The Rob, and prepped this lamb stew for later in the week. See, on weeknights, I like to throw together something quick for that night’s dinner (say, pasta) while simultaneously pre-cooking something that can be reheated another night. Cheap cuts of meat like lamb shank and beef short ribs take a long time to slow-cook but require zero maintenance while doing so, and serving them on the next night or two is actually preferable because (a) the flavors develop that much longer and (b) during overnight refrigeration, a layer of fat congeals at the top of the liquid and can be easily skimmed off before reheating.

So, here’s how to put this dish together. It takes time management (you want it to cook 4 hours on night 1) but very little hands-on time.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Dinner 2011: Beef Tenderloin and Nostalgia

Christmas Day, we drove up to my grandmother’s house in Western Massachusetts—where she always cooked Christmas dinner for the whole family when I was growing up—and my mom, the Beez, and I cooked Christmas dinner for the whole family. Though I have fond childhood memories of making E-Z-Bake Oven mini-cakes and baking cookies with my grandmother (I was particularly excited by her pizzelle press), this was the first time I’ve ever actually prepared a meal in her kitchen.

Our mission was to update some family Christmas classics, which include a hodgepodge of Middle Eastern influences (we’re of Assyrian descent—look it up) and 1950s Americana. So, on the appetizer table was pre-cooked shrimp with cocktail sauce straight from the jar, alongside stuffed grape leaves and spinach-feta-phyllo triangles. However, we skipped the canned-peas-with-meatballs-in-tomato sauce that was a vile annual staple of the holiday dinner table, and the Kool-Whip-and-God-knows-what-else-based frozen green pie for dessert. And since Aunty Olga was out of town, there were no Tollhouse cookies for the first time in my memory.

As is customary, we overdid appetizers—but this year we were shockingly conservative on desserts, with only two for seven people (compare with Thanksgiving). For the main course, we eschewed my grandmother’s usual entrĂ©e excess (we’re talking a roast turkey, a ham, roast beef, and maybe a lasagna thrown in for good measure) for a single beef tenderloin.

The tenderloin was cooked to perfection (we cut it with butter knives) but a little overwhelmed by the flavor of the smoked paprika I had carelessly overused in the dry rub. Everyone assured me it was good, but I imagine Tom and Padma might have sent me packing for that paprika-palooza.

In any case, here is our Christmas Day menu:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Favorite Christmas Cookies

Gentle reader, this recipe isn’t an original, but I keep coming back to it year after year. This holiday season, if you care enough to give your loved ones something homemade (read: can’t afford/are too late to actually buy them presents), this Martha recipe has everything going for it: It combines the classic holiday-treat flavors of chocolate and gingerbread for an unexpected twist while remaining fully in keeping with tradition; and it keeps and travels well for at least a week or two, pretty much without crumbling or breaking.

The one original spin I put on them is to use M&Ms, sometimes the mini red and green ones, in lieu of the chocolate chunks, to make them look more festive. (And I use regular cocoa powder since that’s what I keep in the cupboard.) Oh, and rather than have the actual shreds of fresh ginger in the cookie, which can have an annoyingly fibrous consistency, I grate the ginger into a bowl—maybe a little more than the recipe calls for—and squeeze the liquid out into the butter.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Leftovers Love: Chicken Tetrazzini

What exactly is tetrazzini? In order to use up leftovers, I made a variation on what I thought its main constituent parts to be—turkey or chicken, pasta, cream sauce, peas, and mushrooms—only to look it up after the fact and learn that there is no actual consensus on what exactly it consists of. (Also, that the dish was named after the opera singer at left.) So my variation was as good as any—not to mention being a quick and hearty reworking of leftovers to the tune of $3 in new ingredients.

Backstory: Monday, I made roast chicken, which I had marinated in Brooklyn Lager topped off with some chicken stock, rubbed under the skin with Old Bay and garlic powder, and stuffed with a sliced clementine and a head of garlic for flavor infusion. While the chicken rested, I made pan gravy with the drippings and more chicken stock plus a little of that beer brew. Also, I made frozen peas and Stove Top. (As regular readers may recall, the Rob loves his Stove Top.) This was a very satisfying meal, and also I made a very flavorful stock out of the chicken carcass.

Fast-forward to this evening (is this an action-packed saga or what?!): I purchased a bunch of parsley, an 8-oz. package of mushrooms, and a box of linguine—which frankly I should have already had on hand, but for once I was out of dried pasta.