Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ricotta-Orange Bread With Orange Caramel Glaze

Gentle reader, if you are broke, learn to bake. Whenever you need a stocking stuffer or hostess gift, you can produce a lovely homemade goodie that makes it look like you were super thoughtful when in fact you just couldn’t afford to buy a real present. (I kid, I kid, family members for whom I baked this bread—the two are not mutually exclusive!)

This is a lovely bread for breakfast/brunch or afternoon tea; four of my relatives received a loaf in their stockings this Christmas. It’s pretty simple for a novice baker to whip up and takes less than two hours including baking time. I used the bread in this recipe as a starting point and switched it up. Yes, baking is a science, but once you’ve got some practice under your belt, you should feel emboldened to experiment with tweaking recipes to make them your own!

You can skip the caramel glaze if you like, and the bread would still be pretty darn delicious. I also made an unglazed version using lemon zest and a pint of coarsely chopped fresh blackberries (and no orange juice), all four loaves of which I gave to my grandmother. Grandparents genuinely do prefer stuff you made yourself to real presents—go figure.

A word of warning: If you DO make the caramel, PLEASE be careful since it gets INSANELY hot and will bond to any surface—such as, say, human flesh—instantly. I learned this the hard way and now have a hideous scar on my forearm where a blob of caramel spattered and seared it. Turns out there’s a reason chef coats have long sleeves.

And now, if that little cautionary tale didn’t completely ruin your appetite, here’s the recipe!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Company Chicken, Hold the Company

Everyone knows the Interwebs have revolutionized the life of the home cook, thanks to their bajillions of recipe indexes, how-to-videos, and dime-a-dozen food blogs by pretentious people from Brooklyn who have nothing better to do than take pictures of their meals and tweet about them. But recently, gentle reader, I found yet another way the Interwebs can be a boon to the home cook!

For some reason, The Rob had gone to the Met Foods and brought home three cans of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. I immediately had an overwhelming urge to pour one of those cans over something in a casserole dish, scatter bread crumbs over that something, and bake it. Then I remembered this awesome chicken dish I once watched his aunt make with boneless skinless chicken breasts and slices of Swiss cheese slathered in Campbell’s cream soup mix, which was DUH-licious and super moist. I posted on her Facebook page asking how she made it and her daughter/Rob’s cousin Sara right away snapped a photo of the recipe page in the cookbook and uploaded it to me. See? Awesome use of the Interwebs—and thanks, ladies!

The original recipe is called Company Chicken. It serves 8 and actually calls for cream of chicken, not mushroom, soup; you mix that with 1/2 cup wine white and pour it over the Swiss-topped chicken, then cover with stuffing mix and drizzle with butter before baking. I opted to soup up the recipe (“soup up”—bwaahahahaha! SWIDT?!*), not least because I had the wrong kind of soup. Here is what I came up with—which takes like 10 minutes to assemble! This would probably serve 4… though, ironically, we didn’t actually have company, so we had leftovers.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cheesy Egg Tortilla Bake

Hello and welcome to another installment of Ignorant American Fusion, in which I make up dishes that bear a slight resemblance to an uninformed ’Merickan’s image of a quote-unquote “ethnic” dish. In this case, I made an egg-cheese-tortilla bake that was sort of like a Mexican version of a strata, assuming of course that you are an ignorant American. It works to easily feed a group for a brunch, lunch or dinner. I’m still trying to come up with a good name for this, so if you think of one, please share in the comments.

So this entrée was invented the last time it was my turn to host wine book group. The way our book group works is, we meet monthly (there are usually 6 to 10 of us); everyone brings a bottle of wine; and the hostess provides the food and gets to pick the next book. A fair number of our members are vegetarians, so I wanted to do a hearty veggie main that could be prepped in advance and easily reheated. Since I was “hosting” at my friend Karen’s apartment due to renovations in progress at my own, I also needed something I could transport easily. This is what I came up with. (I also served black bean empanadas as an app, but that’s a whole nother post.)

I bought a package of 8-inch soft corn tortillas (I think 10 count), a jar of Goya sofrito (you could also use salsa), a block of Jack cheese, a block of what my Met Foods calls “queso de freir”—a melty cheese—plus a dozen eggs, and the kind of disposable aluminum roasting dish you might get to cook a turkey or lasagna in.

After preheating the oven to 375°, I greased the bottom and sides of the dish with butter. Then I cut the tortillas into wedge shapes and arranged a layer across the bottom of the pan.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Kitchen Tip: Make Chopping Garlic Easier

When you want to really chop the crap out of some garlic cloves so they form a paste or a fine mince, sprinkle the peeled cloves on the cutting board with some coarse salt. The grains will help break down the garlic and keep the bits from flying around the cutting board as you chop.

When I’m making a marinade with chipotle in adobo along with garlic, as I did tonight, I like to add the chipotle on top of the garlic/salt mix and mince it all together; again it makes the chopping easier to handle, and the flavors will become more mingled. It would be nice to be able to say that the salt serves as a buffer to keep your cutting board from getting stained by the chipotle, but alas, in my experience, any difference in the level of orange-tint saturation is of an almost imperceptible degree.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Roast Sausage With Brussels Sprouts and Sweet Potato

Gentle reader, I have already shared with you how every autumn, my grief at the passing of summer is tempered only by reminding myself of fall’s pleasures, including squashes, soups, pie, and the kickoff of the New York Rangers hockey season. Well, this year, thanks to the greedy bastards at the NHL and their lockout, I DON’T EVEN GET TO WATCH HOCKEY AND OMG PEOPLE THIS IS CLEARLY HENRIK LUNDQVIST’S YEAR TO FINALLY GET THE CUP FOR GOD’S SAKES AND THIS IS SO NOT OKAY, CAN WE PLEASE FIX THIS ASAP!!!!!!!! Ahem…so, my point is, I must seek consolation solely in autumn comfort foods.

Toward that end, I recently prepared a hearty and satisfying one-dish meal featuring Brussels sprouts—reviled during childhood, when my mom used to steam them whole, but beloved ever since I discovered them in sliced, roasted, caramelized form. Since it’s low-maintenance in terms of prep and cleanup, I often make this dinner for just myself using my trusty Le Creuset gratin pan (thanks, Mom—it made up for all those steamed Brussels sprouts!). But you could also multiply these proportions to feed a family or a crowd, cooking everything in a roasting pan or on a foil-lined baking sheet.

The below recipe should serve 2 people; if you’re both big eaters, add a loaf of crusty bread and maybe a green salad to round out the meal. Depending what sausage you use, this can be delicious with red or white wine or with beer.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Now That’s a Spicy Meatball!

Meatballs are one of those comfort foods that have lately resurfaced as a NYC foodie trend. But as with meatloaf, there is no earthly reason you should go to a restaurant and pay a 900% markup on something that is incredibly simple and quick to make with cheap ingredients at home.

I recently made a big batch of marinara sauce and a big batch of meatballs and froze both so as to have weeknight meals ready to go. The marinara, I decanted into plastic containers. And for the meatballs, I did this genius trick nicked from Everyday Food: Line a baking sheet with wax paper, form the balls and put them on the sheet like you were making cookies (pictured); freeze the cookie sheet; and once the balls are frozen, roll up the wax paper and stick it in a Ziploc bag. This way they retain their shape in the freezer—and they can be put directly into the oven without any prior thawing.

You can use ground beef, pork, or lamb for meatballs, but this time I had actually bought a pound of ground dark-meat turkey from the DiPaola farmstand at the Prospect Park greenmarket, where I usually just troll for free samples (the dark is actually cheaper than the ground white-meat turkey, which makes absolutely no sense to me because it’s more flavorful). Start by dumping this into a mixing bowl.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Ignorant American Fusion: Curry-Parmesan “Mexican Street Corn”

Welcome to a special Labor Day installment of Ignorant American Fusion: the school of cooking in which we ’Merickans attempt to emulate/reinvent/mash-up an “ethnic” dish with utter disregard for cultural authenticity.

Today’s recipe features one of the ultimate late-summer (and yes, it is still technically summer!) foods: corn on the cob. And it was not invented by me, gentle reader, but by The Rob’s brother. And it is as delicious as it is culturally inauthentic.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Leftovers Love: Brisket and Black Beans Over Farfalle With Avocado

Oftentimes, the thought of reheating an unfinished restaurant meal at home is only slightly more appetizing the thought of than regurgitating the part you did finish. Sloshing around in its to-go container, your perfectly plated entrée invariably gets caught in a landslide of crap and is no longer enticing. But I’m a believer in extricating the protein from said landslide and giving it a new life as a supporting player in a whole new dish.

This simple meal is effectively just a pseudo-Mexican spin on pork and beans, but I think it’s worth chronicling because it’s a good illustration of two of our core BGC philosophies: (1) There’s always a good meal waiting in your kitchen if you keep the right staples on hand, and (2) There’s always something interesting to do with leftovers. Also, it was really quite delicious. And it cost just $1 in new ingredients—for the bunch of cilantro, which I actually used only a fraction of, so it was more like 25 cents of new ingredients. As per (2) above, it behooves you to always keep on hand onions, garlic, pasta, and tomatoes in fresh or canned form.

First I sautéed some sliced red onion over medium-low heat in butter and a bit of olive oil. Then I tossed/mixed in a bunch of minced garlic, followed by some quartered grape tomatoes and a rinsed/drained can of black beans. While this cooked for a few minutes, I took a brick of brisket left over from a recent excellent dinner at Watty & Meg and shredded it into strips.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cream Cheese Pinwheels: Yes You Canape!

Normally, gentle reader, I feel a bit ripped off when a food magazine/blog or TV chef offers up a “recipe” that is in essence a glorified sandwich in disguise (*darts sidelong glance in Rachael Ray’s direction*). But did we mention the thing of how it’s, like, 105 degrees in Brooklyn right now? So I’m sharing what-passes-for-a-recipe for the light and refreshing lunches I've been making myself recently. This cream cheese pinwheel is a take on the kind of canapé a 1950s suburban hostess might serve at a Tupperware and/or cocktail party.

This works great to pack for lunch a night in advance, since the cream cheese acts as a buffer to keep the wrap from getting soggy (as regular readers may recall, non-soggy sandwich preparation techniques are a bit of an obsession of mine). You can pack the segments in a plastic take-out container so they look like a cute little suburban-America version of a sushi bento box, and they’re easy to eat at your desk without getting your keyboard too disgusting (also a recurring struggle of mine).

Monday, July 2, 2012

Chilled-Out Cucumber-Asparagus Salad

This, gentle reader, is the time of year when Brooklyn girls without central A/C or outdoor spaces with grills do not want anything to do with cooking. Thus it happens that I have not set foot in my kitchen (other than to get a cold beer out of the fridge, of course) in, oh, three weeks? However, I managed to prepare a light summer meal tonight without actually turning on the oven, and induced only a minimal amount of brow perspiration.

The entrée consisted of pan-grilled boneless, skinless chicken breasts (an extremely rare choice for me, as BSCB tend to get dried out easily and lack flavor) that I had pounded flat(-ish) in a Ziploc bag along with garlic cloves, and then marinated overnight in said bag, with a coating of olive oil flavored with salt, paprika, and said garlic cloves. Fairly ho-hum, right? That’s why this post is focused on the side dish, a super-easy cucumber-asparagus salad—chill to make, in both senses of the word—which would not-so-coincidentally be cheap and easy to multiply and bring to a 4th of July cookout/picnic/barbecue. (And yes, gentle reader, I actually prepared a dinner that did not contain carbs…it’s that hot!)

So, here's how this works.

I made something weird!

Hello readers!
So it's hot out. It's so hot that it seems ridiculous to call it hot. It's... Heht. So it's not really cooking weather I get it. It's "if I have to cook I don't want to heat up the kitchen, so let's fire up the grill" heht. Which is why it was so strange that tonight, in the heat, I felt like throwing something together that would require the stove top. And, like I said in the title of this post, I made something weird. I'm going to call it potato leek pasta, and you can just suspend your disbelief while I take you through it, because it came out pretty good!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Rice and Beans: The Second-to-Last Refuge of the Broke and Hungry

Gentle reader, on most levels, I am obviously not a food snob, as you have probably guessed from posts like this and this. But there are two meals at the bottom of the I’m-starving-and-broke totem pole that typically, I simply refuse to stoop to.

Now, as everyone knows, the last refuge of the broke and hungry is ramen noodles. (Which have actually turned into a Brooklyn foodie trend lately, making them also perhaps the last refuge of Brooklyn foodies, who have apparently run out of lowbrow foods like fried chicken and tacos to turn into trends...but I digress.) Eating ramen noodles, like carrying your toiletries into the shower in a caddy, is something you should not have to put up with after graduating from college. In fact, I didn’t even eat ramen noodles in college! And I’m certainly not going to start now.

So, you’ve probably guessed this from the post title already, but the second-to-last refuge of the broke and hungry—somewhat more acceptable after college, especially for vegetarians—is rice and beans. I know this is supposed to be the nutritionally perfect meal and all, but I don’t know, I’m always just like, waat-waah at the thought of it, the texture and color and flavor are all so monotone.

But on this occasion, I was inspired to make them because I had a leftover boneless pork chop and a half that had gotten overly dried out in the grill pan a few nights prior, and thought that they might be salvaged by cooking in liquid with beans. Also I had a can of black beans, onions, garlic, and half a pint of grape tomatoes that were getting a bit wrinkly. Also I was hungry and broke. And I achieved my goal of cooking a meal that required the purchase of absolutely no new ingredients!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Grilled Escarole With Pecorino

Escarole is a great green but one that I have never cooked myself before—in part, gentle reader, because I often have trouble distinguishing it from lettuce at the market. On this occasion, however, the escarole was clearly marked, and I thought it would be perfect grilled as a complement to the lamb chops and butter beans I was making for dinner. So I decided to take a chance on an escarole-grilling escapade, and it turned out delicious.

This side dish was actually inspired by a delicious small plate from The Vanderbilt—one of The Rob’s and my favorite neighborhood spots—consisting of grilled escarole, hazelnuts, and as I learned when I looked it up after dinner, “Pecorino Ginepro”—which I’d never heard of before but turns out to involve flavors of balsamic vinegar and juniper berries. I happened to have pecorino romano on hand, but no hazelnuts—they’re great in this, though, or you could maybe try some toasted walnuts.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Rigatoni With Sausage & Broccoli Rabe

This is one of your super-simple, quick weeknight one-dish meals. The balance of sweet, rich, spicy sausage with the bitter greens, the salty Parmesan, and the neutralizing pasta is a perfect harmony.

The secret to good broccoli rabe (or as we call it in our household, broccoli The Rob) is that you have to take the edge off the bitterness, either by “shocking” it in boiling water or siphoning it out into chicken stock or another liquid while sautéing. I find the former method to be more effective—as long as you don’t boil the greens for too long so they lose their crunch and flavor. It works great for pasta since you can just toss it into the same water.

Start by boiling a big covered pot of salted water. I like using one that comes with a lift-out colander basket, since it makes it super easy to lift out the broccoli rabe and then add the pasta into the same boiling water. But if you don’t have one you can use tongs to extricate it.

While you are waiting for the water to boil, heat a little olive oil in a large skillet or wide-bottomed stockpot over medium-high. Add a pound of loose sweet or hot Italian sausage—you can either buy it that way, or use a paring knife to slit the casings of a package of 6 tube-style sausages and “peel” them to extricate the filling.

Sauté the sausage, stabbing it with a wooden spoon to crumble it up into smaller chunks. (BTW, Stabbing to Crumble would be a great name for your new thrash-metal band. You’re welcome!)

When the sausage is cooked through (gray with brown spots; it’s okay if there are hints of pink still), lift it out of the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels or a brown paper bag.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Curried Brassica (what's in my fridge)

hi folks!
I had a crazy day at work today, and what kept me going was thinking about what I would make for dinner. For a while I've been wanting to thank all of you for reading here- writing this blog, thinking about food, cooking, and especially posting here, has made me more experimental, more willing to try throwing things together. By reading what my awesome co-blogger Kitty is working on, and cooking for you guys, I am getting better at combining ingredients to make flavors, and I really hope all of you have been finding the posts helpful in your kitchens. or at least finding them to be entertaining.

So I had a long day, and was looking forward to coming home to watch some JV-squad pre-playoffs basketball (Celtics beat the Heat again!) and sitting on my couch. I have been traveling a fair amount, and I had some things in my fridge that I wanted to use up, but was also (conveniently) craving. Namely, cauliflower. I came home with an idea about some crispy spicy cauliflower. I was picturing it kind of pan fried and browned. I was excited about this mental picture. I did not end up executing this mental picture. Instead, I ended up with a curry-sauced cauliflower and broccoli over orzo. What? How? Want to retrace my steps with me? I know you do.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Soft Shell Crabs!

Dear Readers,

There is a certain seasonal food treasure appearing in the market these days (No. I don't mean Ramps) that I cannot resist. My mother has been, is,and always will be my cooking guru. She loves softshell crabs. No I mean she LOVES softshell crabs. As a kid, she introduced me to their delicious briney taste, their amazing crunchy-poppy texture, and the fun of eating an entire crab- shell and all. whenever I see them? I think of my mom, and I have to them.

I left work at a reasonable hour this fine spring afternoon, and while running errands in Park Slope, Brooklyn, I passed by a little fish monger that looked like it had a nice selection. I went in, and not only was all of their fish beautiful and all fresh, they even had... wait for it... Soft Shell Crabs!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Good Catholic Girl's Marinara

Gentle reader, I have a most terrible confession to make. Once upon a time, in a dark hour, a moment of weakness I shall regret forever, I actually entertained the idea of...using red sauce from a jar. (I know! I know! I need to go to Our Lady of Perpetual Pasta and say ten Hail Mama Celestes in penance.) Thankfully, my soul was saved by a good Catholic girl who would not allow me to abandon my faith in the healing power of cooking from scratch. Hence this recipe is named in her honor.

Here’s how this narrowly averted sin went down. One lovely summer weekend, I was invited to my friend Karen’s house in Woodstock for a girls’ weekend. The deal was that each of us would contribute a meal, and I said I’d make pizza on the grill. But I didn't have time to grocery-shop before leaving, and to my eternal shame, I—after much agonizing, soul-searching, and conscience-wrestling—suggested getting a jar of spaghetti sauce to save time.

Karen, a good Catholic girl, responded by visibly shuddering, making the sign of the cross, and saying she would get the ingredients for me to make the sauce from scratch. Hallelujah! She kept me from wandering into the valley of prepackaged, overpriced, preservative-laden darkness.

Making the sauce is, and was, easy—even after the many glasses of wine our group of girlfriends had consumed by the time I started cooking (gentle reader, our conversation that evening would have made Madonna blush—and I don't mean the virginal one). This sauce is of course perfect for pasta or any other dish that calls for red sauce, and it freezes great to reheat for a spaghetti dinner in 10 minutes (more on this after the jump).

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Plain old salad?

The lovely part about salad as a food category is that it can be so many things. It can cooperate with such a diversity of food types. I tend to make the same salad over and over again because, well, it's my go-to salad I suppose. But often when in a salad mood I crave a little bowl of different salad.

Thaaat Sauce Is Hoisin

Gentle reader, welcome to another lesson in cooking the cuisine I like to call Ignorant American Fusion! In this installment, I’d like to tout the virtues of having a jar of hoisin sauce tucked away in the side door of your fridge, so you can quickly and easily make a dish with a passing resemblance to Chinese food (and by Chinese food, I mean the food you get in Chinese restaurants here in ’Mericker. See how this cuisine works?).

On a recent Saturday, I got three turkey drumsticks from the awesome turkey farm vendor at the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket—at a very reasonable price of, like, $3/lb.—and prepared them in a manner that bore a passing (and I mean just barely passing) resemblance to Peking duck. I sprinkled the turkey legs with salt, pepper, garlic powder and red pepper flakes, and roasted them on a rack set over a pan filled with about an inch of beer. I roasted them at 400° for about 2 hours, flipping them a quarter turn every half-hour or so; let them rest 10-15 minutes; and then pulled the meat off the bone and served it (as shown above left) with scallion pancakes and snow peas. And, of course, hoisin sauce to line the pancakes! The rich turkey drumstick meat really is a great variation on duck, though I would never call it a substitute.

At a couple of bucks for a jar that will go a long way, since the flavor is quite intensely concentrated, hoisin is a really simple way to liven up weeknight dishes. You can use it sparingly, and you really don’t need to add much in the way of other seasonings, since they would either be overpowered by the hoisin or compete with it.

Here are a few of the many other things you could do with hoisin:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Duck Confit Salad With Plumped Dried Cherries

Why is it that people love the novelty of breakfast for dinner, but when presented with what is essentially lunch for dinner—a sandwich and chips, say, or soup and salad—it just feels like a downgrade?

This question occurred to me, and I was inspired to do a soup-and-salad combo that would be worthy of the label “dinner.” This one fit the bill, to the tune of $12 total for a light dinner for two.

The meal consists of a French onion–style mushroom soup, a salad with duck leg confit and dried cherries, and a loaf of crusty bread with pesto butter. All of which sounds fancier and more complicated than it in fact is. I will herewith break down this salad, including the homemade vinaigrette—and, what the heck, the pesto butter too.

This salad would also be a fantastic first course for any date-night or special-occasion meal, even those occasions that are special for no particular reason.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ceci n’est pas un potato gratin

This dish looks very much like a potato gratin…but it is not, gentle reader, for it does not contain cheese in the proper manner of a gratin. It’s quite impressive visually (if I say so myself) but nowhere near as complicated to make as it looks—you just have to be a little bit anal about arranging the slices, but it honestly doesn't take longer than, like, 5, maaaybe 10 minutes to layer the potatoes.

This served 2 people with leftovers, but can easily be multiplied; if the pan is much deeper than this cake-pan-like one, plan to cook it a little longer, and cover it with foil for the first half of the cooking time.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


For most people, “awesomesauce” is a figure of speech, and a pretty inane one at that. For me, awesomesauce is an actual condiment, and a pretty—wait for it—awesome one at that.

Awesomesauce is basically a variation on chipotle mayo that I have whipped up in various forms/ingredient ratios for various purposes. Like salad dressings, it’s one of those things you make to taste, so I’ll tell you roughly what I did last time (gentle reader, I certainly did not measure) and you experiment with your own custom blend, ’k?

One note before starting: I may have mentioned this before, but I always have some chipotles in adobo on hand—you only need one or two for most recipes, but a can is usually under a couple bucks, and the remainder will keep in the fridge almost indefinitely as long as you decant it into a glass jar. (Once opened and exposed to oxygen, the metal can will react with the chipotles, and unless you’re a goat, eating rusty can is not a good look.) I recommend washing out and saving empty jars of mustard or jam or salsa for just such a purpose.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

7 Layers of Kevin Bacon Dip

I’ve already expressed how much I enjoy the Super Bowl from a food perspective despite my utter apathy about football. But this year, with the big rematch between the Pats and the Giants, I have a real reason to actually get excited about the game itself…yes, MADONNA is performing!!! (Hehehe, I can’t wait to hear what Alyce has to say about that one… No, but seriously, I'm pretty excited about Madonna.)

For this year’s Super Bowl party at Fredna’s place (that would be Rob’s Aunt Edna and Uncle Fred, who are kind of like the Brangelina of Super Bowl parties), I’m planning to bring a mash-up between seven-layer dip and the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, and make a contest out of it—since it's a day for betting, after all.

The game plan (see what I did there?): I printed up sheets with a multiple-choice quiz, and everyone who ponies up $1 fills out a sheet matching the layers of the dip to the movies they represent. Either one person will get the most answers correct, or we do a random drawing from the entries tied for most correct (even if that number is zero). Surely this will be a fun gaming alternative for people who don’t care/know enough to bet on the actual football game. Download the quiz to play at your own Super Bowl party!

Here are the dip layers (in top-down order, 1-7), which, in a nod to the original “degrees” game, symbolize six of his movies, plus a bonus layer honoring Kevin himself. Can you match up which layer symbolizes which movie?

Quiz answers and explanations, as well as dip assembly instructions, after the jump.

7 Degrees of Kevin Bacon Dip (layers in top-down order)
1. Bacon
2. Spicy cheese
3. Corn
4. Sour cream
5. Ground beef
6. Salsa
7. Navy beans

And, emphatically not in order, since that is the whole point, the movies those layers represent:

a. Footloose
b. Diner
c. Friday the 13th
d. Kevin himself
(seriously, if you don’t get this one…)
e. A Few Good Men
f. Wild Things
g. Apollo 13

Answers, in top-down order:

Sunday, January 22, 2012


I have always believed bread to be a fundamental component of human existence, kind of like gravity…and beer. Some years ago, in the course of my foodie-geek reading, I discovered that anthropology bears out this concept: Early human culture developed along with yeast cultures, as our formerly nomad-hunter-gatherer ancestors transitioned toward settling in one spot long enough for those spores to ferment, in order to produce bread…and beer.*

Baking bread is also a wonderfully mellow, good-for-the-soul experience. Although it does take time to let the dough rise, not much of that time is spent working. And what work you do feels therapeutic, or possibly even spiritual: The hippie in me believes that all that kneading transmits positive prana into the dough through your hands, so that the eater receives the good energy you put into it.

There are a lot of complicated bread recipes out there, but there are plenty of simple ones out there as well, and I suggest starting with those and working your way up to more ambitious projects.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Double Leftovers Love: Baked Stuffed Potato & “Taco Shells” Pasta

My two-prong 2012 resolution was to do more cooking at home, and to end up throwing out fewer leftovers by repurposing them for future dinners and/or work lunches. This resolution seemed like a manageable, money-saving one that will yield some good meals and blogging inspiration. Plus, I figured, if the world is going to end this coming December, there’s no point in resolving to exercise, eat healthy, or quit smoking—amirite, gentle reader?

Anyhoo, I have done pretty well thus far—I've brought lunch to work more days than not, and managed to make some creative use of leftovers. The Taco Night I recently blogged about actually occurred twice over the course of a few weeks—once with corn tortillas, once with flour. And following both occasions, I came up with excellent ways to use up the leftover ground beef filling.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Saturday Night Comfort Food: Ravioli alla Tortorella

Last night, I invented this dish and named it in honor of the New York Rangers’ coach John Tortorella. There is no particular significance to the ingredients as pertaining to him; I just wanted to pay tribute to the man who has led my secret boyfriend Henrik Lundqvist and his teammates to be NUMBER FREAKING ONE IN THE NHL AND WINNERS OF THE WINTER CLASSIC!!! And whose name just sounds like it should be a pasta. Originally I was actually thinking of inventing a Tortellini alla Tortorella (you know how I love geeky wordplay, gentle reader), but I figured ravioli would work better, because the meat sauce would mingle with the cheese filling once you cut into the ravioli, whereas tortellini are all wound up tight (much like Tortorella).

While heating a large pot of salted water for a package of cheese ravioli (13 count), I sautéed a little over a pound of ground pork in a couple tablespoons of olive oil with a medium chopped onion, a bunch of minced garlic, and a 10-oz. package of cremini (a.k.a. "baby bella") mushrooms sliced and halved. Oh, and coarse salt and pepper of course, and some fresh thyme leaves. I broke up the meat with a wooden spoon as it cooked.

Once the meat was cooked through (it doesn’t really brown, it more like…whites), I added maybe 1/2 cup frozen peas, stirred them in to mix, and transferred the meat mixture to a bowl.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Taco Night!

As countless NYC food carts have proved, there are an infinite ways to make tacos—with a matrix of practically every meat/fish/veggie/legume you can think of, tons of topping combos, and of course, soft vs. hard/corn vs. flour tortilla. I grew up with Taco Night starring the classic American incarnation of ground beef/hard corn shell, but I have no use for the hard shells, which invariably shatter as soon as you take a bite if they haven’t already shattered in the box (plus they’re overpriced and a huge waste of packaging). So, this is my alternate take on the ground beef taco using soft tortillas.

  • When I made this recently, I heated some bacon fat—but you could use a couple tablespoons of olive oil—to brown 1.5 pounds ground beef over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan (you could use a cast iron skillet or a non-nonstick frying pan; nonstick doesn’t brown the meat properly).
  • Sprinkle kosher salt, ground cumin, chili powder, and paprika over the meat before using a wooden spoon to break it up so it crumbles as it cooks.