Friday, January 30, 2009

The Locavore's Dilemma

I’m all for trying to be a locavore – you know, shopping at my neighborhood farmers markets, not eating strawberries in January, that sort of thing. If you asked me why, it’s probably equal parts feeling it’s the ‘responsible consumer’ thing to do, and also believing that local, season-specific food just plain tastes better.

While I subscribe to this food philosophy, my husband doesn’t really care so much where or when he gets his food, so long as it tastes good – although, seeing as I do 98% of the cooking in our house, he kind of ends up on the locavore bandwagon by default. So you can imagine my dilemma when my dear husband arrives home from the grocery store with…bananas. Bananas! The forbidden fruit, that abhorred, anti-poster child of the local food eatin’, Barbara Kingsolver lovin’ tribe. (It has something to do with each bunch requiring a small country’s annual supply of gas to reach us Americans, I think).

So what to do? I can either: 1) go all preachy on his ass and tell him such evil is not welcome in MY kitchen, or 2) accept that we may have different views when it comes to our food choices – and that's ok. Seeing as we’re only about 4 months into our union, I figured I’d hold off on the banana diatribe and save the preaching for a more worthy cause – like who should take the trash out (him), or the merits of still watching Grey’s Anatomy (it's getting good again, really!) And, if I'm being honest, that forbidden fruit does make a wicked batch of muffins. I mean, the real sin is letting a perfectly overripe banana go to waste after it came all that way. I think even Barbara would agree with that.

Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins
1 ½ cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 very overripe bananas, mashed
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces (or ¾ cup chocolate chips)
Turbinado sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line 12 (1/3 cup) muffins cups with paper liners. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. In a medium bowl, melt the butter. Stir in the sour cream, egg and vanilla, then fold in the mashed bananas and the chocolate. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry until just mixed – it will be very thick. Divide the batter into each muffin tin (a small ice cream scoop works very well for this). If you like that sugary crunch on top of your muffins, sprinkle each with a tablespoon or two of the raw sugar. Bake in the middle of the oven until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More Potatoes

After our potato-induced frenzy the other day, I decided I needed to make another scalloped potato dish - partly so you get to see the final shot of a delicious potato casserole, and partly because it was so darn good we needed a repeat performance.

As you can see from comparing these two dishes, the recipe is just meant to be a guide. You can add or forgo the ham, switch in any cheese you want, double up on the root vegetables...there are lots of yummy possibilities here.

And by the way, if you're wondering what the different between au gratin and scalloped is, apparently, the answer is not much. Some say au gratin is simply French for "with cheese" - though it's usually based in a cream sauce - whereas a scalloped dish is an American term for any casserole with a creamy sauce, cheese or not. If anyone knows the final word on the great au gratin vs. scalloped debate, please do share.

Scalloped Potatoes and Carrots
4 large red skinned potatoes, sliced 1/8 inch thick*
1/2 onion, sliced thin
4 carrots, halved and sliced into 1 inch chunks
Salt and pepper
For the sauce:
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Leaves from 5 sprigs of thyme (or 1 tsp dried thyme)

Preheat the oven to 400. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk constantly for a minute or two to incorporate. Add the milk, salt, pepper and thyme. Raise the heat to medium high and continue cooking, stirring often until the mixture just begins to boil and is thick enough to coat a spoon. Add the shredded cheese and stir to combine. Set aside.

Butter the bottom of a large shallow casserole dish. Arrange half the potato slices, onions and carrots on the bottom. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, sprinkling again with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the vegetables, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes.

*If you slice the potatoes ahead of time, you can keep them covered in cold water so they don't turn brown. Just be sure to dry them thoroughly before using.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The General Store Opens Saturday

It's official - two years in the making, Chef Gillian Clark of Colorado Kitchen fame is set to finally open The General Store this Saturday at 1:30. One of several new restaurants in the works for the popular DC Chef, The General store is located in Silver Spring (at the corner of Forest Glen and Capital View) and will be serving "American road food." Just one catch - until a pesky parking issue is resolved, dining will only be of the take out variety. Clark promises dine in serve is soon to follow, though.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Still Tingling

Happy day-after-Inauguration-Day, everyone! Is it just me, or is the city still tingling a bit in the afterglow of all that hope and happiness?

Speaking of tingling...I have this problem. I'm not really big on super spicy food, but every time I try to make a spicy dish at home, something in my brain goes haywire. Instead of thinking, "Hey, this chili garlic sauce I bought is made from the hottest chilis on earth. I better use just a teaspoonful," I think, "Hey, I'm making a spicy dish - I better use half a cup of this chili sauce." And every time, lo and behold, I end up ruining an otherwise delicious dish. Like tonight for example. As enticing as that bowl o' noodles, shrimp, and broccoli may appear, the truth is it was a suicide mission for our taste buds. So no recipe today, just an offer to learn from my oft repeated mistake: reach for the tablespoon and not the measuring cup when it comes to chili sauce. (Unless you enjoy culinary suicide missions - and singed lips).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mmmm, Pork

This is one of my go-to fall/winter dishes. It's so easy to make, pairs perfectly with all the seasonal produce that's available right now (think Brussels sprouts, potatoes, parsnips), and comes out great each time - which makes it a great choice for entertaining, btw. This pork is also delicious when cooked on the grill, but since our condo association frowns upon open flames in the living room, I content myself with the oven-made version.

So any other favorite pork recipes out there? Please share!

Balsamic and Honey Mustard Marinated Pork Tenderloin
1 pork tenderloin, approximately 1 lb, trimmed of excess fat and silver skin
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup honey
3 large tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed

Place all ingredients in a large plastic baggie, squish around to mix everything together, and marinate overnight. (If you only have a few hours, that's fine, too, but the longer the better).

Preheat the oven to 400. Remove the pork loin from the baggie and let the excess marinade drip off. In a large nonstick skillet over high heat, heat a tablespoon of olive oil. When the oil is shimmering, add the pork loin and sear until nicely browned, about 2 minutes. (Do not move the pork during these two minutes - this will keep it from getting a nice crust). Repeat on each side.

Leave the pork in the skillet and place in the oven. Cook for 13 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest on a cutting board for 5-10 minutes. Slice and serve.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Love Dish: Scalloped Potatoes with Ham

I meant to show you a picture of these beautiful scalloped potatoes we had recently, all hot/bubbly/cheesy out of the oven and unbelievably comforting. Honestly I did. But we, um, ate them all before I remembered to take a 'final' shot. So instead, I leave you with this semi-artsy pic I took pre potato-high, and recommend you simply make them and see the hot bubbly goodness for yourself. Enjoy!

Scalloped Potatoes with Ham
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cups mild shredded cheddar cheese
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 lbs potatoes,* sliced thin (about 1/8 inch)
1/2 onion, diced
1 lb diced ham
Preheat oven to 375.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour to the butter (creating a roux), and whisk to dissolve the flour and cook it through. After a few minutes of whisking, add the milk, thyme, salt and pepper. Increase the heat to medium high and cook, whisking often, until the mixture just begins to boil and the sauce gets thick. Remove from heat and stir in the shredded cheese.

In a large and shallow sprayed/buttered casserole dish, spread a few spoonfuls of the sauce. Layer a third of the potatoes on the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle them with a third of the ham and the onions, then a third of the sauce. Repeat two more times - potatoes, ham/onions, and sauce, then cover and bake for an hour, or until the potatoes are tender.

*I've used just about every kind of potato for this (red potatoes, Idaho potatoes, fingerlings, new, peeled, not peeled) and they've all worked great, so just use whatever you've got.

Note: make sure you use a shallow dish; otherwise your potatoes will take hours to cook through.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Quick Dish: Sweet and Sour Sauce

Never before have such seemingly incongruous ingredients come together so quickly to make such a delicious quick dish. It's no wonder the recipe for this ridiculously easy, perfectly balanced sweet and sour sauce comes from my dad's mother, who, other than her fabulous brisket, always believed there were more important things to do in life than waste one's time in the kitchen.

My mom, though tending to agree with her mother-in-law's view of kitchen duty after a long day at work, is still one heck of a cook. Way back when, she tried adding her family's Italian meatballs (recipe here) to my Jewish grandma's sauce, and voila! - the perfect blending of my heritages was born.

Of course, you can add this sauce to just about anything that needs a sweet and source kick - spooned over baked chicken for example, or as a dipping sauce for egg rolls or satay - but I'll always be partial to the classic pairing my mom so greatly improved upon.

Sweet and Sour Sauce
2 cans whole cranberry sauce
1 can crushed pineapple in juice
1 cup ketchup
½ cup water

Heat all ingredients together on stove. If making sweet and sour meatballs, add meatballs to sauce and simmer on medium low until the meatballs are cooked through, about 20-25 minutes.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Buttercrunch Toffee

The original name for this post was "Buttercrunch Toffee Ice Cream." However, I got in a bit of a fight with my new ice cream maker, and the ice cream maker won. So rather than treating my friends to buttercrunch toffee soup, I decided to just serve the candy on its own. And you know what? None of us missed the ice cream one bit.

All you need is a candy thermometer - I got mine at the grocery store for $5 - and you're all set to make the best, most chocolately, buttery, crunchy candy you've ever tasted. As for the ice cream...Ben and Jerry's makes a lovely vanilla.

Buttercrunch Toffee
From The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
Makes 2 cups

1 cup almonds, toasted and finely chopped
1 tablespoon water
4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons packed light or dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup bitter or semisweet chocolate chips

Using half the chopped almonds, form an 8-inch circle in an even layer on an ungreased baking sheet.

Fit a small, heavy-duty saucepan with a candy thermometer, then add the water, butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar, mixing them together. Have the baking soda and vanilla measured and ready. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring as little as possible. When the mixture reaches 300 degrees, remove the pan from the heat and immediately stir in the baking soda and vanilla. Mix just until combined; don't overstir.

Right away, pour the hot toffee mixture over the circle of almonds, covering completely. Scatter the chocolate pieces over the toffee and wait 2 minutes to allow them to melt. Use a spatula to spread the chocolate into an even layer, then scatter the remaining chopped almonds on top, pressing them into the chocolate. Cool completely, until the chocolate is firm. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, you may need to cool it in the refrigerator. Remove it once the chocolate has hardened.

Note: Toffee can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks in the freezer or at room temperature.