Posts Tagged ‘warm’

Awakening Taste

October 3rd, 2011

When I was a little girl. living in Brooklyn, and it was a perfect, warm day, or we were watching something beautiful, like a scarlet sunset over the city skyline, my mother would say to me, “Close your eyes, breathe it in, and hold this moment in your mind, so you may remember it with all your senses.” This is a short story about an evening I would hold in my memory as my mother taught me, and the impetus of my love of food.

As a single woman in my early 20s, I had been invited to a dinner party by a guy whose date invitations I had rejected for some time. He seemed very intelligent and perfectly nice, which I suppose is why I hadn’t gone out with him, as I tended to lean toward the brooding artist type. But I felt sorry for him when he told me none of his friends could make it for his birthday that evening. Could I possibly join him, his parents, and a family friend for dinner?

His parent’s apartment was high up in a handsome pre-war building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, with gorgeous views of the city. It was a reader’s oasis. Well-worn furniture in dark wood, fabric upholstered chairs one could cradle in with a cat (they had two) on their lap for hours, and books everywhere the eye could see. Even the dining room had bookshelves, with thick histories and paperback mysteries tucked in among many cookbooks.

His father, a native Frenchman, and his mother, an American of German and Italian decent,  served dinner in the European style: appetizer, main, salad, cheese, and dessert. I don’t remember what was served for the appetizer and main course, though I remember the meal feeling homey, like warm soup and roast chicken. A simple green salad followed, which was new to me, having always been served salad first, which I found revived my palate for what was to come: The cheese plate.

Up until this time I wasn’t very knowledgeable about food, though my parents were excellent cooks, and my grandparents took me to some of the finest restaurants in New York. I wasn’t aware of the just-launched Food Network, and though I had watched Julia Child and The Frugal Gourmet, I had been living contentedly in a world of stews and roasts. Pizza, fast food, and Chinese delivery, or grilled cheese and spaghetti with tomato sauce from a jar in leaner times, were my meals when I started living on my own. In general, I didn’t stop to smell food, or appreciate its appearance and texture. I mostly ingested, chewed, and swallowed.

The only cheese products I was familiar with were Kraft’s American slices and grated Parmigiano in the green shaker can, Velveeta, and Boursin spreadable cheese with herbs, which seemed exotic at the time. My parents sometimes ate bleu cheese dressing on iceberg lettuce, which I abhorred for the dressing’s sour flavor and lumpy texture. The only brie I had was served ice-cold at a friend’s Superbowl party, where we spread the stiffened innards on crackers, leaving the rind behind.

I was a little wary of the cheese served that night, but I enjoyed both the soft goat, similar to the Boursin I was used to, and the mild bleu, surprised to find it not at all offensive. The last was a cheese that looked like a rectangle of hard, straw-colored cheddar. Taking a small slice of this, the birthday boy held it up to my lips and said, “Taste this, it’s incredible.”

I took the bit of cheese into my mouth, and the company, the conversation, the lovely surroundings, all faded into the background while I held it for a moment on my tongue. As it warmed I found the texture creamy, like butter, surprising for something that looked so hard, and it held tiny crunchy bits throughout, like salt on a soft pretzel. The flavor was bold. Tangy like lemons, and savory-sweet like hazelnut coffee. Looking back, my best guess is that it may have been something similar to Piave, but at the time I was too overwhelmed, and perhaps a bit ashamed of my ignorance, to ask.

I finally looked up to find the guy leaning back to look at me, staring at me questioningly. “Um,” I said stupidly, “this is GOOD.” He smiled and nodded slowly, as if he had shared a secret. I remember thinking there might be something about this boy after all.

A plum and apricot fruit tart with a birthday candle was brought from the kitchen, and we sang Happy Birthday. The tart, Calvados, and strong coffee were bringing me back to Earth. But why, I wondered, was anyone not noticing the distinct aroma of cat feces? The fragrance had been permeating the dining room for quite a while, and I had been peeking under the table to find the source of the odor, thinking for certain I’d find the cat had left a gift, when the guy’s mother begged, “Could someone please take the cheese into the kitchen?” It was taken away, and with it the unpleasant smell, when it dawned on me, it was that delicious cheese!

I often take this memory out, as my mother taught me, recalling the moment, how it awakened my senses, and how much I’ve learned about the cuisine of different cultures since. I no longer think of food with funky aromas as something to avoid, but something to explore.

Because of that meal, I no longer wanted to eat alone over the kitchen sink, but wanted to share food and talk about it with others. I went to cooking school. I took wine classes. I visited farms to buy local produce. I educated myself about sustainable and organic agriculture. I started a food blog, and I came to love “the wedge:” a quarter slice of iceberg slathered in the formerly abominable bleu cheese dressing, with bacon bits strewn on top.

I dated the guy for a few years. I shared many wonderful meals with him, his family and their friends, and became bold enough to scour markets to bring new foods for them to try. Though ultimately our mutual love of food could not overcome our differences and we eventually parted ways, I will always appreciate how he, and his family, opened up the world for me to taste.

Tarragon and Mustard Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuit Topping

April 20th, 2010

Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuit Topping

Necessity is the mother of invention. With Chef Loryn being temporarily out of business, and not having a Griggstown pot pie (my favorite) on hand , the temperature dropping from the 70s to the 50s, and in want of some comfort food, I set out to make my own chicken pot pie. One that could be made relatively easy on a weeknight. Earlier in the day I had been leaning toward a pork chop with a mustard tarragon sauce. I couldn’t make up my mind, so why not infuse my chicken pot pie with the flavors of tarragon and mustard?

At the market on the way home from work, I expeditiously found all the ingredients for the pot, but what about the pie? Pot pie may be fully encased in pie crust, puff pastry, or topped with a biscuit topping. Puff pastry was out of the question due to the defrosting, not to mention the fat content. Pie crust can be a little tedious, and I generally find pre-made crust not savory and thick enough for a pot pie. That left me with a biscuit topping.

For some reason, the market I was in had no biscuit mix. Not even a pop-the-can biscuit was to be found. I did find some frozen biscuits, which looked absolutely luscious when I read the description, and I thought would be charming if I made the “pies” in individual ramekins, topping each one with a biscuit. Then I read the nutrition information. Weighing in at nearly 300 calories with 9 grams of saturated fat each, well, that’s not exactly the semi-healthy direction I had started out in. I wandered around the market with those biscuits in my cart for a full 10 minutes. Should I? Shouldn’t I? Should I? Shouldn’t I? Wait a minute. Biscuits!

Remember the Cream Biscuits from December? The ones that were so easy to make? Why not use that recipe? And so I, very reluctantly, put the luscious looking frozen biscuits back on their shelf and went home with the ingredients for my filling. I am so glad I did, because my pot pie was wonderful.

The aroma and flavor of the vegetables, chicken, herbs, and creamy sauce are pure comfort food. The bite of the vegetables, the tenderness of the chicken, the creaminess of the sauce, and the biscuit layer provide a ton of texture, and the top adds buttery-ness without making the dish overwhelmingly rich.

Tarragon Mustard Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuit Topping
Serves 6 – 8

– 2 russet potatoes
– 2 tablespoons butter
– 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
– 3 strips bacon, cut crosswise into thin strips (lardon)
– 1 cup shallot, diced
– 1 large carrot, diced
– 3 ribs celery, diced
– 2 teaspoons canola oil
– 1 1/2 pounds chicken thighs, cubed
– 1/2 cup dry white wine
– 2 cups chicken stock
– 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, minced
– 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
– 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
– Salt and pepper to taste
– 1/2 recipe Cream Biscuits (click link for recipe)

1. Preheat oven to 425°F.

1. Fill a saucepan with cold water. Dice the potatoes, put them in the saucepan, and bring the pot to boil. Boil the potatoes until they are just fork tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander, but do not rinse them. Set aside to cool.

2. While the potatoes are simmering, blend butter and flour together with your fingers to make a paste. Set aside.

3. In a sauté pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon to a paper towel with a slotted spoon and set aside.

4. Drain all but a tablespoon of the fat from the sauté pan. Add the shallot, carrot, and celery to the pan, with a large pinch of salt  and a few grinds of pepper to taste, and sauté until the shallot is translucent and the vegetables are becoming fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Pour the vegetables into a bowl and set aside.

5. Heat the canola oil in the pan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and sauté until it is cooked through. Add the chicken to the bowl with the vegetables.

6. Over medium-high heat, pour the white wine into the sauté pan and scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Reduce the wine by at least half.

7. Pour in one cup of the chicken stock, and reduce the stock and wine to at least half again. Pour in the last cup of chicken stock and reduce until there’s about a cup of liquid in the pan.

8. Break off about a tablespoon of the flour/butter mixture and whisk it into the pan. Continue to whisk until all lumps are gone and the sauce is thickened, just a couple of minutes. If the sauce is not thick enough, repeat with a bit of the flour/butter mixture at a time.

9. When sauce is thickened to the consistency of cream, stir in the tarragon, rosemary, and mustard. Taste, adding more herbs or mustard if you prefer. Pour this mixture over the vegetables and chicken, add the crisped bacon, and stir altogether. Place mixture into an oven-safe, deep casserole dish.

10. Prepare 1/2 recipe Cream Biscuts. Pat the dough out to fit the size of your casserole. Using a bench scraper or large, flat spatula, place the dough on top of the filling, patting the dough out to the edges of the casserole dish.

11. Brush the top of the biscuit dough with melted butter, or cream if you prefer.

12. Place pot pie in the oven and bake until top is golden and the pie is bubbling around the edges, 20-25 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes, and serve hot.

Napoleon of Crisp Potato, Goat Cheese, Roasted Red Pepper, and Caramelized Onion

March 4th, 2010

Potato, Red Pepper, and Goat Cheese Napoleon

A traditional napoleon is a luxurious dessert. Layers of puff pastry and custard or whipped cream, often interspersed with berries, topped with fondant or powdered sugar. It is meant to be admired before eating. Just looking at one brings to mind images of royal powdered faces with stained lips. The pastry gives some resistance and crackles as the side of one’s fork bares down to make the first cut, just before the pastry layers give way and the custard oozes from its trappings, making an orgasmic mess of the dish.

To the best of my recollection, in the early 90s, somewhere a chef decided to translate the napoleon into a savory dish and added the vegetable napoleon to their menu, sparking a glut of vegetable napoleons nationwide. Then came the napoleons with ragu or duck confit. There wasn’t a menu without a savory napoleon on it. Anything that was layered was now called a napoleon.

I instantly fell in love with vegetable napoleons, their flavors and variety; but after seeing them everywhere for several years, they became a little corny and passe. Though I still spy one here or there, it seems their time in the limelight has passed.

I was thinking of this the other day when I decided to attempt to recreate the layers of a napoleon with what I had on hand. The potatoes became the crisp layer, an herbed goat cheese the custard, and the roasted peppers and caramelized onion the fruit, topped with a layer of melted parmigiano cheese. These are classic flavors, and the assembly created that same orgasmic mess the dessert does. Of my two tasters, one commented that, while delicious, the instability of the layers wasn’t to his taste, while the other declared this was her new favorite dish. Personally I felt the experiment a great success. Served with a green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette, it made for a visually appealing and deliciously satisfying dinner.

Napoleon of Crisp Potato, Goat Cheese, Roasted Red Pepper, and Caramelized Onions

Makes 3 napoleons

– 2 red bell peppers
– 3 oz. soft goat cheese, room temperature
– 2 tablespoons sour cream
– 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
– 2 tablespoons butter
– 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
– 3 small yellow onions, peeled, halved, and sliced thin
– 1 teaspoon sugar
– 2 large russet potatoes
– 2/3 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated

1. Preheat a broiler and place the peppers directly under the heating element, turning occasionally until the skin is black and blistered. Remove peppers from the oven and set aside to cool (you may wish to put a narrow cut in the top of the pepper to release the steam). Reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them, keeping the flesh in large pieces.

2. While the peppers are broiling, cream together the goat cheese, sour cream, and basil, with a pinch of salt and a few grounds of black pepper to taste. Set aside at room temperature.

3. Melt the butter and one tablespoon of the olive oil in a skillet at medium-high heat. Add the onions and the sugar. Once the onions have wilted a bit, before they are brown, turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and caramelized, approximately 45 minutes.

4. Slice potatoes no more than 1/4 inch thick. Place in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt, rubbing the oil and salt over the potato slices. Arrange 9 large center-slices on a baking rack on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees. Once they are fork-tender, increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees. use a spatula to loosen the potatoes from the rack, and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes until lightly browned and slightly puffed. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. (I baked the remaining slices until crispy and ate them as chips. You can also use them to make more napoleons, if desired.) Set the oven temperature to broil.

5. In assembly-line fashion, working carefully (hold the potato slices with tongs if too hot to handle), working on the same rack the potatoes were baked on, spread three of the potato slices with a thick layer of the goat cheese mixture, one layer of pepper slices, and a heaping tablespoon full of the onions. Add another potato slice, and repeat the layering. Top the second layer with a potato slice, and then with a third of the parmigiano. Place the napoleons under the broiler just until the cheese melts and gets lightly brown. Keep an eye on them, they brown very quickly. Serve hot, along with a side salad with a vinegary dressing, or the napoleons may be served as a side dish to an entree.


October 19th, 2009

The past four days in the northeast have been particularly dreary. It has been overcast and wet, and much cooler than it should be in early autumn. Weather like this screams for comfort food that has been cooking for hours, filling the house with its fragrance and warming the soul, and what could be better on a Sunday than a rich, meaty Bolognese?

One of the most important things a good cook knows is how to build flavor. You’ll hear comments on this all the time on shows like “Top Chef.” How many times have we heard, “He doesn’t know how to build flavor,” or “I wish there was some acid,” or “This is the perfect balance of sweet and savory.” There are several ways to build flavor, often used in combination, such as reducing, salting, searing, and toasting. This Bolognese uses these techniques, but above all is the technique of browning. This should probably be called “Brown Bolognese.”

Chef Anne Burrell was one of my culinary school chef-instructors, and the best teacher we had when it came to technique and Italian cuisine. It is to her recipes I turn when I want to make great pasta. And so I used her recipe for Bolognese.

Bolognese Recipe:

I’ve edited this a bit from the original. Click here to see the recipe on the Food Network’s website.


  • 1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 ribs celery cut into 1-inch dice
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 pounds ground chuck, brisket or round or combination
  • 2 cups tomato paste
  • 1 750ml bottle (about 3.5 cups) hearty red wine
  • Water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch thyme and 1 rosemary, tied in a bundle
  • 1 or 2 rinds of Parmigiano cheese (optional)
  • 1 pound pasta of choice
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • High quality extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing


1. In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed veggies and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. Cook 15 to 20 minutes until beef is brown.

3. Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4 to 5 minutes, or however long it takes for the tomato paste to brown.

4. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes. Make sure it is reduced.

5. Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves, the bundle of thyme/rosemary, and the Parmigiano rinds (if using), and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 1 to 2 cups at a time. Don’t be shy about adding water during the cooking process, you can always cook it out. This is a game of reduce and add more water. If you try to add all the water in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce. Stir and TASTE frequently. Season with salt, if needed. Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Note on pasta: When you cook your pasta, retain some of the pasta cooking liquid. Once you’ve added your pasta to the ragù, if you feel the pasta is too dry (it should be glistening somewhat), add a bit of the cooking water. The water you cooked your pasta in will have retained some of the pasta’s starch and will keep your sauce saucy, rather than watering it down. Drizzle a bit of olive oil and add Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. For this sauce, I’ve become fond of Barilla’s Campanelle. It has a lovely fluted shape that holds the sauce well.

How To Build Big Bolognese Flavor:

Beef: I strongly recommend rather than buying packaged “ground beef,” visit your butcher and ask him or her to grind particular cuts. It makes a difference in flavor and quality. For this recipe I used about 1 pound of ground bottom round and 2 pounds of ground chuck steak. One could also use ground bison or turkey. Some cuts have more fat, almost all have different flavors and textures. It’s worth exploring and discovering your personal preferences.

Herbs: In Chef Burrell’s recipe, she uses only thyme and bay. I add some rosemary simply because I like it. Some Bolognese recipes add nutmeg. It’s entirely up to the chef what flavors they want to add to their pots.

Wine: It is not necessary, but I like to use wine from the region of whatever region-specific dish I am cooking. One popular varietal from the Bologna region is Sangiovese, which is the main component of Chianti. Thus, I used Chianti for this recipe. This is merely a persnickety habit of mine, as I believe recipes from a particular region should use ingredients from the region. But whatever hearty, inexpensive red you can get your hands on will work just as well. Never break the bank buying wine you’ll be cooking with. Once you’ve concentrated the wine with the other flavors and cooked the alcohol out, you’ll barely be able to tell the difference whether you’ve used Italian Chianti or California Merlot.

Cheese Rind: Chef Burrell’s recipe does not note this, but I find that adding a rind or two of Parmigiano to a pot of soup or sauce adds a rich dimension. Nearly everyone who cooks has rinds floating around in the bottom of their cheese bins (and if they’re moldy, just cut the mold off). It’s not a crime if you don’t use it, but adding it is divine.


In step #1 you’ll be browning the aromatics. You’ll want a “crud” (or fond) to form in the bottom of your pan, thus you should use a steel or ceramic pan, not non-stick. The crud will darken until it looks nearly burnt. This is going to add flavor to your Bolognese! When browning the aromatics, take your time. For me it took nearly 30 minutes to get all the water out and get the vegetables to a deep brown color. You could keep a tiny bit of the vegetable paste uncooked to the side to see how the color changes over time. Remember, you want to brown the paste.

In step #2 you’ll be browning the beef. As the beef releases fat, you’ll be able to start scraping up the crud that formed earlier from the vegetables. Again, brown the beef, don’t gray it. It should be the color of something you’d want to eat, not something underdone.

In step #3 you’ll be browning the tomato paste. You’ll notice it’s a bright red when you add it (again, you could leave some raw to the side to get a sense of where you started). Brown, brown, brown. The tomato paste should not be at all red when you get to the next step.

In step #4 you’ll be reducing the wine. Reducing concentrates flavors. If you don’t reduce the wine, you’ll wind up with a very nice wine sauce with beef, but what you want is a meaty sauce with the richness of wine in the background. Again, this takes time. Depending on the heat of your pan and its depth, this might take four minutes or it could take longer. Don’t rush.

In step #5 you’ll add herbs and water, beginning the process of the long simmer, concentrating the beef, tomato, wine, and herbal flavors even further. Again, depending on heat and depth, you may wind up adding water more or less often, but make sure you add and reduce, add and reduce. Don’t add too much water. Chef Burrell’s recipe says you’ll add 2 or 3 cups at a time. I prefer to add less water more often, as I don’t want to boil the meat.

You’ll want the meat to be soft and unctuous and become the messenger of the sweetness of the aromatics, the acid of the tomato, and the earthiness of the cheese and herbs. Your house will be ten degrees warmer than the thermostat says, just from the aroma. I recommend eating while wearing pajamas and slippers.