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Archive for January, 2008

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If you live in Brooklyn, or any major metropolitan area, or even in the backwoods of Mississippi, there’s a chance you don’t have a dishwasher. My condolences. And if you’re anything like me, you fall for the curse of having a cute bowl and utensil for each action in the kitchen, which adds up to one helluva pile that may or may not spill over onto your stove. Call me crazy, but I just can’t rinse and re-use a bowl (let alone a paper towel, what are they THINKING in that commercial?!). I can’t even rinse it after I’m done with it. This is where Jon comes in.

Yes, I know I’m home all day. And though I AM doing valuable, important things (applying for jobs, catching up on missed episodes of shows that air in syndicated daytime tv, brushing the cat, sitting by the phone waiting to hear about jobs…), when Jon comes home from work, if there is a big mess o’ dishes piled high, I have guilt.

It’s not that he’ll say anything about it. It might take a few days for him to even mention the dish-in-sink to dish-in-cupboard ratio. Unlike a friend of mine, who’s roommate is also unemployed, and leaves her *own* dishes in the sink for days at a time while watching tv all day, then when asked about it replies “I HAVE NO TIME DURING THE DAY.” This same roommate tends to remain pajama-clad, and hardly move from the couch.

This post from a favorite blog of mine, The Brooklyn Nester, inspired me to give dishes a second chance a while back. And while I still hate the grainy, dry feeling my hands get after a half-hour soak in scalding Ajax, I crank up the tunes (now on ipod since we have no speakers… i rock out in silence while Jon sneaks up behind me) and somehow dishes become…… fun.

I’m not saying I want to do them. In fact, it still takes me nearly a full day to get motivated to actually do them. But I can’t help thinking my playlist has a lot to do with it. Some of the essentials:

-INXS – New Sensation
-Stevie Knicks – Edge of Seventeen
-Eurythmics – Sisters
-Scissor Sisters – Take Your Mama Out
-Journey – Any Way You Want It
-Destiny’s Child – Survivor
-Fergie – London Bridges
-Mazarin – For Energy Infinite
-Feist – See It All
-Gloria Estefan – Conga

and you can’t even think about making a playlist without at least a little Neil Diamond.

The point of this post was to gripe about dishes, but mainly to drop in the hint that soon (yes, soon!) I’ll know the joy of a dishwasher. Soon, soon! Maybe I’ll explain later. And the days of the playlist will be few and far between. Except on the occasional subway ride.  And for those hand-washables, the many parts to my kitchen appliances, until they make a dishwasher safe stand mixer or food processor (hey wait, don’t they?), I’ll at least need four songs to get me through. And at least one of them has to be Survivor.

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I know it looks a little sparse, but trust me– it’s amazing. I have always dreamt of having a fridge full of gourmet and fresh ingredients from which I could produce beautiful, healthy meals. Our amazing neighbor Michael, who is a chef at an upstate restaurant (will have to find out which), told me his restaurant would be closing for the winter, and he’d be bringing over a few things. These “few things” included:

Truffled Cauliflower Sou
Fresh Mozzarell
Grated Mozzarella
Limes galore!
Portobellos
Onions
Zucchini
Pressed Cream
Butter
Cream
Red Potatoes
Grapes
Green beeeeens
Hearts of Romaine
the filling to a chicken pot pie (luckily, i make a mean pie crust

What a wonderful surprise! I love this big block of butter (next to the obligatory film-in-fridge)

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Use It or Lose It

In pantries, as in life, chances are if you don’t use it, you will lose it. I always buy fresh fruit and vegetables with the best of intentions, only to discover a penicillin farm thriving in my crisper weeks later.   Lately, (mostly due to budgetary reasons) I’ve avoided buying fresh ingredients  unless I have a specific and failsafe plan for them in the next THREE DAYS. Otherwise, I pass. I’ve missed some beautiful fruits, friends, some mouthwatering nectarines and perfect avocados, heirloom tomatoes come and gone… but I can’t do it. Until I am again gainfully employed, it’s frozen veg and multi-purpose meals for us.

It is with this “Use it or Lose it” attitude that I raided our cabinets, our drawers, our freezer and fridge, and what I came up with surprised even Jon (who is not very easily surprised). I call it: well, now I can’t think of anything catchy. Wait. It’ll come to me.

Anyhow, without further adieu, I give you “——–“:

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Rather than a recipe, I’ll tell you what I did and what I used, and rather than recreate this particular dish, I’m hoping it will inspire you to combine whatever crazy ingredients you have lying around into something (surprisingly) delicious. And as always, if you fail, Chinese is only a phone call away….

“——————-”

-4 thawed chicken breast tenders
-olive oil
-1 REALLY, REALLY stale baguette (not moldy)
-oregano, parsley, basil, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper
-a handful of spaghetti noodles
-red onion, garlic and shallot remnants
-less than 1/2 a jar of storebought pasta sauce (*sigh*, yes, even I buy my sauce from time to time…this budget business SUCKS for achieving culinary greatness!!!!)
-the remnants of a slightly moldy (but still quite good) wedge of Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese!

I probably tossed a few random items in there too, but this seems fairly comprehensive.

So, I whipped out the food processor and threw in a few slices of the baguette, as well as the spices, creating beautiful seasoned breadcrumbs. I took the chicken, pounded it flat, rubbed olive oil and then the breadcrumb mixture all over it. (This is a lot like another particular Italian dish. But, IPL be damned, it’s MY RECIPE! Bwuhahaha.) I crisped it up in the pan over some olive oil, while cooking the noodles in a big noodle pot, and at the last minute remembered the pasta sauce, which I haphazardly threw in the microwave for a minute or so. Brilliant. It all came together in less than 15 minutes and I piled the noodles, then the chicken, then a bit o’ sauce onto a lovely white plate, grated some of that lovely cheese on top, then presented it to Jon as he finished up beating Super Mario Galaxy, much to his amazement.

I of course thought it was brilliant, but I’ll let his comments speak for themselves: “Oh Man! It’s so juicy!” “Wow– we had all this stuff in there?” “This is great!” Etc, etc.

You, too, can create kitchen miracles. Try throwing whatever random  ingredients you have lying around (capers, frozen asparagus, olive paste, whatever) and see what you can come up with! Just like every morning when I step into my closet and realize I have nothing to wear, the pantry/fridge can appear equally as empty. But I assure you– there is a meal in there somewhere! And it’s up to you to find it!! Excavate, friends, and let me know what you come up with!

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I know it’s no excuse, readers, but for the last week I’ve had a horrible cold that rendered me lifeless on the couch for several days. Somehow I managed to make it to (yet another) job interview, and only coughed/gagged a few times while I discussed my qualifications. There are at least three posts right now, queued in my mind/camera, and I promise to get them up as soon as possible!!! In the meantime, I have to pull myself together/find a semi-formal dress for tonight’s engagement party! My boyfriend’s sister is getting married in Bermuda this spring, and this is the big event where all the guests who can’t make it to Bermuda are celebrating. So it’s like a wedding reception, really. Exciting, and important! Promise to update later!

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Maybe it was because I was starving. Maybe it was because it was already 9. Maybe I took one look at Jon’s frozen chicken nuggets and knew I had to snap into action to avoid them. Or maybe it was because they truly were the BEST FAJITAS EVER.

Regardless, in about 10 minutes I was hunkering down to some beautiful, zesty, fresh, juicy, exhilarating fajitas people are STILL talking about the next day (well, we’re still talking about them, aren’t we?). These will still be amazing if you substitute seitan or another textured meat replacement, or just plain old firm tofu. I used chicken. You could also use a beef or even a fish (a pretty solid fish, like salmon or even swordfish! Just think of things that tend to hold up well on a grill, and they should work fine.)

Most people think you need one of those McCormick or otherwise pre-made seasoning packets. While those are convenient, you can get a much more unique and fresh taste from herbs you should probably keep stocked anyway. And the best part about cooking for yourself at home is, you know what you like! You can tweak and add or subtract wherever you want, and if it sucks, nothing is really lost. I mean, dinner is never more than a phone call away if you mess it up beyond recognition (i.e. chinese food, pizza, etc., not me!). For the chicken, I didn’t marinate or anything, I just gave it a good rub with the seasoning and then tossed it in the pan. For seitan or a tougher meat, you might want to marinate for a while. Just toss your meat or meat replacement in a bag, add a shot (or two) of tequila, and your spice rub. Shake it up, toss it in the fridge, and in about thirty minutes (or two hours, up to you) you should be ready to rock!

The Best Fajitas EVER
(c) 2008 DanaDishes

yields about 3 generous fajitas per person

-1 1/2 tsp cumin
-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (you can use more for more heat, or less for less!)
-1/2 tsp paprika
-about a quarter pound of meat or tofu per person.*
-little bit of tequila (or olive oil)
-4 tbs olive oil
-salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
-1 bell pepper, sliced in long chunks (you can also add yellow and red peppers if you’re feeling fancy. I didn’t have any on hand at the time and found it was fine with just the bell pepper)
-1/2 red onion, chopped in big chunks
– 1 clove of garlic, chopped
-tortillas (enough so that each person has at least 3, and a few extras)
-sour cream for dipping, smearing, dolloping etc

Combine the cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper in a ziploc bag. Shake. Set aside. Drizzle the tequila (or olive oil) over the meat and rub it in.** Sprinkle the seasoning mix over the meat, and rub it in a little bit. Let the meat rest while you heat up the pan over medium heat. When the pan is fairly warmed, add 2 tbs olive oil and swirl it around to cover the surface. Add the garlic, bell pepper and onion, and cook until the onions are almost clear. Reduce heat slightly and add another 2 tbs of oil, then add the meat, making sure to stir vigorously in the first few minutes to avoid sticking. If you’re cooking chicken or poultry, make sure it is completely cooked through before serving (duh).

You can also do this on a grill pan or grill, which will give it fantastic flavor. Just cut your pieces bigger so they don’t fall through the cracks!

Heat the tortillas in the microwave, wrapped in paper towels, for about 15-20 seconds. Serve buffet-style, letting everyone make their own fajitas. Goes well with tequila-based drinks and grilled corn or spanish rice (or both!)

*I used pre-cut boneless skinless chicken breast tenders. They were cheap and easy to work with.
**Don’t forget to wash your hands and sanitize surfaces after handling raw meats.

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Today I ventured down to a new spot on Fifth Ave in Park Slope: “Get Fresh.” Like many of the DIY, Ready-to-Cook meal joints opening up all over the country right now, Get Fresh is purely takeout, that requires preparation at home. The meals can be frozen for up to a week, or refrigerated for consumption within 1-3 days. The open, peaceful atmosphere conjures up visions of a modern farmhouse kitchen, with traditional touches like the original hardwood floors and tin ceilings, mixed with modern stainless steel industrial cookware and contemporary light fixtures. Geared towards busy Park Slope parents, it wasn’t surprising to hear a Pink Martini album playing in the background.

In an open dairy case lining one side of the retail area, plastic containers (that I was told are recycled, as well as recyclable) hold neatly packed meals and their accoutrements. Among them I spotted Morrocan lamb tangine, red wine-braised short ribs with vegetables, spinach lasagne and Mac ‘n Cheese (classed up with Gruyere instead of traditional chedder). The soup selection was also impressive, including chicken with potatoes and escarole, white bean with garlic and rosemary, curried carrot soup with coconut milk and lime, and black bean. The chef was just finishing up a big pot of classic tuscan vegetable bean soup, which everyone in the store was able to sample. It was very delicious, though not very salty. I like my soups (and everything else) with tons of salt, but I was informed that all of the meals and meal-kits are prepared with a very low amount of salt, at a “healthy amount,” and patrons are encouraged to add their own seasoning if they like. I guess it’s better to under-salt, than to over-salt!

In speaking with the owner, I found out that Get Fresh will soon be carrying ready-to-eat “lunch boxes,” which can be pre-paid by parents and picked up by the kids while on their lunch breaks at school. Baby food is also in the works.

At $18-$30 for the 3-serving packages, about $10 for the single-serving meals, and $4.50 for the small soups, Get Fresh is on the pricier side of takeout, but the cheaper side of actually buying ingredients to cook it yourself. So often I buy armfuls of fresh ingredients for one or two meals that can be made several times from the amount of each ingredient, and before I barely get one meal out the ingredients have already gone bad.

Get Fresh opened at the end of November, and gets all of their ingredients from local farms, including Dines Farm, Satur Farms, Flying Pigs Farm and Hawthorne Valley Farm. The current menu has just evolved into a winter menu, and though some things continue to change monthly, the selection will mainly change seasonally (which makes sense, when you get your ingredients from farms!).

And now, for the test!!!!!

I selected the pumpkin ravioli (one of my favorite dishes) and rushed home to prepare it. The ingredients (pictured below) were packed very neatly. I’ve always liked kits, and individually wrapped pieces. The ravioli kit comes with swiss chard, balsamic vinegar, pine nuts, pumpkin ravioli, and butter! Everything pre-measured, all the prep work done for you. Seems easy enough.

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The cooking instructions are on the bottom of the container, which I actually found a little difficult. The plastic didn’t want to stay closed, so my directions kept popping over and wiggling away from me. A little thing, I know, but still a thing, so there it is!

The instructions called for the ravioli to be strained, placed in another dish, and the pot returned to the heat for the butter and pine nuts. Since I’ve worked on a few recipes, I can tell you a few things missing from this. Here is what they tell you to do: “Drain and set aside. Return pot to heat and add pine nuts and butter.” When writing a recipe, you always assume the person reading it knows nothing, aka the Lowest Common Denominator. So if I didn’t know anything about cooking, I would “drain and set aside” the pasta, but what about the water? I might keep the water in the pot, and return that to the heat, in which case my butter, pine nuts, etc. would be very soggy and disappointing. Again, something small, but important. The wording should probably read “Return empty pot to heat and add pine nuts and butter.”

Okay– and this is kind of a big one– when I returned my (empty) pot to the heat and added the butter, the pot was much too hot and the butter and pine nuts burned slightly. Maybe something should be said to use a different burner and a lower heat setting? Also, my pot wasn’t entirely dry (my fault, but something that most people might also not take into consdieration) and thus the water droplets caused the butter to spatter (which can lead to little tiny droplet burns. Just look at my forearms…there are definitely a few battle scars from my early cooking adventures back in high school). Again, it’s something that some people might know, but that most people don’t know.

So once I got my (slightly burned) pine nuts, swiss chard, balsamic and ravioli into my bowl, everything looked and smelled beautiful. I ripped open my little bag of parmigianno reggiano cheese and sprinkled plenty on top of my ravioli (I love parmigianno reggiano. I put it on everything. It is also a very fun cheese to pronounce. Like gruyere. Sometimes you can bring up the subject of cheeses, just so you have an opportunity to say these very fun cheese names.)

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The taste was… amazing! Very very good pumpkin ravioli. Sometimes it is paired with a too-sweet sauce or a creamy, overly flavorful sauce that detracts from the pumpkin flavor. The best pumpkin ravioli I ever had was in a yellow squash puree sauce, which was amazing, and I have never been able to quite reproduce the same taste. But this was good too- nice and light. I never had pasta in balsamic, always olive oil or heavy sauce. It was an interesting (not to tart) taste.

I actually thought the portion was more than generous; I didn’t finish it. The greatest and most thoughtful aspect, in my opinion, was the amount of parmegianno reggiano cheese they gave me! I, Dana Dishes, actually had parmegianno reggiano cheese left over!!!! I know. Amazing.

All in all, a wonderful (but pricey) experience. For the moderately skilled cook with better-than-average knowledge, the meals were in fact quick and easy to prepare. I think with a little tweaking of the recipes, I can fully recommend Get Fresh.

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This is my absolute favorite recipe, to make AND to devour. My friend Diana and I once consumed an entire one of these babies by ourselves. Pecan pie is usually a holiday favorite, but I think you can make this year round and enjoy it, especially warm and a la mode. It works best if you use a medium-quality bourbon, like Wild Turkey, Southern Comfort, or Jim Beam.

**First, you need to soak pecans overnight. You can soak them a few hours in advance, but the flavor penetrates much better if left overnight. Place 3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans in a cup or bowl and cover completely with bourbon. Cover and set in fridge overnight.**

yields 2 pies

Preheat oven to 400.

1 stick unsalted butter at room temp, softened but not melted
1/2 cup loosely packed dark brown sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 cup bourbon (in addition to what was used for soaking)
3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans, soaked in bourbon (see above)
3/4 cup halved pecans
3 large eggs
1/4 tsp salt
2 pie crusts, storebought or homemade. (**look for pie crust tutorial next week**)

For the filling:
Cream butter and sugar together, until sugar appears to be evenly dispersed. Continue to stir as you add corn syrup, bourbon, eggs, and salt until well mixed. Stir in soaked pecans. Pour the batter into both pie shells, and sprinkle remaining pecans on top. Place immediately into oven and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until top appears to be solid. After removing from oven, pie filling will still need to set for about half an hour before serving.

In the winter, you can serve with a bourbon-based hot toddy, or with fresh whipped cream, mixed with bourbon. Bourbon bourbon bourbon. You can’t really go wrong, and if you do, just finish off the bottle! What pies?

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