Recipe: Plantain Nachos

So here's where I see the state of the country right now:

  1. If you live on the East Coast, Midwest, or South, then I'm sure you've had it up to HERE with this soul-crushing winter weather we've had.
  2. If you have any family or friends in those regions, I'm sure you're sick of reading their Facebook status messages about the awful winter they're enduring.
  3. If you're in California, you desperately need some of the bad storms everyone else has been having and you kinda want them to quit their whining.

Our family is solidly in the first category.  But we have ways of coping.  One way is by declaring an evening "St. Martin Night."  Why St. Martin?  Because we've fallen in love with the island (I'll be making my third trip there next month), and we spend a good portion of the time we're not there wishing that we were.

What does one do on St. Martin Night?  We crank up the heat A LOT (one of the joys of radiator heat - it doesn't cost us an arm and leg in electric bills) and put on our vacation outfits.  We listen to lots of Marley and Gipsy Kings while making lip-smacking rum drinks (El Diablos and Dark and Stormys are both favorites).  Then we usually watch a beach-themed movie as a family, like Mamma Mia, Weekend at Bernie's, or...Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights.

This last weekend, we were in desperate need of a pseudo beach getaway.  So we made an imitation of the Plantain Nachos that we created while in St. Martin last November.  Sadly, we did have to substitute bagged plantain chips for the fresh plantains we fried on the island, but we refused to be deterred.  And, er, I did buy pre-made guacamole, albeit freshly made.  The bacon in the recipe?   A little odd, true, but I had some left over in the fridge and thought I might as well add it.  Who cares, though?  Island fever was the goal and we achieved it.

Serves 3
4 c. plantain chips, approximately
1 c. grated oaxaca cheese (or queso blanco)
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
6 slices of bacon, cut into 3/4-inch slices
1 clove garlic, sliced thin
1/2 tsp. chili powder, or to taste
1/2 tsp. cumin, or to taste
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tbsp. cilantro, roughly chopped, or to taste
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
Guacamole, to taste
Salsa, freshly made or store-bought, to taste
Sour cream, to taste
Lime wedges or slices, for garnish
  1. Sauté bacon in a medium-high pan until just crispy.  Remove bacon with a slotted spoon on to a paper towel-lined plate.  Pour out all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat.  Add garlic over medium heat and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes.  Add black beans and lime juice.  Stir until warmed through.  Remove from heat and add bacon, chili powder, cumin, cilantro, salt, and pepper.  Taste to make sure the seasonings suit you.
  1. Assemble desired amount of plantain chips on plate.  Spoon desired amount of black bean-bacon mixture over the chips.  Sprinkle cheese over the dish.  Add desired amount of guacamole, salsa, and sour cream.  Garnish with lime slices.
SIDE DISH SUGGESTION: As a side dish, grilled fresh pineapple makes a great sunny weather addition.  Core and peel a fresh pineapple, then cut into large slices.  Brush with olive oil and grill until grill marks show and pineapple softens a bit.  Remove from heat and sprinkle with sea salt.  Enjoy!

Is it the same as laying on a white sandy beach?  Hardly.  But we got to feel super warm while wearing swimsuits and sarongs, and it made us forget about winter, if just for one evening.

Eat, drink, and make the most of it.


Recipe: Barley Soup with Scotch...

...otherwise known as my New Favorite Recipe.

This recipe appeared in an October 2011 issue of Food & Wine and I'm horrified that I kept it this long without trying it.  That means I've lived TWO YEARS without this in my life.  It's the culinary equivalent of curling up under a warm blanket on the couch...or soft cashmere mittens on a chilly day...or warm mulled wine shared with a friend.

In my version below, I substituted chopped parsley for the celery leaves, adding them to the soup fresh at the last minute.  F&W's recipe also doesn't specify which Scotch to use.  Adam's a peat-y guy - he loves himself some Laphroaig - but I love my Scotch more toasty and woody so I used one of my personal favorites: Balvenie 12-Year Doublewood.

Barley Soup with Scotch
Adapted from Food & Wine
Serves 4

6 cups vegetable broth
1 cup barley grits (I found pearled barley on Fresh Direct)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon Scotch whisky
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 oz. dry salami, sliced paper-thin (about 20 slices)
Crème fraîche, for serving

1. In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a boil.  Keep hot over low heat.  In a large skillet, cook the barley over moderately high heat, tossing, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes.  Transfer to a plate to cool.
2. Add vegetable oil to the skillet and add the onion.  Cook over moderate heat, stirring a few times, until softened, about 10 minutes.  Add the barley and stir well.  Add 1 cup of the hot broth and cook over moderate heat, stirring often, until most of the broth has been absorbed.  Continue adding more broth, 1 cup at a time (yes, just like risotto), and stirring often between additions.  The soup is finished when all of the broth has been added and the barley is just tender, about 25 minutes.  Add the Scotch and then stir in the butter.  Season with salt and pepper (make sure to taste it!).
3. Ladle the soup into shallow bowls.  Top with the salami and dollop of crème fraîche.  Garnish with the parsley and serve hot.

Can you believe it?  That's it.  And I really don't think you lose a lot if you leave out the salami and make it vegetarian.  I do insist, however, that you keep that dollop of crème fraîche - it's the divine richness that just makes the entire dish.

And, yes, Isabell ate this.  I just "forgot" to mention the Scotch.  Seriously, guys, she would have gone on about how she's "too young to get drunk" and it would've been a big dramatic thing.  But at a single tablespoon for the whole dish, I hardly think she was in danger of getting sloshed under the dining room table.  (And I diced the onion so fine that there was no way she could even detect they were there.)

Make this dish ASAP while we're all still mildly entertained by winter's charms.  I can guarantee that you'll be flipping off recipes like this one come March...and then you'll have to wait until NEXT YEAR to try this amazing soup!

Eat, drink, and ACT NOW.



Orecchiette with Smoked Ricotta and Salami

I know, I know.  It's been a long, long, loooong time.  And I've so missed being here.  Sure, I could tell stories about how my life has been this or that...but that's boring.  So I won't.  My lovely online blogging friend, Carina at We Are All in the Gutter, said, "I hope you're simply busy living."  Indeed, I have been! XO

So let's get back to it, shall we?  You all may remember my French post - I received the most comments on it and many of you sent personal notes expressing support and divulging your own challenges with maintaining a healthy lifestyle (and being bien dans votre peau).  Well, I am SO THERE AGAIN (though not neeearly to the extent as before).  I've had many life changes recently - most important of which is going back to work full-time - and I just slipped a bit.  But I'm back and feeling so much better already after two weeks of Frenchification.

With that in mind, one thing I've been trying to do more of is eating at home.  Adam, Isabell*, and I got into a rather awful habit of eating out often - about 3 times a week.  No more!  I need to be back in the kitchen for my emotional well-being and my health!  I've been trotting out some favorites (such as the Robiola Wrapped in Mortadella), but I also winged it a couple nights ago (what's the past tense of "to wing it"?  I wung it?) and made this:

Orecchiette with Smoked Ricotta and Salami.

I don't have exact measurements; everything below is an approximation.  That's probably bad food blogging on my part, but how boring to measure everything exactly, right?  This is precisely the sort of recipe that lends itself to experimenting, tasting, and exploring.  Here is the list of ingredients:
  • 8 oz. orecchiette pasta (you could substitute cavatappi, bowties, or even macaroni)
  • 4 oz. smoked ricotta (we used Salvatore Bklyn's version available from Fresh Direct, but you can substitute regular ricotta, if you can't find smoked)
  • 1/4 lb. thinly sliced salami (I particularly love Rosette de Lyon, but use any kind you like...spicy could be awesome if you're using regular ricotta)
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 6 basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  • Olive oil (high quality for drizzling)
  • Olive oil (for sautéing)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook until al dente.
2. Meanwhile, heat small sauté pan over med-high heat and add olive oil.  Add tomatoes and cook until blistered and spitting.  Remove from heat.
3. Drain pasta into large bowl.  Add ricotta, salami, lemon zest, salt, and pepper; toss pasta.  Top with tomatoes, basil, and excellent quality olive oil.  

Serves 4.

I loved this dish.  It was light but satisfying, and it lends itself to improvisation (see spicy salami note above...it'd also be wonderful with thyme); the ricotta makes a creamy sauce all on its own, and the charred tomatoes help ward off the winter blues.  This also reheated well the next day for lunch.

Well, it's wonderful to be back and you should start seeing more of me!  Happy New Year, all!

Eat, drink, and start anew!

* Isabell was 6 years old when I started this blog, and now she's nearly 13.  It just seems silly to keep calling her Kiddo.  


Apple and Fennel Salad with Salted Caramel Pecans

When I made this recipe recently, I actually wasn't so sure I wanted to try it.  Caramelized pecans and apples seem so autumn-centric to me...and I'm in full-time spring mode lately.  However, when spring comes, I tend to eat much lighter, skipping the "entrée" and eating the salads and side dishes as main meals.  So this recipe actually began to seem just right for how I like to eat in April.

I found this salad in a Donna Hay magazine quite some time ago; after scouring her website, I can't find the issue number anywhere so, alas, no direct link - I've looked all over the web.  But I didn't change anything - the recipe I'm sharing here is hers exactly.

Lastly, apologies for the photos, which were taken with my phone.  That said...not bad for my phone, right?

Apple and Fennel Salad with Salted Caramel Pecans
Recipe from Donna Hay

Serves 6

12 slices prosciutto
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 cup pecans
1/2 cup superfine (caster) sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes (kosher salt is fine too)
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 small red apples, thinly sliced
4 bulbs baby fennel, thinly sliced (regular fennel is fine too; just use 2 large bulbs)

Preheat oven to 325 F (160 C). Place the prosciutto on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, brush with maple syrup, and bake for 10 minutes or until crisp and golden. Set aside.

Place the pecans, sugar, water, and salt in a bowl and toss to coat.  Heat a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat.  Add the pecans and cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally or until caramelized.  Set aside to cool.

Place the vinegar and oil in a bowl and whisk to combine.  Place the apple, fennel, prosciutto, and pecans in a bowl, drizzle with the dressing, and toss to coat.

NOTE: For presentation, I layered it.  Stack the apple slices, prosciutto, fennel; start again.  Add pecans on top and around plate as garnish.  I also saved some of the fennel fronds, chopped them, and sprinkled them on top last.  Finish with a fresh grind of pepper.

Eat, drink, and embrace lightness.


Bay Area Love

I just returned from a long weekend in the Bay Area, visiting my talented, warm, dear friends Amy and Lisa.  They love food and wine as much (if not more!) than I do, so I ate and drank ridiculously well.  Here is my Weekend in Instagram:

Arles mussels (shallots, butter, parsley, garlic, white wine), frites with lemon-saffron aioli, and a pint of Leffe at Frjtes.

Flight of "spring whites" at Toast (yes, that's a sippy cup in the background...).

The bar at Toast - can I keep this sign?

Tres leches cake from Tartine Bakery.  I have a nonexistent sweet tooth and I still polished my plate.  DELICIOUS.

Bug with her cone of meat from Boccalone Salumeria in the Ferry Building (she chose mortadella, soppressata, and pancetta).  I also couldn't resist buying their orange-and-fennel salami...as well as their brown-sugar-and-fennel salami!

 Outstanding last supper at Chez Amy and Lisa.

What an incredible weekend.

Eat, drink, and rejuvenate.


Linguine with Creamy Red Cabbage and Corn

I can hardly complain about this winter so far; other than a freezing cold that has gripped the Northeast, New York has had little snow or rain to mention.  Nevertheless, I feel like I would give damn-near anything for a peach straight from the farm right now.  Don't we all feel that way this time of year?

So, as you can imagine, I struggle with my menu in February.  No more potatoes!  No more soups!  No more root vegetables at all!  Even...dare I say it?...no more Brussels sprouts!!!!  But how do I freshen up my dishes without buying, say, asparagus that's completely out of season?

When I saw a recipe for Egg Noodles with Creamy Red Cabbage and Sweet Corn in my Edible Brooklyn: The Cookbook (from the Edible Brooklyn magazine folks), I thought it would be perfect.  And what an interesting combination with pasta, right?  Actually, this whole cookbook is amazing; it's quickly becoming one of my go-to books.  Anyway, it's obviously not corn season in New York right now but I have no problem substituting with frozen corn in the winter months - frozen in the off-season is much better than fresh in the off-season, to my mind.

This recipe is, in a word, fantastic.  It mixes the sweet with the salty, and the red wine vinegar rounds it all out with a tart acidity.  The pasta gives the dish a heartiness you want in winter, but the corn is such a welcome change from the usual cold-weather fare.  To quote Adam, "this recipe's a keeper."


Adapted only slightly from Edible Brooklyn: The Cookbook, edited by Rachel Wharton

Serves 4-6

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 medium head red cabbage, cored and sliced into 1/2-inch strips
1 tbsp salt
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels
1 lb fresh linguine
1 cup crème fraîche (or sour cream)
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic, and cook for a few minutes until the onion is softened but the garlic is not yet golden.

2. Add the cabbage and salt, and cook for 3-4 minutes; do not let the vegetables brown.  Add the vinegar and sugar, cover the pot, reduce to a gentle simmer, and cook for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Taste the cabbage - it should be tender but not mushy.  Adjust the salt, vinegar, and sugar to taste if needed, and set the cabbage aside.

3. In a large skillet, melt the butter and sauté the corn over high heat until it begins to caramelize.  Remove from heat and set aside.

4. Cook the pasta according to package directions (about 3 minutes for fresh pasta), reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, and drain.  In a large bowl, combine the pasta, corn, red cabbage, and crème fraîche.  Thin sauce with pasta water, if needed.  Let sit for 3-5 mintues to allow the pasta to soak up the sauce.  Serve in warmed bowls.  Top with pepper to taste.

KID-FRIENDLINESS NOTE: This dish is fairly adaptable for kids.  I reserved some corn and pasta in a bowl, tossed them with some crème fraîche, and Bug was perfectly happy to eat it.  She probably would have gone for the cabbage as well but, with the onions in there, she would have been scared off so I left those out of her bowl.

NOTE: The cookbook was given to me by the publisher.

This will absolutely be a recurring dish in our house.  In addition, to the unique mix of flavors, the colors are simple gorgeous - a sure way to cheer you up on a dreary winter evening.


Orange Peel Wine

With the exception of the occasional mulled wine, I have not been a fan of altering wine in any way to make some sort of wine cocktail.  I'm not even a huge fan of Kir Royale - Champagne (or Prosecco) is so lovely on its own and why mess with a good thing?

But lately...well...I've been altering wine like crazy.  I have several cookbooks that have recipes for wine-based drinks, and I've been finding myself intrigued.  For instance, one recipe was for a winter-inspired rosé recipe - you add lemon and sage to it (spoiler alert: it did not taste great).  Likewise, I have several different mulled wine recipes.

There is one recipe that stood out, though: Orange Peel Wine.  Which, not surprisingly, is from one of my favorite cookbooks, French Food at Home by Laura Calder.  The coriander gives the wine a bit of bite and the sugar gives it a roundness that you really want out of a white wine in winter.  Calder recommends a Muscadet, and I concur - I use a rather inexpensive bottle that I get from Fresh Direct.  The major thing to remember is that you need to make sure there is no white on the orange peel; believe me, it'll make the wine super bitter and yucky.  Other than that, this is a cinch to make.  Drink it as an apéritif or digestif.

from French Food at Home by Laura Calder

One 750-ml bottle dry white wine
1 medium orange
1/3 cup/65g sugar
8 coriander seeds

Open the wine.  Pour out about half a cup so that the bottle doesn't overflow when you add the other ingredients; of course, enjoy the wine while you finish the recipe.

Shave the zest from the orange with a vegetable peeler.  Remove every trace of the bitter white pith from the back with a sharp knife.  Poke the orange zest into the bottle of wine (if you have any trouble, I found that using the handle of a wooden spoon will get the zest into the bottle).  Funnel in the sugar.  Drop in the coriander seeds.  Recork the bottle Turn it upside down and right side up a few times until the sugar has dissolved.  Refrigerate 1 week, giving the wine a shake once a day.

Strain into a carafe and serve well chilled.

I have three bottles marinating in my fridge right now.  What will I do with all that wine?  Well, I bought carafe type bottles at Fishs Eddy the other day, and I plan on giving out small carafes of this to some friends this holiday season.  More on that soon!

This was a good lesson for me.  Rather than sniffing my nose haughtily about how I don't drink "wine cocktails," I needed to expand my mind a bit and embrace the possibility that wine and coriander, together, might just be delicious.

Eat, drink, and stay open-minded.

Other recipes I've posted from Laura Calder's French Food at Home:
Pear Pork
Bacon and Hazelnut Leeks


New Toy(s)

I'm having way too much fun with this.  Thanks to Garance Doré, I've now discovered the wonderful world of my iPad, a stylus, and the Noteshelf app.  More fun to come (and bear with me as I experiment)...

Thanks to Fishs Eddy for the awesome picture and the endless delights in their shop!