Friday, January 30, 2015

Butternut Squash Toast

New Year's Eve 2014 was very much a repeat of New Year's Eve 2013: we went to Cunningham's for dinner, came home to watch Kathy Griffin taunt Anderson Cooper until midnight, then toasted the new year with champagne and Christmas cookies. We love that Cunningham's opened in our area; it's ideal for both casual and fancy meals, and because it's so close, we don't have to worry too much about encountering drunken revelers on our way home.

The restaurant offered a prix fixe dinner last year, but we opted to order from the regular a la carte menu. It was less-expensive that way, and allowed us to skip dessert. Plus, there were more selections. I had been intrigued by the idea of butternut squash toasts, a dish that was praised by Richard Gorelick in his 2013 review of Cunningham's. He describes the toast as comprising ricotta, maple syrup, and cider vinegar, in addition to the squash. We ordered the toasts as one of our appetizers and really enjoyed it, even Mr Minx, who is not the biggest fan of squash.

Those flavors stuck with me, and a few weeks into the new year, I decided to try to replicate it. But before I reinvented the wheel, I looked on teh Innernets to see if anything like it was out there. Lo and behold, there was--a recipe by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, which had been restyled and reblogged a couple of times. It involved squash, ricotta, maple syrup, cider vinegar, and thick slices of toast, so I'm pretty sure it's the inspiration for Cunningham's dish. And it seemed easy enough to make at home.

What's not easy is peeling butternut squash. Jean-Georges' recipe called for roasting and mashing, but I liked the diced squash at Cunningham's. Thought it would be more attractive as well. J-G also called for what seemed to be an inordinate amount of cider vinegar and maple syrup--1/4 cup each--and 2 teaspoons of salt. Yowza. No need for either excess; the dish is even better when it's not cloyingly sweet. Besides, all of that additional liquid would make the dish too soupy. Yes, I do have the audacity to question Jean-Georges. Cooking is all about what pleases the eater, not the chef. And this dish is so good, I'd do it all over again.

Butternut Squash Toasts (adapted from a recipe by Jean-Georges Vongerichten)

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into small dice
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Large pinch aleppo pepper
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons cup maple syrup
Country bread, cut into 1-inch thick slices
Ricotta cheese
Coarse salt
Minced chives and chile threads for garnish

Preheat oven to 450. Combine squash, 1/4 cup olive oil, aleppo pepper, and 1 teaspoon of salt in a bowl and toss well. Transfer the mixture to a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast, stirring twice, until tender and lightly caramelized, 30 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large pan. Add the onions and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onions are well softened and darkening, about 20 minutes Add the vinegar and maple syrup and cook an additional 10-15 minutes.

Combine squash and onions in a bowl. Taste for seasoning. Add a touch more maple syrup if you want it to be sweeter, but we enjoyed it on the more savory side.

Lightly toast bread. Spread some ricotta on toasts, then top with the squash-onion mixture. Sprinkle with chopped chives and chile threads.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bloody Mary Beef

Sometimes a recipe sounds better than it actually is. I got excited about one for Bloody Mary Beef from Jamie Oliver's new Comfort Food cookbook. I like a good Bloody Mary on occasion, and think the flavors of horseradish, Worcestershire, and tomato would be smashing with beef. And it is, but if one follows the recipe to the letter, the flavors are a bit weak. Too much tomato, not enough anything else. But, if one ups the amount of aromatic Worcestershire sauce, adds horseradish (found in the original internet version but not in the cookbook version), and re-seasons the dish before serving, it's actually pretty good, with a nice depth of flavor

If I tinkered with it enough, I could probably make it great. For now, though, this is a pretty good stew to make when you have a bit of time on the weekend. It's great with horseradish mashed potatoes, but it makes such a large amount, you'll find yourself serving it again later in the week as a pasta sauce or with rice.

Bloody Mary Beef (a Jamie Oliver recipe, with some alterations)

Olive oil
1 2lb beef chuck roast
Kosher salt
Freshly ground white pepper
1 bunch of celery, trimmed and cut into 2" lengths
2 red onions, cut into eighths
1 32oz can of tomato puree
5 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
3 tablespoons vodka
Juice of 1 lemon
2 fresh bay leaves

Heat a large pot or dutch oven over high heat and add the olive oil. Pat the roast dry and season generously with salt and pepper on both sides. Brown meat on all sides, about 10 minutes total, and remove from pan. Add celery and onion to the pan with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften.

In a bowl, stir together the tomato puree, Worcestershire, horseradish, Tabasco, vodka, and lemon juice. Put the browned meat back into the pot on top of the vegetables and add the tomato mixture plus one cup of water. Toss in the bay leaves.

Bring mixture to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Cover pot and cook meat until fork tender, stirring occasionally, about 3 hours. Remove meat from pot and shred with two forks or slice thinly. Add back to pot and stir well. Cook an additional hour. Taste for seasoning, adding salt, pepper, and additional Worcestershire and Tabasco, if necessary. It's not going to taste exactly like a Bloody Mary, but you want to at least get the idea.

Serve with horseradish mashed potatoes.

Serves 6-8.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Cyrus Keefer's Pique Pop-Up at Sotto Sopra

Chef Cyrus Keefer, formerly of Fork & Wrench and Birroteca, will be opening his own restaurant in Hampden. The 25-seat Piqué will feature seasonal cuisine with French and Asian influences. We attended the Piqué pop-up at Sotto Sopra last week and were treated to a selection of the chef's dishes.

We started out with passed apps, including fried chicken liver tacos (which should become a Thing), steak tartare, and Keefer's now-famous escargot buns. Then we sat down to six courses, all of which were flavorful, imaginative, and elegantly presented. Not to mention beautiful. See photographic evidence, below.

Pork belly dumpling, whiskey vinegar, dashi crema
Insalada Bianca - cippolini onion, pickled mushroom, cauliflower, tart apple, mascarpone
I loved the subtle touches in the meal, the crisp soy nuts in the salad, the roasty sunchokes in the duck dish, the silky little shrimp on the chawanmushi (egg custard) dish.

Tender octopus - tomatillos, green curry, coconut poached potato
Egg custard, marinated tomato and olive, smoked olive oil
Duck pot au feu, roast turnips, black garlic, ginger, Thai basil
Spice cake, caramel, meringues
If you'd like to support Chef Keefer's endeavors, he has a Kickstarter to raise funds to open the restaurant. A high-end French/Asian place will be a new concept for 36th Street, don't you think? And a welcome one, indeed.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food

I received several cookbooks for Christmas, and hope to talk a little about each of them here. First up is Jamie Oliver's new one, Comfort Food: the Ultimate Weekend Cookbook.

The book is thick and heavy, so it might seem that there are hundreds of recipes included. Rather, the bulk of the book is food porn--lots of pretty pictures of the various recipes included. And when I say "various," I mean the recipes are all over the place. Oliver's idea of comfort food includes dishes from India and Indonesia as well as British favorites like toad in the hole, sticky toffee pudding, and beans on toast.

I've bookmarked several recipes to try, including the three mentioned above, plus one called Bloody Mary Beef, which seems like a good thing to cook up on a cold winter day, as it spends 5 or so hours in the oven.

The first recipe to strike my fancy, however, was for quesadillas made with brussels sprouts. Unusual? Yes. But also quite good. I would never have thought of this combination, but it worked very well.

The recipe is pretty simple. I can't share it exactly as written, but it's not rocket science.

Slice up a large onion and half a pound of brussels sprouts (I added a handful of sliced mushrooms, too, because I had them). Toss them in a large saute pan with a pat of butter, or, use a glug of olive oil, as I did. Sprinkle in 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, the leaves from 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme, and a big pinch of salt. Cover pan and cook over medium-high heat for about ten minutes, stirring frequently. Remove lid and cook for another ten minutes or so, until onions and sprouts caramelize nicely. Turn off the heat, hit with a squeeze of lime juice, and scrape into a bowl. Wipe out the skillet and spray it with release spray.

Lay a large flour tortilla out onto a plate or cutting board. Top with enough of the brussels sprouts mixture to cover almost to the edges. Sprinkle with a handful of grated pecorino cheese (as per recipe), or your favorite combo of melting cheeses. I added some shredded sharp cheddar, too, since I had some. Top with a second tortilla.

Heat pan and carefully transfer filled tortillas, making sure not to slop filling into the pan. Cook over medium heat until browned and crisp on the bottom, 2-3 minutes. Flip gently and repeat on second side.

Transfer quesadilla to a cutting board and cut into 6-8 wedges. Serve with sour cream, salsa, guac, chopped green onion, whatever floats your boat. I whipped up a quick sauce with ground chipotle pepper, a dash of agave syrup, pinch of salt, and a squeeze of lime stirred into sour cream.

A brussels sprout quesadilla might seem weird, but it was really very delicious. Both Mr Minx and I love brussels sprouts in pretty much any form, so this was a big hit. We made two quesadillas for dinner and had enough sprouts and onions (and mushrooms) left over to make another one a couple days later.

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