Sunday, August 30, 2009

Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Even though it's over, I'm sure Bravo will re-air "Top Chef Masters" a million times between now and tomorrow. If you did not get a chance to watch it, I strongly recommend it. It's everything I loved about Top Chef without the drama and egos of young chefs. And I was so thrilled (spoiler alert) with the winner, not only because he cooks Mexican, but because he has a restaurant in Chicago. Alas, currently getting a reservation at a Rick Bayless restaurant is more difficult to do than the Red Sox actually winning their division (sigh). So I will wait patiently.

In the meantime, I got some great recipe ideas from the show. One was from Michael Chiarello, oven roasted tomatoes. I picked up some tomatoes at the farmer's market and thought this would be a great way to serve them. Not only were they delicious, but they made my house smell SO good! This is actually the topping to the dish in my next post, Risotto with olives and lemon. It's a great sweet contrast to add to pretty much anything, not to mention it's super simple.

Oven Roasted Tomatoes (adapted from Michael Chiarello)

2 pints heirloom cherry tomatoes cut in half
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
12 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1/2 cup basil leaves (optional)
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

Combine gently in a bowl and spread cut on cookie sheet. Put in 275 degree oven and roast for 2 hours. Applications are endless.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pesto Madness

As shown by the picture above, my basil has gotten out of control. That's namely my fault because I have not used that much this summer (except for salads mostly). But I finally broke down and made pesto.
I have made pesto before a few times, and while I liked it, I was never in love with my recipe. The first time I followed a prep that was extremely oily. Next I thought there was too much garlic. I figured I should do some research before I attempt a third.
Whatever pesto recipe I look at, I tend to cut the oil in about half. I just think it’s a bit much, and it's much easier to add oil than it is to take it out. I mean, who has a centrifuge in their house? I don't (anymore). I also looked into the garlic in my recipe. I usually just peel a few cloves and add them into the pesto, but raw garlic has quite the bite. After some digging, I came across what Cook's Illustrated does, which is to toast the garlic cloves (in their skins) in a pan for a few minutes. This lessens the harshness of the garlic flavor and allows for a better texture. I also found I did not have enough pine nuts to make all the pesto I wanted, so I simply added some almonds to the mix and found that I really liked the nutty mixture.With my research done, I headed to the kitchen and proceeded to make about 4 cups of pesto. Yes, I had that much basil. The great thing about it is that pesto freezes really well, so I had it for dinner and then froze the rest for future applications. Pesto can be used in a variety of ways, but I think my favorite is simply tossed with pasta, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, and topped with fresh tomatoes.


Basil Pesto Pasta with Tomatoes
For the Pesto-

~2 cups packed basil leaves, washed
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/4 cup pine nuts or almonds, toasted slightly
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt
Pepper

In a skillet over medium heat (probably the same one you used to toast the nuts), add in the garlic cloves, unpeeled, and toast while moving often until a few brown spots appear on the skins, about 5 minutes. Cool the garlic cloves to room temperature and peel. Add the nuts to your food processor or blender and pulse for 3 seconds. Add the garlic, basil, Parmesan, half the oil, salt, and pepper and chop until smooth. With the pesto chopping, drizzle in the remaining oil. Season to taste. You can freeze the pesto by pressing some plastic wrap over top of it and sealing in an air-tight container for up to 6 months. Makes enough for 1 pound pasta.

For the dish-

~3/4 cup Pesto
1 pound pasta
1/2 pound cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Boil pasta until al dente, drain (reserving some of the water) and move to a large bowl. Immediately add the pesto and toss to combine. Add a bit of the pasta water to loosen the sauce. Serve, topping with some cheese and sliced tomatoes. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

100 Posts! and The Black Sparrow

Wow, 100 posts! When I first started writing this blog, it was mainly to have some place to put my thoughts and recipes down in a media that was shareable for all to see. Now it has evolved into more of my inspiration to try out new dishes and improve myself as a cook. I have some ideas as for the evolution of this project, and I hope they come to fruition before 200 posts. So thanks to all of you who have stuck with me. I hope you have enjoyed my writing and my recipes!

In light of my 100th post, I present to you not a recipe, but a restaurant experience of my favorite place to eat in Lafayette.

I went to The Black Sparrow for lunch the other day and was appalled that my coworkers who went had never been there. Really? Shoot, I must be slacking on talking up good places to eat in town. It's what I do! So without further ado, here are a few reasons you should go down the Black Sparrow pub for lunch, dinner, or a drink.

First, the atmosphere. The bar is located in downtown and is I believe a refurbished law office. Most of the d├ęcor is old 40's and 50's, giving the place a great feel. The bar is really no nonsense. A few meals, some drinks, that's all they do. They have bands on the weekends and have a non-smoking dining room until 10pm.

Next, the drinks. I am a huge fan of beer, and you can get nothing better than the selection at The Black Sparrow. Their theme is "no crap on tap". It's always different, it's always good, and everyone who works there knows all about the beers. I discovered a few of my all time favorites at this place. Their cocktails are also great. They do a lot of throwback cocktails, such as the dark n' stormy, or a New York Sour, made with egg whites. Match that with a great selection of pretty much whatever else you desire and no one should feel left out.

Last, the food. The menu is simple and refined. The vegetables are local, the meats are fresh, and the flavors are modern American meets international flare. Romesco sauce with goat cheese for an appetizer, or a BLTE (the E is a fried egg) with pesto mayo, and delicious pizzas are the highlight. I always try something new and I am never disappointed. Recently they have started dinner specials that showcase steaks or fresh fruits and vegetables.

Now that you have three great reasons to go here, why are you still reading?

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hot Potato

This is one of the secret weapons I have in my kitchen. And I owe it all to Emily's aunt Carol. She makes this fantastic roasted potatoes, which when I had them the first time they literally blew my mind. When I found out how easy they were to make, it blew my mind again (my mind has since recovered). I actually prefer these to regular baked potatoes (unless I am really in the mood for sour cream).

As far as potato variety goes, you can really use whatever you feel like. The last time I made them I used red potatoes, but russet or Yukon gold will work just as well. Just make sure you do not eat the bay leaf. It won't taste very good.

Bay Leaf Roasted Potatoes

6 potatoes, cut in half lengthwise
12 bay leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 375°F. In a glass baking dish, spread olive oil over bottom. Sprinkle half of the salt over the oil. Wash the potatoes, place a bay leaf on each cut side of a potato and place it cut-side down in the dish. Sprinkle remaining salt on top of potatoes. Cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender. Let rest for a few minutes before removing bay leaf and eating.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Corn, Basil, and a Puppy

I usually put a picture of the dish I am writing about on top of my posts, but this time is a little different. How could I pass up putting a puppy at the top? This is the newest member to our home and kitchen, Molly, a 5 month Old English Sheepdog. She enjoys chewing her toys, eating way too fast, and sleeping on the kitchen floor when I cook. Who could ask for more? On to cooking, this dish is a result from one of the many times I am faced with leftovers. This time it was grilled corn as well as a red pepper I had in the fridge and decided to roast. I enjoy eating leftovers as is, but I have found creativity can really bring out a greater dish. Combined with some basil (more on the massive basil plant I have growing out back next week) I made a pretty simple salad and was quite happy with it.

This recipe calls for two minor "technique" cuts, if you want to call them that. The first is cutting the corn. I prefer to stand the cob up and cut straight down on all sides with a serrated knife. It gets most of the kernel and does not make a huge mess. For basil, I am employing a chiffonade. It's a fancy French word that sounds more complicated than it is. Stack your basil leaves in a nice pile, about 6 high, roll them into a bunch, and cut small strips of the roll. Boom, that's it. Grilled Corn and Basil Salad

3-4 ears sweet corn, kernels separated from cob
½ red onion, diced fine
1 red pepper, roasted and chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
½ cup basil, cut into ribbons.
2 tablespoons lemon juice or cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon red pepper flake
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients except basil in a bowl. Mix to combine. Once mixed, add basil (this will prevent bruising). Chill for about 10 minutes, enjoy!

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Grilled Corn

Of all the things I enjoy during the summer, I cannot think of one single food I enjoy eating more than grilled corn on the cob. Last week I made it with steak teriyaki and consumed three ears with dinner. I average at least two per meal, it's that good. Everyone does it a bit differently. Some shuck the corn and parboil it, finishing it on the grill. I'm too lazy to want to do that, so I have started grilling mine, silk, husk, and all. It turns out that grilling corn this way allows for some easy husk removal and no leftover silk on the cob (I'm going to put those corn silk brush manufacturers out of business). So go down the street to your market or stand and get some fresh corn. It embodies summertime.

Grilled Corn

Corn, still in husk

Preheat grill to medium-high. Make sure to leave a space that has no coals or flame to avoid charring. Remove very outer layer of corn husk, mainly lose bits (see picture). With a knife, cut off the tip of the silk (you don’t need to this, but it will avoid it blackening or burning on the grill). Rinse off corn and place on grill. Cover and cook, turning often, for about 20 minutes. Outer husks should brown or blacken slightly. After 20 minutes, remove one ear and check for doneness by pulling back part of the husk and checking the tenderness of the corn (use tongs, it's hot). When corn is done, remove and let cool on sheet pan for about 5 minutes. Shuck corn and remove silk, it should fall off easily. Serve with salt, butter, or nothing. If you enjoy more char on your corn, return the peeled ears to the grill and cook an extra 3-5 minutes, turning often.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fiesta Mexican Grill

Once again it's time for the Search for Good Mexican Food in Lafayette (SFGMFIL). While I enjoy my meal every time I step into El Meson, occasionally I am simply looking for a quick burrito filled with whatever I desire. This leaves me a few choices, all within 2 blocks of each other. First, I have Chipotle, which is decent, but really suffers from the fact that they were once owned by McDonalds and therefore subject to the same quality standards as their gourmet burgers. Moving on. Qdoba is right up the street, and provides you with practically the same service, albeit with better rice and a few more menu options (Mexican gumbo is good). But again, it's owned by a burger chain (Jack in the Box) and sometimes the quality is really hit or miss. I also refuse to discuss Moe's, as the two times I have eaten there have resulted in dissatisfaction of both my mind and my stomach.

But wait, there is hope yet! Right across from my favorite sushi restaurant sits a newer establishment known as Fiesta Mexican Grill. To be honest, if I had not been eating sushi I never would have known about the place. They really need to advertise (then again, that's hopefully what I'm doing by writing about them). That place is really good. First, as I am usually pretty critical about Mexican food, they make their own tortillas, which immediately makes them worthwhile. Second, they serve burritos enchilada style. Coming from the southwest, this was something I find severely lacking in the area. Burritos are good, but smothering a burrito in enchilada sauce and baking it is even better.

The first time I went in, I tried the shredded chicken burrito, and I have since tried the shredded beef and grilled chicken. All are very good, but the grilled chicken is awesome. They give you a choice of sauce to put in and on your burrito (the medium green chile sauce is dynamite), and top it with whatever you want. Their pico de gallo is homemade and wonderfully spicy. Since I discovered this place I have not ventured back to any of the other burrito places. Why would I when I found something so great at Fiesta?

102 N. Chauncey, West Lafayette, 765-838-0988

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