Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Knocked Up

I love pizza. I could eat it every day. In fact, I've made a good run at that before — much to the chagrin of those around me. It would definitely be my last supper. And I'd choose pizza from Napoli's in Panama City (Panama not Florida), which I know seems like an odd choice. But I remember having my inaugural slice when I was probably 6 years old. It blew my socks off. It was the first time I realized food could be transformative. I had it again as an adult and am glad to report it's still as life-changing as I remembered. The PC is planning a reunion visit to Panama in 2012, and my mouth is already watering in anticipation of my Napoli's fix.

Anyway, I love the accessibility and versatility of pizza. There are limitless possibilities when it comes to toppings, but I personally draw the line at seafood. I'm sorry, but shrimp does not belong on a pizza. Maybe on a bruschetta, which I realize is like a mini pizza, but I'm holding my position.

For the record, I am open to non-traditional pizzas. When I saw a recipe for a Spanish pizza, I immediately perked up because Spain is my favorite country and I think the flavor profiles of Spanish cuisine are incredible. However, when you think of Spain you certainly don't think of pizza. Maybe jamon, paella, marcona almonds . . . . But this pizza did include a short list of ingredients I love so I thought I'd give it the old college try (although I can assure you I was drinking much better red wine than I was in college).

The result: it's like if Italy knocked up Spain and made a Catalonian pizza love child. It has all the classic flavors of the Costa Brava (chorizo, manchego cheese, tomatoes and olive oil) masquerading as a lovely pizza pie. It looked familiar but each bite burst with a unique combination of surprising ingredients.

Kind of like those cool mash-ups you hear which combines the Beatles and Ke$ha, which sounds bizarre but once you listen to it you realize it's genius. That's kind of the best way to describe this pizza.

Catalonian Pizza

1 store-bought pizza dough
Extra virgin olive oil for brushing
4 small Roma tomatoes, sliced
2 cups manchego cheese, shredded
1/2 lb bulk fresh chorizo sausage
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

Place a pizza stone in oven and preheat to at least 500 degrees . Ideally, the stone should heat for at least 1 hour to get the ideal pizza crust. While heating, in a medium saute pan cook the chorizo over medium heat. Break up with a wooden spoon and stir until browned slightly and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Place pizza dough on a lightly floured surface. I recommend a mixture of flour and corn meal. Carefully stretch the dough with your hands into a large circle about 1/8-in thick. If possible, work on a pizza peel as it makes transferring it to the oven a piece of cake.
Brush olive oil over the dough saving about 1/2-in from edge. Sprinkle cheese over the dough, then layer with tomato slices and the chorizo. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Bake pizza until golden brown approximately 6-8 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with fresh cilantro. Cut and serve.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Winter's Bone

Well, I'm not sure Santa Barbara got the memo that Spring is here. It's more like Winter: Act II. The good news is that this recipe for short ribs is very fitting even though April is literally right around the corner. I made this dish for an Oscar party and also for my friend Meredith's birthday.

It's definitely a crowd pleaser: comfort food at it's best. It's one of those home-cooked meals that just makes you feel loved. So if that's what you're going for, I'd highly suggest you make this — and as soon as possible as I do hope the cold and rain will soon come to an end.

The rosemary-infused wine gravy provides the most wonderful flavor to this humble cut of meat. They're meaty and fatty, in the best way possible, and still on the bone for added depth of flavor. And the mash really is the perfect side, freckled with rosemary and slightly sweet from the addition of parsnips. It will make you rethink what mashed potatoes should be.

I will issue one warning: This recipe does call for an entire bottle of Zinfandel, so if you like to drink while cooking (like me), make sure have a second bottle handy.

Zinfandel-Braised Beef Short Ribs with Rosemary-Parsnip Mashed Potatoes
compliments of Bon Appetit

3 Tbsp room temperature butter, divided
4 lbs meaty beef short ribs
Coarse kosher salt
2 1/2 cups chopped red onions
2 cups 1/2-inch peeled parsnips
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 750-ml bottle Zinfandel
2 cups low sodium beef broth
1 Tbsp all purpose flour

1 stick unsalted butter
3 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 lb large parsnips, peeled, cut into 3/4-in cubes
1 1/2 cup whole milk
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat over to 325 degrees. Melt 1 Tbsp butter in heavy large oven-proof pot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle ribs with coarse salt and pepper. Add to pot in single layer and saute until brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Note: you have have to do this in two batches. Transfer ribs to a large bowl. Add 1 Tbsp butter to pot. Add onions and parsnips and saute until beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Mix in garlic and rosemary. Add wine and broth; bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits.
Return ribs and any accumulated juices to pot, arranging in a single layer if possible. Bring to a simmer; cover and place in oven. Braise until ribs are very tender, about 2 1/2 hours. Using tongs, transfer ribs to clean bowl. Spoon fat from pan juice. Boil juices until just beginning to thicken, about 10 minutes. Mix 1 Tbsp butter and flour in small bowl to smooth paste. Whisk into juices in pot; simmer until thickened enough to coat spoon, about 5 minutes longer. Don't skip this step. It creates the most luxurious dimension to the gravy. Season gravy with coarse salt and pepper. Return ribs to pot and spoon gravy over.
Note: This can be made 2 days ahead. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm over low heat before serving.

Cook potatoes and parsnips in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile bring milk, butter, and rosemary to simmer in a small saucepan. Drain potato mixture and return to pot. I personally like my potatoes very silky so try to use a ricer if I can. Stir briefly over medium heat to evaporate excess moisture. Add milk mixture and mash well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Note: You may find you need to add more liquid to the mash. Chicken stock is a wonderful substitute for milk, butter, mayo, sour cream, etc. But those options also work wonderfully and also create a rich and satisfying dish. The rosemary is subtle but key to create this wonderfully balanced yet elevated side. And you could certainly use all potato instead of the mix with parsnips, but you should at least try it. It's mashed potatoes but with a slight sweetness to them. Not like sweet potatoes but with a complexity that makes them seem special even if you can't quite put your finger on why.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Meal Fit for a King, a College Student, and a 1-Armed Hiker

I don't know about you but this year seems to be evaporating before my very eyes! We're already almost a quarter of the way through 2011 for goodness sakes. I've been wanting to share a story with you and I'm realizing it happened almost one month ago. Lame.

Anyway, my friend Karen and I hosted the Oscar Night of Gluttony banquet again, which is I think now officially an annual event. Here's how it works: We each draw three of the Best Picture nominations out of a hat and have to make a dish or a drink inspired by the movie. We then proceed to eat ridiculous amounts of food for hours as we make catty comments about the fashion, acceptance speeches and celebrities. Since the Oscars is a live show, things get started around 3 pm in California. This is great because for whatever reason I love to drink during the day. [Note: I hope none of my clients are reading this post.] It makes me feel like I'm on a mini vacation or something. By 9 pm we're pretty drunk and definitely stuffed. The only major downside is that my photography skills degrade with each glass, so the quality of these pictures is pretty poor. Sorry about that.

The menu this year was quite impressive, if not also a bit random given the range of movie themes. Karen drew The King's Speech, Black Swan and 127 Hours. Those who know me know I have a strange sense of humor so I thought it would be funny to not bring anything for 127 Hours. I mean after all the main character was pinned by a boulder for 127 hours so there was not a lot of food going on in that movie. But Karen thankfully does not share my humor and did actually make a dish for it: homemade hummus and crudite. It was also the only healthy thing we ate that day.

For The King's Speech, she made a very civilized drink called the Royal Cup (recipe below)

And a rich seafood risotto that played off the black and white theme in The Black Swan — which was a recipe that incidentally came from the Black Swan restaurant in Orlando, FL.

I on the other hand, had the joy of conceiving dishes for:

1) Winter's Bone: While crystal meth is central to this movie, I figured it was better to go with something a little more legal so served up zinfandel-brasied beef short ribs served over rosemary-parsnip potatoes to play off the concept of bones and a comforting Winter dish.

2) The Social Network: I was torn between the typical college fare of pizza, top ramen and mac and cheese. Ultimately I went with homemade cookies because I remember getting those care packages filled with cookies in the mail while in college. It was like gold. I could trade them for all sorts of things: a load of laundry, borrowing someone's car, beer, etc.

3) True Grit: It may have been too obvious but I couldn't resist shrimp and grits for this Western remake. I actually have an entire cookbook dedicated to the subject of shrimp and grits and labored the longest over which version to make. A key ingredient was a can of Coke so you know I was convinced I found a winner.

As predicted, a lot of the Golden Globe winners walked away with the Academy Award . . . and I gained about 10 lbs in a single sitting. But I'm already looking forward to next year's indulgent event.

P.S. I'll share posts for some of the other recipes in the coming week, so stay tuned!

Royal Cup
by Karen

1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
3 drops bitters
4 oz champagne/sparkling wine

Pour first two ingredients into a champagne flute and top with sparkling wine. Sip and enjoy!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler

You may not be aware of this, but we're on the brink of an important holiday: Mardi Gras! That's right, Fat Tuesday is tomorrow. And that's a wonderful excuse to eat and drink a whole lot before Lent sets in and we're deprived of something good for 40 days. I'm not very good at Lent, but that's probably worth its own blog post. So I think for this one, I'll focus on what I am good at: Eating and celebrating. I think those two qualities are quite Southern, so thankfully are in my DNA.

I wanted to share with you a recipe to help you get in the proper holiday spirit. Even if you're surprised by this occasion, you can still whip up this meal and have plenty of time to sip a Sazerac.

Red beans and rice is pretty quintessential NOLA (short for New Orleans, LA) cuisine. It was originally served on Mondays, utilizing the ham bone left over from Sunday supper. Very low maintenance, it simmered on the stove all day while the women washed the family's laundry and hung it out to dry. Although for the most part, Monday Wash Day is a thing of the past, red beans and rice is still a NOLA staple, both at home and restaurants. Today, though, you'll most often find it served with andouille sausage or boudin, a spicy pork sausage with onion, rice and herbs.

This dish is easy to put together, inexpensive and comforting. The only issue I could possibly point to is the name. It seems like it should be called red beans and sausage because the rice seems like an after thought. Regardless, it's delicious.

While I certainly don't care if your laundry goes by untouched for another day, I must implore you to make red beans and rice in honor of Mardi Gras. Just stick the few ingredients in a crock pot and you're done!

If you're still unconvinced but would like to celebrate, try these other suggestions:
1) Drink cheap beer out of a large plastic cup — at 9 am, or . . .
2) Lift your shirt up and see if anyone throws beads at you.
If you start with the first one, you may likely end up doing the second. Just don't say I didn't warn you. . . .

Laissez les bon temps rouler (let the good times roll)!

Mama's Red Beans and Rice

1 lb dried red kidney beans, washed and picked over for stones
1 ham bone or 2 lbs boudin, smoke sausage or Cajun andouille, sliced 1 inch thick
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
6 cups water
Hot sauce for seasoning
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Rice, for accompaniment

Place beans in a large bowl and add water to cover. Soak overnight. Or place the beans in a large pot of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Once the beans have come to a boil, remove from the heat and set aside for an hour. Before cooking, discard any floating beans and drain.
To prepare in a slow cooker, place the drained beans, ham bone (or sausage), onion, garlic and water in the insert of a slow cooker. Cover over low heat until the beans are tender, about 6 hours.
To prepare on the stovetop, combine the beans, ham bone (or sausage), onion, garlic, and water in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch over. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then decrease the heat to low. Simmer, covered, until the beans are tender, 4-5 hours. Season with hot sauce. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with rice.