Monday, September 29, 2008


One thing that frustrates me is that there are just not very many interesting side dishes out there. Steamed vegetables. Baked potato. Grilled asparagus. Yawn.

Finding interesting side dishes to go with the 1000 ways I can make chicken has become a priority for me lately. I don't need another way to make chicken. I need stuff to eat along with the chicken! Lately I have been looking at food thinking mainly of ways I can make a side dish with it ...  ways to pair it with vegetables, make it healthy, but still good because I have some picky eaters in this house.  

So, first up  -- KALE & POTATOES
serves 4

1 bunch kale
1 large baking potato (or a couple smaller potatoes)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
salt & pepper to taste
(optional) 1 clove chopped garlic

I like to microwave my potatoes in their skin, this way it cooks them without water making them mushy. Important especially if you want to brown the potatoes. And, it's fast! But cook your potatoes however you like, then set aside to cool while the kale cooks.

Clean and chop the kale (remove stems) and boil in water for about 15 minutes, or per your own preference if you like it soft or extra firm. Kale is pretty rugged, and it can really be cooked to death and still be great. Undercook it and it might be a bit too firm textured for some first-time kale eaters.  If you've never had it before, just taste a piece after 15 minutes or so to determine if you prefer it cooked more. When done, drain well and set aside. 

Dice the potato. Heat the olive oil and butter until the butter is lightly brown and fragrant. Saute the potatoes until brown and crispy at the edges. Add the garlic only in the last 2 minutes of crisping the potatoes so the garlic doesn't burn. 

Mix potatoes and kale, salt & pepper to taste.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Paris -- May, 2006. We had been out roaming the town and stopped for a snack (and of course also had to have a glass of champagne). Yes, those are snails. Fresh escargot with garlic butter and baguette bread. Talk about a classic.   

We also had this terrine, and some pate. Mmmmmmmmm! 

This was the impressive seafood tower at la Coupole

This dog isn't selling any food - but he sure is cute. :)

I was the dorky tourist who was taking pictures of all the food through the glass cases ... but so what. I knew I would enjoy going back and looking at all these goodies!

And the way they present the food is artistic . 

Fresh Fruit~

A fantastic wine shop just down the street from our apartment.

Fresh poultry~

Wish I had a butcher like this on MY street.

And of course there is the bread!

And plenty of sweets~

I love all these little fun items you can get also- like these little pastries with cheese and fresh vegetables, like onion and tomato.  This is Paris' fast food.

Paris, at dusk. I hardly have any night pictures because when we were there in May, darkness didn't fall until probably close to 11pm!  

This was the most to-die-for restaurant! L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

My pictures were dark, but I was using the camera without flash as to not disturb the other diners. The experience is unique. They seat everyone at the same time, around a bar, and then the kitchen and wait staff are in the center.  The staff is over the top friendly and the food is just fantastic in this modern, chic Paris restaurant. Reservations are hard to get on short notice, however their first seating is at 7 or 8pm and that is for walk-ins only. So get there in plenty of time and wait until they open. It's worth it! 

Peeking into the kitchen from our spot at the bar (the kitchen is at the center of the bar so that everyone can watch the food being prepared).

Our waiter. He made our dinner extra entertaining! 

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Melissa Clark is the author of Chef, Interrupted. She's coauthored several cookbooks, and knows better than anyone how the recipes in some of these famous chefs' cookbooks can be not only nearly impossible to make at home because of all the impossible to find ingredients, crazy garnishes and sauces, but when they are made, they often don't turn out well. Geez, don't we all know how that goes. What a pisser it is when you spend money on ingredients and time on a recipe that in the end, doesn't turn out right. 

Chef Interrupted is basically a compilation of recipes she's collected from famous chefs and restaurants that she has deconstructed so that you can actually make them at home. In fact, I had a hard time picking a recipe for this post because they all looked so good and SO simple!  What I like about the recipes here is that a lot of them are familiar items that are twisted for a unique taste, so that you can have an old favorite that is also something completely new. There are recipes from so many places -- a couple examples are Babbo, NY and Commanders Palace, new Orleans. 

I finally settled on chef Akhtar Nawab's Veal Ricotta Meatballs from Craftbar, New York. They look good, no?

So the ingredients. Nothing outrageous. The only thing I had to shop for was the ground veal. 

(click to enlarge)

So, when you add the 1.5lb ground veal to the 4 CUPS of ricotta - whoa. That's a wholelottaricotta! 

They're sticky, as you'd expect with all that ricotta and tender veal, so it's recommended that you flour your hands to roll them. 

While the meatballs are browning in the skillet, you put the Marzano tomatoes in a pan, then add the butter (an entire stick! sheesh Paula Deen!) and the garlic and chopped basil. This sauce was so delicious!

This makes a lot of meatballs, and if I did it again, I'd probably use only half the ricotta. Veal is very tender, and the ricotta sort of drowns out the veal. They're good, I'm not saying that they're not, but there just doesn't have to be that much ricotta. Now, as mentioned before, I've never met a recipe I didn't find something to change in, so you don't have to listen to me. 

I had to do these in batches so I didn't overcrowd the pan, but take note - the ricotta will burn eventually, so you will need to change the oil so that you don't get black specks on your meatballs like I did. Truth be told though, they tasted just fine. 

What a mess. 

After the meatballs are done, put them with the sauce -- I used a casserole instead of just tossing all these super-delicate meatballs into the pan I cooked the sauce in -- and then into a 325 oven for around 45 minutes. 

They go great with bread, but noodles would have also been great. Served with a side of broccoli & roasted red pepper and it was complete.  Very rich, very delicate, very good!

Friday, September 5, 2008


I have always had a fascination with Cuba. I don't know where it comes from, but it's definitely there. I can't wait until Castro is dead. I feel that once he is gone, the relationship between our countries might be able to be repaired and then someday I can finally visit. It's my hope anyway. I know there are ways around it, but as an American, I wouldn't feel comfortable going until it's legit.

I originally bought this book because I love Cuban food. I got it on Amazon, and after reading reviews, I just blindly picked this one. I had no idea it would be so full of soul and would make me want to sit down and just read it like a book -- forgetting that it was originally intended to be a cookbook.  

I love the romantic stories of Cuba back in the day -- when it was in it's prime. Bright lights, that Afro-Cuban music, Ernest Hemingway, fancy hotels, nightclubs filled with movie stars and packed sidewalk cafes. Things are much different now.  The author of this book was born in Cuba into a well to do family. She's a great storyteller, and makes you feel as if you were in Cuba with her, in the 50's. In the summertime they had a break from boarding school, and her Aunt would often take her and her cousins into town with her; Buying couture dresses and having American style chicken salad sandwiches on white bread at the Woolworth's lunch counter. She talks about the restaurants, the shops, the people and the parties. Then there are stories of their family life and daily life in Cuba, and of course, the food!  The stories she tells of her family, and their life in Cuba have a bit of magic to them -- the memories you have as a child are often storybook like, and this is no exception. It pulls you in, and you feel connected. It definitely makes the food seem that much more special, and this is one time I had no trouble making a recipe exactly as it was written.  She wrote the book with her mother's and aunt's original recipes. It is the food that was made in every home in Cuba. Authentic as it gets. 

In June of 1958 they made one stop during their busy day that would forever change the life of the author and her family -- the American Embassy in Havana. She thought they were going on a vacation. She never saw Cuba again.  She was 10 years old, and she loved Cuba and was heartbroken. Her perception of Cuba is nonpolitical; A child's memories of family, food, a beautiful country, and a city full of magic. Those are my fantasies too ... so I am really enjoying reading this book. Some day, I will visit Cuba. Until then, I will just have to go there via my imagination, and through the picture books I have, and of course ... Cuban food. :) 

Today we are making Picadillo, from Memories of a Cuban Kitchen.

(Click to enlarge)

My ingredients are simple things most kitchens have stocked. I bought the grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid and ground the beef fresh at home, and it was excellent.  

The setup; The book and a cocktail. Baby was in the high-chair having her dinner, and I prepared the "grown up dinner" for us to have later. Earlier today I had bought some sweet lemons at the Farmers Market. I had never heard of them before, and they were quite tasteless honestly, but mixed with blueberry vodka and some seltzer water, it made a pretty refreshing cocktail!  

First, you saute the onions, garlic and bell pepper.  

I wasn't paying attention and burnt mine, so I had to toss it and start over. Ugh. 

After about 10 minutes, add the ground beef and cook until brown.  

Add the tomatoes, sherry, salt, and if you like -- Tobasco and Worcestershire.  She mentioned that the traditional recipe did not have Tobasco or Worcestershire, so I left it out. IMO, it would be good with the Tobasco, but the Worcestershire would change the taste of the dish too much. Just my opinion. 

I had a can of diced tomatoes, but since it called for crushed, I used my food mill to puree the tomatoes because I wanted the texture to be consistent with the written recipe. I love my food mill, it makes killer tomato sauce, and gives a texture you can't get from a food processor. 

I had fried the diced potatoes earlier (not pictured) and set them aside. After you add the tomatoes and sherry and it has time to cook down a bit, add the cooked potatoes, the olives, and raisins. Correct seasoning if needed, and let cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed. 

To finish -- add the chopped eggs, and peas. 

Picadillo is a traditional filling for Empanadas. Layer it with mashed potatoes and it becomes Tambor de Picadillo. Top it with a sweet plantain crust and you have Tambor de Picadilla y Plantano.  

In prosperous, postwar Cuba the nightclubs were jumping with locals and tourists alike and the author was lucky enough to come across an old bar book from the most famous bar in Cuba, La Floridita. I thumbed through the drink section, and there are definitely some unique things in there.

I chose the HAVANA BEACH: 2 oz pineapple juice, 2 oz Bacardi light rum, 1 tsp sugar and crushed ice. Shake, and pour. It's interesting. Obviously it's just a Pina Colada without the coconut, but it tastes so unique.