Monday, November 28, 2011

chestnuts roasting on an open fire

yes, I pulled an Achatz with the sage.
Well, it's been quite some time since I've posted any recipes! I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving and was able to celebrate with friends and family. Mine came to visit and we spent the majority of the time doing what we do best - cooking and eating!  That being said, I've got a great recipe for those of you that are tired of turkey leftovers! I know November has been hoodwinking and playing a lot of tomfoolery lately - 70 degrees? Flip flops? Shorts?  This results in mind tricks and makes me want to cook all summery like, but the weather can't fool me - I know December is around the corner, so I'm sticking with Fall flavors.  Sage chicken with chestnuts, onions and prunes - an epic combination!  Speaking of mind tricks - this recipe is killer.  It's got so much flavor, you're bound to think there's tons of butter and other secret ingredients, and no one will believe how simple it is! Beyond that, I recommend you make the chestnut dish times 5 - you won't be able to stop eating it!

Sage Chicken
4 chicken breast halves, skinned and boned
4 t olive or vegetable oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
4 T sage, chopped
½ cup white wine
½ cup chicken or turkey stock
Fresh ground black pepper

Pound chicken breasts so they’re even in thickness.  Sprinkle both sides of the chicken breasts with an ample amount of salt and fresh ground black pepper.  (To achieve a more golden crust you can dredge the chicken in flour).

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet – big enough to hold all of the chicken breasts without crowding them.   When the oil is shimmering, sauté the garlic for about 30 seconds,  stir in about 3 T of sage, and place each chicken breast in the pan skin-side down (or what was previously the skin side!).    Allow the chicken to cook for about 5 minutes and until it is golden brown, then flip.  Cook for approximately 5 minutes more.  The chicken shouldn’t take much longer, but it depends on the thickness – just be sure not to cook it too long, or it’ll become ridiculously dry!  Cut into the thickest part of one of the breasts to see if it is no longer pink, and remove from the pan.  The chicken will continue to cook a bit while you let it rest out of the pan.

Deglaze the pan with white wine, scraping up all of the brown bits on the bottom.  Bring to a boil and let the wine almost completely reduce.  Next add in the chicken stock and remaining sage, reducing until it has a thick, sauce like consistency – thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Taste the sauce for seasoning – it shouldn’t need much – and spoon over the chicken breasts.

Serve with the chestnuts and prunes, with a little extra sage as garnish and enjoy! You can even get pyro like me, and LIGHT your sage on fire for a little extra pizazz.

Chestnuts, Onions and Prunes - Half of this recipe is enough for two plus some leftover...but it's amazing so you might as well make it all!

1 pound canned, bottled or fresh chestnuts, peeled  (Trader Joes!)
1 pound pitted prunes
4 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Let's be honest - chestnuts are kind of a pain in the behind to cook.  Fortunately, the pre-cooked varieties are just as good - but if you really want to cook them fresh, more power to you! I get mine from Trader Joe's - they're already cooked (steamed and peeled), and perfect at that!  But - if I lived in Italy, I would just get them from THIS GUY:

Because they're delicious.

And I love them.

Anyhow - moving on to cooking! Place the chestnuts and the prunes in a large pan in a single layer. Add water just to cover, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer, cooking for 5 minutes. Drain, cool and halve both the chestnuts and the prunes.

Meanwhile, sauté the onions in the oil (or butter, if you're getting down) in a pan until caramelized and golden (slow and low – the longer the better!).  Season with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste, and stir in the lemon juice and cinnamon to combine.  Add the chestnuts and prunes, cooking for 5 minutes more – serve warm, or at room temperature.  This can be done ahead and reheated in the oven as well!

Seriously, YUM.  The chestnut dish is honest to god epic  - all of the flavors come together perfectly to make magical little bites, and it's great texturally! You get a little bit of toothiness from the chestnuts, and the rest is almost velvety.  Add in a taste of perfectly cooked sage chicken with the depth of flavor from the pan sauce, and next thing you know, you're stuck in a swirling montage of open hearth fires, snowflakes, Bing Crosby, and Christmas trees. Is that PC? I don't know, but it's worth every bite.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Happy Thanksgiving week all! Family is in town, and the apartments heating up from cooking frenzies.  SST will be back soon!

Monday, November 14, 2011

tail of ox

Although we've had quite a few last beautiful fall days, winter is definitely closing in on us. The gloves, hats and scarves are out and my cashmere clothes are getting some good use! That being said, it's about that time of year to make some hearty goodness.  I was thinking osso bucco (which will definitely be making an appearance soon!), but when I saw the beautiful pieces of oxtail that my butcher had, I obviously couldn't resist.  That and, I've never cooked oxtail before, and we all know how I like nothing more than to cook something new! In it to win it. Unbeknown to me, oxtail is actually classified as offal (who knew?).  As with all offal, the original culinary use came out of necessity to utilize all parts of the animal, and oxtail was a cut generally given to "lower classes".  Like so many ingredients, what once was a poor man's food is now becoming one of those buzz ingredients - you can see it on the menu of tons of hip restaurants these days.  Oxtail is a mainstay in cuisines worldwide - Jamaican, Korean, African, you name it! That being said, it's truly not too hard to come by.  I utilized some standard stewing knowledge to make the dish, and it definitely worked out in the end.

Braised Oxtail with Minted Polenta
2.5 to 3 lbs. oxtail - try to get the larger pieces
Flour, for dredging - I use Wondra
4 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 large carrots, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 32-oz can crushed red tomatoes
2 cups red wine
Fresh ground black pepper
Small mint leaves, or chopped mint, for garnish
Lemon zest, for garnish
Minted Polenta, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 350F.  To start, coat each oxtail with flour.  Heat olive oil in a large stockpot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Once the oil is simmering, add in each oxtail, being sure not to crowd the pieces, and brown evenly on both sides - about 12 minutes total.  This can be done in more than one batch.  Set pieces aside.

In the same pot, add in the garlic, onion, carrot and celery and cook until golden brown.  Next, add in the can of tomatoes and stir to combine, breaking up any larger pieces of tomato.  Let cook for about two minutes, and add in the red wine.  SIDE NOTE! I did also add in about 1/2 cup of a dark porter beer - a nod to Rene Redzepi - to add a little bitterness.  Not a necessity, but if you have some lying around, give it a splash! Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, then nestle in each of the oxtail pieces - they should be covered by the sauce.  Cover and place in the oven.  Cook for about 3 hours, until the meat is very tender.  Carefully take the pot out of the oven, and place it on the stove.  Remove the oxtail pieces from the sauce, and keep the sauce warm over medium heat.   Remove the meat from each of the bones, then stir it back into the sauce.  Oxtail is pretty fatty, so you can get rid of any big fatty pieces as well.  Stir to combine and taste for seasoning.   Serve hot over minted polenta.  Finish the plate with a scattering of mint and lemon zest over top.

Minted Polenta
2 cups polenta
6 cups water
3/4 cup mint, minced
2 t salt
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
Optional: 2 T butter

In a large saucepan, bring the water, salt, and mint to a boil.  Pouring in a slow stream, stir or whisk in the polenta.  Allow to cook for about 25-30 (unless you are using instant!) minutes until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender. Stir in the parmesan and butter (if you're using it) until melted.  Serve warm.

This dish turned out fabulous! The meat was super tender and flavorful from the braising.  As stated before, oxtail is a rather fatty cut, so it made for a a phenomenally unctuous sauce.  All of the flavors came together wonderfully, and the mint and lemon definitely brightened up the dish as a whole.  The minted polenta (especially since it was white, not yellow cornmeal) added a nice lightness to the dish and also helped to sop up the delicious sauce.  Food algebra: poor man's oxtail + poor man's polenta = food fit for a king! As usual, everybody's plates were wiped clean at the end of the meal!  As another side note, almost all stews are better the second day.  Refrigerating them overnight allows the flavors to really meld together, and it's easy to just reheat on the stove.  So, if you're planning ahead, you can definitely make this one day before! If you do just cook it and eat it the same day, you at least know you are in line for some epic leftovers!

Monday, November 7, 2011

pear love letters

It seems like the only thing I'm seeing at the market these days are squashes, root vegetables, and pome fruits - but I guess it is that time of year.  Seriously, I can't get away from them.  As soon as I walk into ANYWHERE food oriented, I see bushels of apples, baskets of squashes, and roots up the wazoo.  But, at least we're lucky enough to have ten billion varieties to choose from! Speaking of pome fruits, I was a bit in the mood to do something with pears. Pear salad? Maybe.  Poached pears for dessert? In time.  Pear ravioli? YES.  Sounds strange, eh? Well, let me tell you - it is absolutely delicious.  I had it for the first time in Florence at Trattoria dei Quattro Leoni, and then probably a thousand places thereafter since I became mildly obsessed.  And I haven't had them since.  Of course, any time I get something in my head, I have to make it happen, lest I lose my mind (moreso than I already have, of course). The pear ravioli at 4 Leoni was definitely decadent - it was made with taleggio, and served with a thick, cream-based sauce and asparagus.  While someday I'll recreate this, I wanted something a bit on the lighter side. So off I went! 

Pear Love Letters
2 pears, peeled and cored - I used Bosc
4 oz young Pecorino (~3 mo. It's a bit softer!), grated 
1 T mascarpone cheese
Pasta dough (see here!) or wonton skins
Aged pecorino, to finish
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper

For extra specialness: aged balsamic, or saba

Ok, first off, let's talk pears.  As above, I used Bosc, but you are more than welcome to use whatever kind of pear you like, as long as it's not too firm, and not too soft - just right! And, as far as mascarpone goes, I know that 1 T is not much, especially considering it generally comes in packages of 8 oz. or more.  You realistically COULD use cream cheese if you want.  Mascarpone is a tad bit sweeter, but hey.  Just sayin'.  Moving on: grate both of the pears, and combine them with the young pecorino and mascarpone cheese in a bowl.  Stir to combine.  Next, roll out your pasta dough - or separate some wonton skins and get ready to make some goodies! At this point, you can make your filled pasta into any shape you want - agnolotti, ravioli, mezzaluna, tortellini - whatever tickles your fancy! I decided to make mine into little "love letter" envelopes - easy enough!  Sprinkle a pan with a little cornmeal to arrange your little packages and to keep them from sticking.  Place about a teaspoon of the filling into each, making sure all of the edges are sealed properly.  When you're through assembling, either cook right away, refrigerate for later, or freeze for REALLY later.  I suggest you start boiling water ASAP.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  When it's at a full roll, drop in your ravioli.  They should be done when they float back up to the top! For plating, I first tossed the warm raviolis in a small, separate bowl with some grated pecorino to distribute the exterior cheesy goodness. Next, in a shallow bowl, or plate, evenly divide the cooked raviolis.  

 Finish each plate with a hefty amount of grated pecorino, large quantities of black pepper, a drizzle of good olive oil, and a nice little sprinkling of good sea salt flakes.  If you really want to take it to the next level, drizzle the finished dish with a little saba or aged balsamic.  SERIOUS next level!

These. Are. Amazing! They were everything I wanted in a pear ravioli, yet still somewhat healthy...for pasta.  I'm sure these would be equally as delicious if they were finished with a butter or cream sauce, but the olive oil drizzle really let the main ingredient shine.   It was a perfect combination of tastes - a bit salty (and umami-ness!) from the pecorinos, followed by a sweetness from the pears.  The black pepper gave it a bit of a bite, and the drizzle of saba really smoothed the whole dish out.  Serve this as a first course, and your friends will love you forever!