February 2011 Archives

Big Girls, Test Kitchen: Tortilla Española

Check out our menu for a Tapas Dinner Party For Ten and stay tuned this for more potato dishes from around the globe

Last summer, my friend Josh asked me to help him throw a dinner party for twelve or so of his friends. We were doing a lot of catering at that point, enough that this sort of gig was no longer in the cards without the prospect of taking home a check at the end of the night. But Josh has a fabulous apartment, with a large terrace that’s perfect for summer entertaining. And since he also has fabulous friends (who happen to be my friends too), I decided to do him a favor and agreed to do the cooking.

He gave me free reign when it came to the menu, and since I can’t resist choosing a theme and sticking to it, I decided to make a tapas-themed spread. It was more elaborate than anything I would have chosen to make myself, but since Josh was also footing the bill, I thought it would be fun to pull out all the stops.

For finger food, I was going to make Tortilla Española, cut it into bite-sized squares and dollop them with lemon paprika aioli. To follow, I wanted to try Oui Chef’s Cold Avocado Soup with Lobster and Scallions that I’d eaten at the Food52 picnic, and had been dreaming about ever since. For the main course, a surf and turf paella recipe I was testing for the book with scallops and chorizo, and Mediterranean Roasted Eggplant Salad on the side. I sent Josh the menu the week before, and we were ready to roll.

The night before the party, Josh sent me an email saying that we had issues: his roommate was allergic to seafood, and his roommate’s girlfriend was a vegetarian. Also, the guest list was up to 18. I wasn’t thrilled, but given the increased number of friends coming to dinner, I decided I might as well make two types of paella, one with meat, one with seafood, and forget the recipe testing.

The afternoon of the party, after I had bought all the groceries, Josh called to tell me that the guest list had somehow grown to 30 people. I remained calm, grabbed a bag of polenta from my cupboard, and made polenta steaks as a third (vegetarian) main course.

It wasn’t until it came time to make the Tortilla Española that I finally lost my cool, and, after a second failed attempt, flipped out.

The tortilla recipe I decided to follow involved an insane amount of olive oil. (Josh warned me than many of the 30 guests would be girls, many of whom wouldn’t eat much eat anyway, so it gave me great secret pleasure to create something deceivingly fatty.) But despite all the oil, the tortilla stuck to the pan, and when I inverted it onto a plate, it came apart in chunks, and splattered uncooked eggs all over my countertop.

For my second attempt, I decided to consult the master: Mario Batali. His version required a large cast iron skillet. That I had. What I did not have, once it came time to transfer the tortilla, was a plate large enough to fit on top of my large cast iron skillet. I ended up having to use my gigantic cutting board and use my not-so-gigantic muscles to man handle the board and the skillet in one swift motion. The tortilla cracked in half and tumbled onto the board.

By the third attempt, I was two hours behind schedule on the rest of the meal, I had a migraine, and I hated Josh’s guts.

Luckily for my mood, and the fate of Josh’s dinner, the third tortilla turned out much better. I had used a smaller pan—a non-stick skillet—and my dinner plates were sized perfectly for a seamless inversion.

The dinner itself went off without a hitch, and the favor scored me the ultimate payback (in addition to knowing how to make a perfect Tortilla Española): a book party, to be hosted by Josh in May.

From my kitchen, still picking up the tortilla pieces, to yours,

Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

**Recipe**

Tortilla Española
Makes 4-6 appetizer servings

Most tortillas in Spain (like Mario’s) are made with big cast iron skillets, and generate enough to feed a gas station’s clientele for days. The key to my recipe’s success though is to use a small (8-inch) non-stick skillet. Make sure before you start that you have a dinner plate or small cutting board to use when inverting the tortilla. If using a small cast iron skillet, you can skip the inversion and, instead, place the skillet under the broiler for a few minutes to cook the top.

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 pounds yukon gold potatoes (about 1 large), peeled and sliced as thin as possible (1/8 inch)
1/2 small yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 eggs
Green Herbs and Lemon-Paprika Aioli for garnish

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a small (8-inch) non-stick skillet over a medium flame. Add the potatoes and onions and toss to coat in the oil. Cook, redistributing with a flat faced plastic spatula, until tender, about 15 minutes, making sure to scrape up any bits that stick to the pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the eggs. Add salt and pepper, and stir to combine.

Add the potatoes to the eggs and toss to coat. Carefully pour the potato-egg mixture back into the skillet, and shake the pan so the potatoes lie flat, using your spatula if necessary to help distribute. Place a lid large enough to cover the pan over the top (I use one from my Dutch oven). Cook covered until the egg is nearly set. Using your spatula, pull away one side of the tortilla and tilt the pan so that the remaining uncooked eggs seeps through and redistributes on the bottom and sides of the tortilla.

When the top is far less runny, use a large plate to invert the tortilla: place the plate, face-down, over the skillet, hold it with the palm of your hand, and flip the tortilla onto it. Place the pan back on the stove, and slide the tortilla back into it. Press down with your spatula to flatten it. (If you are using cast iron, you can skip the inversion and, instead, place the pan under the broiler until the top is cooked and beginning to brown.)

Cook on this side until the bottom is set, about 2 minutes. Slide the tortilla onto a clean plate or platter, and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes (or up to 1 day) before slicing into it. Cut the tortilla into wedges and serve with Lemon-Paprika Aioli and green herbs for garnish.

The 5 Best Meat & Potato Combos

Here at BGSK we eat a pretty varied diet. On any given day our intake might range from the most healthful of whole grains to the empty calories of the sweetest sweets there are. We go for the unexpected and the totally classic in equal measure. And sometimes we take unexpected angles on very classic dishes. These meat and potato combinations are in some ways a nod to St. Patrick’s Day, which isn’t too far off, when you’ll need starch and meat to soak up your booze intake. But they’re also just plain good, hearty comfort food–sometimes with an unexpected twist. Most of all, they are all food you can make for yourself or serve to lots of friends, preferably friends with manly appetites.

1. Slow Cooker Beef Stew & Garlic-Rosemary Mashed Potatoes
This most traditional of combinations features tons of umami and no dairy at all.

2. Mini Meatball Subs & Warm Blue Potato and Green Onion Salad
For when you crave summer barbecues (even if it’s too cold to go outside), this casual combo sets up perfectly as a buffet.

3. Carne Asada & Sweet Potato Fries with Chipotle Mayo
Giving the baked sweet potato fries a spicy dip makes them match the flavorful meat in carne asada.

4. Rigatoni with Spicy Italian Sausage, Broccoli Rabe, and Sundried Tomato Pesto & Potato Pesto Focaccia
An Italian take on meat & potatoes features oh so many carbs–yum!

5. Five Spice Pulled Brisket Sandwiches & Potato Kugel
Passover brisket gets a makeover in these spiced sandwiches, which are accompanied by the requisite potato kugel.

Great Minds Eat Alike: Cara Colbert’s Linguine with Scallops and Pancetta

We started our Great Minds Eat Alike series this fall in order to mix up the usual BGSK offerings with interviews and submissions by cooks and eaters whose mentality towards cooking and eating meshes with ours. Today we bring you a luscious pasta dish from Cara Colbert, a BGSK contributor and fan.

Cara’s love of food began when she was (reportedly) a chubby child. To her, birthdays meant cake and Christmas meant cookies. For Cara, any occasion is an occasion to eat, which is why she loves to cook for others and dine out as much as her small budget can afford. An adventurous eater, there isn’t a food she won’t taste or a recipe she won’t try. When Cara isn’t eating or cooking, she enjoys writing (usually about food), watching the Food Network, and browsing online for new recipe ideas and restaurant reviews. Mostly a self-taught cook, Cara recently graduated from Boston College and moved to New York in hopes of pursuing a career in food writing and eating her way throughout the city. She blogs at Food 4 Thought and has written for Behind the Burner. Here are her thoughts on recreating beloved restaurant dishes and the recipe for one of her favorites, Linguine with Scallops and Pancetta from Maialino.

–Cara and Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOKS

***

Living in New York City, you could eat at a different restaurant every day without ever going back to the same place. Food is everywhere here.

For someone who loves all types of cuisines and, more importantly, loves to eat, it can be quite difficult to restrain myself from eating out for every meal. Most quarter-life cooks in New York, myself included, cannot afford such frivolous habits. But how do you make home cooking as exciting and tasty as a nice restaurant meal?

I recently made a delicious seafood pasta dish inspired by a dinner at one of my favorite Italian restaurants, Maialino. Made with scallops and pancetta in a lemon white wine sauce, the pasta sounds much more complicated than it really is. A lot of us would rather order takeout than take the time to prepare a homemade meal. But home cooking can be just as easy as placing an order online, and definitely much easier on your wallet.

There are a few great ways to add restaurant-quality flavor without adding up the tab. First, use fresh herbs. They have a much brighter flavor than dried herbs, and they add an aesthetic elegance to a dish. For this recipe, I used fresh flat-leaf parsley in the sauce as well as a garnish–that way I get fresh flavor and a beautiful pop of color.

Second, I love to cook with wine when recreating restaurant dishes. Wine helps to add depth and complexity and can really elevate your everyday meal to something special. The white wine in the below recipe gives the simple sauce much of its bold flavor. While the wine gives depth, I also add fresh lemon juice to really brighten and perk up all of the flavors. (See BGSK’s Guide to Flavoring Your Food)

I think the best advice is: don’t be afraid to try something new! What makes dining out so exciting is that we often choose foods that we don’t cook for ourselves. I love seafood, but I’m always a little intimidated to prepare it on my own. Cooking scallops is a particular fear of mine. The first couple times I tried, the scallops were either under- or over-cooked. But once you start experimenting, you’ll see what works. (Like I did: now I sear the scallops in hot oil for about two minutes on each side, and I have a better sense of when they’re done.) Do a little research before taking on a new challenge. See what other recipes recommend. But you’ll never learn if you don’t give it a shot!

Finally, it’s all about the presentation. Think about the atmosphere in a restaurant: good lighting, nice napkins, clean presentation. Putting the extra effort into the setting and display of the food can instantly make the meal restaurant-quality. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to do this either. Play some good music, use matching silverware, add appropriate garnishes to finish off a dish, such as fresh herbs. My little apartment ain’t anything fancy, but with the right mood, this dish of linguine with scallops and pancetta made my boyfriend Keenan and I feel like we were dining first class.

–Cara Colbert, BGSK Contributor

**Recipe**

Linguine with Scallops and Pancetta
Serves 2

Ingredients
½ pound (about ½ box) linguine
6 sea scallops
¼ pound pancetta, diced
½ tablespoon olive oil, divided
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup white wine
Juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste
French baguette or crusty, white bread, for serving

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the linguine and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until al dente.

Meanwhile, heat a small drizzle of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until slightly browned and crisp. Remove the pancetta from the pan with a slotted spoon and let rest on a paper towel.

Add the remaining olive oil to the same pan. Cook the garlic and crushed red pepper until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Season both sides of the scallops with salt and pepper, then add to the sauté pan with the garlic and crushed red pepper. Cook until a light crust begins to form on the bottom side, about 2-3 minutes. Turn over the scallops and cook on the other side.

Once the scallops have cooked for another 2 minutes, return the pancetta to the pan and add the white wine. Raise the heat to medium-high. Taste for seasoning; add salt and pepper as needed. Let the wine simmer for about 2 minutes, until it starts to bubble. Add the lemon juice and parsley, reserving some for garnish. Stir the sauce for another 2-3 minutes to let the flavors mesh.

Add the drained linguine to the sauté pan, using tongs or a pasta spoon to combine. Divide the pasta and sauce between two plates, with 3 scallops to each serving. Sprinkle with the remaining parsley and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with warm, crusty French bread to sop up the lemony juices.

The Daily Meal: Stay-At-Home Brunch For Two

February is such an I-want-to-stay-inside-for-breakfast month. While we might brunch out most months, when we wake up on a February weekend morning, our inclination is to stay right where we are. Check out our favorite stay-in brunch menu for 2 on the Daily Meal here.

Mardi Gras Jambalaya

I’ve never experienced the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, but I’ve come dangerously close.

One Sunday evening, my sophomore year of college, I was sitting in the snack bar below the dining hall eating a falafel with my friend Salima. It was around 8pm, and we were gearing up to go to the library to finish our weekend’s workload for Monday morning class that we had yet to touch. All of a sudden, Salima started to spaz out.

“Oh my god, oh my god…do you KNOW what day it is?”

I did. It was Sunday, I told her. “Exactly,” Salima continued. “Sunday the 6th. Exactly two days until Mardi Gras!”

“Should we throw a party?” I didn’t know of anything going on on-campus to celebrate.

“No no no. We need to GO!” I watched the wheels turn in Salma’s head, calculating exactly how long the drive would take to New Orleans, and what time we would touch down if we left Providence right then and there. Always good at elaborate problem solving, a skill that would prove highly valuable during investment banking and consulting interviews senior year, Salima concluded that we had exactly one hour to track down a car, get into it, and head south on 95.

And then Salima asked the question that would haunt me for the rest of my college career: “are you in, or are you out?”

I always wanted to be thought of as impulsive—it was part of my cover for being a closet work-a-holic. But I had a paper due Tuesday that I hadn’t started, and while Salima would have been able to finish it from the backseat of the car, I required a different type of all-nighter, in the library stacks.

So I said no. Upon which Salima realized she didn’t have time to waste on falafel or someone as un-fun as me and went on in search of able-bodied partiers, with the litheness of spirit to put down their textbooks and get in the Pathfinder.

I always regretted my decision, and when the group returned five days later, a little worse for wear, I wished I could have shared in their joint stories of hurricanes, beads, and breasts.

So this year, I’m making up for lost tim  by hosting a Mardi Gras Gala that’s a little bit more my speed. It’s for charity, for one, in support of The Valerie Fund. But I do hope that the party itself is a little less angelic, if also a little less debaucherous than Salima’s New Orleans adventure.

If you are in the New York area, I would love you to join me for a few authentic Hurricanes (donated by Pat O’Briens) and food from Dell’Anima and L’Artusi. If you can’t make it, or would rather have BGSK fare (who can blame you!), I’m sharing my recipe for jambalaya in hopes that you will host a Mardi Gras theme party of your own.

We cooked up this dish for a Pan-Southern dinner featured in next month’s Southern Flourish Magazine. Be sure to subscribe to Southern Flourish here to check out the full menu, complete with Cara’s Fried Chicken and Black-Eyed Pea Salad with Buttermilk Dressing and Pecan Sundaes.

From my kitchen, traveling to New Orleans in my Dutch oven, if not in Salima’s car, to yours,

Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

**Recipe**

Brown Rice Jambalaya
Makes 4-6 servings

This classic New Orleans fare is a perfect one-pot dinner party dish for a busy city girl. I’ve taken a less traditional route and cut down the ingredient list, and the calories. Rather than using ham hock, I stick with andouille—while the sausage ups the fat count, all the flavorings in the meat mixture allows me to skip the many jars of spices needed for classic Cajun kick. Brown rice provides great texture and bite, while also upping the fiber factor. Best of all, this dish can be made the night before up until step 3.

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces andouille sausage, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 celery stalks, diced
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
5 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 2-inch chunks
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoons paprika
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
One 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 large bay leaf
2 cups chicken or seafood stock
1 1/2 cup brown rice
¾ pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 scallions, thinly sliced

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed lidded saucepan over high heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned on both sides. Remove to a plate. Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion, bell pepper, and celery. Saute until translucent, about 5 minutes, scrapping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute. Push the vegetable mixture to the sides of the pan and add the chicken. Cook the chicken, stirring occasionally, until partially browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cayenne, paprika, and 1 teaspoon of salt and toss to combine.

Pour the tomatoes, tomato sauce, and the bay leaf over the meat mixture. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, covered, until the rice is tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (You can make it up until this point 1-2 days in advance. Simply reheat with some extra stock, and proceed with the recipe).

Add the shrimp and half of the scallions to the pot and toss to combine. Cover and cook until the shrimp are pink and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Ladle into bowls and garnish with the remaining scallions.

Jauntsetter: Phoebe is Jauntsetter of the week!

Phoebe is Jauntsetter of the Week! To read her interview, complete with travel reminiscences of Argentina, Thailand, and Spain, click here.  Also, check out Cara’s if you missed it!