October 2011 Archives

Polenta with Fried Capers, Red Peppers, and an Egg

DISH: Polenta with Fried Capers, Red Peppers, and an Egg
TYPE: There’s-nothing-in-the-house-to-eat Lunch or Dinner
MAIN INGREDIENT: Polenta, Red Peppers, Capers, Egg

Has this ever happened to you–that there’s absolutely nothing in the house to eat? Either it’s been a while since you’ve gone shopping, or you’ve arrived at a weekend or rental house and the cupboards are bare. As likely as not, all the stores are closed, you’re snowed in, or you’re simply too lazy to go out.

But because I live in an apartment of ingredients where there’s very little food you could grab and go with anyway, the plaintive “there’s nothing in the house to eat” is usually a lie. While it may be true that there’s not anything I could stuff in my mouth at the moment of hunger, there is usually an ingredient or two that can be whipped up into a fairly good dinner.

A pantry stocked with rice and pasta, canned tomatoes and beans, lentils and oats is one that’ll supply you with the sustenance when you’re out of the easy go to’s. In our book, we joke that if you own a bottle opener and a can opener, you can always have a meal, and though we’re not actually the types to fork Great Northerns from can to mouth, we may very well cook an onion in some olive oil, add garlic, thyme, and that can of beans, and have a perfectly acceptable Mediterranean dinner for one in practically no time.

A while back I was in a “there’s nothing to eat” bind. There was no milk or cereal, no bread or cheddar (grilled cheese, you’ll probably know if you’ve been reading here for a while, is my go to whether or not there’s other food in the larder). There was pasta but no sauce or parm, and only the smallest nub of butter. Growing desperate, I considered the cookies stashed in the freezer.

But then I found a bag of polenta. Despite its appearance on fancy restaurant menus, to me polenta is comfort food. A good start. What to have with it though?

Here’s where luck came in. In rapid succession, I found: an unopened jar of roasted red pepper, some capers that didn’t look too old, and an egg. Suddenly my plain yellow polenta was brightened up by real vegetables and even protein! Twenty minutes of stirring, poaching, and frying later, I sat down to an unbelievable meal. I couldn’t have planned it better if I’d actually shopped for the ingredients on purpose.

From my kitchen, where you never know what you’ll find on the shelves, to yours,

Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

**Recipe**

Soft Polenta with an Egg, Red Peppers, and Fried Capers
Serves 1

Ingredients
1 1/4 cups water
salt
1/4 cup polenta
1/2 teaspoon butter
1 egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons rinsed and chopped roasted red peppers
2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and patted dry.

Bring the water to a boil in a very small saucepan over high heat. Turn the heat to low, add a pinch of salt, then slowly pour in the polenta, stirring all the while. Stir constantly for 2-3 minutes, until the polenta has absorbed the water. Stir in the butter and taste for salt, adding more as needed.

Make a well in the middle of the pot and crack the egg into it. Sprinkle with salt, then cover the pot and let cook for 5-6 minutes, until the whites of the egg are just starting to set.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add one caper. When it sizzles, add the rest of the capers and cook for about 1 minute, shaking the pan to distribute the capers. They will burn easily, so keep an eye on them.

Pour the hot capers and olive oil over the top of the egg and polenta. This will cook the top of the egg–it should turn white. Sprinkle with the chopped roasted peppers and serve immediately.

Chicken Tikka Masala

OTHER INDIAN SPECIALTIES: Chana Bateta; Free-Form Samosas; Potato-Pea Masala with Cilantro-Mint Chutney

In high school, we had a few restaurant eating traditions. If we ventured below 14th Street, it was for pad thai at Republic or dragon bowls at Angelica’s Kitchen. If we went east, it was probably for an Americano Panini at Via Quadrono, before or after a visit to the Met. On the Upper West Side, a.k.a. my hood, the regular spots were more numerous, but if it was a big group of girls, we almost always ended up at Mughlai.

The Indian food at Mughlai no longer seems particularly special—as we’ve discovered this since going back with the same group of girls in recent years. Perhaps it’s gone downhill since our high school days. Or maybe it was never that good in the first place. It’s also not all that cheap.

Regardless, a girls’ dinner at Mughlai was at least a monthly affair. Perhaps if we had instated Mag Club back in the day, it would have taken place over bowls of biryani and copper pots full of steaming baigan barta—a rich eggplant and tomato dish that appealed to the vegetarians amongst us. Leora, who hadn’t yet begun her foray into cooking, had already become an expert over-orderer and would either be put in charge of corresponding with the waiter or would chime in after the fact to add one more of everything.

These days, what I notice is how an Indian restaurant’s scent sticks with me even after I’ve showered. For this reason, and a traumatic first date experience on Curry Hill where my suitor told the waiters it was my birthday and the waiters then flashed a room full of chili pepper lights on and off in my honor, I try to avoid Indian restaurants at all costs.

But I still crave Indian food like crazy, even if I rarely eat it out. Recently, I decided to take matters into my own hands, and test out a Chicken Tikka Masala recipe for the blog. I took a risk, and served it to two of Josh’s friends who were coming over for dinner. I didn’t really know their tastes, and since they were not in high school or girls, I worried that if my apartment ended up smelling like an Indian restaurant, they would be remembering the meal for days. And not in a good way.

It turned out, my simplified version of the dish was easy and delicious. Best of all, I made it start to finish the day before, leaving my kitchen counter-tops masala-free, and the apartment smelling warm, homey, and only ever slightly Indian.

From my kitchen, bringing high school Indian traditions back home, to yours,

Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

**Recipe**


Chicken Tikka Masala
Makes 4 servings

The number of ingredients and steps in this recipe may not make it seem instinctively easy, but I promise you it is. Everything can be made in advance, and it’s a fairly simple one-pot dish, other than the broiling of the chicken.

This is a great make-ahead meal. You can do the whole thing start to finish one or two days before. Or you can marinate the chicken overnight and cook the sauce ahead. The night of the party, simply broil the chicken, add to the sauce, and simmer for ten minutes. Dinner is ready!

If you’re a vegetarian, be sure to try the Chana Bateta–it’s practically the same dish, only it uses chickpeas and potatoes.

NOTE: You can mince the garlic and ginger for both parts of the dish, reserve half for the tikka masala sauce, and then proceed with the chicken marinade in the food processor.

For the chicken:

2 garlic cloves
1-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press
1 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 1/2 tablespoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 Serrano chili pepper, halved
One 28-ounce can fire roasted crushed tomatoes (you can use regular if you can’t find these)
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3/4 cup heavy cream

Marinate the chicken In a small food processor, pulse the garlic and ginger (or chop finely by hand). Add the yogurt, cumin, coriander, cayenne, salt, and oil and puree until smooth. In a large bowl or Tupperware container, mix the chicken with the yogurt mixture until very well coated. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

Make the sauce In a medium Dutch oven or lidded saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over a medium flame. Saute the onions, garlic, and ginger until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the garam masala, cayenne, and serrano chili pepper. Cook for 2 more minutes, until very fragrant. Carefully pour in the tomatoes, sugar, and salt. Simmer partially covered over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. (The sauce should be much thicker than what you expect–the cream and the chicken juices will thin it later.) Add the cream and stir to combine.

NOTE: sauce can be made up until this point up to two days in advance.

Make the chicken: Preheat the broiler. Remove the chicken from the marinade and lay the pieces flat on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil until the chicken is slightly browned on top (it wont get too charred), about 5 minutes. Flip the chicken and broil again on the other side for another 5-7 minutes. (The chicken will not be completely cooked through when you remove it.) Remove to a cutting board and roughly chop. Pour any remaining juices into the masala sauce.

Add the chicken and juices to the sauce. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is very tender. Stir in half of the cilantro.

Serve alongside basmati rice and garnish with the remaining cilantro

Garlic Bread

DISH: Great Garlic Bread
TYPE: Italian-American Side Dish
MAIN INGREDIENTS: Bread, Butter, Garlic

I’m not a food snob. Officially. Though I abhor fast food and flavored corn chips (aka Doritos–yegh), I’m mostly happy eating simple fare, some of it kind of old-fashioned. I do like baking my own bread or canning tomatoes–projects–but I don’t care too much about buying sliced bread from the market so long as it’s not full of preservatives. I don’t love farm to table restaurants, finding there’s too much talk about the food. As much as I love to shop, cook, and eat, in the end I always come back to the fact that it’s just food. It should be delicious, it should bring people together, it might even be the basis of a career, but it’s not life, not completely.

That was all true until I met a very special butter. Now, I love butter. It’s one of those foods where you’re totally happy with what you’ve got–it’s butter, after all–until you find that there’s a one-up to the regular supermarket brands. The specialty butter I like the best is Vermont Creamery’s Cultured Butter. It’s amazing!! Alex can attest to how quickly I can destroy a delightful yellow tube of this.

As for the subject of this post: Garlic Bread, I think, falls into the camp of old-fashioned, not foodie food. It’s not terribly easy to find at a refined Italian restaurant. You have to go back to a red-saucy Italian joint to get some. Worse, garlic bread is not always all that good. It should be though, it’s made up of bread, butter, and garlic. What gives?

When I decided to test out garlic bread recipes for the site, I really thought about what made great garlic bread great. First, a lot of butter. It’s always a letdown when it’s merely the top that’s spread with flavor and, well, fat. I think it should penetrate all the way down. Second, an overwhelming raw garlic taste, one that means you can’t talk closely with anyone for the rest of the night, and potentially the next day. And third, bad, dry bread, which makes point #1 that much more necessary.

You can probably already guess how I addressed the butter problem. I used flavorful Vermont butter, and a lot of it, and I made slashes in the bread so the butter and garlic had the chance to sink deep into the bread. I also cooked the bread both open and closed, to let the minced garlic have a chance to cook–not so much it tasted roasted, but just enough to take the brutal kick of raw garlic off. Last, I bought a loaf of actual Italian bread, which is lighter and less chewy than a baguette, a ciabatta, or focaccia.

The result is the kind of garlic bread you’ll want to forgo your spaghetti and meatballs for, or at least supplement them with.

From my kitchen, getting buttery, old-school, and Italian, to yours,

Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

**Recipe**

Garlic Bread
Makes 24 thin slices

Ingredients
1 loaf italian bread, sliced in half lengthwise
12 tablespoons salted butter, softened
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary and sage, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, very finely minced with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Score the cut side of each side of the bread in a crosshatch, using a small serrated knife to cut partially through the bread. Don’t cut all the way through! This is so the butter will sink right in.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the butter, the herbs, and the garlic. Mix to distribute.

Spread the butter evenly on each half of the bread. It will be kinda thick. Don’t worry–when it melts, no one will know.

Sandwich the two sides together and wrap in heavy duty aluminum foil. Place on a baking sheet in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and turn it to broil. Open up the foil packet carefully, then place the bread, butter side up, on the top rack. Broil 1-2 minutes, watching with incredibly eagle eyes so you don’t burn the garlic, the bread, or the butter. When the butter is sizzling and the edges are gold, remove from the oven, slice into pieces, and serve.

GIVEAWAY: How to Keep Your Knives Sharp with Edgeware!

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A a dull knife in the kitchen is an accident waiting to happen. We used to think using a knife sharpener at home was intimidating—I’m sure a lot of you still feel that way! But our friends at Edgeware (fan them on facebook here) have shown us the light. Tune in to this week’s Prep School video for some knife sharpening tips and three great, small-kitchen friendly products that make knife maintenance a breeze.

Did you think we would leave you empty-handed? We’re also giving away these three great knife sharpeners!

To enter the Edgeware Knife Sharpener Giveaway, you must:

We’ll announce the 3 randomly selected winners next week on the blog. Good luck!

From our kitchen, where we’re prepping our knives, to yours,

Cara and Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOKS

This video is brought to you by Edgeware, who we’re excited to be partnering with on all matters of knife sharpening.

Shape Magazine: VOTE FOR BGSK as Your Favorite Healthy Eating Blog!

We’re nominated as one of Shape Magazine’s favorite healthy eating blogs! Please VOTE FOR US HERE and help us take home the grand prize (a feature in the magazine!). Thank you all for your support (and don’t tell them how much we love mac n’ cheese!).

Smoked Salmon and Dill Hash with Fried Eggs

For me, above anything, Jewish food is the ultimate comfort food, from crispy latkes to my Aunt Jennifer’s brisket, which over the years I’ve adapted to be my own. But not matter what the occasion—Hanukkah with the family, or Break Fast this Saturday with your family of friends—the menu item that speaks most to me is lox.

When I was growing up, my dad made sure I was raised on lox and bagels—perhaps to balance my deep-seated desire for a Christmas tree with the everyday joys of a good schmear of cream cheese. He always made them with the best possible proportions: toasted medium-well with about a fourth of an inch of cream cheese, and two delicate layers of lox. No tomatoes. No capers or onions. That was it.

My memories of lox and bagels are endlessly comforting, even when not made by my dad at home. They make a special appearance at the Break Fast table because they require no cooking—and no distraction from hunger or atonement. After a day of not eating, nothing is better to dive into. I also remember eating lox after days of mourning, as my family sat in a circle in Aunt Phyllis’ living room at both of my grandparents’ shivas.

Unfortunately, now that bagels are out of my gluten-free life, I’m going to have to find a different way of experiencing lox this high holidays season. And while I don’t expect my relatives to be frying eggs and flipping potatoes on my behalf, that doesn’t mean I can’t get my fill later on.

If your family is anything like mine, they will have overdone it on the fish platter and yet somehow managed to eat almost all of it anyway. As for those last few thin slices of salmon, I suggest using them as part of a special Jewish breakfast hash on Sunday morning, when you will no doubt be starving again from having eaten dinner at 6pm the night before.

Invite over some of your Jewish friends, or non-Jewish friends (just don’t expect them to think lox in any way rivals Christmas), or simply hunker down with your immediate family. It may not be lox and bagels, but this smoked salmon hash hits all the same Jewish comfort notes, and for those of you gluten-free Jewesses like me, it may just be the start of many more family and food memories.

From my kitchen, dreaming of lox, to yours,

Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

**Recipe**

Smoked Salmon & Dill Hash with Fried Eggs
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for frying the eggs)
2 pounds russet potatoes (about 4 medium), peeled and cut into 1-inch uniform cubes
2 tablespoons lemon juice (from ½ a lemon)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
4 eggs
8 ounces smoked salmon
¼ cup crème fraiche (optional)

In a large cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally until browned and nearly tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then turn the heat down to medium-low, and continue to cook until the potatoes are crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, another 10 minutes. (At any point if the potatoes start to burn, turn down the heat slightly). Stir in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 1 tablespoon dill and cook for another 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt as necessary. Set aside.

In a medium cast iron skillet, heat enough oil to generously coat the bottom of the pan.When oil is sizzling hot, crack the eggs into the 4 quadrants of the pan. Cook, following instructions for frying an olive oil fried egg, until the sides are set. Spoon some of the hot oil over the tops of the eggs to cook the white parts that haven’t set.

Place the fried eggs on top of the dill potatoes, arrange the folded slices of salmon around the pan, dot with tablespoons of creme fraiche (if using). (If your pan isn’t big enough, you can serve the salmon on a separate plate and have your guests help themselves.) Douse the salmon with the remaining lemon and garnish the whole pan with the remaining dill.

Serve family style in the middle of the table and allow guests to help themselves.

Variation: Substitute 1 large zucchini, cubed, for 1-pound potatoes. Add it to the pan when the potatoes are nearly tender and continue to cook until brown. Add 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin and ½ teaspoon ground turmeric with the lemon juice. Substitute cilantro for dill. Omit the crème fraiche. Now you have Moroccan-inspired, Sephardic Jewish Hash.