Cooking For Two

Arroz Con Pollo with Tons of Vegetables

Posted by on Monday Mar 31st, 2014

Given that it’s all kale, all the time now, I hope you won’t chide me for bringing up the lovable green again here. Maybe part of kale’s longevity has to do with the fact that the veggie keeps on surprising: just the other day, I had a kale salad that surpassed every kale salad yet ingested or read about, by me, in New York City, circa 2012-2014.

Or, kale’s staying power has more to do with having become a mainstay in our fridges, rather than a complicated restaurant-only thing. Bunches keep well, meaning you can tear off a leaf here and there when dinners need more green.

Right now, one-pot dinners strike me as the only type of dinners. Two pots needed? No thanks. The thing about one pot dinners, though, is that you have to make an effort to vegetabalize your meal. That’s why there’s half a clamshell of baby spinach in Lentils & Sausage Braised in Red Wine and a whole zucchini plus three types of green pepper in Healthy Chicken Chili with Barley. When you choose one pot, you better fill it with a lot of different elements. Small pot, big promise–or something like that.

For a long time, I’d been wanting to put my own vegetable-rich spin on Arroz Con Pollo, perhaps the ultimate in one-pot meals. Protein: check. Carbs: check. Vegetables: sort of check. And that’s where the kale came back in.

Brisket Burrito Bowls for the Week

Posted by on Thursday Feb 20th, 2014

This season has brought me snow, ice, cold, and a giant food rut. After a few weeks of scrambling to a) figure out what I was craving, then b) find the motivation to feed that craving, I decided this food blogger could do better. I pulled up my favorite pinterest board and grabbed a notepad, and then I did something unusual. I planned out meals for the week.

Before you get any ideas about my organizational prowess, I want to be clear: this was not planning in the sense that full-blown menus were materializing out of thin air, then being shopped for and cooked as scheduled. No, I’d classify this as future-motivation reduction, meaning that if there were food in the fridge, we wouldn’t have to worry about mustering up the desire to cook. Also, we spent $20 on an awesome-quality brisket, $10 on avocados, cilantro, and rice at the supermarket, which divides into $3 per serving, which beats spending $10 on lunch at the deli each day!

The biggest problem for me is figuring out what I can eat for several meals straight without getting bored. There are not a lot of things. So far, I’ve come up with 1) grilled cheese, 2) fried rice or fried quinoa, and 3) Mexican food. So today, I’d like you to meet the brisket burrito bowl, which I officially ate for four lunches and one dinner without wanting to forsake rice, beans, meat, or avocados for the rest of my life.

Though I’ve written notes below focused on how to pack burrito bowls for lunch, they would also make a great casual buffet for friends, set up similar to the peanut noodle party.

I have the worst sense of time. I’m a dawdler. I think five-hour tasks will take five minutes. I’m great at caramelizing onions because I forget all about them, and in my absence their sugars get a chance to develop. In college, our 1 o’clock classes started at 1:07pm, and I blame that schedule for irrevocably messing with my sense of punctuality. If there were still seven minutes of official dawdling time at the beginning of every hour, the world would make more sense to me.

Besides caramelizing onions, my time blindness rarely affects dinner. But back in the autumn days of 2013, when 55°F felt nippy, and we all left our houses to hang out, I let an afternoon get away from me even though I had invited some friends to dinner. Earlier, Alex and I had planned and shopped for most of the menu and sketched out the prep we’d need to do. I had tomatillos and tomatoes from the CSA, and since I was in the middle of an obsession with Pati Jinich’s Pati’s Mexican Table, dinner would be chicken tinga, refried beans, and plenty of guac on tostadas. I’d prepped the tinga sauce, bought a rotisserie chicken, and chopped everything for the guac, which meant I could afford my kitchen truancy. I stretched out the the afternoon in the park, our  frisbee sailing back and forth until the sun set behind the trees and we couldn’t see the disc even when we squinted.

When I got home, we had about an hour on the clock to crisp tortillas and assemble. No big deal. Then another guest confirmed, then another. Then I started worrying about quantity. And then I decided we’d better supplement our main course. I opened up Jinich’s book and scanned her recipe for green rice. It looked good but a tad complicated. Time was passing too quickly. I picked out the essentials–cilantro, jalapeño, lime, rice–shut the book, and improvised.

Al Forno Conchiglie

Posted by on Monday Feb 10th, 2014

I should give you a Valentine’s Day dish, shouldn’t I? If you’re here, maybe you don’t have a reservation, don’t want to deal with prix fixes and crowds and ersatz romance. Staying in is much better. Later this week, I’ll be posting about complicated dishes that you might want to fuss over with your beloved(s), which is what Alex and I did the first year we spent the weird, high-expectation day together as a couple. Since then, we’ve been going out to eat good pizza with friends, but this year that tradition got pushed to the 13th, and so the 14th is, once more, open for something. Ignoring the holiday, maybe? No, we actually do have a plan, but it’s kind of goofy so I’m going to keep it to myself.

But if you need a Friday night recipe, one that you don’t mind making after a workday but that still delivers the spark of a weekend evening, one that’s rich and satisfying, and–I’m sorry to admit that I’ve thought about this–pinkish in hue, then look no further. Al forno conchiglie is a recipe that’s been in the BGSK archives for a long time. It involves just-less-than-al-dente pasta, handfuls of cheese, a bit of tomato sauce, and a lot of cream. Invented at Al Forno in Providence, RI, the casserole travels beautifully to the home kitchen. The finished pan is a source of surprise and awe, every time, because the crispy-edged top that emerges bears so little resemblance to the mess that went in the oven just 10 minutes before.

Whether you dig into this surprise in front of bad TV as on any other Friday night, or beside flickering candles, I think you’ll find this a dish worth loving, a marriage of mac ‘n cheese and baked ziti that’s hard to resist. 

In one of my favorite cookbooks, there’s a chapter entitled “Nice with Rice.” I’ve always loved the idea that we could sort dishes by their chosen starch. Instead of being nice with rice (or in addition to that quality), today’s roughly imagined vegetable curry is in the category “bon with naan.”

That naan comes from Stonefire, maker of traditional naan, roasted in ovens far hotter than ours get at home. While I’ve made paratha, roti, and even samosas, I’ve never tried my hand homemade naan, because I don’t have a tandoori oven. Whereas Stonefire does: their naan, made with an age-old recipe that uses both buttermilk and ghee, gets baked using new technology that mimics the 6,000-year-old method of making naan in a tandoor oven. I keep packages of Stonefire naan in the freezer (there are whole grain, garlic and sweet chili versions in addition to original), then bake them up, brush with butter, and eat them.

And what do I eat them with?

Well. Back in December, I asked what cuisine you might like to see explored more on the blog, and you said Indian. And then in January, I told you my food resolutions, and one was to make Indian (and Thai) curry pastes at home. For today’s bon with naan curry–not exactly a korma, but something like it–I got out my mini food processor, picked up ginger, garlic, cilantro, and serranos, and started making a curry paste.

The method for any curry paste is easy: combine herbs, chilies, nuts, garlic, ginger, aromatics, tomato, onion, oil, or toasted spices in various proportions and grind or pound them into a goop.

The interplay of flavors in the paste contributes a deep seasoning, and sometimes serious spice, to your stews. To make any curry, you simply heat some oil in a pan, toast the paste in it, and add whatever ingredients you’d like, from protein and vegetables to coconut milk, stock, or cream. Both making curry paste and making curry are a lot easier than you’d think, and a lot less risky than opening up a can of paste from an unknown brand and finding your dinner needs about 6 cups of  salt to taste like anything at all.

Our Hudson Valley Distillery Date

Posted by on Saturday Dec 14th, 2013

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, while the rest of you were rolling out of bed and eating pie for breakfast for the second consecutive day, Alex and I hopped in the car and headed north, up the Hudson. Our destination? Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery, where HowAboutWe for Couples had set us up with a whiskey tour, a signed bottle of booze, and an early dinner at the Tuthilltown House, the restaurant next door.

In the last couple of years, Alex and I have gotten into whisky, rye, and bourbon. There’s always a bottle on our shelf for sipping on these dark winter nights (in a very healthy, one-finger-pour sense of sipping), and so I was really excited when I saw a tour of Tuthilltown listed among the HowAboutWe dates for the fall. Even better, we decided to stay the night in one of the small towns on the west side of the Hudson, making a whole weekend out of the special afternoon. We kept talking about getting out of Brooklyn for a few days, and this was just the push we needed.

On our drive up, we stopped at Sam’s Point Preserve, just south of Minnewaska State Park. We’d heard great things about hiking in both places, but since it was really freezing (we saw our first snow of the season!) we took a short jaunt through a gorgeous trail at Sam’s, known for its high-elevation forest.

Afterwards, we drove to the distillery, where we were thrilled to get a tour of the place from one of its owners, Ralph Erenzo, who was responsible for turning the former mill facility into Tuthilltown. We admired the barrels, learned about distilling not just whiskey but also apple vodka, gin, and bitters, and admired the stout bottles that have become Hudson Whiskey’s signature. I loved the pots, pictured below, that hold the melted wax for sealing each bottle.  Here are a few pictures from our tour:

In the five years I’ve lived in my general neighborhood, a host of new restaurants have laid down roots and started serving incredible food to the growing population of eaters. Since I compiled the home cook’s guide to Brooklyn food, several new places have opened, their dishes gaining a place in my craving rotation.

As an obsessive home cook, I’m most excited by the high-quality grocery shops we have around. More than any restaurant, I cherish the bakeries with the good bread, the shops with all the cheese, the butcher with the local meat, the bagel place where the everything bagels are always warm, our CSA, and an opening-soon addition: a fish store. I gather ingredients, and I go home and cook. I feel virtuous, thrifty, and healthy every time we make scrambled eggs instead of order in pad thai. Not to preach.

But recently, we’ve begun to abandon the kitchen once a week to head out to one of the excellent eating places in the hood. More than not cooking, I love not doing dishes. And I taste food that I don’t usually cook at home (the best part of the restaurant experience, in my book), from rice sheets with pork shoulder here to burgers and herby fries at James. It was at James, as an appetizer before one burger dinner, that we ordered the special Brussels sprouts salad I’ve replicated for you here.

It was very surprising! Warm roasted sprouts mingled with chewy spaetzle, both dressed in a sweet, buttery vinaigrette. So good and so different, I had to try it at home.

The next Saturday, I roasted farmers’ market sprouts, cooked Israeli cous cous, my spaetzle replacement, and melted butter before whisking it into a lemon- and maple-spiked dressing. This is a restaurant-style dish, which means, first of all, that it may seem like a weird combination but you should have some trust, and second of all, that there’s a bit more butter and oil than normal. Also, it uses a few more pans than you might be used to if you cook a lot of BGSK recipes. Apologies. If you like the idea of trying your hand at spaetzle, Melissa Clark just wrote up a recipe for the Times. You could definitely double this for a dinner party and quadruple it for a small Thanksgiving.

If you’ve ever been to Alta, in the West Village, you’ll love our recipe for their Brussels sprouts with apples.