Saturday, December 11, 2010

Kale and Cannellini Bean Soup

Here's a hearty and healthy recipe to nourish you in the cold months to come (adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine)

Kale and Cannellini Bean Soup
Serves 4

1 cup dried cannellini beans
1 cup chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp dried sage
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 cups coarsely chopped lacinato kale (stems removed)
3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 tsp dried crushed red pepper
4 cups cooking liquid (reserved from cooking the cannellini beans), plus 1 cup of water (and extra if needed)
2 Tbs olive oil
4 strips thick cut bacon, diced (or, if you prefer something spicier, try a hard chorizo, finely diced)
2 carrots chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 cup diced Italian tomatoes (canned)
3 Tbs freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Place the dried beans in a pot and cover with 3 inches of water. Bring a boil. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the beans sit for an hour to soften.

2. Drain the beans and return them to the pot. Add 7 cups water, onion, garlic, bay leaf, and sage. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until beans are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Stir in the salt and kale and cook for another 4 minutes to soften the kale.

3. Drain into a large bowl (reserving the cooking liquid). Pick out the bay leaf and discard. Remove the garlic cloves, if desired. Add the lemon juice and crushed red pepper. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. In large pot, heat the olive oil and add the diced bacon. Cook until bacon is crispy and fat is rendered. Then add the carrots and celery. Saute about 5 minutes. Then add the cooking liquid, water, and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer. Add the cannellini beans and kale. Simmer to meld flavors, tasting and seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. If the soup is too thick, add some water to thin it.

5. Stir in the grated parmesan cheese and serve!

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mistral Kitchen - Seattle

Our good friends Beth and Raleigh treated Cindy and I to a much anticipated dinner at Mistral Kitchen last night. It was a great evening. The four of us enjoyed several very memorable tasting menus at the old Mistral location when it was so gourmet that the food critics worried it was "too good for Seattle". In fact, it may have been, at the time, as we were usually eating in a very empty restaurant. That is not a problem at the Mistral Kitchen - it was packed on a Wednesday evening by 6:30.

Finding the restaurant and gazing in the windows is easy but actually finding the door in the dark is a bit of a trick as it is dark metal that just blends right into the wall. However, we did get in and as it was Happy Hour we enjoyed drinks before dinner. The bar/cafe area was very popular all the time we were there. Raleigh had an interesting drink - absinthe pured over sugar cubes via a very unique instrument. The drink is not that good but worth it just for the show.

After drinks we enjoyed an excellent bottle of California Pinot Noir with our dinners. The small plates portion of the menu had many interesting choices and we tried 3 or them - the seared Foie Gras (awesome with some gingerbread crumbles and quince slices), a seared Scallop - excellent- I meant to share a taste of but devoured instead, and a very interesting salad of Belgian endive and duck confit sauced with a creme fraiche and pine nut creamy dressing - Yum!

For the main event Cindy and I each selected the Veal Chop cooked in the wood oven - I almost always order a veal chop if it is on the menu and this one was excellent. Raleigh had the Carlton Pork chops and gave a good report. Beth had the bone in Ribeye which was very well seasoned and excellent but was about half the thickness I am used to serving when I do Ribeye - but I assume that is the chef take on the dish not an economy move!

Desserts were a hit as well. I had the Apricot & Olive Oil Financier, Milk Chocolate-Coriander Ice Cream, Warm Apricot Soup. Really, really good if you like apricot - I know I do. Cindy had the Ultra Brownie, with a Sour Creme Ice Cream which was very nice. I have to confess I was enjoying my dessert so much I didn't even notice what Beth and Raleigh had!

Thanks guys - it was a treat!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Restaurant Review: Peasant

Restaurant Name: Peasant
Restaurant Location: 194 Elizabeth Street, NYC

Peasant is a big, welcoming, inoffensive place. The atmosphere is very rustic and laid-back. It's warm (due to the big wood-burning pizza oven in the back), which is great as winter grabs us all in a stranglehold, and the staff and servers make you feel at home. The food is good, but not intimidating. It's exactly the sort of spot I'd recommend to out-of-towners who want a meal that will be easy, relaxed, and please everyone. That being said, while everything was well-prepared, the food didn't stand out as exceptional.

We dined with a party of four, including vegetarians (who had no problem finding choices on the menu). I started with the burrata served with drizzled olive oil and roasted tomatoes. The burrata was creamy and nice with the olive oil, but a little too close to mozzarella for my own tastes (what I love about burrata is the creamy, gooey center, and this was a bit lacking). For an entree, I opted for one of their house-made pizzas with hot chilies and sausage. It was good, and the chilies did take it to the next level flavor-wise. The crust was super-thin, charred, and crispy. Nothing to complain about, but not the stuff of fevered dreams, either.

As it's impossible for him to dine somewhere that offers roast suckling pig and not order it, my husband had the porchetta arosto. It was fine, if maybe a little dry. If you want awesome roast suckling pig, get thee to Maialino.

I know we had dessert, and that it tasted nice, but I can't remember what it was (And I can remember intricate details of specific dishes I had over ten years ago, so that tells you something right there).

So. Peasant is pleasant. Take your relatives there when they come to visit. Or go there with a big group who usually can't agree on food; the place is lovely and has something for everyone.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, December 6, 2010

2010 Culinary Holiday Gift Guide

As the holiday shopping season gets underway, I thought I'd suggest a few great food-related gifts.

Kitchen Equipment

An All-Clad Grill Pan
This item was given to me by my then-boyfriend, now-husband about 6 or 7 years ago. It's still in great condition (any All-Clad item should last for years, if not for life), and I use it all the time. A perfect gift for an apartment-dwelling friend or relative who has no outdoor space in which to grill. Obviously, the grill pan isn't a true substitute for a barbeque, but it does give a nice char and funnels the grease and oil away from the meat, thereby simulating grilling.

A carbon-steel Wok

A good wok is another gift that will last a lifetime. A lot of people are intimidated by using a wok or cooking Chinese food. But, I'm here to tell you that it's soooo easy, delicious, and quite healthy. A supplement to this gift could be the fabulous, straightforward cookbook Breath of a Wok. This has detailed instructions on how to season and use your wok as well as many simple, delicious recipes. Nearly every page of my copy is splattered with stains.

I've really enjoyed Gordon Ramsey's Chef for All Seasons.
Usually "seasonal" cookbooks annoy me. Recipes for "spring" will sound good in the fall and the ingredients will be hard to find, and so on. But, this cookbook is well laid-out and each season has enough delicious recipes to entice. The other great thing about this book is how Ramsey manages to include impressive gourmet dishes that are simple to make. None of the recipes have complicated instructions or crazy ingredients, but all are flavorful, beautiful, and will dazzle your family and guests.

I'd also recommend Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home. Finally, TK has put together a cookbook that mere mortals can use! There's no doubt that the Bouchon and The French Laundry cookbooks weren't for the casual cook, but Ad Hoc assembles the kind of recipes that normal people like to eat on a regular basis (pot pie! fried chicken!) and delivers kick-ass renditions of them.

Slotted Spatulas
Well, though I've long been a devotee of tongs, it appears that they are now out. TK reports that they can bruise and damage food and instead advises use of a slotted spatula (originally developed to flip fish). I'm going to give it a try (I've got one on my wish list!), and I also pass the tip along to you.

Delicious Edibles
Vosge Chocolates
Sumptuous, decadent, innovative, and a splurge...a box of Vosge chocolates would make any true lover of chocolate happy. Get one of the exotic truffle collections and the lucky recipient can work their way through an assortment of flavors like cinnamon and dulce de leche, chili, wasabi and black sesame seeds, taleggio, balsamic vinegar, and pine nuts.....sorry, just drooled on the computer.

What about something fabulous from D'Artagnan? Pick up some duck fat or duck glace, or maybe truffle butter, or a little charcuterie, or a pate of foie gras for your favorite foodie. Everything here is top quality and they ship overnight and have gift certificates.

Happy shopping...and happy holidays!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Restaurant Review: Mercat

Restaurant Name: Mercat
Restaurant Location: 45 Bond Street, NYC

As someone who always wants to eat widely across a menu but can't pack in too much chow before getting full, I am in love with the 'small plates' concept. I am even more in love with the Spanish version of small plates: tapas. I've reviewed a number of New York City tapas restaurants on this blog (see reviews of Boqueria, Casa Mono, and Tia Pol). Today I add one more to that tally.

Mercat specializes in Catalan cuisine. Centered around Barcelona, the Catalan region focuses on it's local abundance of great seafood, cured meats, and cheeses. All of these are featured on the menu at Mercat, and they have fabulous wines, too.

My favorite tapas dish, hands down, is patatas bravas (fried potatoes kissed with spicy pimenton and garlic, often in the form of an aioli). I always order them and I judge a tapas restaurant by the awesomeness (or lack of awesomeness) of their patatas bravas. On this score, Mercat passed with flying colors. The potatoes were light and crispy and the sauce was creamy and spicy. While my fellow diners weren't looking, I slid the dish over to my side of the table and ate them all.

Other offerings at Mercat were equally sublime. The piquillo peppers stuffed with short rib and served with caramelized beans were oh-so-good, as were the mushrooms with fried egg and salsa verde (though not quite as fabulous as a similar dish we had in Madrid this Fall...but close).

My biggest gripe with Mercat, however, would be it's lack of consistency. While some dishes were standouts and very memorable, others were just...blah--not bad, not great, and not very flavorful.

For instance, the grilled hanger steak with cipollini onions and crispy sweet potatoes should have hummed with meaty, salty, onion-y goodness, but it was under-seasoned. The short noodles with sepia and ink (pushed by our server) was downright too fishy and generally ick. Other dishes, like the Cod with artichokes and Romanesco, were well-enough prepared but forgotten soon after we finished eating them.

We asked our server for a wine recommendation and he selected a very full-bodied, blended red that we couldn't stop drinking. It was goooood. I drank too much of it to remember what it was called.

Service was attentive and friendly and the restaurant dark and cozy, lit with lots of candles. It was very convivial and we had a wonderful time eating there. Go with friends, get lots of wine, and accept that some dishes will blow your mind and others will...not.

Bon Appetit!