Friday, November 27, 2015

Pancetta drop biscuits

I know I'm a day late but yesterday was the first time I experimented with these biscuits. Surely you've got leftovers from Thanksgiving. Some freshly made biscuits to go along with those can't be such a bad idea, right?

The basic biscuit recipe is from Cook's Illustrated. I've made the biscuits several times before and they always turn out great. The addition of the pancetta is just something I came up with yesterday morning. And judging by the reaction from My Associate ("Holy crap, these are the BEST BISCUITS EVER!!!) I am pretty sure that I'll be making them again.

Maybe even today.

In a bowl mix together 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 3/4 teaspoon table salt. (The full recipe is printed below, so relax, no need to take notes.)

In a separate bowl add 1 cup cold buttermilk. Then add 8 tablespoons of melted unsalted butter that's cooled just slightly.

Stir until clumps form.

Add the buttermilk/butter mix and finely diced and fried pancetta to the flour mixture and incorporate.

The dough should pull together pretty quickly.

Drop the biscuit dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in an oven preheated to 475°F. Start checking the biscuits at 12 minutes. When they become golden brown they're done.

These took around 15 minutes. When they're out of the oven brush the tops with melted butter.

Cool on a rack for a few minutes.

And serve.

My Associate just got out of bed. And, as suspected, I am back on biscuit detail today. See ya.

Pancetta Drop Biscuits
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated's Best Drop Biscuits Recipe and provided by Serious Eats

2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour 
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar 
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup cold buttermilk
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (about 5 minutes), plus 2 tablespoons melted butter for brushing biscuits 
1/4 lb. pancetta, diced finely and fried until lightly crispy

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475°F. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in large bowl. Combine buttermilk and 8 tablespoons melted butter in medium bowl, stirring until butter forms small clumps.
2. Add buttermilk mixture and pancetta to dry ingredients and stir with rubber spatula until just incorporated and batter pulls away from sides of bowl. Using greased 1/4-cup dry measure, scoop level amount of batter and drop onto parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet (biscuits should measure about 2 1/4 inches in diameter and 1 1/4 inches high). Repeat with remaining batter, spacing biscuits about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until tops are golden brown and crisp, 12 to 14 minutes.
3. Brush biscuit tops with remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter. Transfer to wire rack and let cool 5 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Candied orange in syrup

We're deep in Thanksgiving prep mode around here (not one but two turkeys, along with, well, all the things that go with two turkeys) and so I'll have to be quick.

These oranges are the first thing I got done today. I like them all by themselves but they're most useful for accompanying desserts, like a slice of pie or cake or even ice cream or gelato, even biscotti.

They take no time at all. You should make them.

Unless you've got something against oranges. In which case, we've got nothing to talk about.

These are extra large navel oranges. I've used two here. If you're using smaller oranges then use three instead; that way you won't need to alter the other ingredients.

First cut off the ends, then slice the oranges like so.

In a pan place 2 cups sugar, 3 whole cloves, 6 all-spice berries, and a cinnamon stick.

Add four cups of water and turn the heat to medium high.

When it comes to a boil add the orange slices and turn the heat down to medium or lower. Allow to boil for around an hour. (Rotate the orange slices from time to time so that they cook evenly.)

Turn off the heat and allow to cool. These cooked for exactly one hour. The syrup was tasty and thickened just slightly, the way I like it. The rind had softened nicely. If the rind is still too tough boil a little longer.

I'll be serving them with Thanksgiving Day desserts this week—if we still have room.

You can also put them in a jar with the syrup and keep in the fridge for a while.

If we don't talk before, have a real good holiday.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Hamana-hamana… hummus?

I don’t know about these other two Stooges, but lately I’ve been missing our marathon group texting sessions. The first of the hours-long events took place October 27, the last November 1. Five entire evenings in all. One for each of the 2015 MLB World Series games between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets.

Textathons began around 15 minutes prior to game time and ended shortly after the last out was recorded. I did not keep score of how many total hours the five-game series took to complete, but the first game alone, in Kansas City, went on for more than five hours. Throw in the Series’ four other games and, well, my friends and I were joined at the smartphone for quite a while. 

Like me, Fred (at the left) and Joe (next to me, in the center) are lifelong NY Mets fans. All three of us were reared in Brooklyn and so our allegiance to the team that replaced the Brooklyn Dodgers should not surprise. I won’t bore you with all of the Inside Baseball (and Brooklyn) chatter that took place in the hours and days that we watched the games together from various locations. Well, okay, maybe a little:

Fred (responding to one of the many costly fielding errors committed by our team throughout the entire Series): Mets showing their aglio y olio defense… very slippery.

Joe (answering a text from yours truly, stating that I am stuck in the men’s room at a restaurant and want to know the score): Meatball: The gun is behind the flush box. I left it loud to scare away any pain in the ass innocent bystanders.

My brother Joe (making a very brief appearance one evening and reacting to a photo I’d shared of an anchovy potion I’d whipped up to bring much-needed luck to our hapless—and down two games to none—Mets): They win tonight and you eat that crap the rest of the Series.

Late in Game 5, it being clear that our Mutts were going down, I noticed an email come in from my friend Joe. “Time to move on to more pressing matters,” the subject line read.

I was sure that Joe had compiled one of his famously thorough reports, this one regarding the 2016 baseball season and the prospects for our team to return to the post-season. But then I saw that Fred was not copied; the email was sent to me and me alone.

“I simplified my hummus recipe,” Joe wrote. “When you’re finished crying over the Series maybe you oughta try it finally.”


Joe’s New & Improved Hummus

1 can chickpeas (I prefer the 19-ounce Progresso version)
1/4 cup tahini (I prefer the Roland brand in the white container)
1 lemon juiced
2 cloves garlic run through a garlic press or minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt or red Hawaiian sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1) Drain the chickpeas. Rinse well in a colander until the water runs clear. Shake dry to eliminate remaining water.

2) In the bowl of a food processor, add the lemon juice and tahini. Process for about a minute. Scrape the sides and bottom of bowl. Process for another minute. This step will ensure that your hummus will be smooth and that the tahini will be evenly distributed.

3) Add olive oil, garlic, salt, cumin and cayenne. Process for about 30 seconds. Scrap the sides and bottom of the bowl. Process for another 30 seconds.

4) Add the chickpeas. Process for a minute. Scrap sides and bottom of bowl. Process for another 1-2 minutes.

5) If you want a thinner hummus, add some water (about a teaspoon should do) and process for another minute or so. If not, simply process until it reaches your preferred thickness and smoothness.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Beef short rib ragu

The furnace has been running lately. So has the living room fireplace.

It's braising season.

Not a lot of things are better for braising than short ribs. They're terrific served whole, of course, but I was in the mood for a hearty ragu the other evening, and so that's the direction I went in.

Nobody complained.

I started out with 3 pounds of beef short ribs. After liberally seasoning the ribs with kosher salt and black pepper I dredged them in all-purpose flour and then tossed them into a dutch oven with plenty of olive oil.

After the ribs have browned on all sides, remove and set aside.

Add one large chopped carrot, two celery stalks, one medium onion, one leek, four garlic cloves, and some thyme. Saute until the vegetables have softened.

Return the ribs to the dutch oven and add one quart of stock (beef here), 2 cups of red wine, and one can of tomatoes. Let the liquid come to a boil, then cover the pot and place in an oven preheated to 375 degrees F.

After around two hours check that the meat is tender. If it isn't tender continue to cook until it is. Once tender remove from the oven and allow things to cool.

Once cool enough to handle, remove the ribs from the sauce and pick away all the meat from the bones.

All that's left to do now is add the meat back into the sauce, reheat and serve.

As you can see by the picture up top I served the ragu over polenta the first night. The next night I went with cavatelli.

It feels like winter tonight. I only wish there was still some of the stuff left.

Monday, October 19, 2015

You gotta break some eggs...

See this? It's a classic French omelet. Made by an authentic French chef.

The real deal. Both of them.

I was hoping to present to you my version of the venerable classic but a funny thing happened on the way to the stovetop: I discovered just how lacking in kitchen skills I am. Manufacturing the classic French omelet, it turns out, only looks easy.

The man who did create the four-egg-and-chive masterpiece that you see here is none other than Jacques Pepin. "If I have to judge how good technically a chef is," explains the célèbre chef français in a video that I highly recommend you watch, "I probably would ask him to do an omelet."

Luckily Chef Pepin asked no such thing of my Italian-American mother's middle son. I have attempted making a perfect French omelet on several occasions this past week and, well, you don't see any pictures of them around here, now do you?

What got me started on this Perfect French Omelet Quest was a recent trip to Paris. For lunch one day I'd ordered a simple omelette au fromage and a plate of beautifully cured (and nicely fatty) jamon. The omelet, in the classic not country style, wasn't the finest that I have had but still it was excellent, super light both in appearance and texture, moist in the way that many Americans would find underdone. (Yes, Cousin cook-my-scrambled-eggs-til-they're-like-packing-material Frank, I mean you!)

Mostly what I recall about the omelet is the thought I had as it slowly disappeared from the plate: Why don't I ever make this at home?

Now I know why. 

If your kitchen skills roughly mirror my own then maybe you do too.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Zucchini & eggs

This won't take but a minute. That's the way comfort foods work. Time-wise you're in and you're out in a flash. It's the feelings that linger on.

To my way of thinking few foods provide more comfort than Zucchini & Eggs. It's right up there with Pasta & Peas on the warm-and-fuzzy scale — and precious few things ever make it into that territory.

I am not alone in this. Many of the people that I grew up with in Brooklyn will back me up here, I am sure. Their mothers and grandmothers and aunts sliced many summer zucchini from their family gardens, and even cracked eggs fresh from the chicken coops in their backyards. The olive oils that they lovingly fried the zucchini and the eggs in were fresh and fragrant, the breads accompanying the completed scramble crusty and fresh from the bakeries down the street.

It would be an unprofitable use of time trying to estimate how often I have gone running to zucchini & eggs for nourishment. I wouldn't even try.

What I will try is to get you to give it a go and see how it feels.

Just slice up a zucchini and fry it in olive oil until golden.

Add a couple eggs (three here) and salt and pepper to taste.

Once the eggs start to set, lightly toss into a scramble and then serve.

Feels pretty good, am I right?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Little boxes

This package arrived via overnight express the other day. Wrapped inside the white and brown plastic bag were two very hefty, not to mention delicious, deli sandwiches. I was expecting the package's arrival because one of my oldest friends, a man that I have known and loved since kindergarden, had alerted me both to its contents and whereabouts.

"Enjoy, my brother," Louis had texted from Manhattan's Lower East Side. "Nobody does pastrami the way Katz's does.

"Wish you were HERE!"

Like many wonderful people in my life Louis knows about and takes enormous pleasure in good food. Eating is an important part of the pleasure, but it isn't the biggest part. Sharing is. It's everything, actually.

Lou's carefully packed two-pound box of deli meats (half pastrami, half corned beef) was one old friend's way of showing another how fond of him he is. Katz's Delicatessen holds a special place in Lou's life. Always has. Eating there makes him enormously happy, joyous even. Being 300 miles away from each other on the afternoon he'd gone in for lunch, Lou decided that the next best thing to breaking (rye) bread together was to rush representative samples of his midday meal to my door.

And his plan worked. Splendidly. From the moment I accepted the FedEx package until my very last bite of thickly cut Katz's pastrami late that evening Lou was right there beside me.

He still is. And it's been days.

Boxes like this one are not entirely new to me, as the family and friends that surround me are of a similarly generous mind.

Cousin Josephine, a woman as close to me as any sister would be, has brightened many of my days with surprise packages of her extraordinary baked goods and confections. (Jo's homemade torrone immediately comes to mind. Awesome!)

Only recently a parcel meant to bring me back to my youth turned up in the mailbox. It was a package of Brooklyn chewing gum sent by my very dear cousin John and I still smile—widely—whenever I recall it.

Some 20 years ago now, only weeks after moving from my hometown New York to Maine, a package arrived early one Saturday morning. The box had been shipped from Alleva, a cheese shop in Little Italy that I know well. It was lined with thick hard foam, lots of dry ice—and around ten pounds of fresh mozzarella!

My friend Joe had arranged for the delivery after hearing me bitterly complain of the lack of decent food in my new home. It had been less than a month and already I was heartsick. What had I done? Could I liberate myself from the job I'd accepted and return home to New York where I belonged?

"I don't know how people can live this way," I told my friend when he called to check in on me one afternoon. "If I stay here I'll just wither and die."

Joe's package that Saturday—like Lou's and Josephine's and John's and so many others through the years—lifted me. High. Two decades later and just thinking about it still does.