Monthly Archives: January 2010

Bi Bim Bap

I don’t make it a habit of shying away from new food things. While I might not always dive right into them, I generally give new tastes at least a chance. So, today, on the cafeteria menu was Bi Bim Bap. The description of it wasn’t at all inoffensive, but the concept was one I hadn’t tried before.

A Korean dish, the base was rice, accompanied by various vegetables, garnished with meat, and topped with a fried egg. It was really the egg that sold me on the dish. I didn’t think that a dish with an egg on top could be all bad.
The dishes were made to order so I had to get on line today to pick out my lunch. Alongside the rice, I picked out kimchi (naturally), pickled carrots, sesame-spicy tofu, bean sprouts, shitake mushrooms, and beef. A dash of hot sauce was added to the vegetables. Then, the fried egg was put on top.
I’m glad I gave this new dish a chance. The meal was a great combination of flavors and textures. There was enough heat to keep everything from being a boring mush once mixed together. It even helped keep me full long enough to tackle a busy workday afternoon. The next time this is on the cafeteria menu, I won’t hesitate to get it again.
Buon appetito!

Spiced Pecan and Pear Salad

The risotto that I posted last week is very dense. Along side of it, I added a salad that combines some of the typical flavors that are sometimes paired with pungent blues served at the end of dinner to round out a meal. It is a light counterpoint to the richness of the gorgonzola dish and uses in-season pears with crunchy pecans that have been given a sweet-spicy kick. It must have been a hit, because not only have I been craving it, but my sister called me for the recipe as well for a dinner she was hosting for friends last week.

Spiced Pecan and Pear Salad*

Prep Time: 10-15 minutes
Serving Size: 2 portions

1 Bosc pear, not overripe
1/4 tsp. olive oil
1/2 cup pecan halves
1/2 tsp. good-quality maple syrup
2 pinches ground cumin
1-2 pinches ground cayenne pepper (depending upon how hot you like it)
2 pinches salt
3 cups lettuce washed and rinsed (bibb, lolla rosso, romaine)
1 tsp. highest quality extra virgin olive oil (pref. unfiltered)
Cut pear into quarters and then into quarters again. Toss with the olive oil to coat. Place pears in a single layer on pre-heated griddle pan. Pears should cook for about 3-4 minutes per side, until they have grill marks and have started to release their sugars. Once cooked, set aside.
While the pears are cooking, you can begin to toast the pecans in a skillet without any oil or butter, placing them in a single layer in the pan over low heat. After 4 to 5 minutes, the aroma of toasting pecans will start to come through. Drizzle the maple syrup evenly over the pecans. It will start to bubble.
Sprinkle the pecans with the cumin, cayenne pepper, and 1 pinch of salt. Let cook for about 4 minutes more and remove from the heat. Set aside to cool briefly.
Assemble the salad greens on two plates. Drizzle with the unfiltered olive oil and sprinkle the remaining pinch of salt on the salads. Decorate them with the pears and the pecans. Serve at the same time as or after the risotto.
*If serving salad on its own and/or with a different main than the risotto, crumble 1/4 cup Gorgonzola dolce or aged blue cheese over the salads as the last step.
Buon appetito!

Risotto alla Gorgonzola

Having visitors provides a great excuse to get to the parts of the city that one normally doesn’t get to in the course of one’s usual errands. This past week, my sister came to town for a few days. We didn’t really have a plan, per se, for things to do on this trip. I had some long-overdue things to get done and dragged her around town. In return, I also took her to someplace that I knew would be a little bit of heaven for her.

Murray’s Cheese Shopis one of those institutions in New York that is spoken of as the authority on all things for fermented dairy, much like the cheese counter at Fairway. I made sure that my sister was fully prepared to enter this notable establishment. She’s often told me that cheese is one of hers and her boyfriend’s food loves. I wanted to make sure that she enjoyed her visit.

She wasted no time in making her selections after a brief perusal. On the first time in the shop, it can be a bit overwhelming to see all the different varieties, but the staff is always helpful to offer recommendations and to provide samples. The cheeses are well labeled as to where they are from and how they might taste.

My sister grabbed several kinds of soft and hard cheeses as well as some salami to take back with her. Murray’s also has various hard sausages, cured meats, honeys, and dried fruits for sale that pair well with their other wares. In addition, the shop sells ice packs to keep everything cool for the journey back home.

We’d had kind of a large lunch that day at one of my favorite Turkish restaurants. My sister and I both wanted something a bit simpler for dinner. She had suggested a dish that she’d had when visiting me in Italy: Risotto alla Gorgonzola. I’d never made this, but the sampling of blue cheeses at Murray’s inspired me to attempt it.

Based upon my sister’s description of the dish and my own experience in making risotto, I could guess at the kind of cheese that was used. Gorgonzola is not as simple as it might seem. There are various versions from softer and creamy (younger) to more pungent and crumblier (older or more aged). It is made in the Piedmont and Lombardy regions of Italy, which are in the North. For the dish that I made, I used two different types: a Gorgonzola-Mascarpone layered type and a creamy Gorgonzola. These melted well into the risotto and gave it a richness with a subtle and not too overwhelming blue cheese finish.

Gorgonzola and Mascarpone in layers 

Creamy Gorgonzola

Risotto alla Gorgonzola

Serving Size: 4 appetizer portions or 2 main dish portions

Prep Time: about an hour

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/3 c. finely minced yellow onion
1 Tbsp. finely minced garlic
1 c. carnaroli rice
1/2 c. dry white wine
2 c. low-sodium chicken stock (warmed)
1/8 lb. Gorgonzola-Mascarpone layered torta
1/8 lb. soft Gorgonzola (called Dolce or Cremificato), cut into small cubes
1 pinch salt
1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, melt butter until foamy over low heat. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally and watching carefully so that it doesn’t get browned or burnt. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes more so that it is softened and the onion is translucent. The onion and garlic are meant to melt into the finished dish so that they don’t stand out against the rice.

Add the rice and stir to make sure that each grain is coated with the buttery liquid. Cook for 30 seconds before adding the wine. Stir to incorporate the wine and cook until it is just about completely absorbed into the rice. Pour in about 2 tablespoons of the warm chicken stock and incorporate it into the rice mixture.

Continue to add the stock several tablespoons at a time, stirring completely and waiting for the liquid to be completely absorbed before pouring in the next bit of stock. As the cooking continues, you will see the starch being released from the rice and the grains becoming tender and creamy. When there is about a quarter of a cup of liquid left, you might want to taste the rice to test the texture. It should be almost al dente. Finish adding in the rest of the stock and cook until it has been completely absorbed.

Once all the liquid has been incorporated, you can turn off the heat. Break up the Gorgonzola-Mascarpone and stir to blend thoroughly, leaving no lumps of cheese. Next, add the creamy Gorgonzola and stir to blend completely into the rice. The heat from the rice will melt the cheeses. After they’ve all been mixed in together, season with salt and pepper, and stir in the parsley.

Buon appetito!

Starting 2010 with Vegetarian Pot Pie

No need to tell most of you just how cold it is outside. Normally, we do get a bit of a freeze here in the city at some point during the winter months, but this is a pretty long stretch of unending Arctic air for us. We’ve also seen more snow than in recent years.
The frigid weather has had a direct impact on my motivation to do pretty much anything. Unfortunately, this also includes things like heading out of my apartment to do food shopping. In support of the merchants who stand outside at their tables at the Greenmarket in all sorts of temperatures hot and cold, I pulled myself off of the sofa yesterday, and made the trip down to Union Square.
That was, however, after having binged on a combination of Food Network shows. These are the guilty pleasures I will not be giving up in 2010. I made it through “Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger,” “Tyler’s Ultimate,” and “Ask Aida.” By the end of it, I was thoroughly inspired to get some goodies with which to cook up some great weekend meals.
Like many folks, I’ve put together some new goals for 2010. This year, I didn’t publish them on the blog. [Getting over my laziness really has to be one of the things I accomplish this year.] One of them is to try to be better about eating vegetables. I know that they are good for me, but sometimes I just can’t get to them.
The truth is, I didn’t like many of them growing up. We also didn’t get to eat them fresh or in season, at least not until I was almost pre-teen, and then the range was still limited. I also get bored with the same old thing. I can binge on asparagus in the springtime, as the season is so short, and I can get excited about late summer tomatoes, which are so flavorful and unlike the stuff in the stores now. This time of year, however, is a sea of endless, pale root vegetables.
So, when Aida pulled together her Vegetarian Pot Pie, I paid attention. Really, how bad can something be that is rich and creamy topped with puff pastry? Chicken pot pie is one of those recipes I’ve made a few times, and which was a special treat growing up, but isn’t something that I have on the annual rotation. I’m not sure why, as it freezes well, and, in the right container, would be a good thing to bring for lunch.*
Fortunately, the ingredients were mostly available at the Greenmarket, so it made me feel very good, and a little bit virtuous, that I did make it out of the apartment and downtown. The few things that I couldn’t find, I managed to pick up at the stores in my neighborhood. As you can see from the photos, the dish was everything it promised: warm, gooey, comforting. I didn’t miss the chicken at all.**
Most of the work is in chopping up everything
(try to keep all the veggies about the same size to help them cook uniformly)
Double, double toil & trouble… wait, wrong thing
(yes, my sister, you can omit the peas)
In the oven. Please heed the tip about putting this on a lined baking sheet.
The finished result. Golden and bubbling.
On the plate. Sorry the lighting isn’t better, but it was really good.
Kitchen Witch Tips:
*Although the recipe calls for this to be made in an 8×8″ pan, I might make it in a larger one next time to increase the puff pastry-to-veggies ratio. Alternatively, this could easily be made in individual dishes. The cooking time might be different in that case.
**If you wanted to turn this into a traditional Chicken Pot Pie, poach chicken parts or buy a cooked chicken. Shred the meat (if cooking yourself, save the liquid to add to the veggies). Add chicken stock instead of mushroom stock at that point in the recipe. Put the chicken into the veggies at the end, when adding the herbs. Top with the puff pastry and bake as before.
Buon appetito!