Lemon Chicken with Asparagus and Avocado

I’ve been missing in action recently, a situation which has presented itself before since this blog’s inception in August of 2009.  This time my absence is due to my new-ish job at Haven’s Kitchen, where I work as a teaching assistant and sometimes as a prep cook for catered events there.

It’s been hectic mainly because I’ve been busy learning how to act as a professional cook and not as a home cook.  The differences between these two types of cooking are numerous, and I’d like to share with you the top 5 most important things I’ve learned about working in an industrial kitchen, and how it differs from cooking at home.

1. Salt your food.  I mean, really salt your food.

  • More salt goes into one dish in a night than I’m used to using in the span of a week- to give you an idea of what I mean,  take the amount of salt you think is appropriate for a dish, triple it, add a few more pinches, and then you’re just shy of the right amount. I suggest you not eat out anymore if this fact scares you.

2. Time is of utmost importance.

  • In my mind, this is the essential difference between a home cook and a professional: at home, you don’t want to spend hours making dinner, but you could if you wanted to.  At work, taking a long time to complete a task is a sign of inefficiency and inability to work properly.  I’m still getting used to this one.

3. Season as you go. Taste everything, every step of the way.

  • I hear almost every teacher say it during classes, and I see chefs doing it during service time for events – every dish should be tasted and seasoned from the very beginning to right before being plated.  This might seem strange to those who cook at home, but it ultimately makes sense:  in order to control the final result, you need to monitor the dish’s taste along the way.  Salt, salt, salt!

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Winter Persimmon Salad with Pomegranate Seeds, Farro, and Avocado

After the intense grilled cheese sandwich I ate for lunch yesterday, I figured I would give my body a little present by filling it with the fruits and vegetables it has been calling out to me for.  After browsing through a bunch of different seasonal salad recipes on FoodBuzz, I decided to stick with ingredients I mainly had at home, and that’s how this winter-fruit salad came about.  I should tell you that after I took a few bites of this salad, my eyes widened and I said to myself out loud, “this might be the best salad you’ve ever made Ash!”  Truthfully I don’t know if that statement is true or if I was just really hungry after my run this morning.

Either way this salad definitely hits the spot and gives you so many textures to enjoy: creamy avocado slices, crunchy pomegranate seeds, silky persimmon strands and of course the very unique texture provided by farro.  If you’re particularly drawn to pomegranate seeds, I recommend checking out this beautiful Arabic Salad recipe which includes another favorite ingredient of mine, pomegranate molasses. Don’t know what a persimmon is? Neither did I a few years ago, but after trying a ripe one with my mom one winter I quickly became hooked.  Here’s a photo of what they look like:

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Monday’s Marvelous Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Happy Halloween! Am I scaring you with my food?

I sure hope not.  I actually just want to talk to you about the very un-scary topic of favorite childhood meals.

At first I was going to write about the classics, such as spaghetti and meatballs, mac and cheese, and of course grilled cheese.  But as I thought about it more I decided that while I love these foods (especially grilled cheese!), they don’t exactly embody my childhood eating experience.  My mom is neither American-born nor very fond of cooking, so she gave herself the liberty of dabbling in all sorts of cuisines and picking and choosing whatever pleased her and us.  What did we eat as children?  We enjoyed everything from Chinese-inspired (I use inspired very loosely here) chicken dishes served with Basmati rice to chicken and shrimp fajitas with loads of caramelized onions.  Throw in a few traditional Iranian dishes and several variations of roast chicken and you are looking at the Fahr family’s childhood fare.  So grilled cheese was never actually a staple in my family, and that is probably exactly why I like it so much now.

In my mind there is very little more satisfying than putting both hands around a hot sandwich and biting into crunchy bread, only to find oozy, melted cheese in the middle.  Kind of like what happened here:

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Orange You Glad You Made This Pasta?

I used this title to try and catch your attention, did it work?  Either way I really do think you’ll be glad to make this orange-tinged pasta! I made this for myself the other day when I was feeling the fall cold more than I would have liked, and I decided that I needed a little pasta pick-me-up. It definitely satisfied any hearty cravings, even though it’s a vegetarian dish and is relatively low-fat.

This time I’m including a set of additional photos because my friend Colleen (same friend I mentioned in the last post – she was full of good ideas when I saw her!) mentioned that often when she goes to a supermarket, she will know the name of what she’s supposed to buy but she won’t know what it looks like.  I forgot that I had that problem for a long time too – I’ll never forget babysitting some family friends’ kids when I was 20 years old.  Their mom asked me to pick some basil from her garden, only to find me returning with a handful of weeds! Thankfully things have improved for me since then hehe.

Rambling aside, please look at the top right photo below to see what red kuri squash looks like.  I placed it behind my beloved chef’s knife so you can get a feel for its size.

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Top 10 (or 11) Most Handy Kitchen Items

A bit of background if I may: last night I got drinks with my good friend Colleen, who works in the fashion industry and who just moved into her own 1-bedroom apartment (congrats love!).  She is another friend of mine whose cooking abilities are very limited but who hopes to learn at least the basics.  I really appreciated her honesty last night; Colleen told me that the idea of cooking is daunting, primarily because she doesn’t know where to start.  Most of the food websites she looks at have explanations and instructions that are already over her head, so it’s tough for her to get some type of beginner’s guide.

When she asked me for a list of tools/equipment she should have in the kitchen, I quickly became animated and started listing everything that in my mind was an essential: cheese grater, pasta pot, large and small skillet, you get the point.  This got us talking and we both agreed that this would be a great addition to the blog!  So that is how I landed here, hoping to give you a short list of goodies which will help make your cooking experience(s) less intimidating.

Basic equipment:

1. Small skillet – great for omelettes or a steak fillet or chicken breast

2.  Large skillet – great for pasta sauces, sautéing vegetables, or cooking a few fillets at a time

3.  Small saucepan with lid – good for boiling small things like eggs or baby potatoes

4.  Large pot with lid – great for pasta and soups

5. Strainer – to drain your amazing pasta!

6. Spatula – to flip eggs, cuts of meat

7.  A few wooden spoons – I use these more than anything else

8.  Cheese grater – I say it all the time, but cheese is just so great.  Even greater when it’s grated.

9.  Knives – you can either buy a set of knives, or just buy several serrated knives and one big chef’s knife.  I know chef’s knives are expensive (and I think well worth it!) but I found on the Macy’s website a Martha Stewart Santoku knife at the astoundingly low sale price of $9.99.  I unfortunately have never tried it (I can’t be torn from my Wusthof knife) but the reviews are good so I’m including a link here.

10. A salad spinner – eat your vegetables kids.

11.  A cutting board

Extra tools that you may want to invest in:

-A ladle, aluminum foil, a few tupperware containers, a vegetable peeler, a blender/food processor or immersion blender.

In terms of food items, it’s your job to get creative and decide what your favorite food items are that you always want to have on hand.  For me this changes, right now it’s parmesan cheese, whole milk, and crushed red pepper flakes.  Regardless, I think every person should have salt, pepper, sugar, and olive oil.  From there the kitchen is your oyster.

Does this help you?  Would you include anything else on this list?  Let me know, leave a comment!

Farro with Red Kuri Squash and Leeks (Plus easy kale chips)

The beauty of this recipe lies in its effortless presentation of sumptuous fall flavors.  When I was living in Paris I fell in love with potimarron, a small pumpkin-looking squash that was very popular among Parisians, and which I adored cooking with.  So much so that during the month of October I think my go-to dinner was simply cooked potimarron with some olive oil, salt and pepper.

I was ecstatic when I saw some potimarron, or red kuri squash, at the Manhattan Fruit Exchange today, mainly because they are the perfect size for one person! Red kuri squash has a distinct chestnutty flavor that comes out beautifully when the squash is roasted or braised.  I paired it with leeks and some chopped parsley in this recipe, but I definitely believe that you should add your personal touch and change this recipe based on what you have on hand.  It is very flexible, and cooking farro in this way gives you a sort of carte blanche to do with it what you want.

My only regret while making this dish is that I didn’t make more.  I would be thrilled to have some of this goodness waiting for me in the fridge on a day when I don’t feel like cooking.  If you decide that you want to double the recipe, you can do that very easily:  keep all amounts the same, just up the broth to 2 cups, and the farro to 2/3-cup.  You may want to add more chopped parsley and fresh parmesan cheese.

If you can’t find red kuri squash, which is a sad but realistic truth, you can easily substitute acorn squash.  Although in this case you won’t achieve the mind-blowing chestnut flavor, so I sincerely hope you succeed in finding red kuri!

Lastly, I’m including a recipe for the easiest (and maybe the healthiest) chips on the planet: kale chips, made from the fresh leafy greens that become crispy, tangy, and delightful when roasted.  I’ve wanted to try them for a while, and after seeing an easy recipe on SarahFit’s Tumblr page I decided to give it a try.  You can just toss them in the oven at the same time as the red kuri squash, since they cook for about as long.  I know 2 cups of kale chips seems like a lot, but it’s really not – I ate them all in one sitting, and I didn’t even feel bad about it!

Please give me any feedback you have – did you substitute the leek or squash for another vegetable?  The more ideas the better, so please leave comments!

Farro with Red Kuri Squash and Leeks – serves 1
1 red kuri squash, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 cups vegetable broth
1 small onion or shallot, chopped
1 leek, green stalks and stem removed, rinsed, and thinly sliced crosswise
1/3-cup pearled farro
1/4-cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2.  Toss red kuri with 1 tablespoon olive oil and brown sugar on a lined baking sheet.  Bake in oven until soft and slightly browned, about 15-20 minutes.
3.  Meanwhile, bring vegetable broth to simmer in a small saucepan.
4.  In another small saucepan, heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat.
5.  Add onion and stir until softened, 3-4 minutes.
6.  Add leek and cook until silky and softened, about 8 minutes.  Gently break apart leek rounds with a wooden spoon.
7.  Add farro, and toast in saucepan for 1 minute.
8.  Add white wine, and cook until all liquid is evaporated.
9.  Add one ladle full of broth and simmer, reducing heat as necessary, until broth is absorbed.  Continue adding ladles of broth until farro is fully cooked, making sure that each ladle full is absorbed before adding another, about 18 minutes.
10.  Once farro is fully cooked (you can cover pot for five minutes to ensure doneness), add red kuri cubes.  Remove from heat and stir in parmesan and parsley.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, and add additional parmesan if desired.
Easy Kale Chips – makes about 2 cups
1 bunch fresh kale, stems removed and leaves torn
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Toss kale with oil, pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt and pepper on a lined baking tray.
3.  Cook until kale is crispy, tossing once halfway through cooking time, about 15 minutes.

Bacon and Parmesan Frittata

 

To all nervous novices out there: I think you’ll like this recipe.  I made a larger version for two friends for lunch and they both remarked upon how easy it was to make and how much flavor the final result packed in.

I’d like to tell you a little about said friends, because they represent in my mind the exact type of people I hope to convert into cooks.  These two work in finance and explained to me today that their favorite home-cooked meals come in boxes usually bearing the title “Lean Cuisine” or another similar variation.  Perfect, I thought, hopefully this easy recipe will convince them that cooking is not as hard as it seems!  Unless they were just trying to make me feel good (and that would be so sad), I think I succeeded.

I hear from a lot of my friends that they would like to learn to cook for their significant others.  I hope you will use these recipes as a starting point to get yourself familiar with cooking.  Since a great majority of these dishes can easily be doubled, you will have no problem impressing someone else with your newly acquired skills!

Frittatas are great because they are easy and almost fail-proof, and you can alter most recipes to cater to ingredients you have on hand or that you prefer.  In this case, you can substitute arugula (that has been sautéed and slightly wilted) or chopped cilantro for the parsley.  You can also change the cheese – don’t want to splurge on a large hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano?  Opt instead for pecorino romano, gouda, swiss, or Gruyère.  Any hard cheese that can be grated will actually taste great – let’s be honest, cheese is just fantastic anytime, in any form.

You’ll need some time to cook the caramelized onions but I promise you it is will worth it – only when onions have been slowly cooked over low heat does their natural sweetness come out and shine.  They pair beautifully with the salty bacon and crisp parmesan cheese.  Caramelized onions are pretty low maintenance, just watch over them in the beginning or they may risk burning.

Bacon and Parmesan Frittata – serves 1
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small white onion, stems removed and thinly sliced
2 slices thick bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon heavy cream or whole milk
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
2-3 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
1.  Heat olive oil in a small ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion, sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.
2.  Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until onions are caramelized and golden in color, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3.  Meanwhile, cook bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat until crispy, about 10 minutes.  Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and dry off excess fat with paper towels.  Discard bacon fat.
4.  In a small bowl, beat eggs with heavy cream (or milk if using) and a pinch each of salt and pepper.  Turn heat under onions up to medium, and add egg mixture along with parsley and bacon bits.
5.  Cook for about 3-4 minutes, or until bottom is set.  Tilt the pan and push cooked egg towards center of skillet to let uncooked eggs run underneath.
6.  Sprinkle cheese evenly over frittata and finish cooking in the oven until center is just set, about 4-5 minutes.

Oil- and Honey-Filled Avocado with Mint

If you like avocados you will surely like this recipe; it is simple and straightforward, and the beauty of each ingredient (keep in mind there are only five!) really comes out.  Because of the simplicity of the dish, it is a good idea to round-up the best quality of everything you can find – ripe avocados, local honey, and good quality olive oil.  In my case, I used a fruity olive oil from Provence, that I gave to my sister Yasmin as a gift.  I haven’t asked if she agrees with me, but I think the complexity of the oil, combined with the sea salt, honey, and mint, helps to turn this appetizer from something good to something noteworthy.  However, I invite you to try this recipe with whatever you have on hand, a ripe and creamy avocado will never taste bad, especially when filled with honey, oil, and fresh mint!

I think this dish proves what a lot of people, including myself, are constantly discovering: that the best food is always the most simple, optimally made with local and seasonal ingredients.  If you’re like me, and you live nowhere near mint bushes or avocado trees right now, hopefully you are somewhere near a town or country that does grow them!  This is great as an appetizer, served before pasta or fish. 

Boooon appétit!

Oil-and Honey-Filled Avocado with Mint – Serves 1
1 ripe avocado
1 tablespoon of your favorite honey
1 heaping tablespoon fresh chopped mint
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Optional: 1 lemon (for to squeeze the juice out of)
1.  Cut the avocado in half lengthwise.  Remove the pit, and place each half, cut side up, on a plate.
2.  In a small bowl, combine the honey, mint, and salt.  Whisk in the olive oil one tablespoon at a time.  Adjust seasoning to taste, add more olive oil or honey if desired, and some lemon juice if using.
3.  Pour into each avocado cavity; serve immediately.

Chicken Piccata (Or Floured Chicken with Lemon, Parsley, and Capers)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 After having written this post I realized that this recipe is very similar to one I wrote two weeks ago for whiting fish in a mustard, lemon, and parsley sauce.  I guess this means I am in a lemon-and-parsley kind of mood lately – hopefully you are too.  Truth be told, it is also thanks to a reader from California, who asked me if I knew a good chicken piccata recipe, that I decided to bust out a version I made once or twice for my dad (a lover of this recipe, especially when made with thinly pounded veal), and I am happy to be re-introduced to this easy and delicious staple. 

For this particular recipe I did what I like to do best, which is  invite over some cobailles, or guinea pigs, to test the recipe out before publishing it here. Et voilà, quelle joie de voir leurs bonnes réponses à propos de cette recette! Bref, my willing friends (thanks Erin and Sophie) confirmed what I was hoping to hear: this recipe is extremely fast to put together (less than 20 minutes, honest!) and packs a lot of fantastic flavor in just a few ingredients.  My chicken piccata sauce came out very green, but that is because of my firm belief in doubling the amount of herbs in almost any recipe - they can only add to the depth of flavor, and I follow the reasoning that if I’m already chopping then I may as well go the whole nine yards and chop a lot.  However, if you are not like me and don’t enjoy running your knife (which is hopefully very sharp and large) through a seemingly endless pile of parsley, there is another solution: stem your parsley leaves, place them in a high-rimmed glass cup, and cut them up with scissors!  You will get good results with a lot less work.  Or, you can be like me and enjoy this type of torture. C’est comme vous voulez.

A quick note on butter: butter is a high-fat pleasure that adds fragrance, flavor, and richness to any food it touches.  We all know the satisfaction of walking into a kitchen and smelling the nutty and delicious smell that butter gives off once it begins to brown in a skillet – it’s almost as amazing as waking up to the smell of bacon (I have yet to think of anything that smells better, except maybe freshly brewed coffee in the morning -I’d love to hear your ideas on this matter).  However, I have a sister who  is the star of my life (she works – get ready for a blatant plug – at the Daily Meal, a new and thorough food website, started by the ex-forbes.com CEO), and this wonderful relation of mine has had high cholesterol since about age 14, and has since then been denied the privilege of guiltlessly indulging in butter-drenched delices.   Because of dietary restrictions implemented on her at a very early age, I also grew up understanding the risks involved in consuming food with a high saturated fat content.  Why am I telling you this? To explain what I could have said in about a dozen words: if you want to substitute the butter in this recipe for olive oil, you can. 

If you’re lucky enough to enjoy fatty food without significant consequences, then I implore you to make the recipe as I did and as written, which is still light and healthy.  And if you do try it, please let me know how it comes out – I think I can say with confidence that you will surprise yourself by your cooking skills, and you will see how easy it is to prepare delicious food.   

Chicken Piccata  – serves 1

1 skinless and boneless chicken breast, cut in half or pounded thinly
all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons chicken stock
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

1. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Place some flour in a shallow bowl, and dredge the chicken to coat with flour.
2. Heat half the butter in a small or medium skillet over medium heat (big enough to hold the chicken). Once hot, add the breast and cook until done, about 4 minutes on each side. Set aside on a plate.
3. Heat olive oil in the same skillet. Add the lemon juice, capers, and chicken stock, and stir to combine. Add chicken back to the skillet, and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Stir in parsley and remaining half of butter. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

Easy Cauliflower Risotto with Crisp Potato Bits

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Whenever I make risotto I think of my friend Giulia, who grew up in Bologna, in northern Italy.  I decided to make risotto for the first time a few months ago, and when I told her about it she immediately explained to me, “that’s great, risotto is easy and delicious.  But don’t make it like French people – they don’t know how to make any Italian food.  Remember to add the broth one ladle at a time; les français ne suivent pas cette règle, et le risotto souffre. Sometimes, they will even add water to the risotto instead of broth!” (I wish I could somehow portray to you the look of horror on her face as she explained this to me).  According to Giulia, coffee in France is also horrific, and is something that should be enjoyed only in Italy.
I can’t say for sure that risotto in France is bad.   I have never eaten risotto at a restaurant here so I have no opinion on the matter.  Either way, I took her advice and added broth to my risotto au fur et à mesure, a little at a time, and the result was lovely.  Risotto made correctly becomes almost creamy and silken, while still maintaining a certain firmness thanks to the arborio rice. I thought about adding chopped and fried shallots as a garnish, but I decided ultimately on using a fingerling potato, since it provides a little more substance.  You, dear reader, can add whatever you would like to top the risotto!
Truthfully, I also decided to make this because I have a giant box of arborio rice that has been resting in my kitchen for about 5 months now, and I’m just starting to make a dent in it.  Since I also had parmesan in my fridge, I figured why not, let’s try out this risotto with some seasonal cauliflower.  So, here is the final product of my creation, which I devoured immediately after taking these photos, and although I don’t say it often, I was pretty impressed with myself.  If you try this, I guarantee you will have good results, it is pretty difficult to botch this one up.  The recipe is relatively quick (maybe 35 minutes total, plus some chopping) and all the fun takes place in two pans (one for the broth, one for the risotto).  You have to watch the risotto carefully since you’ll be adding broth over time, but it is kind of fun to see how the rice changes and eventually reaches the perfect level of softness.

This recipe calls for 1/2 of a head of cauliflower; the other 1/2 you can store in the fridge for up to 1 or 2 weeks.  You can use it to make cauliflower in a spicy peanut sauce, or try simmering it in some milk until tender, then pureeing it for a nice winter white soup. 

Cauliflower Risotto with Crisp Potato Bits - Serves 1
For the risotto:
1 cup cauliflower florets (from 1/2 head of a small cauliflower)
3 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 small onion, chopped
3/4-cup arborio rice
1/4-cup dry white wine
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
.
for the potato bits:
1 small fingerling potato, cut into little dice
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
.
1. Cut the cauliflower head in half, keep one half and store the remainder in the fridge for another use.  Remove the center stalk and chop finely; roughly chop the florets, keep separate.
2.  Preheat the oven to 450°F/230°C.
3.  Heat the stock in a saucepan, bring to a boil then to a simmer, and add the florets.
4.  In another saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, onion, and celery stalk, and cook gently until softened, about 10 minutes.
5.  Meanwhile, place potatoes on a lined baking sheet and toss with remaining ingredients.  Bake until golden and crispy, about 15 minutes.
6.  Once the vegetables are softened, turn up the heat, add the rice, and cook until slightly translucent, about 2 minutes.  Add the wine, stir, and cook 2-3 minutes more. 
7.  Now the fun part: start adding the broth, one ladle at a time, and simmer until the rice is soft on the outside with a slight bite on the inside, about 20 minutes. The florets should be soft at this point so you can add them with the broth and crush them into the rice with a wooden spoon
8.  Once rice is cooked, stir in the parsley.  Remove from heat. and stir in the parmesan.  Garnish with potato bits.