Here is a picture of a tomato stuffed with quinoa, zucchini, feta, red basil and red onion to distract you while I try and get my thoughts together about the totally fantastic dinner I had at Del Posto the other night:
I was tagged by Powerfille at Food Without Fear to post four easy recipes to have on hand, which frankly are the only kind of recipes I use most days and are sort of the point behind so many of the food blogs that I love; sure, with unlimited time and budgets we can all cook from the most advanced cookbooks (a friend always says, If you can read, you can cook) but in reality I am usually throwing together dinner well after 8:00 p.m. and trying to get it on the table (and yes, that is often the coffee table) at a reasonable hour at a reasonable per-head price -- I personally try to never spend more than $20 on ingredients for a weeknight dinner, out of compulsive tendencies towards efficiency as much as frugality.
So four easy recipes is an idea I can get behind! Below are four of our staples, and all of them morph and evolve (and devolve) depending on what's on hand or in season, so feel free to adapt!
1. Mediterranean Chicken with Tomatoes and Olives
4 chicken breasts, bone in
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 cup pitted olives (I like a mix of green and Kalamata but any work)
olive oil, salt, pepper
Pre-heat oven to 425. Mix tomatoes, olives, salt, pepper, and a glug of olive oil together in a bowl. Let stand. Lightly season chicken breasts. Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large oven proof skillet. When oil is shimmering, add the chicken breasts, skin side down. Brown breasts, about 5 minutes per side. Remove skillet from stove top and turn all breasts skin side up. Heap the tomato-olive mixture over the chicken and place in oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until chicken is done and tomatoes have burst. Serve with rice or cous cous and scoop all the tomato-olive goo on top.
2. Easy Cream of Broccoli Soup
1 head broccoli
3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium-large yellow onion, diced
1 quart chicken broth
Remove broccoli florets and reserve for later. Peel and dice stalk. Heat olive oil in large heavy-bottomed pan. When shimmering, add onion and broccoli stalk. Simmer until vegetables are soft, about five minutes. Add potatoes and simmer until they soften, about four minutes. Add chicken broth (and any aromatics you like or have on hand) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer 10-15 minutes, until soup thickens. Add two handfuls of coarsely chopped florets and remove from heat. Blend soup to desired thickness (I use an immersion blender and blend right in the soup pot). Serve with salad and crusty bread.
mix the whole mess together, pat into loaf pan and bake for 40-45 minutes
4. Orzo Salad
half box of orzo
can of Italian tuna, in oil
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 red onion, diced
1/4 cup almonds or pine nuts, toasted
cilantro/parsley/scallion or whatever other herb or green thing might be on hand
feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup coarsely chopped olives
juice of 1 lemon
splash of olive oil, salt, pepper
Bring small saucepan of water to boil and add the pasta. Chop the things that need chopping. Put everything in one big bowl. Add cooked pasta. Mix. Enjoy. We eat some variation of this meal at least once a week, and it's become a Kitchen Sink dish; I throw in whatever is on hand (I've used cranberries, chopped dried apricots, bell peppers, capers, salmon; I've subbed quinoa and brown rice for the orzo although the orzo is my favorite starch) and am always happy to have the leftovers to take for lunch the following day. It's a perfect one-dish, no-fail dinner!
Now, in lieu of tagging four other bloggers to post their recipes, I am going to be selfish and ask people to offer recipes in comments; I want to add some new goodies to the rotation! So, tag, you're ALL it...
I realize that Mario Batali is one of those figures - like Martha Stewart - whom people either love or hate. And, like Martha Stewart, I love him. Yeah, I've read all the negatives things about him, his footwear and his temper but I don't care: his food is really, really good. I've never eaten at the Cornelia Street restaurant Po, either before or after Batali's tenure there, but the newly-opened Brooklyn location offered us the chance to sample some great trattoria fare which seems to still bear some of Molto Mario's influences.
Po recenlty opened on Smith Street, confirming what Brooklynites have been witnessing over the past two or three years: the bisto is Over, and the trattoria is In. Po joins Lunetta, Frankies Sputino and Boca Lupo in offering the neighborhood rustic, casual Italian food with nary a red sauce to be found.
We went on Saturday night, and enjoyed the meal very much although the hosts were so flustered in seating us that I considered for a minute heading somewhere else to eat. There was about a 10 minute wait for a table of two, which on a Saturday night was no problem whatsoever for my husband and me, but the initial process of giving our names to the hostess just seemed to cause a sort of...commotion. It was fine once we were seated, but the front of the house was so flustered that it almost made me uncomfortable.
But, the food! Was really quite good. Once seated, we were given dense, chewy Italian bread and two bruschetta topped with white beans in marinade. These I loved, and would happily have ordered for the $2 they are listed for on the menu. I started with the cured tuna antipasti which I plan to replicate at home as soon as possible. Chunk of cured tuna were tossed with fennel, white beans, artichoke, red onion and (I think) some frisee lettuce (or maybe savoy cabbage?). It was hearty and refreshing at the same time, and the chili mint vinaigrette livened up every flavor in the dish. Kevin started with a special appetizer of figs and melon with prosciutto, drizzled in a balsamic reduction and topped with shaved Parmesan Reggiano -- can I just say how much I enjoy fig season, because really, what is better? Yum.
I had a pasta dish for my entree; continuing the white bean theme I ordered the white bean ravioli in a balsamic brown butter sauce. Come October, I will like this dish a lot more, I predict. The pasta itself was delicious and tender, and the white bean filling was delicious, but the balsamic brown butter sauce was a little too rich for me; with every bite I kept thinking, This tastes like dessert. Or Autumn. Don't get me wrong: I ate the whole thing, but the brown butter was just a little too much for me.
Kevin was feeling carnivorous and opted for the skirt steak which was served over green beans and roasted red peppers. I think both of us are eager to go back to Po in order to sample some of the other pastas as well as the guinea hen, which I hear is fantastic.
We had a bottle of delicious sangiovese which I believe started with an "O" and I realize that it completely non-helpful, but it was fantastic and apparently, not on the on-line wine list. For dessert, we split the Po sundae, which is a scoop of mint gelato topped with hot fudge and spicy pine nuts. As someone who has little or no interest in hot fudge sundaes I have to say, This was pretty good. The mint was milder than I expected, but the crunch of the pine nuts was an excellent touch.
The food was good enough that I am eager to go back and keep looking at the menu on-line trying to decide what I want to try next. The service was good, and the room is cozy but comfortable. I'm not sure how many more casual Italian sputino and trattoria-style restaurants the Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill/Boreum Hill crowd can support, but I think there is definitely room for Po.
Po Brooklyn (781 875 1980) is located at 276 Smith Street, between Sackett and DeGraw, and accepts American Express.
When I was a teenager, frozen yogurt was big. Throughout college, it was still big. The last time I went out for frozen yogurt (I mean, FroYo) I was probably wearing jean shorts and Jack Purcells and crossing Russell Boulevard from my sorority house to hit the frozen yogurt shop near Safeway. And the way I remember it was: chocolate, vanilla, toppings such as gummy bears, crushed Oreos and Butterfingers.
Flash forward eleventy million years and I'm walking along Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn and see Oko. I am intrigued. Also, I am hot and hungry, so I go in. Oko is frozen yogurt for 2007; everything is green or all-natural or organic or re-purposed or recycled or reclaimed. The packaging is all made from renewable or recycled materials. The cleaning products used in-house are all non-toxic. The yogurt is made locally by a Greek family and the toppings and other ingredients are from local suppliers whenever possible. The teas are fair-trade. The shop itself is green: the counter tops are made from sunflower hulls, the walls have bamboo paneling and the paint is all VOC-free. Blah blah blah dual-flush toilets, LED lights, etc. 1% of all sales are donated to environmental causes. It's cool.
...none of which would impress me if the product wasn't good. Well, maybe a little, but I was converted the second I took a bite of the frozen yogurt. I had the original plain flavor (although there were 2 or 3 others available) topped with fat, fresh blackberries, and I have to say that this frozen yohurt put TCBY to shame. The yogurt was rich and tangy -- I wish I could come up with more words to described it, but rich and tangy pretty much covers it, and I couldn't have asked for more. It's seriously good.
Plus, that somewhat smug, I-just-helped-the-planet feeling burns lots of calories, I hear.
Oko (718 398-3671) is located at 152 Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, at De Graw Street.
In hindsight it seems kind of crazy that I went to Boston and didn't eat a single oyster or clam, but at least I managed to get a little lobster in me via an appetizer at the wedding I attended. (Lobster, I don't love. Crab I would eat by the bushel, but lobster is one of those foods I usually have to act excited about while secretly not seeing the big whoop.)
We were in Boston for all of 36 hours, so I didn't get that many opportunities to sample local fare, but I did manage to haul Kevin with me to the South End for dinner at The Butcher Shop. I don't know squat about Boston, except that the North End is where you go for Italian food. I'd heard that the South End was sort of an up and coming foodie area, and all of the restaurants owned by the No. 9 group looked really, really good -- I pushed for B&G but Kevin really liked the idea of a wine bar/charcuterie combo, especially one with a house hot dog (which we saw on neighboring tables but did not order for reasons unknown). B&G is, incidentally, across the street from The Butcher Shop, and looked adorable. Also, packed.
The Butcher Shop is on the corner of Waltham and Tremont, and has a bar, a few little high bar tables, and a brilliant large open butcher block table where guests can have a glass of wine or browse the deli case and preserves, chutneys and honey for sale. There is a wall covered in chalkboard paint with wine specials scrawled on it, there are lots of cheeses and cured meats to pick and choose from, there are also some tasty options on the dinner menu, all reasonably priced and all easy to share.
Between the two of us, we had baby back ribs (falling off the bone good, although a little too sweet and heavy on the sauce for me), chick pea fritters with mint-yogurt sauce (meh), arugula salad with burrata cheese drizzled with lemon juice and house-made honey (DIVINE), house-cured olives (briny and citrusy and good!), and a charcuterie plate, which, along with the fresh-baked Irish soda bread that comes with sea salt-sprinkled butter and more of the house-made honey, was the perfect amount of food for the two of us. I had a glass of an Italian white wine, and then a Cotes Du Provence rose; Kevin had a glass of Bordeaux. The vibe was friendly and casual, and the close dining quarters felt fun and intimate, not crowded. A lot of other diners (and drinkers) were starting off their nights with cheese and wine, and I have to say that the idea of a restaurant geared towards charcuterie plates and wine is really quite brilliant.
Our entire bill was under $100, and I'd definitely go back to The Butcher Shop if I were in Boston again. I'm even more eager to try B&G, but I'd go back to The Butcher Shop in a heartbeat, for sure! The Butcher Shop (617.423.4800) is located at 552 Tremont Street and accepts all major credit cards.
Say you joined a CSA. Say you found yourself with about a bajillion squash and some spring onions, among other things. Say you invited friends over for dinner and weren't really sure of what to serve, and had limited time to prepare an edible meal, but were pretty sure you needed to use up some of your zucchini, somehow.
Worry not! I happened upon the perfect solution to the glut of mid-summer squash! I grated up a few of my zucchini, salted the whole mess, then let it sit for about half an hour before squeezing out as much water as possible. Then, I added 2 eggs, about 1 1/2 cups corn meal, and about half a cup of minced scallion to the squash, and mixed. And again, drained off more liquid after about 10 more minutes.
I heated olive oil in a skillet and formed pancake/patty-formations with the zucchini slop, and fried them until each side was browned and crisp.
They were wicked good.
The end. (PS -- I served the zucchini pancakes with orchietti tossed with fresh tomato and shredded fresh mozzarella, with fruity white wine.) Zucchini Pancakes
2-3 large zucchini
1 1/2 cup cornmeal
1 bunch scallions, minced
salt and pepper to taste
Grate squash on coarse edge of box grater, or chop finely. Salt heavily and let stand in bowl for 10-20 minutes. Drain liquid, and squeeze as much liquid from zucchini as possible. Add eggs, cornmeal, scallions and seasoning to squash, set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in skillet until shimmering. Drain any remaining liquid from zucchini mixture. Take handful of squash and form into patties. Fry in the skillet until browned on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Remove from pan and serve immediately (maybe with creme fraiche or sour cream - YUM!)