Monday, December 24, 2012

Dramatically Seared Green Beans

I still remember when I first came across this recipe in 2008. It was sometime before Thanksgiving, so NPR had devoted programming time for holiday recipes. Melissa Block was interviewing the venerable Mollie Katzen for some side-dish ideas for the Thanksgiving. What Thanksgiving isn't complete without green beans? 

The idea behind the dish is a simple one. Thanksgiving is hectic enough that you want a few easy-to-make dishes that can be prepped and even cooked ahead of time. This green bean dish is precisely that. The ingredient list is short: green beans, garlic, chili flakes, salt, pepper.  The flavors are bold, but the freshness of the green beans shines through. Plus it's versatile. It tastes great fresh out of the pan or at room temperature. 

Now, I know Christmas is right around the corner. But even though the dish was inspired by Thanksgiving, it's perfect anytime of the year. The recipe below includes mushrooms, because, well, mushrooms are awesome. So consider these Dramatically Seared Green Beans if you're looking for a simple, fresh, and flavorful side dish - no matter the time of year. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cheese Fondue

Alright, confession time. Growing up, cheese fondue was my absolute favorite meal. Now, in elementary school, we'd sometimes have these assignments where we filled out worksheets. Sometimes these worksheets would ask you to write your favorite food. Without exception, when presented with this question, I knew in my head what to write: cheese fondue. But, tragically, when I was really young I didn't know how to spell cheese fondue. Looking back, I'm not sure where I got tripped up. It's not a hard word. Perhaps there was some question about whether there was an "e" on the end. 

So, when presented with this question, rather than write cheese fondue, I would write pizza. Hey, it's cheese and bread. And I like pizza. So I wrote pizza. 

Well, now with the benefit of spellcheck, let me say for the record: cheese fondue is awesome. What's not to like? It's a mixture of white wine, cheese, and garlic. You dip crusty bread into it. You can also dip vegetables. It's a GIANT POT OF MELTED CHEESE. 

So, today's recipe is for cheese fondue. It's simple and delicious. And truly, it's not that hard to spell. 

I feel like this might be obvious, but it's worth mentioning: splurge for some really good cheese here. I like to use a nice Emmental or Gruyere. It's sometimes nice to mix the two.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sesame Seared Ahi Tuna

I've said it before and I'll say it again: there's nothing quite like fresh fish. And when it's fresh, the simplest preparation will suffice. Yellowfin tuna, also known as ahi, demonstrates this principle perfectly. With just the barest minimum of preparation, the flavor of a fresh piece of ahi is sublime. Its ubiquity and popularity in sushi restaurants is a testament to how good ahi can taste served rare. In other words, less is more. 

Today's recipe is for sesame seared ahi tuna. You start out with fresh tuna steaks, preferably never frozen. Don't skimp on the quality, since the tuna is served rare. The fish is then lightly marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, honey, and sesame oil. Sweet, sour, salty, and sesame - if you will. The marinade, which also serves as a dipping sauce, is just enough to bring out and highlight the intrinsic yumminess of rare tuna. 

The fish is then given a generous coating of sesame seeds before being cooked. And when I say cooked, I don't really mean cooked. You really just want to sear the ahi, leaving the middle quite rare. What you get is a wonderful contrast of textures, with the buttery smooth interior juxtaposed with the sesame crusted exterior. Just a dab of wasabi brings the right amount of heat to heighten the already fantastic flavors.

This is the kind of recipe that hits all the right notes: fresh, flavorful, and most importantly, simple. It's a staple in my kitchen. Give it a shot, and it might just become one in yours too!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Grilled Marinated Flank Steak

You could say Mark Bittman and me go way back. How to Cook Everything, perhaps his most popular cookbook, was given to me as a gift in college. It was my first "real" cookbook. The recipes are, for the most part, pretty basic. Since then, I've learned how to do more complicated things in the kitchen. But, even today, I still find myself going back to it pretty often. Why? Because sometimes basic is all you need! 

Take this recipe for grilled marinated flank steak, for instance. Flank steak, if you're not familiar with the cut, is usually fairly lean, with a good bit of chew. The flavor is decidedly beefy, which means strongly flavored marinades play well with the cut. It also lends itself to a very simple preparation, which makes Bittman's marinade recipe one of my go-to flank steak marinades. 

And if nothing else, this marinade is a combination of strong, assertive flavors. You start out of with a couple of healthy squeezes of fresh lime juice. Added to that are a couple swigs of fish sauce, which imparts a pungent but pleasant aroma to the marinade. Finally, some fresh grated ginger and minced garlic is thrown in to round out the marinade. 

Then, a half hour later, you're ready to grill the flank steak. The results are simple, aromatic, and most importantly, tasty!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Banana Bread with Toasted Walnuts and Chocolate Chips

Bananas are undoubtedly one of my favorite types of fruit. And apparently, I'm in good company. A perfectly ripe banana is always a welcome addition to my morning bowl of Cheerios! But, an overripe banana? No thanks. So what do you do when you've got a bunch of overripe bananas? Well, it's time to make some banana bread!

This recipe for banana bread is outstanding. And, more importantly, it's downright simple to make. Bananas take center stage here: you start out with 3-4 overripe bananas. Added to that is some brown sugar - not too much brown sugar. Just enough to heighten the bananas innate sweetness. The batter is finished with a splash of bourbon and vanilla, and then a sprinkling of nutmeg and cinnamon. Texture is important here too, so I gild the lily a bit and stud the top of the bread with toasted walnuts. Oh, and because chocolate is never a bad thing, some chocolate chips are folded into the bread.

The recipe is versatile too. Don't like walnuts? Fine, leave them out! Don't like chocolate? Well, I won't judge you.

So, treat this banana bread recipe as a canvas of sorts, onto which any number of additions will likely be delicious. In any case, what you'll end up with is some incredibly moist and flavorful banana bread.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Chipotle-Smashed Sweet Potatoes

Nothing beats a good plate of mashed potatoes! Truth be told, growing up, it was probably my favorite dish at Thanksgiving. It might still be my favorite! But as I've gotten older, I've also developed a taste for a different kind of mashed potato: something more textured and flavorful.

This recipe is a riff on the classic dish of mashed potatoes, with some very tasty twists. Instead of white potatoes, it calls for sweet potatoes (or as some supermarkets are wont to label them, yams). Added to that are chipotle peppers for a kick of heat. Then it's just a matter of throwing in some salt and butter to smooth things out. Finished with a sprinkling of chives, the final dish hits all the right notes: sweet, salty, and spicy!

It's not as smooth as whipped potatoes. As the name suggests, it's smashed, so expect hearty chunks of potato in the assembled dish.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Simple Roasted Carrots

Especially with fresh vegetables, it's nice to go back to the basics. And with root vegetables, one of the most basic (and reliable) preparation methods is roasting.

Roasting heightens and highlights the simple sweetness inherent to many root vegetables. The hot oven quickly burns off excess moisture, leaving a more concentrated flavor. The kicker? The high heat preparation gives the carrots a caramelized and crispy skin.

Applying this method to young carrots is especially fantastic. The carrots are soft on the inside, chewy on the outside. The flavor is subdued but assertive: there are hints of garlic, thyme, and red wine vinegar. And they're addictive! Like a tin of a certain kind of potato crisps: "Once you pop, you can't stop!" 

Feel free to play around with different herbs. Dill is wonderful here, as well. The nice thing about roasting is that you can really tinker with the flavor profile. There is only one rule: use herbs, oils, and spices sparingly. Let the vegetable's natural flavor shine! If you can't get small young carrots, you might want to add a little honey to the roasting pan. Large carrots may not be as sweet as fresh young carrots.

Below the jump, it's Simple Roasted Carrots.