Saturday, April 28, 2012

Orecchiette with Fennel and Tuna

Comfort foods - everyone has something (or several things) that fit into this category. In some cases, perhaps it's a dish that evokes some fleeting memory, growing ever distant. Or perhaps it's a recipe passed down from generation to generation, providing an indelible link from past to present.

Or maybe it's simply an dish that you've grown to love over several years. For me, this is that dish. It's inspired by pasta con le sarde, which traditionally uses fresh sardines, pine nuts, fennel, olive oil, and breadcrumbs. Well, this is fairly similar. It consists of canned tuna, pine nuts, bell peppers, fennel, onion, and raisins. And it's fantastic, trust me. Like many things I cook, the recipe comes courtesy of Jacques Pépin, so you know it's legit. 

Why comfort dishes right now? For me, cooking itself is a kind of therapy. It's a break from studying and class. And it's something that produces immediate, tangible results. That's something you don't see every day in school. The results here? It's hard to describe. The way the flavors meld makes the dish better than the sum of its parts, which are admittedly nothing out of the ordinary. The raisins provide a hint of sweetness. The pine nuts add nuttiness and crunch. And the fennel and fish make the perfect pair. It just all works

Plus, this time of the year marks the crush of final exam prep. Dishes that make enough food (like this) to feed six or provide leftovers are much appreciated. And hey, it's orecchiette pasta! It's trending as the go-to pasta shape for all things toothsome and tempting.

Let's give it a go! 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Corn, Two Ways

Boiling water is easy, right? Well, that's really all you have to do with this recipe. Oh, and add salt. And then butter. It's simple steamed corn, courtesy of Mark Bittman.


No, wait. Now, don't get me wrong, steamed corn is great. Especially when it's fresh. But what about grilled corn? Hard to do when you don't have a grill (like me), right? It turns out Mark Bittman has us covered here too.

Enter indoor 'grilled' corn. It's cooked in a skillet with small knob of butter until it's browned on most sides. And you know what? It's pretty good. It's not grilled corn, but when you live in an apartment and don't have an outdoor grill, sometimes you have to make do with what you have.

So here you go, corn two ways: steamed or grilled.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Zucchini Risotto

Mistakes happen. I've made this dish tons of times. I mean, I have it committed to memory. And yet I made a mistake. I forgot to put in the diced onions before the rice went into the saucepan. Scandalous, I know. Sure, I was talking on the phone and so I may have been distracted. As the risotto was cooking, I noticed that there were an awful lot of leftover diced onions on my cutting board. Wait, all of my onions are on the cutting board! Shoot.

It's when things like this happen that I remind myself of something Julia Child once said: "The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes." One of my favorite moments from The French Chef comes from "The Potato Show." Have a look, you can also see Meryl Streep doing her Julia impression.

"You can always pick it. And if you're alone in the kitchen, who is going to see?"

She's absolutely right. Most mistakes are edible. But also, if you're afraid to make mistakes you'll never improve in the kitchen. Failure and success go hand in hand, and you'll never enjoy the latter if you're afraid of the former.

Alright, this is starting to sound like a bad motivational speech. Let's get to the recipe!

Oh yeah, I ended up throwing the onions in because I caught the mistake early. There was enough time for them to cook down and soften in the risotto. And you know what, it still tasted great!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Butternut Squash Velvet

Velvet? Okay, this is really just butternut squash soup. But it's really, really good soup. And hey, velvet does make it sound fancy, right?

For some reason, soups always seemed mysterious to me. When my Mom made soup when I was younger, I never watched it being made. As far as I was concerned, soup either came out of can or it emerged from the kitchen, the result of an alchemical process beyond my limited muggle abilities.

It turns out, soup isn't that hard to make. You cut up some ingredients, put them into a stock pot, cook it for a while, and then you blend it. When you do this with butternut squash, what you get is a soup that is pleasantly sweet, salty, and savory. It's also hearty enough to round out a light meal.

Most importantly, it's a great way to start making soups. There are more difficult soups out there; this isn't one of them. This recipe may not reveal the secret to turning metal into gold, but it will get you turning fresh vegetables into tasty soups in no time.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Asparagus Pesto

Sometimes when you're on a budget, you have to cook with what's fresh. A couple days ago, I had set out to the grocery store with one type of dish in mind, but immediately I noticed a huge display of gorgeous asparagus. Not the thin, sad kind that's flown in from Argentina, but the kind grown right here in California. I thought for a second. Yes, it's early April! Asparagus season had begun. My mind then turned to one of my favorite asparagus dishes - asparagus pesto.

Everyone knows about traditional pesto (pesto genovese) made with garlic, basil, olive oil, crushed garlic, and Parmesan cheese. But that's only one kind of pesto, albeit the most familiar.

It turns out that pesto is just the generic term for anything made by pounding. It can actually be made with any number of ingredients. For instance, there are cilantro pestos, sun-dried tomato pestos, and olive pestos.

Well, this is asparagus pesto. The best part? It takes only thirty minutes to prepare. And when you're done, you have a sauce that is distinctive and different. It's also something that can be used for weeks (it freezes well) on any number of dishes.

Sandwiches? Check.
Pasta? Of course.
Dip for vegetables? Why not.
Straight out of the bowl? I won't tell anyone if you don't.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Ratatouille with Penne

It's not often you can say you were inspired to try a dish because of an animated rodent. Well, here goes: I saw Remy cook Ratatouille and I wanted to make it! It's weird the way Pixar films seem to affect people. Don't believe me? Here's someone who actually put balloons on their house, Up-style.

I've known about Ratatouille (the dish) for a while, even before seeing Ratatouille (the film). And it's a daunting dish. I once attempted Julia Child's justifiably famous Ratatouille casserole. It was an unmitigated disaster. To start with, it's a difficult recipe if you're still trying to feel your way around the kitchen. It requires each element to be cooked separately, before arranging it in layers in a casserole dish. Simply put, it's a project, more appropriate for a special occasion and a long afternoon. It's not a dish that you can just throw together, let's say, after work or school.

Enter Jacques Pépin. If you know me, you know Jacques Pépin is my favorite public television chef by a clear margin (sorry Julia!). On television, he's charming and humble. And he's a great teacher. If you haven't seen him in action, I really encourage you to check out some of his episodes - they're up on YouTube. In fact, you can watch the episode from which I took this recipe here.

More importantly, his recipes never fail. Ever. Trust me when I say you must try this recipe.

Unlike the traditional Ratatouille, all the ingredients here are cooked together in the same pot. All you need are some fresh vegetables. Combine those with some pantry staples and thirty minutes later you have a perfectly tasty Ratatouille - without the muss and fuss of the traditional recipe.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Baked Halibut with Orzo, Spinach, and Cherry Tomatoes

I still remember waking up at the crack of dawn to head out fishing on the weekend as a kid. The captain of the boat I worked on was a grand, ungodly, godlike man. There were some harrowing voyages, to be sure. If it weren't for the first officer, Starbuck, I don't even know if I would have made it.

Wait, no. That's Moby Dick. And my name is not Ishmael.

As it happens, despite growing up on the beautiful Monterey Bay, I couldn't swim for the longest time and I hated seafood. Apparently being so close to the actual Cannery Row didn't make its mark on me.

Well now everything's better. These days I try to cook with seafood as often as my time and budget allows. Luckily, time is hardly ever something that precludes fish. Fresh seafood shines when simply prepared. This dish is exactly that.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cottage Cheese and Yogurt Pancakes with Blackberry Compote

Pancakes are something you see across many cultures. The French have their crêpes; the Germans have their Pfannkuchen; and IHOPs have their endless stacks of buttermilk deliciousness. 

And me? I have my cottage cheese and yogurt pancakes. You see, I have nothing against a traditional stack of fluffy and floury pancakes. They're delicious. But they also tend to make me sleepy. And while that's not always a bad thing, some times you actually need to do something on the weekend.

These cottage cheese and yogurt pancakes? They're just the right combination of light, filling, creamy, and fluffy. What's not to love? Most importantly, they're easy!