Friday, September 30, 2011

To do: Make “paella.”

Today is my day off but I’ve got no time to do whatever it is my mom is always saying about laurels.  I emailed myself a very rigorous to-do list yesterday as I was leaving work and it is time to get cracking (looking forward to “Buy butter and caramels” and “Attend ‘burrito festival’”).  I’m running a little behind because of an unexpected errand proving that I repped a neon tracksuit back in the day.  In a minute I’m going to have to get dressed quicker than a little rabbit in a cat fight, but for now I’m enjoying item 5, “Eat radishes for breakfast.” Heavy on the butter. (Probably why I need more.)
Luckily, last night’s items went off very well. In addition to the scheduled “Wrap presents” and an early execution of today’s “Buy dog food,” I was very pleased with the first to-do I mapped out: “Make paella.”
This “easy” paella is as inauthentic as they come (fear of burning stopped me from allowing a crust to form), but delicious, nonetheless. Always looking out for the little man, Martha Stewart has made this recipe approachable and affordable by replacing the traditional saffron with a combination of paprika and turmeric (which is crazy good for you). The other spices still provide the crucial yellow coloring and spicy warmth, though without the exotic perfume (and price) of saffron.
A dish that may have been a little bland was elevated by spicy chicken sausage.  This one ingredient flavors the whole dish with heat and extra salty goodness, so get good, tasty stuff. I substituted the shrimp for green beans to up the vegetable quotient of our meal and served the rice alongside a simple salad of lettuces tossed in lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Alex has requested more brown rice and fewer dishes, and this fit the bill as part of the one-pot series. ...but we had help with the dishes anyway.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Autumn dinner two ways: soup and salad

We had two extra delicious, farm fresh, cool weather dinners this week, and I thought it would be appropriate to share the recipes with you fine people.
The first noteworthy recipe has already been well photographed and written up over at smittenkitchen: Roasted tomato soup with broiled cheddar. Tomato season is slipping away from us and I fear I’m not ready to let go. If this is to be our last tomato hurrah, at least we made it a good one. The tomatoes ooze sweetness and flavor when roasted, and I love a kick of red pepper in tomato soup. The real hero: rye and cheddar toasts. I may have skipped the mug presentation, but I wouldn’t skip the cheesy counterpart to tomato soup—a little grated onion between bread and cheese elevates these dippers to a full on rainstorm of delicious.
I found the second gem recipe during a routine perusal of one of Martha Stewart’s numerous recipe galleries: Quinoa-and-apple salad with curry dressing. Despite discovering this recipe early in the week and visiting my Thursday market with a plan in mind, I had surprisingly few of the ingredients needed on hand when I went to compile the dish last night.  I don’t want to put Martha on blast, but I’m pretty sure I made her salad better.
The easiest replacement was, of course, raisins for currants. Who doesn’t have half a container of (extra dried) raisins honey-glued to the back of the pantry wobbly bookshelf next to the fridge? 
The shallot became a tiny white onion I bought from Nichols on account of how nicely it fit in the palm of my hand. Lastly, instead of herby mint, I mixed in torn, spicy arugula.
You don't make your dressing in the bottom of the serving bowl? Are you serious, bro?
Juicy honey crisp apples, warm curry, tangy lemon, crunchy almonds, and grainy quinoa complete this hearty salad. Outstanding. This seasonal perfection is slotting right on in to the regular dinner rotation (which now looks like: Pleasant House Bakery, quinoa and apple salad, Pleasant House Bakery, breakfast for dinner, goldfish and milkshake night, repeat).
And I bet it travels really well! To work for lunch? To school for potluck night? To the living room for Parks and Rec. reruns? Yeah. That feels right.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Homemade onion rings: the dream is real

While I don’t always agree or follow Michael Pollan’s food rules, I do reflect on the messages from time to time. One rule that I have not strictly applied to my life, but that has always stuck with me is “Eat all the junk food you want, as long as you cook it yourself.” Anyone out there have a recipe for 3-D Doritos?
Let’s talk about onion rings. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but the rumors are true: you can make onion rings at home that are worth eating. And without having to install a deep fryer (I’m looking at you, Paula Dean).
These onion rings are dipped in an easy beer batter (which methinks will resurface when I make fish and chips) and then fried in a thin layer of canola oil, flipping once. Eager to get eating, I pulled the circles of joy out a little early—next time I’ll wait and let them get a little more golden. 
The onions are sweet, the batter is crispy, and the guilt is low. Make your own onions rings and make Michael Pollan proud. (I was serious about that 3-D Dorito thing. Hit me back.)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Chicken and leek pasties: An afternoon in three acts.

Act 1.

You’ve been waiting for the CSA you are testing for winter all day. Unsure of what time the delivery will arrive, you’ve even refused your mother’s kind offer of breakfast pastry. This was a mistake. You need buttery, flaky, crusted food you realize at 1 pm. The doorbell rings. Local, hormone-free chicken has arrived, and it brought its friend, nitrate-free bacon. Hurrah. The celebration is short lived—croissants still plague your mind.

You look around the room in despair. Evidence of your morning work—housecleaning—is strewn about the living room. The broom lies across the couch, a few piles of dog hair have been swept up but remain un-vacuumed, as the handheld died halfway through last week’s Jersey Shore. Free Snooks! You’ve digressed.

The last cookbook you forgot to put away is sitting on the coffee table. River Cottage Every Day. You flip through it, and pause on page 110. There it is: puff pastry—taunting you. Damn you, chicken and leek pasties. And yet, as you skim the recipe, you realize: you have all of these ingredients in the house! That’s when you decide to make puff pastry—from scratch. You write a food blog. It should be fine.

In the kitchen, you rummage through the fridge for butter. The cardboard box is empty, one stick is found on the bottom shelf next to your new chicken, another hidden behind the butter flap—go figure. It takes you a few minutes to figure out what 2/3 cup butter looks like. …maybe a few minutes more. Okay—you cube the butter and stick it in the freezer.

Then you eat an apple with peanut butter. Nice.

Act 2.
You’ve gathered your puff pastry ingredients in the dining room. Butter, salt, ice water, two cups of flour. That Taylor Swift playlist that youtube made for you is blaring from the living room: You are ready. You’ve made crust before for pies—how different can this be? After a few minutes tossing butter cubes in flour you sigh, this one just won’t come together. You decide to move on to the next step anyway. Roll out your “dough,” and fold it like a “business letter”—in thirds. This is easy for you because of a summer job you had in college when you spent one day folding 250 letters before finding out the office had a machine that did the same thing in about 6 minutes flat.
The pastry is looking like a real mess, but on the third letter fold the dough suddenly looks okay. You fold three more times with confidence. It’s time to wrap your dough in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge.
Here comes trouble. You keep the plastic wrap at the back of the Tupperware cabinet. Because of a style clash between you and your boyfriend, the Tupperware cabinet is an explosive box of suffering. Your buddy likes to store the plastic containers with their lids on, taking up the maximum amount of space. You deal with this nonsense by wedging the other pieces around these blocks and shutting the cabinet quickly before anything can fall into the sink. You are able to get the plastic wrap, but cannot close Pandora’s cabinet. Oh well.
Once the pastry is chillin’ in the fridge, you decide to clean up. As you begin scrubbing at the butter smashed into the grain of your cutting board, the water pressure cuts out. Your first thought is to fill the bathtub—you can survive on that for days. You calm yourself. This happens sometimes. You go to wipe the flour off the table. Then try to wash your hands, already forgetting that the sink isn’t working. You feel dumb. Down the hallway in the bathroom, you try again to wash your hands. The water isn’t working in there either. Your throat is dry—you can’t swallow! You fill the bathtub with what’s left in the pipes. This is no time to be neighborly.

Act 3.

Defrosting chicken is the worst. The microwave starts to cook it while it’s still frozen on the inside. You move on to the leeks, slicing them into pretty layered rainbows and then rinsing them in a big bowl of water—letting the grit fall to the bottom just like Ina Garten taught you.
Finally, you’re able to fry up the chicken. When it is golden and cooked through, you set it aside. You melt two tablespoons of butter in the chicken pan, scraping up the flavor left behind by the birds, then add the leeks and ½ a teaspoon of thyme, slowly sweating them for ten minutes. You take this time to finish cleaning the living room. One of Taylor Swift’s misses is playing. Turn it back to the good stuff.
You sneak into the stairway and sniff around. Take that, neighbors that make bacon on Sunday mornings and stew on Tuesday nights! The whole building smells amazing—leek-town amazing, and you are the mayor.
While congratulating yourself, you check on the leeks. You pour in 2/3 cup of light cream and let the mixture thicken for 5 minutes. Then you mix in a healthy teaspoon of Dijon mustard, and season the leeks with salt and pepper. You remove the creamed leeks to a bowl and return to the chicken. It’s cool enough to shred with your fingers, so you do that. Not only are you ready to make pasties, but the water is working again—you are chuffed as nuts!
The pastry dough is hard to roll out at first, but then it gets softer. You cut three “rounds” and mash together a fourth Frankenstein crust. You add the filling, leeks first, then chicken, and then wet the edges of the dough, preparing for the fold over.
Alex, er… your roommate comes home and wants to know why the tub is filled with water. You tell him it was a drill, and it went really well, now shut up and take a picture of this because your hands are sticky.
The crimping is less successful than you imagined. Even only using half of the chicken, you have overfilled the pasties. Three will definitely leak (as it were) in the 375-degree oven (Muzagaash willing) during the 25-minute baking period. That’s cool—you can just call the pasties “rustic.”
The pasties come out of the oven puffed (albeit only slightly), golden, and delicious—the crust is buttery, the filling is rich, and the afternoon light is fading. Well done, you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

We’re here for the smiles.

Could I have called this “Pleasant bangers are bangin’” and sounded clever? And should I just change the name of this blog to “Hannalapleasanthouse”? 

Yes. This is another post about dinner at Pleasant House Bakery. What? I can’t help it! I’m an anglophile and the food is so good and the location so convenient and I don’t feel that I need to explain my art to you, Warren.
I knocked out a big project in the office realm today. (A real project with words and pages, not a project like last week when all my Internet friends thought I must be a kindergarten teacher.) (I don’t actually have Internet friends.) (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) (Sorry about all the parentheticals.)
So, after nailing professionalism, the fella and I were ready for some serious dinner… but I wasn’t about to make it. It was time to find a fact in my brain and apply it to my life: Wednesday is bangers and mash night at PHB. Bangarang, indeed.
Alex was hungrier than I had realized and finished his helping in record time. 
We re-upped with an order of deluxe chips—thick cut fried potatoes smothered in rich gravy and topped with sharp melted cheddar and crispy bits of tender steak. Blimey—what a perfect meal for the first chilly night of September. Also perfect: the news from Morgan that, in addition to the awaited patio, PHB has a foodtruck and a brunch menu in the works!
I had hoped for the elusive s’mores tart for dessert, but it is quickly becoming my white whale. (Yes, Mom, I’ve read Moby-Dick.) We took a slice of the almond honey tart for the road and are enjoying it mid-Thor. A movie about a guy with a hammer seemed the most appropriate end to bangers and mash night. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Old Bay–spiced walnuts

Well, I’ve managed another week of unimpressive cooking. We continue to subsist on raw corn salads, juicy caprese-d tomatoes, and yellow summer squash. Don’t fret, dear readers, this was the last week for my beloved sweet corn and both Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes made their first appearances at the market this Thursday. I will have to make more than garlic bread soon. Also, I’ll have to make more garlic bread soon.
I did manage to make one autumnal dish this week—and wasn’t it just Tuesday when I promised to share my snack creations more readily? Let’s talk about spiced nuts.

I know, right? On a trip to Ireland at 13, my mother took me to see the first Austin Powers sequel. She says she knew I was growing up when, at the snack stand, I expressed to her how inappropriate it was that we were ordering “hot nuts” and seeing a movie based on a similar crude humor. Oh how we laughed. Those spicy nuts sure were tasty.
When making a small batch, I don’t bother with the oven and prefer to toast and spice my nuts directly in a sauté pan. Medium low heat, 1 cup of walnuts, 1 tablespoon of butter (to help the toppings stick), 1 teaspoon Old Bay, a pinch of sugar for balance, and a splash of Worcester for kick, right at the end.
Like potato chips and crab, walnuts are a perfect vehicle for Old Bay with their strong flavor and satisfying texture. And Old Bay—a blend of spices the likes of which this world has never seen! I love the warmth from the cinnamon and cloves, the peppery paprika, and deep leafy finish of celery. My advice? Get your hands on some hot nuts. (Mom, don’t be gross.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Staycation 2011 (the 100th post)

It’s been pretty quiet around here for a while, due in part to a mini vacation we took this weekend—“mini” both in length and in number of typical vacation activities. There was sleeping, to counter balance the shut-eye I’ve missed since Knightley moved in (though his rest hasn’t seemed to suffer any). There was a failed attempt at karaoke—even if I sang this on the bus all the way home (you are welcome, fellow #6 patrons). And, of course, there was eating, just not anything new or interesting. 
House guests, am I right?
I haven’t felt compelled to post about our primary dish of late, tomatoes, because, as far as recipes go, I got this one from my mother. Slice it, salt and pepper. The tomatoes we’ve been getting from the market don’t need much else (though mozzarella never hurts). 
My other favorite dishes lately all share a similar theme: cauliflower with pesto, tomatoes with pesto, and popcorn with pesto. All three have great flavor, great texture, and great ease of preparation.
You should put pesto on popcorn. That was post worthy. I promise to keep you better informed of fantastic snack ideas in the future.
On Saturday, my return to bed after taking Knightley on his rounds resulted in missing the HP farmers’ market, so on Sunday we ventured north to the Pilsen market to procure goods. It had a nice vibe but suffered from too many baked goods and only one vegetable stand. Nevertheless, it was nice to see the folks from Pleasant House Bakery there.

It was also nice to experience some cooler weather. Autumn! Leaves! Chill! We took a few strolls to campus, wearing layers and sniffling in the wind. I loved it, I loved every second of it.
For Labor Day, I accompanied Alex, dressed like a lumberjack, and Knightley, who insisted on wearing a fur coat, to a family BBQ. We went a few rounds in bananagrams and played pop5. Here are some of the clues that Alex missedfeel free to show him up by guessing correctly in the comments. 
TV show!
Celebrity!
Alex’s mom made her famous guacamole and pasta salad, as well as a large platter of grilled meats—of which I did not indulge as I’ve just seen Forks over Knives on netflixinstant and I’m considering a cutback on animal products. Not to include butter or cheese, obviously. Salami is also safe. I guess this is securely in the “consideration” stage. Lucky for him.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Bacon tomato sandwich

City Provisions bacon + Nichols Farm tomatoes + Medici bread = Breakfast of dogsitters.