Bouley Birthday

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In our family, the birthday person gets to pick what he/she wants to do for his/her birthday dinner. Sometimes a favorite home-cooked meal is requested, and other times (often times) the wish is for a trip to Benihana.

benihana

For my birthday dinner last week, I was deliberating between Shanghai Jazz and Smashburger when my friend Susan presented another option: a multi-course tasting menu at Michelin-starred chef David Bouley’s Tribeca test kitchen, complete with wine pairings and hands-on instruction. Hmmm.

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Wild Mushroom “Fondue”

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This New Year’s Eve, I intend to make a few toasts. As in, toasted baguette slices, slathered in creamy Wild Mushroom Fondue and drizzled with a little black truffle oil. One last holiday hoorah before the austerity of the New Year begins.  Then it’s back to carrot sticks and kale salad for a while.  Continue reading

Tomato Caramel

Did September swoosh past anyone else? It seems like just yesterday we were chasing the ice cream truck and agonizing over First Day of School outfits, and now we’re cracking open the candy corn and planning Halloween costumes.

Well – the month is almost over, and with it comes the end of one of the best tomato seasons in recent years here in the Garden State.  (Or at least in our garden, and this is a nice consolation since I’m sorry to report that the zucchini plants never fully recovered from their vine borer surgery.) Needless to say, we’ve been eating a lot of tomatoes lately, and some of us are happier about this than others. . .

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“Smashing” Peanut Noodles and Thai Crunch Salad

Subee is a nickname I’ve had since 10th grade, when I decided to turn out for the Curtis High School tennis team. Our coach, Mr. Webb – a revered biology teacher who used to give extra credit for turning in “mutant” M&M’s® – had a strict policy that everyone on the team have a nickname. My maiden name is Benveniste, so you can see how I quickly became Sue B., or Subee.

That's me, front & center with the big hair.

Mr. Webb did all kinds of things to make his “tennis ladies” feel special, but one of the highlights was his match day morning ritual. If you were starting in a match that day, you would be “surprised” by a varsity football player interrupting your homeroom class, getting down on one knee and delivering a long-stemmed rose and a kiss (on the cheek). Talk about motivation!

After high school I shelved the tennis racquet (yet oddly kept the big hair and perms going well past college). Last year my love for the sport was rekindled, and with nary a football player in sight. After 8 straight years of childrearing, I think I just needed to get out of the house and do something that didn’t revolve around kids. (Precious as they may be.) Plus, the women on my league teams (indoor winter and outdoor spring) are supportive as well as fun. I think they put up with my less-than-stellar record because I bring tennis ball cookies and good post-match lunches when it’s my turn. Since today was my turn, I broke out the racchette pasta that I found in a grocery store months ago. Normally I make peanut noodles with spaghetti, but I couldn’t resist the racquets for this occasion. Along with some grilled chicken and a “Thai Crunch” salad, it was an ace of a meal. If only my matches could be as successful!

To make all the components for this is a bit of a process (and you’ll feel like your entire pantry is out on your countertop), but  a) it’s worth the effort, and b) you don’t have to do everything every time. For example, use shredded rotisserie chicken instead of grilling your own. Or use crunchy rice noodles instead of frying wonton strips. (Though the crispy wonton strips are usually everyone’s favorite part, and they’re very quick to make.) Or make only the salad, or only the peanut sauce and noodles. You get the idea. If you’re going to make the marinated chicken, salad dressing and peanut sauce, get out all of the ingredients and try to assembly-line the process since many of the same ingredients are called for. The good news is that everything can be made well in advance and then just assembled prior to serving. (I made everything for today’s lunch yesterday.) And if you have an immersion blender, making the 2 sauces is a snap.

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Sophie’s French Toast with Brown Sugar Walnut Sauce

My younger daughter Sophie would be thrilled to have French toast for every meal, every day of the week. I even made it over a campfire last September, though without the signature Brown Sugar Walnut sauce it was less of a hit. (Suggesting perhaps that for her the French toast is merely a delivery vehicle for the butter/brown sugar sauce.) The sauce is a cinch to make in the microwave, but I didn’t have an extra pan to attempt it over the fire. Maybe next time. (Or – maybe next time I’ll have an important meeting or other serendipitous conflict with Camping Weekend and they’ll have to be content with Dad’s scrambled eggs . . .)

Serve with bacon, Canadian bacon or sausage to help balance the sweetness.

Sophie’s French Toast

Serves Sophie for the day, or 4 regular people  (Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave.)

  •  4 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk (skim, whole or half and half – whatever you like)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 16-20 1-inch thick slices soft baguette or Italian/hoagie rolls (Here in NJ I like Calandra’s Italian rolls.)

Brown Sugar Walnut Sauce

  • ½ cup packed dark brown sugar (light is OK if that’s all you have)
  • 5 Tablespoons butter (if unsalted, add a good pinch of salt, too)
  • ¼ cup (heaping) chopped walnuts
  • 1 Tablespoon water

If desired, preheat oven to 350ºF and place a baking sheet inside. This helps keep the cooked French toast warm while you cook the remaining pieces. [Side note: Try cooking bacon in the oven. Less mess, with the added bonus that the oven will be warm and ready for the French toast. Arrange as much bacon as you can fit onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (the parchment aids in clean-up); cook at 400ºF until crisp.]

Make the Brown Sugar Walnut Sauce:

Combine all ingredients in a microwaveable bowl or measuring cup. Microwave 45 seconds; stir. Microwave another 30-45 seconds or until bubbling and sugar crystals have dissolved. (Check this by taking a little taste.) If too thick, add ½ tsp of water at a time to achieve consistency of thick maple syrup.

Make the French Toast:

In medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt and vanilla extract.

Heat a large nonstick pan over medium heat. Add bread slices to egg/milk mixture, turning to coat both sides and soak through to center of bread. (This may go quickly with soft, fresh bread or may take a little longer with drier, crusty bread; also note that the more saturated the bread is with egg/milk mixture, the longer it will take to cook.)  Add a little butter to pan if desired; with a good nonstick pan you won’t need to, but it’s extra insurance against sticking if you’re not sure. Arrange soaked bread slices in pan – as many as will fit without touching. Cook over medium heat 3-5 minutes, or until golden brown on one side. (The toasts will “release” from the pan and flip easily when they’re adequately cooked; flipping too soon may cause them to stick to the pan.) Flip and continue to cook on the other side until toasts feel springy to the touch (another 2-4 minutes more). Transfer to warm baking sheet and continue with remaining bread slices.

Microwave sauce to reheat just prior to serving. Arrange French toast slices onto plates and drizzle with sauce (or serve on the side).

Almost Famous Turkey Burgers with Cilantro Lime Sauce

The best turkey burgers

A couple of years ago I went through a phase of recipe contest mania.  With each new contest – as with every school fundraiser basket raffle or impulse lottery ticket – I was convinced that THIS ONE I was SURE to win, and I would start daydreaming about what I would do with my prize. Alas, no prizes.  I did get close twice, however: once as a national semi-finalist for the Haagen-Dazs “Next Flavor” search (with Ginger Cashew Crunch) and once as a semi-finalist for some obscure Food Network show (with this Turkey Burger recipe). I’m happy to report that I have moved past the contest craze – though I admit I am still a tiny bit tempted by the million-dollar Pillsbury Bake-Off.

Turkey burgers are low in fat and a great option for a quick, healthful meal. However, they tend to be plagued by two maladies: dryness and blandness. With this recipe, both issues go away. (Unless you really overcook the burgers, which is easy to do since we’re all salmonella-spooked and feel compelled to char all poultry.) Here moistness is achieved by lightly mixing the raw onions and mozzarella cheese into the turkey meat; this, combined with the direct/indirect method of cooking (covered pan), creates little pockets of juiciness in the burgers. The flavor boost comes via the cumin, pickled jalapeños and zingy cilantro sauce.

If the mere mention of cilantro makes you gag, hear me out. I used to be one of you! However, thanks to this cilantro sauce epiphany, I now crave the herb and buy it at least once a week. (I also let it self-seed in the garden, and every spring I get a few weeks of harvest before the May heat waves come.) Cilantro has almost zero calories, yet is a good source of Thiamin, Zinc, Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Pantothenic Acid, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Manganese. (Source: USDA) ¡Viva cilantro!

Jalapeño Turkey Burgers with Cilantro Lime Sauce

Serves 4-6 (depending on size of burgers and appetites)

 Cilantro Lime Sauce

  • 1 small bunch cilantro, washed & dried (roots and thick stems twisted off) (approx. 2 cups packed)
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 small clove garlic, pressed or minced
  • ½  teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼  teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup reduced fat sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Few drops agave nectar or honey

Jalapeño Turkey Burgers

  • 1 lb ground turkey breast
  • ½ C finely chopped red onion
  • 1 Tbsp chopped pickled jalapeño (+/- to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ C grated part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 1Tbsp olive oil (for pan)
  • 6 ciabatta rolls, French rolls, or English muffins, sliced in half and lightly toasted
  • 1 ripe Haas avocado, peeled and sliced (optional)

1) Make Cilantro Lime Sauce:

Add all ingredients to food processor, or beaker if using stick (immersion) blender.

Pulse and puree until smooth. (Add a little more olive oil to aid processing, if necessary.) Adjust seasoning to taste (i.e., another pinch of salt or drop of agave/honey).

Refrigerate until ready to assemble burgers. (Note: This sauce is muy versatile; it can also be used as a dip for empanadas, as a unique taco salad dressing, as a cooling drizzle for chili, etc. It will keep for several days in the fridge.)

2) Make Turkey Burgers:

In a large bowl, combine all burger ingredients except olive oil and gently mix together using hands. (Another note: I make 2 burgers without jalapeños for the kids and then mix in the chiles for the remaining patties.)

Divide into 6 equal balls, then shape into patties.

Heat a large cast iron (or other heavy) pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil until shimmering; then add patties and cook covered for 5 minutes. Flip patties and continue to cook (covered) until done. (approx. 4 minutes more)

 

Subee's turkey burgers

Perfectly caramelized turkey burgers; these smell amazing!

3) Assemble Burgers:

Lightly toast rolls (or muffins). Spread each side of roll with Cilantro Lime Sauce. Top roll with turkey burger and avocado slices (or other garnish of choice).

A Saucy Welcome

Welcome to my kitchen! By most accounts, I spend way too much time in here – experimenting with new recipes and planning the next meal or party when I should be exercising or starting those baby books. (The kids are now 9 and 7.)  But the heart wants what the heart wants, and in my case the stomach goes along for the ride. Pull up a barstool and join me!

With Thanksgiving only a few days away, you might be expecting some exotic new stuffing or cranberry chutney recipes here. Sorry to disappoint. For me, there are 364 days a year to experiment with new recipes, and then there’s Thanksgiving. I might get a little crazy and add cognac to the gravy one year, but that’s about the extent of it. I’m happy with the same roast turkey, same herb stuffing, same candied sweet potatoes, same mashed potatoes (no add-ins other than butter, milk & salt), same tart cranberry sauce*, same apple and pumpkin pies. Call me boring if you want, but I find ultimate comfort (and deliciousness!) in our family’s traditional meal; why mess with a good thing?

*In full disclosure, the tart cranberry sauce I make now was not what we had growing up. We had the jellied kind from the can, sliced into circles and fanned out in a cut glass dish. Tradition mandates that we serve it this Thursday as well. But in addition, we’ll have the Tart Cranberry Sauce I started making a few years ago – a super-simple recipe of fresh cranberries and a little sugar. Cutting back on the sugar allows the cranberries to shine, and I love how the tartness of the cranberries wakes up your taste buds and helps cuts through the richness of the rest of the meal. (Thus making it easier to go back for seconds.) This sauce could be made several days ahead, and brought to room temperature before serving. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tart Cranberry Sauce

  •  1 bag (12 oz.) fresh cranberries
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup water

Add all ingredients to a saucepan.

Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until berries start to pop (approx. 5 minutes). Continue to stir and mash berries against the sides of the pan until thickened.

Remove from heat; serve warm or at room temperature. Makes about 2 cups. (Because it’s tart, a little goes a long way.)