Thursday, November 30, 2006

relief for a gravy-sodden palate

I was going to do some post-Thanksgiving analysis of what worked and what didn't, but we've all read plenty about turkey and stuffing and pies for now, right? I'll save it for pre-Thanksgiving next year. In the meantime, there are some photos from our Thanksgiving here.

So, on to something new. Once the leftovers were gone I found myself craving something something spicy, or tart, or something slightly exotic. As I was reading the December issue of Saveur (No. 98) I decided I had to make the banana-tamarind chutney right away, as it sounded like it could be all of the above. Also, it's by Madhur Jaffrey and as I've mentioned before I really love her recipes.

Her tamarind article also includes a helpful sidebar showing how to make your own extract from the fruit. You put a couple tablespoons of the fruit (sold in blocks; I chose a Thai brand, pictured below, because the Indian one was dry and hard) in a bowl and pour boiling water over it. When it's cool enough to put your fingers in, you loosen as much fruit as you can from the seeds. Then you let it sit some more, and after 15-20 min. you force as much of the thick, soupy stuff as you can through a strainer. I recall doing this several years ago, but only once. Tamarind freaks me out a bit. I love its tartness, but the fruit itself — ugh. It's sticky and it has crunchy bits in it, and to a New Yorker it might evoke — I will whisper because this is disgusting — some sort of cockroach stew.

tamarind fruit making tamarind extract

It was worth being brave, though; the chutney is great. The tartness of the tamarind is balanced with banana, golden raisins (plumped in hot water first), and a bit of sugar; a teaspoon of garam masala gives it complexity. We ate it with not-homemade naan.

banana tamarind chutney

For a main course I wanted to use some of the amchoor I picked up at the Indian grocer — it's a powder made from finely ground unripe mangos, and it's tart in a gentle way, sort of like sumac.

amchoor powder

Still in a sort of post-Thanksgiving stupor and unwilling to do anything fussy, I opted to make a very simple amchoor roasted chicken. It was delicious, tart but not at all mouth-puckering. It was very difficult to not eat all of the tasty, tasty, spicy skin before putting the leftovers away.

The only thing I might change about my recipe below is to roast the chicken at a lower temperature. I roasted it at 450 because that's what I'm in the habit of doing, but probably 350 or 375 is better for a bird coated with spices. It tasted fine but the spice mixture got very, very dark.

amchoor roasted chicken

Amchoor roasted chicken

1 3- to 4-lb. chicken, rinsed under cold running water and patted dry
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tsp. amchoor powder
1 tsp. fresh-ground cumin (see note below)
1 tsp. kosher salt
fresh ground pepper, to taste
1 small onion, peeled and cut into four pieces
1 handful cilantro leaves and stems

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Put the butter in a small bowl and set it aside. When it is room-temperature, blend in the amchoor powder, cumin, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Use your fingertips or a small silicon spatula to break up any lumps of amchoor powder.

Put the chicken in a small, shallow roasting pan (on top of a rack, or cut-up carrots if you prefer) and tuck the wingtips underneath the bird. Put as many onion pieces in the cavity of the chicken as you can, along with the handful of cilantro. If the legs are sticking out, tie them together with kitchen twine.* Rub the seasoned butter all over the chicken and roast for 60 minutes, or until done.

Note: To make fresh-ground cumin, toast the seeds in a dry frying pan over medium heat until they are fragrant. (This should take just a few seconds; you don't need to brown them). Grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder.

* If you are like me and can never find your twine in the cabinet when you need it, remove the strings from two teabags, tie them together, and use that. The teabags can still be used; you'll just have to fish them out of your cup with a spoon.

Monday, November 27, 2006

il più Bruni non indossare un travestimento?*

In case you missed it, a sort-of-hilarious article — which I came to via The Food Section — on whether NY Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni "might be hitting the dressing-up box." There's a whiff of coyote vs. road runner here; Chef Gordon Ramsay, nervous about his staff's ability to spot the man, has "given the maitre d' a keyring with a photograph of Bruni on it" and is considering further measures.

read the article

If you are curious, Gawker has several photos of il più Bruni. And as long as we're on the subject, I hope you already know and love The Bruni Digest, which I can no longer read at work because it makes me laugh out loud like an idiot.

* Lo spiacente, I don't speak Italian!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

the Thanksgiving menu

Thanksgiving menu

menu with sweet little turkey from the New York Public Library digital image gallery

My family doesn't really have an iron-clad Thanksgiving menu - there is always a big turkey, gravy, stuffing (cooked outside the bird every year in recent memory, so technically it's dressing), mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie for dessert, but the other dishes tend to vary, and even for the staples we don't use the same recipes every year. The one exception is my stepfather's mashed potatoes, which no one in their right mind would ever fiddle with. I have mentioned them here before, even though this blog wasn't yet around last Thanksgiving.

It's hard not to think about past Thanksgivings at this time of year. One of my most memorable - not at all in terms of menu - was the Thanksgiving near the end of my college semester abroad in India; several of us did independent study in Kathmandu, Nepal for the last month of the program and Thanksgiving dinner was, I think, "Italian" pasta at a rich-white-people hotel, followed by drinks at a bar called The Blue Note. (I can't remember whether the place indeed played jazz; I do recall, however, a restaurant named Alice's Restaurant that played the song Alice's Restaurant at least once every 30 min., and a restaurant proudly named Typical Nepali Restaurant). A few of us had rented the ground floor of a preposterously-American-style home for one month; it had marble floors and a maid who made good milky tea every morning but not much furniture or personality, and the only thing to do, really, was lie on the floor and smoke hash and listen to the landlord's family whooping it up upstairs. They were sort of nouveau-riche carpet merchants and they loved to blast Hindi movie soundtracks. There was a badminton net in the front yard and a green American-ish lawn, but outside the gate were trash heaps, packs of wild dogs, and vendors hawking everything from flip-flops to freshly-slaughtered goats. The contrast depressed me in a way that the sights of India never did.

Another memorable Thanksgiving — totally because of the food; emotionally I was numbed by my first year of law school — I had an amaaaaaazingly delicious early dinner with a friend and her family at Danube, and then somehow went home and cooked a vegetarian feast for a small group of friends with nothing more than 4 burners and a rickety toaster oven. (That's at my ex-BF's apt.; the toaster oven has since died and been replaced by a panini press). I hadn't taken up cooking more than a few months before that, and I dutifully noted my menus: we had dumpling squashes with wild mushroom and cranberry stuffing, sweet potato and yam galette, celery root-pear remoulade, honey-roasted pumpkin salad with sage croutons, and pumpkin mousse.

Thanksgiving ragamuffins No.43-45

Thanksgiving ragamuffins No. 43-45, also from the NY Public Library digital image gallery

Even when I wasn't blogging I tried to keep menu notes for major dinners, and I see that this year's menu isn't all that different from last year's, or the year before that. Both years I went to my parents' house in Connecticut and helped cook, and the routine this year will be the same: I will make most of the side dishes and desserts, and the grown-ups will make the turkey and the gravy. (I did once assist a friend in the preparation of a Thanksgiving turkey and gravy so it's not a totally mysterious process to me, but my mom's turkey and gravy are always delicious and I'm more than happy to stand around and remind her to stop opening the oven door so often!).

So, the menu:


Thanksgiving hors d' ouevres should pique one's appetite efficiently, in one or two bites; I think it's best to keep pre-dinner munching to a minimum unless people will be arriving several hours in advance. I also think there should at least be one crisp thing, since so many of the dishes that follow (stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc.) will be on the soft/mushy side.

  • Thyme-toasted almonds — I've made these before and they're delicious. I have probably tried at least five different recipes for herbed/spiced nuts of one type or another and I feel like every one has been a big success - really, how often does someone serve you a bowl of warm well-seasoned almonds or walnuts or cashews, made with fresh herbs and maybe an interesting, carefully-chosen salt? They are appealing to just about everyone and you should set them out in small bowls because it is too easy to gobble up handfuls. (Constantly replenish the bowls, though, unless you are going for a gulag atmosphere). Any of the recipes I linked to can be prepared earlier in the day or even a day or two ahead of time and warmed just before serving - 5 or 10 minutes in a medium-hot oven is perfect. If you are going to try the thyme-toasted almonds, just quadruple the recipe and make a pound of them; they'll be eaten long before they go bad. You don't need to quadruple the olive oil or the salt — 3 tablespoons of oil for a pound of almonds is plenty, and salt them to your taste. The nuts won't absorb the oil; it just helps the thyme stick to them.

  • Apple, red onion and blue cheese tart in a caraway crust — I've made this tart before and it's excellent and not too filling. I'm going to make one and cut it into small squares.


  • Herbed Sally Lunn Rolls and Sweet Potato Biscuits — I made both of these the year before last and was very, very pleased with them. The herbed rolls left an impression on me as the most professional-looking (and -tasting) things I'd ever baked, even though I'd become exhausted and left the dough to rise overnight. Apparently it has enough butter in it to keep it from drying out; the delay didn't seem to hurt it at all. The sweet potato biscuits are a nice textural contrast and the leftovers are great for making midnight-snack sandwiches or for breakfast the next morning. I am not at all an Emeril fan and found this recipe only after noticing that the one I first intended to use seemed to call for too much liquid, but it's a good one and you can go ahead and quietly tuck it away for future reference with nary a Bam!

    sweet potato biscuits

    sweet potato biscuits from a past Thanksgiving

  • Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and Bacon — I contemplated using this Chow recipe but 1 1/2 lbs. of brussels sprouts to serve 8 sounds stingy. To serve 8 who, Blue States Lose regulars? ("Leotard Fantastic, could you pass the brussels sprouts? Or the blow, whatever?") Williams-Sonoma has a similar recipe that reads better, and that's the one I'm going with. We'll be 8 rather than 6 so I'll sort of 1 1/2 it. I should add that I have roasted my own chestnuts twice, but only because I'm an idiot and it took me that many times to understand what a terrible, tedious, uncomfortable process it is and that the $10-$15 jars of roasted and peeled ones are so totally worth it. Maybe it's not so bad with one of those new chestnut-cutters but both times I ended up really, really cranky and with sore fingertips.

  • Sweet Potato Puree with Brown Sugar and Sherry — I made this at least once before, maybe twice, and *loved* it. Everyone else seemed to like it too, although I don't think we have anyone who likes sweet potatoes as much as I do.

  • Mashed Potatoes — see above. I don't know what else is in them besides celery salt but I promise to document the process this year if at all possible.

  • Roasted turnips and/or celery root or parsnips with horseradish-herb butter or turnips Anna — Depends what looks good at the greenmarket. Last year I came across beautiful baby turnips and roasted them with thyme and honey — very good.

  • Maple-glazed carrots &mdash This recipe is very similar in technique to the Marcella Hazan one for braised carrots that I've come to love, only with maple syrup rather than parmesan for flavor. I don't know if anyone but me really likes carrots but I am on a sort of one-woman mission to make Properly Cooked Carrots fashionable.

  • Stuffing — As I mentioned we cook ours outside the bird, and I really think it's best that way. It gets crispy on top and, as Bittman noted in the article I linked to above, you have a lot more control over the moisture. It's hard to find a recipe that doesn't have eggs or cream in it (my mom is allergic to both) but this one from Food & Wine looks good. So does this one from the Times. I'm going to make a sort of combination of the two, with sourdough bread, sausage, apples, celery, onion, herbs, and maybe chestnuts if there are any left over from the brussels sprouts.

  • Turkey and gravy — My mom makes both and they're always delicious. I intend to take lots of photos this year to document how they get that way.

  • Cranberry sauce — Mom is making this, I think with the F&W recipe for cranberry-bourbon-relish that I sent her. This one for chunky apple-cranberry sauce sounded good too. I was hoping there would be nice shallots at the greenmarket so that I could also make some sort of shallot confit, but there weren't many to choose from.


  • Pumpkin pie — I think I'm going to go with this very simple recipe for brown sugar pumpkin pie. In the past I've made this one with rum; one year it was excellent and one year it just wouldn't set. I think my mom's oven (since repaired) was to blame, but I'm not stuck on it enough to keep making the same one every year.

  • Mincemeat pie — My mother is making this. I think tartlets are preferable because mincemeat is way too sweet and too chewy to eat a whole slice of, so I'm going to bring a set of tiny tart shells (about 1 1/2" diameter) with me and make my case against The Pie as best I can. A flurry of comments agreeing with me would be a nice Exhibit A, don't you think?

  • Apple crostada with brown butter streusel — I think we usually have a pecan pie but this recipe sounds so good and I can't wait to try it.

It's a lot of food, but I think everyone invited to a Thanksgiving dinner should be sent home with leftovers, both because it's in the spirit of the holiday and because the leftovers are so uniquely perfect together. A sandwich made with sliced turkey, a few spoonfuls of stuffing, and a thin layer of cranberry sauce — and maybe some gravy, or a good, hot Dijon mustard — is something everyone should try at least once. Leftover mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes are good for breakfast, patted into little cakes, dusted with flour, sauteed until crisp on the outside, and served with eggs, or with the sausage that didn't get used in the stuffing. Roasted vegetables keep well and are perfect for lunch the 2nd day after, when you are not up to eating anything besides vegetables. Leftover desserts will give you nothing but grief (either because you'll eat more of them than you should or because you'll let them go to waste) and should be generously divvied up among everyone who walks out the door.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Committee promises renewed efforts to normalize relations with Blogistan

Wow, I haven't posted anything in ages. I'm sorry to report that I wasn't preoccupied with something fascinating; I was just working a lot. Probably not a bad thing, since my billable hours hitherto reflected an ambivalence so pure and so true that it remained untouched by greed.

I intended to write a bit about a party I went to but I see now that it was three weeks ago; in blog-time it might as well be last year. Since it was a mostly-bloggers party, it's been amply and ably covered here and here and here and here, and surely a few other places. I will add only that it was really great to meet Ann and her Boy; to make the acquaintance of a witty and delightfully potty-mouthed blogger I hadn't known about and his consort/collaborator; also, to meet a woman with the brilliant idea to begin organizing a dumpling party, all of this at the lovely Electric Stove HQ (thanks again Chris!). Did I take any pictures? Noooooooo. I suppose it's just as well; until I am ready to invest any more of my pennies in a fancier camera I would have had to shout "Sorry everyone, I'm just gonna turn all the lights on for just a minute! Just a minute! Sorry! Almost done!" That's what I do at home, and it kind of sucks.

Anyhow. On to the second part of the round-up I started so long ago.

  • Salade Lyonnaise — I had such a craving for this and besides, it was a good excuse to try my hand at poaching eggs without clunky training wheels. It's far easier than anyone lets on; the only tricky thing is timing everything so that your eggs are hot when you need them to be, but you can make them in advance and reheat them for about a minute in simmering water. (Dab off the water with paper towels, of course).

    salad Lyonnaise

    There is a salade Lyonnaise how-to video here and it's dull but oddly mesmerizing. The recipe being demonstrated is the only one I've seen that uses just endive and no frisée, but it might be helpful to watch if you tend to forget things while getting your mis en place together.

    I basically followed this recipe from Gourmet, although I used thick slices of bacon rather than slab bacon/lardons. I also left out the shallot and simply deglazed the pan with the vinegar to make a dressing because the only shallot I had in the house was a ginormous one and I didn't want to use only part of it.

    I have a feeling I am going to be making this salad again at least a few more times this winter; I love eggs for dinner but was getting almost tired of omelets and coddled, and the combination of bacon, a fresh, runny egg and slightly-bitter greens is superb.

  • Chicken with shallot, sage and white wine pan sauce with roasted potatoes — This was so easy that my description of it below can hardly be called a recipe. I was surprised by how satisfying it was; the fact that I used Dines Farms chicken undoubtedly had something to do with it, but I also had low expectations. I tend to either roast a whole chicken, or I make cut-up pieces of chicken on the bone in some sort of sauce, something like this; I almost never buy boneless, skinless breasts, the Mom-jeans of the food world.

    chicken with shallot, sage and white wine sauce roasted potatoes

    This dinner was sort of Mom-jeans too but it was a very satisfying I-have-to-use-up-that-chicken-tonight dinner and it was very, very easy. I roasted some potatoes with olive oil and rosemary to go with it.

    I didn't make any notes as I was cooking so this is from memory: Season two boneless skinless breasts generously with salt and pepper and brown them in olive oil in a good, heavy pan. (Cast iron is ideal; you don't want to use non-stick because you'll need to deglaze the pan). Remove the chicken from the pan when it's nice and brown and set it aside, or, if the pieces are exceptionally thick, put them in a medium-hot oven to finish cooking while you make the sauce. Add sliced shallots (2 or 3 small ones or 1 very large one) to the pan you cooked the chicken in and sautée them until they soften and begin to brown. Then add 1/2 cup of white wine or good dry vermouth (Noilly Prat) to the pan and scrape up the browned bits with a wooden spoon. Add 2-3 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs (I used sage) and simmer until the sauce reduces a bit; spoon over chicken and voila, a boring but very tasty dinner.

  • Simple salad of bitter greens — I think I like autumn and winter salads of spicy or bitter greens even more than wispy, delicate spring and summer ones.

    simple cold-weather salad

    I wasn't going to bother mentioning dressing, particularly since it was in the Times not long ago, but I am constantly surprised by how many people I see buying salad dressing. I hate bottled salad dressing with a passion that I just don't have for other icky processed foods. It never, ever tastes good, and almost all of them, even the upscale ones, seem to have some form of sugar in them. The sugar is what jumps out at me, and I hate it. Blech. Here is my usual vinaigrette:

    Whisk together 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon walnut oil, 2 tablespoons canola oil, 1 tablespoon white or red wine vinegar, and 1 generous teaspoon of good-quality Dijon mustard. (I am partial to Maille "extra hot"). Stir in 1 small shallot, minced, and season with salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste.
    If you are not going to be using the mustard, a more flavorful vinegar is nice - I like sherry vinegar. The reason for using a mixture of oils is that canola emulsifies better than olive oil but olive oil adds flavor, and walnut oil is overpowering if it's the only oil used. You will have leftover dressing if you're making salad for one or two people; put it in the refrigerator in a tiny container and use it later in the week.

    roasted parsnips and potatoes I liked this salad of chicory and toasted pine nuts so much I ate it two nights in a row &mdash the first night with a cup of soup, and the second night with roasted parsnips and potatoes and some of the rosemary foccacia that was hanging around in my "Coming Attractions" section for a while but is just too damn boring to bother with.

  • Curried cauliflower soup

    pretty little golden cauliflowers

    curried cauliflower soup
  • Like the chicken above this is so simple it can hardly be called a recipe, but it is a very satisfying dinner on a cold night: Wash your cauliflower and cut it up into bite-sized florets. (I used 4 little golden ones from Norwich Meadows Farm; one head of regular white cauliflower works too). In a 4-quart soup pot, sautée one medium-sized onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil or butter until softed but not browned. Then add two teaspoons of good, fresh curry powder, stir, and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the cauliflower and 4 1/2 cups of water, bring to a simmer, and cook for 25-30 minutes. Puree with a hand blender until smooth, then stir in 1/4 cup heavy cream, season to taste with salt and pepper, and reheat if necessary. You can skip the cream, but only 1 tablespoon ends up in each of the 4 servings you'll get and I think it really improves the flavor and texture.

  • Cabbage soup — Am I the only person in the history of the world who had a moment of nostalgia for hospital food? I had to spend a few days in the hospital over the summer for surgery and the food was, as expected, almost criminal in its lack of flavor and consistently spongy texture. Except for the cabbage soup, which was the first thing that tasted appealing enough for me to have more than a teeny, tiny taste of. It actually tasted good, and its power to revive was compounded by the fact that I'd hardly eaten anything for about two days. It was a very, very simple soup of thinly-sliced cabbage and chunks of grilled chicken, in a chicken broth that shockingly did *not* seem to come from a can, and I began to feel more and more like a human being again as I ate it. My mostly-homemade rendition below (I didn't make the broth) did not have quite the same effect but it was still pretty good.

    a vaguely Eastern-European cabbage soup

    3 slices thick-cut bacon (I used this one &mdash insanely good, very hammy-tasting but cooks up nice & crisp)
    1 small onion, thinly sliced
    2 small shallots, thinly sliced
    2 small heads of cabbage, each about 4" to 5" diameter, washed and sliced
    1 large carrot, sliced
    1 potato, chopped into 1" cubes (I used a small Yukon Gold potato; a handful of thickly-sliced fingerling potatoes would be nice too)
    2 fresh bay leaves
    8 cups chicken broth

    Cook the bacon over low heat until crisp in a 4-quart soup pot. When it's done, drain it on paper towels and set it aside. (You might as well cook four slices because it is *really* hard not to eat one). Sautée the shallots and the onion in the bacon fat remaining in the pot until they're soft, then add the carrots, potato and cabbage and give everything a good stir. Add the broth and the bay leaves and simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender. Cut the bacon into small pieces and garnish each bowl with a handful. Good for eating in bed if you're not feeling well.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

my furry friends conspire against me

Pita eats brazil nuts before walnuts and walnuts before almonds

A few days ago Pita did something really sweet: she took a walnut from my hand and got so excited that she dropped it, and then she looked back at me to see if I'd hook her up with a replacement. And when I handed her another she put her teeny, tiny hand on my finger to steady herself. Sooooooo charming, right? I didn't put any more nuts out for a couple days so this afternoon the two of them came right up when they saw me open the window. They raced each other to get to my window and hissed and chased each other around a bit and then the loser, who I thought was intimidated, went back down to the backyard. The cutie pie again accepted a nut from my hand . . . and promptly dropped it. Pita, wtf? It clattered to the ground, where I am guessing that her accomplice stuffed it right into his cheek. I am such a sucker for their beady little eyes and vigorous romps in my garden of dead herbs that I am going to fall for this butterfingers-Pita routine over and over again. And they so know this.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Let's eat in.

I've been doing a lot of cooking lately but little blogging, and there are many things I prepared recently that are worth mentioning but don't warrant their own posts - maybe some of them do, but I am eager to clear them from my blog-this list and move on. In my excitement about being able to cook autumn-y things with autumn-y ingredients I have gotten so behind in my blogging that I'm going to split this up into two posts. So, part I:

  • Linguine with cauliflower and brown butterVery good. This is a powerful argument in favor of eating in, particularly if you consider that at home the wine flows freely and at cost and there is never a wait for a table, a snotty hostess, a meathead with a booming voice at the table next to you, or a charge for packing up your leftovers.

    linguine with cauliflower and brown butter

    The recipe is here. Yes, it's a Martha Stewart recipe. Yes, you may snicker as you recall 1,001 how-to-crochet-a-cozy-for-your-shiv jokes, but I've tried a couple of MS recipes and they've all turned out well. I have to add, though, that I have a friend who worked for her once, years ago, and quit before the first day was over. (Martha whistled at her like a dog in an effort to get her to fetch or carry something). Perhaps Martha gained something in the way of humility during her time in the clink? Anyhow, if you don't have any fresh sage I think thyme or rosemary would be good in this recipe in its place.

  • Radish greens soup — Wow, this was a pleasant surprise. I picked up a bunch of organic radishes at the greenmarket and didn't want to throw away their lovely greens, so I googled around looking for a way to use them and found this soup recipe from Madeleine Kamman's The New Making of a Cook: The Art, Techniques, and Science of Good Cooking. Even without the mustard-sour cream garnish this was terrific soup. The radish greens have a bit of bite, like watercress or wild arugula; the taste is reminiscent of spring but the soup is hearty enough to be dinner on a cold night if, as Kamman recommends, you supplement it with bread and cheese.

    chopped radish greens radish greens soup

    blanched radishes
    I'm not sure of the reason for cooking the sliced radishes in water and vinegar before adding them to the soup but they were so pretty when they were done. Their texture was nice, too; they became velvety, and reminded me a bit of lotus root. And did you know that radishes are incredibly good for you? Here, read this. They have vitamin C, folate, potassium, and "sulphurous compounds that have anti-cancer properties." I'd like to try braising them soon, and maybe make some type of radish gratin or galette as well.

  • Monkfish and clams with chorizo — I saw the recipe for this in the L.A. Times dining section and had to try it right away, seeing as I already had chorizo left over from the paella below. Sadly this one looks better than it tasted because I overcooked the monkfish. I usually have excellent luck with fish by adhering to the ten-minutes-per-inch rule, and the fact that the fish here was cut into small chunks really threw me off. It was still good, though, and very much worth trying again. I don't see any reason not to use monkfish cut into fillets; it would look just as nice, if not better, and I find it much easier to cook properly.

    I used heirloom tomatoes rather than plum tomatoes because that's what I had, and I did not blanch and peel them. You could definitely use good canned tomatoes in this dish, but even if you don't it's still easy enough to cook on a weeknight. There really isn't much to do besides a bit of chopping and giving the clams a brisk scrub.

    monkfish and clams with chorizo

  • Chicken paella with chorizo and Amontillado sherry — This was an important lesson: You can make a respectable paella without a paella pan as long as you have the right type of rice. You probably also shouldn't plan on feeding more than four people; to make a larger paella I think you would definitely want the right pan because otherwise the liquids might not be absorbed before the rice gets overcooked.

    A couple months ago I foolishly ordered enough Bomba rice from La Tienda to feed an army, so we were going to have paella with or without the proper pan. (Yes, you can use Bomba for other dishes besides paella, yes I've tried some of them, and I still had plenty of Bomba in the cabinet). This is a v-e-r-y simple paella and there isn't much else in it besides a ton of garlic, but I was really pleased with how it turned out. I used a jarred Spanish garlic from La Tienda that is very flavorful but not at all sharp or harsh; if your garlic is either of those I would definitely reduce the quantity.

    paella with chicken, chorizo, and Amontillado Sherry, with Swiss chard on the side

    My recipe file says that this recipe is from The Spanish Table but I don't see it on their site; I think maybe they sent it with something I ordered.

    ¼ cup Spanish olive oil
    4 chicken thighs
    2 links chorizo [I only used one; the ones I had were rather large]
    1 large onion, chopped
    1 tablespoon garlic, minced
    2 cups Spanish short-grain rice, such as Bomba
    1 cup Barbadillo Amontillado Sherry
    3 cups chicken stock

    Heat the olive oil in a paella pan and brown the chicken. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Add onions and saute until wilted. Add garlic and cook another minute or two. Add chorizo and cook until fat is released. Add rice and stir to coat. Add sherry and bring to a boil. When sherry is absorbed by the rice, add chicken stock, reduce heat and simmer until rice is done (20-25 minutes).

    [Directions lightly edited edited again for clarity].

    That's Swiss chard on the side, and as you can see I did not throw away the thickest parts of the stems. All they need is a bit of extra cooking time; throw them into a big pot of boiling water 2 or 3 minutes before adding the chopped leaves and they'll be perfect.

    Before the paella we had Food & Wine's tuna-piquillo pepper butter spread on slices of baguette. I had high hopes for this because I made something similar a few months ago (Michael Chiarello's Spuma di Tonno) and was startled by how incredibly delicious it was. I didn't like the tuna-piquillo butter anywhere near as much, but maybe that's just my pepper issues talking. I used to love both red and green peppers and now I dislike them intensely; I was hoping piquillo peppers would be more appealing but no, they weren't.

  • Penne with mushrooms — This was good but not particularly memorable. I made this because I wanted something with mushrooms to accompany the wine we picked up that afternoon, a 2005 Chiorri Grechetto.

    Grechetto Chiorri 2005 Bianco Umbria white wine

    The Astor Wines description was irresistible: "The Grechetto grape variety is at home in the region of Umbria nestled right in the middle of Italy. This is an earthy white wine with aromas of raw honey, cannabis and sage. Dry on the palate but rich in texture and aromas. Excellent with Farro or mushroom risotto."

    oyster, enoki and white button mushrooms penne with mushrooms

    It did indeed have an aroma of cannabis, a nice one, not the aroma of my neighbor's cheap skunky crap. I didn't feel like making risotto to go with it so I sauteed shiitake, oyster and white button mushrooms in a bit of olive oil, seasoned them with salt, pepper and a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and added a package of enoki mushrooms when they were nearly done cooking. (Enokis are very delicate and don't need to cook for more than a couple minutes). Tossed with penne and grated parmesan, this was a satisfying dinner, but I wouldn't bother making it again; there are too many other pasta recipes I like better.