I love to cook and I love to eat good food.  Alas, the fact that I work 9-5 means that I can't do either as much as I would like, and like many I am often stuck at my desk during my lunch "hour".  My solution is to try to bring my lunch to work as much as I can.  This is my collection of recipes, all made quickly the night before (either as lunch or as dinner with leftovers that can be taken in).  Happy eating.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Shrimp and asparagus risotto

Today brought a quick and easy early summer meal, when there are still a few bunches of local asparagus coming through and the craving turns to something more refreshing. Risotto is one of the best basic recipes; like a white dress shirt, it can be dressed up and down according to whim or necessity.

I had a bunch of asparagus in the fridge that was slouching towards the other side of fresh. We walked past Whole Foods on the way home, and the only counter not mobbed was the fish counter, so a package of shrimp later and we were on our way. We had some crisp Riesling in the fridge, so there was a little for the dish and a little more for us (my favorite kind of cooking). In the end, like the white shirt, the dinner was a result that belied the little effort that went into making it.

Shrimp and asparagus risotto

1 small onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, minced
1 C. arborio rice
1/2 C. crisp white wine
2+ C. vegetable stock
Handful of asparagus, the tough ends snapped off, cut into bite-size pieces
1 lb shrimp

In a large saute pan, add a swirl of olive oil and heat over medium heat. Saute onion until soft. Add garlic and cook gently for a few minutes, then add rice and cook, stirring, for another few minutes. Add wine and let it cook down into the rice. Start to add warm stock, 1/2 C. at a time, waiting between each addition for the rice to absorb the liquid as it cooks. Stir frequently (or just enough).

When rice is nearly cooked, add asparagus (if the stems are older or tougher, add earlier). Push rice and asparagus to edge of the pan and add the shrimp in the center, stirring for a minute until they begin to cook. Then stir dish around to ensure all ingredients are incorporated and cooked, and season to taste.

Serves 4

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Mapo tofu

There's the most fantastic Sichuan restaurant near work, and although the rumor is that they have an extremely shady ownership, they make really, really good food. In particular, they make a version of Mapo tofu that is sublime. I like tofu anyway, but this dish would convert the most ardent soy-haters. The sauce is a piquant mix of chili, ginger, and fermented black beans, coupled with silky tofu and toothsome ground meat. I could eat it by the bucket. It is that good.

Anything that good, I want to know how to make it. I looked up recipes for Mapo tofu and discovered that it ain't rocket science, and in fact looks like a relatively simple affair. As well it should, for Mapo tofu is named, so the legend goes, for a pock-marked old lady who served the dish to travelers who passed by her home in Chengdu. (Yes, it is far more appetizing than the name would have you believe.)

I researched the recipe and gathered my ingredients. By a stroke of luck, I found some chili bean paste in a little bodega around the corner from me, saving me a trip to Chinatown for this vital ingredient. Fairway supplied the Sichuan peppercorns, and the local Associated supermarket carries 10 varieties of tofu (I [heart] NY!).

My first attempt was tasty, but with the wrong proportions. I had too much meat and not nearly enough sauce. It was a sort of Sichuan inspired bolognese. Good, but not Mapo standard. My second attempt was much more successful. I decreased the amount of meat, increased the liquid, and got it almost perfect. At least I think so; it may be completely alien to the chefs at my favorite Sichuan restaurant, or to Mapo herself, but it's pretty good to me.

Mapo tofu

1/2 cup chicken broth or water
2 Tbs. hot bean paste
2 Tbs. soy sauce
1 lb soft tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 lb. ground pork shoulder
1 1/2 Tbs. finely minced garlic
1 1/2 Tbs. finely minced peeled fresh ginger
1 Tbs. cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbs. water
1 1/2 tsp. Japanese sesame oil
1/2 to 1 tsp. toasted Sichuan-peppercorn powder
3 Tbs. thinly sliced scallion

Stir together broth, bean paste, soy sauce, and set aside.

Heat a wok or large heavy skillet over high heat until hot and add 1 1/2 tablespoons corn oil, swirling to coat. Add pork and stir-fry, breaking up lumps and adding remaining 1/2 tablespoon corn oil if meat sticks, until no longer pink. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry over moderate heat until very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir reserved sauce, then add to pork and bring to a simmer.

Stir cornstarch mixture and add to stir-fry. Bring to a boil, stirring gently, and cook until thickened and glossy, about 15 seconds.

Turn off heat and sprinkle with sesame oil, Sichuan-peppercorn powder to taste, and 2 tablespoons scallion. Stir once or twice, then serve sprinkled with remaining tablespoon scallion.

Serve over rice.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Pasta with sausage and saffron

I've been out of the blogging game for a couple of weeks. Work is busy, so during the week my blogging would be very boring unless you want to hear about bowls of cereal before bed or a plate of crackers, cheese, hummus and whatever else I can rustle up from the fridge (just like canapes, I like to tell myself).

Weekends, therefore, are prime cooking time. If I don't get a meal or two, or a post or two, in on a Saturday or Sunday, that's it until the next week. Last weekend, fortunately, was filled with fun. My brother and sister-in-law came for a visit. We walked around Central Park, took in the sights, explored my neighborhood. Friday night, we went to see American Idiot. I will happily admit that it was amazing. I take some small pride that despite it being on Broadway, I probably have a bit more street cred than most of the people in line (also a good few years on most of them. I had a head-in-hands moment when I told a staff member I was going to see the show and she told me that she remembered when their "first" album came out in fourth grade. Though having staff probably isn't very punk... But I digress). If anyone goes, look out for the "I Hella [heart] Berkeley" grafitti near the entrance.

Saturday night, we went to the local wine store and picked out a few good bottles. We put on music and cooked up a feast, singing and nibbling and generally having as good a time as one can without risking the wrath of the little old lady in the apartment next door.

This particular recipe was inspired by a similar dish I have made before, but that recipe was lost sometime since. Thank you, google: Foodandwine.com produced a sufficient substitute. Things I liked about this recipe included the slow-cooked onions and the addition of some pecorino at the end. Also, the fresh sage was an unexpected but delicious addition. (As a side note, why can't you buy just a sprig or two of fresh herbs? They are only ever sold in bunches, and I just cannot use an entire head of sage. But I discovered that it freezes well -- thank you again, google.) I can safely say that a good time and a good meal was had by all.

Pasta with sausage and saffron sauce

Large pinch of saffron threads
1/4 cup hot water
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium/2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
3/4 lbs. Italian sausage, meat removed from the casings and crumbled
One 28-ounce can plus one 14-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, drained and chopped, liquid reserved
3 Tbs. slivered sage leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lbs. malloreddus (I used cavatappi)
1/3 C. freshly grated aged Pecorino cheese, plus more for serving
3 Tbs. slivered basil leaves

Steep the saffron in the hot water. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and cook over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until soft and golden, about 20 minutes.

Push the onions to the edge of the pan. Add the sausage meat and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, saffron water and sage, season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes; whenever the sauce becomes very thick and begins to stick to the pan, stir in some of the reserved tomato liquid. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add salt, then add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta and immediately add it to the hot sauce; toss well. Stir in the 1/3 cup of grated Pecorino and the basil and serve, passing additional Pecorino at the table.

Serves a lot.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Perfect chocolate chip cookies

With my recent purchase of my now beloved Tramontina cookware, an issue of Cook's Illustrated, which extolled the virtues of said cookware, was tucked inside the box. I love the magazine, for its pleasingly retro, low-tech, no ad feel. Also, there's a beautifully illustrated back page of seasonal varieties of fruit and vegetables. The magazine does a complete investigative journey into each recipe, with testing, tasting, and scientific explanations. These sorts of things give me a fantastic high-school-chemistry sort of tingle. I'm an avid reader of Harold McGee's column in the NY Times and remember fondly one of the first recipes I ever made, Oobleck.

This particular recipe, in the May & June 2009 issue, aims to perfect the chocolate chip cookie recipe. I have always been a fan of the classic Tollhouse cookie, but hey -- any excuse to make a batch. Plus, this one looked like fun.

Cook's Illustrated involves browning the butter to decrease its moisture content and increase the chewiness of the cookies (this is not a crispy cookie recipe). The browned butter also creates a rich and nutty flavor.

The other different technique is letting the dough rest. Some may recall Jaccques Torres's article about letting his cookie dough rest for 24 hours. This version involves a combination of resting and stirring that claims to achieve the same rich flavor objective. In any event, I can't plan my cookie consumption that far in advance, so a rest of 10 minutes is about the maximum I can handle.

Ultimately, this was actually very easy to put together and did indeed produce moist, chewy cookies with a little crispiness around the edges, and a buttery, toffee flavor around the chocolate chips.

Cook's Illustrated Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 3/4 C. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
14 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 C. granulated sugar
1 3/4 C. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 C. semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 C. chopped walnuts

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix flour and baking soda together in a small bowl.

Melt 10 tablespoons of the butter in a 10 inch skillet over medium heat until melted. Then, swirling pan constantly, continue cooking for another 1-3 minutes until butter is dark golden brown and smells nutty. Remove from heat and pour into a heat-proof bowl, then add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and stir until melted.

Add both sugars, salt and vanilla to the butter and whisk until combined. Add eggs and whisk until smooth. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then mix for 30 seconds. Repeat twice more.

Stir in flour mixture until just combined. Add chocolate chips and nuts.

Drop about 2-3 tablespoons of dough onto the cookie sheet. Bake in batches for about 10 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown and puffy in the center, and starting to crisp around the edges.

Makes 16-20 cookies.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Linguine with mussels

I can eat a lot of mussels, especially when as delicious as my previous recipe. However, even I cannot work my way through two pounds of them, so I had a large batch left over the next night. I thought I'd reincarnate them in a different dinner.

The basic recipe made this easy enough. The mussels were already cooked, their garlicky, briny liquid extra flavorful for having bathed the mussels overnight. I decided to cook up some toothsome linguine and head down to Italy for my next meal.

As the pasta was cooking, I halved some cherry tomatoes and chopped some more parsley. I threw the mussels and liquid into a pot to warm up, then added the tomatoes to soften. After I drained the pasta I mixed it in with the tomatoes and mussels and a squeeze of lemon juice. Topped with a bit of parmesan (bien sur!) and a good grating of pepper, and my quick, easy, but very satisfying meal was done.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Moules marinieres

It was a beautiful spring weekend. The sun was shining, the trees finally burst into bud, and summer clothing was out in full force. The streets were thronged with people who took their first run of the season, and later in the day they were thronged with people who had their first blisters of the season.

Something in the air made me think of a day at the beach. Clean, sharp flavors and the ocean. I could get a lemon and bunch of parsley, then some mussels: steamed in some white wine and their own liquid.

Moules marinieres is a dish that looks gourmet and fancy, but really is the essence of quick and comfort cooking. If you can chop some garlic and an onion, you're most of the way there.

Starting out with these two as the foundation of the dish, you simply tip the cleaned mussels into your pot, pour in your wine, clap on the lid, and come back in 5 minutes to dinner. Don't forget to pour the other glass for yourself.

I had a beautiful bunch of parsley which looked so good I had to take a photo. Anyone know what to do with a ton of parsley?

So that was dinner on the first real weekend of spring. The year is flying by and summer will be coming soon, long sweltering days and stifling nights, months of not turning on the stove, but for now, the evening is perfect, and dinner is on the table.

Moules marinieres
2 lbs mussels, rinsed and cleaned
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 C. white wine (something more dry than fruity)
handful of Italian parsley
squeeze of lemon juice

Soften the onion and garlic in a little swirl of olive oil in a pot. When translucent, add the mussels and the wine (pour another for yourself), then cover the pot. After 5 minutes, the mussels should have opened and released their liquid. Throw in your parsley and give the lemon a good squeeze. Serve in bowls with bread to soak up the juice.

Serves 2

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Chilly day Chili

Did anyone else experience the apocalyptic weather known as the nor'easter that blew in on Saturday? I had to go outside to go to work (boo hiss) and do some errands. Far from being productive, I spent most of the day huddling in doorways, afraid to step into the gale. More than once I did the full revolution in the revolving doors, convinced when I began to leave that it wasn't as bad as it looked, got a little taste of the wind and rain as I got to the 180 degree mark, and kept going right around back inside where it was safe and dry. The mangled bodies of umbrellas littered the streets. People greeted each other like survivors of some team-building ropes course that really didn't look that bad when they started out but quickly showed them they were not the boss. I made the mistake of trying to go into my building through the back entrance, which I had forgotten is a wind tunnel on the best of days. I kid you not when I say I was thrown from wall to wall and pinned against the gate until I could get it open.

So I ordered delivery for dinner.

But that's not what this is about. This post is about chili, which is what I would have made on that Saturday evening had I had the faintest inclination to leave the safety of my apartment again. Mmmm... chili. It really is one of my favorite dishes. I sometimes make variations on it -- anything with beans, tomatoes, chili and cumin will do -- but this recipe is my master recipe. Another one handed down from parent to child, both my brother and I left home with a copy in our hot little hands. I remember my brother visiting from college when I was living in my first apartment and had barely started to cook. We made chili. (And buttermilk cake.)


olive oil
2 lbs. ground turkey
1 14-16 oz. can whole tomatoes
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 C. chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans drained pinto beans
1 can drained kidney beans
1 C. water
1 T. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt

Brown turkey, onion and garlic in olive oil in a dutch oven or other large pot. Once turkey is browned and onion is soft, chop tomatoes and add them to the pot along with their juice. Add tomato sauce, water, spices, kidney beans. Set aside 1 C. pinto beans, add remainder.

Bring to a boil, simmer 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add water if the chili dries out.

Mash reserved beans and add to the pot, mixing well. Simmer 5 more minutes until chili comes together.

Serve with sour cream, cornbread, or just enjoy straight up.

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