I realized today that it is entirely possible that we either have new readers, or readers who still don’t know certain information about me. In the interest of bringing people some new stuff, or at least some new information, here we go with a few fun facts about the Improviser that you may not have known.
#1 – I really DO improvise a lot. Most dinners at our house are the result of me reading a recipe, thinking “wow, that sounds good” and proceeding to forget half of the procedures and just going with the ingredient list. I cook by feel, and I’m working really hard to train myself to use my senses more in my daily life, including cooking. This means that things may burn a little more often because I’m not setting timers. It also might mean that I have to guess how long something baked for – but if you cook my recipes frequently enough, you’ll get the hang of it.
#2 – I do not drink anything even remotely close to the recommended amount of water every day. Or at least, I didn’t, until this baby came into my life. Who knew that all it would take to make me drink water was a cute orange metal water bottle with a sport bottle top? I’m actually thinking about getting an even BIGGER KleanKanteen soon, because I love the little one, but I have to get up and refill it ALL THE TIME. The good thing about drinking this much water during the day is that when it’s time for hot yoga class, I don’t feel like I’m going to die. This is seriously the best.
#3 – My favorite comestibles are, in no particular order: chicken fingers, bourbon, french fries, chocolate chip cookies, macaroni & cheese, pizza, cheeseburgers, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, lobster, spicy tuna rolls, strong dark coffee, chocolate croissants, and cookie dough ice cream. Oh, and buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy. And Gie’s Mince & Tatties. And Jaffa Cakes. And Diesels and Guinness and Vino Verde. And Riesling. And cheese in its many wondrous forms. You may have noticed that a lot of these things are the same foods that 9 year old boys love. That’s totally cool with me, since they’re also freaking delicious.
#4 – If I’m going the boneless-skinless route, I will from now on be choosing ONLY chicken thighs. No more boneless, skinless, textureless, TASTELESS chicken breasts for this girl – give me a little more fat, which means a little more flavor, and a little more *snap* in the texture. Give me more. If I’m paying the same money, I’m taking as much as I can flavor-wise out of it.
#5 – I have no problem, at all, with plunging a lobster into a pot of boiling water, clamping down the lid, and cooking the sucker.
#6 – I forgot to mention that one of my favorite things to eat is my dad’s Red Beans and Rice. And that by mashed potatoes, I mean my mom’s. By biscuits I don’t mean from a can. I love curry and chickpeas, and risotto (I forgot to mention risotto) and things that involve pumpkin, sausage, stock and cream. I also love cold leftovers, topped with a fried egg, for breakfast. Basically, anything topped with a fried egg.
#7 – I do not consider white chocolate to be chocolate.
I love Brunch. The best thing, I think, about living in New York City is that brunch is a real meal. On Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 4pm, you can go to a restaurant and get foods that are neither on the breakfast nor the dinner menu – and drinks that you would never order if it was dinner.
My favorite place to get brunch is Essex, in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Essex serves som great brunch fare – excellent eggs benedict, a cubano that makes even this skeptic’s mouth water. Their Bloody Marys are spicy and strong, and the waitresses walk around with pitchers of mimosas, and up until recently, they didn’t keep count, so your 3 free mimosas were more like “3″ free mimosas.
Shamefully, even though I always say that I’m going to branch out and try some of their other wondrous things, I always end up getting one of 2 things; I love the Southern – biscuits and sausage gravy with fried eggs – and I love love the Mexican Matzo Brei – basically migas, with black beans and chunky guacamole.
I’ve tried a couple of their other offerings, but sadly I was disappointed – I always come back to the two faves, and my absolute favorite is the Mexican Matzo Brei. I generally don’t try to replicate restaurant favorites at home, instead leaving them to the experts. I believe that if you can do something perfectly, I should pay you for that.
However, a few weeks ago I was motivated to attempt to make Mexican Matzo Brei in my own kitchen. I blame the Pioneer Woman, mostly. She had a recipe in her cookbook for Migas, which I decided I would hack, because I didn’t have the patience to fry my own tortillas, and I don’t do cilantro. As I was reading it over, I realized with a start that here was the thing I’d been hoping for all my life! A recipe for Essex’s Mexican Matzo Brei!! I ran to assemble the ingredients, and started cooking.
adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks and Essex restaurant
1. Assemble your cast of characters: 1 bag of tortilla chips, 6 eggs, Shredded “taco” cheese, 1 red bell pepper, 1 jalapeno pepper, 1 fryer pepper(aka cubanelle), 1 tomato, 1 red onion.
2. Dice 1/2 the red onion, 1 red bell pepper, and 1/2 the fryer pepper very finely and evenly. Heat up 1-2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium-high heat, and add the red onion and peppers. Cook until they are brown, but NOT sweated- we want crunch, not mush.
3. Beat the eggs with 1/4-1/2 cup of milk, salt, and pepper. Crush 2-3 big handfuls of tortilla chips until they’re roughly 1/2 inch squares, not to powder.
4. Chop up 1 tomato and 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed (unless you want the heat) and add the tortilla chips and jalapenos to the skillet. Stir, cook for about 30 seconds, and add the tomatoes.
5. Add the eggs, folding gently to cook the eggs without smashing things up or turning them to mush. When they’re mostly set to your liking (I like mine pretty soft), sprinkle with shredded cheese and try not to drool.
I also served these with some Tasty Black Beans, which I’m premiering later this week on this blog, and some chunky guacamole. While it’s no replacement for Essex, and I’d rather go drink mimosas and not have to wash the dishes after, (not to mention eating a pre-brunch cupcake if the line is long at Essex), I really enjoy knowing that I can have Mexican Matzo-Brei anytime my little heart desires!
Try this, and tell me about YOUR favorite brunch dishes! Maybe we can have an at-home brunch revolution!
After last week’s fried chicken debacle, I felt the need to redeem myself by trying a new recipe. I was a little nervous, because unfortunately this past week was even worse than the previous, so god only knew how I was going to screw up this time. Perhaps I could screw up ramen noodles, the easiest food on earth. Maybe destroy a salad and make it inedible…at this point my life is so ridiculous that I wouldn’t be shocked if a foray into cinnamon toast resulted in the amputation of a toe. The good news is, it can’t really get worse from here, so I might as well just start assuming that its going to get better. Which is why I decided to set out on a new adventure entitled: Alyssa tries to make bread pudding for the first time without F-ING it up, burning the building down, or losing a toe.
I’ve been looking at this recipe for a while on epicurious.com for leek bread pudding, which sounds super good. Although the more I thought about it, it felt like it was kind of missing something, and we all know by now that I can’t just leave well enough alone with a recipe, I have to mess with it. The first thing I decided to do was to take away some of the ridiculous salt they have you put in as well as some of the butter and make up for it by adding a couple slices of diced pancetta (I KNOW, I add bacon to everything, but seriously how is that bad?). I also traded out the emmentaler for havarti, which was not entirely based on flavor, rather than price. In small town Ohio, good and affordable cheeses and breads are kind of difficult to find (I was shocked too), so I have to make do with what I can. I love havarti because its so creamy and delicious, but I think you could substitute for pretty much any cheese that melts smoothly.
I added the pancetta to the sautee pan with the leeks so that they absorbed all the pancetta-y deliciosity.
Make sure you cook the leeks until they are extremely soft. They should fall apart fairly easily when you press them with a spatula. Some of them will get a little brown and crispy (same with the pancetta), but the rest should almost melt. That way they will absorb into the bread with the custard and bring its flavor with it.
I also used a little extra cheese when I was layering, because you really can’t go wrong with cheese.
Luckily for me, this turned out really well and when I pulled it out of the oven I felt like I was on Food Network Challenge transporting my 6 foot tall muppet cake to the table without destroying it, because leave it to me to get through this whole recipe and then drop it on the floor as I lift it the one foot up from the over to the stove top. Thanks to a steady hand and a prayer to the food gods, I was successful and had this to show for my efforts:
I really wish that I could somehow make your computer screen scratch’n'sniff right now because I was salivating as this cooled just smelling it from the living room. It turned out beautifully, and it is just what I needed to get my mind back on track. I’m taking it as a sign that since this recipe went so well, things will start to look up soon
I love lasagna. Something about the excuse to eat bechamel, AND sausage, AND tons of cheese, AND pasta all at the same time really gets to me.
See this lasagna?
This lasagna was delicious.
I made a red sauce, by browning a pound of hot Italian sausage along with half a minced onion, and a can of fire-roasted crushed tomatoes. It simmered down for a good long time, until the liquid had reduced by 1/3. But the marinara wasn’t the best part.
There was also a parmesan bechamel, which I made in the usual way, stirring milk and chicken stock into a roux, adding lots and lots of black pepper and a good quarter-cup of grated parmesan cheese. Honestly though, the bechamel wasn’t the best part either.
I grated about half a pound of mozzarella, because this was going to be really really decadent, and made sure that there was plenty of cheese on each layer of the lasanga. Dry noodles, white sauce, red sauce, cheese. Dry noodles, white sauce, red sauce, cheese, until it was all gone. But even the cheese wasn’t the best part.
The best part was that after I assembled it on Sunday, I covered it in foil, froze it solid, and let it wait until Wednesday. Then, Jesse baked it for me, while I was at the gym running my little legs off. I would recommend baking it for 45 minutes at 400 degrees, and another 15 minutes at 425. Covered or uncovered, whatever you feel like, for the first 45. Uncovered for the last 15, absolutely, to crisp the cheese up. Don’t worry about cooking the noodles, since they’ll cook when you bake the lasagna, and the moisture that’s released when the ice crystals melt will keep everything from getting too dry.
Not having to make dinner on Wednesday, because you made it on Sunday and froze it?
That is the best part.
One of my favorite bloggers recently posted a recipe for Saffron shortbread cookies. And she posted it as a participant in something called the Monthly Mingle. The internet is full of blog events, from Novel Food to Daring Bakers to the BBA Challenge.
This month’s Mingle theme is brunch recipes. Now, I love me some brunch, so I decided that a heck of a time to start participating would be with brunch. So….. away we go!
While I love french toast or a good stack of pancakes as much as anybody, I’m much happier to put my energies into a savory brunch, and similarly much happier to eat it. Plus, it’s difficult for me to make a brunch decision out at a restaurant that doesn’t involve cheese or eggs in some way. Unless it’s corned beef hash. And honestly, cheese on corned beef hash would be delicious, but overly decadent.
And yet I digress.
We were out at a party the night before our at-home brunch, and I knew that I would be up early the following morning to go for a run (4.5 miles. ughhh). So, when we got home from the party, I threw together a Breakfast Bread Pudding, which much like a strata, can be left in the fridge overnight, fully assembled, and baked the next morning.
Breakfast Bread Pudding
1. Butter a baking dish. It can be round or oval or rectangular, 9×13 or smaller, or possibly bigger if you scale up. I used a smaller one than I planned, but any baking dish will do, as long as it has 2-inch or higher sides.
2. Tear up half a loaf of crusty bread. We used Pan Paesano from Whole Foods, which has a delicious cornmeal crust, but please feel free to leave whatever loaf of bread you want out on the counter all day, so you can tear it up at night. Rip it into bite-sized pieces, and scatter them evenly over the bottom of the dish.
3. Dice 1 small onion and 1 clove of garlic, and saute in 1 tablespoon of butter until soft. Add roughly 8 ounces of chopped crimini mushrooms, and cook until softened and starting to color. Add a pinch of salt, and season with pepper. While the mushrooms and onions cook, halve 3/4 of a pint of grape tomatoes and reserve.
4. Whisk together 6 eggs and 1 cup of milk, and season with salt and pepper. Raid your cheese selection to see what you have left in the fridge. Grate whatever looks good — in our case some leftover Madrigal baby swiss that was used in several recipes, most notably the Most Amazing Mushroom Risotto EVER. Grate 2/3 of a cup of cheese.
5. When the mushrooms are cooked, sprinkle the mushroom-onion mixture, as well as the tomatoes, over the bread chunks. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Pour in the egg mixture, and press everything down into the bottom of the baking dish. This is literally the most disgusting combination of sound and feeling ever, but persevere. Top with the rest of the cheese.
6. At this point, you could cover the bread pudding, and stick it in the fridge overnight. Otherwise, you could put it directly into a 350-degree oven for 1 hour.
Call your friends up, and tell them to bring the mimosas.
Or, y’know, change out of your sweaty running clothes, thank the heavens for boyfriends who remember to put the food in the oven, and settle down on the couch with a plate of this and a cup of coffee. Your house will smell gorgeous and you will be eating a delicious meal. I suppose there might be more to life, but around 11am, I couldn’t think of a darn thing.
Yesterday I recieved an email that was a bit frantic, and a phone call that was downright freaked out. Josie, thats right, our very own improvisor, was accepted into the Brookly Cheese Experiment. Basically she has to make a cheese based recipe for about 300 people and hopefully it will be amazing enough to win a prize (lets face it…OF COURSE it will be amazing enough!). We spoke for a little while and tried to work out some of the details of her recipe because its actually one she hasn’t made before. I will let her give you the details, but basically she is making a pumpkin mac’n'cheese. Since she only has a couple days to prepare I offered to do a test run of the sauce she wants to use to help her out and pinpoint any problems that might arise. Basically it was just a pumpkin-white cheddar beschamel.
1 Tbsp Flour
2/3 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup whole milk
1 1/4 tbsp pumpkin
3/4 block of cheddar cheese -grated
cumin, cayenne, and nutmeg to taste
Its a pretty simple process, but you have to pay attention so that it doesn’t burn or over heat. Just melt the butter over low heat in a sauce pan and add the flour. Cook the roux until the flour and butter are fully mixed and form a sort of paste on the bottom of the pan.
Then just add the chicken stock and milk and raise the heat a little (still on medium low). Stir for about a minute and let the roux blend with the liquids, and then add the pumpkin and stir until the pumplin is fully incorporated into the sauce and it it thickens enough to coat your spoon. Add the spices until to taste*, but be careful not to throw your cayenne into the pan, because then you get to reach in and get it our before the plastic melts on the bottom of the pan, and its just a situation at that point… Poor Cayenne
Then stir in the cheese a little at a time until it is all fully mixed in to form a thick creamy sauce. You may want to re-spice it after you add the cheese to ensure that it tastes the way you want it to.
One thing that happened that I did not expect was the the pumpkin actually caused the sauce to get frothier than usual which I think will help it absorb into the pasta and not settle to the bottom as much.
*I have been told that ‘to taste’ is not really specific enough for some people, but really there is no other way to describe it. You just have to add some and then taste, and if it s not enough, add more. The trick is…the closer it gets to tasting right, the less you add so that you don’t over spice .
The final product
If the dish turns out even half as good as the sauce, Jo will definitely put up a good showing in her first major food competition . I am so excited for her and I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes on Sunday. She is an amazing cook so I know she will do great. GOOD LUCK JO!!!!
Thanks to all my loyal readers (if I have any…)