Chicken Fried Rice


Comfort food brings up all kinds of dishes: macaroni and cheese, meat loaf, casserole, matzo ball soup. French fries, ice cream, chocolate. These foods are comforting for lots of people. But comfort food is so subjective. What comforts someone, might be strange and unappetizing for someone else.

What makes food comfortable and familiar is oftentimes a complex interplay between memory, taste, nostalgia, personal history, ethnicity, and emotion. There is no existing formula to make things comforting; they either are or they aren’t.

Despite the subjectivity of comfort food, I do think that in order to be comforting, there are certain qualities that must be present:

1. The dish is usually warm. Sno-cones, for example,  evoke nostalgia. You can crave a Sno-Cone. Do you want a Sno-Cone to comfort you when you have had a disaster day at work? Probably not.

Ice cream maybe, but ice cream has enough fat to have a luxurious mouthfeel, negating the fact that it is cold.

2. It’s usually filling. True comfort should relax you. It should be full of soft middles and rounded edges. It should warm you from your core, and make you feel full and satisfied. It should make you feel safe, cosseted in familiar smells and textures.

3. It’s usually full of salt and fat, or fat and sugar. Despite efforts to negate our very human attraction to calories, millions of years of biology and evolution have made us creatures who crave fattening foods simply because they are fattening.

4. Comfort food should above all taste good. It should hit all the sweet spots, and tick all of the boxes.

If you had to say something about comfort food, it makes you happy to eat it. It takes your stress away. It transports you to a simpler, less complicated time. Recently, there was a NYT article about Filipino cruise ship workers who pull into Red Hook when their luxury liners dock in New York City. It’s really a great little story about how food can connect you, and make you feel closer to home.

And that is precisely what fried rice does for me. My mom would make fried rice for me after school, after long speech meets, after coming home too late, after long hours at summer jobs, after exhausting semesters at college, after months abroad. She would use leftover rice, and whatever else was in the fridge. It didn’t matter if it was some extra pork, or beef, shrimp, or chicken from the night before. Sometimes she had some broccoli, some carrots, some peas. Sometimes she just had some scallions, which — let’s be honest — she always has.

Left with some extra soy-poached chicken and steamed rice myself after dinner with Tomoko, I decided to do the same.

Fried rice has no recipe. What I do when I am just making it just for myself is I scramble two eggs in a skillet, breaking up the curds into smaller bits. When they are done, I remove them from the skillet and set them aside. I add about a tablespoon of vegetable oil to the same pan, and set it over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, I add the rice, the chicken, and the eggs. I let the everything begin to brown and sizzle, stirring and tossing the ingredients together all the while. I add a few splashes of good soy sauce, continuing to move all the ingredients around with a spatula. Once most of the liquid has evaporated, I add a handful of chopped scallions. I toss everything together so that the scallions are evenly distributed throughout the rice. Then I eat, and think of home.

Sliced Filet Mignon with Fava Beans and Radishes


This is another recipe is from Epicurious. It is terrific for spring. I’ve modified the recipe a little bit, but kept the primary components.

I like to do steak in a pan the Tom Colicchio-way, basting the meat in butter as it cooks. Factor in about one steak per person.

I prefer my radishes crunchy, so I wouldn’t recommend letting them sit in the dressing for as long as the original recipe states.

I love fava beans. Get them fresh while you can (now is the season). They are extremely labor intensive to shuck and peel, but it is worth it. Here is a handy video clip to show you how if you have never cooked with fava beans before. Just ignore the cooking times that the cook in the clip recommends.

I never really measure out my oil or vinegar for the vinaigrette . . . If pressed, I would suggest that 3:1 ratio of oil to vinegar.

Ingredients:

About a 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

A splash of apple cider vinegar

Dijon mustard to taste (I use about a teaspoon and a half)

About 1/3 cup of fresh fava beans (from about 6-7 pods)

2 radishes, thinly sliced

2 filet mignon steaks, about 5-7 ounces each

Canola oil

Butter

Salt and pepper

About a tablespoon of chopped chives

Crumbled, soft goat cheese, or chèvre

How to prepare:

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, and mustard until they form an emulsion. Adjust the seasoning to your taste.

If using fresh favas, you will first need to shuck the beans from the pods. Discard the empty pods, and blanch the beans in boiling water for about 2 minutes — any longer than that, and they will be mushy. Have an ice bath ready to shock the beans. By submerging the beans in ice water after draining them, you will retain their beautiful green color. When the beans are cool, you will need to remove the waxy outer-covering of each one. If you nick the end of a bean with your finger nail, you can easily squeeze the bean out of its peel.

Toss the fava beans and the radishes in the vinaigrette. You want them evenly-coated with the dressing.

2. Pat the steaks dry with paper towels, and season them liberally with kosher salt and pepper. In a heavy pan, heat the canola oil over high heat until it is almost smoking. You’ll be able to see when the oil is up to temperature when its surface begins to shimmer. Sear the meat on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Reduce the heat to medium-low. You must reduce the heat to prevent the butter from burning on contact with the pan. Add a good knob of butter to the pan. Tilt the pan and, using a spoon, baste the steaks continually with the melted butter and oil mixture, flipping them halfway through cooking. Continue to cook the steaks until you have achieved your desired level of doneness.

Transfer the steaks to a cutting board. Let them rest a few minutes before slicing them.
Bear in mind that the steaks will continue to cook a little bit while resting, so you may want to keep this in mind and remove them from the pan when they are a little bit rarer than how you want to eat them.

3. Toss the fava beans and the radishes with the chives. Divide the fava bean and radish mixture between two plates. Top each portion with one of the sliced filet mignons. Drizzle some of the vinaigrette, and sprinkle on some of the crumbled chèvre over each steak. Serve immediately.

Penne with Tuna, Basil, and Lemon Zest

This recipe comes from Epicurious. It is a terrific example of how the fewest number of ingredients, and the simplest preparation, can taste really divine.

For this, you’re going to want to find some really good tuna. Not the water-packed stuff, but the luscious olive oil-packed kind. The tuna belly, line or pole-caught stuff. Preferably from Italy, or Spain. You want the stuff that tapas bars in Spain serve out of a can with a toothpick, and charge you money for.

The best tuna recommendations can be found here. This is a great little recipe to have in your repertoire. Tuna is a good staple to have in the pantry, and dinner can be on the table in just a few delicious minutes.

Ingredients:

1/2 pound of penne

The zest and juice of one lemon

1 clove of garlic, grated

1 big handful of basil leaves, coarsely cut into strips

6 ounces of good quality, olive oil-packed tuna

How to prepare:

1. Set a large pot of heavily salted water to boil. When it starts to boil, add the penne.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, grated garlic, and tuna with the oil from the can or the jar. If you think there might be too much olive oil, pour off some of it into a small bowl or ramekin. You can always add more as needed. As you combine the ingredients together, break up any larger chunks of tuna into smaller one.

3. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and add it to the bowl full of the other ingredients. Toss everything together so that the pasta is well-coated with the sauce. Add the basil, and toss again. Adjust the seasoning if needed, and serve immediately.

Sautéed Fiddlehead Ferns with Garlic and Lemon


I have a food confession to make: I have been so busy that I haven’t been to the Greenmarket at all this season. Blame it on work, blame it on the incessant rain, blame it on the suffocating heat and humidity, but the real blame goes to me.

I have been a very lazy eater of late.

But spring vegetables are an excellent reason to get off of my duff. Since I missed ramp season (argh!), I wasn’t going to let the fiddlehead fern pass me by.

Fiddlehead ferns are the unfurled leaves of a young fern. They are harvested around this time, before they unroll and spread out as a new frond.

You blink and you miss the season.

So this is time-sensitive post, people!

I love them simply cooked: blanched, sautéed in olive oil and butter with garlic, and spritzed with lemon before serving.

Be sure to clean the ferns well before blanching. Swish them around in a big bowl of water, trimming the ends a little if they need it. After boiling them briefly in salted water, plunge them into an ice cold bath to stop the cooking and preserve their wonderful color. As the fiddleheads drain, heat a little bit of olive oil with a small knob of butter in a sauté pan with some finely minced garlic. When the garlic begins to sizzle, add the ferns. Shower them with sea salt, and sauté them until they start to brown slightly. A quick squeeze of lemon over the top before serving. They are fabulous.

Oven-Roasted Asparagus


If I had to say what my absolute favorite way to cook vegetables was, it would be roasting.

I’ve roasted just about everything: beets, cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, parsnips, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, carrots, broccoli rabe, tomatoes.

There is something about roasting that concentrates flavors, makes everything taste better. Roasting turns eh-okay tomatoes into something great. Vegetables emerge from the oven with a little char, and a lot of attitude — the good kind.

Now that it is springtime, asparagus spears have been big at the market.

And I love roasted asparagus the most.

To roast any vegetable, I set my oven between 400° to 425°. I wash my vegetables well, cutting them up into relatively equal pieces so that they roast evenly. How big should the pieces be? The fabulous Judith Jones had the best suggestion for this: cut your vegetables into the size you want to eat.

She might have stolen that from Julia.

For asparagus, you will need to trim the woody, inedible bottom ends from the rest of the stalks. How do you this? Hold the base of the stalk firmly and bend. The stalk should snap right at the point between the tough end and the tender one. To visualize this, here is a handy video clip. Discard the ends.

Evenly spread the vegetables out on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Drizzle good olive oil over them. Sprinkle them liberally with with flaky salt (I like Maldon salt), and add a few turns of the pepper mill. With your hands, toss the vegetables together to make sure that they are all coated with the oil and the seasoning. Spread them back out in an even layer on the sheet.

The roasting time varies depending on what you are roasting, and how big your vegetable pieces are. Asparagus cooks fairly quickly, no longer than 10 minutes. You want to remove the stalks from the oven when they are slightly blistered and charred — that goes for all vegetables, except for eggplants, tomatoes, and mushrooms (you want those a little more roasted). I would say experiment. Check on your vegetables after every 7 or 8 minutes. You will figure out eventually what times work best for you.

After your vegetables are roasted, transfer them to another dish. The great thing about roasted vegetables is that you can even serve them at room temperature, which is great because you can roast them ahead of time and not worry about them while you are finishing cooking the rest of your meal.

Sometimes, I like to grate some Parmesan on top before serving, or add a spritz of lemon juice.

Cavatappi with Pepperoni and Green Bell Pepper


Hello Middle-America, how are ya’?

This recipe from Food and Wine was a good way to use up a pile of leftover pepperoni in the fridge. It was fast, it was easy, and it tasted almost exactly like a Supreme Pizza Hut pan pizza without the cheese. Whoo hoo!

Ingredients:

8 ounces of cavatappi

4 ounces of pepperoni, sliced in half

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

16 ounces of canned diced tomatoes

Salt and pepper

How to prepare:

1. Prepare the pasta according to directions. Make sure to reserve some of the pasta cooking water before draining the cavatappi.

2. While the pasta is boiling, heat the pepperoni slices in a large skillet over medium heat until they just begin to brown. Remove the slices from the skillet and transfer them to a paper towel-covered plate to drain. Wipe out the excess fat from the skillet with another paper towel.

3. In the same skillet, heat the tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and the green pepper. Sauté the vegetables until the onions are translucent and the peppers are beginning to soften. Add the minced garlic to the skillet and cook for about 30 seconds longer. Now add the diced tomatoes to the vegetables. Stir to combine everything before covering the pan with a lid. Lower the heat and simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes, adding some of the pasta water if the sauce looks like it needs it.

4. After the sauce has thickened, adjust the seasoning to your taste. Toss the pasta and the pepperoni with the sauce. Serve.

Tomato and Parsley Bruschetta


I love this. I usually only ever make it when we have guests, but today I decided to spoil myself. It is so easy and so tasty. It will be even better once it’s summer and tomatoes are in season.

Ingredients:

1 pint of grape tomatoes

2 tablespoons of fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped

1 small clove of garlic, finely minced

Olive oil

Maldon salt

1 baguette or ciabatta loaf

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 450°.

2. Cut each grape tomato into eights. You can also dice up about a pound of any tomato that you want — just be sure to seed the tomatoes before dicing them.

3. Combine the tomatoes, parsley, and garlic in a bowl. Drizzle with very good extra- virgin olive oil. Shower with a generous sprinkle of Maldon salt. Toss everything together and let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes.

4. In the meanwhile, cut the bread into 1/2 inch-thick slices. Brush one side with olive oil. Toast the bread in the oven until the slices are golden brown. Remove the bread from the oven and let the slices cool.

5. Once the bread has cooled off, mound the tomato mixture on top of each slice. Serve.

Hamburger, Grape Tomato, and Red Onion Pizza


I got this idea from Martha Stewart and it has become one of my favorite things to make with ground beef from our CSA. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s delicious. On the table in less than 20 minutes too.

Now that’s what I call good fast food!

Ingredients:

Pizza dough, about 1 pound of dough will make two 12-inch pizzas, or one really big pizza

Marinara sauce

Low-moisture mozzarella cheese or sliced provolone

1/2 pound of grass-fed, very lean ground beef

12-14 grape tomatoes, halved

1/2 a small red onion, thinly sliced into rings

Maldon salt

Special equipment:

A large baking sheet

Parchment paper

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 450°.

2. You can easily make your own pizza dough, but I rarely ever do it anymore since I can buy reasonably good, organic frozen dough at the market. In a hurry, I have also been known to run down to the nearest slice joint and buy their dough. Most pizzerias will sell it to you, you just have to ask.

I know. Gasp! I don’t make it from scratch? No. On special occasions, maybe. But if I’m tired and hungry, no. And that’s okay!

Once your dough ball is made, defrosted, or acquired, you need to stretch it out. Start by flattening your dough ball into a disk. By flouring both sides, you avoid having to flour your countertop. Any hard surface will do to stretch out the dough as long as it is flat, clean, and dry. Using your fingertips, start pushing down on the dough, roughly making the border that will become your crust. Now begin using the palm of your hand to pull the dough away from you and away from its center while turning it. At this point, you can try tossing it up in the air. But every time I try doing that, I end up looking like a fool with dough on the floor. Instead, you can position your knuckles under the dough and start stretching it out off of your flat surface. This super helpful video will give you a better idea what to do (contrary to the video, you don’t actually need a marble or stainless steel surface. And just flour is okay if you have no semolina lying around).

2. Now that your dough is nice and stretched out, position it on your parchment paper- lined baking sheet. Egads! No pizza stone? No tiles or bricks wrapped in aluminum foil lining your oven to achieve optimal heat?

No. When I can afford a real, wood-burning Neapolitan oven outside my villa then I will do things like they do in the old country.

3. Spread your marinara sauce around your stretched out dough. I buy this too. I really like the sauces from Sauces n’ Love. They’re wonderful. The pizza sauce is good. Very good.

4. Top the pizza with either the mozzarella or the provolone. I like the flavor of the provolone better with the ground beef, but I love the melty creaminess of mozzarella. Try one, or the other, or both. Maybe at the same time.

5. Scatter the onion rings, halved tomatoes, and RAW ground beef over the pizza.

6. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, longer if you want a more browned crust. I kind of prioritize though: absent the hardware and capability to get a really excellent crust, I aim for just really excellently cooked beef. Shower your finished pie with Maldon salt, slice, and serve.

Finnish Ruis Bread with Sliced Cheddar and Cucumber


Last week’s trip the the New Amsterdam Market yielded all kinds of goodies. A smoked duck breast here, a bushel of Winesap apples there, and a couple rounds of Finnish Ruis bread from Nordic Breads rounded out our market basket.

Chewy and deliciously dense, these Finnish rye breads are perfect for all kinds of tasty toppers. Following the example of Nordic Breads’ bakers, we smeared lightly toasted halves of bread with good unsalted butter, topping this with thin slices of cloth-bound cheddar cheese and cucumber. Each round is reasonably thin, so it is a good idea to cut each round in halves or quarters before splitting them. In a pinch, I would imagine that a good, dark, heavy rye bread would do. Once assembled and finished with a little Maldon salt, these sandwiches make a very wonderful snack or light supper.

Penne with Roasted Chicken and Parsley


I have never liked the term “leftovers.” To me, “leftovers” imply scraps. Superfluous remnants, really. Unwanted and unused remainders. Surplus.

But what remains after one dinner can be the start of the glorious next — sometimes a meal even more treasured than the former. This is the case with this dish.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore roast chicken, but what I love almost more is what follows the roast chicken dinner. I take the carcass and pick off every wonderful and delicious bit that I can. I save the juices and fat in a separate container. The next day, I remove the top layer of cold fat from the juices, which have now solidified into a beautiful amber jelly. I keep the fat for another day when I want to roast potatoes.

Perfectly al dente penne gets tossed with the morsels of meat. The added jellied juices melt into a luscious sauce. A good handful of freshly chopped parsley adds both freshness and crunch.

The result? The most chicken-y pasta in the world. A rich and dense meatiness permeates every mouthful, amplifying the flavor in what was already extremely flavorful chunks of chicken. Believe me, nothing is left over.