Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lentil Goat Cheese Burgers with Citrus Supreme Salad

Since all my previous memories have been replaced by conch salad (a variation on ceviche), pina coladas served in coconuts and sunshine in the Bahamas, this will be brief. For the aforementioned movie night's main course, I made Lentil Goat Cheese Burgers and Citrus Supreme Salad (the recipe is at the bottom).

The burgers are really simple to put together, but be sure to leave enough time to prepare them as you must cook the lentils, chill the mixture, etc. all before "grilling" or in my case sauteing them. The burgers are smooth on the palate, filling without being heavy and reasonable to make. While Leslie's Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette was pleasant I would venture to say the burgers would still be tasty without it. I'll definitely make them again, especially since I have yellow lentils leftover.

The Citrus Supreme Salad is great too, although it requires significantly more prep time than the burgers. I love the crisp bite the sliced red onion provides in contrast to the citrus' sweetness and the avocado's smoothness. I think it is one of the first things I've made with a fail-proof attractive presentation.

Citrus Supreme Salad (from the Fundamental Knife Skills class worksheets)
Serves 4
  • 2 Navel Oranges
  • 2 Grapefruits
  • 1 Avocado
  • 1 Red Onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups Baby Greens
  • 2 tbsp. Fresh Mint, chiffonade
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt and White Pepper to Taste
Supreme citrus fruit. Squeeze carcasses into separate bowl, reserving juice. Set supreme and juice aside. Clean and dry greens. Whisk one part oil with one part reserved juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Adjust acidity accordingly. Cut avocado into slices and coat with extra reserved juice to avoid discoloration. Dress greens with citrus dressing. Place 1 cup of greens onto each plate. Layer with citrus supreme and onion, and top with avocado. Garnish with fresh mint chiffonade and serve.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mango-Chile Cupcakes with Key Lime Cream Cheese Frosting

Saturday Leslie made Mango-Chile Cupcakes with Key Lime Cream Cheese Frosting for our dinner, Wedding Crashers and Saturday Night Live night. I had forgotten how hilarious Wedding Crashers is. I love that movie and Zac Efron on SNL wasn't half bad.

We were doubtful throughout the baking process... The batter looked awfully wet and tasted like like a muffin - almost healthy - which cupcakes obviously never are. The frosting required a lot more confectionery sugar than stated in the recipe. And with the addition of all that sugar would the lime flavor hold? Then they required 15 additional minutes of baking time. All our worries for naught. The cupcakes didn't rise evenly, which apparently made frosting harder than normal, but they tasted good. By the time we ate our second "mupcake"* they tasted great and they tasted even better a day later. These cupcakes are addictive.

The cupcake is like a muffin - very dense nad moist with a fruit flavor that you can't forget thanks to the mango chunks. The chili flavor is very subtle, so much so that I would consider adding more in the future. The frosting is divine; as Leslie said while we were eating it from the bowl it is just like key lime pie filling. If you make these be careful not to over frost or you'll obscure the mango flavor of the cupcake.

This summer we plan to create a variation on this recipe for peach mupcakes with a marscapone cheese frosting. We just have to figure out how to make the cupcakes a touch lighter. Who's in?

And, yes, we used the leftover mango nectar with vodka and soda to make cocktails.

*Leslie came up with the term mupcake to describe them and it is/was perfect.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fundamental Knife Skills

Last month I took my first cooking class: Fundamental Knife Skills at the Whole Foods Bowery Culinary Center. While I knew my cooking would benefit from learning knife skills I wasn't sure what to expect going into the class. However, I did know that a $65 three-hour lesson including dinner was a great deal, less expensive than the Institute for Culinary Education's Recreational Division where I'm taking Fine Cooking on Sundays starting next month. In fact if I had known the Culinary Center was going to start a series of Fundamental Kitchen Techniques Courses I might have done theirs instead. Either way, I'm excited and nervous for May. Back to the topic at hand...

The class was comprised of 9 students, mostly couples, and 2 very knowledgeable instructors. We each had a station with a cutting board, an 8" Chef's Knife, a Paring Knife, a waste bowl and another bowl with a piece of citrus fruit, a carrot, half a leek, an onion, a clove of garlic, a sweet potato/root vegetable and a tomato. Christine Carroll, who runs the Culinary Center, led the class. We went over knife safety, sharpening, watched a precision cutting demo for each item in the bowl, did guided practice and then ate a delicious meal of Bass and Tomato Compote Baked in Parchment, Maple Roasted Root Vegetables with Goat Cheese; Avocado, Red Onion and Citrus Salad made from what we cut.

I learned that I held my knife wrong (as of Sunday night I have officially blistered my hand holding it properly), that the knives in my apartment are SUPER dull and we don't even own the proper tools for sharpening them (a steel is key) and most importantly how to cut properly. We also learned that to be efficient you should cut everything in stages i.e. peel the outside off of all the onions, halve all the onions, then get into dicing them, etc. I always did each onion fully before moving to the next one. Apparently this is not a speedy method.

It is going to take plenty of practice and, more arm muscle for things like sweet potatoes, but I walked away with an info packet and more knowledge. I only wish I had been less self conscious in the class as I probably would have learned more and asked a few more questions that way. Oh well. Practice makes perfect with that too.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spring Is Coming?

The Greenmarket had onion chives and ramps this weekend. The trees have buds and sometimes blooms. I see the signs of Spring, but it is still in the 30s way too often. Maybe some sort of weather miracle will occur and I'll return from the Bahamas to more warmth or at the very least the next Spring vegetable: Asparagus. Mmm.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Friday night Meg and I decided to dress up and treat ourselves to a nice dinner. This week was great, but last week pre-DC I was a bit all over the place and I needed a palate cleanser. Our evening at Hearth was fantastically refreshing, although maybe more so without the East Village bar hopping afterward (Cheap Shots was, um, interesting. Aces was better. I'm awful as Skee-Ball though.).

Unsurprisingly, Hearth's decor is warm: red walls, low lighting with candles and wooden tables with lots of room. It was surprisingly loud at capacity, although not overwhelmingly so as we could still carry a conversation without yelling. The service started slow, in spite of our timely seating at 9:00p, but was very attentive yet unobtrusive for most of the meal. Our waitress was very bubbly and had an instant rapport with Meg. It was funny to watch.

Hearth's wine list is very comprehensive i.e. overwhelming. We finally settled on Yellow + Blue's 2007 Malbec thanks to "Wine in the Box" by Justin Timberlake (page 17 here) and Meg's love of Malbec. It is supposedly more eco-friendly due to its Ceres-like juice box packaging and contains 1,000 mL rather than the standard 750 mL. Its rich, smooth flavor took boxed wine to a new level. It also brought up memories of the MTV movie 2gether and one of its hit songs: You + Me = US (Calculus). Ha.

Our meal started with several slices of a hearty, sesame-crusted bread and butter (what I was hungry!) and a complimentary shot of warm fava bean soup, which tasted similar to lentil soup. Both items were delicious.

As I'm never able to resist a deal and have been curious about goat, I ordered the Cucina Povera i.e. their prix fixe menu of humble cooking. It started with an Escarole Salad with Walnuts, Red Onion and Aged Pecorino. I liked the ingredients and the presentation, however, the dressing was strangely sweet and distracting. The Braised Goat was better - a generous portion accompanied by Rapini, Cannellini Beans and Gremolata. The goat had an earthy flavor reminiscent of rabbit or venison, but was dry and the tomato-based Gremolata and creamy Cannellini Beans, the real stars of the course, could only help so much.

While I wouldn't go out of my way to order my starter or main course again Meg's were very impressive. The Pork Terrine was moist with a concentrated, savory flavor and was presented nicely with colorful Pickled Vegetables and House-Made Mustard. But it was nothing compared to the complexity of the Veal and Ricotta Meatballs. My taste melted in my mouth - the flavors were like a wave. The Meatballs came with Ricotta Ravioli, Parmesan and Parsley.

I also loved, loved, loved the dessert we substituted for the one included with my prix fixe: Semolina Pudding with Blood Orange Soup and Pistachios. Semolina Pudding is reminiscent of Panna Cotta, if it contained plumped up raisins, very smooth, creamy and slightly sweet. The Blood Orange soup's rich citrus flavor really made the dessert pop - think of a very decadent marmalade soup with decorative pistachios.

I would definitely revisit Hearth one day. For now though I'll probably continue to vary my self-indulgent dinners as my nonprofit salary is limiting.

Location: 403 East 12th Street (the entrance is between 1st Avenue and Avenue A - closer to First)
Hours: Sun-Thurs 6:00p-10:00p, Fri-Sat 6:00p-11:00p
Cost: $$$