Friday, November 27, 2009

Lemon, Garlic and Herb Roasted Chicken and Persian Sour Cherry Saffron Rice

Since attending my friend and sorority-grandma, Sheri's, 2005 wedding, I've been obsessed with Persian/Iranian rice dishes. I love their rich flavors and texture. "Marmalade" rice is my favorite but I have yet to find a recipe for it...possibly because no one else calls it marmalade rice. When I spotted Jaden of Steamy Kitchen's Persian Sour Cherry Saffron Rice Polow, almost equally as long ago, I knew I wanted to make it. It was just a matter of finding sour cherries in light syrup and the inspiration to take the time to do it.

This recipe isn't quick but is worth the time if you like buttery, slightly crispy cherry flavored rice (mine wasn't sour). I halved the recipe as I only need so much decadence daily. Or rather I halved everything except the butter and cooking time. Needless to say the rice was a bit darker than usual and dripping with butter. Edible but not ideal. I used a paper towel to soak up some of the butter and made the remainder of the basmati rice to mix with the polow so I didn't die from clogged arteries. I should have just stuck to the recipe. In case you decide to halve the recipe, hopefully with greater success, my 24-oz jar of sour cherries contained approximately 1 cup of juice and 2 cups of cherries.

I made Oregano-Lemon Chicken with roasted rainbow carrots and red onion last week and liked how little work was required for juicy, well browned chicken but found the result too sweet. So I adjusted the recipe for this week making it more savory and roasting the decorative lemon slices from carmelized to slightly burnt (oops). I enjoyed its equally rich flavor in contrast with the sweet rice. This is probably my favorite roasted chicken preparation to date.

The combined dishes were a little sinful, very flavorful and definitely will be kept in mind for future dinner parties or movie-food nights.

Oregano-Lemon Chicken
Adapted from Taste of Home via

6 chicken thighs
3 tablespoons lemon juice (1 whole lemon is plenty.)
Lemon Slices
1 tablespoon honey (I used Buckwheat, which I own because dark honey has more antioxidants than lighter honey per SuperFoodsRx.)
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
1.5 tablespoons rosemary, chopped finely
5 springs of oregano leaves plucked

1. Place the chicken in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. x 2-in. baking dish. Combine the lemon juice, honey and oil; pour half over over chicken.Sprinkle garlic, rosemary and oregano over chicken. Pour remaining marinate over top.
2. Bake, uncovered at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 180 degrees F and chicken juices run clear, basting occasionally with pan juices.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pear Clafoutis with Mint and Bacon Crumbles

I have a mild obsession with clafoutis. It's so easy, light and delicious (if you use lowfat milk in place of heavy cream) that I want to eat it all the time. Thus the decision to attempt converting this pear clafoutis into last week's breakfast. There is a savory way to make it but I had to have this one. The pears were just so pretty and they are in season.

I convinced myself that adding 3 pieces of crumbled turkey bacon, 1 tablespoon of chopped mint and decreasing the sugar by a tablespoon would make it less dessert-like. That logic was as flawed as convincing myself that the boys I made out with repeatedly while drunk in college and I sort of dated. It doesn't work in reality but the fantasy is enjoyable while it lasts. 

This clafoutis presents beautifully and like Nicole at Baking Bites, who developed it, says would be excellent for brunch. I do think it could use less sugar though as the pears, or at least my Bosc pears, are already super sweet on their own. Maybe with more bacon and less sugar there is still hope for it being an acceptable breakfast option? Because every bite made me smile and feel like I was getting away with something and there has to be some merit to starting your day off with that feeling.

If you haven't sliced and cored pears before, I discovered the easiest method to remove the core while retaining the shape is to use a melon baller to scoop out the seeds and then pull out the fibers. Thank you, internet.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cupcake Tea at the Ritz-Carlton

A few weekends ago I enjoyed The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park's Cupcake Tea with Alpha Gamma Delta's New York City Junior Circle. It was a sweet, Sunday afternoon treat in their elegantly appointed Star Lounge. Since we ended up with a party of eight, instead of the fifteen (or so) originally planned for, the Ritz-Carlton's staff let us squeeze around one coffee table making it much easier to converse.

Cupcake Tea includes a pot of tea/non-alcoholic beverage and a pre-set seasonally selected collection of five small cupcakes per person. The moist cupcakes are beautifully presented with a generous amount of frosting, which varied by type of cupcake, and cute coordinated wrappers.

We had Red Velvet, Pistachio, Strawberry Shortcake, Valrhona Chocolate and Coconut Cream cupcakes. My favorite was the pistachio, which was less sweet, full-flavored and light. The Red Velvet also impressed me - it didn't taste like food coloring and the sweetness was cut by a traditional cream cheese frosting. I liked their cakes better than the frostings, which all left a film on my lips.

While receiving five cupcakes makes this is a good deal, they were overwhelming to consume in one sitting. What I didn't realize was they will pack up the leftovers for you to take home... I recommend that and considering milk as your beverage of choice. My Pear Green tea was light and delicious but combined with cupcakes created a stomachache that wouldn't quit.

To make your life and the staff's lives easier, I would recommend Cupcake Tea for parties of 5 or less. Make sure to allocate a generous amount of time to enjoy the sweets and a leisurely chat. The Ritz-Carlton staff does not rush, which is both good and bad. 

Location: 50 Central Park West (at Avenue of the Americas)
Hours: Sat and Sun 11-2p, Reservations required
Cost: $$ ($25 per person plus tax and gratuity.)

It was a very full table but the Ritz-Carlton's staff made it work.

I loved the cupcake wrapper in the middle! Too cute.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Celery, Date and Feta Salad

After seeing abundant celery stalks for a great price at the Greenmarket, I knew I had to make something with them. When I stumbled on this Celery, Date and Feta Salad I decided it was fate. Especially exciting was its use of celery leaves, which I usually throw away - embarrassingly wasteful but true, and delicious dates, my obsession since Spain.

As usual it seemed simple enough based on the ingredient list, the only part I read before shopping; it probably is if you are an expert at de-ribbing celery, something the recipe implies you can do with a knife. Maybe if you are a professional. Every time I worked a rib loose and started to pull the rib broke. Celery ribs are a little smaller in diameter than wax-coated dental floss and they don't stand up to tugging as well as dental floss does... I've never loved flossing and de-ribbing celery wasn't ranking much higher on my list of things I like to do.

My frustration led me to YouTube, thank God,where I waded through some videos and learned a quicker method. Basically, you take the stalk of celery and bend it in half with the curve facing away from you until you see the ribs pulling apart and it starts to snap. Then gently and firmly pull one half downward. This will pull out lots of the ribs at once! The results likely are not as pretty as the suggested mysterious knife method, but it gets the job done creating the curls on my cutting board pictured below.

This salad is a delicious salty-sweet mixture with lots of crunch thanks to the celery. It's too much work for everyday eating and it certainly doesn't hold up well for leftovers, but it would be fantastic for a meal with guests. Should I make it for guests, I will probably decrease the dressing's oil a bit as I'm not fond of my lips feeling slick after eating salad and reserve the feta to top each serving and improve the presentation. If I am overambitious, which happens all the time with food, and make it for myself again I'll remember to keep the dressing on the side and dress each portion when I plan to eat it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dragon Roll, Decorative Spiral Sushi and Nigiri Sushi

The November 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was brought to you and me by Audax of Audax Artifex and Rose of The Bite Me Kitchen. They chose sushi as the challenge.

I made sushi randomly a few times in 2003 but had not revisited it since unless I was eating out or if someone else (i.e. a Valentine one year) was making it for me. Without Audax and Rose's challenge and very impressive PDF containing detailed instructions with thorough research and visuals (it can be downloaded here) I doubt my bamboo mats and wooden spoons ever would have seen the light of day again.

Sushi is tasty but unless you are an expert it requires a bit of time. I advise dedicating several hours to this project as it isn't as short one. I started at 6 pm on Sunday and finished around 11:30 pm. I also recommend doing this as a sushi party or having friends over for dinner; I made way too much food for one person and while the leftovers are allright sushi is clearly better fresh!

It was very excited to learn how to make spiral rolls (so many possibilities here) and dragon rolls (my favorite)! The dragon roll video, which I watched after cutting my avocado length-wise rather than horizontally post-split, is very helpful. Next time I make dragon rolls, I'll cut the avocado more thinly and in the proper direction, but I made it work with the thicker cuts I had already made. It really goes to show that sushi is flexible and has lots of room for creativity.

My spiral roll used tuna, red pepper, cucumber and persimmon. In the future, I will definitely bulk up the fillings and be more experimental. I've seen some beautiful, non-fish versions from other Daring Cooks and in a few days you'll probably be able to a slideshow of everyone's work over on The Daring Kitchen website.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I'm a lazy blogger but when a restaurant is as good as Graffiti I have to commit to post. Last weekend Vika and Rafe treated me to two amazing belated birthday celebrations: dinner at Graffiti and hiking to Anthony's Nose in Bear Mountain, NY.

Grafitti takes your typical intimate NYC restaurant and shrinks it even further. Table of 4 elsewhere? Here it seats two couples and my party of three. Think your kitchen is small? Try orchestrating a whole dining experiences in a galley kitchen so narrow that the bathroom behind it has no choice but to place the sink behind the toilet. But it is a little bit of heaven.

Once the chef, who also served as host, carefully arranged us at the table and took our orders, he and his female counterpart were friendly, efficient and provided detailed descriptions (i.e. sweet, crunch, spice, etc.) of what each dishes’ different elements added to the overall flavor when presenting the food. The cuisine is innovative, Indian-inspired and served family-style for easy sharing.

We started with the Green Mango Paneer, a savory, spicy serving of cheese cubes accompanied by soft flat bread rectangles that tasted of anise. Vika ordered the Chili Pork Dumplings with Grapefruit Confit. The dumplings were delicate and juicy topped with tiny crisps of chickpea flour; I couldn’t taste the grapefruit outright but the dumplings were slightly sweet.

Next was the Zucchini Hummus Pizza, creamy and light on a puff pastry base with a kick from an unexpected topping of wasabi peas. Thanks to my obsession with “sea marshmallows” we had the Pickled Ginger Scallops with Candied Red Chili after that. They were thinly sliced and topped with spicy, sweet ginger and crunchy lentils for a contrast. For me, the ginger overwhelmed the scallops’ flavor at times but they were cooked perfectly.

Our entrees were the Cumin Eggplant Buns with a Thyme Fennel Relish and the Graffitti Burger, Garlic Fingerling Potatoes and Chipotle Mayonnaise. The buns were creamy with a melt-in-your-mouth savory, warm filling complemented by the fennel relish’s cooling crunch. The flavored lingered nicely on my palate. The Graffiti Burger was spicy and succulent flavored with anise, cumin and a mint relish that I couldn’t taste. It was probably my least favorite dish (still good!), especially since the fries prompted a discussion of the oil used rather than their flavor.

We tried all three desserts: Coconut Macaroons with Dulce de Leche, Warm Truffle Almond Strawberries with Pepper Ice Cream and a Hazelnut Chocolate Caviar Cupcake with Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. The macaroons were very hot and tastier than I remembered with just a hint of Dulce de Leche. The strawberries were most inventive and managed to please my palate, in spite of truffle meaning truffle oil, which for some reason reminds me of feet. My favorite was rich, warm chocolate cupcake topped with crispy caviar. It was simple and satisfying. All of the desserts were a sweet, but not too sweet finish to a great meal.

I highly recommend this restaurant. They accommodate vegetarian and gluten-free diets per their menu, so you have nothing to stop you. Reservations are recommended. Thanks Melanie and Eric for the recommendation!

Location: 224 East 10th Street (between 2nd and 1st Avenues)
Hours: Sun and Tues 5:30-10:30p, Wed-Sat 5:30-11:45p
Cost: $$

Photo courtesy of Vika: She, Rafe and I at the top of Anthony's Nose

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Spiced Pumpkin, Lentil and Goat Cheese Salad

When I saw this beautifully photographed blog entry featuring Spiced Pumpkin, Lentil and Goat Cheese Salad I knew I had to make it. Its ingredients were perfect for the cooling weather and it had a perfect autumnal appearance.

Working with an entire pumpkin intimidated me, even though I've hacked my way through cubing and peeling butternut, acorn and other squashes. My memories of arduous pumpkin carving with my sorority turned out to be greatly exaggerated, at least in the face of my more recent experiences cutting squash. It turns out (sugar) pumpkin is MUCH easier to cut than squash. So don't be afraid to try making this at home.

With the exception of the smoky flavor, which apparently is key and what I bought a brand new special kind of paprika for from Whole Foods, I love this dish. It is creamy, salty, sweet and slightly bitter in one fell swoop, meaning it manages to satisfy every possible craving I can have at once while still being healthy. My only changes were using wild arugula and tossing the pumpkin seeds in the leftover oil, paprika, salt, etc. mixture, roasting them in the oven for the last 10-ish minutes and topping the salad with them for added crunch.

N.b. You can get the special smoked paprika from the Fruit Exchange (cash only) in Chelsea Market for $1.50 in a plastic tub instead of paying around $5.00 for the cute, hot pink tin at Whole Foods. I need to remember that place is the best deal for spice purchases!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Peach Mupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting/Cointreau-Peach Buttercream

On September 9, Leslie posted about our Spain planning/Ratatouille viewing where she served Thomas Keller's very delicious and complex Ratatouille recipe and I brought Peach Mupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting or Cointreau-Peach Buttercream. These mupcakes are a delicious adaptation of the Mango Chile Cupcakes with Key Lime Frosting from April's movie night. All 8 tasters agreed.

Clearly the recipe is out of season but I suspect using frozen peaches would work and two orange events were last weekend, Halloween and the ING NYC marathon, making it kind of timely. The cupcakes are moist, light and not overly sweet. Mascarpone Frosting** lets the cupcakes flavor shine without being overly sweet. Unfortunately it quickly disintegrates in heat (or if you overbeat it) thus the Cointreau-Peach Buttercream. The buttercream was a result of my not having milk and decided on a whim to substitute the two handy liquids. It was exciting to discover that buttercream doesn't have to be restricted to milk, butter, confectionary sugar and extracts.

I highly recommend making these cupcakes and your own variations. I'm thinking my next batch should be apples/apple cider and a maple or brown butter frosting.

Peach Mupcakes

1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature (I used salted and it was fine).
3/4 cup soy milk, at room temperature (any milk would work)
1/4 cup peach nectar, at room temperature
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 egg, at room temperature
3 peaches, blanched, peeled and cut into cubes*

Preheat oven to 350. Line or grease and flour 12 wells in a cupcake pan. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg, mix thoroughly. Add flour, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt to the butter mixture. Add the milk and peach nectar to the rest of the batter and beat until well combined. Fold in peaches. Fill each well 2/3 of the way full. Bake about 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted the center of a cupcake comes out mostly clean. Cool briefly in the pan, then remove cupcakes to wire racks to cool completely before icing. Ice.

*Bring water to a boil. Cut a cross into the bottom of the peaches. Add to boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain. Peel as soon as you can handle them.

**I forgot to bookmark which recipe I used for the marscapone frosting, but I'm sure you can findn a good one via the every useful Food Blog Search to the right.

Molly's piping skill! It was my first time using the pastry bag...harder than it looks...but not bad.