Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Broiled Huevos Rancheros and Homemade Tortilla Chips

There are a host of people I admire... many that are just plain, private folks who would be unknown to most anyone but those in my closest circle; several that are in that quite-well-know sphere of public personalities that are favorites among many of us; and a sprinkling of people in between these two spectrums. And like a lot of things that are subjective, the reasoning for my admiration varies.

In the area of food... I admire a variety of people from friends that cook really well, to accomplished bloggers, photographers, and chefs. And though these people are seemingly quite different from one another, there does seem to be an underlying commonality among those that I'm truly drawn to that fosters my admiration: a genuine sense of humility (and/or sincerity), coupled with a strong dose of creativity. The folks that make my "favorites" list simply seem to be folks that forge ahead in pursuing their passion with... well... passion. And, most importantly, do so without trying too hard to whoop up a lot of fanfare. They simply do what they do best... and we take notice... and, yes, fanfare can ensue. They have "it." That "it" that separates them from the pack... makes us want to discover more about them, makes us want to continue learning, makes us want to do better. Maybe it's a special bit of DNA that is creative-laden, yet equipped with the not-so-common coupling of humility.

Living in an area that is ripe with outstanding culinary options, there are many folks I admire within our small little corner of the globe. Folks that certainly don't know me... and, frankly, I don't know them except for what they do on a public level.

And then there are the folks beyond our little haven... that come to us on-line, via television, and in print. All these folks that catch my eye and interest seem to have that "it" factor... that extra element that takes their talents in the kitchen, with food and flavor, to another level. Whether it's their approach that draws us in like a warm blanket on a cold winter's night... like Ina Garten; their ethereal ability to present food in a way that makes you want to pack your bags and live among the pages of their magazine for just a bit of time (until your family takes note of your absence)... like Donna Hay; or the way they weave words into a tapestry of personal expression that gives you pause... like Gabrielle Hamilton.
Surprisingly, I don't make a great effort to meet most public or popular people I admire. I think I was squelched of this desire by my husband who has, over the course of his career, met numerous public personalities and found that they are just people, for the most part, and the venue of introduction is so often not conducive to any real connection. As a result, most "meeters" go away disappointed. For this reason among others, I am happy to enjoy the wares of those I admire... their approach to food, their eye, their creativity, their words... from afar.
And so, on a drizzly day just a few weeks ago, I found myself standing in front of Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton's well renowned New York restaurant, waiting patiently with my husband for a table... among a flock of other equally enamored patrons seeking to enjoy a Sunday brunch. Thankfully we kept dry during our nearly 45 minute wait, huddled beneath the awning of a neighboring restaurant, slightly uncomfortable with taking cover under a canopy of an establishment flourished with tables adorned with cloths and cutlery and nary a soul partaking in their food. And yet, completely entertained by Prune's hostess that day, expertly guiding misguided souls who would wander into the restaurant hoping for shelter during their wait only to be escorted back out to the sidewalk with the cheerful smile and confident demeanor of a hostess that, I think, could possibility command our military given her adroit ability to manage the throngs of folks going in and out of Prune... and, somehow, make them entirely content with their wait in the rain.

Though a mere thimble of a restaurant, with an even smaller kitchen, we were fortunate to be settled at a window table (there are only two). Having perused the menu on-line, I was ready with my order hours before: the huevos rancheros. Unlike a version I have come to love and make, these were deconstructed. Perfectly cooked eggs lay atop a moderately spiced, peppery, tomato-based sauce, served along with some simple black beans and homemade tortilla chips... perfection. Other than being a somewhat small portion for my husband, we were both perfectly satisfied with our choices... one which completely delivered on taste and had me quickly tapping flavor notes into my phone.

Huevos rancheros can be a heavy dish with multiple layers of beans, tortillas, cheese, and salsa. Certainly nothing to complain about. But this dish from Prune was a much welcomed, lighter approach to this personal favorite. It has the huevos ranchero nuance in flavor and, yet, because it's really just sauced up eggs with a side of beans, it somehow seems more approachable. And the tortilla component is perfectly, and simply, added in the form of homemade chips... that aid in scooping up beans, sauce and yolky eggs... lest you have to leave a trace of deliciousness behind.

And no, no sighting or meeting of Ms. Hamilton, just the great luck of a cozy little nook-of-a-table at the window, looking out on the rain-soaked sidewalk of an unusually quiet side street in the bustling city of New York, with a perfect plate of brunch and a hot cup of coffee... taking note not only of the wonderful flavors but the small details that make Prune stand out.

Food... and flair... admirable!!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Skillet Salmon over Cannellini Bean-Kale-Fennel Sauté

I think I may cook a bit like I dress. I find a beautiful basic that I really love (like this skillet salmon) and simply accessorize differently (change up the flavor profile) to create a whole new look (entrée).

I did this quite often when we were eating a good deal of chicken... not unlike a lot of other folks. I think anyone that eats a lot of chicken can relate to the 101 different chicken dishes they can produce at the drop of a hat. With chicken on the ebb... and vegetarian or pescatarian fare more the norm, I've found myself simply changing up how plates get "accessorized" without really having to veer too far from the basics I love. It not only simplifies weeknight dinners... but makes for a pretty simple dish that's fitting for company as well.

The warm, rich flavors of this simple sauté perfectly complement this quick skillet salmon. Sliced fennel and onion are mellowed and sweetened for a bit before adding chopped kale to the mix (I know... more kale!). Not only does the kale offer a great color complement, it's a great way to incorporate healthy greens. Once wilted down, tomatoes, capers, black olives, flat leaf parsley... and a dash of fresh lemon juice... give this base a great, fresh, and slightly tart flavor that balances the more subtle, pan-seared notes of the salmon.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Easy Three-Bean Chili with Kale

Despite our quickly graying skies, falling temps and threats of rain... I still love Fall... fleeting though it may be.

I try not to share this sentiment aloud until we are well out of our summer stint... usually a couple of great months of brilliant skies, verdant landscapes and a warmth that trumps the ever-dependable dampness we know so well and even the most web-footed Oregonian is conditioned to accept but is willing to temporarily forgo.

For a few short months (weeks, even), I relish the changes that Fall brings... the crispness in the air, the sometimes uncanny blue of the sky, the billowy white clouds, puffed and proud, the unbelievable beauty in the changing colors of the season, with leaves ranging from iridescent yellows to fiery reds. It's a season that demands boots, sweaters, scarves... and soup!

Though I'm not alone in my affinity for soup, I do realize that it might supersede that of any other dweller in my home, and so refrain from putting on a pot during what should be the warmer months of the year (May through August... if lucky). However, once the temps begin to drop, this position changes dramatically...

This particular recipe is for a chili... not a soup... but it counts, nonetheless, in my book.

Years ago, our favorite chili was meat-based, thick with ground sirloin or sausage. Then, when we gave up red meat, I revamped it to highlight turkey... and we were quite happy. Now, as we move more and more toward a more plant-based diet, I've come to really love this three-bean chili; one that gets tweaked a bit each time out... a little more fire in the chilies used, or a few more veggies dropped in. This particular version is just right with a moderate chili flavor; a simple combination of pinto, black and kidney beans; and a great tomato-based broth made warm and satisfying with a good dose of chili powder, paprika, red chili flakes, mild roasted green chilies, green pepper, and onions. And... of course... the kale. Kale has become a bit of a mainstay in our daily diet... and, so, why not in chili...

It's a satisfying chili... easy to make, and quick to the table... 30 minutes tops!

Though I don't necessarily relish the goodbye of summer, or the short, sweet season of Fall disappearing into what can sometimes be a long, damp winter (and oft times a non-existent Spring), I do love the fact that soups and chilies will blissfully buoy us until the season again turns to sun and warmth... then Fall, again.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Artichoke-Mushroom-Onion Tapenade & Lemon-Basil Goat Cheese Toasts

For whatever reason, I find that making a beforehand bite... is often an after thought.

Perhaps this is because most our evenings don't involve an appetizer course. And... when having guests... I tend to concentrate on the main course, a soup or salad starter... and even a dessert. It's usually not until an hour or so before the doorbell rings that I realize I don't have a nibble to enjoy with cocktails and I then scramble to pull together a quick fruit and cheese plate.

This little appetizer, I suppose, is really just a dressed up cheese plate... so it completely falls within my wheelhouse. It's a little twist on a tomato-eggplant-artichoke bruschetta we enjoyed a while back at a local winery. The difference here is... absolute ease. I always seem to have all... or most... of these ingredients. It's a nibble that comes together quick and easy. The toasts can be slathered with a little cheese spread and tapenade... or a bit of just one. And, best of all, it can be made well in advance and doesn't require exact precision... a little more or less of this or that truly doesn't matter.

The veggies... red onion, marinated artichoke hearts and mushrooms... get a quick chop, toss with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and pop in the oven for a 20 minute roast... infusing your kitchen with a delicious aroma as they do their thing.
The spread is goat cheese roughly mixed with a drizzle of fresh lemon juice and honey, a sprinkle of lemon zest, and a touch of chopped basil.

Then, right before everyone arrives, the bread gets popped in the oven for a quick few minutes to toast... while at the same time, you secretly toast to the fact that you didn't forget the appetizer.