This burrito recipe comes from one of my all time favorite hole-in-the-wall joints, El Toro Partido, in Hamilton Heights. Down the hill from where I work at City College, this bustling Mexican outpost dishes out sumptuous and authentic plates that are as gorgeous as the decor is not. Probably my favorite dish on the menu (aside from the spicily divine green sauce and corny tortilla chips) is the chicken burrito. I know, I know – you’re saying right now what could be so glamorous about this burrito? For me, above all of the other perfectly seasoned toppings, is the inclusion of savory shreds of oaxaca cheese. Almost like a Mexican mozzarella, oaxaca is nutty and stretchy and delicious – kind of the same consistency of Polly-O string cheese, but high brow. If you’ve not tried it before, you definitely need to get on some. Continue reading Chicken Burritos
I get a kick out of dishes that manage to both impress folks and meet their requirement for comfort-food status. Let’s face it, gooey mac and cheese or creamy mounds of mashed potatoes are not loved for their looks. In fact, the massive piles of goodness only make the foodie centerfolds because they bring back atavistic longing of the food of our childhood. Which is exactly what comfort food does – it nourishes us and brings us to a place just like home. But if you really think about the taste profile of comfort food in an of itself, it’s typically simple in nature, and oftentimes mild in flavor. Color-wise, it’s oftentimes blah as well – fried chicken, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and meat loaf all hang out in the beige to brown arena. Now, I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, or even that it’s the rule across the board – I just think it’s worth noting that the requirements of comfort food need only be that it’s tasty for the soul and consumable in huge quantities. So, what if we celebrated the kinds of comfort food that not only felt good to eat, but also looked just as lovely.
Arancini are gorgeous – the name itself means “little orange” in Italian and is an homage to the glorious golden color of these tangerine-sized delights as they are removed from the fryer. Crunchy and light on the outside, and creamy and luxe in the inside, these little babies are comfort food at its best. Probably my favorite part about this recipe is that you start with leftovers – the base of the arancini is risotto, left to coagulate and thicken to a point that you can form it into mini balls. For those of you that make risotto from scratch, you know that it’s not so good as leftovers – the distinct grains of arborio rice turn into a porridge of sorts that’s a far cry from the glory that is served fresh out of the pot. So what better way to resurrect it than to wrap it around bits of mozzarella, bread them and fry until lovely. I say ye.
In a lot of these recipes that call for frying “until golden” I don’t ever mention the need for a thermometer – it’s silly given that a) I always use one and b) you should too. A lot of the fear of frying comes from not getting the temperature just right – if the oil’s too hot, your food will burn on the outside before it cooks in the inside; cook too low and your food will come out greasy. Remove the guessing game from the equation – buy a frying/candy thermometer and be precise. You really don’t have an excuse as they are cheap and readily available (mine came from Bed, Bath and Beyond for like $7). Besides, you are all about kitchen perfection. I know this for a fact.
I think that what sends this comfort food over the top is the brightness of presentation – beige is lightened up by bright, zesty marinara and basil. It’s like a little Italian flag in every bite – a whole lot sexier than a mess of elbow macaroni. Feel free to experiement with fillings and sauces – go decadent and dip them in a fontina funduta, or zesty with a nice basil pesto. Stir spinach, peas or mushrooms into the risotto. One of my favorite places in the whole wide world, La Fontanella, serves their supplíwith a savory meat ragu – they come as an appetizer but are just so filling, you could make a meal of them. In the proverbial words of Humpty, “Dowhatchulike” and I am sure that you will be relishing in comfort-food majesty.
Arancini (Sicilian Fried Rice Balls or Supplí)
3 c. of leftover risotto
2 oz. of mozzarella, cut into 16 cubes
1/4 c. of flour
1 egg, beaten
2 tbs. of water
1/4 c. of bread crumbs
oil for frying
While your risotto is still cold, form into 16 small portions – sometimes I take a large bowl and put the risotto inside, and then score it like a pie into 8 slices. I then take each “slice” and split it into two pieces. Voilá – sixteen portions! Wet your hands and form each of the portions into a smooth ball. Push a cube of mozzarella into the risotto and roll again so that the cheese is completely covered by the risotto. Place on a cookie sheet lined with a sheet of wax paper. When you’ve rolled all of the arancini, place in the freezer to allow them to solidify a bit.
While the arancini are cooling, break out 3 shallow dishes. Add 1/2 c. of flour to one dish. Scramble the egg and two tbs. of water together in the second dish. Place the breadcrumbs in the third dish. Take the arancini out of the freezer and start an assembly line. First dredge them in the flour, shaking off the excess. Then, plunk them in the egg to wet them all over. Lastly, dredge in the breadcrumbs and place on a clean dish or another cookie sheet lined with parchment.
Heat a pot of cooking oil to 320° and gently lower a batch of arancini into the hot oil (5 at a time is good). Cook until beautifully golden on the outside, about 7 minutes. If you don’t cook your arancini long enough, they will not be meltey goodness in the inside. Drain on paper towels and serve with marinara for dipping.
- Use any risotto recipe you’d like to make these guys – just make sure that it’s good and cool when you start working with it. My recipe for Rock Shrimp Risotto is a good starting point – just leave out the shrimp and you are in business.
- After you dredge the shrimp in flour, egg and breadcrumbs, you can freeze the arancini. They can be fried from frozen at 340° for 9 minutes.
While the French slurp raw oysters and sip champagne for good luck on New Years’ Day, our family would tuck into heaps of black eyed peas, fluffy rice, and collard greens. It’s amazing – I always considered it a southern tradition, what with black-eyed peas grown in Virginia all the way back to the 1600s. But apparently the New Year’s tradition dates back to Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year), where in the Talmud it’s recorded that the humble black-eyed pea is a good luck symbol. Apparently, people have been enjoying these little babies for a while.
This recipe is a spin on Hoppin’ John, a popular dish of rice and peas served not only in the south but in the Caribbean as well. The dish is sometimes made without the collard greens and often includes a bit of salt pork. I like the collards because they remind me of my own New Year’s traditions, so I always include them when I can. This version is absolutely vegan and so very flavorful, you won’t miss the pork one bit. It’s good as a standalone dish, but if you are jonesing for some protein, try it with a little sliced andouille sausage or kielbasa. Any way you eat, you’ll be a lucky ducky (if but for having the opportunity to tuck into such a tasty dish!)
Hoppin’ John (Black-eyed Peas and Rice with Collard Greens)
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1/2 a green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red onion (white is ok), chopped
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp of fresh thyme
2 tbs. of olive oil
1 tbs. of hot sauce
1/2 tsp of salt
1/4 tsp. of white pepper
1 cup of cooked collard greens (see note below)
1 c. of enriched long grain rice
1 can of blackeyed peas
Start with a heavy pot with a lid that is suitable for cooking rice (this is one pot cooking, kids!) and heat your two tbs. of olive oil. Add the celery, onion and bell pepper and saute until translucent. While that is cooking away, drain your black-eyed peas, reserving the liquid in a measuring cup. Add water to make a little less than two cups of liquid. Set both the peas and the liquid aside, separately.
Add the garlic, thyme, hot sauce, salt, white pepper and stir. Add your rice and greens and stir the mixture. Allow to cook for a minute and then add the peas. Stir, making sure not to break up the peas and then add the liquid. Bring to a boil, pop on the lid and turn the heat to low. Cook until all of the liquid is absorbed, about 20-25 minutes. Pull off the lid and fluff with a fork. Return lid and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff again and serve.
- For this recipe, I often use leftover Couve (Brazilian Style Collards cooked in garlic and oil), but if you are starting from scratch, you can always use frozen collard greens. You can actually nuke them to defrost quickly, drain of an excess water, and then stir them into the rice.
- Rice is one of those things that you have to trust to cook and not open the pot until the end. When you open the pot while it’s cooking, you release all the steam inside the pot, which is the secret element to make it fluffy and gorgeous. Keep the pot closed until the last few minutes of cooking when it’s acceptable to open the lid. A trick that I use to tell if the water is absorbed without opening the pot is to carefully put my ear next to the bottom of the pot to hear if there is water still bubbling at the bottom. But be careful – I am not going to be responsible for you setting your hair on fire. You shouldn’t be using that much Aquanet anyways.
Where I live in NYC, we don’t readily have Thai delivery. Not a huge deal to go out and get Thai food, except for the fact that it’s usually way more expensive than it needs to be and entirely too fancified. When I was in Arlington, we had some exemplary Thai restaurants, a few of them specializing in homestyle thai that I cannot even find here. I’m sure it exists – it’s just that it’s such a trial and error process, I rarely want to waste my dough on a new place.
My favorite dishes made with a homecooked sensibility (best made in VA at the Thai Square, with a close runner up of Rabieng) all include a heavy dose of chilies and basil. In an effort to quell my jonesing for home, I started making a few of these dishes for myself with excellent results. Mostly because I could gauge the freshness of the ingredients and make massive quantities for friends and family at half the price of restaurant dining. I really don’t mind spending money, but the food quality and difficulty in preparation has to be commensurate to the price. I can guarantee you that the folks at Thai Square aren’t using caviar and foie gras in their krapow – just good flask steak and fresh veggies. So why would I pay twice the amount here in NYC for old beef and overcooked veggies? Forget it.
This incredibly simple fried rice is versatile, and the combination of garlic, chilies and fragrant basil is a lovely alternative to the usual fried rice. I quite often make it with lean, white meat chicken, but my absolute favorite is to fold in lump blue crab in the last few minutes of cooking. Try it sometime as a lovely alternative to Chinese takeout. It suits your taste buds a whole lot more.
Basil Fried Rice
3 c. of cooked jasmine rice, cooled
1 c. of raw chicken, pork, shrimp, or lump crabmeat
1/4 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of white pepper
1/4 tsp. of ground ginger
1 scallion, thinly sliced
2 c. of thai basil leaves, loosely packed
1/2 of a green bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1/2 of a red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1/2 of a small red onion, sliced into thin strips
1 1/2 tbs. of fish sauce
2 tbs. of oyster sauce
1/4 c. of vegetable oil
1 tsp. of crushed thai red chilies
1 thai bird chili, sliced into rings (optional)
6 cl. of garlic, finely chopped
lime wedges (garnish)
cilantro leaves (garnish)
Season rice with the salt, pepper, ginger and scallions. Stir and set aside. Heat oil in a wok or large skillet until smoking. Toss in your protein (unless you are using crab meat or raw shrimp – then you should skip to the next step). Stir for about a minute and then toss in basil leaves, bell peppers, red onion, chilies and garlic. Stir for a minute and then add the fish sauce and oyster sauce. If you are using shrimp, add it now. Stir to combine and then add the rice. Keep on stiring until all ingredients are incorporated and rice starts to crisp up a bit on the bottom of the wok, about 2-3 minutes. If you are using crab meat, add it in the last one minute of cooking. Serve immediately. Before eating, squeeze a wedge of lime over the rice and toss some cilantro leaves over the top.
Rock Me Gently, Rock Me Slowly
Risotto is such a walking contradiction – though it is a total dazzler and a showpiece at restaurants, it’s also such homey comfort food meant to be tucked into on a couch in pjs. It can be as dressy or as casual as you’d like it to be, just as long as it’s yours. I think that risotto has gotten a reputation for being fussy because of the many rules for it’s construction. The grains of rice should be tender while still distinct and firm. The dish should be creamy but not a mushy porridge. The ingredients all have different cooking times, but the components to be cooked to perfection all at the same time. It’s a little daunting.
I’m here to put you at ease – risotto is not hard. I repeat, risotto is not hard. You can make it if you follow the one major rule of risotto – be patient and give it time. If you rush your risotto, it will suck. If you don’t prep all your ingredients before you start, it will suck. If you walk away from it, it will suck. Don’t let your risotto suck, I beg of you.
There are a million variations on this recipe, and the good news is that you can use the same ingredients below and just swap out the shrimp for whatever your heart desires – blanched asparagus spears, porcini mushrooms, lobster, roasted butternut squash, you name it. The only thing that you absolutely cannot substitute is arborio rice. The grains, short and round, release starch slowly as broth is added during the cooking process – if you use a different type of rice, you won’t get that creamy loveliness that is the trademark of risotto. You top off the deliciousness by rapidly whipping in butter at the end, a process called “mantecare” in Italian. Do this, and you’ll be a risotto master.
This risotto uses rock shrimp, a variety that is much closer in taste to lobster despite the shrimp price. They have hard shells and are difficult to peel, which is why they are sold pre-cleaned and shelled – hooray for you If you cannot find rock shrimp, feel free to use plain raw shrimp, or if your budget allows, some lovely lobster meat.
This recipe makes a ton of risotto (about 8 large servings) – I roll the leftovers into balls around cubes of mozzarella, roll in breadcrumbs, and fry as a lovely appetizer called arancini (or supplí in Emilia-Romagna). Also, because cheese and seafood is an italian no-no, I pick out the shrimp first. That being said, if you leave the shrimp in, I won’t be mad at you. Actually, I’ll be happy that you’re cooking not one, but two impressive dishes – and all with a whole lot of love!
Rock Shrimp Risotto
12-14 c. of stock, chicken, vegetable, shrimp or a combo (see recipe for shrimp stock below)
4 tbs. of olive oil
4 shallots, finely chopped
4 c. of arborio rice
1 pinch of saffron threads (optional)
2 tsp. of white pepper
salt and black pepper, to taste
1 and 1/2 lb. of rock shrimp, peeled and cleaned well
1 bunch of chives, chopped
zest of 1 lemon
4 tbs. of butter
Prep all of your ingredients before you start to make your life easier. When you begin, you should have dishes of all of your ingredients, measured out and within an arm’s reach. In a large pot, bring your stock to a simmer and keep warm throughout the entire process.
In a second large pot, add your oil and heat until shimmering. Add your shallots and cook on medium until translucent. Add your rice (and saffron if you are using it) and stir to coat the grains with olive oil. Continue to cook until the rice becomes translucent. Pour in the wine and stir until the alcohol cooks off.
Grab a ladle and spoon 2-3 ladlefuls of broth into the rice. Stir constantly to incorporate the broth and keep the rice from sticking. When all the broth is absorbed, add another 2 or 3 ladles of stock. Keep adding broth and stirring until the rice is tender (taste it to make sure) and a lovely, creamy sauce has formed. Once your risotto is cooked to perfection, add your raw shrimp and stir. The shrimp will need about 2 minutes to turn pink and cook all the way through in the hot risotto. Turn the heat from medium to low and add the butter in small chunks, stirring rapidly after each addition to melt the butter into the creamy goodness. Turn off the heat and toss in your lemon zest and 3/4 of the chives.
Spoon risotto into bowls and top with the rest of the chives. Serve immediately – risotto needs to be eaten right away, or you are missing out in a big way.
shells from 1 to 1 1/2 lbs of shrimp
2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
1/2 small onion, roughly chopped
4 sprigs of parsley (with stems)
1 sprig of rosemary
1 tsp. of salt
1 tsp. of white pepper
2 bay leaves
8 c. of water
Add all ingredients to a pot and bring to a boil. Turn to medium low and simmer until stock has reduced by one half. Strain stock and toss solids. Save broth for some lovely like a gumbo or a risotto.
Sippin’ Once, Sippin’ Twice
When I think of chicken and rice soup, I always think of the Maurice Sendak books from my childhood, and the ever famous line, “Sippin’ once, sippin’ twice, sippin’ chicken soup with rice.” Carole King actually made an animated video of a bunch of Maurice Sendak stories called “Really Rosie” which included the “Chicken Soup with Rice” song. It included dance moves that certainly rival the recent jammie “Chicken Noodle Soup” (with a soda on the side) which is so bad it’s good. Well, not so much good as hilarious. I think I only reason that I like the Chicken Noodle Soup video because a) it takes place in my hood and b) features kids with sweet dance moves.
Back to Maurice Sendak, this soup makes me about as happy as the sweet lyrics to “Alligators All Around” – I could only find this sh!t copy with the lyrics over the video, but it’s still good. And for the record, my best friend Kate loves “P – Pushing People” the best. Makes me laugh every time, and yes, I know I’m a child for life.
So about this soup – there’s something about the tender rice and chicken, salty parmasean and delicate bits of egg that make this a go-to for me whenever I need a bit of comfort. Making the stock from scratch is important, but in a pinch, you could make this with broth – just make sure you don’t leave out the egg and cheese. They are essential to balancing out the flavor of this soup, and a little bit of really good cheese (I always use locatelli) just seals the deal. Continue reading Italian Chicken Soup