Roasted Shrimp & Broccoli

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Remember that broccoli post I posted a few months ago? The Best Broccoli of Your Life? It kind of took the world–or, rather, the web–by storm. To prove it, do a Google search for “best broccoli recipe” and marvel at the #1 result. If Google says it’s the best broccoli recipe, then it has to be, doesn’t it? Just like if you Google “best food blogger,” my blog… what? WHAT? Get Google on the phone right now!

I think so many people liked that recipe because it resulted in broccoli with a texture and a flavor few of us were familiar with. Crispy, caramelized broccoli? Not that mushy, frozen stuff? Plus all that lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, and Parmesan cheese; it was kind of hard not to love that broccoli. It’s the kind of recipe that’d be difficult to improve upon; that is, until you add shrimp.

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Cassoulet in 10 Easy Steps

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When Anthony Bourdain cooks with Michael Ruhlman on the Cleveland episode of “No Reservations,” he layers meat and beans together in a giant drum, tops the whole thing off with breadcrumbs and produces a dish most of us aren’t used to seeing on Food TV (and I say that as someone who now works for Food TV): a classic French cassoulet that’d put Julia Child to shame.

Cassoulet is a dish that just makes sense. Why does it make sense? You take fatty, flavorful meat, put it in a big pot with moisture-hungry beans and bake the whole thing until the beans are infused with all that fat and flavor and the meat is cooked. It’s not meant to be a fancy dish–this is the kind of food French people make at home–and it’s infinitely variable, as evidenced by the infinite cassoulet recipes you will find in my infinite cookbook collection, recipes that vary the type of meat, the type of bean, even the amount of time it takes to make the dish (Bourdain’s recipe, in his “Les Halles Cookbook,” calls for three days). I didn’t have three days to spare on Friday night when I set out to make my very first cassoulet. So I turned to an under-praised, underused book in my collection: Daniel Boulud’s “Daniel’s Dish: Entertaining at Home with a Four-Star Chef”.

It’s a great recipe for its simplicity (it’s called “Casual Cassoulet”) and yet the recipe has a serious flaw: it’s meant to be cooked in a 15-Qt Dutch Oven. I completely missed that part when I shopped for my ingredients, so I prepped enough food for a pot 3X bigger than the one I had. Therefore, the recipe that follows is my adaptation of Daniel’s recipe for Dutch Ovens of a more realistic size. Daniel’s recipe calls for lamb shoulder, but I left that out too: sausage + duck + bacon = plenty of meat for one dish, thank you very much.

Since winter’s almost over, this is the perfect dish to make on one of our last cold winter’s nights. I promise it’s easy and I promise the pay-off is big. And so, without further ado, Cassoulet in 10 Easy Steps.

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Flank Steak Story

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Of all the food and drink pairings, the greatest, I think, is the pairing of red meat and red wine. Sure, you have your champagne and oysters, your blue cheese and port. But give me a caramelized cut of ribeye and pair it with a spicy Syrah and I’m in heaven–a very red heaven.

On Saturday, then, I wanted to bring this combination home after spending the afternoon cleaning with Craig. I ventured out to Union Market which is Park Slope’s more high-end mart. I go there when I buy meat and fish; everything else, I do ok at Key Foods. I was all set to buy ribeye but then I remembered: ribeye is expensive. $25/pound expensive and each ribeye was one pound.

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Egg Salad Soliloquy

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I, Egg Salad, am superior to your egg salad. Why you ask? For starters, my eggs are always perfectly cooked. They start in cold water and then the heat is raised until it’s boiling, then it’s taken off the heat, a lid is placed and they sit like that for 15 minutes. I bet your eggs have green rings around them; not mine! Again, I’m superior.

Once cooked like that, my eggs are submerged in ice water and then peeled under a running faucet to make it easier for the egg to separate from the shell. Once peeled, my eggs are NOT smashed in a bowl with a fork like your grandmother used to do. No, no, no. My eggs are placed on a cutting board and cut into dainty little cubes. Precious? Perhaps; but darling no doubt!

Diced, the eggs dive into a bowl and are adorned with a loving dollop of mayo: not too much or we’ll lose our eggy essence. For a kick, some mustard; kosher salt, pepper and here’s the real kicker: capers. And celery. And paprika and just a dash of cayenne pepper.

Those are my secrets, you unworthy secret hearer. I am Egg Salad, and I am superior to you and all that you represent. I am served on toasted whole wheat bread with salt and vinegar potato chips. I am wonderful, you know it. Kiss my feet.

Sincerely,

Egg Salad

Fried Chicken & Collard Greens

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The plan was for my usual roast chicken (which, by the way, you should only salt until it has a light coating: those who said it was too salty took my recipe too literally!) but then, as I was standing there in the grocery store, I spotted collard greens.

“My, my,” I said to myself in a Southern accent. “It’s been a long time since we here attempted fried chicken.” (You may remember that was a disaster). “And I done never cooked collard greens before. Why, I see a mighty fine supper in my future.”

A $5 Dinner from the Corner Bodega [Homemade Hummus with Homemade Pita]

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There are moments when I don’t want to plan a dinner, but I don’t want to order in either. In those moments, I think about quick solutions: what if I buy some bread and make an egg salad sandwich? Why don’t I heat up leftover French onion soup? Or–in recent days–why not make some polenta?

Tonight, coming back from a day in the city, I craved hummus. Not the kind you buy already made, I wanted to make it myself. I also wanted homemade pita bread. Every time I have hot, homemade pita bread (like the kind you get at Snack Taverna, for example) it’s so much better than dried-out packaged pita bread, I vow to make my own from now on. But I never do. I tried it once with whole wheat flour and didn’t love it. Tonight, though, would be different. Before getting to my apartment, I popped into the corner bodega (Craig calls it that, I used to just call it “the corner store”) and bought the following:

– a can of chickpeas

– packets of yeast (yes, they have dried yeast at our corner bodega)

– a lemon

That was it. I had garlic and olive oil at home and flour too and that’s all I’d need. The grand total? A little more than $5. Not bad for a Sunday night dinner.

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Polenta Power

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In the Chelsea Market, on 9th Ave., there’s an Italian goods store that features rows upon rows of imported treasures from Italy. There you’ll find salt-packed anchovies, genuine San Marzano tomatoes, even white truffles for several hundred dollars a pop. Every time I go in there, I marvel at the goods and then I leave empty-handed: I never know what to buy.

Recently, though, I was determined to buy something. I toured around the store and there, in the back corner near the meat counter, I spotted it: real, Italian polenta. When I say “real” polenta I mean not instant polenta. Everywhere else I’ve ever bought polenta–Key Foods, Whole Foods, Union Market–only sells instant. I wanted to experience the real deal, the kind that cooks for 45 minutes. And so I left the Italian goods store with not one but two packs of genuine Italian polenta.

I wish now to describe to you the difference between instant polenta and “real polenta.” If this were the SATs, it would go something like this:

1. Instant polenta is to regular polenta as…

(a) Care Bears are to polar bears;

(b) sitting in a massage chair at the Sharper Image is to spending a week at an Arizona spa;

(c) table for 1 at the IHOP is to table for 20 at The French Laundry.

(d) All of the Above.

The answer is D and if you haven’t yet made REAL polenta at home you get a D in my book. It’s such a shocking thing–it’s so much creamier, sultrier, sexier than instant polenta, I feel like a polenta virgin who just spent a night with Sofia Loren in a bordello. What? I don’t know. Polenta power!

So the dish you see above is polenta for breakfast. It comes from Lidia Bastiniach’s book “Lidia’s Family Table” and it’s as hardy a breakfast as you could want, especially as the weather gets colder. You cook the polenta for 40 minutes with 5 cups water to 1 cup polenta and a pinch of salt, plus a few bay leaves. Lidia has you stream the polenta into the water when it’s cold, whisking all the way, and then turn on the heat–I’m not sure what that does, but it certainly produced excellent polenta. You must stir as it goes–every few minutes or so–or it’ll stick.

Once it’s cooked through, you add a cup or two of grated Parmesan (yum!) and half a stick of butter (double yum!) And here’s the real smacker (smacker? Adam what kind of word is smacker?): once in the bowl, put an egg yolk on top and the residual heat will cook it. Grate over more cheese, some pepper too and you have a breakfast of champions. Italian champions. Like Rocky—cue Rocky music.

If you want polenta for dinner, do as Alice Waters says to do in her new book “The Art of Simple Food.” Get a baking dish, layer in polenta, tomato sauce, fresh mozarella, and Parmesan and make a polenta lasagna. Bake in the oven til golden brown on top, like here except this didn’t get really gold:

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But what a dinner. Diana came over that night (remember Diana? She was my old roommate) and all three of us dug in with abandon. It was messy–it was hard to make pretty on the plate–but it was oh so good.

And so, I hope I have convinced you of the power of polenta. Real polenta, not that mamby pamby instant kind. If you’re going to make polenta, make the real thing. It’s worth it.

The Winning Casserole: Cheese Love

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As I hoped, your prodding inspired the Casserole Contest winners, Zack and Graham (pictured above with Emily) to share their recipe. Zack implores: “I can’t over-emphasize the importance of the Bobolink cheddar in this recipe. It is generally only available directly from the farmer/cheesemaker and I know that it is expensive when compared to industrial cheeses, but I have tried making this without the Bobolink and it doesn’t come close in flavor, aroma or texture. Bobolink sells their cheeses at the Union Square Greenmarket on Fridays (check cowsoutside.com for other market locations).”

Just to restate my enthusiasm for this casserole, I tasted almost 20 casseroles that night and this one was not only far and away the best, it made a casserole convert out of me. I plan to try this recipe immediately. Click ahead to unlock the mystery of “Cheese Love”….

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