Weeknight Wondermeal: Warm Smoked Pork, Beans, and Kale Lovejoy

DSCN5172This summer has been all cockamamie.  We had a sweltering June, but August was remarkably temperate, and now – less than a week into September – it’s already pretty cool out.  I usually don’t find myself making anything soupy or stewey until November, but after a chilly walk home yesterday, I was compelled to break out the wok and the stock and craft some comfort yumminess.  This is a riff on my “Warm Chicken Lovejoy” – the only thing it’s missing is the chicken.  As a weeknight wondermeal, it’s cheap (less than $15), quick (less than an hour), uncomplicated, fairly light, and super soul-satisfying and delicious.  Some smoked pork chops simmered in turkey stock with soup beans, potatoes, fresh veggies, and lovely wilted kale is everything the body needs to bravely face the change of seasons.

Warm Smoked Pork, Beans, and Kale Lovejoy

1 onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
3-4 small red potatoes, peeled and diced
1 qt turkey stock
1 can mixed soup beans and barley
1 bunch lacinato kale
2 smoked pork chops (preferably bone-in)
sea salt, cracked black pepper, garlic powder, EVOO

DSCN5159I forgot to take a set up shot, so let’s just jump right into it.  I start by adding a roughly diced mirepoix (that’s onions, carrots, and celery for the uninitiated) to a glug of EVOO in my hot wok, which I sautee until fragrant and slightly translucent.

DSCN5160Then I layer my potates on top.

DSCN5161Then I dump my can o’ beans on top of that.

DSCN5162Then I place my pork chops on top of THAT.

DSCN5163And finally, I pour my quart of stock over the whole mess, then add some salt, a whole mess of black pepper, and a dash or two of garlic powder.

DSCN5165I let the pot simmer on medium low for about 30 minutes, stirring occaisonally, and allowing the liquids to reduce.  Once they’re soft enough, I squoosh a few pieces of potato with a fork against the side of the pan, which thickens the sauce.

DSCN5166I’ve washed and de-stemmed my kale, which I add to the pot, pressing down on the leaves with a wooden spoon to submerge them in the simmering liquid.

DSCN5167After 10 or 15 minutes, they’ve nicely wilted, and enough of the liquid has boiled off to yeild a nice rich gravy. This can now hold for a while if necessary (Clayton took *forever* getting home from work, so I kept this simmering on low for another 20 minutes or so) — all it does is make the flavors that much richer.

DSCN5169Along with some toasted garlic bread for sopping, this deep bowlful of beany meaty greens-studded stew fills the belly with wholesome heartiness and homestyle goodness.  This is one of my go-to dishes: any combination of pork (sausage, chops, boneless ribs), stock, beans, and greens always hits the spot when simmered slow and low.  Clayton and I dug into this meal like badgers, and weren’t done until we’d sucked every morsel of sweet smoky pork meat from the bones and sopped up every molecule of fragrant, savory gravy.  The fact that it’s so easy makes it all that much better.

Monkfish, Roasted Broccoli, Vidalia Onion Wedges, Bleu Cheese Bacon Cream Sauce

DSCN5080I wanted to eat healthy, so I bought some fish.  But then I bathed it in sauce made from heavy cream cut with butter, bacon, and rich bleu cheese.  Contradiction: meet Lolita’s kitchen.

Who cares?  Tonight I decided to screw healthy and embrace HEAVENLY!!!! (In my mind, I hear boychoirs singing; timpani pulsating; swells of orchestral drama.)  A buttery, sharpcreamy, unctuous pork-bit-laden white sauce enrobes tender-but-toothsome pan-seared poor-man’s-lobsterfish and is accompanied by crunchy caramelized broccoli bites — resulting in a super-sin-fulfilling supper, one my hard-working and intensely studying (for his nursing degree) husband richly deserves, especially between a long day on the clock and a long night of hitting the books.   Warm, rich, and delicious: what else does one need as a digestif to prepare the body for future rounds of intellectual consumption?

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Monkfish, Roasted Broccoli, Vidalia Onion Wedges, Bleu Cheese Bacon Cream Sauce

1lb monkfish
3-4 slices bacon
1-2lb broccoli
1/4lb nice, sticky, quality bleu cheese
1 Vidalia onion
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper, spices, flour
1 cup vegetable/canola oil
1 tsp sugar
2 tbs butter
1 cup heavy cream

DSCN5064I start with the broccoli, because it takes a while to roast — like 30 minutes at least on 350° F.  I cut it into florets, spread it on a baking sheet, generously douse it with EVOO, sprinkle it with sea salt and cracked black pepper, and finally…

DSCN5065… I very loosely scatter about a teaspoon of granulated white sugar over the broccoli crowns.  Why?  Because it makes magic! A touch of sugar + salt + oil + heat = crunchy but tender, toasted-tipped, uber-broccoli-flavored broccoli.  Just trust me — try it — and you will believe.  I shove the baking sheet into the oven and roast everything for the next 30-40 minutes.

DSCN5067While the broccoli roasts, I fry my bacon.

DSCN5068Vidalia onions are super-sweet.  You can eat them like apples – really! (Although you may not want to hook up with anyone right afterwards without a visit from Uncle Listerine.)  I saw them at the market, bought one, and had sliced it up for frying before I even really knew what I was doing.

DSCN5069I threw some flour and this seasoned salt I bought in Chinatown who-knows-when into a ziplock bag….

DSCN5070… then threw the onions into the bag, and shook ‘em up real good to coat.

DSCN5072I added about a cup of vegetable oil to the bacon grease I’d reserved in the pan, heated it it sizzling over medium high heat, and then shook my onions free of flour before chucking them into the fat. Because they are fairly thick (I cut wedges about 1/2″ thick), they contain a lot of water, so they take some time to fry — about 10 minutes, with me constantly turning them to cook them evenly.

DSCN5073When they are crunchy on the outside and tenderhot on the inside, they’re ready.  So, you get to taste test until they’re right.  It’s a hard life (and, as it turns out, this is mostly just a garnish).

DSCN5074The monkfish I cut into roughly 4 equal planks, then I toss them in salted flour.

DSCN5075I get my butter and a glug of EVOO hot in the same pan from whence I fried my onions, only I’ve wiped it out first.  I think monkfish looks like something HR Giger would dream up – but he would probably include in his twisted vision their deliciousness.  It is truly one of the sea’s ugly suckling ducklings.  (Read: it tastes good, but looks beastly – alive or filleted.)  But regardless of their off-putting appearance, I saute them in the hot fat, spooning the butteroil over the exposed surfaces while the undersides deeply pan-sear.  I flip them each time the underedge crisps to golden (so about 4-6 times, every 2-3 minutes).

DSCN5076Once the fish has cooked mostly through (about 10 minutes total), I add my heavy cream and bacon, which I’ve roughly chopped.

DSCN5078I then crumble some of my bleu cheese into the baconcream, which I let simmer until completely melted, messing impatiently with it every once-in-a-I’m-ready-to-eat-now! while.

DSCN5079If you are on a diet, don’t eat this.  But if you need to pamper yourself with rich sumptuousness, go for it.  I did.  Tender, buttery fish, creamy bleu cheese sauce, crunchy broccoli and sweet fried onions – a symphony of tastes and textures. We ate.  Lustily.  And Clayton is currently – after indulging in this soul-strengthening heartfilling repast – conquering micro-bio with determination, vigor, and intelligence.  Tomorrow, maybe I’ll make a salad.  Today: WE DINED.  You should, too.

Kona Encrusted Steak, Brown Sugar Kona Mushroom Gravy, Arugula, Caprese, and Red Onion Salad

DSCN4870One would think, given that this blog is about what I eat, that I’ve been STARVING lately, since I haven’t posted anything in weeks.  Alas, it’s graduation season here in Boston, which kicked in right after the Marathon Bombings and the subsequent city-wide lockdown to capture Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  So “getting back to normal” required getting over the shock of terrorists hiding in backyard boats and getting past processions of dignitaries and fresh graduates to the glorious month of June.  Of course, I haven’t been starving, but I’ve not cooked as much as I usually do because of all the crazy crazy, nor have I had the time to post.  But all that’s over, and I’m back in the saddle, and happy to offer you – dear readers – a dinner truly worth this call back to action.  This is dedicated to my dear friend, Leslie, for whom I first prepared this meal and from whom the main ingredients came straight from Hawaii — to whence she has now returned to attend medical school.  I miss you, sweetie!

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Kona Encrusted Steak, Brown Sugar Kona Mushroom Gravy, Arugula, Caprese, and Red Onion Salad

2 8oz strip or ribeye steaks
2 tbs ground kona coffee
2 cups fresh brewed kona coffee
1 lb baby bella mushrooms
1 qt beef broth
1 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs flour
2 tbs butter
1 boll burrata cheese
1 fresh tomato
fresh argula
scallions
1 red onion
EVOO, white vinegar, pink Alaea sea salt, crushed black pepper

DSCN4854I start with my gravy, which takes the longest to make on this dish.  Half of my red onion is diced and added to a little butter, salt, and pepper in my large skillet, and set to simmer.

DSCN4855Mushrooms weren’t part of the original recipe, but I thought they would absorb the coffee gravy nicely, and I wasn’t wrong.  I slice up these baby bellas nice and thick.

DSCN4856Into the pan they go, where I toss them with the hot fat and onion, then let them start to melt a bit.

DSCN4857Clayton and I don’t have a coffee machine; we use this funnel thing, and it works just fine.  I add  healthy two tablespoons of grounds to the filter to make a really strong coffee.

DSCN4858I set the brown sugar into the glass ahead of time.  John Stage from the Dinosaur BBQ taught me how to make coffee – by adding the hot liquid to the sugar and not the other way ’round – and I’ve never gone back.

DSCN4860Time for the steak!  I rub these babies down with black pepper, ground coffee, and some of the pink salt, then set them aside to absorb all the flavors.

DSCN4861At this point, I add my coffee and beef broth to the mushrooms in the pan, and bring it to a roiling boil to reduce all the liquids.

DSCN4862To help the sauce thicken, I whisk about 1/4 cup of the coffee/broth liquid with my tablespoon of flour to create a slurry….

DSCN4863…. which I then add to my pan…

DSCN4864… before lowering the heat to simmer, and reducing the gravy until it is thick, rich, and delicious.

DSCN4865As the gravy finishes off (see how reduced it is on the back burner there?), I cook off my steaks.  Using the flip-once-a-minute technique, I sear each steak on alternating sides, until about 10 minutes have passed.  This makes a perfect medium rare.

DSCN4868After whipping up a quick salad with arugula, tomato, burrata cheese, and slivered red onions, I serve my encrusted seared steak bathed in black Hawaiian coffee goodness.  Each succulent, tender bite transports me to volcanic sand beaches, white-capped surfboarded waves, phalanxes of exotic women gyrating their hips accompanied by burly men beating large drums, and to romantic vistas peopled by the cast of Hawaii Five O. A word to the wise: don’t plan on taking any naps shortly after eating this meal; I was WIRED for HOURS post-consumption as all the kona-caffeine coursed through my veins.  But that just gave me more time to savor all the amazing flavors this plate provided, for which I was incredibly grateful.  Next time, though, I’m thinking this steak will be served with eggs and toast for breakfast…

Braised Short Rib Matzohdilla

DSCN4796I get my inspiration from all sorts of places.  Since the husbandman and I are on the cheap these days, I usually peruse the menus of Boston’s finer restaurants, looking for what they’re serving which I can replicate at home. But that’s my high-brow approach; sometimes, it’s better to be influenced by popular culture.  For example:  Chickenhawk’s Chicken and Beans, one of my most popular posts, was inspired by this ditty on the new Looney Tunes show.  Tonight’s meal crawled into my imagination thanks to Sean and Gus from USA’s Psych; a silly show, to be sure, but one that makes me laugh every time I watch it.  On their 100th episode, Sean – with his customary wit – celebrates a verbal mashup of Yiddish and Spanish by coining the term “Matzohdilla”, which Gus thinks “sounds delicious”.  So did I, dear readers – so did I.  The concept of a quesadilla made with matzohs instead of tortillas just lit me on fire!  My mind immediately conjured a delectable vision of crusty pressed unleavened flat-grilled crackers stuffed with gooey cheese and savory meat, served Mexican style with some guac and sour cream for garnish.  I ran pell-mell to Whole Foods to make my dream a reality.

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Braised Shortrib Matzohdilla

1lb boneless short ribs
1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 qt beef broth
3 slices bacon
1 can black beans
1 bottle dark beer
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb cheddar cheese
6oz cream cheese
1 avocado
1 small red onion
3-4 tablespoons minced cilantro
4-5 tablespoons diced tomatoes
4 matzohs
sour cream
garlic powder, red chile powder, ground cumin, black pepper, sea salt, smoked paprika, onion powder, EVOO

DSCN4775My original idea was to make carnitas for this meal, but I figured I was already slapping kosher in the face with the inclusion of cheese and cream cheese in my recipe; pork would just be cruelly insensitive.  (Of course, I ended up using bacon in my beans (see below), but bacon doesn’t count, right?)  Instead, I chose some lovely beef short ribs; I rubbed them down with a nice healthy blend of my dry spices (salt, pepper, cumin, garlic & onion powder, paprika, chile powder), and dusted them with flour before searing them thoroughly in hot EVOO in a large pan deep enough to submerge them in braising liquids.

DSCN4777After they’ve been browned on each side and all the edges, I dump my tomatoes and 1/2 my minced garlic into the pan…

DSCN4778…before adding my broth.  These babies floated a bit, but they eventually sunk to the bottom.  I throw a lid on top, lower my heat to a bare simmer, and let these braise for about 90 minutes…

DSCN4779b… or until I can easily shred the meat with a fork – like so.  Um: YUM!

DSCN4780Apparently, I can’t avoid pork.  I tried – I really did.  But before I even knew my auto-pilot had kicked in, I’d done gone and fried up a few slices to include in my beans.  What can I say?  I’m a degenerate.

DSCN4781After my bacon crisped, I dumped in my beans and a few scoopfuls of the braising liquid from the shortribs, and my bottle of beer.  I let these simmer on medium heat until most of the liquid had burned off, then I mash up everything with a fork to give them a nice, spreadable texture.

DSCN4788Time to break out the matzohs!  I spread cream cheese on each cracker, then layer them with meat, beans, and cheese before carefully pressing them together.

DSCN4789Like so!

DSCN4790I get my largest, non-stick skillet set to medium, and I brush it down thoroughly with a little EVOO.

DSCN4791I very carefully lay my matzohdilla in the pan, pressing down gingerly to flatten.  I made two of these – one for me, and one for El Husbandious; I sort of snapped one, but I am happy to say they stayed together pretty well, enough so that none of the filling leached out.  As the matzohs heated in the oil, they became slightly pliable – but without losing their crunch!

DSCN4792The trick to an excellent grilled cheese anything is time.  The heat should be set at a relatively low level, or else the outside can burn before the inside melts.  With constant gentle pressure, it took about 5 minutes on each side for these babies to cook up, and for all the cheddar cheese inside to melt and ooze.  Since I only had one pan large enough, I had to make these in shifts; I placed the cooked one on a sheet in a low oven to stay warm while I grilled up the other one.

DSCN4793See how nice?  All my cheese is gooey and ready, and the matzohdilla is born!

DSCN4793aIn a separate bowl, I whip up a quick guacamole: mashed avocado, diced tomato, diced red onion, minced garlic and cilantro, paprika, salt, pepper, and chile powder.  Mix that all up, and you’re good to go.

DSCN4795My cultural mash-up is complete!  I can’t really express how good this was: the matzohs stayed crispy and crackly, but they didn’t fall apart or crumble under the pressure of my teeth; the cream cheese/cheddar cheese blend was rich and creamy, with the cheese stretching from bite to bite like a most excellent pizza; the savory beans and tender, shredded meat were hot, flavorful, and delicious.  I admit, Clayton and I rather laughed our way through the whole meal.  It was freaking amazing, but I’d never seen or heard anything quite like it before (and I searched the internet for recipes – to no avail!), and it just seemed so silly to have been inspired by a cast-off quote from a TV show.  But, in this case, silly was super-delicious.  I wonder what other mash-ups I can come up with?  Chicken Tikka Chow Fun?  Caribbean Cassoulet?  Pad Thai Pizza?  Suggestions are welcome!

Weeknight Wondermeal: Pork Chops Pizzaiola

dscn4743It’s been a while since I’ve posted a good Weeknight Wondermeal, which I characterize as having very few ingredients (less than $20 worth) and very little effort or time.  Y’see, I work at Harvard with a slew of excellent undergrads, and as they go off into the real world clutching their diplomas and dreaming of a future wealthy with either success or fulfillment (hopefully both), they need a little help transitioning.  And this is a dinner I expect any of my Harvard kids to be able to execute.  Hell, if they can do a Western blot, they should be able to figure out how to braise a pork chop in tomato sauce and boil water for pasta.  Once they do, they’ll be able to feed their bodies as much as they’ve fed their minds.

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Pork Chops Pizzaiola

2 6-8 ounce center cut pork chops (about 1/2″ thick)
2-3 tbs flour
1 medium/large white onion
1 can diced tomatoes in juice
8oz button or baby bella mushrooms
1 qt beef or chicken stock
4 slices provolone cheese
1 cup pasta
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 tbs butter, divided
sea salt, cracked black pepper, garlic powder, EVOO

DSCN4732Start by rinsing and patting dry your pork chops, before sprinkling them generously with salt and pepper.  Dust them with flour, too.

DSCN4735Get a large skillet nice and hot, and add 2 tbs butter and a glug of EVOO to the pan.  Place your pork chops on the sizzling surface and sear for about 4 minutes.

DSCN4736Flip your chops, and sear on the other side for another couple minutes until nicely golden brown.

DSCN4737After peeling and dicing your onion, and washing all the dirt from your mushrooms, chuck all that into the pan, too.  Mix around a bit to heat through.

DSCN4738Add the tomatoes…

DSCN4739… then add the broth.  Your chops should be just submerged under the broth.  Get everything to a nice simmer, then chuck the whole pan into a 350° oven to bake for 45 minutes.  (This is a little long for a Weeknight Wondermeal, but considering how little effort is required to make this dinner, I figure it still qualifies.)

DSCN4741After said time, your chops should be practically falling off the bone, the tomato sauce should be nicely reduced, and your mushrooms should be plump and pregnant with juiciness.  Lay 2 slices of provolone cheese over each chop, then throw the pan back in the oven for about 5-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

DSCN4742This dish goes with pasta, rice, or mashed potatoes.  I like it best with pasta.  These shells have been cooked to just al dente, then tossed with butter, a little parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.

DSCN4745Juicy, tender, unctuously delicious pork chops draped with ooey-gooey smoked cheese, and served with its sauce over pasta.  A dash of parsley to add color to the plate will make you look all fancy-pants, too.  Serve this with some crusty bread for sopping, and you’ve got a dinner worth that Harvard degree!

Roasted Game Hens, Brussels Sprouts, Tiny Potatoes, Bacon Hollandaise, Poached Egg

DSCN4633Besides being a full time college administrator and a part-time blogger, I also help teach writing intensive classes in English Literature at Harvard, and this semester we are studying Darwin’s theory of evolution (in terms of the impact On the Origin of Species had on the 19th century novel).  Perhaps that fact, along with a small plate of sprouts I enjoyed at Michael Schlow’s new joint, The Sinclair, the other night, inspired this chicken/egg creation: a partially de-boned Cornish game hen served with roasted Brussels sprouts and tiny wee potatoes, topped with fried onions, bacon hollandaise sauce, and a poached egg.  This was NOT an easy dinner to prepare!  De-boning the hens still takes me a while, making hollandaise sauce while poaching eggs requires a Doctor Octopus-like physiology, and there were a lot of little component parts that had to be executed all at the same time in order to serve everything hot together.  But, dear reader, was it worth it!  My tender, juicy hen covered in the runny golden goodness of cousin yolks paired with the earthy herbaceousness of caramelized baby cabbages, white potatoes, and flash fried onions was the perfect offering for a chilly, windy, and wet late winter’s dinner.

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Roasted Game Hens, Brussels Sprouts, Tiny Potatoes, Bacon Hollandaise, Poached Egg

2 game hens, breast and back bones removed
2 small whole sweet onions, peeled, trimmed, and boiled in water until tender
20-3o Brussels sprouts
10-20 tiny white potatoes
4 slices bacon
1/2 cup diced white onion
4 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1 1/2 sticks butter
EVOO
flour, sea salt, cracked black pepper, white wine vinegar

DSCN4622I’ve presented de-boned game hens once before on this blog (check it out here), when I went into great detail about how to remove the back bones and breast bones of these little beasties – but today I didn’t have the time to take all the pictures.  There are some good tutorials on YouTube, too – which I refer to each time I go through this procedure.  I’m still not as efficient as it as I’d like (read: it takes me a long time, and I cuss like a sailor throughout the whole process), but the results have been wonderful each time.  By removing these portions of the skeleton, you are making these otherwise difficult to eat birdies a breeze!  The only bones left are in the legs and wings, but one can carve right through the body of the bird with a delicate knife to gather up rich, whole mouthfuls of succulent, juicy chicken.  However, once those bones are removed, you are left with a rather deflated critter, so I like to give it back some shape by stuffing something yummy and roundish back into the chest cavity.  In this case I did so with tiny sweet boiled onions, which I’d peeled and trimmed (leaving them whole by keeping just the butt of the bulb intact) and cooked until easily pierced with a fork.  Then I trussed up the birds with some twine so they’d maintain their shape.  After rubbing them down with salt and pepper, I set them aside until I was ready for them.

DSCN4624I neglected to add these important components of the meal to my set-up shot, so here’s a little something for you now.  I only need about a 1/2 cup of diced onion, and I fry the slices of bacon until crispy.  Oh, and when I said tiny potatoes, I meant TINY — these bad boys are about the circumference of my thumb, and no more than a knuckle long.  And I’ve got baby hands, people.

DSCN4625These I partially peel…

DSCN4623… and the sprouts I trim and halve, keeping the really small ones whole.

DSCN4628I’m able to spread both veggies out on the same baking sheet – which is good since they’ll take about the same amount of time to cook.  They’ve all been doused in EVOO, salt, and pepper, and the sprouts I lay cut-side down.

DSCN4629The trick to a meal this complex is having everything ready to go at the same time.  On my back right burner, I’ve got a water bath set up to double-boil my hollandaise sauce, which starts with a stick of butter melting in the small bowl resting on my tongs. On the right I have a large pot with several inches of water set to a simmer to poach my eggs.  The front burner has my largest fry-pan, a couple glugs of EVOO, and some more butter which I heated to a foaming mass before gently placing my birds within.  I meant to put them both breast side up at first, but their floppy, skeleton-less anatomy confused me, so one’s face up and the other is face down.  No harm done.

DSCN4630“The lost art of the arroser.”  I had the pleasure of discovering this term in print just when I needed to find it – since I engaged in said art when preparing tonight’s dinner.  This refers to the technique of spooning hot fat oven the up-side of a protein searing in a pan, so it can gently cook on both sides at the same time.  I’ve seen this on Iron Chef and other cooking shows, and I’ve mimicked it to great effect in the past, but I’ve never known what it was called.  Thanks, New York Times.  Anyway, given that it takes two hands – one to tilt the pan, the other to spoon the butteroil – I couldn’t take a good shot of me in action, but suffice to say that as my birds sizzled, I basted them continually with hot golden deliciousness for about 5 minutes of sear time before flipping them.

DSCN4631Damn they look good.  I do the same technique for the flip side of each bird before I get them both settled, breast side down (so they’re resting on their “elbows”, so to speak).  This is crunch time: it will take 25 minutes for the sprouts, potatoes, and chickens to roast off in a 350° oven.  The pan with the veggies goes on the bottom rack – which is closest to the heat source in my oven – and the chickens go in their pan onto the top shelf to finish baking through.  I now have 20 or so minutes to get everything else done before I need to plate.

DSCN4626First, I toss my onions in flour, salt, and pepper before…

DSCN4627… frying them in some oil until crispy and brown.

DSCN4632Now it’s egg time.  The trick to making both hollandaise sauce and poached eggs is to have everything ready in advance.  Water should be at a low simmer for both preparations; the back, smaller burner for the sauce, and the front larger burger for the eggs.  Given that I was under pressure to get everything out on time, I didn’t take pictures of each process, but for the hollandaise sauce you can check out this previous posting, which goes into great detail, and for the poached eggs I actually followed Kenji’s most recently posted procedure from Serious Eats.  The eggs only take about 4 minutes to poach, and the hollandaise takes about 10 minutes from start to finish.  After the 10 minutes prep it took to get everything ready, by the time my sauce and eggs are ready, it is just about on the minute I need to pull out my chicken and veg from the oven.

DSCN4634The roasted sprouts and potatoes form the bed for this little baby chicken, while the oozing yellow yolk and sauce act as its blanket, with a little scattering of fried onion bits for contrast.  After cutting the trussing strings, I am able to disengage a leg from the bird with the gentlest of tugs – which, of course, I do daintily with my pinky finger extended in polite form.  But once the succulent, tender, and steaming meat makes it to my tongue, all bets are off, and I throw down my silverware and just start sopping and supping with complete abandon.  The richness of the sauce and yolk are offset by the salty bacon and deeply caramelized sprouts, and the potatoes add just the right amount of starch to the plate.  This was a dinner that was lovely to look at, but even better to eat.

Wild Mushroom Risotto, Butternut Squash, Smoked Gouda, Orange Gremolata, Hazelnuts

DSCN4417Working in Harvard Square like I do means I get my pick of some pretty great restaurants for my daily lunch.  But since I’m on a tight budget, I only make it to the fancy-schmanzy places when I’m eating on someone else’s dime.  Luckily, I have generous bosses with great taste, so I get to sample the hoity-toity fare pretty often – as I did last week at Harvest.  The Harvard muckity-mucks flock to Harvest, so it’s a great powerful-people watching joint, and the restaurant is so civilized it’s hard not to feel a little muckity yourself when seated on their fine cushions in front of their roaring fireplace perusing their extensive wine list.  Yet — and meaning no disrespect to head chef Mary Dumont — although the service is impeccable, the location charming, and the food good, I’ve never really been blown away by it.  In fact, I’m usually underwhelmed by the number of menu choices, ambivalent about the way the flavors come together, and disappointed in their serving-size to price ratio (which leans heavily towards price).  I mean, everything is fresh, artfully presented, and prepared with care, but I usually tell myself I could have made the same thing if not better, certainly cheaper.  Granted, Lolita doesn’t have a staff to pay or high rent to shell out, nor do I have the training and skill of the chefs who certainly grace their kitchen.  Still – I decided to test my theory, and recreate my mini-lunch of the other day as a maxi-dinner several nights later.  The menu: wild mushroom (they used the term “foraged”, which I did – through Whole Foods’s mushroom bins) risotto with roasted butternut squash (they used delacata squash, which I could not find), smoked gouda, orange gremolata, and toasted hazelnuts.  Theirs cost my dear benefactor $16 for my dining pleasure, and although I certainly enjoyed it – more than any other dish I’ve had from Harvest – I was left hungry afterwards by the teeny-tiny portion size.  For about $25, I made the same dish for both the husbandman and myself: it looked virtually the same, tasted exactly the same, and this time truly satiated by hunger – and his as well.  So, dear readers, here’s my riff off a high-falutin’ menu item from a chi-chi restaurant prepared by haute-cuisine hands. If you prefer to pay top dollar for your fancy-schmanzy, hoity-toity, muckity-muckity, high-falutin’ haute cuisine, read no further.  But if you have a hankering for all the above on a common-woman shoe-string budget, just make it yourself.  And be both happy AND full afterwards…

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Wild Mushroom Risotto, Butternut Squash, Smoked Gouda, Orange Gremolata, Hazelnuts

1 medium butternut squash
8oz fresh assorted wild  mushrooms
4 tbs butter, divided
2 shallots
4 cloves garlic
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1 quart mushroom broth
1 cup smoked gouda cheese
zest from 1 orange
zest from 1 lemon
2 tbs minced fresh parsley
1/2 cup shelled hazelnuts
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper

DSCN4385Whole Foods has some decent pre-packaged blends of wild mushrooms, but I decided to hand-pick some choices through their assortment of loose mushrooms to find some really fun ones to add to this plate.  I’ve got one large portobello (the most mushroomy flavored variety), some shiitake, trumpet, chanterelle, and some weird, rubbery wood ears – which I can only imagine are called that because they truly seem and feel like the fleshy bits of the ear, and not like a fungus at all.  This assortment  represented the majority of my expense for this meal, but it was worth it.

DSCN4391After slicing and chopping my fungi, I add about a third of them to a hot skillet with some browned butter.  Too many mushrooms at once, and they’ll all steam – so cooking them off in shifts to give them the chance to breathe is the best way to do so.  Also, I resist the urge to stir them around a lot; the more they’re moved around, the more water they release, which will also steam them – and what I want here are nicely browned seared mushrooms.

DSCN4393I was surprised to see how the wood ear mushrooms acted in the heat.  They literally blew up into little balloons which popped from time to time.  I caught a decent shot of a ‘shroom-balloon above, right before it exploded, making me jump and splattering my lens with umame goodness.  The rest of the fungi acted more demurely.  I set each batch into a bowl to hold between more additions of butter and ‘shrooms, until they’re all ready.  They reduce in volume by quite a bit – more than half – since they shrink when cooked.  At this point, the house smells heavenly…

DSCN4404If you look back on previous posts of mine, you’ll see that I make risotto A LOT.  It’s really the only way I know I’ll enjoy rice, seeing as I have a Puerto-Rican prejudice against it, having eaten way too much of it way too often in my formative years.  I start by mincing my garlic, slicing my shallots, and measuring out my arborio.  On the back burner of my stovetop, I use a stockpot to heat up my mushroom broth to just simmering.

DSCN4405Using the last tablespoon of butter I measured out earlier, I sauté my aromatics over medium heat until they release their aromas – about 2 minutes.

DSCN4406In goes the rice, which I stir around well to fully coat with the hot butter.   This toasts the grain, making it more receptive to absorbing the liquids I’ll be adding shortly.

DSCN4408The first dousing comes from wine.  I lower the heat to medium low, add my cup or so of chardonnay, and stir well.  This is the beginning of the stirring; there will be more, much much more.

DSCN4407The risotto is ready for the addition of more liquid when the well-and-oft-stirred rice has absorbed all the last liquid added to the pot.DSCN4409Adding about 4 oz (a ladle-full) of mushroom broth at a time, I cook well and stir often…

DSCN4412… until my dragging spoon exposes the bottom of the pan, indicating that that batch of broth has been sucked into the grains, softening them and coaxing from them the thick, creamy sauce risotto is known for.  I keep adding stock in increments, stirring all the while, until it’s all gone.

DSCN4413After about 30 minutes, my risotto is rich and silky.  I test for doneness by tasting a grain; it should be just al dente, a little firm (but not chalky) in the center of the kernel, but otherwise it should be a tender bite.

DSCN4415At this point, I add my mushrooms and my shredded smoked gouda to the risotto, which I mix well and let heat through for about 5-8 minutes to incorporate all the flavors and melt the cheese.

DSCN4403My squash has been roasting whole for the last hour or so, and it’s now soft and ready to carve into.  Harvest’s plating was lovely; the squash formed a sort of angled demi-bowl, out from which the risotto seemed to spill.  I approximated that as much as I could, but not wanting to waste perfectly good squash just to create a pretty form, all the flesh I scooped out of the bowl I layered on the plate below the rice so I could enjoy more of its sweetness and texture than the vessel alone provided.

DSCN4398The last two garnishes were very simple.  First, I took my handful of hazelnuts and threw them into a bare pan, which I set over medium high heat.  A few minutes and a few stirs (to toast them evenly throughout), and they were ready.  I cracked them with a mallet to provide more texture.

DSCN4400A gremolata is a wonderful condiment for all sorts of preparations, and it’s usually made from parsley, garlic, and lemon zest.  In this case, I substituted orange zest for the garlic, and mixed everything well.  This imparts a bright flavor to my otherwise rich dish.

DSCN4418A sweet cutaway silo of butternut squash partially encases an earthy, creamy cascade of wild mushroom risotto, sitting on a simple puddle of extra virgin olive oil.  The crunch of the hazelnuts and fresh zip of the gremolata provide textural and tasty complexity to the plate, which oozes warmth and goodness in each rich bite.  Perfect for a cold night, or an elegant dinner party, this dish takes a little effort – both at the grocery store and in the kitchen – but its worth is evident in every grain of rice, from the first to the last.  Enjoy!