Monday, August 29, 2011

The First Dinner Party

We had our first guests over to our new apartment last Monday—and very rightly so, it was the person who introduced The Urban Chef and me a little less than 2 years ago, Ms. Christina, also known as “Bean.”  I wish I could say that we did this deliberately, but sometimes fate and pure chance just make things happen in such a way that I wonder just how much we have control over.  I think it was so fabulous, that in the Urban Chef and my new home, that the first person who enjoyed the culinary treats was the woman who introduced us.

During the unpacking process something happened, I lost the screws to the Urban Chef’s chef table (gasp).  Not on purpose… the screws were really small and I think I accidentally threw them away… ok ok, I know, worst girlfriend ever.  But, I figured, we were going to Home Depot the next day, how hard could it be to replace them…famous last words.  Let me tell you how hard.  We are at Home Depot, waiting in line for paint, and the Urban Chef comes back from the bolt section looking like a defeated puppy.  They didn’t have the bolts, didn’t know anyone who did, and couldn’t order them—they didn’t even know what they were called!  Yeah, thanks Home Depot.  So now, I feel AWFUL!!!!   The next day the Urban Chef scourers EVERY hardware store in a 5 miles radius from our apt.  Nothing.  But we did learn that we were looking for metric set screws, thin weave.  So we decide to go online, we think we have a pretty good idea about what size they are and we find them on  Good prices, nice store, but we can’t get the right size.  More scouring on the internet, I go to a contractor supply sites and find a store called Fastenal—which is only open during contractor hours, M-F 7-3pm in Brooklyn.  The Urban Chef finally makes it there, this last Monday (14 days after we moved in... believe me, he was counting) and finds his bolts!!! YAY!  So if you ever need weird crazy bolts, go to Fastenal.  Although, the funny thing was when the Urban Chef walked in, he was like “Please tell me you have these screws, I have looked all over Brooklyn.” And the clerk responds, “Well you should have come here first.”  Deadpan.  Ha ha! So Brooklyn.  But I digress, happiness ensues, and the Urban Chef's chef table is ready in the knick of time for our first guests.

Christina and Jorge arrive last Monday evening armed with the most amazing plant I have ever seen.  It was a large green flowery orb with hanging habanero peppers! Awesome (and hot)!  Christina said people were stopping here on the street asking her where she got it.  I made salsa with one of the peppers this weekend and it was so hot I could barely eat it (but I did…note to self, 1 habenero make it plenty hot, 2 will make is sweltering!)

It was so nice to have people over, The Urban Chef and I love to entertain.  And the Urban Chef’s 1st meal did not disappoint.  The first course was a scallop crudo—scallops poached in acid to cook them (like a civiche) leaving you with almost raw fresh scallops.  The dish was tart, light, and savory—a perfect way to start a dinner on a hot summer night.  To accompany, Christina had brought an Albarino whose citrus notes played perfectly with the scallops.  Albarino is a Spanish wine grown in the North Eastern region, it is very similar to that of Viognier, Gewurztraminer and has hints of stone fruits.  The wine produced is light and generally high in acidity… my choice for a hot summer night, refreshing and light.  

2nd course was shrimp tacos!!! YUMMY!  You think you have had shrimp tacos, but you haven’t until you have eaten the Urban Chef’s.  Succulent shrimp topped with pickled spicy cherry tomatoes, crispy kale, and hot habenero cilantro crema.  Firm grilled shrimp, accompanied by a pop of a pickled tomato, the bitter of the kale, finished with the savory spicy notes of the light drizzle of crema. All the flavors worked together without overpowering each other, the tomatoes were perfect without taking away from the succulence of the shrimp.  These tacos went in record time!  

 The Urban Chef is a little hesitant to post the recipe for shrimp tacos, as he doesn’t want the “world” to see it.  I did reassure him that only like 10 people read my blog (thanks Mom & Dad) and that his secrets were safe with them… but still no dice.  If you do want the recipe, you can email him personally and he will send it to you.  Just be warned, you may be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement (kidding!)

This past weekend was a bit of a bust as Hurricane (wait I mean Rainstorm) Irene placed the city of New York into a panic.  Some parts of the Eastern Seaboard are still without power—here’s hoping you get it back up soon (my Grandma called me and was worried that her cat Lucy was bored without the TV…likely story Grandma!)  But if you do have a gas stove and are still without power… here’s what to do with a can of cannelloni beans, bread, and an onion.  I also make this on a fall afternoon when I want a simple and hearty lunch.

Italian Bean Lunch

1 yellow onion (medium)
2 clove garlic (optional)
1 can of Cannelloni (white) beans
2 T Olive oil
1 T marjoram (if you don’t have Italian seasoning will work)
Parmesan Cheese (optional)
Bread (toasted)

Slice onion into medium rings and dice garlic.  Preheat a large cast iron pan on high heat.  Add oil when hot.  Saute onion for about 2 min, until fragrant, add garlic, sauté 1 minute.  Open Cannelloni beans and add to pan (including liquid from beans).  Stir and bring back to a boil.  Add seasonings (salt, pepper, marjoram or Italian seasoning).  After returning to a boil, lower to medium heat, stir beans and let lightly simmer until sauce thickens a bit (4-5min). 

Meanwhile, toast bread (I like day old baguettes, as with toasting give you the crunching which is good to sop up the sauce from the beans.)  And for those who have never toasted bread without a toaster, your gas broiler works for the purpose too—just make sure to watch it, it goes quick and there is no bell!

Put toasted bread on a plate.  Butter toast if desired.  Pour beans on top of toast.  Sprinkle with Parmesan! 

Hello gourmet canned food meal!  Don’t let a lack of power stop you from eating well…enjoy something delicious!

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Urban Chef Plants Roots

First, a big sorry to all my urban cheff-ers & cheff-ettes—I know it’s been awhile since we last posted, but never fear, we are back and better than ever!  The urban chef has big news, we bought an apartment!  We have brand new digs with a bigger and better kitchen to aid in the urban chef’s culinary adventures. 

Like many new homeowners, we are eager to make the space our own.  I want everything put away, cleaned and functional—that instant “perfect” home feeling.  I was in nesting mode all the way this weekend—unpacking, decorating, etc (I left all major home repairs to the Urban Chef!)  This weekend—our first in the apt, we had our CSA pickup.  This week’s bounty was fabulous as we got our first batch of tomatoes!!!!  I love tomatoes and you will always find them in our fridge!  I put them on everything and really to me, nothing is complete without a slice of tomato. I look forward to this time of year because the true sweetness and delicacy of a tomato can be tasted.  My favorite thing on a summer day is a tomato sandwich, two slices of sourdough bread, lightly toasted, a smear of mayo and a ripe tomato with salt.  YUM!   But, since I was in a nesting mood, I wanted something more savory to fill the new house with that home cooking smell (you know, change the air and the feeling in the house, make it our own...)  In addition to tomatoes, we also received 3 fresh eggplant, and the first thing that popped into my head was my recipe for eggplant parmesan.   I love the big baked Italian favorites (ok, feaux American-Italian favorites, please, you know you love them) as they are savory and comforting, and keep well and reheat perfectly.

If you are in the mood for a bit of a heartier meal using fresh veggies—check out the below!  Perfect for a dreary day like today in New York…

Eggplant Parmesan
Time: 1 hour 45 min
Prep time: 45min
Cooking Time: 45min plus 15 min resting before serving
Serves 8 (or six hungry adults)
This recipe also works with veal or chicken cutlets. I would suggest making it with meat in the winter.

Tomato Sauce:
5 cloves garlic
3 large shallots
1 package plum tomatoes
3T olive oil
3 large vine ripe tomatoes
¼ cup wine or wine vinegar
¼ cup basil
¼ cup parsley
1 T oregano
1 T Salt (or more to taste)
1 t Pepper (or more to tast
Crushed red pepper (optional)
1 T sugar (optional, if tomatoes are in season, not needed)

2 T oil
1 package mushrooms (mini Portobello or Shitake)
6 cups baby spinach

3 Medium Eggplant (I like the long skinny ones)
2 eggs
½ cup breadcrumbs
½ oil (for frying)

10oz mozzarella cheese (part-skim)
½ cup pecorino Romano cheese


Begin by making your tomato sauce.  Pour package of plum tomatoes into a blender and coarsely chop.  Pour into a bowl.  Add the 3 large tomatoes (cored) and coarsely chop, add to bowl with plum tomatoes.  Peal and dice shallots.  Crush garlic, peal off skin, and chop (medium fine).  Heat a large saucepan on medium high with the 3T oil, sauté shallot until fragrant, add garlic and sauté 1-2min longer.   Add tomatoes and stir, you should have extra liquid given off from the tomatoes.  Add the vinegar, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper.  Bring to a soft boil, stir, reduce liquid just a bit (2-3min), then turn heat to low add basil, parsley, and oregano, stir, and cover.

Then, prepare the spinach filing.  Chop mushrooms, peal, crush, and chop garlic.  Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet, add mushrooms when hot.  Sauté 3-4min, add garlic, sauté for 1min, add spinach .  Stir with wooden spoon until spinach is wilted.  Add salt pepper.  Turn heat off and set aside. 

Slice the eggplant about 1/2 inch thick. Throw away both ends of eggplant; don't eat.
Beat the eggs together in a flat bowl (cereal bowl; salad plate). Use another bowl (same type) and fill about 1/4 inch with breadcrumbs.  Cover a slice of the eggplant, one at a time, with the egg and let excess drip off. Then lay the slice in the breadcrumbs, covering both sides. Repeat this process, adding more breadcrumbs as needed. If you fill the bowl with too many crumbs at on time, the crumbs will get sticky and chunky.

Add oil to a medium fry pan on medium high heat; add just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Brown each slice; you can brown about 4-5 slices at a time. Don't overcook; just let them get crispy on the outside (2 min a side). Add oil as necessary; don't let the pan dry out or burn.  Transfer slices to a paper towel.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Begin to combine ingredients in a large circular casserole pan.  To start, put a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom.  Arrange circles of eggplant on top, place them tight together.  Add a layer of the spinach and mushrooms on top of that (thin).  Add a thin layer of mozzarella cheese.  Repeat the process. Ideally, there should be 3 layers of eggplant with 2 layers of spinach sandwiched in-between.  Top the remaining eggplant with the rest of the tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and the Pecorino Romano cheese. 

Bake at 350 for 45 min.  This give you a crispy crust (which in the Urban Chef house, goes first!!!)  Let rest 15 min before serving. 

This recipe keeps very well—although in our house it goes fast—perfect for taking to work for lunch or a fast easy left-over dinner. I am excited by our new place and cannot wait to share all the new recipes that take shape there-- I know there are delicious things to come.