Trouble With Toast

Recipe: Spaghetti with Sausage and Simple Tomato Sauce

May 27, 2010
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Sometimes, after a lousy crap-fest of a day, it is incredibly tempting to adopt the “eff it” mentality and order a pizza or get take-out.  I had one of those horrible, terrible, very bad, no good days about two weeks ago, but I (shockingly) remembered that there are quick and wholesome meals that can be made out of standard pantry ingredients.

This dish was cozy and comforting enough to chill me out, but it was also on the table in under 20 minutes.  It didn’t require any funky ingredients – aside from the basil, which I happened to have on hand because it looked particularly nice at the store, these are ingredients I try to stock regularly in my kitchen.

The resulting dinner was warm, flavorful, and satisfying.  I served it with a small green salad, and it was exactly what I needed to put things in perspective and gain a new lease on life.

  • 8  ounces  hot Italian turkey sausage links
  • 8  ounces  uncooked spaghetti
  • 1  (28-ounce) can no-salt-added whole tomatoes, undrained
  • 2  tablespoons  olive oil
  • 1/2  teaspoon  crushed red pepper
  • 5  garlic cloves, minced
  • 1  teaspoon  sugar
  • 1/2  teaspoon  kosher salt
  • 1/4  cup  torn fresh basil
  • 1/2  cup  (2 ounces) shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat broiler.  Arrange sausage on a small baking sheet. Broil sausage 5 minutes on each side or until done. Remove pan from oven (do not turn broiler off). Cut sausage into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange slices in a single layer on baking sheet. Broil sausage slices 2 minutes or until browned.

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain.

Place tomatoes in a food processor (I used a blender); process until almost smooth. Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add crushed red pepper and minced garlic; sauté 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, sugar, and salt; cook 4 minutes or until slightly thick. Add sausage and cooked pasta to pan; toss well. Top with fresh basil and Parmigiano-Reggiano.


Farm Burger: Clash of the Concepts?

May 24, 2010
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Remember when life was simple?  When restaurants were just restaurants, and they didn’t have to have a theme or a mantra or a code of ethics?  When a burger was just meat (of a regular ol’ cow) between two slices of bread, possibly with a slice of (non-artisan) cheese?

I don’t think we can ever go back to those days, now that phrases like “farm to table” and “locavore” and “burger boutique” have entered our lexicon.  And hey, I’m not necessarily arguing that we SHOULD go back to those days – I’ll save that debate for another day.  However, after three visits to Farm Burger in Decatur, I can’t help but wondering if complicating the simple things only distracts us from old school, pure, unadulterated deliciousness.

All of my visits were on Wednesdays at about 5:30 PM (gotta fuel up before my evening swim workouts).  However, I ordered different things each time and had three unique experiences.

Visit #1: Found a parking space up front, woo hoo!  The line was long, so my first impression was, “One register?!?!?!”  I ordered a #1 (smoked white cheddar, caramelized onions, and FB sauce) with fries, and I took it to go.  I ate the fries right away, but they were UNGODLY salty.  As in, if I hadn’t been so hungry, I wouldn’t have eaten them.  And even though I ate them shortly after ordering, they seemed a little limp and soggy.  The burger, on the other hand, seemed to benefit from the travel time – the cheese had melted beautifully, the patty was juicy and flavorful, and the onions and FB sauce (which seems to be spicy Thousand Island) were tasty without masking the flavor of the beef.  The bun had sopped up some moisture during the ride to the pool, but it still managed to hold everything together.  I enjoyed it enough to vow a return visit.

Visit #2: Found a parking spot in back, woo hoo!  This time, instead of waiting in line, I saddled up to the counter/bar.  There, I ordered some chicken croquettes while I decided on my to-go order.  They were really nicely fried and not greasy at all, though I found the breading a tad bit thick and heavy for my liking.  For my pre-swim meal, I opted for a #4 (pickled beets, green garlic, arugula, goat cheese, and mayo) and an order of onion rings.  I knew the rings would suffer a bit in a take-out situation, but they were surprisingly tasty (the beer batter is really nice).  However, they were also surprisingly greasy.  The burger this time was even more kickass than the first one – I could still taste the delicious grass-fed beef, but the beets added a subtle sweetness, the goat cheese added nice creaminess, and the arugula kept everything from being way too rich.  I don’t think I tasted the green garlic, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t there.  Again, the burger seemed to actually improve from being packed away during my drive, and I was able to eat it without anything falling apart (which shocked me, given the amount of toppings).

Visit #3: No parking in the lot, boo!  Circled for a while and then gave up and parked on the street.  I figured I needed a completely eat-in experience before I could formulate an opinion on the joint, so I sat at the counter and ordered a build-your-own burger (pepper jack, fresh jalapenos, lettuce, tomato, red onion) and onion rings.  I thought I would be blown away by the rings, since I had enjoyed their flavor when I took them to go, but I was pretty disappointed.  They were still crazy greasy, and the batter didn’t have the nice beery taste that I remembered from the previous order.  The burger was also a disappointment.  The flavor of the beef was still excellent, but everything – even the patty itself – fell apart as soon as I picked it up.  At first I wanted to kick myself for choosing too many toppings, but I quickly realized that wasn’t the issue.  Instead, I believe the fact that the meat was RARE was causing the structural problems.  Now, please don’t misunderstand – I love rare beef as much as the next person.  However, a restaurant that makes a big production about how all of their burgers are cooked to medium for optimum results (which I believe is the right call, for what it’s worth) should make sure that all of the burgers are, in fact, cooked to medium.  And yes, I did bring the temperature of my burger to the attention of the staff – I didn’t ask for it to be re-done, but I wanted them to know that they should do some extra QC.

So, what’s the bottom line?  I totally respect what the Farm Burger folks are trying to do in terms of sustainability and supporting all things local.  I also get that they’ve only been open about a month and are probably still ironing out the kinks.  I think they’re bringing in quality ingredients, though sometimes the execution seemed to fall a little short.  Is it better than Five Guys?  Yes.  Is it better than H&F or other “gourmet” burgers in town?  No.  I feel like Farm Burger hovers in that burger middle ground, where it’s not fast food, but it’s not high-end, either.  Perhaps some streamlining and simplifying could benefit the concept.

After all, at the end of the day, it’s just a burger.


Recipe: Beer-Braised Chicken Tacos

May 11, 2010
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My husband loves my cooking, to be sure.  However, I always solicit constructive feedback when I try a new recipe – and he can usually come up with something that he feels would make the dish better.  Sometimes his comments are as simple as, “I think this needs more salt,” and other times he comes up with elaborate ways to enhance the flavors and textures (he may not cook, but he knows food).

So, imagine my surprise when this dish resulted in NO criticism whatsoever.  When I asked if there was anything that should be tweaked or changed, the result was dead silence (well, actually, it was more like chewing noises).  Both my husband and I agreed that the meal was perfect as-is, and that the only thing that could improve it would be homemade corn tortillas (and lo and behold, a tortilla press arrived in my mailbox a few short days later…).

The original recipe from Food and Wine called for turkey, but there was none of that to be found (and I tried Kroger, Publix, Whole Foods, and Fresh Market).  Bone-in chicken worked perfectly, and don’t be afraid of the dark meat!  With the skin and fat trimmed, it ain’t gonna hurt ya.  And it’s so tasty!  I can’t wait to make this again – it’s a bit time-consuming (all braised meats are), but it is totally worth it.  Enjoy!

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Two pounds bone-in chicken thighs and/or drumsticks, skin and fat removed
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium white onion, cut into 1-inch dice, plus minced red onion, for serving
  • 1 large oregano sprig
  • 1 large jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 medium tomato, coarsely chopped
  • 1 poblano chile, stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped or torn
  • One 2-inch cinnamon stick
  • One 12-ounce bottle Mexican dark beer, such as Negro Modelo
  • 1 cup water
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • Chopped cilantro, for serving

In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat until richly browned all over, about 8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the casserole along with the garlic, diced onion, oregano, and jalapeño and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the onion is softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato, poblano, and cinnamon stick and cook, stirring, until the tomato releases its juices.

Return the chicken to the casserole, add the beer and water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat, turning once, until the chicken thighs are tender, about 1 hour. Transfer the chicken to a plate and let cool. Discard the oregano sprig and cinnamon stick and boil the sauce over high heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 12 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350. Wrap the tortillas in foil and bake for about 8 minutes, until softened and heated through. Remove the chicken meat and shred it. Transfer the sauce to a food processor and puree. Return the sauce to the pot and stir in the shredded chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the chicken onto the tortillas. Top with minced onion and cilantro sprigs and serve.


Recipe: Short Ribs (and leftover short rib sammiches!)

May 6, 2010
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I meant to make this dish when it was a little chillier, since nothing warms the bones like slow-cooked meat.  Instead, I chose to sweat it out over braised short ribs on a sultry April evening simply because I had been on the road for a week and was preparing to do so for another.  I needed something comforting and rich, and something I sure as hell wasn’t going to be getting from hotel room service.  So, I rustled through my torn-out “must try” magazine recipes and settled on this one, largely because it would provide tasty leftover sandwiches for my hubby while I was out of town on business.

The short ribs themselves are amazing – totally tender and meaty, and all of the aromatics will make your house smell INSANE.  There’s not a ton of active cooking time, either, so you can busy yourself with other things.  The onions take no time at all to cook, so don’t get started on them till the end of the process (if you want to eat them warm and fresh, at least).

As for the sandwiches, I’ve posted the original recipe, which calls for them to be grilled (which I’m sure would be delicious).  The logistics didn’t quite work for me to do that, but I did make cold sandwiches on fresh ciabatta bread, and they were delicious.  The onions and arugula did a nice job of cutting the richness of the meat, and even though I used good quality Colby Jack cheese, I don’t think it really added anything (possibly because it wasn’t melted).

Short Ribs:

  • 5 pounds beef short ribs
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup low-salt beef broth
  • 1/3 cup medium-dry Sherry
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large fresh thyme sprig

Onions:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 large red onions, halved, thinly sliced crosswise (about 6 cups)
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

Assembly:

  • Butter, room temperature
  • 16 slices country-style crusty white bread
  • 12 ounces Petit Basque or Monterey Jack cheese, sliced
  • 4 cups baby arugula

Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper.  Melt butter in large wide pot over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, cook beef until browned, about 6 minutes per batch. Transfer to large rimmed baking sheet. Add celery, carrots, and onion to pot and sauté until beginning to soften and brown, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add wine, broth, Sherry, garlic, bay leaves, and thyme sprig; bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Season with salt and pepper. Return ribs to pot, propping up on sides and arranging in single layer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 1 hour.

Using tongs, turn ribs over in pot. Cover and simmer until ribs are tender and sauce is very thick, occasionally rearranging ribs in pot to prevent sticking, about 1 1/2 hours longer.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, sprinkle with salt, and sauté until beginning to brown, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Add vinegar and sugar and cook until almost all vinegar is absorbed, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to microwave-safe bowl; cool.

Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with waxed paper. Butter 8 bread slices; place 4 slices, buttered side down, on each prepared sheet. Divide short rib mixture among bread slices, about 1/2 cup for each. Divide cheese among sandwiches. Spoon about 1/4 cup onions over each sandwich. Place large handful of arugula atop onions. Top with remaining 8 bread slices. Spread bread with butter.

Heat griddle or 2 large skillets over medium heat. Working in batches, cook sandwiches until bread is golden brown and cheese melts, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to work surface. Cut each in half on diagonal. Transfer to plates and serve.


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