Friday, January 29, 2010

Fennel and Potato Hash

In the latest issue of Bon Appetit magazine, fennel was highlighted in the "At The Market" section. We've been a bit intrigued by fennel as an ingredient since I made a fennel and citrus salad last year, so I found a recipe that looked right up our alley and planned to make fennel and potato hash one Saturday morning for breakfast.

The recipe:
2 fennel bulbs with fronds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1.5 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into .5 to .75 inch cubes, patted dry
.5 teaspoon fine sea salt
freshly ground pepper
1 garlic clove, chopped
.25 cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley

After cutting the fennel up into half-inch pieces, cook it in boiling salted water until it starts to get tender. This should take about 3 minutes. Drain it and set it aside.

Heat up the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, then add the potatoes and cook them until they're golden and crisp, turning often. This should take 20-25 minutes. Then, using a masher (or the top of a meat tenderizer like I did), crush the potatoes in a skillet. Add the fennel, salt, and pepper. Keep cooking until the fennel is golden, which should take another 2 or 3 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in the parsley and the fennel fronds.

Elizabeth jumped at the suggestion to put a fried egg on top of the dish, and I even tried one (usually I'm a strictly scrambled kind of guy).

This was an instant favorite for us. It was a little labor-intensive for a breakfast, but a lot of that time was spent turning the potatoes every few minutes. And man, was it worth it. The potatoes were perfectly cooked - nice and crispy on the outside with a flavorful softness to the inside. I find fennel always adds an unexpectedly welcome flavor to dishes - often I don't expect it to fit in but it always finds a way. For me, the egg kind of put a damper on the textures I was getting from the rest of the dish, but maybe that's from a lifetime of hating on non-scrambled eggs. Elizabeth didn't seem to have a problem with it.

Definitely give this one a try. A nice hearty breakfast with some flavor.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup recipe

Excited to use the new crock pot I gave her for Christmas, Elizabeth set out to make some butternut squash soup last week. This recipe is highly recommended as the two coworkers I shared the leftovers with have been clamoring for it. Here's what you'll need:

2 cups of finely chopped onion
1 butternut squash (about 3 lbs), peeled and cubed
4 cups of chicken broth
1.5 cups apple sauce
1.5 tsp. salt
.25 tsp. ground white pepper
.25 tsp. ground nutmeg
.25 tsp. ground cloves
.25 tsp. curry powder
.25 tsp. ground coriander
.25 tsp. cinnamon

After cooking the onions until they're transparent, toss them into the pot with the squash, chicken broth, applesauce, salt, pepper, nutmeg, cloves, curry powder, coriander, and cinnamon. Cover everything up and cook on low (if your pot has settings) for 4 to 6 hours or until the squash is nice and tender.

Unless you like eating big ol' chunks of squash in your broth, we suggest you place the cubes into the food processor and smooth everything out. Once you've gotten all of the squash, cook the soup for an additional 2 to 4 hours.

The cooking times can definitely vary and we've already discovered that what some recipes call for are either way too long or too short for our pot. If you can, check on your dishes every so often - if you can't, just make sure there's enough liquid so your food doesn't get dried out (not a problem with soup).

We tossed some onion garlic croutons into the soup and went at it. I was a bit nervous that it would be too "vegetably" tasting for my liking, but it ended up being really good. It had a pleasant but not overpowering earthy flavor, and the seasoning was spot on. Plus, it's super healthy! Just don't tell the kids.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

It's all about the burger.

Last week we headed up to Montclair, NJ with Elizabeth's brother Pete and two cousins Adam and Alex. Our mission? Eat burgers. Lots of burgers.

We had heard of both Elevation Burger and SmashBurger in the recent past. The two chains have both opened up one location each (with more on the way) in northern NJ, and we decided it was finally time to try them out. Our first stop was Elevation Burger - the environmentally friendly chain that serves up 100% USDA-certified organic, grass-fed, free-ranged, ground-on-premises beef. They even have a philosophy page so customers can read up on why all of the things mentioned above are not only more healthy but better for the environment. Definitely a concept we can get behind...but would the burgers stack up?

Oh, the burgers stacked up, both metaphorically and literally! Each Elevation Burger comes with two patties, cheese, and your choice of as many of their eleven free toppings (blue cheese is extra) as you want. We decided to go with carmelized onions and pickles, and what a decision it was. Everything tasted great together - the onions added a nice flavor, the pickle added some texture and crunch, and the cheese was just right. Now, what are we forgetting? Ah, the beef! The two burgers were, in a word, awesome. I've read complaints that grass-fed beef doesn't quite measure up in terms of taste thanks to a lower level of intramuscular fat (making it healthier), but we found that couldn't be further from the truth. Toronto-based journalist Mark Schatzker agrees and conducted a blind taste test to prove it - check out his article here. The meat at Elevation Burger was juicy and flavorful and held just the right amount of grease. All in all, a burger that we will be going back to.

Elevation Burger also offers the Vertigo Burger - a stack of anywhere from 3 to 10 patties on a single bun. Adam decided to man up and try the four-patty Vertigo, pictured above. We also tried some fries, which are cooked in 100% olive oil. Again, the healthier option ended up delivering in terms of taste - the fries were nice and thin with a golden-brown finish to them. We washed everything down with two beverages. The first, a chocolate milk shake with black cherries and more chocolate, was delicious. Milkshakes tend to be a little too expensive to justify buying, but we splurged here and it was worth it. The second drink was an iced tea flavored with some odd combination of citrus and spices (was it cinnamon?) - it actually ended up being really interesting and something you won't find in many places.

Elevation Burger was a hit with everyone. Awesome burgers were the focal point, but all of the supporting cast came through and as a whole the meal was really, really good. The staff there was super friendly, and for us, the whole organic grass-fed thing was a big plus too. It was definitely a straight-up burger joint, with metal chairs, tables, and troughs for delivering your meal.

SmashBurger was next up on our burger odyssey. This place was much more restaurant-like, with comfy booths and a menu that offered quite a bit more. Alex ordered up the chili fries (pictured above), but the rest of us went with some combination of burgers and (non-chili) fries.

This time we went separate ways and had our own burgers. I ordered a Mushroom Swiss (pictured above) on an egg bun. The seasoning on the burger was really tasty, but the meat seemed a bit more dense and since this was our second stop I was already started to fill up. Definitely a good burger, though, and the egg bun was actually a pleasant surprise. -E.

I went low profile with my SmashBurger and just put on some cheddar cheese and a few pickles. Put that all on an onion bun, which added a nice flavor to the burger. I definitely appreciated all the options here. The burger itself was definitely seasoned well, but while the meat itself was good I found it to be a little overdone. The thing here is that they "smash" the burgers and seal in the juices. Sounds good in theory, but in practice they ended up smashing a bit too hard (at least on this occasion) - the outside of the burger ended up being a little too crunchy and charred for my liking. It wasn't terribly offensive, though, and I still enjoyed everything. - B.

We both split an order of Sweet Potato Smash Fries, seasoned with rosemary, olive oil, and garlic. There was definitely an awesome rosemary aroma emanating from the fries, but we were in agreement that everything just didn't seem to work together. I'm an absolute fiend for everything sweet potato (-B), but all of the other stuff going on just didn't seem in balance with the flavor of the spuds. We had a few of Pete's regular Smash Fries and found them to work much better with the rosemary and garlic.

A hard night's work, and a lot of burgers smashed. Most of us agreed that the Elevation meal was the winner, even though we didn't set out to make it a night of competition. This most likely won't be our last stop at either place, though, so we'll see who steps up their burger game the next time we're in town.

Suggestions for the next culinary mini-road trip? Tacos, anyone?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Eat Slow!

Please click the flier for a larger version.

Slow Food Central NJ will be putting together another Winter Farmers Market! This time around the event will be held at the D&R Greenway Land Trust in Princeton from 10am-2pm on January 23rd. The list of confirmed vendors will be bringing plenty of local goodies, from vegan treats and organic ghee to honey, cheese, and wine. There will be teas, orchids, ciders, and salsas.

Don't miss out. We attended one of the December markets at Rutgers and came away with moist pumpkin bread and delicious pickles (eaten at separate times). Who knows what we'll end up with this time around?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Egg & three potato sandwich with homemade veggie chips

While browsing through the Top Chef Quickfire Cookbook, a gift from friends Kira and Evan, I came across a recipe for carrot chips. Looked like a pretty fun idea, so I decided to try it out. Why stop at carrots, though? Along with a huge bag of carrots, I picked up a sweet potato, some yucca, and a few beets. I also purchased corn starch, which the recipe called for, however that remained unopened and forgotten about at the end of the day. Oh well.

I sliced the veggies nice and thin using our mandolin and tossed them in some heated canola oil (the recipe calls for either canola or peanut oil). After each batch I would take out the chips and put them in some paper towels to soak up some of the oil.

While looking for taro (I love taro chips but was unable to find any at our local market) I was inspired by some of the various potatoes for sale. I grabbed a few different varieties and decided to make an egg and potato sandwich to go along with the vegetable chips. I've had this type of sandwich once before and it is starchy, carb-heavy goodness. I cut up the potatoes into small pieces and started browning them in a pan. After a few minutes I scrambled up some eggs and poured them in along with the red, white, and purple potatoes.

The sandwich was pretty tasty, although a few of the potatoes were larger than the rest and ended up being a little undercooked. A silly mistake, but a lesson learned. Regardless, the combination of the scrambled eggs and browned potatoes gave a warm, breakfast-y feel and the different colors of the potatoes was a neat visual treat. Most of the chips came out really well. The sweet potato chips were delicious (I'm a sucker for anything sweet potato), and the yucca chips were nice with a little salt and pepper. They ended up being extremely crunchy so if possible slicing them thinner might have been helpful (although I think I used the thinnest mandoline insert). The circular carrot chips were tough to cook and ended up burning really quickly. That may or may not have been the result of forgetting the cornstarch. I'll have to try that one again. Sliced length-ways, though, they ended up being really good. They had a nice sweetness to them, similar to the sweet potato chips. The beets, sadly, were the biggest flop. They just wouldn't cook right, and never ended up being crispy. If sliced too thin, they would wilt and crumble immediately. If sliced too thick, they would retain their shape but end up being mushy and not very chip-like. Oh well.

Definitely a fun meal and probably something we'll try again in the future. It was actually a nice change of pace to be able to walk around the market and form a dish with the ingredients present rather than coming up with a list before you even leave the house.