The Secret Ingredient (Avocado): Gooey Avocado Panini with Brie, Mozzarella, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Basil

RECIPE: Gooey Avocado Panini with Brie, Mozzarella, Sundried Tomatoes, and Basil
Brie, Avocado, Mozzarella, Sun Dried Tomato, and Basil Panini

Brie, Avocado, Mozzarella, Sun Dried Tomato, and Basil Panini

I love a good grilled cheese, and this is just the grilled cheese to end all grilled cheeses.  Everything stuffed inside the crispy toasted crunchy ciabatta loaf is soft and oozing and melted, from the buttery avocado to the creamy brie to the milky mozzarella.  Just think of all the soft, melting, stringy, oozy potential locked just in those three ingredients.  Then, punctuate the flavor with chewy-salty-sweet olive-oil soaked sun dried tomatoes, a spritz of bright lemon, and a blanket of summery fresh basil leaves.  Could anything be more magnetic and irrefutable than this sandwich?

This sandwich concludes our month-long study of the avocado.  We’ve blended it in dressing, served it simply and naturally as a whole fruit, chopped it into a chunky salsa with charred rare tuna, and finally warmed it and melted it with cheese in the ultimate panini.  Here are some interesting fact about my favorite avocado, the Hass: did you know that the Hass avocado is a berry that was first grafted in 1926 (what did people do with their corn chips before 1926!?)?  The tree was patented in 1935, and was the first tree to be patented, period.  Avocado has more potassium than a banana, is high in fiber, high in healthy fats, and has been said to combat cholesterol and cancer.  All I have to say is, do you really need an excuse?  Just eat avocado!

Excerpted from my weekly column The Secret Ingredient on Serious Eats.

Gooey Avocado Panini with Brie, Mozzarella, Sundried Tomatoes, and Basil
serves 2 to 4

Brie, Avocado, Mozzarella, Sun Dried Tomato, and Basil PaniniINGREDIENTS

  • 1 12” ciabatta, halved horizontally
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil or sundried tomato olive oil
  • 4 3/4 ounces fresh sliced mozzarella
  • 3 3/4 ounces sliced brie
  • 12 sundried tomatoes
  • 8 big basil leaves
  • 1 Hass avocado, sliced or mashed
  • Squirt of lemon juice
  • Salt
  • Pepper

PROCEDURE

Drizzle the insides of both halves of bread with oil.  Arrange the mozzarella on the bottom half, and the brie on the top half.  Fill the inside with sundried tomato, basil leaves, and avocado.  Season the avocado with a squirt of lemon juice, salt, and pepper.  Stack the two halves into a sandwich, and put on a hot Panini press for about 10 minutes, until the bread is crusty, and the cheese is melted.  Cut into quarters and eat hot!

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Bread & Butter, Easy, Eat, Recipes, Sandwiches, Series, The Secret Ingredient, Vegetarian
 

French in a Flash: Creamy Asparagus, Basil, and Crème Fraîche Velouté

RECIPE: Creamy Asparagus, Basil, and Crème Fraîche Velouté
Asparagus Velouté

Asparagus, Basil, and Crème Fraîche Velouté

In the dead of winter, I can feel just that: dead.  I let myself eat macaroni and cheese and carrot cake with wild abandon, and though comfort food may feed the soul, it doesn’t do much for the body.  Sunday night, after a weekend filled with steak and ale pies and bourbon, it was time to reboot.

A velouté is normally a thick sauce, or by association, soup.  It means “velvety.”  Thick, creamy, soft but substantial.  I find if you simmer sweet shallots, asparagus, and basil in just enough vegetable broth for two, and then whiz it up in a blender, you get that same velvety texture that you’ll find in much heavier, creamy, decadent soups, with a lot more vitamins and a lot fewer calories.  I add a couple of spoonfuls of crème fraîche for tang and a little more body, but you could go without if you’re deeply virtuous.

I may have missed the start of the year to be good, but there’s always the start of the week.

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.

Creamy Asparagus, Basil, and Crème Fraîche Velouté
serves 2

Asparagus VeloutéINGREDIENTS

  • 1 shy tablespoon olive oil or butter or a mixture of both
  • 1 extra large shallot, chopped
  • 1 1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and diced
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • Salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 5 large basil leaves, plus extra for serving
  • 2 tablespoons crème fraîche, plus extra for serving

PROCEDURE

Heat the butter or olive oil in a medium soup pot over medium-low heat.  Add the shallot and sauté until soft and fragrant, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring often.  Add the asparagus and vegetable broth and season with salt and pepper.  Cover the pot, and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, and cook until the asparagus is very tender: 10 to 12 minutes.

Transfer the soup to a blender, and add the basil and crème fraîche.  Purée until completely smooth.  Ladle into bowls, and top with a dollop of crème fraîche and a chiffonade of fresh basil.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Cheap, Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Recipes, Series, Soup, Soup & Salad, Vegetarian
 

My Will and Tastement: Sir Kensington’s Gourmet Scooping Ketchup

RECIPE: Sir Kensington's Easy Turkey Meatloaf for Two
Sir Kensington's Ketchup

Sir Kensington's Ketchup, Spiced and Classic

Maybe it’s weird to wax poetic about ketchup.  After all, ketchup is probably the most quotidian American condiment.  But that’s exactly it–why I love it.  After living abroad in ketchup-phobic Europe, where everyone is too “sophisticated/European/refined/who knows what” for ketchup, whenever I see it around, I can’t help raising my accent to a high volume, and squirting the red stuff all over whatever I’m eating.

Because I, like ketchup, am American.  Ketchup reminds me of Lucille Ball banging the Heinz bottle over her escargots on I Love Lucy.  It’s just what we are, and as Americans abroad, it something that I (and Lucy) cling to, familiarity and comfort, a blanketing Uncle Sam in a vast sea of culinary strangeness.

It’s not surprising that ketchup seems to even have gone out of vogue in the States.  Everything is artisan these days, and until now, the only ketchup you could get was in the usual glass bottle with a white label.  I do get asked to taste quite a bit of food, so when a friend from business school told me his roommate had started a ketchup company, I was skeptical.  But then I saw the packaging: squat little cubic bottles with fat nozzles (gone are the days of smacking a ketchup bottle’s behind or hitting it “right on the 57″) and a be-mustached, be-monocled man, a kind of humanoid, vaguely British Mr. Peanut, declaring the contents to be “Sir Kensington’s Gourmet Scooping Ketchup”.

Don’t be fooled, Sir Kensington’s is as American as apple pie.  But ol’ Sir Kensington gives the stuff a bit of pomp and circumstance.  Which it deserves, because this is the first gourmet ketchup I’ve ever had that I wanted to have again.  I did what it said on the label: I used it for scooping.  Scott over at Sir Kensington’s HQ sent me the classic and spiced flavors, and told me that all gourmet condiments, from jams to mustard to tapenade (those are his words) are scooped, that it implies a “dearness” and quality and desirability in the product.  So I set the jar of spiced ketchup out with corn chips and shrimp cocktail.  The quirky, tongue-in-cheek packaging is both elegant and useful, as you can dip right into the jar.  It made the perfect kitschy-cool alternative to salsa and cocktail sauce.  Ketchup, once the condiment pariah, was suddenly the center of the party.

Sir Kensington's Shrimp Cocktail

Sir Kensington's Spiced Shrimp Cocktail and Corn Chips

The texture of Sir Kensington’s is thick, and I’d say the basis of it is more savory than the sugary mass produced burger ketchup we’re used to.  You can really taste the components: fantastic ripe tomatoes, apple cider vinegar (my favorite), raw brown sugar (for that molasses depth), agave and honey instead of refined sugar, and fresh, fragrant spices like coriander and peppers and lime.  Ketchup evolves from sticky-sweet purée to refined, profound chutney.  It becomes a condiment that isn’t an afterthought.  After years of buying ONLY Maille mustard and Delouis Fils mayonnaise, condiments that I love so much I smear them on baguette, I finally feel like I’ve met my ketchup equivalent.

Sir Kensington’s was created by two college friends in a college kitchen, where they treated their friends to eight potential ketchup varieties.  They made the first 200 jars of the two elected flavors, classic and spiced, in that college kitchen, and a company was born.  A company so successful that the ketchup is stocked in Williams-Sonoma, Whole Foods, Sur La Table, and Dean and Deluca, and founders Scott Norton and Mark Ramadan were featured in Forbes’s 30 under 30 for their unusually successful ketchup venture.

Scott told me that the goal of Sir Kensington’s is  ”to deliver a great tasting product that people can feel good about eating.”  He said that they didn’t set out to necessarily create a healthier alternative to ketchup, but the obvious choice of natural, excellent ingredients naturally led to a product better for both us and our food.  The company hopes to become the “go-to choice for premium ketchup.”  If they have any competitors, I have yet to encounter them–and this is one monopoly that may benefit the tastebuds of the ketchup-eating public.  Scott said when he and Matt we in college, reducing pots and pans of ketchup that bubbled and popped on the stove, the stewy mess would sputter out and burn them.  But they loved what they were creating.  They called the burns “Kensington kisses.”  Few kisses taste so good!

The good news is that Sir Kensington’s Gourmet Scooping Ketchup is not just for scooping.  I set out to cook with this newfangled artisan ketchup by sticking it in and slathering it on something as kitschy-retro-cool as ketchup itself: meatloaf.  This is my Sir Kensington’s Light Turkey Meatloaf for Two.  That’s right, a romantic, modern meatloaf dinner that’s hearty, but soft and light, full of the tang of the bright, burnished ketchup that both flavors and crowns the meat.

I always felt silly buying organic ground dark turkey meat, using whole wheat breadcrumbs, free-range eggs, garden-picked herbs, and then topping it all of with dyed, preservative-ridden ketchup.  Now, I feel like I have the option to invest in all my ingredients, and to use fewer of them, because the higher quality your ingredients are, the more flavorful they are, and the less you have to do to them to make them shine.  This ketchup really shines.  The result is a meatloaf as traditional and American and comforting as classic ketchup–because you can’t have one without the other.

I just have one question for you, Scott: When are you bringing Sir Kensington back to jolly old England, so I can get a taste of home?

Sir Kensington's Meatloaf

Sir Kensington's Classic Light Turkey Meatloaf for Two

Be sure to buy Sir Kensington’s Classic Gourmet Scooping Ketchup!

And don’t forget Sir Kensington’s Spiced Gourmet Scooping Ketchup.

And be sure to check out Sir Kensington’s website.  It’s a super-slick, hilarious site with tons of fun tidbits and Sir Kensington lore.  You don’t want to miss it.

Sir Kensington's Easy Turkey Meatloaf for Two
serves 2 to 3

Sir Kensington's MeatloafINGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • ½ yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 small clove of garlic, grated
  • The leaves from 3 stems of thyme
  • 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons, plus ¼ cup, Sir Kensington’s Classic Gourmet Scooping Ketchup
  • ¼ cup organic vegetable broth
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ⅓ cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
  • 1 pound free-range ground dark turkey meat
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper

PROCEDURE

Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium-low heat.  Add the onions, and sweat until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, thyme, and parsley, and stir for 30 seconds.  Add the Worcestershire sauce, 2 tablespoons of Sir Kensington’s classic ketchup, and the vegetable broth.  Stir though and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, stir together the cooled onion mixture, egg, and breadcrumbs.  Add the turkey, and season with salt and pepper.  Use your hands to gently and minimally toss everything together.  Turn the meat out onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet, and form into a loaf 4” by 7”.  Spread ¼ cup of Sir Kensington’s classic ketchup all over the top, and drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Bake in the oven for about an hour, or until the internal temperature of the meatloaf reaches 160°F.  Then, leaving the meatloaf in the center of the oven, turn on the broiler, and broil the meatloaf for 10 minutes, until the top gets little brown bits around the corners.  Let the meatloaf rest on the counter for 10 minutes, then slice as thick as you like!  I like to go classic and serve this with lumpy mashed potatoes and steamed haricots  verts, or just with a lightly tossed green salad.

*A tip for serving cold the next day: put cold meat loaf between two slices of ciabatta along with brie and arugula and press in the Panini press for an awesome sandwich.

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Categories: 60 Minutes, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Poultry, Recipes
 

The Secret Ingredient (Avocado): Greener Goddess Dressing

RECIPE: Greener Goddess Dressing
Greener Goddess Dressing

Greener Goddess Dressing & Dip

One of the best ways to eat avocado is when you don’t know it’s there at all: blended and swirled and obliterated. Avocado that has been whirlwinded up into smoothies, shakes, and in this case, dressings—it’s one of the most mesmerizing applications it takes on. When an avocado meets a blender, it dissolves into a gorgeous, green, almost moussy butter. With that rich, mellow flavor and a thick, almost pudding-like consistency. And a whole wallop of potassium. You just can’t argue with such a wholesome chameleon.

For my take on green goddess dressing, I whiz up Hass avocado with the requisite creamy elements to add tang and body, and then a whole garden of flavors: anise, tarragon, sweet basil, sharp scallions, and biting lemons. Garlic and anchovy add bite. Technically, you’re supposed to drizzled this over tender green lettuce leaves, but I also love to use it to dip crudités and even chilled shrimp and fried green tomatoes. Plus, I like to think that the avocado, healthy as it is, takes the place of some of the less healthy mayonnaise and sour cream. What a multitasker!

Excerpted from my weekly column The Secret Ingredient on Serious Eats.

Greener Goddess Dressing
serves 4

Greener Goddess DressingINGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 Hass avocado, roughly chopped
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and quartered
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 24 leaves of tarragon
  • 12 leaves of basil
  • The juice of 3/4 lemon
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Procedure

Put everything in the blender, and whiz on full blast until completely smooth.  Serve over an iceberg wedge, with crudités, with shrimp cocktail, or with anything you want.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Bread & Butter, Dips, Spreads, Preserves, Easy, Eat, Recipes, Salad, Series, Soup & Salad, The Secret Ingredient
 

French in a Flash: Sweet-Tart Duck Breast with Fresh Cherry Sauce

RECIPE: Sweet-Tart Duck Breast with Fresh Cherry Sauce
Cherry Duck

Cherry Duck

When I was little, my dad used to drive me and mom my hours out onto Long Island so he could have a specific, never to be duplicated duck à l’orange.  Is there anything more French-iconic than that dish?  One of the readers of my blog requested that I make a dish that she had staying with a family in La Rochelle: duck breast with cherry sauce.  I thought it might be an opportunity to revisit why fruit pairs so beautifully with duck, and a chance to bring the haute cuisine gastrique-based à l’orange back down to the family table.

Baking a terrific duck breast is actually very easy, and is a skill worth mastering.  Just score the skin and salt the breast: sear over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, then flip and bake for 10 minutes.  It just always works, and you have enough fat left over to roast some fabulous potatoes.

In making the cherry sauce, I wanted to hit the right balance of tang and sweetness, the two flavors that make cherries themselves so unique.  The sauce took on the shape of a fresh Bing cherry and red wine reduction studded with balsamic vinegar and honey.  I know we’re still a month out, but it’s never to early to prepare: I think this is the perfect stay at home Valentine’s meal.  The cherries themselves look like little crimson hearts, and this dish is really easy to pull off, but at the same time, it’s decadent and different.

The cherry sauce is sharp enough to cut the gaminess of the duck, but soft and sophisticated enough to compliment it.

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats. Continue reading

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Eat, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Poultry, Recipes, Series
 

Franglais (is back!): The Ultimate Raclette Grilled Cheese Sandwich

RECIPE: The Ultimate Raclette Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Raclette Grilled Cheese

Raclette Grilled Cheese. Look at that ooze!

I can’t believe I didn’t actually discover raclette in France.  It was in London (for shame!).  And being the cheese lover that I am, I’m shocked that it took me until my late twenties to make such an epic discovery.  The guys at the Kappacasein cheese stall at Borough Market secure huge wheels of the semi-soft, pungent cheese under special-made broilers, that heat, melt, bubble, and char the top layer of cheese exposed to the heat.  That cheese is then scraped off the wheel—and right onto a plate of fluffy potatoes, with some cornichons on the side to add some bite to cut through the fat.  It’s just something that everyone should put in his or her mouth every once in a while.  It’s primaly, undeniably, resolution-floutingly delicious.

But I don’t have a special raclette grill at home, and I don’t eat it often enough to warrant buying one.  Nor do I always feel like trekking down to Borough Market.  So I came up with this ultimate grilled cheese as the antidote to a raclette-less life.   The key to this simple sandwich is to use the best ingredients you can find: the best bread (Poiâne if you can swing it), raclette (you’ll need to find a terrific cheesemonger), mayonnaise (excellent imported French mayo, which has a mustardy, vinegary edge that adds a lot to the sandwich), and sea salt (fleur de sel or Maldon preferred, for salinity as well as crunch).  This may seem nitpicky, but I’ll explain.

The best thing about raclette is that it can actually toast.  Much like a Gruyère on top of an onion soup, it can brown and crisp and char, adding a different texture and flavor to the oozy, gooey bits of cheese under the toasted crown.  By using an airy pain au levain with a great crust, you create tiny little holes through with the raclette can melt as you toast the sandwich.  So, the inside cheese is gooey and runny, like a pungent mozzarella, and the crust of the sandwich is a crispy combination of toasted sourdough, sea salt, a swipe of sharp French mayonnaise, and little rivulets of toasted cheese.  So you get the experience of a real raclette grill with just a stove and a skillet.  A little American ingenuity and a lot of great French flavor.  This is my ultimate grilled cheese.  Bon app!

From my column Franglais on The Huffington Post. Continue reading

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Bread & Butter, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Franglais, Recipes, Sandwiches, Series, Vegetarian
 

Triple-Fried, Triple Citrus Goose Fat Frites

RECIPE: Triple Fried, Triple Citrus Goose Fat Frites
Triple Citrus Frites

Triple Citrus Goose Fat Frites. Idaho potatoes never had it so good!

If you’re looking for a recipe to beat the winter blues, look no further.  This is my ultimate comfort food: matchstick potatoes, deep fried in goose fat (three times so they’re the pinnacle of crisp).  I top them with sea salt I crumble between my fingers and the zest of oranges, lemons, and limes.  It’s an idea I picked up at the old Spring when it used to be in Montmartre: they’d serve them with lobster rolls.  Not too shabby.

I entered this recipe in the winter citrus contest on Food 52.  Check it out!

Triple Fried, Triple Citrus Goose Fat Frites
serves 2 to 3

Triple Citrus FritesINGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound of Idaho potatoes (about 2 potatoes)
  • Goose fat for frying
  • 1 orange
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime
  • Maldon sea salt

PROCEDURE

Wash the potatoes well, but leave their skins on.  Use a mandoline to carefully slice them into matchsticks.  Place the matchsticks in a big bowl of cold water, and swish them around as though they were in a washing machine, to wash all the starch off.  Drain the potatoes, and pat them extremely dry using paper towels or a clean dishcloth.

Fill your frying vessel, preferably a medium-sized deep enameled cast iron pan, with at least 3 inches of goose fat.  Heat the oil to 325°F.  Working in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan, fry the potatoes for 2½ minutes.  Drain on a baking sheet lined with paper towels.  Continue until all the potatoes are fried.

Raise the oil temperature to 360°F and repeat the same process, only this time fry the potatoes for only 1 minute.  Drain the first batch, and repeat the process for all the potatoes.  Then raise the heat to 375°F.  Repeat the process again, still working in small batch.  This time, fry the potatoes for only 15 seconds, until they are golden brown and crisp.  Drain on a fresh set of paper towels, and season immediately with salt and citrus.  You will want 8 Microplane swipes each from the orange, the lemon, and the lime.  Crumble the Maldon salt between your fingers, salting the frites to taste.  Use your fingertips to gently toss the salt and citrus zest amongst the frites.  Eat right away!

NOTE

If you can't find goose fat, you can use duck fat, or just a light vegetable oil.

 

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Eat, Recipes, Sides, Starches