Sunday, August 5, 2012

How to Make the Perfect Grilled Cheese

I don't have the greatest memory. Birthdays? Forget it. The big snow storm of 2008? Clueless. What I did yesterday? Give me a minute. But when it comes to food memories, I can spew out more details than anyone cares to hear.

For example, in 1998 my mother, sister and I were in England during a 6-week European adventure. In addition to visiting the Beatrix Potter museum in the Lake District and the home of James Herriot (author of "All Creatures Great and Small"), our to-do list included a proper afternoon tea in London.

I'll never forget it. My mom was up front ordering while my sis and I grabbed a table. Nearby, a little 5 or 6 year old English boy, outfitted in knee-high socks and dress shorts, was looking us up and down. He was sitting on a bench swinging his little legs when, apropos of nothing, he proudly announced in the most adorable British accent, "I'm having the toasted cheese." I will always think of this when I eat a grilled cheese sandwich.

Grilled cheese is a simple comfort food that both children and adults enjoy immensely. While the dish is uncomplicated, it's surprising how many competent cooks admit having a hard time getting it right. Most often this means charred bread. The good news is that scraping the blackened bits off with a knife is a thing of the past. With the correct technique and a little patience, you can serve up perfect, glorious grilled cheese sandwiches every single time.

The number one rule is that the heat needs to be lower than you think. The whole point is to end up with a golden, buttery exterior and an oozy, melted interior, a process that simply cannot be rushed. Number 3 (a solid medium-low) on the stove dial is just right. 

Secondly, I find that putting a weight on top allows for even heating and ensures that the cheese melts properly. I use a simple piece of aluminum foil and an empty pot.

Like I said, it's all about the technique. Here's how I do it:

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-low heat. In the meantime, assemble your sandwiches using good bread, sliced cheeses and any other fixins' that strike your fancy. For the sandwiches pictured here, I used raw Cheddar, summer tomatoes and basil from the garden. Swirl some butter in the bottom of the skillet. Place the sandwiches in the pan, cover loosely with a piece of aluminum foil and top with a pot that's large enough to press the sandwiches evenly (a baking dish would also work). Let the grilled cheese cook until the bottoms are perfectly golden brown, 4-6 minutes. When you lift each sandwich to flip, swirl a little more butter underneath (don't be skimpy). After flipping the sandwiches, there's no need to continue covering and weighing them down. Cook on the other side until golden, about 3 minutes.

Unless you'd like to cut them, you can now ditch your knife since no scraping will be required. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Spaghetti with Fish Sauce

Last October my family and I met up in Chicago for a long weekend. We saw a show, took some tours and, of course, ate ourselves siiiiilly. We even had a few serendipitous moments, like when we found ourselves standing in front of Rick Bayless' restaurant Xoco

We had just eaten a few Chicago-style hot dogs but knew enough to find room for some of the best churros and Mexican hot chocolate on the planet.

In addition to its vibrant restaurant scene, Chicago is well known for its many ethnic and cultural neighborhoods. In fact, it boasts the third largest Italian population in the country. It also happens to be the first U.S. city to inherit giardiniera, a pickled vegetable concoction that made its way from Italy in the 1920's. Used as a condiment atop Italian beef sandwiches, it also finds its way onto antipasto platters and pasta dishes.

I've always loved pickled, briny things (just ask Tristan - he always kept a big jar of pickles in the fridge for me when we first started dating), so naturally I went gah-gah when I heard about a pasta and fish dish packed with green olives, capers AND gardiniera. It happened one day when I was channel flipping and landed on "My Family Recipe Rocks." Joey Fatone (remember him from N'Sync?) was in Chicago learning how to make the Cannistra family's beloved "Spaghetti with the Fish," where pasta gets topped with an olive oil-based sauce that's loaded with chopped garlic, fresh parsley and lots of salty flavor bombs. The final step involves the addition of white fish, which falls apart and melts right into the sauce as it simmers.

I adjusted the recipe substantially for bolder flavors and, well, more sauce. What can I say but YUM-o. The juicy broth is light and fresh, and if you happen to have any left over, it tastes even better the next day.

Spaghetti with Fish Sauce

Adapted and tweaked from My Family Recipe Rocks on the Live Well Network. 

Serves 4-6.

1/2 cup olive oil
5-6 cloves garlic, chopped
10 large green olives with pimentos, chopped
2 tablespoons capers
Hot water
3/4 cup hot giardiniera*
1 lb white fish fillets (cod, halibut, haddock, etc.)
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley, plus more for garnishing
1 lb vermicelli pasta
Asiago or Romano cheese for grating

In a 1 1/2 - 2 quart pot, heat the olive oil, garlic, green olives and capers over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown. Add enough hot water to fill the pot 3/4 full. Add the hot giardiniera* and some salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low and cook for 30 minutes.

Add the fish fillets and continue cooking for 30 minutes more. The fish will slowly flake into the sauce. Right before finishing, stir in the fresh parsley and adjust salt and pepper if necessary.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente.

To serve, top each plate of pasta with a ladle of fish sauce. Garnish with grated cheese and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

*My neighborhood grocery store only had regular giardiniera so I added some Mama Lil's Peppers for heat (you could also use hot sauce or red pepper flakes). If you don't want the heat, just use regular giardiniera.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Overnight Buttermilk Buckwheat Waffles

Hello... (tap, tap)...  anybody there? You probably weren't expecting to hear from me after MONTHS of radio silence, and for that I apologize. I've missed NudeFood tremendously but can offer a few humble excuses. In May of 2011, knowing that we wanted to start a family, Tristan and I took the plunge and tied the knot. A few months later I became pregnant, and in September we left our beloved Capitol Hill apartment and bought a house in Queen Anne. A new job came my way in February because, you know, when it rains.  But the biggest, most significant change of all happened a mere 9 weeks ago. We welcomed our son, Maximo, to the world... and we are totally smitten.

While my hands are rather full at the moment, I do hope to make a semi-frequent online appearance from here on out. 

So without further ado, let's talk waffles. In my pre-pregnancy days, waffles weren't something I would typically order unless they had a piece of salty fried chicken on top. But all that changed around month six. If waffles were on the menu, that's what I was gettin'. However, I came to the sober realization that good waffles were hard to come by.  Either they were too soft, too thin, not toasty enough, too sweet or just too blah. I wanted a thick, crispy-on-the-outside-eggy-on-the-inside waffle with great flavor. Looked like I'd have to take matters into my own hands.

Enter this recipe... 

This method has so many things going for it. It starts with whole grains that get soaked overnight, and we all remember the magical benefits of soaking grains. Besides oats, buckwheat groats are added for a delicious layer of nuttiness. And instead of mixing in whole eggs, some of the whites are whipped separately and folded into the batter to produce exceptionally thick, fluffy waffles.

Warning: If you're looking for generic Eggo-type waffles, you'll be disappointed. But if you're in the market for a delicious and nutritious spin on an old classic, keep reading...

Overnight Buttermilk Buckwheat Waffles
I like to make extra waffles to freeze for a quick breakfast anytime. Just pop one in the toaster*, spread with peanut butter and top with banana slices.

1 1/3 cup steel cut oats
2/3 cup buckwheat groats
2 1/4 cup buttermilk**
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 eggs, 2 separated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Place steel cut oats, buckwheat groats and buttermilk into a blender, cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. In the morning, whiz the mixture until blended. Add the melted butter, salt, sugar to taste, baking soda, 1 whole egg, 2 egg yolks and vanilla. Blend until well mixed; pour batter into a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whip the remaining two egg whites until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold the egg whites into the batter.

Cook waffles according to waffle maker instructions. For my Belgian iron, this meant brushing lightly with oil, ladling 3/4 cup batter onto the iron and cooking for about 3 minutes. Keep cooked waffles warm in a 200 degree oven until ready to eat. 

*If you plan on toasting frozen waffles, under-cook them just slightly in the waffle maker. They will brown a bit more in the toaster.

**If you don't have buttermilk, simply add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or vinegar (white or apple cider) into the milk and allow to sit for 5 minutes. The mixture will thicken.