Saturday, December 25, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
One of my favorite meals growing up was my mother's manicotti. I always assumed it just like all the other mom foods we love. Crepes filled with ricotta cheese and topped with a little tomato sauce. Easy, right?
I thought wrong. After making these lamb-filled crepes this weekend, I now realize that I should have given my mom more credit for her manicotti. Everything on down to the crepes was easy to prepare, but those pancakes sure were a doozy! The technique sounded easy enough to me: a little butter in a non-stick pan, swirl the batter around, cook, flip, and cook a bit more. But after several ugly, broken crepes and more batter over the Significant Eater's stovetop than she wants to know, I realized that I had to make some changes to my crepe technique. I finally figured that the key to a good crepe is to keep it thin, stupid. By putting just enough batter to cover the pan, the crepe will nearly cook through so that when you flip it, it will stay in tact. Once I figure that out, I was a crepe-making machine, turning out a flawless crepe every few minutes.
Aside from the crepe part, this dish is the simple kind of component cooking I love. It sounds intricate— braised meat, crepes, tomato sauce#151;but every component can be made well ahead of time. Even better, you can turn this dish into anything you please by using the flavor profile of your choosing. While I used braised lamb and flavored the ricotta with mint, you could try braised pork shoulder and sage-flavored ricotta, or short ribs with rosemary ricotta. Even crab and parsley ricotta with a pink sauce. To that end, in order to keep you all on your creative tiptoes, I've made this recipe as ambiguous as possible.
Manicotti filled with the Cook's Choice
For the crepes:
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tbsp flour
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 4 tbsp butter, melted
- 1/2 tsp salt
For the ricotta filling:
- 2 lbs braised meat of your choice, shredded with a fork
- 1/4 cup herbs of your choice
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups good-quality fresh ricotta cheese
- Tomato sauce of your choice, preferably homemade
- Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
- Mix the crepe ingredients together in a large bowl. Strain and refrigerate overnight.
- Mix together the ingredients for the crepe filling.
- Heat the tomato sauce.
- Preheat the oven to 375F.
- To make the crepes, heat a medium-size nonstick pan over medium heat and brush it with melted butter. Ladle a quarter cup of the crepe batter into the pan and swirl the batter around so that the bottom of the pan is entirely coated (you want the crepe to be very thin). Let the crepe cook for 1 to 2 minute until it is nearly cooked through. Carefully flip the crepe and cook the other side for another minute. Remove the crepe to a plate. Repeat this technique with the rest of the batter, stacking the crepes on a plate. This should make approximately 15 to 20 crepes.
- To make the manicotti, fill the center of each crepe with about 1/3 cup of the ricotta filling. Wrap each crepe and place seam-side down in a greased casserole dish.
- Place the casserole dish in the oven and cook until the sides of the manicotti begin to brown, 7 to 10 minutes.
- Top the manicotti with the heated tomato sauce and grated Pecorino Romano cheese and serve immediately.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
I'll be the first to admit that shrimp paste isn't for the squeamish. Pungent—and not in a good way—and pasty, for lack of a better word, the ingredient made of ground fermented shrimp might scare away even the most adventurous foodies. However, as any lover of Southeast Asian cuisine is aware, shrimp paste makes pretty much everything taste better. Just take Thai curry or papaya salad: yup, you guessed it, shrimp paste is an active player in their deliciousness. As much as I try, I can't quite live off of curry and papaya salad, so I'm always looking for new ways to use up some of the jar of shrimp paste in my fridge. This pork recipe, loosely adapted from Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, was one of those attempts. Typical of most Southeast Asian dishes, this one plays off of a contrast of flavors, with sweet, salty, and spicy well represented. I still have half a jar of shrimp paste left, but I suspect I'll be purchasing more in no time.
Ground Pork with Shrimp Paste and Lemongrass
3 tbsp peanut oil
3 dried Thai chiles
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 lemongrass stalks, trimmed, cut in thirds, and pounded with the flat side of a knife
1/2 pound ground pork
12 shrimp, peeled, deveined, and minced
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp shrimp paste, diluted in 1/4 cup warm water
1 tsp sesame seeds
2 Kirby cucumbers, thinly sliced
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the chiles to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until they are fragrant and blackened.
Add the garlic and lemongrass to the skillet and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the pork to the skillet. Use the back of a wooden spoon to break the pork up as it cooks, and cook until the meat is no longer pink, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the shrimp, sugar, and shrimp paste and cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture caramelizes, turning a reddish brown. If the pan dries out, add a tablespoon of water at a time.
Remove the mixture from the pan and serve immediately with rice, topped with sesame seeds and garnished with the cucumbers.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
This Saturday, December 18, I will be baking a batch of cookies for the FIJI Water Holiday Cookie Swap and Bake Off, a cookie sale to benefit the Lower Eastside Girls Club. If you live in New York City, I urge you to attend and support a great cause while filling up on a plethora of cookies. The event will be held from 1pm to 4pm at Vie Vie (East 1st St. between First and Second Avenues). Tickets can be purchased here for $15. As for what I will be baking: I am still deciding, but I did make a test batch of Dorie Greenspan's Chocolate Whopper Cookies this weekend, and I think they will be tough to beat.