Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Clam, Chard, and Bacon Pizza

One of my main goals in life is to one day own a pizza oven. But not just any pizza oven. I want a big monster of a brick, wood-fired oven that sits smack dab in the middle of my backyard. The backyard that is but one beautiful component of the rest of my beautiful house. In said oven, I would also do things like roast perfect little chickens with charred skins, bake rustic loaves of bread, and make wood-fired shellfish. Yeah, I may need to move to California at some point in my life. Either that or realize my dream of buying a bucolic, airy beach house somewhere in Amagansett or the like. We shall see.

For now, my homemade pizza adventures are firmly tethered to the realities of my tiny little oven in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and that's okay(ish). Although, my crusts will never be quite as impeccably blackened in spots as the ones that come out of the ovens at, say, Roberta's or Motorino, my little-oven-that-could does a good job at providing something different, but almost as good. And until I get my dream outdoor oven, I'm certainly not going to deprive myself of the joys of having friends over for a freshly baked homemade pizza. There's something great about setting up a little toppings station on your kitchen counter and watching people go to town coming up with their own special combos. Also, great: watching the excitement percolate as one amazing pizza after another comes out of the oven crisp and bubbling. Yum. This particular combo is one I came across on, and it's a good one, especially for these coming summer months. Because, clams. xo

Clam, Chard, and Bacon Pizza
All-purpose flour (for dusting)
1 1-pound ball of pizza dough (I picked up mine from a great neighborhood pizzeria)
1 10-ounce can whole baby clams
2 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1"-wide pieces
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 1-pound bunch Swiss chard, center stalks removed, leaves torn
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 500°F. If your dough is frozen, do the following. If not, proceed to the next paragraph: Fill a large bowl with boiling water. Place a baking sheet over; dust with flour. Place dough on baking sheet; cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes to soften. Flip dough; cover and let sit 10 minutes longer.
Meanwhile, drain clams, reserving liquid. Cook bacon in a 12" cast-iron skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 4–5 minutes. Transfer bacon to a paper towel–lined plate. Add garlic and shallot to drippings in skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in chard and 1/2 cup reserved clam liquid and cook, stirring, until chard is just wilted, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in butter, vinegar, and as many clams as you'd like. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl.
Wipe out skillet and heat over medium-high heat until very hot. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 12" round. Sprinkle skillet with cornmeal and transfer dough to skillet. Brush top of dough with oil. Cook, shaking pan occasionally and turning pan to avoid hot spots, until bottom of dough is golden and crispy, 6–8 minutes.
Spread chard mixture over dough. Bake until crust is golden and cooked through, 6–8 minutes. Scatter bacon and cheese over; cook just until cheese is melted, 2–3 minutes longer.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Moroccan Chicken with Olives, Almonds, and Lemons

My trip to Morocco, which I've posted about exhaustively, made me fall pretty majorly in love with North African food. Almost everything we ate was insanely good, from the pigeon bastilas (flaky, crispy dough with minced pigeon meat inside mixed with spices and almonds) to the countless chicken and fish tagines I ordered, to the addictive m'smen breads that I bought from every street vendor I saw selling them. And so, the second my boyfriend and I got home, I went on an Amazon spree and ordered three Moroccan cookbooks, and immediately started a full-throttle project to up my tagine game. Stews seemed like an easy place to start. I've always like stews. 

And here is the fruit of my labor; a savory chicken braise with some almonds, onions, green Lucques olives, and lemons thrown in to create a whole that was way bigger than the sum of its parts. The chicken falls tenderly off the bone, the olives and lemon add some brightness, and the almonds a nice crunch. Perfect over a bed of couscous steamed in a bath of homemade chicken broth (confession: I was in such a hurry to get this thing going that I used store-bought broth, although I'm 100% sure homemade would've elevated the whole thing). It's a nice starter dish to Moroccan cooking. Next up: homemade m'smen! xo

Moroccan Chicken with Olives, Almonds, and Lemons
2 Meyer lemons (or regular lemons if you can't find Meyer)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 3-4 lb organic chicken cut up into 8 pieces
Coarse salt and pepper
1 large onion, halved, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ras al hanout
2 cups homemade chicken broth or store-bought low-salt chicken broth
Handful of raw almonds
1/2 cup green olives

Cut 1 lemon into 8 wedges. Squeeze enough juice from second lemon to measure 2 tablespoons; set wedges and juice aside. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt and pepper. When oil is sizzling, place chicken pieces skin side down in the skillet and brown evenly on both sides until crisp and golden. Lower the heat if you feel like you need to. Do this in batches if you can't space out the pieces nicely in one go. Set pieces aside.

Add onion to the skillet and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper; saute until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Add next 6 ingredients; stir 1 minute. Add broth; bring to boil. Add chicken. Add lemon wedges and almonds. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until chicken is cooked through, turning occasionally, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer chicken to platter. Add olives and 2 tablespoons lemon juice to skillet. Increase heat to high; boil uncovered to thicken slightly, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over chicken. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hello, Spring!

Just a little note to say hello to spring (and to you!). I just got back to NYC late on Friday after a whirlwind week of nonstop travel, including a 3-day pitstop in LA to arrange a lovely 40-person dinner to celebrate spring for one of my favorite clients, designer Robert Rodriguez. We held it at the new Ace Hotel downtown, which was industrial and cool in the most beautiful way possible, and invited a smattering of bloggers, editors, and other such friends of the brand. Amazing time. Pics to come.

On another note, I can't quite believe that the end of April is already here. The first part of 2014 has flown by (quite literally--I've been in six different cities in the space of 3.5 months, adding up to lots of flight time). It's been crazy and fast and incredible, but I'm looking forward to a few months with no major travel plans, save for a short jaunt to New Orleans for a best friend's wedding(!), and the annual Memorial Day weekend in Montauk.

Spring is my favorite time of year--it feels like a fresh start in so many ways. The shedding of layers, the willingness to go outside for longer than 2.4 minutes, and of course, all the fresh produce cropping up. Ramps, asparagus, artichokes, wild garlic, nettles--nothing sets my little heart racing faster. So here's to the warmer months ahead, full of possibility, produce, and kitchen time. xo

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fez + High Atlas Mountains

The High Atlas mountains and Fez were my two favorite places in Morocco. The High Atlas mountains were a short day trip away from Marrakech, so we hired a local driver who took us up the winding road of the mountains and through some serious hairpin turns, stopping along the way at a traditional Berber household for a Moroccan mint tea service, an organic argan oil farm (don't even get me started on how obsessed I am with this stuff), and finally, to Richard Branson's Kasbah Tamadot, where the views were stunning, and the lunch on the terrace by the infinity pool even better. It was an incredibly perfect, peaceful afternoon.

We then took a 7 hour high-speed train through the country and arrived in Fez, which was a riotous blur of colors, animals, amazing food, one very special riad, and amazing craftsmanship (check out the last picture--that little old man makes beautiful hair combs by hand out of cow horns). We were so enthralled by all the handmade wares in the souk, that we ended up hauling home two teapots, a silver carved tray, three(!) Moroccan rugs/blankets, several bottles of argan oil, an antique vase, shells, etc, etc, etc. And I would definitely go back for even more (and I plan to!). Morocco's got a special magic, and I'm determined to visit again and again through the years. xo

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Casablanca + Essaouira + Marrakech

Just a few snapshots from the first leg of our trip to enchanting, lovely Morocco. We had about a million pictures on my little camera by the time we got home, so editing them down was a feat to say the least. They'll have to be split up into two posts, so I'll be showing you the High Atlas mountains and Fez tomorrow.

Some highlights from the below shots: all the fishermen in Essaouira set up shop by the docks around lunchtime with their catch of the day. You can pick out what you want to eat, and they'll grill it for you right there on the street! The craftsmanship of the carved wooden pieces was incredible in Essaouira. We loved the restaurant La Licorne's sign, shaped like a unicorn. The Four Seasons Marrakech was stunning and home to two perfect little parakeets. And the blue that covered the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech was amazing.

I miss Morocco! xo

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Ruined Garden + Riad Idrissy

I recently had the good fortune to spend ten sun-soaked, wandering days in Morocco traversing that gorgeous, golden country by rail, car, and foot. We landed in Casablanca, then took a leisurely 6-hour drive up the coast to Essaouira, with a pitstop for lunch in Oualidia (a miniature seaside town known for their fresh oysters). After a few windy, lazy days by the ocean, we hopped on a bus to Marrakech, which is a whole other post of its own. And then we ended the journey with three nights in Fez, a very old, very traditional city with a fascinating medina, in which lies one very special riad and restaurant called Riad Idrissy (riad) and The Ruined Garden (restaurant). The place quite honestly knocked my socks off, and so I felt the need to give it it's own little post.

Riad Idrissy was nothing but a rather large pile of rubbish when it was bought in 2006 by an enterprising man called John Twomey, and then designed by Robert Johnstone (a friend of Twomey's from London) in 2010. Robert has since also built up the most enchanting, rambling garden in the front of the riad where a delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served. It was one of the best hospitality experiences I've had in my life, and I believe that was due to a combination of factors: the beauty of the riad itself, the big, airy rooms with incredible details on the ceilings and doors, the peaceful little library that was just off our room, the fantastic staff that we felt like we were friends with by the time we left, Najia's (the housekeeper) out-of-control cooking, the little fires inside and out to keep you warm on the chillier nights, the wine served casually in thermos's instead of bottles, the nights we sat by the fire for hours on end playing Gin Rummy and sipping said wine, the Chicken Volubilis concoction on the menu that we could smell cooking all afternoon, Robert himself always up for a lovely chat, the list goes on. To put it simply, I felt as though I were staying in a really dope house that happened to have the best food ever. Can't really ask for more than that, can you. xo

P.S. Apparently, I was so busy devouring all the food there that I neglected to take a single picture of anything edible or the amazing garden it was served in. For that, click on over to Robert's blog, Ruined Garden.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Homemade Sriracha

About a month ago, I had the lovely, lovely girls from bonberi over for dinner, which called for something decidedly on the healthier side of the spectrum. After perusing through my mental folder of options, I settled on something tried and true (foil-baked salmon made approximately 184304 times in the history of me cooking), and something new and exciting (homemade sriracha!). I combined the two by rather sloppily slathering the latter onto the former, sticking it into the oven, and praying for the new recipe gods to be kind. Well, the whole thing came out perfectly, and my tired old salmon recipe got a swift kick in the behind (in the best way possible) due to a potent, but simple, mixture of peppers and a few other natural ingredients whizzed in a blender.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, No way in hell am I taking the time to make a hot sauce from scratch when there are zillions of perfectly great bottles of sriracha sitting in the grocery store two blocks away from me. And to that I've got a point. However! I do have to insist that this homemade version is much better. It's got that something extra that comes from being made from your own two hands, it's got lots of fresh heat, and it has the added benefit of not being full of chemicals and s*^% you can't pronounce. Also, just do it once, and you've got a jar of liquid....copper(?) sitting in your fridge for at least six months. Totally worth it. xo

Homemade Sriracha
Adapted from It's All Good, by Gwyneth Paltrow
1 1/4 cups garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 lb red jalapenos (you can sub green if you can't find red), stemmed and sliced into thin rings*
1/2 lb mixture of other red peppers such as serranos, cayenne peppers, cherry, anaheim, fresno, and scotch bonnet
2 1/4 cups rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon brown rice syrup or agave nectar
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
2 tablespoons fish sauce

*Red jalapeno peppers are most common during the fall, so it is likely that you will only be able to find green during other times of the year. If that is the case, make sure the other 1/2 pound of peppers you use are all red in order to maintain the bright red color of the final product.

In a small saucepan, cover the garlic with cold water. Bring to a boil and immediately drain. Cool the garlic under running water. Repeat one time. Slice the garlic thinly, and combine it with the peppers and vinegar in a large pot. Bring the mixture to a boil for about 3 minutes, then remove from heat. Add the brown rice syrup and salt, and stir to combine. Let the mixture sit undisturbed for an hour to steep and cool.

Transfer the mixture to a powerful blender and blend until smooth (it's fine if all the seeds don't blend in). Return pureed mixture to pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the sauce is slightly reduced and has some body. 

In a small bowl, dissolve the arrowroot with 1 tablespoon lukewarm water. Whisk into the simmering sauce, and cook for two more minutes, or until the sauce is nicely thickened to your liking. Remove from heat, let cool a bit, and stir in fish sauce. Store in a screw-top jar or bottle in the fridge for up to six months.