December 28, 2009

Veggie Heaven

Happy Holidays from Hotplate Confidential!  I hope you’ve had a wonderful couple of weeks filled with family, food, and friends.  If it’s been anything like mine, it’s been a whirlwind affair filled with all those delicious goodies that you somehow tell yourself are not bad for you from roughly December 10 to January 1.  But to tell the truth, I’m hurting.  Now, this is not to say I haven’t had my share of delicious and healthy meals too (I made a particularly good salmon and lentil dish on Christmas Eve), but I just needed a night without meat or our other vegetarian fall back, pasta. 

Whenever I’m in need of an interesting, not run-of-the-mill vegetarian dish, I turn to Heidi over at 101 Cookbooks.  Her nutritious meals are feasts for the eyes, although I often substitute easier to find/store ingredients, for her many diverse kinds of flours and grains.  Tonight was no exception, but she was the inspiration for our baked “sweet potato falafel”.  Paired with quinoa and broccolini, this meal was just what the doctor ordered.  And it even satisfied Sam!

Baked Sweet Potato “Falafel” with Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

2 medium sweet potatoes
1 tsp ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 c. corn meal
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
¼ c. breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking dish with aluminum foil and set aside.  Pierce the skin of the potatoes with a fork all over and cook in the microwave on high for 8 minutes.  They should be very tender, but continue to microwave if they are at all hard.  Let the potatoes cool slightly then cut in half and scoop out the flesh into a large bowl.  Add the garlic, cumin, corn meal, lemon juice, and salt & pepper and stir to combine making sure the corn meal is completely incorporated.  The mixture should have the consistency of a dough and should hold together on its own.  If you need a little more liquid, add a drizzle of olive oil.  Using a spoon, make one inch round balls and dredge them in the breadcrumbs.  Place them on the baking sheet and drizzle them with oil before putting them into the oven.  Bake for 15 minutes then broil them for 5.  They won’t be completely brown but they should be a bit crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.  Makes 14-16 balls.

Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. honey
salt & pepper

Combine all ingredients and whisk until completely combined.  The vinaigrette should be very viscous and sweet. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the “falafel” and serve.

Quinoa with Lemon Scented Broccolini
Serves 2

½ c. quinoa
1 bunch brocollini
juice of half a lemon
½ a medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
salt & pepper
olive oil

Cook the quinoa and set aside in a medium sized bowl.  Heat oil in sauté pan and add the onions.  Cook for 2 minutes and add the garlic.  Cook until the onions are just soft and starting to become translucent, then add the broccolini, lemon juice, salt & pepper. Saute with another drizzle of olive oil and cook until the broccolini is just al dente.  It should still be very green and crisp to the bite.  Add the broccolini to the quinoa and stir to combine.  Add salt & pepper to taste.

December 14, 2009

A Perfect Gratin for a Sunday (and a Tuesday!)

Yesterday was a quintessential New York December day – cold and rainy.  Sam and I wanted something warm and comforting (new, I know) and I was feeling like having more of my new favorite vegetable – fennel!  Ina Garten’s potato and fennel gratin turned out to be just the trick.  Plus, I just received my package of OXO goods for being a finalist on Food52 and I was dying to use my brand new hand-held mandoline.  I think Sam liked it even more than I did!

This gratin is decadent and could probably be just fine with whole milk instead of cream, but hey, it’s the holidays so what’s one more cup of the stuff?  I have a feeling that the gratin will be even better tomorrow when I reheat it as a side dish to pork.

Potato and Fennel Gratin (Adapted from Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
4 Servings

1 small fennel bulbs
½ medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp. good olive oil
2 russet potatoes
1 c. plus 2 tbsp. heavy cream
1 ¼ c. grated Gruyère cheese
Salt & Pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter the inside of a baking dish.
Remove the stalks from the fennel and cut the bulbs in half lengthwise. Remove the cores and thinly slice the bulbs crosswise, making approximately 4 cups of sliced fennel. Sauté the fennel and onions in the olive oil on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, until tender.

Peel the potatoes, then thinly slice them by hand or with a mandoline. Mix the sliced potatoes in a large bowl with 1 cup of cream, 1 cup of Gruyère, salt, and pepper. Add the sautéed fennel and onion and mix well.

Pour the potatoes into the baking dish. Press down to smooth the potatoes. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of cream and ½ cup of Gruyère and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 50 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbly. Allow to set for 10 minutes and serve.

December 9, 2009

Hotplate Gourmet Leftovers

I’m sure you can tell by now that one of my favorite things to do is use up leftover ingredients in interesting and exciting ways.  Well, at least more exciting then just eating the same meal all over again.  On Monday, Sam and I used up our leftover lamb shank in a really easy and delectable way – lamb ragu with fresh gnocchi.  One of the things I love about living in New York is having the ability to get any type of fresh ingredient you need at almost any time of day.  On my walk home from work, I can get wonderful baguettes (if not Parisian), delicious cheeses, and the freshest of pastas and they always make a regular meal just a little more delicious.

For this ragu, I took my inspiration from Andrew Carmellini.  Although I haven’t had the chance to go to his new restaurant, Locanda Verde, his cookbook makes me think it would be a fabulous meal.  This recipe was easy to replicate with my precooked lamb shank, although I’m sure it would be even more wonderful if left to stew for an hour as Andrew suggests.  This adaptation, though, was perfect for an easy weeknight meal.  When I make it again, I will add 2 minced cloves of garlic to this dish, although Andrew did not suggest it, because I thought it was really missing from the overall flavor.

Lamb Ragu with Fresh Potato Gnocchi (adapted from Urban Italian by Andrew Carmellini)
Serves 2-3


2 tbsp. olive oil
1 leftover lamb shank (3/4 of a pound)
1 carrot, finely diced
1 celery stick, finely diced
½ a medium onion, finely diced
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 c. red wine
½ 28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes
salt & pepper
Grated parmesan
Chopped parsley (optional for garnish)


Cut all of the meat off of the bone and chop up into small pieces. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan.  Add the carrots, celery, and onions and cook until the vegetables are tender.  Add the lamb and cook for 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir to combine completely.  Add the wine and cook until it is nearly evaporated.  Make sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan completely so that any browned bits are incorporated and do not burn.  Add the whole peeled tomatoes and salt and stir to combine.  Cook for about 20 minutes until the tomatoes are complete combined, the liquid evaporates, and the ragu is rich and thick.  Add salt & pepper to taste.
Cook the gnocchi until all of them rise to the surface of the boiling water (about 8 minutes).  Serve the ragu over the gnocchi and top with parmesan cheese.

December 6, 2009

An Intimate Dinner Party

Last night I got a little ambitious.  I really think I was just overwhelmed by a long shopping excursion at Whole Foods, but somehow I thought it would be a good idea to cook lamb shanks for a little dinner party of 3.  Now, I’ve never cooked lamb shanks in any kitchen, let alone in my non-kitchen, but I was undaunted and they actually came out ok!  I braised them in a pot smaller than I should have, and it couldn’t actually fit all the liquid I was supposed to add to the dish, but the 2 and half hours of cooking still did the trick.  Paired with white beans and spinach, it was the perfect meal for the first day of snow in New York.  We ended up having a lovely meal at around 9 and finished it off with a simple pear crisp.  The next time I do this, I’ll use much, much less liquid…

Lamb Shanks with White Beans (from Bon Appétit)
Serves 4


For lamb shanks
4 lamb shanks (about 1 pound each)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped coarse
1 medium carrot, chopped coarse
1 celery rib, chopped coarse
8 garlic cloves, chopped coarse
1 bottle Bordeaux or other full-bodied red wine
4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 fresh thyme sprigs

For gremolata
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves (preferably flat-leafed)
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
3 garlic cloves, minced

For beans
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 small onions, chopped fine
2 small carrots, chopped fine
2 celery ribs, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups cooked white beans (preferably Great Northern or navy)
2 to 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 fresh tarragon sprigs


Make lamb shanks:
Pat lamb shanks dry and season with salt and pepper. In an 8-quart (mine was obviously MUCH smaller and I used a sauté pan) heavy flameproof casserole heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and brown lamb shanks well in batches, transferring to a plate as browned. To casserole add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and sauté until onion is softened. Add wine and simmer mixture, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to about 3 cups. Return lamb shanks to casserole and stir in broth, tomato paste, and thyme. Bring liquid to a boil and simmer, covered, stirring and turning lamb shanks occasionally, 1 1/2 hours. Simmer mixture, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 1 hour more, or until lamb shanks are tender.
Make the gremolata while lamb is cooking:
In a small bowl stir together gremolata ingredients.
Make beans while lamb is cooking:
In a saucepan heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and cook onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, stirring, 2 or 3 minutes, or until softened. Add beans, 2 cups broth, butter, and bay leaf and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally and adding enough remaining broth to keep beans moist and to reach a creamy consistency, about 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf and add half of gremolata and salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer lamb shanks to a plate and keep warm, covered with foil. Strain braising liquid through a sieve into a saucepan, discarding solids, and stir in butter and tarragon. Boil sauce, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly. Sprinkle lamb shanks with remaining gremolata and serve with the braising liquid.

December 4, 2009

A Quick Meal from the Pantry

So tonight I spent a really lovely evening with a bunch of Batesies, Bates parents, and friends of Bates talking about food, television, and food on television!  I had a lively conversation with Kathleen Collins (author of Watching What We Eat) about her book and my blog. Although I didn’t get home until a little after 9, I thought it would be pretty bad form of me not to cook since I had just spent all that time explaining that it’s what I love to do!

So to the hotplate I went for a simple pasta with breadcrumbs.  I know I’ve posted this before, but really, it’s just the greatest, no-fuss dish around.  And, all I had to do was go to my pantry for the ingredients.  In less than 30 minutes, Sam and I had a delicious dinner that must have been (marginally) better for us than take out Chinese!

Pasta with Breadcrumbs

Serves 3

2/3 lb. spaghetti
2 garlic cloves, sliced
3 slices day (or 2) old bread, pulsed into breadcrumbs in a food processor
3 tbsp. olive oil
salt & pepper
1 tsp. dried basil
¼ c. grated parmesan

Boil the pasta according to the package.  Salt the water heavily.  Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a frying pan.  Add the garlic and cook for about a minute until fragrant, but not browned.  Add the breadcrumbs, basil, and pepper and sauté for about 5 minutes.  Take off heat once all the breadcrumbs are crisp.  Once the pasta is done, drain and add to a mixing bowl.  Pour the breadcrumb mixture and the remaining tablespoon of oil over the mixture.  Toss to combine with the parmesan.  Serve with additional parmesan and pepper.