Archives for category: Cooking

As you may or may not know, I am in a writing workshop group that meets every three weeks. Sometimes we do writerly things, but these gatherings are often also dinner parties. It was my turn to host this week and I was searching for something I could make easily in the hour between getting home from work and the start of the workshop, and something that I could easily scale up to feed 9 hungry writers. Obviously I chose Cheeseburger Chili Mac & Cheese.

The recipe is very easy and I actually followed it, for the most part. I used regular pasta instead of whole wheat, and at the end when it says to top the chili and pasta with cheese, I mixed some in as well. I also did not think that the addition of beef stock to the chili was really necessary. By the time I reached that step, my chili was already liquid-y enough. Unfortunately, I am out of my own beef stock, so I had to use store-bought. In the future, I would use home-made and reduce it on its own for a bit first, thereby reducing the volume of liquid while still adding a little more depth of flavor to the dish. I already have a weekend in October blocked off for stock-making, so I’ll be fully stocked (anyone?) again soon.

Lamentably, everyone ate all of it before I take any pictures. Seconds and thirds were had, and I packed everyone off into the night stuffed full of meat, cheese, and pasta. I am very exciting for Fall weather to begin, and mac & cheese, though delectable year-round, is a great base for hearty Fall meals. What are your favorite mac & cheese variations?

As always, recipe after the jump.

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As promised, The Infinite Table is back in business and cooking up a storm. To kick things off again, I thought I would share one of my favorite summer meals: spaghetti alla carbonara and Champagne. Carbonara is one of my favorite classic pasta presentations. The egg and cheese makes for a rich, creamy sauce, and the bacon always makes my mouth water. I usually add some sauteed scallions or leeks as well to add a little brightness to the dish.

At this point, I need to introduce a new Infinite Table character: Boyfriend. Boyfriend is great. He drinks wine for a living and we can talk to each other in flavors alone. AND he is super useful, as you can see in the picture below. Say hello:

Anyway, carbonara is delightfully easy: saute up your bacon, garlic, and scallions in one pan, cook up your spaghetti (the carbonara pasta of choice and tradition) in a pot, and whisk together egg and cheese in a bowl. When all the respective parts are complete, mix them together. The heat from the pasta and bacon should cook up the egg and you’re ready to eat. Have Boyfriend or your resident sommelier pop open a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve and you have a simple, delicious summer dinner.


As always, full recipe after the jump.

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Welcome Readers! This is The Infinite Table’s very first guest post and I could not be more excited about it. So read this post and love it!

Gabriel Kussin lives and works in Durham, North Carolina. He is the Membership Coordinator at El Centro Hispano, a Latino advocacy organization and is always searching for new and exciting recipes.

I recently started working at a Latino advocacy organization and the first two questions that my colleagues asked when they discovered my Puerto Rican heritage were, “What can you cook?” and “When will you cook for us?” There was an automatic assumption amongst these Ecuadorians, Mexicans and Colombians that not only could I cook, but I could cook well.

The connection between being Boricua (the indigenous Taino name for Puerto Rico and its inhabitants) and Puerto Rican food is representative of the rich diversity of the Caribbean island. Our music, our people, our landmarks and our food are mixtures of African, Spanish, Taino and, more recently, American influences. In Spanish, Puerto Ricans refer to their cuisine as comida criolla, or literally “Creolefood.” While each Latin American country possesses its own distinct culinary flavor, Puerto Rican food has the greatest range of tastes, styles, ingredients and dishes. Yet even if you are eating chicharronde pollo (a breaded, garlic chicken) or a traditional Puerto Rican Octopus Salad there is something that reminds you of La Isla. You may not be able to describe it, but it will leave you wanting more.

In an attempt to represent that diversity of flavor as well as experimentation that is quintessential to Puerto Rican food and culture as a whole, I decided to make several trademark Puerto Rican dishes withsome small twists: salmon filled pastelillos, or miniaturized empanadas, fried plantains and asopao, a Puerto Rican gumbo.

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I am quite sure that I have mentioned many times my obsession with Joel Robuchon‘s potato puree. If you have never tasted it, you might be thinking something like, “Oh mashed potatoes can be very satisfying, sure.” You are wrong. His potato puree is beyond mashed potatoes, beyond cream, beyond even butter. Each mouthful is transcendent; you’re filled with a sense of peace and the conviction that the world is full of goodwill. I’ve had it multiple times on two different continents and I cannot ever imagine getting enough. Sometimes they even send out an extra serving of it because they know I want a truckful.

I have thought about trying to replicate this gateway to nirvana multiple times, and last night I attempted it for the first time. There are lots of slightly different recipes for this floating around, so I picked the first one and dove in. The basic idea is to boil the potatoes, squeeze them through a ricer, beat a bunch of butter and milk into them, squeeze them through a strainer, and then finish it off with more butter and milk. I followed the recipe exactly with one exception: I didn’t have whole milk so I used heavy whipping cream instead.

My initial reaction was that my arm hurt. Perhaps I should have been weight training for this, because after 4 minutes of beating the potatoes dry, 5 minutes of beating butter in, and 15 minutes of cramming the mashed mixture through a sieve, my right arm was pretty upset with me. If I weren’t in pursuit of such a noble end, I might have given up.

As far as the finished product was concerned, I would rate my first effort as a B. They were definitely more rich and less chunky than the average mashed potatoes. I think the potatoes could have been cooked for a few more minutes, as some parts were difficult to press through the ricer and the texture at the end was still a little grainy. Another problem I noticed was that the potatoes didn’t fully absorb all the butter and cream. Even though I beat the mixture very vigorously with a wood spatula as instructed , there seemed to be a portion of buttery liquid that I couldn’t get into the potato. I am not sure if I didn’t allow the potato to dry enough or if the ratio of potato to butter was off, but it resulted in potato puree that was not quite as light as I wanted. While the end product was very tasty, it was not as creamy and smooth as the real thing. I did not expect to hit the nail on the head the first time; if it were easy to make the puree everyone would be making it all the time. However, I thought it was a solid first try and will continue to research the matter. For my next effort, I am going to consult The Complete Robuchon for advice from the source.

Recipe after the jump

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Last night was one of those times when we throw a bunch of food around the kitchen, invite a bunch of people over, and drink several bottles of wine. As usual, it was a delicious affair that left me completely stuffed to the gills and passed out by 11:30. This week the theme was Southern food, so everyone thought of the most delicious, artery-clogging dish they could and made it.

Becca provided the featured item: a fantastic pile of pulled pork. It simmered away on the stove all afternoon and the smells were truly mouthwatering. It’s a miracle I didn’t eat it all before dinner. To accompany the pork, she made two different sauces: a fairly standard barbecue sauce and an Alabama white sauce. None of us had heard of this sauce before, but it was pretty tasty. It mostly reminded me of a honey mustard dressing.

To supplement the pork, I made creamed spinach and biscuits. I am very particular about biscuits because I grew up in North Carolina where there is this wonderful phenomenon known as Bojangles. Bojangles is a southern fast food chain whose most famous offerings are the chicken biscuit, the seasoned fries, and sweet tea (aka the nectar of life; the stuff is almost unbearably sweet but, my goodness, it’s delicious). There is something about a Bojangles biscuit (my guess would be about a stick of additional butter) that makes it better than any other biscuit I have tasted. So I hopped on the internet, searched for recipes, and came up with this. They turned out really well, though not quite as delicious as Bojangles’. I think I was a little too conservative with the “brush butter on biscuit” step. Next time I will douse a little more thoroughly.

The creamed spinach was also delicious, although I made a few slight changes to the recipe. Instead of peppercorns I used crushed red pepper and left out the chile, which turned out fine. I also didn’t feel like getting whole milk for the sole purpose of this dish, so I used the leftover buttermilk from the biscuit recipe. Otherwise I followed the recipe and came out with a truly rich, creamy plate of spinach. My eating strategy was to cut a biscuit in half, pile on pork, spinach, and one of the sauces. It was highly successful.

Our lovely guests also brought their Southern offerings. Alex and Jane brought collard greens and whipped them up with some pepper and garlic. Alex also made some of her sweet potato fries, which we have met before and absolutely loved. Jyoti baked a beautiful heart-shaped red velvet cake and cream cheese ice cream, rather than icing. The combination was amazing.

All of this resulted in one of those nights where you aren’t sure if you need to vomit or go back for more food or pass out or just lie in a heap on the floor moaning about how full you are. Obviously I settled for this last option which was so charming that all of our guests packed up and left. But nothing says “bonding” like getting indecently and embarrassingly full with a bunch of your friends, so all in all, I have to say that the Southern Extravaganza was a success.

As always, recipes after the jump and in the archive. May you all encounter a buttery biscuit in the near future!

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As I mentioned yesterday, I had the good fortune to have two very satisfying dinners over the weekend. On Saturday night our food friend and frequent Infinite Table subject Jyoti invited us over to her apartment for a three cheese fondue with tomato onion chutney. We wandered out through the light snow flurries and arrived to the wonderful smell of onions cooking on the stove. This is one of my favorite smells in the world, especially on a cold winter night. After a round of cocktails and several pilfered chunks of cheese (Becca was grating; I was eating), we were ready to melt the cheese. Jyoti dumped our piles of gruyere, Emmenthal, and vacherin (a gooey, soft, totally to-die-for cheese) into a big pot and melted away. Then she folded in the tomato onion chutney and served it in her perfect heart-shaped fondue pot.

Even though I had been eating stolen bits of cheese and pouring a bag of pita chips into my face the whole evening, I saved enough room to be starving by the time dinner was served. Instead of the traditional pieces of meat and vegetables, we decided to load up on carbs. Nick boiled and then quickly sauted some tortellini and I brought along a few loaves of Jim Lahey’s stecchia (long, Italian loaves from my bread hero) that I had made the night before. We swarmed the fondue pot and proceeded to stuff our faces. The chutney was a delicious addition to the melted cheese and I really loved the flavor of the melted vacherin. Nick and I were a little skeptical about the idea of using tortellini, but it turned out to be delicious. We opted for a chicken-filled tortellini since we thought a three-cheese tortellini dipped in three-cheese fondue might be too much, even for professional eaters such as ourselves. My bread also turned out reasonably well. It tasted delicious, but looked pretty ugly and definitely nothing like Jim’s perfect loaves in his cookbook (hence the lack of pictures). I’ll definitely be trying the bread again because I loved the taste, but I promise I’ll work on making prettier loaves so I can photograph them for you.

If you’re on the East Coast, I hope you are staying warm and dry. In New York we’re expecting another snow storm tonight, which seems like the perfect moment to make some beef stock and guzzle a bottle of red wine. As always, recipes after the jump!

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I am going to be doing a lot of holiday eating in the next few days and I will take careful notes so I can share all my delicious holiday meals with you. In the mean time, I’ve collected a series of videos that remind me that food is more than just putting nutrients in our bodies.

It can transport us to a different place and time:

It can be a way to avoid our problems:

Or address them:

And most importantly at this time of year, any meal, no matter how humble, shared with family and friends, will seem like an infinite feast:

So no matter where you are or what you’re celebrating this week, I hope you are with people you care about, eating lots of food, and enjoying life. Happy holidays!

I usually like to post about my nobler cooking and dining experiences, but no one is perfect all the time and even the most pretentious foodie has his or her dark moments stuffing junk food down their throats, perhaps late at night in a secluded room. Last night I did not sink that far, but it was certainly an interesting evening that involved a lot of unnecessary egg carnage and a very messy kitchen.

It started innocently enough. I came home from work and decided to use up some of the vegetables lying around the refrigerator. So I threw mushrooms, broccolini, green beens, carrots, and celery in a pan with a little a lot of butter, some garlic, and some white wine. While that bubbled away on one burner, I started another pot to poach my egg (Egg count: 1). A few minutes later, I had a plate of beautiful veggies with a perfectly poached egg lying on top. For anyone who watches Top Chef All Stars, I could not agree with so-called “egg slut” Wylie Dufresne more: “The yolk is nice and runny, just the way we like it.” I love warm, runny yolk. It was a simple, strange dinner, but also tasty.

I ate my food, relaxed on the couch, chatted with roommate Becca when she arrived home, and thought that my culinary adventures for the night were over. How wrong I was. Around 11 pm, dear roommate Nick decides to grace us with his presence. Let me remind you that it is the season of holiday parties, and Nick had clearly participated to his fullest abilities in a holiday party open bar. Somewhere in the course of our weaving conversation, I mentioned that I had a poached egg for dinner. It was like a light bulb lit up inside his head.


Several flags went off in my mind at this point. But, because I like to encourage my friends to follow their dreams and because I wanted a good laugh, I said, “Go for it.” The first several steps of this process actually went by without a hitch, and by the time the water started boiling I thought that perhaps this would not be such a catastrophic event after all. But then he started with the eggs.

First egg: actually a moderate success (Egg count: 2)

Second egg: Nick pokes the yolk open in the water, ruining it (Egg count: 3)

Third-Sixth eggs: Nick pokes the yolks open in the water, each time insisting that it’s somehow not his fault (Egg count: 7)

Seventh egg: I get frustrated and demonstrate how to poach an egg. I’m sure being sober helps. (Egg count: 8 )

At this point I wander out of the kitchen, thinking that Nick will happily eat the egg that was actually poached and call it a night. But after a suspiciously long time had passed, I went to check on him again and saw that two more eggs (Egg count: 10) had met unfortunate ends in Nick’s Pot of Death. Nick was happily scooping remains of the massacre out of the pot and collecting them on a plate. It was an unappetizing mess, but he ate every last bite.

You may have noticed that we are two eggs short of a dozen still. Well that is because after watching the carnage of Nick’s zealous poaching, I got hungry again. I know, this is confusing because all his eggs looked so gross, but it is the sad and embarrassing truth. So I pulled out some of the leftover mushrooms from my first dinner of the night, threw them in a pan with butter and the last two eggs I whisked together, and made an omelette. Add ketchup and hot sauce, and that, my friends, is how to use (waste?) a dozen eggs in one night.

As I mentioned, Friday night wasn’t my only dinner party of the weekend. On Sunday we had two people over for dinner and prepared another mountain of food.

Becca took the lead on dinner again this time and made the most delicious mushroom risotto. There are a couple of ways to handle the mushrooms. You can use dehydrated mushrooms and use the leftover mushroom water to start the risotto, or you can use fresh mushrooms (like we did) and use chicken broth or another stock of your choosing. Becca also substituted dry white wine for the Sherry since we had some left over from Friday and we added spice-rubbed chicken pieces for a little protein.

For a side, I made asparagus with balsamic shallots for a recipe I found in the Bon Appetit Cookbook. It’s a very simple recipe: reduce the shallots and balsamic vinegar, cook the asparagus briefly with some butter, and serve together. I love all the primary ingredients in this recipe, so I thought it was pretty tasty, but overall I was not impressed by the recipe. It makes for a perfect quick side vegetable, but it’s not the most complex in terms of flavors or preparation. The good this about this recipe is that you hardly even need a recipe for it. I didn’t measure those ingredients (the magic of eyeballing, again) and definitely cheated by adding more butter than the recipe calls for.

In addition to Becca’s risotto and my asparagus, I also threw together a tomato, mozzarella, and basel salad. I used cherry tomatos sliced in half length-wise because cherry tomatos are far cheaper than the perfect, glowing heirloom tomatos I really wanted to buy but was, for once, sensible enough not to buy. Jyoti was a dinner guest again and brought over this wonderful treat that I had not heard of before. She layered mascarpone with honey and pomegranate seeds and served it with pita chips. It was a great flavor combination and I think I remember using my finger to clean out the dish.

Needless to say, by this point Becca, Nick, and I are getting pretty good at throwing dinner parties. Of course, we are missing a dining table because I am on a budget and procrastinate a lot, so balancing plates on knees while juggling champagne flutes always makes our events slightly less civilized than they could be, but I like to think that it is all part of our charm. Still, a major goal for 2010 is to get a dining table and I only have a few days left, so wish me luck!

Recipes after the jump.

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As I mentioned last week, my weekend was full of dinner parties. Each one was an elaborate affair and therefore deserving of its own post, so I will start with Friday night. We invited three of Becca’s friends over, bringing our dinner table up to six people. We also had a vegetarian in attendance, which was a new challenge for us in terms of menu-planning. However, as is always the case at our dinner parties, we ended up with a towering mountain of food supported by several bottles of wine.

To start, Nick made a beautiful salad with spinach, pears, walnuts, dried cranberries, and feta tossed with just some olive oil and salt. Becca made an unbelievable pumpkin lasagna. Instead of the traditional tomato sauce used in lasagna, Becca used a mixture of pumpkin, cream, sage, and a few other ingredients. I made one of my standard sides: roasted brussel sprouts with mushrooms. I have made this recipe many times and it is delicious every time I make it. The recipe suggests chanterelles and/or oyster mushrooms, but I have used all kinds of mushrooms and it always turns out well. The recipe also asks you to fry shallot rings to add a little crunch to the dish. This is a great addition, but sometimes if I am feeling lazy I’ll just saute them instead. It’s a pretty flexible recipe, so tailor it to your own flavor preferences.

Our wonderful guests did not come empty-handed, either. One brought steamed spinach and another brought challah, still warm from the oven. Our friend Jyoti (of the wonderful food blog Hom Nom) supplied dessert with five different flavors of home-made ice cream: two kinds of peppermint, gingerbread, spiced apple, and the great mystery flavor: bacon.

After all this amazing food and several bottles of sparkling wine, I would not have even noticed that the meal was vegetarian (minus the bacon ice cream, of course). Even though we were all stuffed to the gills, we rallied from our stupors in time to decorate our Christmas tree.

Recipes for the lasagna and brussel sprouts after the jump!

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