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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Skillet baked spinach and eggs

In this crazy world of vast consumerism, it's no wonder that almost every product on the market, including cookware, is getting improved, reconstructed or re-marketed. I get a lot of questions regarding which type of cookware is the best to invest in. There are so many options out there -- copper, stainless steel, cast iron, non-stick-- it's certainly not easy to decide which are the best for you and your cooking needs. Of all of the types of cookware, and I use many of them for different purposes, I avoid using nonstick because of their potentially toxic coatings (sautéing organic produce on a chemically manufactured cooktop just doesn't jive to me). But this past week my step-sister emailed me asking what I thought about the new "green"nonstick pans.

The jury is still out on whether these new non-stick pans really do what they claim to do. I for one am extremely skeptical. Without diving too far into the details, the short of it is that every nonstick pan is coated with chemicals. That coating eventually breaks down and can emit harmful toxins when it does so. It can break down when heated over high heat, is scratched with cooking utensils, or simply with time. Different pans are coated with different chemicals, some indisputably more harmful than others. At the top of the avoid list are PFOA and PTFE which the Environmental Protection Agency cites for having the potential to cause flulike symptoms all the way to birth defects. A few new "green" coatings, like silicone, have cropped up. They certainly look like they are less harmful than other nonstick coatings, but, when it comes down to it, they still require a lot more resources and technology to produce. Why even take a chance and hold our breath waiting for the next study to come out when traditional options, like stainless steel and cast iron, work perfectly well?

With that said, I know a lot of people that love their nonstick pans. They have solved a lot of cooking woes: they are easy to clean, food doesn't stick to them as easily and you don't have to use as much fat or oil. They're all totally legitimate. Are here are (what I hope to be) legitimate and practical solutions to those concerns:

Case for nonstick #1: They are easier to clean
Yes, nonstick pans are undeniably easier to clean. To clean stainless steel pans, you have to use a bit more elbow grease and sometimes a cleaning agent other than dish soap. For hard to remove food stains I sprinkle baking soda on the spots and then scrub the baking soda over the surface with a damp sponge. For heat stains, I rub a small amount of white vinegar over the stain with a soft cloth or paper towel.

Case for nonstick #2: You have to use less oil
My response: Using a tablespoon or so of heart healthy cooking oils like olive oil and canola oil here or there is good for you. Cooking food on a potentially toxic surface is not. I'll take the healthy fat and calories over the chemicals any day.

Case for nonstick #3: Food doesn't stick to them
Many people use nonstick pans because food doesn't, well, stick to them as easily. So for delicate food like eggs and fish fillets that seem to immediately and irreversibly adhere themselves to stainless steel pans, I have a secret weapon. A big, time-tested, super affordable weapon: cast iron.

Cast iron is some of the most inexpensive cookware you can buy and has (almost literally) been used as a cooking element forever. When properly seasoned (cookware-speak for lightly oiled and baked) it is wonderfully nonstick. It's also heavy, durable, and will last for generations. Plus, I have found that they make for a beautiful and rustic serving vessel (with a towel draped over the handle and a fair warning that the handle is hot!). I cook and serve herbed lemon shrimp in a big cast iron skillet (scroll down to third recipe to see the presentation) and I love it for big veggie and egg bakes.

Now that spinach and other delicate greens are coming into season, I can't get enough of them. This recipe calls for a huge amount of spinach -- a really absurd amount - but it doesn't seem excessive when it is all wilted down. If you're looking to increase your family's veggie intake, this is your recipe. Even a modest serving of this dish will pack in a crazy amount of all those anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and nutritious properties that spinach is know for.

Skillet baked spinach and eggs

4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
16 ounces (1 pound) fresh spinach
2 tablespoons butter
3 spring onions or 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Warm olive oil in a large high-sided pan over medium-low heat. Gradually add spinach to the pan, stirring as you go, until all of it is wilted. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Melt the butter in a 12 inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the spring onion or leeks and saute until tender. Add in the garlic and cook another 30 seconds or until the garlic is fragrant but not browned. Add in the wilted spinach, lemon juice, salt, pepper and nutmeg into the skillet and stir to combine.

Using the back of a wooden spoon, create four indentations into the spinach mixture. Crack each of the eggs directly into the indentations and transfer the skillet to oven. Bake just until the whites of the eggs are set, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and top with the grated Parmesan.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Cincinnati Style Chili [A Special Guest Post]

The first guest Seasonal Brooklyn entry, what an honor!

Some of you may know me personally, others through this blog as they lucky recipient of Rachel's frequent and delicious culinary experiments. Either way, hello! This is Andrew, Rachel's husband, with the the first guest entry here on Seasonal Brooklyn. With this first appearance I wanted to bring a recipe that I have taken the time to perfect (in my mind) to try and keep up with the caliber of the blog, but also one that meant something to me on a more personal level. So today it's all about that unique take on chili from a small city in the Midwest. In keeping with the blog's theme, I have adapted a more locally and sustainably minded approach for my Cincinnati Style Chili recipe, something I believe in as much as my lovely wife.

Like most cities in the Midwest, Cincinnati is a pretty laid back and quiet town full of friendly people. It's the type of place where you say 'hi' to strangers as you pass them on the sidewalk. I have long given up this practice after nearly twelve years on the east coast, but I will slip right back into it with every visit to my hometown. A city rich in American History residing on the border between North and South, it once bore the nickname Porkopolis and is still referred to as the Queen City to this day, and yes, Jerry Springer was in fact our mayor. Cincinnatians love their Bengals (Who Dey!) and Reds, it's home to the Crosstown Shootout, and a unique culinary tradition: Cincinnati Style Chili.

Cincinnati Style Chili originated in Downtown Cincinnati in the 1920's. It was introduced by Greek immigrant restaurateurs that were modifying traditional stews or sauces to broaden their appeal and customer base. I'm surmising that the dish originated as a variation of the traditional Greek meat sauce used in moussaka because the similarity in texture, consistency and use of savory and sweet flavor profiles. The chili is characterized by its unique mix of spices, including spicy, savory and sweet, as well as the manner in which it is served; coneys, three-ways, four-ways, etc. Today Cincinnati style chili is served primarily in what are called 'chili parlors', which are either chains like Skyline Chili, or local single-location restaurants like Blue Ash Chili or Chili Time. Chili Parlors are located in and around the greater Cincinnati area, which span parts of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.

There are a few things that need to be laid out before you take on some home cooked Cincinnati Style Chili. Whether you're a seasoned veteran or someone who's never even tried the chili, here are some pointers worth considering:
The Meat
Buy lean ground beef from a trusted butcher and have them use the finest grind they can. The fine grind allows for the chili to be thinner, which will result in a more authentic Cincinnati style chili. I use meat from Dickson's Farmstand, a purveyor of pastured, sustainably raised animals in Manhattan, and have them do a fine grind on a 90/10 meat to fat ratio. You want a little flavor that fat can impart but not so much that it makes the chili greasy (you'll be skimming the excess fat off anyway).

The Seasoning
Cincinnati chili is probably more about the seasoning than anything else, as this is what lends the unique and bold flavor. My fine-tuned concoction is listed below just as I make it at home, but feel free to tweak it to you personal tastes.

The Cheese
You don't want to get too fancy on the cheese front as the proper way to serve Cincinnati style chili is topped with mounds of the stuff. A fine cheese just doesn't quite belong. I go with an easily grated sharp cheddar, but some argue a milder cheddar or even Monterey jack is better suited. Be sure to use the finest grate on your box grater as the cheese will be piled high and should almost be fluffy. Just a quick note for the health conscious, your average cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses are dyed orange with a food-coloring agent called annatto. As you'll see in my photos I have opted for an un-dyed version of sharp cheddar, which can be found easily at your local grocery store.

Serving Styles

Three, four and five ways: The first of two traditional serving styles that dates back to the 1920's is spaghetti topped with a generous serving of chili. Three ways are served over spaghetti and topped with mounds of cheese. Beans and/or raw onions can be added if you like to make it a four or five way.

Cheese coneys: The second traditional serving style is the all-American coney, a hot dog served on a bun and topped with chili and cheese. A variation on this version, which happens to be my personal favorite, is the chili ch
eese sandwich. Its just like the cheese coney, however without the dog, just much more chili and cheese.

Those are some of the traditional ways to serve Cincinnati style chili, but this is still chili my friends and you can serve it up in a number of other untraditional manners. Here are some ideas:
  • Chili Dip (cream cheese topped with chili)
  • Plain Ol' Bowl of Chili
  • Chili Nachos
  • Chili Cheese Fries
With that, I give you
my Cincinnati Style Chili recipe. I hope you all enjoy.
Cincinnati Style Chili

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2-1/2 tablespoons chili powder
3-1/2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons allspice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon coriander
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions, chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds ground beef (90/10 meat to fat ratio, fine grind)
16 ounce can pureed tomatoes
2 cups water
3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Mix the cocoa powder and all of the dried spices in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add in the beef and cook, stirring frequently until beef is browned. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the excess fat from the pot (I do this by pushing all of the beef to one side and tilting the pot so that the fat pools on one side and can easily be spooned out). Add in the dried spice mixture and stir until well combined and the cocoa melts in. Add in the tomatoes, water, worcestershire sauce and apple cider vinegar and simmer covered for at least 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding more water as needed.

Adjust seasoning if needed and serve in whatever style you're feeling.