Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gingery Sweet Potato, Veg and Sausage Soup

I've been making soup once a week since before the holidays. Usually on Wednesday nights when I'm not running to the gym and have plenty of time to cook. I make enough to eat the leftovers on Thursday plus a lunch or two. This is one of my favorite ways to enjoy the short, dark, wintery days.

I made plenty of soup when we lived in Fort Lauderdale, but now I'm enjoying it even more. I don't really think about cooking anything else on Wednesday nights--I just consider what kind of soup I want. I have a nice cache of new recipes bookmarked, and I have no problem repeating old favorites (like this one I'm making tomorrow!).

Last week's soup was inspired by this recipe from 101 Cookbooks. It's easy because you just put nearly everything in a pot and go. The original recipe, from the book Love Soup by Anna Thomas, is vegetarian, but I made some additions to turn it into a heartier main course. While I have plenty of veggie soups in my repertoire, I often like a little meat to help me feel satisfied. A can of cannellini beans and crumbled turkey sausage worked well with the sweet potatoes, greens and fresh ginger.

Since you don't start out by sauteeing carrots, celery, onions and spices to build flavor as in some soup recipes, I recommend using a good-tasting vegetable or chicken broth. The generous amount of ginger will give it a nice lift without coming off too strong. Have you been making more soup lately? If you have a current favorite recipe, feel free to leave links in the comments!

Gingery Sweet Potato, Veg and Sausage Soup
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

I used Jennie O fresh turkey sausage, but I think simple ground turkey breast would work just as well--it's also lower in sodium. You can mix up the types of greens you use (kale, Swiss chard, mustard, escarole, broccoli rabe) but I'd recommend at least 2 different ones for textural contrast. Heartier greens will need to simmer longer than delicate varieties.

Serves 5 to 6

1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced into half moons
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 fresh turkey sausage links, or 3/4 lb ground turkey breast
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 cups water
1 large sweet potato (about 14 oz), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup chopped fresh ginger
8 oz chopped collard greens
8 oz spinach leaves
1 (14 oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until very tender and golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. You want it to caramelize, so stir just occasionally and reduce the heat to low after about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Wipe out the skillet and turn heat to medium high. Coat with cooking spray and squeeze the sausage out of its casings into the pan (if using ground turkey, just add it to the pan and season with salt, pepper and spices of your choice--chile powder, cumin, paprika, etc.). Break up the meat with your spatula as it cooks. When turkey is cooked through, transfer to a paper towel lined plate to absorb excess fat and blot with additional paper towel on top if using sausage. Set aside.

While the onions and sausage cook, get the soup going: Add the broth, water and ginger to a large saucepan or Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the sweet potato, return to a simmer, cover and cook for 3 minutes. Add the collard greens, cover and simmer for 5 minutes, or until just tender. Add the spinach, cover and simmer 1 minute or until tender.

If necessary, you can partially cover the soup and let it rest off the heat until the other components are finished. When ready to serve, put the pot over medium-low heat to warm and stir in the beans, onion and sausage. If soup seems too thick, add an additional cup of water and bring to a simmer just to warm through. Taste for seasoning (you'll probably need some salt) and serve immediately.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Chickpea Soup with Sweet Potatoes & Roasted Poblanos

This is a hearty vegetarian soup I came up with when we were in the mood for something healthy and invigorating. After I've eaten a few rich or heavy meals, I find myself craving heat and spice. Somehow it wakes up my body and makes a virtuous dish taste perfectly satisfying.

Roasting some poblano peppers is an easy extra step that gives this soup a little something special. It seems to be more of a stew than a soup despite coming together in less than a half hour, not counting a few minutes spent roasting the peppers. I patterned it after a delicious smoky turkey chile I love to make. Try it when you need a pick-me-up meal. I'll also note that, like any meat-based stew, the leftovers take on a very appealing, steeped-in-flavor effect the next day.

Chickpea Soup with Sweet Potatoes & Roasted Poblanos

Roast the poblanos ahead of time directly on the burners of a gas range, under a broiler or on a grill. When skin of peppers is black, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until cool enough to handle. Slip off the skin with your fingers, then remove the stem and seeds. See detailed instructions here.

Serves 4

1 1/2 Tbs canola oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1 Tbs chopped fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic chopped
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground coriander
Red pepper flakes to taste
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 to 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite-size chunks
3 cups cooked chickpeas (about 2 14-oz. cans, rinsed and drained)
1 (14-oz) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
3 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into thin strips
Chopped fresh cilantro and sour cream for serving (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until soft. Add the cumin and mustard seeds and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the ginger, garlic, curry powder, coriander and red pepper flakes. Continue cooking for 2 minutes, or until garlic is tender and spices are fragrant.

Add the broth, cover and raise heat to high. As soon as liquid comes to a simmer, add sweet potatoes and return to simmering once again. Reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Add chickpeas, tomatoes and poblanos. Simmer just until heated through. Taste to check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary or beef up the spices (you might want more curry flavor, or some ground cumin to supplement the whole cumin seeds, etc.). Serve with fresh cilantro and sour cream.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Sheperd's Pie

Happy October! My favorite month is here, and I've got the perfect seasonal dish packed with satisfying textures and a hint of warm spice for a chilly night. Shepherd's pie is a classic-- a perfect example of homey, hearty food that imbues basic, often leftover, ingredients with more flavor than anyone expects.

It's also the perfect dish to play around with. As long as you have the key components--spiced meat and veggies topped with mashed potatoes baked to browned, crusty perfection--you can put your personal stamp on it, and make use of ingredients you have on hand or that suit your personal taste.

I'm not sure that anyone's agreed on one traditional version of Shepherd's pie, but leftover minced lamb is often considered the classic choice of protein. I haven't cooked a massive leg of lamb to give me the necessary leftovers in years, so I take the liberty of using fresh ground beef. To recreate the rich gravy, I use all the tricks in chefs' flavor-building books:

- Browning vegetables, like onions, carrots and mushrooms
- Packing on the aromatic spices, like cinnamon (absolutely vital to this dish!), cloves and chile powder
- Adding a dollop of tomato paste for a hit of umami
- Pouring in a glug of red wine and reducing it for an extra layer of complexity

It may have been invented to use up bits of food on hand, but I think Shepherd's pie is worth making for its own merits. This recipe also makes it simple enough to do whenever you have the craving!

Shepherd's Pie
Loosely based on this recipe by Michael Chiarello for Food Network
Some improvisations for this recipe: switch up the veggies-- a can of diced fire-roasted tomatoes would be good, as would frozen peas or even less obvious choices, like diced zucchini and parsnips. Use ground lamb or turkey. Gussy up the mashed potatoes any way you want--garlic, butter, sour cream, Gruyere or Manchego cheese.

Serves 4 to 6

1 1/2 lb. ground beef
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 small onions, chopped
1 1/2 cups choppted carrots
Cooking spray
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
3/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
1 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. tomato paste
1 cup low-sodium beef broth
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. chile powder
fat pinch of ground cloves
pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 lb. white or yukon gold potatoes
Buttermilk or regular milk
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a large skillet to medium-high, add beef and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until no longer pink. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate, cover with more paper towel and press gently to soak up fat.

Return skillet to heat and add onion and carrots. Season and cook until lightly browned. Transfer to a bowl. Return skillet to heat and coat lightly with cooking spray or oil. Add mushrooms, season and cook until liquid is released. Turn heat to medium-high and cook until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are lightly browned. Turn heat down to medium-low and add the thyme, rosemary and flour. Stir quickly to coat mushrooms with flour. Add tomato paste and beef broth. Bring to a simmer. Add wine and bring to a simmer. Return onion and carrot to skillet and simmer until liquid thickens and reduces, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in beef and remove from heat. Mixture should be moist but not watery.

Meanwhile, chop the potatoes (you can leave the skins on if you like) and boil in a large pot of water until fork tender. Remove pot from heat, drain in a colander and return potatoes to the pot. Add 2 tablespoons buttermilk or milk and mash. Add more liquid as needed to make soft, yet slightly chunky mashed potatoes. Add scallions and season with salt and pepper.

Transfer beef mixture to a 1 1/2 to 2 quart baking dish. Top with mashed potatoes and sprinkle cheese on top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Switch on broiler and continue cooking just until top of pie turns golden and slightly crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Rest pie for 10 minutes and serve.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Grilled Whole Trout

Grilling whole fish is so easy. In fact, I think it's even easier than grilling fillets, because getting great results takes so little effort. With protective skin on both sides for sealing in flavor and a handy center pocket for holding in herbs and seasonings, whole fillets make your job really simple.

The ones in the pictures, both raw and in fully grilled glory, are trout. If you buy them already cleaned (meaning guts and most of the bones removed) like we did, all you have to do is open each fish like a book and sprinkle the flesh with salt and pepper. We also stuffed them with lemons and parsley for a bit more flavor...and because it looks awfully fancy and delicious.

That's our new favorite fish recipe in a nutshell. You'll want to lightly rub the outside of the fish with oil so it doesn't stick to your grill. Then cook them for about 4 to 5 minutes per side over hot coals. This would definitely be pretty enough to serve to friends, AND you can have the fish prepped and seasoned in advance.

Do you ever grill whole fish? I liked the thin, quick-cooking trout, but what other types are good whole on the grill? Tell me what your favorite is and how you season it in the comments.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

All About Grilled Pizza

I've thought about doing it for years when we didn't have a grill, and I talked about it just recently when me made this fantastic pie. Now, I'm happy to report that I've finally tried grilled pizza!

No doubt, I was apprehensive. It's not difficult, but I knew it had to be one of those things you just need to get the hang of, like folding an omelet or parallel parking. Fortunately, this is probably easier than either of those two examples. All you have to do is be prepared and pay attention to what you're doing. With that in mind, I also put together a few tips that will hopefully help, should you want to try grilled pizza for the first time too!

1) First up, the dough: Any dough is great! Buy it at a supermarket or make your own. I've relied on this whole wheat style for years now, and this time around, I wanted a more traditional white dough, so I used Cindy Mushet's recipe in The Art & Soul of Baking. However. Regardless of the dough you choose, results on the grill may be different than what you get with a pizza stone in the oven. The grill creates a flatbread-style result, rather than big, bubbly blisters from a very hot oven. Both delish, just slightly different.

2) Now we have visual aids! As seen in the image above, it is crucial to prep all your toppings ahead of time and have them ready to toss on the pizza. You should also cook anything in advance that needs cooking because it won't get direct heat from the grill. I caramelized the onions on the stove and broiled the figs. You'd want to cook things like sausage in advance, as well as firm veggies, like eggplant or zucchini.

3) You'll also want to prep the grill so you have a hot and cool side. Instead of piling the coals in the center, scoot them to one side. You'll see why in tip #7.

4) In the kitchen, roll out your dough on an oiled piece of parchment paper. Then brush the rolled out dough with oil too. When you take it outside, flip the parchment so the dough hits the grill, then peel off the paper. Heat proof mitts are essential here, as well as for the rest of the process.

5) Don't make huge pies. Ya know, it's possible, but smaller ones are easier to handle. For a recipe that makes enough dough for 2 thin, 12-inch pies, you should get 4 pies for the grill. In the image above, the dough has started to cook since you can see bubbles forming. As soon as the edges begin to set, started lifting the dough to check the bottom for browning and rotating it for even cooking. That way, you can prevent...

6) a burnt crust! Pizza will blacken FAST when it's over direct flame. Just check it obsessively, and you'll be fine.

7) When the first side is done, flip it and move the pizza to the cool side of the grill. That way nothing gets scorched while you arrange your toppings. When you're done, scoot it back over to the hot side and cover the grill. This is where experience comes in, as well as a sense of how hot and fast your grill is. Leave it covered for as long as you think you can, then start checking obsessively again. If the bottom is browned and you want to continue heating the toppings (perhaps to melt your cheese more), just move it back to cool side and cover the grill till you're satisfied.

And that's it! Easy, right? I was thrilled that we only flubbed that first crust by leaving it over the hot coals a bit too long. One casualty on our maiden voyage isn't too bad at all! The pizza we made, by the way is one of my absolute favorites: fresh figs, caramelized onions, prosciutto, Feta and basil. Read more here.

So, what do you think of these tips? Anything new that you've never tried before? Do you think I'm doing this completely wrong? Air your opinions in the comments!

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Monica Bhide's Seared Trout with Mint-Cilantro Chutney (and a chance to win her book!)

Moving is not fun at all. As you're reading this, I will probably be in transit. I'll be deprived of a kitchen until about July 1, but at least there are no dishes to do!

Last week, surrounded by boxes and lacking any surface on which to properly eat a meal (We donated a lot of furniture, including dining table and chairs, coffee table and desk--my 3 favorite places to eat!), I enjoyed a delicious respite from the chaos. Monica Bhide, a lovely, talented food writer friend, decided to throw a virtual dinner party to promote her gorgeous new cookbook, Modern Spice.

When she asked if I could participate, I was afraid the move would make me miss the fun, but I should have known better. Monica does Indian food (and her native Indian cuisine is indeed the subject and inspiration for Modern Spice), but she does it her way. Her recipes are imaginative and beautifully balanced, never choosing excess over pared-down purity of flavor. I wanted to do a main course, but when she sent me the recipe for seared trout with mint-cilantro chutney, it looked so easy that I feared I wouldn't be pulling my weight at this virtual party!

This recipe can be done in 20 minutes, literally. It sounds incredibly simple (which it is), but the flavors are anything but. The chutney, with just a few ingredients, manages to be complex, verdant, spicy and perfectly matched to the simply seared fish. It was an ideal weeknight meal, and I want to make the chutney over and over for a dozen different uses. I'd love it drizzled over eggs or mixed with Greek yogurt for lamb kabobs. I used the leftovers to spice up salmon tacos I had for lunch the next day.

Getting ready to make the chutney with cilantro, serrano chile, mint and lemon (the lime was for gin & tonic--moving calls for libations!)

Monica has enlisted a fantastic group of bloggers (including Dorie Greenspan on desserts!) to fill out her dinner party menu, so click over to her blog, A Life of Spice, to see more food from the book (she will have a round up of mouthwatering pics of everyone's dishes done by Monday night). There are some cocktails and appetizers (mini-Cheesecakes with tomatillo chutney!) that I really want to try.

And finally, Monica and her publisher have also generously provided a copy of Modern Spice for one of you, my lovely readers! To enter to win, leave a comment on this post by Wednesday at midnight, eastern time. Tell me what dish most appeals to you from Monica's virtual dinner party, or talk to me about Indian food. Be sure to leave your name and where you live (must have continental U.S. mailing address to win), and I'll announce the winner here on Thursday.

Pan-Seared Trout with Mint-Cilantro Chutney
If you are reading this recipe and thinking, “Really, can it be that simple?”—yes, it is, and it is simply delicious. Don’t take my word for it, though. Get a pan out and start searing!
Julie's notes: Good substitutes for the trout are cod, snapper and tilapia.


Serve the trout with a drizzle of the Mint-Cilantro Chutney.

Serves 4
Prep/Cook time: 15 minutes

4 skin-on trout fillets, about 6 ounces each, halved lengthwise
Table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1⁄4 cup Mint-Cilantro Chutney

1. Season the trout fillets with salt and pepper.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the trout, skin side down. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Flip over and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, until the trout is cooked through.
3. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels, skin side down.
4. Place each fillet on a serving plate and drizzle each with up to a tablespoon of chutney. Serve immediately.


Mint-Cilantro Chutney
This is the most popular chutney in India, hands down. It can be found in many Indian-American homes, in restaurants, and now in jars on grocery store shelves. Its charm lies in how simple it is to prepare. My father always adds a little yogurt to his chutney to make it creamy and then pairs it with lamb kebabs. My mom-in-law adds a hearty dose of roasted peanuts and serves it with savory snacks; Mom adds pomegranate seeds—you get the idea—to each his own. This versatile chutney has so many uses. Thin it a little and use it as a salad dressing for a crisp green salad; use it in the consistency provided here as a spread on a baguette topped with fresh cucumber slices; or simply drizzle it on some freshly grilled fish for a fresh flavor. One word of advice here: Green chutneys have a short shelf life. Make them in small batches and make them often—they only take a few minutes but the rewards are well worth the effort (which really isn’t much).
Julie's notes: I did use the optional serrano chile with some of the seeds, but I did not use the optional dried pomegranate.

Makes 1 cup
Prep time: 5 minutes

1 cup packed cilantro (leaves and stems)
1 cup packed mint (leaves only, please)
1 green serrano chile (optional; if you don’t like too much heat, remove the seeds)
1⁄4 small red onion, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon dried pomegranate seeds (optional)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1⁄2 teaspoon table salt
Up to 2 tablespoons water

1. Blend the cilantro, mint, chile, onion, pomegranate seeds (if using), lemon juice, and salt in a blender to a smooth paste. To aid in the blending process, you can add up to 2 tablespoons of water, if needed. Taste and add more salt if needed.
2. Transfer to a covered container and chill for about 30 minutes.
3. Serve cool. This chutney will keep, refrigerated, for 4 days.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Cod with Lemon-Caper Sauce

I have a perfect "dinner for 1" for you. While just as excellent for 2, this is one of those recipes that requires some bona fide "cooking" action, yet is so effortless that preparing it for your solitary self doesn't feel taxing.

I'll admit that sometimes when I'm alone I just cannot be asked to do real cooking. Leftovers are a godsend, assembling a meal is fine (think soft tacos with leftover chicken), but the prospect of cooking a new dish from scratch can feel vaguely depressing. It's just like, if a tree falls in the forest and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If I plan, shop and cook something wonderful, but I'm the only there to taste it, is it worth the bother? Is it rewarding? Is it pleasurable? You're probably thinking that this is all a rhetorical exercise, and I'm about to tell you, of course it's worth it. Of course it's meaningful to nourish oneself. More meaningful than nourishing others even.

But I don't know. Don't get me wrong. You do deserve a nice dinner. A meal for one can be utterly enjoyable, both at home or in a restaurant. Cooking is fun, whether it's just for you or a hoard of guests. Still. Still, there's something that's so much better about setting a plate in front of someone, seeing their enjoyment and feeling your own at the same time. When there's a great experience to be had or a great meal to be eaten, you want to talk about it, share it.

Sometimes I need to force myself to really cook when I'm alone, but I do it, and I'm never sorry. It's nice to have a few recipes in your back pocket that make it easier to get yourself going. This is definitely one of mine.

Cod with Lemon-Caper Sauce
Serves 1 (double for 2)

1 tsp olive oil
1 to 2 tsp unsalted butter
1/2 pound cod, sole or flounder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp capers, rinsed
1 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley

Heat the olive oil and butter in a skillet on medium-low to medium heat. Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper and cook until lightly browned on both sides and opaque throughout, turning once. Remove fish from skillet and reduce heat to low. Add the lemon juice, capers and half the parsley. Simmer 1 minute or until slightly thickened. Pour over the fish, sprinkle with remaining parsley. Serve with steamed vegetables and bread or grains.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Best Fresh Ground Lamb Burger Period

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you might have noticed that I keep the titles of my posts simple and to the point. In other words, my post titles are almost always the name of a recipe. But not today. Today my post title could inspire contention, controversy, even slap fights. I've chosen to accept these consequences because this is the best lamb burger period.

I'm even going so far as to say that it's my favorite burger ever. It's not because I made it from locally raised baby lamb that I rubbed with cocoa butter for 6 months and slaughtered (humanely) myself. Nope. Nor is it packed with bells and whistles like an oozing cheese center, homemade brioche bun or half a pound of candied bacon. The reason why this burger is my favorite is deceptively simple: good technique.

I never buy ground lamb. It's hard to find and if it is available it looks suspiciously gray and fatty. After noticing lamb burgers on a few restaurant menus out in the Pacific Northwest (do they raise lamb out there? or is beef just too "middle America"?), Mike and I have been fixated on the idea since we returned from our trip. Thanks to an article I wrote on pâté a few months back, we had already acquired a meat grinding attachment for the Kitchen Aid. It all seemed so easy...

And it really was the simplest thing. We bought some boneless leg of lamb at Whole Foods (sold chopped for stew meat), trimmed the excess fat and ran it the larger holes of our grinder. Then we gently mixed in some herbs and spices by hand and formed the meat into loosely packed patties. You'll have no problem getting the patties to stay together, just don't over work and squish the meat, do it fast and then refrain from pressing, patting or flattening.

This resulted in a silky-tender texture (which is how the best lamb should be anyway), where the bits of freshly ground lamb were able to retain their structural integrity, yet still somehow melt in your mouth. Flavor is hugely important, but great texture makes all the difference when you bite into a hunk of meat.

We used arugula instead of the usual spinach leaves or lettuce. It's delicious, but other greens would be okay too. I also made caramelized onions, which I love and could make even mediocre burgers highly palatable, and an easy Feta sauce. Buy good Feta (NOT pre-crumbled) that you can't stop eating on its own. If you're like me and believe that every detail does indeed matter, the buns are wheat hamburger buns from the Whole Foods bakery.

So that's the best lamb burger ever. Got a problem with that? I don't mind. Bring it on!

Fresh Ground Lamb Burgers with Feta Sauce
The seasoning you use is frankly secondary to the meat here. Use whatever spices appeal to you, but I'd recommend sticking with the Greek/Middle Eastern theme. Cooking these in the broiler works best because it requires minimal fussing and flipping. An outdoor grill is fine, but no pressing with your spatula. If your market has very lean lamb, you'll probably need a little less than a pound. You will need your own meat grinder to get the full effect.

Serves 2, may be doubled

1 pound boneless leg of lamb/lamb stew meat, trimmed of excess fat
1 Tbs (packed) chopped fresh parsley, plus a fat pinch for the Feta sauce
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground sumac
1/4 tsp dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
Coarse salt
1 Tbs olive oil
1/2 red onion, sliced
2 ounces Feta cheese, crumbled
4 ounces plain Greek yogurt (I used Fage nonfat)
Fresh arugula leaves
Wheat hamburger buns

Cut lamb into chunks if it wasn't cut when you bought it. Put through the large holes of a meat grinder and into a large bowl. Add parsley, cumin, sumac and oregano. Season liberally with black pepper. Season to taste with coarse salt (I recommend a 1/4 teaspoon). Gently mix the spices in with your hands, taking care not squeeze and pack the meat. Form lamb into 2 loose patties, handling the meat as little as possible. Set aside until ready to cook.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper and cook until very soft and lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat if onions brown too quickly. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the Feta, yogurt, remaining parsley and a bit of black pepper. Set aside.

Preheat broiler to high and place oven rack 8 to 10 inches from heat source. Place burgers on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil until lightly browned on top (Ovens differ widely so I'm not giving an exact time. Watch the burgers carefully.). Turn and broil until opposite side is lightly browned. Burgers should feel slightly firm to the touch, but still have some give when you press the center with your finger. It's okay to take a peek by cutting into the center with a paring knife if you're not sure. These are best at medium-rare to medium (pink to light pink). Let burgers rest 3 to 5 minutes.

To serve, toast buns in a skillet if desired (I toast, Mike does not). Layer onions, lamb patty, Feta sauce and arugula on buns (you may have extra Feta sauce). Serve with ketchup and/or mustard if desired (I've gotta have some ketchup on my burgers!).

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Easy Thai Lemongrass Soup (Tom Yum Goong)

Apparently, we're on a soup kick here at A Mingling of Tastes, but don't try to tell me that's a bad thing! This is my simple, anytime take on those spicy, aromatic Thai broths that can seem unattainable to American cooks. You don't need to track down any exotic ingredients or drive around town looking for Kaffir lime leaves. Of course it wouldn't hurt if you did that, but I can't be asked.

Since this is a version of Tom Yum Goong, the big flavor is lemongrass. You can find it in most supermarkets these days near the fresh herbs. You don't have to bother with peeling away the rough outer layers or identifying and chopping the inner core. All you have to do is throw it in a pot with some chicken broth, ginger and chiles and simmer for about 20 minutes to create your soup base. Add shrimp and any other additions you like, and you have a tasty first course or a healthy main dish.

Thai Lemongrass Soup with Shrimp (Tom Yum Goong)
Most similar recipes don't call for ginger, but I love it here. If you have access to fresh Thai chiles, use them in place of serranos. For less heat, just cut the seeded chiles in half and remove them from the broth before serving. A spoonful of Thai or Korean chile paste or fresh or frozen kaffir lime leaves (remove before serving) are also nice additions. If you don't have canned straw mushrooms, use any fresh mushrooms and simmer until tender. Canned bamboo shoots may also be added along with the shrimp and mushrooms. Serve with rice, if desired.

Serves 4 as a first course, 2 as a main dish

1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 to 3 lemongrass stalks, cut into 2-inch lengths
2 serrano chiles seeded and chopped (see head note)
1 Tbs. Thai or Korean roasted chile paste (optional)
1/2 lb. medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 cup drained canned straw mushrooms (any fresh mushrooms may be substituted)
Juice of half a lime
Chopped fresh cilantro for serving

Finely chop half of the ginger. To a large pot, add the chopped ginger, the remaining chunk of ginger, the chicken broth, lemongrass and chiles. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

Add the chile paste if using, the shrimp and the mushrooms to the pot. Simmer until shrimp are firm and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lime juice. Discard the large pieces of lemongrass, ginger and chiles (if you opted not to chop them). Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with cilantro.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Indian-Spiced Beet Soup

What you see above is the nicest day in Seattle ever. Mike and I were there last week to meet our new niece, who divides her time between eating, sleeping and being adorable. We spent most of the week in Bellingham, a couple hours north of Seattle, but we did spend our last night downtown where we had this awesome view from our hotel.

Even though we didn't do much eating in Seattle, I'm writing about it because we had a few incredible dishes I have to mention, and because Seattle inspired this velvety beet soup.

After reading this article about the egg craze among Seattle chefs, we were determined to try the lamburger meatball (there's a video clip in the article--watch and you'll understand) at Andaluca. It's a soft boiled egg wrapped in ground lamb. Enough said. The restaurant has a great tapas menu including a Middle Eastern-spiced meat patty made with juicy duck meat...really original.

On my sister-in-law's excellent recommendation, we ended up at Lola, where we had our favorite dish of the whole trip: grilled octopus with morel mushrooms, ramps and a poached egg on top (I think it's only on the menu while the veggies are in season). I've never seen so many of the northwest's seasonal morels in one dish, and the octopus was perfectly charred. We want to recreate this one at home, although we won't have the same gorgeous ingredients.

And finally, beet soup. You see a lot of beets in the Pacific Northwest (back me up on this, Seattlites?). That's fine with me, and the ubiquitous pairing with goat cheese is only common because it's truly delicious. Our first day home, we wanted a meal with lots of healthy veggies, so Mike suggested one of our favorite creamy soups...with beets. I'd never done anything with pureed beets, but I consulted a few cookbooks and learned that it works beautifully.

This particular recipe is adapted from Passionate Vegetarian and is loaded with Indian spices. I gave it a nice amount of heat too. No goat cheese in the soup, but I did save my beet greens and made a "northwest omelet" with the sauteed greens, garlic and plenty of chevre. I think the turmeric intensified the color and turned the soup more blood red than beet red. Consider this as part of a Halloween supper in a few months, perhaps.

Love your beets? Try this pink risotto, Double Beet Penne, Beet & Goat Cheese Salad, or Smoked Fish and Beet Salad.

Indian-Spiced Beet Soup
Adapted from Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon
The cumin is a big flavor here, so I think toasting and grinding it fresh (with an electric spice grinder or mortar and pestle) is worthwhile. If that doesn't work for you, use 2 tsp. of ground cumin. Jalapenos aren't very hot (especially with seeds removed), but use the smaller amount if you need to keep the soup mild.

Serves 4 to 6

4 medium beets
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 medium red onions, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 jalapenos, seeded if desired and chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger (use smaller amount for less heat)
1 Tbs. cumin seeds, toasted for 3 minutes in a dry skillet and ground
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (or to taste)
7 cups reduced sodium vegetable broth
2 Tbs. honey
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes (no salt added, if possible)
1/4 cup uncooked basmati rice
3/4 tsp. garam masala
Sour cream for serving
Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Scrub and trim the beets, leaving 1 inch of stems attached. Wrap in a foil pouch and seal edges tightly. Roast on a baking sheet for 75 to 90 minutes, or until very tender. Open pouch and, when beets are cool enough to handle, rub the skin off with your fingers. Cut into small cubes.

While beets roast, make the soup: In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil on medium low. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook until very soft, about 10 minutes. Add the jalapenos and ginger and cook 3 more minutes, stirring often. Add the cumin, turmeric, coriander and crushed red pepper and cook 2 minutes more, stirring continuously. Add the broth, tomatoes and 1 Tbs. of the honey and bring to a boil. Add the rice. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 25 minutes.

Add the chopped beets to the soup and remove from heat. Using a handheld immersion blender (or working in batches with a regular blender), puree until you have a smooth consistency. Put soup over medium-high heat and bring to a bare simmer. Stir in the garam masala and remaining honey. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. If soup is thicker than you like, add a small amount of water. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream and cilantro.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Creamy Celery Root Soup with Swiss Chard

Here is the perfect dish for the current meteorological moment. This soup is rich and warm on a cold day, but it's full of fresh spring flavor. As gnarly and uninviting as celery root looks, it has the bright, herbaceous taste of, well, celery. Simmered in a quick soup with some potatoes to make it extra creamy, it is equal parts light and satisfying.

I love making pureed soups with my trusty hand blender. A regular blender works fine too. You can build a fantastic soup using all sorts of different veggies--no recipe required. Use this recipe to get the hang of it, then create new soups whenever the mood strikes. Here are some tips on getting it right:

1) Build flavor with aromatics - Start your soup by sauteeing garlic, onions, shallots, ginger, dried herbs, fresh or dried chiles, or spices in some oil. Any combination of these is great. If you feeling fancy, add a splash of wine and reduce it before you add the broth (I love dry Sherry for this--it keeps in the fridge forever).

2) Pick blendable veggies - I love chunky soups too, but the idea here is smooth and creamy. Artichokes and asparagus need to be pushed through a sieve to remove all the fibrous bits that won't puree. Carrots, potatoes, eggplant (discard the skin), fava beans, mushrooms, peas and cauliflower get smooth without straining.

3) Add something starchy - I prefer Russet potatoes, but white rice or Cannellini beans can also be used to thicken and add a stick-to-your-ribs quality to healthy soups without using cream.

4) Do a fun garnish - I had a jar of vacuum-packed roasted chestnuts on hand, which were a great complement to the mellow celery root. However, you can also use chopped olives, a dollop of pesto, chopped onion, roasted and chopped nuts, yogurt or sour cream, diced sun-dried tomatoes...and a fresh herb is always right.

5) For more inspiration, take a look at these soups: Carrot Curry Soup, Creamy Eggplant-Lentil Soup, Creamy Fava Bean Soup with Mint.

Do you ever make soup on the fly? Is it still soup weather where you live? Share recipes in the comments!

Creamy Celery Root Soup with Swiss Chard

My supermarket, to my grateful amazement, stocks these fantastic chestnuts year round (we're talking the roasted and shelled European type, not water chestnuts). If they are not available, try any of the garnish ideas mentioned above (walnuts would be nice), or just stick with parsley. Use a vegetable peeler to peel the celery root (also called celeriac), then trim any veins of skin running through the flesh with a paring knife.

Serves 4

2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
Pinch of coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
Dried red pepper flakes to taste
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 Tbs. chopped Italian parsley, plus additional for garnish
1/4 cup dry Sherry (optional, but encouraged)
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 celery root, peeled and chopped into 3/4-inch pieces
1 1/2 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 3/4-inch pieces
Cooking spray
1/3 cup chopped roasted chestnuts (optional)
1 bunch Swiss chard (8 to 10 leaves)
1/2 lemon

Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onion and shallot, season lightly with salt (broth will add additional salt) and pepper, and cook until soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, thyme and parsley and cook for 1 minute. Add the Sherry, and simmer until reduced by about three-quarters. Add the chicken broth, celery root and potatoes; raise the heat and cover to bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until vegetables are very tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium-low heat and coat with cooking spray. Add the chestnuts and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Heat remaining oil in the skillet and add the Swiss chard. Season with pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, 4 to 5 minutes.

Remove soup pot from heat and puree with an immersion blender until very smooth. Alternatively, you can puree in a blender, working in batches. Return pot to low heat and stir in the Swiss chard. Add lemon juice to taste. Check seasoning. Ladle into bowls and top with chestnuts and parsley leaves before serving.


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Monday, April 20, 2009

Slow-Simmered Calamari with Spaghetti & Spinach

I'm so excited about this recipe because it's the perfect example of how you can build layers of flavor with the simplest ingredients and good technique. And, it's incredibly good!

I can't take the credit for this one; it's from Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes, a new cookbook by Tessa Kiros. The book is gorgeous with tons of photos, and chapters are devoted to dishes from the places that played a role the author's life and family history: Finland, Cyprus, Greece and Italy.

Though it's a different style of organization, I quickly began to appreciate the eclecticism. One of the first things I noticed was the variety of interesting lamb dishes. Considering the regions covered in the book, naturally there are a lot of seafood dishes and Mediterranean flavors as well. This book is also Gourmet magazine's Cookbook Club book of the month for May, so I'm not the only one impressed with Kiros' work! You can see more recipes from the book on the Gourmet website if you register.

I chose this particular recipe because I almost never cook squid. Why, I don't know--it's cheap and easy to find. I do know that you should either cook squid very fast (like over a hot grill or deep fried) or very slow to avoid a rubbery texture. This recipe employs the slow method, and it made me a squid enthusiast.

Simmering the squid along with garlic, chile flakes, parsley, white wine, tomatoes and fish stock in a covered skillet on low heat for an hour creates a supple, tender texture that remains firm, rather than mushy. But not only does time do wonderful things to the squid, it creates deeply a flavorful sauce with a slightly red tint from the tomatoes that melt away in the cooking. My advice is not to omit any of the ingredients--the wine is mandatory unless you have a health-related excuse--and fresh Italian parsley is also a must. Buy a good imported brand of dried spaghetti and make sure it's cooked al dente. With just a few simple ingredients, each one must contribute maximum deliciousness!

Do you cook squid at home? If so, how? If you have a blog, leave a link to your fave squid recipe in the comments or drop me an email.

Slow-Simmered Calamari with Spaghetti
Adapted from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros
I used Kitchen Basics brand fish stock, which is widely available and lower in sodium than many brands. If you can't find fish stock, use water.

Serves 4

1 lb. calamari (squid)
3 Tbs. olive oil
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. dried chile flakes
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley, plus additional for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, Pinot Grigio)
2 whole canned tomatoes, chopped
1 cup fish stock or broth, plus 1 additional cup (optional; see below)
4 cups firmly packed spinach leaves, chopped
Coarse salt
12 oz. spaghetti

Cut the squid bodies into 1/2-inch wide rings and leave the tentacles intact. Pat dry with paper towel. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chile flakes and two-thirds of the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the squid and parsley and continue cooking for 10 minutes, stirring often. Season with black pepper.

Add the wine and simmer until nearly absorbed. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 1 minute. Add about 1/3 cup of the fish stock, wait until it has reduced a bit and add another 1/3 cup and let it reduce. Add yet another 1/3 cup, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour. Check the squid frequently and add water and/or stock to the skillet so there is always a layer of simmering liquid. To keep the sauce from getting too salty, alternate between adding water and stock. If it tastes salty, just add water. When squid is done, you want a thin layer of liquid in the skillet.

Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in another skillet on medium-low heat. Add remaining garlic, cook for 1 minute and add the spinach. Cook until tender and season with pepper. Add to the squid during the final 5 minutes of cooking.

Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Reserve a cup of the cooking water, drain and add pasta to the skillet with the squid. Toss well and add a bit of the pasta cooking water if it is too dry. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately. Garnish with additional parsley.

Review copy of Falling Cloudberries generously provided by the publisher.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Teriyaki Striped Bass with Bok Choy

Don't you love my artfully drizzled teriyaki sauce around the plate??? I'll work on my food styling next time! The other components of this recipe, however, are definitely worthy of your culinary consideration.

They come straight out of the a new cookbook I've been enjoying--Golden Door Cooks at Home: Favorite recipes from the celebrated spa. I have a review copy, so the many photos are black and white, but I don't really need pictures to be excited about these recipes--they sound totally delicious. I interviewed the Golden Door's executive chef, Dean Rucker, a while back for an article, and he was genuinely enthusiastic about sensible, healthy eating where moderation is key. There aren't too many spa tricks in his book (no fake butter or 101 ideas for tofu), just fresh, unprocessed ingredients to create meals that would appeal to anyone.

It's a very comprehensive cookbook from basics to appetizers to meat and fish, as well as chapters full of yummy and thoughtful breakfasts and desserts. There are even some yeast bread recipes. I hate it when cookbooks depict recipes on some kind of gorgeous artisan bread that you know you'll never be able to find! Not the case here.

This happens to be the only "spa food" cookbook I own. If you're discouraged by the idea of spa food, this book might change your mind. I'd equate it more to a gourmet healthy cookbook. The serving sizes are smaller than is typical (4 ounces of fish instead of 6, for example), but the meals don't feel spartan or at all diet-like.

I really want to make the Golden Door's ketchup with juniper berries (even though Mike would think it utterly pointless to make something you can purchase so easily and cheaply). A couple more I bookmarked to try are "Crispy potato cakes with chive scrambled eggs and smoked salmon," and "Parmesan chicken schnitzel with warm potato and garden bean salad and creamy mustard sauce." A lot of long recipe titles in this book...

I think the authors really made an effort make it accessible to home cooks, although a few of the main dishes have multiple components, which may be a lot of work to pull off. That was the case in the teriyaki recipe (it included little sauteed rice cakes make with sushi rice), so I streamlined it and served the fish and bok choy with simple steamed brown rice instead. If you've never made bok choy, it's easy (just blanche and sear) and delicious with the teriyaki glaze.

Now, would it be totally ridiculous to go on a spa vacation just to eat the food?

Teriyaki Striped Bass with Bok Choy
Adapted from Golden Door Cooks at Home by Dean Rucker with Marah Stets
The original recipe called for black cod, which was unavailable. Look for firm white fish fillets or steaks, about 1-inch thick. To serve 2, I used one large striped bass steak, which has a nice amount of fat and meaty, soft flesh. Rucker also suggests Alaskan cod, true cod, or sablefish.

Serves 2

3 baby bok choy, halved lengthwise

1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup mirin
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
2 (6-ounce) skinless striped bass or black cod fillets or one large bass steak
Cooking spray
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup sliced scallions, for garnish
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

Blanche the bok choy: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and fill a large bowl with ice water. Add the bok choy to the boiling water, wait for water to return to boiling and cook 1 minute (bok choy shouldn't be in water more than about 2 minutes total). Transfer to ice water to stop the cooking, 2 minutes. Drain and transfer to paper towels to dry.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. To make the teriyaki sauce, combine the soy, orange juice, mirin and ginger in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until reduced by half. In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and 1 teaspoon water; stir in the simmering teriyaki, cook for 30 seconds more and remove from heat.

Season the fish with a very small amount of salt (remember the teriyaki sauce is salty; you can always add more later) and black pepper. Heat an oven proof skillet over medium-high heat and coat with cooking spray. Add the fish flesh side down (opposite where the skin was) and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Turn the fish, remove from heat and drizzle one half of the teriyaki over the top, swirling the pan to thoroughly coat the fish. Transfer to the oven and cook until the fish is just cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes.

To finish the bok choy, heat a large skillet over medium heat and coat with cooking spray. Add the bok choy, cut side down and cook until browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and brown opposite side, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer to plates, season with a small amount of salt and black pepper and drizzle with remaining teriyaki. Serve with striped bass and sprinkle with scallions and sesame seeds if using.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Spinach & Feta Stuffed Chicken Breasts

I've been on quite a kick with chicken breasts lately. It wasn't very long ago, however, that I looked on them with a bit of scorn. They're tasteless! They're dry! They're only beloved by chronic dieters! All these complaints seemed totally reasonable. And really, when it comes to chicken, meat on the bone is tastier than off.

But I've evolved. Actually, I've figured out that I feel really satisfied when I have a serving of meat in my meals, and chicken breasts really fit the bill: They're quick! They're versatile! They're inexpensive! Although I've never been a vegetarian, I would often eat meals that didn't center around a piece of meat, like bean burritos or quinoa soup with a poached egg. I like to think maybe my strength-training routines at the gym have turned my muscle tissue into a protein-powered furnace... but it's not as if I look like Xena Warrior Princess, so who knows!

Since I mostly eat healthy, I like to feel full so I won't be craving junk food. I roasted fish all the time, and I've been broiling chicken breasts nonstop to make tacos, salads, sandwiches, whatever. One night, I decided to do something different and the result was these stuffed chicken breasts. I used exactly what I had in the refrigerator at the time, which was spinach (always have that actually), red onion and Feta.

I was dubious that stuffing my boneless, skinless chicken breasts would work at all. I did a quick search and didn't find any good recipes that used the boneless kind. Still, I thought I'd give it a try. I was thrilled with the outcome. I decided to bake at a not-too-scorching 375 degrees, and I think that helped keep the chicken super moist. The filling couldn't have hurt either, and was really tasty in its own right. You can't go wrong with slightly caramelized red onions, sauteed spinach and salty cheese.

One final note: The off-putting thing about stuffed chicken breasts, in my opinion, is cutting the pocket in the meat. You're afraid you'll cut straight through or you'll screw it up somehow. Forget about it. I thought the same thing, but it's the simplest procedure. You do need chicken breasts that are on the larger side (about 6 ounces should work). But just think about making a pocket, and you'll figure it out for sure.

Spinach & Feta Stuffed Chicken Breasts
This recipe is perfect for adaptations. How about blue cheese or goat cheese? Or you might replace the spinach with chopped tomatoes (sun dried perhaps?) and leafy herbs.

Serves 4

Cooking spray
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 handfuls of spinach (about 3 cups)
4 large boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces each)
2 ounces Feta, crumbled

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until soft and lightly browned, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add spinach and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted and very soft, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

With a small, sharp knife, make a horizontal cut to create a pocket in each chicken breast. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and transfer to prepared baking sheet. Stuff the spinach mixture and Feta into the pockets. They should be full, but you don't want a lot of filling bursting out. You may have leftover filling. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until chicken is opaque in the thickest part. Serve immediately.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

One more idea for your Irish feasts. This time it's cabbage, meat and potatoes, with an Eastern European inflection. Of course, the cabbage made me think of this dish for St. Patty's Day, but it's actually my take on a family recipe from my Polish grandmother.

A few years ago, I did a little research and found out one of the proper names for it is golumpki, but there are so many variations. I don't know how to spell my grandma's particular variation, so I'll stick with golumpki. Despite the clumsy name, the flavors of this satisfying dish are straightforward and assertive flavors.

My grandmother's tomato sauce had a tangy flavor in my memory, and I recreated it by seasoning canned sauce with white wine vinegar and sugar. Some crushed garlic cloves add another layer of flavor. In the ground meat filling, you'll almost always find white rice. I used my favorite long grain brown rice and it worked wonderfully. It's not totally traditional, but it adds more flavor and nutrients, so it's hardly egregious.

Along with the rice, goes allspice, paprika, chile powder, parsley and half a finely minced onion. My grandmother's special touch was to grate the onion on a box grater to make it extra juicy and fine. Last night, Mike was prepping the meat, and he preferred the chopping method. For a uniform, finely chopped onion, he's your man.

As we put this dish together last night, it reminded me of lasagna, in that it's not complicated, but takes a little time and a few steps before you can put everything together. You do have to blanche the cabbage by sticking the whole head in a big pot of boiling water for a few minutes. It softens up the leaves for easier rolling. Cook your rice in advance too, especially if you're using brown. Or steam some for your dinner today and make extra for stuffed cabbage tomorrow.

My grandmother always served this with simple, creamy mashed potatoes. That's not my personal favorite (I'll take mashed sweet potatoes; or the chunky, garlicky mashed red potatoes with skins.), so I did these easy broiled, sliced potatoes instead. I can't believe I didn't figure out this method years ago. You get a wonderfully browned, chewy texture that's kind of like a healthier version of pan-fried potatoes.

Happy St. Patty's Day!

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Golumpki)
Serves 4

Tangy Tomato Sauce:
1 (29 oz.) can tomato sauce
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the flat side of knife
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs. white wine vinegar
1 Tbs. sugar

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls:
1 large head of cabbage
1 lb. ground beef
1 cup cooked brown or white
½ cup finely chopped onion
2 Tbs. chopped parsley, plus additional for garnish
½ tsp. paprika
½ tsp. chile powder
½ tsp. allspice
½ tsp. coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the sauce, bring the tomato sauce and garlic cloves to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Season with black pepper and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Add the vinegar and sugar and continue simmering for five minutes more. Remove from heat.

To make the cabbage rolls, trim as much of the tough stem from the cabbage as you can without separating the leaves. Add the entire cabbage to a large pot of boiling water and cook for 3 minutes, or until the leaves start to separate. Drain and run large outer leaves under cold water to stop the cooking. Pick 8 large, intact leaves and pat dry. Save the rest of the cabbage for another use or discard. I like to tuck some of the extra leaves into the baking dish to serve with the golumpki.

Add remaining ingredients to a large bowl. Gently combine with your hands or a spoon.

Pour about 1 cup of the sauce into a large casserole dish and spread to coat evenly. To assemble the cabbage rolls, place one cabbage leaf on a cutting board with the stem end facing you. Trim up to 1-inch of the stem end if very thick. Place half a cup of beef filling in the center of the leaf, fold in the sides and roll into a tight bundle starting with the stem end. Place the bundle into the casserole dish and continue with the remaining leaves and filling.

Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the rolls and bake for 45 minutes. They are done if the sauce is bubbling and the cabbage rolls are firm to the touch. Rest 5 to 10 minutes, sprinkle with additional parsley and serve with potatoes.

Easy Broiled Potatoes
Serves 4

2 to 3 white potatoes, cut into ¼-inch rounds
Olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Red wine vinegar, for serving (optional)

Preheat broiler to high. You can switch your oven to broil during the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking time for the cabbage rolls. They will finish baking in the oven’s residual heat.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. Arrange potatoes in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil or use a pastry brush to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Broil 8 to 10 inches from heat until potatoes are golden brown and tender, 5 to 6 minutes per side. Sprinkle with parsley and pass red wine vinegar at the table if desired.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Glazed Mahi Mahi and Barley with Soy-Sherry Shiitakes

This fantastic dish was our Valentines' Day dinner, but it wasn't supposed to be. We planned on steak with a sultry red beet risotto (recipe on the way), but there was a last minute change of plans.

When Mike and I first moved to Florida almost 5 years ago (I can't believe it's been that long!), we decided to take up scuba diving because, well, we could. What's the point of living down here if you don't take advantage of the tropical water temps and year round summer, right?

We've dived near Fort Lauderdale many times now and prefer to dive when we're on vacation in some appropriate locale (Vietnam was especially amazing). But, if we're not doing any traveling, we'll dive close to home every 6 months or so to maintain our skills.

So, due to the warm weather we had last week, we booked a dive trip for Valentine's morning. Although we know this, it's always a shock how much diving just sucks the wind out of you! We got home by 12:30 and all we wanted to do was shower, eat a late breakfast and take a nap. Even after all that, I still felt fairly exhausted and didn't have much of an appetite. So, we nixed the plan for steak and nice red wine and had this lighter fish dish and a little sake instead. Also, being out on the ocean just gives me a taste for seafood--sorry, you lovers of marine life.

This is something I put together on the fly, and I was really pleased with how well it turned out. The Asian glaze is super-simple, and if you need a grain side dish for any reason, this barley is fantastic. The mushrooms soak up splashes of Sherry and soy sauce like little sponges and become infused with flavor. I hope your Valentine's Day was as happy as mine! Now tell me, what did you cook?

Glazed Mahi Mahi and Barley with Soy-Sherry Shiitakes
This is a really nice recipe for two, but you can double it to serve four. When I cook with Asian ingredients like soy sauce and oyster sauce, which are often high in sodium, I use little or no salt. You can always add more at the end. Really great sea salt is excellent as a finishing salt because you'll be better able to enjoy the flavor and texture. If you don't have mahi mahi, try another mild fish, like cod or tilapia.

Serves 2

For fish:
2 (6 to 8 ounce) fillets mahi mahi, skin on, about 1-inch thick
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 Tbs. oyster sauce
1/2 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 Tbs. fish sauce
1/4 tsp. dark sesame oil

For barley:
1 Tbs. canola oil
6 scallions, thinly sliced (divided use)
2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/3 cup mushroom or chicken broth
2/3 cup quick-cooking barley
3 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter
6 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
3 Tbs. dry Sherry

Coarse sea salt, for serving

To make the fish, preheat oven to 400 degrees and coat a small baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and add the mahi mahi; season with black pepper to taste. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients and drizzle over fish. Bake for 15 minutes or until cooked through (recommended internal temp 145 F).

To make the barley, heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add half the scallions and cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Raise heat to high, add the broth and bring to a simmer. Stir in the barley, 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and black pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 20 minutes, or according to package directions. Remove from heat and keep covered 5 to 10 minutes.

While barley cooks, heat butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid. Raise heat to medium high and cook, stirring occasionally until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are just tender (if mushrooms are getting browned, reduce heat). Add Sherry and cook until mushrooms soak up all the liquid. Add remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce and cook until absored. Season with black pepper and remove from heat.

To serve, stir mushrooms into the barley. Divide barley among two plates and top with fish fillets (remove skin before plating if you like). Garnish with remaining scallions. Offer sea salt at the table in case additional seasoning is desired.


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Monday, February 09, 2009

Creamy Sweet Pea & Herb Soup


Want a hot bowl of creamy, hearty soup without too many creamy, hearty calories? Then you will appreciate this EASY sweet pea soup. For me, comfort food isn't all that comforting when I know that ever bite is loaded with calories and saturated fat. This soup on the other hand, is flavored with fresh herbs and blended with Russet potatoes for that creamy, mouth-filling texture you want.

Lately, I've been enjoying a robust work flow (can you taste the euphemism in that statement?). And times like this require simple and satisfying dishes. Last winter, I made a lot of creamy, blended soups (scroll to the end for links), but I haven't done it nearly enough this year. And why not? It's so easy and this one in particular is a cinch thanks to super-convenient frozen peas.

I seared a slice of cooked ham and added it to the soup for a meaty element. You can add bacon, pancetta or even chicken to this soup. Of course, you can also keep it vegetarian. Sour cream or yogurt is a nice finishing touch, but you could also opt for some flavorful grated cheese, like Parmigiano or Gruyere...mmm.

So, eat this healthy soup this week so you can indulge in something special this weekend. You know Valentine's Day is coming up, right? Do you already have something planned? If you're the type who plans their meal or dessert before anything else, share it in the comments section!

Creamy Sweet Pea & Herb Soup with Ham
The mellow garden-fresh taste of peas contribute the main flavor here, so I used a lot of fresh and dried herbs to perk it up. Add any combination you like, but I particularly love mint with peas.

Serves 4

2 Tbs. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp. dried)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried ginger
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 3/4 lbs. Russet potatoes (about 2 medium), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 thick slice cooked ham
1 (1-lb.) bag frozen peas
1 Tbs. chopped fresh mint
2 tsp. chopped fresh chives
Sour cream, plain yogurt or creme fraiche, for serving

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic, rosemary, thyme and ginger and cook 1 minute. Add the broth and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender.

Cook the ham in a skillet over medium heat until heated through and lightly browned. Chop into small pieces.

When potatoes are tender, add the peas to the saucepan and simmer until heated through, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and puree using an immersion blender. You can also use a regular blender, working in batches. Stir in the ham and about two-thirds of the mint and chives. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream and remaining herbs.

More Healthy, Creamy Soups

Creamy Eggplant-Lentil Soup
Carrot Curry Soup
Creamy Fava Bean Soup with Mint

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Malaysian Market Noodles

Sometimes when I'm in the mood to cook Asian food, I'm really in the mood for noodles. Maybe udon with mushrooms and oyster sauce, a spicy aromatic soup or pad thai. I flip past recipes of baked fish, chopped salads and rice dishes going through the motions. But the whole time I know the only thing that will be truly satisfying is a noodle dish.

This was the situation last weekend, when we decided we hadn't cooked Asian in a while. Mike wanted to do the cooking, and along with Mexican, Asian food has really turned out to be his forté. We wanted to venture beyond pad thai (and I was in the mood for something with more heat), so we settled on this. It's the same idea as pad thai, but more heat than that sweet and sour flavor that characterizes pad thai.

According to Christina Arokiasamy, it's the type of lightning-quick noodle stir fry you would typically find at markets (or maybe food courts) in Kuala Lumpur where she grew up. We adapted her recipe in The Spice Merchant's Daughter, with our own twists like a few handfuls of spinach and a bit of molasses instead of sweet soy sauce, which we couldn't find (Arokiasamy suggested that they have a similar flavor). To make it a substantial meal, we added fresh chorizo in lieu of the Chinese sausage, which is often included in this type of dish.

The result was addictively delicious. I like this dish easily as much as pad thai--and that's saying something! Adding the extra veggies was nice, and I don't think chorizo has ever spoiled a dish. Just get all your ingredients ready first; the cooking is quick. Of course, you can add as much or as little heat as you want. We didn't have any hot fresh chiles, but crushed red pepper did the job nicely.

Malaysian Market Noodles (char kway teow)
Adapted from The Spice Merchant's Daughter by Christina Arokiasamy

Rice noodles are often cooked by soaking in hot water, but I prefer boiling them in salted water just like spaghetti. Cooking time depends on the noodles you're using, but it usually takes about 5 minutes. Taste and cook until al dente.

Serves 3 to 4

8 oz. rice noodles (sometimes called pad thai noodles)
2 fresh chorizo sausages, sliced
1 Tbs. canola oil
2 large shallots, sliced
8 oz. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 Tbs. molasses
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup bean sprouts
2 cups spinach leaves
chopped fresh chives for garnish

Cook rice noodles according to package directions or boil until al dente. Drain, rinse and set aside. Cook chorizo in a large skillet on medium heat. Transfer to a paper towel to drain and leave about 1 tablespoon of fat in the skillet. Add the canola oil and shallots; Cook until soft. Add the shrimp and garlic and cook until shrimp is opaque; season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium low.

Whisk together the soy sauce, molasses and crushed red pepper. Add the noodles and soy mixture and toss well. Add the eggs and toss vigorously with noodles until eggs are cooked, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the beans sprouts and spinach and toss well. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately, garnished with chives.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cornmeal-Crusted Tilapia


What a week. I've been wanting to post this recipe for days now, but I needed a weekend to finally get to it. I try not to work on weekends unless I absolutely have to. I will, however, do "fun work." I'll develop recipes because my husband is around to taste them (and we do have to eat). Sometimes I catch up on tedious work chores like making invoices and scanning contracts (This does not qualify as fun work--I loathe scanning). And I'll also blog, which happily does fall into the category of fun work.

Naturally, it's fun to tell people about a great recipe. When something is easy, healthy and really good, I can't ask for much more. I've recently come around to the idea of "crusting" things, although the word has kind of an unappealing ring to it. What else would you call it? It's not "breaded," and "coated" isn't evocative enough. "Crusting" on the other hand is rather descriptive and can apply to nuts, seeds, spices, breadcrumbs, cornmeal, anything.

I'd done some nut crusting in recent months, but I hadn't tried anything with cornmeal, an ingredient I always have and love to use in baking. I wanted to do something different with tilapia, as well. It's an inexpensive, readily available and agreeable fish, but it can be disappointing if you don't watch how you cook it. Crusting it in cornmeal and roasting it (and quickly running it under the broiler to get that nice deep browning on the crust) resulted in very moist fish with a crisp, sort-of-like-fried exterior. I know it all sounds basic, but I really like this preparation.

The topping is canned artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes quickly sauteed with some garlic and Limoncello. I really liked using the liqueur here, but since you're probably more likely to have white wine on hand, I wouldn't hesitate to make that substitution. Lastly, don't be intimidated by the crusting process. Yes, you have to get 3 plates/bowls dirty, but it's quick, easy and delivers a very tasty payoff.

Cornmeal-Crusted Tilapia with Lemon Artichoke Topping
As always, use stone ground, whole grain cornmeal. Medium grind provides a nice crunch, but a fine grind would probably be good in its own way. I would imagine that coarse grind would be a little hard on your teeth, but it's up to you. Other veggie toppings would be nice here, by the way--I considered grape tomatoes sauteed with garlic and scallions too.

Serves 2, but you can easily scale up as needed. The amounts of flour, egg and cornmeal you need for crusting are not precise.

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 egg
1/3 cup medium stone ground cornmeal
2 tilapia fillets
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 artichoke hearts (from a 15-oz. can), drained and quartered
1/4 cup Limoncello or white wine
6 to 8 sun-dried tomatoes, patted dry and sliced
1 to 2 Tbs. lemon juice
Fresh chives or parsley for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 and coat a foil-lined baking sheet with cooking spray. Put the flour in a wide, shallow bowl, season liberally with salt and pepper and mix well. Beat egg in another bowl and put cornmeal in a third bowl. Dip a fish fillet in flour and shake off excess. Dip quickly in egg, then in cormeal, turning fillet to coat well; place on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining fish. Bake 10 minutes or until nearly cooked through. Switch on broiler and cook until top crust of fillets is lightly browned and crisp in spots, and fish is cooked through.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook until it begins to color. Add artichokes and stir gently to heat. Add Limoncello and simmer until reduced by about three-quarters. Add sun-dried tomatoes and heat through. Season with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Remove from heat and toss with lemon juice to taste. Serve over fish. Garnish with fresh chives or parsley if desired.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Mushroom-Barley Soup with Kale

This is what you need for those between-party days during the holiday season. These are days when your meals are not comprised of hors d'oeuvres, cocktails and cookies. No, these are the days when you have the luxury of cooking a simple, healthy homemade meal to get your body rested and ready for the next festivity.

The kale gets a head start in the pot before quick-cooking barley is added. In the meantime, I saute a whole lot of mushrooms and add them to the soup at the very end. This helps maintain their texture and flavor--mushrooms really don't benefit from being simmered for any length of time. It's as simple as that.

And just in case you are on the Christmas-Cookie Diet, there was a great article in the New York Times on Wednesday about how to handle your butter for better baking. There are some great tips, so check it out!

Mushroom-Barley Soup with Kale
You could certainly throw in meat or beans to add some protein. Try chicken or crumbled turkey sausage.

Serves 4

2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Pinch of chili flakes, or to taste
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups water
12 oz. chopped kale
1 heaping cup quick-cooking barley
8 oz. white mushrooms, sliced
8 oz. portobello caps, sliced and chopped into bite-size pieces
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil on medium-high. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until tender and browned. Add garlic and chili flakes and cook 1 minute.

Add the broth and water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and add the kale. Cover and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the barley, cover and cook 15 minutes or until barley is tender. (If the package directions call for a longer or shorter cooking time for your barley, adjust accordingly.)

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until they release their liquid, stirring often. Raise the heat to high and continue cooking until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are tender and lightly browned. When barley is finished cooking, add the mushrooms. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


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