Thursday, March 04, 2010

Mini Goat Cheese Biscuits with Lavender

I recently had friends over for Sunday brunch. Since I love making breakfast food, it was the perfect opportunity to go a little overboard. When it's just Mike and I, I need to restrain myself. We can't eat a frittata, a sweet quick bread, a savory quick bread and crepes all by ourselves. But throw a party and suddenly that menu is totally acceptable.

Dreaming up various complimentary combinations of biscuits, muffins and scones was half the fun. Since I actually have other things to do besides bake breakfast breads, I ended up relying on a lovely friend who contributed some delicious banana bread, and whipped up these mini biscuits myself the night before. I froze the unbaked, cut biscuits overnight, then slid them into the oven just before the guests were scheduled to arrive. That left me plenty of time to wrangle a fantastic potato frittata, and make the house smell all nice and brunchy.

These are cute and irresistible--who can turn down a mini biscuit? The flavors of the cheese and herbs are subtle enough not to put off traditionalist, although you could increase the amount of cheese by an ounce and up the quantity of herbs if you want to. Dried lavender buds are on the large side, and I didn't want people getting chewy pieces of herbs stuck in their teeth, so Mike crushed them in our mortar, along with the thyme. The biscuits were great with our brunch spread and equally tasty when we ate the leftovers with curried carrot soup the next day. And finally, two words: honey butter.

Mini Goat Cheese Biscuits with Lavender
If you can't find dried lavender (get it online here), substitute other herbs like marjoram, mint or rosemary. Fresh herbs will also work--chop finely and double (at least) the quantity. I'd try fresh mint, thyme or chives.

Makes about 20

1/2 tsp dried lavender
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (210 g)
1/2 cup medium stone ground cornmeal (66 g)
1 Tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp coarse salt
6 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
3 oz. goat cheese, crumbled (keep chilled until ready to use)
1 egg, for egg wash (optional)
1 tsp milk, for egg wash (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Gently crush the lavender and thyme in a mortar (or place in a Ziploc bag and crush with a rolling pin). Whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and a crushed herbs together in a large bowl. Add the butter and toss to coat it with flour. Using a pastry blender, a fork or your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture until you have a coarse meal with visible chunks of butter. Take care not to over mix.

Add the buttermilk and mix gently with a spatula until most of the flour is moistened. Fold in the goat cheese, stirring just until all the flour is moistened (take care not to over mix). Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle lightly with more flour. Flatten dough with your hand and roll it out into a 1/2-inch thick disk. Flour a small (about 2-inch diameter) biscuit cutter and stamp out as many biscuits as you can, pushing firmly into the dough and flouring the biscuit cutter each time. Transfer biscuits to prepared baking sheet. Quickly re-roll the dough scraps and make more biscuits until you've used it all up. If using egg wash to create a shiny surface, beat the egg and milk together in a small bowl. With a pastry brush, lightly coat the top of each biscuit.

Bake 8 to 12 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown on the bottom. Serve right away.

To make ahead: After you’ve applied the egg wash (if using), slide the baking sheet into the freezer. Leave overnight, bake directly from the freezer (do not defrost), and add an extra minute or two to baking time. To store up to one month, wait until biscuits are completely frozen and transfer to a zip top bag.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Best Roasted Cauliflower, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts

When I cook things like this--veggie sides, basic grains, straight-forward salads--I don't usually blog about them. However, I noticed a theme in the what's been coming out of the kitchen lately. It's fabulous caramelized roasty deliciousness, and I wanted to keep track of it all right here. And I figured if I was so happy about finding a great new method for hearty winter vegetables, then some of you out there might want to hear about it too.

As I was typing up the last recipe for this post, another common thread jumped out at me: 450. That's the oven temp you need for a high-heat blast to give otherwise mild-mannered veggies amazing color and flavor. It's no secret that I like a bit of a crispy char on certain foods, but you don't need to blacken (or burn) anything to get the flavor you're after. For all of these recipes (the broccoli especially), just make sure the veggies are dry when you begin--water creates steam and gets in the way of browning.

I could eat a massive plate of these everyday. While nearly as virtuous as my stand-by of steamed vegetables with salt, pepper and a glug of vinegar, these recipes are so much more crave-able and, frankly, addictive (yes, I'm such an annoyingly healthy eater that I label vegetables addictive). That brings me to a note on serving size: For me and Mike, these recipes serve 2. Other recipes calling for similar quantities of vegetables may claim to serve 4. Don't be fooled--this is one of those time when you shouldn't practice portion control too strenuously.

Roasted Curry Cauliflower

I love to save a small amount of the roasted florets and dice them up for an omelet the following day. With more fresh cilantro and bits of Feta cheese, it's different and delicious.

Serves 2 generously

Cooking spray
1 head cauliflower, stemmed and cut into bite-sized florets
1 Tbs olive oil (optional)
1 to 1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp chile powder
1/2 tsp cumin
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro and lime wedges for serving (optional)

Preheat oven 450. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat foil with cooking spray.

Put florets on baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil (or mist with cooking spray for a very low-calorie version). Sprinkle the curry, chile powder, cumin, salt and pepper over the cauliflower, then toss it all up with your hands. It should be well-coated with the colorful spices; if it looks sparse, add extra curry powder. Spread florets into a single layer.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once about halfway through. Cauliflower are done when deep golden brown and fork-tender. Sprinkle with cilantro and lime juice if using and serve immediately.

Roasted Broccoli with Garlic and Lemon
To ensure the broccoli caramelizes and develops a fabulous roasty flavor, it must be completely dry. A bag of pre-chopped florets is handy for this; or just be one of those crazy people who pre-washes all their produce upon arriving home from the market. I'm most likely to wash mine a couple hours ahead and let it air dry on the counter, but if you don't have that kind of time, grab some paper towels and blot away. Just like roasted cauliflower, a few pieces of this stuff is amazing as an omelet filler along with bit of sauteed spinach and Feta.

Serves 2

Cooking spray
1 large head broccoli, stemmed and cut into bite-sized florets
1 Tbs olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 to 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Red pepper flakes to taste
Lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 450. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray.

Put the broccoli on the baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper (I like this well-salted). Toss to coat the broccoli and roast 10 to 12 minutes (tender broccoli with thin stems will need just 10 minutes; if yours looks tough and thick, go longer). Florets should be golden brown.

Add the garlic and red pepper to taste and toss with the broccoli. Reduce oven temperature to 350, immediately return baking sheet to oven and roast 5 to 8 minutes more, or until edges of garlic are golden and broccoli is fork tender and deeply browned. Drizzle with lemon juice and serve immediately.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Browsing several recipes in order to settle on a cooking method, I noticed this bit of wisdom in Ina Garten's version, which was also echoed on Simply Recipes (click on the link for a lovely photo of a similar recipe): one of the keys to success is salting generously. I'm not sure why this is, but it does help turn these little sprouts into addictive, French fry-like treats.

Serves 2, may be doubled

Cooking spray
1 lb Brussels sprouts, tough outer leaves discarded, stem ends trimmed, and halved lengthwise
1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
1 scant Tbs apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp coarse salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450 and place rack in upper third of oven. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Put Brussels sprouts on baking sheet and drizzle with oil and vinegar. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt and black pepper to taste. Toss well and spread out in a single layer. Roast 25 to 35 minutes (depending on how large your sprouts are), tossing after about 15 minutes. Sprouts are done when they are deeply browned (outer leaves may be crisp) and very tender in the center. Serve immediately.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Radicchio Risotto

This beautiful, earthy risotto is from Tessa Kiros' new cookbook, Venezia: Food & Dreams. Yes, it's beautiful despite the appearance in the photo, which does little to show off its charms!

The risotto is meat free and a great side dish or first course. I served it with steak in red wine-anchovy sauce with a dab of balsamic vinegar, resulting in much deliciousness, but not a lot of color contrast on the plate. All that being said, this risotto is a keeper!

I love the crisp bitterness of radicchio (the one that looks like a mini purple cabbage), and it gets just slightly mellowed and toothsome when cooked slowly along with the creamy Arborio rice. This is a red wine risotto (like this red wine risotto with sausage, arugula and caramelized onions), which deepens the color--and, I think, the flavor--even more.

According to Kiros, Venetians prefer a wet, soupy version of risotto made with vialone nano rice, rather than Arborio or arnaroli, which Kiros suggests. I loved reading about Venetian food and culture, and the book took me back to my trip to Venice, just about 10 years ago! It is one of the most unique and mind-boggling places on earth. Kiros seems to have written two books about this city she clearly adores--it's at once a well-done cookbook and artsy travelogue, with many photos bathed in Mediterranean sea-light. If you like Kiros' style, this book will have you drooling and trolling expedia all at once.

Right now is prime risotto-making weather. Does this recipe make you want to cook up a pot? Here are more risotto ideas I've posted: Roasted beet risotto; Roasted butternut squash risotto with mushrooms and spinach; and Fresh fava bean risotto with pancetta. That last post includes helpful (in my humble opinion!) step-by-step photos to hone your risotto making technique. And here's what I had to say about Tessa Kiros' last book, Falling Cloudberries.

Radicchio Risotto
Adapted from Venezia by Tessa Kiros.

Look for an imported brand of Arborio rice from Italy. In my experience, they provide the thick, creamy texture I've found lacking in domestic Arborio. Most supermarkets tend to have it in stock.

Serves 4 as a side or first course.

4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 Tbs. butter
1 large shallot, chopped
1 lb radicchio, thick stems removed and roughly chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of dried thyme
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
3/4 cup red wine
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving
Fresh sage, parsley or basil, chopped, for garnish

Put broth in a small saucepan, cover and warm over medium-high heat. When broth barely starts to simmer, reduce heat to low (do not boil).

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook 1 to 2 minutes to soften. Add the radicchio, season with salt, pepper and thyme. Cook, stirring often until slightly wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and rice. Stir continuously until rice is glossy and opaque, about 3 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a simmer and cook until absorbed.

Add about 1 1/2 ladlefuls (about 1 1/2 cups) of the warm broth. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook, stirring continuously, until absorbed into the rice. Add 1/2 cup of broth and cook, stirring very often, until absorbed. Continue repeating these steps until risotto is tender, yet slightly firm to the bite. You may not use all the liquid, but if you run out, use hot water. This process (beginning with the first addition of broth) will take 20 to 24 minutes.

Taste for seasoning. Serve risotto immediately, garnished with cheese and fresh herbs.

Review copy of Venezia was generously provided by the publisher.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Summer Tomato Couscous

It's common knowledge that the two things most often associated with rock n' roll are, 1) sex, and 2) drugs. Well, for a concert Mike and I went to last night, it was more like 10 P.M. curfews and true respect for punctuality.

We saw Modest Mouse at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. We really like this band, and they were good. Really good, even. Nice set list and the show lasted nearly 90 minutes. Still, we just couldn't get over the fact that we were attending the earliest concert in the history of rock shows: doors open at 5:30, opening act at 6:30; headliner at 8:00 on the dot. Outta there by 9:30. We had no intention of going for the opener, and we still missed half of Modest Mouse's first song. I'm not necessarily blaming the band--I have no clue who's responsible. I'm just betting the Wiggles don't even go onstage till at least 8:30.

Anyway, we wanted to go out and unwind over a casual dinner before the show, but since we actually have jobs, there was no time. We ended up chowing down a couple of bánh mì sandwiches from a great little takeout place near the theater, which is right next to a concentration of Vietnamese restaurants and shops.

This particular deli, Ba Le, supposedly bakes the crusty baguette-style rolls that a lot of other restaurants purchase, so it was nice to go to the source. Bánh mì are all about the contrast between meaty ingredients like pate, ham, pork sausage, even head cheese, and fresh toppers like pickled veggies, fresh jalepenos and cilantro. These yummy sandwiches are definitely the new hotness, so try tracking them down in your neck of the woods.

We ended up having a really fun night, of course, with the sandwiches being a highlight. We probably should have just eaten quickly at home, but I cooked my little heart out the night before, so a break was warranted. I made my easy, easy fig jam and this summery couscous with the cutest mixed mini tomatoes ever. If you have produce like this around, it's an easy side dish for a weeknight meal.

Summer Tomato Couscous
A mix of little red, yellow, grape, pear, or cherry tomatoes gives you the contrast of flavors and textures that makes cooking with summer produce so nice: the cherry tomatoes are really sweet and wilt considerably, while the pale yellow pear tomatoes have a milder flavor and stay firm. You can do this with any baby tomatoes.

Serves 4

1 cup whole wheat couscous
Salt and pepper
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 to 1 1/2 pints baby tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Fresh herbs (like basil, mint or chives) for garnish, optional

Prepare couscous according to package directions and season to taste with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and cooked 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally until some begin to wilt. Add garlic and continue cooking 1 minute. Season to taste and remove from heat.

When couscous is done, fluff with a fork and transfer to a serving bowl. Gently stir in tomato mixture and fresh herbs if using. Serve right away.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chive & Goat Cheese Biscuits

Have you planted fresh herbs yet? With Memorial Day weekend just behind us, you still have plenty of time to get going. Every time I snip some mint, rosemary or thyme from the little plants on windowsill, and I feel so satisfied with myself for saving cash on the packaged herbs I'd otherwise be buying from the grocery store.

With the nearly constant warmth and sunshine in Florida, I keep herbs all year round. Some are easier to grow than others, and believe me, I do the bare minimum to keep the poor plants going. Rosemary is the stalwart--nothing could bring that little guy down. My mint, even when I thought I'd taken all it had to give, managed to regenerate anew over several weeks and is now filled out with fresh leaves. I had thyme that grew tangled strands for months, but then was overtaken by miniscule flying pests and quickly capitulated. I've tried basil a couple times, but can't figure out how to stop the icky white bugs that glom onto the lush leaves.

One of the most recent additions to my herb garden are chives. One day, I figured it would be a better value to buy a whole plant for $4 rather than a little pack (of which I'd use a fraction for one or two recipes) for $3. The chives multiplied a few times over and seem so far invulnerable to pests (how these critters get up and into my fifth floor apartment is utterly baffling). Before I bought my plant, I didn't realize all the potential uses I'd find for chives: they add oniony flavor with no aftertaste to omelets, soups, dips and grilled food.

Like many herbs, chives are also a great match for goat cheese. Ever since I made this sweet potato version, Dorie Greenspan's recipe in her book, Baking, has been my go-t0 prototype for biscuits. It's totally uncomplicated, not overburdened with fat, and produces tall, flaky, irresistible results. Other herbs would work here too. Maybe rosemary, thyme, mint or a combination. I want to try a Feta version soon, as well. Although a new twist on this beet soup using carrots and golden beets inspired the biscuits, you could just as easily eat them with a summer salad. If you're contemplating your first herb garden, Ari of Baking and Books recently wrote a fantastic post on how to get started even if you don't have a yard--check it out!

Chive & Goat Cheese Biscuits
Adapted from Baking by Dorie Greenspan
I used 2 ounces of goat cheese, but I think the recipe could support up to 3 ounces if you're especially crazy about it.

Makes 8 to 9 biscuits

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
1 Tbs. chopped fresh chives

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and a few grinds of black pepper together in a large bowl. Add the butter and toss to coat it with flour. Using your fingertips (my preference) or a pastry blender, pinch and toss the butter and flour until you have a rough, sandy mixture with some pea-size lumps of butter, some ragged flakes and a variety of odd-shaped bits. Do not over work the butter.

Add the buttermilk and toss gently with a fork until most of the flour is moistened. Add the goat cheese and chives and continue tossing to distribute the cheese and chives. Knead dough inside the bowl 3 or 4 times so that you have a fairly uniform consistency and no dry bits of flour remain. Use a light hand and work the dough as little as possible. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle lightly with more flour. Flatten dough with your hand and roll it out into a 1/2-inch thick disk. Flour a 2 to 2-1/4 inch biscuit cutter and stamp out as many biscuits as you can, pushing firmly into the dough and flouring the biscuit cutter each time. Transfer biscuits to prepared baking sheet. Quickly re-roll the dough scraps and make more biscuits until you've used it all up.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown on the bottom. Serve right away with butter.

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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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Friday, March 13, 2009

Sicilian Broccoli Pasta

Moving over from Irish food to something completely different...Sicilian cuisine! Okay, I do not profess to be any sort of expert on this region of Italy, but I do know one thing: the Sicilians have mastered the balance of sweet and sour.

Have you ever eaten eggplant caponata? It's a relish-type spread often served on crusty bread and made with onions, tomatoes, capers, olives, peppers and of course eggplant; but, it gets its characteristic sweet and sour tang from raisins or sugar and red wine vinegar (here are a few versions). That's the flavor I was going for with this dish.

I threw it together on the fly as a side for boneless Parmigiano-crusted pork chops (recipe: dip in flour, dip in egg, dip in panko and parm, bake). I happened to have a good quantity of steamed broccoli on hand, and a little bit of one of my favorite whole wheat pastas (Bionaturae Chiocciole from Whole Foods) that had been hanging out in the pantry for months. You could toss in leftover chicken pieces and turn the pasta into a main course or add more veggies for a vegetarian meal.

I hope I've inspired you to try this Sicilian-style pasta, but I want to know if anyone out there has gotten into the St. Patrick's Day spirit with some Irish food yet? I'm thinking about making my Irish Potato Chowder tonight and throwing in some scallops I have in the freezer. I'm hoping it will happen, provided I have enough energy to cook on a Friday night!

Sicilian Broccoli Pasta
I used about 5 ounces of pasta, but there's roughly enough sauce to dress about half a pound. The ingredient amounts can be stretched or even doubled if you want to make a bigger batch.

Serves 2

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 to 8 ounces whole wheat pasta, such as penne or chioccoli
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 small red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes, preferably unsalted
1/4 cup raisins
1 to 2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
2 to 3 tsp. sugar
2 to 3 cups steamed broccoli

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt liberally and cook pasta according to package directions or until al dente.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until tender and lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add the raisins, 1 Tbs. vinegar and 2 tsp. sugar. Simmer until slightly thickened and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add additional vinegar and or sugar until the sweet and sour flavor is balanced to your liking. Stir in broccoli to heat through.

Transfer cooked pasta to a large bowl and add the sauce. Toss gently to combine and serve.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Roasted Beet Risotto

Let's do a quick, informal survey.

Do you make risotto?

A yes or no in the comments will suffice, but I'd love to hear when you turn to this creamy, satisfying rice dish and what your favorite additions are. And if the answer is no, why not? I'm not one to cook rice as a side dish all that often, although I do like brown rice flavored with scallions and garlic. When it comes to risotto, however, I hardly put it on the same plane with simple steamed rice.

From the method of cooking, to the rich, toothsome end result, risotto is more than just a grain dish. Most of the time, I made it the main meal. I like to add poached chicken, but shrimp or roasted veggies are nice. If you do want to make risotto a side dish, then I think you may as well make it memorable. I usually try to avoid gushingly purple prose when describing food, but what can I say? Stained a striking hot pink and bejeweled with roasted beets, this risotto is a stunner.

Unlike the red wine risotto with arugula I made a while ago, this version gets all its gorgeous magenta color from fresh roasted beets. The recipe has no twists whatsoever; it's risotto 101. You can roasted the beets a day or a few hours ahead. It's an extra step, but it couldn't be easier. If you've only had canned beets (I still like tossing the shredded ones in salad), you'll love the clean, earthy taste of fresh ones.

I made this risotto to go with steaks for a fantastic Valentine's Day dinner that actually happened the day after. Because it's an all-veggie risotto, I think it's well suited for a side. But no one would mistake it for an afterthought.

I found this recipe on the Gourmet magazine website and was sold by their (much more beautiful than above) photo. I cut the recipe in half and omitted the wine, which I tend to do if I don't have an open bottle of white. If you want to make this vegetarian, use mushroom broth instead of chicken. Here's an old post of mine describing the basic risotto technique, with step-by-step photos. And here is one of my all-time favorites, Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Mushrooms.

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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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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Apple, Pomegranate and Honey Salad

Did I mention that I made two Thanksgiving dinners before Thanksgiving? If you've read the last few weeks' posts, you know that I wanted to try out new side dishes and roast my own turkey at home before I went to have the real holiday with my family in Connecticut.

So, instead of making a huge spread just for me and Mike at home, I had one meal consisting of turkey and a couple of other dishes, and another meal of substantial sides like cornbread-chorizo stuffing and this seasonal salad.

If a side salad requires any effort at all, I save it for a special occasion. Our stand-by everyday salad is just baby greens, red onions and diced tomatoes dressed with a splash of olive oil and either balsamic or lemon. This is definitely a bit more special. I think this would be a beautiful addition to a Hanukkah spread--I know honey and pomegranates often pop up on Jewish holiday menus. Replacing the apple with avocado would also play up the Hanukkah theme.

The honey dressing here adds a nice sweet note. I used raspberry vinegar, but if you only have red wine vinegar in your pantry (or Sherry vinegar), use that by all means. The type of lettuce you use is flexible too, although I wouldn't go with anything too peppery, like arugula. One thing you shouldn't substitute or skip is the fresh mint. I'm a fan of this herb in many dishes, but even a little bit adds a wonderful bright hit of flavor that complements the pomegranates and apples. Even if you don't make this part of a holiday meal, it's a great way to use in-season pomegranates in a tasty, healthy way.

Apple, Pomegranate and Honey Salad

Cut the pomegranate in half crosswise and submerge one half in a bowl of water while you remove the seeds by hand. The seeds will sink to the bottom so you can lift any flesh out of the bowl, then strain the seeds. This method also keeps the juice from staining your work surface.

Serves 4

For salad:
2 small heads Boston lettuce, or other mild-tasting lettuce, leaves separated and torn into bite-size pieces (about 6 cups leaves)
1 Fuji apple, thinly sliced
1/3 cup very thinly sliced red onion
1/2 pomegranate, seeded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

For dressing:
2 tablespoons canola
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
1 tablespoons honey

In a large bowl, combine lettuce, about 3/4 of apple slices (save the rest for a snack), onion and pomegranate seeds. Combine all dressing ingredients in a small jar with a tight lid and shake well until emulsified. Drizzle about 3/4 of the dressing over salad and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Add additional dressing if necessary. Add the sunflower seeds and mint and toss again. Arrange salad on individual plates and serve.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Green Beans with Meyer Lemon Sauce and Hazelnuts

Here is my final Thanksgiving side dish. I was floundering about how to prepare this vegetable side. I love to do green beans, or even Brussels sprouts, with Pancetta or bacon--it's a holiday, so bring on the pork, right? But, I also appreciate balance. I already had stuffing with chorizo sausage, so I though the vegetables should go in a different direction.

I didn't know what direction that should be, however, until we were wandering around the produce section of Whole Foods and found beautiful, reasonably priced Meyer lemons. I don't ever remember seeing them this early; their peak is January and February. Once they were in my hot little hand, I knew exactly what to do with the green beans.

This simple pan sauce doesn't involve any real tricks, just textbook flavor-building. You slowly saute a pile of shallots in butter, then add wine, lemon juice and your blanched green beans. I had hazelnuts on hand and they were very nice here, but you could easily go with almonds or pecans. If you aren't lucky enough to stumble on Meyer lemons this week, use regular lemon juice. Just taste and add a generous pinch of sugar if you think it's a little tart.

Before I come to the end, I must mention my turkey. Jennie-O sent me an "Oven Ready" homestyle turkey to try. I was excited by the prospect of fool-proof, perfectly moist and delicious turkey with practically zero effort. I love the fact that it was mess-free and virtually no-maintence, BUT it wasn't as fool-proof as I'd hoped... I roasted the turkey for less than the 3 1/2 hour cooking time required, and it came out on the dry side. I think it would have been done in about 2 hours and 45 at most. Lesson: Even fool-proof turkeys must be watched closely! Don't be lured into complacent turkey roasting like me! And use a meat thermometer...

Have a wonderful week and enjoy the holiday wherever it takes you. I'll be back after Turkey day.

Green Beans with Meyer Lemon and Hazelnuts

Toast the hazelnuts in a dry, heavy skillet on medium heat until golden brown.

Serves 4

1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted
1 pound green beans
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup sliced shallots
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup white wine
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon (or 3 tablespoons regular lemon juice)
Zest of 1 Meyer

Blanche the green beans: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the beans and boil 3 to 4 minutes, or until crisp-tender. Drain and immediately plunge beans into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking and retain color. Leave beans for a few minutes, drain and set aside.

Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet on medium-low. Add the shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until very soft and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add the lemon juice and simmer until reduce by about half. Add green beans and toss to coat with shallots and lemon sauce. Stir until heated through. Season with salt and pepper and add lemon zest. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts. Serve immediately or cover and reheat in microwave.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing

I've talked about my love of cornbread many, many times, but this is my first ever cornbread stuffing. Why? Because all the recipes I came across seemed too rich, too bread-y, just too much. Then Mike put the idea for cornbread stuffing in my head last week, and a couple days later I saw this recipe in Gourmet.

This stuffing is straightforward, incredibly tasty and a lot less heavy (read loaded with butter) than most stuffing recipes of any kind. You absolutely need to make the homemade cornbread, which is a snap. It's also one of the nicest southern-style cornbreads I've tried.

My go-to skillet cornbread uses a combo of stone ground cornmeal and flour for a tender, not too crumbly texture. I had tried all-cornmeal versions, but they were just too quick to fall apart. In this recipe, an extra egg and plenty of buttermilk solves that problem, resulting in an all-cornmeal bread that you could eat on its own with butter.

So, my first cornbread stuffing was hugely successful, although I think it could be the centerpiece of a meal by itself--who needs turkey? Be sure to read the recipe headnote regarding chorizo. I would have just included links to the original recipes, but I liked these so much, I wanted to record them here for easy retrieval! One last tip: the leftovers were great with a fried runny egg.

Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing
Adapted from Gourmet magazine, Nov. 08 (original)

The success of the stuffing utterly depends upon the homemade cornbread. Luckily, it’s easy and may be made a day or two ahead. Spanish chorizo is cured and ready to eat, as opposed to Mexican chorizo, which is fresh and must be cooked. Failing to find Spanish chorizo at our supermarket, we used Niman Ranch fully cooked chorizo from the refrigerator case. It’s not authentic to either country, but because it is such a lean, high quality product, it worked wonderfully—probably better than the real thing! If using a product like this, there’s no need to remove the casing.

Serves 6

Skillet cornbread (recipe follows)
1 Tbs. canola oil
5 oz. Spanish chorizo, casing removed and sausage chopped
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped (about 3 cups)
3 celery ribs, coarsely chopped (2 to 2 1/2 cups)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbs. chopped garlic
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat a 2 to 3-quart shallow baking dish with cooking spray. Cut the cornbread into approximately 1/2-inch pieces and spread them out in a single layer on 2 sheet pans with sides. Bake for about 20 minutes, or bread is dried out, switching positions of the pans and tossing the bread about halfway through. Cool and transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chorizo and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add onions and celery, season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and oregano and cook 2 minutes more. Add to cornbread.

Whisk together broth and egg, then pour over cornbread mixture and toss well. Transfer to baking dish. Coat a piece of foil with nonstick spray and cover baking dish tightly. Bake in upper third of oven for 1 hour. Remove foil and bake until top is golden, about 15 minutes more. Stuffing mixture may be prepared up to 1 day ahead; add broth and egg just before baking.

Skillet Cornbread
Adapted from Gourmet magazine (original)

If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can still make your own cornbread, but it won’t have the same crispy, browned edges. Just melt the butter in the microwave and bake the bread in a buttered pie plate.

1 1/2 cups stone ground yellow cornmeal, preferably medium-grind
1 tbs. sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups cups well-shaken buttermilk (do not use powdered)
3 Tbs. unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and heat a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet in the oven for 10 minutes.

Whisk together the cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and buttermilk.

Take the hot skillet out of the oven (careful, handle is HOT) and add the butter. Return to the oven until butter melts. It may brown a little, but watch closely so it doesn’t burn. Remove the skillet from the oven, swirl the skillet to coat the sides with butter, and pour the excess butter into the egg mixture. Whisk well.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently stir them just until combined. Pour into the hot skillet and return to the oven. Bake 20 to 24 minutes, or until light golden brown spots appear on top and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack, then remove cornbread from skillet.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Cranberry Sauce with Pears and Ginger

I had a two-day Thanksgiving feast this past weekend. I'm going to celebrate the actual holiday in Connecticut with family, but since Thanksgiving food is so fun to cook (and eat), I like to do a meal for me and Mike. That way, I get to try out whatever recipes I want, and we get to have our own leftovers!

Of course, having this blog is also great motivation to do a Thanksgiving trial run. In the next week, I'll post all the recipes I tried this weekend. One fabulous cornbread stuffing recipe came straight from Gourmet magazine and another was an online find, but the rest are originals. Everything we made was delicious, and I'm glad I decided to go all-new, rather than repeating any old favorites (like this chestnut stuffing).

The first one I'm posting is this cranberry sauce that I put together after reading many other cranberry sauce recipes. None were quite what I wanted. This uses slightly less sugar than the norm, but it's not at all too tart. The sweetness gets balanced out by the savory flavors of diced jalapenos and garam masala. The prominent flavor of fresh ginger is fantastic and completes the slightly Indian vibe.

I'm not sure which recipe from the weekend is my favorite, but I have to say that we loved this cranberry sauce. It's my favorite ever. Mike said it was "really interesting," and he meant that as a big compliment--which I loved! It's also great on sandwiches or, honestly, just eaten with a spoon.

Cranberry Sauce with Pears and Ginger

The spice of the fresh ginger is the big flavor in this not too sweet cranberry sauce. If you don't like the taste of fresh ginger, use half the amount. Garam masala is a mild Indian spice blend that you can find at ethnic markets and large supermarkets. This is a quick recipe, but it requires 3 hours of chilling time (you can always speed things up with the freezer though).

12 oz. fresh or frozen defrosted cranberries
1 pear, cored and chopped into 1/3-inch pieces
1 Tbs. finely minced fresh ginger
2 small jalapeno chiles, seeded and finely diced
1/4 cup water
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 lime (about 1 Tbs.)
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. garam masala
1/4 tsp. salt

Add all ingredients to a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook 7 to 9 minutes, or until cranberries pop, pears soften and mixture thickens. Stir often to prevent sticking on the bottom of the pan. Transfer to a serving dish or storage container and chill uncovered for 3 hours. May be made up to 2 days ahead; cover after 3 hours. Serve chilled.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008


If you've never had straight out of the oven popovers, you don't know what you're missing. With just eggs, milk, flour, salt and butter, you get big puffs with a crisp exterior and an airy center. Actually, if they work out for you, there isn't much substance in the center--just thinly stretched pieces of the eggy, cream puff-like dough. If you've had gougeres, that's probably the best comparison, but these are airier, thanks to that popping effect.

I used to make them according to a recipe in King Arthur Flour's Baking Companion, which calls for mixing in a blender. This is easy for sure, but the King Arthur bakers recently re-jiggered their recipe and discovered that whisking the batter by hand makes the puffiest popovers. I came across the King Arthur blog describing the results a few days after Mike and I screwed up a batch of popovers by inaccurately halving it and ended up with leaden shells rather than light, crisp puffs.

It was total serendipity that I came across the King Arthur blog on the topic, and we tried them again the next weekend, this time with the correct measurements and the whisking method. Perfect popovers! The picture above looks just like the ones on their blog, where you can see the difference in puffiness with 3 different methods.

But aside from all the little details of my popover adventures, I just want to make one thing clear--you have to try these sometime! Sure you could make homemade dinner rolls with yeast and hours of rising time and kneading and shaping. Or you could just whisk together 5 ingredients and get a really delicious accompaniment to your meal. I love these as a starch with steak and salad or fish and roasted veggies. And plan for 2 or 3 popovers per person--they are very easy to eat (with butter, naturally).

The only thing to consider is coordinating the rest of the meal so you don't have to open the oven more than once (quickly) while they cook. It helps the popovers reach their fullest potential. Otherwise, there aren't many simpler ways to make a dinner feel special. After all the great fall cooking ideas you guys suggested in the comments for my last giveaway, I figured I should contribute something too!

I'm linking to the popover recipe on King Arthur's website. I followed it as written, but was just a little heavy-handed with the salt--as I tend to be when baking. They specify King Arthur flour in the recipe, but I used another brand and it worked great (but I do generally recommend all the KA flours).

I'm going to do another cookbook giveaway this week, so stay tuned! Remember, you can always sign up to receive new post delivered to your email box, so you won't miss anything. Just type your email address in the box below my picture in the left sidebar.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Favorite Things: Cornmeal Biscuits

This is one of my favorite recipes. I've been making it for less than a year or so, but every time I want a bread-y thing to go with soup or stew, this is what I crave the most. It gets annoying because I'd like to try other biscuits and breads, but I just like these so much! Consistency also comes into play-- they turn out perfectly every time I make them.

I have mentioned these cornmeal biscuits as an aside in other posts and sent you to the original recipe from Cooking Light magazine. I'm tired of looking for that link and mentally dividing the recipe in half whenever I make them, so I decided they deserved their own post at last. You may notice that the CL recipe should yield 24 biscuits. When I halve the recipe, I've never get more than 9, despite rolling the dough as indicated and using the same size biscuit cutter. By the way, the iris in my photo is apropos of nothing; but I happened to have some lovely flowers and wanted to jazz up the shot.

The original recipe calls for half all-purpose and half whole wheat flour. I use only my trusty whole wheat pastry flour instead. It provides a tender, small crumb and is easier than using two different flours. I think white whole wheat flour would work too, if that's what you have at home. Of course, simple all-purpose flour is acceptable, but then you would miss out on all the nutrients and fiber that make these biscuits healthy while satisfying even the most intense carb craving.

There aren't too many other ingredients to discuss here. The recipe is incredibly simple, but the results are outstanding. For the cornmeal, use 100% whole grain stone ground varieties, NOT a generic, "enriched" supermarket cornmeal product. It doesn't have to be an expensive, boutique brand; just an unprocessed, whole food. Well-stocked supermarkets will carry it, but you may need to visit a health food store. Three great brands are Bob's Red Mill (I'm currently using their medium grind), Hodgson Mill and Arrowhead Mills.

Sorry about being so bossy there, but without good ingredients, a simple recipe like this just won't fly. I almost forgot about butter. If you can eat these without a generous pat of good butter, you're a better person than I.

Cornmeal Biscuits
Adapted from this recipe in Cooking Light magazine
For the whole wheat pastry flour, you may substitute: white whole wheat, all-purpose, or half all-purpose and half whole wheat.

Makes 9

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (9 1/2 ounces)
1/2 cup stone ground cornmeal (2 1/2 ounces), medium or fine grind
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Scant 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, mix the poppy and sesame seeds and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder and salt; whisk thoroughly. Add the chilled butter and work it into the flour mixture with your fingers for a minute or two until a few small chunks and plenty of shaggy bits remain.

Add the buttermilk to the bowl and stir just until the flour mixture is moistened; do not over mix. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface, knead once or twice with floured hands and shape into a ball. Flatten the ball of dough slightly, sprinkle with flour and use a rolling pin to roll dough into a 3/4- to 1-inch thick disk. With a 2 1/2-inch cutter, stamp out biscuits, dipping cutter into flour each time. Transfer biscuits to baking sheet. Quickly roll remaining dough into a new disk and stamp out more biscuits, flouring the cutter each time. Repeat until you've used up all the dough.

Lightly brush biscuits with egg white and sprinkle with seed mixture. Bake 9 to 11 minutes or until bottoms are deep golden brown. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes, transfer to rack and cool at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. These freeze exceptionally well; defrost at room temperature.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Greek-Style Silky Braised Greens

I bet you were expecting something jazzier than braised greens (like a recipe for grain alcohol, perhaps?), after my yammering about work deadlines in my previous post. I submitted my third and last assignment on Sunday afternoon, finally crossing the finish line of my week of deadlines. I made myself a vodka-cranberry thing (not quite a cosmo, not quite standard mixed drink) and read the slightly outdated issue of Us Weekly that my neighbor sometimes leaves by the elevators for public consumption.

I didn't celebrate the final deadline with my favorite pineapple-rum drink, but I did find a great name for it thanks to a lovely reader. Though I really like Diana's suggestion to call it the "Deadline Chaser," I have to go with Mallika's name: the Pina Libre, honoring my freedom from deadlines. Thanks to everyone who left their thoughts on summer cocktails in the comment section!

I know greens don't sound very exciting, but before you click me away (god, I haven't lost you already, have I?), humor me for a minute. These are the most luscious greens I've ever had, and I'm not just exaggerating for effect here. Cooked for about 20 to 30 minutes, longer than seems prudent, these greens go luxuriously silky. But that's not all.

While your greens simmer away, you caramelize some red onions and make a lemony, garlicky yogurt sauce. Caramelized onions can make anything taste incredible, but yogurt on hot greens? It's a revelation. I got the idea from a recipe on for beet greens with yogurt and onions. I knew it would be a winner when I saw the source: The Glorious Foods of Greece, a book by Diane Kochilas, an authority on Greek cooking whose book, Meze, I own and really like.

I made the yogurt sauce (almost) according to the recipe, but I made some changes to the other elements like using a little less fat and cooking my greens much longer. I used a bunch of Swiss chard and mustard greens, which was a very complementary match. The mustard greens have a spicy (mustardy, actually) bite and tougher texture, and the chard is soft and mellow.

I was so infatuated with this dish that I made it again a week later using turnip greens and spinach (I buy whatever looks good). The turnips greens made it less silky than my first version, but the dish was still wonderful. How do you like to cook greens? If you are a vegetable lover, but have never slowly braised hearty greens, you must give this a try!

Greek-Style Braised Greens
Adapted from The Glorious Foods of Greece by Diane Kochilas
Use any greens that look good. I like to combine, a milder green with a bitter or spicy one. Creamy Greek yogurt is essential; I like Fage nonfat. If you don't like raw garlic, you can leave it out of the yogurt sauce. Za'atar is a middle eastern spice blend of sumac, thyme, sesame seeds and salt. We made some to go with our pita bread and discovered that it was delicious with the greens too. This is great with vegetables, sausage, or grilled meat, like my marinated lamb kabobs.

Serves 2 to 4

2 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 1/2 tbs. unsalted butter, divided
6 cloves garlic, slivered, divided
1 to 1 1/2 pounds hearty greens (chard, mustard, collard, turnip, kale, spinach, beet)
1/2 to 1 cup chicken broth or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tbs. lemon juice
6 oz Greek yogurt
1 red onion, thinly sliced into half circles
Za'atar for serving (optional)

Heat half the oil and half the butter in a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add 5 cloves of the garlic and cook until golden. Add the greens, in 2 batches if necessary, and stir to coat with the oil. Add enough broth or water to cook the greens without scorching the pot (about 1/4 to 1/2-inch deep). Season with salt and pepper, cover and steam for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the greens are wilted and soft. Remove lid and braise 10 to 15 minutes, or until any stems are completely tender and liquid is almost totally evaporated. Greens should look almost overcooked; some greens will take less time, but it's hard to truly over do it.

Meanwhile, crush the remaining garlic clove in a mortar (or garlic press, or with a heavy object), add the lemon juice and let is soak for a few minutes. Stir lemon and garlic into the yogurt and season with salt and pepper.

Saute onions, seasoning with salt and pepper, in remaining oil and butter over low heat until soft and browned, 10 to 15 minutes.

To serve, transfer greens to plates with a slotted spoon; top with caramelized onions, yogurt sauce and za'atar, if using.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Thai Cantaloupe Salad from How to Eat Supper

We finally had a chance to do some cooking around here this weekend. Thank goodness, because I am really anxious to write about a new cookbook. I’ve reading through it like a novel because I don’t want to miss any of the insights, humor or pearls of wisdom included on practically every page. The book is The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift.

I will preface this by explaining that I’m a huge of fan The Splendid Table, the weekly show on public radio hosted by Kasper and produced by Swift. I download the podcast every week to be entertained and learn something new about the world of food. So, I expected a book connected with the show to be well done. Furthermore, Lynne Rossetto Kasper is an award-winning cookbook author and food historian who wrote the book on Italian food of the Emilia-Romagna region.

But still, I was skeptical. I already know my way around the kitchen, so I like cookbooks that demystify a new cuisine or offer something new or unique. This book sounds like its goal is to bring infrequent or inexperienced cooks into the kitchen more often. That is in fact one of its aims—there is a short but informative section on outfitting your kitchen with equipment, and the recipes are intended for weeknight meals when time and patience might be in short supply. And as Kasper says in her introduction,
“the recipes in this book are hand-holders, built on the idea that if you’ve never seen the dish before, you need to know the details of how to cook it.”
Crazy idea, right, but it just might work. The recipes are unfailingly clear, suggesting substitutions, specifying prep and cook times and telling you how long the food will keep and how to reheat it. But this is not “how to eat supper for dummies.” Kasper and Swift may include a recipe for “dumbed-down rice” (just boil it like pasta so you don’t have to worry about a burnt layer at the bottom of the pan), but the flavors, philosophy and finished dishes are anything but dumbed-down.

Chapters include Salad, Soups, Eggs and Small Plates, Vegetable Main Events, Pasta, Main Dishes, Sides and Sweets. The authors’ love of Indian, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian flavors influences some dishes, like the Thai Cantaloupe Salad I made this weekend. I chose to make it because it reminded me of the green mango with hot ground chiles, salt and sugar sold as a street snack in Thailand. Plus, cantaloupes (which I love) are in season, and it was incredibly easy, yet something I haven’t seen before. To paraphrase Mike's comment, it was simple enough to show off the individual flavors while giving you something new and really tasty.

Other recipes that caught my eye were Curried Cauliflower Cream Soup; Green Apple, Cheese, and Chard Oven Omelet; Hollow Pasta with Greek Cinnamon-Tomato Sauce; North Shore Shrimp Scampi; and Almond-Turmeric Potatoes (as seen in the intriguing cover photo).

But more than just recipes to look forward to, this cookbook is outright foodie entertainment. Alongside the informative introductions, variations and tips that come with the recipes are funny or thought-provoking quotations, interesting vignettes (see “Sally’s New Year’s Resolution), opinionated commentaries (see “How to Orchestrate Summer Tomatoes”), and “Building the Library” sidebars recommending a diverse bunch of cookbooks the authors deem excellent.

After spending time with this book, I could see that “how to eat supper” is not just a set of instructions but an abundantly realistic philosophy about nourishing yourself. On nights when you want to cook a main course and two sides, this book will help you do that. It also invites you to make supper out of the less than obvious. Alongside a recipe for a no-cook, dead simple Belgian Beer Bar Tartine is a commentary on how to make a meal around a slice of bread. Sounds like an incredible supper to me.

Thai Cantaloupe Salad with Chile
Adapted from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift

I forgot to buy basil, so I used cilantro leaves instead with good results. The original recipe recommends just a couple drops of fish sauce, but I found a liberal sprinkling of this pungent sauce suited our tastes.

Serves 8

1 large ripe, fragrant cantaloupe, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 diced jalapeno or (for more heat) Thai red chile, seeded or not
1/3 cup thinly sliced basil leaves
3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon fish sauce, or to taste
Generous pinch sugar
Course salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large serving bowl, gently combine all the ingredients. Taste and add more lime juice, fish sauce, sugar or seasoning to taste. You can serve this with long bamboo skewers so people can spear chunks of cantaloupe from the bowl.

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Clarkson Potter.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Crab Cakes with Green Mango Salsa

Does anyone make crab cakes at home anymore? I don't think I've ever ordered one in a restaurant, but I know they are usually one of the most popular things on the menu. When I worked at Legal Seafoods, they were a perennial bestseller, appearing in, I believe, three different guises on the menu--appetizer, salad and main course. Everyone loved the crab cake.

I never order them, because there are so many things that can (and do) go wrong--too much bread, soggy crust, not enough flavor. And just because someone claims to use 1/2 pound of jumbo lump crab meat in every ginormous cake, that is no guarantee of flavor. So, since I have to admit that a good crab cake can be awfully tasty, we make them ourselves every once in awhile. Crab cakes are also an excellent excuse to make mango salsa--the luscious fruit has a natural affinity to the sweet crab meat, and a little lime makes everything sing.

I adapted the crab cake recipe from one I learned in a cooking class I took several years ago. It was all about fish, and I learned a lot, including some great ethnic recipes and a killer smoked trout dip. The mango salsa has no special secrets, but I will say that green mangoes or mango that aren't yet soft and ready for eating make the best salsa. You still get a little tartness to go along with the fruit's disarming sweetness, and the cubes of mango hold their shape better. I've suggested ingredient amounts for the salsa, but exact quantities aren't important as long as your proportions give you the flavor, heat level and texture you want.

Crab Cakes
Best quality canned crab meat is great in this recipe, but never buy the imitation stuff. I'd like to tell you what it's actually made of, but I'm a little afraid to find out. Old Bay is a seafood seasoning blend often sold by the fish counter in supermarkets, or with the spices; it contains salt among other spices, so none is added to the recipe. If you want to check your seasoning (which I'll often take the time to do with these kind of recipes), fry up one miniature crab cake first and add extra salt or spices if you like.

Makes about 6

2 tsp canola oil, plus 2 tbs
1/2 onion, chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten, plus one egg white if needed
1 pound crab meat
4 to 6 tbs Panko or breadcrumbs
1 tbs mayonnaise (light is fine; I use canola mayo)
1 tbs Old Bay seasoning
2 tbs chopped fresh cilantro, or parsley
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

For serving: Green Mango Salsa, sour cream

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heat 2 tsp of the oil in a skillet over medium-low heat and cook the onion until soft. In a large bowl, combine the egg, crab, 4 tbs. panko or breadcrumbs, mayo, Old Bay, cilantro and onions; mix gently with your hands or a large spoon, leaving large chunks of crab intact. Try to form a patty, and if the mixture does not hold together, add additional breadcrumbs and/or the additional egg white (the recipe varies depending on the crab and its water content).

Form 6 crab cakes, cover and chill for at least thirty minutes or up to several hours (the purpose is to help the cakes stay together, but I have skipped this step before with no problems). When you're ready to fry, place the flour in a shallow bowl and dip each cake in flour, shaking off excess. Heat about one tablespoon of oil in a skillet over high heat and add half the cakes. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Repeating with remaining cakes, transfer to oven and bake 10 minutes or until cooked through. Serve immediately with salsa and sour cream.

Green Mango Salsa
In Thailand, a common street snack is unripe mango slices dipped in a mixture of sugar, salt and hot ground chile, and that combination partly inspired this salsa. Use a chile powder with flavor you like, whether it's mild or hot and smoky, such as ground chipotle. If you don't like heat at all, try smoky paprika.

1 green or underripe mango, diced
1 to 2 jalapeno chiles, diced (seeds optional)
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2 tbs chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 to 1/2 tsp ground red chile powder
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Drizzle of olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lime, or to taste

Combine all ingredients. Serve right away or let salsa sit at room temperature for up to 30 minutes so flavors can blend.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Carrot Curry Soup and Cornmeal Biscuits

I’ve always been one to favor chunky soups over smooth, creamy purees. Probably because I was afraid the purees contained an unholy amount of actual cream. I’ve recently figured out that this is not the case. Simply pureeing vegetables will give you a thick, satisfying texture with little or no cream.

I’ll just say up front that I love this carrot soup. It is so thick, rich and loaded with curry flavor. It is mostly made of carrots (shocking, I know) simmered with cumin seeds, red curry powder and some potatoes, which provide extra body and creaminess. Once all your veggies are peeled, it’s really easy, too.

I started with a carrot soup recipe from Once Upon a Tart, a cookbook I really like (and have used mostly for scone recipes and this soup). I opted for coconut milk (reduced fat works fine) to give the soup just a little extra creamy oomph and some more Asian flavor. I honestly thought I would need to punch up the seasoning at the end, but the curry and cumin flavor is perfectly assertive and balanced.

Soup demands bread, rolls or biscuits on the side, so I made these cornmeal biscuits from Cooking Light. For a lighter recipe, they worked really well AND you can make them easily in one bowl; you don’t have to bother with a pastry blender either, just work the very cold butter in with your fingers. The only change I made was to use all whole wheat pastry flour instead of half AP, half whole wheat. Also, they needed a good 4 or 5 extra minutes in the oven.

If you’re celebrating Easter today, have fun! I think I’ve made lamb for the past 3 or 4 years, but today we’re cooking all Asian food. As has been customary for the past 3 years, we were awakened at 6:30am by some lunatic in our building who plays Christian rock CD’s excessively loudly (penetrating ear plugs loud) once a year on this day…awesome. And by that I mean, not awesome.

Carrot Curry Soup
Adapted from Once Upon a Tart by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau

I like the flavor and medium-spicy heat level of Spice Islands red curry powder. If you have a very spicy curry powder, use the lower amount.

Serves 4 to 6

1/2 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large white onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped fine (about 2 tablespoons)
1 generous teaspoon cumin seeds
2 to 3 teaspoons red curry powder
2 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and chopped (about 2 small)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus up to 1 cup additional for thinning soup
1 (14 oz.) can coconut milk (lowfat or regular), divided
2 fat lime wedges, plus additional for serving
chopped cilantro, for garnish

Heat the butter and oil in a large soup pot over medium-low heat; add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until very soft and lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the ginger, cumin seeds and curry powder; cook for about 3 more minutes, stirring continuously. Add the carrots and potatoes; stir for 2 minutes. Add 3 cups of the chicken broth and 1 cup of the coconut milk. Season again with salt and pepper, as desired. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer and cooked, covered, until carrot and potato is very soft, 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove from heat and use a hand-held immersion blender to puree soup. You can also do this in batches in a blender. You should have a very thick consistency. Return to low heat and add the remaining coconut milk, reserving about 3 tablespoons for garnish. Add up to 1 additional cup of chicken broth to get the consistency you want. Squeeze in the juice from the 2 lime wedges. Taste and add more salt and pepper or lime juice as needed.

Ladle into bowls and drizzle with coconut milk in a swirl pattern. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with lime wedges.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Irish Soda Biscuits and Southeast Asia

Irish Soda Biscuits have absolutely nothing to do with Southeast Asia. But, I do want to tell you about a piece I wrote for's Kitchen Window column titled, Food and Longing in Southeast Asia. The story is about how food is essential to an authentic travel experience. AND, there are recipes for Vietnamese Seafood Stew in a Clay Pot, Thai Spicy Shrimp Salad and Greens with Chile and Garlic.

I also did an interview for NPR's food podcast (you can either download it to your MP3 or listen directly from the NPR website). There's a link right at the top of the story. I hope you'll read and listen and let me know what you think!

Well, now. March 17th is right around the corner. The Irish may not have the endless culinary traditions of France, Thailand or Spain, but they've go soda bread. I love the simple whole wheat Irish soda bread based on a recipe from a church cookbook we had when I was a kid. I've mentioned it multiple times, and here's the link again.

This year, I thought about trying a new soda bread recipe. Maybe a jazzier one with raisins, caraway seeds, sugar, multiple eggs...maybe I'd even put it in a loaf pan. But that's not really Irish, ya know? Their food didn't exactly result from living in a land of plenty. The traditional food of Ireland is simple, hearty peasant food, and I'm happy to eat it.

So I decided to adapt my favorite, dead simple recipe to biscuits. I actually didn't change anything but the shape and the baking time, but that's all the change I was up for. These are a perfect companion for soup. And don't forget the sweet Irish butter.

Irish Soda Biscuits

Makes 8 large biscuits

2 c. whole wheat flour (or any combo of whole wheat, whole wheat pastry and Irish style)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 c. buttermilk
2 tablespoons honey
Turbinado or other coarse sugar (granulated works too), for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk and honey. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the flour mixture. Stir until all the flour is moistened.

Scoop dough onto the prepared baking sheet to make 8 (roughly 2 1/2-inch wide) biscuits. Sprinkle sugar over tops of biscuits. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes (mine took 17), until bottoms are light brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes then transfer to a rack and cool completely. Serve at room temperature.

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