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.

Labels: ,

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.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , , ,

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.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , , ,

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

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, November 21, 2008

Silky Chestnut Soup

The next Thanksgiving recipe from last weekend's cooking extravaganza is this easy, healthy chestnut soup. I love chestnuts, and now that they are easy to find pre-roasted in jars, cans or vacuum packs, you can enjoy them without the doing the roasting yourself.

Several years ago, I got the notion to roast some fresh chestnuts and nearly blinded myself. I forgot to cut slits in the skin to let the air out, so the nuts exploded in my face when I took the baking sheet out of the oven. It was harrowing (and really funny, after the shock). Suffice it to say, I don't roast chestnuts anymore.

But I love them as much as ever. They go in one of my favorite stuffings and they are great with Brussels sprouts. A lot of recipes for chestnut soup use cream, but this one gets a silky texture simply from pureeing the chestnuts with onions, leeks and chicken broth. There are a few other ingredients but that's basically it.

We had a lot of ideas about how to play around with this soup. Instead of brandy, you could use sherry or fruit brandy. You could add milk to give it some creaminess and lighten the color. You could garnish it with creme fraiche (as much as I love using Greek yogurt as a garnish, the creme fraiche would be just right in this particular case). Speaking of garnish, the chopped chestnuts that turn crispy from a quick saute are delicious, so don't skip that step!

Silky Chestnut Soup
Adapted from this recipe by Alex Urena for Food & Wine magazine

Serves 4 as a first course

3 tablespoons canola oil
One 14-ounce vacuum-packed jar of cooked and peeled chestnuts (2 1/2 cups)
1 medium onion, minced
1 leek, white and tender green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 teaspoons honey
4 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth (or vegetable broth)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 7 of the chestnuts and cook until crisp and browned, stirring often. Remove from pan and cool. Finely chop and set aside.

Add the onion and leeks to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the honey and stir well. Add the broth and remaining chestnuts, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.

Puree soup in a blender, working in batches. Taste for seasoning. May be covered and refrigerated at this point for 24 hours. To serve, return soup to the pot and reheat. Add the brandy or Cognac, and garnish with reserved chopped chestnuts and parsley.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Chicken Tacos and Cabbage-Radish Slaw

My husband makes the best tacos. He's not opposed to a little chopping and marinating, making sure every component is tasty to create an excellent total package.

Speaking of tacos, have you seen the new flat-bottomed, "stand n' stuff" taco shells? They're ingenius, and I can't believed no one came up with this sooner (no one's paying me to say that). But Mike would never use those for his tacos. He does them south-of-the-border style, by which I mean Mexico, not Taco Bell. When you get an authentic Mexican street vendor taco, it's on a soft tortilla.

There's no recipe for our favorite chicken tacos because Mike does them a little differently every time. The main components are as follows:

1) Marinated, grilled chicken breasts (thanks, George Foreman grill)
2) Beans - Black beans with seasoning, or pintos simmered with a chunk of cheese and mashed
3) Salsa - This could be homemade pico de gallo, jarred salsa, or just some chopped up tomato
4) Something leafy - This is often julienned spinach leaves, but most recently Mike did a great spicy cabbage, radish and jalepeno coleslaw (see recipe below)
5) Something creamy (optional) - Good choices are avocado, cheese and sour cream; one or two of these is especially nice if you aren't doing coleslaw
6) Lime wedges - Squeeze over everything
7) Tortillas - I like corn, Mike likes flour; any size is fine

Spicy Cabbage-Radish Coleslaw
This is a smallish batch to generously feed about 3 people eating tacos. Double to serve more.

1/4 head cabbage, thinly sliced
4 to 5 radishes, halved and thinly sliced
2 jalapenos, cored and thinly sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (packed)
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine cabbage, radishes, jalapenos and cilantro in a plastic container with a lid or a large bowl. Add sour cream and vinegar, cover and shake vigorously to combine (or toss in bowl). Season to taste.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Review: The Summertime Anytime Cookbook and Mushroom and Leek Soup

Summer may not officially begin until the solstice on June 20, but what we consider the summer season in the United States kicks off on Memorial Day weekend. So naturally, now is a great time to talk about a new summer-themed cookbook. Written by Dana Slatkin, chef at Shutters on the Beach, a restaurant in Santa Monica, California, The Summertime Anytime Cookbook has some simple, fresh ways to do California cuisine even if ocean breezes don't necessarily blow your way.

The book is full of color photos of many recipes, plus a few beach shots that will make you sigh on a chilly night. The organization is novel, grouping recipes into chapters that evoke a certain mood or occasion: Sunny Days, Cloudy Days, Balmy Nights, Stormy Nights and Misty Mornings. At first I thought the concept was a little silly, but I quickly began to enjoy thinking about the dishes with this mindset. It's a neat trick that provides a context in which you'll view the recipes. Flipping past chicken breasts with smoky lentils; butter bean salad with oven-dried tomatoes, black olives and pesto; and apple-jack (as in Monterey jack cheese) pie with ginger custard sauce in the Stormy Nights chapter, I envisioned myself in a warm kitchen as the wind whips outside and rain lashes the windows making Slatkin's radicchio soup with smoked mozzarella cheese.

The majority of the recipes are simple and easy to pull off even if you don't have access to fabulous California produce. If ingredient substitutions are not suggested, the casual, easy-going feel of the book should encourage you to swap broccoli for broccolini or frozen corn for fresh. I like the advice Slatkin gives in the headnotes to the recipe for wild mushroom and leek soup:

This soup is pure mushroom indulgence. Once pureed, it is so creamy that you could easily omit the cream and never miss it.

Oh, you don't say. If you recall my love for pureed veggie soups, you can understand why I chose this recipe (provided below) to try out. I was skeptical about the level of "pure mushroom indulgence" I was going to experience, but I can honestly say that the soup was simply, deliciously mushroom-y, as promised. With no cream, it was still thick and rich, if not a very lovely color. Swirl some sour cream on top and it's perfectly presentable. Very easy and definitely something I will make again.

I also tried a "Cloudy Days" recipe for lemon-ginger string beans, which was a new-to-me, yet low-maintenance, version of a vegetable I don't usually get excited about. Scattered throughout the book are cute bits of Martha Stewart-ish lifestyle advice on "beach table chic" or "six uses for a bucket of sand." These bonus tidbits might be an added draw to some people, but the collection of 130 recipes plus photos doesn't need much enchancement. I'm looking forward to reliving the California vibe of my formative years (I grew up just south of Santa Monica) by making Tomatillo, Chile and Bean Chowder; Truffle-Scented Salmon with Mustard Vinaigrette; and Strawberry-Rhubard Cobbler (desserts aren't neglected here, including fruit-focused treats, as well as things like Peanut-Butterscotch Crunch Bars).

If summertime can be an escape from work, routine and responsibility, this book plays off that mystique to create a culinary escape. Through the accessible recipes, you can transport yourself to a Southern California beach, basking in the sun and reveling in the moist, salty air. This is a book you'll be happy to curl up on the couch dreaming of vacation with, or turn to for new salad ideas, simple fish dishes or inspiration for your haul of summer produce.

Wild Mushroom and Leek Soup
Adapted from The Summertime Anytime Cookbook by Dana Slatkin

If you want to use heavy cream, add one cup along with the sherry. Pacific Foods makes a very good mushroom broth available at Whole Foods market and many other stores. For vegetable broth, lately I've been loving the rich, dark version made by Kitchen Basics, available in supermarkets. Any kinds of mushrooms would be good; I used a mix of portobella, white and shiitake.

1 tbs. unsalted butter
1 tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. mushrooms, chopped
3 to 4 large leeks, white and light green parts, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Pinch cayenne pepper
6 cups mushroom broth or low-sodium vegetable broth
2 tbs. dry sherry or lemon juice
sour cream for serving
chopped fresh chives for serving

In a large pot, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their juices, then raise the heat to medium high and cook until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are soft and beginning to brown.

Reduce heat to medium, add the leeks and cook until soft. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Add the broth, bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Add the sherry and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes so vegetables get very soft and flavors develop. If you think too much liquid is evaporating, cover the pot for a portion of this time.

Puree soup in batches in a blender (I used an immersion blender, but I think a traditional blender may give a smoother texture--it's up to you). Return soup to the pot and heat thoroughly without boiling to avoid splatters. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream and chives.

The Summertime Anytime Cookbook was sent to me for review by the publisher, Clarkson Potter.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Creamy Fava Bean Soup with Mint

Does that photo of a simple (yet elegantly presented) soup get you excited? Not really? Well, it should! No, it's not a fudgy brownie or a tender scone, but it's been making me incredibly happy lately.

Since I made this Carrot-Curry Soup, I've been having a field day with my immersion blender. And to think I would never have purchased such a gadget if left to my own devices. It was actually given to me by the kitchenwares buyer when I worked in the corporate advertising office of Filene's, the venerable department store chain in the Northeast that has since been absorbed by Macy's. I worked as an assistant buyer there right after college, then moved to advertising and had to deal with buyers who loved to drive me crazy by changing the items, prices or photos they wanted to feature in the print ads and catalogues we produced.

Anyway, this little immersion blender was one of the many samples used for photo shoots that were always laying around the buying offices. This was about 6 years ago, and it's only recently that I've truly learned to love my blender. You can make pureed soups in a regular blender, in batches, but a hand-held model does the job in no time with less potential for mess.

So, I've been making pureed soups every chance I get. I did a nice one with celeriac which tasted vibrantly of celery (shocking), but it was an even duller green color than the picture above, so I didn't post it. The thing about soups like this is that you don't need a recipe after you try it once or twice--you can just choose any vegetables or legumes that take well to being pureed (anything too seedy, fibrous or stringy may not work; or it may need straining), combine them with herbs and spices of your choice, add some diced potato or cauliflower for incredible creaminess with a neutral flavor, and go crazy! I'm in love with the creamy texture I can create with just potato or cauliflower and not a drop of cream.

In this particular soup, fava beans add quite a bit of creaminess on their own, so I went with cauliflower instead of starchier potato as my thickener. The flavor is mild, like fava beans, and it's nicely underscored with fresh rosemary. Don't skip the sprinkling of fresh mint or drizzle of lemon juice; with such a simple soup, it's the little things that take it from basic to memorable. Mint is an incredible accompaniment to vegetables--it's a classic with peas, and I've been loving omelets with sauteed zucchini, goat cheese and mint. And finally, I always serve my creamy vegetable soups with either sour cream or yogurt swirled in. The cool tang elevates the other flavors, and it looks beautiful.

Creamy Fava Bean Soup with Mint

Whole Foods markets sell great frozen, shelled fava beans year round. If you can’t find frozen (or fresh), use lima beans. This soup gets its amazingly creamy texture from the pureed beans as well as cauliflower, which has a neutral flavor in this soup. Make it vegetarian--use vegetable instead of chicken broth.

Makes 4 main course servings

1 tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbs. fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 head cauliflower, trimmed and florets chopped into approx. 1-inch pieces
2 1/2 cups frozen, shelled fava beans, or lima beans
Juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon (2 to 3 tbs.)
Yogurt or sour cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently until onion is soft and golden. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add broth and cauliflower and season with salt and pepper; cover and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes or until cauliflower is tender; add fava beans and cook for 5 to 8 minutes more, or until heated through and tender.

Remove pan from heat and puree using a hand held immersion blender (alternatively, puree in batches in a regular blender). Return to low heat, but do not simmer, or soup might splash out of the pot. Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice; taste and adjust seasoning and/or add more lemon juice, according to taste. Ladle into bowls and dollop with yogurt or sour cream and sprinkle with mint.

Here are some more soup recipes from the archives...I love them all.

Creamy Eggplant-Lentil Soup
Quinoa Soup with Spinach and Corn
Golden Split Pea Soup with Leftover Ham
Green Lentil Soup with Indian Spices and Coconut Milk (scroll down)
Vegetable Barley Soup with Poached Egg

Labels: , , ,

Monday, February 25, 2008

Lamb Stew with Creamy Eggplant Sauce

I love sitting at the table, eating a meal I’ve just cooked and saying, “If this is what I ordered at a restaurant, I’d be really happy.” I’m not suggesting I cook things that would be at home in a Michelin three-star establishment. They are usually more along the lines of dishes I would find in good Turkish restaurant or our favorite neighborhood Greek place. It’s the hearty, satisfying, often peasant-style dishes that I sometimes pull off really well.

With the help of Claudia Roden’s wonderful Middle Eastern cookbook, I made a simple lamb stew with a creamy eggplant sauce that tasted like some of the delicious dishes we’ve eaten at good Persian restaurants. It was the eggplant béchamel sauce that did it. All I did was roast a couple of eggplants, mash up the flesh and whisk it into a quick béchamel, the creamy white sauce made by whisking hot milk into a roux, or a mixture of butter and flour. Actually, Mike mashed up the eggplant while I made the béchamel. But even without two cooks, it’s easy enough to manage.

The lamb stew was just cubes of lamb leg, gently simmered with tomato and spices for about an hour and a half. The eggplant sauce is so much richer than just mashed eggplant (as in baba ghanouj), and you could also serve it as a dip or spread with pita bread. It would be a great addition to any lamb dish like grilled kebabs, but with buttery basmati rice it added a special component to this otherwise basic stew.

I may not be recreating dishes from The French Laundry or Alinea, but I’m plenty happy with meals like this.

If you liked this, you'll love:
Phyllo Triangles with Lamb, Onions and Pine Nuts
Herb-Marinated Lamb Kabobs with Garlic-Yogurt Sauce
Hummus, Baba Ghanouj and Yogurt Dip with Mint and Shredded Carrots
Curried Lamb and Lentil Stew
Spiced Lamb Patties with Minty Yogurt Sauce
Ana Sortun's Red Lentil Kofte and Pomegranate Salsa

Lamb Stew with Creamy Eggplant Sauce
Adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden
Though this dish originally comes from the Ottoman Place kitchens (the Turkish name translates to “Sultan’s Delight”), I think it’s very homey, just gussied up a little by the indulgently creamy, but incredibly simple, eggplant sauce. Roden’s stew does not include the dry spices, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to add more flavor. The allspice especially is a good mate for lamb and eggplant. Have your butcher cut you piece from a leg of lamb (you want 1 1/2 lbs. of meat, so buy more if the bone is still in), or use shoulder or other stew meat. Serve with steamed basmati rice.

Serves 4 (You can make half this recipe to serve 2 generously.)

For the Stew:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 pounds lamb, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes

For the Eggplant Sauce:
3 1/2 pounds eggplant (about 3 medium Italian eggplants)
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk, heated in the microwave
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Steamed basmati rice and fresh parsley for serving

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Make the stew: Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and lightly browned. Add the lamb, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until browned all over. Add the garlic, allspice, cinnamon and cayenne and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes with their juice. Add just enough water to barely cover the lamb. Bring stew to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 1 hour stirring once or twice. Remove the lid and simmer for 30 minutes more, or until lamb is very tender and stew is slightly thickened. You can simmer longer if necessary to reduce the liquid to the desired consistency. Taste for seasoning and add more spices, salt and pepper as needed.

Meanwhile, make the eggplant sauce: Trim off the top and bottom ends and cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Place the eggplants cut side down on a baking sheet lined with foil and coated with nonstick spray. Roast until the eggplants feel very soft and cut side is browned, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

When cool enough to handle, scrape the eggplant flesh into a fine colander and discard the skins. Squeeze out as much water as possible. Chop the eggplant and mash it with a fork to make a paste.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour, whisking constantly for about 2 minutes until smooth. Remove from heat and gradually add the hot milk, whisking constantly as you go. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and return the sauce to low heat. Whisk continuously until the sauce thickens, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the eggplant to the béchamel sauce, whisking vigorously until well blended. Taste for seasoning and keep warm until ready to serve.

To serve, spoon some stew over a portion of basmati rice on each plate with the eggplant sauce on the side. Sprinkle with fresh parsley.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Healthy, Easy Spanish Tortilla

I can't really say breakfast is my favorite meal because I love ALL good meals. But, I do enjoy making breakfast food. I like waffles and crepes, but we don't make them too often, so it's all the more fun when we do. I love quick breads, especially scones. I adore pancakes, though this is probably the breakfast item that gets the most abuse. Don't give up on pancakes, even if you've been served one too many that had the weight and texture of a flat tire. Light, thin cakes mixed with a light touch and topped with maple syrup are one of life's great breakfasts.

When it comes to egg-centric breakfast dishes, there's hardly anything I don't like. One of my standards is eggs over easy with runny yolks, buttered toast and a roasted vegetable, preferably asparagus or zucchini. When we want something that involves a little bit more ceremony, my favorite thing to make is a frittata. I've written about frittatas before, and they're a mainstay in my cooking repertoire because they're incredibly easy, good for any meal, not only breakfast, and adaptable to any ingredients you have on hand.

It wasn't until just recently, though, that I got a handle on the Spanish version of frittata, known as tortilla. The traditional version doesn't need anything more than eggs and sliced potatoes, but you'll also see them made with some onion and maybe peppers. Usually, the thinly sliced potatoes are pan-fried in a skillet using a considerable amount of olive oil. Not only is this less healthy, but it takes time and vigilance over your hot stove. I never bothered making tortilla because it seemed like a lot more work than a standard frittata.

When I had a bunch of leftover red potatoes one day, I decided I wanted to use them for a potato frittata. I would slice and roast them in the oven, then just proceed with my usual frittata method. It dawned on me that the finished product would ultimately be a Spanish tortilla, but a lot healthier and simpler--perfect!

I had half a jar of piquillo peppers, the hot-sweet pickled chiles that are a common Spanish ingredient. I cut those up and used them to add some color, and their kicky flavor turned out to be a nice match for the bland potatoes. Now, I use this method to make potato frittatas with any ingredients I want. The last one I did was with sauteed spinach, caramelized onions and feta. The potatoes turn the otherwise light frittata into a more substantial dish. If you have potatoes lying around along with the odd hunk of cheese and some vegetables in the fridge whose time is limited, you've the got the makings of a great frittata for any meal.

Spanish Tortilla or Potato Frittata
This, like any frittata recipe, is an approximation, not a scientific formula. You can add or take away an ingredient to suit your taste. You can make it with 6 eggs if your skillet is 8 to 10 inches, but I would not go with any less than that. Any type of potato will work here. If you can't find piquillo peppers, either leave them out, try roasted red peppers, or saute some thinly sliced fresh red bell pepper with the onion.

Serves 6

Nonstick cooking spray
3 or 4 small red potatoes, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
8 eggs
1/2 cup drained and chopped piquillo peppers
Parsley, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread the potatoes in single layer on a baking sheet coated with nonstick cooking spray. Lightly coat the potatoes with cooking spray and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 10-15 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, add the oil to a 9- to 12-inch oven safe skillet, preferably nonstick or cast iron, over medium heat. Cook the onions until soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Add the onion mixture and the piquillo peppers. Preheat your oven's broiler to high and position a rack about 6 to 8 inches away from the heat source. Generously coat the empty skillet with nonstick spray or olive oil and heat to medium-low. Arrange the roasted potato slices in overlapping concentric circles. Pour the egg mixture over the potatoes and cook until the eggs start to set around the edges. Tilt the skillet as you lift the edges of the tortilla with a spatula, letting the liquid egg run into the gaps. When most of the egg is set around the edges, transfer the skillet to the broiler. Cook until egg is just set in the center, about 2 to 5 minutes. It's fine if the tortilla browns a little on top, but watch closely because it can start to burn fast. Let tortilla rest for a few minutes, then serve sprinkled with fresh parsley.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Creamy Eggplant-Lentil Soup

Some things make great leftovers--lasagna, soups and stews, enchiladas. Other things, like risotto or shrimp n' grits, not so much. When you're cooking for one, it helps to go for the things that make great leftovers.

Mike just started a consulting project that requires him to fly to Hartford on Monday mornings, work at the client's offices during the week and get back to Fort Lauderdale on Thursday night. He's done projects that involved a lot of travel in the past, and it's the nature of his job. He doesn't mind the traveling and staying in a hotel, and I don't blame him--I'd rather do that than work in the same office, in the same cubicle, day after day without variation. He has a good gig.

What it means for me on a very practical level is that I don't have someone to cook for as often. Since Mike loves trying new dishes as much as I do, I feel bad making new and exciting things when he's not here. But what are you gonna do? Last week, I needed to cook, and there was a soup recipe in the February issue of Food & Wine that combined two of my very favorite foods--lentils and roasted eggplant. There are a couple lentil recipes on this blog, but that doesn't truly reflect how much I love lentils. They are my go-to ingredient when I want something satisfying and healthy.

This soup is not glamourous, but it is really good. I ate it for dinner three nights in a row, and I have to say that it grew on me. Night one was nice. On night two, I thought, yum, I like this. Night three--so creamy, so light yet filling, subtle yet flavorful--I'd make it again. I've never pureed lentils this way, and it really does create a creamy texture along with a little bit of milk. With a good slice of buttered bread, this is a tasty meal.

The actual recipe as printed in the magazine was lacking--the soup was begging for some aromatic vegetables so I worked in sauteed onion and garlic. The method was a little convoluted, so I tried to streamline it in my version. Finally, F&W tried to gussy it up with a fried sage leaf garnish. There is no way that I would get another pot dirty when I could garnish this soup with a sprig from my thyme plant. A perfect weeknight dinner for one.

By the way, I saved Mike some soup to try when he got home, and the review was good.

Creamy Eggplant-Lentil Soup
Adapted from this recipe in Food & Wine, February 2008
You can used any combination of dried herbs you like--try sage, rosemary, oregano, marjoram or mint. If you want to use fresh herbs instead, add them to the blender with the eggplant instead of sautéing them.

One 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lb. eggplant, quartered lengthwise
Cooking spray
1 tbs. olive oil
1/2 medium onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup brown lentils
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided
1 cup lowfat milk
1 tbs. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the eggplant quarters, skin side down, on a foil-lined baking sheet and lightly coat with cooking spray. Season with salt and pepper and bake until eggplant flesh is lightly browned and very tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the lentils in the saucepan with 1/2 tsp. salt, add enough water to cover by about 2 inches and bring to a boil. Simmer until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and add the spices. Cook, stirring often, until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more. Add onion mixture to a blender and set aside.

When eggplant is done, let it cool slightly, then scrape the flesh into the blender with the onion mixture. Add 1 cup of the chicken broth and puree until smooth. Transfer to the saucepan. Now, add the drained lentils to the blender along with the other cup of chicken broth and puree. Add to the saucepan with the eggplant mixture.

Stir the milk and lemon juice into the soup and bring to a simmer. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed. Serve, garnished with fresh herbs if desired.

Get new posts delivered to your inbox or subscribe to my RSS feed:
If you enjoyed reading this, and don’t want to miss a thing, you can sign up to receive new posts delivered to your e-mail box automatically. The service is provided by Feedburner and your e-mail address will never, ever be used for other purposes besides receiving my tasty blog posts. Just enter your e-mail address in the box in the upper right sidebar and click the subscribe button.

You can also subscribe to the RSS feed for A Mingling of Tastes through any feed reader. Here's an explanation of RSS feeds.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Mushrooms and Spinach

Do you have a trademark dish? In other words, a dish you know you’re good at and could make anytime, anywhere, probably without a recipe? I’m willing to bet anyone who likes to cook has at least one dish like this. Risotto is one of mine. The funny thing is, I recently realized that I only have one risotto dish on this blog. And I’ve never even shared one of my very favorite risotto recipes. Sorry about that.

I don’t remember the first risotto I made. I may have still been in high school because I think that’s when my mom starting making risotto. She would make it with sautéed chicken breast and vegetables, but she had to keep all the veggies separate from the rice. Although my sister loved risotto--and she didn’t really have anything against vegetables--she liked her chicken risotto plain. I can picture her spreading it to the edges of her plate so it would cool faster--a delicious, colorless meal.

I’m not a big fan of white rice, except for sushi, or with Indian food…okay maybe I do like white rice. But for me, risotto is in a whole different category. It is so creamy, yet toothsome, and satisfies your belly like regular steamed rice does not. I love this recipe because all the components are favorites of mine, especially the butternut squash. It requires roasting to caramelize it and bring out the sweetness, so this is a great cool weather risotto. No meat here, but it still makes a hearty main dish.

In my previous post for Fava Bean Risotto with Pancetta, I included some step-by-step photos if you’re a risotto newbie. Finally I’ll echo what Nigella Lawson writes in How to Eat, her first cookbook that I was skimming through last night. Risotto is not difficult. It’s actually quite forgiving unless you totally abandon it for extended minutes to risk scorched rice. Think of the stirring as a relaxing, meditative activity, and this could become one of your favorite meals to prepare too. I’ve included tips and detailed instructions in the recipe, so I won’t go on.

So, what are your trademark dishes? Let’s discuss in the comments.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Mushrooms

I like to use Arborio rice from Italy for risotto. I’ve tried domestic brands of risotto rice, but they never seem as creamy as the Italian brands. This is a fairly light risotto--you'll see recipe that have you finish the rice with butter or cream or more cheese, but I don't find it necessary. You can make this vegetarian by replacing the chicken broth with vegetable broth. If your grocery store sells peeled and chopped butternut squash, it might be worth the extra cost. It’s a bit of a hassle to peel yourself, so if your husband is sick of doing it for you this is a great option.

3 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into half-inch pieces
2 1/2 tbs. olive oil, divided
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. dried thyme or rosemary
1 lb. Portobello mushrooms, sliced and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tbs. unsalted butter, divided
1 large shallot, chopped (or 1 small onion)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/4 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 to 8 oz. spinach leaves
Fresh thyme leaves and/or chopped parsley (optional)
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. On the baking sheet, toss the butternut squash with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper and dried thyme. Roast until tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1/2 tbs. olive oil and 1/2 tbs. butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until their water nearly evaporates, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking until tender, about 3 more minutes. Set aside.

Heat the chicken broth (it does not have to boil) in a medium saucepan and keep warm over low heat.

In a large saucepan or soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon of butter over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and cook until soft but not browned. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the rice and stir constantly for 2 to 3 minutes until all the grains are slick and slightly opaque. Add the wine and simmer until almost completely absorbed.

Add two ladles full of broth to the risotto and bring to a simmer. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Keep the risotto at a steady simmer, stirring continuously until the broth has evaporated almost completely. Add one ladle full of broth, stir until it is nearly evaporated, then add another ladle full. Continue simmering and stirring, adding broth as necessary, for about 22-24 minutes or until the rice is creamy and cooked through, but still firm to the bite. When the risotto is on its last ladle full of broth, add the spinach (I try to use as much as I can fit, but use the amount that looks right to you, remembering that the volume reduces considerably.). Stir until spinach is just wilted. Add the roasted squash and portobellos. Add the fresh herbs if using. Serve immediately, passing Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper to taste.

You may not use all the broth. If you run out of broth, just use hot water to finish the risotto. It’s not absolutely necessary to stir for 22 minutes straight, but you don’t want to put down your spoon for too long or leave the risotto unattended and risk scorching.

Here are some more creative risottos from food blogs I read:

1) Meyer Lemon Risotto made with barley from 101 Cookbooks--I've been wanting to try risotto with different grains--love this!

2) Tomato Risotto with Fennel Seeds from Lucullian Delights--the fennel seeds made this simple dish so interesting.

3) Risotto with Beets from La Tartine Gourmande - Stunning--just look! And what an appealing mix of flavor and texture.

4) Gorgonzola, Rocket and Pear Risotto from The Passionate Cook - I love blue cheese with pears and we are crazy about rocket (or arugula if you don't live across the pond). Also check out the link's to Johanna's other seasonal risotto dishes, including one with chestnuts!

Labels: , , ,