Tuesday, June 5, 2007

New Balsamic Vinegrette

In my rush to make lunch this morning, I came up with a fun new balsamic vinegrette/marinade to share with the world:

1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp orange peel
2 tsp fresh thyme

It's sweet, yet not overly so. I'm a big fan.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

I had an appetizer party on Friday, complete with six different kinds of finger food. It was a lot of fun, and pretty low maintenance considering I didn't have to worry about getting people to all sit down and eat at the same time. There were the stuffed portobellos cut into fourths, the easy, easy hummus, Robyn's guacamole, and some other stuff I hadn't made before. One such item is the spinach-artichoke dip, from cooks.com.

Oddly enough, I couldn't find a single recipe for spinach and artichoke dip in any cookbook I own. I thought this was a staple? One of the most standard dips served today? Or do I just frequent California Pizza Kitchen too often?

Either way, the recipe lives up to its boastful title. It was a huge hit on Friday, served with pita chips. It's pretty heavy (there is a LOT of cheese), but in that sense a lot of people got to eat their fill of a relatively small bowl. Out of all six dishes, I think this one went over the best. I started making it 30 minutes before people started showing up, and it was done 5 minutes before the first wave--just enough time to plate and quickly make the kitchen semi-presentable.

Recipe for "Best Spinach and Artichoke Dip"

1 pkg. frozen spinach thawed
1 jar marinated artichokes, chopped
8 oz. Philly cream cheese
8 oz. sour cream
3/4 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
8 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 onion finely chopped
1 stick butter
red pepper flakes to taste
Sauté onions in butter, adding ingredients while mixing and blending well after each addition. Add ingredients in this order: Spinach, Cream Cheese, Sour Cream, Parmesan Cheese, Artichoke Hearts, Crushed Red Pepper Flakes.

Remove from heat and put in crocks or microwave dish. Top with Monterey Jack Cheese and melt.

Serve hot with chips or bread.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Saffron Pasta with Tomato Sauce

I learned a very fun, very cool, very easy new trick with this recipe, that made both my resident guinea pig and I delightfully happy. As broke as I am, I tend to be very wary of using saffron, but especially in ways that I'm not 100% positive will pay off, but this particular use is completely worth it: putting a pinch of saffron directly in the boiling pasta water, and cooking the sauce separately.

Tomato sauce and saffron are a staple of Spanish cuisine, but I'd always combined the two into one sauce. Having saffron pasta with tomato sauce: ingenious. Thank you, Epicurious.

The recipe calls for pork, for which I substituted a much healthier edamame. I also used cheese ravioli instead of adding cheese on top (making this a cheese-less recipe would also work really well), and the ravioli came out golden and beautiful. I also added a handful of peas to the sauce, because....I just love them. And adding veggies to the sauce itself saves me having to make a side dish.

I also added 2 cloves of minced garlic to the sauce. The recipe doesn't call for any, but the saffron + tomato + garlic combination is too good to pass up. Adding no more than two took some restraining, but I didn't want to overwhelm the saffron. And, oh man, it was a good decision. The pasta and the sauce together was so much fun to eat. This falls perfectly in the category of easy to make, quick food (all told, took 20 minutes), that is completely divine.

Recipe:

ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 ounces pancetta or bacon, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 pound ground pork
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with added puree
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage

12 ounces gnocchi-shaped pasta, orecchiette (little ear-shaped pasta), or medium pasta shells
1 1/2 teaspoons saffron threads, crumbled
1 cup freshly grated pecorino Sardo or pecorino Romano cheese (about 3 ounces)

preparation

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta; sauté until fat is rendered, about 3 minutes. Add onion and parsley and sauté until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add ground pork and sauté until brown, breaking up with back of fork, about 8 minutes. Stir in crushed tomatoes, bay leaves, and sage. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until sauce thickens and flavors blend, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Chill uncovered 1 hour. Then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm over low heat.)

Meanwhile, bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and saffron and cook until pasta is just tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Return pasta to pot. Add sauce and 1/2 cup cheese and toss to blend. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese and serve.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Grilled and Stuffed Portobellos

Because I live in an apartment, an actual grill isn't exactly easy to come by, even for recipes as tempting as this. But any grill pan will do the trick if you don't need the masculine satisfaction of lighting things on fire and/or smokey aspect of cooking.

For the record: combination bread crumbs, two kinds of cheese, and mushrooms = heaven.

The Italian flavors at work create depth and subtlety in flavoring, and make them a great appetizer to any European or Mediterranean themed meal (as mine was). To make them a bit healthier than they currently are, one could reduce the amount of cheese and make the topping a bit crunchier in nature, and less melty. The cheese melted on top is pretty fantastic, however. You have been warned.

Like a nitwit, the second I found my camera, I forgot to take pictures. But I promise they look really cool. I served them as one mushroom cap per person, but you could also chop them into slices and serve as finger food, which I'm pretty strongly considering for the future. For a sit-down meal, however, the one cap per person is a great way to make sure your guests don't gorge themselves on finger foods before the actual meal comes out.

Recipe is from Bon Appetit, 2006.

ingredients

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
3 garlic cloves, minced, divided
6 large portobello mushrooms, stemmed

1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)*
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (about 5 ounces)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter, melted

preparation

Whisk oil, 2 tablespoons vinegar, and 1 garlic clove in small bowl for marinade. Using spoon, scrape out gills from mushrooms and place mushrooms on rimmed baking sheet. Brush marinade over both sides of mushrooms, arrange hollow side up, and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

Prepare barbecue (medium heat). Mix panko, next 5 ingredients, and remaining 2 garlic cloves in medium bowl. Drizzle butter and remaining teaspoon vinegar over panko mixture and toss. Divide panko mixture among mushrooms, leaving 1/2-inch border around edges and packing down slightly. Place mushrooms on grill, stuffing side up; cover grill and cook until cheese melts and juices bubble at edges of mushrooms, rearranging mushrooms occasionally for even cooking (do not turn over), about 6 minutes.

*Panko can be used in any recipe calling for dry (not fresh) breadcrumbs — such as eggplant parmigiana, chicken tenders, or meatloaf. It is available in the Asian foods section of some supermarkets and at Asian markets.

Bon Appétit, July 2006

Rick Browne

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding

So, I realize that I've been MIA. Sorry--the boy was being oh-so helpful in the kitchen, and the burrito place across the street makes a fantastic BBQ-Ranch burrito (wow, just typing that out makes me feel like a cow...)

But! My parents were in town, and I cooked them a huge Welcome to Me dinner. While I tried so hard to make SmittenKitchen/Epicurious's Garlic Soup, my new food processor that is SUPPOSED to be wonderful and life-saving (it's a Black & Decker...how far wrong can you go?) failed me miserably. Until that point, it looked and smelled amazing, however. I will not be so easily thwarted.

One thing that did go over really well was the bittersweet chocolate pudding, courtesy of Food and Wine. My father is a major chocolate elitist (one of his most endearing qualities), so the idea of anything made with 71% cacao chocolate was immensely appealing to him, as well as any rational human being. And rightly so. This stuff balanced the fine line of being rich and smooth without being heavy. The texture was, in fact, light and airy. It doesn't need whipped cream, per se, but that would be a major boon.

The major reason I chose this dish over another bittersweet chocolate concoction was the fact that puddings can be prepped hours in advance, and needn't be served hot. So, when cooking 3 or 4 or 5 courses, having one dish done and out of the way (and being able to wash all those pans for reuse) is a great stress and space reliever.

The main event of the meal was the Brandy-Tomato Fideos that I had earlier blogged, and were a huge success. The cats were once again thrilled by the idea of my breaking a box of pasta in their presence, my parents hadn't gotten to try it the first time I made them, and they're still just as good (and maybe better) as leftovers, so really...everyone wins. I love those things. Hard. Food and Wine recommends a medium-bodied white for this dish, but my parents brought over a light red (perchance because they know I favor it) which was just delightful.

There was an appetizer, which I'll blog as its own entry. For now, the recipe for the pudding:

ingredients
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 5 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, 5 ounces chopped and 1/2 ounce finely grated (2 tablespoons) (see Note)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon coffee liqueur (optional)

directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter eight 1/2-cup ramekins and set them in a large roasting pan. In a small saucepan, heat the milk until bubbles appear around the edge, then pour it into a glass measuring cup. Wipe out the pan and add the chopped chocolate and the butter. Cook over low heat until the chocolate is barely melted, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the hot milk and remove the pan from the heat.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites to firm peaks. Add 2 tablespoons of the sugar and continue beating until glossy.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer, beat the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the sugar and the salt at high speed until pale, about 4 minutes. Add the flour and vanilla and beat until smooth. Beat in the chocolate mixture, then fold in the beaten egg whites. Pour the batter into the prepared ramekins.
  4. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to reach halfway up the side of the ramekins. Bake the puddings for about 35 minutes, or until puffed and set. Transfer the ramekins to plates and let cool to warm.
  5. In a mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream to soft peaks. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar and the liqueur and whip until firm. Spoon a dollop of whipped cream on each pudding, sprinkle with the grated chocolate and serve.

MAKE AHEAD The chocolate puddings can be baked up to 4 hours ahead and served lightly chilled.

NOTES Two excellent and widely available brands of bittersweet chocolate are Lindt and Valrhona.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

What Does Your Kitchen Really Need?

This really great New York Times Food Section article talks about what's essential for any kitchen, what almost anyone can live very happily without, and, probably most helpfully, the price and item that constitute the best possible value.

Sent to me by the Wry Punster, it's a great read and really helpful for anyone looking to beef up their kitchen.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Macaroni and Cheese...the Good Stuff

I have long argued that boxed macaroni and cheese, the 99 cent kind that could theoretically come shaped like cartoon characters, is a completely different beast than homemade, "actual" macaroni and cheese. Each are delicious and wonderful in their own ways, but they are by no means the same thing. So for the first time in awhile, I rolled up my sleeves and made the good stuff.

I have made this recipe once before, and made the fatal mistake of not using the sharpest possible cheddar known to mankind. As a result, it was bland, bland, and generally eh. This time, however, my friend brought over "Xtra Xtra Sharp Cheddar" and we had a ball. Honestly, I didn't think we had quite enough of it after mixing it all together, but I had other cheddar lying around that I used to fill it out. It worked rather dandily.

I also love that crunch of the breadcrumbs on top compared to the creaminess of the rest of the dish. Completely delightful. It may well be my favorite distinction between homemade mac n'cheese and the boxed stuff.

I also found my camera! Huzzah! So while I didn't get to take pictures of this when I made it (alas), pictures are making their comeback.

And now, the recipe, from The Cook's Manual. I looked for a "classic macaroni and cheese" of some sort in my Cook's Bible, and couldn't find it. Strange, non? Considering it's one of the most classic homemade dishes of all time. Maybe I'm just an idiot who can't use a table of contents/index. But still, really don't think so. Either way, I bought that cookbook for the supercalifragilistic instructions on cooking technique, not the recipe selection. So I'm not too upset.

Ingredients

4 oz macaroni

2 oz butter

1 oz plain flour

1 pt milk

6 oz cheddar

3 tbsp finely chopped parsley

salt and pepper

3 ½ oz dry breadcrumbs

1 ½ oz Parm cheese

Directions

Preheat to 350; grease gratin dish.

Cook the macaroni in boiling salted water until just tender, drain.

Melt the butter or marg in saucepan. Add flour and cook two min, then add milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 5 min.

Remove pan from heat; add the macaroni, cheese, and parsley to the sauce and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the mixture to the dish, spreading evenly.

Toss breadcrumbs and parm cheese together, spread over macaroni.

Bake until golden brown, about 30-35 minutes.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Easy, Easy Hummus

Hummus is one of the most delightful snacks: not overwhelmingly bad for you, easy, and delicious. Also, we'd gotten a mortar and pestle at Ikea that I swore would gather dust, and lo and behold if we didn't wind up using it for this! You can use a food processor to grind up the chickpeas, but a mortar and pestle or, more simply, just a bowl and a fork might be more convenient if you a) don't have a food processor, b) used to have a food processor until very recently when it decided to form puddles of liquid under itself while still plugged in, or c) want to save the food processor for a more pertinent use later in the evening's preparations.

Also, upon doing a quick Wikipedia search, chickpeas are the best non-animal source of protein there is. So, for vegetarians, people cutting cholestoral, whatever, hummus might be the way to go.

Hummus is also wonderful in that it's a recipe you're supposed to tweak to your desires. If you want it extra lemony, extra garlicky, extra both....or it accepts a wide range of other spices and add ins. Personally, mine is of a slightly more lemony variety, but to each their own.

Alas, I didn't take a picture of this, but I did finally find my camera! So pictures will start reappearing forthwith.

And finally, the recipe.

1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans
4 tbsp lemon juice
4 cloves of garlic, crushed.
5 tbsp olive oil (reduceable if desired)
Salt and pepper to taste.

Easy add-ins to alter taste:
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Paprika

Drain the can and crush the chickpeas with either a food processor, mortar and pestle, fork and bowl...etc. Transfer to a medium-sized mixing bowl.

Add in remaining ingredients, adding the olive oil last to ensure you get exactly the consistency you want, making sure to taste and alter if necessary.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Everyday Cues

This NY Times article about food cues was fascinating. It's all about how you can rearrange your kitchen, plates, etc to minimize cues that cause you to eat more than you actually want to. For those of us watching how much we eat, it's kind of a relief that rearranging your plates and hiding the cheese might actually make a substantive difference. Hoorah.

This weekend was fabulous for cooking; as soon as I have the recipes uploaded, I'll post. :o)

Friday, May 4, 2007

Mushroom Pierogi

Even though one could argue that my last attempt at making dough ended in miserable failure, I decided to try making something a little simpler and build from there. The boy is Slavic by descent, and had introduced me to the wonderful world of pierogi awhile ago, and when I saw the recipe on Smitten Kitchen....well, it looked doable. And Boy was touched that I was "indulging [his] honkiness."

So...yeah. It actually did go well, even if I felt like something of a nitwit when I realized (after already making the dough), that we do not own a rolling pin. I improvised with a bottle of $5 wine, alternating between that and beating the dough into submission with my fists (cathartic).

In the end, the dough turned out a bit thicker than I would have liked (surprise), and I made the pieces a bit too small for the stuffing-to-dough ratio I was going for, but they worked! Not a single one broke in the pot (probably at least in part because the dough was thick), and the filling was actually quite tasty. So yay! Not restaurant quality, but a valiant first effort, in my humble opinion.

Small changes to the recipe: I used shittake and cremini mushrooms instead of porcini and cremini, and 4 garlic cloves instead of 3 (which surprises all of no one).

Recipe is below. Enjoy!

Wild Mushroom Pirogies
Gourmet, February 2001

For filling
1 cup boiling water
2/3 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 medium onion, quartered
2 garlic cloves, crushed
6 oz cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

For onion topping
1 lb onions, chopped
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

Accompaniment: sour cream

Special equipment: a 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter

Make filling: Pour boiling water over porcini in a small bowl and soak until softened,10 to 20 minutes. Lift porcini out of water, squeezing excess liquid back into bowl, and rinse well to remove any grit. Pour soaking liquid through a paper-towel-lined sieve into a bowl and reserve.

Finely chop onion and garlic in a food processor, then add cremini and porcini and pulse until very finely chopped.

Heat butter in a skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides, then cook mushroom mixture, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are dry and 1 shade darker, about 8 minutes. Add reserved soaking liquid and simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture is thick, dry, and beginning to brown, about 15 minutes (there will be about 1 cup filling). Stir in parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Cool completely.

Roll out dough and fill pierogies: Halve dough and roll out 1 piece on a lightly floured surface into a 15-inch round, keeping remaining dough wrapped. Cut out rounds (about 24) with floured cutter. Put 1 teaspoon filling in center of each round. Working with 1 round at a time, moisten edges with water and fold in half to form a half-moon, pinching edges together to seal. Transfer pierogies as assembled to a flour-dusted kitchen towel. Repeat with remaining rounds, then make more pierogies with remaining dough and filling.

Cook onions and pierogies: Cook onions in butter in a large heavy skillet over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

Cook pierogies in a large pot of lightly salted boiling water until tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to skillet with onions. Toss gently to coat and serve immediately.

Epicurious’ notes:

  • Filling can be made 2 days ahead and chilled, covered.
  • Filled pierogies can be frozen 1 month. Freeze on a tray until firm, about 2 hours, then freeze in sealable plastic bags. Thaw before cooking.

Makes 6 (main course) servings.

Pierogi and Vareniki Dough

1 cup all-purpose flour plus additional for kneading and rolling
3/4 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
2 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water

Stir together flours in a bowl. Make a well in flour and add eggs, salt, and water, then stir together with a fork without touching flour. Continue stirring, gradually incorporating flour into well until a soft dough forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead, adding only as much additional flour as needed to keep dough from sticking, until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. (Dough will be soft.) Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature at least 30 minutes.

Epicurious’ note: Dough may be made 2 hours ahead, wrapped well in plastic wrap and chilled. Bring to room temperature before using.

Makes enough for about 48 pierogies or 32 varenikis.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Broccoli-Leek Soup with Lemon-Chive Cream

Deb from SmittenKitchen.com made a comment the other about trying things over and over that you know you don't like. I read that, though "Hmm...so true," and then went home and pulled the exact same move.

On the flip side, mine turned out pretty ok. I normally just don't enjoy broccoli soup, though I consistently convince myself that I do. I like broccoli just fine, but the florets in soup always weird me out. This one, however, I found all around enjoyable. The boy liked it, but I always wonder how much is enjoyment, and how much is humoring me. Still, Food and Wine once again did not disappoint. It wasn't overly heavy or creamy, and the flavors mixed really well. The broccoli got room to breathe in the soup, instead of being weighed down by tons of cheese, which I think helped my enjoyment of it overall.

Considering I still haven't found my camera (it's around...somewhere):

The lemon-sour cream mix was a great touch to the soup, I have to say. And, 1/2 cup of cream in a 5 serving dish? Not too shabby on the waistline front. Especially if you use light sour cream as we did, to perfectly respectable results.

Also: with this dish I got to try out our new garlic press. Whee!

A-hem. Now, recipe.
ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium leeks, white and tender green parts only, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 pounds broccoli, stems peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick, florets cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 5 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup snipped chives
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
directions
  1. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the leeks and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the broccoli, garlic and stock, season with salt and white pepper and bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer until the broccoli is tender, 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir the sour cream with the lemon zest, lemon juice, chives and Parmesan. Season with salt and white pepper.
  3. Transfer the soup to a blender and puree in batches until smooth. Stir in half of the lemon-chive cream. Ladle the soup into shallow bowls and serve the remaining lemon-chive cream on the side.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Balsamic Pasta and Asparagus


Today's entry comes from, once again, Food and Wine, and the realization that we have two bottles of balsamic vinegar kicking around, and isn't it time that issue was addressed?

Note: I still haven't found my camera, but here's a picture from the F&W website. I promise that in normal kitchens, it really does look that good.

This recipe was absolutely delicious. I really wish I'd made more. The roast asparagus just melts in your mouth--and I'm generally not a fan of soft vegetables, but these were great. I was a little worried about the balsamic sauce being to tart, but the sugar and the parm make a huge difference. This is one for the annals.

I used honey instead of brown sugar, which was fabulous. I also used fusili instead of penne, but I really feel like any hearty, short pasta would do the trick. It has to stand up to the asparagus, and carry some weight to it, but long noodles would be unwieldy.

So yes, ultimately a huge success (Food and Wine rocks my socks) and so easy to make. So, so easy. You do have three things going at once, however, none of them are particularly high maintenance. The asparagus do their thing just fine; the pasta's just boiling, and if you have the balsamic vinegar on medium-low, it'll take just as long as the asparagus does with little to no fussing. It's great!
ingredients
  • 1 pound asparagus
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 pound penne
  • 1/4 pound butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
directions
  1. Heat the oven to 400°. Snap the tough ends off the asparagus and discard them. Cut the spears into 1-inch pieces. Put the asparagus on a baking sheet and toss with the oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, put the vinegar in a small saucepan. Simmer until 3 tablespoons remain. Stir in the brown sugar and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Remove from the heat.
  3. Cook the penne in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just done, about 13 minutes. Drain the pasta and toss with the butter, vinegar, asparagus, Parmesan, and the remaining 1 3/4 teaspoons salt. Serve with additional Parmesan.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

So, I realize I've been delinquent lately in terms of updating. Life got topsy-turvy, and somewhere in there I lost my digital camera, but...yes. Updates!

Chickpeas are amazing. Not only are they really good for you, and a staple of several Asiatic cuisines, they've got great texture and are oh-so versatile. What's not to love?

This incarnation was originally from a Food and Wine chicken recipe, with the chicken sitting happily atop of pile of chickpeas. I had these for lunch last week, and the flavors are dead-on. I'd never really used bay leaves (until the braised potatoes two weeks ago) except in tomato sauces, but this thing was spot on. I'm falling quickly in love with bay.

One change: I used dry bay leaves instead of fresh, and basically covered the top of the stock with them. It worked out really well.

And now, recipe.

1 can chickpeas
3/4 cup veggie or chicken stock
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 small onion
1 red pepper, cut into strips
1/4 cup parsley
Salt and pepper

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the skillet. Add the onion and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until almost evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Add the chickpeas and 3/4 cup of the chicken stock. Cover and cook over moderately low heat 17 to 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaves. Stir the pepper strips and parsley into the chickpeas and season with salt and pepper; add a little chicken stock to the chickpeas if they seem dry. Spoon the chickpea mixture over the chicken and serve.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ginger Rice

For this post, I actually forgot to grab a picture. Oops. Sorry. :o( On the other hand, it looks almost exactly like normal brown rice, so you aren't missing a whole lot in that regard.

This is EXACTLY the kind of dish I love to make, even taking aside the fact that it's rice for a second. It's flavorful and healthy (if you use something like Smart Balance instead of real butter).

It is also not a dish where you skimp on the seasonings. Don't be shy with the ginger; pile it on to your heart's content.

Using basmati rice over any other kind of long-grain really does go a long way *bad dum cheeesh* in this dish to making it more aromatic and interesting. I used brown basmati rice, which I actually thought added another thin layer of complexity to the taste and texture of the rice, not to mention a nod in the health department.

All in all, a fantastic stand-by dish. For lazy days, diets, or a quick Asian side dish that isn't your standard fried rice.

And now, the recipe, courtesy of the latest issue of Food and Wine.
ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or low-sodium broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
directions
  1. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the ginger, rice, stock and salt and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat for 12 minutes or until the rice is tender and the water has fully evaporated. Fluff the rice and serve.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bean Salad with Dijon

The arrival of my monthly Food and Wine is a nice comfort right after all those bills are due on the first. This time around, it had even more intriguing recipes than usual. So, for lunch yesterday, I made their Dijon mustard vinaigrette for a white bean and pine nut salad. Yum!

A salad like this would be great with more vegetables thrown in; since it was for lunch, I was feeling pretty basic. But the vinaigrette was really nice. As usual, I like mine a lot more vinegary and less oily than the standard recipe seems to suggest. The F&W version was:

  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
I once again used scallions, and once again, reveled in their awesomeness. I would up the vinegar to 4 tbsp and the oil down to 1/4 cup. Not even for health reasons--I just think it tastes better.

Hopefully much more from this month's F&W to come!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Spicy Pink Vodka Sauce


I would normally shy away from any dish involving the word "spicy" in the title, as I am what is characteristically known as a "big sissy." However, half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper in a full can of tomato sauce seemed doable even in my eyes, so I gave it a shot. Also, this may have been one of the only times in the history of the world that I actually had cream in my fridge, so I figured, strike while the iron is hot, right?

It was well worth it. The spicyness added only a level of character to the sauce, which was overall of a medium consistency a strong flavors. I used scallions as my onion in this sauce, and while I've previously found it hard to work with most onions (re: big sissy), scallions may be my new favorite ingredient. Mild, yet interesting. Sweet, yet still adding that onion bite to dishes. Without overpowering your palate every time your teeth crunch on a piece. I'm quite a fan.

One warning: at least on my gas stove, the beginning instructions from the recipe are way too long. After a failed attempt, I halved all of them, up until the tomatoes are added.

All in all, however, this sauce had a lot of pleasant surprises that added up to a well-worth it dinner, even with the unmentioned amounts of cream added to it (so much for that waistline, eh?)

Recipe from The Cook's Bible

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, diced and peeled

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 can crush tomatoes

½ cup vodka

½ tsp red pepper flakes

2 cups cream

½ tsp kosher salt

1 tsp sugar

Ground pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the onions and sauté over medium heat for 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the tomatos, and bring to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Ad the vodka and cook for another 10 minues.

Add the remaining ingredients except black pepper and simmer another 15.

Enough for 1 ½ pounds pasta.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Pesto Risotto


I'm on something of a traditional kick of late, not that anything I do is particularly ground-breaking, but I'm feeling even more particularly traditional that usual. So, going back to the basics: pesto risotto.

In a more adventurous moment, I decided to add pine nuts to the rice and cook them risotto-style the whole way through, as opposed to the usual course of adding all the extras at the very end. I have to say, I approve. I did, however, add the mushrooms in with the last cup of broth, and the pesto at the very end.

I realize I haven't been updating as much lately, but last week especially was kind of the Week of Hectic, starring Me. Things have started improving, though my getting back into the groove of cooking every (other) night has more to do with fears for my waistline amid the pizza and take out Chinese of hectic weeks, rather than any actual change in circumstance. Also, the realization that I have so many random ingredients floating around my kitchen that if I don't do something about that soon, they might eat me as opposed to the other way around.

Recipe

1 cup long-grain rice
2 1/2 tbsp pesto
2 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth, hot.
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a saucepan, and add rice and pine nuts. Simmer two minutes, until oil has coated rice and they have a pearly shimmer about them. Add the white wine, stirring.

Wait until wine is absorbed, then add 1/2 cup of the broth. Continue adding in half-cup increments after each previous is completely absorbed, stirring often. In the last 1/2 cup, add mushrooms. Once complete, the risotto should be creamy, not watery, but also not too dense.

Once all the broth is absorbed, add pesto; stir. Add parmesan, and stir again. Serve.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Brownie Evolution


A friend, the Wry Punster, sent me a New York Times food section article about the history and evolution of the brownie. It was probably a bad idea to read it before breakfast, looking at my sad little M&Ms that will function as dessert, in comparison to those behemoths pictured....sigh. But still, on top of setting off my chocolate craving, it's a great article, and worth sharing. And so, here you are!

I have been slacking on the cooking front of late, but more culinary attempts this weekend, I promise!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Braised Potatoes


This may well become one of my favorites. It's good for you, it's low maintenance, and it's tasty. The flavors are simple and subtle, making it an great accompaniment dish--it won't overpower the main event. Also, I brought them to work today for lunch...excellent.

The recipe, from Food and Wine, is really direct and easy to follow. What I found most intriguing about the directions, however, is that you aren't meant to actually eat any of the seasoning. You simply cook the potatoes in with the garlic and bay, and then let that combination soak in. It really works out well--the potatoes just soak it up like little sponges.

And now, the recipe:
ingredients
  • 1 1/2 pounds small Yukon Gold potatoes (about 3 ounces each)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 4 fresh bay leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse sea salt
directions
  1. In an enameled cast-iron casserole or saucepan just large enough to hold the potatoes in a single layer, combine the potatoes with the water, bay leaves, garlic, olive oil and 3/4 teaspoon of salt. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender, 25 to 40 minutes, depending on their size. Check the water during cooking and add a little more if the casserole is dry. Transfer the potatoes to a bowl and serve, passing more salt at the table.

Garlic Sauce


Given my unabiding love of garlic, I had to try this one at least once. In all honesty, it wasn't as good as I'd hoped it would be. It was close, though.

I think it might have benefited from simmering longer than recommended, so the garlic could really cook through. But in any case, a worthy experiment. The recipe recommended vermicelli as the medium, which I followed and whole-heartedly agree with.

In general, though, the garlic-mustard-tomato mix is a great idea. This sauce has a lot of potential; it just needs a bit of tweaking, methinks. Any thoughts in this regard would be greatly appreciated.

Garlic Sauce

4-6 cloves garlic

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp tomato puree

2 tbsp white vinegar

4 tbsp chicken stock

4 green onions

2 tbsp olive oil

Salt and black pepper

½ cup butter

Peel and crush garlic. Stir in mustard, tomato, vinegar and stock.

Slice the green parts of the onion and the white parts, keeping separate.

Heat the olive oil in the pan. Add the garlic mixture and white parts of the green onions. Boil gently for 5 minutes.

Blend in butter, and green parts of onions, and cook for 2-3 minutes until sauce thickens.

Cookbook's Note: good with Brussels Sprouts.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Asian Stuffed Nut-rooms


I realize this week has been something of Mushrooms on Parade, what with the Pesto Mushrooms (that were really just a forum to try out my homemade pesto), and serving as the main event in Mushroom Soup. I realize this. We are moving on, I promise.

In the meantime, however, I just discovered this recipe in one of my older cookbooks, and just had to try it. I'd already posted another stuffed mushrooms recipe, with more Mediterranean flavors, and seeing this one, I really had to compare them. Also, mustard falls in the category of ingredients I love and I don't use nearly enough.

Comparing with the other stuffed mushrooms, which have an egg-bread crumb-small vegetables filling which had a fairly solid texture, this one has a lot more diversity and crunch. Obviously, the main ingredient is nuts, so that isn't entirely surprising, but even aside from those, I used whole grain Dijon mustard instead of smooth, which adds another degree of cruch to them.

In deviating from the original, I actually added the cashews in lieu of chicken, which was a happy, crunchy decision. I also doubled the amount of garlic and ginger for the sauce--it seemed a little bland with a mere one clove *scoff * and 1.5 tsp of ginger.

This dish also has the benefit of being a quick preparation. If you wanted, you could cook the shrooms at 375 for 20 minutes instead of 450 for 10 as the recipe suggested. I have tried it both ways now, and I tend to lean in favor of the slower cooking that gets the flavors more cohesive. But still, for those in a hurry, 450 for 10 is completely passable.

Final note: notice the lack of butter or oil. I'm all in favor of delicious, heavy-on-the-cheese sauces (lasagna and I have a history...and oh, wait until what I'm planning for next week!), butit's always nice to see something that's legitimately tasty without it.

Ingredients

6 oz cashews

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tbsp cilantro, fresh

1 egg white

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

3 tsp ginger

2 tsp soy sauce

6 stuffing mushrooms

Directions

Heat oven to 450. Mix all ingredients except mushrooms, and fill caps with mixture.

Bake 7-10 minutes until tops are light brown.

Inspired by: Betty Crocker Healthy New Choices

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Wild Rice and Fennel Salad

I was shocked to see that I had only ever posted about rice once before in this blog, in the post about butternut squash risotto. I think I'd deliberately avoided it for awhile, because rice is one of my all-time favorite foods ever. In any form. I have yet to meet rice I didn't like (well, except when it's overcooked and mushy and gross, but that's not the rice's fault now is it?)

This rice salad is made according to the same principles as pasta salad: cook the base, cool it, and add raw goodness and dressing. 101cookbooks recently posted an entry about the principles of making a great pasta salad here, and it's worth checking out. Most important point, according to me: not too much dressing. Soaking is unnecessary.

I like that this salad stays crisp. The fennel adds a lot in terms of texture (and it's so minty-lemony and fresh tasting...), as do the almonds. This is definitely an uncommon salad in that it's still good the next day.

The recipe for the dressing, in my opinion, suggested way too much oil. Way. A 6 tbsp oil to 1 tbsp vinegar ratio, to be precise. I stepped it up to about 3.5 tbsp vinegar to 6, and it still came out a bit too oily for my tastes. Then again, how often can you cut fat and say it legitimately improves the dish? I'll consider that a victory.

The recipe I used, from the Reader's Digest 30 Minute Cooking, also suggested using hazelnuts and raisins. I can take or leave hazelnuts, but really I think the idea here was any crisp nut. No pecans or walnuts. But shavings of almonds did a great job.

Final note concerning dressing: I used orange zest instead of orange juice--the juice would help cut back on the oiliness, but not enough. Definitely cut that back independently of whether you use zest or juice. I also added thyme, which really jazzed up the dressing. I'll probably be making this dressing for other dishes later. It's quite yummy.

That's it! Here's the recipe, and enjoy!

Salad

6 oz wild rice and long grain mix

Salt

1 large fennel bulb

6 green onions

2 oz nuts

2 tbsp raisins

Dressing

2 sprigs tarragon, thyme, and parsley

6 tbsp oil

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

Orange flakes (1 tsp)

Salt and pepper


Bring 2 cups of water to boil, add the rice and salt, cover and simmer 18-20 minutes, or until cooked.

Meanwhile, rinse and dry vegetables. Thinly slice the fennel and onions. Chop the nuts and add. Mix all in a salad bowl.

Add herbs and orange to oil and vinegar; whisk.

Drain the rice, and rinse briefly under a cold tap. Drain well, and mix into salad. Garnish with tarragon.

30 Minute Cookbook

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Creamless Mushroom Soup


I have a problem with cream of mushroom soup. I completely adore it, but making it from scratch is an all-too-real reminder of how much cream really goes in, which is precisely why this recipe was such a great find. No cream. Whatsoever.

As a thickening agent, the recipe (from 30 Minute Cookbook published by Reader's Digest) recommends soaking 3 slices of bread--crusts off--in cold water, then mixing it into the soup. I used Panna Bella, a tougher Italian bread, and it worked really well. Next time, I'll probably add more than 3 slices (or just more mushrooms?).

I thought the soup was a bit too salty--my guinea pig maintained through chipmunk-like cheeks that it was savory, not salty, but maybe he was just being nice. Either way, this is a problem that a bit of cream would help, but I think next time I'd water down the stock just a bit and not season it with any extra salt. All in all, it is a really good soup, though, and the two of us finished it off in one night (with a lot of bread for dipping).

Recipe:
5 cups stock
½ small onion
1 ½ lb mushrooms, chopped
3 sprigs parsley, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
½ small garlic clove, chopped
Pinch ground nutmeg
3 slices bread
Salt and pepper

Boil stock. Soak bread in cold water.

Heat oil in a pan. Fry onion until lightly browned. Crush garlic in the pan. Add mushrooms and parley.

Squeeze as much water as possible from the bread, then stir it into the mushrooms. Add the stock and nutmeg. Return to boil, half cover, and simmer of 15-20 minutes.

Puree or blend the soup until creamy.

From: 30 Minute Cookbook

Presto! Pesto!


I had a notion that I wasn't really cooking until I could make my own pesto. It's completely arbitrary, but I feel like most people have a benchmark like that, the dish or skill that signifies a change in status. For me, it was pesto.

This recipe drew from the one found here, another cooking blog I read (one far more extensive than my own). I finally have a reason to own a rolling pizza cutter! I fully believe what she said about making it easier and faster to chop herbs, and it seems like such an ingenious idea.

Where I deviated from 101 Cookbooks was using fresh basil instead of dried. I realize that depending on the uses one wanted from pesto, or shelf life, dried might be preferable, but for mine, fresh seemed to offer more. My apartment smelled like basil for 48 hours after I finished chopping. It was pretty amazing.

I also did pop it in the food processor--I did most of the chopping myself, actually, but just to make sure it was all relatively even and mixed, I figured it couldn't hurt. It was rather magnificent.

In actually using the pesto, I sauteed it over mushrooms (to which I added a coarser chopped clove of garlic and small handful of full pine nuts, because how can you ever have too much?). The smell just overflowed out of the pan. It was pretty amazing, really.

And with that, the recipe:

Pesto
1 large bunch of basil, leaves only, washed
3 medium cloves of garlic
one small handful of raw pine nuts
roughly 3/4 cup Parmesan
2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

Chop the garlic and basil together, slowly chopping one manageable bunch at a time, and mixing the results in a medium-sized bowl. Aim for as smooth a mixture as possible.

Chop the pine nuts, add with the Parmesan and olive oil to the mixture. Hand-mix.

Blend, if desired.

Mushrooms
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 small handful pine nuts
1 box fresh mushrooms, sliced
5 tbsp pesto
2 tbsp olive oil

Saute garlic in olive oil until golden. Add mushrooms and pine nuts, and let simmer for 2 minutes. Add pesto, and continue to simmer for 8-10 minutes. Serve.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Springy Raspberry Turnovers




For turnovers, these raspberry delights are rather tart. In fact, they are based on a tart recipe I found on gourmet.com while perusing the internet. And they are so easy. The filling, pictured above, would be great over vanilla ice cream as well (I might have to attempt that later...) for an even more painless dessert than these were. Presumably, it is much more difficult to make turnovers when one is not using frozen puff pastry. But, so it is.


I have surprisingly little say about these. Maybe it's the early morning, or the fact that my coffee's not ready yet, or that typing about these makes me kind of want to scour the fridge for the leftovers, but the turnovers themselves are about as straightforward for the recipe. Tonight's attempt will be a bit more elaborate (not to mention from an honest-to-goodness cookbook). And so, without further ado:

The Ingredients
1/4 cup raspberry jam
1 tsp lemon juice
1 box fresh raspberries
1 sheet puff pastry

Lay the defrosted puff pasty down on a baking sheet or aluminum foil (as cool a surface as possible. Preheat oven to 375 F.

Quickly melt the jam in a small saucepan. Once liquid, turn off the burner, and add the lemon juice. Once mixed, add the berries, being sure to coat them in the mixture.

Cut the pastry into squares. For 9 squares, add just a tablespoon of the raspberry mixture to each, folding them over and creasing with a fork. There will be filling left over.

Bake the pastries for 15 minutes at 375. Serve with filling poured over the turnover.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Smoky Moroccan Couscous

Don't let the plain Jane color fool you--this is no ordinary couscous. Like Felicity Huffman on Sports Night, this couscous is smoky. Based off an old chicken recipe, I let the broth sit for about an hour with the beans already in it; they absorbed all of the flavors, making for a shot of cumin, paprika, nutmeg, and others every time I bit into one. Honestly, I might just make those alone one day.

Couscous also has the advantages of being quick, easy, healthy, and generally painless. You can't really burn anything unless you try (or forget to turn the burner off). All of these qualities make it great for after a long day, or as a time-cheap side dish for guests.

For this, I would have preferred to use chickpeas, but white beans worked just great. I happen to love Middle Eastern food (going back to my general affection for Mediterranean flavors), and this dish encompasses most of the flavor profile that I love about the region.

In terms of health, this one is great: no dairy, no oil, no sugar, only a tad bit of salt. Just pasta, beans, and seasonings. Also, ridiculously cheap. I am constantly bitter about how most food is either cheap or healthy, so this is a nice change of pace. Yum!

Ingredients
1 cup couscous, dry
1/2 can white beans
1 3/4 cup vegetable broth
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Mix all ingredients in saucepan except couscous and let sit for 1-2 hours.

Turn on burner, bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn off the burner, pour in the couscous. Cover; sit for 5 minutes. Serve.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Shout Out: Guacamole


Everyone has that one friend who should never be allowed in a kitchen. They burn things, they curse, and generally it's assumed that they and cooking have a cosmic feud unresolvable in a single lifetime. My friend who falls in this category, who has been a gracious guinea pig for several of my culinary endeavors, wanted the world to know that she successfully made guacamole.

The ingredients--cilantro, avocados, mayo, garlic, onions, limes, and tomatoes--compiled in her kitchen, my friend and I had the following conversation.

Her: Blair, you know how I said I couldn't mess up guacamole?
Me: Yes.
Her: My avocados are too hard. I can't smush them. Can I borrow a whisk?
Me: Try a fork; it's stronger.
Her: See, that was my thought, too. But really, they aren't smushing.
Me: Try microwaving them in water for 10-15 seconds to get them more mushy. Works with pumpkin.
Her: Ok, I'll call you back.

1 minute later.

Her: So, funny story.
Me: ?
Her: My microwave is broken. Can I borrow yours.....and that whisk?
Me: Sure.

Once it was all said and done, the guac was actually quite tasty (we both like it really limey...she thought there was too much garlic, to which I replied, oh, there's garlic in here?). So, anyway, we just wanted to announce that the girl who has literally torn smoke detectors out of the wall on previous cooking extravaganzas successfully made something tasty from scratch.

Side note: the Food Network had this great tip for making guac that you put all the ingredients in a freezer bag and mush the outside with your hands. Since we had neither freezer bags, nor squishy avocados, that didn't work quite so well. But it's a great idea.

Simmery, Peppery Goodness


Like most cooks, I have that standard recipe for tomato sauce that I always, always use. Last night, however, I was feeling particularly adventurous, so I tried a Red Pepper Sauce from Betty Crocker instead of my boiler plate family version.

In moving away from the BC standard, which demands processing the sauce to a thick, expected saucey texture, I decided I was more in the mood for a stew-like effect, where each ingredient retains its integrity. I also let the sauce simmer and reduce by half, so by the time I got to it, the flavors had melded together.

I also added pine nuts and mushrooms to the sauce, to make it a bit more substantial, and served it over mushroom tortellini. I'm sure it would be delightful without, but since this was dinner rather than a side dish, I decided to throw in a few more flavors.

I also really enjoyed mixing the balsamic vinegar and honey in with the tomato and pepper flavors. It worked out really well; definitely something to save for future endeavors.

Normally this dish calls for 2 red bell peppers. Partially because I was intrigued, and partially because last night was the night before a grocery run, I used a medley of sweet peppers instead. In this particular instance, I recommend following the original dictum. I love orange and yellow peppers, but they just weren't made to be in this sauce. It worked out just fine, but I don't think I would repeat it.

Finally: I am suspicious of any recipe that does not call for garlic. I will concede that most of the time, risotto works better without it. Also, the pumpkin lasagna I love so much and the tomato-basil-mushroom quiche that I made twice in a row for work lunches would suffer rather than benefit from garlic's addition. However, I feel that in general, especially tomato and pepper based sauces need to prove to me that garlic does not belong there. This one failed the sniff test.

Finally, this dish almost had a beefy smell to it; I'm curious as to what would have happened had I added beef stock instead of veggie.

And so, with that said, the recipe:

2 medium bell peppers, red, chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp honey
1 cup veggie/chicken broth
1 tbsp oregano

Mix chicken broth, oregeano, honey, and balsamic vinegar in saucepan over medium-low heat. When hot, add remaining ingredients. Allow to simmer at least 8-10 minutes. Blend if desired.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ageless Stir Fry

This is the first blog post that doesn't come from someone else's recipe, which is very exciting for yours truly. This stir fry--called ageless both because of its classic ingredients, and because Shittake mushrooms have anti-aging properties--is a) yummy, confirmed by Guinea Pig R, b) healthy, c) filling, and d) practical to make in large quantities to either give to other people or save for later.

This one was kind of a leap for me. I'm far more comfortable cooking with Mediterranean flavors, but this one was surprisingly successful. I didn't make it with rice, mostly because at the time it was a dish to snack on, not dinner, but rice would add a lot to the dish to make it a real meal. It would be a perfect dish to use up leftover Chinese restaurant rice.

Also, for a veggie dish, it has crazy amounts of protein, with about 1.5 cups of edamame.

Sidebar: I ran into a friend from college last night who mentioned that she reads my blog! It was the first time I bumped into someone who reads it. Needless to say, I was tickled pink.

Ok, recipe:

1.5 cups edamame
1 box Shittake mushrooms
1/4 cup cashews, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
3 tsp honey
1/6 cup soy sauce
3 tsp ginger
2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp sesame seeds
1/4 cup olive oil
Onion powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a pan. Add garlic; simmer two minutes with salt, pepper, and onion powder.

Add teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, and honey, followed by remaining ingredients. Stir, coating mushrooms, nuts, and edamame in sauce, and let simmer for 8-10 minutes. Serve.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Cheap Cooking Wine

On the New York Times website, there's an article about cooking wines. Synopsis: cooking with cheap wine is just as good as pricey varieties. I'm pretty glad to hear that I haven't been missing out on much. Anyway, the link is here for those who want to check it out.

Also: a friend just introduced me to a cookbook so great that I started to take notes on it, before deciding to stop being lame and just buy my own copy. The Classic Cookbook, a compilation of The Cook's Bible and The Dessert Bible (750 recipes total). The recipes appear to be exactly as advertised, but what really drew me to it was the in-depth how-to instructions on so much about cooking I really felt like I should know already. Also, the author's very every-day practical in techniques he recommends, which I can't help but applaud. So hopefully soon some recipes from that will start floating around the site.

Gorgonzola in Its Second Act



I found another Gorgonzola sauce recipe while floating around Foodandwine।com, and in the spirit of fairness, decided to try it out. The sauce is as follows:

4 tbsp butter (or, in my case, SmartBalance)
1/4 cup Gorgonzola
2 tsp sage
Salt and pepper to taste

It was an interesting comparison. I think I'm going to start adding sage to the other Gorgonzola sauce. In any case, the main difference came out as follows: in the first sauce, a lot more liquid is added; namely, white wine and olive oil. In this, it's just melted soft solids, so as it starts to cool, it forms a sort of glaze almost, while the former stays more liquidy and saucey. Really a matter of preference. Though I think the Betty Crocker recipe would benefit from the addition of sage.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

It's all Greek to me

Vegetables a la Grecque, from the February issue of Food and Wine. Ironically, it's a French recipe, as you could probably tell from the language of the name, as well as the copious amounts of olive oil involved in the original chef's design. Below is my edited recipe (beware: the online version apparently doesn't have amounts for each ingredient, but I put mine down below).

The original recipe used 1/2 cup olive oil, and then coated the veggies again in it after they cooked. I did away entirely with the last step (they're plenty oily for me with out it), and cut the first in half. There's so much else going on, I really didn't think it necessary. I also used balsamic vinegar, and because the flavor is so strong, cut the amount in half. I really think it could have taken the full 1/4 cup, but the dish I made was quite yummy regardless; that call comes down to a matter of preference, I think. Big, strong balsamic versus a more subtle flavor.

I really wanted to use asparagus in this--I think it would go amazingly well--but decided against it for this time around. Still, I wanted to put the suggestion out there.

Finally, on a convenience note, this dish is actually meant to be served cold, and requires very little fussing once it's actually cooking. In this light, it's a wonderful stress-free side dish. Or, for more everyday uses, since it keeps so long you could easily make a large batch and nibble at it throughout the week. Enjoy!

Vegetables à la Grecque

ACTIVE TIME: 25 MIN
TOTAL TIME: 45 MIN
SERVES: 8

1/4 cup olive oil (original calls for 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp)
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar (original: 1/4 cup wine vinegar)
1/2 cup white wine
1 tsp coriander seeds
3 bay leaves
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp thyme
1 tsp peppercorns
Salt and pepper

1 1/2 cups carrots, sliced
2 cups button mushrooms, quartered
1 cup sweet peppers, chopped
directions
  1. In a large, deep skillet, combine 1/4 cup of the oil with the wine, water, vinegar, coriander seeds, bay leaves, peppercorns, fennel, thyme and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the carrots. Cover and simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are barely tender, about 5 minutes. Add the onions and mushrooms, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the onions are crisp-tender, 3 minutes.
  2. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaves and peppercorns before serving.

MAKE AHEAD The vegetables can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Savory, not Skanky, Black-Eyed Peas


Up front, this dish has absolutely zero presentation value. None. Zilch. Nada. It looks pretty terrible, actually. This is a dish that is easy, quick, and good for you. This is something that you make after a long day at work when you don't feel like really cooking, but still want to eat something a little more substantial than boxed rice. I would feel very weird feeding this to other people.

It does taste good, however. I would recommend using a little less cheese than recommended--it overwhelms some of the other, subtler flavors. The recipe initially called for reduced-fat cheese, which I did use, and with which I had great results. I also used onion powder instead of real onions, which worked just fine.

This is also one of the most low-maintenance meals possible, in terms of both dishes used and time. While it actually takes 10 minutes to cook before putting in the beans, you can set a timer and go amuse yourself elsewhere while the carrots boil. I stuck around to stir once the beans were actually in so they didn't burn.

Savory Black-Eyed Peas

Prep: 15 min; Cook: 15 min; 4 servings

1 cup chicken broth

3 medium carrots, thinly sliced

2 medium celery stalks

1 large onion

1 ½ tbsp chopped fresh or 1 ½ tsp dried basil leaves

1 clove garlic

1 can black-eyed peas

½ cup shredded reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese

Heat broth, carrots, celery, onion, savory, and garlic to boiling in 10 inch nonstick skillet; reduce heat to medium. Cook 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender. Stir in peas. Cook, stirring occasionally, until hot. Sprinkle with cheese.

From Healthy New Choices from Betty Crocker

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Medi Bake


This is an Artichoke Heart-Fennel bake; the original recipe came from Food and Wine, courtesy of Suzanne Goin.

The fennel tastes so crisp and fresh even after sauteeing and baking, and the dish overall has a surprising subtlety and layers of flavor combination. Overall, it's great. I used a lot less olive oil than the original prescribed, in part because I halved the recipe. I also used artichoke hearts instead of whole globe artichokes, spreading the fennel mixture over the hearts instead of inside the artichokes. The end result looked somewhat like a casserole, but I put it out on a plate, the layers broke apart somewhat, giving the consumer a full view of all the different ingredients.

Three points to note concerning the fennel artichoke bake:

I love any dish that cooks garlic through enough to allow for huge chunks of it without it being overwhelming, and this is one of the best in that regard I have found so far.

The dish also holds up really well the next day, and since it's a nice combination of low-fat and filling, makes a great lunch for work.

Finally: so much of the preparation for this dish can be done the night before or several hours before eating, and the actual cooking is a) pretty easy, and b) fast (about 20 minutes), making it all-around perfect as a side dish or appetizer for guests. I'm definitely filing this one away for future entertaining endeavors.

And now, the recipe (adjusted):

Artichoke and Fennel Bake
ingredients
  • 10 artichoke hearts
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/8 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium fennel bulb--trimmed, halved lengthwise, cored and finely chopped
  • Onion powder, to taste
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus 1/8 cup leaves
  • 1/4 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs
directions
  1. Rub the artichokes in lemon juice and set them, cut side down, in a large steamer basket. Steam the artichokes over boiling water until the hearts are tender, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large deep skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the oil until shimmering. Add the fennel and onion and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme, season with salt and pepper and cook until the vegetables are just beginning to brown, about 4 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, then stir in the chopped parsley.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375°. Toss the bread crumbs with 1 tablespoon of the oil and spread them on a baking sheet. Toast for about 3 minutes, or until golden. Transfer the crumbs to a plate. Raise the oven temperature to 450°.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a very large skillet. Pat the artichokes dry and add them to the skillet, cut side down. Cook over moderate heat until deep golden, about 4 minutes. Arrange the artichokes in a large baking dish and cover them with the fennel mixture. Sprinkle with the toasted bread crumbs and bake for about 15 minutes, or until heated through.
  5. In a bowl, toss the parsley leaves with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and the 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Top the artichokes with the parsley and serve.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Eggs-periment Benedict

I love, love, love, LOVE eggs. I stopped being able to eat them for still not fully explained reasons for approximately three years, and since falling back into harmony, they have been a ubiquitous force in my kitchen (that quiche I posted earlier this month was the second I made in, oh, three weeks). But even more than I love eggs, I adore eggs benedict.

I find them a bit heavy, though--totally worth it, mind you, but heavy. So in these, we actually had two experiments going simultaneously (which would make any scientist squeal, I'm sure...something about controls versus variables...whatever). The first was taking the egg whites leftover from making Hollandaise sauce that would normally be discarded, and using them as the egg component instead of two full poached eggs. The second, completely incidental experiment, using southern-style biscuits instead of English muffins.

The egg whites I pronounce a success. I kind of missed the yolk, but the eggs--which I scrambled--were fluffy and delicious. Because of the sauce on top, I didn't feel the need to add any milk or cheese to the eggs themselves, and it proved unnecessary anyway.

In terms of the biscuits, I think it really comes down to mood and preference. They were quite good--thick, filling, and combining well with the sauce. The muffins have that toasty crunch, though, that these don't have. Also, the muffins are lighter. So, in sum: yummy either way.

A final note: once again, I used SmartBalance instead of butter for the sauce (blasphemy, I know), and it was still a big hit. I think I noticed a bit of difference, but had I handed it to someone who had no idea which I had put in, I doubt they would have picked up on it. Little ways to cut unnecessary fat make me happy...especially when I'm using biscuits. Man,those things are rich.

Hollandaise Sauce
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup buttery spread or equivalent
Salt and pepper to taste

Also: buttermilk biscuit

Recipe from: The Cook's Kitchen Handbook

Directions

Separate eggs, yolks into saucepan and whites into bowl.

Whisk yolks together, then add remaining sauce ingredients. Turn burner to med-low heat, and whisk often as sauce cooks.

Cut biscuit in half, toast lightly.

Put egg whites in greased or non-stick pan, scramble while continuing to whisk sauce frequently. When finished, put eggs over biscuits, and sauce over eggs. Serve.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Food for Thought

I found this article in Slate about the use of artificial colors in food. It's pretty interesting; I will admit, I was a bit disappointed when I made saffron rice and it didn't turn the blazing yellow of the prepackaged stuff. But yes, enjoy!

Little Victories in a Larger Failure

So, because yesterday I talked about gnocchi without actually making any, last night I decided to give it a shot: Gorgonzola gnocchi with fire-roasted red pepper on top. The flavors were great. Ignoring the obvious potato + cheese never = bad, red pepper and gorgonzola sauce together: completely delicious. That's something to file away for later.

The gnocchi, however, just weren't very pretty (as the picture demonstrates). They stayed together well enough to be gnocchi--I didn't accidentally create potato soup; that liquid in the picture is the gorgonzola sauce--but I wouldn't serve them to another person. I need to figure out a way to get the potato mashed to a finer grain, I think....perhaps cooking them longer and putting them in a food processor instead of using a blender. Alas. Another day, another taking forever to make those damn little potato balls only to reap at best a mild success (or sharp success, in the case of the toppings).

The sauce recipe is based on that from Betty Crocker, whose version involves real butter and olive oil. That sauce is served with toasted pecans on top, which would be a delicious addition to this dish.

The Part of this Dish Whose Recipe Is Worth Sharing:

1 red pepper, Italian or normal
1/4 cup Gorgonzola, crumbled
2 tbsp buttery spread/margarine/the real thing
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup white wine (I use Chardonnay)

Melt the buttery ingredient in a small saucepan; let simmer with garlic for two minutes.

Meanwhile, on a different burner, put the pepper on top and turn on said burner. Turn over pepper when skin becomes black underneath.

Add wine to sauce, let simmer another 2-3 minutes.

Remove pepper from burner, set aside.

Add Gorgonzola to sauce, let simmer until completely melted.

Remove skin from pepper, chop, pour sauce over. Serve.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

New Favorite Life Choice

So this particular dish didn't actually involve much cooking. However, I did find a new way (through recommendation) to adjust frozen food and make it so much more than it was. Observe.

Trader Joe's sells these delicious cheese and pesto stuffed gnocchi in the frozen section. Normally, one just boils them and serves them up. These I boiled until they floated, then sauteed them for one minute on each side with garlic powder and parsley. Oh. Man. Crispy and crunchy on the outside, and creamy and delicious on the inside. If you're not much of an intricate cook, or if you just don't have the time/energy to whip up an elaborate meal, these babies could very well save your life.

I've been making a concerted effort at eating better, and this latest discovery isn't helping. Still, I keep telling my hips it was worth it.

Experiment in Tang

Last night I felt inspired to make broccoli a little more interesting. So I made it tangy--with lime juice. Lime veggie recipes exist in various forms across the internet; I tried to make mine as simple as possible, to get a sense of whether I liked it as a concept before getting all fancy.

It was good. I think it might work better with a slightly more potent vegetable--Brussels sprouts, asparagus, etc--to balance out the lime. Also, lime juice is a potent thing, so I would recommend mixing in a fair dolop of Smart Balance (my choice) or regular olive oil to balance it as well. But overall, an interesting, fun side dish.

Ingredients
2 heads broccoli
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp buttery spread (or something similar)
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp mint
4 cloves garlic

Heat olive oil and garlic in saute pan for 2 minutes. Mix in buttery spread, and allow to melt.

Mix in broccoli, herbs, and lime juice, and allow to simmer for another 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Serve.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Red Wine Vermicelli with Broccoli


Part of what I enjoyed about this dish is the color--the "wow" factor is pretty high with bright purple pasta. The taste is also great, with an almost tangy interplay with the slightly spicy broccoli, definitely well worth the effort while living up to the neat presentation. The pasta does taste pretty strongly of the wine--it by no means a merely cosmetic ingredient--so contrary to my general philosophy of cooking wines, I would recommend using one that you really like in this dish. It'll have a huge impact.

In deviating from the original Food Network recipe, found here, I used actual broccoli instead of broccoli rabe. Also, the original chef uses a 1/2 cup of Parmesan to finish the dish off, which I left out in an effort to make it healthier. I definitely think the cheese would improve the dish, for those wishing to try it, but it's also delightful without. On a more incidental note, I used vermicelli instead of spaghetti, for no other reason than it's what I had.

Ingredients
2 heads broccoli
1 pound vermicelli
1 bottle red wine (750 ml - preferably Zinfandel)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions
Cut broccoli into 1-inch wide florets. Blanch in a 6 to 8 quart pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, 2 minutes. Transfer with slotted spoon to a large colander to drain, reserving broccoli-cooking liquid in pot, then transfer broccoli to a bowl.

Return cooking liquid to a boil and cook spaghetti, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes (pasta will not be fully cooked). Reserve 1 cup of pasta water and drain pasta in colander and return empty pot to stovetop. Add wine and sugar to pot and boil vigorously 2 minutes until liquid is reduced a bit. Add spaghetti and shake pot to prevent pasta from sticking. Gently stir with tongs until coated and boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 6 minutes (pasta will be al dente). Immediately after adding spaghetti to wine mixture, cook garlic and red pepper flakes in the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over moderately low heat, shaking skillet occasionally, until garlic is pale golden, about 5 minutes. Add broccoli, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water.

Pour broccoli into skillet with the spaghetti mixture and carefully toss with tongs to combine (skillet will be very full). Cook while stirring, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, season with freshly ground black pepper and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. immediately.

Maple-Mustard Asparagus


This particular dish had me skeptical before I actually made it. The idea of combining maple syrup and Dijon mustard seemed confusing, but the idea came from a Betty Crocker recipe, so I figured, how crazy can it really be?

It was completely wonderful. To quote my guinea pig, "the spaghetti was good, but the asparagus was amazing." So go figure. If you're having trouble eating vegetables, or getting someone else to, this is definitely a recipe to try.

This has been quite a week for new flavor combinations. I'm pretty excited.

In cooking the aparagus spears, I only put the bottom half of the spears actually in the water; the rest stood above. I had read about this technique a few other places, and they were completely right: the thinner tops cook to a nice crispness, and the much thicker bottoms get cooked through as well.

A connisseuse of both, I would recommend real, honest-to-goodness maple syrup for this recipe.

Ingredients
1 bunch asparagus
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup

Directions
Cook the aparagus standing in boiling water, halfway up the spears, for 7 minutes.

Drain, coat the aparagus in mustard and syrup. Serve.

Tortellini Lunch

For a weekend lunch, one rarely feels like making an elaborate meal completely from scratch, so I compromised with myself. This dish is spinach and ricotta tortellini, and then in lieu of a sauce or dressing, I sauteed some sweet peppers, pine nuts, garlic, and peas (leftovers from a previous meal, anyone?) in Italian seasoning, white wine, and a little olive oil and put those over the pasta. Yum!

This meal's appeal, even outside of its ease, is texture. The pasta is soft, and all that goes on top of it has some degree of crunch. I also experimented with sprinkling bread crumbs on top instead of Parmesan--since there was already cheese in the pasta, adding more seemed silly, and the breadcrumbs add a character to the meal that wasn't there before.

I used frozen peas this particular time around. As a rule in these instances, I don't actually defrost the peas before throwing them in the saute pan--they have plenty of time to cook, and the little extra water helps prevent everything else from drying out.

Ingredients
1 package spinach and cheese tortellini
1/4 cup white wine
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 cup frozen peas
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tbsp pine nuts
3 pinch bread crumbs
1/4 cup sweet pepper, chopped
2 tsp onion powder
Salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the tortellini according to directions on the package.

In saute pan, heat olive oil and onion powder. Mix in garlic, peppers, peas, seasoning and nuts. Allow to simmer 2 minutes. Add wine, salt, and pepper; allow to simmer another 2 minutes.

Drain pasta, and mix in saute pan contents. Top with bread crumbs and a dash of Italian seasoning. Serve.