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.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Stuffed Mushrooms

These particular stuffed mushrooms were a bit over-stuffed because I was making them for dinner as opposed to an amuse-bouche or somesuch for those dinner parties I never throw. They would, however, make great appetizers. They even look so festive with all the different colors. And they're dead-easy and fast, so you could whip them up in minutes, while leaving energy and time aside for cooking the main event and entertaining.

The fun part of these is that you can really put whatever you want or don't want in the stuffing. This particular time round, I used corn, peas, diced sweet pepper, garlic, and pine nuts ( a combination of some of my all-time favorite ingredients). Trader Joe's sells stuffing mushrooms that are just perfect for, well, stuffing, and cheap as all get out.

This recipe also had the added personal benefit of using bread crumbs, of which I have WAY too much sitting around the house. I just don't bread things nearly that often. I should look into finding more recipes that involve breading. Hmmm.

You may also note that this recipe involves no oil, butter, spread, or anything of that sort. Nuts and eggs have some fats, obviously, but in overall this is a very nice guilt-free recipe that is very filling. And cheap.

I was actually introduced to this particular way of making stuffed mushrooms from the boy, so credit should go where it is due.

Recipe:

10 stuffing mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 eggs
3 tbsp bread crumbs
3 tbsp sweet Italian pepper, chopped
3 tbsp corn
3 tbsp peas
2 tbsp pine nuts
3 pinches flour
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine all ingredients except mushrooms in mixing bowl; stir.

Remove stems from mushrooms; wash; place in baking pan. Fill with stuffing.

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, and at 375 for an additional 5 minutes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Paprika and Brandy Fideos


This recipe was inspired by Food and Wine's Lobster with Fideos, but lobster was just not happening. So, I put together a vegetable broth using corn, peas, a veritable ton of garlic, onions, edamame, and pine nuts. I have to say, it was delicious, ameliorated by the cat's total fascination by my breaking of vermicelli noodles for the dish.

I really have to say, I have never cooked with brandy before (it doesn't exactly fit my budget), but we had some left over, so what the hey. But paprika and brandy was a combination that completely blew my mind how well they complimented each other. It gave the dish an entirely new dimension. I've made fideos before with white wine and saffron in tomato sauce, and that too was delicious, but this particular dish was just so unexpected and unlike any I had ever cooked. Needless to say, I was very pleased with the outcome.

Whoever had the idea of making pasta in tomato sauce and wine/brandy instead of water was a total genius.

I let the sauce simmer for a total of one hour, and the flavors really blended together nicely. For future attempts, I strongly recommend letting it go for as long as humanly possible.

And now, the recipe:

ingredients
  • 1/2 bag edamame
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 10 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 2 large sweet onions, chopped
  • One and 1/4 can tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sweet pimentón de la Vera (smoked Spanish paprika)
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 pound fideos or angel hair pasta, broken into 3-inch length
  • 1/2 cup peas
  • 1 ½ cup water
directions
  1. Heat 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the large pot. Add the garlic, vegetables, and onions and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and edamame and cook until any liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the pimentón and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the brandy and cook until almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat for 30 minutes, skimming a few times. Bring the stock to a simmer, cover and keep hot.
  2. Meanwhile, in the large pot, heat the remaining 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Add the fideos and cook over moderately high heat, stirring constantly, until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in half of the stock, cover and cook for 3 minutes. Add half of the remaining stock, cover and cook until almost absorbed, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining stock and cook, stirring, until the fideos are al dente, about 2 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Spoon the fideos into shallow bowls, and serve.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Butternut Squash Risotto

I only recently discovered squash in any capacity, and this incarnation so far takes the cake. The recipe, posted below, comes from cooks.com, which I generally like less than other sites like allrecipes.com, mostly because I find it very hit or miss in terms of quality of instructions and quality of product. This particular one was definitely a hit. It takes vaguely nutty and crisp, which is delightful.

Risotto is also one of my favorite dishes to cook, simply because it can be done so many ways, and it's also pretty healthy in the grand scheme of things. I am a believer that healthy food that leaves you still hungry serves very little point, while pretty healthy food that leaves you full and satisfied is much better in the long run, because you don't feel the need to snack nearly so often.

In making this dish, I peeled the squash first while watching Bravo!--I think you get a smoother puree if you have more surface area that steaming chunks with the skin still on. I also made a smaller portion than the recipe calls for, using about 1/2 lb. of squash, 1.25 cups rice, 2 cups stock, and 1/4 cup Parmesan. I would normally have used at least 1 cup more of stock for risotto, but the squash being added in the first round makes the rice already so creamy, I really didn't feel the need.

Ingredients
1 med. butternut squash
5-6 c. chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp. unsalted butter or margarine
1 tbsp. olive oil
4 shallots, peeled and minced
1.5 c. Arborio rice
1/2 c. dry white wine
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper (freshly ground)
1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan
Rosemary sprigs for garnish

Cut squash into eights, discarding seeds. Steam squash for 10-15 minutes or until tender. Scoop flesh from skin and mash lightly. In large saucepan, heat stock to simmer. In another large saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add oil, shallots, and cook for 2 minutes. Add rice. Cook, stirring for 5 minutes. Add wine to rice and cook, stirring until wine is nearly absorbed.

Stir in a cup of stock and the squash; cook at a steady simmer until liquid is nearly absorbed. Continue stirring in stock a ladleful at a time until rice is creamy and firm (15-20 minutes). Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Add chopped rosemary. Stir in remaining butter and most of Parmesan. Serve in shallow bowls garnished with remaining cheese and rosemary sprigs. Serves 4-6.

Tomato-Basil-Mushroom Quiche


I apologize for the picture looking funny--I couldn't wait for the quiche to set before grabbing a piece; it's that good.

This recipe was modified from one I found on allrecipes.com for a tomato-basil quiche. Instead, since I am no fan of baked tomato slices, I substituted chopped mushrooms for the tomatoes and added a thin layer of tomato sauce on top of them.

One great thing about this particular recipe is that it's so easy to make really healthy. I used skim milk, and 2% milk cheese, and because there is so much else going on, the flavors are still really strong and it tastes great.

I also used a bit more cheese than the recipe calls for, but when ever did a dish have just too much cheese?

The last comment I'll make about this quiche is though my particular incarnation above is not gorgeous, it is a DELICIOUS entity and makes for fantastic bringing to work food. It's portable, reheats like a dream, and really filling.

So yes--the recipe as I did it is listed below, with the original behind the link.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons dried basil
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Onion powder to taste
  • 1 (9 inch) unbaked deep dish pie crust
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese, divided (I used low fat, you don't have to)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Bake pie shell in preheated oven for 8 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle mushrooms with flour, onion powder, and basil, then saute 2 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Spread 1 cup shredded cheese in the bottom of pie crust. Layer mushrooms over cheese, and top with tomato sauce and more basil. Cover with egg mixture. sprinkle top with remaining 1/2 cup shredded cheese, and even more basil.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C), and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until filling is puffed and golden brown. Serve warm.

Monday, March 5, 2007

First Post: Pumpkin Lasagna



I decided to start off my food blogging career with my favorite recipe to date found thanks to the Internet: Tiffani from Top Chef Season 1 on Bravo! made a Pumpkin lasagna for her very first dish, and it's one of the best I've ever had. I greatly enjoy her cooking style: a lot of Mediterraean flavors, done in really interesting ways (I also love that she pushed her way into the culinary world regardless of a lack of formal training...as much as I sometimes disagreed with her "tactics", she is a great chef). The following is the pumpkin lasagna, Thanksgiving incarnation. The recipe calls for making two, but I could only ever eat a fourth of one in one sitting; my boyfriend half. These things are filling, which, when you're on a budget, is a great benefit. That pumpkin is heavy stuff. They also make amazing leftovers--the flavors melt together even more initially, and the pumpkin really stands up to the microwave.

I also really enjoyed, and one of my guinea pigs commented, that this recipe doesn't overuse nutmeg, which a lot of pumpkin treatments do. The actual flavors of the pumpkin come out (accented by sage, which I totally adore), and aren't overwhelmed by heavy spices. So major kudos to Tiffani, wherever she is.

This is a view from the pumpkin cut in half... the picture doesn't quite capture it, but I do promise it's gorgeous. The colors are so bright and exciting! It's a very eye-capturing dish, and baking it actually in the pumpkin is a really cool asthetic trick that makes it seem way more advanced than it really is.

Note of warning: peeling the inside of a pumpkin for the filling takes a LONG time. I did it with Law and Order in the background...I suggest something similar.

In changes from the original recipe, I used lasagna noodles instead of making my own, and used a veggie peeler on the pumpkin instead of cutting it into dice--it makes pureeing it without a food processor remarkably easier.

INGREDIENTS

Pasta:
4 cups sifted flower "00" flour
2 eggs
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. fresh orange zest
1 tbsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. water

Pumpkins:
2 small sugar pumpkins
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. freshly grated cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
salt and pepper to taste

Filling:
2 lbs. skin off pumpkin meat ( large dice)
2 sprigs fresh thyme, picked
1 tbsp. fresh sage, chiffonade
1 tsp. freshly ground cinnamon
1 tsp. freshly ground ginger
salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

Pasta: In a food processor combine flour, salt, sage and orange zest- add eggs , olive oil and water to a dough consistency remove separate into four smaller pieces of dough wrap in plastic and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour.

Pumpkins: Pre-heat oven to 375. Wash pumpkins thoroughly. Remove tops of sugar pumpkins scrape out all pumpkin innards. Season inside of pumpkins with above ingredients. Place pumpkins cut side up on half sheet pan roast in the oven at 375 for 30 minutes or until fork tender. Allow pumpkins to cool completely. Set aside.

Filling: Cut pumpkin into uniform pieces toss in a bowl with all above ingredients spread on a non stick baking sheet bake in 375 oven until fork tender. Place pumpkin in food processor and puree until smoothSeason to taste add 1 tbsp. fresh sage. Layer cooled pumpkins with pumpkin filling pasta, parmesan change and ground ginger snaps. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes. Increase oven temp to 450 for 5 minutes. Allow pumpkin to cool 5-10 minutes before serving- serve with freshly grated Parmesan and crushed ginger snaps.