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.