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.