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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Year's End Cooking Round-Up

I started writing a blog at this URL in late September 2008, but I committed to making it a food blog in the beginning of 2009. Looking back over the past 12 months I was surprised to find that these were the Top Ten viewed posts of "From Kirsten's Kitchen to Yours." It's an interesting mix!

The most searched recipe is Kombucha, which apparently gets searched and viewed often. (when I google myself, this is one of the first sites to surface!) I attribute it the gorgeous photo which makes this so enticing. Kombucha is one of those drinks that you either love or hate. And if you're in the loving camp you quickly learn how to make it since at $3 plus for 20 oz, it's a pricey addiction. And, no, that is not a typo, it is an addiction, particularly because the "well-being" its promoters tout is real, hence my subtitle the elixir of life!


Corn Chowder is one of those homey dishes that highlights the simplicity of ingredients cooked well. Combine corn, cream and potatoes with salt and pepper and butter and you'll have satisfied eaters coming back for more. You can make this with or without canned corn but don't skimp on the cream, it is what makes this soup a cut above the rest.


This is an easy breakfast that is so satisfying, modified from my favorite restaurant from grad school. Poor potatoes have gotten such a bad rap for having carbohydrates in them (do not get me started on that rant, you will have to kick the soap box out from under me!) Rants aside, fried potatoes are one of the greatest foods in the world and topping them with scrambled eggs and cheese is frosting on this savory lover's cake. Using a mixture of colorful potatoes just ups the ante (and the variety of vitamins).

My two passions in life are food and film so when they collided in the movie Julia and Julie, I was in foodie/film heaven. This Bruschetta in honor of Julia and Julie was a no brainer, particularly since August is the month of ripe and luscious tomatoes in the U.S. Bread, tomatoes and olive oil; how can you argue with that?



Salmon Cakes, made from fish out of a can were a revelation. It was only recently that I looked beyond tuna in a can and tried crab and salmon. I used to think salmon was only for fancy meals out or special dinner parties. But discovering the great taste packed in this can was so exciting. Now, I always have a can or two in the pantry since it is so easy to make.




My first Indian dish on the blog, Bengali Masar Dal Soup was inspired by No Croutons Required and its monthly challenge of soup and salad recipes. October's challenge was to cook from your pantry and I was thrilled to use up my red lentils that had been following me around for a couple of moves (this year I moved four times, a record even for me!) It was great fun being part of a blogging challenge and it introduced me to several new sites that I currently follow, a real bonus to getting to cook great food!


This soup,Thai Carrot Ginger Soup was a staple at Just Food Co-op, the first co-op I worked at. People would rush in the store hoping it was available, buying it in bulk (until I wised up and began offering it refrigerated). It's one of those soups that has just enough exotic flavors - ginger, coconut milk, cilantro, lime - to conjure faraway places but is really homey and comforting with the sweet potato and carrots as the base. I think of it as the perfect winter soup since its rich color is so inviting and a nice break from the blandness of other creamy colored comfort food (mashed potatoes, mac and cheese) that people naturally crave in the colder months.


Broccoli is king of the green vegetables in my house (although Kale is definitely Prince). I can eat it with anything but this is one of my favorite ways to prepare it. Garlic Lemon Broccoli satisfies my love of garlic and the zip from the lemon is almost a whisper of sour that I adore. It is an elegant enough preparation that it has graced the table at dinner parties as well as served as a meal unto itself. I often leave the broccoli spears whole which makes a prettier presentation at the table. Do not think to gild this lily with some grated parmesan cheese, the lemon juice needs to stand alone.


Having a sour tooth does not lend well to dessert making, so it is not surprising that my most popular dessert posting was from a guest blogger. Apple Crumble is simple and delicious, letting the ingredients speak for themselves. I particularly loved the oatmeal in the crumble portion which added a nice crunch. But I think the best part was having someone else cook this for me, what a treat!



Last but most certainly not least is Cauliflower Gratin which is my reigning favorite dish of the moment. I have always loved cauliflower, raw or cooked, but this dish took me to new heights of rapture. It was tender and creamy and crunchy and buttery, all in one bite. Best of all it was easy and quick and fairly healthy as gratins go. If I lived alone I'd probably be eating it every day for at least a week with no one around to witness my obsession!

Thanks for joining me this year and hope you enjoy what's to come.

Hugs!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cauliflower Gratin - Easy Style

Cauliflower is one of those vegetables that people have trouble preparing. Steaming cauliflower is wonderful but sometimes you just want a little more pizazz. French gratins are the the most common way to add some zip - cheese, butter bread crumbs and a white sauce. But that version usually requires parboiling the cauliflower and making a bechamel sauce. I wanted a quicker and lighter version and decided to try some shortcuts.

Taking my lead from scalloped potatoes I skipped the parboiling step and baked the gratin covered with a little milk. I didn't even miss the creamy white sauce since the cauliflower was perfectly steamed and oozing with cheese and buttered breadcrumbs.

Happily, this was a shortcut experiment that worked out well!

Cauliflower Gratin - Easy Style

1/2 head cauliflower, sliced in 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup milk
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup bread crumbs
3 tablespoons butter
salt
1 teaspoon caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle a little olive oil on the bottom of an 8 inch baking pan and smear around. Layer cauliflower slices, slightly overlapping. Sprinkle caraway seeds over all and evenly distribute cheese over top. Pour milk in on the side of the dish and shake to distribute. In skillet, melt butter and stir in bread crumbs and stir 1 minute until they absorb all of the butter. Salt lightly and distribute evenly over cauliflower. If you have a cover for the pan, cook for 20 minutes covered. If not, cover with tin foil and crimp edges to seal in pan. Remove cover after 20 minutes and cook another 10 minutes to allow top to brown.

Hugs!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Four Cheese Polenta Casserole

I recently got a full time job, at a co-op no less. While the pay is not that exciting the 20% discount on good food is great. But that also means that my cooking will shift a bit, more towards what can be reheated for lunches then the more expansive cooking I've been doing during these past few months when I was unemployed.

I decided to search one of my favorite blogs, Simply Recipes, for inspiration and found this great looking casserole recipe . Since I was cooking from my pantry and didn't have any fontina cheese as Elise's recipe called for, I compensated by using almost all of the cheeses in my larder and turned this into a four cheese casserole. Adding some lacinto kale (aka dinosaur or Tuscan black kale) which needed to be cooked up almost made this a healthy dish. Regardless of the calories, it was mighty tasty and I expect it to get better with time!

Four Cheese Polenta Casserole

1 cup coarse cornmeal
1 quart water
1 teaspoon salt
15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 bunch kale, shredded
1/2 onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded pecorino romano cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

In medium sauce pan saute onion in olive oil until softened. Add kale and cook until wilted. Stir in tomatoes and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. Set aside. In sauce pan bring quart of water to boil, add 1 teaspoon of salt and slowly add cornmeal stirring constantly. Cook 10 minutes, stirring continuously. In large casserole pan (9 inch square, 10 inch round) dab bottom with tomato mixture, then add half of polenta, followed by half of tomato mix, top with half of each cheese and repeat. Finish with cheese. Allow to sit at room temperature for 2 hours. Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Hugs!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Fennel and Mushroom Tart

While most people easily associate quiche with French food, allow me to introduce you to its lesser known cousin, vegetable tarts.

Tarts are the original street food of France, sold in bakeries by the slice and consumed at lunch, or anytime for a light snack. I discovered them in this fashion when I spent my junior year of college in Paris and was delighted to find that they are less eggy than quiche, which sometimes I find overwhelming.

A good tart is really defined by its crust and not too much filling. Its construction differs from quiche in that you layer the ingredients instead of combining it all together and then pouring it into a crust. In true peasant style, these tarts originated as pulling together lots of leftovers - extra pie crust, cooked vegetables, cheese and some eggs. It's a wonderful savory dish that tastes great hot or cold.

Fennel and Mushroom Tart

1 unbaked pie crust(or make it yourself as noted here)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 oz white mushrooms, minced
1/2 onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon thyme
5 porcini pieces, rehydrated in 2 cups boiling water
1/2 fennel bulb, sliced in 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup swiss cheese, grated
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
3 eggs, beaten
goat cheese, crumbled (optional)
salt
pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake pie crust for 10 minutes and remove to cool. Turn oven up to 400 degrees. Remove porcini pieces and mince. Bring small pot of water to boil and parboil fennel pieces for 5 minutes until tender but still have some crunch. Drain and chop. Saute onion in olive oil until soft. Add both mushrooms and thyme and cook on medium heat until mushrooms give up liquid. Remove from heat. Fill tart by sprinkling half of each cheese across bottom of crust. Spread mushroom onion mixture across top of cheese and evenly distribute fennel across top of mushrooms. Cover tart with remaining cheese. Pour beaten eggs over tart and swirl to evenly distribute. Sprinkle goat cheese on top if using. Bake for 30-40 minutes until top is lightly browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Cut and serve.

Hugs!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pork Chorizo Chili

This was one of those meals that was a true experiment. We had some defrosted pork strips for a stir fry and I had just made some pinto beans when I decided that I was more in the mood for Mexican food rather than Chinese. So I dug up my favorite vegetarian chorizo recipe and decided to combine the beans, pork and chorizo flavorings to make a chili of a sort. Happily, it worked out splendidly.

Pork Chorizo Chili

1 lb pork strips
2 bacon strips, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, minced
1 carrot, minced
2 cups canned tomatoes
1 cup stock or bean cooking liquid
2 cups cooked beans (pintos, red kidney)
1 red pepper, cored and diced
3 ancho peppers, (dried pasilla) torn in pieces
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon salt
4 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 whole cloves
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoons oregano
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon stock or water

In a skillet dry roast the ancho pepper and seeds and the cumin seeds, 5-7 minutes until fragrant. Place in a food processor and add salt, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, pepper flakes, and oregano. Pulse to combine. Add cider vinegar and stock or water to create a paste. Set aside

In large stock pot cook bacon over medium heat. Once all bacon fat renders add pork and 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook until it looses raw color. Remove meat from pan and set aside. Meat will give up some liquid; heat liquid over high heat and add onion and carrots and cook until soft. Add spice paste to onions and stir to combine. Add tomatoes and beans and water to just cover if you don't have bean liquid. Bring to boil and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes. Add meat back to pot and cook another 10 minutes to marry flavors. Season liberally with salt and serve over rice.

Hugs!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Clementines, Sicilian Style


Clementines, Satsumas, Mandarine oranges; call them what you will but now is the time of their abundance and lucky for us that means they're super bargains and super sweet.

I am not the type of cook to get loopy about big name chefs, and particularly not their glossy cookbooks. But there's always an exception to sweeping statements like that and this is a whopper. When I first started cooking, it was for a good but smaltzy Italian family restaurant. Then I graduated to regional and seasonal cooking with the original queen of Italian cooking in America, Marcella Hazan. But all of them pale next to my exuberance for Mario.

Mario Batali that is, and his latest book, Molto Italiano. Not only does this book bring Italy to your doorstep but Batali honors the simplicity of Italian cooking across its regions without watering them down. He makes you believe that fresh food is the only way to cook as well as the easiest. And the variety is endless.

While I love the classic Italian food exalted by Hazan and her home region of Emilia-Romagna - Parmesan cheese, Balsamic Vinegar, Prosciutto and Parma Hams - I have always loved the more rustic Sicilian flavors of sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and fresh fish. Mario covers them all and with loving attention to detail, both in the recipes and his descriptions of sampling the dishes across the regions.

This simple preparation of oranges is the perfect example; the additions of balsamic vinegar and cracked pepper heighten the sweetness of the fruit and make you feel like you're siting in Palermo with the sun reflecting off the sea on your upturned face.

Clementines, Sicilian Style


4-5 clementines, peeled and separated into sections
2-3 teaspoons good aged Balsamic Vinegar (mine is 4 years, about $6 for the bottle)
2 teaspoons sugar
cracked pepper

Toss sections with sugar and vinegar well. Spoon into martini glasses or small bowls and grind fresh pepper on top and serve.

Hugs!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

This post is a little late for the holiday season if you've already planned your menus, but its a great dip for parties, like the one you may have on New Year's Eve. Simple, fairly inexpensive ingredients, and so delicious you'll feel like you ordered catering!

Since this is a hot dip, you can get away with buying already shredded Parmesan cheese, but makes sure it's the real thing since the artificial stuff uses additives to keep it from clumping and that does not melt well. I use canned artichoke hearts that are marinated in water rather than olive oil, since the spinach gives off some liquid and you don't want it to be too watery.

If you feel like experimenting, pimento peppers or some chopped olives would also be great additions, no more than 1-2 tablespoons so as not to overpower the remaining ingredients.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip


1 cup sour cream
1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 cup cooked, chopped spinach
1 15 oz artichoke hearts, drained, chopped
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon salt
loads of ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix all ingredients in bowl and place in 8 inch baking dish. Smooth out and cook for 25 minutes until top begins to lightly brown. Serve with crackers or corn chips.

Hugs!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Creamy Root Vegetable Coleslaw

Coleslaw is one of those dishes that can be as boring as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or as exciting as falling in love with a new cuisine, at least in my book.

I'm a huge fan of raw vegetables and red cabbage in particular so I never tire of making new coleslaw combinations. Since I generally try to eat seasonally (if not locally) coleslaw becomes my salad of choice in the fall and winter. I love the crunch of raw cabbage and the tang of either cider or red wine vinegar in my coleslaw dressing. Adding other vegetables is like playing bingo with vegetables: what do I have in the refrigerator and pantry that will go well together?

I also enjoy adding nuts - walnuts, toasted sunflower seeds or sesame seeds - and dried fruit like raisins or cranberries add a touch of sweetness or crunch that is welcome in coleslaw.

What distinguishes this version from others that I've made is the fresh dill, lending it an almost Scandinavian touch which I loved. Adding fresh fennel and carrots made this a more root vegetable oriented slaw, perfect for this time of year!

Creamy Root Vegetable Coleslaw


1 cup red cabbage, shredded
1 cup green cabbage, shredded
2 green onions, chopped
1/2 fennel bulb, sliced thin
1 carrot, grated on large holes
1/4 cup fresh dill, minced
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 teaspoons honey or agave nectar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
pepper

Combine all vegetables in bowl. In separate bowl or measuring cup combine vinegar and salt and stir to dissolve. Add oil and mix to emulsify. Add honey or agave, mustard and pepper and blend well. Add mayonnaise and dill to dressing and combine well. Pour over vegetables and thoroughly blend. Allow salad flavors to marry for at least 20 minutes.

Hugs!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Double Mushroom and Wild Rice Soup

I never appreciated wild rice until I moved to Minnesota where it is practically a religion. Authentic wild rice is actually the seed of a grass that grows along the shores of lakes throughout Minnesota and is harvested by knocking the seeds off the stalks into the bottom of the canoe.

Truly wild rice can only be harvested by members of the Anishanaabe tribe who live on the land and lakes where it grows. In Minnesotan restaurants, if you put wild rice in a dish - soup, stuffing, casseroles - people will gobble it up. And with good reason. It has an earthy flavor and chewy bite that makes you want to come back for seconds, thirds and fourths.

The most traditional pairing is chicken and wild rice soup but I also love to add wild rice to mushroom soup, with or without cream. In this instance I added some dried porcini mushrooms that I had just found at a great price, which added an even deeper earthiness to the wild rice. Fresh porcini mushrooms are something I have yet to cook with but the dried version has a wonderful smoky aroma that I knew it would go nicely with this soup. Of course you can make it without the porcini, that's just an extra touch if you have access to them.

Double Mushroom and Wild Rice Soup


2 tablespoons olive oil
4 oz white mushrooms, chopped
1/2 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
5-6 pieces of dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 cup wild rice

Pour 2 cups boiling water over the dried porcini if using and allow to soak for 30 minutes. Remove rehydrated porcini, slice in slivers and reserve liquid. Saute onion and garlic in olive oil. Add salt and both sets of mushrooms and thyme and cook over medium heat until mushrooms give up liquid and begin to stick to bottom of pan. Add reserved porcini liquid to pot and bring to boil. Add rice and cook covered for 30-40 minutes until rice is cooked. when done, rice will curl up and be tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Hugs!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Buttermilk Cranberry Cheese Coffee Cake

I don't think of myself as particularly thrifty person except when it comes to food. Maybe it's because I grew up with homemade noodles, pickles, and french fries (why buy it when you could make it seemed to be the food philosophy of my parents). I also spent a year on food stamps in grad school, which means I've always been a "waste not want not" type of cook. So when I made butter the other day (see here for my post on that) I decided to bake up the buttermilk in a coffee cake instead of simply drinking it. Couple that with some leftover cranberry relish and ricotta cheese that needed using up and I produced this yummy coffee cake.

I'm not big on baking or desserts so this was somewhat foreign territory for me. After browsing online I found a recipe here that I thought could stand up to a cheese and fruit filling (and not all sink to the bottom as one writer warned). It's made with whole wheat flour which gives it a much denser consistency and when I make this again I'll definitely swirl the whipped cheese filling into the dough since I think it can handle it.

My palate is more savory than sweet so the cranberries worked well with the sweetened ricotta cheese. Using ricotta cheese in desserts is a traditional Italian approach and I have loved it ever since I tried my first ricotta filled canoli. You could probably substitute a cream cheese filling, thinned with some milk if you wanted to forgo the ricotta.

Buttermilk Cranberry Cheese Coffee Cake

Oatmeal Crumb
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats, divided
1/4 cup white whole-wheat flour, or whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, or cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Cake
2 cups whole-wheat flour, or whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup nonfat buttermilk, (see Tip)
1/4 cup canola oil (or safflower oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 1 1/2 cups homemade cranberry sauce (your can substitute fresh berries)
10 oz ricotta cheese, hand whipped with 2 tablespoons sugar until fluffy

To prepare oatmeal crumb: Combine butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup oats, 1/4 cup flour and 1/2 teaspoon cardamom (or cinnamon) in a food processor. Process until the mixture is crumbly. Turn out into a bowl and add the remaining 1/2 cup oats and walnuts. Combine with fingertips or a fork until blended.

To prepare cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-inch-square pan with cooking spray. Sift 2 cups flour, baking powder, 1 teaspoon cardamom (or cinnamon), baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk eggs and 1/2 cup brown sugar in a medium bowl until well blended, gradually whisk in buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in 2 additions, stirring each time to thoroughly blend the ingredients together.

Spread half the batter in the prepared pan. Dab whipped ricotta cheese over top. Dab cranberry sauce over cheese. Sprinkle half the oatmeal crumb evenly on top. Spoon the remaining batter over the crumbs and gently spread in an even layer. Top with the remaining oatmeal crumb. Bake the coffee cake until browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Hugs!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Phyllo Greens Pie

Working with phyllo dough is one of those ingredients that seems to scare so many people. Lucky for me I once had a roommate who grew up with her mother making homemade phyllo (and I waxed poetic about it in this post). I have made it one of my culinary missions to educate people about the simplicity of using phyllo for savory dishes. It is so easy once you give it a go that I have turned to perfect strangers in grocery store lines and explained the basics.

While this is basically the same recipe from the first post, those photos left a lot to be desired. Here's a new photo of a pie made with an abundance of fall kale and the cooking technique that I mention of pouring eggs over the uncooked pie instead of mixing it in with the filling.

The great thing about this pie is that is tastes delicious, not matter how perfectly (or not) you think it looks. It's a great introduction for getting over your fears of how to work with this unique pastry and it moves beyond the dessert realm!

Phyllo Greens Pie

1/2 roll phyllo dough, defrosted
spray can of cooking oil (like Pam)
1 bunch greens (kale, Swiss chard), cleaned, chopped
1/2 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
6 oz goat cheese
1 cup parmesan, grated
3 tablespoons ricotta cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
pepper

Take phyllo dough out of freezer at least 12 hours prior to using. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add chopped greens and cook until wilted. Remove from heat. Stir in cheeses, dill, pepper and salt to taste. When ready to begin assembly of pie, roll out sheets on clean dish towel and cover with another clean towel.

In 8 x 11 baking pan, spray bottom with oil and lay down two sheets of phyllo. Do not worry if they tear, just arrange them to fit within the bottom of the pan (if the edges go up the side, just fold them down to fit the bottom of the pan.) Spray the sheets with some oil and add another two sheets and spray them as well. Dab filling across the sheets in a layer that is more of a spotted layer rather than an even one. Lay another two sheets of phyllo on top and spray with oil. Then add another two sheets and spray with oil.

Dab filling on top, particularly in the pockets where there is no filling below. Lay another two sheets down on top and before spraying with oil press down with your hands to level the pie out. Continue layering sheets with oil and filling until all filling is gone and make sure to leave 4 sheets for top level.

Spray top sheets with oil and then cut the pie in squares as you would with a finished baked pie, carefully cutting through the raw phyllo. In a bowl add the milk to the beaten eggs and pour over the top of the pie, turning the dish to try and evenly distribute the liquid, making sure to wet down the tops of the phyllo pieces. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until it is browned on top as the picture illustrates. Allow to cool 5 minutes and cut along precut lines and serve. This is all really good cold.

Hugs!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tortilla Soup

Tomatoes and corn are defining ingredients in Mexican cooking and they come together perfectly in the deceptively simple and delicious tortilla soup. Using a few Mexican specific ingredients - a dried poblano pepper and roasted cumin seeds - creates a complexly flavored soup that you can make in less than 30 minutes. Add avocado, cilantro, cheese and the crunch of corn chips and it's a party in your mouth!

Tortilla Soup

1/2 onion, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 dried poblano pepper with seeds (AKA ancho or pasilla)
1 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 cup canned tomatoes (or 2 cups canned is fine)
1/2 cup chick peas
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/3 cup cream
salt
pepper
corn chips
1/2 avocado, cubed
shredded cheese
cilantro, minced

Saute onion, garlic and celery in olive oil until translucent. Add poblano, broken up into pieces and saute another 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, chick peas, cumin and oregano and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes until well melded. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Stir in cream and puree in batches in a blender. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with corn chips, avocado and cilantro and cheese if you like.

Hugs!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Italian Frying Peppers with Garlic

I have always been a huge fan of green peppers, but only raw, not cooked. I eat them like apples and have ever since I was a kid. Although I was teased mercilessly in high school for bringing raw peppers in my lunch bag, I still continued to eat them.

It never even entered my mind to change how I ate green peppers until I was confronted with what seemed like an invasion of frying peppers called Padron peppers. Suddenly the farmers' markets and the local produce stores were inundated with huge mounds of little crinkley green peppers that people were buying like mad. Swept along in this tide I decided to try them, pan frying them in olive oil until charred and then sprinkling them with good salt. What a delight! They were both crispy and sweet, salty and savory, all in one bite. And the real fun about the Padrons is that every tenth pepper is just a tad hot, making it a kind of spicy pepper roulette!

While the padron peppers are not yet in the farmers markets here in Los Angeles their cousin, friarelli, are, and I scooped some of them up for a tasty dinner. Friarelli, aka Italian frying peppers, are both green and red and unlike Padron pepper are always sweet. They make a great appetizer or light lunch with some toasted bread as I ate them here.

Friarelli with Garlic

1/2 lb Friarelli (Italian frying peppers)
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed
salt

Heat skillet over medium high heat. Add olive oil and allow to heat up. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add peppers and toss to coat with oil. Cook peppers until slightly charred. Add salt and toss and serve.

Hugs!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Pico de Gallo and Cheese Quesadillas

Unlike some famous celebrities with a knife fetish I have a chopping fetish. I love to chop vegetables. I find it soothing, rewarding and meditative. It's not that I'm a meticulous cook - far from it - but I love the sensation of cutting vegetables, herbs, whatever. I've only recently recognized this consciously but looking back over the years it's clear that my go-to items for a quick meal generally involve some knife work.

Case in point is pico de gallo with cheese quesadillas. Dicing up some roma tomatoes, green onions, garlic and some cilantro if I had it was the perfect study break when I was in grad school. Frying up some quesadillas literally took about 3 minutes and then I would have a satisfying, kind of healthy, quick meal.

Pico de gallo is the same as salsa fresca, meaning fresh salsa. I used to simply refer to it as salsa until someone educated me about the fact that salsa is always cooked, which is party of the reason it is so saucy as opposed to the chunky version I whipped up in the kitchen. I love the freshness of tomato with some garlic and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. You can also add minced hot chilies or jalapeno, which I do when I have it. Otherwise, it's like a tomato salad in your mouth with the quesadilla as the willing vehicle!

Pico de Gallo

6 roma tomatoes (or 4 regular size tomatoes) diced
2 green onions, chopped, green and white parts OR red onion diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 jalapeno, deseeded for less heat, minced
1 tablespoons cilantro, minced
juice from half lemon
salt
pepper

Combine all in bowl and mix well. Pico de gallo is best eaten within 24 hours of preparation but allowing a few hours for the flavors to marry enhances the flavors.

Cheese Quesadillas


4 flour tortillas
1 cup cheese (any combination cheddar, monterey jack, mozzarella) shredded

Evenly distribute the cheese between two tortillas leaving at least 1/2 inch border. Cover each with another tortillas. Heat a large skillet over medium heat (if it isn't nonstick, add about teaspoon olive oil per quesadilla). Cook quesadillas over low heat until they begin to brown, flip and cook other side. If they puff up, just gently push down. Remove from heat and cut into quarters or eighths and serve with pico de gallo.

Hugs!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Harira - Moroccan Chick Pea, Lentil and Tomato Stew

Since I now live in a Mediterranean climate I've started looking beyond the more common cuisines of that region and have fallen in love with Moroccan cooking. My first foray was to make a lamb tajine and I loved how slow cooking dried fruit like dates, figs and apricots provides a sweetness that tempers the spiciness typical of that dish. Clearly, drying fruit was the best way to preserve the harvest and transport it as the nomadic peoples of Northern African did for centuries until modern kitchens were invented.

Harira is best known as the dish that Muslims use to break their fast during the month of Ramadan and I can see why. With chick peas, lentils, pasta or another grain plus the spice of harissa and the tang of preserved lemons this is one stew that I could eat day in and day out.

This is one of those legume dishes where you really need to cook the chick peas from scratch because there's a special ingredient for this stew that is added at that early stage of the process: cinnamon. Even if you think you are not a fan of cinnamon (as I think of myself) you need to trust the wisdom of generations of Moroccan cooks. The cinnamon is the bass note in this complexly flavored stew.

A final note: While I am a huge fan of substituting ingredients when you don't have them or don't want to spend the money on what seem like luxury gourmet items, it is so worth it to make your own harissa and preserved lemons if only to have them in your refrigerator for Moroccan dishes such as harira and tajines. Not only do they last indefinitely refrigerated but the depth of flavor that they add is unique. Making them at home requires very little investment of time or money and as the Northern hemisphere approaches citrus season this is the perfect time to make some preserved lemons to last the year! recipes for harissa and preserved lemon


Harira - Moroccan Chick Pea, Lentil and Tomato Stew

1 cup chick peas, soaked and cooked with 1/2 stick cinnamon, 2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon turmeric
8 threads saffron, ground in mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups tomatoes (1/2 28 oz can)
1/3 cup brown lentils
2 cups water
1 tablespoon cilantro, minced
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced
1/4 cup Israeli Couscous (rice or pasta would also make good additions, cook accordingly)

To Add At the Table

Minced cilantro
Harissa (1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon added to individual bowls) or 2 teaspoons cayenne
Preserved lemon for garnish (1 to 1/2 tablespoon added to individual bowls) or lemon juice added to individual bowls to taste

Soak and cook chick peas with half stick of cinnamon and two bay leaves as instructed here. In sauce pan cook onion and ginger in olive oil over medium high heat until softened. Add cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, saffron and salt and blend in, stirring to incorporate. Add cilantro, parsley, and tomatoes and cook another 5 minutes. Add water and bring to boil. Add lentils and Israeli Couscous and cook 20-25 minutes until both are tender. Add chick peas along with 1/2 cup reserved liquid and cayenne if not using harissa and simmer for 7-10 minutes. The harira should be more stew like than soupy. Add more water as needed or boil it away if there is too much. Remove from heat and serve with cilantro and lemon juice to pour if not using preserved lemon.

Hugs!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

Recently I have developed an interest in South American cooking and cruising around the web I came across the term Chimichurri and was intrigued simply by the sound of the word. What a delightful surprise to learn that not only is this gorgeous green sauce easy to make but also bursting with flavors I love: parsley, cilantro, and garlic.

As I've noted in earlier posts, I use fresh green herbs as substitutes for lettuce in my green salads and flat leaf parsley ranks high on my list of favorite salad greens. So any condiment that calls for mashing parsley with other fresh herbs like cilantro or mint or oregano along with garlic is a sure-fire winner in my book. What I found so intriguing is that this condiment is traditionally used by Argentinians on steak. Although I'm not a huge fan of large hunks of meat, I do like the occasional steak and decided this was a good opportunity to try out this fragrant sauce.

Similar in look to basil pesto, Chimichurri has a little more bite to it since there is no cheese or nuts to temper the fresh garlic, and the splash of vinegar delivers a finishing kick. In my search on the web I noticed that recipes vary in their use of vinegar versus lemon juice as well as what type of fresh herbs. I've made it with and without fresh mint and it was good both ways.

Chimichurri is a very versatile sauce and I am enjoying it in cooked rice as well as spread on a piece of toast. My next experiment will be to stir it into some cooked white beans for a bean salad with some canned tuna mixed in. I also think that it would make an amazing salad dressing stirred into some mayonnaise or even a great dip mixed into some sour cream. The possibilities are endless!


Chimichurri Sauce


1 cup cilantro, packed
1 cup flat leaf parsley, packed
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2-3 green chilies, chopped (depending on type of chilie and desired heat)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin, ground (for stronger flavor roast cumin seeds and then grind)

Pulse all ingredients in food processor. Adjust for salt and serve. Refrigerated, it seems to last at least a week. I have finished eating it all in that time so I don't know how long it would last. Unlike pesto, it doesn't lose its fresh green color!

Hugs!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Kale Chips - Melt in Your Mouth Deliciousness

It is hard to overstate how delicious these kale chips are, especially if you have a savory palate as I do. Which is not to say that the sweet tooths out there will not also love them; I have heard first hand accounts of similar rapture.

Kale chips may well be the new kettle corn or salty chocolate; I don't pretend to be an accurate predictor of food trends. But I will tell you that these are addictive and it they weren't so delicate, someone out there in fried chip land would be making a bundle off of them. Luckily, they are best (and easily!) made at home. Enjoy!

Kale Chips

1 bunch curly kale, washed, destemmed, torn into bite size pieces
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder

Preheat oven to 375. Dry washed kale as much as possible, either in salad spinner or wrapped in dish towels: shake to get excess water out. Place in large mixing bowl and pour on olive oil and vinegar, salt and garlic powder (or any other spice you desire like cayenne or a mix of spices). Toss with your hands to ensure even coating. Spread kale on foil lined baking sheet in one layer. Cook for 10 minutes and then using tongs or fork turn over and cook for another 8-10 minutes, keeping eye on it so that it doesn't burn. Kale will first wilt and then crisp up. It is good hot or at room temperature. The amount of kale will shrink dramatically but do not overload the baking sheet as this will keep it from crisping up.

P.S. If you have a sweet palate, do not be tempted to forgo the vinegar, it really is critical to bringing out the sweet undertones of cooked kale!

Hugs!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms

During my decade and a half as a vegetarian, meat eaters were always trying to foist portabello mushrooms on me, telling me, "they're really meaty, you'll love them." As a result (and due to my willful nature) I eschewed eating them because I didn't need a meat substitute, thank you very much. Well, my stubbornness simply led to years lost when I could have been enjoying these delectable beauties.

As the blinders have slowly dropped from my eyes I'm finding all of the myths that I had constructed around portabello mushrooms are so false, namely that they're a) complicated to cook, b) expensive, and c) overhyped. I couldn't have been more wrong! So let this be my very public apology to the lovely funghus and a debunking of my own myths.

C) Definitely meets expectations. The other evening dining out I had some Portabello fries, essentially deep fried slices with a light batter and they were divine.

B) Great bargain. Thinking I could try and recreate the fried mushrooms from my evening out I bought two mushrooms and was surprised that at $2.99 per lb at Whole Foods I ended up with two very large mushrooms for only $2.

A) Stunningly easy to make. An unexpected dinner guest forced me to drop the fried mushroom plan and change to stuffed mushrooms. I whipped together a onion spinach stuffing in no time and from start to plate it was only 45 minutes, 25 of which was in the oven, leaving me plenty of time to make a couple of side dishes to round out a full dinner for three which included Brussel sprouts, boiled potatoes, kale chips and a green salad.

Lesson learned: don't let your stubbornness get in the way of great food!

Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms

2 portabello mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 cups spinach loosely packed, washed and chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup bread crumbs, unseasoned
3 oz goat cheese
salt
pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Clean mushrooms. Remove stems and chop fine. In saute pan heat olive oil and add onion and cook 2-3 minutes until translucent. Add chopped mushroom stems and thyme and cook another 3 minutes. (When using dried herbs, always rub them between your fingers to help release the essential oil in them which heightens the flavor). Add spinach and stir into onion mushroom mixture until spinach completely wilts and then add balsamic vinegar to deglaze pan. Allow to cook another minute until all vinegar is evaporated. Remove from heat and place in a bowl with bread crumbs. Mix well and spoon onto mushroom caps, gills side up. Dot tops with goat cheese and bake for 20-30 minutes until caps are tender and cheese is browned. Serve immediately.

Hugs!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sunchoke and Lima Bean Soup

Sunchokes or Jerusalem Artichokes, are actually the roots of a Sunflower, native to the Americas and cultivated by the indigenous peoples here long before Europeans arrived. I love the idea of eating something that someone discovered eons ago just because they realized that the roots (like the seeds) might taste good.

When you see sunchokes in the market it is easy to mistake them for ginger roots. Eaten raw, they are crunchy and slightly nutty. But once cooked, sunchokes definitely take on an artichoke flavor. After looking around at several recipes I decided to roast them with olive oil and rosemary and add them to some dried lima beans I had just soaked. It created a wonderfully creamy soup without using any dairy and still felt lusciously satisfying.

Sunchoke, Rosemary and Lima Bean Soup

1/2 sunchokes, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 tablespoon rosemary, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups lima beans (soaked, cooked) with at least 1 cup of their liquid
OR 2 cups frozen lima beans and 1 cup of water or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, grated
1 teaspoon salt
pepper

Preheat oven to 400. Thoroughly clean sunchokes using a vegetable scrub brush to remove all dirt. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and rosemary and bake for 30 minutes until tender. In sauce pan heat remaining olive oil and saute onion and garlic on low heat until soft, 3-5 minutes. Add grated ginger and pinch of salt and cook another 2 minutes. Add roasted sunchokes, beans and liquid. Add additional water in order to cover all. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer and add salt and pepper. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 3-5 minutes. Process half in blender, puree well and add back to soup. Serve immediately.

Hugs!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Check Out No Croutons Required


It's that time of the month again when No Croutons Required posts the entries for its contest of vegetarian salads and soups. Check it out for a diverse group of bloggers, salads and soups, all focusing on root vegetables. I submitted my Shredded Jicama Salad, an unexpected root recipe, but make sure you check out the others and vote for your favorite on the site, in either the comments section or via email.

Hugs!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Apple Crumble - Guest Post


I am always trying to recruit folks to be a guest blogger and I finally convinced someone to be the first. I hope you enjoy Christine's Apple Crumble, I know I did!

Hi everyone, I'm Christine and I have been living in Southern California for the past two years. And while I love the warmth and palm trees, I've been missing the fall of the East Coast and fresh apples in particular. This is my second attempt at making an upside down apple tart and I have to say that I think it turned out pretty well!

I tried to reduce the calories by using Truvia, a naturally derived sweetner from the stevia plant, but you're welcome to use regular sugar. Dusting the crumble with brown sugar before placing in the oven helped it have that caramelized look that makes it so inviting.



Apple Crumble

3 large apples, cored, cut in inch cubes
3-4 teaspoons cinnamon
2 packets of truvia (stevia derived sweetner) or 4 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup oat flour (or whole wheat works)
1/2 cup rolled oats
7 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar

Preheat oven 375. Toss apples with cinnamon, sweetner or sugar and pour into oven-ready skillet. In separate bowl cut 5 tablespoons of butter into oat flour, rolled oats and salt until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle topping and brown sugar over apples and dab 3 tablespoons butter over top. Bake for 40 minutes or until topping is browned and crispy. Remove from oven and allow to rest 5 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sweet and Savory Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts are the new kale; everyone loves crowing about how much they love them. Such new found adoration would be farcical except that I'm so happy that the little cabbages are getting some love that I crow along with the crowd!

Instead of steaming the sprouts lots of folks are sauteing them, which not only brings out their sweetness but also allows for the additions of apple or cured pork like bacon or pancetta. While I'm a huge fan of adding seasoned pork to cooked cabbage or greens, I decided to stay with a simpler dish and used the balsamic vinegar to augment the natural sweetness of the sprouts.

This is a quick and easy recipe that you can whip up in 10 minutes. By slicing the sprouts thinly, they cook up faster and have a nice crispy edge. Also, you are almost 100 percent guaranteed to avoid the charge of them being bitter when you use the splash of balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan! Tossing in some nuts (almonds, pecans or pine nuts) would also make a great addition to this dish.

Sweet and Savory Brussels Sprouts


1/2 lb Brussels sprouts
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon salt

Trim ends of Sprouts and peel outer leaves. Slice into 1/4 inch slices. Heat pan on high heat and add olive oil. Add garlic and stir immediately. When you begin to smell garlic add sprouts and toss to coat with oil. Allow to cook on medium high heat for 3 minutes, then stir and cook another 3 minutes until some edges begin to brown. Add salt and cook another minute. Add balsamic vinegar and stir to coat. Cook another 3 minutes to allow edges to crisp. Serve hot or cold.

Hugs!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chinese Style Kale with Sesame Salmon

Many new parents complain that they can't get their kids to eat anything green, no matter the preparation nor the vegetable. Let me tell you the story of my friend Elizabeth, raising a toddler and studying to be a nutritionist. When her daughter was little over a year old, she would steam kale and toss it with olive oil and salt and as an incentive for little Zoe to eat it, she would dance around the kitchen every time Zoe ate a piece of kale. Soon, the dances were unnecessary - Zoe had learned to love her greens!

Of course I'm sure little kids aren't the only people who need to be coaxed into eating their greens. While I have several standbys for how to eat my greens (kale or any slightly bitter greens pair really well with pancetta or bacon) I also love it with traditional Szechuewan flavorings such as ginger, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil.

In this dish I really skipped over cultural boundaries to pair jicama with sesame salmon and stir fried kale to create a super delicious combination of spicy, crunchy and deeply green kale taste!

Chinese Style Kale with Sesame Salmon


1 bunch kale, destemmed, washed, dried, torn in pieces
5 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled, chopped in matchsticks
3 tablespoons safflower oil
1 portion Sesame Salmon
1/2 cup jicama, peeled, chopped in matchsticks
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar

Heat wok or large saute pan over high heat for 1 minute. Add oil and allow to heat until smoking. Add garlic and ginger to oil and toss continuously until beginning to brown. Add kale and toss continuously for 2-3 minutes until kale wilts. Remove from heat and place in large bowl. Toss with soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar. Add jicama and salmon and serve.

Hugs!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sun Dried Tomato, Spinach and Shrimp Pizza

As I mentioned here I cooked for an Italian family style restaurant in my first job and every lunch break I ate pepperoni and black olive pizza. I did that for almost two years and I never tired of it. Nor have I tired of pizza. I find bread, red sauce and cheese to be one of the most perfect combinations ever created.

Yet, over the years I have slowly gained respect for thin crust pizzas (Mazzatta's pizza was typical Sicilian style, a thick crust). And more recently I have become a convert to pizza without the red sauce, which I never thought would happen. It turns out that a cheese pizza with the addition of vegetables and the key ingredient of goat cheese is a wonder all to itself.

This version uses Peter Rheinhart's perfect crust and having a couple bags of it in the freezer allows me to indulge my pizza cravings far to easily. This version was made with what I had on hand: a few cooked shrimp, some fresh spinach and oil cured sun dried tomatoes. Hard to go wrong with those toppings!

Sun Dried Tomato, Spinach and Shrimp Pizza

1 pre-made pizza dough
1/2 cup mozzarella, shredded
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
2 cups fresh spinach, washed well and chopped
5-6 sun dried tomatoes, cut into strips
6-8 cooked shrimp
salt
pepper

Preheat oven to 450. On baking sheet, sprinkle coarse corn meal (or grease with olive oil.) Stretch dough as thin as possible without tearing. Sprinkle mozzarella, followed by parmesan cheese. Scatter shrimp and sun dried tomatoes, sprinkle goat crumbles around. Sprinkle freshly washed spinach with water still clinging to leaves. Bake until crust is browned and cheese begins to brown. Remove from oven and salt and pepper (the spinach appreciates it) allow to sit a minute. Cut and serve.

Hugs!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Perfect Pantry - Peek into Mine!

In case you haven't found the wonderful food blog, The Perfect Pantry, be sure and check it out. Not only is Lydia a wonderful writer but she has a fun feature every Saturday called, "Other People's Pantrys" where she features photos from readers' pantries. Mine is featured today, so take a gander at what I've been cooking from!

Hugs!

Corn Chowder

Corn Chowder is one of those easy soups that can either remind you of cheap creamed corn or can easily be taken to gourmet heights with a few high quality ingredients.

As a student I would go the cheap route: frozen corn, skim milk, and some vegetables for a filling hearty vegetarian soup. After I began cooking professionally, and like most professionals, fell in love with high end ingredients, I learned to make a chowder that used cream, homemade stock and fresh corn. While both versions are good, the more gourmet style really tastes so much better that I can't go back.

I know that much of the colder northern hemisphere is way beyond fresh corn season and posting this recipe from southern California is somewhat unfair. But if you're sliding into the winter months and you happened to freeze some sweet corn from the summer, this would be the perfect time to bring back the taste of summer in a warming cup of soup!

Corn Chowder

3 ears corn, shucked
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/4 bulb fennel, chopped
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt
pepper

In large stock pot bring enough water to boil to contain corn. Boil for 10 minutes until cooked. Drain all but 3 cups of boiling water and set aside. When corn is cool enough to handle, cut corn off cob. Place cobs back in cooking water and bring to boil and cook at least another 30 minutes. In smaller sauce pan, saute onion in olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add celery and fennel and dried thyme if using and cook another 5 minutes. Pour corn cob stock into pot and add corn and fresh thyme if using. Bring to boil and then reduce heat. Simmer for 20 minutes or until celery and fennel are very soft. Remove thyme sprigs and turn off heat. Add salt and pepper to taste and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Stir in cream and serve.

Hugs!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Shredded Jicama Salad

Jicama is one another one of those strange looking vegetables whose ugliness I find oddly compelling. It looks like an overgrown nut, plain in color and yet intriguing. Its flavor is very distinctive yet subtle but the real draw is its crunchy texture which releases a fresh flavored juice that is totally unexpected.

Indigenous to Mexico, it is actually a root vegetable of a very large vine. While I have never seen it growing, I imagine it is one of those plants that can overtake a wall since it can grow up to 15 feet long.

Unlike some vegetables, it really does not mix well with others. I think of it as a king of a small island; it needs to be the center of attention and its couriers are very small in number. However, like most small tropical islands, it is worth the visit!

Jicama is best grated or sliced in matchsticks and tossed with salt, lime juice, cayenne and a little oil. Here, I added some grated carrots, fresh fennel, celery and if I would have had it, cilantro. It doesn't absorb its dressing really well, so don't over do it.

While most people don't readily think of jicama when root vegetables are mentioned, it is and also my submission for the No Croutons Required Soup and Salad Challenge for the month of November which focuses on root vegetables. Check out the challenge and discover other great blogs. Or make this salad and try a new root vegetable with texture like a water chestnut and a sweet, citrusy juice!




Shredded Jicama Salad

1/2 large jicama, peeled and shredded on large holes
1 carrot, shredded
1/2 fresh fennel, shredded
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 lime, juiced
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Toss all in bowl and serve immediately.

Hugs!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sesame Salmon

If you don't know by now that wild salmon is not only really delicious but super healthy for you, crawl out from under that rock you've been hiding under and join the party. Wild caught salmon (as opposed to farmed) lives in the cold depths of the sea and because of its chilly home it develops a high oil content which is where omega-3 fatty acids collect. It is these acids that are so good for us (they're a collection, look it up if you want all the nutritional nitty gritty info.) Regardless of its status as a superfood I just love to eat it!

While lightly steamed or baked salmon with a squirt of lemon juice or even just butter, salt and pepper is wonderful, sometimes I like to dress it up with this Asian marinade that I originally used for tuna steaks (another fish high in those great omega-3s.) This is such a simple combination but the addition of the rice wine, which has a subtle sweetness, really brings out the salmon flavor.

I make this as a hot meal for dinner or save it to put on greens for a very satisfying lunch.

Sesame Salmon

1 lb salmon steaks
1/3 cup soy sauce
4 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
3 teaspoons rice wine

Mix marinade ingredients in baking pan that will hold the steaks. Marinate fish on each side for 15 minutes each but don't over marinate, since the flavor of the salmon will be lost in the marinade. Bake in preheated oven at 400 degrees, skin side down, for 15-20 minutes or until middle of fish is done. Serve immediately or chilled.

Hugs!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Garlicy Kale

I cannot remember when I learned kale was a "superfood" but it was definitely within the last 5-7 years. Since then whenever people talk about "eating whole foods" kale is always mentioned and people hold out their love for kale as proof that they eat healthy. It is truly amazing what hype and publicity can do for something (or someone) because now kale is ubiquitous, and not simply in the conventional grocery stores as garnish in the deli cases!

The fun thing about kale's popularity is that farmers have explored different varieties. There's the curly kale (of display case notoriety), Russian kale with its purple tinges, and Lacinto or Tuscan kale (my favorite) just to name a few. The different textures of these varieties allow for a wide range of uses. Curly kale is the best kale for baked kale chips since its ruffles capture olive oil and salt so well and bake up into crispy healthy treats. Russian kale is a less dense leaf that requires less cooking and is a good substitute for spinach in the Japanese sauce of Gommae. Tuscan or Lacinto kale has a texture in between the other two and can stand up to scrambled eggs or fritatas as well as being added to vegetable stir frys.

In this dish I used the curly kale and made what is a quick and simple dish, but loaded with wonderful flavor and the satisfying green taste of good fresh kale.

Garlicky Kale

8-10 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch curly kale, destemmed, chopped well

Place large pot over high heat and when you can feel the heat above the pan add oil and allow to heat for 1/2 minute. Add garlic and stir fry 1 minute until you begin to smell garlic. Add kale and toss to absorb oil for 1 minute. As kale begins to wilt add 2 tablespoons of water and cook until all of water is gone and kale is wilted but garlic is just beginning to brown. Remove from heat and serve immediately or serve at room temperature.

Hugs!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Beef Vegetable, Stone Soup Style

Do you know the story of stone soup? It's essentially the story of how a homeless man (or in the parlance of the day, a wandering traveler) came to town looking for some food for work but no one wanted to open their doors to him for fear that he would rob them. Not to be deterred, the traveler announces in the town square that he's going to make the most delicious soup from a stone.

As the man places his pot full of water with a stone in it over the fire he has built, curious town folk begin to gather to see how he will produce this magical soup. Drawn in by his story telling, one by one they contribute a vegetable here, a meat bone there and some grains here. Soon it truly is a delicious soup boiling away and drawing the whole town with its delicious scent. In the end it is enough to feed all and everyone is so pleased with having contributed to the magical soup.

I love so many elements about this story; the traveler's faith in changing the town folk's minds, the soup feeding all, and most of all, the creation of something satisfying and nourishing from humble ingredients. This recipe could easily be the soup of the story and I love its meaty flavor without the heaviness that meat can impart to soups.

Beef Vegetable Stone Soup Style

1 beef marrow bone
4 qts water
bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 fresh fennel, chopped
2 red potatoes, chopped
2 stems fresh thyme
1/2 cup barley
2 teaspoons salt
pepper to taste

Place bone, water and bay leaf in stock pot, bring to slow boil and reduce heat. Simmer for at least 1 hour, 2 is best. In sauce pan, heat olive oil and add onion and garlic and cook 2 minutes until you begin to smell garlic. Add carrots and celery and cook another 3 minutes and then add fennel, stir well and cook another 2 minutes. Add potatoes, thyme, barley and 4 cups of prepared beef stock with bay leaf and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes or until barley is cooked. Remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs, season with salt and pepper. Skim beef fat off top and serve.

Store leftover beef stock in glass mason jar and allow beef fat to collect at top to seal stock. Freeze for 3 months or refrigerate for 1 week.

Hugs!

Friday, November 6, 2009

No-Knead Bread Redux - Perfect Rye with Caraway

I rhapsodized about the beauty of the no-knead bread method in this post, but truth be told, the original proportions and timing works best with white flour. I on the other hand love rye bread with caraway seeds.

Since my first no-knead attempt, I have been trying to perfect the proportions for rye. For those of you who have made traditional breads you'll know that rye flour has less gluten which is why it is stickier as a dough, has a denser crumb and is a low riser as bread go. Already knowing this I decided to let the rye bread version rise another 12 hours and found that my breads were kind of gummy when baked. I had attributed that to not baking it long enough but after receiving Peter Rheinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice Cookbook for my birthday I read that the gumminess was actually due to letting it rise too long.

I found these proportions for rye no-knead on the internet (and have lost the reference, sorry!). This loaf still has a somewhat moist crumb, but not nearly as gummy as what I had before. I still think it's the best there is!

No-Knead Rye Bread with Caraway

2 cups bread flour
2 cups rye flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
2 cups water

Combine all in bowl large enough for dough to easily double. Be sure to mix in well so that all flour is mixed in, but mix gently. I prefer to use a rubber spatula to get it all in. Cover with plastic wrap or a cut open grocery bag and secure tightly with a rubber band. Place in a warm spot (in a gas oven with a pilot light or on top of the refrigerator works well) and allow to rise for 12 hours. Remove dough from bowl and scrap onto large cutting board or clean counter sprinkled with flour. Dust top with flour and cover with dish cloth and allow to rest for 1 1/2 hours. Place covered baking pot in oven preheated to 450 degrees and allow pot and lid to warm in oven for 30 minutes. Carefully scrape dough into heated pot and cover and bake for 35 minutes. Remove lid and bake another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and slide bread onto cooling rack and cool at least 2 hours. I often bake at night and wrap bread in a clean dish cloth overnight. Rye breads in particular need to breathe before being put away. For the first 24 hours after coming out of the oven I only wrap it in a dish cloth. Then I put it away in a plastic bag and store at room temperature.

Hugs!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Indonesian Rice Salad

This week I embarked on my maiden voyage as someone's "personal chef." My sister Emily is working a temporary gig that involves 12 1/2 hour work days for 10 days straight. Needless to say that leaves little time or energy to prepare meals for said working day. So I offered to prepare her meals in advance; the only catch is she doesn't have access to anything to heat her food and she eats what is generally deemed an anti-inflammation diet.

My creations had to taste good cold and only involve a limited list of ingredients, generally a whole food diet of mostly vegetables, some grains and fish but with the noted exclusions of nightshades (tomatoes, eggplants), citrus, corn, gluten and meat. It was a challenge, but between the two of us we came up with some winners.

This rice salad is one that I found while working for the co-op deli, and while I cannot attest to its authenticity in terms of being Indonesian I can testify to its sparky flavors and surprising combination of sweet, sour and crunchy (toasted cashews!)

Indonesian Rice Salad

1 cup brown rice, uncooked
1 stalk celery, diced
1/4 each of red, orange, yellow bell peppers, diced
1 cup pineapple, diced (1/2 can, juice reserved)
1/2 jalapeno, deseede, diced
1/3 cup cilantro, minced
1/3 cup fresh mint, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated, separated into 2 (about 4 inch piece)
1/3 cup cashews, toasted (either dry fry in skillet or in toaster oven but keep eye on them as they begin to burn quickly)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2-3 teaspoons honey (optional)

Cook rice as directed. In bowl combine peppers, jalapeno, celery, pineapple, herbs, toasted cashews and 1 tablespoon fresh ginger. Mix olive oil, cider vinegar, remaining ginger, and 1/3 cup reserved pineapple juice until well blended. If desired, add honey and mix to blend. Combine rice with rest of ingredients and pour dressing over all. Mix well and chill.

Hugs!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tuscan White Beans with Sausage and Sage

"Poverty was my best teacher" was what I used to tell people who asked how I learned to cook. While I was in grad school for seven years I not only became a vegetarian (primarily for economical reasons) but I also spent a year on food stamps. Despite my lack of financial resources and because I was an academic I read books to learn how to make staples instead of buying them. I quickly realized that making your bread, quiche crusts and beans was much cheaper than buying the prepared versions. I came to recognize that not only did I love the break from studying that cooking gave me but my academic researcher side loved exploring how to make basics like mustard, BBQ sauce and other assorted foods that I never thought to think that someone once made instead of buying it at a store.

White beans were the first beans that I fell in love with and when I was looking around for a bean stew for the hot bar at the co-op deli that I worked at, this sage and sausage one jumped out at me. I love that the meat and the vegetables are all supporting elements for enhancing the white beans and don't overpower them. If you want to make this vegetarian, add about a teaspoon of toasted fennel seeds or some fresh chopped fennel to bring that flavor that would have been part of the sausage.

Tuscan White Beans with Sausage and Sage


1 1/2 cups white beans with liquid* (or 15oz can of beans)
2 Sweet Italian Sausage, raw
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 carrot, diced
1/2 celery stalk, diced
1 large tomato, cored and diced
1 bay leaf
3-4 fresh sage leaves, chopped
teaspoon salt
pepper

Squeeze sausage out of its casing in teaspoon amounts in sauce pan and cook over medium heat until sausage is all browned. Add onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add carrots and celery and cook another 4-5 minutes. Add white beans with liquid and mix well and cook another 4-5 minutes. Add tomato, bay leaf and sage and stir well. Bring to low boil and then reduce to simmer and cook another 20 minutes until mixture begins to meld. Add at least 1 teaspoon salt and possibly more since beans take a lot of salt. Add pepper to taste.

*Soaking and Cooking Dry Beans
If you plan in advance you can make your own beans, which is not only cheaper to buy bulk beans but also easier to digest when you soak them and then boil them. I usually soak the beans in at least 2 inches of water to cover them and a piece of kombu, which is a flat seaweed that is used to make Dashi, Japanese broth used in miso soup. I soak the beans for 8-12 hours (usually overnight) in a deep casserole dish that can go from the stovetop to the oven.

I learned to make beans by bringing them to a boil on top of the stove and then placing them in a preheated oven at 325 degrees and cooking them covered for 45-60 minutes, depending on the bean. For white beans, it takes about 45 minutes. If you don't have this kind of casserole dish, you can simply bring the beans to a boil and then reduce to simmer and cover and cook on the stovetop, they'll be just as good. When you bring the beans to a boil, they will usually create some foam that rises as the boiling happens. Skim off the foam and reduce to simmer or place in the oven covered to cook.


Hugs!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Traditional Italian Style Grilled Radicchio

Radicchio is one of those interesting vegetables that so many people don't know what to do with. Most of us are introduced to it in a salad where it is mixed in raw to add some color to the rest of the greens and yet that is the worst way to eat it.

To me radicchio is the Jekyell and Hyde of vegetables; served raw it's bitter and practically inedible but slow grilled or baked in the oven with olive oil and salt it becomes a crisp and almost buttery sweet treat. Such a difference adding heat makes!

I reach for radicchio when I find myself tiring of a constant stream of green vegetables; its slight peppery flavor breaks the monotony. But be sure to buy fresh heads (firm when lightly squeezed and crisp looking leaves) or it will continue to taste bitter despite the baking or grilling.

I like to make grilled radicchio along with a mix of other vegetables, such as asparagus or green beans and then serve them all on a platter. Adding some minced rosemary when baking or grilling also works well. Chopped parsley or mint are wonderful garnishes too.

Grilled Radicchio with Balsamic Vinegar


1 head radicchio, outer leaves and core removed, sliced in 1/2 inch slices
salt
olive oil to drizzle
1-2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Place slices on baking sheet to accommodate all in single layer. Sprinkle with olive oil and salt. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until edges crisp. Remove from oven and sprinkle with balsamic vinegar for additional sweetness. Serve warm or room temperature.

Hugs!