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.


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
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.


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.


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)

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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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.


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.


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

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.


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

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.


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
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.


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

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.


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

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.


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.