Friday, December 10, 2010

Butternut Squash Risotto

I teach monthly cooking classes for clients at work. Many are kitchen neophytes so my lessons tend to cover the basics and include straightforward recipes that require minimal effort. Last week, in a holiday-themed class, we discussed how to handle a butternut squash (peeling, cutting, cleaning and roasting) and since I had a demo squash left over, I was determined to make dinner out of it.

I wanted a dish where the squash would remain king, and then I remembered Ina Garten's Saffron Butternut Squash Risotto (yet another episode I saw at the gym while planning dinner on the treadmill). In all honestly, I'm not what you would consider a winter squash aficionado. I cook it and I eat it but it doesn't have a spot on my favorite foods list... at least not until it's paired with gnocchi, ravioli or a creamy risotto.
This particular risotto managed to knock my socks off. It balances the sweet, savory and creamy components perfectly, and with seared scallops on top, it may actually qualify as one of my favorite meals.

Butternut Squash Risotto
While this risotto is a meal in itself, I highly recommend topping each serving with a few seared scallops. The two flavors and textures are a match made in heaven. Adapted from an Ina Garten recipe.

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces pancetta, finely diced
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 large shallot, minced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
4-6 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Peel the squash, halve lengthwise, remove the seeds with a spoon and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes (about 6 cups). Place the diced squash on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and drizzle with olive oil (about 2 tablespoons), a few good pinches of kosher salt and some black pepper. Toss well and spread in a single layer. Transfer to the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, tossing once, until the squash is very tender. Remove and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the chicken broth in a small saucepan. Cover and keep hot over low heat.

In a large pot, heat the pancetta over medium-low heat for about 8 minutes or until most of the fat has rendered and the pancetta is beginning to crisp. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and the shallots; cook for 5 more minutes or until the shallots are translucent. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid is absorbed, about 4 minutes. Add two ladles of stock, the saffron, 1/2 a teaspoon of salt and a few good grinds of black pepper. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the broth is absorbed, about 6 minutes. Continue adding stock, two ladles at a time, stirring frequently, waiting each time for the liquid to be absorbed before adding more. Continue this process until the rice is cooked through but still a touch al dente, about 30 minutes. Add the butternut squash, Parmesan and a splash more stock, if needed. Toss in the remaining tablespoon of butter, stir well and taste for seasoning. Serve immediately.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Caraway Cabbage with Pasta

If you’re looking for a quick and delicious meal that also happens to be pretty darn healthy, have I got something for you.

This is an Eastern European-style dish that my mom made pretty frequently when we were growing up. I used to love standing at the stove taking in the smell of onions sautéing in butter. And then, along with the shredded cabbage, she’d add the secret ingredient: caraway seeds. Don't even think about making this dish without them. It would be like rye bread without its signature flavor - preposterous! Besides, if my mom found a way to get kids to happily devour cabbage, I wouldn’t mess with a good thing.

From start to finish this only takes about 15 minutes. I’m not normally a pusher of 20 minute meals – that niche has been filled to capacity – but it’s nice to have a few quick dishes in your arsenal for busy nights.

I like to eat my Caraway Cabbage with Pasta on its own but it also tastes fabulous topped with Parmesan cheese or a dollop of sour cream. And, if you need meat or are serving this as a main course, a little crispy pancetta or bacon would push this into the ridiculous category (just cook 4 ounces of diced bacon/pancetta in a skillet over medium heat until crisp; remove, continue with the recipe as written and then add it back in at the end along with the pasta).

I can’t believe it took me this long to make such a beloved childhood dish. Glad it’s back. 

Caraway Cabbage with Pasta
A simple and very satisfying peasant dish. It easily stands on its own but would accompany a braised brisket or pan seared pork chop beautifully. Leftovers taste great with a fried egg on top.

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2-3 as a main course

3 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 small head green cabbage, thinly shredded (5-6 cups total)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
8 ounces dry pasta (my mom always used bowtie but any shape will do)

Set a large pot of salted water on to boil.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the shredded cabbage, a few good pinches of salt, freshly ground black pepper and the caraway seeds. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is tender, 8-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in the salted water until al dente; drain. When the cabbage is tender, add the cooked pasta and toss well. Taste for salt and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve and watch it disappear.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Classic French Baguette Épi

Thanksgiving 2010 was a success, particularly if measured in terms of overeating and unbuttoned pants. As you know, my contribution this year was a fancy artisan épi (a baguette formed to resemble a stalk of wheat), thanks to Peter Reinhart's newest cookbook Artisan Breads Every Day. So much energy is put into the turkey, stuffing and pies that the simplest form of comfort food, good bread and butter, often gets overlooked. Talley changed everything a couple of years ago by making Jim Lahey's celebrated No-Knead Bread so I took it upon myself to continue the baking tradition.

If you're already thinking that a baguette seems too complicated, let me assure you that there are no fancy gadgets or special equipment involved. If you have a mixing bowl, two hands and a regular old baking sheet, you're set.

The dough itself is very straightforward: flour, salt, yeast and water. But the trick is to begin at least one day in advance so that the flavors can develop during a slow overnight fermentation in the refrigerator.

While I was incredibly pleased with the results, I did learn a couple of things the hard way.

1. When creating the necessary oven steam, do not pour cold water into a searing hot Pyrex dish. It will explode.

2. To cut the
épi shape, make each cut in the same fashion down the length of the loaf. The only thing that changes are the alternating directions of the "rolls" (the aesthetics of one of my loaves was sacrificed in order to learn this lesson - but it was still delicious).

This classic recipe (which starts on page 49) produces one of the finest baguettes available, and with minimal effort, which means that you don't need the excuse of a holiday to enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash with Citrus Compound Butter and Rosemary-Scented Sugared Pecans

A friend recently asked if I had any special Thanksgiving recipes to share but to be honest, I’ve never had to host the big dinner at my house. Most years my contribution involves appetizers, homemade bread or pies. And then the other day one of my coworkers shared her very popular, very simple annual dish. It involves roasting butternut squash, drizzling it with melted lemon butter and sprinkling it with chopped rosemary and walnuts. I decided, two days before take-off, to give it a go.

There are many possible variations to this recipe. Since we’re in the midst of the holiday season I thought an herbed citrus compound butter would be beautiful. And while walnuts are lovely, why not add a bit of sweetness with rosemary-scented sugared pecans? The results were dazzling.

There’s no need to be intimidated by the term compound butter; it’s just a fancy way of referring to butter that’s been flavored. If you don’t want to bother, simply melt the butter, mix in the zests, rosemary and salt, and drizzle it over the roasted squash. And if you'd rather skip the rosemary sugared pecans, plain roasted pecans chopped with a bit of fresh rosemary will also make a nice topping (you may want to sprinkle a bit of brown sugar over the squash wedges to give them that sweet-savory component). 

This Thanksgiving we’re heading to Tristan’s aunt and uncle’s house and I’m responsible for the bread (I’m thinking a wheat-sheaf Pain de Champagne) so stay tuned!

Rosemary Sugared Pecans 
1 cup pecans
2 tablespoons butter
2 slightly rounded tablespoons packed light brown sugar
Pinch of cayenne
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
Coarse salt  

Roasted Butternut Squash 
1 medium butternut squash (or squash of choice, delicata is shown here)
Olive oil
Kosher salt 

Rosemary Citrus Compound Butter
The below amounts make more than you'll need for 1 roasted butternut squash.
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon orange zest
Pinch of salt

For the pecans: preheat the oven to 350˚F. Spread pecan halves in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and roast for 8-10 minutes or until they are golden and fragrant. Remove and set aside.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or if you don’t have any parchment, a lightly buttered sheet will do). Set aside.

In a large skillet heat the butter, sugar, cayenne and rosemary over medium-high. Once the butter has melted, add the nuts and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Transfer the nuts to the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with a good pinch of coarse salt. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

For the squash: preheat oven to 400˚F.

If you’d like to serve the squash skinless, use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin. Carefully cut the squash lengthwise in half; scoop out the seeds and fibers with a spoon. Cut each half in half again and rub the cut side of each quarter lightly with olive oil. Place wedges cut side up in a baking dish and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Transfer to the oven and roast until the edges have browned and the flesh is tender, 40-60 minutes.

For the compound butter: mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl. The butter can be used immediately or rolled on parchment paper into a log shape, wrapped in plastic and frozen.

To assemble: Place squash wedges on a serving platter lined with rosemary sprigs. Top each with a dollop of compound butter and a sprinkling of crunchy pecans. Garnish with a bit of orange zest, if desired.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Overnight Steel Cut Oatmeal

I recently bit the bullet and had all four wisdom teeth removed, something I should’ve done as a teenager. It was horrible. Actually, beyond horrible. I was part of the 30% who had problems with blood clots forming (mine formed, just very slowly) and was therefore in excruciating pain for one week straight. Thank god I’ll never have to do that again.

As you can imagine, the first five days necessitated a lackluster diet of yogurt, applesauce, pudding and juice, and let me tell you, I’ll never underestimate texture again. So the moment I felt well enough to chew, I made a big batch of steel cut oatmeal. 

Why steel cut as opposed to rolled oats, you ask? Because their taste (nutty) and texture (chewy) are superior. Sure, they take a bit longer to cook but the proof is in the porridge. 

The best way to prepare steel cut oats is by soaking them overnight. Not only does this cut the cooking time down to 10 minutes, it vastly improves the nutritional profile. Here’s the thing: whole grains contain phytates, which are indigestible organic acids. Left untreated, they bind to nearby minerals (calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc) and block their absorption. Simple soaking actually neutralizes phytates so that they can’t make off with the good stuff. Therefore, grains that have been soaked, fermented or sprouted are much more nutritious than their untreated versions. 

I find it fascinating that most cultures, especially preindustrial cultures, fermented or sprouted their grains before turning them into porridge, breads or cakes. In India they ferment lentils and rice for at least two days in order to make idli and dosas. Ground corn is soaked by African natives before being added to stews while in Mexico, corn cakes called pozol are wrapped in banana leaves to ferment for days. That amazing Ethiopian bread, injera, with its slightly sour taste is made by fermenting a grain called teff. Throughout Europe grains were soaked overnight in soured milk or water before being turned into porridge. Even our American pioneers understood the benefits of treating grains; they were famous for their sourdough breads, pancakes and biscuits. Unfortunately, much of this ancient wisdom has been lost in the buzz of modern life, and quite recently at that. The instructions on the Quaker oatmeal box used to call for an overnight soaking!

With a little forethought you can easily reap the benefits of soaked grains. In the case of steel cut oatmeal, simply boil the oats in water for 1 minute and then let them sit overnight. Another ten minutes in the morning is all it takes to sit down to a piping hot bowl of goodness.

I'd say those 11 minutes are worth it.

Overnight Steel Cut Oatmeal
Soured, fermented oats had a place in the traditional Welsh diet. This treatment is much simpler but provides similar benefits. This oatmeal topped with a little butter and cream tastes exceptional.

3 large or 4 moderate servings

4 cups water
1 cup steel-cut oats
Pinch of salt, optional
Toppings of choice: butter, maple syrup, milk, cream, brown sugar, fruit, nuts, etc.

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the oats and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat, cover and let stand overnight at room temperature.

In the morning, heat the oats along with a pinch of salt (if using) over high heat, uncovered, until boiling. Reduce to low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or until the oatmeal is tender but still has a bit of chew. Divide among bowls and top as desired.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Truffled Popcorn with Rosemary and Parmesan

I come from a popcorn family. I’m not talking about people who enjoy a nice bowl, I’m talking popcorn enthusiasts.

My parents raised us without a television so our evening entertainment consisted of public radio (The Great Gildersleeve, Fibber McGee and Molly) and books. Lots of books. Every night we huddled on the sofa with a stack for mom to read, which nine times out of ten included The Popcorn Book by Tomie de Paola.

The story is about two brothers who look up the history of popcorn while making some for a snack. They find out that it originated with the Native Americans, who cooked it in clay pots or by holding corn cobs directly over the fire (they even made popcorn soup). They believed that a little demon lived inside each kernel and as things heated up he became so angry that he popped! In the meantime, the boys put way too many kernels in the pot and flood the kitchen with popped corn, which, I always thought as a kid, would be a wonderful mistake.

By the end of the book, we’d have one thing on our minds, and that’s when my mom would ask, “Who wants popcorn?” It’s no mystery why this was in our “favorites” rotation.

Nowadays I’m still a popcorn fanatic. Movies and sporting events aren’t worth watching without it. As for toppings, butter and salt will always be a classic but I also enjoy a good sprinkling of nutritional yeast or mixed herbs. My newest obsession, however, is truffle oil.

During our Balkan adventure two summers ago, Tristan and I bought a bottle of local truffle oil at the farmers’ market in Rovinj, Croatia, and ever since we’ve been indulging in truffled popcorn. Melted butter, truffle oil, a little kosher salt – it doesn’t get much better than that.

And then the other day I picked up Donatella Arpaia’s new cookbook, Donatella Cooks, where she suggests a combination of fresh rosemary, truffle oil and pecorino cheese. I love this woman! So I whipped up a batch and brought it to the Seattle Sounders soccer game. Let’s just say that I don’t think I can go back to the stadium kettle corn again.

I barely needed an excuse to make popcorn as it was. Now I’m struggling to find an excuse not to.

~ Dedicated to my mother

Truffled Popcorn with Rosemary and Parmesan
Great for movie night or game day. I’m simply listing the ingredients here; exact amounts depend on how much popcorn you’d like to make. Keep in mind that the melted butter and truffle oil ratio should be 1 to 1. Adapted from Donatella Cooks.

High heat vegetable oil
Popcorn kernels
Melted butter
Truffle oil (white or black)
Fresh ground pepper
Fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Grated Parmesan cheese

Pour a thin film of oil over the bottom of a heavy bottomed pan. Add the popcorn kernels in one layer, cover tightly and set over medium-high heat. When the popping begins, take the pan by the handles and shake often to keep things moving and to prevent burning. When the popping slows, turn off the heat. Once popping is completed, carefully remove the lid and transfer the popped corn to a large bowl.

I like to do this part in stages. Drizzle some of the melted butter and truffle oil mixture (remember, they are in a 1:1 ratio) over the popcorn, then sprinkle lightly with salt, pepper, rosemary and Parmesan. Toss a bit and repeat as many times as needed; be sure to taste as you go!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cappuccinos without the Machine

Living in America’s coffee Mecca presents temptation at every corner. On my walk to work alone I pass three flagship roasters, each trying to lure me in with the rich aromas of their proprietary blends. While I’m a big fan of delicious things, I resist the urge to give in to a four-dollar-a-day habit and instead, leave my coffee splurges for the weekend.

Tristan and I talk frequently about buying an espresso machine but until a Lavazza appears on my counter top, I found a simple way to create luxurious cappuccinos without one. And if you have a French press and either an immersion blender or an old-fashioned whisk, you can too.

Simply brew your favorite coffee in a French press while slowly heating a bit of milk in a saucepan. When the milk is hot but not boiling (little bubbles should appear around the edges), blend with an immersion blender until a thick layer of foam appears on top. No immersion blender? Grab a whisk and whisk the milk in a back-and-forth motion for a similar effect (the foam won’t be quite as thick and dense but delightful nonetheless). Fill your favorite mug one third full with freshly brewed coffee, another third with hot milk and then top it off with a thick layer of creamy foam. And since we eat with our eyes first, a fresh grating of nutmeg or cinnamon tops it off beautifully.

This is the type of drink that requires savoring. It’s simple enough to make everyday and luxurious enough to make every day feel special.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fall-Off-the-Bone Braised Short Ribs

If you’re cooking a birthday dinner for friends and need something a bit special and positively delicious, look no further.

I’ve had slow-braised short ribs on the brain ever since the weather turned chilly, so when our friend Casey’s birthday rolled around a few weekends ago, I was delighted to have an excuse to buy 6 pounds of meat.

A sweet Asian-style braise was my first inclination but since I had my heart set on serving polenta, red wine made a lot more sense. So I put my faith in Anne Burrell (Secrets of a Restaurant Chef) for guidance. Her clever technique calls for pureeing a Mirepoix prior to sautéing so that it easily melts right into the sauce. Brilliant.

While this dish takes close to 4 hours from start to finish, you’ll only need to put in about 60 minutes of active kitchen time before letting the oven work its magic.
This is slow food at its best.

Fall-Off-the-Bone Braised Short Ribs
This dish is perfect for impressing company or for a lazy Sunday. My favorite accompaniment is creamy polenta (shown here) but I'm sure your trusted mashed potato recipe would also do it justice. Adapted from an Anne Burrell recipe.

Serves 8

6 lbs bone-in short ribs
Kosher salt
High heat vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 large cloves garlic, smashed
1 cup tomato paste
1 bottle hearty red wine
2 cups beef broth
1 bunch fresh thyme, tied with kitchen string
2 bay leaves

Season the short ribs generously with salt. In a large stock pot (one that’s large enough to accommodate all the meat and vegetables), heat a layer of high-heat vegetable oil over high heat. Working in batches, add the short ribs and brown very well, 3-4 minutes per side (do not overcrowd).

Preheat oven to 375˚F.

While the short ribs are browning, puree the onions, celery, carrots and garlic in a food processor until it forms a coarse paste. 

After searing on all sides, remove the ribs from the pan. Drain the fat and add fresh oil to coat the bottom. Add the pureed vegetables and season generously with salt. Brown the vegetables until dark and a browned film forms on the bottom of the pan, approximately 8 minutes. Scrape up the browned bits and let them reform. Scrape them up once again and add the tomato paste; cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan (lower the heat if things start to burn). Continue cooking until the mixture has been reduced by half.

Return the short ribs to the pan and add 2 cups of beef broth or just enough to barely cover the meat. Add the thyme bundle and bay leaves. Cover the pan and place in the preheated oven for 3-3 1/2 hours, turning the ribs over halfway through the cooking time. Check periodically during the cooking process and add more beef broth or water, if needed. Remove the lid during the last 20 minutes to allow browning and to let the sauce reduce. The meat should be incredibly tender when done.

Before serving, taste the sauce and adjust seasoning if necessary (I removed the ribs, added salt, stirred well and returned the ribs to the sauce). Serve with the braising sauce.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Green Herb Garlic Bread

It may be the American way but I always felt that serving plain old bread alongside spaghetti was redundant. Don’t get me wrong, if it’s there I’ll eat it but does a boiled heap of white flour really need slices of baked white flour to wash it down? In the case of garlic bread, absolutely.

There’s something about a toasty loaf slathered with melted butter and chunks of real garlic that make it a different animal altogether. And when you add freshly chopped green herbs, it’s anything but redundant.

I served it with the Italian Wedding Soup I wrote about last week and couldn’t help but notice that Tristan polished off three quarters of the loaf. I’d say it was a hit.

Green Herb Garlic Bread 

Feel free to use parsley alone or any combination of fresh herbs that you have on hand. It's the perfect accompaniment to soups, stews, salads and yes, spaghetti.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped 

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped basil leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 loaf crusty ciabatta bread or a large baguette

Preheat oven to 350˚F.
In a small mixing bowl, stir together the butter, garlic, herbs and salt.

Slice the ciabatta in half lengthwise and spread each half evenly with the herbed butter. Place cut side up on a sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes.

Sandwich bread back together and cut into slices.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Italian Wedding Soup

Back in my college days, I worked at a little Italian café in Upstate New York as a glorified barista. In addition to sandwiches and desserts, we proudly offered a homemade soup of the day, and when it was Italian Wedding, people went bananas. Nothing sold out quite as fast. So you can imagine my horror the day I saw how the sausage was actually made. I walked into the back room right as one of the kitchen staff was dropping a huge block of frozen Stouffer’s meatball soup into a crock-pot. “Yes sir, we make all of our soups on site.” Oops.

But that didn’t change the fact that Italian Wedding Soup remains one of my favorites. And making it from scratch isn’t all that difficult, not to mention exponentially better.

The soup in its simplest form consists of clear broth, greens, tiny pasta and miniature meatballs that cook right in the hot liquid. Ina Garten, however, inspired me to employ a twist: bake the meatballs. Baking, unlike simmering, imparts color, and color = flavor. But that’s not all. These particular meatballs are made with ground chicken and chicken Italian sausage. The fennel flavor, characteristic of Italian sausages, adds a dimension that ground meat alone can’t. These are so juicy and savory that I would actually serve them on their own as an appetizer. 

As for greens, endive, escarole, spinach or kale are most commonly used. Since I rarely find ways of incorporating it into my cooking, I chose to make mine with escarole.

Escarole is a variety of endive whose leaves are broader and paler. It’s quite bitter, with a taste reminiscent of radicchio, and can be eaten raw, sautéed or chopped into soups. If you’re not a fan of bitter greens, you can easily make yours with spinach.

I made a huge pot of wedding soup last week and ate it for three days straight. And no, getting married is not a prerequisite.

Italian Wedding Soup
If you’re going to be eating your soup over a few days, you may want to cook the pasta separately and add a bit to each bowl before ladling in the hot soup. Otherwise, the pasta will continue absorbing broth and become quite mushy. Adapted from Barefoot Contessa.


3/4 pound ground chicken or turkey 
1/2 pound chicken Italian sausage, casings removed
2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs, about 1 large slice of good quality white sandwich bread
2 big cloves garlic, minced 

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley 
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
3 tablespoons milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 cup diced carrots, cut into ¼-inch pieces 

3/4 cup diced celery, cut into ¼-inch pieces
12 cups chicken stock 

1/2 cup dry white wine, optional
2 cups small pasta (I used whole wheat orzo)
1 pound chopped escarole, endive or whole baby spinach

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

For the meatballs, gently combine all meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Using your hands, carefully roll 3/4- to 1-inch sized meatballs and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Transfer to the oven and bake for 30 minutes until they are cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.

For the soup, heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions, carrots and celery and sauté until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the stock and wine, if using, and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and escarole/endive* and simmer until the pasta is tender, about 6 minutes. Add the meatballs and simmer for 1 minute more. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust if necessary.

Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with chopped parsley and grated Parmesan.

* If you opt to use spinach, wait until the last minute of cooking and add it along with the meatballs.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sneak Peek at Madhur Jaffrey's New Cookbook: Tandoori-Style Chicken with Mint

Not only does Madhur Jaffrey have the notch of award-winning actress in her belt, she's the Julia Child of Indian cuisine. Born in Delhi, she first pursued a career on stage and on the big screen with much success. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that her culinary skills were noticed and she was catapulted into the world of cooking shows and cookbooks. Thanks to her, much of the Western world was introduced to the fragrant foods of India and the Far East.

I’m still somewhat of a novice when it comes to cooking Indian food but when I do, I often seek out Jaffrey’s recipes. So of course I was delighted when Borzoi Cooks (via Knopf Publishing) included a sneak peek from her new cookbook, At Home with Madhur Jaffrey, which will grace shelves on October 19th, in their latest newsletter.

Like many of her recipes, this Tandoori-Style Chicken with Mint did not disappoint. The yogurt marinade, full of fresh ginger, onion, garlic and spices, produced fantastically flavorful, tender chicken. And the best part? No tandoor required. 

Indian cooking can seem complex but this recipe eliminates the intimidation factor. Get the chicken marinating the night before (it needs at least 8 hours) and all you have to do the next day is cook some basmati rice, whip up a little mint yogurt sauce and chop cucumbers for salad. New to Indian food? This is a great place to start.
Tandoori-Style Chicken with Mint Recipe
This chicken is incredibly versatile since it tastes just as good cold as it does hot. From At Home with Madhur Jaffrey. Serves 4.

Note: An 8-24 hour marination period is required.

4 whole chicken legs (about 2 3/4 pounds), skinned and separated into drumsticks and thighs
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
One 3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 teaspoons ground cumin seeds
1 cup plain yogurt
3 tablespoons olive or canola oil or ghee
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

Cut 2 deep diagonal slits into the fleshy parts of each thigh and 2 diagonal slits into both fleshy sides of each drumstick. Rub both sides with the salt and then the lemon juice. Set aside for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the onions, garlic, ginger, cayenne, garam masala, cumin, and yogurt into a blender and blend until you have a smooth paste.

Put the chicken and all accumulated juices in a bowl. Add the paste from the blender and mix well. Cover and refrigerate overnight or 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 500°F.

Remove the chicken from the marinade (smoothing off the excess) and lay the pieces in a single layer on a baking tray. Brush with oil and then sprinkle with half the mint. Bake 15 minutes.

Turn the pieces over, brush with more oil, and sprinkle the remaining mint over the top. Bake another 5 minutes.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ricotta Spinach Pesto Pasta

My mom is an extraordinary cook so, naturally, I look forward to my trips home. This past July was one of those times. Per usual, I packed at the eleventh hour, got little to no sleep and showed up on the east coast like death warmed over. Mom, being the nurturing type that she is, made sure to have a light meal ready. Enter this pasta dish.

Originally printed in the August 2004 issue of Cuisine at Home, this is admittedly the type of recipe I would overlook. Pasta? Pesto? Been there, done that. But this one is a touch different. 

In addition to the usual suspects, this particular pesto contains fresh spinach, lemon zest and freshly squeezed lemon juice. It's then tossed with hot pasta, corn and green beans (yes, corn and green beans! Crazy!) and a healthy dose of ricotta cheese. And for a little acid, the whole shebang is topped with vinegared tomatoes. The result? A protein- and fiber-packed flavor explosion. It's really addictive, and even tastes delicious cold (read: packs great for lunch the next day).

Pasta with Vegetables and Ricotta Spinach Pesto Recipe
Any type of pasta can be used here (I used brown rice fusilli). If you don’t have any nuts on hand, they can easily be omitted from the pesto. Adapted from Cuisine at Home|August 2004.

For the pesto:

2 cups fresh spinach, tightly packed
1 cup fresh basil, tightly packed 

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil 
1/4 cup pine nuts, almonds or walnuts, toasted
2 tablespoons lemon zest 

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 teaspoons kosher salt 

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

12 oz. dry pasta of choice (I like fusilli with all its crevices)
2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1 1/2 cups green beans, fresh or frozen (if fresh, trimmed and cut in half)
2 cups ricotta cheese

2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (or regular tomatoes seeded and diced)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt & pepper

Parmesan cheese for garnish

Place all of the pesto ingredients into a food processor and process until smooth. 

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta according to package directions. If you’re using frozen corn and green beans, add them to the pasta during the last minute of cooking. If using fresh, add them 2-3 minutes before the pasta is finished. Drain.

Place the ricotta cheese in the bottom of a large pasta bowl; season lightly with salt and pepper. Add the pasta, vegetables and spinach pesto; toss well.

In a mixing bowl, toss the tomatoes with the white wine vinegar, olive oil and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Spoon on top of the pasta. Garnish the entire dish with shaved Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Salted Chocolate Almond Cookies

I don’t bake cookies very often, maybe three times a year at best, but Ina Garten did it again. I was at the gym watching The Barefoot Contessa when she had Kathleen King, the owner of Tate’s Bake Shop in Southampton, on as a guest. Kathleen shared her recipe for a bakery favorite: Double Chocolate Almond Cookies. I could see why they were so popular – chewy, chocolaty dough packed with chopped almonds and two types of chips. As Ina would say, "What's not to love?"

So when I was planning dinner for our group camping trip in the San Juan Islands last weekend, I decided to give her recipe a go. We were responsible for Saturday night dinner and I thought that a chocolaty hand-held dessert after plates of chicken tikka masala, cardamom rice and cucumber salad would be just perfect. I made the dough ahead of time, baked off a few for taste testing purposes*, formed the rest into balls and froze them. Come Saturday, all I had to do was pop them into the cabin’s oven for 15 minutes.

*Taste testing proved key. While the cookies were incredibly yummy, they were a bit sweet, which I remedied with a light sprinkling of sea salt before baking.

The Henry Island crowd gave them rave reviews. I actually remember Cecily saying, “This is the best cookie I’ve ever had.” And Jared, I’m pretty sure, gave up on his diet that night.

Since then, I’ve tweaked the recipe further by using dry roasted almonds and omitting the white chocolate altogether. The result: sweet, salty, chewy, crunchy, chocolaty goodness. Does your cookie do that?

Salted Chocolate Almond Cookies Recipe
Brown sugar is hygroscopic, meaning that it attracts water. This property is what keeps these cookies nice and chewy. As for sprinkling salt, use one that can stand up to baking (kosher salt will melt instantly). Adapted from a Tate’s Bake Shop recipe.

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour 

3/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda 

3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup (2 1/2 sticks) room temperature butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup roughly chopped dry roasted almonds
Good quality semi-course sea salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugars with an electric mixer until light a fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla; mix to incorporate. Add the dry ingredients and mix
just until combined.

Add the chocolate chips and almonds. Using a large wooden spoon and some old fashioned elbow grease
(dough will be stiff), stir to combine. Using a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop balls of dough two inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle each cookie with a small pinch of sea salt. Transfer to the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets. They will be quite soft out of the oven but will firm up as they cool.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mango Salsa

I can’t let summer pass us by without mentioning one of my go-to hot weather dishes, mango salsa. Not only does it take minutes to assemble, it doesn’t require any heat (other than the Jalapeño sort). The sweet-hot combination pairs beautifully with everyday proteins by adding freshness and vibrancy. Try it with grilled salmon, pan-seared cod, chicken or my personal favorite, red curry shrimp.

Mango Salsa Recipe
This recipe could also be made with fresh peaches or nectarines. To dice a mango, cut it in half lengthwise following the pit as closely as possible. Score the flesh of each half in a criss-cross fashion all the way to the skin (but don’t cut through the skin). Invert each half (it will look like a porcupine) and slice off the chunks. Adapted from Simply Recipes.

1 ripe mango, diced 

1/4 large red onion, finely diced
1 Jalapeño, minced (leave out the seeds and ribs if you don’t like hotness) 

1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced, optional
Juice from one large juicy lime 

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (fresh mint also works well)
Pinch of salt 

Other additions: avocado chunks, halved cherry tomatoes, diced red bell pepper or jicama

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and taste for seasoning.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Apricot Almond Raspberry Tart

We look forward to birthdays at work, especially since Wendy came on board. She was a pastry chef in her former life and, as you can imagine, turns out some phenomenal patisserie.

A few weeks ago she graced us with a French apricot almond raspberry tart (thank you Mike for being born). But not just any tart, this one had tangy fruit suspended in a baked almond cream over a sweet pastry crust. Seriously off the hook. 

So when I was invited to a housewarming a few evenings ago, I jumped at the chance to recreate this tart. I tweaked the recipe slightly to make it less sweet and had tremendous results. It allegedly works with canned apricots as well but I highly recommend using fresh ones while they’re still available.

And be advised to make this for a group unless you want to test your will power in a serious way.

Apricot Almond Raspberry Tart

This is a perfect tart for a picnic, dinner party or potluck. The almond cream keeps it moist while the apricots and raspberries contribute a vibrant acidity. Adapted from Simply Sensational Desserts by Francois Payard.

3 tablespoons melted butter
7 fresh or canned apricots, pitted and cut into thirds
3 tablespoons sugar
1 – 1 3/4 cups Almond Cream (recipe follows)
One partially baked 9 1/2-inch tart shell made from sweet tart dough (I used this one)

1/2 pint raspberries
2 tablespoons slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and brush it  with some of the melted butter. Arrange the apricots on the sheet, cut side up, and brush with the remaining butter. Sprinkle the apricots with the sugar. Place in the preheated oven and bake until tender, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool (leave the oven on).

Spread half of the almond cream into the tart shell and smooth into an even layer. Arrange the apricots, cut side up, in a pinwheel pattern, starting from the outside and working toward the center. Sprinkle the raspberries over the top and press down lightly into the cream. Spread the remaining almond cream over the fruit and sprinkle the slivered almonds over the top.

Note: the original recipe called for a total of 1 cup almond cream but if you’re like me, you’ll want to use closer to 2 cups.

Bake the tart until the filling is golden brown, about 25 minutes. If you used more than 1 cup of almond cream, it will take 30 minutes or more. Cool completely before serving.

Almond Cream
Also called frangipane, this almond cream compliments chocolate and fruits. It becomes somewhat cakey when baked and adds wonderful texture.

Makes about 2 cups

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup slivered almonds
8 1/2 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1/2 tablespoon) butter, softened
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Place 2 tablespoons of the sugar in the bowl of a food processor along with the almonds. Process until finely ground, about 1 minute.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and remaining 1/2 cup sugar on high speed until well mixed, about 1 minute. Add the ground almond mixture and mix on low speed until combined. Add the egg and egg yolk one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in the flour until just combined. The cream can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Luis' Gazpacho

I used to think gazpacho was just ok. Then Luis came to town.

He, along with my friend Andrew, was running a language exchange program for a group of Spanish kids for a month. When they weren’t being teachers, they were exploring Seattle to its fullest (Mariners games, Mt. Rainier, the Fremont Troll, Hooters) but in my opinion, the night they threw a tapas party really beat all.

When I arrived the tables were covered with platters of bread and cured Spanish meats, wedges of tortilla de patata, olives, Marcona almonds, and toothpicks of cheese, anchovies and pickles. I was in heaven. And then someone placed a seemingly standard cup of gazpacho in front of me. I’d had my share of this chilled soup while traveling through Spain and thought I’d tasted it all, but I never saw this coming.

One sip and I was addicted. It had the perfect amount of white vinegar playing against the olive oil, and after cross-examining Luis regarding its preparation, I learned of its other secret: soaked bread. Unexpected, yes, but the texture was incredible. Plus, after refilling our glasses 5 or 6 times, it made much more sense than our original guess: crack.

Luis’ Gazpacho
On a hot summer day, almost nothing is more refreshing than this chilled soup. It's a salad in a glass!

Serves 8-10 people (or only a few if you're the greedy, addictive type)
7-8 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 red peppers, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 white onion, chopped
2 big slices of  good quality white bread, crusts removed and soaked in water (gently squeeze some of the water out before processing)
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 cup white vinegar
Salt to taste
To peel the tomatoes: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Using a paring knife, slice a small “x” into the bottom of each tomato. Place the tomatoes into the water and simmer for 1-2 minutes or until their skins start to loosen. Quickly transfer the tomatoes into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Their skins should come off easily at this point. Roughly chop the peeled tomatoes.

Place the tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, garlic, onions and bread into the bowl of a food processor. Puree until the texture is uniform. Add the olive oil and 1/2 cup of the white vinegar. Taste and add more vinegar if necessary (mine was perfect with the entire 3/4 cup). Add salt to taste. Water can be added if the gazpacho is too salty or too thick.