Monday, February 28, 2011
I don't remember ever seeing a sweet potato in Italy --pumpkin and squash yes but never a sweet potato that I recall. None the less I had a bowl full of sweets and needed a dinner idea. Tomorrow is my farmer's market day so the cupboard was a little bare. I spied arborio rice, cheese, butter and wine -- tonight's sweet potato risotto was born. I roasted the un-peeled potatoes in the oven for about an hour until the orange flesh was soft and tender. Then I started my usual risotto. In a pan with a mix of olive oil and butter went one chopped onion, 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic, a pinch of dried chiles, and some rubbed sage (I didn't have any fresh on hand). I stirred those around for 5 minutes or so and added in 1 1/2 cups of rice. When the rice was all coated with the butter and oil I added in about 1/2 cup of white wine. Then I started adding the simmering chicken broth in 1/2 cup ladles -- stirring after each addition and cooking until the liquid was nearly gone before adding the next. I kept that up for not quite 20 minutes until the rice was creamy and still a bit al dente. To finish I stirred in the flesh of two sweet potatoes, a bit more butter, a handful of grated parmesan, and some chopped parsley and cooked for another minute until the rice was tender.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
The Oscars are my favorite holiday. I met James at an Oscar party and even before I loved to watch and wonder about the dresses wandering up the red carpet.
Since I get to loll about gaping at the TV it seems only fair that James get to pick the menu. Sliders and fries, one of his favorite meals. For the Superbowl I tried something new and added bacon and avocado and peppered cheddar -- today I wanted to slide up, dare I say, and went for bacon, morbier cheese and peppery arugula. Good but honestly it's hard to beat peppered cheddar. Good thing the fries came out just right.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
It seems an unlikely combination. But after searching the fridge and finding a few online references to pasta sauces and stir-frys, I decided to whip up this simple broccoli scallop combo. James loves broccoli.
More or less following a recipe from Jacques Pepin (how bad can that be?) I spilled 3 TB of olive oil in a large skillet with a lid and tossed in some crushed red chiles and two minced cloves of garlic. After a quick stir I added in 1/3 cup broccoli, about a pound of broccoli florets and a pinch of salt. I covered the pan and let the broccoli cook for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile I tossed the scallops with a TB of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and 1/4 tsp dried thyme and seared them on both sides in a hot pan. I plated the broccoli and scallops and served them drizzled with a quick balsamic vinaigrette (2 parts oil, 1 part balsamic vinegar) S&P). Not so elegant maybe, but no complaints from James.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
James hates beets but he loves bitter greens. So when I buy a bunch at the farmer's market I roast the tubers to use in a salad for me and save the greens for him.
Tonight I fished out a bunch of greens for a quick spaghetti dinner. As the pasta boiled I sauteed chunks of slab bacon in olive oil and as it started to crisp added in 3 cloves of garlic and a sliced onion. After a couple minutes I added in a few crushed dried chiles and the thinly sliced (chiffonade) beet greens. I sautéed those leaves for a minute or two and then added in a pinch of salt and about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and covered the skillet and let the greens cook through for about 5 minutes. I uncovered the skillet and let a bit of the water cook off before I added the drained pasta to the greens, tossed in some grated cheese (I used a nice sharp sheep's milk cheese) and brought dinner to the table.
Another 10 minute pasta sauce.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
I am so sick of beans I had to take a day off. So I stirred up a family favorite -- steamed manilla clams. For today's version I sautéed thick cubes of chorizo and Jamon Serrano in olive oil along with a sliced onion. over low heat and partially covered for about 5 minutes. Next I added in chunks of fingerling potatoes (about 3/4 inch) and a couple crushed dried chiles and let the pot continue to cook, still partially covered for about 10 minutes. I added in 1/2 cup or so of white wine along with a couple of chopped roasted peppers and let the potatoes steam, covered until they were just about tender. Next came a splash of chicken broth (I didn't have quite enough wine for the broth) which I brought up to a boil. I added in the washed, purged clams, covered the pot and steamed for 7 minutes until all the shells had opened. All this dish needed was crusty bread to sop up the delicious broth.
Clam genius strikes again.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
"You know I could eat pizza seven nights a week," James replied happily when I asked if pizza was okay for dinner. And, it's so easy for me.
I nearly always have crust in the freezer and today I happened to have the last little bit of fennel tomato sauce ready to go. I spread the sauce on the rolled dough, covered it with thin slices of fingerling potatoes, red onions, fennel salami, and taleggio cheese and a sprinkle of parmesan. The pie baked for 15 minutes at 500º until crispy and golden brown. I sprinkled on a little fresh basil as James came to the table.
James said it might have been my crowning pizza achievement.
Monday, February 21, 2011
There is a whole category of mostly Southern Italian food, somewhat of a variation on "cucina povera", a stone soup of pasta dishes I like to call pantry spaghetti. Basically it's making something quick and delicious with things you happen to have on hand. Maybe one night it's spaghetti with a fried egg, or chili and oil with some hard cheese (or better yet toasted bread crumbs), or tonight's variation spaghetti with walnuts and anchovies -- a ready anytime dish if ever there was one.
I heated 3 cloves of garlic in a couple TB of olive oil on medium heat until they were just starting to color on one side and added in 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts and a couple crushed chiles. After a minute I popped in 4 anchovy filets and with my wooden spoon crushed them into the oil until they were well dissolved. I cooked the sauce for 1 minute more and when the pasta was drained I added it to the sauce along with a 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, gave it all a good stir and brought it to the table with a sprinkle of cheese I happened to have on hand.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
It was a cold, rainy night and we started with soup.
Simple zucchini soup.
I put several coarsely chopped zucchini and a few leeks I found in the drawer into a pot, seasoned with S&P and just about covered them with chicken broth. When the liquid came up to a boil I covered the pot and allowed the vegetables to simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. I puréed the mixture (holding back some of the liquid so I could adjust the thickness) along with a good handful of fresh basil and about 1/3 as much fresh mint. Soup course done.
For the main dish I tried two different types of veggie burgers -- attempt 3 of garbanzo bean falafel burgers (same recipe as before with a little oatmeal added to the food processor as a binder, much better) and, believe it or not, flavorful tofu burgers, adapted from a recipe I found online.
Into the food processor went one drained package firm tofu, about 8 ounces chopped mushrooms, a handful of lightly roasted cashews, a handful of shelled pumpkin seeds, 1 TB of soy sauce, 1 TB of mustard, 1 tsp of cumin, a pinch of cayenne, salt, and about 1/2 cup of oatmeal. I pulsed all that together to a chunky paste, formed burgers, and baked -- along with the garbanzo bean burgers, at 350º for about 15 minutes on a side.
As both a salad garnish and a side a chopped salad of red onion, cucumber, parsley, and homegrown tomatoes tossed in a tangy tahini dressing (tahini, water, lemon juice, garlic, and salt). Bean diet with friends.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Pizza dough in the freezer and a drawer full of cheese called out for calzones. For one, I went more traditional. I spooned leftover fennel tomato sauce, shreds of pecorino cheese, sliced salami, chopped parsley and basil onto half the crust, sealed the edges and brushed the top with olive oil and a sprinkle of corse salt (I don't always do that but it did make a nice golden crust). Once I had a safety, I figured why not go more daring. I layered prosciutto, sliced mushrooms, Tomme de Crayeuse cheese, and slivers of butter on top of the crust. I placed the ingredients with a space in the middle and cracked an egg in the center before I quickly closed the dough and again brushed the top with olive oil and a shower of Maldon salt. Consider the experiment, my French inspired Calzone, a success. Tomato sauce? Waiting in the fridge (minus a bite) to be a late night snack.
Friday, February 18, 2011
I keep trying to make a better bean burger. Chick peas are my favorite so I thought why not take a dish I already like -- falafel, and adapt it (i.e. bake not fry) for the everlasting bean diet. Into the food processor went 2 drained cans of garbanzo beans, 1 chopped onion, a handful of parsley leaves, a handful of cilantro, a pinch of cayenne, 1 tsp of ground cumin, 1/2 tsp of ground coriander and 4 cloves of garlic. I pulsed until the mixture came together and let the dough cool in the refrigerator until it was time to bake. Usually when I make bean burgers I use a bit of nuts or oatmeal as a binder (instead of the recipe's flour or breadcrumbs). This time I tried to make a nut and grain free burger. The flavor was just right but the texture not quite ideal. James didn't seem to notice when I piled his toasted flatbread with tahini sauce and a crisp salad dressed simply with lemon, olive oil and z'atar (lettuce below, cucumber and onion as a condiment on top).
Stay tuned for chickpea burger attempt number 3, coming soon.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Keema is a traditional Indian and Pakistani dish that basically is spiced minced meat with peas or potatoes (there are versions with cauliflower too). There are many recipes and many uses from filling samosas and naan to serving, as I did, over fluffy rice.
I started by frying onions in peanut oil (only because that's what was handy) for about 5 minutes and added in ground beef (I'm still hiding leftovers) and seasoned with salt and pepper. I cooked over moderately high heat until the meat was no longer pink. Then added in the flavorings -- about 1 1/2 TB of tomato paste, 1 TB of grated ginger, a tsp Graham Masala, a 1/2 tsp curry powder, and a big pinch each of fenugreek, yellow mustard seeds, coriander seeds, along with a minced jalapeno. It's certainly not traditional but I cooked down that mixture with a big splash of white wine then added cream, butter, and frozen peas, lowered the heat and cooked until the peas were tender and the meat was dark brown and a bit crisped -- about 10 minutes. On the Indian subcontinent it's known as Keema James called it "Spicy meaty goodness."
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
As much as I love to spend a lazy afternoon with a pot bubbling on the stove I don't usually make red sauce for James. His inexplicable aversion to fresh tomatoes has started to creep into cooked dishes. He may eat them and even say they are good but red sauces aren't the dishes that send him back to the fridge looking for leftovers. Those are the real dinnertime homeruns.
None the less while browsing recipes online I found Jamie Oliver's recipe for spaghetti with fennel and salami. James loves all things licoricey (as much as I hate them), we still have a good pile of fennel salami in the fridge, and I can use the extra sauce for pizza later in the week (he still doesn't quite complain about red sauce pizza). Sold.
I started a pan with, as Oliver says, 2 lugs of olive oil and put in a handful of thinly sliced fennel salami and 3 sliced cloves of garlic. I cooked that over low heat until the salami just started to crisp and added one sliced small bulb of fennel and covered the pan to cook over moderate heat for five minutes. I took a shortcut here. The recipe calls for a large can of chopped tomatoes and I only had a can of sauce. So I added the sauce along with a few crushed red chiles and S&P and let the mixture simmer for about 11 minutes. Jamie Oliver's recipe cooked down the tomatoes for 25 minutes -- Muir Glen sauce might just be a better answer for a work night.
I drained the pasta, stirred it around in the sauce, and served it sprinkled with parmesan cheese and chopped fennel fronds.
Red sauce James liked and didn't tempt me to stray from my diet (I hate fennel and only cook it for him). "Easy peasy," as the chef would say.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
I can hardly call this cooking.
When I got home from the farmer's market today I set to chopping. Carrots, celery, onions, parsnips, turnips went into my big stew pot with fresh thyme, rosemary, garlic, bay leaves, chicken broth, tomato paste, a splash of white wine and a large can of chopped tomatoes. I brought that mixture up to a boil and simmered until the veggies were just tender. Next I stirred in a chopped head (small) of napa cabbage, cooked garbanzo beans, and frozen peas and simmered until the cabbage was cooked. For James I'll sprinkle on a bit of tangy cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. For me, a shower of chopped basil.
Ugh. The bean diet goes on.
Monday, February 14, 2011
This year instead of heart shaped potatoes and molten chocolate cakes (I've done them both), I went for something I know James really loves -- a hearty, slow cooked, wine soaked stew. Julia Child's classic Boeuf Bourguignon. As any Julie Julia fan knows it's really three recipes in one -- braised onions, sautéed mushrooms, and the stew itself. Bits of bacon and beef browned on the stove, covered in red wine and beef broth then oven-braised slowly until the meat is fork tender. It's a half day affair at best and Valentines falling on a Monday left Sunday afternoon for cooking ahead. Like most stews, BB is even better the day after. 51 years after it's publication this well-loved classic still says I love you in the richest beefiest way possible. Happy Valentines Day, Honey.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
I like to disguise leftovers. It makes me feel clever.
James had warm polenta the other day and I took what was left in the pot, spread it on a sheet pan and let it firm up in the fridge. I cut the mixture into circles with a biscuit cutter and laid the cakes in a hot pan with olive oil and crisped them on both sides. If I'd had more time I might have coated the cakes in panko bread crumbs for extra crunch.
In another pan I heated some olive oil and added in some garlic, chopped fennel salami, and the last frozen fava beans from our most recent front yard harvest. I cooked those ingredients down with some white wine, butter and S&P to make a quick ragout. On top one of our backyard eggs (extra precious now since the girls have slowed down due to winter's chill) fried in fruity olive oil. A sprinkle of cheese brought dinner to the table.
James didn't recognize the ingredients . . . he was too busy eating and mumbling how delicious it was.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Not just beans, but fresh, creamy delicious black-eyed peas. I love them.
Into the crock pot went 2 packages of fresh black-eyed peas, 5 peeled cloves of garlic, 5 dried chili peppers (I used a mix of hot and mild), 2 bay leaves, a couple sprigs of thyme, about 2 cups of chopped tomatoes (I used halved mini plum tomatoes from our front yard), about 2 cups of chicken broth, about 2 cups of water, and a large pinch of smoked salt. I left the beans to simmer on high for around five hours. About an hour before dinner I added a big handful of chopped mustard greens from our garden to the crock pot, gave everything a good stir , turned the heat to low and left the beans to bubble until dinnertime. Just before serving I took a couple ladles of beans and puréed them in the blender and then stirred them back into the beans to thicken the broth. I served James' beans over steamed quinoa with a sprinkle of chopped Jamon Serrano and peppered cheddar cheese. It's not quite the bean diet but he doesn't seem to mind.
Friday, February 11, 2011
James' friend Grant has a backyard overflowing with fruit and he is kind enough to share. We've turned it into our own little game of stump the cook as I ponder how best to use up Grant's latest gift. Today's delivery . . . a big bag of bright green limes.
Now of course limes are handy for ceviche, or gin and tonics, or guacamole but I like to rally for these little neighborly challenges by transforming the fruit into a new dish, one that's easy to send back as a thank you. I usually fall back on jams and James dutifully delivers jars back to Grant. Our pantry is pretty stocked with marmalade right now. Salad dressing doesn't make the most exciting delivery.
Suddenly I remembered a cake recipe I saw on Epicurious. Basically an angel food cake flavored with lime zest, brushed with lime syrup, dusted with chopped pistachios and drizzled with lime glaze. A trifecta of lime transformation. Perfect.
There were egg whites in my freezer waiting for just such an occasion. I'd never whipped frozen egg whites before and was ready for a kitchen experiment. Besides I love to make angel food cakes. A recipe riddled with potential disaster -- a baking tightrope I love to walk. And, all the more satisfying when they cool to a fluffy pillowy presence too etherial to cut with a regular knife. I set to work zesting and juicing and in a couple hours had an airy, golden brown cake ready for delivery, along with a jar of lime curd for toast. Thanks again, Grant!
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Running through the repertoire of cheese dishes sooner or later I had to land on quiche. There were a couple extra minutes before dinner so I tossed together a crust (1 1/4 cup flour, 1/2 tsp salt. 1/2 tsp baking powder, 6 TB cold butter, 1 egg, 1 TB ice water) from Nick Malgieri's (one of my favorite bakers) recipe. While the crust chilled I improvised a filling, still following Malgieri's lead. I layered chopped Jamon Serrano and shredded cheese (mozzarella and Tomme De Crayeuse) into the rolled crust along with chopped parsley and thyme and poured my custard mix of 1 cup of cream (normally I would have used half milk but we happened to have cream -- yummy), 3 eggs, 1/2 tsp salt. 1/2 tsp white pepper and a pinch of nutmeg over the top. I dotted the top of the tar with butter (about 1 1/2 tB total and popped it in the oven for 40 minutes at 375º. I'd have loved to use more of the Tomme -- trying to use up the party stores still-- but I was afraid the pungent soft French cheese might be too overpowering so I mellowed it with some creamy mozzarella. The quiche came out custardy and light.
One the side I put together a salad of dandelion greens, red onion, blood oranges (from our tree) and roasted hazelnuts with a lemon and olive oil dressing. Now that's dinner for a real man (you know I had to go there).
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
It's never happened before. This year after chilly days and a fairly lackluster summer tomato harvest I still have two tomato plants hanging on producing vibrant clusters of bright red fruits. I generally shun winter tomatoes as mushy and flavorless. That may be true in grocery stores around the country, but the taut skinned jewels in our front yard are tasty and beautiful and ready to star in winter salads and sauces -- if I can keep from eating them on the way into the house.
February tomatoes from our front yard -- garden magic.
February tomatoes from our front yard -- garden magic.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Today I took a little time to roast a big platter of farmer's market fresh vegetables -- perfect for a light lunch or a dinner side for James along crispy pork chops or mashed potatoes and grilled sausages, as a topping for salads and grains for me. With the oven at 400º I peeled and quartered parsnips, sprayed them with a bit of oil, sprinkled on S&P and popped them in for about 45 minutes -- turning once as they cooked. Whole thin carrots were coated with spray olive oil and dusted with za'atar -- delicious with carrots and cauliflower. Carrots also roast for about 50 minutes turning once as they cook. Brussels sprouts -- one of James' favorites -- were trimmed and halved and again lightly sprayed and seasoned with S&P before 30 minutes in the oven. The beets were wrapped in tin foil packages and put directly on the oven racks for about 50 minutes until the skins slipped off and they were tender throughout.
Monday, February 7, 2011
Right now I have two dinner goals. I am trying to work down our pantry -- use things we have in the house, and find dishes that work for my diet and with a little embellishment work for James too. Tonight, thinking of the mound of now off limits( for me) dairy in our fridge I decided on a creamy polenta. I had a recipe from Osteria Stellina ready to adapt. First I gathered a mix of fresh herbs -- 3 sprigs of thyme, about 2 TB rosemary, 1/4 cup of parsley, and about 1/2 TB fresh sage all chopped together waiting to flavor James' dinner. I melted a TB of butter in with 2 TB of olive oil and added in 1 chopped onion. I cooked the onion over medium heat until it was translucent and soft but not colored (about 4 minutes). Then I added 4 cups of water, 1/2 of the herb mixture, S&P, and brought the mixture to a boil. I stirred in 1 cup of polenta and allowed the pot to boil for just a minute or two until the polenta had started to thicken and then reduced the heat to low (so the mixture was just bubbling) and cooked -- stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes I poured in about 1/2 cup heavy cream, the rest of the herbs and a handful of chopped raclette (I went for something easy melting) cheese. I stirred for a few minutes more until the mixture was soft and creamy.
While the polenta cooked I whipped up a vegetable topping we could share. To a non-stick skillet barely coated with a spray of olive oil I added sliced mushrooms, chili peppers, garlic, and salt and covered the pan over medium low heat to let the mushrooms color and cook down. I added a bit of broth and a large bunch of escarole, covered the pan again and let the greens steam on top of the mushrooms. For James I sautéed thin slices of chorizo in fruitty olive oil for a drizzle on top. Herbed polenta with sautéed mushrooms and escarole with chorizo oil.
You could call it pantry driven Euro-fusion or, just what James had for dinner.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
Saturday, February 5, 2011
A man cannot live by beans alone. And so, when James glanced wistfully towards the kitchen and asked what was for dinner I knew it was time for a change. "Spaghetti," I said cheerfully, realizing as the word came out of my mouth that we had many shapes in the pantry but no spaghetti (James' favorite). No matter, I set to work on dinner to warm his heart.
Although we are low on pasta shapes what I do have plenty of is pork -- cured pork to be specific. Pancetta, finocchiona, boar salami, Jamon Serrano, chorizo -- we're well prepared. Since I thought the salami was a little hard to eat in a sandwich I decided to use it as the basis of my quick pasta sauce. Into a pan with warmed olive oil went shreds of boar salami, 3 sliced cloves of garlic, a pinch of chili peppers, a pinch of oregano, and three small sliced zucchini. I covered the pan and let it simmer over low heat until the squash was starting to turn golden brown (about 5 minutes). I uncovered the pan and allowed the mixture to cook while the pappardelle boiled. After the pasta was drained I returned it to the cooking pot, poured in the sautéed zucchini, 1 egg beaten with a glug (maybe 1/3 cup) of cream and a good quantity of grated cheese (usually I would have used parmesan but we are still working down our party cheese so I went for the tangy sheep's milk cheese, Piedmont from Everona dairy), and about 1/2 TB of shredded fresh mint. Normally I am anti cream in carbonara but we have open cream and eggs keep longer in the fridge so a girl has to bend the rules sometimes. With a good stir the residual heat from the pasta turns the egg into a delicate creamy sauce. Carbonara with a twist.
Friday, February 4, 2011
I should be seeing these bean days as the ultimate cook's challenge but I haven't exactly rallied yet. Pastas and stews and pizzas come easily to me, but no oil, no dairy, no meat (in spite of a fridge full of cheese and a freezer full of delicious Hearst Ranch beef). . . ideas don't exactly jump up at every turn. On my way out the door for work I pulled down the crock pot and tossed in some soaked pinquito beans, the small pink legumes traditionally served with Santa Maria barbeque. To the beans I added a can of Muir Glen tomato sauce, one onion cut in quarters, one carrot peeled and chopped, a couple stalks of celery, 2 bay leaves, three peeled cloves garlic, chili powder, water, and for hint of BBQ flavor -- smoked salt. I left the pot to simmer all day while I was at work and served James his beans as a snack with grated cheese and chopped red onion.
"I don't know why you act like you're being punished eating beans," James said.
Oh Honey, it's not the eating -- it's the cooking. Sigh.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
This time it's pinto beans with almonds, oatmeal, dried basil, 1 yellow onion, 3 cloves of garlic and a good sized sprinkle of oatmeal all mixed up in the food processor. The formed patties are baked for 15 minute son a side at 350º. That's the secret, I've decided, to bean burgers that are crisp and creamy and hold together and feel like -- well, real burgers. For James I topped these with a few brightly flavored zucchini pickles and a layer of raclette cheese toasted under the broiler. "No compromise here," James said between bites. "You can feed me these anytime." The bean diet goes on.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Vegan bean diet day two and I've already fallen back on crock pot dump stew. The shame of it all. Basically I just poured red lentils, 2 cans of black beans, 2 chopped onions, several sliced stalks of celery and several chopped carrots, chili peppers, cumin, a jar of our home canned tomatoes, tomato paste, chili powder and salt into the crock pot and left it to simmer all day. I steamed some quinoa for a little extra body. James is a good sport. I topped his chili with tangy sheep's milk cheese.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
The holidays are officially over. Our eating season lingered longer than usual this year. Instead of repenting our excesses and and feverishly setting ourselves to dietary resolutions, we put on a spread of cheese and oysters and ham and desserts for a couple hundred of our closest friends. The leftovers whisper a siren song as I pass through the kitchen. Today I decided to turn a deaf ear and join our friend Eric on "The Bean Diet" (Eat To Live). I doubt I'll ever button a size 2 again but maybe I can be just a bit smaller. So, February starts my new year's resolution. James kindly agrees to eat beans with me but I'll try to ind a way to spice up his plate with breads, or a drizzle of oil, or even the dreaded cheese -- all forbidden in Dr Fuhrman's guide. For dinner day one I mixed up something I am calling falafel burgers. Garbanzo beans, tahini sauce, cilantro, garlic, oatmeal (as a binder) and Z'atar (a middle Eastern spice blend James loves) combined in the food processor, refrigerated until they hold a shape, formed into patties and baked at 350º for 15 minutes on a side. For James I served these vegan burgers on toasted flatbread with a sesame olive oil dressing. So much for day one.