Monday, July 29, 2013

Layering on the summery goodness...

My roommate is still home, malingering after her gall bladder surgery, so I find myself in charge of making us breakfast, lunch, AND dinner (or brunch, supper, and late-night snack, as the case very well may be). That's a lot of food ideas that I have to come up with every day! Today, I made a cream of tomato and roasted red pepper soup with fresh parsley and basil, and The Pioneer Woman's "best ever" grilled cheese sandwiches on the side. Bless her heart, P-Dub doesn't lie. Those sandwiches were the business!

I used multigrain bread buttered lightly on the outside and spread with a very thin layer of mayo and spicy brown mustard on the inside, a slice of provolone, a whole mild chile (from a can, though roasting your own Anaheim would be better), a slice of cheddar-jack, some pickled red onion slices, another slice of provolone, a tiny bit more of the mayo-mustard sauce, and topped with another buttered slice of bread. Then you grill the sammies SLOWLY over low heat so that all of the cheese has a chance to melt before the bread burns. PW's version also involves sliced tomato, but I omitted that layer because we were having tomato soup.

Then for dinner, I made a version of something I had pinned to my "Recipes to Try" board on Pinterest called Mexican Shrimp Cobb Salad (though it has no bacon or bleu cheese, so that's probably a misnomer). Mine had farm stand lettuce, smoky cumin-lime shrimp (large ez-peels tossed with cumin, smoked paprika, granulated garlic, salt and lemon pepper then sauteed, and the pan deglazed with lime juice), avocado slices, grilled corn cut from the cob (nuked for five minutes in the husks then blistered over a gas burner for a minute or two), seasoned black beans (from Trader Joe's), artichoke and garlic salsa (Aldi), chopped tomatoes, (farm stand), shredded cheddar cheese, black olives, green onions (farm stand), and creamy cilantro tomatillo dressing (1/4 cup each mayo and sour cream mixed with 1/2 cup of my homemade roasted tomatillo salsa, a couple of cloves of minced garlic, and thinned with lime juice).

The salad was really yummy, but I think it needed some crunchy, crushed-up tortilla chips tossed on there for good measure. Note to self for next time. Also, if you were to layer all of the ingredients in a trifle bowl, it would be a real showstopper to take to a picnic or potluck!

Recipe inspired by:

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Easy Pasta Bake from The Pioneer Woman

When I got home from NYC, I caught up on some shows that the dvr had recorded for me while I was gone. One of them was the latest episode of The Pioneer Woman, and in it, she was making all these casseroles to fill the freezer with quick weeknight meals to feed all those kids of hers. One of the recipes called Sour Cream Noodle Bake (which is a misnomer, as it's basically a cheater lasagna) looked appealing, but I knew instinctively that it would need some modifications to add more flavor. I read all of the reviews on the Food Network's site, and that gave me some good insight to improving the dish as well.

Though some reviewers reported that the noodles were somewhat dry and recommended adding extra sour cream, I used the amounts called for of sour cream and cottage cheese, and the noodles were not dry at all. One reviewer was disturbed by the inclusion of cottage cheese, but as PW claimed, most of the cottage cheese curds dissolved and were not very noticeable. One thing I would change for next time would be to undercook my pasta more, as it became a little too soft in the oven.

As for the sauce, like many reviewers, I added a large onion and four cloves of minced garlic to the meat. I also used about a tablespoon each of Worcestershire and balsamic and two teaspoons of Italian herbs. I did not use plain tomato sauce, but a pint of homemade sauce that already had LOTS of flavor. Lastly, I sprinkled on a tablespoon of grated parmesan on each noodle layer, and then I upped the shedded cheese to a scant cup per layer, almost doubling the amount originally called for. Also, I didn't use cheddar, because I didn't have any. Oh, and I omitted the green onions because I used a whole yellow onion instead.

By making these adaptations, the resulting dish was anything but bland (as some reviewers complained). This pasta bake is delicious, simple, and I also think this would be a perfect casserole to take to a friend in need--make it in an 8x8 disposable cake pan, and all the recipient would have to do is heat it up. Or if you don't have anyone to cook for right at the moment, double the recipe and make a second pan anyway to pop into YOUR freezer for another day when you just can't handle cooking!

Pioneer Woman's Sour Cream Noodle Bake
(Source: adapted from The Pioneer Woman via Food Network)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/4 pounds ground chuck
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons dried Italian herbs
pinch red pepper flakes
one 15-ounce can tomato sauce (I recommend using your favorite pasta sauce instead)
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 ounces extra wide egg noodles
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/4 cups small curd cottage cheese
1/2 cup sliced green onions, optional
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
1 cup grated sharp cheddar (up to two cups)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, then saute the diced onion until tender. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute or two. Next, brown the ground chuck in the skillet. Drain the fat, and then add the Worcestershire, balsamic, dried herbs, and red pepper flakes. Stir in the tomato sauce, 1/2 teaspoon salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Let the sauce simmer while you prepare the other ingredients.

Cook the egg noodles until al dente (I would stop a minute or two BEFORE al dente!). Drain and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the sour cream, cottage cheese, and plenty of black pepper. Add to the noodles and stir. Add the green onions (if using) and stir.

To assemble, add half of the noodles to a baking dish, then sprinkle with a tablespoon of grated parmesan. Top with half the meat mixture, and then sprinkle on half the grated cheddar (or whatever cheese you're using). Repeat with noodles, parmesan, meat and then a final layer of cheese. Bake until all the cheese is melted, about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bringing NYC to the Infirm and Gall Bladder-Less

So I just got back from a FABULOUS--though hot and exhausting--trip to NYC. I saw FOUR shows in two days, plus got to see some wonderful friends. One night, we splurged on a fancy dinner on the Upper East Side at a restaurant called Rouge Tomate. We started with cocktails. My favorite was a Moscow Mule made with their spicy, housemade ginger beer. Once we sat down to dinner, the chef treated us to an amuse bouche of pumpernickel crumbs topped with beets tartare and a horseradish foam. For an appetizer, we had these lovely little toasts with different toppings--mine was avocado and sweet corn with blue crab. After that, I had this fabulous carrot gazpacho, and for my entree, I had branzino with couscous, fennel, almonds, apricot, asparagus, and purslane. YUM!

Unfortunately, my dear roommate couldn't go with me to the Big Apple, as she had to have her gall bladder out--poor thing! Of course, I brought her home some of the beloved Doughnut Plant doughnuts (the summery blueberry ones are to die for--perhaps literally, as one is not supposed to eat fatty foods for a month after gall bladder surgery, oops). On top of the sweet treats that I imported, I also wanted to make a special get well dinner for her that was reminiscent of the one that I had at Rouge Tomate. Not only was it delicious, but fairly healthful and lack-of-gall-bladder friendly as well.

We started with a Moscow Mule, which wasn't as awesome as the one made with homemade ginger beer, but using Reed's Extra Ginger Brew was a decent substitution. And the cocktail is so simple: Ice, juice of half a lime, 2 oz. citrus vodka (I'm a big fan of Sobieski), then fill up the glass the rest of the way with ginger beer. Very easy and very refreshing! (However, one is not supposed to drink for a month after gall bladder surgery either...oops again.)

Next, for our appetizer, I think I did an EXCELLENT job of cloning that carrot gazpacho. In fact, I'm not sure that mine wasn't a bit better, if I do say so myself. I didn't hide bits of veggies in the bottom of the bowl like they did at at restaurant, but I topped mine with some avocado slices and a big dollop of homemade roasted tomatillo salsa. YUM! And the gazpacho is fat-free and vegan, for those of you who care about such things.

Carrot Gazpacho

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 large carrots, scrubbed and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 quart vegetable stock
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (or vinegar of your choice)
1 large seedless cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 cup carrot, mango and ginger juice (or plain carrot juice), or to desired consistency
salt and pepper, to taste
sriracha, to taste (I used about a teaspoon)

To a large sauce pan, add the olive oil and cook the onions until they started to turn golden brown. Add the carrots and garlic, and cook another minute or two. Pour in the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and add the sherry vinegar. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until very smooth. Chill in the fridge for at least a couple of hours.

When the soup is thoroughly chilled, add the cucumber, carrot juice, salt and pepper, lime juice, and sriracha. Blend again until very smooth. Serve cold, garnished with any of the following: avocado slices, tomatillo salsa, sour cream, cilantro leaves and/or chives.

Lastly, for our entree, I prepared some glazed cod fillets and apricot and almond-studded version of my favorite Israeli couscous mix from Trader Joe's. So simple, so delicious! (Note: Tomate Rouge's version also had asparagus in it, so feel free to blanch some spears, slice them up, and throw them in as well, if you are of a mind to.)

Glazed Cod and Curried Couscous Blend with Fresh Apricots, Sliced Almonds, and Apricot Vinaigrette

1 3/4 cups chicken stock
1/2 pound Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend (or just use plain Israeli couscous)
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 large (or two small) apricots, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon curry powder
salt and pepper, to taste

1/4 cup apricot pepper jelly (or apricot jam)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (or vinegar of your choice)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add the couscous blend, stir, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for ten minutes. Fluff with a fork, and stir in the almonds, chopped apricots, curry powder, salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the apricot pepper jelly (or apricot jam), olive oil, vinegar, and mustard. Add about half of the vinaigrette (just eyeball it) to the couscous mixture and stir gently to combine.

Season a pound to a pound and a half of a mild white fish of your choice--I used cod because it was on sale today--with a spice rub of your choice (I had them add lemon pepper and Asian ginger spice blends at the fish counter). Melt a tablespoon of butter on a stovetop griddle along with a tablespoon of olive oil. Brown the fish on both sides, and glaze with the remaining apricot vinaigrette when the fillets are almost done. Serve the fish on a bed of the couscous.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Too hot to bake!

Today's recipe is the sort of thing I that Sandra Lee, cheating, fake food product kind of way. But we are having the first real heat wave of the summer, and my roommate has been requesting pie. I'll be danged if I was going to fire up the oven and slave away in the sweltering kitchen! So to appease her temporarily, I turned to a recipe for a frozen lemonade pie that has been floating around Pinterest and Facebook recently, one purporting to require only FOUR (no-bake) ingredients!

To be honest, I expected the resulting pie to be awful, but I must confess that it sort of hit the spot, as it is cold, creamy, lemony, and sweet. And if you use a pre-fab graham cracker crust, it can be prepared and assembled in less than five minutes, only then requiring a couple/few hours in the freezer before serving. It pales in comparison to *real* pie, of course. But this will do in a pinch when you don't have much time and/or when the thermometer is pushing 100, and you can't be bothered to bake.

Frozen Lemonade Pie
Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy)

1 store-bought graham cracker pie crust
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk, chilled
1 (12 ounce) container Cool Whip, thawed
1 (6 fluid ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate (kept frozen)

In a medium bowl, add chilled sweetened condensed milk and Cool Whip and fold gently. Add frozen lemonade and continue to gently fold. Do not let the mixture become soupy.

Pour mixture into the pie crust and freeze for several hours or overnight.

Makes 8 servings.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Kooky Korean Kondiment

Last summer, some friends and I attended a kimchi cooking class in Burlington. Each dish we sampled there was SCRUMPTIOUS, but one of the things that I was intrigued by were all the condiments that you could add to your food. My favorite were these garlic scapes that were cut up and pickled in a soy-based brine. So yummy! Of course, this was August, and garlic scapes were long gone from the local markets, so I had to wait a whole year to make my own. But I finally did!
The kimchi lady, Michelle, told me that she used the following brine from Maangchi's site: 5 cups of water, 1/4 cup salt, 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of soy sauce, and 1/2 cup of vinegar, boiled.  That's it...that's all I had to go on. That is the brine I made, but I doubled the vinegar to one cup total. When I make it in the future, I would cut the sugar down by half and double the vinegar yet again. I think I might also leave out the salt and just use more soy sauce. Still, the resulting pickled bits were very tasty...just a bit sweet for my tastes.
The other issue is that garlic scapes are tough, and they need to be cooked for awhile to be edible (IMHO). Now you could boil them in the brine until crisp-tender, then pack them in containers afterward. But I decided to do it the other way around, packing the cut scapes (half-inch pieces) into pint-sized canning jars, covering with hot brine, and then processing them in a boiling water bath for ten minutes. However--and I MUST STRESS THIS IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION--this is not a proper canning recipe, as the water-vinegar ratio would have to be at least 50-50. So the resulting jars of Korean pickled scapes should NOT be considered shelf stable! Oh, the jars will seal upon cooling, of course, but then store them in the fridge as you would do anything perishable. Then sprinkle the pickled scape bits on top of any of your favorite Asian recipes, like fried rice or noodles or what have you.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hakka Noodles (Gesundheit!)

My friends and I made a return visit to the annual Antiques and Uniques Show in Craftsbury, Vermont today. We got there shortly before noon, and lunch was the first order of business after the two-and-a-half-hour road trip. My companions very unwisely chose some boring fair food at the festival proper, while I explored some of the food tents at the little farmer's market across the street.

My initial choice was some very tasty homemade Tibetan dumplings with a spicy minted dipping sauce. Delish! They also had some delicious-looking curried vegetable noodles, but I was eager to get over to the festival to start browsing, so I decided to come back later to try those. BAD DECISION! By the time I returned about an hour and half later, they were sold out! Boo hiss.

When I got home to Plattsburgh after a fun-filled but hot and tiring day, I was still craving those noodles. So what's a gal to do but to make her own? I found some images online that looked like what I was hoping to prepare, and the recipes I consulted called the dish, Hakka Noodles. They are an Indo-Chinese street food that are also popular in neighboring Tibet. And they are quick, easy, healthful, filling, and inexpensive.

Hakka Vegetable Noodles

1 lb. spaghetti
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large carrots, julienned
2 cups shredded Napa cabbage
4 large scallions, sliced
2 inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon chili paste (or to taste)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Boil the pasta according to package instructions and drain.

In a large skillet or wok, heat the vegetable oil and cook the carrots, cabbage, scallions, ginger, and garlic, for just a couple of minutes at most. Add the drained noodles and toss everything together. Remove the noodles from the heat, then stir in the sesame oil, chili paste, soy sauce, curry powder, and black pepper. Toss everything together and serve.

Monday, July 08, 2013

These are a few of my favorite things...

Last Friday, some friends and I decided to head north for a tour I might call, "You Show Me Yours and I'll Show You Mine: Sharing Our Favorite Places in Montreal." We visited the Dix-30 Quarter for some shopping and several bakeries (as I am still in pursuit of the most perfect croissant in the city). But two stops on our itinerary really stood out.

One was the Patisserie Au Kouign Amann. Their namesake pastry, from Brittany, is this absolutely decadent, flaky, layered confection which seems to be comprised entirely of butter and sugar. It is so sublime, that my friend, Martie, bought a piece, walked out to the sidewalk, took a bite, then walked right back and bought a whole one to take home to her family (or so she claimed)! I don't blame her. This is a must-try experience if you are ever in Montreal.

But the highlight of my day was visiting an Italian grocery called Milano's in Petite Italie near Jean-Talon Market. They have everything Italian that you can think of there, included a fabulous deli counter (imported meats and cheeses and a million kinds of olives), a dizzying selection of dried pastas, and a whole section of the store devoted solely to olive oils (pictured, right)! But one of the most wonderful things about Milano's is the fresh pasta counter. I would love to try them all, but I ended up choosing some lovely potato gnocchi to take home. And I was NOT disappointed!

For dinner last night, I created a dish with spicy sausage, Baby Bella mushrooms, and sweet corn in a roasted yellow pepper cream sauce with fresh herbs and those light-as-a-feather gnocchi that I bought. JUST AMAZING!

Potato Gnocchi with Spicy Sausage, Mushrooms, and Fresh Corn in a Roasted Yellow Pepper Cream Sauce with Fresh Herbs

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 large onion, diced
1 pound spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
8 oz. Baby Bella mushrooms, sliced
1 ear of corn, steamed for five minutes in the microwave, husks removed, kernels cut from cob
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup white wine
1 jar roasted yellow peppers (12 oz.), drained and pureed in a food processor
1 cup cream or half-n-half
1 lb. fresh gnocchi
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, parsley, basil--whatever you fancy)
grated parmesan to garnish
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the olive oil and butter and saute the diced onion, Italian sausage, and sliced mushrooms until the veggies are tender and the meat is no longer pink. Add in the steamed corn kernels, garlic, and black pepper, and cook for another minute or two. Deglaze the pan with the vinegar and white wine, cooking and stirring until the liquid has mostly been absorbed. Stir in the pureed peppers and the cream, reduce to very low heat, and let it reduce while you prepare the gnocchi.

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Cook about half of the gnocchi at a time for about two minutes, until they float to the top. Skim with a strainer and add to the sauce. When the gnocchi are all cooked and added to the sauce, toss in the fresh herbs. Serve with a garnish of grated parmesan.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

A Proper English Crumble

Many years ago, when I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, my friends and I used to get together on Sunday evenings for a potluck and parlor games. For one particular gathering, one of the attendees, a lovely Englishwoman named Sarah--a professor and dialect coach in the Theatre Department at UU--prepared the most wonderful fresh raspberry crumble. Unlike our American crisps that tend to have oats and/or nuts in the topping, an English crumble has a sandy, shortbread type of topping that is just PERFECT with berries, tasting similar to a linzer cookie.

I am still friends with Sarah (thanks to reconnecting on Facebook), and I asked her if she remembered the recipe, and as it's an old family favorite, she was able to explain how she makes it. However, her amounts were estimations (as she does it by eye and feel) and by weight instead of volume, so I had to do some mathematical calculations and experimentation. I also did a bit of online research to see if there was a common wisdom about the proportion of ingredients, and it seems like it's half as much sugar and butter as flour. However, I tried that, and it wasn't sweet enough to my liking. I prefer to up the sugar to about 75% of the amount of flour. The other important tip from Sarah is that you need a very thick layer of the crumble, so that the fruit juices don't bubble up and submerge the topping. Keeping these things in mind, here is my take on a triple berry crumble, in the English style. I believe I am now ready for the deluge of ripe summer fruit!

Triple Berry Crumble

6 cups berries (I used Wyman's frozen raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries)
1/2 cup sugar
2 heaping tablespoons corn starch
juice and zest of a lemon
1 tablespoon frozen orange juice concentrate
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups butter (3 sticks), cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Gently mix the frozen berries with the sugar, corn starch, zest and lemon juice, orange juice concentrate, and vanilla. Set aside while you get on with the cumble.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, and salt, then add the pieces of butter. Rub in with your fingertips until the butter is well-distributed and the dough feels sandy (if you squeeze some of it, it should just hold together--like shortbread). 
In a 9x13 baking dish* sprayed with cooking spray, pour in the fruit mixture and even out with a spatula, then add all of the crumble on top. Spread it out evenly with your hands, then pat it down lightly, but don't compact it.
Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about an hour and fifteen minutes or until the topping is golden brown.
*This makes a party-sized crumble. Feel free to cut the amounts in half and bake in an 8x8 dish.


Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Put some ZIP in your Hump Day!

Here's another Pinterest classic that is easy, tasty, and perfect for a busy weeknight. My roommate whipped this up while I was teaching my night class tonight, and it was spicy, creamy, cheesy and DEE-LISH! Think of it as grown-up macaroni and cheese...with a kick.

Spicy Sausage Pasta
(Source: adapted from Kevin and Amanda's Recipes via America's Test Kitchen and Pinterest)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 14-ounce package smoked turkey sausage, sliced into rounds
1 1/2 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 10-ounce can Ro-Tel Tomatoes and Green Chiles, Original Style (we used the cilantro and lime variety)
1/2 cup heavy cream (we used about a cup)
8 ounces uncooked penne pasta, about 2 1/2 cups (we used lumaconi)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
Thinly sliced scallions (we used fresh chives)
Salt, to taste

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a cast iron skillet (or other oven-safe skillet) until smoking. Add the sausage and onion, and cook until lightly browned, about four minutes. Add in the garlic, and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the broth, Ro-Tel, heavy cream, uncooked pasta, and pepper, and give the mixture a good stir. Bring to a boil, cover the skillet, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until the pasta is tender, about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice while cooking. Preheat the broiler while the pasta is cooking.

Remove the skillet from the heat, and stir in one cup of the cheese. Taste, and add salt as needed. Top with the scallions (or chives) and remaining cheese. Broil until the cheese is melted and lightly browned - about 3 minutes.

Happy Persian New Year!

I actually think the Persian New Year (Nowrūz) was back in March, but a friend of a friend posted on Facebook about this bean and noodle soup that is traditionally made in Iran for their New Year celebrations, and I was intrigued. Technically, it's called Ash-e-reshteh, but I like to think of it as Middle Eastern pasta fagiole!

Of course, I made a few changes to the recipe. I used less stock for a thicker soup, I used mung beans instead of lentils, because they intrigued me in the co-op and I've never had them before. I added chives along with the rest of the herbs, because I have a ton of them growing in my garden right now.  Also, instead of yogurt as a garnish, I used prepared tzatziki that we had knocking about in the fridge, and it was the PERFECT compliment to this soup! Finally, as is my way, I converted this to be made in the crock pot, which worked great.

One thing I would like to note concerns the inclusion of mint in this recipe. I have been making a concerted effort to force myself to enjoy mint in savory applications, but I am not yet having much success. I would definitely make this soup again, but I would leave out the mint next time--that's just my personal preference. You do as your own conscience (and palate) dictates.

Crock Pot Persian New Year's Soup with Beans, Noodles, and Herbs (Ash-e-reshteh)
(Source: adapted from Louisa Shafia, Lucid Food: Cooking For An Eco-Conscious Life via Epicurious, June 2010)
Yield: serves 6 to 8

1/2 cup dried chickpeas
1/2 cup dried kidney beans
1/2 cup dried fava beans or 1 1/2 cups frozen lima beans (I couldn't find favas, so I used some large dried navy beans)
3 yellow onions, divided 
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
5 cloves garlic, minced, divided
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 cup dried lentils (I used dried mung beans, just for fun)
8 cups vegetable or chicken stock (up to 12)
*I added 1 large (or 2 small) bay leaves

salt and pepper
1 large handful fresh mint leaves, torn into pieces (I would omit this next time!)
6 ounces thin egg noodles or linguine, broken into thirds (I used fresh pasta)
1 bunch leafy greens, stemmed, and coarsely chopped (I used fresh spinach)
1/4 cup fresh dill leaves, minced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
*I added 1/2 cup chopped fresh chives
plain yogurt (or tzatziki!)

Rinse the dried beans (the chickpeas, kidneys and favas) then cover them with water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Boil hard for ten minutes. This is a key step. Not only will it help the beans cook faster in the crock pot, it will kill those pesky kidney bean toxins.

Meanwhile, dice one of the onions. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add two tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until lightly browned, about five minutes. Add four of the minced cloves of garlic and the turmeric. Sauté for one more minute, then scrape the mixture into the crock pot. Drain the boiled beans and add them, and also the (rinsed) lentils (or mung beans). Pour in the stock, and toss in the bay leaf. Cook on low for seven hours or high for three and a half, or until the beans are almost tender. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper. Add more stock if the beans have absorbed a lot, to a desired consistency.

Slice the remaining two onions into thin half moons. Heat a sauté pan over medium low heat and add the remaining three tablespoons olive oil.  Sauté the onions, stirring frequently, until they are brown and caramelized. Add the remaining garlic and sauté for one more minute. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Add the noodles to the soup and cook on low for another hour (=eight total for the soup on low, four on high), or until the beans and the noodles are sufficiently tender. Or you can boil the pasta separately and add it just before serving. When the noodles are done, turn off the crock pot, add the leafy greens and the fresh herbs, and just let them wilt in the hot soup. Serve with a large dollop of yogurt (or better yet, tzatziki!) and some of the caramelized onions.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Fiery Goodness on a Stick

My friend Mike is an awesome cook. And when he specifically contacts me to say, "You there! Make this!" I do as he says. Mike has already made the Sambal Chicken Skewers that are on the cover of the latest issue of Bon Appetit several times, and he told me that they are his new favorite thing to grill. In fact, I believe he referred to them as "life-changing." I must concur with my friend--they are a revelation!

Now I enjoy spicy food, but looking at the recipe, I was worried that these chicken skwers might blow my head off! So I cut back on both the sriracha (using a little more than 1/8 cup) and the chili paste (about 1/4 cup total). I also added a generous tablespoon of minced garlic, because it seemed a glaring omission. I marinated the chicken pieces for about four hours in the fridge, and then I did not baste the skewers as they cooked--I simply glazed them with the reduced marinade when they were done grilling. I would do that again, as I think it kept them from burning, and I could decide to go lighter or heavier on the sauce at the end, as desired. Even with cutting back on the fiery stuff and not basting all during cooking, they were still PLENTY hot, but as my roommate put it, " a good way." These are definitely a new summer grilling staple!

Sambal Chicken Skewers
(Source: Bon Appetit, July 2013

1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup unseasoned rice vinegar (I used seasoned) 
1/3 cup hot chili paste, such as sambal oelek (I used 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup fish sauce, such as nam pla or nuoc nam
1/4 cup sriracha (I used 1/8 cup)
2 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger
*I added 1 tablespoon minced (peeled) garlic
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1 1/2-inch–2-inch pieces

Prepare grill for medium-high heat.

Whisk brown sugar, vinegar, chili paste, fish sauce, sriracha, ginger, and garlic (if using) in a large bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. (At this point, I let the chicken marinate for a few hours in the fridge.) 
Thread 4 or 5 chicken pieces onto each skewer.

Transfer marinade to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until reduced by half (about 1 cup), 7–10 minutes. Grill chicken, turning and basting often with reduced marinade, until cooked through, 8–10 minutes. (I grilled the chicken, then glazed the skewers with the reduced marinade.) 

Monday, July 01, 2013

Ford Food Fest on Willsboro Bay

My friend Chris and his family bought a lovely little cabin on Willsboro Bay last summer, and they had us out for an inaugural visit/margarita-fest last year. The Fords were kind enough to invite us back for another cookout yesterday, and Chef Chris prepared an INCREDIBLE Caribbean menu for us.

He grilled up some killer jerk chicken, but to my surprise, the best thing on the plate was this spicy, Jamaican-style slaw--and I'm not even a big slaw or cabbage fan! As if he knew I would be pressuring him for the recipes (from a chef friend of his), he had them printed out and read to share with me, so I will pay it forward and encourage you to consider preparing these dishes for your next barbecue. Your guests will thank you for it!

Big Daddy Arawak's Jerk Chicken

1 tablespoon allspice berries
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick, crushed

Toast the spices in a dry pan on medium heat until fragrant. Transfer to a spice grinder and grind into a powder. Then add to a food processor.

1-2 scotch bonnet or habanero peppers, stemmed and seeded
1/2 cup yellow onion, rough chop
5 green onions, rough chop
2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram, minced
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
3 tablespoons dark rum
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
2 teaspoons salt

Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. *If you don't like things very spicy, try using a smaller quantity of habanero or a milder chile like a jalapeno or two.

Cut a five-pound whole chicken into eight pieces. Rub all but 1/2 cup of the marinade under and on top of the chicken's skin. Marinate at least four hours, preferably overnight. After grilling the chicken, brush the reserved marinade on and let rest for five minutes before serving.

Jamaican Slaw with Ginger-Lime-Peanut Dressing

Whisk together until sugar and salt dissolve:
1/4 cup lime juice (and the zest from the limes)
2 tablespoons white or apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon chile, smoked, or kosher salt
1/2-3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon thyme, minced
4 teaspoons ginger, minced

Toss in a large mixing bowl then add the dressing above:
4 cups green cabbage, finely shredded
1 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced
2 green onions, sliced on the bias
1/4 cup mustard greens or kale, chiffonade

Just before serving, toss with:
3 tablespoons peanuts, crushed
1/4 cup toasted, sweetened coconut, optional (sprinkled on top)

*Dressing and slaw may be made a day ahead but kept separately. Combine 30 minutes before serving, then garnish with the peanuts and coconut (if using) immediately before serving.
Based on my potluck experience from last weekend, I didn't want to take something that anybody else might bring. Based on the crowd that was coming, I thought I could try something more classy and less trashy, so I decided on a watermelon and feta salad with pickled onions, mint, and a balsamic vinaigrette. I was very pleased with my idea, but then I ran it by some folks yesterday, and their responses ranged from "Huh?" to "Eww, weird." This had me running scared, so I did some further crowdsourcing of my FB friends, then I put together a blind taste test of the proposed watermelon feta salad utilizing some of their suggestions.

The test batches were prepared: 1) with raw red onion slivers, 2) with pickled red onions, 3) with basil, and 4) with mint. Though all versions were CRAZY GOOD, surprisingly, my roommate (a mint-and-melon lover) preferred the basil version, and I (not a mint fan in savory applications) preferred the mint! We BOTH preferred the pickled onions over the un-pickled, and then when I serendipitously combined the basil and mint taste test bowls, THAT WAS IT! The winning combination used pickled onions and a basil and mint combination, with perhaps 2/3 basil to 1/3 mint.

This salad is SO GOOD! And have I mentioned, I don't even like watermelon?! And how perfect for outdoor summer BBQ's--it's light, refreshing, healthful, won't spoil in the sun (though it tastes better icy cold), and surely no one will bring the same thing. The Fourth of July is coming right up, and watermelon is de rigeur, non? Believe it.

Watermelon and Feta Salad

This is not a precise "recipe," but a general methodology. I cut up half a seedless watermelon into one-inch chunks. I did the same with about a pound of feta cheese (not crumbles--cut from a chunk into the same size pieces as the watermelon). Then I pickled one large, thinly-sliced red onion by bringing 3/4 cup red wine vinegar, a teaspoon of salt, and a tablespoon of sugar to a boil, covering the onions, and refrigerating them overnight. Then you'll want maybe three tablespoons of chopped fresh basil and one tablespoon of chopped fresh mint, a few grinds of black pepper, and enough vinaigrette to coat everything. I used a new one from Marzetti's that I spied at the grocery the other day--cherry balsamic, the perfectly fruity foil! Gently toss everything together right before serving. If you want to make it ahead like I did, just prep everything, but keep in separate containers in the fridge until right before your party or the cheese will break down and the herbs will wilt and possibly darken.

Lastly, because I was scared people might hate my "weird" salad (they didn't--they were slightly wary, but all who tried it really liked it and the unusual--and unusually delicious--combination of flavors), I also made a fruit crisp. My original plan was to make it with peaches, but when I stopped by the store yesterday, the peaches AND the regular nectarines were all hard as rocks.

So I ended up choosing some tender, fragrant white nectarines, and because I worried that the color would be unappealing once cooked, I added some fresh blueberries as well, and then I adapted a favorite Ina Garten recipe for peach and raspberry crisp. Homey and yummy, especially as my friend Vicky cranked up some old-fashioned vanilla ice cream to go with!
 Wouldn't this be a welcome guest at your Fourth of July cookout?


White Nectarine and Blueberry Crisp
(Source: adapted from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa)

4 pounds (10 to 12) firm, ripe nectarines (or peaches), washed but not peeled
1 pint fresh blueberries, rinsed
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar, divided
2 tablespoons corn starch
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 pound cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or spray the inside of a 10 x 13 baking dish.
Slice the nectarines into thick wedges and place them into a large bowl along with the blueberries. Add the lemon zest and juice, seeds from the vanilla bean, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and two tablespoons of corn starch. Toss well. Allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes. Pour the fruit into the baking dish and gently smooth the top.

Combine one cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, oatmeal, and the cold, diced butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or use a food processor, pastry cutter, or your hands). Mix on low speed until the butter is pea-sized and the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle evenly on top of the peaches and blueberries.

Bake for one hour and fifteen minutes, or until the top is browned and crisp and the juices are bubbly. Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator and reheat in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until warm.