Archive for January, 2010

Cabbage: Hungarian Traditions & New Adventures

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Cabbage is ruling the Farmer’s Markets these days – so it seemed high time to whip up some favorite recipes with this “super vegetable.” Loaded with vitamins and fiber, cruciferous veggies like cabbage might even lower your risk of getting cancer. So I need to eat more of it.

 When I think of cabbage, three recipes come to mind. The first is from youth and was, at the time, considered an exotic adventure in Asian dining. It involved pale, plain, shredded green cabbage tossed with crisped Top Ramen noodles. The dressing used to top this oh-so-elegant dish consisted of the “flavor packet” contained in the “Oriental” version of this culinary evil-doer along with too much vegetable oil, white sugar and soy sauce. Truth be told, I used to adore this dish. Alas, not the healthiest cabbage recipe in the world.  

 The other two recipes – one for pork & rice-stuffed cabbage with sauerkraut and the other for braised red cabbage served alongside our family’s traditional Christmas Eve pork roast – remind me of my mother. So I’ll stick with these memories…

 A bit about my mother. She was born in Hungary where my grandparents operated a pharmacy.  After their home was bombed in 1944 the family fled to Bavaria to escape the Soviet occupation.  Mom attended a German school for a year and then a Hungarian girl’s school until 1951 when the family emigrated in a US troopship to America.  They finally settled in San Francisco and mom met my dad when they both were studying chemistry at UC Berkeley – near the home where I was raised.

 So I grew up eating a wide variety of Hungarian “delicacies.” I recall I didn’t exactly salivate over mom’s stuffed cabbage or braised red cabbage. In my youth I leaned toward whatever my friends were eating – Nacho Cheese Doritos and hot dogs. Definitely not Hungarian food. That just wasn’t very cool.  

I have since reformed. Mom taught me, with great patience, how to perfect the steaming rolls of pork and rice wrapped with cabbage, nestled in savory, dill-infused sauerkraut and topped with a generous dollop of rich sour cream. Until I stopped eating meat a year and a half ago, stuffed cabbage was a favorite winter dish. Heavenly.

Sadly mom passed away in 2008. I would give anything for another day in the kitchen with her or a shared meal at the dinner table. However, I think she would have been pleased that I am carrying on our Christmas Eve tradition and was able to whip up a respectable version of her braised red cabbage this past December 24th. It was like she was standing next to me, helping me adjust the caraway seeds, vinegar and brown sugar. And I have made stuffed cabbage for dad to have on hand in the freezer for a quick, hearty dinner when the nights turn cold. It is when I am cooking these meals that I am closest to my mother. So I am forever grateful that she shared these traditions with me and took the time to ensure I mastered a number of influential Hungarian recipes.

Hungarian Braised Red Cabbage

Ingredients

  • One small yellow onion (about ½ cup chopped)
  • One head red cabbage
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • Salt & pepper to taste

 Instructions

Chop the onion (small-medium chop) and sauté in olive oil over medium low heat until soft – approximately 5 minutes.

Remove core from cabbage and cut into about six wedges. Finely chop wedges into ribbons.  Add to onions. Add brown sugar, vinegar & caraway seeds and a dash of salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir thoroughly. Turn heat down to low. Simmer for ~25 minutes – stirring frequently. You will want a bit of liquid to release. If it remains on the dry side, cover for the last 10 minutes. On the other hand, sometimes a good deal of liquid releases and it can get a bit soupy. If that’s the case, leave the cover off.  Season with salt & pepper and taste to see if more brown sugar or vinegar is needed.

Consider serving with oven-roasted pork and potatoes. Or it’s delicious on its own.

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I just couldn’t resist picking up one of these beautiful, frothy-leafed beauties at the Farmer’s Market. Having never cooked with Savoy cabbage, I had to ask the nice lady at the stall for preparation tips. And, truth be told, I had to contact my new foodie friend Devra of Patty Pan at the Ballard Farmer’s Market* to confirm that I had, in fact, correctly identified said cabbage as Savoy.

(*You should know that Devra also writes the wonderful Quirky Gourmet blog and has penned some great cook books focused on local, seasonal vegan cooking.)

A lot of recipes toss the green leaves into soups. Which sounds divine. But considering this was my inaugural outing with Savoy, I wanted to really taste the cabbage and feel the texture on my tongue. So I decided to search for a salad recipe. And when the first one I stumbled upon mentioned that it was inspired by the “homey and hearty dishes of Louis Szathmáry—a splendidly mustached man who was the chef-owner of Chicago’s well-known Hungarian restaurant The Baker” – I knew I had found just what I was looking for. The following is loosely based on an October 2000 Gourmet magazine recipe.

Savoy Cabbage, Carrot & Apple Salad 

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds, lightly crushed
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 head Savoy cabbage, cored, quartered and very thinly sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, very thinly julienned
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, quartered, cored, and sliced thinly
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

Whisk together juices, vinegar, sugar, oil and caraway seeds. Season with salt and pepper and toss with cabbage, carrots, and apple.

Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend and cabbage to wilt.

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End note – for those interested in the pork filled cabbage described above – please shoot me a note and I’d be happy to share the recipe. And I’m going to work on a vegetarian version with mushrooms. You gotta love the versatility of cabbage!

Brunch with Friends & Potato Baskets

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

There is something about brunch that just warms my heart. And while I love hanging out at busy, boisterous cafés – during these chilly winter months, I can think of nothing better than welcoming friends into my home, getting a fire roaring in the fireplace, and serving a deliciously indulgent brunch.   The welcoming aroma of freshly brewed coffee filling the air. A savory frittata warming in the oven. Bowls full of sweet wedges of blood red oranges and chunks of vivid yellow pineapple.

This all sounds so idyllic. And it was the scene I pictured in my mind for a recent Saturday morning brunch. Until the obsessing started. I really wanted to impress my guests. And it wasn’t like I was having Barack and Michelle and the girls over. This was just meant to be a simple brunch with friends. I doubt they even expected more than coffee and a muffin. But I wanted to thrill. To astound. I was hoping for “oohs” and “aahs” and groans of delight. 

AND I was cooking for a gluten-free friend. I toyed with baking. I perused many of the inviting and mouth-watering recipes from Gluten Free Girl. She is amazing. Inspiring. Makes it sound so easy. But I just wasn’t ready for my first foray into baking without wheat flour. Call me a coward. But I was going to stick to what I knew. For now.

The frittata I had in mind sounded good. But I wanted great. Different. New and exciting. What came to mind was….potato baskets. Not a terribly elegant name. But deep in the recesses of my mind was a picture of thinly sliced potatoes, crisped to a golden brown and wrapped around a delicate piece of fish. I think I saw it on a Food Network show a while back. “Surely I can make a brunch item with similarly crisped potatoes,” I thought. Immediate beeline to Google. My search unearthed a number of recipes for potato baskets. Though the majority used frozen hash browns. Which was not an option. So I continued my search. Some recommended boiling the potatoes before baking. Others went with raw. So many choices. What to do? What if I fail? So I did what I always do. I dove in and I cooked.

The result was a new brunch favorite. Individual “baskets” composed of crisp shreds of potato filled with creamy eggs dotted with melting goat cheese and bright little shards of pungent chives. And when all was said and done (and eaten), I got the moans of delight I had so wanted. “Amazing,” exclaimed my friends. But at that point, my focus on impressing my guests had passed. It was more about camaraderie, laughter and a meal amongst friends.

Potato Baskets Filled With Goat Cheese & Spinach Eggs

Makes 8 Baskets

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 oz. goat cheese
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 1 small shallot
  • 1 tablespoon chives, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper 
     

Instructions: 

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Peel and shred potatoes into a medium bowl – using biggest holes on grater. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Add 1 egg and a pinch of salt and pepper; toss to combine. Spray 8 medium muffin cups with cooking spray, coating well. Spoon rounded 1/4 cup of the potato mixture into the palm of your hand; squeeze out excess moisture; place in each muffin cup. Push potatoes onto bottom and up side of each cup.  Spray “nests” lightly with cooking spray. Bake on in oven for 40 minutes – the tops will be browned. When potato baskets are done, remove from oven. 

Begin preparing filling when potato baskets have been cooking about 30 minutes. Warm olive oil in sauté pan over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté until slightly caramelized. Add spinach and cook over medium until wilted. Salt to taste. Set aside in bowl.

Reduce heat to medium low and add one tablespoon of olive oil. Whisk eggs together with a 1 tablespoon of milk (or water) in a bowl. Add eggs to pan and stir GENTLY. Cook over low heat until eggs begin to set. The more slowly you cook the eggs, the creamier they get. Add goat cheese when eggs start to come together. Fold in spinach. Total cooking time for eggs will be approximately 10 minutes.

Spoon egg mixture into egg potato baskets. Top with small dollops of goat cheese (optional). Serve immediately sprinkled with chives. If the potato baskets have cooled, you can place the egg filled baskets back in the oven for 3-5 minutes to warm.

Curiosity, Black Beans & Brownies

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

As I mentioned, the state of balance and wellbeing I currently enjoy in my life has been years in the making. And in that time there were losses (weight, guilt, food addictions), gains (knowing how to truly take care of myself) and a whole lot of culinary exploration in the mix. Changes were made – less butter, more olive oil. Less refined foods, more whole grains. It has been a journey.

During this time, I began reading up on possible “healthier” versions of my ultimate dessert – and in my humble opinion, the American culinary zenith – the Brownie. Terms like ‘apple sauce’ and ‘prune puree’ were mentioned. I was dismayed – and more than a little skeptical. These are not the sort of things that inspire enthusiasm, even for the healthy-diet minded. And then I stumbled on what can only be described as the paramount culinary offense when mentioned in the same breath as brownies – black beans. (This concept is apparently not uncommon. There are a number of recipes on the web that recommend using black beans as a substitute.)

black beans and chocolate

That discovery resulted in this thought: WHY would you ever do that to a brownie? Black beans and cocoa powder are not meant to co-exist. Ever. Or so I thought. And then, my curiosity got the better of me.

Investigating black beans and their potential role in brownie batter would be no small endeavor. Brownies – those molten, decadent, heaven-on-earth, fudgy wonders – are easily on my Top 5 list for desserts. Research would be required, recipes tweaked and fiddled with, comments and instructions pored over for hours. I will admit to a significant number of eye rolls. How good can a ‘healthier’ brownie be? But I persevered, took notes and created a recipe adapted from the best of what I could find – taking into account what I was willing to live with. And finally, I baked.

Out came the blender, on went the oven – preheating as I lightly oiled a square glass baking pan. I rinsed the black beans – THOROUGHLY – and drained. With breath held, I tossed the beans into the blender with sugar, oil, vanilla, baking powder, instant coffee, cocoa powder and a pinch of salt. A quick blitz and there was batter. Thick batter. Canned-cake-frosting thick batter. No turning back now. I tasted it and it was… really very good. No hint of bean, no grit – and shining through it all, the strong, bittersweet hit of chocolate. (I take all the credit for doubling the amount of cocoa powder – clearly a wise move.) I scraped the batter into the glass baking pan, sprinkled a generous handful of chocolate chips on the top, and into the oven went the whole lot.

pan of black bean brownies

Thirty minutes later, the aroma of deep, rich chocolate filling my kitchen, the brownies were done and I was congratulating myself on my bravery. They looked legitimate – not at all resembling the sad, cellophane-wrapped specimens encountered in natural food stores. But the voices of recipe comments past lingered – words like “grainy,” “beany,” and “rejected outright” – flitted across my mind. Still, I jumped in. The promise was too great – this was potentially my new, go-to breakfast food, full of protein and fiber – and only moderately sullied by a bit of fat and a scant dose of refined sugar. I waited until they would be cool enough to eat, then sliced through the gooey layer of chocolate to the dense crumb below.

I took a bite. It should be noted, I wanted to love them. Or, I wanted to love them. Don’t be mistaken, I’m not saying I outright disliked them – just that I’m not head-over-heels crazy for them either. And it’s not the beans – their taste just disappears into the chocolate. But there was the subtle undercurrent of something else going on in there. Something earthy. Something *too* healthy. Not sweet enough. Moist and chocolately, but not chewy, oozing, do-not-disturb bliss.

So the final verdict. Will I serve them my dinner party guests? No. Will I make them again? Yes – from time to time, if I’m looking for a healthy dessert option or in need of a gluten-free gift for a friend – then yes*.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. With a few healthy reservations, I present:

Black Bean Browniesclose up black bean brownie

16 servings / approximately 125 calories per serving

  • 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee (I used one of those little Starbucks Via instant coffee packets)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8×8 square baking dish. Combine all ingredients except for the chocolate chips in a blender; blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top of the mixture.

Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 30 minutes (the top will appear dry when done).

Let cool (about 15 minutes). Cut into 16 servings. Enjoy!

*A final note, lest any of the above commentary dissuade you from giving these BBB’s a go. I recently served them up to a group of daring friends, and they were smitten. Asking for more, begging for the recipe smitten. So, my not-quite-love regard for them might just be me. I do, admittedly, hold this particular dessert to an impossibly high standard – so I would urge you to give these a try before drawing any conclusions. As a wise friend once said, if brownies are the dessert equivalent of George Clooney (true!), then adding a little healthy substitution to the mix is like George in Birkenstocks. Nearly impossible to imagine. But, no matter how you slice it (and I really do hope you will), a pretty picture nonetheless.

Mighty Spinach

Monday, January 18th, 2010

I was fortunate enough to spend a recent afternoon with two of my dearest friends – lolling about the soothing pools at local spa Banya 5. We were gabbing about everything from philanthropy to epilepsy to men to best friends (AKA dogs) when the conversation turned to … spinach.  Ah, spinach. I love it so. Its silky consistency when braised with garlic. Or soft, subtle texture when tossed with crumbled feta and slivered almonds. And then you add in the antioxidants, calcium, magnesium and other plentitude of vitamins and spinach is, in my book, a culinary champion.

So I was thrilled to hear that my friend’s sweet, 7-year old son Jack recently became a convert.  Just a month ago his mom had told me that spinach was high on Jack’s (thankfully short) list of “icky” foods. Not a chance he would eat it.

 

Then his kindergarten teacher sat Jack and his classmates down and told them that spinach would make them strong. “Spinach will make you as mighty as superman,” she explained. So the minute Jack sauntered through his front door he asked his mom for spinach. “Mom,” he said, “may I please have seven leaves of spinach?” Why this particular number of leaves we’ll never know. And I can only imagine his mom thought she had been transported into a parallel universe. But I think Jack’s teacher deserves the key to the city!

Talk of Jack’s new found fondness for this leafy delight soon turned to a recollection of the dinner my other friend served – which was more than EIGHT YEARS AGO. It revolved around her amazingly delicious recipe for Sautéed Spinach with Chickpeas and Garlic. Honestly, I still remember this simple dish all these years later. And it has become one of my favorite go-to, quick & easy, yet amazingly healthy dinner staples. I wonder if Jack might like it…

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Sautéed Spinach with Chickpeas and Garlic

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 large bags pre-washed spinach (or loose leaf – about 1 ½ pounds)
  • 1 can chickpeas (AKA garbanzo beans)
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (or crushed)
  • 1 large lemon
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Pita bread (4 pieces)

Preparation

Open can of beans and rinse. Allow to drain – ensuring as much liquid is removed as possible.

Select a large sauté pan – the bigger the better as you’ll be wilting a lot of spinach – it really reduces upon heating. Heat sauté pan, warming olive oil over medium high heat. Add sliced garlic and red pepper flakes (if using). Cook over medium until garlic starts to brown. Remove as much of the garlic as you can and set aside.  Add drained beans to pan and heat on medium – about 2-3 minutes. Add spinach. Sauté for two minutes until it begins to wilt.

Zest lemon and set aside zest. Add juice of lemon to bean and spinach mixture and continue to stir until all the leaves have wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Add garlic and lemon zest and continue to cook another 1-2 minutes.

Serve with warm pita.

Serving Options

  • Crumble feta cheese on top and put under the broiler. Serve with pita as an appetizer.
  • I make a double batch and put leftovers in a tortilla or wrap for a quick lunch the next day.

Parsnips Revisited

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

Until recently, when people asked the question, “Are there any foods you don’t like?” – my mind immediately turned to… parsnips. Why the strong aversion to this unassuming vegetable? Well, it all started in my youth…

Mom and dad traveled to Europe from time to time and Grandma Evy flew out from Fargo to stay with me and my brother. These were, for the most part, enjoyable times. Visits to Jack & The Box for the rare cheeseburger and strawberry shake. Eating salty, gelatinous Salisbury Steak TV dinners on TV trays while watching The Donnie & Marie Show. But then there was the parsnip incident.

One evening Grandma cooked and served Candied Parsnips. I honestly don’t know why this part of the meal stands out so strongly in my mind. And I can’t even remember what else she served. I just know that I hated those parsnips. Absolutely refused to eat them. “How can something be so terribly sweet yet taste like dirt at the same time?” I wondered.  This petulance did not go over well with Grandma. I’m pretty sure I ate every last one of those syrupy sticks of roots. Now there’s a slight chance that I am confusing my memory of this ill-fated dish with another traumatic part of her visit – which has also scarred me for life.

young Kathryn Gilmore

As this picture shows – I was forced against my will to relinquish my pacifier. I can tell you mom and dad were not pleased about it upon their return. But Grandma was, and still is (at 104 years old!), a very strong-willed woman. And if she thought it was time to give up my pacifier, well then so be it. So whether my aversion to parsnips truly stemmed from the dish she served or has in some freakish way been commingled with this terrorizing event – I will never know. What I do know is that it is high time to get over my judgment of these poor vegetables. It’s time to stop blacklisting parsnips.

My review of recipes found an abundance of overly sweet-sounding recipes. So rather than trying to reinvent the candied variety, I thought I’d go for a sweet-savory combo. I tried a little of this and a little of that and came up with:

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Roasted Parsnips – Two Ways

peeled parsnipsIngredients

  • 1-1/2 lb. parsnips, peeled (about 4 large parsnips)
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 generous pinches cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp. salt; more to taste
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lemon – zest & juice
  • 1 Tbs. honey

Preparation

Position an oven rack on a middle rung and heat the oven to 450°F. Cut the parsnips into thicker matchsticks about 2 inches long and a 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Place in bowl and drizzle with olive oil and toss. Pour parsnips onto two foil-lined sheets in a single layer. Sprinkle one sheet with cayenne pepper. Place both sheets in oven and roast for 15 min., stirring once or twice.

Mix lemon zest and juice with honey and set aside.

Sprinkle the sheet dusted with cayenne with the garlic, stir well. Drizzle lemon & honey mixture over the other sheet of parsnips and stir well. Continue roasting until the parsnips are well browned, about another 15 minutes. Be sure to mix after about 7 minutes – that garlic can turn quickly in such a hot oven. And the honey mixture on the other sheet can turn dark in no time. Taste for salt and serve.

roasted parsnipsI liked the contrast of the hot, garlicky parsnips against those coated with the sweet honey and lemon. Note that the honey-lemon ones may not crisp up as much as the others because they are coated in juice. But they are delicious nonetheless.

I am happy to report that I am now a parsnip convert. No longer will I shun these poor, unassuming roots. In fact, I wish I had another plateful right now…

A Perfect Day in the Kitchen

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

plates of figsThis is how I spent my afternoon the other day – and, in my mind, it’s as close to heaven as you can get. (Which is not to say this is a typical day in my kitchen – fresh Meyer lemons and dried figs are not always on hand. But when they are – well, you know where to find me.) Fortunately, I returned home from a recent trip to California with a bounty. My father has a fig tree right outside the back door and he lovingly dried a few batches of beautiful Mission figs just for me (this from a man who doesn’t even like figs). And the neighbors have a Meyer lemon tree that I can’t help but pillage every time I’m down there.

lemon marmalade and fig preservesNow, I know it may seem unfair that our neighbors to the south enjoy the benefits of edible gem-producing fruit trees year round. However, local markets offer an increasingly wide selection of produce – and the following recipes are miraculous enough to make it worth the extra effort. From the fruit trees of my childhood hometown, without further ado, I give you Meyer Lemon Marmalade & Balsamic Fig Preserves with Rosemary. (For those who, like me, view jarring as a potentially overwhelming endeavor – please see end note for the wary.

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Meyer Lemon Marmalade

Ingredient note – while Meyer lemons are not grown in Washington State, they are currently in season and can be found in any number of markets around town (among them, Metropolitan Markets & Apple Markets). This recipe should only be used with that specific type of lemon – the skin of a Meyer is especially thin, making for a perfect marmalade.

Based on a December 1999 Gourmet magazine recipe.

Yield: Makes 12 (4 ounce) jars

Ingredients:

  • 6 Meyer lemons (approximately 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 1/2 cups sugar

Special equipment:

  • Cheesecloth
  • Candy thermometer
  • 12 (4 ounce) Mason-type jars, sterilized
  • Canning pot, funnel and jar lifter

Preparation:

sliced lemonsHalve lemons crosswise and remove seeds. Tie seeds in a cheesecloth bag. Quarter each lemon half and thinly slice. Combine with bag of seeds and water in a 5-quart nonreactive heavy pot and let mixture stand, covered, at room temperature 24 hours. (The seeds release a natural pectin that will help set the marmalade).

Remove bag of seeds. Bring lemon mixture to a boil over moderate heat. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until reduced to 4 cups, about 45 minutes. Stir in sugar and boil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally and skimming off any foam, until it reaches 220 on the thermometer.

Ladle hot marmalade into prepared jars (see below for prep tips), filling to within 1/4 inch of top. Wipe rims with dampened cloth and seal jars with lids. Put jars in a water-bath canner or on a rack set in a deep pot. Add enough hot water to cover jars by 1 inch and bring to a boil. Boil jars, covered, 5 minutes and transfer with tongs to a rack. Cool jars completely.

*You may find that the resulting mixture is quite liquid when you’re putting into the jars. It will thicken as it cools, and be ready for your toast in the morning.

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Fig Preserves with Balsamic Vinegar and Fresh Rosemary

mission figsIngredient note – Dried mission figs can also be found in several markets around town.

Serving note – these preserves pair extraordinarily well with goat and blue cheese and, my favorite, a good Spanish Manchego.

Based on a combination of several fig jam recipes.

Yield: Makes 12 (4 ounce) jars

Ingredients

  • 4 cups finely chopped figs (~3 cups dried – reconstituted in lukewarm water for a few hours)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice plus zest of one lemon
  • 1/3 cup good quality balsamic vinegar
  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

Special equipment:

  • 12 (4 ounce) Mason-type jars, sterilized
  • Canning pot, funnel and jar lifter

Preparation:

balsamic fig preservers w rosemaryAdd the figs, lemon juice, vinegar, and rosemary to a large pot. Let sit for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Stir in the sugar.

Bring the mixture to a full boil. If the mixture isn’t liquid at all when you turn on the heat, you can add a few tablespoons of the water used to reconstitute the figs – or just plain water. You will want a fairly thick consistency before cooking. Turn the heat down and continue to gently boil until thickened. (I boiled it for about 25 minutes).

Ladle into prepared jars (see below for prep tips). Put jars in a water-bath canner or on a rack set in a deep pot. Add enough hot water to cover jars by 1 inch and bring to a boil. Boil jars, covered, 5 minutes and transfer with tongs to a rack. Cool jars completely.

Jar Preparation:

Wash jars and rinse in very hot water. Put jars in a water-bath canner or on a rack set in a deep pot and cover with hot water.

Bring water to a boil and boil jars, covered, 15 minutes from time steam emerges from pot. Turn off heat and let jars stand in hot water.

Just before filling them, invert jars onto a kitchen towel to dry. (Jars should be filled while still hot.)

Sterilize lids in boiling water 5 minutes.

Closing Word for the Wary - While even the mere mention of ‘canning’ is enough to make novice cooks run for the Smucker’s jar, it is not as arduous as rumor would have you believe. These recipes were the subjects of my First Official Canning – and resulted in a success by any standards. And too, they make excellent gifts – which is nothing to turn your nose up at either.

Winter Squash

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

For those rainy, dark and dreary winter days, sometimes the only thing that will set things right is a large, steaming bowl of butternut squash soup. The winter squash harvest is at its peak right now – making it one of the most popular players at local farmer’s markets. They come in shapes, sizes and textures galore – including butternut, acorn, spaghetti – and my personal favorite, the highly under-appreciated Delicata.

raw squash

Naturally high in fiber and a long list of vitamins and minerals, these hard-shelled beauties can seem intimidating. Even the name can be slightly repellant. (Squash – to ’subdue’ or ’suppress’. So unfair to this glorious gourd.) How do you break through that tough outer exterior? Is it worth the effort? In my humble opinion – oh, yes. Your approach could be as simple as slicing them in two, removing the seeds and roasting them to perfection, glazed with butter and brown sugar. Or chopping into smallish pieces for a healthy addition to soups, stews and casseroles.

There is a world full of varieties and preparation options – too many to name here. So instead I will tempt you with two of my favorite winter squash recipes. And because I want to encourage you to relinquish any of those lingering doubts you might have about the majestic gourd, I plan to add additional tips and recipe ideas in future blogs to carry you through until spring arrives at our doorsteps.

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half squashButternut Squash, Fennel & Apple Soup

(Adapted from my friend Caitlin’s recipe – a kitchen wizard that one. Consider doubling the recipe – this is very freezer-friendly.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium butternut squash – peeled, seeds and pulp removed, chopped roughly
  • 1 small fennel bulb – core removed, sliced thinly
  • 1 small onion – peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1 small apple – peeled, cored and chopped (Granny Smith is a good choice)
  • Vegetable or chicken stock – approximately one 1-quart container*
  • 2 Bay leaves (Sage is a nice alternative)
  • Fresh thyme – a few sprigs
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 T butter or olive oil
  • 1 tsp Cayenne (optional)

*Always have additional stock on hand in case you need to thin out the soup. I’m a fan of Trader Joe’s “Savory Broth” liquid concentrate – which allows you to make a cup at a time.

Preparation:

Roast the butternut squash at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes or until it’s tender and caramelized.

In a fairly large soup pot or Dutch oven, sauté the fennel, onion and apple in butter or olive oil over medium heat until soft. Season with salt & pepper. Add the roasted squash, bay, thyme, and cayenne (if using) to the fennel mixture, stir to coat in the oil/butter.

Add enough stock to just cover the veggies, bring to a simmer and cook approximately 25 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and season with salt/pepper if needed.

Using a food mill (or food processor or blender), process the solids in batches. (But take note – if using a blender, do not fill it up to the top. Hot liquids expand! Stick to 1/2 or 2/3 cups full.) If some liquid gets into the food mill or the processor as you’re scooping it in that’s fine. Put the now smooth (not baby food smooth, you want a little texture) mixture back into the pot. Add more broth if it’s too thick, check for seasonings and warm it back up.

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squash slicesRoasted Delicata Squash

(An excellent, kid-friendly solution – fun finger food that looks like little smiles.)

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium Delicata squash
  • Olive Oil Spray
  • Course Sea Salt

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut squash oblong and remove seeds and pulp. Do NOT remove the peel. Cut in narrow slices (about 1/4 inch).

Cover baking pans (or cookie sheets) with tin foil and spray with olive oil spray. Place cut squash on foil-covered sheets and spray with olive oil. Bake squash for 20 minutes. Turn over and continue to bake for about 15 minutes. Squash slices should be browned and somewhat crisp on the outside. If they aren’t – place under broiler for a few minutes and watch closely until brown. Remove from oven, salt liberally and serve.

Serving options:

  • Sprinkle with finely chopped rosemary or cumin
  • Serve with a dipping sauce consisting of 1/3 cup sour cream (low fat is fine) or crème fraiche, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon horseradish and a small squeeze of honey.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Julie Andrews is welcome to her raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens… I’ll take roasted garlic and a good balsamic reduction any day.

The unvarnished, fresh-from-the-vine truth? As you may have already guessed, I am head over heels for fresh produce – AKA ‘plants’. But this wasn’t always the case. For much of my life, I subsisted on a typical ‘Western diet’ – meaning all manner of foods processed and refined. Happily, a while back I began approaching my daily sustenance with a lot more attention paid to health and well-being. Fast forward to today – Sunday strolls through the farmer’s market are an essential weekend highlight (highly recommended – enjoy rows upon rows of vibrant produce, and informative chats with friendly local farmers). The ‘Western-diet-me’ wouldn’t believe what I now consider kitchen staples – it’s enough to make her head spin.

Fruits and vegetables are now at center stage – the star performers of my diet. On their own, many can be amazingly delicious. But if you’re a little wary of embracing them ‘au natural’, here are a few tricks that I use to add quick, healthy hits of flavor to just about anything.

balsamic reductionBalsamic Vinegar Reduction – Pour a large bottle of Balsamic vinegar (Costo Balsamic was made for this) into a sauce pan and heat over medium high, bringing to a low boil. Next, reduce heat to medium and simmer for about half an hour – until it reduces to approximately 1/3 its volume. Keep an eye on it – it can thicken quickly towards the end of the cooking time. (Think molasses thick. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) Once you’ve reached the desired consistency – you’ll want it just thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon – take it off the heat and allow it to cool. Use a funnel to pour the reduction into a kitchen squeeze bottle. Refrigerate.

**I keep a squeeze bottle of this rich, syrupy ‘nectar of the gods’ on hand at all times. Pairs marvelously with roasted meats and every vegetable I’ve ever poured it on.

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Fresh Ginger – Use a microplane zester to grate it over steamed or sautéed veggies. (No peeling necessary.)

**Little muss, no fuss and plenty of flavor. I always keep some of this knobby yellow root on hand – fresh, and with a couple extra in the freezer for emergencies. (In a freezer-safe bag. I know I’ve said it already, but freezer burn just destroys great flavor.)

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lemon zestFresh Citrus – Grate fresh lemon or orange zest directly over sautéed chard or spinach. Substitute fresh lime or grapefruit juice for vinegar to lighten up homemade salad dressings.

**Don’t be afraid to try any kind of citrus. Even consider slicing kumquats into salads. A little dash of these tarty-sweet gems can brighten up even the darkest days of winter.

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Roasted Garlic - closeupRoasted Garlic – Preheat oven to 400°F. Peel off the outer layers of the entire garlic bulb – leaving the cloves intact. I like to use Elephant garlic – much more volume and a bit easier to handle. Cut off about 1/4 inch from the top of the cloves. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle each bulb with a few teaspoons of olive oil. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for approximately 45 minutes – removing the foil after 20 minutes. The cloves will be ready when they are soft when pressed. You can use them immediately – or squeeze out individual cloves, blend up and place a dollop of the mixture into handy little compartments of ice cube trays and freeze. (If you choose to freeze, remove from trays when frozen and store in a freezer-safe bag.)

**A simply amazing addition to mashed potatoes, soups and sauces.

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Basil & Garlic Cubes – Blend a large bunch of chopped fresh basil with 1/2 cup olive oil and 2-3 cloves of garlic. Pour into an ice cube tray to freeze. Once frozen, save individual cubes in a freezer-safe bag.

**Throw unfrosted cubes into warm sauces or soups. Or defrost and drizzle directly over vegetables.

 

DCUMEN6MRFCZ

Mise en Place, Everything in Place

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

mise-en-placeFrom the French, the concept of ‘mise en place’ is now a well-respected practice in kitchens around the world – the preparation of all the necessary ingredients before settling in to the task of creating a meal. It is the washing, chopping, measuring and arranging. Not just a practice for the culinary elite, mise en place is equally useful in the home kitchen – what it requires in time, it more than makes up for in the process. Perfectly sautéed onions wait for no cook.

During the last few months I have been knee-deep in such prep work, preparing to launch my new professional venture, Foodwise Northwest – and by extension, this blog. It has been mise en place practiced on a grand scale – sometimes intimidating, most often inspiring.

Delicata-squashWhether you’re a fellow Pacific Northwest’er, or a home cook on the other side of the globe – my hope with this blog is to inspire you to step outside of your comfort zone. (Think, ‘Adieu bagged baby carrots, bonjour Delicata squash!’) To demystify the art of creating fresh, flavorful meals with local, seasonal ingredients. To share my philosophy and experiences – from farmer’s market to kitchen table. And ultimately, to create a community – to unearth new favorite recipes, secrets to success, your own ‘mise en place’ practices.

In his bestselling book, In Defense of Food, author Michael Pollan offers this sage dietary advice, ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’ It seems deceptively simple – surely there has to be more to it than that, right? Given my interest in home cooking – and its undeniable relationship with an enjoyable quality of life – it will come as little surprise that I not only agree, but have adopted Pollan’s maxim as a guide in my own efforts.  At this point, you may have reread ‘mostly plants’ with eyebrows raised. Don’t worry, I can assure you that there is still room in the grocery basket for sourdough bread and dark chocolate – it’s just that they’re nestled in there among rainbow kale, brussel sprouts and asian pears.

So welcome, fellow foodie. I hope you’ll join me in this new adventure, because I can’t wait to share it with you.

Now… À la cuisine!