Archive for March, 2010

Purple Potatoes and Preserved Lemons – An Education

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

I went to my first cooking class the other day. Not the first in a series. My first cooking class ever. Hard to believe. I’ve been in love with food for as long as I can remember and cooking since I was old enough to knead dough to make cheddar cheese pretzels from my “The Kid’s Cookbook.” And I’ve been enraptured with TV cooking shows since the days of The French Chef (I still remember sitting next to mom as she frantically wrote down notes to try to capture one of Julia’s recipes. This was back in the day before remote controls and the Internet and DVRs … how far we’ve come). But I digress.

Last week I attended a “Gourmet Vegetarian Celebration Feast” at the Blue Ribbon Culinary Center. Situated on Lake Union with a stunning view of the water near downtown Seattle, this is a school that has been around for a while. I’ve been meaning to take a class for years and have to say that I wish I hadn’t waited so long. I consider myself somewhataccomplished in the kitchen and suppose I figured I could learn whatever I needed to learn from my TV friends Giada, Bobby and Ina.  And there’s always Google to help me hunt down explanations of gastronomic terms and exotic ingredients, right? These technological solutions have served a purpose and allowed me to grow my culinary skills. But I must say there is nothing like first-hand experience.

The chefs at Blue Ribbon taught me a lot. For instance, I didn’t know that potatoes as we know them are imposters… the whites and yellows that are plentiful in the grocery aisles have been stripped of their original color – which aparently was purple. Purple! Who knew? They make a gorgeous mashed potato, in case you’re interested.

I also didn’t realize that olive oil is a perfectly good substitute for melted butter when working with Phyllo dough. And apparently our local organic grocer PCC has a whole wheat variety of Phyllo that works wonders. Genius.  Another favorite tip? When cutting up vegetables, reserve the “unwanted parts” (i.e. the dark green ends of leeks and the tips of carrots and celery, etc.) – toss in a Ziploc and keep them in the freezer. These flavorful bits can then be used in the future to make sumptuous vegetable stocks. 

I also learned that I have been misusing preserved lemons. I’ve preserving lemons at home for years but had no clue that one is only supposed to use the rind – not the flesh. Good to know. (For those of you unfamiliar with this delicacy – I highly recommend you try them. Jars of this vibrantly piquant delight frequently used in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisines can be found at most gourmet markets. I’ve included a recipe below that features them – but they can also be chopped up and added to a myriad of dishes – whether scattered over salads or added to savory soups they add a new dimension of tartness and brightness that will get you hooked.)

I’m digressing again… What I’m trying to say is that I learned far more than expected from this enlightening 3-hour class and I would highly recommend that people hunt down cooking classes in their own communities. Chefs from all walks of life are out there – eager to share their knowledge. And it’s such a simple and entertaining way to expand your culinary knowledge, aptitude and enjoyment.

The recipe that follows was one of my favorites from class. There were several other contenders including Phyllo Filled with Leeks, Lentils & Blue Cheese and Corn Soufflé-Stuffed Tomatoes. Stay tuned for these recipes to be featured in future posts.

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Warm Chickpea Salad with Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

Recipe courtesy of the Blue Ribbon Culinary Center

This can be served as a side salad alongside your main course – or can make one in and of itself.  Cut up some crusty whole grain bread or cook up some brown rice or other grains to make it a complete meal. If you’re not serving it all immediately, you can reserve the chickpea mixture apart from the arugula and then mix separately when you’re ready to serve. Also – the leftovers make a great lunch – try filling a whole wheat tortilla with the mixture for a delicious wrap.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dry or 2 ½ cups cooked chickpeas (reserve liquid)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • ½ preserved lemon, flesh removed and rind chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup sherry vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon agave or honey
  • 2 Bosc or Bartlett pears, chopped
  • 2 cups toasted walnuts
  • 1 pound arugula
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

In a large, heavy sauté pan, heat oil on medium high. Add onions and cook until they start to turn brown and release some juices (about 5-7 minutes), stirring occasionally. Add garlic and preserved lemon and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, then turn heat down to low and cook until all onions are caramelized (about 5 minutes).

Add the vinegar to the pan and deglaze – ensuring all the bits of onion and other ingredients are gently pried from the bottom of the pan.  Add the pears and sauté for about 3-10 minutes, depending on how ripe your pears are – mine were somewhat firm and took closer to 10 minutes. Check them before moving to the next step – you don’t want them to retain any crunch. With a spoon, smash a few of the pears and add the Dijon, yogurt and agave or honey and stir well. Add the chickpeas and liquid. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes.

Toss with the arugula and walnuts and season to taste with salt and pepper.

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End note – this is for those of you who doubt their cooking abilities and have hence resisted taking a class. I see this concern as similar to those of us who don’t go to the gym because we’re not in shape. Or others who clean the house before a housekeeper visits. I am admittedly guilty as charged on both counts. But here’s the thing….even those of us who have spent some significant time in the kitchen are there to learn and many of us need instruction as much as the more novice chefs in the room.

Case in point – I was a total disaster when it came to trying my hands the Pavlova (a fancy term for a baked meringue dessert). Pristine egg whites are the most critical element to a successful Pavlova and it fell upon me to separate a few eggs. Simple enough, I thought. I gently selected an egg, cracked it on the counter and proceeded with my first attempt to make sure that the bright orb of yolk remained distinctly separate from the runny whites. I had done this countless times before – a walk in the park I thought.

With everyone’s eyes upon me, I started the separation process and, as you may have guessed by now, the yolk fractured, leaving spots of bright yellow throughout the transparent white. The friendly chef chortled good-naturedly but made it abundantly clear that the mess that lay in my bowl would need to be discarded. Then she encouraged me to try again. So back to the container of eggs I went.  Egg elected, gently cracked, divided into two halves, separation process resumed. The white landed in my bowl and I smugly tossed what appeared to be an unharmed yolk into a separate bowl. The chef was lurking at this point. With good reason. A thorough investigation of my egg whites resulted in the discovery of a hint of yellow. Not good enough. Not my proudest moment. Happily I got it right on the third try. Yet another lesson learned.

Photo note: as mentioned in previous posts, I try to take all the pictures featured on this blog. However I was unable to hunt down a purple potato this week so the picture featured above is not my own.

Getting Grains

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Quinoa and Kamut… they sound like baby names thought up by some trendy Hollywood celebrity. Thankfully, they are not. Quinoa and Kamut are two of my favorite grains. Many of you may have heard of Quinoa as it is growing in popularity. But Kamut? It was new to me until a month or so ago. More on that in a bit.

Whole grains. We hear about their importance constantly. But what does “whole” really mean and why are they important? Despite the fact that I try to eat them as often as possible, I didn’t initially have a crystal clear answer to these two simple questions. So please allow me to share what I have learned.

Whole grains include grains like wheat, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, spelt, rye – when these foods are eaten in their “whole” form. Even popcorn is considered a whole grain. According to the Whole Grains Council, the following is the official definition of whole grains: “Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.”

So now we know what they are. But why does it matter? Well, they’re really healthy. Whole grains contain disease-fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants, as well as B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and fiber. What this means, and what medical evidence has shown, is that whole grains reduce risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity.

Whole grains are recommended over refined grains because the latter have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ – along with dietary fiber, iron and many B vitamins. These refined grains, including white flour and white rice, might have a finer texture and improved shelf life, but they’re just not as healthy. Wonder Bread no longer cuts it.

So why, when there are so many commonly found whole grains readily available, do I go for Quinoa and Kamut? They both have insanely high levels of protein and fiber – more than most other whole grains. If I had to choose between the two, I suppose I’d select Quinoa. It’s easier to find and takes only 15 minutes to cook. And it’s gluten free and one of the only plant foods that is a complete protein. Tough to beat. Especially considering Kamut is harder to hunt down (PCC and Whole Foods usually carry it) and it takes 90 minutes to cook (and that’s when you remember to soak it overnight first). But I just enjoy using Kamut from time to time because it has a uniquely chewy texture and an almost buttery taste.

If you’re looking for a change from brown rice or even pasta, I hope you’ll try either grain as an alternative. And if you’re looking for something a little snazzier, I’ve included two recipes that really highlight these grains. Both recipes featured here were adapted from Vegetarian Times. Those folks seem to really get grains.

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Greens & Quinoa Pie

Serves 6

The original recipe called for chicory and romaine lettuce. I’ve used arugula and kale instead. Any greens (i.e. spinach, chard, etc.) can be used though. I mixed Inca Red quinoa (pictured above) and the regular version to enhance the appearance of the pie – but any old quinoa will do. This makes a lovely brunch item or can be paired with a salad for a light dinner.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 1 large bunch arugula
  • 1 large bunch kale
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil divided
  • 2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 3 eggs

Instructions

Rinse and drain your quinoa and add to a medium saucepan with 1 cup water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and transfer to large bowl.

Once the quinoa is cooked, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Wash kale and arugula and remove any hard stems and tear into bite-sized pieces. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the kale and cook 5 – 7 minutes, or until wilted, stirring frequently or tossing with tongs (you don’t need to add any oil to the pan because the moisture from the greens will help them from sticking to the pan). Add arugula to the pot and wilt 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer greens to strainer, and squeeze out excess moisture. Transfer to cutting board, and chop into small pieces. Stir into quinoa.

Wipe out your sauté pan and heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add yellow onions and sauté 10 – 15 minutes, or until soft and starting to brown. Add cooked onions, green onions, dill, and feta cheese to quinoa mixture. Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper and stir them into the quinoa mixture.

Pour 1 tablespoon oil into a 9″ pie pan and place in oven. Heat for 5 minutes, or until oil is hot. Swirl oil to coat bottom and sides of pan, and then spread quinoa mixture in pan with a spatula. Bake 20 minutes. Drizzle pie with remaining 1 tablespoon oil (or spray with olive oil cooking spray), and bake 20 to 30 minutes more, or until golden brown.

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Kamut Pilaf with Lentils, Butternut Squash and Kale

Serves 6

If you’re unable to find Kamut, spelt or farro can be substituted. Just be sure to adjust the water amount and cooking time according to instructions for cooking your selected grain. The original version of this recipe did not include the roasted butternut squash and kale. I added both ingredients to lighten up the dish. Sautéed mushrooms are another favorite addition. These can be omitted however – it’s still a deliciously hearty meal.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked Kamut
  • 1 cup green or black lentils
  • 5 – 7 tablespoons olive oil
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 3 large red onions, sliced thin
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, optional
  • 1 large butternut squash, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 large bunch kale, stems removed and chopped roughly
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Instructions

Prepare Kamut in advance. Soak rinsed grains overnight in enough water to cover them. Drain and add Kamut to 6 cups of water and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer (uncovered) for approximately 70-90 minutes, stirring frequently. Check for doneness (they should be tender but not mushy). Drain well (note – Kamut does not cook like rice – it will not soak up all the water).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and spray with olive oil cooking spray. Toss butternut squash evenly over foil and spray with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in oven and cook for 45 minutes – tossing a few times throughout roasting process. Set aside when done.

While butternut squash is roasting, prepare lentils and onions. Rinse lentils, place in a medium to large saucepan and cover by 2 inches with water (add a pinch of salt). Bring to a boil. Cover pan, reduce heat to low and cook until lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes.

To make caramelized onions, heat 5 tablespoons of oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté, stirring often, until deep golden brown, about 30 – 35 minutes. You can add a few teaspoons of sugar after about 10 minutes to enhance the caramelization process. When almost done, season with salt, pepper, cinnamon and cumin. Stir well.

While your onions are cooking, prepare kale by heating 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium high. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes (do not let brown). Add kale and 1/4 cup water and cover. Keep heat on medium high and cook for five minutes. Remove lid and continue cooking until water evaporates.

When lentils are done, add Kamut to lentils and toss to combine. Heat through, making certain that all liquids have been absorbed. Stir in the onions, squash and kale. Season to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: I like to make a double batch of this recipe without the squash and kale and freeze it. It can be easily defrosted and reheated and freshly sautéed and/or roasted vegetables can then be added.

Sauced

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Like many people here in the great Pacific Northwest, I was under the illusion a week ago that spring was here to stay. Sunshine and weather in the 60s. Out came the flip flops and t-shirts and sunglasses. Heck, I even got a pedicure. Then Mother Nature reminded us that, yes, it is still winter. Back came the cold. Snow fell on cherry blossoms. Hail covered the highway with a blanket of white.

We have less than a week until spring is here. More specifically, “Saturday, March 20, at approximately midnight is the official first day of spring for 2010 in the Northern Hemisphere.” Not that I’m counting the days or anything. And despite this promise of spring and the fact that the sun is, indeed, shining outside my window right now, I have come to terms with the fact that Mother Nature is fickle. So I am not anticipating eating light, delicate salads on my deck any time soon. No, I need to continue to embrace our cold-weather produce for a while longer.  But that doesn’t mean meal time has to be bleak like our dark, frosty mornings.

Thankfully, I have people in my life like my friend Sonya who just sent along some delicious ideas for spirited sauces that will liven up cabbages and root vegetables, cauliflower and broccoli. Her email came just in the nick of time as I pondered what to do with the mountain of winter vegetables I recently purchased.

The best thing about these sauce recipes is how easy they make it to prepare quick and simple meals throughout the week. Imagine spending a few minutes in the kitchen producing a ginger and cilantro-infused sauce that can be spooned over roasted green beans and served with protein-rich quinoa one day and drizzled over freshly grilled shrimp the next. And another night just mix some curried peanut sauce into shredded, grilled chicken for a flavorful chicken salad. You can even freeze them for later use – for instance the lemon tahini sauce can be quickly defrosted and then drizzled over a plate of roasted asparagus and broiled salmon. Their uses and applications are virtually endless.  And until our northwest weather heats up for the long haul – I’m hoping these savory sauces help liven things up in the kitchen.

Some quick tips for roasting vegetables like those pictured here. To make it easy, just preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Prepare your vegetables (washing, trimming, cutting into bite-sized pieces) and line a baking sheet with foil and spray liberally with olive oil cooking spray. Toss your vegetables onto the pan and spray with some more cooking spray and season with salt and pepper. As a general rule of thumb, cook broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and carrots for 15 minutes. Asparagus and green beans take only ten minutes. Easy peasy lemon squeezey (or so say the British).

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Lemon Tahini Sauce

Makes about 1 1/4 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 medium garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • Zest and juice of two small lemons
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey

Instructions

Crush garlic and finely chop cilantro and place in small bowl. Zest the lemons and add zest and juice to garlic and cilantro. Before adding the tahini, make sure to stir it well – incorporating the oil and separated sesame paste – this is key to ensuring the tahini mixes well with the other ingredients. Stir in all remaining ingredients until combined well.

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Ginger Cilantro Sauce

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 small bunches of cilantro
  • 1/2 cup fresh ginger (about 3 inches of the root)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/8 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil

Instructions

Cut thick stems from cilantro. Peel your ginger and slice thinly. Place all ingredients into a blender and puree until well-blended.

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Curried Peanut Sauce

Makes about 2 cups

 Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon canola oil 
  • 1 small red onion, minced 
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 4 teaspoons minced fresh ginger 
  • 4 teaspoons curry powder 
  • 4 teaspoons cumin 
  • 1  can coconut milk (you can use the light version)
  • 5 tablespoons peanut butter 
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced 
  • 5 teaspoons soy sauce 
  • 1 tablespoon honey 
  • zest and juice of one lime 
  • 1/2 cup water

Instructions

Heat canola oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onion, garlic, and ginger for about five minutes or until soft. Add curry powder, red chili flakes and cumin and sauté over low heat for two minutes. Add coconut milk and stir, making sure all bits of onion mixture are scraped off the bottom of the pan. Add peanut butter, cilantro, soy sauce, honey, lime zest and juice, and water. Bring sauce to a boil, whisking often. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

The Beleaguered Brussels Sprout

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

“Green balls of death.” That is how a friend (a nutritionist even!) used to refer to Brussels sprouts. Unfortunately, not a terribly uncommon reference. So many people I know hold this poor, unassuming vegetable in disregard. “Mushy,” “mealy” “bitter” and “pungent”– these are a few of the descriptors used by the skeptics among us. And I can relate.

My first experience with these miniature, cabbage-like orbs was, well, not great. They were soft and acidic and the palest of green – not an attractive sage green but one tending more toward the brownish pea green that graced my elementary school lockers.

Then I was presented with an entirely different animal. The roasted Brussels sprout. The leaves singed to a deep brown and crisped to perfection, they had a sweet taste and a dense bite. I started experimenting at home and, with the addition of fresh lemon zest and a sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese, Brussels sprouts soon became standard fare on my dinner table.

A quick note on their etymology. In my recent post I was unable to confirm with confidence the origin of the name Jerusalem artichoke (aside from the fact that they have nothing to do with Jerusalem). I am happy to report that, with the Brussels sprout, there seems to be no such confusion. They are, in fact, named for Brussels – the capital of Belgium. Nice to finally have a bit of historical certainty!

They are an excellent source of vitamin C – containing a hefty 161% of the Recommended Daily Allowance. They are also full of a number of vitamins and loaded with fiber. And they contain plant phytonutriets that enhance the body’s natural defense system and there is a growing body of evidence pointing toward the Brussels sprout as a potent cancer prevention food.

When purchasing them, look for the smaller, more tightly wound ones. If you can get them on the stalk – all the better. I hunted for a stalk bursting with sprouts but it’s too late in the season to find such a treasure. Considering they are in their prime earlier in the winter, I was lucky enough to chance upon a bucket full of them at the farmer’s market.

I’m providing a few simple recipes to entice the sprout cynics out there. I hope some of you give these vegetables another try before they disappear from the markets for the season.

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut off the brown ends of the Brussels sprouts and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Mix them in a bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour them on a sheet pan and roast for 30 to 35 minutes, until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Shake the pan from time to time to brown the sprouts evenly. Sprinkle with more kosher salt and serve immediately.

Note: Brussels sprouts pair beautifully with rosemary – so if you have some laying about or growing outside, toss it into the bowl with the olive oil and sprouts before roasting. Divine.

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Pasta with Shaved Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 small leeks, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted, divided
  • Juice and zest of one large lemon
  • 1 pound fresh pasta
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

Cut off the brown ends of the Brussels sprouts and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Cut a thin slice off of one side and then, placing that side facing down, thinly slice the remainder of the sprout.

Thinly slice the white and light green parts of the leeks. Thinly slice the shallot and garlic. Zest your lemon, preserving zest in a small bowl covered with a moistened paper towel.

Heat the olive oil in large pot over medium heat. Add shallots and leeks; sauté until almost translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and stir for a few minutes.

Add Brussels sprouts; increase heat to medium-high and sauté until tender, about 6-7 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons pine nuts and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

While Brussels sprouts are cooking, prepare pasta according to instructions. I highly recommend fresh pasta. I like to pair this version of Brussels sprouts with a lemon & pepper linguine sold at my local farmer’s market – but any fresh pasta will do.

When pasta is done, drain and reserve about ¼ cup of the liquid. Toss the pasta in the pan with the Brussels sprouts and drizzle hot “pasta liquid” over the top to moisten.

Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon pine nuts, parmesan and lemon zest and serve.

And the Winner Is… Caramelized Onion Tart with Apples

Monday, March 8th, 2010

I love the Oscars – the glitz, the glam, the spectacle. And munching lovely appetizers while watching the show is a long-held tradition. Sadly, the Oscars comes at time of the year when our local produce is not putting on such a show. There are lots of dark, drab colors and lackluster shapes and forms at the farmer’s markets these days…not exactly inspiring for a dish appropriate for a swank Oscar fete. Or so I thought.

It’s amazing what a little caramelizing and some puff pastry can do. I found this recipe in the Real Simple archives and thought it would be just the ticket. And it did not disappoint.

In contrast to the often overly loquacious acceptance speeches of our friends in Hollywood, I will keep this short and sweet and leave it at that. On to the recipe. Enjoy!

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Caramelized Onion Tarts with Apples

Makes 2 tarts

Adapted from Real Simple

Ingredients

  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 2 red apples (i.e. Braeburn)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche, sour cream or soft goat cheese
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme (optional, though highly recommended)

Instructions

Heat oven to 400º F.

Peel the onions, cut in half and thinly slice. Cut the apples in quarters, remove the core and cut each quarter into thin slices.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and golden brown, 15 to 17 minutes. Stir in the apples, a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook until just tender, 3-5 minutes. The apples will still be a bit crisp inside and slightly warmed throughout.

Place each sheet of pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet and prick all over with a fork. Spread with the crème fraîche, sour cream or goat cheese*, leaving a ½-inch border. Top with the onion mixture, sprinkle with fresh thyme and bake until the pastry is crisp and browned, 30 to 35 minutes. To enhance the browning process, spray lightly with olive oil cooking spray after about 20 minutes. Cut into pieces before serving.

*To experiment, I slathered half with goat cheese that was room temperature and easy to spread. I slathered the other half with sour cream. Personally, I prefer the piquant flavor of the goat cheese, however the sour cream option is savory and delicious as well.

Tips

I made the onion and apple mixture in advance and left it in a covered bowl at room temperature for an hour before assembling. You can also prepare and save the mixture a day or so in advance and keep it in the refrigerator in a sealed container, bringing up to room temperature before preparing.

I also froze one sheet for later use. I placed it on a parchment-lined baking sheet and chilled in the freezer for an hour, then wrapped it in plastic wrap. To cook, I baked it frozen at 400º F for approximately 45 minutes.

Stumbling Upon Jerusalem Artichokes

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

I am a planner. I plan meals as a profession. I almost always try to figure out how I’m going to spend my days well in advance so I can be productive. But I have long known that spontaneity needs to play a much bigger role in my life. Last Sunday morning was a fine case in point…

Sunday has become blog day. For days in advance I scour my brain and culinary websites and talk with friends and fellow foodies, searching for a fun new topic to explore. Last week I thought I had zeroed in on the perfect subject – spaghetti squash. It is still winter after all and squash is virtually synonymous with this season. Off to the farmer’s market I went to search for this huge, yellow, rugby ball-shaped vegetable.  Sadly, my pursuit was in vain. They were nowhere to be found. A friendly farmer finally explained that the spaghetti squash comes early in the winter season and, while they are readily available at many grocery stores, they no longer grace the arsenals of local growers. Bugger. 

Then my eyes settled on a bin full of small, dirt-covered, oddly-shaped tubers. The Jerusalem artichoke.  Bingo. Something I had wanted to try for as long as I can remember. And I need to come clean here. Though a self-professed foodie, I had never tried them.  This is a bit embarrassing considering almost all my favorite TV chefs inevitably navigate to these root vegetables. I can’t recall a season of my beloved Top Chef when a contestant hasn’t whipped up a creamy Jerusalem artichoke purée upon which to perch seared scallops or another equally delectable morsel.  So I figured it was high time to take them for a spin in my kitchen.

Curious about their name and history, I jumped online to investigate. Firstly, they are not artichokes nor are they related to them. Rather, they are a species of sunflower. Hence their nickname “sunchoke.”  Secondly, they have no relation to Jerusalem. The origin of the name is a bit ambiguous – I could not find a definitive explanation. Quite baffling.

Though their origin is mysterious, their health benefits are well documented.  They are low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. They are also a good source of a number of nutrients including iron and potassium.  And, when compared to regular potatoes (which they commonly are), they’re relatively low in calories and have a lower glycemic index – which means they are a better choice for those looking to avoid major spikes in blood sugar levels.  Just as important – I think they taste really good. Their texture resembles a crisp potato or the lesser known jicama. They are delicately sweet with a slight nutty flavor.

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Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes

As with most winter vegetables, I found that roasting Jerusalem artichokes produced the most savory result – and it was the easiest method. I paired them with fresh rosemary to bring out their earthy quality, but garlic, lemon and/or other herbs are also delicious options.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound Jerusalem artichokes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • Kosher salt
  • Olive Oil cooking spray

Instructions

Heat your oven to 425 degrees.

Thoroughly wash the Jerusalem artichokes. Cut uniformly into approximately ¼ inch thick slices. Many will resemble pieces from a jignaw puzzle. Some of the knobs can be removed and cut separately for a more uniform chop. Immediately place them in a bowl and toss with olive oil. Scatter with rosemary and salt and toss again.

Pour the slices onto a baking pan that has been coated in olive oil spray (you just don’t want these guys to stick to the pan). Place the pan in the heated oven and roast for 15 minutes. Toss or turn them over and return to the oven for 10 minutes or until tender. Run them under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the edges, watching carefully. Salt liberally and serve immediately.

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I must be candid. I was a bit reluctant to include the following recipe. Not because it doesn’t taste good. It does. However it calls for peeling the Jerusalem Artichokes – which is a bit off-putting for two reasons.  One, the majority of the nutrients are, purportedly, just below the surface of the skin. So you are losing the lion’s share of their nutritional value. Secondly, peeling these little buggers is rather torturous. The hills and valleys that constitute their surface make it challenging to remove the peel without taking out significant chunks of the “meat.” I chose to use a paring knife to remove the peel as I could more easily navigate around the knobs and dents. And next time around, I will most definitely look for the ones that have a smoother, more uniform surface. Though I enjoy the strangeness of the contorted knobs, a more level exterior would be a welcome alternative.

All that said, I couldn’t imagine having bags of these gems, fresh out of the ground, in my house without at least trying this dish that so many of my culinary heroes whip up on whim on TV.  And after tasting the sumptuous purée, I now understand why. It’s one of my new favorites.

Grilled Portabella Mushrooms with Jerusalem Artichoke Purée 

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 1/2 pound Jerusalem artichokes (about 3 cups cubed)
  • 1 pint milk
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 large Portabella Mushroom
  • 1 tablespoon chives (optional), finely chopped

Instructions

Wash and peel the Jerusalem artichokes and cut into medium cubes, placing in cold water immediately (they can tend to quickly discolor).

In a saucepot, heat olive oil over low heat. Add garlic and sauté until golden. Add shallot and cook until soft.

When the garlic and shallot mixture is tender, add the Jerusalem artichokes and cover with milk and vegetable stock. Add a bit of salt. Increase heat to medium and bring to a slow simmer. Cook until Jerusalem artichokes are tender, about an 30 minutes.

Remove from heat and purée in a blender until smooth. Do not add all the liquid – start with just a 1/4 cup or so – or the purée will be too thin. And be careful to refrain from over blending – mix until just combined. Adjust seasoning with salt. Remove from blender and place in a clean pan. Cover and keep warm on the top of the stove.

While the Jerusalem artichokes are simmering, you can prep the mushrooms for grilling. Brush any dirt or grit off of mushrooms and lop off the very bottom of the stem. Slice the mushroom into 1/4 inch slices. Pat dry with a paper towel and set aside until you have finished prepareing your purée.

This next part is pure Julie Child and, yes I learned it from Julie & Julia. In a sauté pan, heat olive oil over high until very hot. Add the mushrooms – ensuring they are in a single layer and not touching. Allow to cook for a few minutes. Gently shake the pan and turn over each individual mushroom slice. Continue to cook another minute or two. Watch them closely and turn another time so both sides are nicely browned. Remove from the heat when they start to release their juices. Season with salt and pepper.

Make sure the purée is still warm – if not you can heat it up a bit on low before serving. Divide the purée onto two plates and place sautéed mushrooms delicately on top.  Top with chopped chives and enjoy.

Note: this purée would be a lovely accompaniment to any main dish – seafood, grilled meats or any other sautéed vegetables. It is also delicious with a drizzling of basamic reduction – which I blogged about here.

An Offering of Cranberry Chutney

Monday, March 1st, 2010

I know what you’re thinking. What is she doing talking about cranberries in late February? Thanksgiving was eons ago.  Please allow me to explain…

I recently finished the most delightful book titled A Homemade Life written lovingly by Molly Wizenberg. Many of you fellow foodies will immediately recognize her as Molly of Orangette fame, the award-winning (deservedly so) blog and Delancey, the pizza joint in Ballard that everyone is raving about that is high on my list of places to try. In my eyes, her book is in large part a tribute to her beloved father. For many reasons, it hit quite close to home.  Her book is also an homage to all things food. She generously shares favorite recipes interspersed with personal accounts of family comings and goings. Molly is often amusing, always eloquent and truly inspiring. If you like books about food – read this one.

As I was reading this treasure, I was in the midst of trying to figure out what to get for my friend Adam’s birthday. A man who seems to have everything, he is frustratingly difficult to shop for.  So making him something sounded like a fine idea. But what? Nothing seemed perfect.  So I let it go for a bit, figuring I’d just buy him a gingham pocket square or two (he is pretty fancy, that one). 

Then I came upon Molly’s recounting of and recipe for Cranberry Chutney with Crystallized Ginger and Dried Cherries. Oh, how I love it when the perfect answer turns up when you aren’t even looking for it. You see, cranberries were the ideal solution for a homemade gift for my friend. Last November I had the pleasure of celebrating Thanksgiving with Adam and his wonderful family and friends down in Cannon Beach. The dinner table was set, the candles lit, the turkey carved. Then Adam asked his dear mother about the cranberries. For a man of such refined taste, I found it baffling to learn that he is, without apology, squarely in the camp of canned cranberry sauce of the jellied variety. Not even the kind with the whole cranberries. Nope, he wants the ruby red, gelatinous mass that slips out of its container intact, imprints from the can festooning the outside of the cylindrical form. Somehow, I found that endearing.

 

So, knowing of his love of cranberries (albeit the highly processed variety), I decided to cook up a batch of Molly’s famous Chutney. Granted, finding fresh cranberries this time of year was out of the question. Thankfully a fancy store down the road carries them in their frozen fruits section. And it’s highly likely that this Chutney would be significantly improved by the use of fresh cranberries. But I love this recipe.   And, because I simply can’t wait for Adam’s assessment before publishing this post, let’s just say that I hope he loves it too. His swanky birthday party was last weekend and I proudly presented him with a few jars. It’s unlikely he’ll have a turkey sitting around to pair it with – but I can just imagine it accompanying some lovely cheese, slathered on a sandwich or nestled atop roast pork or vegetables.

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Cranberry Chutney with Crystallized Ginger and Dried Cherries

Recipe by Molly Wizenberg

As written, this is a perfect recipe. So I have included it below in its original form (with Molly’s permission). In my version, I made only two substitutions – based exclusively on seasonality and my own frugality. The cranberries were frozen. And I substituted 2 teaspoons of pure orange extract and the zest and juice of a half a large orange for the Grand Marnier.

Ingredients

  • 24 ounces apricot preserves
  • ¾ cup raspberry vinegar, or ¾ cup white distilled vinegar plus 1 ½ tsp raspberry preserves
  • A pinch of salt
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ cup Grand Marnier
  • 2 bags fresh cranberries, nasty ones discarded
  • ½ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 ¼ cups dried tart cherries

Instructions

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the apricot preserves, raspberry vinegar (or vinegar and raspberry preserves), salt, cloves, and Grand Marnier. Stir to mix, and place over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, and continue to cook – it will bubble aggressively, and you should stir regularly to keep it from scorching – for about 10-15 minutes, or until it has thickened slightly.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the cranberries, and cook until they are soft but not popped. Molly states that she knows they’re ready when she “hear(s) one or two of them pop; that’s a good indicator that most of them must be getting pretty soft.” Add the ginger and cherries, stir well, and remove from the heat. Cool completely before serving. The chutney will thicken considerably as it cools.

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End note: I have been asked many times about the photography featured in this blog. Aside from three pictures, they are mine. One such exception is the canned cranberry sauce featured in this post. I considered trying to recreate the photo but ultimately resisted for two reasons. I love this picture for its simplicity – I can almost hear the “thwack” as the entire contents of the can hit the surface, ejecting small drops of moisture far and wide. And I could not, in all honesty, imagine being able to reproduce it. Secondly, I just wasn’t up for eating the jellied mass once done with the photo shoot. And Adam was nowhere in sight…