Archive for May, 2010

Sunny Citrus

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Memorial Day in Seattle. Elsewhere in the country people are frolicking in the sun and the waves. Here … we have gray skies and a forecast of rain for days. Sigh. I should be used to it by now but I keep hoping that sunshine will become a more common phenomenon around these parts. I suppose for now I’ll have to keep on wishing.

On gray days like this I tend to want to lighten things up in the kitchen. And I immediately think of citrus. Obviously lemons and limes, oranges and grapefruit do not grow around these parts. We must rely on our neighbors to the south and east to supply these delights. But I am reminded of warmer climates when I cut into a juicy orange and during these cooler days I feel the purchase of produce from afar is worth it.

One of my favorite treats featuring these sweet yet tart fruits is a salad dressing comprised of three basic members of the citrus family – oranges, lemons and limes. A friend brought this salad to a dinner party last fall and I fell immediately in love. Bright pomegranate seeds and crunchy roasted hazlenuts strewn about add just the right complements to the tart dressing.

I haven’t changed it much – just made it a bit easier. It pairs extremely well with the butter lettuce – but would be equally delicious with any other kind of greens. I inevitably have dressing left over which I like to drizzle on grilled asparagus or other vegetables. And I am planning to incorporate this dressing into a cold brown rice or quinoa salad featuring nuts and dried fruit and whatever vegetables I have lying about. It is, as I have described, extremely versatile and I hope you’ll give it a try. Especially if you’re looking for a recipe to cheer you up on a gray day.

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Butter Lettuce Salad with Citrus Dressing

Adopted from a Bon Appétit December 2009 recipe

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

Citrus dressing:

  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • Juice and zest of one large orange
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • Juice and zest of one lime
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Salad:

  • 2 heads of butter lettuce, coarsely torn
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, quartered, cored, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup fresh pomegranate seeds (dried cranberries are a good substitute)
  • 2/3 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

Instructions

Citrus dressing:
Combine vinegar and citrus juice and zest in small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Salad: 
Mix all ingredients in very large bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat.

The Gift of Healthy Granola

Friday, May 28th, 2010

As I have mentioned, I’ve had a few health issues of late. So I have found myself sitting around the house, not able to drive because the pain medications I’m taking strongly advise against “operating heavy machinery.” And I’ve also found myself a bit out of sorts because said medications are making me a bit groggy at times. So – combining my inability to drive to the store with a general restlessness and you get a not-so-happy foodie. I am not, at present, able to control what is in my refrigerator. I have had to learn to rely on others to take me to the store. Or, even worse for a control freak like me, I have had to provide a shopping list for friends and neighbors to shop for me. Gone, for the time being, are the days when I can select the brand of parmesan cheese or choose which package of strawberries to purchase. It has been, not to be overly dramatic, agony.

In the midst of this situation, my dear neighbor brought me a bag of homemade granola. I don’t typically purchase granola because of its high caloric count. And a number of store-bought brands use hydrogenated oils as binders – which just won’t do. But when I tried this homemade variety – I was hooked. It is crunchy and flavorful and just the right balance of savory nuts and sweet, chewy dried fruit. My immediate instinct was to sprinkle it over my morning Fage yogurt and strawberries and blueberries. Heaven. It is without question my new favorite breakfast. And then…I ran out. Which brought equal amounts of despair and inspiration. Certainly I could make it myself, right? Sadly, moments later the drugs kicked in and I returned to the couch and took an afternoon nap. That was a few days ago.

Then – yesterday the boredom and agitation got the best of me. I asked my neighbor to pick up a few things from the market and I asked for her delicious granola recipe. It was time, finally, to bake. As soon as I saw the recipe in my inbox I pounced. And I was delighted to find that I had every single ingredient in my pantry – kismet!

I tweaked the directions from the 2006 USA Today recipe slightly – reducing the amount of oil and adding flax seeds. And I made my very own variety – adding orange extract and candied ginger and dried prunes (I ran out of dried cherries…). I mixed the ingredients together and placed the pan in the oven. Not 10 minutes later and my kitchen smelled of cinnamon and brown sugar and maple syrup. Then I added the fruit – the dried cherries and slivered candied ginger and the diced prunes. And I waited. And I peeked and smiled when I saw the oats begin to brown and crisp. Less than an hour from the time I received the recipe in my inbox and I was left with lovely, healthy granola.

I am including my version of the USA Today recipe below along with a number of the excellent tips featured in the original article. I am confident I’ll be making this frequently. As I know from personal experience, it will make a great gift. And considering I was able to take my mind of any discomfort and easily put this together in less than an hour, I figure it’s surely a keeper. What a gift.

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Master Granola Recipe

(Makes 1 quart)

Main Ingredients

  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats (do not use “quick” oats)
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flax seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Extra Ingredients (see complete list below)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons flavorless oil, such as vegetable or canola
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Flavoring (see below) 

Instructions

Adjust oven rack to middle position, and heat oven to 275 degrees. Coat a 9-by-13-inch metal pan with cooking spray, and then set aside.

Mix oats, wheat germ, brown sugar, salt and Extra Ingredients — except dried fruit — in a bowl.

Bring syrup, oil, water and any Flavoring indicated below to a simmer in a saucepan over low heat. Drizzle over oat mixture, and stir to combine.

Pour mixture onto prepared pan. Working a handful at a time, squeeze cereal to form small clusters. Bake for 30 minutes.

Stir in dried fruit. The mixture will be quite warm – so work quickly. Continue to bake until golden brown, about 15 – 25 minutes longer. Let cool. (Granola can be stored in an airtight tin for up to two weeks.)

Variations:

Kathryn’s Version

Extra Ingredients: 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, 1/4 cup chopped almonds, 1/4 cup chopped dried cherries, 1/4 cup chopped prunes (or use all cherries if you have an adequate amount), 2 tablespoons chopped candied ginger
Flavoring: 1 rounded teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon orange extract

Nutty Granola

Extra Ingredients: 1/4 cup slivered almonds, 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, 2 Tbs. sesame seeds, 6 Tbs. currants
Flavoring: none

Tropical Granola

Add the coconut along with the cashews and banana chips.
Extra Ingredients: 1/4 cup chopped roasted unsalted cashews, 1/4 cup chopped banana chips, 1/4 cup sweetened flake coconut, 1/4 cup chopped dried pineapple
Flavoring: 1/2 tsp. ground ginger

Trail Mix Granola

Extra Ingredients: 1/4 cup chopped roasted unsalted peanuts, 1/4 cup sweetened flake coconut, 1/4 cup dark or golden raisins, 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips*
Flavoring: none
*Stir chips into the granola only after it has completely cooled.

Pear Granola with Hazelnuts And Vanilla

Extra Ingredients: 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts, 1/4 cup chopped dried cherries, 1/4 cup chopped dried pears
Flavoring: 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Chanterelles & Cappelletti – A Recipe Testing Adventure

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

(Note: parts of the following were originally posted on the lovely local food blog Farmers, Cooks, Eaters. In anticipation of my surgical procedures on May 4 – I wanted to set up a few posts that would keep people entertained while I recuperate. I felt that this post, a testament to our local food scene, would be an appropriate feature.)

I distinctly remember the day back in October of last year when I received an email from a friend, asking if I’d be interested in testing a recipe or two for a new cookbook. The book that resulted is Tender by Tamara Murphy. Tamara is a passionate member of Seattle’s food community and is the owner and chef of Brasa and the Elliott Bay Café.  She is a James Beard Foundation Award winner and Food and Wine magazine named her one of the Ten Best New Chefs in America.  Knowing Tamara’s reputation, my response to my friend’s inquiry was, “Would I?!?” I could think of nothing I’d like more.

When I read the list of mouth-watering dishes waiting for evaluation, I became increasingly excited. “Chanterelle Soup” and “Butternut Squash Cappelletti with Browned Sage Butter and Hazelnuts” especially caught my attention. They sounded like recipes I could manage fairly easily – but ones that would, ideally, stretch my culinary abilities so I could learn a new trick or two. Little did I know that “Cappelletti” meant hand-stuffed pasta. A trick that was, decidedly, not up my sleeve. Ultimately undeterred, I pressed on. And throwing caution even further into the wind, I gamely decided I would try these two enticing dishes for a small dinner party.

The Chanterelle Soup came together seamlessly. I felt so indulgent as I tossed real cream, butter and fluted Chanterelles into my shopping basket. And the aromatics …never before had I seen a recipe calling for leeks and onions – shallots and garlic. What a glorious idea. I followed the recipe exactly as written and was left with the richest, most decadent mushroom soup imaginable. As I ladled it into warmed bowls for my guests I heard groans of delight coming from the dinner table as the aroma wafted through the room. Spoons poised for mere seconds, we all dove in. Silence. Slurps. Smiles. Victory.

I wish I could say that the Cappelletti preparation was as flawless an endeavor. I won’t delay in telling you the end result – this is an extraordinarily satisfying dish. But the journey to the final destination was a bit trying. With only five main ingredients (excluding salt and pepper) the recipe for the Roasted Butternut Squash filling sounded deceptively easy. And the preparation, consisting of oven roasting the squash and blending it with fresh Ricotta and Mascarpone went smoothly. It was the actual filling of the pasta where it all went south.

I had purchased sheets of pasta from the captivating DeLaurenti Food shop down near Pike Place Market – more than enough to make all the stuffed pasta … or so I thought. The squash filling, though delicious (I just wanted to grab a spoon and dive in) was extremely fragile and loose. Try as I might, I couldn’t get it to sit daintily in the middle of the cut-out circles of pasta dough long enough so I could “fold it over in a half moon shape and seal” as instructed. It just wasn’t happening. Sultry orange filling inevitably oozed out the sides as I repeatedly attempted to seal up those half moons. However with patience – and after deciding to cut the dough into circles much larger than instructed – I managed to produce a decent number of Cappelletti. In fact, I had an abundance of filling and quickly returned to the market for additional pasta sheets. I was certainly happy I had decided to make these little gems far in advance of my dinner party. A bit of research on squash helped me realize that further baking would likely solve the “ooze” problem the next time around. A simple enough fix.

I am pleased to report that the end result was worth the trouble – soft pockets of dough filled with savory/sweet filling lavished with roasted hazelnuts and decadent brown butter sauce. And even though I managed to spatter myself with the brown butter (having never prepared it I wasn’t ready for the hot butter’s dramatic reaction to the addition of the fresh lemon juice) – I was proud of the dish I served. And my guests were once again lulled into silence as they gently cut into the supple pillows and spooned up every last butter-drenched hazelnut on their plates.

End Note: if you are interested in Tender or any of the recipes described in this post – I hope you will visit this website to reserve a copy of its first printing.

Tea & Cookies

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

I was trying to figure out what to bake the other day for a special occasion. Some dear friends were coming over to help me plan for my upcoming surgery and hospital stay – they are managing all my care and they deserved a treat. So I started off trying a “healthy” version of chocolate biscotti. And I have to admit, these were the worst cookies I have ever produced. Dry, heavy, not even close to chocolately enough. A catastrophe in my book. So I went back to the drawing board. And I decided that “healthy” was not a top priorities for the cookies I wanted to bake. These were for a celebration – they were meant to be a gift. So if white flour and butter needed to be featured – so be it. No doubt there are a number of more wholesome cookie recipes out there – but I stumbled upon this recipe for shortbread cookies and could not be swayed.

The original recipe called for lemon zest as the main source of flavor. However I wanted to tweak it a bit – change it up. So I added some finely chopped rosemary and – voila – a lovely savory sweet combination. Then I got to thinking about making a second version. I couldn’t just have one option for my friends. So I made another batch, omitted the lemon and replaced it with extra vanilla. Then I chopped up some lavender flowers and tossed them in. Another hit!

I must admit, I love it when I stumble upon a recipe that I know immediately will become a staple in my repetoire. These are so very easy to make. They’re not too sweet. They are different from what people expect, a bonus in my book. They freeze extremely well. They make fabulous gifts. The list goes on. But I will stop here. Because I want you to run out and buy butter and flour and lemons and lavender and all the other ingredients and whip up a batch. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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Rosemary Lemon Cookies

(Makes approximately 50 cookies)

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks butter, room temperature
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon pure lemon extract
  • 1 ½ tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 2 ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Instructions:

Beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla and lemon extract, mix until well blended.

Add rosemary, lemon zest, salt and flour. Mix well.

Divide the dough in half and shape them into logs. Place on a piece of parchment paper. Roll the logs about 1 1/2″ in diameter. Chill in the freezer for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 375F. Take the logs out of the freezer. Cut the logs into 1/4″ slices and place on a parchment covered baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes until the edges are golden brown.  (If they don’t start to brown and remain pale in color, they won’t be as crispy.) Cool on a wire rack.

Lavender Vanilla version: Omit lemon zest and rosemary. Increase the vanilla to 1 tablespoon and add 1 ½ tablespoons finely chopped lavender flowers.

Rhubarb Revamped

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

I think rhubarb is one of the most beautiful vegetables around (that’s right – it’s a vegetable). Varying from deep ruby red to pale carnation pink on the outside, the insides of the stalks are a surprisingly vivid green when cut open. So when I stumbled upon a recipe for Gingered Rhubarb Chutney I was intrigued. I imagined a jar full of majestic chunks of crimson swimming in a thick, lustrous sauce. It would be such a striking accompaniment for grilled pork or chicken or a lovely sauce for roasted vegetables. Even a stunning accessory for a cheese plate.

So I picked up a bunch of freshly picked rhubarb from our local farmer’s market and headed over to my friend Caitlin’s house for an afternoon of culinary experimentation. We were baking my favorite muffins as well as a new recipe for a healthy banana coconut version. And we agreed that the rhubarb chutney recipe sounded like a winner – so why not try it. I figured that it was meant to be when I noticed that the jaunty letters she has splayed above her kitchen matched the ruby red of the rhubarb stalks poking out of my bag…

I suppose I should have read the recipe a little closer. I was initially focused, however, on the baking. While I was elbow deep in muffins, Caitlin carefully measured all the Chutney ingredients into her lovely orange Le Creuset French oven. When I finally turned my attention to the simmering pot I was mildly surprised to note its dark brown appearance. I hadn’t realized that the balsamic vinegar would dominate the contents to such a degree. I was, admittedly, a bit dismayed – thinking that the visually appealing jars of ruby red chutney I had hoped to dole out as gifts were not meant to be.  But Caitlin was encouraging so we let the pot do its thing.

What resulted when all was said and done was a densely flavored chutney featuring a strong acidic hit from the rhubarb and vinegar, balanced by the sweetness of the currants. The various spices – the ginger, cardamom and jalapeño – all melded together to give it an unexpected dimension. And when Caitlin’s dear husband (another true foodie) tasted it, his only response was, “Word.” Which translates to “yum.” They assured me the chutney would be an excellent accompaniment to all the grilled meats they prepare. And I agree that it’s a keeper.

So – lesson learned. We started out with a stunningly gorgeous vegetable – one that I gaze at adoringly in its natural state.  And it turned into something I hesitated to photograph for this post. It just goes to show that appearances can be deceiving.  

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Gingered Rhubarb Chutney

(Adopted from a Cooking Light recipe)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 cups finely chopped rhubarb
  • 1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • 1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 jalapeño pepper, minced

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer about a half hour or until it thickens.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

This can be stored in jars in the refrigerator for several weeks.