Archive for the ‘Local’ Category

Roasted Carrot Soup

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

My friend and I just yanked the remainder of my vegetable crop out of the earth this past weekend. Leeks and kale and a few hearty potatoes were strewn across my wooden table outside – waiting to be cleaned by a pending rainstorm. But I was most excited about the carrots.

Some were tinged with purple, others a pale white and others still the traditional, bright orange. I had planted a “multi-colored” packet of carrot seeds earlier this year and promptly forgotten about them. And when I started pulling them out of the ground I was momentarily dismayed at their appearance. Many, too many, were tiny. We’re talking #2 yellow pencil small. Others were extremely misshapen – looking like two-legged orange pantaloons rather than your average, sleek and straight carrot.

But the taste? They are sublime. The purple are the sweetest, followed quickly by orange. The white ones? While interesting to look at – a bit on the bitter side. So I wanted to find a recipe that would blend my bounty together. And Roasted Carrot Soup was just the ticket.

I can thank Martha for the recipe below. She knows how to keep it uncomplicated. And I simplified the recipe further – excluding the ginger in hopes of coaxing out a pure carrot taste. I also substituted Greek yogurt for heavy cream. Not out of any attempt to be virtuous, mind you. I just failed to pick it up at the store. And really, I think the soup holds up quite well without it.

The nice thing about carrot soup is its versatility. You can toss in some fresh ginger or roasted cumin or even a bit of dill. Make it creamy. Or don’t. The world is your oyster. Or your bright orange bowl of goodness, if you will.

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Roasted Carrot Soup

Yield: ~ 8 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion
  • 1 generous bunch carrots (about 2 pounds or 6 cups), peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for seasoning
  • Pinch of freshly ground pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cups vegetable stock, plus more for thinning
  • Creme fraiche or Greek yogurt, for garnish (optional)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut onion into 8 wedges (keep root end intact to hold layers together). Toss onion, carrots, oil, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, and spread in a single layer. If possible use separate pans for carrots and onions as the onions tend to roast more quickly. Roast vegetables, turning occasionally, until edges are deep golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.

Cut off root end from onion. Transfer all vegetables to a large saucepan, and add bay leaf. Add enough stock to just cover (about 4 cups). Bring to a simmer, and cook until carrots are very soft, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly, and discard bay leaf.

Puree vegetables and stock in a blender until smooth (work in batches, if necessary, to avoid filling blender more than halfway).

Transfer puree to a clean pan; place over low heat. Add stock to thin soup to desired consistency. (I used about 2-3 cups of stock.) Season with salt and pepper. If desired, place a dollop of crème fraiche or Greek yogurt on top of each serving.

Corn & Roasted Poblano Chowder

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

I must come clean. I made this soup a few weeks ago and, in my haste, threw it directly into the freezer before writing about it. Not even one picture was snapped during its creation. I’ve had a number of “bigger issues” to focus on of late and I’m afraid I didn’t give this delectable soup its due. But it such a delicious dish – I felt the need to share. So – please forgive me for posting about this at the end of corn season. And for using a few stock images in place of the pictures I usually take myself. Hopefully your enjoyment of this chowder will more than make up for my behavior J

Fresh corn is easily at the top of my “favorite vegetables” list. Perhaps even my “favorite food” list. I ate it throughout the summer – fresh off the cob, roasted on the grill, stirred into casseroles. Sadly, I didn’t get around to making my favorite – fresh corn pudding. Next year… But I did manage to make a big batch of comforting soup.

The corn at the farmer’s market was ridiculously inexpensive so I bought about 12 ears and made a triple batch of Corn & Roasted Poblano Chowder. This is a lighter version than many I’ve tasted. Absent is the heavy cream and crispy bacon that grace many traditional chowders (both would be tasty additions should you want a more decadent bowlful). I wanted the corn to be the star – so I kept the fat content to a minimum and intensified the flavor – and the heat – by adding roasted poblano peppers.

Another trick – making my own stock. A friend recommended I reserve the cobs after removing all the kernels and throw them into a stock pot with some onions, carrots and whatever other vegetables I had on hand. I added the tops of the leeks I had laying around, covered everything with water and let it simmer for a few hours. After straining, I was left with a lightly sweet and savory vegetable broth that I froze for use throughout the winter.

The result of all this simmering and stewing is a healthy bowl of comfort food. Perfect for these crisp, cool days. Now I just need to find the perfect corn bread recipe to accompany it. Stay tuned!

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Corn & Roasted Poblano Chowder

Yield: 6 servings

  • 2 large poblano peppers
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 2  tablespoons  butter
  • 1  tablespoon  olive oil
  • 1 1/2  cups coarsely chopped leek (about 1 large)
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2  cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 2  cups milk
  • 3  tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3  cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2  cups  fresh corn kernels (about 4 ears)
  • 2  pounds  cubed peeled Yukon gold or red potato
  • 1  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • Small bunch fresh cilantro (optional)

Instructions

Turn on the broiler. Liberally spray peppers with olive oil spray and place on foil-lined pan. Place under broiler for approximately 10 minutes – turning every few minutes to ensure even roasting. Once they are blackened – remove and place in brown paper bag and let sit for 10-20 minutes. Once cooled – remove all the blackened skin, cut open and remove seeds and cut into a small dice. Set aside.

Heat butter and oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add leek, onion and bell pepper; cook 4 – 6 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring frequently.

Combine milk and flour in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Slowly add milk mixture to the pot, stirring constantly. Stir in broth, corn, potato, salt, and freshly ground black pepper; bring to a boil. Stir in roasted poblano peppers. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until potato is tender.

Serve with chopped cilantro.

Soup’s On!

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

I’ve been staring out my window at the last remnants of the kale for weeks – trying to figure out what to do with the lonely bunches of leaves scattered across my garden. I love kale – it’s earthy, chewy texture just tastes like nutrition incarnate. I didn’t always hold it in such regard. For years I thought of eating it as punishment. Bitter. Limp. Mushy. These are words that came to mind when thinking of this versatile green. Luckily I finally figured out how to prepare it and now it ranks as one of my favorite vegetables.

I spent weeks gazing at these leafy greens because there are just so many ways to prepare it. Kale chips – doused with olive oil, sprinkled with sea sat and roasted in a hot oven. Simply sautéed with garlic and fresh lemon. Stirred into mixed vegetable dishes. So many options. But I had what appeared to be a bushel of kale – both curly and lacinato (AKA dinosaur – which I prefer for it’s more delicate texture) growing in bunches in the garden. So I finally decided that soup was the ticket. Thick, rustic white bean soup featuring loads of the hearty, chewy leaves.

A quick review of recipes turned up a simple yet flavorful option. AND it features my favorite flavor enhancer – Parmesan cheese rinds! I’ve been cutting these ends off of my blocks of Parmigiano-Reggiano for months – storing them in the freezer. Just waiting for the perfect opportunity to make use of the salty, pungent slabs of rind.

This is the kind of soup that tastes best if made 1 or 2 days ahead. Just cool it and chill and then warm it back up when you’re ready to serve. It’s also an excellent candidate for freezing. It’s simply a bowl of health – filled with protein as well as anti-oxidant and vitamin-rich kale. Topped with a generous sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano… it makes me almost welcome the chilly days of fall.

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Kale & White Bean Soup

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern, cannellini, or navy
  • 2 yellow onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 (3- by 2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 4 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 lb kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped (lacitano is preferable – but use whatever kind you wish)

Instructions

Cover beans with water by 2 inches in a large pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, 1 hour. Drain beans in a colander and rinse.

Cook onions in oil in an 8-quart pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beans, broth, 1 quart water, cheese rind, salt, pepper, bay leaf, rosemary and crushed red pepper and simmer, uncovered, until beans are just tender, about 50 minutes.

Stir carrots into soup and simmer 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf and stir in kale and remaining quart water and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper. Remove cheese rinds before freezing or serving.

Note: while I think it’s perfectly delicious as is – you can spice this up by adding some sausage or pancetta to kick it up a notch. Just cook it up and add before tossing in the carrots.

Fresh Peach Chutney

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

This past weekend was a canning extravaganza! My foodie friend Caitlin and I had been planning for weeks. Emails were volleyed back and forth with recipes and variations and shopping lists and yet more recipes. We could hardly contain ourselves. We were complete jar heads.

We finally agreed on a handful of recipes. Set aside for the time being were tempting concoctions including tomatillo salsa and pickled peppers and berry jams. We’ll save those for another day. This weekend we focused on bread and butter pickles, dill pickles, hot pickled beans, balsamic roasted fennel & onion jam and, my personal favorite, fresh peach chutney. At one point Caitlin’s husband even tossed a few errant carrots into some leftover pickling liquid and, voila, pickled carrots. Divine.

But back to the peach chutney. Peaches are bountiful everywhere I look these days. And friends down in California just finished their annual peach-canning weekend (they “adopt” a peach tree every year and always concoct the most amazing preserve recipes).  So I’ve been inspired to try some new peachy delights. Luckily my friend Leslie shared a mouth-watering recipe for mango chutney with me not too long ago. So – kismet. Why not try it with peaches?

I’m happy to say that the result is sublime. Tart from the vinegar and sweet from the peaches and aromatic from ginger and garlic and cardamom. This was my first foray into chutney preparation and I couldn’t be happier.  I served it last night with a local sharp white cheddar and fresh French bread and am looking forward to pairing it with a cauliflower and chickpea curry soon. The sweet/savory combination would obviously lend itself well to any kind of Indian-inspired chicken dish – or just plain old roast chicken I would think. And, dare I say it, perhaps this new favorite preserve might be a delectable topping for a bit of thick, creamy Greek yogurt. Endless possibilities…

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Fresh Peach Chutney

Yield: ~ 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs firm peaches (approximately 4 large)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vinegar (apple cider or white)
  • 3″ piece ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/8 teaspoon hot chili powder (i.e. Cayenne Pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins

Instructions

Blanch peaches by cutting a small “X” at the end and dunking in boiling water for about 1 minute. Remove and set aside to cool for at least 10-15 minutes. Remove skin and pits. Then cut into a small dice and set aside. Note – if you’re going to do this in advance, squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the peaches to prevent browning.

Place sugar and vinegar in a medium saucepan over medium low heat and simmer for 10 minutes

Remove the skin from the ginger (using a small spoon to scrap it off works well) and use a microplane to grate the ginger directly into the hot sugar & vinegar mixture. Press the garlic into the mixture as well and then add the rest of the spices and simmer another 10 minutes.

Add the peaches and raisins and cook, uncovered, for about 25 minutes.

Stir occasionally as the chutney thickens.  (The chutney may continue to thicken slightly when cool). If it doesn’t thicken adequately, you can add about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch by spooning a few tablespoons of the hot liquid from the saucepan into a small bowl and mixing in the cornstarch. Then add this mixture back into the saucepan and mix well.

When desired consistency is reached, remove from heat and ladle into jars. This will keep in the refrigerator for a week or so. Or you can preserve the jars in a hot water bath by processing for approximately 5-10 minutes.

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.

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.

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.

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.