Saturday, March 31, 2012

Anne Burrell: Asparagus, Pecorino, and Red Onion Salad

If you're like me, and the thought of eating a pea salad makes you gag...  Or if you're not like me, and you love pea salad, but want to try something new, this is probably a good option.  It's green.  And crunchy.  And there's cheese!  This is basically a big win for everyone.

Asparagus, Pecorino, and Red Onion Salad
From Anne Burrell

1 (1-pound) bunch pencil asparagus, tough bottom stems removed
⅔ cup finely diced red onion
1 cup coarsely grated aged pecorino
½ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

Cut the asparagus, including the tips into very thin slices, crosswise and place in a medium bowl. Add the red onion and pecorino and toss to combine. Dress with the vinegar, olive oil and salt and toss again. This salad should be fairly heavily dressed. The vinegar will sort of "cook" or tenderize the asparagus.

It is best to make this salad about an hour or so in advance to let the flavors "marry".

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Family Meal: Meal 4 - Beans with Clams, Salt Cod & Vegetable Stew, Baked Apples

So this is a pretty seafood-heavy menu.  Probably not too shocking since Spain is mostly coastline.  Luckily, it's different flavors, and of course I get to try the famous salt cod!  I can feel my horizons expanding.  My grocery experience wasn't too bad with this menu.  I actually managed to find the salt cod at my local Central Market.  I'm flabbergasted, too!  The only thing I really had to go out of my way for were the darn clams.  They were supposed to be small, and of course they only had large everywhere that I went.  I finally asked the lady behind the fish counter at an Asian grocery if she would pick out the smallest clams from her collection for sale.  Yes, I know, once again I sound crazy.  But hey, she wasn't that busy.  And she kinda took it as a mission that had to be accomplished.  And I appreciate that.

So....clams and beans?  I wasn't too sure about this one.  Seems like a strange combination.  But somehow it all just...worked.  I really don't know how Ferran Adria does it.  But then again, that's probably why he's a world-renowned chef, and I just have a blog.  Just trust me on this one, this is some good stuff.  Tender beans, salty clams.  Goodness all around.

I don't know why I keep doubting the recipes in this book.  This one in particular did not sound very appetizing, but somehow it all comes together into a dish that's actually quite tasty.  Frying the eggplant and zucchini gives it some flavor, and then the rest comes from the onions and garlic.  I was surprised that I had to add salt at the end, but I've never played with salt cod before, so who knows.  And I had to add quite a bit of water during the cooking time, or I would have ended up with a pan of ash at the end of an hour.

The baked apples for dessert were nothing too shocking.  But most of Ferran Adria's desserts aren't too adventurous.  I may actually have a leg up here!  The apples were absolutely delicious, but watch the baking time, because I pretty much ended up with applesauce.  Delicious applesauce, but still.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wolfgang Puck: Stuffed Cabbage Leaves with Paprika Tomato Sauce

What do you do with a leftover cabbage from your CSA box?  You don't want to let it rot, but that's a LOT of cabbage.  Especially when you already had to deal with another head.  My first thought was to find some sort of recipe for stuffed cabbage.  That would use up the leaves pretty successfully.  Only problem?  I had never made it before.

I went on my usual internet search, and I seemed to find two schools of thought when it came to stuffed cabbage.  One type of recipe usually incorporated raisins or something similar into the filling and then finished with a sweet and sour type of sauce.  The other type of recipe omitted any sweet ingredients from the filling and went straight tomato for the sauce.  Since I'm not a big fan of raisins, I went the non-sweet route.

I finally found a recipe I liked on Food Network's website which was attributed to Wolfgang Puck.  However, I did not like the idea of using bread as a filler instead of rice.  I know, I know, I'm awfully opinionated about something I've never made before.  But I wanted rice.  So instead of bread and milk, I cooked up some white rice and used it instead.

The filling came together pretty easily, but it was time consuming to dip a couple of leaves at a time into the boiling water to soften, and then fill and roll.  This is slow cooking, people.  SLOW.  After I got all of my leaves rolled up, I made the sauce they would swim in.  It's a basic tomato sauce, but it gets a little Austro-Hungarian twist with paprika.

The result was everything I wanted.  Savory tender center, complex tomato sauce.  You almost didn't even need anything on the side.  It's like the perfect one dish meal.

Stuffed Cabbage Leaves with Paprika Tomato Sauce
From Wolfgang Puck

Stuffed Cabbage Leaves:
9 slices white bread, crusts removed, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 cup milk
1½ pounds ground meat of your choice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon sugar
1½ tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 large cabbage leaves, preferably Savoy cabbage

Paprika Tomato Sauce:
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 teaspoons sweet paprika
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup prepared tomato sauce or 1 cup diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
4 leaves fresh sage or 4 sprigs thyme
Freshly ground black pepper

First, make the filling for the Stuffed Cabbage Leaves: Put the bread cubes in a small mixing bowl, add the milk, and leave the bread to soak until it is completely saturated. With your hands, squeeze out the excess milk. Discard the milk and add the soaked bread to a large mixing bowl with the meat, parsley, sage, garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper. Mix well, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.

Bring a pot of water to a boil and prepare a large bowl full of ice water. Add the cabbage leaves to the pot and blanch them in the boiling water just until they are slightly wilted, about 1 minute; drain them and immediately transfer the leaves to the ice water. When the leaves are cold, remove them from the water and pat them dry.

With a small, sharp knife, cut the thick part of the stem from each cabbage leaf. Place a heaping ½ cup of the filling in the center of each cabbage leaf. Fold the sides of the leaf over the filling, overlapping them slightly, and then, starting at the stem end, roll up the leaf into a compact bundle. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Meanwhile, make the sauce: Heat a large heatproof saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, onion, and garlic and saute until the vegetables are translucent. Add the tomato paste and paprika and saute briefly. Then, stir in the chicken stock, tomato sauce, balsamic vinegar, sugar, and sage. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Arrange the stuffed cabbage leaves neatly in a single layer in the saucepan. Bring the sauce back to a boil. Transfer the pan to the preheated oven and bake until the bundles are cooked through and firm to the touch, 25 to 30 minutes.

To serve, use a large spoon to transfer the rolls to a platter or individual heated plates. Spoon the sauce over and around them.

Makes 4 servings

Friday, March 09, 2012

Domestication in Progress: Turkey Meatballs

If you've read my blog at all, you'll know I'm not a huge fan of Italian food.  And when I do eat it, it needs to be fabulously good.  So I don't eat as many meatballs as most other people because I find they tend to be dry and tasteless, which is not good for anyone, really.

I decided I wanted to make a recipe using ground turkey instead of beef, so I went off searching the internet for something interesting.  I found most of the usual suspects, with most of the usual ingredients, but nothing really....surprising.  But then I found a interesting recipe for turkey meatballs on the blog Our Best Bites, which in turn came from the blog Domestication in Progress.  Amazing how these things circle the internet, huh?

So back to the meatballs.  They were a revelation.  Tender, juicy, and absolutely bursting with flavor.  You definitely get the sundried tomatoes, but the bacon and the Romano cheese definitely play their part.  And they're still amazing when dunked into spaghetti sauce.  I may be a meatball convert.

Turkey Meatballs
Adapted from Domestication in Progress

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 ounces bacon, finely diced
½ yellow onion, finely diced
1 pound ground turkey
½ cup freshly grated Romano cheese
¼ cup fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
¼ cup plain bread crumbs
¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Heat olive oil in a medium, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for 2 minutes. Add the onion and continue to cook until the bacon is crisp and the onion is tender, about 4 minutes more. Remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, combine the bacon/onion mixture with the remaining meatball ingredients and stir to combine.

Form the turkey mixture into balls about 2 inches in diameter, using about 2 tablespoons for each, and place on a foil-lined and greased baking sheet.  Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Real Kitchen: Pan-fried Tofu with Spinach, Pear, and Star Anise

So, after the trauma of the blueberry scones, I decided to give Tyler Florence another chance. And since I'm trying to be relatively healthy, I decided to try something with tofu. Most people don't cook with tofu. It's just too weird. And spongy. And foreign. But it's also really good for you, so suck it up!

Tyler's got a recipe for some fried tofu with spinach and Asian pear which sounded pretty good and healthy. The picture looked awesome, but after the scone debacle, I decided to be a little more skeptical about the ingredient list.  Central Market, as usual, provided the tofu, organic spinach, and Asian pear. The recipe calls for two pounds of spinach for two people, which is just this side of ridiculous, so I did one pound. Plus it was cheaper that way.

Didn't really like this one. It was...different. No, it was just weird. I mean, there was nothing specifically wrong with it. Everything was good on its own. It just didn't work as a combination, especially the pear with the peanuts with the spinach. I'm actually pretty disappointed in Tyler at this point, so I think I'm going to ditch his book. Sorry, Tyler!

Pan-Fried Tofu with Spinach, Pear, and Star Anise
From Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen

1 block extra firm tofu, halved horizontally
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1½ teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 fresh red chile, cut into paper thin circles
3 whole star anise
 cup roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Juice of ½ lime
2 pounds baby spinach
1 pear or Asian pear, sliced into wedges

Lay several layers of paper towels on a cutting board, then place the tofu squares on top, side by side. Cover the tofu with more paper towels and put a plate on top. Add a can or two to press down and drain out some of the water. This makes the tofu denser and meatier.

In a large skillet, heat the peanut and sesame oils just to the smoking point. Fry the tofu on both sides, flipping occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Remove the tofu from the pan and drain on paper towels.

Using the same pan, saute the ginger, garlic, chile, star anise, and peanuts. In a small bowl, mix the hoisin sauce, soy sauce and lime juice together. Briefly toss the spinach in the pan, stirring just to wilt, no more than 30 seconds. Remove the spinach to a bowl, scraping the peanut mixture in there also. Put the pan back on the heat, and heat the hoisin mixture. Combine the sauce with the spinach and divide between two bowls. Lay pear slices and tofu on top.

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Sugar Club Cookbook: Deep-Fried Baby Artichokes in Crispy Batter

When I was at Half Price Books the other day, I came across a cookbook for a restaurant I had never heard of...The Sugar Club. Well, it's in Australia, so that's probably why I'd never heard of it. And the book is ten years old. In flipping through, I was mesmerized by the interesting combinations and challenged by the ingredients. Like kangaroo tail. Yeah, I'm never going to find that in the US, at least not in my price range. Anyway, I didn't buy the book that day, but I sure went back to get it later. I realized you don't find interesting cookbooks like that everyday.

Then I went to Central Market for some groceries. And what do I see, misted with dew drops? Baby artichokes. Never cooked the things in my life, but I remembered a recipe in The Sugar Club cookbook for beer-battered baby artichokes. Hey, trying new things makes life interesting, right?  I used a craft beer I had in my fridge, but as an afterthought, I honestly think something milder would have been Corona or something.

The baby artichokes were pretty easy to work with, and I really like the beer batter. The added spices, like fennel, really gave a nice flavor. I fried everything up in my Le Creuset pot, so it was pretty easy to clean up. Even strained the oil and put it in the fridge to use again.

As for taste...artichokes are just so grassy-tasting. I'll eat them, but I honestly can't see myself ever craving them. And even though I cut back some of the leaves and got the tiniest little artichokes ever (just as the book said), they were still pretty fibrous. Maybe US artichokes are tougher than Australian artichokes? Who knows. I'm still going to try other recipes since the fibrous artichokes weren't the book's fault.

Deep-Fried Baby Artichokes in Crispy Batter
From The Sugar Club Cookbook by Peter Gordon

Baby artichokes (2 small artichokes per person)
all-purpose flour to dust
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
Beer Batter
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ cup thinly sliced green onions

Prepare the artichokes by removing the stems and the half dozen or so lower leaves around the base.  Trim sharp-looking bits and cut off the tips if they are a bit woody.  Cut them in half lengthwise and remove any furry inner parts (though you're unlikely to find these in small artichokes).  Toss in flour immediately to prevent discoloring.

Heat up plenty of good-quality cooking oil in a deep pan or deep-fryer to 350°F.  Mix the fennel seeds, cumin seeds, and green onions into the beer batter and then drop in the flour-dusted artichokes.  Fry as many as will fit comfortably in the pan and stir them gently after a minute.  Carefully tip over any that are cooking only on one side.  They should be ready after 3 to 4 minutes - they're done when a skewer can be pushed easily through the center.  Drain them on paper towels and eat while still warm.

Beer Batter

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons demerara sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup beer, at room temperature

Take the dry ingredients for the batter and whisk in a bowl for a few seconds to mix them.  Add all the beer and whisk it in, starting from the inside and working outward.  Make sure there are no lumps and leave the batter to sit for 15 minutes.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Home Cooking with Jean-Georges: Fettuccine with Meyer Lemon Cream

I got a ton of Meyer lemons on sale at the store, and I've been desperately trying to figure out something to do with them. Everyone goes on and on about how fabulous they are, but when I went to find a recipe, I felt like I was looking for a needle in a haystack. After flipping through a couple of different cookbooks, I finally came across this recipe for fettuccine in a creamy lemon sauce. Since I'm always a fan of creamy pasta, I gave it a try.  I got fresh fettuccine from Central Market, since it always seems to turn out nicer than dried pasta. The lemons came in a bag at...Walmart. Yes, I said it. I was only there to get cat food, I promise.

The pasta was really simple to pull together, and it would definitely be something to make on a night after work. The lemon flavor wasn't too overpowering, despite the fact that both zest and juice made their way into the sauce. It was pretty light and refreshing considering the heavy cream that went into it. I would definitely make it again.

Fettuccine with Meyer Lemon Cream
From Home Cooking with Jean-Georges by Jean-Georges Vongerichten

8 ounces store-bought fresh fettuccine
Kosher salt
1½ cups heavy cream
Grated zest of 2 Meyer lemons
2 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice
2-ounce block Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Coarsely ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it generously.

Meanwhile, whisk together the cream, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt.  Pour 1 cup of the mixture into a large, deep skillet.  Boil it rapidly, stirring frequently, until reduced by about half, about 8 minutes.

After the sauce has reduced for 5 minutes, cook the fettuccine in the water until al dente, about 3 minutes.

Drain the pasta well and add to the lemon cream.  Reduce the heat to low and toss until well coated.  Add the remaining cream mixture and the lemon juice and continue tossing until well coated.

Divide among 4 shallow bowls.  Grate the cheese directly over the pasta, forming a little mound.  Grind a generous dose of pepper over the pasta.  Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Real Kitchen: Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? So it pays to start off on the right foot. I decided to try and make some breakfast foods at home to keep the cost down and watch the ingredients (no more preservatives!). To help in my efforts, I went to Tyler Florence. I acquired a book of his called Real Kitchen, and the blueberry scones were calling my name.

I wasn't exactly thrilled with the tops of the scones being coated in sugary frosting, so I decided to leave them naked, which didn't turn out so well (read further down). I got my organic blueberries at Central Market, but most of the other ingredients I already had on hand.

I think something is very wrong with this recipe. When I followed the directions, I got a gluey brick that would never have accepted blueberries without crushing them beyond recognition. I ended up having to add another ½ cup of cream to even get it to a usable consistency. When I added the blueberries, I had to be super careful not to crush any since the dough was still relatively brick-like. Luckily they baked up pretty soft.

The other issue I had with these scones pertains to the icing. I deliberately left it off since I definitely didn't need the extra calories, but that icing provides pretty much the only sweetener for the scone. If you're going to do what I did, boost the sugar in the dough a bit to compensate. No, seriously, they're pretty bland. I had to sprinkle mine with powdered sugar to help them go down.

I like the idea here, but not sure I would make them again. Maybe someone else's recipe?

Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze
From Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut in chunks
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing the scones

Lemon Glaze:
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 lemon, zest finely grated

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Sift together the dry ingredients; the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Using 2 forks or a pastry blender, cut in the butter to coat the pieces with the flour. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Fold the blueberries into the batter. Take care not to mash or bruise the blueberries because their strong color will bleed into the dough. Make a well in the center and pour in the heavy cream. Fold everything together just to incorporate; do not overwork the dough.

Press the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 12x3x1¼ inches. Cut the rectangle in ½ then cut the pieces in ½ again, giving you 4 (3-inch) squares. Cut the squares in ½ on a diagonal to give you the classic triangle shape. Place the scones on an ungreased cookie sheet and brush the tops with a little heavy cream. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until beautiful and brown. Let the scones cool a bit before you apply the glaze.

You can make the lemon glaze in a double boiler, or for a simpler alternative, you can zap it in the microwave. Mix the lemon juice with the confectioners' until dissolved in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water for the double-boiler method, or in a microwave-safe bowl. Whisk in the butter and lemon zest. Either nuke the glaze for 30 seconds or continue whisking in the double boiler. Whisk the glaze to smooth out any lumps, then drizzle the glaze over the top of the scones. Let it set a minute before serving.