Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cooking Makes Me Happy

I had a crap week. One of the worst in a long time. No one died, no one is terminally ill and compared to a lot of folks out there it probably wasn't that bad. But for me, it sucked. There was a lot of crying hysterically in both public and private places. There were a lot of demons dealt with and sadness about the past. There was not a lot of cooking, or eating. Not once time during this suck of a week did I even think about cooking something for myself, let alone eating anything. But tonight I realized, I not only like to cook. I love to cook. And cooking makes me happy. And so I forced myself to cook something tonight. It wasn't the most creative or intricate thing I've ever done. But I made myself do it, I enjoyed the process and for the first time since last Tuesday, I ate a delicious meal that I WANTED to eat. And I ate all of it.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, follow your happiness, whatever it is, even if you have to force yourself to do it. And to everyone who has lent their words of support this past week, thank you. You make me happy too.

In case you're wondering, that's a parmesan crusted pork chop, roasted white and sweet potatoes with sage and slaw. It was awesome.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Potato and Onion Cakes for Share Our Strength

While we were always lucky enough as children to have three squares a day, there are many kids (17 million in fact) in this, the wealthiest nation on earth, who shockingly do not. There is an organization many of you have probably heard of called Share Our Strength, which has a simple mission - to end childhood hunger in America. We are very happy to be participating in their Share Our Holiday Table blog event, to help spread the word and raise money and awareness for this important issue.

Our contribution to the virtual potluck is a "gourmet" side dish (because we are oh so gourmet) and we decided to do one which we made for Christmas a few years ago, but wanted to tweak a little bit: Potato and Onion Cakes. They're fairly easy to make, but result in lovely individual servings (they get baked in a muffin tin) to go with your Roast Beast (or what have you).

Potato and Onion Cakes
modified slightly from Martha Stewart Living
makes 12

4 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for tin
salt and pepper
brown sugar
balsamic vinegar
white wine vinegar (or red wine, whatever you have)
whole sage leaves, 12 for garnish
2 small red onions, sliced into 12 1/4 inch thick slices (to fit into the bottom of
1 heaping tbsp chopped herbs - we used a mix of thyme, sage, and rosemary from my garden
6 medium potatoes (some red, some white)
2 small-ish sweet potatoes
4 eggs
1/2 cup shredded gruyere
1/4 finely grated parmesan
1/2 cup finely ground fresh breadcrumbs

Preheat your oven to 400.

Shred the potatoes (we had small red and white ones, and also a couple sweet potatoes from the CSA). We used the shredding function on the food processor, one of the world's greatest inventions. You could also use a box grater, if you like to shred a little skin into your meal. Just kidding. Allow the shredded potatoes to drain in a colander.

Meanwhile, prepare your muffin tin (this recipe makes 12). You'll need to HEAVILY butter the bottom and sides of each cup, so use softened butter, which slathers easier. Do not skimp. Sprinkle each cup generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then sprinkle into each cup 1/4 tsp brown sugar. Lay a sage leaf (pretty side down) in the center of each cup on top of the sugar. Place a round of red onion on top of that and press down. Finally, each cup needs 1/4 tsp balsamic vinegar, and 1/4 tsp white wine vinegar on top of the onion.

Now for the potato mixture: In a large bowl beat 2 eggs lightly, add the chopped herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze as much liquid as you can from your shredded potatoes (I did it a handful at a time) and add them to the egg mixture. Add the cheeses and the breadcrumbs and stir gently but thoroughly until combined.

Heap the potato mixture onto each onion round in the muffin tin, packing it down lightly and smoothing the top flat.

Cut the 4 tbsp butter into 12 equal pieces, and dot the tops of each potato cake with its fair share of butter.

Pop the tin into the oven and bake (on the bottom rack) for 30-40 minutes - the cakes should be deep brown around the edges.

Take the tin out and let the cakes rest in the pan for 5 minutes, then slide a knife around the edges to loosen. To turn them all out at once, we put a sheet of wax paper on top of the muffin tin, then an inverted baking sheet on top of that, and flipped them all over. Full disclosure - some of the onion rounds stuck and needed to be coaxed out. But that was easy to do. And they still looked pretty.

To learn more about Share Our Strength, and to find out what you can do this holiday season, please visit The Share Our Holiday Table Donation Page.

Here's a short video about the No Kid Hungry Campaign (and who doesn't love the Dude?):

And please take a minute to check out the Share Our Strength site:

Finally, here are some other blogs participating in Share Our Holiday Table, please visit them!

December 10: Entrees


Family Friendly


Gluten Free

December 9: Soup


Family Friendly


Gluten Free

December 8: Salads


Family Friendly


Gluten Free

December 7: Drinks


Family Friendly


Gluten Free

December 6: Appetizers


Family Friendly


Gluten Free

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

pasta with swiss chard ragu

A couple weeks ago, I had two vegetarian friends (Phil from NYC and Reba from Maine) coming for dinner (plus Axel F of course), so it seemed like a perfect time to try out this intriguing recipe (Pennette with Swiss Chard Ragu) I read in a Mario Batali cookbook that our friends Keith and Heather gave us for a wedding present. The cookbook is really fantastic - it's the kind of Italian cooking where there are about 4 ingredients, and the preparation is pretty simple, but the flavor is great. I had a beautiful bunch of chard from the winter CSA, so it was perfect. Sorry - only one (rather poor) photo taken when Phil was having seconds and suggested I should blog it...

You'll see, this is another one of those nearly-no-ingredients meals, but it was so so good. Plus the extra beauty of this recipe is that you can make the ragu ahead of time - which was great since I was teaching late that night (our friends and I were converging on my house all at the same time). So I made the ragu the night before, and kept it in the fridge, then all I had to do when we all got to my house was boil pasta and reheat the chard and toast some breadcrumbs.

Pasta with Swiss Chard Ragu

adapted from Mario Batali's Molto Gusto

serves 6

Ingredients (I'll put my changes and additions in brackets):

-1/4 c extra virgin olive oil [I probably added a bit more than this during the cooking process]
-1 small white onion, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
-3 [or 4] garlic cloves, smashed and peeled [and coarsely chopped]
-1 pound Swiss Chard, trimmed and sliced 1/4 inch thick [I chopped up the stems separately into a pretty small dice, and just did the leaves in 1/4 inch ribbons]
-4 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
-salt and pepper [Batali lists salt twice, first Maldon salt or other flaky sea salt, which at something like $80/lb, I have never tried... I'm sure flaky salt is miraculously wonderful and all... but I just used regular kosher salt, which he also calls for later in the ingredient list. I think we can just use one kind of salt and still live with ourselves]
-1 pound pennette [I used spaghetti instead, it was really nice actually]
-3/4 c freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for serving
-1/2 c coarse fresh bread crumbs [plus another crushed garlic clove and some crushed red pepper flakes]
-[I also roasted some grape tomatoes to toss in, see below]

How I did it:

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large, wide bottomed pot. Add the garlic, onions a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes if you want, and the chard stems - they ought to cook a little before you add the leaves, since they're tougher. Stir it all around and season with salt to help the onions and the stems soften. After a minute or so, add the chard leaves, a little more salt, and some freshly ground pepper, and let cook another 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally to encourage the chard to wilt down. Then add 1/4 c of water and cover and reduce the heat to low. Let it cook another 20 minutes or so, until it is very soft (continue to stir occasionally).

Now in the recipe, he adds the butter chunks, stirs till they melt, and then he says you can stop here, set the ragu aside to cool and store in the fridge for up to 2 days. I left the butter step till later - because I felt like something special probably happens when the cold butter emulsifies into the hot chard juices, so I wanted to do that right before serving. So I stored it pre-butter.

When you're ready to eat, put a big pot of water on for the pasta (once it's at a full boil add a generous amount of salt and the pasta and stir around), put the ragu in a very large, deep saucepan (big enough to hold the addition of the cooked pound of pasta when the time comes), and warm the ragu gently - when it's hot is when I would stir in the 4 tbsp of butter.

For the breadcrumbs, I ground up in the food processor about 3 slices of some bread I had made that was a few days old, and good only for toasted breadcrumbs by then. I been baking earlier in the morning, so I took the opportunity to put the breadcrumbs on a baking sheet (tossed them thoroughly with a few tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper) and put them into a 350 oven for about ten minutes. I set it aside, on the pan, while I left for the day to teach. When I was back home and the pasta was boiling, I turned on the broiler and put them under the broiler and kept pretty constant watch over them, stirring a couple of times so they didn't burn.

You could also do them in one step, in a non-stick frying pan: heat 2 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter, a peeled and crushed clove of garlic, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, add in the breadcrumbs, toss around thoroughly to get all the oil distributed among the bread evenly, and fry, stirring semi-constantly, until they start to turn golden and sound dry in the pan.

Either way set the breadcrumbs (once golden) aside in a bowl to keep them from over-browning.

When the pasta is al dente, drain (saving a little pasta water) and add it to the chard ragu along with 1/4 cup of the pasta water, and toss the pasta with the ragu over medium heat until the pasta looks evenly coated with the chard sauce. Add more pasta water if things look dry. Add the cheese and toss around to combine. As the pasta water heats, the starch in it thickens and turns silky - yum.

OH YES, the tomatoes! I had some grape tomatoes (one of those rectangular packages, not the small square ones) - I had roasted them ahead of time with olive oil, salt and pepper, at 350 for 30 or 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they looked collapsed and a little golden. I tossed these with the finished pasta. They made for a nice bright contrast to the deep dark ragu flavor. Consider this an optional addition, but it was darn good.

Serve the pasta with the breadcrumbs and additional cheese on the side.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Winter CSA Update

I continue to be amazed by the amount of food in our winter CSA share. This week's haul:
Butternut Squash
Acorn Squash
Spring mix
Sweet Potatoes
Swiss Chard
Bell Pepper
Red and White Potatoes

Off to enjoy the bounty!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pastel Tres Leches

Our friend Jess, who is also a native Californian living in the barren Wasteland of Mexican Food that is Boston, recently threw a potluck BASH featuring only Mexican delicacies. There were enchiladas, chile rellenos, pozole, tamales, beans and rice and my contribution to the fiesta - Pastel Tres Leches or Three Milk Cake. I've never made it before, never even eaten it before but I've longed for it for a very long time. Approximately 100 years ago I bought this amazing Mexican cookbook (Mexico The Beautiful Cookbook, Susanna Palazuelos) - it was one of those things you find in the lobby of a Barnes and Noble on sale for, like, a dollar. Its one of the best cookbooks I've ever purchased - the recipes are authentic and the pictures are gorgeous, not only of the delicious food but also of all the regions of Mexico, which is how the book is segmented. There is a Pastel Tres Leches recipe that I have been eyeing since I bought this book and I finally made it - and now I will make it whenever I can. It is a pretty dense cake that gets soaked with a combination of evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and cream (the tres leches) and topped with a lime meringue. Believe me when I say this cake was refreshing...refreshing! Who ever heard of a refreshing cake? This is it. It isn't too complicated and it was actually pretty fun to make, a nice departure from your standard baking operation. I hope you try it and enjoy it!

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
7 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 can (12 fl oz) evaporated milk
1 can (14 fl oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup brandy (optional, I didn't use it)

6 egg whites
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 cup sugar
zest of 1 lime

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 inch spring-form pan. Sift the flour and baking powder together.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites (I used an electric mixture as the recipe recommended, I'm sure a kitchen aid would be fine) until frothy. Add the sugar and beat to form stiff peaks, then add the egg yolks one at a time. Turn down the mixer to a slower speed and add one third of the flour and one third of the milk. Repeat until all the flour and milk are incorporated, then add the vanilla. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes and remove from the pan. Once cooled, cut the cake into 3 layers.

In a bowl combine the evaporated milk, condensed milk and cream. Stir in the brandy, if you're using it. Pour one third of the milk mixture over the bottom layer of cake, set the middle layer on top, pour another third of the milk mixture over that, put on the top layer and pour the remaining milk mixture over it.

A couple things: 1) I cut off the very top of my cake before cutting into three layers so that it would be flat - I recommend this as otherwise the milk will slide right down the sides. 2) the cake will soak up the majority of the milk, but I definitely had some overflow, so make sure the cake is on a plate with sides so it doesn't spill all over your counters. I did have to pour some milk off that the cake didn't end up soaking into it. 3) as you can see, my layers weren't totally even - if you know how to do that, more power to you - but, you'll end up covering it with frosting anyway, so it doesn't really matter.

To prepare the frosting, beat the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar in a large bowl until the whites hold soft peaks and set aside.

Mix the water, sugar and lime zest in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-heat and cook until a candy thermometer registers 238 degrees or soft ball stage.**

**Guess what? I don't have a candy thermometer. I sort of got it to the soft ball stage - you know, where you drop some of the molten sugar syrup in a glass of cold water and it forms a soft ball...sort of. So, what I'm trying to say is, if you have a candy thermometer, great! Use it and I'm sure this step will be a lot easier. But if you don't, just go with it and I don't think you'll ruin it too badly, especially since I didn't.**

Remove from heat and add the syrup to the beaten egg whites in a thin stream. Beat for 6 minutes or until the mixture is stiff. It will get voluminous and although it started out a little yellow-y it will turn a snowy white.

Cover the top and sides of the cake with the frosting and refrigerate until just before serving. Its this last part (the refrigeration) that really added to the refreshment...nice and cool, moist with a subtle nutty-sweet flavor complimented by the lime in the frosting. Sorry there are no pictures of the inside - we ate it all up!

I garnished mine with lime peel, you could easily use some beautiful fresh flowers or just leave it as is!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Stillman's Farms Lamb Chops and Other Delicious Stillman's Farm Offerings

This muy romantico picture has A LOT going on, almost all of it from either our Stillman's Farm veg or meat CSA:
- Stillman's Farm lamb chop
- Stillman's Farm lamb riblet
- Roasted Stillman's Farm butternut squash with bleu cheese and pecans
- Sauteed Stillman's Farm brussel sprouts with Stillman's Farm ham

Ok, I won't say Stillman's Farm anymore. For this post I'll focus on the lamb, the veg sides are pretty straight forward.

The meat on the riblets was super gamey and there was a ton of fat - I probably should have cooked them lower and slower to render out the fat, but I didn't and I enjoyed them nonetheless. Anyway, here's what I did to achieve the above result on the chop:

Heat your pan and add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Sear your chops for about 3-4 minutes per side until really nicely carmelized. This is important and where a lot of your awesome flavor is going to come from! Transfer to a baking sheet and pop them a 350 degree oven for about 5-7 minutes or until they are cooked to your preferred doneness. As always, its important to tent your meat and let it rest for about 10 minutes before you serve.

For the sauce, process toasted almonds (I'll say 1/2 cup sliced) and roasted red peppers (I'll say 1 whole pepper) together in a food process and pour in olive oil until it reaches a saucy yet still thick consistency...mine was similar to hummus. Season to taste with s&p.

To serve, top meat with sauce. Knife. Fork. You know the rest.

What you see to the right of the chop is a lovely light salad of thinly sliced red onions and fennel, lemon, olive oil, s&p. It beautifully cut the richness of the chop.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Winter CSA Bounty and Savory Veggie Pancakes!

Our winter CSA started this past week and boy did we get a haul. I kind of love the winter CSA; you think the fun is all gone because its not warm anymore, but NOOOOOO! You get more! In this week's box: red and white potatoes, apples, bell peppers, acorn squash, butternut squash, lettuce, spring mix, radishes, BEAUTIFUL carrots (see above, aren't they awesome?), radishes, arugula and brussel sprouts. Did I miss anything? This will keep us (or at least me) stocked for a while.

As you can probably tell, I was pretty excited about the carrots and remembered an Indian inspired vegetable fritter from Smitten Kitchen. What you should have already anticipated by now is that I didn't have all the ingredients (what?? you didn't??) for those. But it doesn't really matter, because the idea of a pancake chock full of veggies is an easy concept and you can do it in many different ways (see here for an awesome Korean version of the same idea.) Use the veggies you have on hand and decide on your spice profile and go from there. Here's how I did mine:

1 bunch kale
2 medium carrots
2 small potatoes
1 small onion
3 eggs
3 Tbs flour
1 Tbs cumin
1 tps paprika
1 Tbs chopped ginger
1 large garlic clove
Olive oil

To do:
Wash and chop kale. Heat olive oil and add crushed garlic clove. Once the garlic is brown remove from oil and discard. Add kale to the garlic flavored oil, add a few tablespoons of water and cover. Cook until wilted and the stems are cooked through.

Grate the onion, potatoes and carrots on a box grater and put in a colander to drain. In a large bowl combine beaten eggs, flour and spices (including ginger). Squeeze grated veggies to get out as much moisture as possible. Add veggies (don't forget the kale!) to egg mixture and stir to completely incorporate. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat olive oil in a skillet and fry pancakes. I was able to do 4 at a time and kept them warm in the oven while I cooked the rest. Top with a fried egg, drizzle with soy sauce (or don't, whatever you like) and you've got yourself a meal! (Not to mention that the leftovers, topped with plain Greek yogurt made for a fantastic breakfast.)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rib dinner: this post has giant-itis

In our September meat CSA haul, we got a slab of ribs. A modest, dare I say small, slab. But ribs are ribs, which means they thrill me no matter what (getting Pork 3 Ways at Craigie on Main is to me one of the world's best ideas, and one of the ways is a rib - that's right, ONE RIB, but I'm not even complaining because that one rib is SO INCREDIBLY GOOD). So since it was October and our next meat pick up was imminent, we decided to eat those ribs. But it's too cold for barbecue. The internet confirmed my suspicion that I could make darn good ribs in my oven (low and slow being the name of the game). We had a lot of apples around, so I decided to use them to make some BBQ sauce from scratch (so easy and so worth it, even for vegetarians, to whom I offer the idea of putting homemade BBQ sauce on veggie burgers, with cole slaw if you have it!). I'll tell you my ribs and sauce methods, and just link to some of the other things I made, to try to keep the size of this post somewhat under control - caramelized onion and goat cheese cornbread (I didn't have any fresh corn kernels and mine turned out very differently from hers, though still very delicious), and clementine almond cake, both from smitten kitchen.


-you'll need a spice rub - any one will do, use your favorite. It should feature things like salt, pepper, sugar, paprika, maybe cayenne, maybe cumin, maybe garlic or onion powder.
-a rack or two of ribs (I wish we'd had two!)
-A sheet pan with a cooling rack that will fit inside of it and go in the oven without a problem
-BBQ sauce (see below for a recipe, or any one you like or have around is great)

For easy cleanup later, line the bottom of your sheet pan with foil, then put the cooling rack on top of the foil. Lay the rack of ribs on the cookling rack. Rub it all over quite thoroughly with your spice rub. I probably used about 1/4 cup total for one modest rack. Don't be shy with the rub, you want to coat all visible meat, basically. Cover, and leave to flavor up. I left it for about an hour and a half at room temperature. If you wanted to let it go longer, put it in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 250. Put in the ribs, and leave em! 2 1/2 hours. Paint on a little BBQ sauce, and leave for another 1/2 hour. Take them out and cover them with foil, and prepare anything else you want to put on the plate - that's when I made the cornbread
and the clementine cake (photo of this at the end), which both needed higher oven temperatures). When those came out, I upped the temperature on the oven even farther to 400, spooned a little more BBQ sauce onto those ribs, and put them back in the oven for another 1/2 hour, to warm back up and brown a little more, at which time they are ready to cut up and eat, and you will wish you had a whole rack to yourself.
That last half hour with the ribs in the oven gave us the right amount of time for Jenean to bread and me to fry some green tomatoes our dad gave us (thanks Da!) - which I forgot to mention before! It is easy to do, you just slice green tomatoes just shy of 1/2 inch thick,
then set up 3 plates: in #1, put flour heavily seasoned with at least salt and pepper, maybe garlic powder, in #2, 2 eggs well beaten with salt and a little water, and in #3 breadcrumbs, preferably panko, but any kind of dry breadcrumbs are ok. Then you just go 1, 2, 3, coating completely in each one, then fry in a large, flat bottomed very hot pan with plenty of oil - canola or olive or peanut oil are good; drain on paper towels and sprinkle with coarse salt while they're still piping hot).
Meanwhile we boiled up the last of the CSA potatoes and Jenean mashed them with some Roquefort butter she made, SERIOUSLY. I die.
Quick Apple Maple BBQ sauce:
1/2 onion, finely minced
2 small apples, cored, peeled and chopped
1 smashed garlic clove (optional)
1 1/2 cups ketchup
salt and pepper
cider vinegar
maple syrup
brown sugar
(last 5 entirely to taste)

In a heavy bottomed small saucepan, fry the onions over medium heat in a little oil until soft and translucent. Add the apples and the garlic clove

and let them cook (sprinkle in a little salt to help them start releasing their juices) till they start to break down and look a little like applesauce. It helps to put the lid on for a while, and keep the heat medium to low. When they're soft, use a potato masher or a big spoon to smash up the apple chunks into smaller bits, but it's ok for it to still be pretty chunky. Turn up the heat to high, and add the cider vinegar, about 2 tablespoons, and let it boil a little. Then add the ketchup, some maple syrup (a couple glugs), brown sugar (a tablespoon or two), and a squirt of some nice brown mustard, if you want. Stir it all together and check for seasoning. You might like a splash or two of worcestershire sauce in there. It won't be great until you bring it to the boil and let it simmer, turned down to low, for at least 15 minutes. Cover it and stir it often, you don't want it to reduce too much, or scorch on the bottom.
Dessert was the clementine almond cake (not everything I dreamed of, but good) with a little cordial glass of Amaretto liqueur, a gift from our friends Reba and Jay, and it is pretty much the most delicious liquid you'll ever drink, ever. Love and thanks, Reba and Jay! And a shout-out to Eve for the adorable dessert plates.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Apples, Two Ways

I went apple picking last weekend, which always seems like an awesome idea at the time and then you get home and you have eleventy billion apples (not to mention the half dozen apple-cider donuts, really?? I really need those?) and you can't possibly EAT all these apples as snacks and what I am I supposed to do with all these? Here are two things I did with them: apple pancakes and upside-down caramel apple muffins.

First up, apple pancakes.

Elaine came over on Sunday for apple pancakes and I decided to use this recipe from smittenkitchen. They were really easy to put together and CHOCK FULL of apples. I wanted to snaz them up a little (and use up another apple) so I melted some maple sugar I had on hand and sauteed apple slices in the resulting syrup. I put one slice in each pancake before I flipped it.

Then, we melted butter in the leftover melted maple sugar, along with additional maple syrup to top the pancakes. Delicious.

The second thing I made were these Caramel Apple Muffins.
As you may have observed by now, I sometimes start cooking things without having all the ingredients. I THOUGHT I had enough butter. But I didn't. So I sliced up all the apples last Thursday, but didn't actually make these muffins until last night. They still turned out awesome.

A couple of'll sautee your apple slices in butter and brown sugar for the delicious caramel apple topping. I had a TON of the butter syrup left over, so I included a spoonful of it on top of the apples before adding the batter and also on top of the batter before putting the muffins in the oven. I did have a few accidents with the sugar spilling out of the muffin tins, but oh well. I also have a self cleaning oven. Second, I needed to add milk (actually buttermilk, since that what I had) to the was SO stiff that I could hardly combine it all together. I would say that I added probably a total of 1/2 cup possibly even 3/4 cup. I doubled the recipe so its possible I miscalculated something somewhere, let me know what happens for you.

Now I only have 9 billion apples left.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Baked Figs, a Fancy Snack

I love figs. I'm not going to lie, I would eat them anytime anywhere. They are so exotic yet so homey, modern and ancient at the same time. Our next door neighbors growing up had a fig tree in their yard and when the figs were in season I would stand under that tree and literally eat my fill. It was awesome. These days, I have to find them in the store and commit to paying slightly more than they might be worth, but I don't really mind because again, I love figs.

Now that we've got that covered, I acquired some figs and I wanted to do something very simple with them. David Tanis in his book "A Platter of Figs" has an easy recipe for baked figs. While I was making them, I realized I also had a beautiful block of blue cheese leftover from E's wedding which would be perfect with the figs. (I imagine the original recipe is delicious as well, but I can hardly ever resist a salty/sweet combo.)

Figs, cut in half (how ever many you want, or have on hand)
A few sprigs of thyme
olive oil
blue cheese

To Do:
Put thyme sprigs in the bottom of a glass baking dish and layer figs halves on top. The dish you bake them in should be just big enough to fit your figs. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Pop in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes, at which point you want to take the pan out of the oven and smush little pieces of blue cheese into each fig. Cook about 5-10 minutes longer, until cheese is melted. Remove from oven, let cool slightly, eat. Try not to eat them all at once. Then, eat them all at once.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Black Beans and Rice

I think we had beans and rice once a week growing up, although it definitely seemed like more. My folks were and are huge fans of making large amounts of things, freezing portions and unthawing for quick and easy dinners. I hated beans and rice night when I was a kid, but now I really appreciate this delicious and hearty dinner, especially when paired with a salad, as we always did growing up. I think you'll find this a simple, delicious, healthy and not to mention cheap staple in your repertoire.

1 lb black beans
2 cups chicken or veggie stock
Olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, diced
2 Tbs ginger, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
Salt and pepper to taste

To Do:
Soak beans overnight. Drain and put in large pot. Add chicken stock and water to cover by 2 inches. Bring beans to a simmer and then lower heat. Meanwhile, saute onion, pepper, jalapeno and ginger in olive oil until soft. Add cumin, coriander and s&p and stir until combined. Add veg mixture to the beans and cook until beans are done. Smash a few of the beans against the side of the pan to make a nice thick gravy. Don't forget to taste and adjust seasoning. Serve over rice. We always topped them with chopped onion, but cheese, sour cream and a nice squirt of lime would work nicely as well. ENJOY!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jumping the Gun on Autumn

Yesterday was a gorgeous day here, unseasonably warm, as though we were getting one over on Mother Nature and squeezing a few more heavenly days out of summer. However, I had a fully fall meal planned - baked pasta with roasted veggies - and I went through with it despite the fact that it involved turning on the oven in an apartment with no AC.

I had roasted butternut squash left over from the salad I made a few days ago and an eggplant that needed to get eaten. I diced the eggplant, dressed it with olive oil and salt and pepper and roasted in a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes, stirring at the half way point.

Once you have your veggies roasted you need a pound of cooked pasta (I used penne, you should use any type of short pasta you like), a white sauce and some cheese (I used fontina and parmesan). Here's what I used for the white sauce (all already in my fridge!):

6 Tbs butter
4 Tbs flour
salt and pepper
heavy cream

Melt the butter in a saucepan and then whisk in flour. Let this cook for a few will be able to smell it when the flour is no longer raw. Add your heavy cream, I'm guessing I had about half a pint and your salt, pepper and nutmeg (s&p should be to taste, probably about a 1/2 tsp of nutmeg). I didn't expect this but the mixture at this stage got REALLY thick so I added milk...I'm not exactly sure how much, probably somewhere between 1/2 cup and a cup and it settled down nicely and became a creamy sauce. Check your seasonings at this point and adjust, mine was pretty bland so I added more salt.

Once you have everything done to this point, combine pasta, veggies, white sauce and 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese. Pour half of this mixture into an oiled baking dish and top with grated fontina cheese, then layer the second half of the past mixture, more fontina and more parmesan cheese. The crunchies you see around the edges of the pan are fried leeks - they were maybe a little TOO well done, but so delicious none the less...just the savory addition needed for this dish, since the butternut squash adds quite a bit of sweetness. I just thin sliced the white and light green parts of a leek and fried in quite a bit of olive oil until they were nice and crunchy.

Bake in a 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until bubbly.