Tuesday, June 21, 2011

cold sesame noodles with fresh herbs

I have been sweating a lot lately. It's hot. Our little window air conditioner is groaning away like a meat grinder, peppers still on their plants in the garden are literally blistering in the heat, and we accidentally stewed some tomatoes just by leaving them out in the sun for 3 hours.

I don't even want to grill in this weather. The idea of standing over any heat source for an extended period of time just makes me sulky.

So for dinner tonight, I made our favorite cold noodles. They are so easy and so good, they're great for a picnic or road trip, and they made the heat seem not quite so oppressive. Maybe best of all, they come together in about 15 minutes.

Cold Sesame Noodles with Fresh Herbs

1/2 package pad thai style rice noodles

1 tbsp soy sauce

1/2 tbsp mirin (a sweet rice wine condiment, probably near the soy sauce in your supermarket)

a light drizzle of toasted sesame oil

10 leaves each of fresh mint and basil, stacked together, then cut crossways into fragrant little herb ribbons

Cook the noodles according to the package directions. I boiled the water in my whistling tea kettle so that I could step away from the stove, then poured the boiling water over the noodles in a pot off the heat and let them sit for about 5 minutes. They are still a bit chewy that way, which I like, but if you like yours a little more tender you could always let them sit longer.

When the noodles have cooked, strain them over the sink and run them under cold water to cool them and stop them from cooking. Transfer the noodles to your serving bowl. Add the soy, mirin, and sesame oil, toss to combine, and top with the fresh mint and basil.

These noodles are also great with a little fresh cilantro, cucumber, or toasted sesame seeds.

Friday, June 3, 2011

not my plate

I applaud the USDA for finally doing away with the food pyramid, which were notoriously out-dated and allegedly changed due to the funding from various food lobby groups (cough cough DAIRY cough). And I think that the new My Plate guidelines are definitely a step in the right direction; meat or protein is a portion of a heathy meal, not the main focus of the plate. Greater emphasis is being placed on fruit and veggies, also on portion control.

But look at that photo up there. So sad. So puritan. Who could get excited about eating that?

I'm not even sure what that pinkish gelatinous brick of "protein" is, but I think it's charming that they allowed it to retain it's unadulterated can-shaped form. Clearly the fruit and veg came from a can. And I don't think they could have found a more processed looking piece of wheat bread if they tried, probably full of a long list of unpronounceable ingredients and sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.

And this was the plate displayed by the USDA at the UNVEILING of this new program. It's like wearing crocs and a sack on your wedding day. What an amazing opportunity to get people excited about the possibilities of delicious, unprocessed, home cooked food. And instead, they splort open three cans and a bread bag.

I want so desperately to tell anyone desiring to eat better and staring into the joyless abyss of that plate, that eating well doesn't have to look like that, and in fact, it doesn't look like that. Chemicals from those processed foods are not part of your well-balanced diet and they do not belong on your plate. Go to a farmers' market or your local natural foods store, EXPLORE, EXPERIMENT and have FUN with food. ENJOY!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

puree of sunchoke soup with creme fraiche and hazelnut oil

For the past two weeks, we have been watching green tomatoes and figs in the garden slowing growing plumper by the day. Delicate sweet pea tendrils reach out and wind their way around our makeshift string trellis. Green strawberries are getting big enough that their stems and starting to bend under their weight. Any day now, we'll have a bed full of blooming red roses and purple hysop. Everything in the garden is just on the verge of early summer fullness.

But not yet. Right now it's a little too chilly and rainy. And according to the weather man, it's going to stay this way for a little while.

So today, my first day off if about two weeks, I am hunkering down indoors with a bowl of soup. It's not what I think of when I think about the middle of May, but it feels pretty good right now anyway.

Puree of Sunchoke Soup with Creme Fraiche and Hazelnut Oil

I know. Creme fraiche? Hazelnut oil??? Not things most of us usually have lying around in the kitchen. You can make this soup without these garnishes and it will still be delicious. But I HIGHLY recommend getting your hands on some hazelnut oil. It's so very good, and it adds a whole layer of flavor to the soup. You can also use the oil to make a great salad dressing ( a la Michael Schwartz of the restaurant Michael's Genuine Food in Miami) with some OJ, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and a little finely chopped shallots. Just shake approximately equal amounts OJ and hazelnut oil together with half as much EVOO, a pinch of S+P, and bit of the shallots in a jar. It keeps in the fridge for at least 2 weeks, and it's great over sliced avocado, or even some simply steamed white fish. Store the hazelnut oil in the fridge after it's open. It will keep longer this way.

1 lb sunchokes, scrubbed and rinsed, cut into 1/3 inch thick sections
1 sprig rosemary, leaves removed and roughly chopped.
extra virgin olive oil
salt + pepper

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs, I used equal parts rosemary and thyme
1 tsp crushed red pepper, or to taste
scant 1/2 tsp nutmeg
salt + pepper

1 cup of dry, appley wine, like Sauvignon Blanc
2 tbsp heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 400.

Heat about 3-4 tbsp of olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add the sunchokes, rosemary (chopped leaves and the woody stem) and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Brown the sunchoke in the skillet for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until a golden crust is visible.

Place the browned sunchokes in their skillet into the preheated oven. Cook for about 20 minutes until quite tender and easily pierced by a fork. At this stage, the skillet-roasted sunchokes would make a great substitution for traditional roasted potatoes. I always find it hard not to snack on them all while I wait for the rest of the soup to be ready. They're salty, herby, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Yum.

Heat the 1/4 cup olive oil in a large dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, herbs, red pepper, nutmeg and salt and pepper. Saute until the shallot begins to soften and become translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the wine, and simmer lightly until it reduces to about half. Add the sunchokes and stir to combine. Add just enough water to cover the sunchokes, then simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat, add the heavy cream, and puree with an immersion blender or a standing blender. If using a standing blender, puree in batches and only lightly cover the top to allow steam to escape. Otherwise, the steam with cause the top to go flying off the blender, and soup with go everywhere.

Taste for seasoning. You may need to add a bit more salt, pepper, or nutmeg. When adding nutmeg, only add a tiny pinch at a time; a little goes a long way.

Serve the soup hot with a dollop of creme fraiche, a drizzle of hazelnut oil, and a turn of freshly cracked pepper.

Monday, January 24, 2011

cleansing root veggies

I overdid it during the holidays. Sweets, snacks, and I think I ate more pork in three days that I have in the past three years. Consequently, we've been trying to tone it down around here lately: lots of kale, less meat.

My new food processor was going to be used for experiments in building pie crusts, but I have decided to hold off on that for a while. Instead, I used the grating blade to make an enormous bowl of root vegetable matchsticks: celery root, parsnip, carrot, and red beets. I also threw in an apple for a little sweetness. This makes an amazing raw salad with just a little lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Some toasted almonds might be a nice addition. Or you could add soy sauce, mirin, brown rice vinegar, and a little minced garlic and ginger. The soy sauce root veggie mixture makes a fantastic stuffing for baked spaghetti squash, which, in turn, would pair beautifully with some braised short ribs (although we're holding off on that for a while!)

We used about the last 3 cups of the unseasoned raw root veggies to make untraditional latkes. Just add one beaten egg and a half teaspoon of non-GMO corn starch (or potato starch) as a binder. Season generously with salt and pepper, then gently add 1/4 cup bunches of the eggy mixture into a cast iron skillet with a little less than a 1/4 inch of high heat vegetable oil (safflower, canola, sunflower, etc.) Fry over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes on the first side, and less than a minute on the second. Remove from the pan and drain excess oil on paper towels. Serve immediately.

Less than $5 of vegetables--one carrot, one red beet, one apple, one celery root, and one parsnip--fed us for about a week (not exclusively, of course, but you get the idea). So many options with just one simple preparation! The other great thing about root vegetables is that they store beautifully. Once grated, you just need to add a bit of lemon juice to keep them from browning.

More "resolution recipes" coming, I think.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pasta with romanesco cauliflower and prosciutto

Last Wednesday night, I had a few friends over for dinner.

I this has been a dream of mine for some time. This may seem strange to many of you who do not live in one of the five boroughs of New York City. However, I live in Brooklyn, and making space for a dining table and guests never seemed like a realistic possibility.

The Thanksgiving furniture shuffle showed me it was possible: we moved the sofa into the office to make a guest room, and moved the desk from the office into the living room for a table. Voila! A little more pushing of dressers and chairs and scratching up the floor a bit, and we had a dining room. It's my first.

The dinner was to reciprocate a dinner that my friends Nick and Dane had prepared a few weeks before. It was a lot to live up to: a delicious cheese plate as a first course, followed by a perfect risotto with shrimp and sweet peas topped with pesto. So very good.

The dinner left me feeling full, satisfied, and competitive. I felt the need to be impressive in return. And thrifty. Christmas shopping has been stretching me a little thin.

I hardly ever make pasta because of Noel's wheat allergy. In fact, I don't think I've bought any traditional pasta for at least five years. So real pasta feels decadent to me--a kind of luxury food that I don't have very often. I'll bet a lot of you feel the same way about it because of the carb fear factor. The fact that many of us don't eat pasta on a regular basis anymore makes it, I think, a great thing to make when you have guests over: it's the sort of thing everyone enjoys but rarely makes for themselves. And what better time to indulge a bit than during this bitingly cold weather?

Since the pasta itself is inexpensive, I added some more premium ingredients: prosciutto and romanesco cauliflower. Romanesco cauliflower is a vivid pale green, and instead of forming itself into cloud-like clumps, it grows in astoundingly symmetrical, psychedelic cones. Their beautiful color, matched with the deep meaty pinkness of the prosciutto, makes a beautiful plate. They are very much in season, and can be found in your local farmers market.

The addition of anchovies into the garlic oil does not produce a fishy flavor at all, but rather an earthy saltiness that would not be achieved by only adding salt. I highly recommend you try using them. You can find anchovy fillets packed in olive oil in most supermarkets.

The bread crumbs add an extra bite of texture, as well as a bit of herb and spice. They are easy to make at home. Tear a baguette into 1-2 inch cubes, and toast in a 325 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until toasty and dry. Allow to cool, then place in a plastic freezer bag and smush with a rolling pin to create crumbs. To add flavor, saute two mined garlic cloves in 2 tbsp olive oil, then remove from heat an stir in 1 tbsp red pepper flakes and 1/4 cup chopped parsley. Add bread crumbs and return pan to heat, toasting until golden brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool. These can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Pasta with Romanesco Cauliflower and Prosciutto (inspired by and loosely adapted from a recipe from Olives and Oranges)

1 lb strozzapreti pasta (or penne, or something similar)
2 medium heads romanesco cauliflower, cut into bite sized florets
1/4 lb prosciutto, cut into 1/4 inch strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 anchovy fillets
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 cup bread crumbs (recipe in the headnotes)
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400. Toss cauliflower with 2 tbsp olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Roast on a parchment lined baking sheet for 45 minutes, or until browning, and crisp-tender.

Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil.

In another large pot or dutch oven, heat a tablespoon of oil over medium high heat, then add prosciutto. Saute until some fat is rendered and the meat begins to brown ever so slightly--about 5 minutes. Remove from pot and set aside.

***If you don't make your own bread crumbs, you'll probably want to add 1 scant tbsp red pepper flakes (per your own taste) in this next step to give it a little heat. The bread crumbs I made were pretty spicy, so I just left it at that.***

To the same dutch oven where you cooked the prosciutto, add 1/4 cup olive oil and the minced garlic. Saute briefly until garlic just barely turns toasty, then add the anchovy fillets. The fillets will dissolve in the oil. Add the cauliflower and the prosciutto, and stir to coat in the garlic-anchovy oil. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

Add pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. I found that the strozzapreti took much less time than I thought it would--maybe less than 7 minutes.

Before draining the pasta, reserve a bit of the starchy water in a mug for using in the sauce if needed. Then drain the pasta, and add to the cauliflower prosciutto mixture. Toss to combine. Add half the bread crumbs and half the parmesan, then toss to combine again. If the pasta seems too dry at this point (which mine did), you can add a bit of the reserved pasta water, and a little bit more olive oil.

Transfer pasta to a serving bowl, sprinkle remaining bread crumbs and parmesan over the top, toss lightly, and finish with a good dose of fresh cracked pepper.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

thanksgiving appetizer: cheddar and ale fondue

I'm sure some of you received a fondue pot as a wedding or housewarming gift and have only used it a few times, maybe never. I think it would be a great thing to dust off for a family holiday gathering. Think about it: you can make it on the stove in less than 10 minutes while the oven is occupied with roasts and turkeys and the like, it's interactive, kids will love it and it will keep them out from underfoot, and it will encourage those kids to eat some veggies.

As long as you prep the day before, the fondue itself takes very little time to serve. The day before, you want to do the prepping of your veggie dippers. You may want to blanch some of them, such as cauliflower, by boiling them for less than a minute, then shocking them in cold water. You may want to roast some, such as brussels sprouts, until they are still crisp, but the outsides caramelize a bit. Or you may want to keep it simple, and serve some raw crudites, like broccoli, carrots, and celery. Whatever you choose, arrange a platter ahead of time to save yourself some work on the holiday.

As far as I'm concerned, there are two ESSENTIAL dippers for any cheese fondue: cubed crusty bread and apples. These should be done shortly before you plan to serve, so that the bread doesn't get stale, and the apples don't brown. You can also slow down the browning of the apple slices by tossing them with a little fresh squeezed lemon juice.

Cheddar and Ale Fondue

Whatever type of cheddar you choose, make sure it's good quality. Most farmers' markets have one or two vendors selling amazing local cheddar. For this recipe, I used Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, a very sharp, caramely cheese available at Whole Foods. For the ale, I chose Ommegang's Abbey Ale, a Belgian style beer with spicy caramel undertones. These are both very flavorful ingredients and they paired beautifully together, but I'm sure you could make substitutions if you cannot find these at your local market. You might want to try adding a dash of worcestershire or dijon mustard for a little extra flavor.

Emmentaler cheese melts beautifully, so it's addition here will help ensure a smooth, creamy fondue.

1 lb cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 lb emmentaler cheese, grated
1 1/2 cups belgian style ale
1 tbsp non-gmo cornstarch

Toss the cheddar, emmentaler, and cornstarch together, The cornstarch will keep with cheese solids and fat from separating when added to the beer.

Bring the ale to a low boil in the fondue pot (or a medium nonstick pot if your fondue pot isn't stove-worthy) over medium-high heat. Add the cheese mixture in handfuls and whisk quickly in between additions. Once all the cheese is added, reduce the heat slightly and continue whisking vigorously to blend the ale and cheese. This may take a few minutes, just keep whisking!

Once you have a wonderfully smooth, beery cheese mixture, move it off the stove to the fondue stand over a low flame. Stir periodically to keep the cheese on the bottom from burning.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

thanksgiving sides: kale

Braised Kale serves 6-8

This recipe is simple, healthy, delicious, and can be made a day ahead. It maintains its color, flavor, and texture beautifully. Simmer gently in a pot over low heat to reheat the kale.

3 bunches of kale (the standard green curly leaf kind is great here)
1 large sweet onion
3-4 cloves garlic
tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups stock (chicken is best, I think, but vegetable would work, too)
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Thoroughly rinse the kale to remove any grit. Tear the leaf away from the stem by running your hand upwards from the bottom of the stem, then tear leaves into large pieces. Set aside.

Half the onion through the root ball, peel, then thinly slice across into strips. Set aside.

Mince the garlic, then combine with the onion.

In a large pot over medium-high heat, add the olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, pepper flakes, and a little salt and pepper, and saute until the onion is softening and translucent. Add the kale stir, turning it over gently in the pot to coat with the oil. Season with more salt and pepper. Pour half the stock over the kale, and continue to turn it gently. Add the rest of the stock, turning the kale until it has cooked down to less than half its original volume, but still maintains a bright green color.

Remove the kale to a serving bowl and ladle a bit of the cooking stock over the top so that it pools luxuriously around the bottom.