Saturday, February 12, 2011

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Fresh Oregano, Basil, Lemon and Garlic

I had a day off yesterday; my days off are usually spent running errands and catching up on things I don't have time to do on days I'm working.  But yesterday I spent nearly all day at home, aside from running to the grocery store to pick up items for this lovely dish.

It's been so long since I've updated this blog (nearly six months!), but yesterday I finally felt like browsing the internet for an interesting recipe and spending the day bringing it to fruition.  I spent quite a while picking out something to make.  I'd had my heart set on red-wine braised beef short ribs, but since my pregnant sister was coming to dinner, I decided that wine-braised meat might not be the best idea, even if most of the alcohol cooks off (congratulations Priscilla!!!).

I stumbled upon this recipe, and was intrigued by the use of fresh oregano, as well as by the concept of slow-roasting tomatoes, which is something I'd always wanted to try.

The recipe calls for six plum tomatoes (about a pound), but after reading comments about the recipe (everyone seemed to share the sentiment that the tomatoes were outrageously good), I decided to double the amount.

I usually avoid buying tomatoes at the grocery store, unless I'm buying grape tomatoes for a salad, because especially in the dead of winter, they just look so awful.  Even when I was buying the plum tomatoes for this recipe, knowing I was going to slather them with olive oil, a bit of sugar, and spices, I have to admit I was looking at them rather doubtfully.  They were a shade I wouldn't even classify as red, and their flesh was not yielding at all.

The preparation was pretty just wash the tomatoes, dry them, cut them in half, toss them with 2 1/2 teaspoons sugar, a teaspoon of salt, and a half teaspoon of pepper.  Then you prepare the cooking oil, heating together 2/3 cup of olive oil, 4 cloves of garlic (the recipe says finely chopped, but I grated them because my knife skills leave much to be desired and I hate trying to finely chop tiny little cloves of garlic), 20 torn basil leaves, and 24 fresh oregano leaves.  You pour this fragrant oil over the tomatoes, which have been prettily arranged cut-side down on a shallow baking sheet, and bake for 2 1/2 hours at 250 degrees.

In the oven, the flavors reduce and concentrate, and the tomatoes become wonderfully shriveled and a much more deep, intense red.  When they're finished baking, you lift them onto a plate, strain the oil in which they were baking, and add to it three more tablespoons of fresh, chopped oregano, two tablespoons of lemon juice, two teaspoons of grated lemon zest, and a bit more salt and pepper, to taste.  You can then pour the oil back over the tomatoes and also over whichever meat you choose to serve with them--I went with the recipe and chose salmon.  I think you could also use grilled chicken with great results.  They'd even be great atop salad greens with a sprinkling of feta cheese.

Anyway, I thought the tomatoes were fantastic.  They were no longer the dubious-looking tomatoes I had seen in the grocery store, but were instead soft, wrinkly, bright, intensely-flavored morsels.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Toasted Kasha Pilaf with Pancetta, Rapini, and Mushrooms

I made a great pasta once with pancetta (which is salt-cured, unsmoked pork belly) and rapini; the rich, meaty flavor of pancetta and the bitterness of the rapini really complement each other.

Recently I decided to make a whole grain version by adding these ingredients to kasha, which is a cereal comprised of buckwheat groats. It's commonly eaten in Eastern Europe; in fact, I had my first taste of kasha this summer at a birthday dinner at a Ukrainian restaurant.  I found it had a really unique, complex, nutty flavor and I've also read it's healthy: it's gluten-free, high in fiber, and lowers your cholesterol and blood glucose levels.

Here's the recipe:

2 cups uncooked kasha
4 cups boiling water or stock (I used chicken stock)
2 eggs, beaten
4 tbsp. butter
1 chopped onion
1 cup sliced mushrooms (I used 16 oz., which was probably more than what it called for, but the mushrooms are great in this dish, so I think the more the better)
1 large bunch rapini
6 ounces pancetta, diced or cubed
2 tsp. smoked Hungarian paprika
1 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

First clean the rapini, trim the bottoms by about an inch, and then cut it into 2 inch pieces.  Boil the rapini in a large pot for about 5 minutes, shock it with some cold water, then gently squeeze the liquid out so no unnecessary liquid will be added to the pilaf. 

Next, dice the pancetta.  I had a 6 ounce package of sliced pancetta.  I would have preferred to cube a whole 6 oz. slab of pancetta, but it wasn't available.  If you can find it, I think it would be better.  I've also seen hot (spicy) pancetta, which is great, but if you use it, reduce the amount of cayenne pepper you add.

In a large skillet over medium heat, saute the onions and mushrooms in the butter until soft and a little browned.  Once the mushrooms and onions are almost finished cooking, add the pancetta, allowing it to crisp up, and then the rapini.   Stir in the paprika and cayenne pepper and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the uncooked kasha with the beaten eggs.  Stir until the kasha is coated in egg.  In a large skillet over medium high heat, toast the kasha until the egg has dried and the grains are separated.  Be careful not to burn the kasha--it's easy to do, just like nuts.  Once the grains are toasted, quickly add the boiling water/stock and stir.  Reduce heat to low.  Cover tightly and allow to cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed.

Once the kasha is cooked, add the skillet of sauteed vegetables and pancetta and mix well.  Taste and season with salt, pepper, and more cayenne pepper and paprika if you so choose.

This recipe makes about 8-10 generous servings, and you could easily halve the recipe.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fiddlehead Ferns and Gnocchi in Celery Broth with Parmesan and Lemon Zest

Like I noted in last year's post about my feelings towards fiddlehead ferns, their flavor is nothing all that special.  They taste a little like asparagus.

It's their novelty that really attracts me to them.  I love how they are baby ferns, but kind of look like little rolled-up green snakes, and I'm not sure whether to coo at them or be revolted by them.  So I eat them.

I also love how elusive they are; fiddlehead ferns are only available for about two weeks in any one locale.  In Western Canada, that's usually around mid to late May.  Shopping at the local farmers' market this past Saturday, I was lucky enough to find some.  Only one vendor was selling them (along with some exotic mushrooms and ramps, which were already sold out) and there were only two half-pound bags left.  I snapped them up and began to scour the internet for ideas about how to use them this year.

Last year, I made a very simple preparation of boiled fiddlehead ferns and roasted cherry tomatoes in a lemon, anchovy paste, and olive oil dressing.  This year, I wanted to do something more elaborate.  Inspired by this recipe posting, I decided to boil the ferns, toss them with some oil, garlic, tomatoes, and gnocchi, and arrange the mixture over some celery broth.  To do this, I used:

-1/2 lb. fiddlehead ferns
-250 grams mini gnocchi
-3 stalks of celery
-3 roma tomatoes
-2 cloves of garlic
-olive oil
-the zest and juice of one lemon
-grated parmesan cheese
-salt and pepper

I started by bringing a pot of water to boil for the ferns.  Apparently some dirty ferns can be toxic so it's important to boil them well before eating.  As the water comes to a boil, you can trim the brown ends of the ferns with a knife.  I boiled the ferns for about 15 minutes.

I also used the same pot of boiling water to remove the skins from my tomatoes.  If you score a small x at one end of the tomato and drop it in boiling water for about 30 seconds, the skins will come off quite easily.  I removed the skins from all three tomatoes, and seeded and diced them. 

Once the ferns had cooked, I drained them and immediately rinsed them in cold water to keep their green color.  Then I made the celery broth.  I refilled my pot with about 2 1/2 cups of water and 3 stalks of celery cut in half, or as small as needed to fit in the pot.  I boiled these items, covered, for about 20 minutes, or until I could smell the celery in the air.  After straining the liquid, I added plenty of salt and pepper (add it to taste) and the juice of half a lemon.  It's important to go ahead and taste the broth and season it appropriately.  It should be delicately flavored but it definitely needs salt to bring out the celery flavor.

After setting the celery broth aside and covering it to stay warm, I refilled for a third time my pot with water so I could cook the gnocchi.  Cooking gnocchi is a no brainer, you just cook it in salted, boiling water until it rises to the top of the cooking liquid.

As the water was coming to a boil, I put about three tablespoons of olive oil in a medium/large skillet, added two chopped garlic cloves, and let the garlic cook a bit.  Once it started to brown slightly, I added the chopped tomatoes and the ferns.  As the gnocchi became cooked, I removed them from the water with a slotted spoon and added them to the mix.  I also seasoned the mixture with plenty of salt.

Finally, I plated the meal by ladling about 3/4 cup of the broth onto a lipped plate (a shallow bowl would be even better, but I didn't have one).  I carefully spooned into the broth half the fiddlehead fern and gnocchi mixture and topped it with plenty of parmesan cheese and lemon zest.  This will serve 2.

It's a light dish, and I would recommend serving it alone.  I ate my gnocchi and ferns with pork, which overwhelmed a bit.   The delicate broth, those mild ferns, the pillows of potato gnocchi--these flavors aren't very assertive, they whisper in your ear.  I found this a very colorful, understated, and springlike dish.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Oven-Stewed Rhubarb with White Wine and Vanilla

It's Spring, in most parts of the world--certainly not Edmonton.  Last week we had snow and today, the temperature's hovering right around the freezing point.

I miss Spring.  But at least I can still have rhubarb imported from British Columbia or somewhere where spring exists. 

This recipe has you stew rhubarb in the oven with the addition of crisp, citrusy white wine and mellow vanilla bean.  You can read the original recipe here, but the method's really pretty simple.  In an oven-safe pot, combine 2 lbs. rhubarb, cut into 3-inch lengths, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup white wine (I recommend sauvignon blanc), and a split vanilla bean.  Roast at 350 degrees until the rhubarb is soft, around 30 minutes.  I think I roasted mine around 45 minutes because I wanted it to be thicker and really falling apart.

I served this cold as part of an Easter brunch.  It was a rhubarb lover's dream and really beautiful with the opaque white backdrop of plain yogurt.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bamboo Rice Pudding

Last week I flew home to Louisville, Kentucky to spend some time with my family.  My sister works at this upscale grocery store there called The Fresh Market.  Once, while waiting for her shift to end, I was browsing the aisles and came across a selection of exotic rices.  There were all sorts of rices I'd never seen before, but the most intriguing was bamboo rice.

Bamboo rice is a short-grain Chinese rice described as being fresh, vibrant, and floral.  It gets its striking jade green coloring from bamboo juice and is supposed to echo the flavor of jasmine green tea.

The packaging instructed me to use the bamboo rice in any style of Asian cooking, so I started by eating it with chicken and vegetables stir fried with ginger and garlic.  It wasn't the best choice--I quickly realized that any kind of delicate floral flavor the rice may have had was drowned out by the intense flavors of the ginger, garlic, and sesame oil that I used.  Besides, the most fantastic thing about bamboo rice is its color, which was obstructed when I dumped stir fry on top of it.

I decided the best way to showcase the vibrant color and faint flavor the bamboo rice had was to make a delicately spiced rice pudding.  I decided to use this recipe, switching out the regular rice for bamboo rice, the lemon zest for orange zest, and the raisins for chopped, dried papaya.  It was really good and certainly beautiful.  I might even go further to the Asian side next time, switching out cardamom for the cinnamon and coconut milk for the regular milk.

Even with this second recipe, I didn't end up tasting much of the alleged jasmine green tea flavor of bamboo rice.  However, the unusual color is more than enough to convince me to use bamboo rice again.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Vanilla Souffle

 A few weeks ago, I made the vanilla souffle recipe from I Know How to Cook.  It was really fun!

It was really my first time using a real, whole vanilla bean.  I split it down the middle, added it to a pan of milk (1 3/4 c.)  and sugar (1/2 c.), and brought it just to a boil.  After the sugar dissolved into the milk, I got to scrape the vanilla beans out of the pod and into the hot liquid.  It was neat seeing the tiny black specks spread out in the milk.

Once the milk was thoroughly flavored with vanilla, I stirred in a scant half cup of flour and half cup butter, ensuring I whisked enough that there were no floury lumps.  I took the pan off the heat and waited a few minutes.  By then the milk's cool enough to add 5 egg yolks, which thickens and richens the mixture.  

I got Georg to beat with an electric mixer the 5 remaining egg whites while I preheated the oven to 375 degrees and greased individual ramekins with butter.  I've heard that using an upward motion when greasing the ramekins will allow the souffles to rise even higher.  Once Georg had whipped the egg whites into stiff peaks, I gently folded them into the egg and milk mixture, and spooned it into the ramekins.

I think the individual souffles baked for about 15 minutes--although the time would depend on the size of your baking dish.  I monitored them very closely and removed them from the oven when they were browned and just set on the top.  It's important not to overbake them; overbaking can cause the air bubbles from the beaten egg whites to bust and the souffle to fall.

Immediately after the souffles come out of the oven, they must be served.  I unfortunately waited a few minutes and the souffles fell partially before we could eat them.  Apparently every souffle falls sooner or later, and you just have to eat it right out of the oven for it to be its fluffiest.  As this great article on souffles says, "The nature of an airy souffle is to rise and fall, sort of like ancient Rome."  You wait for the souffle, not the souffle for you.  I will definitely follow that advice next time I bake a souffle.  

Still, the souffle tasted like a wonderful vanilla cloud.  The sensation of putting the hot, perfumed fluff into my mouth was awesome.  I'm very excited about my souffle experience because now I can't wait to make all sorts of different souffles.  Chocolate souffle, lemon souffle...even savory carrot souffle.  I will keep my readers updated on my souffle adventures!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mar-a-Lago Key Lime Pie

Donald Trump has a club in Palm Beach, Florida called Mar-a-Lago.  This key lime pie is the club's most requested dessert.  It was recently celebrated on Oprah and ended up on her website, which is where I found the recipe.  Key lime pies evoke feelings of warmth, summer, and Florida, so they can be nice in the middle of a dreary winter when you need a bright, tart little pie in your life. 

As it turns out, key lime pie is pretty easy to make, especially if you just use regular limes (not those tiny, labor intensive key limes).  It cuts down on the time it takes to juice 2/3 cup of lime juice and I've heard that you can't really taste the difference in the limes in the finished product.  I ended up needing about 5 juicy limes.  I always pick fruits that seem to be heavy for their size as this seems to indicate an extra juicy fruit.

To make the pie, you first have to make a graham cracker crust.  This is done by mixing 3/4 pound graham cracker crumbs (which can be bought or made by mashing and grinding graham crackers with the end of a drinking glass) with 4 tbsp. sugar, 1/4 tsp. salt, and two sticks of butter.  I must caution you that 2 sticks of butter ended up to be excessive, at least for me when I was making the recipe; I'd add the butter bit by bit and stop when you've added enough butter for the crumbs to just stick together.  Otherwise the excess butter will prevent a crisp crust.  After pressing the crumbs into the bottom and sides of a pie or tart pan, you bake the crust in a low oven (325 degrees) for ten minutes.

While the crust is baking you can whip together the filling.  The filling is simply 4 egg yolks, 14 oz. sweetened condensed milk, 2/3 cup lime juice, and the zest of a lime.  First you beat the egg yolks and zest with an electric mixer for five minutes until they're fluffy, then you beat in the condensed milk, and then finally, slowly, the juice.  Pour into the baked pie shell, and bake for 15 minutes until done.

After the pie had cooled, it was really pretty to sprinkle some additional lime zest on top.  I opted not to make the vanilla whipped cream contained in the recipe; for me, whipped cream distracts from the tart pleasure of desserts like this.

I loved a couple of things about this pie.  First, I loved the crust.  I usually avoid graham cracker crust desserts precisely because of the thin, overly crisp, preservative laden taste of commercially produced graham cracker crusts.  This crust was fresh, slightly sweet, a little salty, and rich with the flavor of butter.  It was able to form a thick, perfect bed for the tart custard.  The custard was also everything I'd dreamed it would be--it had a smooth, light, sparkling lime flavor.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Quinoa and Avocado Salad with Dried Fruit, Toasted Almonds, and Lemon-Cumin Vinaigrette

I want to share this quinoa salad with you because not only was it delicious, but it's also really healthy.  Quinoa has been around since 3000 BC, but mainstream society seems to have just now discovered the health benefits of this little pseudo-grain.

Quinoa is native to South America, and is actually the seed of a plant related to such leafy greens as beets and spinach.  Since quinoa is a seed and seeds store all the nutrients they need to survive and grow on their own, quinoa is rich in protein and contains all of the essential amino acids.  In fact, it's such a superfood that it's been developed into a cereal to feed undernourished children, and is also being researched by NASA as one of the crops they should try to grow in space since it is such a complete food.  Pretty amazing for a tiny little seed!

I think I first heard about quinoa about 3 or 4 years ago, and now you can find it in regular grocery stores.  While I am really glad that it has become more available, there isn't a great wealth of recipes out there using quinoa, which is probably the only reason why I don't cook with it more often.

Recently I did stumble on a recipe that intrigued a coriander, cumin, and lemon lover like me: Deborah Madison's Quinoa and Avocado Salad with Dried Fruit, Toasted Almonds, and Lemon-Cumin Vinaigrette.  It can be found here on Fine Cooking's website.  Besides being excited by the spices and lemon, I also really liked the idea of nutty quinoa with buttery texture of avocado and the chewy tartness of dried fruit.  In addition, the salad contains avocado and almonds, two other "superfoods" that health experts are always recommending that we eat. 

I followed the recipe exactly, except I substituted the raisins and dried apricots for dried cranberries and dried apples (the fruits I had on hand).  The flavor of the salad exceeded my already-high expectations, and I felt really good about eating so many things that are good for me all at once!  I imagine this would also be good over mild salad greens for a complete (or rather, more voluminous) meal. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

An Attempt at Brioche

For Christmas, Georg got me Ginette Mathiot's translated, updated, classic French cookbook Je sais cuisiner (I Know How to Cook).  It's a brick of a book which contains nearly 1500 simply-written (but not simplistic) recipes that any French home cook should have in his/her repertoire.  Interestingly, it was translated into English and updated to suit the modern cook by Clotilde Dusoulier, the Parisian author of the food blog Chocolate and Zucchini.

I like the book...many of the recipes are beautifully photographed and the illustrations are interesting and eye-catching.  I also find it well organized and there really does seem to be a recipe for almost anything you'd want to make.  The writing doesn't get too superfluous, which I appreciate.  In the index lie several special favorite being menus and corresponding recipes written by famous chefs all over the world that you can use when you want to throw an impressive dinner party.

I usually find myself drawn to unusual recipes, but this cookbook has gotten me thinking about cooking French classics: vanilla souffle, green beans nicoise, baked eggs.  As a special first recipe to immerse myself into the world of French home cooking, I selected the I Know How to Cook recipe for Brioche.

Brioche is a dense, rich, buttery bread I've had on a few occasions.  It's soft and slightly sweet, and makes great French toast.  The dough contains yeast, sugar, milk, flour, and three eggs.  After this combination has had a chance to rise, you knead in a whole stick of butter to add to the richness.    

The dough turned out to be quite difficult to work with.  At first it was far too dry, and after I added a bit more milk it was sticky and stiff.  It was really difficult to knead.  I was worried, but my fears were assuaged when the rested dough rose to a big, yeasty pouf.

I proceeded to knead in a whole stick of room temperature butter.  The book said to add the butter a lump at a time, and to knead until each lump disappeared.  I followed the instructions faithfully, but in the end I didn't feel like I had the smooth, elastic dough I was supposed to have created.  I let the dough rest in the refrigerator overnight, and the next evening shaped the dough into one large and one small boule, which I then stacked on top of each other (this is a classic French shape for brioche).  I let the shaped dough come to room temperature and I even allowed it an hour or so of final rising time (which was generous, as the book didn't suggest rising any rising time).  When I felt like enough was enough (I had started the bread the previous day's morning) I brushed it with egg yolk, and then baked the brioche. 

On the plus side, it turned out shiny and nicely browned.  On the minus side, it turned out a much more rough and crunchy on the outside than I knew brioche was supposed to be.  The flavor is good--it's got the rich taste of eggs and butter, and you can't beat the fresh, yeasty flavor of bread that's just popped out of the oven.  But the texture is a little off.  Brioche is dense, but this bread didn't rise much after I took it out of the refrigerator and is almost heavy.  

A sampling I took from the brioche boule

I am still perfectly happy to slather the brioche with even more butter and some marmalade and eat it before I've even left the kitchen at completely unscheduled moments in the day.  I am looking forward to trying the brioche recipe again--I think I have to just be more assertive with the dough and knead it more thoroughly into submission.  I will probably also avoid refrigerating it for nearly 24 hours before baking; I wouldn't be surprised if the extended chill forced the yeast into dormancy.

Since I got I Know How to Cook, I also tried a delightful, layered, garlicky tomato and eggplant dish that turned out perfectly.  My next conquest will be vanilla souffle...stay tuned!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

I was really lucky at the beginning of this month to get to see a part of the world that not many people get to see...the Canadian North.

 It's funny, because when I was in college I randomly met this guy, and somewhat by chance, he got a job in Edmonton.  We moved to Edmonton and then, completely by chance, I got a job that I hadn't really been trained for at all, and through that job, I ended up traveling to this beautiful, remote part of the world called Yellowknife, where buffalo roam and the sky is in a constant state of sunrise and sunset.

Yellowknife was beautiful to visit and a place that I feel blessed to get to see.  While there, I bought caribou jerky, went dogsledding, and saw the Northern Lights.  It was awesome.