Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When it rains, it pours.... peasant food

"stay off of your feet," the kind doctor told me.

Yes, a mere three weeks post food poisoning, I was attacked by fire ants and ended up couch-confined with a serious infection.  Some say this is the karmic result of my constant reference to the 1992 Ross Perot SNL skit describing the role of Texas fire ants in the death penalty.... I've always accused God of being a fair guy.

Regardless of nature vs. nurture or where an apple falls in relation to the tree, two days on the couch has forced me to embrace my biology: one half Milchovich who can't sit still and one half Atkinson who can make a meal from anything.   With the inability to peruse the grocery store, I was confined to the findings of our fridge and pantry.  Luckily, we received a farm share box three days prior to the outbreak.  With leftover veggies, and a pantry of staples I have been able to throw together two humble but tasty meals; one was a simple vegetable soup enjoyed with the Level Headed One, who took pity on my condition and completed 100% of the clean up.  The other was a pasta dish.  Leftover pancetta, veggies and whole wheat pasta came together in a wonderful meal that we enjoyed bowl after bowl.

BLT-ish Pasta
Recipe Created By: Lori Pierce
Serves: 4 
2 swirls of the pan grapeseed oil
4 ounces pancetta, diced
1 spring or yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp crushed red peppers
salt and pepper
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
3 fresh tomatoes diced
1 handfull of green beans trimed and halved
parmesan cheese
1 pound whole wheat pasta

  1. Heat a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat.  Add grapseed oil and warm through.  Add pancetta and saute until browned.
  2. Add the onion and cook stirring until softened, about 3 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30-60 seconds. Add the red pepper flakes and stir before immediately adding the tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer, lower heat and cook for 10-15 minutes.  Add the green beans and cook 5 minutes longer. 
  3. Meanwhile, boil pasta in plenty of salted water reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Drain pasta, do not rinse.  
  4. Combine the pasta and sauce adding cooking water as needed.  Garnish with grated parmesan cheese and enjoy.  
In an attempt to follow doctor instructions, I sat at the bar with my foot propped on an adjacent stool while chopping.  The husband helped with cleanup and we were able to avoid take out for one meal.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mommy's French Food

I remember the first time I watched my mother throw anchovies into her spaghetti sauce.  I was in my own moody preteen years, and found the whole thing repulsive.  Unmoved by my moods, my mother continued cooking and ultimately served my favorite sauces: spaghetti puttanesca.  This same angst has caused me to pass over pissaladiere. Anchovies fried into a sauce is one thing, biting into a whole anchovy is quite another. However, with the memory of my failed blini still fresh, I was hungry for a French Friday win.

The beauty of this recipe is in the minimal effort for delicious results.  The long simmered onions were elevated with the addition of chopped anchovies.  And, the crust was a work of art.  Not a crunchy thin crusted pizza, a true flaky French pastry that instantly differentiated this pissaladiere from your gourmet pizza.

Enjoyed with a glass of white wine, this is a meal to have in the midweek, or a great appetizer to have at an elegant dinner party.  Perhaps I'll serve pissaladiere this holiday season instead of blini!   

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hello Failure, it's me.... again....

Stories good and bad.... that was my focus this year.  On average, I have a pretty good success rate in the kitchen.  I have a few meals that don't get at least one good rating, and even fewer that go straight ot the trash.  Enter holidays.  I don't know what happens on the holidays but I cook for days and end up in tears.  I assure you, there are few things as pathetic as a thirty-three year old woman standing amidst 11 scratch made dishes with a glass of champagne in one hand and a kleenex in the other. Interestingly enough, I had the holidays in mind when I attempted the French Friday's with Dorie recipe for Blini with Smoked Salmon and Creme Fraiche.  Some traditions refuse to die.

I swear I followed the buckwheat recipe completely; precise measurements, resting time.... my result was a runny mess resembling some sort of ameba.  Tired, frustrated and worried the dough would ruin my brand new garbage disposal I slopped it into the trash and went to my recipe archives.   In my determination to not waste the smoked salmon and creme fraiche, I rediscovered Martha Stewart's Savory Shortbread.  With a few southern twists, I manipulated this recipe into the perfect canvas for our toppings, and quite possibly, an elegant addition to a Christmas Eve cocktail party.  

Savory Shortbread with Smoked Salmon and Creme Fraiche
Recipe Adapted from: Martha Stewart,
2 1/4 cup AP flour
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 cups Gruyere cheese, grated
1/2 cup milk
1 TB Worcestershire sauce
  1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and cayenne pepper and pulse.  Add the butter and pulse until the flour resmebles a coarse meal; 8-10 seconds. 
  2. Add cheese to the food processor and pulse to combine.  Add milk and Worcestershire sauce and pulse until dough just comes together. Have ready several pieces of parchment paper.
  3. Form the mixture into 2 one inch diameter logs.  Wrap each in parchment and chill in the refridgerator for at least 1 hour.  
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Unwrap chilled dough and slice into 1/4 inch slices.  
  5. Bake until golden, about 12 minutes rotating the baking pan halfway through.
These are divine treats that paired perfectly with the smoked salmon and creme fraiche.  I frozen the second log of dough and plan to defrost and test prior to the big Christmas Eve.... stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Saturday Soup

I have my moments that some would call dramatic.  Personally, I think I'm just a romantic.     When I envision life on a farm I think of beautiful sunny mornings enjoyed with family as I pick ripe vegetables  all the while dressed like Anna Nicole's Guess shoot circa 1992.  A bona-fide city girl, the closest I get to this vision is a weekly delivery from my CSA; a box filled with the freshest vegetables begging to be included in our weekly meals.  Having a CSA has brought more recipes into regular rotation than anything else;  it may be the best decision I have ever made as a home cook.  Faced with a box of veg, I often turn to one of my vegetarian cookbooks for inspiration.  Even as a meat eater, I find these an absolute necessity.  With vegetables sitting front and center, a vegetarian recipe is the best way to learn flavors, cooking techniques and most importantly, how to integrate new tastes to your everyday diet.

This week's CSA box included the season's first sweet potatoes and an array of spring onions.  Time to make one of my favorite vegetarian dishes:   Sweet Potato and Cashew Soup with Avocado Cream.  This healthful bowl of goodness with its tangy garnish is the perfect light lunch.  Ready in under an hour, we enjoy it on Saturday afternoons or as a light midweek meal paired with a salad.

Sweet Potato and Cashew Soup with Avocado Cream
Recipe By: Terry Walters, Get Clean
Avocado Cream:
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 avocados
1/4 cup plain yogurt
3 TB lime juice
1/4 cilantro leaves (I omitted)
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 medium onion
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 TB grapeseed oil
3 medium sweet potatoes peeled and chopped
1 cup cashews
5 cups vegetable stock (I used chicken stock I had on hand)
Sea Salt
1/2 cup scallions (I omitted)

For the Avocado Cream:

  1. With the food processor running, drop in garlic and process until minced.  
  2. Halve avocados, and remove pits.  Scoop out avocado flesh, add to processor and whip until smooth.  Add yogurt, lime juice, cilantro and salt and process until evenly combined.  
  3. Place in airtight container with pits to prevent browning and set aside or refrigerate until ready to serve. 

For the Soup:
  1. Place a large soup pot or Dutch Oven over medium heat.  Add oil until shimmery.   Add onion and celery and saute until soft, 4 to 6 minutes.  
  2. Add sweet potatoes, cashews and stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender.  Season to taste with salt. 
  4. Ladle into bowls and place a large dollop of cream on each portion.  Enjoy!
I used my immersion blender for this recipe, but can only imagine what a vitamix would do for the texture.  I did freeze individual portions of this soup, but without the avocado cream it tastes rather healthy.  Perhaps add a veggie sandwich to this lunch on the run for a full experience.  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Soup & Sandwich Sundays

I love Sunday dinners; comfort food leisurely enjoyed round the dining room table as family and friends savor what is left of the weekend.  I also love my husband and for several months a year am willing to give the Sunday meal a makeover to accommodate his favorite tradition: NFL football.

Though I've never been a fan of football, there is something about the smell of simmering soup and the sounds of sportscasters that take me back to the chilly northern falls of my youth.  Fast forward a few decades, I have actually grown to enjoy our new Sunday afternoons for the excuse to sit on the couch and leaf through magazines while my husband paces the family room and endures Pizza Hut commercials.  The perfect meal for these Sundays?  Soup and sandwich; not some condensed chicken noodle and a turkey on wheat but a thick and hearty soup paired with a pressed sandwich oozing with all of the indulgences of a weekend.  Add a few glasses of wine and a casual visit from friends; this is the stuff of greatness.

This soup was inspired by a recent issue of the Williams-Sonoma Catalogue.  Created for a Cuisine Art Soup gadget, it was easily reinterpreted for stovetop cooking.  With a hearty texture and rich flavors, this is a perfect soup enjoyed on the couch, at the dining room table, or from your thermos in the midweek.  

Smoky Lentil Soup
Recipe By: Williams-Sonoma
3 thick cut bacon slices, diced
2 TB Oil
1 Carrot, peeled and cut into a 1/4" dice
1 celery stalk cut into a 1/4" dice
1 large yellow onion, diced
1-2 garlic cloves minced
1 TB tomato paste
1 14 oz. can peeled tomatoes crushed by hand (I used 1 1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved)
3/4 cup Red Chief Lentils
1 quart chicken broth
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Fry bacon in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat until crispy.  Remove from the skillet and drain on a plate lined with paper towels.  
  2. Lower heat, and add carrot, celery and onion. Saute until soft, about 7-8 minutes.  Add garlic and saute until fragrant; 90 seconds.  Add tomato paste, canned tomatoes and broth.  Bring to a boil add the lentils and lower heat to a simmer.  Cover, and simmer lentils until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.  
  3. Using an immersion blender, give the soup a quick swirl; your intention is to puree about half of the soup.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.  
  4. Ladle into soup bowls and top with bacon. 
Williams-Sonoma recommended a Grown Up Grilled Cheese with this soup.  Finding their recipe a bit dull, I opted for Ina Garten's Ultimate Grilled Cheese.  An ultimate grilled cheese it was!

Ultimate Grilled Cheese
Recipe By: Ina Garten, How Easy is That?
12 slices thick cut bacon
1 cup good quality mayonnaise (I used Hellmans with olive oil)
1/4 cup Dijon Mustard (I used my homemade variety)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 loaf sourdough bread (12 slices)
6 TB salted butter at room temperature (I salted my unsalted butter to prevent buying two ingredients)
6 ounces aged Gruyere or Comte cheese
6 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Arrange the bacon on a baking rack set over a sheet pan in a single layer and roast for 20 to 30 minutes, until nicely browned .  Drain on a plate lined with paper towels and cut in 1 inch pieces.  
  2. Meanwhile, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, Parmesan, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Lay 12 slices of bread on a board and spread each one lightly with butter.  Flip the slices and spread each one generously with the mayonnaise mixture.  Don't neglect the corners. 
  3. Grate the cheese in a food processor fitted with the largest grating disk and combine.  Distribute the bacon evenly on half of the slices of bread.  Pile 1/2 cup grated cheese evenly on top of the bacon and top with the remaining bread slices, sauce side down. 
  4. Meanwhile, heat an electric panini press.  When the press is hot, cook the sandwich for 3-5 minutes in batches until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted.  Allow to cool for 2  minutes.  Cut in half and serve warm.  
These rich sandwiches are a meal in themselves.  This is certainly a meal that you can cook in the afternoon and completely neglect all eating for the rest of the day.  If you are lucky enough to have vegetarian friends stop by with cookies, sub the bacon for canned tomatoes and enjoy over wine.  This is what Sundays are made for.
Budget Note:  Batches of soup make quite a few portions; even this family can let them go bad before finishing an entire pot. My recommendation?  Purchase 1-2 cup tupperware containers and freeze individual servings.  These make perfect lunches on the go, or a last minute dinner on a chilly evening.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Classic with a Twist

I started cooking in the most American way..... it did not involve days in the kitchen with my grandma, nor holidays spent mastering family recipes.  Though my mother is a fantastic cook, she thought better than to move an unwilling ADD child into the kitchen to mess up her groove.  I started cooking from a Rival Crock Pot and a Fix it and Forget it cookbook.  About a month later, I had grown accustomed to skipping the drive thru, but was quite sick of soup.  My next cookbook purchase was entitled "chicken".  My aspirations were not high in the beginning years.  I still have that ten year old crockpot, and on occasion, break it out for a slow simmered meal.  

My family has come to expect chicken soup on at the first sign of a cold, allergies or general bad day.  As I walked my youngest into school last week amidst a sea of hacking children, I was sure fall's first cold was upon us.  This recipe from Food Network Magazine takes your everday chicken soup and gives it a twist.  With lemon zest, fresh dill and a sprinkling of feta cheese, this soup is delicious and unexpected.  Simple to prepare, it is the perfect thing to throw together pre work, and enjoy with a crusty piece of bread in the evening.

Slow-Cooker Chicken and Pasta Soup
Food Network Magazine April 2010 (adapted somewhat)
4 carrots quartered lengthwise and cut into 1 inch pieces
4 long strips lemon zest
4 sprigs fresh dill plus 2-3 TB chopped
kosher salt
4 skills, boneless chicken breasts
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup small pasta
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 bunch fresh spinach, stemmed
freshly ground pepper
4 ounces feta cheese
Lemon wedges and crusty bread

  1. Combine the carrots, lemon zest, dill sprigs, olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt in 5-6 quart slow cooker.  Season the chicken with salt and add to the cooker.  Add the broth and 4 cups water, cover and cook on low, about 8 hours.  
  2. About 20 minutes before serving, bring a small pot of water to a boil and cook 1 cup pasta according to package instructions. Drain, and reserve. (The original recipe suggests placing the dry pasta into the crock pot 20 minutes before serving.  I don't like doing this as I think the pasta takes on a weird texture.) 
  3. Remove chicken from the crock and using two forks, shred into bite sized pieces.  Return to the crock pot.  Stir the chopped dill, peas, and spinach into the soup and cover until the spinach wilts, about 2  minutes.  Add pasta, and season with salt and pepper.  Ladle into bowl and crumble feta on top.  Serve with lemon wedge and crusty bread.  
What a fantastic take on traditional chicken noodle; a perfect way to ward off your fall sniffles, or just end a long day in the cold. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Breakdown, Breakthrough?

In the two years that I've written this blog I have made several stabs at organization.  The most successful seems to be the most unsophisticated; I cook throughout the week photographing along the way.  The recipes I love get shared, the ones I don't....  This system sustained deadlines and hectic work weeks.  It did not however, sustain food poisoning.

Not sure if it was a faulty quick thaw of my farmer's market beef, or just a bad experience at the pizzeria but the past few days were nothing good.   Though able to hold down solid foods, browsing through photographs of food has been most unappetizing.  With strength on my side and tea in my hand I present what very well may be the only pizza I eat again.  Its vegetarian and gluten free.  Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor?

This recipe first caught my eye as a gluten free option that did not require a specified a mix or xantham gum. With a Grey's Anatomy premiere on the tube and leftover roasted beets in the fridge,  I let my imagination go wild on what ultimately became a delicious meal.  A bit labor intensive, this is not a quick mid-week fix.  It is however, a fantastic option to add to your pizza night in, or as I learned the next day, a great brunch option when topped with a poached egg.

Polenta Pizza Crust:
Recipe By: Terry Walters
Clean Start Cookbook
3 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp dried parsley (I omitted)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 TB extra virgin olive oil
1 1/4 cups polenta

  1. Over high heat, bring stock to boil.  Reduce heat to medium and add salt, basil, oregano, parsley, pepper and olive oil.  Whisking constantly, pour in polenta and continue whisking for 5-7 minutes until smooth and thick.  Pour into two 11 inch tart pans and spread evenly over the bottom of each pan.  Cool slightly and then refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm.  (According to the author, this can be done hours ahead of time) 
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place pizza stone or baking sheet on middle rack.  Remove polenta from the refrigerator, sprinkle pizza stone or baking sheet with cornmeal, transfer polenta to the stone or baking sheet and bake 40 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.  

Vegetable Pizza Toppings:
Recipe By: Lori Pierce
1 TB butter
1 yellow onion, sliced
2 beets, roasted and sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes halved
handful of sunflower or other micro greens
4 ounces goat cheese
kosher salt and freshly pepper
  1. In a skillet over medium heat, melt butter.  Add the onions, season with salt and pepper and saute for 10 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring occasionally for an additional 10 to 15 minutes until the onions are browned and caramelized.  
  2. Layer the onions on your pizza and top with beet slices, tomatoes, and dot with goat cheese. 
  3. Return pizza to the 350 degree oven and bake for 15 minutes, until heated through.  
  4. Remove from oven and sprinkle with micro greens.  Enjoy now, or the next morning!
More a fork and knife pizza than a grab a slice, this was fresh and oh so delicious.  The gluten free crust, made with readily available ingredients was an inventive take on a crust, and a suitable substitute.  Nothing like a pepperoni pizza, I think I will be trying this recipe again soon.