Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cauliflower two ways (one might intrigue you)

 There is no magic in cauliflower. There is, however, nutrition, and, when properly prepared, flavor. I steamed a whole head of it and used half to make the puree below. It just has cream and salt and pepper added.

The other half (already steamed) served as the vehicle for a baked gratin. Some cheddar, some Velveeta, some grana padano. Oven at broil for about 10 minutes (the dish was about 8 inches below the heat source) Fortunately no one has to convince Peter and me to eat this stuff. If necessary, I am available to come to your house to twist arms..

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Nopales, cacti that can prick your conscience

I think a person could play table tennis with a piece of nopales in each hand. But then, I've never been known for my sanity. I do know this: you can grill these guys. Now I don't have a real grill, but I do have a stovetop unit. It does good work. You have to scrape off the little prickly things from the cacti, but that's not a huge deal. I've consulted with my sauce guru (Jenn of jennsfoodjourney) as to what would be a good complement to these do-dahs.
Her recommendation: “For grilling.. I would just drizzle them with olive oil and season with salt and pepper... slap it on the grill... simple simple.  Now, to jazz it up a bit, you could make a sauce..... something like mayo, lemon juice, garlic, worcestershire, parmesan cheese.... or sour cream, whole grain mustard, some lemon juice, salt and pepper..... “
I'm torn between the simple first method and the sauce ideas. Aha! I've got it: an avocado sauce with cumin and lime and Mexican crema – sort of like leaning toward guacamole.
I wrote the above a few days ago and just did the deed last evening. Peter refers to nopales as Mexican zucchini (that is, no taste and a nebishy texture). However, as I did with zucchini a few years ago, I found a method for my madness. This was fun. If you've never tried these Mexican ping pong paddles, slap your family with them some night. Then write – to me. And the Peter-meister liked them.

Grilled nopales

2 paddles per person, scraped free of needles
olive oil
1 avocado, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
Mexican crema to taste
cumin, to taste
lime juice, taste
salt and pepper to taste
Heat stovetop or other grill over medium-high heat. Brush the nopales with oil and grill about 4 minutes per side until grill marks appear and the cacti are tender. While they cook place the remaining ingredients into your food processor and puree. You will have to tinker with the texture and flavor. A lot depends on how many nopales you are preparing.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Baked beans (backup by Little Richard, "The Musical Fruitcake")

I sure do amuse myself. Even if I don't amuse all of you. I got a hankering to make baked beans day before yesterday. I had no intention of starting with dry beans (life is too short for that). I started with 2 cans of beans and, after wok-smoking them for an hour plus, added some flavor components. It took considerable tinkering to get a profile that satisfied me. I had limited resources, so if you wonder why there's no brown sugar in this, it's simple. I didn't have any. Here's how it played out.

2 15.5 oz cans of your favorite beans (mine were one of kidneys and one of blacks)
2 Tbs molasses
2 Tbs cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, chopped very fine
1 Tbs brown mustard
½ jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
2/3 cup chicken or beef broth
salt and black pepper to taste
Smoke your drained and rinsed beans by whatever means you have available for 1 plus hours. Stir in all remaining ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste and adjust as you see fit.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Nopales, no sweat

I'm glad to have something new to divert me from the endless chatter on CNN about Whitney Houston. For chrissakes, she's been dead for a week (and is expected to remain so indefinitely). I think they should keep her around and prop her up to sing the national anthem on opening day of baseball season using a tape of Rosanne Barr for the audio.

So, other than roasting a spatchcocked chicken (with some garlic powder, pepper and thyme) after brining it for 3 or more hours, I made a dish to accompany it that was surprisingly good. I was a nopales virgin until last night. I made a simple saute, combining a hunk of cactus with some zucchini and a jalapeno pepper that was lying in wait in the vegetable drawer. A bit of olive oil and butter, a bit of salt and pepper, and this was very satisfying. The only thing annoying about nopales is having to scrape the little pointy things off it. But, no matter. It takes only a couple of minutes.

No one of these three ingredients is impressive on its own. However, combined, they were a melange of delicate and toothsome textures and flavors. (Based on that last sentence I would say that my poetry book will be out soon.) All in all, the lesson here is that stuff combined with other stuff can really be good. So when you're shopping, just buy some stuff.

Monday, February 13, 2012

We used to like pea soup, but we gave it up for lentil

Peter devoted considerable kitchen time to this ambitious and rather magnificent dinner. Here he is in his latest guest posting.

This recipe began as health writer and cookbook author Jane Brody’s straightforward adaptation, published in Jane Brody’s Good Food Book, of a soup that had originally appeared in Bon Appétit. That particular cookbook—Ms. Brody’s first—based its nutritional information on the “food pyramid” unveiled by the FDA over 30 years ago as a guideline for Americans to adopt a healthier diet. The basic premise was that pasta, rice, bread, and grains should make up the bulk of the calories we consume, with fruits and vegetables the next rung up on the pyramid, followed by fish, poultry, and meats.
Those of us who crave potatoes, pasta and bread rejoiced when the FDA seemed to signal that carbohydrates were our greatest allies in eating healthier diets. Subsequently, of course, we all learned that not all carbohydrates are created equal, and that refined, white carbohydrates should be limited as part of our daily consumption, whereas whole grain carbs are salutary.
I began cooking from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book on a regular basis in the 1980’s upon receiving it as a gift from my former Wolf Trap Opera Company colleague, and dear friend, Eve Smith, who selected it upon learning that Stephen had been given a diagnosis of high cholesterol. While we had no idea at the time that the nutritional philosophy behind much of the book was to prove unsound, some of its recipes, including the original version of her lentil and brown rice soup, became staples in our diets. In its dingy brown color, that soup would never win any beauty contests, but it was hearty, filling, cheap, and extremely easy to prepare: basically, all that needs tidying up after prepping it is a knife and a cutting board, since all that’s involved until serving time is putting all the ingredients in a large pot, and simmering everything gently for about 50 minutes until it’s time to garnish the soup and devour it. As such, it’s the perfect dish to prepare on an inclement winter weekend afternoon while listening to a favorite radio program. Served with a salad of mixed greens or a simple dish of braised greens alongside, preparing dinner couldn’t be easier. Best of all, this is one of the recipes in Jane Brody’s cookbook that has withstood the test of time in its nutritional integrity: in its combination of a legume with a whole grain and vegetables, and absence of saturated fat, this is a very healthy dish. You can find her original recipe here:
The flavor profile of Ms. Brody’s dish, with dried thyme, basil, and oregano, and garnishes of chopped parsley and a glug of cider vinegar, could be deemed, “vaguely Mediterranean.” I would always toss leftover cheese rinds into the pot for an added flavor boost if I had them on hand; I’d sometimes switch out a shot of fresh lemon juice or balsamic for the cider vinegar; I’d frequently add a swirl of EVOO to garnish each bowl; and I’d always pass grated Parmesan or Romano as a final garnish at table.
All well and good, but my growing love for Indian foods and vegetable curries led me to do an internet search for a variant on Jane Brody’s lentil and brown rice soup that would send it to southeast Asia. No such luck: I found plenty of recipes for Indian lentil soups, and for curried lentils and veggies, but nothing that included brown rice. Undaunted, I made up the following. You really can’t go wrong with either recipe: I just happen to prefer my own variant. For one thing, unless you are either a vegetarian or a devotee of healthy eating, the original recipe, however, simple and demure, might remind you of some wholesome, modest country cousin, causing you to ask, “Where’s the beef?”
But my Indian reinterpretation has a complexity of intoxicating aromas as it simmers that will fill your kitchen, and that will carry over into a depth of flavor far superior to the original. One of the beauties of Indian cuisine is that the breadth of flavors in many of its recipes derives from the seasonings, with the addition of relatively little fat (in this case, virtually none of it saturated if you use nonfat yoghurt for your garnish, or leave it out altogether). It likewise allows you go go easy on the salt without the dish seeming bland. If you like plenty of heat, feel free to add some of the ribs and seeds from the jalapeno, or increase the amount of cayenne. No matter what, this is a dish that even carnivores and omnivores will appreciate, and the advantage in making it ahead is that the flavors will only deepen with time.
Like most soups and stews, this one is endlessly adaptable to individual tastes and larders. If, for instance, you’d prefer cubes of peeled butternut squash rather than carrots, go for it. I myself have added cubed eggplant on occasion, and, if you have leftover braised or sautéed greens, adding them in at the end will truly make this a complete meal, especially if you serve it with bread (I highly recommend both Trader Joe’s garlic naan and frozen paratha). If you don’t have leftover greens, the kale salad below, adapted from Aarti Sequeiro, is an excellent foil to this soup, as well as authentically Indian.
--1 cup brown or tiny green lentils (note: do not use quick-cooking red or yellow lentils)
--1 ½ cups brown basmati rice
--2 32 oz. cartons of either low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth, or vegetable stock (I recommend Trader Joe’s, the only commercial vegetable broth I’ve found with real flavor)
--2 cups water (possibly more if needed—see recipe)
--1 28 oz. or 35 oz. can diced tomatoes, with the juices
--2 medium large carrots, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, and thinly sliced (a heaping cup)
--2 medium ribs of celery sliced (include feathery tops), about a heaping cup
--1 medium onion, diced (about a heaping cup)
--3 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
--1 large piece ginger root, peeled and grated (about 2 tablespoons)
--1 large jalapeno, ribbed, seeded, and finely chopped
--1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
--1 tablespoon Garam Masala
--2 teaspoons ground cumin
--2 teaspoons ground coriander
--1 ½ teaspoons ground cardamom
--2 teaspoons ground Turmeric
--1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
--1 ½ teaspoons cayenne pepper (or to taste)
--1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
--1 ½ teaspoons ground cloves, or whole cloves
--2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
--kosher salt
--1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
--2 Tablespoons whole Garam Masala, freshly ground in a spice mill (whole Garam Masala is available at Indian markets, and through purveyors such as Penzey’s or Savory Spice), or use 2 tablespoons of freshly opened ground Garam Masala
--1 generous cup of plain yoghurt (any kind: Greek style is especially good here)
--juice of ½ lime
--1/3 cup of finely chopped cilantro or Italian parsley leaves
--Couple dashes of hot sauce of your choice (optional)
1. In a large soup pot, combine lentils, basmati rice, broth, water, tomatoes and their juices, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, ginger, and jalapeno. Brint to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer, and add all seasonings except salt. Partially cover, and cook for 50 minutes, until lentils and brown rice are thoroughly cooked. Season with kosher salt to taste (begin with a tablespoon, then add more as you deem necessary). The soup’s consistency may be thicker than you’d ideally want: if so, thin it to the desired consistency with more hot broth or boiling water before seasoning with salt. Soup can (and arguably should) be made in advance, cooled to room temperature, and chilled for up to three days (it also freezes well for up to 3 months).
2.) When ready to serve, return to a gentle bubble of a simmer if soup has been made in advance and chilled. Otherwise, remove soup pot from heat while you prepare garnish of finishing spice: in a small saute pan, place 1/2 cup of EVOO and freshly ground Garam Masala. On low heat, bring to a gentle simmer until spices are bubbling and aromatic, about 30 seconds to a minute. Remove pan from heat. Ladle soup into warm bowls, and spoon a tablespoon of your spiced finishing oil into each. Pass herbed yoghurt as an additional, optional garnish at table, along with Major Grey’s chutney: a tablespoon of either or both these finishing touches is a lovely enhancement, but not strictly necessary. Another lovely compliment is warm naan bread or paratha.

--1 bunch kale (any kind, but Red Russian and Black Kale are particularly good)--juice of one lemon, divided
--1/4 cup of EVOO, plus a generous tablespoon
--2 teaspoons of honey or pomegranate molasses
--1 ½ teaspoons salt
--freshly ground black pepper to taste
--Dash of your favorite hot sauce (optional)
--1 ripe mango, diced
--2 generous tablespoons of salted and roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas) or Sunflower kernels, or chopped pistachios.
1.) Stem the kale (you can discard the stems, or freeze them to add to homemade vegetable stock at a later date). Wash and thoroughly dry the leaves. Stack them, roll them up like cigars, and thinly slice them into chiffonnade ribbons. Add to a large bowl with half the lemon juice, a generous tablespoon of EVOO, and a teaspoon of salt. Using your fingers, massage all the ingredients together very thoroughly for about five minutes: you will notice the fibers in the kale leaves breaking down and wilting.
2.) In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the remaining lemon juice, honey or pomegranate molasses, black pepper, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and hot sauce (if using). Whisk in ¼ cup of EVOO, and thoroughly blend dressing.
3.) Add diced mango to bowl with massaged kale. Pour in dressing, and toss thoroughly to combine (Salad can be made up to a day in advance at this point and stored in refrigerator).
4.) When serving, bring salad to room temperature if you’ve made it in advance. Garnish with pepitas, sunflower kernels, or pistachios, and serve.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Superbowl dinner without the Superbowl

 Okay, many (or most) of you actually watched the game. We didn't. Peter has no interest in sports and I had no interest in these teams. However, I did want to have a Superbowl-inspired dinner. The components, chicken wings, crispy potatoes and creamed greens are just what the doctor ordered. Nothing complicated about any of this. Tasty deliciousness was the goal. I consulted two blogger friends, Chris of nibblemethis and Jenn of jennsfoodjourney. Why? 'Cause I had a bunch of Indian dry spices in a jar that I wanted to use. I also intended to cook the wings in the oven – I don't have a grill. And I wanted something to smear on them at the end to make them succulent. By combining their suggestions with some on-hand stuff I came up with the idea of smearing them with a puree of yogurt and mango chutney (a gift from earlier in the week).

Superbowl wings, twice-cooked potatoes, and creamed mustard greens
Dust the wings with an Indian spice mix (make it up yourself) and let them rest for 30 minutes (refrigeration not necessary). Roast them at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Flip them and roast another 10. Smear them all over with the yogurt and chutney mixture and put them under the broiler (second level, not the top) for 5 minutes per side. Check for doneness.

Boil the potatoes in salted water 15 minutes or until fork tender (2 1/2 inch red potatoes are perfect for this). Let them cool and then smash them down. Season with salt and pepper and shallow fry on both sides until browned and crispy, about 10 minutes.

Braise the greens until tender, about 20 minutes (with some garlic, salt and pepper). Add cream and paprika and a pinch of nutmeg and simmer until thickened slightly.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wok-smoked turkey sausage

This is remarkable easy to make. The hard part is waiting 3 days before you smoke or steam it. Nonetheless it is fun and can make a number of lunches or snacks.
Wok-smoked turkey sausage

1 lb. ground turkey (mixed white and dark meat is essential)*
1/3 cup shelled pistachios
1 tsp dried tarragon or 1 Tbs chopped fresh tarragon
salt and pepper to taste (if using fine grain salt, be very judicious - the nuts have salt too)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
½ tsp smoked paprika
Put everything into a large bowl and mix it thoroughly with your hands. Form into a log and wrap in plastic. Put it in the fridge to let the ingredients blend their flavors together. This can be an hour or two or a day. Jacques advocated storing it in the fridge for 3 days before cooking. I don’t have that much patience. Roll up a 1” ball and microwave it for 20 seconds to check for seasonings.
Line your wok with 2 pieces of foil. Soak 2 handfuls of wood chips in water for 30 minutes, drain and put into the wok. Wrap the sausage in a single layer of cheesecloth and put in on a rack over the woodchips. Once the smoke commences, it will take just about exactly an hour for the turkey sausage to reach the target temp of 165. The reason I consider the mixture of white and dark meat essential is that white meat alone will be dry and chewy. The dark meat brings flavor and moisture to the party.

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