Archive for February, 2009

Immersion Blender

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

What would you rather do: A. dig the blender out from appliance Siberia, assemble it, plug it in, dump in ingredients, blend, pour blended things into glasses/bowls/back into a pot, potentially add a second batch or even a third and repeat the process, meanwhile dripping and spilling everywhere, then disassemble, wash at least 4 pieces, and then replace in appliance Siberia or B. grab a handy immersion blender where you keep it close by (since it is so small and so convenient), plug in, immerse in the food to be blended, already in it’s destination container, blend in one batch, either large or small, eject the business end from the handle, wash one piece, and replace in convenient nearby storage? 
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Unless I am blending something containing ice cubes and I need the extra torque, my answer is always B.  Here are a few of my favorite ways to use an immersion blender:

Pour berries (fresh or frozen), banana, yogurt, milk, and agave syrup or honey into a large glass pitcher — immersion blend and use the pitcher to serve and store extra.

Add a roughly chopped shallot, 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard, and 1/2 cup or more of olive oil to a large jar with a lid.  Blend, and use to dress your salads for a week.  Store the dressing in your lidded jar in the refrigerator.

For an easy vegetable soup, saute onion or garlic or shallot or leek or scallions in 1 tbsp of butter.  Add 2-3 cups of peas and lettuce, or chopped carrots, or chopped potatoes, or chopped tomatoes, or chopped beets, etc.   Add water or vegetable or chicken stock to cover.  Salt gently and bring to a simmer.  Cook until vegetables are tender, then immersion blend right in the pot.  Check seasoning and add salt if needed.  Serve hot or cold.

Diet Philosophy and Kickass Oatmeal

Monday, February 9th, 2009

oatmealI’ve been trying to migrate my family’s diet from an embarassment of delicious-but-naughty riches to one that’s healthier, but still delicious. The best way I have found to do this is to focus on getting more healthy stuff into our food, rather than removing things that may not be so healthy. I feel satisfied that we are getting a broad spectrum of nutrients, the good things come to replace the bad, and I don’t have to think about one of my least favorite words ever: “diet.” I don’t stress about a little bacon or butter, but I do belong to our local CSA, which ensures that we regularly need to eat through a wide range of organic vegetables, eggs, grains, and yogurt, and I do go out of the way to make sure our diet includes anti-oxidant and vitamin-rich vegetables, healthy oils and nuts, eggs and fish with Omega-3 fatty acids, and plenty of whole grains and fresh and dried fruits for fiber.

I started eating oatmeal for breakfast a few months ago, and it has developed into a minor obsession, and an important incentive for getting out of bed. I started out with a rolled variety, which cooks in just a minute or two, but I recently discovered McCann’s Quick and Easy Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal, which contains regular steel cut oats just like the original McCann’s, but they cook in about 5 minutes, instead of 30 for the original Steel Cut kind. I think they’re parboiled? Not sure, but they are infinitely better than the rolled kind — more nutty, with a less gloppy texture — and you won’t die of starvation waiting for them to cook. You can put anything you like on or in your oatmeal. Some of my favorites are:

  • Frozen berries — especially raspberries — the oatmeal thaws them out slowly as you eat it
  • Sliced Apples
  • Sliced Bananas
  • Dried Cranberries
  • Raisins
  • Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
  • Toasted Walnuts
  • Cinnamon
  • Demerara Sugar
  • Jaggery
  • Maple Syrup
  • Agave Syrup
  • Honey
  • A little butter or cream
  • Maldon’s Sea Salt — sounds wierd, I know, but try it with unsalted butter and demerara sugar and maybe some raisins and you’ll see what I mean
  • What to Do With Leftover Roast Chicken, Part 1

    Thursday, February 5th, 2009

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    Since my son was born, I’ve become an even bigger fan of things I can cook in the oven with minimal interventions before or after, so roast chicken is in even heavier rotation than before.  I used to be at a loss for what to do with the leftover bits, but I’ve come up with a strategy and a few options.  We eat the dark meat the night I roast the chicken, since the white meat is more flexible as an ingredient.  Then I save the chicken in a gallon freezer bag with as much juice and good stuff as I can scrape off the bottom of the roasting pan.  The next day I separate the white meat and the oysters (the little bits of meat from underneath the chicken) from the carcass and put them aside.  The carcass and any other bits, globs, or pieces go into a pot to boil with a few quarts of water, salt, peppercorns, some onion or shallot and whatever other aromatic vegetables I have, like celery, fennel, carrots, and/or parsley.   After it boils, I let it simmer for about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes, and then I strain out the solids, leaving me with a few quarts of really delicous stock.

    I can now make one of the following two meals for two with minimal effort:

    Chicken, Avocado and Walnut Salad with Spicy Pumpkin Soup
    Hearty Sausage, White Bean and Kale Soup

    Voila, dinner that no one will complain about.

    Chicken, Avocado and Walnut Salad

    1 clove garlic, smashed
    2 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
    pinch of salt
    4 tbsp walnut oil
    4 cups salad greens, washed, carefully dried, and torn into bite sized-pieces
    1/2 cup toasted walnuts
    1 avocado, thinly sliced
    2 leftover chicken breasts, diced

    Put the garlic, vinegar, and salt in the bottom of a large bowl. Gradually whisk in the walnut oil. Add the salad greens and toss (I use my hands for this.) Top with avocado, walnuts, and chicken.

    Spicy Pumpkin Soup

    1/2 tbsp butter
    2 cloves garlic
    1 1/4 tsp hot smoked paprika
    1/2 tsp ground cumin
    1 sweet potato, peeled and roughly chopped
    2-3 quarts chicken stock
    1 can pumpkin puree
    salt and pepper to taste
    cream for garnish

    In a medium, heavy bottomed sauce pan, saute the garlic, paprika and cumin for a minute or two until the raw smell comes off the garlic. Add the stock and the sweet potato, bring to a boil, and simmer until the potato is cooked through. Add pumpkin puree and blend soup together with an immersion blender (or in small batches in a regular blender or food processor, but seriously, just do yourself a favor and get an immersion blender.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a small drizzle of heavy cream in each bowl.

    Spicy Sausage, Kale, and White Bean Soup

    2 fresh Andouille sausages
    1 tbsp olive oil
    1 medium yellow onion, diced
    1 clove garlic, pressed
    1 tbsp tomato paste (I buy it in a tube, so I don’t waste it when I just need small amounts.)
    1 can white beans, strained and rinsed
    2-3 quarts chicken stock
    leftover chicken, diced
    1 bunch kale
    red pepper flakes to taste

    Gently heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Squeeze the sausages out of their casing into the pan, raise the heat to medium high, and saute until cooked through, breaking up with a wooden spoon as you go. Add garlic and tomato paste and saute for one more minute. Add white beans and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add kale and red pepper flakes, and simmer until kale stems are cooked through, about five minutes. Adjust seasoning and serve. Slices of baguette or other bread grilled in the broiler and rubbed with garlic are a nice accompaniment.

    Obama Shrimp

    Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

    shrimpEveryone should have a few dishes they can make just from things they keep stashed in their pantries.  Case in point, the night of the last presidential election, I was glued to the television all day long and hadn’t shopped for dinner.  I had some frozen shrimp, so I decided to check in with Mark Bittman, whose ingredient lists are usually pleasingly brief.  He has a recipe in his book How to Cook Everything, called “Shrimp My Way,” that he says people go nuts for, and which, besides the shrimp, only needed garlic, a few spices, and olive oil.  Being keen on things people go nuts for, I decided to try it out.  Needless to say, it is fantastic, especially on top of roasted Yukon Gold potatoes, or with a baguette, a nice green salad, an IPA or a nice Torrontes, and OBAMA!!!!

    Bittman calls for hot paprika, but I like to use hot smoked paprika — it adds a little extra zazz, and who couldn’t use a little zazz? I buy frozen uncooked shrimp, peeled and cleaned but with the tails on, which is the only way to fly.  Most shrimp you buy will have been frozen previously anyway, so why not buy them that way and have them whenever you want them?  To defrost just put them in a colander and run them under cold water for about 10 minutes.

    1/2 cup olive oil
    3 or 4 large cloves garlic, sliced
    1 1/2 to 2 lbs shrimp
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1 tsp ground cumin
    1 1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika
    minced fresh parsley or cilantro and lemon wedges to garnish

    1. Preheat the broiler to its highest temperature, and adjust the rack so that it is as close as possible to the heat source.
    2. Very gently warm the olive oil over low heat in a large, broad, ovenproof skillet or baking pan. My Le Crueset tarte tatin pan is perfect — heavy, and with 2 handles! A cast iron skillet would also be perfect. There should be enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan; don’t skimp. Put the garlic in the oil and cook for a few minutes still over low heat, until it turns golden.
    3. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the shrimp, salt, pepper, cumin, and paprika. Stir to blend, and then place immediately under the broiler. Cook, shaking the pan once or twice and stirring if necessary, but generally leaving the shrimp undisturbed, until they are pink all over and the mixture is bubbly. This will take from 5 to 10 minute depending on the heat of your broiler. Garnish and serve immediately.

    Walnut Oil and Zucchini-Walnut Spice Bread

    Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

    walnut021Roasty, toasty and mellow, walnut oil has recently become one of my favorite ingredients.   It is high in Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, and is polyunsaturated.  Whisked into some aged balsamic vinegar, with a little crushed garlic, it is a fantastic salad dressing, especially for a salad of roasted beets and goat cheese.  It also adds a delicate but warm complexity to zucchini bread.   Just after my son was born last August, my mother baked us a batch of this wonderful zucchini bread, which freezes beautifully, and helped sustain us through the early days and nights as new parents.

    Wet Ingredients:
    3 eggs
    1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
    1 1/4 cups canola oil
    2 1/2 cups grated zucchini
    2 tsp vanilla extract

    Dry Ingredients:
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
    1 tsp salt
    1 tsp baking soda
    1/4 tsp baking powder
    3 tsp ground cinnamon
    1 tsp ground ginger
    1/2 tsp ground cloves

    To Finish:
    1 1/2 cups walnuts, toasted and chopped
    1 cup raisins
    1 tbsp walnut oil

    Preheat the oven to 350º. In a medium bowl, combine the wet ingredients. In a large bowl “sift” the dry ingredients together by whisking them gently, then gradually add in the wet ingredients and stir just to combine. Fold in the walnuts and raisins, and then add the walnut oil last.

    Grease 2 large or 4 small loaf pans, and pour in the batter to about 3/4 full. Bake 45-50 minutes for small loaves, or 1 hour for large. Loaves are done when a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean (or with crumbs, but no batter.)

    To freeze, wrap in waxed paper, then in foil, and then in a sealable freezer bag. Will keep for several months!