Archive for the ‘Course’ Category

Mini-whisk

Friday, April 17th, 2009

I come from a family of cooks.  We spend a lot of time jawing on the phone about what we ate last night or last week, what we’re making tonight, and what’s the recipe for that German Apple Pancake again?  When one of us cooks in miniwhiskanother’s kitchen, there’s the inevitable rummage in the utensil drawer followed by the incredulous question: “don’t you have a _______?”  Personally, I can’t believe my own flesh and blood survived without tongs for so long, and most recently, my mom helped me up my game with the small-but-mighty mini whisk.  It’s the perfect tool for blending oil into vinegar, or butter into some reduced wine for a pan sauce.   I am not one to spring for random kitchen gizmos (although egg pants are hard to resist), but this is a tool I now use at least three or four times a week.  Thanks, Mom!

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? 
cuisinart_smartstick
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!

    Cherry Orange Carrot Cupcakes

    Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

    These sweet cupcakes are fabulously moist and yummy, with dried cherries stepping in for the more conventional raisin, and orange-flavored cream cheese icing to top them off.
    Cupcakes
    2 cups sugar
    3/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
    3/4 cup applesauce
    4 large eggs
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    2 tsp baking powder
    2 tsp baking soda
    1 tsp salt
    1 tsp ground cinnamon
    1 tsp ground nutmeg
    3 cups peeled carrots, grated (this winds up being almost exactly a small bag of “baby” carrots, which I just dump into the food processor with the shred blade)
    1/2 cup chopped walnuts
    1/2 cup chopped dried cherries or more as you like
    Frosting
    2 cups powdered sugar
    1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
    zest of 1 orange
    2 tsp vanilla
    For Cupcakes:
    Preheat oven to 350. Set paper cupcake liners in 2 muffin pans to make room for 24 cupcakes (my muffin pans have 12 spots each). In an electric stand mixer, combine sugar, oil, and applesauce. Add eggs one at a time. Then add dry ingredients and mix to combine. Add carrots, nuts, and cherries, and mix again. Fill each cupcake liner with about 1/2 cup of batter.
    Place on middle rack of oven and bake until set, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow cupcakes to cool.
    For Frosting:
    Combine all ingredients in electric stand mixer and blend for several minutes until all lumps of powdered sugar disappear.
    You can frost the cupcakes by dunking them upside down into the frosting, twisting, and flicking a cute little peak over on top when you pull them out.
    I like to put a dried cherry or a sliver of crystallized ginger on top.

    Strawberry Shortcakes

    Thursday, May 15th, 2008

    Strawberry shortcakes are a quintessential early summer dessert. When my mother took my brother and I strawberry picking as kids, this was a much-anticipated and ill-deserved reward, since most of the strawberries we picked seemed to end up in our mouths or pelted at one another, rather than in the waxed-cardboard crates we were supposed to be filling. Those strawberries sang with sweetness and tangy flavor, and the sun heated them to a perfect temperature to melt in our mouths. Later that evening, quick batches of biscuit and whipped cream would make perfect companions to our pickings. My mother used to make one large biscuit and present the shortcake like a regular cake. I prefer to bake individual wedges, sprinkled with turbinado sugar for sparkle. Shortcakes will keep overnight in an airtight container. There’s no hiding lousy fruit here. It’s all about the berries. Make sure you get the freshest, farmiest, most juicy and deserving berries you can find, and serve them at room temperature.

    For Strawberries:
    4 cups strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced. Reserve 6 of the smallest, prettiest strawberries for a garnish. If some have long stems, even better.
    4 tbsp maple syrup
    For Shortcake:
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    3 tablespoons cane sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
    1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
    3/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
    1/4 cup milk
    1 large egg
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    3 tbsp turbinado sugar
    For Cream:
    1 cup well-chilled heavy cream
    1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
    1 tsp vanilla
    Preheat the oven to 425.
    Combine sliced berries and maple syrup, and allow to sit at least ½ hour to meld flavors.
    Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. Add butter and blend with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in zest. In a small bowl, mix egg, milk, and vanilla. Stir into flour mixture until a dough forms. Turn out onto a hard surface and knead for a minute or two until dough is smooth. Form into a 6-inch disk, and cut into 6 wedges. Sprinkle the tops with turbinado sugar. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden. Cool on a wire rack.
    Using a standing or handheld mixer, or a whisk and some elbow grease, whip cream until soft peaks form. Add sugar and vanilla, and whip until hard peaks form.
    To assemble shortcakes, split each one in half with a knife, place the bottom half on a dessert plate, and spoon most of the strawberry mixture on top. Top strawberries with most of the whipped cream, and cover with the top halves of the shortcakes. Spoon remaining berries around the sides and top each shortcake with a small spoonful of whipped cream and one of the reserved whole berries.
    Serves 6.

    Steamed Lobster with Two Dipping Sauces

    Tuesday, November 27th, 2007


    My husband and I recently had the pleasure of spending our Thanksgiving in Maine with my family and their neighbors. We had quite a few amazing food moments, few of which I can take credit for, including homemade pork sausage stuffing, homemade mozzarella cheese, oysters on the half-shell with homemade mignonette sauce, my mother’s inspired day-after-Thanksgiving Turkey Tetrazini Casserole, and traditional Ecuadorean Day of the Dead Bread Babies. We did manage to leave the state with a few pinchy crustacean souvenirs and one of my favorite breads in the world, a fougasse from the Beach Pea Bakery in Kittery, ME, which was a perfect meal after some nasty Connecticut traffic.

    Cooking lobsters is one of those things that seems intimidating, but it’s actually barely more complicated than cooking pasta. The absolute most important step is the purchase of the lobsters.

    The only truly delicious lobster is alive and has been caught within a day, preferably on the North American Atlantic coast. Supermarket lobsters have been stewing in their own waste digesting themselves for who knows how long (like, months), and it shows in the flavor and texture of the meat. Frozen lobster is so tough and stringy it’s not worth the price. Lobsters are sold by weight and sometimes by shell-hardness. The hardness of the shell depends on where the lobster is in its molt-cycle. Since lobsters grow about 20% during each molt, a soft-shell lobster which has just molted will fill up substantially less of the shell than a hard-shell lobster. Soft shell lobsters are generally about $2/lb less than hard shell lobsters for this reason. I seem to injure myself quite a bit less eating soft-shell lobsters — sometimes you’ll barely need a cracker — but some people feel gyped by finding space inside the shell. Either variety will taste amazing, so buy what you like.

    Once you’ve purchased the lobsters, keep them in a wet, cool place until you cook them. Putting the lobsters in a paper bag inside a plastic bag covered with wet newspaper and ice is ideal. You should cook them the same day you buy them. I’m a fan of dumping them out in the sink to watch them flop around for a while, and/or “racing” them in the bathtub, or waving them around at squeamish guests, but maybe I’m not the nicest cook. In any case, you should remove the rubber bands from the claws. Use kitchen shears and watch out if you like your fingers!

    To cook the lobsters, you will need a pot large enough to hold all the lobsters. A few small pots will work too. You’ll need about 2 inches of water in the bottom of the pot, heavily salted. The water should be as salty as sea water. Bring the water to a rolling boil, and in they go! To pick the lobsters up, make sure they’re right side up, and grab just behind the head. Again, watch out for claws. If you are a wuss, you can use tongs to pick them up. Place into the pot claws first, one atop the other, and cover tightly. Bring the water back to a boil, and boil about 12-20 minutes depending on the weight of the lobster. When the lobster is cooked, an antenna will pull off easily. When the lobsters are done, use tongs to grab them out of the pot and put them in a colander in the sink. Let them drain for a few minutes. If you like you can “start” the lobsters by snipping through the end of the claws and along the underside of the tail with kitchen shears.

    Now is the fun part! I like to serve lobster with two dipping options — classic lemon butter, and a very easy Saffron Chipotle Aiolli.

    Lemon Butter

    3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
    juice of 1/2 lemon
    pinch of salt
    optional: chopped tarragon or chives

    Combine ingredients in a small warmed bowl.

    Saffron Chipotle Aiolli

    pinch of saffron threads
    4 tbsp Hellman’s mayonnaise
    1 small clove of garlic, pressed
    juice of 1/2 lemon
    1/4 tsp chipotle powder

    Toast saffron threads in a small sauté pan until fragrant. Combine remaining ingredients. Crush toasted saffron threads into mayonnaise and stir to combine. Taste and correct seasoning. Let sit for at least 1/2 hour (this allows the saffron to combine with the mayonnaise, turning it an awesome yellow color.)

    I like to eat lobsters beginning with the small legs on either side, followed by the claws and then the tail, since the tail will stay warm the longest.

    Chicken, Bok Choy, and Shiitake Mushroom Stirfry with Brown Rice

    Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

    Growing up in Woodstock NY in the ’70s, I ate my fair share of tempeh, homemade yogurt, and stirfries heavily seasoned with any old spices or condiments that happened to be hanging around, particularly large doses of tamari (Japanese wheat-free soy sauce). In general, I’m not a huge fan of the whole Moosewood school of cooking, but every so often, I get a craving for something inauthentically Asian, by way of the health food store. My version here contains chicken (so there, vegetarians!) as well as bok choy, shitake mushrooms, and toasted almonds. You can be very creative with stirfries, but there are some key principles to follow:

    • Remember that each of the ingredients has its own optimal cooking time. After you’ve finished your prep, come up with a game plan for adding (and in some cases, temporarily removing) ingredients so that nothing is over- or under-cooked.
    • Just because it’s in your fridge doesn’t mean it belongs in your dish. Try to use ingredients that complement one another in flavor, sweetness, color, and texture.
    • Watch how much soy sauce/tamari etc. you use! Rather than indiscriminately dumping in more of any condiment when you need to add moisture to the pan, I like to mix up a batch of sauce that tastes balanced to me, which I usually make somewhat diluted with either water or broth. Then I add that instead of a squirt of soy sauce. That way you don’t wind up with any one flavor dominating.

    I like it with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast on top, proving that you can be nostalgic for anything.

    For the rice:

    Start the rice first, since it takes a while to cook.

    1 cup brown rice
    2 1/4 cups water
    pinch of salt

    Combine in a small saucepan with a tight-fitting lid (don’t cover just yet though.) Bring to a boil over high heat, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently for 45 minutes.

    For the stirfry:

    2 boneless chicken breast, cut into 1/8 inch slices
    1 lb baby bok choy, washed, ends removed, and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
    20 large shitake mushrooms, sliced
    1 bunch scallions, washed and sliced into wedgy-julienne (long diagonal slices, turning the scallion after each cut so that the layers of each slice will separate )
    1 small red jalapeno, cut into fine dice
    1 tsp vegetable oil

    1/2 cup toasted almond slivers

    For sauce:

    2 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
    2 cloves garlic, crushed
    1 tbsp rice vinegar
    1 tbsp agave syrup
    1/4 tsp toasted sesame oil
    1/3 cup chicken broth

    Combine all sauce ingredients except chicken broth, and taste. Should taste balanced, a little sweet, a little sour, a little salty. Add half the sauce to a bowl with the sliced raw chicken to marinate, and then add the chicken broth to the remaining sauce to use during cooking.

    Heat a large saute pan or a wok over high heat. Add vegetable oil, then the chicken, and brown lightly on all sides until chicken is cooked through. Remove from the pan and reserve. Add mushrooms and bok choy and saute for several minutes, until bok choy leaves wilt and their stems turn bright green and soften. Add sauce as needed to prevent sticking or the bottom of the pan getting brown & crusty. Add jalapeno and scallions, and saute for two more minutes, until the scallions soften. Add toasted almonds and serve with brown rice.

    Serves 4.

    If you have leftovers, combine the stirfry and rice, and saute in a little extra vegetable oil with an egg for some tasty fried rice.