Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring Fling Cocktail Party

How do you know when you've thrown a successful party?

When it's over you can't fit all the empty champagne bottles in your recycling bin.

Miss Social Butterfly Cassandra assembled a great bunch of friends at my place for a spring fling to celebrate her weekend vacation in the Mini Apple. The party did have culinary highlights other than the endless glasses of bubbly. Such as: a local cheese assortment from Surdyk's, an avocado and pea puree, and some sweet and spicy roasted nuts. Ang and Ben brought a killer chopped salad with tofu, sunflower seeds, and a ridiculous peanut butter/maple syrup dressing, and Katie brought some otherworldly 7-layer bars.

The avocado and pea puree was really delicious and so green and springy. I did follow the recipe's suggestion to put the puree on pumpernickel rounds. Sadly, the little loaf of pumpernickel bread I bought was dry and disgusting so the plate looked really beautiful but the taste was just so-so. I recommend this puree on crackers or veggies, or as a sandwich or wrap spread.

The sweet and spicy nuts got their kick from cayenne pepper and I overcooked them just a teensy bit but it didn't matter because they were still pretty good. Good enough that Terrin may have even said that they were better than the ones at 112 Eatery...whoa. I can not wait to put these nuts on a salad with some leftover Northern Lights blue cheese and pears.

And I also made Smitten Kitchen's chocolate pudding, which she calls "the best" but I call "the average." A rare disappointment from that blog. The instructions were to cook the milk, sugar, and cornstarch for 20 minutes but I cooked it for over 30 minutes and it still didn't get as thick as I would have liked it. Regardless, the pudding looked so pretty in the beautiful dishes my Aunt Barb sent to me from Japan.

Worry not - I do not waste food so the leftovers have already been put to good use. I found this cute popsicle mold in the dollar bin at Target last summer and my pudding was much better as a frozen pudding pop!

We started our evening at the yoga studio where Angela led us in a great class. Sorry for the cheesiness here, but the entire night filled me with such a sense of utter contentment. It was soul satisfying, even, to begin the night with inner focus/self meditation and then spend time socializing with such a great group of people. Thanks to all of you who came to spring fling with us!

Avocado and Pea Puree (adapted from Nigella Lawson)
2 avocados
1 bag frozen green peas, rinsed under cold water
1 large clove garlic
juice of 1 lime
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Mix all ingredients in a food processor. Garnish with a thin slice of radish if desired.

Sweet and Spicy Roasted Nuts (adapted from the Seattle Times)
5 cups raw nuts (I used walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, and peanuts)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water

Mix the nuts with all the spices and the brown sugar. Mix honey and water together and microwave for about 20 seconds or until honey is runny. Add to nut and spice mixture and mix well. Bake on a sheet lined with parchment paper (this is very important, otherwise your nuts will totally stick to your pan!) at 350 degrees for about 15-18 minutes or until nuts are a nice dark brown color.

Let cool, then break apart and try not to eat them all in one sitting.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fish Piccata, Roasted Broccoli, and Brown Rice

There is nothing in this world I love more than combining good people, good food, and good wine. A night with those three elements is guaranteed to make me happy. And last night delivered in a big way.

Cassandra is visiting MN for a weekend (yay!) and as usual I get to butt in with her family for a fabulous evening of eating, drinking, and chatting. Cass and I collaborated on the menu and besides the rice cooking time, it took only about 20 minutes of actual cooking to get this lovely meal on the table to feed six hungry adults and beautiful Elinor.

Cass made the rice - a short grain brown rice, cooked for 45 minutes in water with 2 vegetable bouillon cubes and a handful of chopped parsley thrown in at the end for color. It was delicious, with a nearly risotto-like creamy consistency.

We also roasted 7 broccoli crowns and 3 pints of cherry tomatoes at 450 degrees for 20 minutes. Just some good California extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and crushed pepper flakes.

The main entree was cod fillets pan fried with a lemon piccata sauce. The fish all fell apart as I was cooking it - which was disappointing for the presentation factor. But it still tasted pretty good and the piccata sauce was a nice bread-soaking agent.

After dinner, Cassandra leaned back with a completely satisfied look on her face and declared that she felt really good after eating that meal. As a cook, I can think of no greater compliment.

Fish Piccata
fish fillets - any white fish will work (you can easily substitute chicken cutlets pounded thin)
1/2 cup white wine
juice of 2 lemons
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp capers
handful chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Rub olive oil on fish and season with salt and pepper. Pan fry in skillet over medium-high heat a few minutes on each side until fish is firm and flakes with a fork. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Add butter, wine, and lemon juice to pan and cook until reduced slightly. Add capers, salt and pepper. Turn off heat and add parsley. Maybe throw in another pat of butter at this point. Stir it all together and pour over the fish.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

I'll never forget once when Alicia's then boyfriend (now husband) Nick took a huge scoop of roasted red pepper hummus on a cracker thinking it was some type of cheese spread. The little tub of creamy light orange goodness sure looked like some kind of velveeta dip. Unfortunately, he spit it out and was totally disgusted. At first I thought it was pretty funny, but then I felt really sad for the poor hummus.

Because of course you wouldn't like hummus if you're expecting a rich cheese spread. But if you appreciate it for what it is, hummus is amazing! I love cheese just as much as the next girl. But given the choice, I would have hummus over cheese nine times out of ten. While hummus tastes nothing like cheese, it is a very good (and healthier) substitute for cheese. I like it for dipping - crackers, bread, carrots, celery, cucumbers, etc. and it's also great as a spread on turkey or veggie sandwiches and wraps.

Hummus is light and fresh from garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) blended with lemon juice and garlic. It's slightly creamy from the beans and olive oil, a bit tart from the lemon juice, and this version gets another layer of flavor from roasted red peppers. Plus, eating hummus makes you feel good - it's full of fiber, iron, and protein.

I buy a lot of hummus in those little round tubs - usually around $4 for a couple ounces. But I thought I could be a little more frugal now that I know how to cook dried beans. So I made a batch of dried garbanzo beans (it made more than 3 pints, or 6 cups of beans) the other day. Remember, you can freeze beans and they defrost nicely!

And tonight I roasted red peppers for the first time ever! It was wicked easy, even though it does get kind of messy to scrape out the seeds and get the black outer skin off the pepper - but it's worth it!

I used one whole roasted pepper in the hummus, and the other one I covered with olive oil and am going to use in a frittata or on a pizza next week.

I ended up with four or five times as much hummus as the store-bought tubs, for about the same price. Good thing hummus freezes well so it doesn't go to waste!

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
1 roasted red pepper (or 1 jar store-bought roasted red peppers, drained)
2 cups garbanzo beans, drained (or 1 can)
3 large garlic cloves, grated on a microplane or put through garlic press
juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp tahini paste (this is ground sesame seeds and it's vital to the recipe for richness and creaminess)
1/2 tsp salt
fresh cracked black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

First, roast the peppers by rubbing them all over with a light oil and put on your gas stove burner (also works on an outdoor grill or under your broiler). Use tongs to rotate until it's charred black and blistered all over. It will pop and sputter and hiss as the water is released. Once it's all charred, put in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap until it's cooled completely. The steam will loosen the skin so it's easy to peel. Cut the pepper open and scrape out seeds. Turn over and scrape off the black skin.

Put roasted pepper, beans, garlic, lemon juice, tahini paste, salt, and pepper in food processor. Pulse until all chopped. Turn on processor and stream in olive oil until it's a nice spreadable and dipable consistency. Taste and add any other seasonings you think are missing (more salt or lemon juice? It's up to you!)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Warm Lentil Salad with Sunny Side Up Egg

I've had a bag of French lentils from the Seward Co-op in my cupboard for most of the winter because I wanted to try a lentil recipe. It was one of those things I kept thinking about but just never got around to. Let's face it, lentils are just not very exciting.

Then a few nights ago I was going to be cooking dinner with some friends and Terrin requested lentils. What a coincidence!

So I made this recipe. It's not the normal thing you'd eat on a spring Friday night. It's suited more to a cold winter's evening. But it tastes good and since it's so incredibly healthy, you won't feel guilty for all the red wine and chocolate (and later, vodka, vodka, and more vodka) you have afterwards. Photo courtesy of Terrin.

Warm Lentil Salad with Sunny Side Up Egg (adapted from this website)
1 pound French (or green) lentils
5 cups water
2 vegetable bouillon cubes (I like Rapunzel brand)
1/2 to 3/4 cup each onion, carrots, and celery, diced
1 bunch kale, ribs removed - dice both ribs and leaves separately
1 red bell pepper diced
juice of 1 lemon
parsley, chopped
parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Saute onion, celery, kale ribs, and carrot in some olive oil with salt and pepper. Add lentils, water, and bouillon. Simmer partially covered for 30-40 minutes or until lentils are tender. Drain. Saute kale leaves in same pot in a little bit more olive oil. When softened, return lentils and veggies to pot. Add diced red pepper, lemon juice, and parsley and stir to heat through.

Fry an egg sunny side up and put on top of a pile of lentils and kale. Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spinach Cakes

I'm not at all Irish, oh uff da no! But I am cursed with curls, freckles, and green eyes so I could probably pass for Irish if I wanted to. I'd love to hang out in a pub and have a pint with some leprechauns!

But I certainly wouldn't go Irish for the food...nothing about it is appetizing to me. Bangers and mash? Um, no. And whoever came up with the idea of corned beef was seriously disturbed. When did corn become a verb? Can you corn other things - like corned halibut? Can other vegetables be verbs? Can you make cauliflowered chicken? I'll pass.

I celebrated today in my own way not with Irish food, but with green food. These spinach cakes taste kind of like grass, and I mean that in a good way. When the temps are flirting with 60 for the first time and the sun is shining, I crave super light, healthy and nutritious meals. This certainly fits the bill.

The original recipe calls for fresh spinach and ricotta cheese. You could also do frozen spinach. However, I found bags of baby spring greens at my local grocery store for only 99 cents each so I used that with cottage cheese. They did turn out a tiny bit watery so I would recommend squeezing the greens in a kitchen towel after chopping.

Along with the spinach cakes, I had some multi-grain crackers spread with goat cheese.
Oh yeah, and a huge can of Guinness.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Spinach Cakes, adapted from Eating Well magazine
3 bags fresh spinach or baby spring greens, chopped in food processor and liquid squeezed out
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1 clove of garlic, minced
salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
freshly grated nutmeg
a few dashes of hot sauce or crushed red pepper flakes

Mix together ingredients and press into a greased muffin tray. I had enough for 7 muffins but I probably filled them a little too full. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mushroom Blue Cheese Pizza with Wheat Crust

Filled with confidence from my dried bean victory, I am wasting no time in taking on my other cooking fears. Today, it's pizza dough.

And, holy moly...I am so regretting all the times I didn't enjoy freshly made pizza crust. Guys, this is so seriously good I still can't believe I did it myself.

I found a recipe online that didn't require a stand mixer with dough hook (I don't have one and even if I did it wouldn't fit in my tiny house). The process was relatively simple and I ended up with 4 balls of dough - one I cooked up right away and the other 3 are frozen for future use. You will not believe how excited I was when I found the dough had actually doubled in size in accordance with the recipe! I may have screamed with joy and shouted my awesomeness to the ceiling.

Before rising:

After rising:

After baking, the crust was the perfect balance of crispy and chewy. I was able to pick up a slice to eat without it falling apart. Plus the wheat flour gives it a rich, almost nutty flavor that paired perfectly with my choice of toppings.

Last weekend I brought a cheese and fruit assortment as an appetizer to an awesome dinner party thrown by my friend Ann. Lucky for me, the blue cheese was not the most popular item on the plate and I had a big hunk of it left. I knew I wanted to pair it with mushrooms on this pizza.

So, while my dough was TOTALLY rising (like it was supposed to!), I caramelized a yellow onion, sauteed mushrooms, and melted the blue cheese. After stretching out the dough and baking for a few minutes, I added the melted cheese, onions, mushrooms, and chopped spinach. The top got a fine dusting of parmesan cheese and was returned to the oven to finish baking.

I don't know where this blog can go from here. It's seriously all downhill. Here I've been going on about roasting broccoli and poaching eggs...whoop-de-do. Now that I've made a kickass wheat pizza crust from scratch I can't imagine what can follow this. I'm quite full of myself right now. I may need to have my doorways enlarged so my huge head can fit through.

Wheat Pizza Crust, adapted from Allrecipes.com
1.5 cups warm water
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
1 packet active dry yeast (1 Tbsp)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
3 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

Dissolve sugar in warm water. Add yeast and let sit for 10 minutes or until foamy. Add oil, salt, and flour. Stir to combine.

Pour onto floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, adding more flour as necessary (I was only able to knead for 6 minutes until I got bored). Put dough in oiled bowl and cover with a towel, let sit in warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Cut into 4 equal parts and return to bowl for another 45 minutes to double in size again.

Now it's time to roll out with rolling pin (which I don't own, however I have LOTS of wine bottles which work just as well) and place on pizza stone (or upside down cookie sheet) dusted with cornmeal.

Bake at 500 degrees for 4 minutes. Add toppings and return to oven with lowered temperature of 425 degrees until done.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Garlicky White Beans with Veggies and Egg

2010 is all about overcoming my kitchen fears. And I have a few. The weird thing is, the things I'm afraid to try are probably the easiest and oldest cooking techniques out there.

One of these big bad scary things to me is dried beans. I like the idea of saving cash by buying dried beans, not lugging heavy cans back from the store each week, reducing waste, and having better tasting beans. But the overnight soaking, possibility for mushy beans, and all the other conflicting advice out there was intimidating!

Last weekend I decided it was time to kick this dried bean fear! I bought a pound of cannellini (white kidney) beans at the co-op. I also had a bag of black beans in my cupboard. Using the instructions on the back of the bag, I was able to make TONS of both kinds of beans for a total of about $3 and 3 hours of my time.

It went something like this: rinse 1 pound beans, cover with 6 cups water, boil rapidly for 1 hour, drain and rinse beans, cover with 6 more cups water and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally and salting after 1 hour. It may take less than 2 hours if your beans taste done.

The best part about making dried beans is that it makes so many and they won't go to waste. Just freeze the beans in their cooking liquid and you'll have beans ready to go!!!

Afraid no more, I went and bought some dried garbanzo beans so I can fill my freezer with another variety! How great will it be to have those chickpeas on hand to make fresh hummus whenever I feel like it?? FEAR = CONQUERED!!!

Tonight I used the cannellini beans in a great recipe inspired by Eating Well magazine. You must click on the link to see how delicious their photo looks! I didn't have all the right ingredients so I improvised a little bit and it turned out SO good.

Garlicky White Beans with Veggies and Egg
broccoli, cut into florets
grape tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
white beans

Roast broccoli and tomatoes until tomatoes burst and broccoli is charred. Heat a couple tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a skillet and add garlic. Cook for about 1 minute and add beans. Add broccoli and tomatoes.

Make a well in the middle of your veggies and beans and crack an egg into it. Cover and cook 3-7 minutes, depending on how done you like your yolk.

Serve egg, beans, and veggies on top of toasted whole wheat bread.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Roasted Vegetable Tart

My reputation is spreading. I must talk about food, cooking, and recipes a little too much. But it does have perks...someone I work with recently brought me a stack old Eating Well magazines because he heard I like to spend time in the kitchen.

While perusing the December 2008 issue this morning, I found this recipe and immediately started writing out a grocery list. It's my usual roasted veggies (which I seem to eat constantly this winter) but with a simple wheat and cheddar crust that looks all fancypants after baking in a tart pan.

You would think the tart tastes pretty bland...just veggies and crust. But the secret ingredient is a thin layer black olive tapenade hiding between the veggies and crust. And I still had a little container of homemade tapenade in my freezer from last summer.

Add some chunks of creamy, yummy goat cheese on top (if you don't like goat cheese you can substitute feta or parmesan) and you've got a beautiful twist on the usual roasted veggie supper.

The crust has a nice texture from the cornmeal (maybe it was a tiny bit on the dry side) and I wish I would have used more veggies, specifically more grape tomatoes because they add a really nice juiciness to counteract the crust. Overall, I really liked this tart. I would like to make it again but in muffin tins for individual veggie tarts as an appetizer.

Roasted Vegetable Tart (from December 2008 Eating Well Magazine)
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup cornmeal
4 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp ice water

Mixture of any winter veggies (I used broccoli, red and yellow onions, mushrooms, and grape tomatoes) cut into bite-sized pieces
Garlic cloves, leave skin on
1 Tbsp vinegar (recipe calls for sherry vinegar but you can use balsamic or red wine, too)

black olive tapenade
goat cheese

Put veggies and garlic cloves on a baking sheet and cover with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 25 minutes at 450 degrees, or until they smell good and have burnt-char marks on veggies. Pull out garlic cloves and let them cool. Toss the rest of the hot veggies with the vinegar. When garlic has cooled, squeeze out of skins and add to the other veggies.

In the meantime, put flour, cheddar, and cornmeal in food processor and pulse to combine. Add butter one piece at a time, pulsing a few times after each addition. Add oil and ice water and pulse until a crumbly texture forms.

Press crust mixture into greased tart or pie pan and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

Top crust with a layer of black olive tapenade and the roasted veggies. Sprinkle crumbled goat cheese on top and bake for another 25 minutes or until cheese and crust have browned.

Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

ONE YEAR AGO: Baked Coconut Shrimp