Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Summer's Bounty: Zucchini Fritters

It’s that time of year where our zucchini plants are most prolific and I try to find innovative ways to prepare our bounty of squash. I make noodles out of them with my mandoline and serve with a warm pasta sauce or cold with an Asian-flavored sauce, bake loaves of zucchini bread, and make a quick zucchini/green bean salad. I add them to chili, grill them on the barbeque, and slice them into salads. But I needed something more.

This led me to zucchini fritters and I have been trying out different recipes the last few weeks. My favorite is one from Bon Appetit (July 2013). The recipe itself is solid and needed no adjustment, but my one change was swapping out the soy dipping sauce. I prefer a creamy sauce, one that utilizes our lemons and makes the fritter look more like a potato pancake when dressed. I’ll include both sauce recipes below so you can choose which you prefer. I am thinking these might even be good in a smaller version, served as an appetizer.

The recipe was easy enough and preparation and cooking time were minimal. The majority of the time was spent draining the zucchini of excess water. While you can use a standard cheese grater for the zucchini, I highly recommend using a food processor or mandoline to grate the zucchini, as you tend to get better strands.

The fritters fried up quickly in a minimal amount of oil and can be kept warm in the oven as you finish the batch. Do not crowd the fritters. Most skillets will accommodate 4-5 fritters at a time, and you will need to make at least 2 batches.

Zucchini Fritters
1 1/2 pounds zucchini (about 3 medium), grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
1 large egg
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Place grated zucchini in a colander set in the sink and toss with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Let stand for 10-15 minutes, then wring zucchini dry in a clean kitchen towel. Place zucchini in a large bowl and gently mix in egg, flour, chives, and cornstarch; season with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Drop 1/4-cupfuls of zucchini mixture into skillet, flattening slightly; cook until golden and crisp, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer fritters to a paper towel–lined plate; season with salt. Repeat as needed.

Note: Fritters can be made 30 minutes ahead. Keep warm in a 200° oven.

Lemon-Garlic Sauce
1 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt

Mix all ingredients in small bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld.

Soy Dipping Sauce
3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
Crushed red pepper flakes

Mix vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and a pinch of red pepper flakes in a small bowl until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Boysenberry Bonanza: Ice Cream and Macarons

What a difference 4 days make! We made a quick trip to watch our nephew compete in the Junior National Volleyball Championships and came home four short days later to a bounty of boysenberries. This is our first year of full production off our 3 thornless boysenberry plants, staked up to the fence along our driveway (making it a bit difficult to park during the blooming summer months!). They were just dripping with berries, yielding 8 pints upon our return. Every two days since then I am able to pick another 3-4 pints. So I have been getting creative with this boysenberry bonanza.

Not one to waste such deliciousness, and being short on time initially, I processed the majority of that first batch berries using the IQF method. IQF stand for individual quick freeze and involves placing the berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freezing them until hard. This allows you to pack them in a large Ziploc bag without them sticking to one another.

I also combined the berries with Blenheim apricots that I picked up at LJB Farms to make an apricot-boysenberry crisp for a 4th of July fete. Every year I get one lug of Blenheims and make the most wonderful apricot-vanilla jam. Blenheims ripen and have a limited window of time of about 10 days each June/July, so I have to watch closely for their availability. (I think someone needs to figure out a way to lengthen that season!!!)

But the real winners so far in my boysenberry fest were served at last Sunday’s family dinner. I made homemade boysenberry ice cream and boysenberry macarons. Not sure what got into me, as the weather was very hot and baking wasn’t really the smartest thing to do, but I had a yen for macarons, so there you go. I can think of worse things to do on a hot day but the end result, and a grateful family, made it all worth it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Sundried Tomato Tapenade

Godmothers are wonderful creatures. They are an endless supply of love, wisdom, and wonderful recipes. My godmother, Joyce, has been exceptional on all points. Last year, she guided my attempt at sweet potato gnocchi that was a rousing success. Soft orange pillows bathed in brown butter and sage, they have become part of my permanent repertoire. More recently she sent me a recipe for a tapenade, that wonderfully salty olive mixture that pairs perfectly with a fresh baguette or tossed with pasta. Of course, I couldn’t help but tinker with the recipe, fine-tuning it to my own tastes and pantry.

This take on tapenade features sundried tomatoes and sautéed onion, adding some heft and flavor to the chunky mixture. The end result was fantastic, with the family mounding spoonfuls onto thick slabs of bread, being completely devoured in a matter of seconds. The preparation is simple, and makes enough for a cocktail party or, in our case, two family Sunday dinners. Ingredients are available year-round, so no need to limit it to one season. Take it on a picnic, serve it at the holidays, and pair it with a hearty red wine. You won’t be disappointed.

Sundried Tomato-Olive Tapenade

1 medium red or purple onion, minced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 8.5-ounce jar sundried tomatoes (packed in oil)*
1/2 cup large green olives (manzanilla, sevillano, or similar)
1/2 cup cured black olives (kalamata, nicoise, etc.)
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
Approximately 1 3/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
fresh cracked pepper
Optional: 1 teaspoon cracked red pepper flakes

Heat one tablespoon each of butter and vegetable oil in frying pan over medium heat. Add minced onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until just turning brown. Add balsamic, scraping up any brown bits stuck to the pan. Remove from heat.

Drain sundried tomatoes, reserving oil. Roughly chop the tomatoes and place in a bowl. Pit olives, if necessary, and roughly chop, adding to the tomatoes. Mince the fresh basil leaves and add to the bowl. Stir in the onion mixture. Add 1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper, stirring well. (If you like a spicier tapenade, you can add cracked red pepper flakes.)

Pour reserved oil from tomatoes into a measuring cup. Add olive oil to make 2 cups total. Add to tomato-olive mixture and stir well. Pour into large jar or Tupperware and allow to sit overnight.

The following day, using a food processor, stick blender, or traditional blender, process the mixture with a few quick pulses. Do not over-blend, as you want a somewhat chunky texture. Add additional black pepper to taste. Serve with slices of sourdough, rustic country, or french bread for dipping. 

*Trader Joes makes a julienned version that works perfectly

Monday, May 27, 2013

Prohibition Party: Apple Pie Moonshine

Brilliant Daughter celebrated a milestone birthday this year. True to family tradition, she hosted 15 friends and family to a weekend getaway in Cambria to “roar out her 20’s.” The theme: Prohibition.  

I prepared much of the food and drink, all of which had an era-appropriate theme or play on words. One of the more popular items was found in the guests’ goodie bags: Apple Pie Moonshine, or as it is better known “Mrs. B’s Miracle Elixir.” (Yes, adults also get goodie bags when they attend one our weekend soirees!!)

I cooked up two batches of this tasty liquor, which I then “aged” and bottled in glass flasks. Brilliant Daughter designed an appropriate label, and I dipped the lids in wax to give it an old-timey flair.

While this takes a few hours to make, the process was not only simple, it made my house smell like heaven. Apple cider and juice, spiced with cinnamon boiling away on the stove. Honestly, the aroma was just like a fresh-baked apple pie!

I spent a couple of hours researching different recipes. Finally boiled it down (pun intended) to the following, which I thought would have a strong enough apple flavor and be more like a liquor or liqueur than a wine. And boy was I right. This liquor is smooth, goes down mighty easily, and tastes just like an apple pie.

While you start with 151-proof grain alcohol, by the time you boil down the juice mixture and add it in, I estimate it is more like 70-proof.

1 gallon apple cider
1 gallon apple juice
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
8 cinnamon sticks
1 liter 151-proof grain alcohol (aka Everclear)

In a large stock pot, combine the apple cider, apple juice, sugar, and cinnamon sticks. Bring to a boil, and continue boiling until reduced by half (this takes several hours).

Allow to cool and add the grain alcohol. Allow to age for 30 days.

Pour into sterilized mason jars or flasks. Enjoy sparingly!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Anytime Treat: Mocha Chip Shortbread Cookies

Dieting means I have sworn off a lot of food items, including sweets. Not an easy task when you have a sweet tooth like me. But I recently needed to check out some recipes to serve at Brilliant Daughter’s big birthday celebration. I found a base recipe (which I adjusted to suit my own tastes) for a cookie that combines 3 things we love: shortbread (we are of British descent after all), coffee, and chocolate. How could I go wrong?

While I am a committed Peet’s coffee drinker, one of my recipe modifications makes use of Starbuck’s instant Via coffee packets. We received some as a gift and every time I open the coffee cabinet I wonder what I will do with them. No longer, as they are the perfect ingredient for this recipe.

These shortbread cookies are rich, full of flavor and crunch and perfect with a scoop of coffee ice cream or a piping hot cappuccino (not that I can indulge, mind you). I promise that I taste-tested both batches—one with cocoa nibs and one without—and they are really, really good. I mean, addictive good. I had to package them up for the butchers, Mr. B’s co-workers, Brilliant Daughter’s co-workers, and for Electrician Son and his fiancée, otherwise my diet would have been blown to hell. Down 17 pounds, with only 8 to go, I am determined, scrumptious cookies or no….

So go ahead, give them a try. If you like a little extra crunch, add in the cocoa nibs. If not, they are perfect with the mini chocolate chips alone (Brilliant Daughter’s preference).

Mocha Chip Shortbread Cookies

3 packets Starbucks Via Columbian coffee powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1/4 cup cocoa nibs (optional)

Dissolve coffee powder in boiling water to make coffee concentrate. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat butter and sugar together on medium speed for 3 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in vanilla bean paste and coffee concentrate, mixing for 1 minute. Reduce mixer speed to low and add flour, mixing just until all specks of flour are gone. Don’t overmix the dough as it will get tough. Quickly fold in the chocolate chips (and cocoa nibs).

Transfer dough to a gallon-size Ziploc or between two large sheets of waxed paper. Flatten dough with you hand as much as you can, and then use a rolling pin to roll it out to ¼-inch thickness. Try and keep it as square or rectangular as you can. You will need to periodically lift plastic or waxed paper up to remove any creases that occur. Once you reach correct thickness, seal bag or fold paper over ends and refrigerate for 2 hours or more (up to 2 days).

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Prepare cookie sheets with parchment or silpat.

Cut open plastic bag or peel off top waxed paper. Using ruler and knife (or pizza cutter), cut dough into 1 1/2–inch squares. Transfer to prepared cookie sheet and bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating trays halfway through. Cool on baking racks.

Yield: 3 dozen

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The Bane of a Happy Cook

I love to cook. I love food. I love my kitchen. All three things combined make me terribly happy, particularly when preparing meals for people I care about. Digging my hands into flour, kneading dough, harvesting herbs for a stew, chopping vegetables, and frosting cupcakes all bring me joy and an amazing calm. I am probably at my best when spending long hours in the kitchen. But there is a downside….

I insist on tasting things I make, particularly if they are newer recipes or creations. I will not serve something sub-par, or if I do out of desperation I hang my head in shame while my family consoles me. But those tastes, those final products, all that wonderful glorious food seems to attach itself to unwanted places on my body. This wasn’t always the case, but age, metabolism, menopause and a slowdown in physical activity have made the area between by waist and knees a prime target for (sigh!) fat.

Much to my family’s dismay, I have drastically cut calories. They are amazed at the small amount of food I now intake. I rarely serve desserts at Sunday dinner anymore, and should I feel the need to bake, I do so and then package it up to send up to the my son’s butcher buddies, my husband’s workmates, or various family and friends. I can no longer fill my cake domes with goodies for the taking. I just cannot have it in the house, which makes me terribly sad. Everyone who visits knows where the goodies reside and an empty counter means empty tummies. I hate that others have to suffer at my expense.

So, one of the reasons I have not been posting is that I have embarked on a personal renewal program. I started by constructing a diet that would work for me, and 8 weeks later I was down almost 7 pounds. I began taking walks several times a week, mostly by  myself, but occasionally with Brilliant Daughter or Mr. B.

Two weeks ago, in an effort to ramp up the weight loss, I  consulted a doctor and began a medically supervised weight loss program. I also added yoga to my regimen and am making more of an effort to work with some light weights (to deter that unsightly upper arm flap).

I’m almost halfway to my goal and to a closet full of clothes that have not fit in some time. I am feeling lighter, stronger and better able to resist temptation. Unfortunately, my cooking creativity has gone by the wayside for the moment, but I know this is just temporary, much like the empty cake dome.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

My New Obsession: Rainbow Kale Salad

Last weekend, while on a jaunt to Napa Valley, I saw a farro and kale salad on the menu. While I did not try it, the combination intrigued me, so I set about the make my own version of this healthy dish.

While perusing the produce aisle for ingredients, I found an organic rainbow kale salad (described as a variety of seasonal kales and carrots). The green, purple and orange hues were beautiful and intrigued me, not to mention that the already cleaned and chopped kale would make my job easier, so I grabbed a tub to use as the base of the salad.

Farro is a staple of my pantry, thanks to Giada DeLaurentis, who makes a farro salad with course pesto that is scrumptious. Farro is a variety of wheat that originated in the Haute-Savoie region of France, and is also used in Italian cooking. It has become popular enough that it is now stocked in most of our local grocery stores.

Then I just got creative, letting my palate guide me. I decided to roast the kale salad to get a good crisp on it, mixing it with a bit of olive oil and truffle salt. I just boiled the farro in broth, and poached a few chicken breasts for added protein. Tossed with some additional olive oil, some fresh lemon juice and zest, with a good measure of both parmesan cheese and fresh ground pepper, and we had a healthy one-bowl meal, with plenty left over for lunches.  (A vegetarian version can be made by replacing chicken broth with vegetable broth and omitting the chicken. Vegans can omit cheese.)

A week later, I made a slightly different version, adding a half a slivered onion and a few chopped mushrooms to the kale roast, tossed in some leftover grilled chicken, and topped it all with a miso dressing.  Again, a winning combination.

I’m thinking there are endless variations to this kale salad, both cooked and uncooked. What would you do with it?

Kale-Farro Salad

2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 cup farro
pinch salt
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
8-ounce bag/clamshell rainbow kale salad
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon truffle salt
1/8 cup olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Bring broth, water, and a pinch of salt to boil in medium saucepan, add farro and stir. Cover slightly and cook for 22-25 minutes stirring occasionally, until liquid is almost completely evaporated.

Meanwhile, poach 2 chicken breasts in water. Depending upon size of breasts, this should take 20-25 minutes.

Place kale salad in roasting pan, toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with truffle salt. Roast in oven for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until you’ve got some of the kale nicely browned.

Shred or chop chicken and add to farro. Add in roasted kale salad, 1/8 cup olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and parmesan cheese. Toss well. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste.

Serve immediately for a warm salad or refrigerate for an hour or more and serve cold.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Eating Suburbia Cookbook Now Available!

You heard it right, there is a new cookbook by Mrs. B…and Brilliant Daughter. A loving collaboration between the two of us for friends and family, we’ve been able to make it available to the public on Amazon.

Named after this blog, Eating Suburbia is a follow-up to Eat · Drink · Merry, a cookbook that debuted in 2010. That first book—a compilation of family favorites—was a product of this blog and our love of food. Three years and hundreds of recipes later, this second book is following in those footsteps.

I had a blast working with Brilliant Daughter on recipe testing, formatting, design. And for those of you who have eaten in our home, you should easily figure out the impetus behind the cover design. This time around we made the cover very personal (and probably less commercial), paying homage to the 4x6’ chalkboard that hung in our kitchen for almost 15 years. Our “communications center,” this utilitarian wall décor served us well, keeping track of shopping lists, phone messages, chore duty, family contact information, and, during holidays, became an oversized greeting card for our guests. And although it was retired when we remodeled, the fond memories linger and became the inspiration.

The effort behind these cookbooks is to encourage cooks to break out of a cooking rut and spice up the kitchen with fresh ingredients and some foreign flavors. As I’ve said before, I believe that the world might be a better place if the canned veggies, packaged cookies, and oversweet jams were left on the shelves, and we spent a little time digging into the garden and flour bag and treating our families and ourselves to something better.

By sharing, we hope that someone will take the next step in the kitchen by trying to make mujadara, Guinness bread, a spicy tuna roll, or the perfect pecan pie, and know that it doesn’t have to be complicated and that the end result speaks for itself.

This book is comprised of eight sections: Breakfast, Appetizers, Lunch, Dinner, Sides, Quick & Easy, Desserts, and Odds & Ends. Sidebars contain tips on shortcuts, cooking ingredients and sources. There is a bonus section in the back that contains the 10 most treasured recipes from our first cookbook, Eat · Drink · Merry.

All recipes were tested in our suburban kitchens, without any fancy equipment (unless a candy thermometer and Kitchen Aid mixer count as fancy). All ingredients are easily sourced and the majority of the recipes take less than one hour. So what are you waiting for? Take a chance, make a change—your stomach will thank you for it.

To order Eating Suburbia, head on over to Amazon here.

If you don’t have our first book, it’s still available on Lulu here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Thumbprint Cookies with a Twist

We are a household who will eat pretty much anything and we have few food allergies or intolerances, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t try and please those who are vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free. We know quite a few people who prescribe to those diets and I think food should be just as tasty for them as it is the rest of the world.

For some time I have been hunting for a decent vegan cookie. One that I myself would eat and that wouldn’t take ingredients not already in my pantry. I finally found upon a recipe, that I modified slightly and am proud to blog about.

These thumbprint cookies use almond meal instead of flour. (Almond meal, as well as coconut oil, is available at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.) The almond meal holds up well and provides for a sweetness that negates the use of traditional sweeteners. The small amount of maple syrup is just the right touch. Best of all, these are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free!

Friday, February 01, 2013

Full Circle: A Thai Cooking Lesson

Many (many) moons ago, I worked on the very first book that Travelers’ Tales ever published, a travel anthology on Thailand. And while I’ve worked on over 100 books since that time, it remains my favorite. It was the first book to take me to a faraway exotic locale in a magical way that only really good writing can accomplish.

To celebrate the publication of that first book, and many more to come, I learned to cook Thai food. Inspired by a story by Kemp Miles Minifie about the cooking school at the famed Bangkok Oriental hotel, I went out and bought a wonderful cookbook by Vatcharin Bhumichitr and taught myself about galangal and nam pla, red and green curry, long beans and satay. This was back in 1992, before Thai food became mainstream, so I had nothing to compare it to.

Ten years later, the publishers wanted to update the book, and I found myself on a plane going halfway across the world to replicated Kemp’s experience. For ten days, my friend Jen Leo and I ate our way through Thailand. First at the Bangkok Oriental, where we had some supreme digs and I had 3 days of intensive cooking classes. (We floated on the Chao Phraya, wandered the streets, and had the opportunity to eat thai food at both street carts and fancy restaurants.) Then we went south to Phuket, to Mom Tri’s Boathouse, where we lounged on the beach, went sea kayaking, visited Koh Phi Phi (don’t you love these names?) and had another 2 days of cooking classes. I came away fat and happy.

Since that time, Thai cooking has been a part of my repertoire. And recently I had to privilege of sharing that with a friend. Jan retired two years ago, and as a gift I offered her a cooking lesson. Yes, she is of retirement age, and yes she can cook, but I was thinking of a fun activity we could share and bringing something new into her kitchen. So this week, we set to work and I was the teacher instead of the student.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

January Joy: Oaxaca Tortilla Soup

It’s cold outside and I needed something thick and hot that would warm my bones. Rather than cook one of my go-to soups or stews, I decided to try one of Brilliant Daughter’s favorites: Oaxaca Tortilla Soup. This hearty Mexican-inspired soup did just the trick. Flavors abound, from the cool creaminess of the avocado and the sour cream to the zesty flavor of the lime juice and chili powder, combining to make a complex soup that comes together in a jiffy.

While the original version is vegetarian, you can make a heartier version by adding leftover shredded chicken or some cooked prawns. And no worries if you cannot find the dried Pasilla de Oaxaco, you can substitute a dried chipotle or 1 tablespoon of chili or chipotle powder.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Meyer Lemon Bonanza

We’ve been experiencing several concurrent days of frost here in California, and while the weather is certainly not as severe as in many parts of the country, it is dire when it comes to my prized Meyer lemons. So Saturday found me picking 3 flats of Meyers, yielding a total of 71 pounds.

On Sunday I began to make use of the lemons, and it’s much harder than you might think. Here is what I have done so far:

1. Limoncello
I started off with peeling 15 lemons for limoncello. I’ve got those peels mixed with 1.75 liters of Skye vodka, marinating for a month in my large glass sangria dispenser. Then I’ll make some lemon simple syrup to combine and finish it off. I keep my limoncello in the freezer and it can be used over ice cream, served plainly over ice, and in a version of the favored lemon drop cocktail. It’s a perfect summer drink (try adding some to your iced tea for a tasty adult version!), and will store nicely chilled until that time.

2. Simple Syrup
I also made a quart of lemon simple syrup, which involved 2 cups of sugar, 2 cups of water and 6 quartered lemons. I just boil it all for 10 minutes, let it cool, strain and pour into jars. We use this to flavor sparkling water, ice tea, hot tea, and of course, those lemon drop cocktails.

3. Lemon Zest and Juice
I have recipes that call for lemon zest, and often just make a topping for veggies using garlic, lemon zest, salt and some toasted bread crumbs. So I like to have some on hand. I do two types, a fine zest using a microplane and a long curly zest done with a traditional zester. I make little piles on a sheet of wax paper and throw them in the freezer for an hour or two. Once frozen, they can go in a Ziploc or Tupperware in the freezer for future use. Once I’ve zested the lemons, I juice them and freeze them in half-pint and pint jars. They are perfect for desserts, lemon curd, lemonade, soups, any recipe calling for lemon juice. You can even defrost them slightly in the microwave and just pour out the amount needed, popping the remainder back in the freezer.  I now have 8 jars of juice in the freezer.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Yum Factor: Spicy Grilled Tuna Rolls

Spicy Grilled Tuna Rolls—a cross between sushi and a lobster roll—always elicits a chorus of “yums” when served. That means I can pretty well guarantee that you will love these on first bite.

Brilliant Daughter brought this recipe to my attention over the summer, and I have fixed it numerous times since, including a small informal dinner party in Charleston in September. I have yet seen a diner walk away unsatisfied. And while they are somewhat costly to make, give the price for quality fresh tuna these days, they are well worth the indulgence. I have also found that it is worth sourcing out King’s Hawaiian or brioche hot dog rolls, for both flavor and presentation.

Quick to fix, you can complete this dish within 30 minutes. Should you have any problem finding wasabi powder for the dressing, you can substitute wasabi paste, both of which should be adjusted for your own palate. The dressing should be slightly hotter than you want, as mixing it in with the blander tuna and avocado will dampen the spiciness.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Quick & Easy: Asian Lettuce Cups

There are some days when I just don’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen cooking the family dinner, and for this reason I keep quick and easy recipes on hand that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less and will please all the palates at the table. This recipe, modified from Sunset magazine, is part of that repertoire.

Originally prepared for me by my good friend Jen Leo, it requires only 5-10 minutes of prep time and is ready to serve in about 25 minutes. I often double the recipe to use for lunches, which definitely impresses the co-workers.

While the recipe calls for ground chicken, you can also use ground bison or lean ground pork. Bison is becoming more available across the U.S. and the majority of American bison is grass-fed and privately—not mass—produced. Overall, bison is leaner than ground beef and contains more iron, as well as less calories and cholesterol.

Asian Lettuce Cups

1 pound lean ground chicken
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 1/2 tablespoons Asian black bean sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons hoisin sauce (plus extra for serving)
1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, rinsed, drained, and coarsely chopped
1 bunch green onions, sliced (both white and green)
1 cup chopped roasted unsalted peanuts
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 large head butter lettuce, separated into leaves
Sriracha chili sauce

Heat oil in large fry pan over medium heat. Add meat, ginger and garlic, breaking up the meat as it cooks. Fry until meat is just cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, break apart a head of butter lettuce, rinsing off the individual leaves, and drying on paper towels. Dab off excess water with paper towel and place leaves on a plate.

When meat is cooked, add black bean sauce and hoisin and stir just until combined. Stir in water chestnuts and onions and cook for one minute to heat through. Take off the heat, and mix in the cilantro.

Spoon mixture into a serving bowl. Serve with chopped peanuts, hoisin, and sriracha on the side.

To assemble, take one lettuce leave and smear with hoisin or Sriracha, top with meat and peanuts, fold in half and enjoy!

Serves 4

Monday, January 07, 2013

Winter Warmth: Creamy French Lentil Soup

Cold winter days call for hearty soups and one of our mainstays is this creamy French lentil soup. The recipe elevates the lowly lentil, which is quick to cook, cheap to buy and good for you, but often overlooked.

Lentils are a member of the legume family and come in a variety of colors from a dull brown to green, to French black to a vibrant red/orange, and are sold in one-pound bags or in the bulk aisle of grocery stores. The benefits are myriad and, given their diminutive size, rather amazing. First is the amount of dietary fiber packed in these little guys; one cup provides 62% of your daily dietary fiber requirement, which in addition to the high percentages of magnesium and folate, make them a heart healthy choice. You also get six minerals, two B vitamins, and 35% of your daily protein requirement, and it only adds up to 229 calories. All this and they are basically fat-free.

Lentils can be cooked plainly with some diced garlic and onion and curry to make a simple daal (served with plain yogurt), or they can be dressed up with lots of veggies, herbs, and meat, and served for supper, like they are here.

This recipe took about 5 minutes to prep and 10 minutes of hands-on cooking time, and spanned 80 minutes start to finish, the bulk of which it is just simmering on the stove. So you can come home, get it started, and relax for an hour or so. Served with some hearty bread, this makes a complete meal, given the vegetables incorporated in the soup.

Note: While the recipe calls for bacon, chicken stock and cream, you can make a vegetarian and vegan version. The bacon can be omitted, using a bit of olive oil to sauté the onions and garlic. Vegetable stock can substitute for the chicken stock, and there are vegan (soy, tofu and nut-based) cream alternatives.

Creamy French Lentil Soup

4 ounces sliced bacon, diced
2 cup diced onions
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon dry thyme
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1 cup brown lentils
2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups diced tomato
3 bay leaves
1 cup whipping cream
Salt, nutmeg, cayenne, and white pepper to taste
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

Heat a 4-quart pot and cook bacon until crispy. Add the onions and garlic and cook over a medium heat until brown. Then add thyme, bay leaves, carrots, celery, and lentils and stir well. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer, and cook for 40 minutes until the lentils are soft. Cover the pot and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

Uncover the pot and add the tomatoes, cream, basil and seasoning and return to a simmer for 5 minutes.

YIELD: 6-8 servings

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Comfort Food: Chicken Potpie

I am not, and have never been, a fan of the potpie. Growing up, potpies were bought frozen and had too much crust and not enough flavor. And they didn’t lend themselves to drowning in some sort of sauce of my youth (ketchup, A-1, salsa) to amp up the flavor. But last year, when I was tending to my mom in the hospital and Brilliant Daughter was doing all the cooking for the family, she made this exceptional dish. A potpie that not only tasted wonderful, but was a comfort—to my stomach, to my soul, to my heart. I had seconds, and even thirds. (I think I must have needed a lot of comfort!)

I’ve actually resisted making it again, because even though the food memories are wonderful, the circumstances and body memories during that difficult time thwarted my effort. But I was ready to try it again. I think you’ll agree that it is worth the effort.

I started by completing my mis en place. (Prepping all the ingredients ahead of time allows me to visit with my family more during our weekly Sunday dinners.) I diced up our tasty home-cured and smoked bacon, chopped the vegetables, ran to the garden to cut some marjoram, and instead of using shredded chicken (from a purchased rotisserie chicken), I made use of the leftover turkey from First Christmas. (Yes, we had 2 Christmas’ this year!) I hate to let anything go to waste!

Once you have the ingredients in place, the prep time is about 30 minutes and then the potpie gets popped it in the oven for an additional 22-25 minutes. You could actually do the prep a few hours ahead of time, leaving the puff pastry off and completing that final step before putting the potpie in the oven for the final bake. 

This is not a terribly complicated recipe, and using a shredded rotisserie chicken cuts down on prep work, so think about treating your family to a bit of comfort…and enjoy those leftovers.

Chicken Pot Pie

5 thick slices applewood-smoked bacon, diced into ½-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
12 ounces peeled whole baby carrots, cut in half
1 8-ounce package trimmed haricots verts or other slender green beans, halved crosswise
4 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon crème fraîche
3 cups coarsely shredded chicken from 1 small purchased roasted chicken (skin removed)
Fresh ground pepper
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Cook bacon in heavy large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels.

Add onion to drippings in skillet and sauté until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add carrots, haricot vert and marjoram, stirring for 1 minute. Add broth and bring to boil over high heat.

Reduce heat to medium-high and boil until vegetables are almost tender and some liquid is reduced, about 8 minutes. Stir in 2/3 cup crème fraîche, chicken, and bacon. Bring to simmer. Season with pepper.

Pour chicken mixture into a deep-dish pie pan or cast iron stewpot.

Unfold puff pastry onto work surface; roll out to be slightly larger than your dish. Top chicken mixture with pastry; fold edges down onto rim. Brush top of crusts (not edges) with remaining 1 tablespoon crème fraîche. Cut small X in center of crust; pierce all over with fork. Bake until crust is golden brown and filling is heated through, about 22 minutes.

Yield: 6-8 servings