June 1, 2016 Broccoli and Butternut Squash Salad

DSC_7045aWe always leave room for a large row of broccoli plants in the garden. But somehow this year, Joe forgot to buy broccoli seeds. We remedied that by purchasing “starts”, small broccoli plants from the garden center at the Home Depot. They are very healthy plants. They took well to transplanting and we’ve encountered no cabbage worm problem this year. But something wasn’t right. Normally, broccoli plants have form one large head in the center. After the center head is harvested, it produces additional side growth for a few more weeks. This year the plants produced no center head but a reasonable amount of side growth.

I did a little research and there is a good possibility that the plants were subject to “buttoning” before we bought them. They could have been exposed to cold temperatures (35-50°F) for several days. Other possible stressors include insufficient water, a lack of nitrogen, excessive salt in the soil, pests or disease. I guess the moral of the story is to plant as much as you can from seed, that way you can be certain your plants have been nurtured properly. That said, we still have some broccoli and I created this healthy salad from some of those side shoots plus other ingredients in my kitchen, butternut squash, red pepper, dried cherries and slivered almonds.

Toss butternut squash cubes with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread them out on a baking sheet and bake in a 375°F oven. Toss them occasionally on the baking sheet to ensure even browning on all sides. Squash cubes shrink, the four cups you start with will yield about 2 1/2 cups of finished product. Even though the broccoli I used was picked that day, I prefer to blanch it for thirty seconds to brighten the color and bring out it’s flavor.  After you drain it in a colander,  plunge the broccoli into an ice bath. This will stop the hot broccoli cooking and prevent it from turning limp and watery.  After it has cooled down, place the florets on a clean kitchen towel to dry.

You could just add plain nuts to the recipe, but toasting them really brings out the flavor. Add the nuts to a skillet large enough to stir or toss them in, depending how brave you are. Cooking over medium high heat, keep the nuts moving at all times to ensure even toasting and no burnt spots. Toasting brings out some of their oil and makes the kitchen smell great! Any nut will work, walnuts, pecans even sunflower seeds.

I had several types of dried fruit in the kitchen and decided that dried cherries would add a tangy sweet element to the dish. I made a vinaigrette with Sicilian Lemon White Balsamic from The Tubby Olive. It has a pleasant acidity with a bright crisp lemon flavor. I combined it with a few tablespoons of their Roasted Almond Oil and finished it with some extra virgin olive oil. Toss the broccoli florets, squash cubes and pepper strips with some of the dressing. Add the cherries and almonds and toss again, adding dressing if necessary. Veggies exude their own liquid, so be judicious in adding the vinaigrette. Refrigerate the salad for several hours to bring out the flavors. Taste before serving, adding any additional dressing, salt and pepper. It’s a colorful, healthy and very flavorful salad.

Little broccoli shoot hiding between the leaves.
Little broccoli shoot hiding between the leaves.
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Broccoli side growth, just as good for this salad.
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Very colorful ingredients.

Broccoli and Butternut Squash Salad

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 4 c broccoli florets
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1″ cubes, about 4 cups
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 c red pepper strips, 2″ x ½” from one small pepper
  • ½c slivered almonds
  • ½c dried cherries
  • ¼c Sicilian Lemon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 small clove garlic, chopped
  • Pinch of dried thyme
  • 2 T Roasted almond oil
  • ¼c extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. In a large bowl, toss butternut squash cubes with 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread out evenly on a baking sheet.
  3. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 16-20 minutes, tossing occasionally to be certain squash gets browned on all sides. Let cool to room temperature.
  4. Fill a large pot with water and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Put a colander large enough to accommodate the broccoli in the sink.
  5. Have an ice bath (bowl with water and ice at the ready. Plunge the broccoli in the boiling water and count to 30. Immediately drain the broccoli in the colander then transfer it to the ice bath to stop the cooking.
  6. Drain the broccoli when it has cooled a bit and place broccoli florets on a clean dishcloth to dry them off a bit.
  7. Toast almonds in a medium dry skillet over medium high heat. Keep them constantly moving to ensure even coloring. They will exude some of their oil  and they smell great. Remove from the pan and cool.
  8. In a small bowl, combine the lemon balsamic, garlic, thyme and oils.  Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
  9. Place the butternut squash, broccoli and pepper strips in a large bowl and toss with some of the dressing. Add the dried cherries and almonds and toss again, add a little more dressing if needed. Chill before serving.

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May 27, 2016 Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Tomato Basil Sauce with Capers

DSC_6957aBoneless skinless chicken breasts, the little black dress of dinnertime. A sautéed chicken breast with a simple sauce can make a delicious quick dinner or has the potential to turn into a dried out disaster. So it is very important to learn how to cook them properly. I’d like to share the method I’ve learned via Cooks Illustrated magazine that will provide excellent results every time.

The most important ingredient and foundation of the dish is the chicken. I use a chicken that is antibiotic and hormone free and not injected with water or other additives. My favorite brand is Bell and Evans, a little more expensive but definitely makes for a much better finished product.

The original recipe, written in 1993 called for the chicken to be rinsed under cool water. Research now shows that washing poultry can increase the risk of cross contaminating something else in your kitchen, the sink, countertops, utensils etc. So it’s best just to pat the chicken dry. The flour will adhere better and any bacteria on the surface of the chicken will be killed when you cook it.

Remove any fat, gristle or small pieces of bone from the chicken breasts. If the tenderloin is still attached, remove for another use. The chicken breast needs to be dried thoroughly on all surfaces with paper towels. Salt and pepper then lightly flour both sides of the breast before cooking. The flour produces a moisture barrier so the fat spits less and the chicken develops a browned crispy crust.

When you are ready to make the recipe, the whole procedure takes less than 10 minutes. It’s important to have all the ingredients, including the components for the sauce ready to go. The French have a phrase for it, mise en place. I have all the ingredients measured out in small bowls in the fridge until it’s time to cook. The only thing I would wait to do until the last minute would be to dry the chicken breasts. There is only a quarter cup of flour to coat four pieces of chicken and have found I use less than half of it. If you are gluten-free you could substitute a combination of rice flour and cornstarch or a nut flour. Working with one cutlet at a time dip it into the flour and evenly coat.

Turn your oven to the lowest setting or turn on the heat lamp above your stove. I have a commercial style cook top and have found I need to use a little more oil and butter to cook the chicken breasts than the original recipe. Place the chicken breasts tenderloin side down in the sizzling oil and butter combination. Set your timer for four minutes. Flip them over and cook on the second side for about three minutes, move to a plate and keep warm.

Add shallots to the pan, and sauté until soft, next add the garlic and tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes are juicy. When I am not using tomatoes from our garden I like Campari tomatoes. They have an excellent texture (read not mealy) with the right balance of acid and sweetness. They are considered a cocktail tomato, a little bigger than a cherry tomato but smaller and rounder than a plum.  The original recipe called for seeding the tomatoes, I chose to skip that time consuming step. Add the wine or vermouth and the capers and boil until the sauce is thickened. Stir in chopped basil and salt and pepper to taste. The result? A chicken breast that is nicely browned on the outside with a tender and juicy interior with a delicious and easy sauce to accompany it.

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Sauce ingredients ready.
Lightly flour each cutlet.
Lightly flour each cutlet.
Add chicken to pan.
Add chicken to pan.
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Flip chicken after four minutes.
Sauce ingredients come together quickly
Sauce ingredients come together quickly

 

Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Tomato Basil Sauce with Capers

Serves Four

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1½ to 1¾ lbs)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ c all purpose flour
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 2 T vegetable oil

Directions for cooking the chicken

  1. Dry the chicken thoroughly with paper towels and sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper on both sides of the cutlet.
  2. Measure flour into a pie plate or similar container. Working with one cutlet at a time, press both sides into flour.
  3. Heat butter and oil in a 9 inch or larger heavy skillet until the butter has foamed and has just started to take on color.  Place the cutlets in the skillet, tenderloin side down.
  4. Keep the skillet on medium high heat, reducing heat if it starts to smoke. Saute the cutlets for 4 minutes on the first side,  using tongs, turn to the other side.  Cook for 3 minutes then remove cutlets to a plate and keep warm in an oven on the lowest setting or under a heat lamp.

Ingredients for the tomato basil sauce

  • 1/3 c shallots
  • 2 T chopped garlic
  • 2 c chopped tomatoes
  • ¼ c dry white wine or vermouth
  • 2 T capers, drained
  • 2 T shredded basil leaves

Directions for the tomato basil sauce

  1. Without discarding the fat, place skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and saute until softened, about 1 minute. Stir in garlic and then the tomatoes. Increase heat and cook, stirring frequently until the tomatoes have broken down and become juicy, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add wine, capers and any chicken juices from the plate. Boil sauce until it thickens, stir in herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

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May 14, 2016 Wood Planked Halibut with Herb Salad

DSC_6927aThe creamy pinkish-white halibut I purchased at my favorite seafood store, Heller’s was the perfect match for a recipe on Friday’s episode of The Chew. The episode, tied in for Mother’s Day was titled, “Kitchen wisdom, things you learn from your mother about cooking”. This recipe shared by Michael Symon was not so much about things you learn from your mother, but treating your mom with a dinner she would be more likely to order out at a restaurant but probably wouldn’t want to cook at home

The recipe for wood planked halibut with herb salad sounded interesting and a bit different than how I usually prepare halibut. Michael chose halibut because it is in season and reasonably priced. Cod would be a good substitute.  We have been using the cedar plank method of cooking for several years now but have only used it with salmon. I thought the delicate flavor of the halibut would be complemented nicely by the cedar.

The first step in the recipe is to soak the wood planks, he was using three for three pounds of fish. Wood planks are becoming more readily available in grocery stores, many times they are set up with the barbecue displays. Most of the ones I have seen are cedar. Chef Symon said he was using an oak plank. Be sure to soak your plank for several hours, even overnight. You will need something to weight it down so it doesn’t float to the top, I use a heavy marble mortar. While you are soaking one plank for dinner that night, soak a second along with it, wrap it in foil and store it in the freezer for the next time. Michael said to soak it in salt water to season the underside of the fish,

The first discrepancy in the recipe came with the proportions for the glaze. The online recipe called for quarter cup of soy sauce a tablespoon of hot Chinese mustard and 2 tablespoons of honey. On the television program, chef Symon said to use equal parts of each. That’s straight from the chef’s mouth so that’s how I followed the recipe.

The online recipe called for 3 pounds of fish, by my estimates, that could serve 6 to 8 people depending on portion size. The online recipe stated it served four, those are pretty healthy portion sizes. I had a little less than a pound to serve two people, so I cut back on the glaze accordingly. Chinese mustard is the condiment in little packets you might have stuffed in the butter keeper in your refrigerator. Unfortunately I didn’t have any and couldn’t find any in my local supermarket. So I added about a quarter teaspoon of wasabi to some Dijon mustard. You can adjust the heat to your own liking, or skip the wasabi completely. Whisk the ingredients together, put half in a bowl to glaze the fish before cooking and the other half in a bowl as a finishing glaze.

Season the halibut with salt-and-pepper on both sides, if you don’t like to see black specks on your white fish, use white pepper instead. Place the fish, skin side down on the plank. Michael puts his fish on a foil lined baking tray for easy clean up. Joe, who is the resident fish cooker, put our well soaked board directly on the oven rack. . Brush the first half of the glaze on the fish. This is where discrepancy number three comes in. The online written recipe states to cook the fish for 30 minutes. On the TV program, Chef Symon says it cooks in about 8 minutes or 5 under the broiler! Where is the truth here? We rely on the Canadian fisheries method of cooking fish which estimates the total cooking time of any fish to be 10 minutes (maybe even a little less ) for every inch of thickness, measuring at the thickest part at 450°F.

While the fish is cooking, you will have time to make the herb salad. It’s a combination of thinly sliced radishes, cilantro, and scallions tossed with lime juice and extra-virgin olive oil. We just finished our first crop of radishes and there’s lots of cilantro coming up “wild” in the circle garden. Don’t despair cilantro haters, Michael said any soft herb (as opposed to one that is woody,  like rosemary) could be used. That would include parsley, dill and chervil. The amount of herb salad for the online recipe feeding four people/three pounds of fish was a reasonable portion for two so scale up the recipe if you are cooking a larger quantity of fish.

I would definitely make this recipe again, the wood smoke lightly permeates the fish and the kitchen, an added bonus. The glaze is easy, using mostly pantry ingredients. Michael Symon also pointed out that this method for cooking fish could be easily done on the grill, an added bonus for the summer months to come.

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Soak the wood plank for several hours or overnight. Just be sure it doesn’t float to the top!
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Fresh halibut from Alaska.
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Ingredients for the marinade.

 

 

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Half of the marinade is brushed on before it goes in the oven.
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While the fish is cooking, make the herb salad. I sliced the radishes as thinly as possible on a mandolin.
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Cilantro comes up in our garden on it’s own. If you don’t like cilantro, use parsley.
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Brush the remaining glaze over the fish after cooking.

Wood Planked Halibut with Herb Salad

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 2 T tamari or soy sauce
  • 2 T dijon style mustard
  • ¼t wasabi from a tube, more or less to taste
  • 2 T honey
  • 12-16 oz halibut
  • 1 c  thinly shaved radish
  • ½ c cilantro leaves
  • ½ c scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
  • 3 T olive oil
  • ½ lime juiced
  • 1 cedar plank submerged in cold water for 2 hours and up to overnight
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1.  Preheat oven to 450°F Line a baking sheet with foil and place the plank on it.
  2.  In a medium sized bowl add the soy, mustard, wasabi and honey. Mix until smooth.  Divide the glaze evenly into two bowls.
  3. Season the halibut on both sides with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place on the plank. Brush the contents of the first bowl evenly over the fish. Measure the fish at it’s thickest point to calculate the amount of time it needs to cook. The Canadian fisheries method of cooking fish is ten minutes per inch, measuring at the thickest part of the fillet, start checking at eight minutes, halibut is a fish that “puffs up” when cooked so a little additional time may be needed. Don’t overcook,  fish still continues to cook after you take it off the heat. Remove fish from oven and brush with additional glaze.
  4. While the fish is cooking add radishes, scallions and cilantro to a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add olive oil and lime juice, toss to combine.
  5. Serve halibut with herb salad.

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May 6, 2016 Cauliflower Pizza Crust

DSC_6789aConsider the amazing versatility of cauliflower. Tossed with olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper and roasted until it is golden brown, it’s addictive as popcorn. It’s a delicious gluten-free substitute for mashed potatoes and couscous and the secret ingredient in a healthier version of Alfredo sauce.

In this recipe, the vegetable master of disguise is the basis for a pizza crust. I began my research by reading through about 20 recipes for cauliflower pizza I found online. They were written by cookbook authors, celebrity chefs and food bloggers. No two recipes were exactly the same and some were quite vague in their instructions. I used these recipes to construct my own version of a crust that works every time.

Line a pizza pan or a baking sheet with parchment paper. I used a nonstick spray on the corners to make sure it stayed in place. Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Start with a head of cauliflower, chop it into four cups of smaller florets, you want uniform pieces that won’t overwhelm your food processor.
If you are using a hand grater leave the pieces larger and the stem attached so you don’t scrape your fingers. Save the stems for cauliflower mashed potatoes. Pulse the florets with the metal blade in the food processor until the cauliflower is the consistency of small grains of rice or couscous. Some writers referred to this as cauliflower “snow”. 4 cups of cauliflower florets yielded two and three-quarter cups of finely chopped cauliflower.

Cauliflower needs to be cooked to get rid of excess moisture. Some of the recipes I read called for sautéing the cauliflower on the stove top, others chose steaming and a few didn’t cook it at all. I am not a big fan of the microwave, but I feel it’s the easiest way to cook the cauliflower for this recipe and there is no need for additional water to be added. Place the cauliflower in a microwave safe container and cover with plastic. I cooked mine on the “fresh vegetable” setting for about six minutes. Let the cauliflower cool thoroughly before proceeding with the next step, if you don’t you could easily burn your fingers.

The next step is crucial to the success of this recipe. Dump the cauliflower into the center of a clean, cloth dish towel. Gather up the four corners and twist. Squeeze the bottom to extract as much liquid from the cauliflower as possible. When you think you’ve squeezed enough, squeeze one more time. Transfer the cauliflower pulp to a bowl, you should have about a scant cup. Add to this one lightly beaten large egg, a pinch of salt, three quarters of a cup of shredded mozzarella, half cup of shredded Parmesan cheese. Although not necessary you can add a half teaspoon each of dried oregano and basil. Mix first with a spatula to incorporate the ingredients, then mix with your hands for best results.

Form into a disk and place on the prepared baking sheet. Press out from the center evenly to make a 10 inch circle. Be sure that the crust is evenly pressed out, with no thin or thick spots. Some sources said to spray the surface of the parchment paper with nonstick spray but I didn’t and my results were fine. Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of your preheated oven. Bake until spotty brown, it took about 12 minutes in the convection oven, it may take you a little longer for a conventional oven.

Remove baking sheet from the oven and add your favorite toppings. I made a basic tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese pizza. I baked it in the oven for another 10 minutes, until the cheese was melted and bubbly. I was able to cut the pizza with a wheel and the slices held together nicely.  The possibilities for toppings are endless. In about a month or so I will be topping this crust with basil pesto and thinly sliced zucchini.

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Start with a large head of cauliflower, you won’t need it all.
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Separate into smaller florets.
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Add to the food processor with metal blade attached.
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Process finely until you get rice or couscous like granules.
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Now it is ready for the microwave.
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Place the cooked cauliflower in the middle of a cotton dishtowel.
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Squeeze to extract all the excess liquid.
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You will be left with cauliflower “pulp”.
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Mix in beaten egg, cheeses, salt and dried herbs.
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Form it into a ball.
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Flatten into a 10 inch round.
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Bake at 425 F for ten to fifteen minutes, until starting to brown in spots.
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Top with sauce.
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And mozzarella cheese.
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Bake for 10 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly.
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Delicious!

Makes one 10″ round

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of cauliflower florets
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • ¾ c shredded low fat mozzarella cheese
  • ½ freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ t dried oregano
  • ½ t dried basil

Directions

  1. Line a rimmed baking sheet or pizza pan with parchment paper and preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Chop cauliflower into 4 cups of smaller florets. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until the cauliflower is the consistency of rice or couscous, my finished product measured 2 ¾ cups. Alternately grate larger pieces on a box grater until you have 2 ¾ cups of finely grated cauliflower.
  3. Place in a large bowl and microwave on high for 6 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
  4. Dump the cauliflower into the center of a cotton dish towel, flour sack types are best. Draw up the corners and twist tightly. Squeeze the cauliflower in the dish towel to extract as much liquid as possible.
  5. Transfer the cauliflower “pulp” to a bowl. Next, add the beaten egg, cheeses and herbs. Combine with a rubber spatula and for best results, finish the mixing with your hands.
  6. Form into a disk and place on the prepared baking sheet or pan. Press out from the center to make an even 10″ round.
  7. Place baking sheet on the lower middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake until spotty brown, mine took about 12 minutes, the crust may be ready anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes.
  8. Remove crust from the oven and top with your favorite pizza combinations. Bake until cheese is melted and bubbly, another 10 minutes.

 

May 1, 2016 Smoked Salmon and Spinach Frittata

DSC_6759aSpinach again, this time combined with eggs, cheese and smoked salmon to make a frittata. Quick to make, they are as good at breakfast as they are as an impromptu supper. Once again, I used the basic recipe of a frittata from Cooks Illustrated, for broccoli rabe and sun dried tomatoes. substituting the spinach and smoked salmon.

A large oven proof non stick skillet is a must for making this recipe, check first that it fits in your oven. Be sure to have a pot holder draped over the oven door so you are not tempted to touch the handle with your bare hands. I learned that lesson the hard way many years ago. Sauté the spinach just enough to wilt it down, then add garlic and Aleppo pepper, a favorite ingredient of mine. Small cubes of cheese are added to the eggs, for this recipe I like a Jarlsberg or a Havarti with dill.

The eggs are cooked for a short time on the stove top. Add the smoked salmon when the eggs are setting up on the bottom before they go in the oven. Once the frittata is spotty brown and puffed, remove it from the oven. Allow it to sit for 5 minutes, the residual heat will finish the cooking. Loosen the frittata from the pan with a spatula and move it to a platter or cutting board for serving.

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Smoked Salmon and Spinach Frittata

Ingredients

  • 12 large eggs
  • 3 T half and half or heavy cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 t olive oil
  • 3-4 c spinach, large stems removed
  • 1 medium clove garlic minced
  • ¼ t Aleppo pepper or paprika
  • ¾ c cheese cut into small cubes, Jarlsberg or Havarti with dill
  • ½ c smoked salmon chopped into pieces

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Directions

  1. With oven rack in the upper middle position, heat broiler. Whisk eggs, half and half, a dash of salt and pepper in a medium bowl until well combined. Set aside.
  2. In a non stick 12″ oven safe skillet heat oil until shimmering. Add the spinach and cook until wilted, 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds or so.
  3. Stir cheese into the eggs; add egg mixture into the skillet and cook, using spatula to stir and scrape the bottom of the skillet. Large curds will form but the mixture will still seem somewhat wet, about 2 minutes. Shake skillet to distribute eggs evenly; cook without stirring for 30 seconds to set the bottom. Sprinkle smoked salmon pieces evenly over the surface of the frittata.
  4. Slide skillet under broiler and broil until the frittata has risen and the surface puffs and turns spotty brown, three to four minutes. Remove skillet from the oven and let stand 5 minutes to finish cooking.
  5. Using a spatula, loosen frittata from the skillet and slide onto a platter or cutting board. Cut into wedges and serve.

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April 26, 2016 Spinach and Mushroom Quesadillas with Tomatillo Salsa

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Still inspired by an abundance of, you guessed it, spinach, I was looking for yet another way to use our bounty. Inspiration this time came to me in the form of a quesadilla. Crispy on the outside and melted and creamy inside, spinach adds a healthy component to this popular dish. Quesadillas are easy and delicious any time of day, as a quick snack, lunch, even for breakfast. To accompany the quesadillas I made a simple tomatillo salsa.

With the exception of the cilantro and garlic, the ingredients for the tomatillo salsa came straight from our freezer. Preparing tomatillos for the freezer is easy, I remove the papery husks and freeze them whole and raw in quart bags. A previously frozen tomatillo will not hold up to roasting but are fine in raw preparations like this. The Numex Joe E. Parker pepper used in this recipe is an Anaheim style pepper with a long slender shape and mild heat. We have an interesting variety of frozen hot peppers from gardens past,  milder ones like Joe E Parker and poblanos to hotter ones, cayenne, jalapeno, serrano and Thai hot. The surprising thing is that freezing them does not diminish their heat in the least. When a recipe calls for several hot peppers, I start with one, it is much easier to add heat than to take it away.

As always, picking the spinach takes more time than most of the steps in the recipe. The filling is easy to make and used twelve cups of fresh spinach, a real plus for me. If you don’t have an abundance of spinach in your garden, use bagged baby spinach. The slightly more assertive flavor of cremini mushrooms compliments the spinach nicely.

The options for cheese are endless. I used pepper jack and cheddar cheese, a good melting cheese is important here. Choose a large heavy bottom skillet to cook quesadillas. Just a light brushing of oil in the pan is all that’s necessary to brown the tortilla and keeps it from getting greasy. You can either fold one tortilla in half or stack one on top of another. I press lightly on the quesadilla in the pan to allow the cheese to melt a bit and hold the layers together before it is flipped.  The pizza wheel is the perfect tool to cut it into portions. Finished quesadillas can be held in an oven on low heat for 20 minutes.

Spinach and Mushroom Quesadillas

Makes four 8″ quesadillas

Ingredients for the filling

  • 1½ T olive oil or bacon drippings
  • 8 oz mushrooms, button or cremini, stemmed and sliced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ¼ c finely chopped red onion
  • 12 c spinach, large stems removed

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Directions for the filling

  1. In a large skillet heat the oil or bacon drippings over medium high heat.
  2. Add the mushrooms, stirring constantly, until they begin to brown.
  3. Add the onion and garlic and continue cooking, stirring frequently until it looks translucent.
  4.  Add the spinach by the handful, wilting it before adding more, until it is all used.  Do not overcook.  Season with salt to taste.

Ingredients for assembling the quesadillas

  • Eight 8″ soft tortilla or taco shells, I used whole grain
  • Olive Oil
  • 1½-2 c grated cheese, I used a combination of pepper jack and cheddar

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Directions for assembling and cooking the quesadillas

  1. Preheat oven to 180°F.
  2. Place four tortillas on two baking sheets, divide evenly the spinach and mushroom filling and the grated cheese between them.
  3. Top with the four remaining tortillas and lightly press to seal.
  4. Place a 12″ heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat.  Brush the skillet lightly with olive oil.
  5. Place the quesadillas in the skillet one at a time, pressing down lightly but firmly and cook for about 3 minutes on each side. You can peek by lifting up with a spatula to see if it is getting golden brown. Transfer the cooked quesadillas to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven, lightly covered with foil.
  6. Slice each quesadilla into 6-8 wedges, a pizza cutter works well here, and serve hot with tomatillo salsa or your own favorite.

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Tomatillo Salsa

Ingredients

  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed and seeded and quartered
  • 1 Numex pepper, stemmed and seeded and quartered
  • ¼ c roughly chopped red onion
  • 1 lb tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut into quarters
  • ¾ c loosely packed, lightly chopped cilantro

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Directions

  1. With a food processor or blender running, drop in the garlic cloves one at a time letting each piece get finely chopped before adding the next. Add the peppers, onion,  tomatillos and cilantro and process until smooth.

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April 16, 2016 Chicken Stew with Chickpeas and Tomatoes

DSC_6681aThe slow cooker I received as a Christmas gift from my hubby has inspired me to look for new and great tasting recipes that utilize this handy appliance. Many of the recipes that interest me start with chicken thighs. They are an inexpensive cut of meat, full of flavor and hold up well to slow cooking. This easy to assemble chicken stew gets great flavor from smoked paprika, oregano and just a dash of saffron. The original recipe from The Great American Slow Cooker Book called for bone in skinless chicken thighs that went directly in the slow cooker. I like to brown the meat first, it only takes a few minutes and I think adds a real depth of flavor. Also, I leave the skin on, I think it protects the meat, whether you choose to eat it or not.

The recipe is so simple. Drained diced tomatoes, chickpeas, onion, parsley and spices are stirred together in the slow cooker. A paste of garlic, oregano, salt and olive oil is rubbed on the thighs, whether you have browned them first or decide to go the skinless route. Place the thighs in the cooker. Set your timer for 4 hours on high or low for 7 hours. I put the thighs under the broiler for a crispy skin. Serve with toasted Israeli couscous with pine nuts and apricots for a delicious satisfying supper. Definitely a recipe I will make again.

Chicken Stew with Chickpeas and Tomatoes

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 1¼ c drained canned diced tomatoes
  • 1¼ c drained and rinsed chickpeas
  • 3/4c chopped onion
  • ¼c minced parsley leaves
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • ½ t ground cloves
  • ½ t ground cumin
  • ¼ t ground cinnamon
  • ¼ t saffron threads
  • ¼ t freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 t dried oregano
  • 2 T olive oil, one for the pan and one for the paste
  • 2 t minced garlic
  • 1 t salt
  • 3 lb bone-in skin-on chicken thighs

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Directions

  1. Stir the tomatoes, chickpeas, onion, parsley, paprika, cloves, cinnamon, saffron and pepper in a 4 to 5½ quart slow cooker.
  2. Warm a large skillet set over medium high heat and swirl in the olive oil. Add the chicken thighs skin side down, as many as will fit in the pan without crowding. Brown on one side, about 4-6 minutes, turn over and brown another 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a plate and continue browning in batches. Alternately, remove the skin and place thighs directly in the slow cooker.
  3. Mix the oregano, olive oil, garlic and salt into a paste and rub a little on each chicken thigh. Set them into the cooker until they are submerged about halfway.
  4. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 7 hours.
  5. If desired, remove the thighs from the cooker and broil for about 2 minutes to crisp up the skin.

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April 10, 2016 Spinach Soup with Middle Eastern Spices

DSC_6651aSpring made an early entrance this year, but it’s not quite sure if it wants to stick around permanently yet. One day it’s rainy and seasonably warm, the next we are anticipating wet snow that will bring a coating to possibly an inch to grassy surfaces.

The occasional warm day we’ve been having is causing the spinach in the greenhouse to bolt, that is, go to seed. It ‘s time to pick as much as possible, so recipes that use mass quantities of spinach look good to me. This recipe for spinach soup with middle eastern spices uses a pound and a half of fresh spinach. That translates into approximately 18 cups of spinach, and I say, bring it on!

Cookbook author and New York Times food columnist Martha Rose Shulman got her inspiration for this soup from a Syrian pan cooked spinach recipe. The warming spices, clove, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon and coriander are a pleasing contrast to the sweet, mild flavor of freshly picked spinach.

To start, saute a medium chopped onion and celery in a Dutch oven. I checked with the NOA, National Onion Association and they say a medium onion equals about 1 cup chopped onion. When the vegetables soften, add a few cloves of chopped garlic and cook until fragrant. Add stock, rice, bouquet garni and a generous pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to boil and simmer for 30 minutes. This infuses the broth with flavor and cooks the rice which thickens the soup. Remove the bouquet garni and add the spices and the spinach. It is best to add the spinach in batches to the hot broth, continue to add more until it is all wilted. Cover and cook for five minutes, no longer. The spinach should retain it’s bright green color, any longer it could turn gray.

Puree the soup in batches in a blender or blend in the pot with an immersion blender. The final touch is the addition of some tangy yogurt, half is blended into the soup and the rest is a garnish for each bowl. Sprinkle a few chopped walnuts on top before serving. I served it hot but I think it would be good cold as well.

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Spinach Soup with Middle Eastern Spices

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/3 c finely diced celery
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ to ½c medium grain rice
  • 6 c chicken or vegetable stock
  • Bouquet garni of a few sprigs parsley and thyme and a bay leaf
  • 1 ½ lbs fresh spinach, washed thoroughly, large stems removed
  • ¼t ground allspice
  • 1/8 t ground cloves
  • 1/8 t freshly ground nutmeg
  • ¼ t ground cinnamon
  • 1t coriander seeds, lightly toasted and ground
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 c Greek yogurt (low or full fat)
  • ¼ c chopped walnuts to garnish

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Directions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the chopped onion and celery and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and a pinch of salt and cook until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.
  2. Add the stock, rice, bouquet garni and salt to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes.
  3. While the stock is simmering you will have time to measure out the spices and toast and grind the coriander.
  4. After the stock has simmered, remove the bouquet garni. Add the spices and add the spinach in batches, wilting it as you go. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Spinach should still retain its bright color.
  5. Puree the soup in batches in a blender. Be sure to not to overfill and hold down the lid tightly. Alternately you could puree the soup in the pot with a hand blender. Stop at this step if you are not serving the soup immediately.
  6. Return the soup to the pot and heat through, stirring occasionally.  Whisk half of the yogurt into the soup and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  7. Serve the soup with a swirl of yogurt and garnish with chopped walnuts.

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April 2, 2016 Triple Mushroom Soup

DSC_6583aCreamy, rich mushroom soup, a dish that is so simple, yet so refined. This version, from chef Anthony Bourdain provides maximum flavor with not a great deal of effort. The rich velvety texture of this soup doesn’t come from cream, it comes from the butter that the mushrooms are sautéed in. I used two of the most readily available mushroom varieties,  white “button” mushrooms and creminis. If you were not aware, creminis are referred to as portabellos when they grow to full maturity.  To up the mushroom quotient, add some reconstituted dried mushrooms, I used chanterelles. Not too many, I started with about a quarter of a cup dried, you don’t want to overwhelm the soup.

We live about an hour from the mushroom capital of the world, close enough for mushrooms to be sold as a local product at our farmers market. Kennett Square in Chester County Pennsylvania is home to farms that produces over a million pounds of mushrooms a week. Kennett Square did not become the mushroom capital for reasons of climate or soil conditions but for reasons of ingenuity. Enterprising and frugal Quaker farmers in the late nineteenth century were looking for ways to use the wasted space under the elevated benches where they grew flowers. They imported spawn from Europe, created the right growing environment and a successful industry was born.

Whenever possible I prefer to purchase whole loose mushrooms. Inspect mushrooms carefully, they should feel damp, not moist. Try to avoid mushrooms that are badly bruised or broken. Many sources say that you shouldn’t rinse mushrooms because they soak up water but the folks at Cooks Illustrated have proven that wrong. They found that after a quick rinse of a six ounce container of mushrooms they gained only a quarter ounce of water. The key is to rinse, not soak and dry immediately. Cooks Illustrated also suggests that if you store mushrooms it should be in a partially open zipper bag. This maximizes air circulation without letting the mushrooms dry out.

Begin the recipe by melting butter in a medium sized pan, I prefer my Le Crueset 5 quart Dutch oven for any soup I make. Add the sliced onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Next add the mushrooms and allow the vegetables to sweat, that is, to soften without taking on any color. The mushrooms will exude their liquid and cook down considerably. If you want, add 1/4 cup of dried mushrooms that have been reconstituted in warm water for about 20 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock (vegetable if you prefer a vegetarian dish) and a small bouquet garni of a few sprigs of parsley and some fresh thyme. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour. Although it wasn’t in the original recipe, I added a small piece of Parmesan rind to add to the umami quality of the soup.

After an hour, discard the piece of Parmesan rind if using, and the herbs. Allow the soup to cool for about 15 minutes then transfer the soup to the blender in batches, being careful to keep the lid on tight;  blend until smooth. Return the soup to the pot, season with salt and pepper, reheat and add sherry. One last word of admonition, do not use cooking sherry. It is sherry with salt and other additives to prolong it’s shelf life. Look for a dry sherry to compliment the flavors in this recipe. Saute a few mushrooms slices to garnish the soup and maybe a small sprig of thyme.

Triple Mushroom Soup

Serves four, can easily be doubled

Ingredients

  • 6 T butter
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 12 ounces mushrooms (I used half button and half crimini)
  • ¼c dried mushrooms (shiitake, chanterelles etc.) reconstituted in warm water for about 20 minutes and well drained, optional
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • Several sprigs of parsley
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 2 ounces sherry
  • salt and pepper

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Directions

  1. Over medium heat, melt two tablespoons of the butter in a saucepan. Toss in the onion and cook until soft but not browned.
  2. Toss in the remaining butter and then add the mushrooms. Cook for 8 minutes.
  3. Pour in the chicken stock, add the herbs and rind (if using), and bring to a boil. When bubbling, reduce to a simmer and cook for an hour.
  4. Pour soup into a blender (you might need to do this in stages), and process until smooth. Return to the saucepan and bring to a simmer. Pour in the sherry, and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with sauteed mushroom slices and a sprig of thyme.
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Dried chanterelle mushrooms
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The same chanterelles after a twenty minute soak.
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Sauteeing the mushrooms
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Add chicken stock , herbs and bring to a boil.

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March 24, 2016 Spinach and Roasted Garlic Hummus

DSC_6542aWhen I am looking for a snack, hummus is a healthy choice I feel good about adding to my shopping cart. But the truth is, it’s takes just minutes to make my own, and it’s healthier (no additives), tastier and cheaper too. The word hummus in Arabic means chickpea so strictly speaking, hummus is the term for a chickpea dip. Hummus bi tahini means chickpeas with tahini, a paste of ground sesame seeds.  Whether you add tahini or not, a basic hummus includes garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt.

One of my favorite food memories is a chickpea soup Joe made for me one Valentine’s Day. I absolutely love the sweet nutty flavor of freshly cooked chickpeas and in a perfect world I would always use them when I make hummus. However, dried chickpeas need to be soaked overnight, drained the next day and cooked for 1-3 hours, depending on freshness. I don’t always have time for that and the delayed gratification it requires.

However if you have the time, substitute one half the quantity of dried beans for the canned. The standard 15 ounce can of chickpeas drained is about 9 ounces or 1 ½ cups of beans. This translates into 4.5 ounces of dried beans or ¾ cup. Many cooks add a pinch of baking soda to tenderize dried beans to both the soaking and cooking water. The United States dried bean council (of course there’s one!) points out that it destroys part of the thiamine (aka vitamin B 1), making the amino acids less digestible and negatively affects the nutritional value. I’ll leave that heavy decision up to you.

A basic hummus recipe is easy and delicious and just the jumping off point for countless variations. I have previously shared a beet hummus recipe, this time I added fresh spinach and roasted garlic to the recipe.

If you are not already roasting garlic cloves, you should. It takes more time to get your oven up to temperature than in does to get this kitchen staple together. The first time I roasted garlic I winged it but I am pleased to say my uninformed guess was pretty much on target. This is the basic recipe; cut about the top quarter off each head of garlic with a sharp knife to expose all the cloves. Slowly pour olive oil over each head, letting it soak into and around the cloves. Wrap the prepared heads of garlic in foil and bake in a 425°F oven. Start checking the garlic at the 45 minute mark. The finished cloves should be soft, golden and slightly protruding from the skins. I always roast more than what I need, it will keep in the fridge for about a week, that is if it lasts that long. You can also freeze roasted garlic for several months.

Everything goes into the food processor or blender, except the reserved chickpea liquid. I added three cloves of roasted garlic to my basic hummus recipe, along with three loosely packed cups of spinach leaves. I added a half teaspoon each of some appropriate dried herbs, cumin, for it’s smoky flavor, smoked paprika also brings smokiness and a little heat. Sumac is the herb you may not be familiar with, it has a fruity astringent taste, milder than a lemon. I shared more background on it in this post. It is readily available from several of the herb and spice mail order sights.

Add the additional bean liquid to get it completely smooth and holds it’s shape. Taste and add more salt if needed. Transfer mixture into a serving dish. Garnish with a dash of olive oil and a sprinkle of smoked paprika. Serve at room temperature.

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Spinach and Roasted Garlic Hummus

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1-15 ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas) drained and liquid reserved
  • 3-4 c spinach leaves, large stems removed
  • 1/3 c tahini
  • 3 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 3-4 cloves roasted garlic, or to your taste
  • ½ t salt, and more to taste
  • 1 t each cumin, sumac and smoked paprika
  • 1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • A dusting of smoked paprika for the topping

DSC_6536aDirections

  1. Add all the ingredients to your food processor or blender. Pulse, adding additional bean liquid as needed to get the hummus completely smooth.
  2. Taste and add salt if desired.
  3. Scoop into a serving bowl and sprinkle top with smoked paprika and a little olive oil if desired.
  4. Serve with the dippers of your choice.