February 21, 2016 Carrot Cake Sandwich Cookies

DSC_5967aCarrot cake is hands down my favorite dessert. Not just any carrot cake, the legendary creation made popular by a Philadelphia restaurant of the late seventies and early eighties, Frog/Commissary. Frog was the more formal dining restaurant (we ate their once) and the Commissary was a cafeteria style establishment.  The Frog Commissary cookbook was one of the first I owned and I am on my second copy, the first fell apart from constant use. I used many of the recipes over the years for parties and in my catering business. Though I don’t use it very much now (I should..), the recipes still feel as contemporary as they did over thirty years ago.

What can you say about a cake that uses a pound (4 cups) of carrots? Does that count as your vegetable for the day? The cake is cut into three layers and filled with a rich pecan cream concoction made with lots of butter, heavy cream and sugar. There’s always enough filling leftover for later to warm up a little to  pour over ice cream.  The tangy cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar frosting covers the cake and it is gilded with toasted coconut on the sides. I have never claimed to be a pastry chef, but I learned how to make icing “carrots” to embellish the carrot cakes I made. It was the first thing Joe ever made for me on my birthday, long before we were married. I must say I was more than a little impressed. Years later as a caterer I was asked to make this cake countless times, appearing as everything from the wedding cake itself to miniature carrot cake cupcakes on dessert buffets.

Coincidentally it is also the favorite cake of my brother. My brother and sister in law joined us for dinner to celebrate his birthday. My sister in law makes the cake for his birthday every year (a true gift of love!) Not wanting to duplicate her efforts, after all it can easily serve 12 people, I was looking for an alternative. Not just a reworking of the original recipe but something just a little different. Carrot cake bars? Too similar. Carrot cake ice cream? Interesting but that would need more time for experimentation.

I decided on a recipe for carrot cake sandwich cookies I found on the Epicurious website, originally published in the April 2004 issue of Gourmet magazine. It was a much reviewed (241 to be exact) recipe with most of the comments on the positive side. After reading some of the comments I did make a few simple changes to the recipe. First was to line the baking sheets with parchment rather than butter them, I thought it would solve the spreading problem many reviewers encountered and make it easier to transfer the cookies. I also refrigerated the cookies on the baking sheets for a half hour before baking, also because so many reviewers felt the cookies spread too much.  The not overly sweet cream cheese and honey filling was perfect for the cookie. I just increased the honey to my taste, one-third cup. Unless all of your cookies are the same in size, one last suggestion would be to match up the base of the cookies size wise before filling them.

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Carrot Cake Sandwich Cookies

Adapted from  Epicurious

Makes about 2 dozen sandwich cookies

Ingredients for the cookies

  • 1 1/8 c all purpose flour
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • ½ t baking soda
  • ½ t salt
  •  ½ c unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 1/3 c plus 2 T packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 c plus 2 T granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ t vanilla
  • 1 c coarsely grated carrots (about 2 medium)
  • 1 c walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 c golden raisins

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Ingredients for the filling

  • 1 8 ounce package cream cheese
  • 1/3 c honey

Directions

  1. Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 375°F Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt together in a bowl.
  3. Beat butter, sugars, egg and vanilla together in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in carrots, nuts and raisin in with a wooden spoon or a mixer at low speed. Then add flour mixture and beat with mixer until just combined.
  4. Drop 1 ½T batter per cookie 2 inches apart on baking sheets and place sheets in the refrigerator to firm up for about ½ hour.
  5. Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are lightly browned and springy to the touch, 12-14 minutes total. Cool cookies on baking sheet for a few minutes, then with a spatula move the cookies to racks to cool completely.
  6. For the filling: while the cookies are baking, blend cream cheese and honey with a mixer or food processor until smooth.
  7. Sandwich flat sides of cookies together with a generous tablespoon of cream cheese filling in between.

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February 16, 2016 Shaved Fennel and Arugula Salad with Blood Oranges and Walnuts

DSC_5859aThis simple salad unites two of winter’s best produce offerings, fennel and blood oranges. I added some peppery arugula, tossed them with a blood orange dressing with toasted fennel seed and topped it with toasted walnuts.

In the world of vegetables, poor fennel doesn’t get the attention that it truly deserves. Originally an Italian import, it’s readily found in any well stocked grocery store, usually keeping company near the radishes and lettuces. It’s full of nutrients like vitamin C, potassium and fiber with a texture that is crisp like celery and a flavor is mildly anisey. Fennel is available year round but it’s peak season is fall and winter.

I propose the reason for fennel negligence is twofold. One, many cooks aren’t sure what parts are usable and two, they are not sure how to cut it up. That’s easy to clarify, when shopping for fennel choose small to medium plump bulbs always with the stalks and feathery greenery still attached. To prepare for cooking, cut off the stalks and the feathery foliage. Remove any outside ribs that appear tough or damaged. Slice the trimmed fennel bulb crosswise thinly with a knife or mandoline for raw preparations or cut vertically into larger pieces for grilling or roasting. The stalks can be as a bed for cooking whole fish or stuffed in a chicken before roasting. The stalks could also be used as a component in chicken or vegetarian stock. The feathery fronds make an attractive edible garnish. I use raw fennel quite often in our winter salads and I also like fennel quartered either roasted or grilled. Grilling caramelizes fennel and enhances the flavor.

Blood oranges are readily available now and I like to use them as much as I can during their December to March season The red blush of the blood orange’s skin hints at what’s inside. The magenta flesh color is due to the presence of anthocyanins, the pigment that makes blueberries blue, cherries red and eggplants purple. Blood orange’s flavor is tart-sweet with just a hint of berry.

This is a very easy salad to make. Shave the fennel crosswise very thinly with a mandoline or sharp knife. Always use the finger guard with the mandoline, I learned the hard way on a new, very sharp mandoline a few years ago, when I was shaving fennel come to think of it. Cut the peel and pith from the orange, again using your sharpest knife and cut crosswise into rounds. The crispy fennel and peppery arugula are combined with a blood orange and toasted fennel seed vinaigrette. Add the blood orange sections and toss again. Top with toasted walnut pieces and fennel fronds.

Shaved Fennel and Arugula Salad with Blood Oranges and Walnuts

Serves four

Ingredients for the salad

  • 1 medium fennel, top trimmed off and fronds reserved
  • 4 blood oranges
  • 6-7 c baby arugula
  • ¼c toasted chopped walnuts

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Ingredients for the dressing

  • l blood orange
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1  T minced shallot
  • 1 t honey
  • ½t fennel seed
  • 1 t salt
  • ½c extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions for the dressing

  1. Juice the orange, you should have about ¼ cup.
  2. In a dry skillet, lightly toast the fennel seeds until fragrant. Cool slightly and crush with a mortar and pestle.
  3. Stir all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Reserve.

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Directions for the salad

  1.  Slice fennel very thinly crosswise with a mandoline or a very sharp knife, stopping before you get to the core. You should have 1½ to 2 cups.
  2. Using a very sharp knife, cut the peel and white pith from the oranges. Slice crosswise into thin rounds.
  3. In a large bowl add fennel and arugula and toss to combine. Whisk the dressing together to recombine. Add some of the dressing to the arugula and fennel and toss lightly. Season with salt and pepper. Add the blood orange sections and toss gently. Divide among the salad plates and top each portion with fennel fronds and walnuts. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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February 6, 2016 Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Orange and Tarragon

 

DSC_5828aThe produce department of a well stocked supermarket is a happy place for me. I love looking at neat rows of perfect produce with automatic misters that always seem to turn on the minute I reach in to pick out my choice. I look for new vegetables I have read about in food magazines. Kale sprouts? Not in local stores yet. I am inspired to try that new recipe, create a new salad. I bemoan the high cost of tiny bunches of fresh herbs and swear that I will ask Joe to pot up more to use in the winter season. In our gardening “off season” I can even find local lettuces and greens grown in indoor greenhouses not far from where I live.

About a month ago I discovered one of my favorite vegetables was missing from it’s place of prominence on the shelves. Cauliflower, usually placed near it’s cousin broccoli was all but missing in action. When I did find it, it was banished to a corner at the very end of the produce aisle. There was only a very sparse offering and the heads were probably half the size of those from local farms available just a few months ago. And the price? These tiny heads were selling at $5.99 a piece, I could easily pass that up.

After a little research, I learned that the problem was due to the changing weather and rainfall patterns from a strong El Nino in the primary areas where it is grown, California’s Imperial Valley and near Yuma Arizona. The combination of cauliflower’s current status as most favored vegetable (sorry kale!) and the recent shortage led to it’s conspicuous absence.

Several weeks have passed and the price is coming down a bit so I have currently suspended my moratorium on cauliflower. This salad, roasted curried cauliflower with orange and tarragon in the latest issue of Fine Cooking was the inspiration for my return.

Florets of cauliflower and thinly sliced shallots are tossed with curry powder, olive oil, salt and pepper. Since they can vary in heat quite a bit, I chose a sweet curry powder from Penzey’s. Curry powders are are a blend of spices, thirteen in this case, including turmeric, coriander, cumin and ginger, just to name a few. You can also make your own curry blend according to your tastes. The cauliflower and shallots are spread out on a large baking sheet and roasted until the vegetables are tender and browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Watch carefully, since I was using convection heat I reduced the temperature from 450°F to 425°F. I also stir the cauliflower around at about the halfway point to insure even browning.

While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the orange segments, I discuss how to do it here. Unlike cauliflower, oranges and all citrus are plentiful and priced well this time of year. If you don’t want to try your hand at supreming, substitute Mandarin orange segments, not the ones packed in syrup, of course!

The vinaigrette is composed of rice vinegar, Dijon mustard, orange juice and extra virgin olive oil. Fresh tarragon brings a “licoricey” flavor to the dressing but if the expense of a small container of fresh tarragon bothers you as much as it does me, skip it or add a little dried. Toss the cooled vegetables along with the orange segments, almonds, currants and mache. I used a mache “blend” from Organic Girl that includes mache rosettes, baby red and green chard and tango lettuce. It’s a good quality product for non garden months. You could also choose baby arugula or any salad blend.

We loved the salad and finished it in one sitting. The flavors and textures all contrast very nicely. I added a little crumbled soft goat cheese to our salads, some chickpeas or finely chopped fennel would also be an interesting addition. This could also double as a vegetarian main dish and would be great for a buffet.

Roasted  Cauliflower Salad with Orange and Tarragon

Serves four (or two very hungry people)

  • 1 large head cauliflower cut into 1″ florets (about 8 cups)
  • 1 c thinly sliced shallots
  • 1½t curry powder
  • 7 T extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 large oranges (I used Cara Cara)
  • 1 T rice vinegar
  • 2 t Dijon mustard
  • 2-3 T chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1/3 c coarsely chopped tamari almonds or toasted slivered almonds
  • ¼c dried currants
  • 5-6 c mâche or baby arugula

Directions

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven to 450°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  2. Toss the cauliflower and shallots with the curry powder, 2 T oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast until the vegetables are tender and browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool.
  3. Slice the ends of the oranges so they rest flat on a cutting board, cut off the peel and the pith. Working over a bowl, cut the orange segments free from the membranes, letting them fall into the bowl. Squeeze the juice out of the membranes into a small bowl.
  4. In another small bowl, whisk the vinegar and the mustard. Slowly whisk in the remaining 5 T oil. Whisk in 3 T of the orange juice and the tarragon. Season to taste.
  5. Add the cauliflower, almonds and currants to the orange segments and toss with enough vinaigrette to coat well. Add the mache and toss again. Drizzle with remaining vinaigrette and serve.

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Cauliflower tossed with curry powder. The orange color comes from the turmeric.
Cauliflower tossed with curry powder. The orange color comes from the turmeric.
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Delicious!

January 30, 2016 Spinach, Blood Orange and Bean Salad with Sprouts

DSC_5806aThe February issue of Bon Appetit includes a nine page (ten if you count the colorful illustration on the first page) article devoted to beans. The title, “Cool Beans” brings a smile to my face because it was an often used expression of a dear friend of mine.

“Cool Beansincludes a four step method on how to cook dried beans from scratch, a pictorial of some of the prettiest beans I have ever seen, available by mail order only and they even address the, ahem, gas issue. There are recipes for cassoulets, pastas, stews and chilis. What caught my attention however was a bean salad; blood orange and mixed bean salad with sprouts. Since I wanted to make the salad for that evening, I needed to forgo the soaking and the next day slow cooking. So I did the next best, and most practical thing, I used a can of cannellini beans, Goya is my brand of choice. If you use canned beans, rinse and drain them well. A large can of cannellini beans will give you 1 1/2 cups of beans as opposed to the 2 cups in the original recipe.

The salad comes together very quickly. Blood orange segments, readily available this time of year enhance the salad with beautiful garnet red color and deep sweet orange flavor with just a little bit of raspberry tartness. Celery slices, underused in salads (at least by me) and broccoli sprouts give a crisp contrast. Fennel would be an interesting substitution for celery. The dressing is a very simple vinaigrette, lime juice, sherry vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and a small Thai chili. Our rather large supply of frozen chilis pack as much heat as any fresh one. My additions to the original recipe were baby spinach leaves and toasted almonds for crunch. Top the salad with some cilantro or parsley leaves. This salad probably could serve four but we ate it in one sitting as a side dish.

The origin of the expression “cool beans”? A Cheech and Chong movie? The 80’s sitcom Full House? There doesn’t seem to be a true concensus. What I do know is that it’s time to place an order for some heirloom beans so I can make this delcious salad again.

Spinach, Blood Orange and Bean Salad with Sprouts

Serves four

For the vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 2T fresh lime juice
  • 2t Sherry or red wine vinegar
  • ¼c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small Thai chili, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

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Directions

  1. Whisk ingredients together in a medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Set aside.

For the salad

Ingredients

  • 6c baby spinach leaves
  • 1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and well drained or fresh cooked beans
  • 3 blood or navel oranges
  • 1c celery stalks, sliced thinly on the diagonal
  • ½c radish or broccoli sprouts
  • ¼c toasted almond slivers
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

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Directions

  1. Add beans to vinaigrette and toss to coat, let sit for 10 minutes for flavors to blend.
  2. Remove peel and pith with a small, very sharp knife from 3 blood or navel oranges. Cut crosswise into ¼” thick rounds.
  3. Add the spinach, orange sections, celery slices and sprouts to the bowl with beans and toss. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Top with additional sprouts, cilantro leaves and toasted almonds.
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The borlotti beans we grow in the garden are very pretty. Unfortunately they lose their mottled color when cooked.

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January 26, 2016 Smoky Bacon and Lentil Soup

DSC_5761aThe anticipation of a cold and snowy weekend was a good reason to make a slow cooker soup. It only took about twenty minutes to put this smoky bacon and lentil soup together on a Friday afternoon.

Lentils are very nutritious. Rich in minerals, vitamins and fiber, they contain more protein than whole grains like brown rice. They have an earthy, nutty flavor and are low in fat and have zero cholesterol.

Unlike other dried beans, lentils can be prepared the day of serving since a presoak is not necessary.  Spread lentils on a light colored plate or board to check for and remove small stones or debris. Then place the lentils in a fine strainer and rinse them until cool running water. Purchase fresh lentils in a store where you know there is high product turnover to ensure freshness. Store them in an airtight container away from heat and moisture, they will stay fresh for about a year.
I chose a flavorful, aromatic cherrywood bacon for my soup. Choose a thick cut or slab bacon for easy dicing. Fry the chopped bacon in a heavy skillet, until brown and add to the slow cooker. In the rendered bacon fat, saute the onion and carrot until the onion is translucent, add them to the cooker.  Now for the easy part, add the lentils, broth, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, smoked paprika and ground pepper to the slow cooker.

Green or brown lentils work best in this recipe because they hold their shape.  I cooked the soup on low for seven hours and turned it off before we went to bed. The next day I turned the heat to low for an hour to warm it back up before it went to the keep warm setting. We had a  satisfying and delicious soup that fortified Joe between his plowing and snow blowing sessions in the blizzard of 2016.

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Smoky Bacon and Lentil Soup

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 8oz smoky slab or thick cut bacon
  • 6c chopped yellow onion
  • 1c chopped carrots
  • 1½ quarts of low sodium chicken broth or chicken stock
  • 1¼c brown lentils
  • 1c canned diced tomatoes (I used a variety with green chilies)
  • 1T tomato paste
  • 1T smoked paprika
  • 1t ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Cut the bacon into medium dice. Fry in a large heavy skillet over medium heat until brown and crisp, about 7-8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to the slow cooker insert. Leave the bacon fat in the skillet.
  2. Add the carrots and onion to the skillet and cook until the onions are translucent, 4-5 minutes. Scrape the onion and carrots into the slow cooker.
  3. Stir in the broth, lentils, tomatoes, tomato paste, smoked paprika and pepper.
  4. Cover and cook on low for 7 hours or high for 3 hours.

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January 21, 2016 Scallop Salad with Gremolata and Asian Vinaigrette

DSC_5726aThis is a twist on a recipe in the latest issue of Fine Cooking. In the Fine Cooking version, the scallops were tossed in a mixtue of citrus and Asian ingredients for a quick marinade. I wanted to make mine a salad so I patted the scallops dry, seared them and the marinade ingredients became the basis for an easy vinaigrette.
I love scallops for a quick meal and the jumbo sea scallops at Heller’s Seafood this week were pristine and just perfect. Wherever you shop, look for dry scallops. Wet scallops are soaked in a preservative phosphate solution. The solution preserves and whitens the scallops and causes them to absorb more water. So when you cook wet scallops they don’t brown as well or not at all because of the extra liquid. They can also have a soapy taste. Dry scallops are shucked and shipped packed on ice with no preservatives.  Therefore they have a shorter shelf life and are fresher when you buy them. Dry scallops come with a higher price tag, but they are fresher and you are not paying for water weight.

It’s fairly easy to tell the difference, wet scallops are bright white because of the phosphate solution and dry scallops are ivory or pinkish. Don’t hesitate to sniff them, the scallops should smell like the ocean.  When in doubt, ask, and if they don’t know, run! You shouldn’t be shopping there anyway.

Prepare scallops by first removing the tough abductor muscle, it peels off easily. Then I pat them dry on both sides with paper towels. I coat a non-stick skillet with a neutral oil (vegetable or canola). Be sure that your skillet will hold the scallops without crowding them, you want to sear, not steam them. I turn the heat up to high and wait for the first sizzle. I add the scallops to the pan in a clockwise fashion with any extras in the middle. That way I know what scallop has cooked the longest. Now is the hard part, cook the scallops without moving them until a little peek (lift up the spatula a bit) shows a deep golden crust. Be sure not to overcook, you want the middle to stay tender and sweet.  Two to three minutes per side will do.

Gremolata is made from parsley, garlic and lemon zest and is the traditional topping for braised veal shank or osso buco. This version takes on a definite Asian flair using cilantro, garlic, sesame seeds and lime zest. These flavors harmonize perfectly with the sweet scallops. The marinade for the scallops included mirin, lime juice, ginger and sesame oil. In case you didn’t know, mirin is a type of rice wine, like sake but mirin is sweet and has a higher alcohol content. When you are looking for sesame oil it should be the dark variety. Both mirin and dark sesame oil are readily available in the Asian section of the supermarket.  I used these flavors with a little additional honey to dress my salad greens with. I chose baby arugula, but a spring mix or baby spinach would work well too.

This dish comes together quickly, both the gremolata and the vinaigrette are easy to make. It is just important to take the time to cook the scallops correctly. This recipe can be doubled and is perfect for a first course or part of a small plates dinner.

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Don’t crowd the pan, give the scallops room to brown, too close and they will steam.

Scallop Salad with Gremolata and Asian Vinaigrette

Serves 2

Ingredients for the scallops

  • ½ to ¾lb dry packed sea scallops (about 6)
  • A neutral cooking oil, canola for example
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions for cooking the scallops

  1. Remove the tough abductor muscle from the side of each scallop (some scallops are sold with the muscle already removed). If you feel any grit on the scallops, rinse them under cold water. Pat the scallops dry with paper towels; surface moisture impedes browning.
  2. Heat a 10- or 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the oil and heat until quite hot. Pat the scallops dry once more and put them in the pan in a single, uncrowded layer. Season with salt and pepper and let sear undisturbed until one side is browned and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, turn the scallops and sear until the second side is well browned and the scallops are almost firm to the touch, 2 to 4 minutes.
  3. Take the pan off the heat, transfer the scallops to a plate, and set them in a warm spot while you finish the other components of the recipe.

Ingredients for the sesame cilantro gremolata

  • ¼c finely chopped cilantro
  • 1T toasted sesame seeds
  • 2t finely chopped garlic
  • 1t lime zest

Directions for the sesame cilantro gremolata

  1. In a small bowl, combine the cilantro, sesame seeds, garlic and lime zest. Set aside.

Ingredients for the dressing

  • 3T mirin
  • 1t grated ginger
  • 2t fresh lime juice
  • 1t honey (or more to taste)
  • 3T sesame oil

Directions for the dressing

  1. In a small bowl whisk all the ingredients together. Set aside

Final Assembly of the salad

Ingredients

  • 4-5 cups of baby arugula, spring mix or baby spinach

Directions

  1. Place the greens in one medium or individual salad plates.
  2. Top with seared scallops
  3. Sprinkle gremolata on the scallops.
  4. Dress greens and scallops lightly with dressing.
  5. Serve immediately.

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January 13, 2016 Smoky Indonesian Style Chicken Curry

DSC_5680aSmoky Indonesian style chicken curry gets it’s intense heat from pasilla chilies, smoked paprika and sambal oelek balanced with the fragrant warm spices of ginger, coriander and cumin. This is another recipe from Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough’s article, Slow Cooker Secrets in Fine Cooking magazine

The dark meat of chicken thighs is a natural for the long simmer in the slow cooker. In this recipe, no browning is required,  the skin is removed before cooking and the thighs are coated with a rich complex chile paste.

Pasillas are the chile of choice for this recipe. A variety we have grown for many years, pasilla roughly translates “little raisin” from the Spanish, referring to the way the dark green fruit turns a reddish brown and slightly wrinkled when mature.  I especially like it for it’s mild heat and versatility for use in Mexican and Asian cuisine.Pasilla chiles can be used in chili sauces and pastes as well as moles. They are wonderful fresh on the grill in summer along with a steak.  Pasillas are rich, earthy and mildly spicy with just a hint of sweetness.

We had a bumper crop of peppers this year and to preserve the harvest, I dry some of them. Start with whole, unblemished peppers that have been washed and dried. Place the peppers on a wire mesh rack over a large baking sheet with room between each pepper for air to circulate. I used the lowest convection setting (140°F) in my oven. Drying time varies and I check them every now and then to see how they are progressing. Smaller peppers will dry quicker, the larger ones could take a day or more.  It is important that the peppers are completely dry before storing. Partially dry peppers will turn moldy and ruin the whole container, I know from prior experience.

To use dried chilies, reconstitute by placing them in a bowl and covering them with boiling water. Check at about twenty minutes to see if they are soft. To make the chili paste, the reconstituted pasillas are combined with shallot, lemongrass, tomato paste, spices, brown sugar and sambal oelek. I am fortunate to have a large supply of lemongrass at my disposal. Our lemongrass plant grows large and bushy in the garden every summer. Joe harvests a large portion of the stalks that I freeze for recipes like this. The significantly cut back plant is brought indoors for the winter where it’s only predator is Cody, our Golden Retriever who enjoys nibbling on the leaves. Lemongrass has a mild citrus flavor with a floral aroma. Sambal oelek is a ground paste made only of chili peppers and salt.  It is less acidic than sriracha and is chunkier and thicker in texture.  It is readily available in the Asian section of most supermarkets.

The chili ingredients are combined in the blender and chicken broth is added to make a thick sauce. I needed more broth than the original recipe called for, use as much broth as you need to make the sauce smooth, not chunky. Layer the potato pieces at the bottom of the slow cooker. Season the chicken pieces generously with salt and pepper. I found it easier to spread the chili paste on the chicken after it was in the slow cooker. Put the lid on and cook until the chicken and potatoes are tender, 2 to 3 hours on high, 6 hours on low. Turn the slow cooker on high (if you were cooking on low) and sprinkle the green beans evenly over the chicken and cook until crisp tender, 30 minutes. Add peas and cook until heated through, 10 minutes. They suggest serving it with rice, but one starch (potatoes) is sufficient for me.

Dried pasilla bajio chilies from the garden.
Dried pasilla bajio chilies from the garden.

 

Smoky Indonesian Style Chicken Curry

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 5 dried pasilla or New Mexico chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 small shallot, quartered
  • 2 Tbs. thinly sliced lemongrass
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 2 Tbs. sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbs. minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbs. packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs. sambal oelek
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 tsp. dried coriander
  • Kosher salt
  • 6 Tbs. lower-salt chicken broth
  • 8 bone-in chicken thighs (about 3-1/4 lb.), skin removed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-1/4 lb. waxy potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 3-1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2/3 cup thawed frozen peas
Ingredients for the chili paste.
Ingredients for the chili paste.
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The ingredients are blended together.
Chicken thighs are coated with the chili paste before cooking.
Chicken thighs are coated with the chili paste before cooking.

Directions

  1. Put the chiles in a medium bowl and cover with boiling water; set aside to soften for 20 minutes. Drain, then transfer the chiles to a blender.
  2. Add the shallot, lemongrass, tomato paste, smoked paprika, ginger, brown sugar, sambal oelek, cumin, coriander, and 2 tsp. salt. Blend the mixture until smooth, drizzling the broth through the hole in the lid and stopping occasionally to scrape down the inside of the jar.
  3. Generously season the chicken with salt and pepper and spread evenly with the chile mixture. Layer the potatoes in the bottom of a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker and arrange the chicken in an even layer on top. Cover and cook until the potatoes are fork-tender and the chicken is tender but not falling off the bone, 2 to 3 hours on high and 6 hours on low. (The curry can stay on the keep-warm setting for up to 3 hours.)
  4. About 45 minutes before serving, turn the slow cooker to high (if it was on low or keep-warm), sprinkle the green beans evenly over the top, cover, and cook until crisp-tender, about 30 minutes. Add the peas and cook until heated through, about 10 minutes. Stir to combine, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.

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January 9, 2016 Spicy Slow Cooked Short Ribs with Lime and Basil

DSC_5664aI received my first slow cooker, a Crock Pot, almost thirty four years ago as a wedding present. It’s a very basic model,  just a low and high setting, no timers or special functions. Even though I have never replaced the glass lid that broke many years ago, I have other lids that fit just fine and it works as well today as the day I got it. I confess that in recent years my crock pot didn’t get much use, maybe just a little foodie snobbery on my part, only on Thanksgiving to keep soup warm or for hot apple cider. Then last February Joe used it to cook a short rib recipe from an article in a magazine as part of the multi course meal he treats me with every year for Valentine’s Day.

Before Christmas I discovered my brother and sister in law were in need of a slow cooker and I decided it would be a great and very practical gift.  I did some research and found one that I thought would fit the bill.  Not only can you slow cook in this model, you can brown your meat, steam vegetables or fish and it has a “keep warm” function that keeps your finished dish warm up to eight hours. Little did I know that when I was doing my research my hubby was looking for one for me as well. That meant my sister in law and I received new slow cookers (Cuisinart brand) as Christmas presents. It was the first gift I opened Christmas morning since Joe was anxious to recreate the recipe for our Christmas dinner.

The recipe for spicy slow cooked short ribs with lime and basil came from an article with recipes, Slow Cooker Secrets, in Fine Cooking magazine. Cookbook authors Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough wrote the article in conjunction with their recently published, The Great American Slow Cooker Book. Their goal in writing this book was to achieve the best results from an appliance that is found over 80% of American homes. They have found that the low and slow temperatures and the high moisture environment of the slow cooker are the perfect combination for braising all kinds of dishes. The busy cook can prepare their meal early in the day, set it and forget it while at work or doing other things.

Short ribs are a perfect match for the slow cooker. The meat is dense and well marbled with connective tissue that softens during the long cooking process.  Be sure to get English cut short ribs which are cut parallel to the bone rather than cut across the bone. Ribs cut across the bone are referred to as flanken cut and are used for Korean style short ribs.  Even though our slow cooker has a browning function, Joe thought he would achieve higher temperatures and better browning in a skillet. Once browned, the ribs are set aside and the onion is added to the same pan and cooked until soft. Additional aromatics, ginger, thyme, chilis, garlic, nutmeg and allspice are the next additions to the pan. The original recipe uses Thai bird chilies cut in half, we used whole (frozen from the garden) for a little less heat.

The next step is small but adds a unique flavor to the sauce.  A half cup of lime marmalade is stirred into the onions and aromatics.  Lime marmalade is found in the British section of many larger supermarkets and I think it’s tangy sweetness is worth looking for. If you can’t find it, orange marmalade is a good substitute, just add a little fresh lime juice and peel.

Add this sauce to the slow cooker insert, stir in soy and chicken broth and nestle your short ribs in the sauce. The ribs are cooked on low for 9 hours or 5-6 on high. The final step is to move the finished ribs to a platter, then defat and finish the sauce. Stir chopped basil into the sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with additional basil leaves. We made this twice in the week between Christmas and New Year, once with bone-in short ribs, the other time with boneless, both were delicious. The short ribs were incredibly tender and the sauce was spicy with a delicious citrusy tang.   We served this with soft polenta finished with some Parmesan to sop up the juices. A definite keeper for us.

The recipe uses English style short ribs, perfect for the slow cooker.
The recipe uses English style short ribs, perfect for the slow cooker.
Brown the short ribs in a skillet or your slow cooker insert.
Brown the short ribs in a skillet or your slow cooker insert.
After the meat is browned, the onion and aromatics are added to the pan.
After the meat is browned, the onion and aromatics are added to the pan.

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Adding the browned short ribs to the slow cooker insert.
My new Cuisinart slow cooker.
My new Cuisinart slow cooker.
Nestling the browned short ribs into the sauce.
Nestling the browned short ribs into the sauce.

 

 

Spicy Short Ribs with Lime and Basil

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 1T peanut oil
  • 3lb bone-in short ribs
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 6 small Thai bird chilies, stemmed and halved lengthwise
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, quartered
  • 1 3-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
  • 1t dried thyme
  • ½t ground allspice
  • ¼t freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½c lime marmalade
  • ½c lower salt chicken broth
  • 2T soy sauce
  • 1T white wine vinegar
  • 2T finely chopped fresh basil leaves; plus small leaves for garnish
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet (or removable insert).
  2. Add half the short ribs, turn once, brown well.
  3. Transfer ribs to a bowl, repeat with remaining ribs.
  4. Add onion and cook stirring often until soft (about 3 minutes).
  5. Add chiles, garlic, ginger, thyme, allspice and nutmeg
  6. Stir until fragrant (about 1 minute).
  7. Add marmalade and stir until melted.
  8. Pour contents into slow cooker insert, if you were cooking in a skillet.
  9. Stir in broth and soy sauce.
  10. Nestle the ribs into the sauce pouring the meat juices into the pot.
  11. Cover and cook until fork tender (5-6 hrs on high or 9 hrs on high).
  12. The cooked ribs can stay on the “keep warm” setting for up to 2 hrs.
  13. Use tongs to transfer the short ribs to serving bowls or a platter.
  14. Strain the sauce, set aside.
  15. Pour the sauce into a saucepan.
  16. Add the vinegar to the sauce, bring to a boil, until reduced by half (about 8 min).
  17. Stir in basil and cook for 1 minute to let the flavors meld.
  18. Season to taste with salt and pepper, pour sauce over the short ribs.
  19. Garnish with small basil leaves.
Short ribs served on a bed of polenta.
Short ribs served on a bed of polenta.

 

 

January 5, 2016 Roasted Vegetable Salad

DSC_5416aJust because we are in the middle of a chilly (notice I didn’t say cold) and somewhat rainy winter, doesn’t mean that a green salad can’t be part of your meal. I have been using a formula from an article in Fine Cooking to make delicious and interesting winter salads. Hearty roasted vegetable salads combine mixed winter greens with roasted winter vegetables and fruits, nuts, cheeses and dried fruits.

I confess that even though I’m not making the trek out to the greenhouse these days where I still might find some spinach or claytonia, my local supermarkets are providing a varied assortment of fresh salad greens. I always purchase a smaller package because I am more likely use them up before the recommended expiration date. Choose from one of the many blends in your produce section or go solo with baby arugula or spinach.

Winter root vegetables are the next component in the salad. I line my pan first with parchment paper for easy clean up.  Uniformity is the key here, cut everything into a 3/4 inch dice or wedge and toss with a little olive oil and some kosher salt. If you choose to roast red beets they will need to be on a pan of their own so they won’t bleed into the other fruits and vegetables. High heat cooking carmelizes and brings out the sweetness in the vegetables and fruit. Just remember not to crowd the pan or you will end up steaming them.

Dried fruit balances out the bitterness of the greens, for this recipe I chose dried cherries. Some aged Gouda brings another layer of flavor and toasted slivered almonds add a little crunch. Toss the salad with a simple fruity vinaigrette, I combined a tangy red apple vinegar with toasted almond oil from the Tubby Olive.

Roasted Vegetable Salad

Ingredients

  • 4 generous cups winter greens such as spinach, arugula, endive, baby greens-kale, chard etc.
  • Roasted root vegetables and fruit, I used a combination of red and gold beets, and a firm tart apple such as a Braeburn, roasting recipe follows
  • ¼c toasted slivered almonds
  • 1/3c diced aged Gouda
  • 3T dried cherries
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
I roasted red and golden beets along with apples. Toasted almonds and dried cherries complemented the flavors nicely.
I roasted red and golden beets along with apples. Toasted almonds and dried cherries complemented the flavors nicely.

 

For the vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 2T red apple balsamic vinegar
  • 1t honey
  • ½t Dijon mustard
  • 3T toasted almond oil
  • ¼ t grated lemon peel
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl.
  2. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the Roasted Vegetables

Ingredients

  • 6c mixed root vegetables and fruit (I used red and golden beets and apples) trimmed and cut into ¾ inch wedges
  • Olive oil to coat the vegetables
  • Kosher salt

Directions

  1. Position racks in the upper and lower third of the oven. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. In a large bowl combine the golden beets with the apples. Toss them with a little oil and some kosher salt. Transfer them to a large parchment lined heavy duty baking sheet and spread out in a single layer. Repeat the process with the red beets and transfer to their own baking sheet.
  3. Roast, flipping over with a spatula halfway through and rotating the baking sheets. The vegetables should be browned and tender.  It took me about 18 minutes, watch carefully so you don’t burn them.
Roasted golden beets and apples, red beets were roasted separately.
Roasted golden beets and apples, red beets were roasted separately.

 

Directions for assembling the salad

  1. Put the greens in a bowl large enough to toss them. Drizzle the greens with about 2T of the vinaigrette. Toss the greens well and add a little more dressing if necessary. Arrange greens on salad plates or a large platter.
  2. Season the roasted vegetables lightly with some of the remaining vinaigrette. Arrange them over the greens, then top with the nuts, cheese and fruit.
  3. Serve with freshly ground pepper and additional dressing if desired.

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December 8, 2015 Smoked Turkey Chili

DSC_5319aFor the first time in about thirty years we did not host Thanksgiving dinner. We did celebrate my favorite holiday with friends and family in a collaborative effort that was enjoyed by all. Our contribution included a fall salad, curried butternut squash soup, and smoked turkey breasts.

When we hosted Thanksgiving, the traditional roasted turkey was always on the table along with at least one other turkey variation. We did the puff pastry turkey à la Martha, delicious deep fried turkey, quick but dangerous on a wooden deck on a windy day. We have even smoked ducks, geese, Cornish game hens, but the favorite was and is still the smoked turkey.

We had plenty for the eleven of us who gathered for Thanksgiving dinner and plenty to take home for leftovers. Over the next several days that meant smoked turkey wraps with coleslaw and cranberry chutney and smoked turkey quesadillas, both great ways to use it. With more smoked turkey to “repurpose”, I thought a smoked turkey chili would be a great way to use what we had left.

When I normally make chili, I brown the onion and pepper first, then add uncooked ground turkey meat and brown it. Since I had already cooked turkey I wanted to add it later in the recipe, so the meat would be warmed up, not dried out and over cooked. This recipe is so simple and the smoky flavor of the turkey is great in a chili. You can make this as spicy or as mild as you choose. I used a medium chili powder, cumin and some chipotle powder which added it’s own smokiness.

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Smoked Turkey Chili

Serves four to six

Ingredients

  • 1/3c each orange, red and yellow bell peppers, finely chopped
  •  1 cup chopped yellow onion
  •  1 t chopped garlic
  •  2T vegetable oil
  •  4c cooked kidney beans or other beans of your choice
  • 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
  •  4-5c medium diced smoked turkey
  •  1c chicken stock
  • 1T chili powder (medium to hot according to your preference)
  • 1t ground cumin
  • 1 chipotle chili powder
  •  1t salt or to taste
    Chopped green onions, with tops (for garnish)

Directions

  1. Sauté the bell peppers, chopped yellow onion and garlic in oil over medium-high heat until they are just tender.
  2. Combine the cooked peppers, onion and garlic with the remaining ingredients (exept the green onions). Bring the turkey chili just to the boil, then reduce the heat. Simmer for one-half hour, stirring occasionally.

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