Sunday, September 23, 2012

back to where it all began


I'm still in a bit of a rut cooking-wise, but I'm hoping to drag myself out slowly and surely. I've had some inspiring meals at great restaurants, and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Tonight, though, I still had to depend on Matty's creativity to decide on dinner. In between plays of Sunday Night Football, he requested Superfantastic Brussels Sprouts, a recipe I've made for countless Thanksgivings, but hadn't really given much thought during the rest of the year.

But what to serve them with? Freezer-diving came up with more sausage, but they weren't going to thaw by the time we wanted to eat. We did find a yummy rice medley from Trader Joe's in the freezer - brown rice, red rice and black barley, all in a convenient microwavable pack. I'm afraid this does my people a disservice, but I find it difficult to convince myself to make a pot of rice when TJ's makes it so easy and delicious.

Off to the grocery store we went for a big stalk of Brussels sprouts and some sausage. For some reason, we couldn't find regular Italian sausage at Trader Joe's, so we picked up their Italian sausage-style chicken sausage. Matty wasn't thrilled with the idea initially, but it actually turned out well. The flavor reminded us a little of my childhood staple gio lua, and I appreciated the hit of nostalgia.

The original Superfantastic recipe calls for braising the Brussels sprouts in apple cider, but since I didn't want to compete with the flavor of the meat, I chose to use vegetable broth. I may like it even better - just a pure hit of mustardy savoriness, no sweetness. The rice medley was a perfect accompaniment - substantial enough to hold up to the flavors of the meat and veggies, while providing a decent bit of textural contrast and good chew. I think this is going to be a fall/winter staple.

Brussels Sprouts + Chicken Sausage in Mustard Sauce
Serves 2-3

1 T. olive oil
3/4 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 c. vegetable broth
4 links cooked chicken sausage
1 t. Creole mustard, or more to taste
1 T. flour
rice, for serving

1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the Brussels sprouts in one layer, cut side down. Cook, without disturbing, for 2 minutes to lightly brown.

2. Add the broth and chicken sausage, and cover the pan. Cook for 4 additional minutes or until the Brussels sprouts are tender to your taste. Remove the Brussels sprouts and sausage to a bowl, reserving the cooking liquid.

3. Lower the heat so that the liquid is barely simmering. Start with 1 t. mustard, and add more to your taste. Quickly whisk in 1 T. flour to thicken the sauce to a gravy - about 30 seconds.

4. Return the Brussels sprouts and sausage to the pan and toss quickly to coat. Serve over rice.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

thinking of winter



The cooking rut continues. I think it has to do with my OCD need to have a menu planned for the week by Sunday so I can have the fridge full. I'm unhappy when I can't fill up the week. I'm trying to loosen up, but some things are hard to let go.

More psuedo-"Chopped" action: freezer-diving. I came up with Italian sausage left over from the housewarming, so I Googled for some recipe ideas and came across Elise's. Maybe it's not cold enough yet to be making risotto or eating something so hearty, but it sounded delicious. I went back into the freezer to thaw the sausage, and unearthed a pound of venison sausage. Hmm, way more interesting than Italian sausage. Why not?

As I was going through the pantry to grab the rice and stock, I found a massive bag of dried shiitake mushrooms. I have no recollection of buying them, but there they were, and I thought these umami bombs would make a perfect complement to the venison.

Well, I was right that I should have saved this for winter, but it was amazing. The flavors were great - the venison, the shiitake, the beef stock, the mushroom stock, the marsala wine all combined to make a dark, complex, yet comforting meal. I definitely had to cut the richness with some dark green veggies. Asparagus or artichoke might also work here, but probably not season-appropriate.

Venison Shiitake Risotto
adapted from Simply Recipes
Serves 6-8

3 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms
4 c. boiling water
3 T. olive oil, divided
1 lb. hot venison sausage, removed from casings
1 T. chopped fresh thyme
5 oz. chard, kale, spinach or a mixture
1 large onion, diced
2 c. arborio rice
1 c. Marsala wine
4 c. beef stock

1. Place the dried mushrooms in a large Pyrex measuring cup. Add boiling water to come up to the 4-cup mark, and set a plate over the mushrooms to keep them submerged for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the mushrooms, slice finely and set aside. Reserve the mushroom liquid.

2. Heat 2 T. olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, mushrooms and thyme, and stir to brown and break up the sausage. Add 1 c. of the reserved mushroom liquid, and cook until the mushrooms are tender and the liquid has mostly evaporated, about 10 minutes. Stir in the greens until wilted.

3. Heat 1 T. olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the rice, stirring to coat. Add the marsala, and cook, stirring constantly, until it has been absorbed. Add the beef stock, a cup at a time, waiting until it has been absorbed before adding the next cup. Lastly, add 1 c. of the reserved mushroom liquid, taking care to leave out the grit that may be at the bottom of the cup, and cook, stirring until the liquid is absorbed, and the rice is al dente.

4. Stir in the sausage mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

let's get creative



I just hit a wall of cooking creativity this weekend. Nothing I've Pinned sounded good; I couldn't even bear to drag the cookbooks out. We're still in the processing of exploring our new neighborhood, so I was going to resign myself to eating out every day this week.

Then Matty had to run (yet another) errand to the hardware store, so I asked him to pop into Whole Foods to grab a couple things that he would want me to make for dinner. When in doubt, play a game of Chopped.

He bought pre-mixed Cajun salmon burger patties and a handful of poblanos - so thoughtful since I'm still going bread-free. I broke down the patties, stuffed them into poblanos and baked them on top of a bed of garden tomatoes and a small onion. I was hoping to make more of a sauce, but I guess 45 minutes wasn't really enough time to do much to the tomato-onion mixture. Next time, I think I'll puree the tomatoes and onion together first and not wait for the oven to break them down.

Still a pretty successful dish. I served it over some rice mixed with a mixture of parsley and cilantro, but I imagine some homemade refried beans would be delicious as well.

Salmon-Stuffed Poblanos
Serves 2

4 medium tomatoes, diced
1 small red onion, diced
1 T. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
2 large poblano peppers
2 Cajun salmon burger patties

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. In a 9x9-inch pan, toss together the tomatoes, red onion and olive oil. Season to taste.

3. Cut each poblano in half and remove the seeds. Stuff half a salmon patty into each poblano half.

4. Set the poblanos on top of the tomato mixture, and cover the pan tightly with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes.

5. Serve over rice and/or beans.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

something to remember


This may be the ideal tailgate/game-watch plate. Wings from Hoagies & Wings, my friend Olivia's nearly-definitive guacamole, her husband Marc's ceviche, and my contribution, Creamless Creamed Corn. I always try to make sure we have veggies involved, and since there's no dairy in this one, it's actually healthy (I'm not pointing any fingers at your delicious blue cheese coleslaw, Paul).

To be completely fair, this is a really fussy recipe. Grating ears of corn? I don't think they mention in the original recipe that sends corn juice flying just about everywhere. It's a really good thing this was incredibly delicious. I even had a fleeting thought of putting this on the Thanksgiving menu, but I'm not sure how good the corn is come November, and I doubt this can be duplicated with canned or frozen corn. Worth a try - there are plenty of games (and lest we forget, plenty of fighting on) left in the season.

Creamless Creamed Corn
adapted from Food52
Serves 6-8

10 ears fresh corn, shucked
2 T. olive oil
1 medium white onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, roughly chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Set a box grater in a large bowl. On the coarse side, grate 5 ears of the corn all the way to the cob. Cut the kernels from the remaining ears of corn.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion, garlic and mushrooms, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until lightly caramelized, about 10-12 minutes. Add the corn and its juices. Cook, stirring, until the corn is thick, 3 minutes. Season to taste and serve.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

it could be so simple


My sister is trying to get into cooking, so being the amazing big sister that I am, I am sending her simple, quick, healthy recipes that she can try after her exhaustingly stressful work days. My criteria:

- anything that dirties up more than 5 things in prep is out
- anything with an ingredient list so long that it makes me roll my eyes at myself is also out

This Honey Mustard Chicken definitely qualifies. Simple ingredients and simple preparation for an end-product that belies all that ease. I think for last-minute company or something, I'd pop the dish under the broiler for a couple minutes to crisp up and darken the skin, but for us, our stomachs were thrilled even if our eyes were indifferent.

I say "slightly adapted" below because I forgot the rosemary (and don't really think I missed it). And I don't like too much sweetness in my savory dishes, so I cut the honey by half, but feel free to adjust according to your tastes.

Honey Mustard Chicken
slightly adapted from Simply Recipes
Serves 4-6


1/2 c. Dijon mustard
1/4 c. honey
1 T. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

6 lbs. chicken thighs and drumsticks

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. In a 13x9 pan, whisk together the Dijon, honey and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.

3. Add the chicken, and toss to thoroughly coat. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, turning once. A thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh piece should read 165 degrees. Serve immediately.


Monday, September 10, 2012

i've been thinking 'bout the straight and narrow



Okay, kids. It's on. I just realized that as of yesterday, I only had 3 weeks of prep time left for my triathlon. That means no more cheating on my pseudo-Paleo, no bread/pasta/dairy rule. That means rice and tortillas are out of the picture (well, after Tuesday - I still have a Blackboard Eats code to Tinga). That means no more having flour in the form of batter since I'm sure a resourceful Paleolithic caveman would have found a way to heat oil to 350 degrees and throw a chicken in it (or Dinah would have showed him how). And for sure, no more pie. No. More. Pie.

That also means more swimming, but a fitness blog this certainly isn't. Just trying to keep myself accountable here.

I just need to remember that food without bread/pasta/dairy is not awful. It could be completely satisfying like tonight's dinner. I could eat this Chorizo-Crusted Cod for days (if cod wasn't so expensive). It seems like the robust chorizo would overwhelm the delicate fish, but they actually worked really well together.

Chorizo-Crusted Cod
slightly adapted from Serious Eats
Serves 2

1 lb. cod fillets
2 Spanish chorizo sausages, sliced
2 T. olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Layer the slices of chorizo on the top of each fillet.

2. Heat the olive oil in an oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Carefully place the fish in the skillet. Cook for two minutes on the stovetop, then transfer to the oven and bake until the fish is cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Serve immediately.

And the side was a full blast of summer freshness. Four more tomatoes from our garden tossed with basil and mint from the garden and topped with a coconut milk granita. Frankly, the granita was a little fussy, adding too much prep time to a gloriously simple dish. I think next time, I'll just toss in a couple spoonfuls of coconut milk to create a dressing and top the salad with the crushed peanuts I forgot from the original recipe, and then it's happy coconut-tomato salad any time I find another ripe tomato on the vine.

Tomato Salad with Coconut Milk Granita
adapted from Tasting Table
Serves 2

1 c. coconut milk
4 small tomatoes, diced
1 sprig basil, chiffonaded
1 sprig mint, chiffonaded
salt to taste

1. Pour the coconut milk into an 8x8 baking pan. Place in the freezer for 2 hours, raking the mixture with a fork every 30 minutes, until shards of coconut ice form.

2. Toss the tomatoes with the basil and mint, and salt to taste. Divide the tomatoes between two plates and top with the coconut milk granita. Serve immediately.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

get it, girl


Doesn't my game-watch spread look virtuous? That's because you don't see the 5 lbs. of spareribs (the Trader Joe's checker told me to "Get it, girl" as he scanned the pork), the box of Hoagies & Wings, and all of my leftover housewarming desserts surrounding this platter. (Speaking of which, would anyone like to come over for pie? It's actually not a question - it's a cry for help).

Ignore the pasta salad. That was store-bought for last week's tailgate, survived the housewarming and today's game watch. Bless you, Costco.

But the other two Pyrex bowls are my two new favorite dips - to the right is an Arugula Aioli, and to the left is a Roasted Fennel White Bean Dip. The arugula aioli is so simple it's a sin - 3/4 c. good-quality mayonnaise food processed with about 5 oz. or arugula. The original recipe calls for watercress, but arugula was what was at Ralphs, and it works just fine. Way better than ranch.

And the white bean dip. Oh my. I finally got to use the rosemary from my garden. I feel like that was the dominant flavor, while the fennel got relegated to the background. I'd roast more fennel next time to blend into the beans. Or perhaps serve the dip with endive leaves to highlight the anise notes.

Roasted Fennel White Bean Dip
adapted from Food52
Serves 12 as an appetizer

For the roasted fennel
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and diced into 1-inch pieces
2-3 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic
salt and pepper

For the bean puree
3/4 c. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 14-oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 T. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 T. lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the fennel and garlic in the olive oil and spread on a sheet pan. Season generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 30-40 minutes, turning twice during cooking. Take out and let cool.

2. In a small frying pan, heat 1/2 c. olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic cloves and cook until lightly golden. Add rosemary and cannellini beans and cook for one minute more. Take it off the heat.

3. In a food processor, combine the bean mixture, fennel, roasted garlic, lemon juice, remaining 1/4 c. olive and puree until smooth. Serve with your favorite vegetables or crackers/crostini.

Friday, September 7, 2012

a lot of movin', a lot of rollin'


I think I'm only just now recovered from our Labor Day housewarming and able to tell you about the deliciousness without the memory of the panic attack I had on Sunday clouding the event.

I thought I had a pretty good grasp on things all last week, planning out when I would go to Costco, when I would start each step of the food preparation, but in that last check-out stand at Ralphs, I got a little overwhelmed. I had never fed 70 people before. What was I thinking? Why wasn't I getting this catered?

But once I got to chopping, food processing, rolling out dough and making jam (!), I knew I wouldn't have been able to handle knowing that I didn't take care of my friends with my own food. And as the friends flowed in, bringing their own delicious creations to share, I knew all would be well. And if it wasn't, I had endless, endless bottles of Maker's Mark housewarming gifts to fix it with.

The menu was quite ambitious, but for the most part, it was just different configurations of things I had already made and knew would work - sausage-stuffed mushrooms made smaller in baby bellas, quinoa cakes made cute for dipping purposes (and blini-sized so that if I had thought about it, I would have gotten some smoked salmon and creme fraiche for adorably high-protein appetizers).

Even one of the desserts was one of my fall-back desserts - crostata della nonna. The fun twist to this one was the homemade fig jam. 

We have a green fig tree in our yard, but we're really bad/lazy about picking them before the birds have a go at them. We've only managed to pick about 3 at a time, so the only thing we've been able to do with them is freeze them until we've amassed enough to make jam.

This microwave jam is no joke. It tastes like sweet Christmas. It's actually a little too sweet for me, but the original recipe had a warning that reducing the sugar might cause it to not set as well. Now that I know the process, I think I'll start reducing the sugar 1/4 c. at a time to see how I get on without destroying my teeth.

Spicy Fig-Orange Microwave Jam
slightly adapted from Simply Recipes
makes 2 cups

1 1/2 c. diced fresh figs
1/2 c. seeded, peeled orange, diced
1 1/2 c. sugar
3 T. lemon 
heaping 1/4 t. ground ginger
heaping 1/4 t. cinnamon

1. Please the ingredients in a large glass bowl, stir to combine, and let sit for 30 minutes for the fruit to macerate in the sugar.

2. Cook the fruit mixture in the microwave on the high setting for approximately 15 minutes. Keep an eye on the mixture so that it doesn't boil over - if it's getting close, stop the microwave and stir a bit before continuing to cook. 

3. Pour directly into your pie crust, or transfer to a lidded container and refrigerate.

But my favorite, and hands-down the biggest challenge of the day was the luscious Chocolate-Berry Slab Pie. There has never been a better case for marble countertops than needing to roll out a crust to fit a 13"x18" pan. I made do with my 1965 tiles, but everything was quite patchy, and I'm glad the only photo I have of it is the one my friend John took above where your eye can focus on other gorgeous creations.

I loved the combination of textures and flavors. Melted dark chocolate and jammy berries should be in my life more often. It would seem from the proportions that 1/4th of this recipe should make the right amount of crust for a 9-inch pie. I'd pile on those berries in the smaller pie - I love crust, but this recipe made a lot of crust.

Chocolate-Berry Slab Pie
slightly adapted from White on Rice
makes one 13"x18" pie

For the dough
8 c. flour
1 c. sugar
2 t. salt
1 lb. butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
3 large eggs
1/2 c. cold water

For the filling
3 lbs. mixed berries (I used blueberries and raspberries)
1 c. sugar
3 T. cornstarch
24 oz. dark chocolate chips
egg whites or cream for brushing top of pie
powdered sugar for dusting, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Combine berries in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 c. sugar and 3 T. cornstarch until well combined. Add the sugar mix to the berries and gently toss to coat. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the dough flour, sugar and salt. Incorporate the butter into the mixture until no large pieces of butter remain, and the mixture has a crumbly texture.

3. Whisk the eggs and cold water together. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture, then pour the egg mix into the well. Working from the center out, combine egg and flour mixes together until the dough holds together. If necessary, adjust with a little additional flour if the dough is sticky, or a little additional cold water if the dough is not holding together.

4. Divide dough into a 2/3rd and 1/3rd portion.

5. On a large floured service, roll out the larger portion of dough to a 24"x19" rectangle, dusting the underside and top of dough with flour a few times while rolling out to keep dough from sticking. 

6. Gently roll the dough around the rolling pin, then unroll it over the sheet pan. Adjust dough so it sits evenly into the sheet pan and then dock the pastry by pressing in with your fingertips several times, making indentations across the bottom of the pastry.

7. Sprinkle in the chocolate chips. Add the berries. Set aside.

8. Roll out the remaining dough to just smaller than 18"x13". Gently roll the dough around the rolling pin, then unroll it over the filling to form the top crust.

9. Fold exces dough bottom up and around to meet pie top and gently pinch to form top edge. Brush top and edges with egg whites or cream. Use kitchen scissors or a knife to cut slits into the top of the pie.

10. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until top is golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve.