Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Squash and Onion Curry

I’m always looking for new ways to use the abundance of winter squash we get in our CSA boxes this time of year. For many recipes, I use the different varieties of squash pretty much interchangeably. Butternut, buttercup, red kuri, kobacha, acorn, little delicata and sweet dumpling, and of course the familiar pumpkin (and there are probably others I’ve omitted.) They vary subtly in flavor and texture, but most of the time, each roasts, sautés and simmers much like the others. (Spaghetti squash is a strong exception, especially when it comes to texture.) And so I knew that I could use the small, smooth-skinned butternut squash in last week’s CSA box in the pumpkin curry recipe I’d been eyeing.

The original recipe was loaded with coconut in the form of coconut milk and coconut cream. While I had no doubt that the sweet coconut would complement the sweet squash very well, Harry won’t eat coconut unless it fits into the category of “safety coconut,” which usually includes spicy dishes with a little coconut milk. I had the feeling, however, that the coconut cream wasn’t going to make the cut.

I took the opportunity to replace all the coconut-ness with a yogurt sauce that I had worked on at least once before. In the past, I had thickened such a sauce with ground almonds, but since the original pumpkin curry recipe called for cashews, that’s the nut I ground for the sauce. I also stirred plenty of cashew pieces into the dish for a nice crunchy contrast to the creamy squash and yogurt sauce.

The spices were another important part of this dish, and I opted to make a sort of curry powder by toasting and grinding whole spices. A good commercial curry powder could be used, but I find it more economical to make a blend out of more versatile spices as needed. I know that jars of cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom pods, or other spices will stay potent as long as I need them to, and I can use them individually in many applications. A ground curry powder might lose its flavor before I can make enough curries to use it all.

One of the spices I used in this dish was new to me, and that was fenugreek seed. After seeing it in plenty of Indian recipes and finding it quite inexpensively at a local store, I decided to put it in my spice blend. I have to say that its unique flavor just makes me think of Indian food, plain and simple. It seems to be the seasoning that makes curry powder taste like I’ve come to expect it to taste. If you can’t find it, however, the other spices can manage just fine without it.

The squash and onions soften and cook down into the consistency of a very thick stew. The way I made it with two dried chile peppers was very spicy, which we enjoyed. If you like things less spicy leave at least one of them out. Just don’t leave out the squash. Not only is it the star of the show (its name is the first words of the recipe title), but you have no excuses not to find some kind of winter squash to fill that starring role.

Winter Squash and Onion Curry with Yogurt Sauce
Inspired by a recipe in Bon Appetit magazine.

Two dried chile peppers makes this dish very spicy. Use just one to make it moderately spicy or omit them entirely for a mild dish.

2 (6-inch) cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
6 whole cardamom pods
1-2 dried red chile peppers, stems removed
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 cup roasted, salted cashews (pieces or coarsely chopped), divided
½ cup plain yogurt (I used low-fat)
1 teaspoon honey
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
3 cups (about 1 pound, weighed after peeling and chopping) chopped butternut squash, about 1-inch cubes
2 small red onions, cut into thin wedges
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup water
1 tablespoon lime juice
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems

1. Place the cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom pods, chile peppers, fenugreek seeds, and brown mustard seeds in a medium skillet. Heat over medium-low to medium heat for just a few minutes, until the spices are very fragrant.

2. Remove the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves and set aside. Place the remaining toasted spices in a spice grinder (or a coffee grinder that will not be used for coffee) and grind to a fine powder. Remove the ground spices to a bowl with the cinnamon sticks, bay leaf and ground turmeric. Set aside.

3. In a food processor (I used a mini-processor) process ¼ cup cashews until finely ground. Place the yogurt in a small bowl. Add the ground cashews, honey and ground cinnamon and whisk together until well-combined. Set aside.

4. Heat the canola oil in a large skillet (one that has a lid) over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook about 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add the squash, onion and salt. Cook 5 minutes, or until just beginning to brown, stirring frequently.

5. Add the set-aside spice mixture and cook, stirring frequently, 1 minute more. Stir in the water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook 10 minutes, or until the squash and onions are tender. Lift the lid occasionally to stir.

6. Remove the lid and add the remaining ¾ cup cashews, cashew-yogurt mixture, lime juice and cilantro. Stir well and continue cooking until warmed through. Remove the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves. Remove from heat and serve with rice.

Makes about 4 servings.

Another recipe like this one: Pasta with Cauliflower and Cashew Sauce

Some other winter squash recipes: Quinoa Stuffed Squash, Roasted Winter Squash Puree, Pasta with Squash Puree and Blue Cheese Sauce, Grandmama’s Pumpkin Pie

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Broccoli Casserole

Our CSA farm grows some fine brassicas. And now is the time when they’re coming in full force, with a recent huge head of bok choy, and big bunches of broccoli in each of the last two weeks’ boxes. I was glad for the second bunch so soon, because that gave me a chance to change a few things in this broccoli casserole recipe right away and try it again.

The recipe starts with a big pile of lovely, dark green, nutritious, vitamin rich, fiber-filled broccoli. If you happen to be a health nut, however, it kind of goes downhill from there. I slathered the broccoli in a mustardy cheddar cheese sauce and topped it with, instead of breadcrumbs, big rye bread croutons with a coating of more mustard and butter.

This all started from a couple different broccoli casserole recipes I had tried that were pretty good, but fell a little short, probably because they were attempts to lighten a pretty caloric dish and add some flavor elements that just weren’t filling the gaps. I went back to a good ol’ roux-based, mustard-laced cheese sauce for my broccoli, and I have no regrets. (I stay away from bathroom scales when I’m going to be writing about food.)

I’m not sure how I got the idea for the mustard croutons for the topping of the casserole, but I think it quickly followed the idea that I was too lazy to make decent breadcrumbs. I had some notes to myself to try a mustard breadcrumb topping, but I couldn’t find the recipe in time (not a rare occurrence) so I did what made sense to me: I mixed plain and coarse Dijon mustard with melted butter and coated chunks of caraway rye bread with the mixture. I used a homemade bread, which I liked because I could cut it as thickly as I wanted. You could use whatever bread you want, but get it unsliced or thickly sliced if you can, so you can make a big, crunchy rustic topping. I really like brassicas with caraway, mustard and rye (broccoli sandwich, anyone?) and I thought the balance of those flavors was quite nice in this casserole.

This dish does take a long time to make, but as it bakes, you can prepare some quick additions to your meal. Just because it’s more of a side dish doesn’t mean it can’t be the star of the show. I served it with a fried ham steak and a green salad suspiciously similar to this one. Just remember, no matter what you have done to the broccoli, it’s still broccoli. You’re still eating your veggies. If they just happen to be more comforting and taste better with cheese sauce and rye bread, there’s really nobody to blame.

Broccoli Cheese Casserole with Mustard Rye Croutons

Microwaved leftovers of this dish are kind of soggy, but still good. I warmed the leftovers in the microwave, then heated them in the oven at 350 F (or perhaps you could use the broiler) until the topping was crisp.

1 pound (about 500 g) broccoli crowns and tender stems
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided (1 ½ ounces or about 40 g)
1 heaping cup onion, thinly sliced (about 5 ounces or 125 g)
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) coarse salt, divided
1 tablespoon (15 ml) all-purpose flour
1 cup (250 ml) milk (I used 2 %)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) coarse grain mustard, divided
¼ teaspoon (1.5 ml) black pepper
1/8 teaspoon (0.75 ml) freshly grated nutmeg
4 ounces (about 125 g) shredded cheddar cheese (about 2 cups)
5 ounces (about 150 g) rye bread, cut into 1- 1 ½ inch cubes
1 tablespoon (15 ml) regular Dijon mustard

1. Cut the broccoli crowns and stems into bite-size pieces. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a small handful of salt. Add the broccoli and cook 3 minutes. Drain very well, getting out as much water as possible and set aside.

2. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally about 5 minutes or until the onion has softened and is beginning to brown. Remove the onion from the pan and set aside.

3. Return the pan to the heat and reduce the heat to medium-low. Add 1 tablespoon butter. When the butter has melted, slowly whisk in the flour. Cook and whisk about 1 minute. Make sure there are no flour lumps.

4. Slowly whisk in the milk. Cook, stirring frequently until the mixture begins to boil. Cook at a gentle boil about 1 minute, or until the mixture starts to thicken, stirring constantly. Stir in 1 tablespoon coarse mustard, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, black pepper and nutmeg. Remove from the heat. Add the cheese and stir until melted. Set aside.

5. Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C). Put the broccoli in a shallow 2 quart (2 liter) baking dish. Spread the onions evenly over the top of the broccoli. Pour the cheese sauce evenly over the broccoli and onions, spreading and gently mixing to get it evenly distributed.

6. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon (15 ml) butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in the regular Dijon mustard and the remaining 1 tablespoon (15 ml) coarse mustard. Place the bread cubes in a large bowl. Pour the butter mixture over them and toss gently to coat.

7. Distribute the bread cubes on top of the broccoli mixture. Bake at 400 F (200 C) for 40 minutes. If the bread is getting too dark in color at any point, loosely tent it with foil. Cool 5-10 minutes before serving.

Makes about 4-6 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Broccoli and Chickpea Salad with Mustard-Pepper Dressing, Summer Squash Casserole with Basil and Onion

One year ago: Caramel Dip for Apples

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Spice Cream

I made apple crisp recently, and while it was delicious, I posted a recipe for such a thing last year and didn’t think it would be necessary to do so again. In fact, the one I made was pretty much the same as this one, but without the cranberries and with less sugar (to make up for the fact that just plain apples are nowhere near as sour as cranberries.) I could, however, write about the delicious ice cream I made to go with the apple crisp. I think I’ll do that.

Plain ol’ vanilla ice cream is great with warm apple crisp, or any fruit crisp for that matter, but I thought I’d try to come up with something even more complimentary to that cozy cinnamon-apple comfort food. I would, quite literally, spice it up.

I steeped an entire array of my favorite warm and comforting spices, most of them in their whole form, in the milk and cream mixture for my ice cream. I really think the whole spices are necessary in this, since they have a fresher flavor, but also they can be removed after giving up some of their essence. Ground spices may work, but they might make the custard gritty or even a little bitter, since they would be almost impossible to filter out. Two exceptions are the ground ginger (although perhaps you could steep crystallized ginger instead, I didn’t think of that) and the nutmeg, which I ground off the “nut” with a Microplane grater as I added it with the other spices.

Another exception may be the vanilla bean I used. Since I was steeping anyway, I thought I might as well take advantage of its rich floral qualities and throw one in. (Actually, since the one I used was kind old and dry, I ended up crumbling it in.) You could probably use vanilla extract, which is more economical and convenient. Just add it after the custard is cooked instead of with the spices or the flavor is likely to float away as you heat it.

I was really, really pleased with the way this ice cream turned out. I was confident about the custard base itself, since I used the same recipe and method I usually do, but the spice additions were a bit of an experiment. It turned out pleasantly infused with all of the flavors: a little bit chai spice, a little bit pumpkin spice, and not so much of anything that it overwhelmed my apple crisp. Instead, it complimented it as I had hoped, a cold contrast with the warm dessert that melted and dribbled along the edges of the bowl and puddled in the nooks and crannies between the sweet-tart baked apples and crunchy walnut-oat topping. I also think it would go well with other fall desserts or more plain cakes and cookies, but my attention is lingering too much on the apple crisp, and I can’t think very far beyond that right now.

Ginger Spice Ice Cream
Based on recipes in Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book

This is very good with apple crisp.

2 cups (500 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
6 –inch (about 15 cm) cinnamon stick
5 cardamom pods, crushed
4 whole cloves
¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) ground ginger
¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) freshly ground nutmeg
1 whole star anise
½ vanilla bean (or ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) vanilla extract)
2 large eggs
½ cup (3 ½ ounces or about 100 g) white granulated sugar
¼ cup (1 7/8 ounces or about 53 g) packed brown sugar

1. Pour the cream and milk into a medium saucepan. Add the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and star anise. If using the vanilla bean, slit it in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and add them to the cream mixture. Add the scraped bean as well.

2. Heat the cream mixture over medium heat until just beginning to boil. Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the white sugar and beat until the mixture is pale and thick. Add the brown sugar and whisk until well combined, being sure to break up any lumps of brown sugar.

4. Strain the cream mixture into the egg mixture. Discard the solids. (You can save the vanilla pod to rinse and dry for making vanilla sugar.) Whisk together to combine well.

5. Pour the mixture into a clean saucepan. Heat over low to medium-low heat, stirring often, until the mixture reaches 160 F (about 72 C). (Use an instant-read or candy thermometer to determine this.) Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the vanilla extract, if using. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or until completely chilled. (I often set it in the freezer to speed the process and get the mixture even colder than the refrigerator can.)

6. Pour the cooled mixture into the freezing canister of an ice cream maker. Freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a freezer safe container and freeze until of desired firmness.

Makes 1 generous quart (1 liter).

Another ice cream recipe: Rich Choclate Ice Cream

One year ago: Cabbage Slaw with Spicy Peanut Dressing

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What about my Kneads?

When the weather starts getting cool enough to turn on the oven without causing myself bodily trauma, Harry starts to fear (or hope?) that he’ll come home to huge piles of breads and other baked goods. While it’s true that I get up a lot more energy for heat-intensive and complicated kitchen wonders as the days get colder and shorter, I haven’t gone too crazy with the baking just yet. I’ve still got the whole autumn and winter ahead of me after all.

Even when it’s hot I make the occasional loaf of bread, so now I’m making a loaf or two a week. I’m also still trying to burn some of those bread calories by kneading my loaves by hand (except when I make pizza crust or the no-knead breads I talked about here.) My dad always said that if you cut your own firewood, it warms you twice: once while you’re cutting it and once while you’re burning it. If that’s the case, then bread might give a triple dose of heat: one when you knead it, one when you bake it, and one in the form of carbohydrate calories that give your body fuel. (But if you use that fuel to knead more bread, I guess that’s back down to twice heated.)

Not only am I kneading recipes by hand, wrist and arm, but I’ve also been taking back the timing, judgment, and stirring by converting my books full of bread machine recipes into conventionally baked recipes. It’s not that I have anything against bread machines (except perhaps the shape of most bread machine loaves.) It’s just that I wore mine out long before I got to try all the recipes I wanted to, and I never got a new one.

Recently I made one of those bread machine recipes from The Bread Lovers Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger. It’s a soft white loaf made with buttermilk, nuts and nut oil. In the book, it’s called “California Nut Bread,” and was designed to be made with any nut and corresponding nut oil you like. Since I often have nuts and nut oil on hand, not to mention several types of flour, I usually make this when I have extra buttermilk languishing in the refrigerator (how do you know when that stuff goes bad, anyway?).

I’ve fiddled with this recipe a bit over the years (taking decent notes for once), and I’ve enjoyed it most with walnuts and walnut oil. I’ve also, perhaps out of guilt, added just a bit of whole wheat flour, which bumps up the WFQ* without changing the texture much. Speaking of texture, the buttermilk in this bread makes it soft and chewy, while the crunchy nuts form a nice contrast. The flavor of those nuts is enhanced by the walnut oil, so that it permeates the whole loaf. The toasty nuttiness compliments the tanginess from the buttermilk.

I like slices of this loaf plain or slathered with butter or just about anything sweet or semisweet. It also makes great French toast, which is good because then I have motivation to save some of the loaf for another day rather than just eating it all. I hope you like it too, and will add it to your own list of kneads.

*WFQ: Whole Food Quotient

Walnut Buttermilk Bread
Based on a recipe in The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger

Since buttermilk tends to curdle when heated, I prefer to proof the yeast in warm water and allow the buttermilk to come to room temperature before using it in this dough.

Here, as with most yeast breads, I use a “mini-starter” method, where the yeast and some liquid is mixed with some of the flour and allowed to stand and develop for a while before the kneading process. I find that this method helps produce consistently good loaves.

¼ cup warm water (about 100 F)
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 envelope)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
¼ cup walnut oil
½ cup whole wheat flour
2 ½ cups bread flour, divided
1 teaspoon fine salt
3 ounces coarsely chopped walnuts (about ¾ cup)
Nonstick spray or oil for the dough and the pan

1. Combine the warm water, yeast and brown sugar in a large bowl. Let stand 5 minutes or until the mixture is foamy.

2. Add the buttermilk, walnut oil, whole wheat flour and ½ cup bread flour. Mix well. Cover with a towel and let stand at least 15 minutes and up to 30 minutes.

3. Stir in the salt and ½ cup more bread flour. Turn the wet dough out onto a kneading surface (you can also knead the dough in a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook.) Knead until very smooth and elastic, adding as much of the remaining bread flour as you can, or more if necessary. You want a dough that just avoids sticking to the counter (or the mixer bowl) while you knead. This will take about 10 minutes.

4. Flatten out the dough and spread the walnuts over it. Roll up the dough and knead about 1 minute more, or until the walnuts are evenly distributed.

5. Form the dough into a ball and place in a large bowl. Spray the top of the dough with nonstick cooking spray. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough. Cover with a towel and let stand 1 hour or until roughly double in size.

6. Gently deflate the dough and form into a new ball. Let stand about 5 minute. Shape into a loaf. Spray an 8-inch x 4-inch bread pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place the shaped loaf in the pan, cover with a towel and let stand about 1 hour, or until completely risen and puffy.

7. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 F. Bake the risen loaf at 375 F for 30-35 minutes or until it tests done. (The most accurate way to test is to measure the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer. The bread should be about 200 F in the middle.)

8. Remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Other recipes like this one: Stout Chocolate Cherry Bread, Chocolate Orange Bread

One year ago: Beet and Carrot Burgers

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Noodle Bowl

I love a steaming bowl of noodles. Dunk them in a zesty sauce or broth on a dark and stormy night, and you have achieved balance in the universe. All annoyances seem to melt away as I crouch, a little protectively, over a bowl of carbohydrate comfort and therapeutic steam.

Several things came together before I got the idea to make this spicy, brothy noodle bowl this week. Not the least of these was a cold and rainy day that made way to a downright miserable evening. I was also inspired by the bundle of spicy “braising” greens in our CSA box this week. I’m not sure what all of the greens were in this mix, but I know there was arugula, mustard greens and possibly tatsoi and/or mizuna. Many of these are associated with Asian cooking, so I made them into a soup with shiitake mushrooms, rice stick noodles, and a flavorful broth.

Most of the work for this recipe goes into preparing the stock, but that’s okay because the stock does most of the work in this dish. I based it on a recipe for “Stock for Stir Fries” in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I had to adapt it for what I had on hand, leaving out and substituting for a few ingredients, but the results were still hugely flavorful. It does contain a few things that might not be in every pantry, such as kombu (seaweed) and mirin (a sweet rice wine), but these kinds of things are getting easier to find in stores if you’re interested in trying them.

The stock can be made a few days ahead and refrigerated, or even further ahead and frozen. Once it is ready, the rest of the soup comes together fairly quickly. I made it a little on the hot-and-sour side, but you could cut down on the chile sauce if you like things milder. You could use just about any greens you like for this soup, but I think it is especially good with spicy ones. You don’t have to go especially exotic, since arugula and even radish greens would work. If you want it mild, I think you could use bok choy leaves, spinach or chard.

I’m terrible at eating with chopsticks, but I keep trying because they, along with a spoon for the broth, are just the right tools for delivering long noodles to hungry lips. I might just have to get more practice soon, since I have some greens, noodles, and shiitake mushrooms left and could make another pot of this soup. Anyway, whether you’re talented or uncoordinated with chopsticks, slurping is allowed.

Noodle Bowl with Spicy Greens

For the stock
Based on a recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

5 dried shiitake mushroom caps
1 medium onion, sliced
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large rib celery, sliced
½ cup cilantro leaves and stems, chopped
2 slices ginger, about 1/8 inch (a few mm) thick
1 piece kombu about 6 inches (about 15 cm) long
1 tablespoon (15 ml) soy sauce
1 tablespoon (15 ml) mirin (sweet rice wine)
1 ½ teaspoons (about 7.5 ml) salt
7 cups (1.75 l) cold water

1. Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and boil moderately, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

2. Remove the mushroom caps. Set aside 3 caps to use in the soup. (Reserve the remaining 2 for another recipe.) Continue cooking the stock at a moderate boil for 20 minutes more. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

3. Strain the solids from the stock. Measure the liquid and add water to make 4 cups (1 liter) if necessary.

For the rest or the soup
8 ounces (250 g) rice stick noodles, or other long noodles you like
1 tablespoon (15 ml) peanut oil (or canola or vegetable oil)
½ small onion, thinly sliced
4 ounces (125 g) mixed spicy or Asian greens (such as arugula, bok choy leaves, mustard greens, radish leaves, tatsoi, mizuna, etc.)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) soy sauce
3 tablespoons (45 ml) rice vinegar
1 teaspoon (5 ml) Asian chile sauce (such as Sriracha)
2 teaspoons (10 ml) dark sesame oil, divided
Chopped or julienned garnishes, such as radishes, cilantro, scallions, etc. (I used julienned radishes.)

1. Cook the noodles according to the package directions. (For most types of noodles, you can cook them while preparing the rest of the recipe.) Drain and set aside.

2. Thinly slice the 3 mushroom caps reserved while making the stock. Set aside.

3. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté about 5 minutes or until the onion is softened and lightly browned.

4. Add the greens and cook until they have completely wilted down, stirring occasionally.

5. Add the stock and sliced shiitake mushrooms and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and boil moderately for 10 minutes.

6. Stir in the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and chile sauce. Remove from the heat.

7. To serve, divide the noodles evenly among 4 bowls. Ladle about 1 cup (250 ml) soup over each bowl of noodles. Drizzle ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) sesame oil over each serving. Garnish as desired.

Makes 4 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Noodles with Cilantro, Green Onions and Peanuts; Peanutty Noodles

One year ago: Basic Basil Pesto

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Rice Salad

Why don’t we make more rice salads? Okay, maybe you make them every day, so I’m really asking, “Why don’t I make more rice salads?” You can make just about any pasta or grain salad into a rice salad. You just play swap the starch and you’re there.

Recently, while I was filing some papers, I came across a rice salad recipe with a spicy peanut dressing. I think I had set it aside with the intention of making it to use up some bok choy, which has been really nice from the CSA this year. I only had to change dinner plans a little bit to make this right away, and I’m quite happy that I made that delicious detour. I only used one large stalk from the huge bok choy head, however, so I’m going to have to find something else to do with the rest of it.

The dressing for this salad is similar to other peanut dressings and sauces I’ve tried, but that just makes it more popular around here. I was originally skeptical about the texture of a thick peanut butter dressing on brown rice, thinking it would just be sticky and mushy, but the chicken-and-vegetable to rice ratio is high enough to keep things from getting too stodgy. The dressing is also a bit simpler than others I’ve made. It consists of just peanut butter and liquid ingredients, so there’s no mincing garlic or grating ginger to hold you back. I warmed the peanut butter in the microwave briefly to make it easier to mix with the other ingredients.

This salad is particularly easy if you happen to have leftover rice and chicken on hand. I used grilled chicken breast, but you could use any cooked chicken. The original recipe called for grilled tofu, so you could use that, or even shredded cooked pork. To save time, you could also use packaged grated carrots or a coleslaw mix in place of the bok choy and carrots. Really, as long as you keep a good balance of rice, protein, vegetables and dressing, you could put anything you like in a salad like this. Gee, if that’s the case, why don’t we make more rice salads?

Chicken and Rice Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing
Based on a recipe in Cooking Light magazine

1 ½ cups cooked brown rice
4 ounces (about 1 cup) shredded or chopped cooked chicken
1 cup shredded carrot
1 cup thinly sliced bok choy stems and leaves
½ cup finely chopped green onions
¼ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce (I used reduced sodium)
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1/3 cup chopped peanuts

1. Combine the rice, chicken, carrot, bok choy, green onions and cilantro in a large bowl.

2. Place the peanut butter in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on HIGH for 20 seconds. (This will make the peanut butter easier to stir.)

3. Add the rice vinegar, soy sauce and chili garlic sauce to the peanut butter. Whisk until very smooth and shiny. Add the dressing to the rice mixture and stir to coat completely. Top with chopped peanuts.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Kicking off the Season

I have neither a ticket to the hometown game (be it football or late-season baseball), nor a pickup truck in which to celebrate it, so I do my tailgating in the comfort of my own living room. This means that while I enjoy a pre-kickoff meal of grilled bratwurst or burgers as much as the next fan, I can also make a long-cooking beef stew.

I know, stew again. Yes, I just posted a stew recipe, and it was kind of ugly. Well, this one went a little better. This time the crust that formed on the bottom of the pot earned the label of fond as revered by French chefs (or “black stuff,” as it is affectionately known by Harry and his brothers). It was the dark and rich foundation of a tangy beef stew.

Not only did I want to prove that I could make a stew without burning it, but I wanted to post this before the weekend arrived, in case you needed some inspiration for your own tailgate party, whether it takes place in your home or in a stadium parking lot. I made this Beef Stew with Tomatillos and Poblano Chiles to celebrate the kickoff of the NFL season on Thursday night.

I was not only inspired by the beginning of the autumn sporting season, however, but by a lovely bunch of tomatillos in our CSA box. Tomatillos are kind of like a green tomato, although they’re actually related to gooseberries. Since I know next to nothing about gooseberries, however, I tend to treat them more like tomatoes. They taste and smell like a cross between under-ripe tomatoes and Granny Smith apples, and they’re great as a base of salsas or in chili and stew.

Tomatillos need to have their papery husks removed and a sticky coating scrubbed off of their skin before they’re ready for the stew pot. In this recipe, they are then chopped up and added to the stew to cook away and form a tangy base for the beef, potatoes and peppers. The poblano peppers in this stew are significantly spicier than, say, a bell pepper, which they resemble, though they are darker green in color. They do not come close to the intensity of the smaller chiles, however, such as jalapenos or serranos. I grilled them and peeled them using the method I would use for a red bell pepper, as I did in this post. (Since my hands tend to burn hours later when handling even mild chiles, I used rubber gloves to handle the poblanos.) The resulting tender flesh sort of melts into the stew, giving it a slow burn of chile spice.

This stew does take a long time to make, but most of that time is hands-off. It might even be a good candidate for a make-ahead slow-cooker meal. I used some of my waiting time to make cornbread and pico de gallo as well as to get acquainted with my new blender and whip up a couple of margaritas to accompany the stew. Now it’s a party, tailgate or no tailgate.

Beef Stew with Tomatillos and Roasted Poblano Chiles
Adapted from a recipe in Cooking Light magazine.

2 poblano chiles
1 pound tomatillos
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt, divided, plus more to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 pound beef stew meat, cut into about 1-inch pieces
4 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic (depending on their size), minced
1 (12-ounce) bottle dark beer (such as Negra Modelo)
2 cups beef broth (I used reduced sodium)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and chopped into about 1-inch cubes

1. Preheat a broiler or grill. If using the broiler, place the whole poblano chiles on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil or grill, turning the peppers as each section gets charred until the skin of the peppers is blackened and blistered all over.

2. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. The peppers will steam themselves, allowing the skin to be removed. Let stand for 20 minutes or until the peppers are cool enough to handle easily. Remove the peppers from the bowl and peel off the blackened skins. Use rubber gloves if your hands are sensitive to chile peppers. Remove the stem, seeds, and membranes from the peppers. Chop and set aside. You can do this up to a few days ahead and store the roasted peppers in the refrigerator until ready to use.

3. Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos. Wash them well and scrub off any sticky residue on their skin. Chop and set aside.

4. Mix together the flour, 1 teaspoon salt and black pepper on a large plate or a shallow bowl. Dredge the stew meat in the flour mixture to coat.

5. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat. Add the stew meat in a single layer and brown on all sides. Remove the browned meat from the pan and set aside. You will need to do this in at least two batches. Add an additional tablespoon of oil as needed.

6. When all of the meat has been browned, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Add the onion and green bell pepper and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes. The onions will begin to appear translucent.

7. Stir in the garlic. Add the beer and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the beef broth, oregano, cumin and coriander. Stir in the beef, tomatillos and roasted poblanos. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat. Boil gently for 1 hour.

8. Uncover the pan and add the potatoes and remaining teaspoon salt. Boil gently, uncovered for about 1 hour and 30 minutes more, or until the potatoes and beef are tender. Taste them to determine if they are done. Also taste for salt and add more if desired.

Makes about 6 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Chorizo and Chipotle Chili, Beef and Guinness Pot Pie

One year ago: Bean Dip with Sour Cream, Salsa and Cheese

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Work in Progress

I wasn’t going to make this post. As I was making this dish, I was sure that I had made dog food, which is especially useless since I don’t have a dog. I tasted my mess, however, and judged it to have potential and soldiered on.

Here was the problem: When I sautéed eggplant in preparation for a vegetable stew, the caramelized bits that are glorified by chefs as the essential foundation to a great dish became a big, ugly, black crust. You see, I had some lovely late summer vegetables that I wanted to make into a nice stew. Since I had the most eggplant, the eggplant would be the largest portion of the dish. I searched recipes in my stash and came up with a few from which I could pick and choose to make my own creation.

I should have known. None of these recipes called for sautéing the eggplant in the stewing pot. They either cooked it in the microwave or roasted it, but never sautéed. Now I know why.

I attempted to deglaze this carbon coating with red wine, and some of it did come up from its tomb, but only to form black bits in the sauce. Ugh! I was convinced it was a dead recipe and that I was going to have to come up with another way to make an eggplant stew that was palatable. All was not lost, however, and when we sat down to eat this stew with a nice chunk of rustic bread, we found it quite delicious. I liked it a lot and Harry gave it the thumbs up for a Messy Apron post. Perhaps the all that red wine in the stew mellowed us out enough to enjoy it in spite of the (actually almost imperceptible) black bits.

This recipe is definitely a work in progress, but I think the basic principle is good, and the flavors are great. I wish I could more confidently state, “This is exactly how you make this dish,” but, hey, this is a blog, not a book of tried and true recipes…and definitely not a work of art!

Eggplant Stew with Peppers, Tomatoes, and Red Wine

1 medium globe eggplant (about 1 ½ pounds) or equivalent amount of Japanese Eggplant, cut into 2-inch chunks (peel if the skin seems tough)
1 ¼ teaspoon coarse salt (plus more to taste), divided
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 ounces (about 1 medium) yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 large bell pepper, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine, divided
1 ½ pounds tomato, coarsely chopped
1 cup water
1 (16 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¾ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a Dutch oven (or large pot) over medium heat. Add the eggplant and ¼ teaspoon salt, and sauté about 8 minutes or until the pieces have softened on the outside and are just beginning to brown. (If you have a better way of partially cooking eggplant, you could use it here, since the pan bottom tends to blacken quite a bit with this method.) Transfer the partially-cooked eggplant to a bowl and set aside.

2. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan. Add the onion, bell pepper and ½ teaspoon salt. Saute 5-7 minutes or until the onion and pepper are just beginning to brown.

3. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, about 1 minute more.

4. Add ½ cup of the red wine. Stir into the vegetables and scrape up the brown (or, in my case, black) bits sticking to the bottom of the pan. The wine should boil vigorously and thicken significantly.

5. Add the remaining red wine, tomato, water and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and boil gently for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

6. Add the chickpeas and cook, uncovered, 5 minutes. Stir in the basil and lemon juice and cook until the basil is wilted. Taste the stew for salt and add more if desired.

Makes 4-6 main dish servings.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Roasting Cherry Tomatoes

For me, there is no such thing as too many tomatoes. There can be, however, enough tomatoes. That is, enough of eating them raw to take advantage of their exceptional seasonal specialness. Enough salads, gazpacho, and eating them out of hand like apples, or in the case of cherry tomatoes, berries or, um, cherries. When that enough stage has been reached, it is okay to cook some of those tomatoes. Really. It is.

This is just what I did recently with my bumper crop of porch-grown, container-bound cherry tomatoes. (I also had a few from the CSA, but I’ve been getting more from my own eager vines.) I followed the advice of Sally Schneider in her fabulous book The Improvisational Cook (currently in transition between hardcover and paperback editions) on how to roast them and it turned out to be easy as pie. Actually, it was even easier than pie, so I also made them into a pie.

Roasting my cherry tomatoes simply involved cutting them in half and arranging them on a lined baking sheet, sprinkling them lightly with coarse salt, black pepper, and just a bit of sugar, then letting them go in the oven at 350 F for about an hour. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. And boy, oh, boy were the results delicious! The flavors of the slightly caramelized tomatoes became so concentrated I found it hard to believe all those tastes were packed into that little fruit in the first place. I was genuinely surprised by how good these were: a little bit of caramel, a lot of sweetness, and such concentrated tomato flavor that it felt like eating more than one at a time would knock me right down.

I paired my roasted tomatoes with kalamata olives and wrapped them all in a garlic-infused olive oil and a simple pie pastry. You could use any single-crust pastry recipe you like (or half of the whole wheat version in this post), or a store-bought pie crust, but I offered a simple crust recipe below as well.

I was worried that the olives would overwhelm the tomatoes in this galette, but such was not the case. The tomatoes seem to be too super-flavorful to be overwhelmed by anything. And roasting them seems to be the key to avoiding a soggy pie, since this free-form tart was crisp enough to be picked up and eaten without a fork. I served it as a main dish, but I think that it could also be a nice appetizer if cut into smaller pieces, especially since it is good at room temperature as well as warm from the oven.

I neglected to make note of the exact volume or mass of cherry tomatoes I roasted and then used in the galette, but I think it was about three cups. They shrink down quite a bit as they cook and I think I had about 1 ½ to 2 cups of roasted tomatoes in the end. You can use the roasted tomatoes for dishes other than this rustic tart. I think they would be good over pasta or on bruschetta and I recently roasted some more that I put in a wheat berry salad with mozzarella and herbs using a method and a vinaigrette very similar to the recipe in this post. Now that the weather charts are promising cooler days, and I really love this simple galette, I think I may just be firing up to oven to roast as many cherry tomatoes as I can get my hands on!

Basic Pie Crust Dough
The water for this recipe should be very cold. I usually put a measuring cup with ice and water in the freezer while I prepare the rest of the ingredients.

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
4-5 tablespoons ice water

1. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter and shortening and cut into the flour mixture using a pastry blender, knives or your hands until the mixture is very crumbly and all the butter and shortening is in small, flour-coated pieces.

2. Add 4 tablespoons water and gently toss it with the flour mixture until all the flour is moistened. If the mixture is still dry, add the remaining tablespoon of water (or more if necessary). Continue mixing gently until the entire mixture can be pressed together to form a ball.

3. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 15 minutes and up to one day before rolling out. If you wish to hold it longer than one day, wrap it well and freeze it. Allow the dough to thaw completely in the refrigerator before using.

Makes enough pastry for 1 pie crust.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Adapted from The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider.

I think any variety of cherry or grape tomato will work here. I’ve been using Sungold and Yellow Pear.

The measurements for these do not have to be exact, but about 2 ½ to 3 cups of cherry tomatoes will fill a large baking sheet and will yield enough for one Roasted Tomato and Olive Tart.

2 ½ to 3 cups cherry tomatoes
Black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Cut the tomatoes in half and lay them in a single layer on a lined or oiled baking sheet (I use a silicone baking mat), cut side up.

2. Very lightly sprinkle the tomatoes with just a pinch each of salt, pepper and sugar. Roast at 350F for about 1 hour, or until the tomatoes are shriveled and beginning to brown. Begin checking them at 45 minutes. If the tomatoes are getting too dark, remove them from the oven. If some are getting dark faster than others, remove them from the pan.

3. Allow to cool on the pan until easy to handle and remove them with a spatula. Use in recipes immediately or refrigerate until ready to use.

Makes about 1 ½ cups roasted tomatoes, or enough for one Roasted Tomato and Olive Tart.

Roasted Tomato and Olive Galette
Once again, the measurements do not need to be precise. The pastry and the roasted tomatoes can be made at least a day ahead. The garlic-infused oil can be made up to a few hours ahead.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/3 cup pitted and chopped kalamata olives
1 recipe Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
1 recipe Basic Pie Crust Dough, chilled
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water or milk), optional
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Combine the olive oil and garlic in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat for about 10 minutes. The garlic should just sizzle a little bit. If the garlic begins to brown, remove it from the heat. Set aside and cool.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the olives and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes. Add the garlic and oil and stir to coat well. Set aside.

3. Roll out the Basic Pie Crust Dough into roughly a 12-inch circle. Carefully transfer to a baking sheet. Spread the tomato and olive mixture over the pastry circle, leaving at least a 2-inch border. Fold the border up over the tomato mixture

4. Brush the pastry with egg wash if desired. Sprinkle the tart with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

5. Bake at 400 F for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the crust is crispy and golden brown. Serve hot, warm or cooled to room temperature.

Makes about 4 light main dish servings.