Saturday, January 18, 2014

Leftover Peas: A Triple Threat (Couscous, Purée, Risotto)

Ina Garten's Couscous with Peas and Mint: 3.5 stars

Sometimes you make couscous for 15 people (Ina Garten's "Couscous with Peas and Mint" from her Foolpoof: Recipes You Can Trust) and convince yourself that you need to double the recipe. Then you find that it probably wasn't necessary to buy TWO bags of frozen peas. Now you find yourself staring at a whole lot of leftover defrosted peas. What to do?

Here's one idea! How about lamb sausage (more specifically, lamb-apricot sausage from Savenor's) with a mint-pea purée? (It is winter, so I used this recipe for the purée and left off the pea shoots, etc). Do remember that a little bit of fresh mint goes a long way, so you may want to adjust the amounts depending on your preferred pea-taste to mint-taste ratio.


 Serious Eats' "Lamb Sausage with Pea Purée": 4 stars

But one can only make/eat so much mint-pea purée. I was excited to try Food52's Peas Porridge Hot recipe until I discovered I only had "quick-cooking-but-not-instant" steel cut oats. So, I threw together this simple risotto for lunch, and finally used up the rest of the peas!
Peas Risotto Hot

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large chopped shallots (of course)
1 cup arborio rice
3 cups heated chicken stock (you may need more, depending on your preferred consistency)
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
1 to 2 cups frozen peas (defrosted)--yes, fresh are better if they are seasonal
1/8 cup heavy cream
freshly ground pepper
prosciutto (4 slices, shredded)--optional

In a medium saucepan or heavy-bottomed dutch oven, melt the butter and oil over medium heat.
Add the chopped shallots and cook until translucent (3-5 minutes).
Add the arborio rice and coat all the grains with the butter/oil mixture.

Add the heated stock 1/2 cup at a time. Wait for the liquid to be absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup. (You may be able to add more at a time, so watch it carefully to gauge the rate of liquid absorption). Be sure to stir from the bottom (I like using a bamboo spatula) to prevent the rice from sticking. The adding-liquid process will probably take about 20-25 minutes.

When you have used all the stock, the rice should have a bit of a bite, but also a creamy consistency.

Add the peas, and remove from heat. Stir in the cheese and cream, and add pepper to taste.  Add the shredded prosciutto at the very last minute, stir and serve.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Cookbook Geekiness and Braised Chicken

A friend of mine posted a link to Eat Your Books, and so I thought I'd try it out.  The website indexes cookbooks, blogs, and magazines to create a database of recipes. When you sign up, you add the cookbooks you own to your "shelf" (as well as any blogs and magazines), and this creates a searchable database of ingredients. So, for example, last night I typed in "chicken thighs" and my results returned recipes from Food 52, The Kitchn, Barbara Lynch's Stir, etc...blogs I follow and a book I own.  What follows is a little evaluation of the website thus far:

CONS:
  • The free trial allows for only 5 shelf items (including books, blogs and magazines)
  • Not everything is indexed (although this is to be expected)
  • They do warn you that basic ingredients (salt, pepper, olive oil, etc) are not indexed, but I found that this can also include fresh herbs (tarragon, thyme) etc...so, not so useful as a grocery store tool, depending on the recipe.

PROS:
  • you can request that a book, blog or magazine be indexed
  • there is a forum for communicating with other users and the EYB team
  • the index status of an item is marked
  • You can index items yourself (I have not tried this yet)
 The service is $25 a year. That will be a pro or a con depending on your situation.  For me, I decided it was worth it, and so far I've been pretty happy.  It is a serious time saver as I can access the ingredients of the recipes in my cookbooks (many of them, anyway) and the recipes in my favorite blogs, in about 30 seconds, as opposed to combing through my myriad cookbooks.  I hate dealing with "what's in the fridge and what do I do with it?" but this may help with that.

Last night, my search results returned
 Braised Chicken Thighs with Tomatoes and Garlic from Food52. It was easy, and I like things that simmer on the stove in the winter (and allow me to pull the rest of dinner together). I didn't have fresh thyme on hand, but I substituted some dried thyme and basil, and it worked just fine. The salad has a homemade vinaigrette of star date vinegar, Aceto balsamic di Modena, and white wine vinegar (with olive oil), and was mixed with marcona almonds and parmesan. (If you are lucky enough to live near a Vom Fass, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you go splurge on some vinegars and oils...and/or scotch---you can also order online!). The dolmades were bought on a whim and I needed to use them ;-).
(Apologies for the bright red color of the tomato sauce--not that bright in real life!)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Theme and Variations: Crisp Sesame Fish with Soy Glaze

flounder, sesame seeds (black & white), dark sesame oil, butter, soy sauce, sugar


One of the reasons Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is such an invaluable resource in my house is because I can use it for something I hate: cooking without planning. At this point in the semester, my mind is full of grading, student crises, and just getting through the next few weeks. So getting out to the Farmer's Market and picking up fresh flounder seemed like a huge accomplishment.  And then dinner time rolled around, and I realized I had absolutely no plans for that flounder, beyond consuming it.

Enter Mark Bittman. How to Cook Everything has never failed me.  I went to the section on "Thin White Fish Fillets," which includes his mini-rant regarding why he's not a big fan of tilapia (who knew?). Almost all the recipes in this section had ingredients that I had on hand, but I finally settled on the "Crisp Sesame Fish with Soy Glaze," which was a variation on his "Crisp Sesame Fish Fillets," which in turn was a variation on his "Pan-Cooked Thin Fish Fillets."  Bittman's Theme and Variations approach allows you to simply restate a recipe in another key, or add a countermelody and syncopation, if you are feeling adventurous! ;-)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Real Simple's "A Month of New Easy Dinners" (October 2013 issue): Seared Fish...


I've taken on the challenge--yes, challenge--of making a "month of new easy dinners" featured in Real Simple's October 2013 issue. Why a "challenge" you ask? Well, the likelihood that I will cook five times a week is slim to none, for starters. In fact, I know very well I won't. So, this means I'll be cooking "most" of the dinners, but I am going to try to plan according to the weekly menus they propose.

Already I've messed with Week One. I'm skipping the "Barbecue chicken sandwich with sautéed corn, edamame, and pickles" largely because a) I can't eat whole kernel corn and b) I'm trying to stay away from too many carbs (read: bread). So, that leaves for week one:
  • Seared Fish with Tomatoes and Garlicky Escarole
  • Lamb Chops and Parsnip Puree with Coriander Brown Butter
  • Crunchy Dinner Salad with Prosciutto, Apple and Hazelnuts
  • Cheese Ravioli with Kale Pesto and Roasted Carrots

So I began "Week One" yesterday with:
 "Seared Fish with Tomatoes and Garlicky Escarole
While the recipe will be available online next month, I won't violate copyright and will just give you the basics here:

tomatoes, red onion, lemon juice, escarole, garlic, fish (I used cod), olive oil, s & p

Basically, you make a pseudo-checca sauce with braised escarole instead of basil. It is easy, healthy, and delicious. My biggest discovery is that I will absolutely need to either overcome my fear of Teflon or figure out the best way to keep fish (particularly cod, halibut, etc) from sticking in my favorite skillet (which, is not non-stick--so, it is "stick" I suppose). If you have tips or ideas--please leave them in the comments section.

Substitutions/Changes: I used SHALLOTS instead of red onion (of course)

Tip: Escarole, like spinach, kale, and other greens, really reduces to nothing when you sauté or braise it, so make sure you have plenty. The recipe calls for 10 cups of torn escarole--they mean it.

Save a little skillet angst, this was a wonderful recipe that I will make again! 4 STARS

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sole, Slaw, and Salad: A summery triumvirate


First, the sole and the slaw:

I had some frozen sole filets in the freezer, and was desperate for a quick and easy recipe, but something a little better than just butter and onions.  Enter Baked Sole with Lemon.  Now, I'm a little wary of About.com--perhaps unfairly--as I find one particular About.com site on a topic about which I think I'm rather authoritative, to be full of inaccuracies and astonishingly sophomoric given the supposed "credentials" of the "guide."But that is not of great import at the moment as we are talking about food--not this other subject that shall remain nameless.

I really loved this recipe for the good balance of butter and lemon. I made two adjustments (for pragmatic what-I-had-on-hand reasons): shallots instead of onion (a common substitution here at The Lady of Shallots), and cilantro mixed in with parsley. The real annoyance with baking sole (or any other thin, flat fish) is that you basically have to watch it carefully because even a few minutes difference can overcook it. The recommended 30 minutes would have been far too much for my 5 filets (in two dishes). I took it to about 20 and that was almost too much. Overall rating: 4/5 stars.

The slaw--Napa Cabbage and Sesame Seed Slaw--from Smitten Kitchen's Deb Perelman (via NPR), was absolutely wonderful. Complex, but not confusing, and for those of you whose taste buds shrivel upon the mere mention of wasabi, fear not.  The honey and the lime cut the heat of the wasabi, and leave the flavor. To give it a little more Japanese flair, I also added some seaweed seasoning--specifically Mishima's Aji Nori Furikake. I will definitely make this again: 5/5 stars.

Finally:  the "salad" that, really, if I'm honest?  They are pickles.  Yummy pickles, but I certainly could have used more sugar. I accept responsibility for that. Now, "Refrigerator Cucumber Salad" isn't exactly the sexiest name, but given that I can't think of an alternative, we'll stick with that. When she said that she cuts the sugar in half, I tried a happy medium: I cut the sugar in half, but I also substituted half the vinegar with apple cider vinegar--hoping to give it more sweetness. This was not all that successful.  The "salad" is VERY vinegary---but I can call them "homemade pickles" without too much shame. I also used celery seed instead of celery leaf, and chopped shallots instead of red onion--good call. The "pickles" are also more convincing when served in a small ramekin next to a fantastic grilled mozzarella, red pepper, and red onion sandwich! ;-) I'll give the recipe 3.5 stars as I made it, and will try it again with more sugar for a hopeful 4/5.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Summer Cooking: Lemony Orzo, Salmon Skewers, Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Well, I've been gone for a bit, and in the meantime I've been grieving the loss of my mother -- who passed in the beginning of June -- and trying to figure out the best way to get life back on track.  Cooking and eating seems to be a good place as any to start (to say nothing of the fact that I spent a month in LA subsisting off of martinis and snack foods--indulgences of grief).

I've enjoyed using Pinterest for recipes because I am seduced by the photos.  Truly.  But I've started a board of the recipes that I've actually cooked, and I add little mini-reviews.  You can check it out (and follow, if so inclined) here.

Now while martinis and snack foods are simply delicious, my personal trainer is going to make that weird face she makes when she's trying not to call me out on being lame. So, at least I can counter it with the fact that I a) am cooking again and b) eating healthy food!

Below you will see Grilled Salmon Kebabs.  These get 4/5 stars from me.  Next time we make them, I think I will use the spices as a rub on the salmon before it is sliced into pieces.  But they were tasty and paired wonderfully with Martha Stewart's Lemony Orzo. I love orzo and I love lemons, so this was a match made in heaven-5 stars!. She suggests lemon peel, but I will go out of my way for any excuse to use my favorite kitchen accoutrement: my zester! I liked that the zest stayed in with the orzo after cooking, and I think it made it more lemony (although I have not prepared it with peel instead of zest...). But I anticipate making this orzo several times this summer. The salad was also homegrown--a lettuce mix and beans from our patio garden.
We had leftovers, and I hate eating the same exact meal twice in a row, so I added this recipe for Roasted Sweet Potato Skewers with Cilantro-Jalapeño Aioli Dip.  I made a few adjustments.  Notice the lack of skewers below (I prefer smaller pieces of sweet potato) and my "dip" was a little different--more of a dipping sauce.  I substituted plain yogurt for the mayo, blended everything with my immersion blender, and the result was fantastic.  It will be a great dressing for salad, and I even drizzled a bit in the soup I had tonight. 5 stars for the sauce!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Avocado Pesto; Roasted Mushrooms and Green Beans w Balsamic & Parm

In my quest to  lighten our diet a bit, I came across a recipe for "Clean & Healthy Avocado Pesto Alfredo" on Pinterest via The Gracious Pantry. I don't know what possessed me to pin it a few months back, being that the word "avocado" alone should have been enough to make me turn away.  Yes, that's right friends: I'm a native Californian pseudo-foodie who does not like avocados. It happens.
I should say, however, that I adore guacamole, so really it comes down to disliking large slices of avocado. I can handle small chunks.

Moving on. In short, this recipe is fantastic and I would absolutely recommend it for summer! I used a bit more lemon juice, and added some parmesan to the sauce during the blending phase, but no other adjustments. 2 avocados, lemon juice, basil + one immersion blender and it is the easiest sauce ever. I think I'd add a bit more basil next time, but that is really dependent on how much one likes traditional pesto. I served it with Rossi Pasta's Wild Mushroom Linguine and our side was another Pinterest find: Roasted Mushrooms and Green Beans with Balsamic and Parmesan via Kalyn's Kitchen.

For the beans, 450F seemed like a high temp for roasting veggies, but as she says, make sure you use a large enough baking sheet so that you can spread the vegetables around--particularly for the sake of the mushrooms, which retain a lot of moisture.  The higher temp roasts the outside of the beans quite beautifully, but they retained their crunch and flavor. I reduced the cooking time to about 17 minutes.

All of this is delightfully healthy and vegetarian. If you leave the parm out of the beans and the pesto, these recipes are vegan as well (provided you don't serve the pesto with regular pasta, as I did).