Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year's Eve: Best of 2010

Looking back on this past year of posts, I remembered a lot of fantastic dishes that I definitely want to make again!  Here are my favorites from each month:

January: Buttermilk Asparagus Soup with Prosciutto
February: Snapper with Fennel, Roasted Red Peppers, and Green Olives
March: Thomas Keller's Turkey Pot Pie
April: Red Berry-Arugula Salad
May: Rhubarb Steamed Pudding 
June: Honey Ice Cream
July: Banana Cake with Crackly Brown Sugar Frosting
August: Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies  
September: Pancetta-Wrapped Cod with Marinated Tomatoes 
October: Caramel Apple Cake
November: Pear-Pecan Spice Bread
December: Chicken Baked on a Bed of Bread and Swiss Chard

Best-Ever French Lentil Soup

This recipe is adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table, and it was a revelation to me! I have never been a huge fan of lentils, but the French lentils du Puy in this soup have fantastic flavor and are much more interesting than the usual brown lentils from the store. I also love the seasoning here - the orange peel in particular is unexpected and oh-so-delicious. Since the soup doesn't contain any bacon or other meat, I like to float a little round of crispy pancetta on top of the soup to provide some textural contrast and yummy pork flavor.

Best-Ever French Lentil Soup (adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table)
Serves 6

2 T olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup lentils du Puy, rinsed and picked over
1 strip orange peel (about 2 inches long), white pith removed and cut into 3 pieces
6 black peppercorns
6 coriander seeds
2 cloves
1-1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 thin slices pancetta, to serve

1. Warm the oil in a Dutch oven over low heat.  Add the onion, fennel, and carrot and stir the vegetables until they are coated in the oil.  Cover the pot and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened, 10 minutes.
2. Add the broth, lentils, and orange peel to the pot.  Wrap the peppercorns, coriander seeds, and clove in cheesecloth and tie shut, or use a disposable tea filter.  Add to the pot along with the ginger.  Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the lentils are very soft, 60 to 90 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper after about 45 minutes of cooking time.
3. Remove the orange peel and spice sachet.  Working in batches, puree about half the soup in a regular blender or with an immersion blender.
4. Fry the pancetta in a non-stick pan over medium heat until crispy.  Ladle the soup into bowls and float a round of pancetta in each bowl.

I'm sending this recipe off to BSI: Broth, hosted this week by Food for Thought.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cranberry Fig Chutney

My aunt and I made this chutney for Thanksgiving dinner, but I'm posting it now because I think it would also be amazing with a New Year's day feast or any special occasion dinner.  The chutney isn't too sweet, and the flavors are really complex and delicious.  Although we (obviously) had it with turkey, I think it would actually also be quite good with other meats, like roast chicken or pork.  I really like the fruits here - the tart cranberries plus the dried figs and golden raisins make the perfect combination of flavors.  The fresh ginger also adds a really excellent zing.

Cranberry Fig Chutney (adapted from food52, original recipe here)

12 ounces fresh cranberries
1/4 cup yellow onion, diced
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup golden raisins
8 dried figs, stems pinched off and cut into eighths
2 T fresh ginger, finely minced
1 T lemon juice
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
Pinch ground cloves
1/3 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, finely minced

Add all the ingredients to a heavy-bottomed saucepan except the walnuts and thyme and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to a simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally,  until the cranberries are burst and the chutney thickens slightly.  Remove from the heat and stir in the nuts and thyme.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Peppermint Candy Cheesecake

My boyfriend's dad makes this cheesecake every Christmas, so we decided to try it out a couple of weeks ago to get into the Christmas spirit.  It is sooooo good - definitely a great Christmas tradition!  The cheesecake is fantastically creamy and a little tart from the sour cream.  The texture was perfect even though we had to jury-rig a water bath with a cast iron skillet that didn't quite fit the springform pan we had.  The crushed candy (either candy canes or Starlight mints) totally melts into the cheesecake, adding just the right amount of peppermint flavor.  I also like that this cheesecake isn't insanely thick...some cheesecakes are so rich and tall that they're almost hard to eat - I've seen some recipes with upwards of 2 pounds of cream cheese!  This one is certainly rich - it's cheesecake, after all - but not so much that you can't easily put away a couple of slices.

Christmas Peppermint Candy Cheesecake (recipe from Tim's dad)

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup butter, melted
1-1/2 cups sour cream
2 eggs
1 T flour
2 tsp vanilla
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
2 T butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/2 cup coarsely crushed peppermint candies
Whipped cream, grated chocolate or chocolate curls, and chopped peppermint candy for garnish, optional

1. Place a large pan full of water onto the lowest shelf of the oven.  Preheat to 325 degrees.
2. Blend together the graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup of the sugar, and 1/4 cup melted butter.  Press evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 8-inch round springform pan.
3. In a food processor, combine the sour cream, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, eggs, flour, and vanilla until smooth.  Add the cream cheese and blend, being careful not to over-blend.  Blend in the 2 T melted butter until smooth.  Stir in the crushed candy by hand.  Pour the mixture onto the crust.
4. Bake the cheesecake 45 minutes until set.  Turn off the oven and open the oven door.  Leave the cheesecake in the oven to cool, which will minimize cracks.
5. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and loosen the side of the pan. Retighten the pan, cool completely, and then chill at least 4 hours or overnight.  Decorate with whipped cream, chocolate curls, and chopped candy canes.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mustard-Shallot Salmon with Bacon Spinach

I recently won Rocco DiSpirito's new cookbook Now Eat This! from Jen at My Baking Addiction, who was doing a giveaway on her blog!  I made this tasty salmon dish to test it out, and was very happy with the results.  My one gripe with the cookbook is that I think it makes a few too many concessions to "healthy" eating - for example, replacing real bacon with bacon bits in the spinach.  One slice of real bacon divided among multiple portions for flavoring does not add many calories at all, and I'd much rather eat that than something out of a plastic bottle.  I also don't think a healthy dinner needs to be under 350 calories, which is the idea behind the book.  Maybe his idea is that you would add bread or another side to this dish, although I think it's complete as-is -- though I guess a light dinner means you can afford more dessert!  :)

As to the dish, it was really delicious.  I love preparing fish for dinner because you can get a lot of flavor for little effort.  Salmon is the perfect choice here to stand up to the strongly-flavored topping of shallots and dijon mustard.  The shallots are pretty strong because they go onto the fish raw and get don't get cooked too much in the oven; be sure to mince them finely or at even saute them briefly before mixing with the mustard sauce, especially if you're not a raw onion fan.  The spinach makes a quick and delicious side dish - and I definitely recommend springing for the real bacon! 

Mustard-Shallot Salmon with Bacon Spinach (adapted from Now Eat This! by Rocco DiSpirito)
Serves 2

Nonstick cooking spray
1 medium shallot, minced
2 T Dijon mustard
1 small orange or large tangerine, supremed
Salt and pepper
8 ounces salmon, cut into 2 pieces
1 slice thick-cut bacon, cut into small squares
1 large garlic clove, minced
6 ounces baby spinach

1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees and place a rack in the top third of the oven.  Line a baking sheet with
foil and spray with cooking spray.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the shallot and mustard.  Add the orange or tangerine segments and toss to combine.  Season with salt and pepper.
3. Lay the salmon skin-side-down on the baking sheet and season with salt and pepper.  Spread with the shallot-mustard mixture, spreading to create a thick layer over the whole surface of the fish.
4. Cook until the salmon is just cooked through, about 8 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, prepare the spinach.  Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  Add the bacon and saute until it just starts to get crispy.  Add the garlic and saute for about 1 minute, until softened.  Add the spinach and saute until wilted.
6. Divide the spinach among two plates and top each with a piece of salmon.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Grilled Chicken Salad with Asparagus, Pears, and Blue Cheese

Tim and I wanted to make a healthy lunch last weekend after making peppermint cheesecake (recipe up soon!).  We did our best to recreate one of his favorite salads from Mixt Greens, with a few changes.  I cooked up a chicken breast on my grill pan, which really gave the chicken great flavor - I'm really impressed at how much "grilled" flavor you can get from it without there actually being smoke or charcoal.  The chicken was combined with steamed asparagus, fresh pears, baby greens, and a little blue cheese for the perfect salad.  I added tomatoes to mine, but Tim didn't since he is anti-tomato.  :)  (I actually forgot and tossed them with the salad...oops.  That's okay, more for me!)  Overall, this was a tasty, healthy lunch that definitely satisfied - and deserved cheesecake for dessert!

One tip - if your pear is a little underripe, saute it in a bit of oil for a few minutes while the chicken is cooking and it will soften right up.

Grilled Chicken Salad with Asparagus, Pears, and Blue Cheese
Serves 2

1 large chicken breast
Salt and pepper
6-8 spears asparagus, ends trimmed
1 medium pear, cubed
1 medium tomato, cored and sliced (optional)
A few large handfuls of baby greens
Mustard Vinaigrette, recipe below
1-2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

1. Season the chicken breast with salt and pepper, and then grill on a grill pan (or cook in a saute pan) until cooked through.
2. Meanwhile, steam the asparagus until tender and then cut into inch-long pieces.
3. If the pear is underripe, saute for a few minutes in a little oil (or use oil spray on a nonstick pan).
4. Toss together the asparagus, pear, tomato, and baby greens, and then add about half the vinaigrette.  Toss to combine, and add more dressing if needed.  Divide the salad among two places.
5. Top with crumbled blue cheese.  Slice the chicken, and place on top of the salad.

Mustard Vinaigrette

3 T olive oil
1 T white wine vinegar
1/2 T of your favorite mustard (Dijon is always a good choice, but I used a honey garlic mustard with excellent results)
Salt and pepper

Combine everything in a jar with a tightly fitting lid and shake until well combined.  Dip a piece of lettuce into the dressing to taste, and adjust to get the flavor you like.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Angel Hair Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

I really like this pasta sauce because it's very easy to make in just a few minutes, but it's also different than the usual "pasta with sauce" that seems to be the stand-by of lazy evenings.  The sauce is fairly subtle, so I'd definitely recommend sticking with angel hair pasta rather than something chunkier, and be sure to serve with lots of cheese grated on top.  Unlike some pesto sauces, this one keeps well in the fridge already tossed with the pasta, so you can mix up all the pasta and sauce and easily heat up any leftovers for lunch the next day.  Although I didn't try it, I think you could probably cut down on the amount of olive oil in the sauce to make this a bit healthier.  Either way, I definitely give this two thumbs up for the unique, yummy flavor and ease of preparation.

Angel Hair Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce (adapted from What Did You Eat?, original recipe here)
Serves 3-4

1 tablespoon pine nuts
3 roasted red peppers
1 small garlic clove, smashed
1/4 cup basil leaves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese, plus more to serve.

 Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound angel hair pasta

1. Toast the pine nuts until lightly browned in a dry skillet over medium heat.  Combine the pine nuts with the roasted peppers, garlic, and whole basil leaves and then blend with a hand-held blender, full-sized blender, or food processor.  Add the oil and cheese and puree until chunky.  Season with salt and pepper.
2. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente.  Drain, and then add the pesto.  Toss to combine, and serve with more grated cheese.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lemon Cranberry Muffins

I made these muffins a few weeks ago for a workshop I participate in at my school.  They have great holiday flavor that's bright enough to wake you up in the morning!  I love the tart cranberries and lemon flavor combined with the sweet glaze.  These muffins also look really festive with the big dots of red scattered throughout them. 

Lemon Cranberry Muffins (adapted from Food Republik, original recipe here)
Makes 12 muffins

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (0% fat works well)
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
Pinch salt
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup confectioners sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Whisk together the yogurt, sugar, salt, and eggs in a large bowl.  Add the zest and vanilla and whisk to combine.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder.  Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir together until just combined.
3. Add the oil and mix until the batter is just combined.  Fold in the cranberries.
4. Bake 20-25 minutes until a tester comes out clean.
5. Make the glaze.  Whisk the sugar with a little bit of lemon juice at a time until it reaches a drizzling consistency.  Drizzle over cooled muffins.

I'm sending this post off to BSI: Cranberry!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Chicken Baked on a Bed of Bread and Swiss Chard

I was instantly drawn to this recipe when paging through Food and Wine magazine.  It looked full of flavor and also fairly healthy.  I downsized the recipe a bit to fit into my Le Creuset cast iron grill skillet (which I won a while back from a fantastic giveaway that More than a Mount Full and CSN put on - thanks!).  I was very happy with the result - the greens were alternately juicy or a bit crispy, the bread was crunchy and yummy, and the raisins and capers made everything much more interesting and flavorful.  I'd just change two things next time. The capers were still pretty salty even after rinsing, and so the dish ended up being a little too salty.  Next time I'd use capers in brine or wash them much more carefully.  Also, the chicken breast dried out a little from all the time in the oven.  I'd probably use skin-on chicken if I made this again, and just remove the skin before serving.  Other than that, this was a really yummy dish that was easy to put together.  Feel free to use whichever chicken pieces you most like - you could probably fit enough chicken for 3 people on this amount of greens if you wanted to, or double everything and use a large pan to make enough for 4-6. 

Chicken Baked on a Bed of Bread and Swiss Chard (adapted from Food and Wine, original recipe here)
Serves 2 (easily multiplied)

4-6 ounces day-old peasant bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T capers in salt, rinsed very well
1/4 cup golden raisins
About 3/4 pound Swiss chard, leaves thinly sliced (1/2-3/4 of a large bunch)
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp minced fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
2 chicken breasts and 1-2 chicken drumsticks or thighs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Toss the bread, oil, capers, raisins, chard, shallots, garlic, and thyme together in a large bowl.  Season liberally with freshly ground black pepper and with just a pinch of salt.  Spread into a cast-iron skillet (or another oven-safe dish).
2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and arrange over the bread.  Cover with parchment paper, and cover with an oven-safe lid.  Bake 35 minutes.
3. Remove the lid and parchment and increase the oven to 400 degrees.  Bake about 10 minutes more, or until the chicken is golden and cooked through.  Remove from the oven and let stand for about 5 minutes before serving.