Thursday, March 31, 2011

FFwD: Quinoa, Fruit, and Nut Salad

The French Fridays with Dorie recipe for this week was a pretty quinoa, nut, and dried fruit salad that I absolutely loved.  I used a really pretty tri-color quinoa from the bulk bin at the store, and mixed it with dried peaches, golden raisins, sunflower seeds, and chopped pecans.  I changed up the dressing a bit, mixing together Meyer lemon juice, fresh ginger, olive oil, salt, and pepper. This was all served over mixed greens, seasoned just with salt and pepper.  I was worried the greens might be too dry - I pretty much never serve greens without some sort of oil or dressing - but it actually worked perfectly with the quinoa salad and the topping of plain Greek yogurt.

Although this dish was terrific as-is, I dressed up some of the leftovers for lunch with some crumbled lamb-rosemary sausage.  Wow! This made the salad even yummier, and the flavors of the lamb went really well with everything else.  Overall, I was very impressed with this salad and I think it makes a for the perfect easy, healthy, and tasty lunch.  Although the recipe says it serves four, I got three servings out of a half recipe - one right when I made it, and two as leftovers over the next few days.  The salad keeps really well, making this an excellent make-ahead lunch that can be packed for the next day.

Monday, March 28, 2011

FFwD: Scallops with Caramel-Orange Sauce

I'm back from an amazing week in France at the Taize community (plus one whirlwind day in Paris!).  I'll post photos soon, but today I wanted to share a fantastic dish I made last week, just before I left.  Tim and I cooked Dorie's scallops with caramel-orange sauce, which were absolutely delicious.  I haven't ever cooked scallops before, but they were a breeze - just a couple of minutes on each side made for perfectly browned-on-the-outside and tender-on-the-inside scallops.  The sauce was also a winner, though making caramel always stresses me out a bit (I've had more than one burned batch before).  This one worked very well though, combining caramelized sugar, orange juice, white wine (we used a bit of sparkling wine from a bottle we had open), and butter.  It was fantastic on both the scallops and the roasted asparagus we served on the side. I would definitely make this sauce again, and I think it would be great on other veggies or ships. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

FFwD: Salted Butter Break-Ups

This week's recipe for French Fridays with Dorie was a quick and easy cookie recipe that comes together in the food processor.  It sort of reminds me of pate sucree (sweet tart dough), but with a little more salt.  Once the dough comes out of the food processor, it's chilled and then rolled out and baked as a big sheet - much easier than cutting out the cookies individually!  The cookies were not-too-sweet, and even could have been a little saltier for my taste.   In any case, they're definitely highly addictive and I was a big fan.  The ones near the edges got browner and crispier, while the middle cookies were a little chewier - I really liked both types!  I made a few changes to this recipe - I skipped the egg wash because I discovered we were out of eggs and it was 10:30 pm, and I also skipped the cross-hatch pattern due to plain laziness.  I think this probably caused the cookies to be less browned and not quite as pretty, but they were still totally delicious.

On another note, I'm headed to France this week for Spring Break! I'll be traveling to Taize, France for a week of spiritual renewal and global community with a group of 13 students from my church.  This means I won't have access to the Internet while I'm away, and won't be posting here fact, even this post is one I scheduled earlier in the week since when this posts I'll be in the air on my way to Paris!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Goat Cheese Polenta with Roasted Veggies and Fried Egg

I came up with this dish one evening when I had some veggies and goat cheese in the fridge that needed to be used up, but I wasn't in the mood for pasta, soup, or a fritatta (my usual go-to dishes for using up random veggies).  Polenta, however, sounded just right for a chilly, rainy evening.  I really like this dish because it is very quick and easy to pull together, and it's infinitely adaptable to what you have on hand.  The veggies could be switched out with almost anything, the goat cheese could be replaced with cheddar or Parmesan, and the egg could be swapped out for another protein like leftover shredded chicken or bacon (mmmmm, bacon).

One thing that I think really added to this dish was the bits of Meyer lemon that I roasted along with the veggies.  I got the idea from Aarti Party, where Aarti suggested roasting lemons in a different roasted veggie dish. It's totally genius - the tartness of raw lemon mellows and leaves behind fantastic lemon flavor.  The Meyer lemons I used can simply be eaten peel and all (provided you cut the pieces small enough), although I'm not sure if this would work with regular lemons, which have a thicker peel.  If not, you can always scrape the lemon flesh out with your teeth and leave the rind behind - after all, that's the beauty of eating dinner by yourself - you don't have to be polite!

Speaking of, although this recipe is written for one, it could very easily be multiplied to serve as many people as you can quickly prepare eggs for (or, if you're making scrambled eggs, pretty much any number of people).  Just eyeball it with the veggies and plan on about 1/4 cup uncooked polenta per person.  You may also need a smaller proportion of water to polenta when preparing a larger batch.

Goat Cheese Polenta with Roasted Veggies and Fried Egg
Serves 1

1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick, on the diagonal
1/2 small onion, cut into wedges
1/2 small red bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/3 Meyer lemon, cut into thin wedges
Olive oil
Salt blend, such as Sumac Pepper Salt, or salt and pepper
1/4 cup polenta
1/2 cup water, more as needed
Salt and pepper
1 T creamy goat cheese, plus more to serve
1 fresh egg

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Toss the veggies and lemon with the olive oil and a generous sprinkle of the salt blend (or salt and pepper).  Place on a foil- lined baking sheet.  Roast in the oven, stirring occasionally, until caramelized and tender.
2. Meanwhile, place the polenta and water in a small, non-stick pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.  Lower the heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring frequently, until tender.  Add more water as needed.  Stir in 1 T goat cheese until melted.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. When the veggies and polenta are a minute or so from being finished, cook the egg however you like it (I made mine over easy, but sunny side up, poached, or scrambled would also work well).
4. Scrape the polenta into a bowl.  Top with the egg, and dot with additional goat cheese.  Scoop the vegetables off of the baking sheet and onto the polenta and egg.  Serve hot.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Thai Red Curry Chicken with Veggies

Fine Cooking's Create Your Own feature was another winner this month, with lots of options for different Thai curries.  Tim and I decided on a red curry with chicken, snap peas, carrots, and bell peppers.  We were really happy with the results - this tasted just like a curry you'd get in a Thai restaurant!  It had super fresh flavors, and the veggies were perfectly tender with a little crunch. Plus, once you finish up all the chopping (which does take a while, depending on your chopping speed), the curry comes together super fast.  Since the meat and veggies all go in at different times but cook in five minutes, you'll definitely want to prep everything before you start cooking.

I feel really lucky to live near Berkeley Bowl, a grocery store in my city that stocks lots of ingredients that are tough to find at a typical grocery - this made it easy to find lemongrass, wild lime leaves, and galangal (although we actually went with fresh ginger instead of the last, since the galangal was five times more expensive!).  Although I definitely think these contributed to the "authentic" taste (especially the lime leaves - the smell of them just screamed "Thai curry" to me), I'd love to hear how this would turn out with easier-to-find ingredients (maybe fresh ginger and lime zest).  Let me know if you try it!

Thai Red Curry Chicken with Veggies (adapted from Fine Cooking)
Serves 4

1 13.5- to 14-oz. can coconut milk
1/4 cup red curry paste
1 cup lower-salt chicken broth
2 T brown sugar
1 tsp fish sauce; more as needed
6 whole fresh or thawed frozen wild lime leaves (or substitute 1 tsp finely grated lime zest)
3 stalks fresh lemongrass, trimmed, bruised, and cut into 3- to 4-inch pieces
3 1/8-inch-thick slices fresh ginger
1 pound boneless chicken thighs or legs, cut into 1/4-thick bite-size strips
1-1/4 cup halved snow peas (strings removed)
1 cup sliced carrots (sliced 1/8-inch thick on an angle)
3/4 cup diced bell peppers (red, orange, or yellow)
3/4 cup loosely packed fresh Italian or Thai basil leaves
Thinly sliced red or green Thai chili, to garnish (optional)

1. Shake the can of coconut milk or stir it well (this creates a consistent thickness, since the fat often solidifies at the top of the can).
2. In a 3- to 4-quart saucepan or wok over medium heat, simmer 1/2 cup of the coconut milk, stirring occasionally, until reduced by about half, 3 to 5 minutes. It will get very thick and shiny and may or may not separate; either is fine.
3. Add the curry paste, whisk well, and cook, continuing to whisk, for 1 minute. Whisk in the broth, sugar, fish sauce, and remaining coconut milk. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.
4. Add the chicken, carrots, whole lime leaves, lemongrass pieces, and ginger slices and continue to simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary. After 2 minutes, add the bell peppers and continue to simmer. After another 2 minutes, add the snow peas and simmer until everything is tender and cooked through, about 1 minute more.
5. Remove the curry from the heat. Season to taste with more sugar and fish sauce, and stir in the basil.  Remove the whole lime leaves, lemongrass pieces, and ginger slices or tell your guests to eat around them. Garnish with thin slices of chili, to taste.

Friday, March 11, 2011

FFwD: Beggar's Linguine

This week's French Fridays with Dorie, Beggar's Linguine, was...interesting.  I loved the story behind it - it's named after the four mendicant (begging) monastic orders, with each order being represented by a different fruit or nut.  Dried figs, raisins, pistachios, and almonds are sauteed in browned butter and then tossed with linguine, Parmesan cheese, and a little orange zest.  In principle, I had high hopes for this dish - I do really love sweet and savory dishes, and I often like dishes with unusual flavor combinations.  In this case, however, the combination just didn't work for me, mostly because the pasta was just too rich.  I'm all for butter, but along with nuts and cheese it was a little overwhelming.  I think this dish could be saved (for me, at least) by adding some sort of acid - maybe balsamic vinegar or lemon juice - and omitting the orange zest.  Some veggies would also likely help cut through the richness of the dish.  Overall, though, I'm definitely glad I tried this dish - it was inexpensive (yay bulk bins at the grocery!) and made for a quick lunch, and it was interesting to try out new flavors.

Here's the original recipe on Dorie's website.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lamb and Sweet Onion Pitas with Orange-Cucumber Salad

Tim and I made these tasty pitas a couple of weekends ago and really loved them.  They have lots of great flavors, combining ground lamb, caramelized onions (yum!), a crunchy orange-cucumber salad, and cooling Greek yogurt (not pictured - I forgot about it until we got to the table!).  We had a little trouble finding ground lamb, and ended up buying lamb lula from an Armenian market, which is ground lamb mixed with onions, parsley, and possibly some other tasty things (the butcher wasn't totally clear on this).  This actually worked out perfectly since the lamb was pre-seasoned, but I'm sure regular ground lamb would be very tasty as well - you can always throw in some extra onions and parsley if you like. 

You can make this recipe with two people - one to man the skillet and the other to prepare the salad - and both tasks will take approximately the same time.  If you're making this by yourself, I definitely recommend fixing the salad (or at least prepping the oranges) before starting the onions.  Supreme-ing citrus, at least for a non-expert like me, is always a messy task that takes some concentration, so I wouldn't have wanted to switch back and forth between a hot pan while doing it.  Certainly the salad wouldn't suffer from a few extra minutes of marinating, and you're less like to end up with burned onions.

Lamb and Sweet Onion Pitas with Orange-Cucumber Salad (adapted from Fine Cooking)
Serves 2

Olive oil
1/2 medium sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
1/2 pound ground lamb (or lamb lula)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 large orange
1 small Persian cucumber (or 1/2 small English cucumber), halved and thinly sliced
1 T red wine vinegar
1-1/2 tsp chopped fresh mint (about 1 sprig)
2 pitas, halved and toasted if desired
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt (more to taste)

1. Heat a thin layer of oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add most of the onion (reserving a few slices), and a pinch each of salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 8-10 minutes.  Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
2. Add the lamb to the skillet with more oil if needed, and season with salt and pepper.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally and breaking up the meat, until cooked through, 5-7 minutes.  Drain well.
3. Meanwhile, finely chop the remaining raw onion and transfer to a large bowl.  Supreme the orange over a bowl to collect the juices and cut the segments into chunks.  Add the oranges, orange juice, cucumber, vinegar, mint, and 1/2 T oil to the raw onion and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add more vinegar or oil as needed.
4. Fill the pitas with the lamb, cooked onions, and orange-cucumber salad.  Add a dollop of Greek yogurt to each pita and serve.

I'm sending this recipe off to this month's Kitchen Bootcamp Challenge: World Cuisines.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Grilled Nectarine and Fresh Mozzarella Salad

I love recipes like this one that can save out-of-season fruit.  Of course, it would be better to wait and have my nectarines in summer, but sometimes it's chilly outside and I need something to tide me over!  Grilled nectarines come to the rescue, and they're especially nice because you can make them with a grill pan (perfect for cold weather).  And really, you wouldn't want to heat up a whole grill for two nectarines, so if you don't have a grill pan I think a plain old skillet would work just fine.

Along with the grilled nectarines is an absolutely fantastic balsamic syrup.  Feel free to use whatever herb you like here, or none at all - the original recipe called for thyme, but we had rosemary in the garden so I went with that with great results.  Since this salad doesn't have too many ingredients, be sure to use a good fresh mozzarella cheese - I got mine at Cowgirl Creamery and loved it.  When everything was tossed together, this salad really did taste like summer in a bowl, which was just what I needed with the weather we've been having lately!

Grilled Nectarine and Fresh Mozzarella Salad (adapted from Fine Cooking magazine)
Serves 4

3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 firm nectarines, each sliced into about 10 slices
Olive oil
Salad greens
Salt and pepper
6-8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into cubes

1. Bring the vinegar and rosemary to a boil in a small, non-stick saucepan, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to a simmer, and simmer until the vinegar is thickened and reduced to about 1/4 cup, about 8 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, place a grill pan over medium-high heat and brush with olive oil.  [You could also easily use a regular grill or even just a skillet for this step.]  Arrange the nectarine slices on the grill in one layer, working in batches if you need to, and grill until browned and tender, flipping once.  Allow to cool slightly.
3. Toss the salad greens with olive oil, salt, and pepper, to taste.  Add the mozzarella and grilled nectarines.  Drizzle with the reduced balsamic syrup.

Friday, March 4, 2011

FFwD: Cheesy Quick Bread with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Walnuts

This week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe was Savory Cheese and Chive Bread.  I love savory quick breads, although I made some changes to the add-ins so I wouldn't have to run to the store.  For the cheese portion, I used a variety of cheeses that were hanging out in my cheese drawer (Parmesan, Gruyere, and "Mexican Blend" - way to mix up the classy and un-classy, Sara!).  To that, I added walnuts, scallions, and sun-dried tomatoes - yum!

I made a half recipe to take advantage of an adorable mini lavender Le Creuset from my mom.  Really, it was probably a bit too much batter for the pan, but I didn't want to break out the muffin tins so I made it work!  The result was like a giant, gorgeous muffin - and said giant muffin smelled heavenly coming out of the oven!  It didn't look so gorgeous coming out of the pan, since I somehow forgot to grease it, but it was very tasty - housemate approved! I especially liked the sun-dried tomatoes, which added great flavor. 

On a side note, I made a variation on this quick bread, Bacon Cheddar Quick Bread with Dried Pears, a couple of years ago, which was also delicious.  The recipe was from Dorie's column in Bon Appetit, and is essentially the same as this version, but with different mix-ins. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Orange-Mint-Blueberry Compote over French Toast

Tim and I made an awesome brunch on Sunday morning...I love lazy weekend mornings, especially when they include large amounts of carbs!  :)  Well, this one definitely fit that bill.  Tim made his home fries, which are seriously the best home fries I've ever had - the trick is par-boiling them a bit first so they get perfectly crispy on the outside but are still cooked through.  I contributed French toast with orange-mint-blueberry compote.  The French toast recipe I used was from Cook's Illustrated's The New Best Recipe.  As with so many of their recipes, it had three times as many ingredients/steps as my usual French toast, but really didn't taste any different from my go-to recipe of eggs, milk, and vanilla (about 4 eggs to 1 cup milk and 1 tsp vanilla).  So, I'd say save yourself some trouble and make your favorite simple French toast, and then spend the extra time making this delicious blueberry compote and frying up some bacon so you have bacon fat to cook your French toast in!  (Yum.)

The compote is actually super easy, and lends itself to lots of variations - you could really use any citrus and herb here with the berries - lemon peel and lemon thyme, for example, would be fantastic.  I like to combine cooked-down berries with whole berries stirred into at the very end so that you get a nice mix of textures.  Other berries, like strawberries or raspberries, would also be great, so just go with what looks good at the supermarket.

Orange-Mint-Blueberry Compote

1 pint blueberries
3-4 strips orange peel, with as little white pith as possible
1 sprig fresh mint
1 tsp sugar, more to taste

1. Place about half the berries along with the orange peel, mint, and sugar in a saucepan.  Add about 1/3 cup water (just enough to cover the berries about halfway).  Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring often.
2. Reduce heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and simmer until the berries have popped and become saucy.  Continue to simmer until the sauce is somewhat reduced (to whatever thickness you like - time will depend on the amount of water used in step 1).
3. Remove from the heat and remove the orange peels and mint.  Taste, and add more sugar if desired.  Stir in most of the remaining berries, and return pot to the heat until the sauce is just heated through.
4. Serve over french toast (or pancakes, or ice cream!), along with the reserved berries.