Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Meyer Lemon Muffins

There is no shortage of sunshine in Florida this time of year, but there has been a sad lack of Meyer lemons. I may have been able to go to the beach and get a tan, but I was missing my little ray of culinary sunshine until now.

A few weeks ago, Whole Foods Market finally had a few Meyer lemons in stock, but they were sorry little specimens. The thin, sweet peels were so blemished they wouldn’t have been much use in a tart or scone recipe. Depressing as it was, I had to pass them up. Then a few days ago, we were shopping at Publix, the dominant Florida supermarket chain. Publix is a decent store, but I sometimes wonder if the lack of supermarket competition in these parts gives them an excuse to let things slide.

Apparently, that’s not the case. I’ve been known to curse the Publix, often vehemently, when they don’t have a certain ingredient or the well-traveled produce doesn’t look so great. When I saw a bin of beautiful Meyer lemons with smooth skin the color of egg yolks, I was singing the supermarket’s praises. They’ve also been delighting us with a lot of great regional beers lately, but that’s another story.

Anyway, I bought three lemons. This was a totally arbitrary number since I didn’t know what I would use them for. But you don’t just pass up the first perfect Meyer lemons of the year. You just don’t.

Being too busy to use them, I watched my lemons nervously for a couple days before I got it together and started googling for recipes. I found these tempting scones, a pudding cake and a soufflé, but it was this muffin recipe from the Los Angeles Times that called out to me. First off, it required exactly three Meyer lemons. Even better, and the thing I find unique, is that these muffins use the whole lemon. Just trim the stem, remove the seeds and chop it up roughly in a food processor or blender.

The flavor you get in the muffins is incredible. There’s no mistaking what’s in there—not pure lemon, but pure Meyer lemon. You can taste the special qualities of the fruit easily—less acidity and lemony sweetness. It’s a really simple recipe with a short ingredient list too. The dainty muffins are buttery, very moist, and dense so they’re quite satisfying. I love the look of the lemon baked on top. If you could ever describe a muffin as utterly juicy, this is it.

Meyer Lemon Muffins
Adapted from this recipe by Donna Deane for the Los Angeles Times
The original recipe instructed you to fill the muffin molds halfway to yield 18 muffins. I did not want my muffins to be so very tiny, and I only own one muffin pan. So, I filled the 12 molds about 3/4 full and discarded the leftover batter. I got normal-sized, but not large muffins, so I think it worked out well. I also thought the amount of sugar was a bit high, so I reduced it to 3/4 cup. This resulted in a mild sweetness level which was good, but I think next time I would go with the full cup of sugar. I also substituted whole wheat pastry flour for half of the AP flour, as I usually do, with good results.

Makes 12 to 18 muffins (see headnote)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup granulated sugar plus 2 tbs., divided
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3 Meyer lemons, divided use
2 eggs
1 cup lowfat milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, 1 cup of the sugar, baking soda and salt.

Take 2 of the lemons, trim off the stem end and cut into 1-inch pieces, carefully removing the seeds as you go. Put the pieces in a food processor or blender and process until finely chopped, but not pureed.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the milk, butter and chopped lemon and whisk to combine. Pour the lemon mixture into the flour mixture and stir just until all the ingredients are moistened.

Coat 12 or 18 regular size muffin molds with nonstick spray, butter or paper liners. Fill them 3/4 full for 12 muffins (you’ll have leftover batter) or 1/2 full for 18 muffins. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle over the muffins. Thinly slice the remaining lemon into 6 or 9 pieces and cut the pieces in half. Place one lemon slice on each muffin, pressing gently. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes for 12 muffins, 20 minutes for 18 muffins. Finished muffins should be light golden on the bottom and sides. Cool for 2 minutes in the pan, then run a butter knife around muffins to loosen and transfer to a rack to cool.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Super Bowl Snacks: Bacon Brittle and Spiced Nuts

I'm really looking forward to the Superbowl because it's a great excuse to make really fun food. And because I'll get to see Tom Brady crush Eli Manning...yippee!

If you serve even one of these recipes to people on Superbowl Sunday (or any day), they will remember you for throwing the best Superbowl party ever. Serve both and people may not be able to handle all the tastiness--these snacks are unbelievably addictive.

I made them both over the holidays, and the bacon brittle was a surprise stocking stuffer for Mike. I had never made any kind of brittle by myself, but the process went smoothly, and it turned out perfectly. It's pretty well established that a little salt makes sweet things a million times more delicious. When that salt comes in the form of bacon, you've really hit the ultimate expression of the idea. Whatever doubts you might have about this recipe, just banish them and go for it. At the very least, you'll have fun breaking the brittle up with a hammer (in the photo above, the brittle is set, but not yet cracked into shards).

The original recipe came from Obsession with Food. [2012 update: here's a recipe similar to what I used, but I omitted peanuts; the website with the recipe I used in 2008 is no long online.] I did however use slightly more bacon, about seven slices. Needless to say, use the best bacon you can find for this recipe. Overly salty, watery stuff will reduce the deliciousness considerably. For planning purposes, note that this brittle stays hard for about 48 hours after you make it, then gets progressively softer.

The spiced nuts are another take on sweet and salty, this time with some fresh rosemary thrown in. I've been making these for years, since I saw the recipe in Nigella Bites. Nigella adapted it from the Union Square Cafe, a great restaurant in New York. When I was there on business a few years ago, that's where I went for dinner the first night because I remembered Sara Moulton talking about it on her old cooking show, and I loved Sara. I think they had bar nuts when I went, but they weren't quite like these.

I love these nuts. Anytime you're having people over, you won't go wrong if you put these out. They are incredible warm, and not really any less incredible after they've cooled. You can make them a day ahead if you want. I tweak the recipe a bit every time I make them, and I always start with different quantities of nuts. You can't really go wrong here if you use fresh rosemary, good salt and a chile seasoning you like. I use standard cayenne pepper, but you can use any ground chile.

If the Superbowl isn't your thing, wouldn't your Valentine love one of these treats? If he's a man who likes meat, you cannot fail with the Bacon Brittle.

Sweet and Spicy Roasted Nuts
Adapted from Nigella Bites
The nuts must be raw because you’re going to do the roasting and salting. My grocery store sells mixed bags of Brazil nuts, walnuts, pecans, cashews and hazelnuts in the produce section. Another good idea is to hit the bulk bins at a natural foods store and make your own mix. If you want more nuts to feed a crowd, scale the quantities up as needed.

Approximately 1 1/2 cups raw mixed nuts
1 tbs. finely chopped fresh rosemary (do not substitute dried)
pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 tbs. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
1 1/2 tbs. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spread the nuts out on a baking sheet and roast until lightly browned and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Give the tray a shake and turn the larger nuts once or twice during roasting, watching closely so they don’t burn.

Meanwhile, combine the rosemary, cayenne, sugar, salt and butter in a bowl. Add the hot roasted nuts and toss well to coat. Serve warm or cool and store in an airtight container.

Need more snack ideas? Here are a few picks from my archives:

1) Oktoberfest Crostini - great party bites with bratwurst and sauerkraut
2) Catalan Flatbread with Piquillo Peppers, Caramelized Onions and Anchovies - the title is a mouthful, but these appetizer pizzas are really easy to make!
3) Mini Corn Cakes with Guacamole - a great munchie if you're serving chili too.
4) Phyllo Triangles with Lamb, Onions and Pine Nuts - perfect if you want to go a little bit exotic.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Creamy Eggplant-Lentil Soup

Some things make great leftovers--lasagna, soups and stews, enchiladas. Other things, like risotto or shrimp n' grits, not so much. When you're cooking for one, it helps to go for the things that make great leftovers.

Mike just started a consulting project that requires him to fly to Hartford on Monday mornings, work at the client's offices during the week and get back to Fort Lauderdale on Thursday night. He's done projects that involved a lot of travel in the past, and it's the nature of his job. He doesn't mind the traveling and staying in a hotel, and I don't blame him--I'd rather do that than work in the same office, in the same cubicle, day after day without variation. He has a good gig.

What it means for me on a very practical level is that I don't have someone to cook for as often. Since Mike loves trying new dishes as much as I do, I feel bad making new and exciting things when he's not here. But what are you gonna do? Last week, I needed to cook, and there was a soup recipe in the February issue of Food & Wine that combined two of my very favorite foods--lentils and roasted eggplant. There are a couple lentil recipes on this blog, but that doesn't truly reflect how much I love lentils. They are my go-to ingredient when I want something satisfying and healthy.

This soup is not glamourous, but it is really good. I ate it for dinner three nights in a row, and I have to say that it grew on me. Night one was nice. On night two, I thought, yum, I like this. Night three--so creamy, so light yet filling, subtle yet flavorful--I'd make it again. I've never pureed lentils this way, and it really does create a creamy texture along with a little bit of milk. With a good slice of buttered bread, this is a tasty meal.

The actual recipe as printed in the magazine was lacking--the soup was begging for some aromatic vegetables so I worked in sauteed onion and garlic. The method was a little convoluted, so I tried to streamline it in my version. Finally, F&W tried to gussy it up with a fried sage leaf garnish. There is no way that I would get another pot dirty when I could garnish this soup with a sprig from my thyme plant. A perfect weeknight dinner for one.

By the way, I saved Mike some soup to try when he got home, and the review was good.

Creamy Eggplant-Lentil Soup
Adapted from this recipe in Food & Wine, February 2008
You can used any combination of dried herbs you like--try sage, rosemary, oregano, marjoram or mint. If you want to use fresh herbs instead, add them to the blender with the eggplant instead of sautéing them.

One 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lb. eggplant, quartered lengthwise
Cooking spray
1 tbs. olive oil
1/2 medium onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup brown lentils
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided
1 cup lowfat milk
1 tbs. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the eggplant quarters, skin side down, on a foil-lined baking sheet and lightly coat with cooking spray. Season with salt and pepper and bake until eggplant flesh is lightly browned and very tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the lentils in the saucepan with 1/2 tsp. salt, add enough water to cover by about 2 inches and bring to a boil. Simmer until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and add the spices. Cook, stirring often, until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more. Add onion mixture to a blender and set aside.

When eggplant is done, let it cool slightly, then scrape the flesh into the blender with the onion mixture. Add 1 cup of the chicken broth and puree until smooth. Transfer to the saucepan. Now, add the drained lentils to the blender along with the other cup of chicken broth and puree. Add to the saucepan with the eggplant mixture.

Stir the milk and lemon juice into the soup and bring to a simmer. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed. Serve, garnished with fresh herbs if desired.

Get new posts delivered to your inbox or subscribe to my RSS feed:
If you enjoyed reading this, and don’t want to miss a thing, you can sign up to receive new posts delivered to your e-mail box automatically. The service is provided by Feedburner and your e-mail address will never, ever be used for other purposes besides receiving my tasty blog posts. Just enter your e-mail address in the box in the upper right sidebar and click the subscribe button.

You can also subscribe to the RSS feed for A Mingling of Tastes through any feed reader. Here's an explanation of RSS feeds.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Chocolate Chip-Oat Cookies with Coconut

Yum. I love when I have an idea of what I want and find a recipe that perfectly epitomizes what I'm craving. That's what happened with these cookies I made last night. They are chewy, just a little crisp around the edges and full of semisweet chocolate chips, oats, coconut and toasted pecans. Yum.

If you haven't noticed, I'm a big Cookie Madness groupie. Anna posts at least one recipe (not always a cookie, but usually sweet) every day. Whenever I want something sweet but I'm not quite sure what, I browse through the Cookie Madness archives. Thanks to the sheer volume of recipes, I always find something appealing along with an honest assessment of how it tastes, what it's like (crisp or soft, ultra-rich or more nuanced), and how it behaves during baking.

I really like this cookie because it's hearty, chocolately and reminds me of one of those tasty "congo bar" type desserts, probably because of the coconut. I made a very small batch, and after less than 24 hours they're almost gone. With whole oats and whole wheat pastry flour, it even has a bit of nutritional value. Here's the link to Anna's recipe, but I'll write it up here too in case you want to make a small batch like I did.

Chocolate Chip-Oat Cookies with Coconut
Adapted from Cookie Madness
I like the old-fashioned type of oats here--it's supposed to be a chunky cookie. I'm not sure if using quick oats (do NOT use instant) would make the cookie flatter. I gave a range for the quantity of pecans because I only had 1/4 cup on hand. Next time, I'll up the quantity a bit, but this batch definitely didn't suffer. To toast the pecans, spread on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in a 325 degree oven for about 8 minutes, flipping once, or until they take on some color and turn fragrant.

Makes 18 cookies.

4 tbs. unsalted butter, softened
1/4 c. plus 1 tbs. dark brown sugar, packed
2 tbs. granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 tbs. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup plus 3 tbs. whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose)--56 grams
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. old-fashion oats
1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 to 1/3 cup toasted pecans, finely chopped
1/4 c. shredded sweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the butter and sugars with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Beat in the egg, then beat in the milk and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Stir into the butter mixture. Stir in the oats, chips, pecans and coconut.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets and bake for 10-14 minutes, or until the bottoms are lightly browned. Bake shorter or longer depending on how soft you like your cookies. Let rest on baking sheet for 1-2 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool.

Here are the other Cookie Madness recipes I've made (and loved):

Creamy Butterfinger Pie
Soft Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Mushrooms and Spinach

Do you have a trademark dish? In other words, a dish you know you’re good at and could make anytime, anywhere, probably without a recipe? I’m willing to bet anyone who likes to cook has at least one dish like this. Risotto is one of mine. The funny thing is, I recently realized that I only have one risotto dish on this blog. And I’ve never even shared one of my very favorite risotto recipes. Sorry about that.

I don’t remember the first risotto I made. I may have still been in high school because I think that’s when my mom starting making risotto. She would make it with sautéed chicken breast and vegetables, but she had to keep all the veggies separate from the rice. Although my sister loved risotto--and she didn’t really have anything against vegetables--she liked her chicken risotto plain. I can picture her spreading it to the edges of her plate so it would cool faster--a delicious, colorless meal.

I’m not a big fan of white rice, except for sushi, or with Indian food…okay maybe I do like white rice. But for me, risotto is in a whole different category. It is so creamy, yet toothsome, and satisfies your belly like regular steamed rice does not. I love this recipe because all the components are favorites of mine, especially the butternut squash. It requires roasting to caramelize it and bring out the sweetness, so this is a great cool weather risotto. No meat here, but it still makes a hearty main dish.

In my previous post for Fava Bean Risotto with Pancetta, I included some step-by-step photos if you’re a risotto newbie. Finally I’ll echo what Nigella Lawson writes in How to Eat, her first cookbook that I was skimming through last night. Risotto is not difficult. It’s actually quite forgiving unless you totally abandon it for extended minutes to risk scorched rice. Think of the stirring as a relaxing, meditative activity, and this could become one of your favorite meals to prepare too. I’ve included tips and detailed instructions in the recipe, so I won’t go on.

So, what are your trademark dishes? Let’s discuss in the comments.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Mushrooms

I like to use Arborio rice from Italy for risotto. I’ve tried domestic brands of risotto rice, but they never seem as creamy as the Italian brands. This is a fairly light risotto--you'll see recipe that have you finish the rice with butter or cream or more cheese, but I don't find it necessary. You can make this vegetarian by replacing the chicken broth with vegetable broth. If your grocery store sells peeled and chopped butternut squash, it might be worth the extra cost. It’s a bit of a hassle to peel yourself, so if your husband is sick of doing it for you this is a great option.

3 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into half-inch pieces
2 1/2 tbs. olive oil, divided
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. dried thyme or rosemary
1 lb. Portobello mushrooms, sliced and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tbs. unsalted butter, divided
1 large shallot, chopped (or 1 small onion)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/4 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 to 8 oz. spinach leaves
Fresh thyme leaves and/or chopped parsley (optional)
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. On the baking sheet, toss the butternut squash with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper and dried thyme. Roast until tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1/2 tbs. olive oil and 1/2 tbs. butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until their water nearly evaporates, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking until tender, about 3 more minutes. Set aside.

Heat the chicken broth (it does not have to boil) in a medium saucepan and keep warm over low heat.

In a large saucepan or soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon of butter over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and cook until soft but not browned. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the rice and stir constantly for 2 to 3 minutes until all the grains are slick and slightly opaque. Add the wine and simmer until almost completely absorbed.

Add two ladles full of broth to the risotto and bring to a simmer. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Keep the risotto at a steady simmer, stirring continuously until the broth has evaporated almost completely. Add one ladle full of broth, stir until it is nearly evaporated, then add another ladle full. Continue simmering and stirring, adding broth as necessary, for about 22-24 minutes or until the rice is creamy and cooked through, but still firm to the bite. When the risotto is on its last ladle full of broth, add the spinach (I try to use as much as I can fit, but use the amount that looks right to you, remembering that the volume reduces considerably.). Stir until spinach is just wilted. Add the roasted squash and portobellos. Add the fresh herbs if using. Serve immediately, passing Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper to taste.

You may not use all the broth. If you run out of broth, just use hot water to finish the risotto. It’s not absolutely necessary to stir for 22 minutes straight, but you don’t want to put down your spoon for too long or leave the risotto unattended and risk scorching.

Here are some more creative risottos from food blogs I read:

1) Meyer Lemon Risotto made with barley from 101 Cookbooks--I've been wanting to try risotto with different grains--love this!

2) Tomato Risotto with Fennel Seeds from Lucullian Delights--the fennel seeds made this simple dish so interesting.

3) Risotto with Beets from La Tartine Gourmande - Stunning--just look! And what an appealing mix of flavor and texture.

4) Gorgonzola, Rocket and Pear Risotto from The Passionate Cook - I love blue cheese with pears and we are crazy about rocket (or arugula if you don't live across the pond). Also check out the link's to Johanna's other seasonal risotto dishes, including one with chestnuts!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Asian Scrambled Eggs with Shrimp

Sake is a really good thing. I haven’t touched the stuff in four years because of one bottle that was so unpleasant I didn’t bother with it again until last night. For the past year or so, Mike and I have been feeling uneasy about our aversion to sake. We love Japanese food, and we were sure there had to be something good about an alcoholic beverage beloved by so many people around the world. It was silly to miss out on all the fun.

Mike was traveling for work last week and enjoyed some lovely sake at a sushi restaurant with co-workers. That was it. We decided it was time for us to get over our fear of sake. And it gave us an excuse to make maki rolls which, incidentally, we hadn’t done since we bought that last bottle of bad sake about four years ago. We wanted a dry sake meant to be served cold, which we picked up at Whole Foods Market for $11. It was great! It was far from flavorless, yet very neutral like vodka without any harsh sting--sake usually has an alcohol content around 15% like a strong wine.

Our maki rolls, made with smoked salmon and cooked shrimp--nothing fancy--were great too. Unfortunately, I sort of burned some of our sushi rice, so were left with a bit of extra seafood. Before we even finished the maki rolls, I was dreaming up what I would do with the leftovers for breakfast.

Even though runny, fried eggs are my gold standard, I immediately thought of creamy scrambled eggs with Asian seasonings, shrimp and cilantro. Since I can’t even remember the last time I made scrambled eggs, I checked Mastering the Art of French Cooking for advice. Since I’ve gotten that book, I’ve used it on several occasions to find the best technique for basic recipes--all the recipes I’ve referenced are so well detailed with methods that work so well, I honestly wonder why everyone doesn’t do it Julia’s way.

The eggs were exactly what I was hoping for--soft and creamy with the subtle saltiness of tamari soy sauce (naturally fermented, wheat-free soy sauce) and a bit of fish sauce balanced by the richness of sesame oil--mere drops are all you need here. We had leftover Brussels sprouts from last night too that I sautéed with seasoned rice vinegar, sugar, fish sauce and tamari (there's no limit to the tastiness of Brussels sprouts). Fantastic breakfast! And it was all thanks to sake. Too bad there was none leftover--we had to settle for coffee instead.

Asian Scrambled Eggs with Shrimp
From Julia Child’s master scrambled egg recipe, I learned you mustn’t add anymore than one teaspoon of liquid for every 2 eggs. She, of course, uses cream, but I substituted Asian flavors for this dish. When it comes to shrimp, I’m a little snobby about never buying pre-cooked shrimp--they’re so easy to cook yourself--but pre-cooked would do fine in this recipe. Tamari, a naturally fermented, wheat-free soy sauce has mild flavor that is more than just pure salt. It’s available in many supermarkets now, and I definitely recommend it in this recipe where you want delicate flavor. I made this for breakfast, but I would love to eat it for dinner too.

Serves 2 (doubles easily)

4 eggs
1 tsp. low-sodium tamari soy sauce (I like the San-J brand)
1/2 tsp. fish sauce
1/2 tsp. water
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cooking spray
1/2 tbs. butter
3/4 cup cooked, medium shrimp, cut into 2 or 3 pieces each (or use a combination of shrimp and smoked salmon)
1/4 cup (packed) chopped cilantro
salt to taste
1/4 tsp. dark sesame oil

Add the eggs, soy sauce, fish sauce, water and black pepper to a large bowl and whisk for about 30 seconds.

Coat a large nonstick or cast iron skillet with cooking spray. Add the butter and place over moderately low heat.

Add the egg mixture to the skillet and stir with a rubber spatula. It might take 2 minutes or so for the eggs to heat. When the eggs start to form large curds, stir rapidly, scraping the bottom of the skillet as you go. After about 1-2 minute or when the mixture has thickened a bit, add the shrimp and cilantro. Continue stirring until shrimp is heated through and eggs are no longer liquid, but still soft and creamy. Taste and add a pinch of salt if necessary. When the eggs have just reached the consistency you want, immediately transfer to a plate. Drizzle with sesame oil and serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Lobster Fettucine with Shiitakes and Sherry Butter Sauce

My husband and I live in a condo with a fairly small, but efficiently designed, kitchen. When we moved in, everything was new and complete with granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and blush-colored wood cabinets. The thing I like best about our kitchen is the open wall with a bar-style counter that lets in light from our huge living room window.

Sometimes, when I’m cooking something simple, Mike will sit on a stool on the other side of the counter and chat with me, usually with a beer in hand. If a recipe only requires one cook, I’m happy to be doing the work--it’s tremendously relaxing and pleasurable. But recently, I learned that I like it almost as much when I’m the one sitting on the other side of that counter.

This Lobster Fettucine was our Christmas Eve dinner. I really can’t remember why, but we decided Mike would do the cooking on this go-round. I don’t mean to make it sound like he never helps in the kitchen. In fact, he’s a great cook with or without me, he makes the best runny eggs over easy, and he really likes cooking for me. I’m sure he’d like it even more if I didn’t always want to get my fingers into everything.

This is one luxurious pasta dish--chunks of fresh lobster meat, mild shiitake mushrooms and peppery arugula are folded into a Sherry butter sauce and tossed with firm whole wheat fettucine. One person can spend about 45 minutes in the kitchen (less if you cook the lobster tails a few hours ahead of time) and make this impressive dish without breaking a sweat. Actually, I don’t know if Mike broke a sweat, but he did a gorgeous job with the recipe.

I flagged it in the 2006 holiday issue of Bon Appetit and came across it again this year when I was making lists in early December of things I wanted to cook throughout the holidays. I like the addition of Sherry to add a boozy bite of juicy red fruit, instead of the usual lemon and butter lobster accompaniments. Slightly bitter arugula didn’t quite fit with lobster in my head, but we love the stuff and figured it just might work. All the flavors are perfect together, and the sweet, tender lobster is not overshadowed in the least by the other strong flavors--butter has the power to unite all things.

I thought this was ideal holiday food, but it may be even more appropriate for that other holiday right around the corner--Valentine’s Day. This recipe is perfect for two, but it should double nicely. It looked like fun to make, but watching the proceedings, glass of wine in hand, could be even more fun.

Lobster Fettucine with Shiitakes and Sherry Butter Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2006--The original recipe appeared in the "Readers' Favorite Restaurant Recipes" section and doesn't seem to be available on the website.

This dish is so simple that really good ingredients are key. If you keep Marsala on hand rather than Sherry, you can substitute it in this dish (the original version calls for Marsala which is made in Italy; Sherry comes from Spain). Do not (ever!) use “cooking” wine, but rather something you could actually drink. Wine shops sell good Sherry or Marsala for around $10 or less. We use a medium dry Amontillado Sherry. These fortified wines are wonderful to have on hand for making pan sauces or glazes. Once you have some in your pantry, you will find many uses for it!

Serves 2

2 medium lobster tails
5-6 oz. fettucine (we like Bionaturae’s whole wheat fettucine available at Whole Foods markets)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tbs. unsalted butter
6 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
3/4 cup dry sherry
3 cups arugula leaves (about 3 good handfuls)

Cook lobster tails in a large pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Cool, then remove meat from shell and cut into bite size pieces. Lobster meat may be slightly undercooked; it will finish in the skillet.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt generously and cook the fettucine according to package directions.

Melt one tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add the shiitakes, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until tender, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add Sherry, reduce heat and simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Whisk in remaining butter, one tablespoon at a time. Stir in lobster and any accumulated juices until heated, about 1 minute. Add pasta and toss well. Add arugula and toss until slightly wilted, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Get new posts delivered to your inbox or subscribe to my RSS feed:
If you enjoyed reading this, and don’t want to miss a thing, you can sign up to receive new posts delivered to your e-mail box automatically. The service is provided by Feedburner and your e-mail address will never, ever be used for other purposes besides receiving my tasty blog posts. Just enter your e-mail address in the box in the upper right sidebar and click the subscribe button.

You can also subscribe to the RSS feed for A Mingling of Tastes through any feed reader. Here's an explanation of RSS feeds.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Quinoa Soup with Spinach and Corn

This soup is one of our favorite recent recipe discoveries. I’m happy to say that it came in its original form from another food blogger I recently discovered. I have been enjoying Nicole’s blog, Cucina Nicolina, and this soup attests to her culinary sensibility (I love fawning over other food blogs--you guys are endlessly inspiring!).

You know quinoa is good for you, right? It’s an ancient grain, a superfood, a complete protein and all that jazz. But none of that would be any comfort at all if the stuff wasn’t so delicious. I’ve been making steamed quinoa for a couple years now as a side dish, usually a pilaf. This is always very good, but I’ve never enjoyed quinoa as much as I do in this soup.

This recipe is for a very big batch, and I don’t recommend scaling it down. Not because you can’t, but because you’ll want a lot of this soup to eat for lunch, for a quick leftover dinner, whatever. A lot of liquid is required here because quinoa is like a sponge that never tires of soaking up anything in its wake. You’ll notice the soup continue to get thicker in the days after you make it. Just add a bit more liquid to get the consistency you want, or eat as is and enjoy the luxurious thickness.

The first time I cooked this soup, I thought it would need something more to add richness and substance, so we topped it with poached eggs. While this is really delicious and is vital to other soups such as this one, you just don’t need it to make the quinoa soup complete. The particular quality of starchiness in the quinoa thickens and enriches the broth enough on its own.

I know I’ve written about nothing else in this post but soup, so I’ll try to wrap it up quickly. Mike and I LOVE it. We’re not vegetarians, certainly not vegans, but we couldn’t ask for more than a bowl of this. Try it with the Honey Spelt Bread in the previous post. And by the way, it’s done from start to finish in under 30 minutes, and that’s if you’re fairly lazy about it.

Quinoa Soup with Spinach and Corn
Adapted from this recipe at Cucina Nicolina
I prefer chicken broth (especially Swanson’s low-sodium or Whole Foods regular), but you can certainly use vegetable broth if necessary. This soup is easy to play with, so add any dried or fresh herbs, or seasonings that sound good. If you really want to speed up the process, you could cook the mushrooms in a separate skillet while the quinoa is simmering.

Serves 7-8

2 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced (use white, Portobello, or a combination)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large red or white onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 3/4 cups quinoa
8 cups chicken broth
3 cups water
2 cups frozen or fresh corn
12-14 oz. spinach leaves
2 tbs. soy sauce

Heat 1 tbs. of the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until the water they release nearly evaporates, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking until lightly browned and soft. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Add the remaining oil to the pot and heat to medium. Add the onions, season and cook until soft and browned, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for 2 minutes more and add the chicken broth. Cover and bring to a boil, then add the quinoa. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Uncover and add the water and corn and return to a simmer. Add the spinach leaves a few handfuls at a time. Add the reserved mushrooms and soy sauce. Simmer for a few minutes to blend the flavors, taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed. Serve as is, or with a poached egg on top.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Honey Spelt Bread

Happy 2008! Today is an absolutely chilly day in Fort Lauderdale. The temperature is the coolest it’s been since last winter--we’re talking mid-50’s right now, and I love it. I know that’s pretty wimpy compared to winter in the rest of the country, but it’s such a relief to finally feel a change in the air, although I know it will only last for about two days. Then it’s back to beach weather.

I’ve had so much fun reading all the “best of 2007” lists on so many of my favorite blogs. I never get tired of drooling over everyone else’s beautiful food and reading about your adventures. I also want to take a sec and thank everyone, bloggers and non-bloggers alike, who reads and comments on my blog. I would love to hear from you about what you like and what you want to see more of. I love getting your emails and will do my best to answer every one.

So how to begin a new year? Mike and I started 2008 with Hoppin’ John and cornbread on New Year’s Day. It’s not too late to conjure up a little luck of your own with this traditional New Year’s dish. However, if you’re still in baking mode due to winter weather, but need a break from holiday decadence, I have a great yeast bread for you.

This recipe for Honey Spelt Bread was in the December issue of Food & Wine. I had eaten store-bought spelt bread and liked it, and I have been occasionally flirting with alternative flours for baking. Spelt is similar to wheat, but contains more nutrients and amino acids. It does contain gluten, but is more easily digested by people with wheat sensitivity. It also has a nuttier flavor than regular wheat bread.

This bread has a dense, sturdy homemade quality, and it’s very, very good. I like it better spread with butter than as a sandwich bread. Jam, cheese, avocado or nut butter would also be great. But, what really recommends this bread, in my opinion, is the incredibly easy method. You don’t even have to bother with proofing the yeast. I didn’t think this would actually work, but I wanted to give F&W the benefit of the doubt, so I tried the recipe as written. It took me less than 10 minutes and barely any effort to put the dough together. My loaf rose beautifully, baked evenly and looked exactly like the picture in the magazine--love it when that happens!

Honey Spelt Bread
Adapted from Food & Wine, December 2007
Note that spelt flour makes a very soft dough that must be baked in a loaf pan. If you don’t have a stand mixer, I think it would work if you mix with a wooden spoon and do the kneading by hand. This loaf freezes beautifully. I love it with Kerry Gold Irish butter as an accompaniment for soups like this.

Makes 1-9x5 loaf

4 1/2 cups (540 grams) whole wheat spelt flour
2 tsp. fine sea salt
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 3/4 cup cool (70 F) water
2 tbs. honey

In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, salt and yeast. Turn mixer on to medium-low speed and add the water and honey. Mix until flour is moistened, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Increase the speed to medium and knead until a stiff dough forms, about two minutes more.

Lightly coat the inside of a large bowl with butter and flour, shaking out any excess flour when finished. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and shape into a ball. Place dough in the floured bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a dish towel and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 450 and coat a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and gently punch it down. Fold the dough into a loaf shape and transfer to the baking pan, seam side down. Cover with plastic wrap and a dish towel and let it rise a second time until puffed, about 1 hour.

Lightly dust the loaf with flour and use a sharp, thin knife to make a shallow slit down the length of the loaf. Bake for 35 minutes until loaf is golden on top and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. An instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the loaf should read 180 degrees. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack. Cool completely before serving.