Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer Squash

I wanted to post this last week, but the deadline fairy keeps visiting me. AND this past weekend was Mike's birthday, so fun took precedent over most things. There was cake, however. I'll tell you about that later.

For now, head over to NPR's Kitchen Window column and check out the article I wrote on summer squash. You'll also find my recipes for Warm Squash Salad with Mint, Whole Wheat Zucchini Pancakes, and Fettucine with Squash Ribbons. It's such an underrated, yet versatile veggie, and if you have a garden, you might just have a lot of it on your hands right now.

I also did a little video demonstrating a really fun way to do squash - peeling it into ribbons. The texture is great, and this technique lets you make a really easy and pretty salad or a unique pasta dish.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Cinnamon Chipotle Brownies

These brownies came from a line of three distinguished bakers. The original version is from Alice Medrich's book, Pure Dessert. Cheryl of 5-Second Rule made a cinnamon-white chocolate version, which Charmain of Christie's Corner turned into a chocolate-chipotle brownie.

I've been wanting to do a brownie with chipotle for awhile, and seeing Charmain's excellent recipe finally motivated me. Knowing it came from a chocolate expert like Medrich and got the thumbs up from two trusted blogging buddies-slash-food writers made me feel certain that I'd have great results. I kept Cheryl's cinnamon, left out Charmain's walnuts and got my ideal cinnamon-chipotle brownie. I cut out the seeds and ground up some whole dried chipotle peppers in a spice grinder. Their sweet, smoky flavor is a natural with cinnamon.

This is a simple brownie loaded with chocolate. I like that it doesn't go overboard on butter and sugar (it's not light by any means; just not overly heavy); rather it uses plenty of richly flavored bittersweet chocolate. You've heard this before, but I'll say it anyway--use the good stuff.

The texture is moist and fudgy. On first look, the brownies appeared dense, but they feel light on your tongue and, yes, they melt in your mouth. I still love my Guinness Brownies and these easy peanut butter brownies that get their chocolate punch from Dutch process cocoa, but this one is a bit more nuanced and adaptable, as you can play with different types of fine quality chocolate. It is going into my permanent repertoire.

Cinnamon Chipotle Brownies
Adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich
I used the 70% cocoa bars by Lindt. Use any good-quality chocolate you like, but I would recommend staying over 60% cocoa. Whether you grind the chipotle chiles yourself or use a powder, heat levels vary. Taste your chile powder and use more or less depending on your preference. If you use flaky sea salt or other coarse salt for baking, use the higher amount.

Makes 12 or 16 brownies

8 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons butter, cut into 12 pieces
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 baking dish with nonstick "release" foil or parchment paper (or use regular foil, then coat with cooking spray), letting at least 6 inches hang over two of the sides like handles.

Put chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on medium-low power 45 seconds. Stir and continue to microwave in 15-20 second intervals, stirring each time, just until chocolate is smooth; be careful not to over heat. You can do this in a double boiler if you prefer. Set aside to cool slightly.

Combine the flour, cinnamon, chile and salt in a bowl and whisk thoroughly. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer on high speed until thick and light-colored, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the chocolate. Gently fold in the flour mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 30 to 35 minutes (mine took exactly 32) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with little or no chocolate; toothpick should come out clean when inserted near the edge.

Cool completely on a rack. To serve, use the foil handles to lift brownies out of pan. Cut into 12 or 16 pieces. Brownies freeze well.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Favorite Things: Cornmeal Biscuits

This is one of my favorite recipes. I've been making it for less than a year or so, but every time I want a bread-y thing to go with soup or stew, this is what I crave the most. It gets annoying because I'd like to try other biscuits and breads, but I just like these so much! Consistency also comes into play-- they turn out perfectly every time I make them.

I have mentioned these cornmeal biscuits as an aside in other posts and sent you to the original recipe from Cooking Light magazine. I'm tired of looking for that link and mentally dividing the recipe in half whenever I make them, so I decided they deserved their own post at last. You may notice that the CL recipe should yield 24 biscuits. When I halve the recipe, I've never get more than 9, despite rolling the dough as indicated and using the same size biscuit cutter. By the way, the iris in my photo is apropos of nothing; but I happened to have some lovely flowers and wanted to jazz up the shot.

The original recipe calls for half all-purpose and half whole wheat flour. I use only my trusty whole wheat pastry flour instead. It provides a tender, small crumb and is easier than using two different flours. I think white whole wheat flour would work too, if that's what you have at home. Of course, simple all-purpose flour is acceptable, but then you would miss out on all the nutrients and fiber that make these biscuits healthy while satisfying even the most intense carb craving.

There aren't too many other ingredients to discuss here. The recipe is incredibly simple, but the results are outstanding. For the cornmeal, use 100% whole grain stone ground varieties, NOT a generic, "enriched" supermarket cornmeal product. It doesn't have to be an expensive, boutique brand; just an unprocessed, whole food. Well-stocked supermarkets will carry it, but you may need to visit a health food store. Three great brands are Bob's Red Mill (I'm currently using their medium grind), Hodgson Mill and Arrowhead Mills.

Sorry about being so bossy there, but without good ingredients, a simple recipe like this just won't fly. I almost forgot about butter. If you can eat these without a generous pat of good butter, you're a better person than I.

Cornmeal Biscuits
Adapted from this recipe in Cooking Light magazine
For the whole wheat pastry flour, you may substitute: white whole wheat, all-purpose, or half all-purpose and half whole wheat.

Makes 9

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (9 1/2 ounces)
1/2 cup stone ground cornmeal (2 1/2 ounces), medium or fine grind
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Scant 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, mix the poppy and sesame seeds and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder and salt; whisk thoroughly. Add the chilled butter and work it into the flour mixture with your fingers for a minute or two until a few small chunks and plenty of shaggy bits remain.

Add the buttermilk to the bowl and stir just until the flour mixture is moistened; do not over mix. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface, knead once or twice with floured hands and shape into a ball. Flatten the ball of dough slightly, sprinkle with flour and use a rolling pin to roll dough into a 3/4- to 1-inch thick disk. With a 2 1/2-inch cutter, stamp out biscuits, dipping cutter into flour each time. Transfer biscuits to baking sheet. Quickly roll remaining dough into a new disk and stamp out more biscuits, flouring the cutter each time. Repeat until you've used up all the dough.

Lightly brush biscuits with egg white and sprinkle with seed mixture. Bake 9 to 11 minutes or until bottoms are deep golden brown. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes, transfer to rack and cool at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. These freeze exceptionally well; defrost at room temperature.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Greek-Style Silky Braised Greens

I bet you were expecting something jazzier than braised greens (like a recipe for grain alcohol, perhaps?), after my yammering about work deadlines in my previous post. I submitted my third and last assignment on Sunday afternoon, finally crossing the finish line of my week of deadlines. I made myself a vodka-cranberry thing (not quite a cosmo, not quite standard mixed drink) and read the slightly outdated issue of Us Weekly that my neighbor sometimes leaves by the elevators for public consumption.

I didn't celebrate the final deadline with my favorite pineapple-rum drink, but I did find a great name for it thanks to a lovely reader. Though I really like Diana's suggestion to call it the "Deadline Chaser," I have to go with Mallika's name: the Pina Libre, honoring my freedom from deadlines. Thanks to everyone who left their thoughts on summer cocktails in the comment section!

I know greens don't sound very exciting, but before you click me away (god, I haven't lost you already, have I?), humor me for a minute. These are the most luscious greens I've ever had, and I'm not just exaggerating for effect here. Cooked for about 20 to 30 minutes, longer than seems prudent, these greens go luxuriously silky. But that's not all.

While your greens simmer away, you caramelize some red onions and make a lemony, garlicky yogurt sauce. Caramelized onions can make anything taste incredible, but yogurt on hot greens? It's a revelation. I got the idea from a recipe on for beet greens with yogurt and onions. I knew it would be a winner when I saw the source: The Glorious Foods of Greece, a book by Diane Kochilas, an authority on Greek cooking whose book, Meze, I own and really like.

I made the yogurt sauce (almost) according to the recipe, but I made some changes to the other elements like using a little less fat and cooking my greens much longer. I used a bunch of Swiss chard and mustard greens, which was a very complementary match. The mustard greens have a spicy (mustardy, actually) bite and tougher texture, and the chard is soft and mellow.

I was so infatuated with this dish that I made it again a week later using turnip greens and spinach (I buy whatever looks good). The turnips greens made it less silky than my first version, but the dish was still wonderful. How do you like to cook greens? If you are a vegetable lover, but have never slowly braised hearty greens, you must give this a try!

Greek-Style Braised Greens
Adapted from The Glorious Foods of Greece by Diane Kochilas
Use any greens that look good. I like to combine, a milder green with a bitter or spicy one. Creamy Greek yogurt is essential; I like Fage nonfat. If you don't like raw garlic, you can leave it out of the yogurt sauce. Za'atar is a middle eastern spice blend of sumac, thyme, sesame seeds and salt. We made some to go with our pita bread and discovered that it was delicious with the greens too. This is great with vegetables, sausage, or grilled meat, like my marinated lamb kabobs.

Serves 2 to 4

2 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 1/2 tbs. unsalted butter, divided
6 cloves garlic, slivered, divided
1 to 1 1/2 pounds hearty greens (chard, mustard, collard, turnip, kale, spinach, beet)
1/2 to 1 cup chicken broth or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tbs. lemon juice
6 oz Greek yogurt
1 red onion, thinly sliced into half circles
Za'atar for serving (optional)

Heat half the oil and half the butter in a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add 5 cloves of the garlic and cook until golden. Add the greens, in 2 batches if necessary, and stir to coat with the oil. Add enough broth or water to cook the greens without scorching the pot (about 1/4 to 1/2-inch deep). Season with salt and pepper, cover and steam for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the greens are wilted and soft. Remove lid and braise 10 to 15 minutes, or until any stems are completely tender and liquid is almost totally evaporated. Greens should look almost overcooked; some greens will take less time, but it's hard to truly over do it.

Meanwhile, crush the remaining garlic clove in a mortar (or garlic press, or with a heavy object), add the lemon juice and let is soak for a few minutes. Stir lemon and garlic into the yogurt and season with salt and pepper.

Saute onions, seasoning with salt and pepper, in remaining oil and butter over low heat until soft and browned, 10 to 15 minutes.

To serve, transfer greens to plates with a slotted spoon; top with caramelized onions, yogurt sauce and za'atar, if using.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Cocktail of the Summer

Holy deadlines! I have three major ones this week, but if all goes to plan I should be fine. Luckily, Mike had the foresight to snap some shots of my current favorite cocktail over the weekend. It makes for a nice, easy recipe to post on a day when I really need one!

Wine is my first love, but lately, I’ve renewed my enthusiasm for cocktails. I rarely drink vodka in any form (I’m more of a gin girl), but lately that classic vodka and cranberry combo has been tasting really good. The other week, Mike discovered a Ziploc baggie of Meyer lemon juice in our freezer that I had leftover from some recipe saved for a rainy day—it make a fabulous martini, with vodka of course.

During the summer though, certain cocktails really shine. I love drinks with lots of lime, like Margaritas and Caipirinhas, but now I can’t get enough of this new, simpler sipper—dark rum and pineapple juice with a squeeze of lime. I should come up with a good name for this. Any suggestions?

I know it’s not particularly creative, but it’s so tasty. The lime is essential to add some zip to the sweet pineapple juice. It’s best with dark rum, but not spiced (like Captain Morgan’s); that would be a whole different drink. So that’s my contribution to your Tuesday. When I get over my deadlines, I think I’ll celebrate with one. What is your drink of the summer so far?

Dark Rum & Pineapple
Though Dole pineapple juice is not a requirement, I like it and you can buy 6-packs of little individual cans—handy!

Makes 1

1 shot dark rum (1 1/2 ounces)
Dole pineapple juice
1 lime wedge

Fill a rocks glass with ice and add rum. Fill glass with pineapple juice, or to taste. Squeeze the lime into the drink and enjoy.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Summer Chicken Salad with Raspberries, Avocado and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Last week, I was craving salad. While I enjoy a good salad, this doesn't happen very often. One reason I needed a salad fix is that we had just eaten this lovely cavatelli pasta with ricotta the night before, and I perceived the dish as being rich--although it's actually not bad as long as you don't eat a ton of it.

The other reason is that I recently got a new cookbook that is all about salads in all their possible guises--Mediterranean Fresh by Joyce Goldstein. Focusing on fresh, light Mediterranean flavors with emphasis on fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit, this is a book for cooks with a surplus of produce on their hands who are looking for ideas and harmonious flavor combinations. It is also for cooks who love dressing, especially when it's homemade. The many and varied salads in the first section of the book--whether cooked or raw, with lettuce or not--have suggested dressing matches that you'll find in the second part of the book. If this mix and match approach appeals to you, and you eat a lot of salad, you'll love the creative, well-conceived recipes.

While I was inspired by a lot of ideas and flavors as I flipped through the book, I could not commit myself to any one recipe and its dressing, despite ample variations and flexibility. But it did get me in a more innovative mood, which resulted in this salad. I think the best salads are the results of serendipity--using the ingredients you have on hand and the produce you need to use up before it fades, rather than going out and buying a long list of ingredients for a salad recipe.

This salad started with sweet, juicy raspberries that sounded like they were meant to be paired with spinach, feta and almonds. Would avocado work in there too? Why not--it goes great with chicken. I did my dead simple balsamic, shake-in-a-jar dressing, and the salad was incredibly good.

This is more of a suggestion than a recipe, so use it as a jumping off point for your own salad creation.

Summer Chicken Salad with Raspberries, Avocado and Balsamic Vinaigrette
I think a really good salad needs to balance a lot of strong flavors and varying textures. Make sure you have sweetness (fruit), salt (feta and actual salt), sour (vinegar), richness (olive oil and avocado), freshness (greens), crunch (nuts). These elements come in countless forms, but the point is to create variety in every bite. You can make this for as many people as you want.

In a large bowl, toss:

- spinach leaves
- mixed baby greens (bag of spring mix)
- chopped cooked chicken
- thinly sliced red onions (soaked in ice water if you want to tone down the bite)

In a small jar, combine 1 part extra virgin olive oil and 1 part good-tasting balsamic vinegar (doesn't have to be expensive, just taste good), salt and pepper. The classic ratio is 1 part vinegar and 3 parts oil. I like my ratio better, but it's up to you. Screw on the lid tightly and shake to emulsify. Drizzle enough dressing over the spinach mixture to coat it when tossed well.

Divide the salad among large serving bowls and top each one with:

- fresh raspberries
- diced feta
- diced avocado
- toasted slivered almonds

Pass extra dressing at the table if you like.

A review copy of Mediterranean Fresh was generously provided by the publisher.