Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chive & Goat Cheese Biscuits

Have you planted fresh herbs yet? With Memorial Day weekend just behind us, you still have plenty of time to get going. Every time I snip some mint, rosemary or thyme from the little plants on windowsill, and I feel so satisfied with myself for saving cash on the packaged herbs I'd otherwise be buying from the grocery store.

With the nearly constant warmth and sunshine in Florida, I keep herbs all year round. Some are easier to grow than others, and believe me, I do the bare minimum to keep the poor plants going. Rosemary is the stalwart--nothing could bring that little guy down. My mint, even when I thought I'd taken all it had to give, managed to regenerate anew over several weeks and is now filled out with fresh leaves. I had thyme that grew tangled strands for months, but then was overtaken by miniscule flying pests and quickly capitulated. I've tried basil a couple times, but can't figure out how to stop the icky white bugs that glom onto the lush leaves.

One of the most recent additions to my herb garden are chives. One day, I figured it would be a better value to buy a whole plant for $4 rather than a little pack (of which I'd use a fraction for one or two recipes) for $3. The chives multiplied a few times over and seem so far invulnerable to pests (how these critters get up and into my fifth floor apartment is utterly baffling). Before I bought my plant, I didn't realize all the potential uses I'd find for chives: they add oniony flavor with no aftertaste to omelets, soups, dips and grilled food.

Like many herbs, chives are also a great match for goat cheese. Ever since I made this sweet potato version, Dorie Greenspan's recipe in her book, Baking, has been my go-t0 prototype for biscuits. It's totally uncomplicated, not overburdened with fat, and produces tall, flaky, irresistible results. Other herbs would work here too. Maybe rosemary, thyme, mint or a combination. I want to try a Feta version soon, as well. Although a new twist on this beet soup using carrots and golden beets inspired the biscuits, you could just as easily eat them with a summer salad. If you're contemplating your first herb garden, Ari of Baking and Books recently wrote a fantastic post on how to get started even if you don't have a yard--check it out!

Chive & Goat Cheese Biscuits
Adapted from Baking by Dorie Greenspan
I used 2 ounces of goat cheese, but I think the recipe could support up to 3 ounces if you're especially crazy about it.

Makes 8 to 9 biscuits

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
1 Tbs. chopped fresh chives

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and a few grinds of black pepper together in a large bowl. Add the butter and toss to coat it with flour. Using your fingertips (my preference) or a pastry blender, pinch and toss the butter and flour until you have a rough, sandy mixture with some pea-size lumps of butter, some ragged flakes and a variety of odd-shaped bits. Do not over work the butter.

Add the buttermilk and toss gently with a fork until most of the flour is moistened. Add the goat cheese and chives and continue tossing to distribute the cheese and chives. Knead dough inside the bowl 3 or 4 times so that you have a fairly uniform consistency and no dry bits of flour remain. Use a light hand and work the dough as little as possible. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle lightly with more flour. Flatten dough with your hand and roll it out into a 1/2-inch thick disk. Flour a 2 to 2-1/4 inch biscuit cutter and stamp out as many biscuits as you can, pushing firmly into the dough and flouring the biscuit cutter each time. Transfer biscuits to prepared baking sheet. Quickly re-roll the dough scraps and make more biscuits until you've used it all up.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown on the bottom. Serve right away with butter.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cornmeal Buttermilk Waffles

My last post was all about the trouble with cooking for one. While going out of your way to feed just yourself has both irritations and rewards, there is another problem with having only one mouth to feed: You simply can't justify a whole batch of waffles made from scratch.

I guess you could do a half recipe or freeze the extras to be reheated later. But this could lead to halving eggs and doing complicated math (before your morning coffee). And while some people like to pull leftover waffles and pancakes out of the freezer, I do not fall into that camp. In my opinion, some foods must be shared, and these waffles are one of them.

Fortunately, Mike is always around on weekend mornings when the desire for a sweet, starchy breakfast tends to arise. I love waffles and pancakes, but I only need them every once in a while. We're so hung up on my blueberry cornmeal pancakes, that I haven't made waffles in ages. As I was measuring out the ingredients, I realized that this recipe has a lot in common with those cornmeal pancakes, not to mention my skillet cornbread. Although we both love things with cornmeal, I was hoping for something a bit different from my old favorites.

Luckily, the worries were unfounded. These waffles are great. They're crisp on the outside and soft, light and airy inside. They are 100% whole grain, provided you use whole wheat pastry flour. So even though they may not be the most well-rounded breakfast, you're at least getting some fiber and nutrients along with your maple syrup.

Cornmeal Buttermilk Waffles

I based this recipe very loosely on this one I found on epicurious. You can substitute all-purpose flour for the whole wheat pastry flour. Wheat germ may be substituted for the oat bran. If you have neither, I would suggest replacing the oat bran with 1/4 cup of whatever flour you are using, although I haven't tried this myself. To measure the flour, lightly spoon it into the cup (don't pack it down by shaking the cup) and level with the straight edge of a knife.

Makes 7 to 8 (8-inch round) waffles

1 cup minus 1 Tbs. whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup medium stone ground cornmeal
1/4 cup oat bran
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
3 large eggs
2 cups well-shaken lowfat buttermilk
4 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
Cooking spray
Maple syrup and/or jam for serving

Whisk together the first 6 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl. In another bowl, beat the eggs, then whisk in the buttermilk and butter. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until combined.

Heat up your waffle iron. Coat with cooking spray and proceed to make waffles according to manufacturer's directions. I spray my iron before each waffle. You can keep the waffles warm as you make them in a 200 degree oven, uncovered, on a baking sheet, but we eat them as we go. Serve with maple syrup and jam if you like.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Cod with Lemon-Caper Sauce

I have a perfect "dinner for 1" for you. While just as excellent for 2, this is one of those recipes that requires some bona fide "cooking" action, yet is so effortless that preparing it for your solitary self doesn't feel taxing.

I'll admit that sometimes when I'm alone I just cannot be asked to do real cooking. Leftovers are a godsend, assembling a meal is fine (think soft tacos with leftover chicken), but the prospect of cooking a new dish from scratch can feel vaguely depressing. It's just like, if a tree falls in the forest and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If I plan, shop and cook something wonderful, but I'm the only there to taste it, is it worth the bother? Is it rewarding? Is it pleasurable? You're probably thinking that this is all a rhetorical exercise, and I'm about to tell you, of course it's worth it. Of course it's meaningful to nourish oneself. More meaningful than nourishing others even.

But I don't know. Don't get me wrong. You do deserve a nice dinner. A meal for one can be utterly enjoyable, both at home or in a restaurant. Cooking is fun, whether it's just for you or a hoard of guests. Still. Still, there's something that's so much better about setting a plate in front of someone, seeing their enjoyment and feeling your own at the same time. When there's a great experience to be had or a great meal to be eaten, you want to talk about it, share it.

Sometimes I need to force myself to really cook when I'm alone, but I do it, and I'm never sorry. It's nice to have a few recipes in your back pocket that make it easier to get yourself going. This is definitely one of mine.

Cod with Lemon-Caper Sauce
Serves 1 (double for 2)

1 tsp olive oil
1 to 2 tsp unsalted butter
1/2 pound cod, sole or flounder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp capers, rinsed
1 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley

Heat the olive oil and butter in a skillet on medium-low to medium heat. Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper and cook until lightly browned on both sides and opaque throughout, turning once. Remove fish from skillet and reduce heat to low. Add the lemon juice, capers and half the parsley. Simmer 1 minute or until slightly thickened. Pour over the fish, sprinkle with remaining parsley. Serve with steamed vegetables and bread or grains.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Best Fresh Ground Lamb Burger Period

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you might have noticed that I keep the titles of my posts simple and to the point. In other words, my post titles are almost always the name of a recipe. But not today. Today my post title could inspire contention, controversy, even slap fights. I've chosen to accept these consequences because this is the best lamb burger period.

I'm even going so far as to say that it's my favorite burger ever. It's not because I made it from locally raised baby lamb that I rubbed with cocoa butter for 6 months and slaughtered (humanely) myself. Nope. Nor is it packed with bells and whistles like an oozing cheese center, homemade brioche bun or half a pound of candied bacon. The reason why this burger is my favorite is deceptively simple: good technique.

I never buy ground lamb. It's hard to find and if it is available it looks suspiciously gray and fatty. After noticing lamb burgers on a few restaurant menus out in the Pacific Northwest (do they raise lamb out there? or is beef just too "middle America"?), Mike and I have been fixated on the idea since we returned from our trip. Thanks to an article I wrote on pâté a few months back, we had already acquired a meat grinding attachment for the Kitchen Aid. It all seemed so easy...

And it really was the simplest thing. We bought some boneless leg of lamb at Whole Foods (sold chopped for stew meat), trimmed the excess fat and ran it the larger holes of our grinder. Then we gently mixed in some herbs and spices by hand and formed the meat into loosely packed patties. You'll have no problem getting the patties to stay together, just don't over work and squish the meat, do it fast and then refrain from pressing, patting or flattening.

This resulted in a silky-tender texture (which is how the best lamb should be anyway), where the bits of freshly ground lamb were able to retain their structural integrity, yet still somehow melt in your mouth. Flavor is hugely important, but great texture makes all the difference when you bite into a hunk of meat.

We used arugula instead of the usual spinach leaves or lettuce. It's delicious, but other greens would be okay too. I also made caramelized onions, which I love and could make even mediocre burgers highly palatable, and an easy Feta sauce. Buy good Feta (NOT pre-crumbled) that you can't stop eating on its own. If you're like me and believe that every detail does indeed matter, the buns are wheat hamburger buns from the Whole Foods bakery.

So that's the best lamb burger ever. Got a problem with that? I don't mind. Bring it on!

Fresh Ground Lamb Burgers with Feta Sauce
The seasoning you use is frankly secondary to the meat here. Use whatever spices appeal to you, but I'd recommend sticking with the Greek/Middle Eastern theme. Cooking these in the broiler works best because it requires minimal fussing and flipping. An outdoor grill is fine, but no pressing with your spatula. If your market has very lean lamb, you'll probably need a little less than a pound. You will need your own meat grinder to get the full effect.

Serves 2, may be doubled

1 pound boneless leg of lamb/lamb stew meat, trimmed of excess fat
1 Tbs (packed) chopped fresh parsley, plus a fat pinch for the Feta sauce
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground sumac
1/4 tsp dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
Coarse salt
1 Tbs olive oil
1/2 red onion, sliced
2 ounces Feta cheese, crumbled
4 ounces plain Greek yogurt (I used Fage nonfat)
Fresh arugula leaves
Wheat hamburger buns

Cut lamb into chunks if it wasn't cut when you bought it. Put through the large holes of a meat grinder and into a large bowl. Add parsley, cumin, sumac and oregano. Season liberally with black pepper. Season to taste with coarse salt (I recommend a 1/4 teaspoon). Gently mix the spices in with your hands, taking care not squeeze and pack the meat. Form lamb into 2 loose patties, handling the meat as little as possible. Set aside until ready to cook.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper and cook until very soft and lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat if onions brown too quickly. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the Feta, yogurt, remaining parsley and a bit of black pepper. Set aside.

Preheat broiler to high and place oven rack 8 to 10 inches from heat source. Place burgers on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil until lightly browned on top (Ovens differ widely so I'm not giving an exact time. Watch the burgers carefully.). Turn and broil until opposite side is lightly browned. Burgers should feel slightly firm to the touch, but still have some give when you press the center with your finger. It's okay to take a peek by cutting into the center with a paring knife if you're not sure. These are best at medium-rare to medium (pink to light pink). Let burgers rest 3 to 5 minutes.

To serve, toast buns in a skillet if desired (I toast, Mike does not). Layer onions, lamb patty, Feta sauce and arugula on buns (you may have extra Feta sauce). Serve with ketchup and/or mustard if desired (I've gotta have some ketchup on my burgers!).

Friday, May 08, 2009

Easy Thai Lemongrass Soup (Tom Yum Goong)

Apparently, we're on a soup kick here at A Mingling of Tastes, but don't try to tell me that's a bad thing! This is my simple, anytime take on those spicy, aromatic Thai broths that can seem unattainable to American cooks. You don't need to track down any exotic ingredients or drive around town looking for Kaffir lime leaves. Of course it wouldn't hurt if you did that, but I can't be asked.

Since this is a version of Tom Yum Goong, the big flavor is lemongrass. You can find it in most supermarkets these days near the fresh herbs. You don't have to bother with peeling away the rough outer layers or identifying and chopping the inner core. All you have to do is throw it in a pot with some chicken broth, ginger and chiles and simmer for about 20 minutes to create your soup base. Add shrimp and any other additions you like, and you have a tasty first course or a healthy main dish.

Thai Lemongrass Soup with Shrimp (Tom Yum Goong)
Most similar recipes don't call for ginger, but I love it here. If you have access to fresh Thai chiles, use them in place of serranos. For less heat, just cut the seeded chiles in half and remove them from the broth before serving. A spoonful of Thai or Korean chile paste or fresh or frozen kaffir lime leaves (remove before serving) are also nice additions. If you don't have canned straw mushrooms, use any fresh mushrooms and simmer until tender. Canned bamboo shoots may also be added along with the shrimp and mushrooms. Serve with rice, if desired.

Serves 4 as a first course, 2 as a main dish

1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 to 3 lemongrass stalks, cut into 2-inch lengths
2 serrano chiles seeded and chopped (see head note)
1 Tbs. Thai or Korean roasted chile paste (optional)
1/2 lb. medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 cup drained canned straw mushrooms (any fresh mushrooms may be substituted)
Juice of half a lime
Chopped fresh cilantro for serving

Finely chop half of the ginger. To a large pot, add the chopped ginger, the remaining chunk of ginger, the chicken broth, lemongrass and chiles. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

Add the chile paste if using, the shrimp and the mushrooms to the pot. Simmer until shrimp are firm and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lime juice. Discard the large pieces of lemongrass, ginger and chiles (if you opted not to chop them). Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with cilantro.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Indian-Spiced Beet Soup

What you see above is the nicest day in Seattle ever. Mike and I were there last week to meet our new niece, who divides her time between eating, sleeping and being adorable. We spent most of the week in Bellingham, a couple hours north of Seattle, but we did spend our last night downtown where we had this awesome view from our hotel.

Even though we didn't do much eating in Seattle, I'm writing about it because we had a few incredible dishes I have to mention, and because Seattle inspired this velvety beet soup.

After reading this article about the egg craze among Seattle chefs, we were determined to try the lamburger meatball (there's a video clip in the article--watch and you'll understand) at Andaluca. It's a soft boiled egg wrapped in ground lamb. Enough said. The restaurant has a great tapas menu including a Middle Eastern-spiced meat patty made with juicy duck meat...really original.

On my sister-in-law's excellent recommendation, we ended up at Lola, where we had our favorite dish of the whole trip: grilled octopus with morel mushrooms, ramps and a poached egg on top (I think it's only on the menu while the veggies are in season). I've never seen so many of the northwest's seasonal morels in one dish, and the octopus was perfectly charred. We want to recreate this one at home, although we won't have the same gorgeous ingredients.

And finally, beet soup. You see a lot of beets in the Pacific Northwest (back me up on this, Seattlites?). That's fine with me, and the ubiquitous pairing with goat cheese is only common because it's truly delicious. Our first day home, we wanted a meal with lots of healthy veggies, so Mike suggested one of our favorite creamy soups...with beets. I'd never done anything with pureed beets, but I consulted a few cookbooks and learned that it works beautifully.

This particular recipe is adapted from Passionate Vegetarian and is loaded with Indian spices. I gave it a nice amount of heat too. No goat cheese in the soup, but I did save my beet greens and made a "northwest omelet" with the sauteed greens, garlic and plenty of chevre. I think the turmeric intensified the color and turned the soup more blood red than beet red. Consider this as part of a Halloween supper in a few months, perhaps.

Love your beets? Try this pink risotto, Double Beet Penne, Beet & Goat Cheese Salad, or Smoked Fish and Beet Salad.

Indian-Spiced Beet Soup
Adapted from Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon
The cumin is a big flavor here, so I think toasting and grinding it fresh (with an electric spice grinder or mortar and pestle) is worthwhile. If that doesn't work for you, use 2 tsp. of ground cumin. Jalapenos aren't very hot (especially with seeds removed), but use the smaller amount if you need to keep the soup mild.

Serves 4 to 6

4 medium beets
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 medium red onions, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 jalapenos, seeded if desired and chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger (use smaller amount for less heat)
1 Tbs. cumin seeds, toasted for 3 minutes in a dry skillet and ground
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (or to taste)
7 cups reduced sodium vegetable broth
2 Tbs. honey
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes (no salt added, if possible)
1/4 cup uncooked basmati rice
3/4 tsp. garam masala
Sour cream for serving
Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Scrub and trim the beets, leaving 1 inch of stems attached. Wrap in a foil pouch and seal edges tightly. Roast on a baking sheet for 75 to 90 minutes, or until very tender. Open pouch and, when beets are cool enough to handle, rub the skin off with your fingers. Cut into small cubes.

While beets roast, make the soup: In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil on medium low. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook until very soft, about 10 minutes. Add the jalapenos and ginger and cook 3 more minutes, stirring often. Add the cumin, turmeric, coriander and crushed red pepper and cook 2 minutes more, stirring continuously. Add the broth, tomatoes and 1 Tbs. of the honey and bring to a boil. Add the rice. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 25 minutes.

Add the chopped beets to the soup and remove from heat. Using a handheld immersion blender (or working in batches with a regular blender), puree until you have a smooth consistency. Put soup over medium-high heat and bring to a bare simmer. Stir in the garam masala and remaining honey. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. If soup is thicker than you like, add a small amount of water. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream and cilantro.