Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hot Apple Cider Toddy

This is my favorite holiday drink. We've been making it for years, so I can't believe I never posted the recipe. You can barely taste the rum thanks to apple cider, sweet maple syrup and plenty of cinnamon. You don't need actual apples for this drink--I just thought they made a nice picture. The drink itself isn't all that photogenic.

This year, Musselman's sent me their cider to review, so that is what I used. You can find unfiltered apple cider in the produce section of most supermarkets. Regular apple juice will not get the job done. I could easily drink this cider by itself, but with rum and that hit of lemon (it's not the same without the lemon), it's extra festive.

Hot Apple Cider Toddy

Makes 1 drink

1 1/2 oz dark rum
6 oz (3/4) cup apple cider
Ground cinnamon to taste
Maple syrup to taste (a teaspoon or 2)
1 to 2 fat lemon wedges

Pour rum into a large mug. In a small saucepan, warm cider over medium heat (do not boil). Season to taste with cinnamon and maple syrup. Squeeze in the juice of one lemon wedge, and add more if desired. Pour into mug and serve.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chicken Posole with Tomatillos

This is a really easy and quick posole, but it's also packed with flavor. If you've never eaten it, posole is a soup with shredded chicken or pork, hominy and lots of Mexican flavors, like oregano, chiles, cilantro and lime. I like to add chopped fresh tomatillos to mine. They have a mild flavor that's crisp and clean--a cross between celery and a green tomato with a hit of lime. That's my best description. Plus, they contribute a vegetable component to the soup.

This is perfect for leftover roast chicken. Whenever I make roast chicken lately, I've started roasting two birds. It is truly no extra work, and the leftovers are awesome! Of course, if you never have leftover chicken laying around, you have other options...see the recipe head note!

Chicken Posole
You can poach some chicken breasts if you don't have leftover meat, or just use the meat from a store-bought rotisserie chicken. Turkey and pork also work well. Don't skip the extras--I especially love the sliced radish.

Serves 4 generously

1 Tbs canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground allspice
Chile flakes to taste
4 cloves garlic, chopped
6 cups reduced sodium chicken broth (or use up to 2 cups water to replace some of the broth)
8 tomatillos, cut into quarters or sixths
28 can hominy, rinsed and drained
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped into bite-size pieces
Juice of 1 lime
For serving: thinly sliced radish, lime wedges, chopped cilantro, crumbled feta or cotija cheese

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Add onion, salt and pepper to taste, oregano, cumin and allspice, and cook until tender and lightly browned. Add chile flakes and garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Add broth (or broth and water) and bring to a boil. Add tomatillos and simmer until tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Add hominy and chicken and simmer just until heated through. Turn off heat and stir in lime juice. Check seasoning and adjust as necessary (you may opt to add more cumin or allspice as well as salt and pepper). Serve with suggested accompaniments.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Savory Fresh Fig Sauce

This is such a simple little thing, but I had to get it up on the blog because we liked it so much. It's an easy fig sauce that I whipped up to go with roast duck awhile back. Unlike a lot of figgy things, it is mostly savory and would also taste great with roast pork or turkey.

Sadly, figs seems to be out of season is always too short! But I since I use this blog as my personal recipe journal for keeping track of things I want to make again, here it is. It takes no time to put together and served as a tasty alternative to gravy. It has butter for richness and texture, but the sauce is mostly figs and red wine. As I think about this, I don't see why you couldn't do the same thing with other fruits. Maybe frozen berries or pears, but the cooking time will vary depending on what you use. And now, here's a picture of our lovely duck:

And served with fig sauce:

Wine and fresh fig sauce with thyme
The natural pectin in the figs thickens this sauce.

Melt 1/2 Tbs unsalted butter in a small saucepan on medium-low heat. Add shallot, season with salt and pepper, and cook until tender. Add 1/2 cup red wine and bring to a simmer. Add 5 to 6 finely chopped fresh figs and simmer until sauce begins to thicken and wine reduces by half. Add 2 Tbs chicken broth and continue simmering until sauce is desired consistency. Add fresh thyme to taste. Reduce heat to lowest setting and stir in a sliver of butter (about 1 tsp). Taste and add salt if needed. Serve right away.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Frittata Bites with Spinach and Sun-dried Tomatoes

These little bites are a perfect appetizer: they're not too filling, you can prep them ahead of time, and you can serve them hot or at room temperature. I think they're especially cute for holiday parties because of the flecks of red and green.

I came up with this recipe a while ago, but I thought about it recently when Bella Sun Luci sent me some of their sun-dried tomatoes to try. Along with caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes are one of my absolute favorite ways to instantly add a lot of flavor to many, many things. I use them all the time in sandwiches, on pizza, in salads, and in pasta and grain dishes. They're sweet, but they've also got that deeply savory umami factor that makes certain foods irresistible.

I liked the Bella Sun Luci tomatoes (lots of good recipes here on their site, and here's a great collection of sun-dried tomato recipes on Kalyn's Kitchen) as much as the brand I usually buy (Whole Foods 365). They're packed in extra virgin olive oil and they have a very bright, fresh tomato flavor. The ones in the jar were good, but I especially like the non-oil packed ones that come in a resealable bag (like the kind Craisins or other dried fruit are packaged in). They are so moist, unlike other non-oil packed varieties that generally need to be soaked in water to make them edible.

Here are more ideas for using sun-dried tomatoes from the archives:

Morel Mushroom Barley Risotto
Healthy Bell Pepper and Zucchini Gratin
Sun-dried Tomato Tapenade

Frittata Bites with Spinach and Sun-dried Tomatoes
Another reason these are great for a party: you can do everything a couple hours ahead of time and pop them in the oven when guests arrive.

Makes 48 pieces (may be halved easily)

Nonstick cooking spray
1 (10-ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed
32 oil-packed sun-dried tomato halves, patted dry and finely chopped (about 2/3 cup)
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)
12 large eggs
1 cup reduced fat milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat two 24-cup mini muffin pans with nonstick cooking spray.

Place spinach in a colander and press firmly to extract as much water as possible; transfer to a bowl. Add sun-dried tomatoes to spinach and combine. Place one slightly rounded teaspoon spinach mixture and one teaspoon goat cheese in each mini muffin cup.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Using a 1/4-cup measuring scoop or a liquid measuring cup with a spout, fill each mini muffin cup with egg, 1/8-inch from the rim. You can prepare frittatas up to this point and refrigerate for up to 2 hours. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until tops are puffed and edges are golden. Cool in pans 5 minutes; pop out of molds with a spoon and serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

High Protein Banana Pecan Pancakes

I've seen a few recipes recently for healthy pancakes make without flour. I have nothing against carbs or the fiber-rich whole wheat pastry flour that I usually use for pancakes. However, I like that these alternative recipes contain a lot of protein from egg whites and, in the case of this particular recipe, cottage cheese.

I LOVE pancakes, but don't eat them all that often because I'm not always in the mood for the sugar crash that goes with them (don't even suggest that I replace the maple syrup with fresh fruit or sugar-free syrup--that is not an option). So, I liked the idea of a recipe that provides some extra protein to balance things out. Still, I was afraid a healthier pancake would be dry and unsatisfying. In that case, what's the point?

I finally tested them out last weekend, and the results were awesome. I adapted a recipe I saw on Ask Georgie, a fantastic blog written by a registered dietitian who shares all sorts of great recipes as well as her nutrition expertise. I made it a little more complicated by beating half the egg whites and folding them into the batter (which, by the way, comes together in a snap in your blender). These were some of the moistest pancakes I've made in a while, and they had tons of banana flavor. The texture was so light and tender. And for some reason that I can't explain, they were extremely easy to flip...what more could you want?

I don't think these pancakes have any hallmarks of a "diet-friendly" recipe. They're just really good. Since they are also extremely good for you (and lower in calories than most pancakes), it's easy to enjoy them with a side of bacon and definitely maple syrup.

High Protein Banana Pecan Pancakes
Adapted from
I use to beat half of the egg whites and fold them into the batter, but I've found that combining everything in the blender works just as well. And it makes these so quick and easy to whip up on a Sunday morning as soon as I get home from the gym. If you think your batter is too thin, you can add a tablespoon of potato or corn starch. I have done it both with and without the starch, and the batter cooks up either way. I like to sprinkle the pecans on each pancake in the skillet, but you can aslso just  fold them into the batter if you prefer.

Serves 2

1/2 cup cottage cheese
1 large very ripe banana
1 cup quick-cooking oats (80 g)
4 egg whites or 3/4 cup liquid egg white product
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt (scant)
2 packets Splenda or sweetener of choice
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 to 4 Tbs buttermilk or regular milk
1/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped

In a blender, combine the cottage cheese, banana, oats, egg whites, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, Splenda, vanilla and 2 Tbs of the buttermilk. Puree. If the batter is very thick and resists mixing, add additional buttermilk.

Coat a skillet or griddle with nonstick cooking spray and heat to medium high. For each pancake scoop about 1/4 cup of the batter and sprinkle with some of the chopped pecans. Flip when edges set and bubbles form, cooking 1 to 2 minutes per side, or until pancakes are golden brown, adjusting heat as needed.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Penne with Beets, Beet Greens and Mushrooms

I've made this pasta dish twice recently. Whenever I see beets with bright clusters of fresh-looking greens attached, I must buy them. I'll get two bunches and roast all the beets (my method is so easy; you don't have to rub them with oil or use a peeler), which gives me enough for two meals.

Half the beets go into this pasta dish along with the greens, and the rest usually go into a big main dish salad. I've also made beet soup and served the sauteed greens on the side. The idea is that you have so many options from such a cheap (and nutritious!) vegetable. Next time I bring some home, I need to make this beet green frittata. And I'm probably due for this pretty beet risotto again. I've never grated raw beets for a salad or slaw, but that sounds like something I need to try too. Do you have any favorite recipes for beets?

Penne with Beets, Beet Greens and Mushrooms
For this dish, I like a lot of vegetables and a moderate amount of pasta, so I'm only calling for 6 ounces of penne. If you want more penne, you can certainly use more and alter my ratio. If you can't find fresh beet greens, you can substitute Swiss chard or even spinach.

Serves 2 to 3

2 bunches beets with greens (6-8 beets)
1 Tbs olive oil
8 oz sliced mushrooms
Salt and pepper
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Red pepper flakes to taste
6 oz whole wheat penne
1 cup cannellini beans (from a 14 oz. can), rinsed
1 to 2 oz feta cheese, crumbled

Separate the beet greens about an inch above the beet roots (do not trim that inch of stems from beet roots, as it prevents juice from bleeding during cooking). Discard the stems and remove the thick ribs from the leaves. Chop leaves and set aside.

Preheat to 425 F. Wrap beets in 2 or 3 foil packets, leaving some space in the packets, but sealing them tightly. Roast on a baking sheet for 1 to 1 1/2 hours (depending on size of beets) or until tender when pierced with a paring knife. Carefully open foil packs so heat can escape. When beets are cool enough to handle trim the stem and root ends and slip off the skin; cut into chunks. Refrigerate half the beets for another use, like a salad. Beets may be cooked up to 1 day ahead.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until tender and lightly browned. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and beet greens. Toss until greens begin to wilt; continue cooking until greens are very soft. Season and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, cook the penne in generously salted water according to package directions. Before draining penne, reserve about 1/2 cup of cooking water. Return cooked penned to the pot you cooked it in and add mushroom mixture, chopped beets and cannellini beans. Mix well. Serve with crumbled feta.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Raw Cranberry-Apple Relish

If you're still looking for Thanksgiving recipes and your goals are "easy" and "fast," try this. It doesn't get any easier than raw cranberry relish made entirely in the food processor. I've been intrigued by raw cranberry relish recipes for the last few years, but this is the first time I've tried it. I never make my cooked cranberry sauce very sweet--I prefer it with some spices, more like a chutney. With only 1/3 cup of sugar, it's much healthier than cranberry sauce, plus it adds a bright, refreshing element to the plate.

I made it with crisp Fuji apple and lots of ginger, but you can play around with just about anything. I really loved it. I also ate the leftovers by the spoonful for about 5 days after I made it, and it was great. If you've tried a raw cranberry recipe, how did you like it?

Cranberry-Apple-Ginger Relish
I love the heat of ginger, but if you’re very sensitive to the flavor, scale it back. In addition to the ginger, a fresh chile also adds heat to this easy raw relish.

1 large orange
12 oz fresh cranberries
1 large fuji apple (or pink lady, gala, golden delicious), cored and chopped
2 Tbs finely chopped fresh ginger
1 serrano chile, seeded and chopped (or 1 jalapeno with some seeds)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
salt to taste

Finely grate the zest from the orange (preferably with a microplane) and add to a large bowl. Remove all the white pith from the flesh and remove orange sections with a paring knife. Finely chop and add to bowl.

Add about half of each of the remaining ingredients to a food processor (half the cranberries, half the apple, etc.). I liked doing this in 2 batches; if your processor is very large, do it 1 batch. Finely chop using a few 3-to-5-second pulses, taking care to leave the mixture a bit chunky, not pureed. Add to bowl with orange and repeat with remaining ingredients. Stir thoroughly to combine and add a pinch of salt. Chill at least 2 hours or overnight. Serve slightly chilled.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wild Rice, Chestnut and Cherry Stuffing

I didn't think I could find a holiday stuffing that I like better than cornbread-chorizo or chestnut-cranberry-pear. Especially not one made with rice. I've never used rice in my stuffing, so I thought it might turn out more like a grain salad than a moist, baked, almost meaty stuffing. This recipe even has the distinction of being quite healthy (I adapted it from a Cooking Light recipe): the base is whole grain and, unlike dry bread, the rice does not need extra fat to saturate and bind it.

I could not have been happier with how this turned out! It's rich, flavorful and very stuffing-like. Of all the delicious ingredients (the chestnuts and cherries are fantastic), I think the fresh sage is what gives it the unmistakable taste of Thanksgiving.

I made this for our at-home "fauxgiving" meal. I tried a bunch of new things, with simple roasted Brussels sprouts being the only old favorite on the table. We also had whole roast duck with savory fresh fig sauce and fresh cranberry relish with apple and ginger. So tell me, how is your Thanksgiving prep going?

Wild rice stuffing with chestnuts and cherries
Adapted from Cooking Light, Nov. 2010
My chicken broth had about 550 mg of sodium per serving, so I did not add any salt when cooking the rice. If you use an alternative to commercial broth, salt to taste. I reserved the wine leftover from soaking the cherries to make a fig sauce for duck. It picks up some cherry flavor and would be great for any pan sauce. Use within 24 hours.

Serves 6 (may be doubled and baked in a 9 x 13 dish)

1 1/2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup wild rice
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dried cherries, halved
1/2 cup red wine or hot water
1 cup whole roasted bottled chestnuts
1 Tbs olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup diced carrot
3/4 cup diced celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbs (packed) finely chopped sage
1 Tbs (packed) finely chopped parsley
1 1/2 Tbs panko

Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine rice and broth in a saucepan, season with pepper and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat 50 minutes (or according to package directions) or until tender. Remove from heat and rest 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

Combine cherries and wine or water in a small bowl and set aside for 20 minutes. Remove cherries with a slotted spoon and add to rice (save cherry-infused wine to cook with if desired). Halve or quarter the chestnuts and add to rice.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, carrot and celery and season with salt and black pepper to taste. Cook until tender and lightly browned, stirring often, 15 minutes. Add garlic and thyme and cook 2 minutes. Add to rice along with sage and parsley and mix well. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Lightly coat an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Add rice mixture and sprinkle panko on top. Bake, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until rice is heated through and edges begin to crisp.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Tomato Soup

Last week I received a book that is absolutely perfect for me right now: Soups + Sides, written by fellow food writer, Catherine Walthers. I LOVE to make soup. I'll make it year round, but in the late fall and winter, it's a weekly thing. I might do it even more often, but I tend to make lots for leftovers, clever me.

In the past, I've anxiously flipped to the soup section in a many a cookbook only to be disappointed by the same old stuff. Soups + Sides is different. I've flagged about 10 soups that I want to make immediately, and the creative side dishes (created to perfectly compliment specific soups) are a fantastic bonus. A not-so-obvious pairing that appealed to me: Celery Root Soup with Roasted Garlic and Red Cabbage Slaw with Oranges and Walnuts.

The soup recipes I was drawn to are either fresh and creative (Caramelized Onion-Butternut Squash Soup with Melted Cheese Toasts--it's like a healthier, more satisfying French Onion!) or superlative versions of classics created for home cooks, yet not at all dumbed down, like Chicken Tortilla Soup. It sounds so flavorful, yet not intimidating like chef versions I've seen.

The first soup I decided to try was classic tomato. It's the one on the cover, and yes, I made herbed grilled fontina sandwiches to go with it, as suggested. So good, and easy enough that it got me cooking on a day when I was tempted to just throw together a salad.

If you're all about soup at the moment too, don't miss Soup Week on Words to Eat By, a blog written by another food writer friend of mine. She's posting soup recipes throughout the week and a round up of soup recipes from other bloggers on Friday. Should be as warm, comforting and inspiring as your favorite winter soup:)

Cathy Walthers' Tomato Soup
Adapted from Soups + Sides by Catherine Walthers

The main change I made was NOT removing some of the seeds from the canned tomatoes, as Walthers suggests. If you'd like to do so, place the tomatoes in a strainer over a bowl to catch the juices. You'll get a slightly smoother, more refined soup. I also decreased the amount of water for a slightly thicker soup, reflected below.

Serves 4

2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 leek, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 tsp minced garlic
2 (28-oz) cans whole tomatoes with juices
3 cups water
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves, plus more for garnish
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat and cook the onion and leek until tender, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute.

Add tomatoes with juices, water, thyme and sugar, and bring to a boil. Reduce and simmer, partially covered, until vegetables are very soft, 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender or in a regular blender, in batches. Stir in cream and taste for seasonings. Since canned tomatoes have a good amount of salt, I only needed to add a bit. Sprinkle with additional thyme leaves if desired. Serve with grilled cheese!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Healthy Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

This muffin recipe comes from, Good Enough to Eat, the new novel by Stacey Ballis. And they are so good! For starters, I was pretty excited when I took them out of the oven and they had perfect high, rounded crowns. Yes, the recipe is healthy (whole wheat flour, less sugar, buttermilk and vegetable oil), but not so aggressive that you know it's too good to be true before you even start baking. They are moist, filling and definitely sweet, thanks to a lot of banana and some sugar too.

To go along with the recipe, I got to interview the author herself. Stacey Ballis is not only a fellow Chicagoan (if you live here, you'll recognize many locations in the book), but the author of The Spinster Sisters and Room for Improvement, among other novels. Her latest, Good Enough to Eat, starts with an intriguing premise: heroine loses 150 pounds and promptly gets dumped by husband. For a woman twice her size. Ballis describes food throughout the story (her heroine is a healthy chef) and includes a hefty assortment of recipes tacked on at the end.

The recipes, however, are not an afterthought. They are well-written and clearly have been made and passed on by real people. As you can see, the muffins look excellent, and I promise they taste even better. Read on to hear what Stacey has to say about her book and writing about food (and to get the muffin recipe!).

Author, Stacey Ballis
5 Questions for Stacey Ballis

1) From the title on the cover, to detailed descriptions of food prepared by various characters, to the compilation of recipes at the end of book, food is everywhere in this story. How did you come up with the dishes featured here?

Stacey Ballis: With a few exceptions, the recipes are mine, based on years of both decadent indulgences and trying to eat healthier without losing the satisfaction of my favorite foods. There are one or two family recipes (brisket, chicken soup) and some printed with permission of friends (Susan’s Banana Cake, Doug’s Sesame Noodles). But in general they are just some of my favorite things to cook at home!

2) Melanie, the once-fat-now-skinny heroine, not only succeeds in an epic weight loss effort, but she also does a midlife career switch (from lawyer to chef/café owner) in one fell swoop. I think a lot of people fantasize about making a move this bold, but get caught up in real obstacles. What advice would Melanie give to another woman who wanted to follow in her footsteps?

SB: Melanie is very lucky, in that she is in a financial position to both leave her career and go to school and focus on her health full time. And even then it takes her two years to achieve her dreams. By the same token, taking leaps this big in different areas of her life all at once can actually be helpful for her success. She is changing everything about her schedule and how her days look, so adding in regular exercise and healthy eating at the same time is maybe less shocking than trying to incorporate them into existing habits. I think Melanie would say first and foremost that whatever change you seek, there will never be the ideal time or situation. You can spend your whole life waiting, or you can just make the changes. Maybe you need to take school slow, one class at a time at night. Maybe you need to start your program bit by bit, adding in exercise, and learning about healthy eating gradually. But you have to start now, today, and be prepared for stumbles along the way, as well as little miracles.

3) Along with a fun story, you’ve managed to provide a blueprint for sustainable healthy eating. Melanie even chats periodically with her friend Carey, a nutrition counselor who says things that a lot of us could cross stitch, frame and hang on the refrigerator door. For instance:

“Look, it sounds like you’re getting plenty of extra exercise, missing a few sessions on the treadmill isn’t going to kill you. And while you should pay attention to eating when you aren’t hungry, indulging a little here and there isn’t going to derail you in any meaningful way.”

How did you, I mean Carey, get so wise?

SB: Carey Peters is a real life holistic nutritional counselor and coach, and I worked with her for nine months myself in order to really experience what Melanie would have experienced with this kind of coaching. You can find her online at or on Twitter @CoachTools I cannot recommend her highly enough! Her wisdom is from years of school, training and experience, and the book only skims the surface of her wisdom.

4) For most of your recipes, you provide a traditional version alongside a healthier update. For example, we get both Banana Cake with Chocolate Frosting and Healthy Banana Muffins with Chocolate Chips. It’s a great way of saying that both must coexist for a truly balanced, healthy life. I’d love to know your favorite comfortingly indulgent food and your favorite light and nutritious dish (not necessarily from the book).

SB: My favorite comfort indulgence is definitely mashed potatoes, and both my sensible everyday version and my “Thanksgiving/Special Occasion” decadent version are in the book. And yes, I think we need both in our lives!

5) You have a blog called The Polymath Chronicles. Besides writing and cooking, what are your other talents? And will any of them be part of your next book, the way food is in Good Enough to Eat?

SB: I’m pretty good with all things related to decorating and entertaining, I give a good backrub. I’m pretty handy with tools. I am an exceptional packer. I don’t know if any of these will make it into the next book, everyone will just have to stay tuned and see!

Healthy Banana Muffins with Chocolate Chips
Adapted from Good Enough to Eat by Stacey Ballis
The only change I made was to use whole wheat pastry flour. Stacey uses 1 1/4 cups all-purpose plus 1 cup of regular whole wheat. Go with whatever you have on hand.

Makes 12

2 1/4 cups (270 g) plus 1 Tbs whole wheat pastry flour, divided
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup lowfat buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
3 very ripe medium bananas, mashed
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a large bowl, whisk together 2 1/4 cups of the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In another large bowl, whisk the egg, oil and buttermilk; add banana and mix well. In a small bowl, toss walnuts and chips with the remaining tablespoon flour (this prevents them from sinking during baking).

Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir gently until flour is just moistened. When you're nearly done stirring, add the walnuts and chips; do not over mix. Coat a standard muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray or use paper liners. Fill cups about three-quarters full and bake until a tester or toothpick comes out clean and muffins are light golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes (mine took 18).

Monday, October 25, 2010

8 Questions for Amanda Hesser

I'm so excited about this post! I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to interview Amanda Hesser, author, cofounder of, and longtime New York Times staffer. Her latest project (though many years in the making) is The Essential New York Times Cookbook, which was just released.

Before we get to the good stuff, I will take a moment to gush over this book. I received a review copy from the publisher, and while I was looking forward to perusing its pages, I did not expect to instantly fall in love (I still can't stop talking about how great it is!). If you like to cook, want to cook or enjoy a little cultural context with your recipes, you must buy this book. Not just nice to read curled up on the sofa, it is also extraordinarily useful: Hesser tested, perfected and annotated each recipe so that anyone can walk into the kitchen with their copy and emerge successful, with something good to eat.

So far, I have made black bean soup with salsa  and steak au poivre. I followed the soup recipe almost to the letter, and I loved it. If you don't think black bean soup can be particularly interesting or special, this is the recipe you should try (a ton of lime juice added at the end is the secret). The steak recipe, along with the many others in the book, served as inspiration for my own riff on classic steak au poivre--this is an excellent cookbook to turn to for unique ideas.

Here are a few more reasons why I love this book: each chapter list recipes chronologically (some go back 150 years); Hesser provides the title and author of the article in which each recipe originally appeared, as well as historical context when appropriate; and most recipes are followed by a list of suggested recipes from the book that could be used to construct a complete meal. Finally, as much as I enjoy cookbooks, most are not essential. Rarely do they have something new to offer. This one, however, lives up to its name tenfold. Now, here's what Amanda had to say about my new favorite book:

Amanda Hesser 
Photo Credit: Sarah Shatz

This book covers 150 years worth of recipes in the Times, so it’s a tremendous undertaking. How did you choose the recipes you would test? I find this process fascinating, so feel free to go into detail!

The first thing I did was turn to the New York Times readers and ask them (in a query in the paper) what their favorite recipes were. From their thousands of suggestions I tested the 400 recipes that were recommended most. This gave me a much-needed foundation of terrific favorites from the book. But it only took me back to the 1960s. For the 100 years of recipes preceding this, I had to just dig in and figure out what were the important dishes of each decade. With a recipe like Tomato Soup, I’d read all the recipes that were printed and then select the most promising one to test. The testing took 4 to 5 years.

Will you describe a recipe or two that looked promising on paper, but couldn’t be included in the book for some reason(s)?

Charlotte Russe, which is an old molded dessert that was very popular in the 19th century. I really wanted to include it but every version I tried turned out so firm and rubbery that it seemed closer to charlotte Play-Doh.

I imagine you had to test quite a few recipes that went totally against your personal taste. Did any of them surprise you or change the way you eat going forward?

I like pretty much everything so that wasn’t a problem. I think the biggest change is simply that by cooking 1,400 recipes, I vastly expanded my repertory, and now I have a lot more dishes I’m excited to make, like Amazing Overnight Waffles, Huguenot Torte, Craig Claiborne’s Fondue, and The Normandy (a delicious drink for fall).

Are there any particular writers or chefs whom you rediscovered (or became a first-time fan of) while working on the book?

I came to adore Pierre Franey, who was the chef at the storied Le Pavillon, and who later teamed up with Craig Claiborne to write the Sunday food page as well as his own column, “The 60-Minute Gourmet,” which was the 1970s version of The Minimalist. Franey wasn’t much of a writer but sure knew how to construct a recipe. He was precise without being pedantic.

You couldn’t possibly have one favorite recipe from the book, so how about giving us one favorite in each of the following categories?

As you’ll see I couldn’t select just one in each!

Hors d’oeuvres: Pickled Shrimp or Hot Cheese Olives
Easy entrée: Chicken Canzanese
Dessert: Teddie’s Apple Cake or Lucas Schoorman’s Lemon Tart
Anything beef: Spanish Fricco or Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew

You asked Times readers to send you their favorite recipes from the paper, which seems like a nicely democratic way to make your selections. But if you were a reader answering this call, what recipes would you have sent in to the author of The Essential New York Times Cookbook (and did they make the cut?)?

The truth is that when I was a reporter, I was so busy working on my own stories that I didn’t have time to cook from the Times’s food pages. One of the great joys of working on this project was getting a chance to cook recipes by colleagues like Marian Burros, Florence Fabricant, Molly O’Neill and Mark Bittman

As in any cookbook, there are going to be recipes that enjoy perennial popularity with readers and those that get neglected because they seem to lack an obvious wow factor. Please save us from ourselves and shine a light on a couple recipes you fear may not get the attention they deserve.

Sea Bass in Grappa
Tuna Salad
Bolzano Apple Cake
Delicate Bread Pudding
Broccoli Puree with Ginger
Raspberry Vinegar
Beets in Lime Cream

While writing this book, you also launched, a first-of-its-kind recipe site that combines the expertise of you and co-creator, Merrill Stubbs, with the creativity of home cooks and social media. As newspapers and magazines struggle, do you believe sites like will become the new chroniclers of American gastronomy?

I hope so – we’ve found our system of crowd-sourcing and curation immensely effective and rewarding. The ideas and recipes from the crowd are filled with soul and experience, and that’s hard to replicate with a single voice. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for experts and great writers, but I think we’ve managed to highlight another path to shaping the food conversation. The fluidity of the internet allows you to instantly see emerging trends and moods and changes, and at food52, you get a pure distillation of all of this from the people who are in the trenches, cooking at home and thinking about food day after day.

I want to thank Amanda for taking the time to answer my questions. I need to go read the Beets in Lime Cream recipe right now (I seem to be cooking beets about once a week lately). Do any of you have the book yet? Will you buy it? I would love to know if you've tried any of the recipes and how they turned out. Sound off in the comment section, and please leave your links if you've blogged about the book!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Three-Bean Salad

This is a fresher, healthier update of Three-Bean Salad. It's also leaps and bounds better than the canned Jolly Green Giant version, although I personally have a soft spot for that particular product (throw some onto a big tuna or chicken salad--yum!).

This is also a quick and easy side, which provides both a green vegetable and filling starch. It was all we needed to go with a simple grilled chicken lunch. I'm slovenly devoted to those no-mess, steam-in-the-microwave bags of frozen veggies, so that's what I used. Seriously, those products are god's gift to veggie lovers. If you want to blanche or steam fresh beans, that would be wonderful too.

Three-Bean Salad
This can definitely be made ahead, with the dressing acting as a nice marinade (add the parsley just before serving). However, the longer it sits, the duller the color of the green beans. A few hours is optimal, but I think a day ahead would be fine too.

Serves 4 to 6

1 (15 oz) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 medium red onion (halved lengthwise), sliced paper thin
1 (12 to 16 oz) bag frozen green beans
3 Tbs safflower or canola oil
3 Tbs white wine vinegar
2 Tbs granulated sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped parsley

In a large bowl, combine beans and onion. Prepare an ice bath (fill a large bowl halfway with ice and add cold water). Steam green beans in microwave according to package directions (I like the beans slightly under done and firm for this salad). Immediately chill green beans in ice bath for about 3 minutes to stop cooking and preserve bright color. Drain and air dry or pat dry with paper towel. Add to bowl with other beans.

In a small jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine oil, vinegar, sugar and mustard. Shake until emulsified (if you don't have a jar, whisk in a bowl). Drizzle about two-thirds of dressing over bean mixture and toss. Add more dressing if desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, add parsley and toss again.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Simple Cream Scones

There are many scone recipes on this blog (and another on NPR). In no way do I see this as a deterrent for posting more. Many of my scones follow a similar formula: judicious amount of butter + buttermilk. It produces a moist but dense pastry that isn't too rich to qualify as breakfast.

These scones are completely different. With no butter whatsoever, they rely solely on heavy cream for fat, moisture and texture. Fortunately, this formula works, and it's dead simple. The cream (it MUST be heavy cream; half and half and milk lack sufficient fat to make the recipe work) makes these scones very light with a fine, moist crumb. Since you don't have to spend time working butter into the flour with a pastry blender, your fingers or a food processor, they come together in no time.

I really liked this style of scone. It's closer to the type of thing you'd eat at high tea, perhaps with jam and clotted cream. I found the recipe on A Cooking Life, an excellent blog by a chef who swears that anyone can use this recipe and produce a respectable scone. I think she's right. No worries about overworking the dough, or letting the butter get too soft. Just stir and go. I even threw together the dry ingredients the night before, so  all I had to do in the morning was add cream and bake. They were perfect with this casserole for brunch. You can use any additions you like, but I went with dried currants to keep these classic and British-y.

Simple Cream Scones
Adapted from A Cooking Life
Other dried fruits, especially raisins, cranberries or blueberries would be a nice swap for the currants. As the creator of this recipe says, no substitutions for the heavy cream--It's the only source of fat in the recipe, and if you take some of it out, they won't taste as good.

Makes 12 small or 8 large scones

1 cup/130 g all-purpose flour
1 cup/130 g whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup dried currants
1 cup plus 2 to 4 Tbs heavy cream
2 Tbs coarse sugar, such as turbinado (granulated may be substituted; use less)

Preheat oven to 425 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, salt and currants. Stir in the cream, just until flour is moistened. You may still have some crumbs at the bottom of the bowl. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and briefly knead into a ball (if your dough will not come together, drizzle very sparingly with 1 to 2 Tbs additional cream). Divide in half and roll or press each piece into a 3/4 to 1-inch disk (to make large scones, roll all the dough into 1 disk and cut into 8 triangles). Cut each disk into 6 triangles and transfer to baking sheet, spacing scones at least 1-inch apart. Sprinkle with coarse sugar and bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until bottoms are deep golden brown and a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. Transfer to cooling rack. Serve warm with jam.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Healthy Breakfast Casserole with Eggs, Sausage and Broccoli

This dish is easy, good for you and ideal for feeding a group. With potatoes and sausage, it's also satisfying without relying on hunks of bread and a lot of cheese like a typical strata, or other baked breakfast casseroles. You still get richness in the form of cottage cheese and flavorful cheddar, and I like that it combines both whole eggs and just whites.

I made this when we had guests over the weekend and I think it will become my go-to brunchy thing when I have company. Enjoy with hot sauce and something less healthy on the side, like mini cream scones or goat cheese biscuits!

Healthy Breakfast Casserole with Eggs, Sausage and Broccoli
Adapted from  Taste of Home.
Liquid egg whites work great here and save you time (and possibly wasted egg yolks). For the chicken sausage, I really like Brat Hans brand spicy Italian. They are natural, nitrate-free and fully cooked. 

Serves 8

1 1/4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 cup water
2 fully cooked chicken sausages, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
1 1/2 cups frozen broccoli florets, semi-thawed
6 eggs
8 egg whites
1 cup (8 ounces) 1% cottage cheese
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
5 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup milk
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Hot sauce for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F and lightly coast a 9 x13 baking dish with cooking spray. Place potatoes and water in a microwave-safe dish and microwave until just tender, stirring 2 or 3 times, 7 to 9 minutes. Drain water and spread potatoes evenly in prepared baking dish. Top with sausage. Cut any large broccoli florets into smaller chunks and add to baking dish.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and egg whites. Add remaining ingredients (except hot sauce) and whisk to combine. Pour into baking dish and bake, uncovered, until center is set, about 45 minutes. Rest 10 minutes, slice and serve with hot sauce, if desired.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Braised Kale with Tomatoes

Here is the recipe for the braised kale with tomatoes picture in my last post. Like the black-eyed pea salad and smoked pork I made, it came from Food & Wine magazine. There's nothing innovative about this recipe, but it just worked perfectly. I even had slightly less kale (enough for about 2 1/2 good servings) and it was great even as I roughly scaled it down in my head.

Braised Kale with Tomatoes
Adapted from Food & Wine, Sept. 2010

Serves 4

1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large jalapeno, seeded and chopped
2 pounds kale,thick ribs removed, leaves coarsely chopped
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
2 Tbs white wine vinegar
1/2 to 3/4 cup water

In a large pot, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add onion, season iwth salt and pepper, and cook until lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeno and cook 2 minutes.

Add kale, in 2 batches if necessary, and toss to wilt. Add tomatoes, vinegar and enough water to make a thin layer of liquid in the pot. Partially cover pot and cook until kale is tender, tomatoes are soft, and liquid is most evaporated, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Creamy Black-eyed Pea Salad

With summer on the wane, we made one of our favorite things: SLOW-roasted pork shoulder. Only this time we also smoked it for an hour on the grill. We followed the procedure outlined in Food & Wine magazine's August issue, adjusting for a smaller, 3 to 4 pound roast. With this vinegary homemade BBQ sauce, it was utterly divine.

For the sides, I ended up making 2 more recipes from that same F&W issue. If you've got a copy that you haven't had the chance to look over thoroughly, go grab it! It's devoted to new Southern cooking, and it's one of the best issues they've done in ages. There are tons of recipes I can actually see myself making, and it's evident that they are consciously trying to provide a lot of healthy options that are just as tempting as any of their other recipes.

This black-eyed pea salad, for instance, is a more nutritious stand-in for obvious barbecue sides like baked beans, potato salad or pasta salad. It has that creamy dressing you might be craving, but all it takes is a small amount of lowfat mayo to achieve. I made some changes to streamline the recipe a bit, while also increasing the quantity. I knew we would enjoy the leftovers.

Creamy Black-eyed Pea Salad
Adapted from this recipe in Food & Wine, August 2010
If you hate mayo, I think you could replace it nicely with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. If you have fresh herbs on hand, fold those in at the end.

Serves 6

1 1/4 cups dried black-eyed peas, rinsed
2 Tbs olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper taste
3/4 cup chopped carrots
1/4 tsp dried thyme (or rosemary, or marjoram)
3/4 cup chopped celery
2 Tbs cider vinegar
2 to 3 Tbs lowfat mayonnaise
5 scallions, thinly sliced
Hot sauce (such as Tabasco) to taste

Place black-eyed peas in a large pot and add water to cover by about 4 inches. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cook at a steady simmer until tender, about 40 minutes. Drain and rinse thoroughly.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and red pepper, season with salt and pepper, and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add carrots and thyme; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.

In a large bowl, combine black-eyed peas, onion mixture, celery and vinegar. Fold in mayonnaise, scallions and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Healthy Creamy Feta Dressing

We've rediscovered big salads as easy, healthy dinner options. One reason we've made them so often lately is this delicious creamy dressing. It's low in fat and calories, so I'm happy to drench my salad in it. 

The base is Greek yogurt, and buttermilk thins it out and adds more tangy flavor. Of course, the major flavor you'll get is from the Feta, which also gives this lowfat concoction richness and body. Really, it's the same idea behind a basic vinaigrette: emulsify fat with an acid (usually vinegar), then add flavorings. In this case, the fat is flavor-packed cheese and the acid is yogurt/buttermilk.

You can do endless variations on this dressing. I did a version with hot sauce for a buffalo chicken salad. Any cheese you think will blend well is a candidate. You can use sweet onions, as I do here, or opt for scallions or shallots. Mustard, herbs and spices are great too. If you don't tend to have buttermilk in the house, regular milk should work fine.

Healthy Creamy Feta Dressing
Play with the quantities of ingredients to get the flavor and texture you want. The amounts below are a good starting point.

Makes enough for 2 big salads (double or triple as needed)

1/4 cup chopped sweet onion or 3 chopped scallions
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
3-4 Tbs buttermilk
2 oz Feta
Black pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to a blender and puree. Thin with additional buttermilk, or thicken with additional yogurt, as desired.

In case you were wondering what's in that huge salad in the picture:
Mixed salad greens
Grilled chicken
Yukon Gold potato, cubed and boiled until just tender
Steamed green beans
Grape tomatoes
Kalamata olives

It started out as a take-off on salad nicoise, only with chicken. Then it morphed into its own delicious thing. At the end of a long day though, one of my favorite salads (also the easiest, no-cook meal) consists of: salad greens, cannellini beans, crumbled Feta, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, Kalamata olives and tuna from those tetra pak pouches; plus any chopped fresh veggies I have to throw in. That with olive oil and lots of balsamic vinegar never fails to satisfy. Now tell me, what is your favorite salad?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

5 Questions for Jenny Nelson

This post is the result of an offer I couldn't refuse: Check out a copy of Jenny Nelson's new novel, Georgia's Kitchen, and then pick her brain to my heart's content. Since I tend to enjoy the delicious blend of food and fiction, I was happy to give it a try. 

This is definitely fun summer reading. I love books and movies set in New York City, and this one gives us a peek into a fictional dining hot spot where our heroine is the head chef. But not for long...

Read on to learn more about the book and what kind of grueling research the author undertook to get the food details just right!

Julie: Georgia, the main character, is a top New York City chef (at least she is when the story begins). Have you ever fantasized about a career in restaurant kitchens?

Jenny Nelson: Absolutely! I would love to work in one of the top kitchens – maybe at Thomas Keller’s Per Se or Jean Georges … though my skills are nowhere near up to snuff and I’d be booted so fast I wouldn’t even have time to pack my knives. But what fun to watch the great chefs work their magic!

Julie: You describe the food Georgia cooks in detail ("a house-made taglierini with peas and ramps from the Greenmarket, slivers of bresaola, and shaved pecorino"). What kind of research did you do to come up with the dishes described in the book?

JN: I ate a lot! I studied menus and recipes and ate in as many restaurants as my waistline and my wallet could afford. It was a blast.

Julie: Part of the book is set in Tuscany. Do you have any other favorite food destinations?

JN: I love the food in Vietnam, especially in Hanoi – it’s so fresh and light and filled with great vegetables and fish and herbs like cilantro. It’s exactly the kind of food I love to eat.

Julie: Vietnam is one of all-time favorite food destinations too, but I've only been to Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang. I would love to visit Hanoi!

Julie: Describe your perfect meal (whether it's one you've already had, or one you hope to have someday)?

JN: The perfect meal means perfect company, and that’d include my husband and six-year-old daughters. I’d put us at a seaside restaurant in Sardinia and we’d start with plenty of good bread and e.v. olive oil and something with tomatoes – maybe a simple bruschetta. Then we’d move into an arugula and parmesan salad, some type of risotto, branzino (my absolute fave), and finish with a cheese selection and house-made gelato, a variety of flavors but at least one would have to be chocolate based.

Julie: What do you make to eat for yourself when you're alone (be honest, even if it's cereal with milk!)?

JN: How’d you know? I’m a huge cereal fan and have been known to indulge in more than a few late-night bowls. Typically, I eat lots of fish, chicken, pasta, quinoa, tons of salads and veggies (really into sautéed kale and chard lately) and, oh yeah, tons of cheese. Yogurt with berries and walnuts is another almost daily meal, as is oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon and brown sugar. Though I’m not a huge meat eater, I do love the occasional burger and I make a terrific grilled flank steak with horseradish sauce. I’m getting really hungry!

Bonus Question: You've worked at both and Do you plan to set a future novel in the fashion world?

JN: Probably not. Fashion has been done to death and unless I thought of a truly unique angle, I think that’s one topic I’ll avoid. Although, now you’ve got me thinking … 

Thank you, Jenny, for taking the time to visit A Mingling of Tastes! A review copy of Georgia's Kitchen was kindly provided by the publisher.

Now tell me what YOU are reading this summer? Anything food focused, or just some plain good reads? Please share!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Quick Calimyrna Fig Jam

This week, I made two old summer favorites: refrigerator fig jam and peach-blueberry cobbler with cornmeal biscuits. Both were delicious. Follow those links for all the details!

I've been very patiently waiting for a bumper crop of figs to get shipped over from California. My Whole Foods has had them for a few weeks now, but they've always got just a few little, not-so-enticing baskets on display. Then we took a little drive to my favorite Indian grocery store. As soon as I walked through the door, I saw big flat crates of juicy Calimyrna figs at a very nice price. I also got a huge bag of baby bok choy for $1.87 and restocked my supply of pickles and chutneys. That store never fails to make stupidly happy.

Calimyrna figs are light green, so you might mistake them for an under-ripe fig. Nope. If they're soft, especially if they're oozing their figgy juice, they are more than ready to eat. They're very sweet, with a less complex flavor than Black Mission figs, my favorite variety. They also seem to have firmer skins and made a very chunky jam, with most of the pieces remaining intact. I absolutely prefer this over the mushiness of traditional jam. You could think of them as preserved figs more than jam, I guess.

I didn't take a new cobbler photo, but think it may have turned out better than ever this time. I got beautiful fruit at the farmer's market, and the biscuit topping was excellent. Instead of yogurt, I used half a cup of buttermilk, but either one is fine. I made it for dessert, but a couple days later, I had some for breakfast with sweetened Greek yogurt. This is what cobbler is meant for--I'm totally convinced.

Have you done some summery things with figs, blueberries or peaches? Share!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Simple Broccoli Soup with Smoked Paprika

When I say "simple" in this recipe title, I mean two things: easy and "pure and simple." I made it twice in a three-week span because it takes so little effort for a huge batch, and because it's the kind of health-giving, detoxifying food that makes you feel good. It's a nice way to balance out a restaurant meal or a big grilled steak.

If you have no need of its detoxifying properties, the soup goes perfectly with richer main dishes like quiche or savory tarts--It's is more substantial than just a side of steamed broccoli. I have enjoyed it both ways!

You can do anything to jazz it up with spices and herbs. Pureed like this, the broccoli is pleasantly bland, so you need adequate salt, as well as those flavor enhancers. It's great with yogurt or sour cream stirred in, and in the picture, it's served with Parmigiano-Reggiano and more smoked paprika (By the way, I can't live without McCormick smoked paprika lately. I love to use a ton of it to make tuna or salmon salad sandwiches--it is so smoky!). I think an Indian-spiced version would be delicious, and I might also try half-broccoli, half-cauliflower. Tell me, do you need a detox? Or is this way too healthy?

Simple Broccoli Soup with Smoked Paprika
The spice quantities are estimates, so please adjust to your own taste.

Makes 7 to 8 cups

1 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 Tbs finely chopped fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chile powder
cayenne pepper to taste
4 to 5 cups water
2 lbs frozen broccoli florets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Serving ideas: Greek yogurt, sour cream, grated cheese, scallions, pepper flakes, hot sauce, smoked paprika

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft and lightly browned. Add ginger and garlic and cook 1 minute, stirring often. Add spices and continue cooking 1 minute. Add 4 cups water and bring to a boil.

Add broccoli, cover and simmer until very tender, about 10 minutes (If broccoli is too crowded, add additional cup water). Remove from heat. Puree with an immersion blender, or in batches in a regular blender (a regular blender yields a smoother soup; instead of using the blender lid, cover with a kitchen towel, so steam can escape, and be careful when blending hot liquid; return to pot after blending). If soup is too thick, add additional water. Add salt (I used about 1 tsp) and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fava Bean and Prosciutto Pizza with Feta and Mint

Here's another delicious idea for your best-ever, overnight whole wheat pizza dough. The credit for this idea of building a pizza around a pound of fresh fava beans goes to my brilliant other half. With it, we added prosciutto and caramelized onions--two ingredients that cannot fail to deliver incredible pizza--and topped it off with feta and mint.

If you don't have fava beans (check for frozen too), you can use regular peas. If you don't do mint, use basil. And goat cheese would be wonderful too. This pizza doesn't have a traditional sauce base, although the onion adds moisture. We drizzled the finished pizza with a little olive oil, as well. A layer of ricotta cheese, seasoned with herbs and thinned slightly with milk might be a nice replacement for tomato sauce. It's pizza, so creativity is a given. In fact, it's hardly a recipe, so here's how we did it, written up shorthand style.
Fava Bean and Prosciutto Pizza with Feta and Mint
To blanch beans, remove from pods and boil 1 to 2 minutes (use full 2 minutes if very large); drain and rinse with cold water; peel. To caramelize the onion, heat 2 Tbs olive oil on low to medium low, add onions, salt and pepper to taste and cook 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

1 ball overnight whole wheat pizza dough, at room temp (1/2 recipe)
1/4 lb thinly sliced prosciutto, torn into smaller pieces
1 large red onion, sliced and caramelized
1 lb (in the pod) fresh fava beans, blanched and peeled
3 oz (approx.) feta cheese, crumbled
chopped fresh mint
extra-virgin olive oil for serving

Place pizza stone in oven and preheat to 550 F at least 30 minutes. Prepare dough as directed. Top with prosciutto, onion, fava beans and feta in the order listed. Season with freshly ground black pepper to taste. Cook 9 to 10 minutes or until crust is browned. Top with mint and serve, passing olive oil at the table.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Korean Chicken Marinade and Grilled Bok Choy

I've been back from vacation for almost a week, and I'm still catching up on things. Like blogging. But I couldn't forget to post this awesome Korean-style marinade and my very favorite bok choy recipe.

We've never been big on marinating until this summer. I have some favorites, but otherwise it's taken a while for me to realize that the easy extra step of marinating can be so worth it. While it's uncertain that a marinade will actually make your meat moist, a soak in some tasty liquid will definitely add flavor to the food's surface and help protect you from carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) that form when meat gets charred on a hot grill.

You may remember the marinated Jerk Chicken that we loved a couple months ago. Mike and I almost didn't try this Korean version from the same Food & Wine article because we just wanted to repeat the jerk marinade. Luckily, we took a trip to the Korean market and loaded up on kimchi and other goodies, so rounding out the meal with this chicken was the only way to go.

As you can see, we used bone-in chicken breasts and leg quarters with the skin removed, but I think it would be as good or better with boneless breasts pounded thin. They cook ultra fast, which helps prevent the meat from drying out, and you'll be able to taste the marinade in every bite.

As for the bok choy, it couldn't be easier. I blanched them, drained them on paper towel and gave them to Mike to put on the grill for a minute or two. I whisked together a sauce from some of the same ingredients in the marinade and drizzled it on. The little char of the grill is so nice and is a lot easier and quicker to do than browning the bok choy in a skillet.

I also have to mention our favorite free-form marinade that Mike invented. It works great on fish and the aforementioned pounded chicken breasts. Just combine about 3/4 cup orange or grapefruit juice, 2 Tbs olive oil, 2 Tbs soy sauce, fresh or dry herbs (especially rosemary and thyme), crushed garlic cloves and black pepper in a large zip top bag. It's enough for up to a pound of meat.

Do you marinate? Does the recent news about the health benefits motivate you, or have you been on the bandwagon for years already? What's your favorite?

Korean-Style Marinade for Chicken

Makes enough for 1 1/4 lbs boneless chicken breast cutlets, pounded thin, or 2 bone-in chicken breasts and 2 leg quarters.

1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbs toasted (dark) sesame oil
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs white wine vinegar or unseasoned rice vinegar
3 scallions, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbs (generous) finely chopped fresh ginger
Freshly ground black pepper

Toasted sesame seeds for serving

In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, honey and vinegar. Transfer to a large zip top bag and add scallions, garlic, ginger and black pepper. Add chicken and refrigerated 2 to 4 hours for boneless breast or 4 to 6 hours for bone-in pieces. Grill and sprinkle with sesame seeds before serving.

Grilled Bok Choy

Serves 4

6 baby bok choy, halved lengthwise
1 Tbs coarse salt
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 Tbs toasted sesame oil
1 Tbs honey
1/2 Tbs white wine vinegar or unseasoned rice vinegar
Toasted sesame seeds for serving

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. Add bok choy, cover and return to boiling. Uncover and cook until bok choy may be easily pierced with a knife, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain in a colander, then place on a couple layers of paper towel to absorb additional water.

In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, honey and vinegar.

Grill bok choy over moderate heat until light grill marks form, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter, drizzle with soy sauce mixture, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Overnight Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

This is my ultimate whole wheat pizza dough up to now. No doubt I'll try some other technique or recipe down the line, but this one is fantastic. It all has to do with the method, rather than some perfect combination of ingredients.

Like I said when I wrote about my tapas-inspired Sherry Mushroom Pizza (pictured above), the overnight rise and shaping method make a light, airy dough that rises beautifully during baking. I love the texture, with it's soft interior and crisp, bubbly exterior. Try it with the delicious tapas pizza or any toppings you want. Here are some ideas from my archives:

Fresh Fig and Prosciutto Pizza. (Do you have figs yet where you live? They must be coming soon!)
Corn and Shrimp Pizza
And 4 more great pizzas (including Bacon, Egg and Asparagus Pizza) in this loaded post!

Overnight Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
Dough adapted from The Art & Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet.

You may substitute unbleached all-purpose flour for the bread flour.

Makes about 1 3/4 lb, for 2 (12-inch) pizzas

1/4 cup/2 oz warm water (110 to 115 F)
2 1/4 tsp/1 packet active dry yeast
1 cup/8 oz water
3 Tbs/1 .5 oz olive oil
305 g/10.75 oz/2 cups bread flour
155 g/5.5 oz/1.25 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp coarse salt
Coarse cornmeal
All-purpose flour for shaping dough

Add warm water to the bowl of a stand mixer. Gently stir in the yeast and rest 5 to 10 minutes, or until yeast is activated and looks creamy. Add remaining water and olive oil, and whisk by hand to combine. Add flour and salt, and knead with dough hook on low speed just until dough comes together, about 2 minutes. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and rest 20 minutes, allowing flour to fully absorb liquid. Knead on medium-low speed until dough is firm, elastic and smooth, 4 to 6 minutes.

Coat a large bowl with cooking spray or brush with olive oil. Transfer dough to bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Dough will approximately double in size.

Gently scrape dough onto a lightly floured work surface. With floured hands, knead briefly and divide into 2 equal portions. Briefly knead each portion into a ball. If you’re saving half the dough for later, lightly coat inside of a zip top freezer bag with cooking spray, seal in one of the dough balls and freeze up to 2 months. When you’re ready to use it, defrost and bring to room temperature; proceed with shaping the dough. Coat a piece of plastic wrap with cooking spray to prevent sticking and cover dough, still resting on floured surface. Cover plastic with a kitchen towel and rest 1 hour, allowing dough to relax and come to room temperature.

Place pizza stone on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 550 F for at least 30 minutes. Sprinkle some cornmeal on a piece of parchment paper and place a ball of dough on top. With floured hands, pat dough into a flat disk. Using your knuckles and fingers, stretch and shape dough into a roughly 12-inch circle. It should be somewhat thin in the middle and slightly thicker around the edges. Sprinkle more cornmeal around the edge and add your toppings. Open the oven and carefully slide parchment paper off of the cutting board onto the pizza stone. Bake 9-11 minutes, or until crust is browned and cooked through. Lift the pizza stone with oven mitts out of the oven and slide parchment onto the cutting board. Slice and serve.