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 http://coachtoolstogo.com 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).