Monday, January 31, 2011

By the way...

a few things I keep meaning to say:
--I reply to most comments in the comment section of the posts, so please check back!
--I make a lot of assumptions about a person's cooking abilities when I write out recipes, so if I ever write a direction that leaves you scratching your head, please leave me a comment and I'll try to clear it up!

More snow, and a prime rib sandwich

We were supposed to have chili for dinner tonight, but I got home late and I also decided that if I'm going to be home for our fifth "We're getting another foot of snow" snow day again this Wednesday Tuesday and Wednesday (as it turns out), that's when I want chili. And a pitcher of margaritas. 

But that's another post.

Tonight we had simple prime rib sandwiches.  I've only made prime rib once, for Christmas dinner with my brother's family.  It's awesome, but not exactly quick eating.  This prime rib was left over from my dinner on Friday.  It started life as a 16 oz piece of meat and fat, which is obscene, but I knew I'd be bringing much of it home.  Once the fat was carved away (I know people eat that stuff, but...ewww) and I ate my fill, we still had about 10 oz left.  I sliced it thinly, and added it to a mix of onions that I had sauteed and then "braised" in a small amount of beef broth.  Piled on a crusty hunk of bread with some cheddar cheese, and partnered with an arugula, fennel, and cucumber salad, I was almost able to forget that I'm going to spend another two hours shoveling snow this Tuesday and Wednesday. 


Sunday, January 30, 2011


I love weekends.  I can cook AND post twice in one day.

I was doing our weekly "meal plan," which is a rough idea of what we'll be eating each night and is usually sabotaged by exhaustion and/or crankiness one night so we eat out, and I thought, "I really need to do something with the butternut squash we have from our share...which ended in November."  While they look just as lovely as ever on the outside, and they keep for a long time, the passing months are doing no favors to the squash. 

The problem is that a medium-sized butternut squash is too much for one meal (with leftovers) for Larry and I.  I did some online surfing, and found two recipes that looked appealing:  Risotto with Butternut Squash, Leeks, and Basil; and Pasta with Butternut Squash, Ground Lamb, and Kasseri Cheese.  From the title of the post, you can guess what we had for dinner.

I've made butternut squash risotto before, and it's one of those homey, warming meals.  But I have to say, it can be kind of...boring.  I'd never thought to pair basil with it, so this recipe caught my attention.  And let me tell you, the basil makes this SING.  It took a basic risotto and made it hit high notes on my taste buds.

Risotto with Butternut Squash, Leeks, and Basil
from Bon Appetit (adding the wine was my addition)
(I cut the recipe in half, and Larry and I had enough for dinner and tomorrow's lunch.  Served it for dinner with an arugula salad.)
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 c. 1/2 in. cubes peeled butternut squash (I used all called for, but halved everything else)
3 c 1/2 inch wide slices leeks
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 c arborio rice
1/2 c dry white wine (I actually used a cider wine that I had open); or can omit and add 1/2 c of vegetable broth  
54 oz. low-sodium vegetable broth
salt and pepper
1 c chopped basil
3/4 c freshly grated parmigiano cheese, plus more for serving

1.  Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.  Saute squash until it begins to soften and brown around the edges, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl, reserve.

2.  Bring broth to a simmer in a saucepan.  Keep at a bare simmer.

3.  Reduce heat to medium on the skillet the squash was cooked in, add remaining olive oil, leeks, and thyme.  Cook, stirring often, until tender but not brown, about five minutes.  Add rice and stir until coated with oil and edges barely appear translucent, about 1-2 minutes.  If using wine, add, stirring until most of liquid is absorbed.  If not, simply begin ladling in warm broth, 1/2 to 1 cup at a time.  Stir the risotto frequently, adding another ladle of broth as the rice absorbs most of the previous addition. 

4.  Taste after about half of the broth has been absorbed.  When the rice is approaching tenderness but still has a little too much bite, add the squash to the pan.  Keep adding broth until the rice is al dente (just barely firm, but not sticking to your teeth when you chew).  You may not need all of the broth.

5.  Remove risotto from the heat and stir in the cheese.  Taste, and add salt as desired.  (I only added about 1/4 tsp of salt to ours, because the broth I used was a little salty to begin with.)  Grind in some fresh black pepper.  Just before serving, stir in the chopped basil.  Serve with a sprinkling of parmigiano on top, if desired.  (Around here, it is definitely desired.)


I am one of those people who like leftovers.  But I don't like most leftovers more than once, so even though Larry jokes that I can't cook for less than twelve people, I usually make enough for the two of us to have dinner and then lunch.  That works out well, because my only other lunch option is the school cafeteria, and that's not really an option in my opinion.  I could order out, but most of the places that deliver aren't worth the money or calories.

Occasionally, our leftovers wind up as dinner again, or as in the case of this morning, a new breakfast idea.  Every time I opened the fridge yesterday, the polenta stared accusingly at me.  "I'm going to go bad and you're going to waste food if you don't do something with me soon."  I can't stand wasting food--it makes me crazy.  The polenta apparently knew this. 

Sitting next to the polenta was the braised Swiss Chard I'd made for dinner last night.  My dad had just called and told me about the Eggs Benedict he'd made for dinner, so Candadian Bacon, layering and eggs were on my mind...and you know in this house we had Canadian Bacon.  Hello.  Pork product.

Thus Polenta, Chard, and Egg Stacks were born hatched. This would be a lovely brunch offering; even making it all from scratch wouldn't be too complicated.  You'd just need to make the polenta the day before, so it could set up and you could cut it into rounds (or slabs...I was just feeling fancy).

Polenta, Chard, and Egg Stacks
by Me     (serves 2-6, depending on what you serve it with and how hungry everyone's flexible)
Warning:  this is an apron-wearing recipe

olive oil
2 1/2 cups cooked, cold polenta, spread in pan while still warm, about 1-1 1/2 in. thick*
2 cups braised chard (recipe to follow)
eggs, the number depending on how many you're serving (one for each polenta round)
Candadian bacon slices, the number depending on how many you're serving (one for each polenta round)
salt and pepper

1.  Preheat oven to its lowest setting/warm.  Have a sheet pan pre-heating.  Warm 2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, until you can smell the oil but it's not smoking.  Cut the polenta into rounds, (I used 2") one or two per person.  Gently place the polenta rounds in the oil; stand back because it will probably splatter.  Fry until the polenta are golden, about 2-3 minutes, and then flip and repeat.  As the rounds are ready, put them in the oven on the sheet pan.

2.  Lightly brown the Canadian bacon on each side, one slice for each polenta round.  Place them on the polenta in the oven.  Top with 1/4 cup of chard--the oven will warm it if it's cold.  Return to oven.

3.  Wipe out the skillet, coat with cooking spray, and fry the eggs to your desired stage, lightly salt-and-peppering each egg.  Top each polenta stack with an egg. 

Braised Chard

olive oil
1 bunch washed Swiss Chard, stems cut off and sliced 1/2 inch thick, leaves chopped--stems and leaves separated  (any color is fine; mine was red, hence the ruby-colored puddle in the picture)
1/2 large sweet onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 clove garlic,  peeled and minced
salt and pepper
squeeze of orange or lemon juice, or shot of balsamic vinegar

1.  Heat a large skillet with olive oil over medium heat.  When you can smell the oil, add the onion and chard stems.  Saute about 3 minutes, or until onions start to soften.  Add garlic, saute about 2 more minutes.  Add chard leaves and salt and pepper, and toss gently to coat.

2.  As chard leaves begin to wilt, add liquid of your choice, stir through, reduce heat to medium-low and cover skillet (aluminum foil works if your skillet doesn't have a lid).  Cook, stirring occasionally, until chard is meltingly tender, about 15-20 minutes.  If the pan seems dry, add water in 1/4 cup increments to keep it from drying out.

*Leave a comment if you're not sure what I'm talking about here, and I'll be happy to get back to you.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Citrus for Christmas, & Why We Can't Put Anything Else in the Fridge

I lived in Florida for almost 30 years, so it makes sense that anything citrus makes me happy.  From zest to juice to pulp to blossom, everything about this fabulous fruit sings.  Each Christmas, I ask for citrus from Florida, where much of my family still lives.  But I am a person of little faith.

What if the citrus gets lost in the mail?   What if they decide to buy me something different this year?

It starts with a small purchase at our local grocery store.  Then I have some shipped from an organic grove in Florida.  You know, just in case...   And then the gift 'o citrus gets here. 

Our fridge is usually pretty full, but around December it's ridiculous.  My husband, Larry, is very patient with this, since he knows how a salad of orange and grapefruit segments can banish my winter crankiness (at least for a few minutes) and he knows I'll look for new recipes to use up the, er, surplus.  Tonight's recipe was searched for with that in mind, and it is a keeper! 

Fennel, Quinoa, Orange, Walnut and Basil Salad
from Big Oven
(I halved most of the ingredients, and there was still plenty to serve four as a side dish.)
3 c cooked quinoa
1 c chopped fennel bulb
2 tb minced shallot
1 tsp grated lemon rind  (used all called for)
1 tsp grated orange rind (used all called for)
1/4 c chopped fresh basil* (used all called for)

2/3 c fresh orange juice
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp olive oil  (used all called for, and then drizzled on a little more)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
2 c orange sections
1/4 c chopped walnuts, toasted (used all called for)

1.  Mix first six ingredients in a large bowl (quinoa through basil).
2.  Whisk juices, oil, salt, pepper in a small bowl.
3.  Pour dressing over quinoa mix, stir to coat.  Add orange sections and walnuts, stir gently to combine.

*If you're not going to serve right away, wait until just before serving to chop and mix in basil, so it doesn't blacken.  The dressing slows it down, but doesn't prevent it.

Serve the quinoa salad with braised Swiss Chard and chicken "rollatini" with a quick lemon pan sauce(chicken breast pounded thin and rolled up around roasted red pepper, basil leaves, and goat cheese).  Or just serve it with a fork.  You might not miss the other stuff.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Summery Taste of Peppers, or Why I have two freezers

I would like to say that I grow copious amounts of bell peppers every summer, but people who actually know me might call me out for lying. I do seem successful with jalapenos, but bell peppers not so much.  Fortunately, our CSA grows plenty, and starry-eyed, I'm happy to help relieve them of their surplus each summer.  We eat a ton of them, and then I roast the rest, using one of two methods I read in the Fine Cooking June/July 2008 issue.  They freeze brilliantly. 

In that same Fine Cooking issue, there was a recipe for Fire-Roasted Pepper and Shrimp Fettucine with Toasted Garlic Breadcrumbs.  It's wonderful, but I didn't have any shrimp today.  What I did have was pancetta.  So I made this.  I think we like it better, which will not surprise most of my friends, who know that this is a pork fat house all the way.  Not a bad meal to have after shoveling out from under our fourth snow storm this month...

We followed it up with these, because, well, if you can't eat dessert after shoveling then why get out of bed in the morning?

I have to say that Black and White Cookies have never been my thing, but Black and White "Puffed Rice Cereal" Treats make a nice substitute.
Roasted Pepper and Pancetta Linguine with Toasted Garlic Breadcrumbs
(adapted from Fine Cooking, June/July '08)

1/4 to 1/3 pound of pancetta, cut into lardons
4 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic, divided
1 shallot, finely diced, divided
Finely grated zest of a lemon
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper (go easy on the salt because of the pancetta; you can always add more...salt or pancetta, for that matter!)
2 or 3 large red or orange bell peppers (see link below for roasting instructions; I'm sure it's blasphemy, but you could also just use jarred...), sliced into thin strips
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (or the ones in the fancy blue cardboard container...)
1/2 lb linguine  (you'll be reserving 1/2 cup pasta water)
3-4 cups loosely packed chopped arugula
2 large sprigs basil, coarsely chopped (do this at the last second so it doesn't blacken before you get it to the table)

1.  Heat 2 1/2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add half of garlic and shallots, and cook, stirring, until slightly softened.  Add breadcrumbs, toss to coat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until breadcrumbs are golden brown, about 3-4 minutes (but watch carefully).  Scrape into a bowl, sprinkle with lemon zest, salt and pepper, toss and reserve.  Wipe out the skillet and return to heat.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cook linguine until al dente.  Drain, and reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water.

2.  Add pancetta to skillet and cook until crispy and golden, about 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Using a slotted spoon, move pancetta to a bowl and reserve.  Pour off all but about 1 tsp. of fat from pan, and add 1 tbsp. of olive oil.  Add remaining garlic and shallots, and cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to soften, about 2 minutes.  Add pepper strips and toss to mix; sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Go easy on the salt, since the pancetta is salty.  Add 1/4 cup of reserved pasta water; lower heat to low.  Add linguine and arugula, and toss to wilt/coat.  Add remaining pasta water, toss to incorporate.  Chop basil, reserving some to sprinkle on top, and toss with pasta.  Add half of breadcrumb mixture; toss.

3.  Portion pasta into bowls or onto plates, sprinkle with remaining breadcrumbs, pancetta, and basil.  Yum.
(You'll have to join their Cook's Club online to view.)

Beets again?

Who knew five pounds of beets would feed us for a week? We have a ruby red soup in the fridge that is brilliant hot or cold, we had the Pepto Bismol colored Beets au Gratin, and now we've had Beet Salad with Citrus, Fennel, and Feta.

Which has to be the ugliest looking mess to ever come out of a kitchen, but tasted so zingy, I had to forgive it. Even if we hadn't eaten it all, there would have been no photos. So far nothing has been as photogenic as chocolate waffles. Which actually might have more to do with the photographer than anything else...

This salad is good when first mixed, but we had it with our lunch again today, and it was twice as good. The fennel was still crunchy, and the citrus had had time to work its juicy magic with the beets...yum.

I'm starting to think of beets as the apple of the root veggie world. Apples pair so well with so many things, and can go from hot to warm to cold; beets are the same. Things I love paired with beets:

*anything salty, like feta cheese
*toasted nuts, especially walnuts
*oranges and other slightly sweet citrus
*crunchy things, like walnuts above, and fennel
*a shot of vinegar
*other root veggies (duh), especially carrots and onions
*risotto, which I haven't made in a long time but is awesome

Don't get me wrong, beets will never replace tomatoes in my heart, but since most tomatoes right now greatly resemble anemic, red-colored plastic, beets it is! (Until I buy more chard. I love me some chard.)

Beet Salad with Citrus, Fennel, and Feta
(barely) adapted from Bon Appetit

2 large beets, any color                                            2.5 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 large oranges, skin and pith peeled away and segmented over a large bowl to catch the juice for the dressing
1/2 small fennel bulb, cored and very thinly sliced (don't kill yourself about the thinly)
1/4 cup chopped mint                                            1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped, toasted walnuts (the recipe called for hazelnuts, but I only like those in Nutella)
salt and pepper                                                      3/4 cup feta
finely chopped shallot, or chopped chives (I used chives; had some getting ready to go)

If roasting the beets (which I recommend, but boiled would be just fine) preheat the oven to 400. Place the beets on a double layer of foil drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, wrap tightly and roast for about 1 hour. Uncover, cool slightly, and peel. Cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

In the bowl with the orange juice, whisk in vinegar and remaining olive oil. Add all other ingredients and toss. If you want the feta to stay white, sprinkle it on right before serving. This is even better if the ingredients have time to meld.

Add a little color to your day...

Until I was about 28 or 29, I labored under the delusion that I didn't like beets. I can be forgiven for this mistake, since I thought they only came in cans; I don't think I saw a real beet until around then. In defense of my mom, most other kids my age probably never did, either. I'm not sure why I tried them again, but hooboy, I'm glad I did.

The greens are brilliant chopped up, sauteed with garlic, onions, olive oil, pine nuts, raisins, and orange zest; either as a side dish or tossed with whole wheat pasta (and maybe a little crispy pancetta, if you live in this house) as a meal. And those brilliant round, reddish purple globes...well. I used to think roasted was just fine thank you.

Silly girl.

Searching for something to do with our ton of remaining beets from our CSA, I came across this recipe from Bon Appetit. It's one of those "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" things. And really, any dish that looks like it's bathed in Pepto Bismol has got to be fun to eat, right? (Don't let the color turn you off. This recipe is brilliant.) I'd post a photo, but, well...we ate them all.

Beet Gratin from Bon Appetit

3 2 1/2-3 in diameter beets, trimmed and scrubbed                salt and pepper to taste
3/4 c heavy cream                              2 fresh mint sprigs, plus 1 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh mint reserved
1 smashed, peeled garlic clove (I used large pieces of chives instead, about 2 tbsp)
1/2 c crumbled feta

Preheat oven to 400. Place beets in a small baking dish. Add enough water to reach 1/4 inch. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with foil, bake til tender, about 50 minutes. (Alternatively, you can boil them for about an hour. I had roasted AND boiled in mine...not much of a difference.) Uncover carefully and let cool til you can handle; peel. Cut into 1/4 inch slices.

Adjust oven to 425. Bring cream, mint sprigs, garlic (or chives) to a boil. (Watch carefully, since volcanic cream is not a good thing.) Remove from heat, cover and let steep for 15 minutes.

Grease a 1.5 quart gratin or casserole dish. Arrange sliced beets in single layers, sprinkling salt and pepper to taste on each layer. Strain the cream mixture over the beets. Sprinkle with feta. Bake until the cream is bubbling and feta is browned in spots, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped mint, let stand 5 minutes.

Winter, revisited

Is it cheating to start my new blogging by copying and pasting something I posted in a note on Facebook?

Oh well.  Here it is:

Clearly, I'm going about this winter business all wrong. Gazing out the sliding glass door to the backyard this morning, staring at the sparkling white (two feet of remaining) snow and the brilliant blue sky, it occurred to me that my focus should be on the positives of winter, not the negatives. Yes, adding school days into June makes me deeply sad; anything that cuts into my time to hang out in the garden and dig in the dirt is at least a little problematic. But, there are things we can do in winter that we wouldn't even dream of doing in summer.

Like eat chocolate waffles for breakfast.

During the summer, who wants to stand in front of a steaming waffle iron for an hour making breakfast? (Well, unless they're jalapeno-corn-cheddar waffles, but that's a different note...) And dessert for breakfast is slightly less tempting when you can't hide behind ski pants and a parka. But on a winter morning when it's 10 degrees outside, I'm all about chocolate waffles. This recipe is from The Maple Syrup Cookbook by Ken Haedrich. The only two changes I made to it: doubled the amount of whole wheat flour and reduced the all-purpose flour by an equal amount, and used 2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate and 1 oz bittersweet chocolate. You'll notice there isn't actually any maple syrup in the recipe, but, um...who cares?!

Chocolate Waffles

1 1/3 cup a.p. flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c (1 stick) butter
3 oz semisweet chocolate, chips or bar; if bar, chopped
2 tbsp sugar
2 1/4 c milk
2 eggs, beaten until frothy and then poured into milk

1. Preheat a waffle iron and grease it lightly. Combine the flours, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Toss to mix. Set aside.

2. Combine the butter, chocolate, and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and melt over very low heat. Whisk to smooth, remove from heat, and whisk in milk mixture.

3. Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in the chocolate mixture, and blend just until everything comes together; watch out for floury lumps. Let the batter stand for a few minutes; it will thicken.

4. Cook the batter in the prepared waffle iron until crisp and golden; about two-three minutes. Keep warm in a low oven. (I used a heaping 1/4 cup of batter for each fourth of the waffle iron, but each waffle iron is different so play with the amount you add.)