Tag Archives: cooking for company

plenty: multi-vegetable paella

To celebrate my new job(!!), my in-laws took Andrew and I to one of my absolute favorite restaurants, Jose Andres’ Jaleo. This is how I finished a memorable night of tapas:

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Back in our apartment days/my unemployed-days, I often stayed up to watch Chef Andres’ PBS show Made In Spain. His dishes looked remarkable, and I was especially envious of his children digging their forks into the paella he made on their backyard grill. Unfortunately for me, his paella consisted of many meat-lover’s ingredients, assuring me I might go my entire life without experiencing paella. Paella, meaning “frying pan”, is a saffron-flavored Spanish dish made with varying combinations of rice, vegetables, meat, chicken, and seafood. Those last three key ingredients just don’t fit in to my picky palate.

Then I bought this beautiful book last year that has rocked my kitchen over and over and over. To continue my series featuring the brilliant cookbook Plenty, I’m first going to tease you with this upcoming pistachio couscous recipe from said Cookbook-That-Delivers-Every-Time (then we’ll talk paella).

I did not have paella rice (though I realized yesterday I had risotto rice hiding in my pantry all along. Out of complete desperation I used long-grain white rice (you could use jasmine or basmati, though basmati has a strong flavor). I know using long-grain white rice means my chances of shaking hands with Chef Andres are now as slim as ever, surely I have embarrassed the entire country of Spain. But people: this is still the best damn rice you’ll have in your life, so don’t let a little grain get you down. Yes there are numerous ingredients, but this is very, very special. Bring this one out for company.

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Multi-Vegetable Paella

from Plenty, serves 6

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, cut into strips

1/2 fennel bulb, cut into strips

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 bay leaves

1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

1/2 tsp. ground turmeric

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 cup short-grain paella rice (however, I used jasmine)

6  1/2 tablespoons sherry (I used sherry vinegar)

1 tsp. saffron threads

2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock

3/4 cup fava beans (fresh or frozen)

12 plum tomatoes, halved

5 small artichokes in oil from a jar, drained and quartered

15 pitted kalamata olives, crushed or halved

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

4 lemon wedges

Saute the veggies.

Heat up the olive oil in a paella pan, or a large shallow skillet, and gently soften the onion for 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and fennel and continue to cook on medium heat for about 6 minutes, or until soft and golden. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Add the spices and cook the rice.

Add the bay leaves, paprika, turmeric, and cayenne to the vegetables, and stir well. Then add the rice and stir thoroughly for 2 minutes before adding the sherry and saffron. Boil down for a minute, then add the stock and ⅓ teaspoon salt. Reduce the heat to the minimum and simmer very gently for about 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Do not cover the pan, and don’t stir the rice during the cooking.

(I omitted this step:) Meanwhile, pour plenty of boiling water over the fava beans in a bowl and leave for a minute, then drain well and leave to cool down. Now squeeze each bean gently to remove the skin and discard it.

Steam the vegetables.

Remove the paella pan from the heat. Taste and add more salt if needed, but without stirring the rice and vegetables much. Scatter the tomatoes, artichokes, and fava beans over the rice, and cover the pan tightly with foil. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Take off the foil with gusto to reveal this exquisite presentation. Scatter the olives on top of the paella and sprinkle with parsley. Remove the bay leaves and serve with wedges of lemon.

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Andrew and I haven’t been to Spain—yet—but this dish provided a divine cultural experience. We have been traveling abroad recently, more on that next time 😉

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the only exception

I’m not usually drawn to recipes that require specialty ingredient substitutions to make a dish healthier. Brewer’s yeast, soy cheese, nut cream—not my thing. I often find little other uses for expensive health alternatives.

Oh, but today’s cookie—a whole different (do-able) story.

Pear readers know not to bother visiting this spot for dessert recipes. It’s not that I don’t like desserts—if I could bake, I would eat the entire pan of whatever chocolate-y goodness popped out of my oven. Thankfully, I flop at nearly everything I bake, which means it’s easier to be healthy when there’s no cookies in the house.

Let’s also clarify something: ours is a healthy home, so I don’t really endorse daily cookie eating. Or recipes that call for funky ingredients and substitutions. BUT HERE’S WHERE I’M WILLING TO MAKE A PERMANENT EXCEPTION.

When Vegetarian Times magazine called this “The Heart-Healthiest Chocolate Chip Cookie in the World”—let’s say I was intrigued.

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I am an oatmeal-for-breakfast girl through and through (berries + cinnamon + honey = mmm mmm), and typically I would raise an eyebrow at you if you ever tried to put my breakfast in a dessert. But seriously, people: the exception.

Besides that this is deliciously chocolatey and moist, let’s talk nutrition facts for a sec. Take a Mrs. Fields’ Oatmeal Chocolate Chip (65 grams) made with butter, brown sugar, whole eggs, vanilla, salt and baking soda—standard cookie ingredients…

MRS. FIELDS                                   THIS COOKIE

280 calories                                      173 calories

13 g fat                                                 10 g fat

8 g sat. fat                                           3 g sat. fat

40 g carbs                                           21 g carbs

140 mg sodium                                122 mg sodium

35 mg cholesterol                           0 mg cholesterol

1 g fiber                                               2 g fiber

17 g sugar                                           12 g sugar

Two big points I take away from this cookie comparison is the fat content—both cookies are high in fat per serving, but the cookie with walnuts and oat flour has less saturated (artery-clogging) fat. The cookie here is also cholesterol free.

It is not time to start substituting cookies for breakfast or a nutritious snack, but this is a great dessert alternative for get-togethers—a huge hit among a crowd of family members that might have freaked if I mentioned the word “vegan”… With nine people in the house the weekend I cooked these in Delaware, they were gone by morning! This cookie is work, but not complicated work. This cookie is worth it.

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Note: I found oat flour in Giant’s “Natural” health aisle. (Does it drive anyone else bonkers that a commercial FOOD store has a single aisle devoted to “healthy” products?)

The Heart-Healthiest Chocolate Chip Cookies in the World

Vegetarian Times, February 2009

makes 30 cookies, active time: less than 30 minutes

3 Tbs. canola oil

2 cups walnuts

1 cup light brown sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1½ cups oat flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

2 cups rolled oats

3 3.5-oz. bars bittersweet or dark chocolate, chopped, or 12 oz. dark chocolate chips

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Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat 2 baking sheets with cooking spray, or line with parchment paper.

Blend walnuts in food processor 30 seconds, or until ground into a fine meal. Add canola oil, and blend 2 to 3 minutes more, or until mixture has the consistency of natural peanut butter, scraping down sides of food processor occasionally. Transfer to bowl.

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Whisk together brown sugar and ½ cup water in small saucepan, and bring mixture to a boil. Pour brown sugar mixture over ground walnut butter, add vanilla extract, and stir until no lumps remain.

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Whisk together oat flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in separate bowl. Stir oat flour mixture into walnut mixture. Cool 10 minutes. Fold in oats, then chocolate chips.

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Shape cookie dough into 2-inch balls, and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Flatten cookies with bottom of drinking glass dipped in water.

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Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until cookies begin to brown and tops look dry. Cool 3 minutes on baking sheets, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

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There aren’t too many desserts here, as baking is simply not my strong suit (ironic that I was employed as a baker four years ago…) Still, there are a few desserts I love to recreate. Find my galette, brown-butter krispies, fresh berry tart, watermelon bites, chocolate peanut-butter pie and more here.

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the can-can gratin

My food snobbery diminishes by the day. I like to think.

In the past eight months, I visited six food banks—even as recent as yesterday. I’m learning how they operate, feed, support, and educate the hungry working poor they serve. In two weeks, I get to demo “creative cooking with canned spinach” at an incredible food bank in Maryland with a strong Nutrition Education emphasis. It has me thinking about canned food—where and how it has a place in the American diet.

In my blog profile, I reference my soggy canned corn/green bean childhood. (Allow me to mention here that I was raised in a loving, stable, incredible family and blessed to have canned vegetables as my main complaint). Indeed, my fresh-food-filled adulthood has thus far proven crunchy and delightful. I love witnessing how many food banks are providing seasonal produce to their clients when there are abundant markets. They wisely save canned products for colder seasons. Some local food banks are even sorting canned produce by nutrient priority: orange vegetables, beans, low-sugar fruit, low-sodium soup.

Canned vegetables are not ideal: fresh and frozen are more nutrient-dense and contain less sodium. However, my feelings here resemble my feelings toward the organic-local movement. That’s great if you have access to fresh, local, organic foods. That’s seriously awesome you can afford it. I, in fact, envy this privilege—my farmer’s market has been beyond our budget for the past two years. Hunger is a real and prevalent problem for more Americans than we imagine. Yes, canned vegetables are more susceptible to BPA and sodium. But for thousands of families living within ten miles of me, rent payments and medical bills take precedence over seemingly invisible issues like BPA.

It’s important to note that I don’t believe for a minute economically disadvantaged families should have to choose between nutrition and every other financial matter. I find it appalling it’s often acceptable to donate our leftovers and junk food to “the poor”.

As I am turning my own home into a novice test-kitchen for interesting and healthy canned-food recipes, it only seems appropriate to revisit this dreamy artichoke gratin I made in Brennan and Alejandro’s kitchen. Oh yes, a gratin—pronounced gre-tan—from a can.

Artichoke Gratin

from Plenty, serves 4-6

2 pounds frozen artichoke hearts (sold out, so I used 32 oz. canned in water, rinsed well)
4 lemons, grate zest and reserve juice
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons thyme, chopped (the thyme is crucial!)
6 tablespoons flat-leafed parsley, chopped (I omitted the parsley)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (lower fat is great)
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup ricotta
6 tablespoons parmesan, grated 

Place frozen artichoke hearts in a large pot and cover with water. Add the lemon juice to the pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes or until tender. If using canned artichokes, no need to boil just rinse well. Drain.

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While artichokes are cooking, heat saute pan over medium heat and add olive oil. Add onions and some salt and pepper. Saute 15 minutes or until golden, stirring occasionally. Add cooked onions and artichoke hearts to a bowl and mix with lemon zest, thyme and parsley. Add salt and pepper as needed.

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Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat and then add the flour. Stir mixture constantly for 2 minutes. Add milk slowly, whisking as you pour. Add salt and whisk on low heat for 10 minutes or until sauce is thick and creamy. When the sauce coats the back of a spoon, it’s good to go—give it a taste (I like to add an extra tablespoon of parmesan into the sauce at this point).

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Mix bechamel—the groovy french word for the white sauce you just made—with the artichoke mixture.

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Lightly grease a medium-sized casserole dish and pour in mixture. Make small holes in mix and drop in teaspoons of ricotta. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

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Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees and remove foil. Top gratin with Parmesan. Continue baking for 20 minutes or until golden brown and bechamel bubbles. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Serve warm. Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

The thyme is a surprising match to the artichokes—and believe me canned vegetables deserve to be featured in such a decadent meatless entrée. Even Andrew and Alejandro—carnivores of carnivores—scarfed up spoonfuls. The best part? Company in the kitchen.

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For more recipes from the cookbook Plenty, check out this zucchini pasta and this unforgettable yogurt-pomegranate eggplant.

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the food of our forefathers

Let’s close our eyes and imagine this monumental moment in American history: It’s July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress closes its session for the day and John Adams takes a moment to write his dear Abigail:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, curried quinoa salad, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Yes, from our remarkable forefather, and determined by the democratic votes of dear Pear readers, this Fourth of July was one of cornhole, fireworks, and curried quinoa salad. You voted, I made it, neighbors loved it.

While a number of new foods and flavors crossed the Atlantic in the late eighteenth century, the combinations here were likely uncommon. If only I could time travel to Mr. Adams’ day and gift him with a subscription to Bon Appetit

curried quinoa salad with mango, bok choy, fourth of july

Curried Quinoa Salad with Mango

from Bon Appetit, makes 2 servings

1 cup quinoa (about 6 ounces)

1/4 cup canola oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon mango chutney, chopped if chunky

1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

2 cups chopped peeled mango (peaches are a perfect substitute)

1 cup chopped unpeeled English hothouse cucumber

5 tablespoons chopped green onions, divided

2 cups baby spinach, chopped

Note: I bought mango slices in the deli section, having not planned ahead for ripe mangos. I also recommend adding any or all of the following for extra sweet crunch: diced peaches, dried fruit (apricots or cranberries), red bell pepper.

It is important to rinse quinoa well before cooking. (I used the steam method and found it makes the quinoa too gummy). Cook quinoa in medium pot of boiling salted water (I used chicken broth for flavor) over medium heat until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Drain well and cool.

curried quinoa salad with mango, quinoa, le cruset, purple

Transfer to medium bowl.

curry powder, mango dressing

whisk, whisking dressing, blue bowl

Whisk oil and next 4 ingredients in small bowl to blend. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

chopped mango, spring onion, scallion

diced cucumbers

dried apricots, chopped

Add chopped mango, cucumber, green onions, any other fruits and veggies you are including, and 1/4 cup dressing to quinoa; toss to coat. Divide spinach between 2 plates. Spoon quinoa salad over spinach. Drizzle with remaining dressing and serve. Or, toss it all together in a big bowl and serve the next day!

curried quinoa salad, mango, red pepper, scallion, dried apricot

I spent my Independence day crying to Mao’s Last Dancer, painting furniture for my music room, and serving this salad to new friends. (Even my father-in-law loved this salad!) How did you celebrate?

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kitchen block, help!

Some holidays are at the beach with my folks, others are here in (hot, storm-struck) Virginia. This year it’s the latter, meaning I will not be parading the boardwalk with this modest portion of vinegar-soaked potatoes.

french fries, Gus boardwalk fries, beach, Rehoboth

No matter where I am, I’m cooking. Every Fourth of July, I am tempted to repeat this nutty fruit tart from Vegetarian Times magazine. It is about my favorite dessert ever. Then, out of the corner of my eye, there they are: The Cookbooks. By the dozen on my kitchen shelf, filled with recipes yet to make.

Last year, two hours before heading to a neighborhood cookout, I decided to make something. With few groceries in the fridge, and that tiny kitchen apartment, I resorted to making crackers. Salty blue cheese and walnut crackers.

How did July 1 arrived so fast! At least I’ve still got a few days to plan this year. With the summer off from school and time on my side, I’ve got writer’s kitchen block: so you decide. Fair and square, the dish with the most votes by Tuesday night will rinsed and on the (literal) chopping block Wednesday morning. And I’ll be right back to tell you about it.

Don’t worry, there is plenty more from Plenty to which we’ll return after the holiday!

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plenty: the mighty eggplant

I’m limited in many of the cookbooks of my shelf; vegetarian entrées are less than a third of each book. Imagine my delight when I opened this new cookbook to 120 main course vegetarian recipes. Yes, I coveted Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cookbook Plenty since Christmas when it popped up on all my favorite food blogs.

Consider this new series a reader’s guide to Plenty. The book is packed with abundant photos and paragraphs, the latter of which can appear daunting. When I received the Peter Gorden’s book Salads from a co-worker, I thought I had to roast an entire red onion to use 1 tsp onion juice in the final dressing. It took many years growing comfortable in the kitchen to realize how I could create the dish without four hours devoted to “leaving tomatoes in the sun”. To the discerning palette, some of these steps make a world of difference; the rest of us work and want to get dinner on the table before midnight. I will walk you through some of Plenty’s recipes (four this week alone!) and hope to take the intimidation out of 600-word recipes.

If you purchased Plenty, or plan to, it is surely inspired by the cover photo: roasted eggplants blanketed in a creamy sauce and sparkling pomegranate seeds like jewels. It looks remarkably elegant and utterly original. It is. And it is so do-able, you need to make this  tomorrow—impress the heck of out your friends. I ate my last eggplant the next day, dressed to the nines and refrigerated overnight: it held up perfectly and was delightful cold. (Good thing, since yogurt does not heat well). The ease of achieving this dish: slice, roast, and dress the eggplant for a memorable evening.

Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce

from Plenty, serves four as a starter

2 large and long eggplants (firm and unblemished)

1/3 cup olive oil

1 1/2 tsp thyme leaves, plus a few whole sprigs to garnish

1 pomegranate (or package of pomegranate seeds)

1 tsp za’atar (or equal parts dried oregano, thyme, sesame seeds—crushed)

Sauce:

9 tbsp buttermilk

1/2 cup Greek yogurt (I purchased a single serving yogurt cup)

1 1/2 tbsp olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish

1 small garlic clove, minced (on a microplane or like this)

Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the eggplants in half lengthways, cutting straight through the green stalk (the stalk is for the look; don’t eat it).

Use a small sharp knife to make three or four parallel incisions in the cut side of each eggplant half, without cutting through to the skin. (I made a few too many! didn’t make a difference) Repeat at a 45-degree angle to get a diamond-shaped pattern.

Place the eggplant halves, cut-side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush them with olive oil—keep on brushing until all of the oil has been absorbed by the flesh.

Sprinkle with the thyme leaves and some coarse salt and pepper.

Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, at which point the flesh should be soft, flavorful and nicely browned. I increased the heat to 475°F the last five minutes to achieve the proper color. Remove from the oven and allow to cool down completely.

A delightful za’atar substitute from The Internet: crush 1 tsp. dried oregano, 1 tsp. leftover fresh thyme, 1 tsp. sesame seeds.

if you can’t find packaged pomegranate seeds:

While the eggplants are in the oven, cut the pomegranate into two horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl, with the cut side against your palm, and use the back of a wooden spoon or a rolling pin to gently knock on the pomegranate skin. Continue beating with increasing power until the seeds start coming out naturally and falling through your fingers into the bowl. Once all are there, sift through the seeds to remove any bits of white skin or membrane. For the visual learner.

To make the sauce: Whisk together all of the ingredients. Taste for seasoning, then keep cold until needed.

To serve, spoon plenty of buttermilk sauce over the eggplant halves without covering the stalks. Sprinkle za’atar and plenty of pomegranate seeds on top and garnish with thyme. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

What would YOU serve alongside this eggplant extravaganza? share in the comment section.

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the other white meat

Last weekend, we ventured to Delaware to celebrate Pop’s birthday. What could I cook for him? I needed a second dinner request when his favorite “bratwurst and and sauerkraut” sounded less crowd-friendly. Second pick: Pork chops. Andrew was concerned, having only had dry, flavorless pork chops. I’d never even seen a pork chop, but surely it’s all a matter of the right recipe?

It is indeed. Thank you, Gourmet magazine.

This was a fast, flawless meat dish. Because it’s a striaghtforward recipe, and sometimes that’s what really makes great cooking. The carnivores in my family agreed this was genuinely better than any restaurant chop they had ever experienced. And this is a do-able dinner: sear it, roast it, sauce it.

Pan-Roasted Pork Chops with Cranberry Reduction

tweaked from Gourmet, 2001

For the pork chops

4 (1 1/4-inch-thick) rib pork chops

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the sauce

2 medium shallots, grated on the large holes of a box grater

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 cup unsweetened dried cranberries

3/4 cup chicken stock or broth

3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried, crumbled

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled until added at the end

Before you begin, place the dried cranberries in the chicken stock to plump up for the sauce. 

Cook the pork chops: Pat chops dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in your largest skillet over moderately high heat until very hot but not smoking. Heat the pan for at least a minute to caramelize the meat. Brown the chops, leaving untouched for about 3 minutes per side.

If the chops are a tight fit in the pan, brown just two at a time or use two skillets.

Transfer skillet to oven and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally 2 inches into meat registers 155°F, 7 to 9 minutes. Check the internal temperature at 6 minutes so the meat does not overcook.

Transfer chops with tongs to a platter, leaving fat in skillet, and cover chops loosely with foil to keep warm.

in the same skillet…

Make the sauce: This sauce may sound fussy, but having all the ingredients ready to go in the skillet just means pour, stir, pour, stir until the sauce reduces and thickens. Only a few minutes.

Sauté shallots in fat remaining in skillet over moderately high heat, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes.

Add wine and deglaze by boiling over high heat, scraping up brown bits, until reduced by half.

Add cranberries and stock and simmer, stirring occasionally, until cranberries begin to swell, about 2 minutes.

Stir in brown sugar and thyme and simmer, stirring about 3 minutes more minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in butter until incorporated, then season with salt and pepper.

Don’t worry my fellow vegetarians, the accompanying creamed spinach is up next! Indulgent, yes, but it made a few spinach converts. Pops included 😉

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sweet nothings

Last time, I was talking about a sweet discovery. Today, I offer another—an indulgent recipe this nutrition student makes once every other year 😉 Because there is nothing nutritious about this dessert—perhaps dessert’s very definition? I served this as an easy end to a gourmet family dinner. This was everyone’s facial response to my announcement:

Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats

Smitten Kitchen, makes 16 2-inch squares or 32 1- x 2-inch small bars

4 ounces (1/4 pound or 1 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for the pan

1 10-ounce bag marshmallows

1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt

6 cups Rice Krispies cereal (use slightly less than half a 12-ounce box)

Butter (or coat with non-stick spray) an 8-inch square cake pan with 2-inch sides. I use a 9 x 13 glass pyrex.

In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty.

Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Don’t take your eyes off the pot as while you may be impatient for it to start browning, the period between the time the butter begins to take on color and the point where it burns is often less than a minute.

As soon as the butter takes on a nutty color, turn the heat off and stir in the marshmallows. The residual heat from the melted butter should be enough to melt them, but if it is not, turn it back on low until the marshmallows are smooth.

Remove the pot from the stove and stir in the salt and cereal together.

Quickly spread into prepared pan. Use a buttered piece of waxed or parchment paper to press it firmly and evenly into the edges and corners.

Let cool, cut into squares, get ready to smile. Ah, nostalgia.

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street food: fritters!

I didn’t like meat growing up. I thought this surely meant a life of alternating peanut-butter and grilled cheese sandwiches. Then in college, Anna introduced me to the wonder that is Indian food–only to be followed by my love and exploration of many ethnic foods. Hellllllllo falafel.

One bite of this fried chickpea patty and you’ll understand why I planned my entire budget birthday around this delight. Serve it traditionally in pita (the “Israeli hamburger” said my friend Johanna) and drizzle with a store-bought yogurt sauce like tzatziki. Or let it accompany a knockout mixed grain dish.

A food processor is best for making this dish in a pinch: mix, chill, fry. That’s it!

My Favorite Falafel

tweaked from Joan Nathan, The Foods of Israel Today 

1 cup dried chickpeas OR 2 15-oz. cans

1/2 large onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

1 teaspoon salt

1/2-1 teaspoon dried cayenne

4 cloves of garlic

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon baking powder

4-6 tablespoons stone-ground white corn meal (or flour)

Grapeseed or vegetable oil for frying

Prep the Mixture

Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Let soak overnight, then drain. Or use canned chickpeas, drained.

Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas and the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt, cayenne, garlic, and cumin. Pulse until just evenly chopped.

Sprinkle in the baking powder and 4 tablespoons of the flour (or cornmeal—I found the cornmeal achieves the perfect crunchy exterior), and pulse. You want to add enough cornmeal or flour so that the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Do not overmix, or the falafel will be tough. Leave a little chunky.

Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours. I’ve found one hour sufficient, but you could also prep the mixture the night before.

Fry the Falafel

Form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size of walnuts—squashing into a disc fries faster and makes for easier sandwiches. Heat 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees in a deep pot or wok and fry 1 ball to test.

If it falls apart, add a little flour. Then fry about 6 balls at once for a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown. I find they fry well if lowered gently into the oil with a chinese strainer. Drain on paper towels. Falafel does not absorb oil, so it is not a greasy food—despite being fried.

Joan Nathan’s tips:

Stuff half a pita with falafel balls, chopped tomatoes, onion, green pepper, and pickled turnips. Drizzle with tahina thinned with water.

Tahina is an oily paste made from ground sesame seeds. It is available in Middle Eastern markets and at www.ethnicgrocer.com.

To garnish your falafel in true Israeli style, try adding one or several of the following condiments: harissa hot sauce, pickled turnip (both also available at www.ethnicgrocer.com), mango amba (pickle), or sauerkraut.

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March 12, 2012 · 2:53 pm

family dinner

Like my recent bean posts, today we’re talking about discovering new foods on my journey to be a Less Picky Eater. You say picky, I say vegetarian. Tomato, tomahto.

There are people who think they are not squash people. I did not grow up a squash person, only the occasional zucchini—which, I’m sorry, hardly counts. It was only three years ago I ventured into acorn squash (halved and roasted as cheesy basmati bowls), butternut, and mostly recently spaghetti squash.

I love that you can purchase butternut squash pre-cut in the grocer’s deli section (it makes this recipe a breeze). Despite my sharpest knife, I have nearly severed limbs attempting to break into that son-of-a-gourd. A few dollars more, this is true, but I find the cost of pre-cut butternut squash absolutely worth the 20 minutes, tears, and blood loss that accompanies the raw gargantuan gourd.

This is a spectacular, I mean truly remarkable soup worth adding to your repertoire. There are few dishes I make twice (too many new recipes bookmarked!), and this has already become one of them. It has two steps—roasting and blending—six ingredients, and can feed a grateful crowd without a drop of sweat on your end.

I recently served this for the entire family to accompany my favorite asparagus ravioli in brown butter sauce. Andrew does not consider himself a fan of squash or mushrooms, but he always gobbles this up with compliments to the chef (c’est moi). Pops, also not a known for a squash preference, took home the leftover soup! As Kramer would say: Oh mama.

Roasted Squash Shittake Soup

adapted slightly from Martha Stewart, serves 4 as an entrée, 8 as an appetizer

2 3/4 lb. butternut squash, pre-cut into 2-inch pieces

1 onion, peeled and quartered through the stem

4 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps wiped clean with a paper towel

4 small garlic cloves, unpeeled

olive oil

5 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium vegetable stock (I love Pacific Organic)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine squash cubes, onion, mushrooms, and unpeeled garlic on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with enough olive oil just to coat (about 1/2 cup) and 2 teaspoons salt (sea salt or Kosher). Toss and spread in a single layer. Divide onto two baking sheets if needed; there should be space between all the vegetables or they will steam and not brown.

Roast until squash is tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 30 minutes, rotating pan and tossing vegetables halfway through. Let cool, then remove skins from the garlic by squeezing out the pulp.

Transfer vegetables to a medium saucepan; heat over medium. Pour in 2 cups stock; puree with an immersion blender until smooth (or you can do this in an upright blender, transferring the veggies straight from the oven to the blender).

With the blender running, slowly add remaining 3 cups stock, and puree until smooth. (If serving later, refrigerate in the pot at this point). Bring soup just to a simmer. Remove from heat, and season with salt and pepper. Cover to keep warm.

A brief bit about broth: I used vegetable broth upon the first trial of this soup, and while I usually do not prefer the flavor it did work well here. I used chicken broth on the most recent batch, and while the different was subtle, I preferred the vegetable broth. Moral of the story, use either.

For what soup was your grandmother best known?

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Filed under dinners, health, techniques, the basics