Tag Archives: things to do with a microplane

a little chick[pea] told me…

…that you must try Indian food. When I brought my homemade Indian leftovers to work and opened the container to release cumin and tomato-scented steam throughout the teacher’s lounge, there were two, predictable, reactions:

reaction no. 1

“Oh my gosh, is that homemade Indian food? Oh I love chana masala, one of my favorites! That smells so good!”

reaction no. 2

[initially nonverbal; glances down the nose towards my reddish-brown pile of garbanzos, followed by:] “I’ve never liked curry. My mother never liked curry, either. I simply can’t stand the flavor of curry.”

the curry myth

I cannot count how many times I have been told “I don’t like Indian because I don’t like curry” everywhere I go. Interestingly, this remark always comes from the same demographic. I imagine post-WWII mothers in the kitchen, their daughters eyeing the cake in the oven while they learn important Lady Life Lessons: keeping one’s knees together in a skirt, crossing at the ankles, and lastly, “You might hear of a thing called ‘curry’, dear. Avoid it, it’s rather unpleasant.”

Curry is a meat, vegetable, or fish dish with spiced sauce and rice or bread. In Britain, where chicken tikka masala is the national dish, “curry” is often a generic descriptor for all Indian food. However, the word curry describes more of a soup or stew, it is not a particular ingredient. Curry powder is a spice mixture developed by the British to make Indian food at home. Curry powder can range from 5 to 20 ingredients, and you will not see it in today’s recipe. Think of seasoned salt or dried Italian seasoning: convenient? yes. traditional? no.

the yellow spice tumeric will stain, watch out!

Like the most recent post on my very favorite Indian dish, Palak Paneer, or spinach with fried cheese, this is a very mild dish you could make spicy if you like. I’m a wimp.

Chana masala is a Northern Indian chickpea stew with tomatoes; masala refers to spices in a thick sauce for rice or flatbread.

Unpretentious, economical (canned chickpeas, canned tomatoes, dried spices!) and even better the next few days.

Chana Masala

(slightly adapted) from Smitten Kitchen

1 tablespoon vegetable/olive oil
2 medium onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced (on your microplane)
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (on your microplane)
1 fresh, hot green chili pepper, minced (optional; I use half a can of TJ’s mild fire-roasted green chili)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (I use a quarter of this because cayenne is extremely hot)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 15-ounce can of whole tomatoes with their juices, chopped small
2/3 cup water
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 lemon (juiced)

fresh cilantro (optional)

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion, garlic, ginger and peppers and sauté over medium heat until browned, about 5 minutes.

Turn heat down to medium-low and add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, cumin seeds, paprika and garam masala. Cook onion mixture with spices for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes with juices, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the pan. Add the water and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, then stir in salt and lemon juice. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro, if you’ve got it.

Serve over basmati rice (click here for a flawless recipe) and buttery flatbread (click here for our top freezer-section pick). And do write back about your culinary experimentations!

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eastern essentials

For readers already infatuated with Indian cuisine, skip ahead. Once you discover the sensation that is Indian food, you’ll see how silly for me to go about explaining things. Whatever misconceptions you might have about “curry”, “spicy food”, and other notions about unfamiliar combinations, you leave them right here in this opening paragraph and we’ll move on together. No looking back.

In your mental skillet, imagine olive oil glistening over the heat. Smell the garlic, onion, and ginger crackling and golden. Toss in some seeds and colorful spices–mild in every way but flavor.  Stir in tomatoes, chicken, eggplant, spinach—whatever your favorite entrée. Simmer into a sauce to pour over fluffy, fragrant basmati and scoop up with rich buttery Indian flatbread.

Basic ingredients, new combinations. Not spicy, but well-spiced.  Vibrant, unforgettable food that redefines flavor. Not so scary, eh?

Because we’re starting simple, I’m going to divide yesterday’s Indian feast into two posts. Let’s begin with Palak Paneer: creamy (though creamless) spinach and onion sauce with cubes of fried cheese. Tell me that appeals to abundant cultural palettes?

Though Indian cuisine embraces rich sauces and flavor more complex than any other, the ingredients are often in your freezer and pantry. This traditional recipe for Palak Paneer is phenomenal, and a new jar of Garam Masala in the spice cabinet might be the only ingredient unique to your dinner. Garam Masala is a spice blend with ground coriander, cumin, cloves, and cinnamon—most grocery stores now carry it with everyday spices.

Paneer is Indian cheese, whole milk that has simply been strained. It has little flavor (since it’s just cow’s milk) and does not melt, making it perfect for frying in olive oil and simmering in sauces. You can purchase it at Whole Foods, at some Trader Joes, and ethnic markets. If you can’t find paneer, you can use chicken or another protein, though the sauce alone is perfect with a side starch. I have not tried substituting Haloumi cheese (with very similar properties), and I bet it would be wonderful.

a fast method to chop cilantro: just scrape your knife along the stems in a downward motion

The nice thing about preparing Palak Paneer—at least the way I learned it in my Indian cuisine cooking class—is you blend all the sautéed ingredients, meaning you don’t have to spend your time on such precise chopping.Traditional Indian food is rarely finicky about technique or measurement, delightfully simple to make. One of many reasons to add it to your repertoire.

Palak Paneer (Spinach with Cheese)

loosely based on Rosy’s recipe from AllRecipes.com, and what I remembered from my Indian cooking class

2 tbsp. olive oil (or 1 tbsp. oil, 1 tbsp. butter)

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (on your microplane)

1/2 teaspoon toasted cumin seed

1 (3 inch) piece ginger, peeled and minced (on your microplane)

2 teaspoons garam masala

1 teaspoon salt

1 large onion, chopped

1 cup water, or as needed

10 to 16 oz. (give or take) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

1 pound paneer, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (Finnish Frying Cheese or Halloumi are great substitutes)

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

juice of half a lemon 

Before you start on the Palak Paneer, start cooking your rice so they’ll finish at the same time. Click here for my recipe on authentic basmati.

the sauce

Heat oil/butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in garlic and cumin seed; cook until the garlic softens, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger, 1 teaspoon garam masala, salt, onion, and water. Increase heat to medium and simmer until the water reduces a bit. Don’t hesitate to add more water to keep a sauce-like consistency.

Stir in spinach and cook until hot, about 5 minutes. Transfer to an immersion or upright blender and blend with the lemon juice, adding more water if needed.

the cheese

In the same pan (if nonstick), add the cubes of paneer to one tablespoon of hot vegetable oil. Using tongs, turn them as they develop a flavorful crispy crust.

how easy is that?

Add paneer to the sauce, heating an additional 5 minutes, or until hot. Pour into a serving dish and sprinkle with cilantro and remaining garam masala. Taste and add a pinch of salt, if needed. Serve over rice (here’s how I make it every time), or scoop up with Naan—traditional Indian flatbread. Pita, though not authentic, would work wonderfully. Andrew and I have not been impressed with any of the plastic-packaged Naan near the grocery store bakeries—uck, save your money. Trader Joes has the best Naan in their freezer section.

Next time: Chana Masala, chickpeas with tomatoes. Please, please share your questions and successes in the comment section. I know plenty of you out there excited for an excuse to try something completely new. Welcome.

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you deserve it

We’re on the eve of A Pear to Remember’s first blogiversary, and there’s so many delicious things to discuss. Yes, I’m back into my next semester, meaning weekly updates here must come after homework… 

In other news, I must soon tell you about judging a local Iron Chef competition last night, and tonight’s triumphant Thursday meal—celebrating the first night in my own kitchen for a whole week!

But let’s get down to business. Yes, you need a food processor (we’ve talked about this), but two-minute silky sorbet? Such a treat, o loyal readers, I would make it for you myself in a heartbeat. Lacking technology to do so at the present time, please accept this foolproof recipe with my gratitude.

A new world opens from a bag of frozen fruit. Who would have thought? I’m always discouraged that frozen recipes require an ice-cream maker; with delight, I tore this out of a magazine in the teacher’s lounge. It made our night. (That, and a crackling fire.)

Raspberry Sorbet with Fresh Whipped Cream

Martha Stewart Living, serves four

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp. sugar

1 bag (12 oz.) frozen raspberries or 3 cups fresh raspberries, frozen

1/2 cup heavy cream

zest of one lemon (lindsey’s addition)

Stir together water and 1/4 cup sugar until sugar dissolves. (If using sugar-in-the-raw or coarse turbinado sugar like this cook, a whisk is helpful).

Pulse raspberries in a food processor until coarsely chopped. (If using, add a few pinches of lemon zest.) With machine running, pour in sugar-water; pulse until mixture is smooth. Oh, did I mention this happens in about 70 seconds?

 Transfer to an airtight container, and freeze until firm, about 30 minutes. (Honestly, the temperature and consistency was perfect right away—in case you can’t resist).

I put my glass container in the freezer while processing the berries, to speed things along.

an electric whisk means homemade whipped cream in seconds

Whisk cream and remaining tablespoon of sugar until soft peaks form. If using, add the rest of your lemon zest here.

Scoop sorbet into 4 glasses and top with whipped cream. Because the combination is so divine, I stirred the sorbet and cream together with a toothpick for presentation. Oh friends, you will. not. believe. this.

Easy. Five ingredients. Inexpensive. Darn impressive.

thanks for reading.

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soap salad

We can’t start chatting about this delicious cilantro rice salad without getting into genetics. Yes, cilantro is a controversial herb for good reason: we humans have a genetic disposition determining our cilantro experience. Some of us enjoy its lemony freshness, while others find its flavor uterrly identical to that of soap. Unlike blue cheese or kale or pine nuts, cilantro is not an acquired taste.

Those whose tastebuds insist on such prejudice have joined together on this wacky world web to create I Hate Cilantro.com. Really, they are an anti-cilantro community; I’m trying not to take it personally.

I picked up this gorgeous grafitti eggplant to accompany a bunch of cilantro and basmati dish. It’s that time of the month when we’re trying to use up all those stock items in our pantry and freezer. And we always have bags of brown and white basmati. We voted on brown tonight, knowing it was better for us and could justify brownie baking later in the evening. If you’re not into brown rice, a textured rice salad like this one really takes rice to another level. This recipe involves cumin and coriander seeds—ingredients I always keep around for my Indian cuisine nights. Since coriander seeds, however, are cilantro infants, I would be curious how the cilantro-haters tolerate this tasty seed?

You’ll find this lovely rice photographed alongside our meat/meatless mains: truly tasty grilled dishes on our (stunning cobalt blue) 12″ cast-iron grill pan.

Warm Herbed Coriander Rice Salad

from Gourmet, serves 4

  • 1 cup long-grain brown basmati rice, rinsed well
  • 1 3/4 cups cold water (use low-sodium chicken broth instead)
  • 3 tablespoons olive/vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, slightly crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, slightly crushed
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (on your microplane!)
  • 2 medium zucchini (1 1/4 pound), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup chopped mixed herbs such as cilantro, parsley, and mint (just used cilantro here)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup pecans (2 ounces), toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)
This is both a low-fuss and budget-friendly meal. And may I take a moment to mention that Andrew, who has little reverence for zucchini, noted it was a “nice touch” in this dish? You heard it here. 

Bring rice and water to a boil with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Cover and cook over low heat until water is absorbed and rice is tender, about 40 minutes. Let stand, covered, 10 minutes.

While rice is standing, cook coriander and cumin seeds in remaining 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and a shade darker, 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic, zucchini, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until zucchini is crisp-tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Toss zucchini mixture with rice, herbs, lemon juice, pecans, and salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, I cut half a medium eggplant into half-inch slices, brushed both sides with olive olive and sprinkled with coarse salt (needed for all the moisture in aubergines). I grilled on a medium-low heat so the slices could cook through. So rich.
 
Andrew thawed deveined shrimp in cool water for 20 minutes, then brushed with olive oil, salt and fresh pepper before grilling on medium-high. Of course, these crustaceans cooked up in no time—with a golden caramelized skin.
In my humble opinion, it’s really a toss up which is more gorgeous: the color of the shrimp or that spectacular grill pan?
 
I realize 40-minute rice sounds like quite a time committment on a weeknight, but the simmering time allows just enough opportunity to get all your other things done (switch into slippers, prep the side dishes, turn on some pleasant background noise, pour a nice glass of [preferred beverage]).
 
While grilling is an efficient way to cook, it’s delicious because of the intense heat caramelizing the surface of your ingredients. If you also have a snow storm in the forecast and can’t get out to your grill—or don’t yet own one of these handy stovetop pans—you can still achieve similar results.
Roasting shrimp and veggies with 1 tbsp olive oil at 450 F is another quick-cooking method for deep flavors. A metal cookie sheet is all you need. (Click here for my 6-minute shrimp.)
More on the brownies later… I’ll tell you how they taste after they’ve cooled (said the cook, counting the minutes).

For my earlier post on Perfect Basmati Rice Every Time, click here.

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top [tooth]picks

Kitchen essentials in this wee place do indeed include toothpicks, serving only as one more thing to knock off the top of the fridge upon retrieving the flour. But as we approach the post-holiday season of abundant sales, why not share some handy cooking tools? Who says only Julie Andrews and Oprah get to publicly list My Favorite Things?

I’m meeting all kinds of new cooks every day—even encounters like sweet Anja today at Williams-Sonoma—who share the same despair as so many friends. “Lindsey, I don’t know how to cook, what to cook, or where to start.” This blog is meant to be full of resources, not big secrets. Effective tools certainly help make beautiful food happen. Here are some basics for any cook, especially starters:

My Favorite Kitchen Things

A chef’s knife. Lots of people are scared of these especially long sharp cutlery, perhaps assuming they’re only for people who know what to do with a slab of steak.

Little knives cannot get the job done. A chef’s knife crushes teeny garlic cloves and removes the thick skin from butternut squash, chops onion and slices through filet. 

Trust me, for your own safety: you need a wide, very sharp knife. You want something to glide through the onion, rather than slide off the skin and send you to the ER, your detached thumb in a baggie of ice.

I’ve tried a number of knives and found (in my limited cooking years) nothing, nothing more reliable than the Furi Gusto Grip Basics. I could chop all day with this vibrant silicone-coated grip without hand fatigue. Not only does it stay sharper longer than any other knives rotating through our rack, but it is comfortable beyond belief. Oh, and it was $6. Mom eyed it for me at Ross, and I see the entire set of Furi knives all the time at Home Goods. You can click here to find the 7″ version for $19 on amazon. Somewhere around 7 inches is ideal for an all-purpose knife. Quality chef’s knives can be hundreds of dollars, and there are an endless array of crappy inexpensive ones available, too. My Furi has served me well, and it’s easily the only knife you need. (Store safely in one of these, I purchased mine at Target).

Kitchen shears. You can find these guys anywhere, from Target to the highest-end kitchen store. Kitchen shears revolutionize chicken prep—cutting fat, removing bones, or chopping tenderloin. They’re also an easy-breezy way to chop herbs or shred lettuce. The best thing about them—beyond endless function—is how easily they detach to sanitize in the dishwasher.

A knife sharpener. Sharp knives are safe knives. No matter your chopping frequency, maintaining your knife-life is crucial to preventing hand fatigue. I bought this one for $12 about two years ago and it is a wonderful and ultimately practical tool. In our teeny kitchen, we like to avoid cluttering the cabinets with once-a-year gadgets. This is one serious exception. Did I mention it also sharpens kitchen scissors?

A fine mesh over-the-sink colander. Okay, it seems presumptuous to list my brand-new colander-of-five-days as a must-have. I’ve only used it twice. But there’s a reason I’ve been wanting one for ages. I’m telling you that a very fine strainer is crucial for rinsing the starch from rice (which you must do!) and also straining any size pasta. Does anyone else lose angel hair down the sink to those large-hole colanders?? Having a large, fine strainer is a perfect all-purpose tool for rice, pasta, produce, and even sifting flour. You might fork over nearly $20 for a large colander with expandable arms to rest over the sink. But it is more space efficient than bowl-shaped colanders, and surely more functional. (Like most of My Favorite Things, these brand items are common at Home Goods, TJ Maxx, etc. for significantly less).

A comfortable vegetable peeler. I’m not saying snuggle up for a nap, but darn if there aren’t endless comfort grips out there. Take advantage! Now this isn’t on my recommended Top Picks because I’m conspiring to turn the world vegetarian. In fact, I love putting my veggie peeler to all kinds of non-veggie uses. Use it to spruce up your salads with large shavings of fresh parmesan to really wow your eaters. We use this peeler all the time for various cheeses, but it’s great for making chocolate and vegetable ribbons (not necessarily consumed in the same sitting). Don’t bother heading over to Williams-Sonoma for this one, I’m certain you’ll find it everywhere else.

A microplane zester. Oh, now you’re thinking I’m getting into ridiculous specialty items. Nope nope nope. This is a must, and nowadays you can find it at plenty of non-kitchen stores. I use it for an array of ingredients: freshly grated parmesan, perfectly minced garlic, fine fresh ginger, sprinklings of chocolate, or citrus zest for about every salad dressing. I love zesters so much, you’ll find whole archive of posts here featuring Things to Do With a Microplane.

A mini food processor. Oh there are so many people who don’t have a food processor, and just as many who go their lives thinking they’d never find good use for one. But I tell you, the day I brought homemade pesto over to my Momma Stark (which you can read about here) she immediately inquired about food processors. When you taste how remarkable the homemade sauces, pestos, herbed butters and hummus… the investment in a Mini-Prep Plus is totally worth it. Now I have a 2-cup food processor I use almost daily to chop and puree, but it appears easier to find 3-cup minis these days (and boy are they cute). Let me tell you, 3-cups is just enough for all the small jobs you need. A Pear to Remember also features an archive of food processor inspirations, and you will find more mini food prep ideas here.

There are the other obvious things like a whisk, mixing bowls, a nice bamboo utensil or two for stirring things around in your pan, an 8-cup pyrex, a really big skillet, a sheet pan for both baking and roasting, a large dishwasher-safe cutting board, maybe a pizza stone and, oh, I could go on for days. But those aren’t My Favorite Things, you see.

What are your favorite kitchen tools? Any cooks out there with thoughts on these favorite things?

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happy food

It’s a very exciting birthday this year, waking to fluffy white flakes through the window beside the coolest man I know (who proposed three years ago today). Yep, life is good, and I hope it finds you the same in the new year.

Twenty-five years of life does not mean twenty-five years of cooking and great food (though I’m optimistic for the next quarter-century). It’s really been six years of serious food love, and merely three of dedicated home cooking (cookbooks on the nightstand, sautéing in my slumber). When I met my Andrew, I had never seen, or tasted, a bell pepper—definitely clueless on chopping one. I had never held a knife other than a petite paring. And I really wasn’t clued into non-powdered garlic. Clearly, life has been more delicious since I began it with Andrew, and God bless him for putting up with my nightly vegetarian experimentations.

My point is that I am relatively new to beautiful food, and A Pear to Remember is the place to be if you are, too. When we are blessed enough to have food on the table each day, it ought to be filled with love (and maybe even roasted garlic). Delicious food is possible every day, and crucial for celebrations. So happy birthday to me and to Mom, Jesus and all the rest of you replicating this memorable dish in your own kitchen.

Here is our feast italianoJust wait until you tell your guests you “infused the oil”.

Lindsey’s Tuscan Spaghetti

inspired by Pierluigi Giachi from the Torciano Vineyard

1 lb. spaghetti (the best stuff you can find)

5 cloves of garlic, smashed

1 tsp dried chili flakes

2-3 springs fresh oregano

2 tbsp flat leaf parsley

6 tbsp good extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup parmigiano-reggiano, finely shredded

While boiling your biggest pot of well-salted water, heat the oil over a low flame. Once hot (heat at least 3 minutes), add the crushed garlic, chili flakes, and oregano to the oil in your largest skillet. (If you want the dish very mild, add only 1/4 tsp. chili flakes). Let the aromatics infuse their vibrant flavor into the oil while the pasta boils, or until the garlic turns golden brown.

Pour the infused oil into a measuring cup with a fine strainer catching the garlic and herbs. Add the flavorful oil back into the skillet.

Cook the pasta just until al dente, about 1-2 minutes before fully cooked.

With tongs, transfer the spaghetti directly into the skillet (still over low heat). Toss gently until all the pasta is coated with oil, adding a few tablespoons of pasta water if necessary. Toss with the parsley, a few leaves of fresh oregano, parmesan and serve hot. You will not believe how this rustic dish glistens with flavor.

But wait! The garlic bread! An absolute must.

Lindsey’s Not-too Garlicky Garlic Bread

This bread was a dee-licious Linvention.

1 loaf Italian bread, halved lengthwise

7 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature

7 cloves garlic

1 tsp. olive oil

1 tbsp. flat leaf parsley

2 tsp. finely shredded parmesan

Roast four cloves of garlic within their papery skin (olive oil drizzled over cloves, all wrapped in foil. roasted at 400 F for about 25 minutes until brown). Once cooled, squeeze the roasted garlic out of their paper into the softened butter. Mince the remaining garlic cloves on a microplane and add to the butter with the parsley, parmesan, and a pinch of coarse salt. Mash with a fork until well combined.

With a spatula, spread evenly on the bread. Bake on a pizza stone or cookie sheet at 375 F until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Slice crosswise and serve warm with tomato sauce. 

Where’s the tomato sauce in this feast? I realize we’re working backwards in terms of preparation, but Andrew’s Original Chicken Parmesan is a perfect meat-eater’s way to round out the meal—besides, of course, the salad. Mom and the rest of the family loved this recipe.

Andrew’s Chicken Parmesan

1 lb. organic chicken tenderloins

1 jar tomato sauce (our favorite: Emeril’s Kicked-Up Tomato)

6 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced thick

2 eggs

1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs

1 tsp. chopped fresh oregano

2 tsp. finely shredded parmesan-reggiano

With kitchen scissors, cut the tenderloin into 2-inch pieces. Dip each into beaten egg, then breadcrumbs combined with oregano and parmesan. Add each piece directly into the baking dish. Drizzle the breaded chicken lightly with olive oil. With all the pieces in a single layer of an 8-inch casserole, bake in a 400 F oven until the chicken is just cooked through. Into the casserole, pour sauce to completely cover the chicken and top with mozzarella slices in a single layer. Bake again until the sauce bubbles and the cheese browns.  

Serve with chianti and a simple salad of crunchy romaine and small, sweet tomatoes—lemon and olive oil to moisten.

Such a feast that is easily all on the table in 45 minutes.

A tiramisu cake to top it all off? Oh do.

 

 

 

 

P.S. My very special birthday gift from Mom & Pops was a stunning 12″ Staub grill pan. Prepare for endless indoor grilling recipes in 2011!

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trust me, you have the time

Friends, today I have two recipes that take FIVE INGREDIENTS and FIVE MINUTES. You see, even this cook (who occasionally throws dinner together in a flash) seeks faster ways to get food on the table. My motive? Not that any impatient twenty-something needs reason to be in a hurry, but I got a job. A real job with a real salary (wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles)!

So with a full-time job starting Monday, a part-time job removing staples and keeping the copier company, and grad classes (Food & Culture this semester!), I need some super-fast meals.

This week was exhausting, and while we did resort to Chinese carry-out for the first time in a year, I threw two dishes together I really must share with you. Just in case you’re busy, too. Or hungry.

Do I really need to tell you reason number four-hundred sixty-three why I love Trader Joes?? We could talk about how affordable this whole salad is there, sure, but this week I went ga-ga over their Goat Cheese Medallions. You know those bags of mini Babybel cheese wheels in the little red wax? Trader Joes now offers a similar little bag of mini cheese wheels— goat cheese wheels—and my work week has entailed enjoying these cheesey samplings in every which way.

This was my easy and sumptuous lunch, way less than five minutes to assemble, unless you need a few seconds to wash the lettuce.

1. Lettuce (I used arugula, spinach or another dark green would also work)

2. Dried cranberries (I prefer these over sweetened Craisins, as the cranberries are sweet enough)

3. Walnuts (from an affordable bag of TJ’s bits-and-pieces. you could also buy in bulk or enjoy almonds here)

4. Goat Cheese (I would be tempted to eat the whole log of chevre if I had one, so the individual portions are perfect for this snappy salad)

5. Dressing (specifically, a squeeze of lemon wedge and a drizzle of olive oil. simple bliss) 

Combine. Enjoy with gourmet crackers, cheese twists (pictured here), or a slice of hearty bread. It looks as sophisticated as it does beautiful, but believe me, there’s such little work involved. I brought the ingredients to work and did a one-minute assembly before scarfing it down. On other days of the week, I substituted avocado for cranberries, or tomato. All were delicious. (I am not liable for drooling co-workers).

I promise I didn’t eat arugula and lemon every day this week, but I had enough around to need a few variations. As Andrew put in a DVD last night and reached the menu screen, this meal was done. On the plate, awaiting a fork.

Fast, nutritious, effortless, and oh-so good.

Lindsey’s Whole-Wheat Lemon Couscous with Wilted Arugula

Ready?

1. Whole wheat couscous

2. Whatever veggies you find in the fridge

3. Almonds (or other nuts)

4. Fresh parmesan

5. Lemon

While you’re heating the olive oil for the couscous (which cook in five minutes no matter how much you make!), chop your veggies (tomatoes + arugula) and soften them in the hot oil just before adding the water. When the water comes to a boil (equal parts water to dry couscous), remove the pot from the heat, stir in the couscous (and salad greens here, if using), cover for five minutes.

In the brief, brief time the couscous cooks, grate some parmesan on your plate, grab a small handful of nuts, and get your beverage while you’re at it because you simply combine everything on your plate (minus the beverage) and it’s all ready to eat! Yes, already. Squeeze a small wedge of lemon over everything for a really divine finish. I prepared 1/2 cup dry couscous, one plum tomato, and a small handful of arugula. This was enough for a generous single serving, and delightfully filling.

I hope you didn’t think beautiful food has to take a lot of work and a lot of money. Not on this blog, my friends.

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getting a little Greeky

Perhaps culturally inaccurate, but I’m willing to call my little skillet dinner twist Greek Lasagna. We live near some great family-owned Greek restaurants; Andrew and I have ventured into the city solely for amazing Greek cuisine. My exposure to Greek food left me with this observation: from a vegetarian perspective, my experience bears much resemblance to Italian dining, only with feta and spinach. And I love feta with spinach. So why not Greek-i-fy my attempt at skillet lasagna with all this great feta in the fridge and spinach in the freezer? 

Now I want to call this meal lickety-quick, but to me that means dinner is on the table in less than 20 minutes. This is longer by the time it comes out of the oven, but doesn’t mean it’s any more challenging. 30 minutes of fun prep time, the easiest (essential) homemade sauce, and you have an impressive dinner for last-minute guests (who might also be named Adam and Melissa… 😉 ) 

Confession: I had never made lasagna of any kind (soon to be remedied after this smash hit), but what a deliciously fun way to start! Whether you’re a beginner or could layer lasagna in your sleep, this is a must-make. 

Greek Four-Cheese Skillet Lasagna

This serves 4 ravenous young adults as a main course, or easily 6-8 averaged-appetite guests when accompanied by salad and good bread… 

inspired by a late-night viewing of PBS’ Everyday Food 

2 28-ounce canned whole peeled plum tomatoes (no additives)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped (or minced on your microplane!)
3.5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
coarse salt and ground pepper
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese, room temperature
1 box (12 ounces) no-boil lasagna noodles
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, shredded
1/4 cup grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
3/4 cup crumbled feta
2 cups frozen chopped spinach, thawed
dried oregano (enough for sprinkling)

food processor or blender and a deep saute pan (mine is 10″, 4 qt.) 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a food processor (a blender might work too), pulse tomatoes until coarsely pureed. (Okay, you may be thinking already that store-bought sauce cuts 15 minutes out of this dinner. But homemade cuts so much sodium from your meal and tastes so rich, consider an exception here). 

In a large deep skillet, saute the spinach in half a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until it starts to get a little crispy (yum). Add the garlic at this point, saute for about 30 seconds, then bring the tomatoes, garlic and oil to a boil. Season with salt and pepper.

(May I note here that none of the gentlemen gobbling three helpings of this dish even noticed—or complained about—all the nutritious spinach? Not that men don’t like greens, I’m just not related to any of those kind…) 

Reduce to a simmer and cook on medium until thickened, about 12 minutes (you should have 5 cups marinara sauce). The longer the sauce simmers the better, so set the table or feed the dog or something… 

  

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix together egg yolk, ricotta, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. The ingredient list length may seem intimidating, but you see here how all the ingredients combine with little effort.

Carefully pour sauce into a heatproof bowl (a pitcher or 8-cup pyrex is helpful) and return 3/4 cup to skillet; spread sauce evenly.  

 

Now it starts getting fun. (Keep the skillet nice and messy, it’s a one-pan meal). 

Add a single layer of noodles, breaking them up to fit.  

Top with half the ricotta mixture, spreading evenly. Sprinkled half the crumbled feta over top. 

  

  

 

Follow with a second layer of noodles…  

 

Then 1 inch of marinara.  

Add a third layer of noodles… 

 

Then the remaining ricotta mixture with the rest of the crumbled feta and a generous sprinkling of oregano.  

Follow with a final noodle layer 

Then remaining sauce (which will seem like a lot, but go to town).  

Sprinkle mozzarella and parmesan over top. 

  1. Now I hope while the sauce was simmering you did some push-ups, because the pan is, well, heavy by this point.

    this takes two hands and a karate stance...

Bake lasagna until golden and bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes. Check on the top layer around 10-15 minutes. Mine browned so quickly, I covered it with foil for the remaining 15 minutes to finish cooking the pasta through. 

Now for a super-simultaneous sidedish…

Cut some in-season veggies, along with some slices of onions, while the sauce is simmering. 

Spread on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper, and add to the 400 degree oven. Both dishes should finish about the same time. Flip the veggies once or twice, and let them crisp a bit. 

a whole new meaning to hot and heavy...

Let the lasagna stand at least 10 minutes before serving—enough time for the veggies to have a little private time in the oven and brown perfectly.  

 

Adam's third helping.

  

  

  

Serve your lasagna with a big ol’ spoon, top your roasted veggies with some fresh shavings of parmesan and have a really good time.

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fruits & veggies (as easy as it gets)

I don’t know where you live (okay, well some of you), but it is hot here. I mean 103F, heat advisories until 11pm hot. And hot weather + heavy food can be an unpleasant mix.

So I thought we ought to enjoy a light, chilled dinner when our friend Mark comes over.

Where should I seek inspiration for said meal? Sure, I’m into culinary learning opportunities, but I’m definitely not a Food Network fanatic. If there’s anyone whose recipes I’m occasionally inclined to replicate, it’s Ina Garten—aka Barefoot Contessa. I love her Greek spin on Panzanella (pahn-zah-NEHL-lah), which is traditionally an Italian bread salad made with onions, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, vinegar and seasonings and—oh yeah—chunks of bread. This fun Greek version includes feta and red onions, naturally.

Here’s the ironic outcome of the evening, I wanted to serve two cold, raw salads for dinner—which is fine for me, but likely insufficient for Andrew and our friend Mark. I hadn’t shopped for, or even thought up, any meat dish as of two hours before dinner. So I threw together an impromptu marinade for some chicken tenderloins: olive oil, kosher salt, plenty of fresh pepper, five cloves of crushed garlic, and dried oregano. Baked at 425F with the garlic on top. Sure enough, Andrew claims it’s the best chicken I’ve ever made (meaning it’s worth jotting down this recipe).

But now the third dish, which I must soon remake for my hubby’s parents because this is the fruit salad of fruit salads. And my mother-in-law is Queen of Fruit Salad. I ate the rest for breakfast this morning thinking, “Man, would Alice love this!”

Without further ado, here are the ingredients to a seriously delicious evening. (Little mess, little cooking—hurrah)!

GREEK PANZANELLA

  • Good olive oil
  • 1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 red bell pepper, large diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, large diced
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced thin in half rounds
  • 1/2 pound feta cheese, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup calamata olives, pitted

As unfortunate as it seems, you must first cut all the beautiful crust off your loaf of bread. I bought a Rosemary Boule, which worked wonderfully.

Day-old bread is ideal for this salad, and most white french loaves would work fine. Use your thumb (knuckle to nail) to approximate one-inch for the cubes. Better to have these a little on the large side.

Heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread cubes and sprinkle with salt. Cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 5 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned.

The cubes soak up the oil quickly, but don’t be tempted to add too much additional oil. It might be helpful to heat one or two tablespoons of the oil and add the rest gradually, while turning the cubes.

To de-seed the cucumbers, cut lengthwise and scoop down the middle with a small spoon. Place the cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, tomatoes and red onion in a large bowl. I used orange bell pepper as well, since I had some on hand and it added to the beautiful colors of the salad. I also sliced the onions paper thin, so the raw onion wasn’t too strong in the salad.

For the vinaigrette:

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil

Whisk together the garlic (minced on your microplane!), oregano, mustard, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper in a small bowl.

 

While still whisking, add the olive oil and make an emulsion. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables. This dressing is incredible for other salads, or even as a marinade.

Add the feta, olives (if you’re using them) and bread cubes and mix together lightly. I reserved 1/4 of the bread cubes for leftovers—though the point is for the bread to get a little soggy, I didn’t want my second-day salad that soggy. 

Set everything aside for 30 minutes for the flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature.

The fruit salad of a lifetime

Oh it sounds dramatic, but it’s accurate. If you like sweet and salty, you will also go nuts over this pistachio salad. With the grapes, nuts, and seeds, it delightfully crunchy, too! I hope you like pistachios, because while you could substitute another nut here, the salty flavor of pistachios is delicious. If you read about my berry tart, you know I had some blueberries and strawberries on hand. This was a sweet way to enjoy the leftovers. (This recipe was developed by Sunny Anderson).

Fruit Salad with Poppy Seeds & Pistachios

 

  • 1 cup halved green seedless grapes
  • 1 cup quartered strawberries
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1 tablespoons sugar (or less for ripe, sweet fruit)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds (or less, as you prefer)
  • 1/4 cup unsalted pistachios, toasted (mine were roasted and salted)

When Mark and I labored in a bakery together—which is how we met—we had plenty of minute and tedious tasks. I guess this is why Mark laughed aloud as he peered into the salad bowl and said, “You halved the grapes?!”

Do trust me, cut the grapes in half. (A large, sharp knife gets the job done without much trouble).

Toss the grapes, strawberries and blueberries with sugar in a medium bowl. Stir in lime juice, and poppy seeds. Let sit at room temperature for at least 1/2 an hour. Garnish with pistachios and serve.

I know I have tags on my posts for “easy” meals, but this doesn’t even belong there. I really need to have a simplicity ranking, because believe me: this belongs in the easiest possible delicious food category. And isn’t it a beauty? 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
( don’t forget the delicious chicken recipe above… if that’s your thing 😉 )

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feta with friends

beauties

Last week, Andrew came home with the most incredible surprise for me. A fresh bouquet? Nope. Diamond earrings? Nope. A brimming sack of fresh farm vegetables? You bet. Of course, it included all of these luscious items like fresh mushrooms and asparagus and yams—foods that hardly entice my husband, to say the least.

When my friend Kerie came over last Friday, I was really excited to spend time with her. I also admit how thrilled I was to share my veggies with a friend! (Besides, I’ve been dying for an excuse to tell you about deglazing—my favorite cooking technique).

With some special De Cecco spinach linguine in the pantry, and those essential gotta-have ingredients around (olive oil, garlic cloves, parmesan), we made a superb meal together.

TOMATOES

Andrew brought home seven large, ripe tomatoes on the vine. And since this was a surprise, I just happened to purchase several small roma tomatoes earlier that day. What to do with all these tomatoes?

Roasted tomatoes sounded fantastic for my light sauce, but this wasn’t planned early enough for my favorite slow-roasted tomatoes. Though my slow-roasted tomatoes are great in pasta, I wanted rich and juicy tomatoes for this dish. There’s no stipulation for these tomatoes: even a short roasting time enhances the flavor so much, it’s worth popping them in the oven while you’re working on the rest of dinner.

I sliced my romas in half (this would work for any ripe, medium tomatoes), arranged them face-up on parchment paper with a light drizzle of olive oil and salt. I put them in a 350 F oven for about 30 minutes, which was perfect timing while prepping my other veggies and pasta.

PASTA

I started the water at this point, so it would be ready by the time my veggies were all cooked. At this point, Kerie grated about 1/2 cup parmesan reggiano, and crumbled 2 oz. of feta for a cheesy finishing touch.

MUSHROOMS

Ker and I agreed that mushrooms are such a treat when you’re married to men who loathe them. I had never had such fresh mushrooms before, and with this abundance of flawless veggies, I didn’t want to overcook or overwhelm any of these beautiful flavors.

hello, friends

I still have many questions about mushrooms myself, but here are a few helpful things to know. When the stalks are tough and woody, it’s best to break them off and save for veggie stock—or your compost bin, should you be so responsible. Now mushrooms tend to be dirty, and none dirtier than this fresh trio; resist the urge to rinse them. Mushrooms, a bit like eggplant, are sponges—among many great qualities—so they absorb water when rinsed. If you have a pastry brush, this is a handy tool to brush all the dirt from the nooks and crannies. I don’t have a pastry brush, so a damp paper towel works as an effective wipe.

I removed the stems, and sliced the caps. Into a hot (not nonstick) skillet with one tablespoon of olive oil, I seared the mushrooms about 3-5 minutes. It’s ideal when the veggies start depositing brown bits onto the surface of the skillet—there would be nothing to deglaze otherwise!

 

deglazing the pan!

As you see in the photo, the mushrooms have darkened in color and are cooked through. Before removing, however, I poured about 1/4 cup chicken broth into the super-hot skillet (with the exhaust fan on high!) and scraped the skillet gently to release the brown bits stuck to the pan.

It’s simple to deglaze with any clear liquid—water, broth, wine, sherry vinegar, etc. Be sure, however, that the flavor complements your meal.

Stir your veggies until the liquid evaporates (which happens in a matter of seconds). If the skillet still has delicious debris, add a tablespoon or so of liquid and gently scrape.

ASPARAGUS

Oh my beloved asparagus. Absolute favorite vegetable, without doubt. It didn’t even help that this was the most delicate and exquisette asparagus I’ve ever laid eyes on…

In case you’ve wondered for some time how to keep your asparagus cute and perky for a few days in the fridge, it’s imperative to store the stems vertical in a few inches of water.

I chopped off the woody ends of my asparagus and cut the bunch in half. Next time I would probably cut into 1-inch pieces, to fit easier into forkfuls.

After removing the mushrooms from the skillet, I set them aside. Even in a large skillet where these veggies would all fit, I prefer cooking them separately to ensure each is cooked thoroughly. And, like roasting, a crowded pan doesn’t allow for ideal cooking. It may sound like more trouble to saute veggies separately, but it’s more efficient when each veggie is cooking in just 3 minutes.

Between removing the mushrooms and adding the asparagus, I deglazed the pan.

All the asparagus goes right into the skillet, with the mushrooms hanging out on a plate nearby. Asparagus sears well when all of the pieces make contact with the surface of the pan, but this was a large bunch. I added in all the asparagus, covered the pan for a minute or so, and added chicken broth every once in a while to prevent the spears from burning to the pan.

You can see in this second asparagus photo that the pan continues to brown even more. This is excellent. Be wary, at this point of browning, high heat will burn all that goodness to the pan. Turn the burner down to medium or even low heat (since the pan is very, very hot by now) to avoid burning the sauce and the asparagus.

COOK THE PASTA at this point!

MINGLING THE VEGGIES

Since it’s already time to add it all together, turn the heat all the way down to low or warm at this point. If you also love garlic, this is the point to add it so it doesn’t burn. Add the tomatoes, then a clove or two or garlic. You can see in the photo why you want the heat down. These tomatoes start to seep their juices, making a rich sauce for the pasta. Adding these tomatoes to a warm skillet prevents these juices from evaporating. 

 

 

 

 

I mince my garlic directly into the skillet with a microplane so it incorporates evenly into the dish. The garlic should golden in about 30 seconds, then add in the mushrooms and asparagus.

With tongs or a pasta fork, bring the linguine right into the skillet. The pasta water clinging to the linguine is important for the sauce, so don’t worry about drip-drying. Drizzle olive oil into the pasta, until there’s just enough to make the pasta slick. Toss the pasta with the veggies and oil, crushing the tomatoes.

If you are using feta, add this just before serving, whereas the parmesan can melt into the mixture. You can see I reserved a lot of cooked pasta on the side. Because this is a light pasta with little sauce, best to add a little pasta at a time. Too much pasta would be bland, providing a veggies only every 5 bites 😦

 

 

 

This dish turned out wonderful, especially with fresh parsley and plenty of basil on top. But do consider experimenting with the veggies you have on hand—toss a little parmesan or feta on top for a sprinkle of decadence.

best shared with a good friend

 

 

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