Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Roasted Cranberry Sauce with Orange and Candied Ginger

 I'm kind of a cranberry sauce freak. I really like it. I like a healthy serving on my Thanksgiving Day plate and it's an important component of the day-after lunch sandwich.
Cape Blanco Cranberries
I'm such a cranberry nerd, I found a farm in Oregon that sells late-harvest, vine-ripened cranberries. They pick into December and the color of their cranberries is much darker - some are a deep burgundy and almost purple. The taste is more intense, riper-tasting and awesome!  The smallest order you can make is 5lbs so it helps to have a few other uses (as I do) other than as a Thanksgiving condiment.
Ginger candied in brown sugar
Are you ready to get roasted?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Friday Dinner: Chicken Piccata, Fettucine con Burro e Formaggio and the Ham Sandwich Salad

...okay, we didn't serve a ham sandwich as a salad, but the inspiration for the salad started out as a ham sandwich, according to Nancy Silverton, in her book "A Twist of the Wrist". It's also not called "The Ham Sandwich Salad", but "Crispy Hearts of Romaine with Ham, Pickled Jalapeno Peppers and Creamy Avocado Dressing". My older sister served the salad to me the last time I was visiting and I knew I had to make it for Lynn at one of our Friday dinners. The dressing alone just makes me want to weep with happiness. Everything in this salad goes together beautifully.

I've eaten Lynn's Chicken Piccata, and pasta with butter and cheese (closer to the original Fettuccine Alfredo than what you eat in restaurants) for years and Friday's incarnation was delicious.  We were talking about when she first made the pasta dish (and whatever pasta you have on hand will work - she most often uses linguine or fettuccine) and she pulled out one of her favorite Italian cookbooks to show me some recipes, "Adventures in Italian Cooking", © 1980, published by Ortho Publishing - a subsidiary of Chevron Chemical at that time. Seriously? Why yes, Chevron had a publishing arm and its subsidiary, Ortho, put out cookbooks. In a way, it's kind of creepy if you think about it too much, but don't. It's a strange source, but one with really good, solid recipes. 

Many recipes call for pounding out the whole half-breast but if your half-breasts are large, making a scalloppine (thin slice of meat) by butterflying the half-breast and just slicing it into two pieces makes a more manageable piece of chicken and takes less pounding time. I've embedded a video that shows how to butterfly a chicken breast. It also helps if your chicken isn't straight out of the refrigerator when you pound it.

Many recipes also call for egg dips and breading which, after sauteing, makes more of a "chicken-fried steak chicken breast",  but Lynn just dusts the pieces with seasoned flour and lets them air dry on a rack before cooking them and I'm in favor of this method, too.

Many moons ago, Lynn lived in the Outer Richmond and her favorite restaurant was Ernesto's (on Clement St.) - back when Ernesto was in the kitchen. Lynn was delighted to be able to recreate many of her favorite dishes from Ernesto's using, amongst other sources, this book. 

Alfredo di credited with the dish "Fettuccine Alfredo" but you know that some form of pasta dressed with creamed butter and cheese has been served since somebody in Italy had water, fire and those three ingredients, but Alfredo has the official credit. Lynn's version includes a healthy dose of fresh ground black pepper and minced parsley. Parmigiana Regiana - at least two years old, is traditional but we used a pecorino romano (sheep's milk) cheese. Don't sweat over the fine details, this remains: pasta dressed with butter and cheese. The only thing about which you must be precise is to wait to dress the pasta until right  before you're ready to serve it. Too soon and the sauce will break (separate). That fact is why the Fettuccine Alfredo we know from most Italian restaurants - at least in the U.S., is a sauce that includes cream as it helps 'hold' the sauce during the restaurant's service period.

Harold McGee has successfully de-bunked the common practice that you need a bunch of water to cook pasta but make no mistake - you need salt. Two tablespoons in the water to cook a pound of pasta in 4-6 quarts of water and if you use the less-water method, two teaspoons to two quarts water.

 - Chicken Piccata;
 - Fettucine con Burro e Formaggio; and
 - Crispy Hearts of Romaine with Ham, Pickled Jalapenos and Creamy Avocado Dressing

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sweet, Sour and a Little Bit Hot: Stir-Fry Cabbage and Greens with Sesame Seeds

In an attempt to get my refrigerator cleared out, in preparation for stuff I'm acquiring, cooking or baking for Thanksgiving, I considered the head of red cabbage and a bag of pea greens in my crisper. Generally, I use cabbage in the fall and winter versions of Spoon Salad and I like to finely chop up pea greens as an add-in, but I knew I was not going to get to that in the next few days.

I also had some, garlic and ginger. Add soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, agave nectar (alternately use honey), chili garlic sauce, sesame seeds and a little sesame oil and you can make a slightly sweet, sour and a little bit hot stir-fry. I also had some previously baked, marinated tofu cubes that I sliced up to add as a protein. For a prep-junkie like me, all the slicing, dicing and mincing is a rush but for those of you who don't get happy goosebumps at the thought of that, your pay-off is that the dish cooks in about 15 minutes.

This isn't so much a recipe as an example of really using the pantry, the spice cupboard and the crisper and winding up with something good. All sorts of substitutions can be made - from the type of cabbage or greens to the basic seasoning and liquids to the nuts. I really wish I'd had some cilantro, or chives and green onions, and I absolutely recommend those additions.
Pea greens, not to be confused with pea shoots which are more like micro-greens
I used pea greens - because that's what I had - but would recommend using another type of greens in this dish. When you quick cook pea greens, the vertical fibers of the (essentially hollow) stems, while pretty tender raw, do not break down. I occasionally buy pea greens and have always used them raw in salad, removing the tendrils and then chopping them up. If I did use them again in a dish like this, I'd pre-steam them in the microwave (sprinkled with a little water in the covered bowl) until they were wilted, but not completely cooked, and then chop them up very fine. De-stemming pea greens is kind of a pain and unlike chard or kale, the stem is not less fibrous as you move up to the top of the stalk.

Fortunately there are pages and pages of types of greens you can use, or you can leave them out. For the greens that have a slightly longer cooking time, you may wish to steam them in the microwave so that they are half-cooked and ready to finish off in the stir-fry.

If you're working by hand, it's easiest to thinly shred cabbage by separating some of the outer leaves
from the inner fold-y leaves. Flattening the outer leaves, placing them curved-side up
makes them easier to cut in long, crosswise strips.
I'm not including the recipe for the baked, marinated tofu (yet) but just about any protein would do whether vegan or omnivore: left-overs from your home-cooked, or a good purchased roast chicken, or pork, thin-sliced steak, etc - you get the message, yes? After the high-heat stir-fry and short braise in the liquids, the cabbage doesn't taste at all cabbage-y. It's tender but with a little residual crunch. It could be served on its own, or over rice or noodles.

Sesame seeds: from raw and white to toasted and caramel-colored, in the microwave. If you want to burn sesame seeds, it's dead easy to do so cooking them on the stove-top. You have to work harder to ruin them in the oven, but it can be done. I found that toasting them in the microwave removes the agony of defeat and acrid smell of burned seeds when cooked on the stove-top, but is the easiest (for me) if I actually want a tasty batch of toasted sesame seeds. You still have to pay attention to them but the whole process takes 5 or less minutes, depending on your  microwave's power and the transition from "almost toasted" to "perfect" is a little easier to control. On the other hand, if you've never had a problem toasting them in the oven or on the stove-top, I salute you!


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sweet Sunday: Roasted Pear Tart

Once you've roasted pears that make their own caramel sauce (see: Roasted Caramel Pears with Crème Fraîche and Toasted Pistachios), it's a short, easy ride to make this roasted pear tart.

I used a sweet tart dough (from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" I highly recommend his cookbooks), 4 ounces each crème fraîche and fromage frais as the filling, drizzled the caramel sauce from the roasted pears over the fruit and garnished with toasted ground pistachios. All-in-all pretty simple. You can roast the pears the day before as well as make the tart dough and refrigerate that until the next day.

The assembled tart needs to chill in the refrigerator for a few hours before you serve it; the extra sliver I stashed in the refrigerator tasted great the next day, too. After chilling the tart, take it out of the refrigerator about an hour before serving.
Crème fraîche and fromage blanc, combined.
What is this "fromage blanc", you may ask? Fromage blanc is a creamy soft cheese made with cows milk. and not cream (like crème fraîche) and as Cowgirl Creamery makes it, it is what American grocery store cream cheese can only dream it could be but never will be. It has about 30% less fat than regular U.S. cream cheese and I think it's exponentially better. I wanted the tartness and rich, creamy taste of the crème fraîche to be there but not so forward. The fromage blanc was the perfect pairing. Look for it in your neighborhood from a good purveyor, buy and taste some and I'll bet you like it. A lot.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New Page - Cooking & Food-Related Sites

My other two pages (in addition to the blog posts on the "Home" tab) are woefully bereft of content, but I have added a third additional page, Cooking & Food-Related Sites. I have regularly accessed all of these sites, but if one 'goes dark', leave a comment and I'll make the correction.

Suggestions and additions are welcome, too.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Roasted Caramel Pears with Crème Fraîche and Toasted Pistachios

Want to make a dessert that's dead easy and delicious, where the main part of the dish is comprised of two ingredients (pears and brown sugar) and makes it own sauce? Well, this just might be the one.

Lynn and I saw this on one of Joanne Weir's cooking shows and looked up the recipe on her site. We made it for my birthday dinner and periodically rave about it. We're making it as a Thanksgiving dessert, in lieu of pie, because we never seem to get to the pie on Thanksgiving.

For this recipe, I used crème fraîche instead of the called-for Marscapone, omitted the honey and used toasted, ground pistachios instead of pecans. I like the slight sour-ness to the crème fraîche, I think adding honey to it is overkill and toasted pistachios give a little crunch, texture and nutty flavor to the dish.

This is not a regular "Sweet Sunday" recipe, but I used the pears for a "Sweet Sunday" tart recipe that will be posted very soon.

Selecting Pears & Pear Care

The original post from which I adapted this recipe calls for Bartlett pears. For my version, I chose Bosc pears. Bartlett pears will release more liquid and be much softer when completely cooked. Just make sure they are barely ripe when you're ready to prepare your dish or your roasted Bartlett pears will be mushy.
Bosc pears have a golden brown, matte and somewhat rough-feeling peel.
 I know there are other baking-appropriate pears out there, but I chose Bosc pears. They don't have the gold-and-rosy sexy blush of Bartlett and other pears but they are a workhorse when it comes to baking. When ripe, they are firmer than most other eating pears. To test for ripeness, press gently near the stem and if it gives to that gentle pressure, it's ready to use. Ripen pears in a warm, room temperature place outside of the refrigerator and test daily for ripeness. Once ripe, store in the coldest spot in the refrigerator, uncrowded and in a single layer - but not in the crisper, they are too easily bruised.

Because pears ripen from the inside out, ripe fruit will give gently to gentle pressure near the stem. Waiting until pears are soft around the middle may indicate over ripeness.

Toasting Pistachios

I read about a technique to toast pine nuts on Alton Brown's blog using the microwave and a paper bag. Although it worked - and I have ruined many a batch of pine nuts by being distracted for just a few seconds too many - the pine nuts were too uniform in color for me (yeah, I'm weird) and I think too much salt clung to them for my taste. I'm going to try it again with a shorter time in the microwave and less salt.
Raw, shelled pistachios, pre-toasting.

However, I love it for toasting pistachios and I used less salt than when I used this method for pine nuts and I was very happy with the results. The pistachios are just lightly toasted (retaining their beautiful color) and lightly salty. This method can be found below the main recipe for the roasted pears.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's Fall! Squash, Beans, Chard and Bacon with Cinnamon

Happy post-Hallowe'en! Does anybody spell it that way any more? "Een" at the end of "Hallow" without the apostrophe means nothing. Yes, I know that Hallowe'en is (in turn) a contraction of "All Hallows’ Evening"

Man, I sound like an old grump. Hang on - I have to yell at some kids to get off the lawn. Or, rather, my sister's lawn. I am spending the week surrounding Hallowe'en visiting family in and around Tacoma/Puyallup, WA.

Even though it was a school night, the All Hallows Evening weather was fine and there was a constant stream of kids for a good 2 1/2 hours. My nephew parked himself, and his video game equipment next to the front door. I've had to fight him for the last couple of years to hand out candy. He's just likely saving himself the embarrassment of having his aunt answer the door wearing a t-shirt of zombies riding Segways ("We've Upgradead!).

This dish was so good, I made it two nights in a row on request. It tastes great warmed up for breakfast, with an egg on top. There's quite a bit of cinnamon, but it balances with the bacon and beans in a way that it's just savory and aromatic and not at all sweet, even with the roasted and caramelized butternut squash.

This isn't an original recipe but I cannot remember where I saw it. If I can locate the source, I'll come back and update the post.
Everybody, okay everybody who likes squash (good - more for the squash lovers!), loved this dish.
You can easily substitute smoked paprika for the bacon, or just leave it out. The dish won't suffer.

The first night I just used butternut squash, The second night, I combined the extra butternut squash
from the previous night with a large sweet potato.
Sun - the natural frost defroster, in the backyard.