Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A few of my favorite things: Potato, leek and mushroom gratin

potato-gratin

There are so many reasons to search for a recipe. Sometimes you have a craving, sometimes your husband has one. Sometimes you want to recreate a dish you've had before. Sometimes, you just want to use up what's in the fridge. Yesterday was one of the latter. Saturday I made another French Laundry recipe (post coming soon) and aside from a delicious meal, I had a fridge full of ingredients that I needed to use up - a couple leeks, some cream, the list went on. I was going to grill a rack of lamb for dinner so I thought a leek and potato side dish would be perfect.

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So I began my search. Usually these searches result in a pile of at least 10-20 of my 100+ cookbooks strewn all over the island. This time I got it on the first try. I grabbed the Bon Appetit Cookbook, looked up leeks in the index and just about jumped for joy when I read that there was a Potato, Leek, Mushroom and Gruyere Gratin - perfect!!! Aside from potatoes and leeks, I also had a nearly full package of Crimini mushrooms. I scanned the recipe and found I'd need to substitute my Crimini mushrooms for the recommended oyster mushrooms and use Swiss in lieu of Gruyere. Easy enough. (And I used part cream, part lowfat milk to reduce the fat...)

This is a really nice gratin - I baked it in the afternoon and then reheated it for dinner. The mushrooms add a nice earthy flavor - try to cook the water out of them when you saute them to keep the gratin thick and creamy. My version follows - this would serve 4 as a side dish. The original is for a 13x9 inch pan, so I cut it in half to fit the ingredients I had (and to ensure we wouldn't be eating it for weeks to come!)

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Potato, Leek, Mushroom and Cheese Gratin
adapted from the Bon Appetit Cookbook

2 Tbsp. butter, divided
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and pale green parts
leaves from 2 sprigs fresh thyme, minced (about 1 tsp.)
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 cup cream (I used half cream, half lowfat milk)
3 Tbsp. dry white wine
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (I used 2 large)
1 cup grated Swiss cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. plain breadcrumbs

Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and saute until almost tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute until mushrooms are tender and golden and their liquid has evaporated. Transfer mushroom mixture to a bowl. In the same pan, melt 1 Tbsp. butter. Add the leeks and thyme. Saute until leeks are tender and starting to brown, about 8 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms and stir to combine. (This can be made a day ahead.)
potato-gratin (2)
Preheat oven to 400F. Butter a baking dish (about 9-inch square). Whisk broth, cream, wine, salt and pepper in a bowl to blend. Arrange 1/3 of potatoes in the bottom of the dish. Top with 1/2 the mushroom leek mixture and 1/2 the Swiss cheese.

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Create another layer of potatoes on top, then pour half the cream mixture over it. Add the remaining leek and mushroom mixture, then the remaining Swiss cheese. Top with the rest of the potatoes and then push the whole thing down with the back of a spatula. Pour the rest of the cream mixture over the top, then sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs.

Bake uncovered until potatoes are tender and sauce is bubbling thickly, about 1 hour 20 minutes. Let stand a few minutes before serving.

Friday, March 26, 2010

French Laundry Crab: Crab Salad with Cucumber Jelly, Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette and Mache

keller-crab-salad2

My dream is to one day dine at the French Laundry in Napa Valley. Until that day comes, I'll happily try my hand at Thomas Keller's recipes and content myself with imagining what it will be like when I do go. That said, I've had the French Laundry cookbook for awhile now and I've only made two recipes. Many of them are pretty involved and I just don't get myself organized enough to get through them. But last Saturday, my parents came over for dinner.

I was making a pretty simple meal: grilled ribeyes and homemade pasta with prosciutto, grilled asparagus, smoked mozzarella and fresh basil. I wanted a first course that was a little more interesting. So I climbed onto my stool and got the French Laundry down from its place of honor in my kitchen. I quickly settled on Dungeness Crab Salad with Cucumber Jelly, Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette and Frisee Lettuce. It was beautiful, light, and only a couple ingredients would give me a challenge.

I ended up making some modifications. Keller says to buy cucumber juice at a health food store (I couldn't find it) or to make it at home in a juicer (I don't have one). So I made my own using my method noted below. I also used jicama in place of daikon and mache in place of frisee. To see what other modificaitons I made, you're just going to have to get a copy of the French Laundry!

It proved to be a hit with Jeff and my parents and it's a first course I'll make again. It's not too complicated and it really does plate beautifully. Give it a shot. We had the leftover crab the next day without any cucumber jelly and it's still delish. So if the jelly scares you, make the rest of the dish without it.

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Crab salad with Cucumber Jelly, Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette and Mache
adapted from The French Laundry by Thomas Keller

For the cucumber jelly:
1 1/2 peeled cucumbers, cut into chunks, plus 1/2 small cucumber peeled
1/2 tsp. plain gelatin
1 Tbsp. warm water
24 dill sprigs, plus more to garnish salad

For the crab salad:
1/3 cup heavy cream
3-4 tsp. whole grain Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and white pepper
1 lb. lump crab meat
1 c. baby greens (I used Mache rosettes)
2-3 radicchio leaves torn into small pieces
3 Tbsp. grated jicama
Extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tsp. lemon juice
Kosher salt and white pepper

Place the chunks of cucumber in a blender and puree. (Add a little water if needed to get it started.). Line a mesh strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and place over a bowl. Pour the cucumber puree into the strainer and let sit. You need 1 cup of cucumber juice (I got plenty from 1 1/2 medium cucumbers). Set the juice aside.

cucumber-jelly

Using a mandoline or sharp knife, cut lengthwise slices about 1/8 inch thick from the half cucumber. Cut the slices into narrow strips about 1/8 inch wide and then cut the strips at an angle to make diamonds. You will need about 2 tablespoons of diamonds. Set aside.

Mix the gelatin with the warm water and stir to dissolve. When the gelatine has dissolved, whisk it into 1 cup of cucumber juice. Pour a thin layer of the juice onto each of 4 serving plates. Discard any excess (I used square plates and used just about all of the juice).

Arrange 6 dill sprigs around each plate and some of the cucumber diamonds. Leave the center open as this is where the crab will go. Put the plates in the refrigerator to set for at least one hour. (My refrigerator shelves were a bit uneven, so I used folded index cards to make sure the juice didn't collect on one side of the plate!)

Before serving, whip the cream in a medium bowl until it forms a ribbon when the whisk is lifted. Whisk in the mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Place the crab in a separate bowl and fold in just enough of the cream mixture to bind the salad. (Don't just dump the crab into the cream because you may have too much whipped cream.)

Toss the greens, radicchio and jicama with a little olive oil and the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Fill a 2 to 2 1/2 inch ring mold or cookie cutter with the crab mixture (pack it in so the shape holds) and carefully place over the center of the plate. Lift the mold off and then top the crab with a bit of the greens and a few extra dill sprigs.

Note: don't take the plates out fo the fridge too soon or the gelatin will soften. If that happens, stick them back in the fridge for a few minutes to harden.

Makes about 4 servings.

keller-crab-salad3

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Super moist carrot cake with cream cheese frosting

carrot-cake

We always spend some time during the holidays with my husband's family in Canada. Inevitably, my mother-in-law cooks up a storm and the menu always features my husband's favorite dishes. My absolute favorite is her carrot cake. This cake is moist, packed with flavor, and just perfect. Nuts and rasins give it texture. I like to think it's healthy - after all it has whole what flour, carrots and pineapple!

I like to let this cake sit at least overnight before serving. It just tastes better after a day or so - the flavor of the pineapple melds with the flour and cinnamon into that unique yumminess that is carrot cake. If you need a make-ahead dessert, give this recipe a shot.

carrot-cake (1)

Carrot Cake

For the cake:
3 eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
¾ cup vegetable oil
1 ½ cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 cups shredded carrots
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple with juice
1 cup raisins

For the frosting:
1 lb. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (8 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tsp. vanilla
About 3/4 lb. powdered sugar

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Make the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 9-inch baking pans.

In medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, oil, sugar and vanilla. Mix well. Add flour mixture and mix well.

In a medium bowl, combine carrots, coconut, walnuts, pineapple and raisins. Using a large wooden spoon or a very heavy whisk, add carrot mixture to batter and fold in well. Pour into pans and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Remove from oven and let cool in pans for about 10 minutes, then turn the cakes onto racks to cool completely.

Make the frosting:
Beat together the cream cheese. butter and vanilla. Add powdered sugar gradually to desired thickness and sweetness

Monday, March 22, 2010

Greek Feta and Eggplant Spirals

greek-eggplant-spirals

The final dish from my Greek meal is Greek eggplant and feta spirals. Phyllo dough gives this dish a light crunch and feta and fresh mint att great flavor to the filling. I was a bit thrown by the amount of eggplant, but it cooks down - I used two medium eggplants. These reheat nicely so you could make them ahead and just pop them in the oven to crisp before you serve them.

Word to the wise: don't skimp on the feta. Eggplant can be a bit blah but when combined with the feta, it takes on great flavor.

Now, when you're ready for a visit to the Greek Isles, give this meal a try. Fresh mediterranean flavors in simple, classic Greek dishes - and all of them can be prepared quickly.

Have other Greek favorites? Leave a comment and give me some ideas for the next time I'm longing for a taste of Greece!

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Eggplant spirals
adapted from Vefa's Kitchen

1/3 cup oilive oil
1 package phyllo dough, thawed (about 24 sheets)

For the filling:
2 lbs. eggplant
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
6 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup light cream
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp. bread crumbs
salt and pepper

First, make the filling. Preheat the broiler. Broil the eggplants, turning frequently, for 5-8 minutes, or until the skins are charred and the flesh is softened. Remove from heat and hold each eggplant briefly under cold water until cool enough to handle, then peel. Do not let the unpeeled eggplants cool completely or the flesh will turn black.

Cut the eggplant flesh into pieces and set aside. Heat the oil in a pan. Add the onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the eggplant and vinegar and cook for a few minutes until some of the moisture has evaporated. Stir in the cheese, mint, cream, eggs and breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper, then remove from the heat.

Preheat oven to 350F. Brush a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Bush one sheet of phyllo with olive oil, then top with a second sheet and brush again.Put 3-4 tablespoons of the filling over the long edge and roll up. Wind the roll into a loose spiral and transfer to the baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Brush the tops of the rolls with more oil and bake 40-50 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

These can also be reheated. Just pop them in a warm oven until the phyllo crisps.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Greek potato salad with octopus

greek-octopus-salad
The third of 4 Greek recipes may not suit every reader, but read on - even without the octopus, this would be a great salad. I had actually chosen another salad for the dinner (which we'll save for the future), but my plans changed when I showed Jeff the recipes I was planning. You see, Vefa's Kitchen has throughout it spreads with photos of the recipes. The image opposite the salad I'd chosen was this one. Jeff pointed at it and said it would look more interesting on my blog (which means it would also taste better in his stomach). I scanned the ingredient list and the only challenge would be the star of the show: baby octopus. But we already had plans to head to Whole Foods the next morning so I said we'd check. As this proves, Whole Foods did indeed have fresh cleaned baby octopus.

It's a great recipe - bold flavors, a nice combination of textures, not too heavy, but a substantial first course. If the octopus scare you off, try the salad without or use some broiled shrimp instead.

octopus pulpo greek potato salad

Potato salad with octopus
adapted from Vefa's Kitchen

1/2 lb. baby octopus, cleaned
2 yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed
1/2 ripe avocado
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small bunch baby arugula
1 scallion, thinly sliced
Sea salt

For the marinade:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 Tbsp. fresh squezzed lemon juice
1 red chile, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced

For the tomato dressing:
1 ripe vine tomato, cubed
1 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
2 tsp. minced red onion
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Rinse the octopuses and cut them in half (unless they are very small). In a bowl, whisk the marinade ingredients then add the octopus. Mix to coat; cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

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Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 15-20 minutes, until tender. Drain and let cool slightly, then cut into bite-sized pieces.

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and season to taste with pepper.

Preheat the broiler. Drain the octopuses and broil them on a baking sheet until the legs curl and the bodies are cooke through, turning them once or twice. It should take about 5 minutes.

While the octopuses cook, arrange the arugula on a platter, place the potatoes over the top. Then cut the avocado into bite-sized pieces and arrange among the potatoes. Drizzle with the lemon juice. Sprinkle the sscallions over the salad.

Remove the octopuses from the oven and arrange them over the top of the salad. Spoon the dressing over the platter and then sprinkle with a bit of coarse sea salt. Serve immediately.

Serves 2-4.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Authentic Greek chicken souvlaki

chicken-souvlaki (1)
The second dish on my Greek menu is chicken souvlaki. With a simple four ingredients, this chicken is full of flavor, especially when served with homemade tzatziki. It wasn't in Greece that I fell in love with chicken souvlaki, but rather at Pithari Taverna in Highland Park, NJ. Grilled to perfection, it's juicy and flavorful - and I rarely order chicken in restaurants.

This dish is also very healthy and light. It pairs nicely with a simple Greek salad, grilled vegetables, lemon potatoes or any other combination of side dishes. I always use fat free Greek yogurt for my tzatziki - it's still rich and creamy, but with the fat. I had mint on hand, but you could also use fresh dill or fresh oregano (don't use dried oregano).

Still to come: Eggplant spirals and our first course of potato and baby octopus salad. So check back for those recipes. And don't miss the fried olive bread. All of the recipes are based on those found in Vefa's Kitchen - if you're going to have one Greek cookbook in your collection, this is it!

chicken-souvlaki

Chicken Souvlaki
adapted from Vefa's Kitchen

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 tsp. dried oregano, preferably Greek
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of half a lemon

Place the chicken in a bowl and drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle the oregano over the top and stir to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 6 hours or overnight. About an hour before cooking, remove from the refrigerator and sprinkle the lemon juice over the top. Let sit about 45 minutes then thread onto skewers (you can alternate with peppers and onions if you like).

Grill the skewered chicken until cooked through, a few minutes per side. Brush with a little of the marinade after putting on the grill - but be sure not to put marinade on for the last few minutes so it is cooked through!

Sprinkle with sea salt if desired and serve with homemade tzatziki.

NOTE: this recipe works great with pork too and can easily be multiplied for a crowd. The amount shown above serves 2-4 depending on side dishes.

Tzatziki

1 8 oz. container fat free Greek yogurt (such as Fage or Chobani)
1 2-inch piece of cucumber, peeled and grated
1 clove of garlic, minced
1-2 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano, mint or dill
2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Cover and refrigerate at least a few hours before serving.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fried Olive Bread

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Greek food always takes me back to Santorini, Crete and our honeymoon. In the summer, I love to have Greek yogurt with honey for breakfast - I sit out on the deck, and while the view is nothing like that on the Caldera, I get a reminder of the beauty of those islands. The weather's not ready for that yet, so I made 4 Greek dishes for dinner on Sunday. This recipe is the first of them. Check back over the next week for the rest of the meal, and then give them a try at home for your own little Greek getaway.

This was the last piece of the meal I chose. I NEVER make bread. Ladyberd confession: yeast is my nemesis. Perhaps because my mom never made bread, perhaps because I've never really tried, or (my favorite excuse) it's just too cold in my kitchen for the dough to rise properly. (I'm sure that's it - it couldn't be something I'm doing!)

But as I flipped through my Greek cooking bible: Vefa's Kitchen, I stumbled across a picture of Fried Olive Bread from Cyprus. Little pieces of bread stuffed with Kalamata olives. Yes, please! As I watched my dough, I was a little nervous about how they'd turn out, but they were great - they cook up quickly and rapid rise yeast made it a quick and painless process. The measurements below are half the original. It made about 12 pieces - enough for 4 people with a meal or two if you're serving it as an appetizer.

And an extra-yummy hint: dip them in a little tzatziki. Mmmmmm.

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Fried Olive Bread from Cyprus
adapted from Vefa's Kitchen

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/4 Tbsp. rapid rise yeast
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. Olive oil, plus more for frying
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped

Sift the flour into a bowl, then stir in the yeast. Make a well in the middle and pour in the honey, oil and water. Incorporate the dry ingredients and knead to a soft pliable dough, adding more flour if necessary (I didn't add anymore).

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about an hour until doubled in volume. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle the olives over it, leaving a bit or a border around the outside. Roll up tightly.

Using a floured knife, cut the roll crosswise into 1/2 inch thick pieces. Flatten each piece with a rolling pin to about 1/4 inch thick. Let rise about 15 minutes.

greek-olive-bread

Coat the bottom of a heavy skillet or frying pan with olive oil (you want a thick coating, but not too deep). Heat over medium heat. Working in batches, add the bread slices and cook for a few minutes on each side until golden brown. (You can also bake them for about 15 minutes at 350F - I fried them, so not sure how the result would differ). Remove from pan and place on a plate lined with paper towels. Serve immediately.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Basil-prosciutto risotto

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The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.

Before I get to the recipe, let me tell you about yesterday. It rained. Not just a little, but lets-go-build-an-ark rain. The weather channel said we got 4-6 inches of rain - and it's still raining as I write this. I now have waterfront property and a small indoor pool in my basement which my husband battled until the wee hours. So, with a very wet image in mind, I tell you I bought veal chops to accompany my risotto and Jeff insisted on grilling them. Each time he came in after turning them, his jacket left a puddle on the floor and he had to dry his hair with a towel. But boy were they good. Almost 2 inches thick, I marinated them in garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon zest.

I used the risotto base recipe below and added prosciutto, basil, and paremsan cheese. The creamy texture of the risotto was excellent with the grilled chops. One of the beauties of risotto is its adapatability to different flavors. I happened to have a big bunch of fresh basil, but you can add whatever flavors you have on hand: mushrooms, pumpkin, pancetta, asparagus, peas... the possibilties are endless. I'm always looking for new combinations, so leave a comment with your favorite flavors for risotto!

To complete the meal, I served a salad of romaine and radicchio with celery, baby tomatoes, shaved parmesan, and a dressing I made with garlic, olive oil, sea salt, a few basil leaves, and lemon juice. Light and crunchy, it rounded out the meal nicely.

romaine-radicchio-salad

All in all, a fun and not-too-stressful challenge from the Daring Cooks. (We had enough stress with the weather!)

Basil -prosciutto Risotto

olive oil 2 fluid oz 60 ml
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
rice 14 oz 400g (Any type of risotto rice will do. I use Arborio but the recipe itself says Vialone Nano. Another to look for is Carnaroli.)
white wine 2 fl oz 60 ml
chicken or vegetable stock , simmering 2 pints 1 L
NOTE: Ingredients above make the base - modify as you like from here
6 slices prosciutto, cut into thin strips
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
bunch of fresh basil, larger leaves torn

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1.Heat oil in a pan and add onion. Saute until softened.

2.Add the rice and garlic and stir for a few minutes to coat each grain of rice with oil and toast slightly.

3.Add the wine and let it bubble away until evaporated.

4.Add enough stock to cover the rice by about an inch or two.
5.Cook on medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon from time to time, until most of the stock has been absorbed.

6.Repeat Step 5 making sure to leave aside approximately 100 ml. of stock for the final step. .

7.Repeat, save 100ml for the final stage. Once you are at this point, the base is made. You now get to add your own variation.

8. Stir in the prosciutto and cheese.

9. Just before serving, stir in the basil.

risotto

Chicken Stock

1 large chicken about 4 pounds
2 onions, halved
2 sticks celery
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp. peppercorns
2 bay leaves
peel of 1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp. allspice

1.Wash the chicken and place in a 5 Litre pot, cover completely with water and bring to a boil

2.Skim away any scum as it comes to the surface

3.Add the vegetables and bring back to a boil

4.Add the rest remaining ingredients and simmer very gently, uncovered for 1.5 hours

5.Carefully lift out the chicken, set aside. The chicken meat can be removed from the chicken, shredded off and used for other things like soup!

6.Simmer the stock gently for another hour. At , at the end you should have around 2 Liters

7.Carefully ladle the liquid into a fine sieve, the less the bones and vegetables are disturbed in this process the clearer the stock will be. 
The stock is now ready for use. Freeze what you don't need for later use.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Quick and easy pasta with arugula and Romano cheese

arugula-salad

Last weekend found us driving from NJ to MA and back in a day and then headed to Albany overnight on Sunday, so Saturday was all about getting things done. (And having time to go shopping with mom for baby clothes! Priorities!!!) So dinner needed to be quick, but yummy...

And who doesn't love a fast, easy, side dish that's packed with flavor and pairs well with just about any main course? This pasta dish takes no time to make and it goes great with steak, chicken, fish, pork or serve it on its own. I love having leftovers for lunch. With a measly 5 ingredients, this is great if you have unexpected guests or find yourself without a plan for dinner like I did on Saturday. I had decided on steaks (with Little Italy relish) and needed a side. This dish popped to mind and my husband almost jumped for joy when I mentioned it. Done and done.

Quick and easy Pasta with Arugula and Romano Cheese
recipe adapted from Everyday Pasta by Giada DiLaurentiis

1/2 pound dried pasta, ant shape will work, but I like Mafalde, long wide ribbons with curly edges
2 Tbsp. Unsalted butter
3/4 cup fresh grrated Pecorino Romano
About 2 cups baby arugula, washed and dried
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Extra romano or Parmesan cheese to garnish (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta, reserving the cooking liquid.

Cut the butter into small pieces and toss with the hot pasta to coat. Gradually toss in all of the cheese. Mix in the arugula and about 1/2-1 cup of the hot cooking liquid. Add black pepper to taste. The arugula with wilt slightly from the hot pasta and water. Serve immediately, garmished with extra cheese, if desired.

Serves 4 as a side dish or two as a main course. Can easily be doubled!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Little Italy Relish: Quick pick-me-up for grilled steak

little-italy-relish

One of the simplest dinners is grilled steak. It's quick and easy, but with a little extra effort it can seem like an elegant dinner. Paired with a nice side dish, a classic caesar salad, and some good red wine, it was a perfect Saturday night dinner. To add a little more flavor and flare to the meal, I made a fresh batch of Little Italy Relish. It's a no-cook relish that comes together as fast as you can chop the ingredients. Olives, roasted red peppers, and more combine to bring a unique flavor to a simple steak dinner. Served at room temperature, the heat from the steaks brings out even more flavor.

I made more than enough for the two of us. I wanted leftovers! This relish will be great on roast beef sandwiches or even better on a hot steak sandwich with melted provolone on garlic bread. It'd also be delicious as a topping for a salad with grilled chicken. Or simply put a scoop of it on a piece of crusty bread like Jeff did after dinner!

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Little Italy Relish
Adapted from Weber Real Grilling

1 roasted red bell pepper, diced
1/2 medium ripe tomato, diced
1/2 cup pitted green olives, diced
1/2 cup pitted black olives, diced (I used Calamata)
1 stalk celery, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 Tbsp. good quality extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and set aside at room temperature for at least 1 hour before serving. If making a day ahead, refrigerate overnight and let come to room tempterature before serving.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups. Serve over your favorite cut of grilled steaks.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Recipe from a friend: Artichoke Pie

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Last week, I ended up having numerous work functions for people who were leaving the business or retiring. All of them centered around food (of course!) One of the best things about it was seeing friends and co-workers I don't see everyday. I got a chance to catch up with my friend Patty; she's a fellow foodie so we always have plenty to talk about. When I first moved, Patty told me about local restaurants, grocery stores, bake shops and more. Lately, we share stories about the dishes we make. It was during one of those conversations last week that she mentioned her Artichoke Pie.

The recipe is simple, especially if you use store-bought pie crust. It's kind of like a quiche, but without the cream. I made it fresh this morning (a benefit of rising at 6 a.m.) and had a slice for lunch. I'll be nibbling more of it later in the week, maybe with a side salad - I'm thinking baby spinach with a little fresh squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

I modified the original recipe slightly. I added the sauteed shallot and a pinch of cayenne. I may have also been a little liberal when measuring the Romano cheese! This is a great dish for brunch or lunch. It'd reheat superbly for a buffet. I also think it could easily be modified. Next time, I might try feta or Paremsan cheese just for a little change. You could also add a little chopped ham or bacon to bring in another layer of flavor... the possibilities are endless.

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Artichoke Pie
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 2 cans of artichoke hearts in water (or 10 oz frozen artichoke hearts – thawed), quartered
  • 1 minced garlic clove or ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • 3 eggs lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup grated Italian cheese (Locatelli or Pecorino)
  • 8 oz shredded whole milk mozzarella
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Pinch of cayenne (optional)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 9 inch Pie Crust (store bought or homemade)

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Preheat oven to 350F. Line 9" pie plate with crust.
Saute the shallot and artichoke hearts in 2 tbsp olive oil for about 5-6 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly.

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Combine remaining ingredients in bowl and add sautéed artichokes.

Spread evenly into 9” pie crust. Bake for about 1 hour, until golden brown on top.

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Delicious and nutritious chewy granola bars

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I love to make homemade crunchy granola, but it's not really a food that travels well. As we prepared to go away for the weekend, I decided to give homemade granola bars a try. The good thing about homemade granola or granola bars is that you can fill them with whatever you like. Choose your favorite fruits, seeds and nuts; experiment with different combinations. For my chewy granola bars, I went with raisins, apricots, almonds, flax seed, unsweetened coconut and sunflower seeds. I also added some sea salt for a salty-sweet taste that's great any time of day.

A few tips: pack them into the pan well. They'll "stick" together a little better if you use quick oats, but I prefer less-processed old-fashioned oats. If you like sweeter granola bars, add an extra 1/4 cup of sugar to what I list below. The fruit adds some sweetness, as does the nut butter, but do what tastes good to you.

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Chewy granola bars
adapted from kingarthurflour.com

1 2/3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup granulated sugar, optional (see "tips" at right)
1/3 cup oat flour (or 1/3 cup quick oats, processed till finely ground in a food processor or blender)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
2-2 1/2  cups dried fruits and nuts*
1/3 cup peanut or almond butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 Tbsp. melted butter
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. corn syrup
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment, then lightly grease the pan.

Toss together all the dry ingredients, including the fuit and nuts.

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In another bowl, mix the melted butter, corn syrup, vanilla, and water.

Toss the wet ingredients with the dry and stir in the nut butter. Combine until well-mixed and crumbly. Turn the mixture into the pan and pat it evenly in the bottom of the pan, pressing down. (If it's sticky, use a piece of plastic wrap or waxed paper.)

Bake for 30 minutes, or until edges are browned.

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Use a knife (or bench knife) to cut the bars while they're still warm in the pan. Carefully remove warm bars from the pan, and cool on a rack. Alternatively, remove from the pan before cutting into bars; it helps to cut in half first, then loosen the bottom of each half with a turner/spatula before turning out onto a sheet of parchment to cut into bars.

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Wrap bars individually to store in plastic wrap or waxed paper; or place in a single layer on a plate, and cover with plastic; or store in layers with parchment in between. In humid weather, it's best to store bars in the refrigerator. They also freeze well.

*I used 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots, 1/2 cup rasins, 3/4 cup chopped almonds, 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut, 1/4 cup sunflower seeds and a couple tablespoons flax seed.
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