Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Curried winter squash soup

Much like the last post, this is a recipe of seriously bright color. The batch I made last night featured my favorite winter squash, kabocha, but you can use whichever variety you like best or happen to have lying around the house. Butternut would probably be pretty good. My dad happened to be in town last night, swinging through with his jetsetting lifestyle to socialize with us for an quick evening before heading on his busy way. He said he liked the soup, so if it's good enough for an international xylose fermentation superstar, it should be good enough for the rest of us.

I sautéed 1 large minced onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoon butter. When they were getting soft, I added in 1 teaspoon garam masala, 1 teaspoon yellow curry powder and a pinch of paprika and stirred it all up together. The onions continued to cook for about 10 more minutes. You want them to get very soft but not browned, so keep the heat on the low side. Meanwhile, I chopped in half and de-seeded one large kabocha squash. I peeled up the squash and cut it into small chunks of about 1 ½", then peeled 2 apples and cut them into the same size chunks. Stirred both the squash and the apples into the pot to cook alongside the onions for about 5 minutes, then added 3 cups of chicken stock. Brought it to a low simmer and let it cook until the apples and squash were quite tender, about 25 minutes. At this point I stirred in ½ cup of plain yogurt, ¼ cup sherry, a pinch of red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt and a very healthy grinding of black pepper. Then I turned off the heat and got out my fantastic immersion blender that I love more than life itself, and blended hell out of the soup. It turned a sunshiney bright yellow with the curry and the squash and the flavor mellowed out beautifully with the yogurt. You may find it needs a touch more salt, so taste it to see. I allowed the now-smooth soup to chill out on a back burner covered at a low simmer until my dad showed up, then I added a couple tablespoons of finely minced parsley to finish.

Blanched winter vegetable salad

This is a cheatery recipe because it is really easy. There's nothing particularly seasonal about these vegetables--it's just that they're readily available in the wintertime (thanks southern hemisphere!). They taste crunchy and fresh when prepared this way, and the bright colors are a technicolor medicine for winter doldrums, so give it a shot.

Cut one small head of cauliflower into florets of no more than 1 ½" in size and set aside. Do the same with a head of broccoli, reserving the stalks for another use (I deeply love broccoli stalks and can't imagine throwing them away, in fact I used my reserve of them last night for a delicious brown rice-tofu-broccoli stalk stirfry). Take three large carrots, peel and cut into rounds of about ¾" in width. Try to get each vegetable cut into equal sizes. Get a big pot of water up to a hard boil on the stove. While you're waiting for it to boil, fill a bowl of water with cold cold water and at least one tray of ice cubes. You are making an ice bath for your veggies! When the water is boiling merrily, put your broccoli florets in for exactly one minute. Fish them out with a wire mesh colander (or whatever, just don't drain the boiling water because you are going to keep using it) and dump the broccoli into the ice bath. This will instantly stop their cooking which will preserve the crunchy fresh flavor and the brilliant green color. Swirl them around to cool off, then fish them out and place in the fridge. Meanwhile, hopefully your water in the pot on the stove is back up to a boil again, so add in your cauliflower and let it boil for just under 2 minutes, then repeat the fish out/dump in ice bath/stick in fridge routine that you just did for the broccoli. Do the same exact thing for your carrot rounds, also letting them boil for not-quite 2 minutes. You might need to add a few more ice cubes to the ice bath to keep it chilled between vegetables. When all the vegetables are done, store them in the fridge until it's time for dinner. Serve the mixed vegetables either tossed with a delicious vinaigrette or drizzled with the Trader Joe's goddess dressing (it has tahini in it!). This also makes a great lunchbox addition or colorful finger food for little kids.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Broiled shrimp

I actually think the name of this recipe should be Wintertime Shrimp because Byron's reaction to "do you wanna come over and eat shrimp?" was something like "Shrimp? What? It's February! Shrimp are for summertime!" Hopefully he was convinced and maybe these will be the kind of shrimp you can see yourself consuming in the depths of winter (actually it was, like, 65 degrees out, so it's not actually all that cold). Unlike the shrimp Byron was thinking of, these aren't cooked up with potatoes, corn and sausage like a low country boil. They're still in the shell so you must peel-and-eat, which makes for a fun communal meal (actually, Josh LeF. described it as "primal" so maybe that's it). Also, all the stuff you broil the shrimp in makes an amazing buttery sauce to dip bread into and that might be the best part of all.

I got about 4 pounds of shrimp for 6 people. I bought 2 pounds of the 21/25 counts and 2 pounds of the 26/30 counts. I probably would have gotten all of the bigger size (easier to peel) but they were running out. 4 pounds of shrimp in these sizes will require the use of 2 baking pans (the jelly roll style cookie sheets with a lip on the edges) and you'll probably have to do them in 2 batches in your broiler. Obviously, if you have fewer people and only do 2 pounds, you can fit it all on one sheet and make them in one batch. Wash your shrimp really well and spread them out on your baking sheets. Drizzle each batch with 1/4 cup olive oil, then get your black pepper grinder and grind pepper all over them. Like ALOT of pepper, just keep grinding and grinding until they are liberally covered in a blanket of pepper. Sprinkle salt over the top,probably 2 teaspoons per sheet of shrimp. Then pour about ½ cup of Worcestershire sauce over each batch. Squeeze the juice from 3 lemons over each batch (a total of 6 lemons for 2 batches). Cut about 3 sticks of butter into chunks and dot the shrimp with the butter pieces so that you have at least 1 ½ sticks of butter per batch. OK, so you have shrimp, black pepper, a little salt, worcestershire, lemon, and butter. Now stick it under the broiler for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cover your table or wherever you'll be eating in newspaper and get out a bowl to put empty shells into. When the shrimp are done, haul them out of the broiler (if you're making two batches, stick the second one in now) and pour the shrimp and all the delicious sauce that has formed beneath them into a large bowl. Make sure you have one or two loaves of good crusty french bread to dip in the sauce, try to stick it in the oven to heat up ahead of time. Call your friends over and begin to eat. You'll probably burn your fingers but it is worth it.

The only accompaniment these delicious shrimp need, besides the bread, might be a good green salad. I had beautiful lettuce from the Morningside farmer's market, with watermelon radishes, cucumbers and a hazelnut oil-champagne vinegar dressing. We had discussed ahead of time that Abita beer is proabably the most delicious libation for shrimp, so we had those and Jeremy also brought a really nice pinot noir. And we drank a bunch of other red wine because that is how I roll, no matter what I am eating for dinner. Unfortunately, you will probably not be able to replicate the awesomeness of having Sara as one of your shrimp eating guests. She brought the most amazing chocolate bundt cake and it was ridiculously good.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Golden risotto with chicken and butter beans

More risotto! 2008 has a theme thus far. I suspect I'll back off after this go-round, but this was a great way to use my roast chicken leftovers. I wanted something that was creamy and delicious, like wintertime comfort food. And risotto totally delivers. It sort of makes me think of an old-fashioned chicken-and-rice recipe. If you don't have butter beans you should use tiny green peas, in fact it might actually be better with those, a little more elegant.

Begin with a whole lot of chicken fat on the bottom of a pan. I was trying to make gribenes, which are chicken skin crisps fried in chicken fat. It was just for fun, because I had a lot of chicken fat left over and a whole chicken skin so I was trying it out. Didn't really work, but I had a tablespoon of chicken fat in my pot afterwards and some delicious golden chicken fat sticking, so I just started my risotto there. Sautéed one small minced onion in the fat until soft and golden, then added 1 cup arborio rice. Continued to sauté for about 3 minutes then began slowly adding 3 ½ cups of chicken stock. As before with cooking a risotto, add the liquid only ½ cup at a time, stirring until it is all absorbed. If you have some white wine, replace a ½ cup of the chicken stock with wine--I didn't have any open on hand so I didn't do that this time. This will not be pure white like a risotto sautéed in butter and wherein you don't allow the onions to color. That's why I'm calling it a golden risotto--possibly it is unorthodox, but whatever, it's tasty. Anyway, after your risotto has absorbed 2 cups of liquid, stir in a ½ cup of butter beans or tiny green peas along with about 1 cup of chicken meat, cut into small ½" pieces. Stir these in along with the remaining 1 ½ cup of liquid, still going only ½ cup at a time. When you are down to your last ½ cup of liquid, add in ¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese, then continue adding liquid until all has been absobed and the rice is creamy and delicious, which it should be by that point. Season with fresh black pepper and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lacinato kale, watermelon radishes and baby turnips

Actually, this post should be entitled "I am a Late Adopter: The Delights of Morningside Market." My friend Katie pointed out to me, as others have done, that there is a really great farmers market up North Highland. I haven't been and I haven't been and finally I saw firsthand some of Katie's vegetables procured there and I went immediately. And guess what--it is indeed great, although not large. There are about 5 stalls, most are vegetables, there seemed like a bread one and then also a meat one, which is really exciting. I don't know if there will be more in the warmer months or not. Anyway, I found these wonderful tiny turnips and gorgeous dark lacinato kale...they are so tender and perfect. And these amazing radishes! Outside they look like big tough balls--they're about the size of baseballs, which is large for a radish--but when you slice them they are beautiful, bright red with a pale green rind. They look like watermelons, especially if you slice them into half moons. I drizzled them with hazelnut oil (olive oil is perfectly fine too) and sprinkled with salt and pepper for an appetizer when Charlie and Colleen came over.

The lacinato kale was very delicate and small--the leaves were not longer than 3". I sort of braised/sautéed them, first swirling around in a hot pan with olive oil, then adding a tiny bit of minced garlic, and then about 2 tablespoons each pinenuts and dried cranberries. Then I added about ¼ cup chicken stock and cooked until it was absorbed and the kale was soft but still bright green. It would have been even more delicious if I had toasted the pinenuts first, so be sure to do that if you think of it.

The baby turnips were wonderful. They had long, perfect greens attached so I sliced those off, leaving about 1" atop. This was at a different dinner than the kale so I cooked up the turnip greens pretty much exactly the same way as described above. The turnips themselves I tossed together in a pan with a head's worth of peeled, whole garlic cloves and 2 teaspoons of sugar. These roasted at 400 degrees underneath a chicken that was roasting already for dinner. It's important to remove a lot of the drippings before you put turnips in the roasting pan beneath the chicken, otherwise the vegetables will get too greasy. You may also need to use the baster to draw some of the juices out as they go along. They'll cook up happily along with the chicken--they need about 40 minutes, give the pan a shake now and then to redistribute.

Chicken milanese

This is the sort of thing my grandmother always seems to be making us for lunch at her house, except I think she usually uses veal cutlets rather than chicken. I think it's completely delicious and for some reason it always feels quite genuinely Italian to me, probably because both my mother and my grandmother can make these in their sleep as their most basic meat preparation skill. I could eat them any day of the week they're so tasty and so much like comfort food. For a variation, they'd be good on top of a salad of lightly vinagretted baby greens. The most important thing to have on hand is the lemon--it wouldn't seem authentic without it.

I had 3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts on hand, you can make as many as you like. Take each chicken breast and slice them in half lengthwise as evenly as possible with a sharp knife to make 2 thin cutlets. You might find this easier to do if you stick them in the freezer for 5 minutes first. After halving the chicken breasts, flatten them, either with a meat pounder (which I do not own, sadly) or with the palm of your hand (which I do own). Get all the cutlets to an even width. Combine 2 tablespoons water and one egg in one bowl, beat them together and set aside. In another bowl combine ¾ cup of fine bread crumbs with salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons minced parsley. Get a skillet ready and hot with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Dip each chicken cutlet into the egg-water mixture, and next dredge it in the breadcrumb mixture. Sauté in the hot oil until very nicely browned, then flip over and brown the other side, then remove to a plate. You'll probably need to do these in batches and might have to keep adding oil. When all the cutlets are done, serve them with large wedges of lemons and insist that everybody squeeze them liberally over their chicken before eating. Do not take no for an answer.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Farro risotto with cremini mushrooms

Farro is a type of Italian wheat--it is very long and elegant looking with a distinct nutty flavor. It remains firm after cooking, unlike wheat berries or spelt, and this texture makes it particularly enjoyable. I had never seen it just hanging out on store shelves before but last week I found it at the DeKalb market and so picked some up to try making it at home myself. Because it has a very hard exterior, you are supposed to soak it before cooking, so if you remember, do that. I of course did not remember, but it turned out OK. This is cooked like a risotto, but unlike a real risotto it doesn't get super creamy. It is, however, incredibly delicious.

Rinse well 1 cup of farro and boil it in about 8 cups water for 30 minutes. Drain the farro and set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 package of sliced cremini mushrooms and sauté until they are golden, about 8-10 minutes. Add 1 clove minced garlic (or 2 minced shallots instead would be tasty if you have them, which I did not) and continue to sauté 1 minute. Add in the preboiled farro and 1 cup white wine. Simmer until almost all liquid evaporates, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add in a total of 2 cups chicken stock; stir the liquid in slowly, ½ cup at a time, simmering until each ½ cup addition of liquid is absorbed. Do this until all 2 cups are added in and the farro is tender, which will take about 15 minutes. At the end, if you like, stir in a couple tablespoons of parmesan cheese and a little more butter, plus salt and pepper.

We also had these great sirloin steaks that Melanie's parents had sent them around Christmastime. Mel's parents are very smart--they know the best gift of all is a freezer full of meat. I made a port wine sauce for the steaks--pretty much just 3 tablespoons melted butter with 1 clove minced garlic, then add a cup of port and bring it to a simmer, then add in 1 cup chicken stock (better with beef stock but I didn't have any) and then boiled until it all reduced down to 1 cup and got thick. We also had roasted green beans, mostly because I wanted to try making a vinagrette with this hazelnut oil I'd purchased. Hazelnut oil is amazing. It smells fantastic and the flavor is delicate yet full at the same time. I roasted a pound of trimmed green beans in a 425 oven for 8-10 minutes until they were bright green but with a few caramel patches on them. Then, while they were still hot, tossed the beans in a vinagrette made with 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar, 3 tablespoons hazelnut oil, 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard, salt and pepper. It was great.