Monday, April 28, 2008

Smoked salmon pasta

Betsy and I were having an evening wherein work pressures and life annoyances had driven us to consume something extraordinarily creamy and rich. This pasta fits that kind of day perfectly. Make it on some evening when you know you'll have enough people over for dinner to eat it all because it isn't one of those pasta sauces that keeps well. This will easily serve 4 people, more if you are doing small portions for a first course. It's really easy to make and would be great with a green salad tossed in a bright vinaigrette to contrast with the creamy sauce--of course the other day when I made this we were feeling sorry for ourselves and didn't scare up any green vegetables at all. Betsy showed up and said "well, I didn't bring any salad stuff...but look! I brought brownies! And wine!" Which, if you think about it, is even more awesome than a salad, especially on cruddy days.

You will need a chunk of good smoked salmon--I used about 8 ounces but it's a pretty flexible thing. The better the salmon is, the better your sauce will be. Use a knife or a fork and flake up your chunk of salmon into little pieces and set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and saute 1 small minced onion over medium heat until lightly caramelized and all soft and golden, about 8 minutes. Turn your heat up to medium-high and add 1 cup white wine and let it sizzle for a second to burn off the alcohol. Add 1 6-ounce can tomato paste and saute with the onions and wine for 1 minute then add 1/2 cup tomato puree (note: you can use any kind of canned tomato at this point as long as it isn't more tomato paste or nasty premade tomato sauce. Diced tomatoes are fine, or whatever else you happen to have in your cupboard). Add 1 8-ounce package of cream cheese in chunks, while stirring the sauce gently to make sure the cream cheese melts--it should turn a really pretty light pink color. Add in about 3 tablespoons of half-and-half (or milk or cream) to smooth it out. When the sauce is smooth, add your flaked smoked salmon and 2 teaspoons fresh black pepper. Taste it to see if it needs salt--smoked salmon is pretty salty already so it might be OK. If it seems too rich and creamy you can add a tablespoon vodka or a drizzle more white wine or some more tomato puree if you want it less pink. Either way, boil up a pound of penne pasta (or something else if you like it better), drain it lightly when it is al dente, return it to the pot you boiled it in and toss it together with your salmon sauce. Serve immediately with wine and brownies and stop worrying about your job.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Beet tzatziki and flank steak

So this whole dinner came about because of a beet tzatziki that I made and didn't know what I should do with once I'd made it. I made the tzatziki because I couldn't resist buying these gorgeous candy-colored beets at the Morningside farmer's market and they needed to be used up. Aviva and Ali and I had our porky tofu dinner the other night and we were just sitting around and chatting afterwards, so I decided to make this because I was roasting the beets anyway and wanted to do something with my hands while we talked besides drink wine (beet tzatziki--the solution for my incipient alcoholism?). It is an amazing color; a bright pink that seems impossible to occur in nature, but it totally does, y'all. I packed it up in the fridge in tupperware and thought about it for a day or so until I decided it would be great with flatbread, grilled flank steak and an assortment of other vaguely mediterranean dishes (see the last 2 posts if you are curious). A note about the type of yogurt used in tzatziki--it is sort of a special kind. It's a thick, greek-style yogurt which means it is creamier and thicker than regular yogurt and makes a revelatory sauce. So go get yourself a nice piece of beef, grill or broil it simply, and use this amazing hot pink sauce as a condiment. If nothing else it makes a great conversation starter.

Trim the greens down to 1 inch from 4 small beets, and lay them on aluminum foil in a pan to roast in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes-1 hour. The aluminum foil is just to keep the beets from staining your dish--if you don't care, don't use the foil. If you don't have small farmer's market type beets, just use 1 huge one instead. When they are soft, take them out and let them cool until you can handle them. Take the skins off (this is easy once beets are cooked, usually they just slip right off with the aid of a sharp knife) and grate the beets into a mixing bowl. Add 1 minced clove garlic, juice from 1 lemon, a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Let it sit for 5 minutes to mellow, then add at least 1 cup of thick greek-style yogurt and mix it up really well. It will be the most intense, shocking pink you've ever seen, like a cracked out Victoria's Secret window display. You may have to look away for fear of searing your retinas. Taste it and add more yogurt if it is too candy-sweet (beets are, like, pure sugar), you can add up to 1/2 cup more yogurt, if you like. Stir in some dill--1 tablespoon minced if it is fresh, or 1/2 tablespoon if it is dried.

Now for the steak. I rubbed a 2 pound flank steak with a mixture of 3 tablespoons olive oil, 3 cloves minced garlic, 2 teaspoons paprika, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, sea salt and fresh black pepper. Let this sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes, then turned on the oven broiler and stuck my grill pan in to get hot for a minute. Put the steak on the grill pan and broiled it--about 7 minutes per side. Cut into it and check after you flip it to see if it is done to your liking. You can also just throw it on the grill rather than broil it--I probably would have but I think my grill is still on Mel and Jeremy's porch. When it is cooked the way you want it, pull it out and slice into thin strips across the grain. Pour the pan juices over the slices and serve with the beet tzatziki sauce and flatbread.

Spiced couscous

This went along with the previously mentioned green beans and the not-yet mentioned flank steak in our dinner the other night. Melanie, Jeremy and Ali were all over and it was fun--especially as Melanie brought her mom's chocolate pound cake and Ali brought over chocolate-caramel covered matzoh. I'm always excited when other people bring desserts--it's just not something I do well, in case y'all haven't noticed. Anyway, Jeremy was sad that this was small-grain "normal" couscous, rather than the large pearl couscous that I usually make, but I thought it was a better accompaniment to the pan-mediterranean style dinner that I had going on, so he just had to deal with it. This is a very highly flavored, pretty side dish with a subtle Morrocan/Sicilian feel to it. It would be good either hot or at room-temperature, which makes me think it would be perfect to take on a picnic.

Start with 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add ¼ cup minced onion, ¼ cup minced carrot and one de-seeded and minced small serrano pepper. Any tiny slightly hot green pepper will do fine (jalapeno, cubanelle, whatever) just be sure that it is not large (about 2 inches long is fine) and make sure to de-seed it first. Saute in the butter-oil mixture until tender, then clear space in the center of the pot and add 1 teaspoon chile powder, 1 teaspoon paprika, ½ teaspoon cumin to bloom in the oil. "Blooming" your spices in heat is the best way to bring out their full flavor and potential--mostly in spice mixtures like curry powder or chile powder. What it does is release the oils and intensifies the flavor of the spice, which they do not get the opportunity to do when you just dump them into a liquidy mixture. They need full contact with a hot pan. Anyway, heat your spices and mix them in with the sauteeing vegetables, then add ½ teaspoon tumeric and 1 ¼ cup couscous (I'm just guessing on the additional ¼ cup part, all I know is that I had a little bit left in the container so I just added it. Definitely at least a cup though). Mix everything well together and add 1/3 cup golden raisins and 1 ¼ cups chicken stock, bring to a boil, cover, and turn off the heat. Let it steam covered and off-heat for 5-8 minutes, then add 1 tablespoon each minced cilantro and mint. You can use parsley instead if you want, I just happened to have these in my fridge. Fluff the couscous with a fork, mix in the juice of 1 lemon and serve hot or cold.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Agrodolce green beans with pistachios

Let me just tell you right now, this is delicious. Agrodolce sauce is good with many things although I think traditionally it is served with meat or fish. It is usually composed of thinly sliced and somewhat caramelized onion or shallots in a balsamic vinegar-sugar mixture. It is the sweet-and-sour sauce of Italy. Well, I'm a fan of green beans right now, especially the beautiful ones we are currently getting in the market up from Florida, so I decided that the sweet-sour-oniony treatment is just what they needed, plus a crispy, salty topping of pistachios to really highlight all that tangy sweetness. These went really well with a couscous and flank steak dinner we had last night, for which the recipes will be forthcoming.

First, I trimmed the ends off about a pound of attractive green beans, washed them well and set aside. I sliced up two very small onions--first in half and then crosswise to form thin half moon segments. You can use shallots or red onion if you prefer the flavor--I just didn't have any on hand. I melted together 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat, added the onions and allowed them to cook for about 10 minutes until golden and lightly browned in parts. At that point, I added 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon brown sugar and 2 teaspoons raw sugar. Use whatever type of sugar you like, just not too much. You could probably try making this with honey also. Stir the vinegar, sugar and onions all together to form a syrupy sauce and try it to see if it needs any tweaking. I decided mine was too sweet so I added some white balsamic vinegar to temper it (the dark kind is naturally sweeter). Add a few cranks of salt and pepper, then set aside the sauce. Wipe out the pan, turn the heat up to medium-high and toast 1/4 cup of chopped, salted pistachios until crispy, then take them out and set aside. Add about 1 cup of water to your pan (I just kept using the same pan because I hate washing too many at the end) and get it boiling over high heat, then dump in your green beans to steam-saute. Let them get bright green and crisp-tender (about 4 minutes) then drain them. Toss the green beans in a serving dish with the agrodolce sauce and scatter the toasted pistachios over the top to serve.

Tofu with shitakke mushrooms and pork

So the New York Times had a neat sounding recipe about tofu and pork together! It reminded me of something Marilyn might make so I thought I'd try a version of it. Also I had just purchased some really great, locally farmed pork sausage at the Morningside Market from the good looking meat man with the bright blue eyes (seriously, you can ask Betsy for verification, he was really handsome). Tofu does not necessarily need to be vegetarian, especially when pork makes it so damn delicious. Although if Ariane or Jocelyn wanted to make this, just omit the pork, increase the amount of mushroom and use veggie stock instead, and you'll have yummy vegetarian stirfry with crispy tofu (albeit, one that neither Ben nor Nick will eat, but whatever). Anyway, Aviva and Ali came over for dinner and gossip and this is what we had:

Start out with a 1 pound block of firm tofu and drain it in a colander or something to get some of the water out. Cut it into chunks (new york times said "slabs" but whatever size you like is fine). Heat up 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large nonstick pan and let your tofu chunks/slabs get golden and crispy without stirring--about 4 minutes per side. You might need to do this in 2 batches. Remove the tofu once it is golden and crispy and let it rest on paper towels to drain the oil off. Go back to your now-empty pan and add in the following: a package of shittake mushrooms that you have sliced into thin strips, the white and light-green parts of 4 thinly sliced green onions (I used green garlic since they had it at Morningside), and between 4-5 ounces of pork sausage. Like I said, I had the stuff from the farmer's market and it was all ground up, not in casings or anything like that. I don't actually know how much I used--probably a little more than half of a six-ounce package. You can also slice up chorizo or any other kind of pork sausage that you like. So, I crumbled in my sausage, mushrooms and green garlic and sauteed until soft, then added 1/4 cup chicken stock, 4 teaspoons soy sauce and 2 tablespoons sherry. This is pretty much straightforward and from the New York Times recipe, but I bet there would be more delicious sauce ingredients to add if you wanted to. Stirred it all together for 2 minutes and let the sauce get a little thicker, then added the tofu back in to reheat and served over brown rice.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Carrot cake with pistachio-coconut frosting

I ended up making carrot cake because I had made a huge batch of frosting intended to go on top of cupcakes for Paul's birthday (this is Tech Paul, in order to differentiate him from brother-in-law Paul or work mate Paul, or any other Paul...). The cupcakes weren't all that great, so I'm sparing you the recipe, but the frosting was awesome. There was a whole lot leftover and all I could think of to go with it was carrot cake. Fran and Paul (that's brother-in-law Paul now) were due to arrive for a visit last night and it was too late for dinner, so instead they got carrot cake.

Like I said, I made the frosting first and it had to hang out in the fridge waiting for cake for a couple days, so I'll let it go first as a recipe component: Mix up a package of cream cheese until fluffy, then add about 1/2-3/4 cup of powdered sugar (you might want it more sweet). Added in the juice of 1 orange, mixed well, then put in 1 cup chopped pistachios and 1/2 cup shredded, toasted coconut. I happen to like coconut but I realize it is a polarizing ingredient so feel free to leave it out and add more and different nuts or whatever you like instead. Cream these ingredients all together and stick in the fridge until it is time to frost.

For the cake you will need 2 cups of shredded carrots. Do this first and get it out of the way because it is a pain in the ass to shred carrots. Three large ones seemed to be enough, but they were pretty damn big. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 cup vegetable oil, 4 eggs, 1/4 cup honey, 1 teaspoon orange extract and 1 teaspoon almond extract. Beat it all together with your hand mixer (or a whisk, fork, whatever you have handy). In another bowl, sift together 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Make sure it is all evenly mixed together, then add it to the sugar-oil-egg mixture. Add your 2 cups shredded carrots and mix until well incorporated. Pour it all into a greased baking dish. I used a 9x13 glass pan, you can use whatever is convenient, but if it is deeper than a 9x13, your baking time may be longer. Just keep an eye on it. Pop it in your preheated oven for 30-45 minutes, test it with a toothpick to see if the center is done--mine was done at about 35 minutes. Cool completely and frost gently.