Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A different take on potato salad

While I do have a special place in my heart for thick, goopey, white, traditional potato salad, sometimes I want it to be a little lighter and healthier.  This version manages to sneak in plenty of ultra-healthy kale and avoid the glop, while still being satisfying.  It's best to make this at least an hour before serving to give the flavors a chance to combine.

- 6 red potatoes
- 3 stems kale
- 1/2 red onion
- 1/4 c. parsley
- 1 tbsp whole grain mustard
- 5 tbsp mayonaise
- `1 tbsp white wine vinegar or lemon juice
- A handful of chive flowers (optional)
- Salt, pepper, and paprika to taste

- Bring water to boil.  Make sure it is plenty salty: this will flavor the potatoes more deeply than adding salt later on.
- Boil the potatoes with skins on  until fork tender.  Don't let them get mushy!
- When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, chop them into bite-sized chunks and put them in a bowl with plenty of room for tossing.
- Chop up and add 1/2 red onion.  Be sure to taste it: if it's bitter or especially strong, add less and chop it finer.
- Roughly chop and add 1/4 c. parsley.
- Crumble and add the chive flowers.
- Cut the spines out of the kale and split the leaves in half.  Stack up 2-3 pieces, roll them tightly, and chop the rolls.  This will give you little ribbons.  If you are making the potato salad ahead of time, hold off on adding the kale.  I wouldn't add it any more than 2 hours before you plan on eating it.
- Whisk together the mustard, mayonnaise, vinegar/lemon juice, and a dash of salt, pepper, and paprika.  Pour over the salad and toss until everything is evenly distributed.
- Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
- Cover and chill.

It's perfect with baby back ribs!


Monday, May 30, 2011

Baby Back Ribs... in the oven?

Today marks the official start of barbecue season so how could I resist cooking up some baby back ribs.  Thanks to Stillman's Farms, I picked up an especially lovely rack at the farmers' market.  The ribs weren't bad, either!  (bah-dah psh!)  I can't help but be a little *saucy* when talking about barbecue...

A side note and one of my favorite bits of CPI (that's Cocktail Party Information, for those not in the know): according to my French friends, (and, of course, the French are always modest when it comes to their language), barbecue originates from a French phrase.  Referring to a whole pig being roasted on a spit and the path of that spit, it's either from 'barbe a queue' or 'barbe au cul' depending who you ask, translating to either 'beard to tail' or 'beard to ass'.  Yummy.

Back to my ribs.  Despite all of this talk of barbecue, I actually made my ribs in... the oven!  Don't yell at me!  I know there are purists out there who are clutching their pearls spatulas, but it works and it's delicious.  Besides, my downstairs neighbors moved this weekend and took the grill with them.  Not that I was ever a grill master.  I'm allowed *one* flaw, right?

In addition to being downright delicious, this method for cooking ribs is quick and easy.  Baby back ribs are ideal for this method as they are already tender and cook pretty quickly, but I did make these about two years ago with beef ribs with success, (and a bit more cook time).

First we're going to make a rub and let the ribs marinate a bit:
- Start by trimming up your rack.  Remove any excess fat and that membrane on the one side if it's there.
- In a bowl combine the following:

  • 2 tbsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp whole grain mustard
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 2 tbsp apple cider or white wine vinegar
- Mix the ingredients together and spread evenly on both sides of the ribs.
- Wrap in plastic wrap and let refrigerate a minimum of four hours, (longer is better).

While the meat is marinating, you can go ahead and make your sauce.  I made an awesome sauce the first time around, but I didn't write it down.  I think this is a pretty good approximation.  I want to stress that barbecue sauce is very personal for preference.  This one is quite tangy with a nice little sweet kick on the side and just a bit of background heat.  Taste it as you go and adjust the seasonings accordingly.

- In a small pot, combine the following:
  • 1/2 c. ketchup
  • 2+ tbsp whole grain mustard
  • 1/4 c. blackstrap molasses
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/4 tsp minced garlic
  • 1+ tbsp apple cider or white wine vinegar
- Stir continuously over low heat until the sauce is hot and the flavors begin to develop, about 10 minutes.
- Adjust from here.  I didn't stray too far from these proportions and I thought it was pretty tasty.
- Allow the sauce to cook a full 20 minutes, stirring to prevent burning, then remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 375 about two hours before you want to eat.
-  Line a pan with foil and place the ribs on it curved side down.
- Cover the ribs with another layer of foil, shiny side down, and press down to seal the edges.
- Bake ribs for one hour.
- After one hour, take them out and remove the top layer of foil.  They should already look pretty tasty.
- Brush the sauce on thickly, flip them over, and brush it on the other side.
- Return the ribs to the oven for 10- 15 minutes, then repeat brushing the sauce on.  I thought two coats was perfect, but you could go another round if you like really saucy ribs.
- Cook the ribs another 10-15 minutes.  If you want them to blacken a bit, you can pop them under the broiler but I didn't find it necessary.  You could probably also do this stage on an actual grill if you were so inclined.
- Remove the ribs from the oven.  Let them rest a bit, then carve them up!

Seriously, one taste of these and you will be an oven rib convert.  The great part is you can easily keep an eye on them while doing other prep work in the kitchen.  No need to worry about setting the bushes around the grill on fire while you're inside otherwise occupied.  That's definitely never happened...


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Eat this now! A Tender Spring Salad

Yesterday was the first hot day of the year that really felt like summer was just around the corner.  It was a day that left you stunned and thirsty from being in the sun too long.  It was a day that turned cats into puddles on the floor.  It was the perfect day for a good salad.

I came home from the farmers market with one of the most beautiful heads of tender butterhead lettuce I'd ever seen.  While I was browsing, a little package of chive blossoms at the Siena Farms booth caught my eye.  With chive flowers blooming in my garden at home, I had never considered eating them.  Tonight I would put them in my salad.

Though it seems simple, this salad was very satisfying.  The tender lettuce is perfect for showcasing the bright lemon, earthy goat cheese, and pungent chive flowers.  The side of asparagus is icing on the cake.

- Start by thoroughly washing your lettuce leaves.  Pat them dry as well as you can and let the air do the rest.
- Trim the ends of your asparagus.
- Rub the stalks with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
- Heat up a grill pan and add the asparagus.  Cook for about six minutes, turning over once.
- While allowing the asparagus to cool, tear up your lettuce.
- Top the salad with a few slivers of boucheron or the goat cheese of your choice, (a full-flavored aged cheese is great here).
- Pull the chive flowers apart (they're actually a bunch of small blossoms held together at the bottom).  I used three for my single large salad.
- Combine the flowers with equal parts olive oil & lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and a dash of pepper.
- Add the asparagus to the salad.
- Pour the vinaigrette over everything.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Asparagus Goat Cheese Tarts

For my tea party I made a slightly modified version of an asparagus tart I made a while back.  Honestly, I like this version better.

Now, before we get too into this let me address something.  I know these kind of look like quiche and they could easily be made more quiche-like with the addition of extra eggs and a bit of creme fresh.  But these are very intentionally not quiche.  See, I have a confession to make: I hate eggs.  I know, I know!  It's pretty unheard of for an actively cooking person to not like eggs... but I just don't.  Don't try to convince me.  It's not happening.  Trust me, I really want to like eggs.  I see so many recipes that sound wonderful in theory, (and don't even get me started on the lack of egg-less brunch options).  I know logically that eggs are a great, inexpensive meal base for any time of the day.  But I also know that the second I get a whiff of them cooking I'll have to suppress a gag.  I've tricked myself into pretending they're not there when I have pad thai and with enough other flavors I can enjoy things like souffles, but I just can't manage quiche.

So...  back to this decidedly non-quiche savory tart...  This is great because the filling can be made up to three days ahead of time and can just be spooned into the tart shells and baked shortly before serving.

- 1 pound asparagus (minus the three that I ate)
- olive oil
- 2 tbsp chopped shallot
- 5 tbsp plain goat cheese
- 1 egg (only one!)
- salt and pepper
- 1 recipe whole wheat pastry (I really need to do some posts dedicated to crusts)

- Trim the ends off of your asparagus and throw them away.  Trim the tips off of your asparagus and save them fore later.
- Drizzle the asparagus with some olive oil and a pinch of salt, toss to coat, and roast in the oven until completely tender, tossing halfway through for even cooking.
- After the asparagus are cool, chop them up into pieces and toss them in the food processor with the shallots.
- Pulse the processor until the asparagus in finely chopped.
- Add the egg, goat cheese, a bit more salt, and a few generous grinds of black pepper.  Blend until smooth.
- Add to your blind baked tart shells, (if making the filling ahead of time, do this part the day you will serve them).  For these, I used standard muffin tins to form the tart shells, about 2" across.  This should yield around 24 tartelettes, (though I only made 16).
- Top the tarts with the asparagus tips for decoration.  You can slice them lengthwise if you don't have enough for ever tart.
- Bake the tarts in a 400 degree oven for about ten minutes, until the filling is firm.
- Serve at room temperature.

Since I didn't use all of my filling for tarts, I had some lingering in my fridge.  For an easy dinner, I spread some on a slice of good bread, baked it in my toaster oven, and served it with some mache.  It was just as tasty like this.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Grapefruit Cake

A less expected hit at my tea party, these grapefruit cakelettes were certainly scrumptious.  Lemon pound cake is a classic, and one I do enjoy, but there's something a tad more fanciful and sophisticated about a grapefruit cake.  It's the perfect blend of sweetness with just a hint of tart and a whisper of bitter.  I gleaned the recipe from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home cookbook, (I've also made Ina Garten's grapefruit yogurt cake in the past, but this one's the winner).  The original recipe calls for a loaf cake, but little cakes are just so much more fun if you have some molds or a muffin tin floating around.  This cake is easy to throw together and baking mini versions makes it all the faster.

Ingredients:  For the 16 mini cakes I made above I used a half recipe, but I'll list for the full recipe below.
- 2 c. flour
- 1 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- Zest of 2 grapefruits (I doubled this from the original and very much liked the resulting flavor
- 2 eggs
- 1 c. + 2/3c. granulated sugar
- 1 c. whole milk
- 3/4 c. canola oil
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 c. + 2 tbsp fresh pink grapefruit juice (2-3 depending on size and juiciness)
- 3/4 c. powdered sugar

- Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and stir.
- In a large bowl, whisk together 2/3 c. sugar and eggs.
- Whisk in the milk, then the oil, then the vanilla and grapefruit zest.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet in three batches, stirring just until blended.
- Pour the batter into the oiled vessel of your choice.
- Bake in a 350 degree oven.  Baking time will depend on the size and shape you're going for.  A loaf will take about 1 hour, the mini cakes I made took about twelve minutes (not that they won't brown on top: they're pretty shallow so they are done through before they get a chance to brown.  You could probably stick them under the broiler briefly if you wanted, but I didn't mind their pallor for this presentation).  They are done when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- While those bake, make a simple syrup by combining 1 c. sugar with the 1 c. grapefruit juice.  Simmer just until the sugar dissolves.
- When the cake comes out of the oven, let it rest for 5 minutes.  Now you are going to bathe the cake with the simple syrup.  Poke the cake with a toothpick or skewer all over.  Ladle the simple syrup into the pan slowly, allowing it to absorb (if you're using small, intricate metal molds, you may want to take the cakes out before this step).  Keep ladling until it doesn't want to take any more.  Let the cake cool completely.  (Save any remaining simple syrup in the fridge-- a spoonful is great in a gin and tonic.)
- Mix together the remaining 2 tbsp grapefruit juice and the powdered sugar.
- When the cake is completely cool, take it out of the pan and pour the glaze over it.  It may be easier to just dip small cakes.
- Allow the cake to dry until the glaze is set, then serve at room temperature.

The added steps of the syrup and glaze may seem like an extra nuisance, but I think they're worth it.  While I'm sure the cake is tasty without them, they really enhance the grapefruit flavor.  if you simply must skip one, leave off the glaze and keep the syrup... but really, why would you do that?


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pinkies Up!

I know there was that whole revolution thing 235 years ago and we became a nation of coffee drinkers... but having a tea party is just so much more fun!

Tea parties just don't happen that much anymore and I think it's a shame.  We tend to entertain in the evenings, relaxing at the end of the day before retiring for the night.  Tea parties, and other day time gatherings, are a welcome change and seem delightful and whimsical in comparison.

Generally speaking, there are a few options when it comes to tea parties:

- Late morning or late afternoon both work for tea parties.  Morning tea parties, around 11 o'clock, tend to be a bit more brunch-like.  Expect to serve a bit more food but stay with the tea concept: no pancakes and bacon or anything that requires a full-sized plate.  Morning tea may last a bit longer as it runs into lunch time, but expect guests to move on with their days.
- Afternoon tea, traditionally high tea at 4 o'clock, allows for a bit more diversity.  Given that, presumably, guests will have eaten lunch and will be eating dinner, they won't arrive expecting to be filled with food.  While you can still go all out, an afternoon tea party is an excellent way to entertain simply on a budget.  Guests know they're not staying for dinner which helps create a defined end for the gathering.

- You can keep it simple or go all out.  As I mentioned, if hosting a morning tea expect to serve more food but that doesn't mean it has to be fancy.  You also don't have to buy everything from scratch: do, however, buy quality pre-made products.
- While small or bite-sized snacks are traditional, there is nothing wrong with serving slices of a larger tart or cake.  Just make sure that anything you serve can fit on a petite plate and can be easily eaten with a fork or spoon alone, no knives required.  As guests are not sitting at a table, keep in mind that crumbly things, especially when cut, can make a mess on your guests and our sofa.
- There is no set number of dishes you have to prepare, but it's nice to have a variety, especially with a larger number of guests.  If serving several types of small snacks, make sure there are enough of each for each guest to have two.  Try to balance sweet and savory dishes.
- Then there's the tea!  I prefer to keep plain hot water in the tea pots and let guests select their own tea bags for their cup.  While many tea aficionados scoff at tea bags, they really are ideal for their situation.  Tea balls and other contraptions can be messier in a party setting and not all guests may be familiar with them.  Be sure to provide a variety of flavors and include some non-caffeinated and herbal options.  Prepare a tray with accompaniments including warmed milk, sugar, and lemon slices.  Don't forget to provide a bowl for discarded tea bags and wrappers!  On warmer days I also like to provide iced tea as an option.

The tea party I recently threw is definitely an example a fancier gathering that I went all out for.  While it was certainly great fun and I enjoy the challenge of putting together such an event, it certainly doesn't represent the standard.  That said, it was surprisingly easy.  I was able to complete much of the work ahead of time.  All tart crusts were made the day before as well as the fillings, leaving some simple assembly and brief baking to be done before the guests arrived.

The Menu:
- Cucumber sandwiches (a classic for sure)
- Toast bites with cream cheese, smoked salmon, and capers
- Asparagus goat cheese mini tarts
- Strawberry frangipane mini tarts
- Lemon cream mini tarts
- Grapefruit cakes
- Assorted chocolates (store bought)

I will be covering the recipes in detail in the days to come!

The most important part of any gathering, tea party of otherwise, is to make sure you have fun.  Whether you throw an elaborate party for twenty or have two close friends over for tea and cookies, entertaining should be a pleasure!  In other words... enjoy!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Rather Unusual Pizza

When I saw this challenge for savory strawberry dishes, my mind went to work. Of course, the usual culprit is a strawberry salad with balsamic vinaigrette. I jumped from that idea and transformed it to a pizza with kale 'pesto', balsamic caramelized onions, strawberries, smoky bacon, and goat cheese.

To make the pesto, tear 3 stems of kale into bite-sized pieces. Put in a food processor with about 4 tbsp olive oil, two garlic cloves, salt, and pepper and blend until smooth-ish. Add additional olive oil if necessary.

Slice the onions and sautee them in a pan with a drizzle of olive oil until tender and golden. Add a splash of balsamic and toss until the liquid is gone.

Spread the pesto on the pizza dough, then add the onions. Chop 1 slice of bacon into a 1/4” dice. Be sure to use a good quality, thick cut bacon that has lots of meat and flavor. Bacon that is excessively fatty will lead to a greasy pizza. Add the bacon, then the thinly sliced strawberries, then top with goat cheese crumbles (about 3 oz.) Put in a 475 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is golden and the cheese is lightly browned.

This pizza was pretty tasty: the strawberries aren't unlike topping it with very sweet tomatoes. I can't say it was my all-time favorite topping, nor would I use prized farmers' market strawberries for this purpose, but if you're feeling experimental, give it a try!  As for savory strawberries, I may explore some more.  When the weather warms up a bit I think I'll give it another go with strawberry jalapeno salsa.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Seared Scallop Salad

I remember very specifically the first time I really tried scallops.  I was taken out for a fancy night on the town in San Francisco by a new beau.  All dressed up, we went to a wonderful restaurant before heading to the symphony.  Both relative novices to fancy dining, we went with a prix fixe menu of several courses.  After some grilled calamari with particularly large suckers, a plate of sauteed scallops was delivered to our table.  He immediately dove in to take a bite, I hesitated.  But, not wanting to dampen the evening, I ventured to give them a try with the determination not to show any adverse reaction.  As usual, my fretting was for naught: the scallops were delicious.  Sweet, creamy, and fresh, they were easily my favorite part of the meal.

Later I bought some at a farmers' market to try making them myself.  With such easy success, they are now one of my favorite meals to make as a treat.  I like serving them over salad to keep the flavors light. Look for nicely large, fresh scallops for the best flavor and texture.

- Start by preparing your salad.  You want everything else ready before you cook the scallops.  I used a combination of mache and spring greens.  I topped the greens with some red onion and avocado.  Some grapefruit would also be delicious.  Make sure you season your salad with a dash of salt-- you'll use less dressing this way.
- Mix a light vinaigrette of lemon juice, whit wine vinegar, olive oil, and pepper.  Set aside.
- Wash your scallops and pat dry.  Cut off the tough little tab of connective tissue on the side if it hasn't been already done.  Lightly sprinkle the scallops with sea salt.
- Heat a stainless steel pan to medium-high.  I do not recommend using non-stick as you won't get a proper sear.
- When the pan is hot, add a small pat of butter.
- Right after the butter melts, add the scallops.  They should sizzle.
- Turn the scallops once after about 60 seconds.  They should release easily.  You're not looking to cook them through so much as just sear the outside.  Overcooked scallops will become tough.
- After another 60 seconds, remove the scallops from the heat.  Place them on their salad bed and drizzle the vinaigrette evenly over everything.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Chicken Ravioli, Hold the Chicken

I'm not a big fan of meat filling in ravioli.  I prefer them to be light, fluffy clouds rather than heavy dumplings.  By simmering the ravioli in chicken broth rather than boiling them in water, you get the best of both worlds: the ravioli stay wonderfully light and are infused with a strong chicken flavor.

- Pasta dough: 1 cup flour, dash of salt, 1 tbsp dried herbs, drizzle of olive oil, 1 egg, 3 tbsp water.  See the steps here.
- 1 cup cremini mushrooms
- 2 cups fresh baby spinach
- 1/2 cup thick ricotta
- about 3 cups chicken broth (enough to just cover the ravioli), preferably home made
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1/4 c. grated pecorino
- fresh basil, for garnish

- Chop the mushrooms and brown them in a large skillet with a little olive oil.
- Combine the mushrooms with the ricotta and the roughly chopped spinach.
- Spoon the filling onto the first sheet of pasta.
- Brush a little water on the pasta around the filling.
- Lay the second sheet of pasta on top and gently press down around the filling to seal them, then cut them.  Or cut them and then fill them: this tends to make them look nicer and makes it easier to get the air out, but sometimes I go for speed.
- Add the broth to the skillet at bring to a steady simmer.
- Gently place the ravioli in the broth in a single layer.
- Cook for approximately 6 minutes, then remove the pasta from the broth.
- Raise the heat to high and further reduce the broth.
- Mix the flour with enough water to make a smooth liquid, then add to the broth to thicken.
- Stir in the grated cheese and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
- Spoon the sauce over the ravioli and garnish with fresh chopped basil.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Strawberry Frangipane Tart

It's hard to imagine the possibility of summer approaching until strawberries start to make their appearance.  What a cheerful, bright harbinger they are!  While I normally revel in enjoying them fresh and plain, baking with strawberries can be a real delight, especially for those first few begin to appear at the market in spring.  They are a natural pairing with frangipane-- that delicious, fluffy almond creme-- but I decided to mix things up a bit.  Instead of the traditional almonds, I used pecans in the frangipane.  I also blended the strawberries right in, rather that layering them on top.  The result is a pretty magenta tart with a delicate jammy flavor that will guarantee a smile.

Ingredients for the Tart Shell:
- 6 tbsp butter, cut into pieces
- 1 tbsp canola oil
- 3 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 cup flour

- Combine all ingredients except the flour into an oven safe bowl.
- Put in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.
- Carefully remove the bowl, add the flour, and stir with a wooden spoon until a dough is formed.
- Let the dough cool until it is safe enough to handle.
- Transfer the dough to your tart pan and gently press it out and up the sides.  Reserve a small piece of dough to patch any cracks after blind baking.
- Prick all over with a fork, especially the corners.
- Return the tart shell to the oven for 15 minutes until it is lightly golden.
- Upon removal patch any noticeable cracks with the reserved dough.  If you work quickly and have little feeling in your fingertips, you can add it instantly and it will cook right on.
- Let the tart shell cool.

Ingredients for Frangipane:
- 2/3 c. pecans, + additional for decoration
- 2/3 c. strawberries
- 1 egg
- 1/4 c. sugar
- 2 tbsp. butter, softened
- 1 tbsp. flour
- 1/2 tsp vanilla

- Lightly toast the pecans and grind in a food processor until they are roughly sandy.
- Trim and chop your strawberries and add to the food processor along with all of the other ingredients.
- Pulse until smooth.
- Gently pour the frangipane into the tart mold.
- Place pecan halves in decorative manner of your choosing.  You could cover the entire surface if you wanted a richer, nuttier tart.
- Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes, until the tart is firm.
- Allow to cool completely.  I recommend serving with a generous scoop of fresh sliced strawberries.  The tart should keep for up to three days, though it is best the first day as the color will fade a bit.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Baked Cod with Capers

In the past several years I have made a conscious effort to expand the role of fish in my diet.  It has forced me to challenge both my tastes and my initial fear of cooking fish.  It has not always been easy, (a particularly nausea-inducing meal of white fish in white sauce over white rice served to me by my French hostess comes to mind), but it hasn't always been bad either, (the surprising sweetness of the scallop that I nervously tried when taken to a fancy restaurant on a date).  I've had successes and failures in the kitchen, (I should really get a fish spatula), but I've had fun all along the way.  There was even a time when stopping into the fish market in the early hours of the morning on my way to work was the highlight of my day.

While my fish cooking isn't too adventurous yet, (I still leave that to the restaurants), I have few tricks up my sleeves.  This simple dish featuring cod, new potatoes, and green beans makes a lovely, quick meal.

- Start by adding a light drizzle of oil to an oven safe pan.
- Add the new potatoes and roll them a round to coat them with oil.  Sprinkle with salt.
- Bake in the oven at 400 for about ten minutes, depending on size.
- Sprinkle the cod fillet lightly with salt and black pepper.  Spread 1 tsp whole grain mustard over the fillet.  Top with a dozen or so drained capers.
- Prepare and trim your green beans.
- Add the green beans and cod fillet to the pan, (the green beans can be prepared separately on the stove top, but I chose not dirty another pan when cooking for myself).  Top the cod fillet with a small pat of butter.
- Bake for about 6 minutes.
- Serve hot from the oven with any remaining juices.