Thursday, February 28, 2013

Roasted Poblano and Caramelized Onion Dip

I spend a lot of time shopping for food, and I love making little discoveries along the way. I have a pretty good mental catalog of what to buy where in Austin, but I still occasionally turn up hidden treasures at grocery stores. Recently, H-E-B sent me a gift basket full of things just like this. It was a basket of samples of some of their Primo Picks described as one-of-a kind goods from around the world. There was a bag of Sahale snack mix that Kurt grabbed immediately, and I wasted no time in claiming the bottle of Central Market Citrus Italian Sparkling Soda. We played nice and agreed to share the Central Market Organic chocolate bars, and I fell hard for the almond and Himalayan salt milk chocolate flavor. There were even a couple of bottles of Orchid nail polish which includes no formaldehyde, toluene or DBP just as I prefer in nail polishes. When I saw the bag of Central Market Veggie Chips, my first thought was dip. There was a recipe idling in my to-try stack for a caramelized onion dip with poblanos, and this was reason enough to pull it to the top. It’s from last August’s issue of Living magazine, and the recipe is available online

Naturally, I made a change or two to the process from the original recipe. The changes made it slightly more complicated, but I was happy with the resulting texture. Rather than cooking the poblanos with diced onion and stirring it all together into the sour cream and cream cheese, I roasted the poblanos under the broiler first. This was for two reasons. First, I really enjoy the flavor of poblanos when they’ve been roasted to a point of blistered skin. The skin is peeled, the seeds are removed, and the chiles are chopped. Second, when I make caramelized onion dip, I prefer to whiz the onions with the dip base in a food processor to finely chop the onions and distribute them in the mix. This is just my personal preference. I always finely chop onions. So, I went about caramelizing chopped onion in olive oil in a large skillet. Meanwhile, I roasted the poblanos under the broiler. Then, I toasted coriander seeds in a small skillet. The caramelized onions were transferred to the food processor with the coriander seeds, sour cream, cream cheese, and lime juice. That was processed until smooth, and I tasted and added salt. Last, I stirred in the skinned, seeded, and chopped roasted poblanos to give the dip with pureed onions some chunky texture and topped it with a sprinkle of cayenne. 

Chips and dip are always a dangerous combination, but this mix with roasted poblanos and the light-as-air, crunchy veggie chips was especially so. Who knows what else is hiding in the grocery store waiting to be discovered? I can’t wait to see what gems I find next time I shop and what dishes they inspire. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Vegetarian Muffuletta

As I put together the Marinated Cauliflower, Olive, and Caper Salad, it reminded me a lot of the kind of olive salad that’s usually on a muffuletta. The only problem for me with a standard muffuletta is that it’s usually filled with several varieties of salami and ham which all fall into the red meat category that I avoid. So, I thought, why not build a vegetarian muffuletta? I skipped the meat and sliced roasted portobellos to take its place and added a layer of piquillo peppers. I chopped the Marinated Cauliflower Salad to a smaller size before adding a generous portion to the sandwich. Just as a muffuletta should be, this was a piled-high sandwich with big flavors. I’m not sure if this version will catch on in New Orleans, but it was hit at my house for Mardi Gras. 

I started with ciabatta rolls which were sliced, brushed with olive oil and toasted. From the bottom up, I layered arugula leaves, sliced provolone, roasted and sliced portobellos, and piquillo peppers. Of course, any roasted red pepper would add good color and flavor, but I had some piquillos on hand. Next up, I chopped some pepperoncini which were added before the chopped cauliflower salad. A little more arugula sat on top, and that was the sandwich. 

I love how the dressing from the cauliflower salad and the brine from the pepperoncini seep into the crunchy, toasted bread and flavor the whole sandwich. And, it’s a sandwich that requires a napkin or two to be served with it, but that’s part of the charm of a muffuletta. Mardi Gras inspired this creation, but from now on, it will make year-round appearances in our sandwich rotation. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Marinated Cauliflower, Olive, and Caper Salad

At the tail end of cauliflower season, I’ve had enough of bubbly, gooey gratins. With spring just around the corner, I wanted to use what might be the last of our local cauliflower for something with more zip. I found a marinated cauliflower salad from Bon Appetit’s November 2003 issue, and that was just the inspiration I needed. Of course, I made a few changes by including carrots, switching up the olives, throwing in some capers, and adding some heat with crushed red pepper. But, I was thrilled with the basic idea of this mix of marinated vegetables that could top a bed of arugula for a fresh, crunchy salad of winter produce. You’ll want to start the salad either several hours or a day before you plan to serve it. The cauliflower, carrots, and olives need some time mingle in the dressing. I served it just like it appeared in Bon Appetit on a bed of baby arugula leaves, but it’s also great by itself. Or, you could top it with some toasted pine nuts and crumbled feta. 

I started with a large head of cauliflower and cut the florets into pretty small pieces of about an inch or smaller. You can add the chopped vegetables to a large mixing bowl as you go. Next, a mix of olives like green and black Cerignolas and Kalamatas were pitted and roughly chopped. While shopping for these olives, I discovered that red Cerignola olives exist. I’d never seen them before. I looked it up and learned that they’re dyed red during the curing process, and I lost interest. For a moment, I thought there really was a strange, red variety of olive, but no. Carrots were sliced and celery was chopped as well. I love using the very middle stalks of celery and chopping the pale green leaves and including them too. Last, capers were drained and added to the bowl. I didn’t add any salt to the vegetables or to the dressing because of the saltiness of the olives and capers. Taste as you go to decide if you’d like any added salt. The dressing was made by whisking together apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, minced garlic, some fresh herbs, and crushed red pepper. Olive oil was drizzled in while whisking, and black pepper was added last. I used both chopped fresh oregano and parsley because both are currently growing in my herb garden. You could certainly skip the oregano or used dried. Half of the dressing was poured over the vegetables in the mixing bowl, and it was stirred to distribute. Cover the bowl and store the remaining dressing separately. Both should be refrigerated until ready to serve. For serving, arugula leaves were tossed with some of the remaining dressing and placed on a platter to be topped with the marinated vegetables. 

The marinated cauliflower keeps well in the refrigerator for several days, and I found another great use for it that I can’t wait to show. The pops of flavor put this on the opposite end of the cauliflower spectrum from a cheese-filled gratin, and that makes it a good transitional dish on our way to spring. 

Marinated Cauliflower, Olive, and Caper Salad 
inspired by recipe from Bon Appetit November 2003 

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar 
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard 
1 clove garlic, minced 
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (optional) 
2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsely 
pinch crushed red pepper 
1 cup extra virgin olive oil 
black pepper 

Marinated cauliflower: 
1 large head of cauliflower, cut into small florets 
2 cups mixed olives, pitted and roughly chopped ( a mix of green and black Cerignola olives and some Kalamatas made a good combination) 
3/4 cup sliced carrots 
3/4 cup chopped celery, (middle stalks with the leaves) 
1/4 cup capers in brine, drained 

To assemble: 
10 ounces baby arugula, washed and spun dry 

In a small bowl or glass measuring pitcher, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, minced garlic, herbs, and crushed red pepper, and slowly drizzle in the oil while continuing to whisk until emulsified. Season with black pepper to taste. I don’t add salt here since the olives and capers add saltiness to the salad. 

Combine all ingredients for the marinated cauliflower in a large mixing bowl. Add about half of the dressing to the vegetables and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for several hours. Store the remaining dressing in the refrigerator overnight as well. If you think of it, stir the cauliflower mixture a time or two to distribute the dressing while it marinates. 

Remove dressing and marinated cauliflower mix from refrigerator about an hour before serving. Toss arugula with some of the remaining dressing and place on a platter. Top the arugula with the marinated cauliflower and serve. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Walnut Spice Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting

The birthday cake conversation has changed over the years. There was a time when I would ask Kurt what kind of cake he’d like for his birthday, and the answer was chocolate. No pondering, no pause, no prompts for suggestions. Just chocolate. In recent years, the answer hasn’t come quite so quickly. He still likes chocolate but wants to hear other ideas too. This year, I presented three options that I thought he’d like, and he chose this lovely, layered creation with white cake and spice cake topped with chocolate fudge frosting and chopped walnuts. It’s from Saveur, and the recipe is online. It’s simpler to make than it appears because you only mix one cake batter rather than two. After making the white batter and pouring half of it into a pan, you add spices to the remaining half before pouring that into a second cake pan. I liked that approach. And, the frosting was something new and different to me. It’s cooked on the stove and brought up to just below soft ball stage before being mixed briefly to fluff it up a bit. Then, you have to work quickly to top each layer and cover the cake before the frosting sets. Next time I make it I’ll know just how quickly it sets up and once it does, there’s no moving it. My only regret with this cake was that I didn’t really get the walnuts pressed into the sides of the cake because the frosting set so quickly. The fine powder of the walnuts stuck to the frosting on the cake sides but not the bigger pieces of nuts. In the end, I placed the nuts around the edge on top of the cake and around the bottom edge which was good enough. Kurt was happy with his choice, and I was thrilled with the spice cake flavors mingling with the chocolate fudge frosting. 

Although the recipe suggests using vegetable shortening, I never use it. I used butter instead which worked perfectly well and gave the cakes better flavor. Before mixing the cake batter, dry ingredients were combined, and wet ingredients were combined separately. Also, the spices including cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and I added nutmeg were mixed in a small bowl and set aside. In a stand mixer, butter and sugar were creamed before egg whites were added. I had a laugh at the recipe which states “add egg whites one at a time.” Of course, I had already separated all six egg whites into one bowl. I just slowly added them a little at a time while mixing. Have you ever separated egg whites into separate bowls? The dry ingredients were then added in three batches with the wet ingredients being added alternately in two batches. Half the batter was poured into a nine-inch prepared pan, and the spice mix was stirred into the remaining batter before it was poured into a second cake pan. After the cakes baked and cooled, each layer was cut in half horizontally. You’ll want to have the layers sliced and ready for the frosting. To make the frosting, sugar, milk, butter, and cocoa powder were brought to a boil and cooked while stirring until the temperature reached 232 degrees F which took about 30 minutes. Then, off the heat, vanilla and baking soda were added. With a hand mixer, the frosting was mixed for only about one minute. And, then you have to work very quickly. A spice cake layer was placed on a cake stand, and it was topped with frosting. A white cake layer was added followed by more frosting. You’ll feel as you spread the frosting that as soon as it’s spread thinly, it cools and sets. Quickly, quickly, the next two cake layers were added, and the top and sides were frosted. I spent too much time making swirls on top of the cake and didn’t realize the frosting on the sides was meanwhile setting up too much for the walnuts to stick. Lesson learned. 

Who knows where the birthday cake conversation will lead next year. Maybe we’ll circle back to plain chocolate. I do know that Kurt will pick his cake more quickly than I ever pick my own birthday cake. I can never easily decide what kind of cake I want, and my birthday is only a little over a month away. I should probably start thinking about this now. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cornish Game Hen Cacciatore with Mascarpone Polenta

Winter, and I use the term loosely, might be over here. Since I’ve put that in writing, we could still get hit with a nasty cold day or two out of nowhere, but for now, it’s already starting to feel like spring. So, before the warm weather fully settles in, I wanted to show this hearty, wintery dish. That day when I was flipping through Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition, I came across this version of chicken cacciatore. I liked that it was a little different since it’s made with Cornish game hens; it’s a little spicy with some hot pickled peppers included; and there’s no pancetta which I would have left out anyway. There are also no mushrooms, and I like mushrooms very much, but I appreciated the more pointed-up flavor of this cacciatore sauce without them. The game hens and sauce are served with my favorite version of polenta. I’ve mentioned this same recipe for it before, and it’s luscious and rich with butter and mascarpone. A very similar cacciatore recipe, which is also from Barbara Lynch, is on the Food and Wine site. The vegetables and sauce are exactly the same, but in that version, chicken thighs are used rather than game hens and farro risotto is suggested for serving rather than polenta. 

In the book, it’s suggested that the game hens be cut into six pieces each. I decided to make it a bit more rustic and just cut the hens in half by removing the backbone and cutting between the breasts. The split hens were then browned in olive oil for about eight minutes on each side before removing them from the pan. Over lower heat, onion, bell pepper, hot pickled Italian peppers, and garlic were added and cooked until tender and starting to brown. Then, tomatoes, and I used canned, and red wine were added and allowed to simmer until the liquid was reduced by half. The chicken was returned to the pan, the wine was reduced a bit more, and then chicken stock was added. It was left to simmer until the chicken was cooked through, about twelve to fifteen minutes for halved Cornish hens. Once cooked, the chicken was removed from the pan so the sauce could continue to simmer and reduce for another 30 minutes. Meanwhile, the polenta was stirred and lovely mascarpone was added. Since I had Kurt’s preference for a crispy, seared surface on chicken in mind, I popped the halved hens under the broiler to re-crisp the skins just before serving. Last, I finely chopped more pickled hot peppers and parsley for garnish. 

As the sauce simmered and I tasted from time to time to check the seasoning, I knew this was going to be good. Once it had reduced, and all those flavors from peppers, tomatoes, and wine had worked their magic, I had one last taste and did a little kitchen-happy-dance. This was an ideal match for the mascarpone polenta, but it would also be delicious with farro risotto, pasta, or a nice hunk of bread. And, it's perfect for a chilly night if you're still having winter. 

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Lemon Ice Cream with Citrus Cornmeal Shortbread Cookies

You know I sometimes go a little crazy with cooking and baking with lemons. I’ve mentioned this before. It just happened again. Just recently, I made a lemon cream sauce for pasta, a few different kinds of lemon cookies, and lemon ice cream all in one weekend. Organic Meyer lemons aren’t always easy to find here but I got lucky one day, so I had a good excuse, right? You see, I do have two Meyer lemon trees, but they’ve had a tough couple of years. From the two trees, I only harvested one useable lemon this year. I blame the squirrels and birds, and well, I should probably keep a closer watch on the trees. So, when I find a good supply of Meyer lemons, I take advantage of it. This ice cream is from The Perfect Scoop, and it’s incredibly easy. Everything is whizzed up in the blender, and there are no eggs and no custard to cook. I love it when a recipe is this simple with a result that’s this delicious. It’s a creamy but tart ice cream that was fun to scoop up with a crunchy shortbread cookie. The cookies are from Martha Stewart's Cookies, and the recipe is also online. Orange zest is suggested for the cookie dough, but obviously, that got replaced with lemon zest here. There’s added flavor and a pretty, pale yellow color from cornmeal both mixed into the dough and rolled onto the edges before the cookies are cut. Together, the ice cream and cookies made a perfectly lemony dessert. 

I wasn’t kidding about how easy this ice cream is to make. You zest two lemons into a blender pitcher and add a half-cup of sugar. Just blend those together until the lemon zest is chopped very fine. Then, add one half-cup of lemon juice. I was using large lemons, so two was enough for one half-cup of juice. Also add two cups of half-and-half and a quarter teaspoon or so of salt. Blend until smooth, and chill for at least an hour before churning in an ice cream maker. The cookie dough is made by creaming together butter and confectioners’ sugar and then adding lemon zest and vanilla extract. Flour, yellow cornmeal, and salt are then added and mixed to combine. The finished dough is divided into two equal parts which are each rolled into a cylinder, wrapped in plastic, and refrigerated for an hour. The logs of dough are then rolled in cornmeal, and I added some sanding sugar as well, and then cookies are sliced and baked for about 30 minutes. 

Of course, other types of citrus could work here, or you could even mix more than one kind. But, once I’m thinking lemon, I tend to have a one-track mind. Right now, my trees are covered in blossoms, making me hopeful for lots of homegrown lemons next winter. I promise to make better use of those lemons than the squirrels or birds would. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Carrot Pancakes with Hummus and Feta Salad

I keep a pretty close watch on new cookbooks that are published, but once in a while something slips by me. The hard cover version of The Modern Vegetarian by Maria Elia came out in 2009, and I didn’t realize what I was missing until the new paperback just appeared late last year. I received a review copy, and started making up for lost time. The book is full of pretty dishes with great flavors that are fun to serve. The Dukkah-Rolled Soft-Boiled Eggs with Chickpea puree served on crostini would be a showstopper at a party. The Chile and Rosemary Eggplant Parcels are stuffed with buffalo mozzarella and nestled into a mash that mixes more eggplant with potatoes. Elia makes suggestions throughout the book for substituting various vegetables and herbs depending on the season. I couldn’t wait to try the Capri Lemon Pasta with mascarpone and parmesan cream sauce, but rather than using peas, fava beans, and asparagus, I made it with spinach. It was delightful. There’s also a chapter full of sweets with stunning things to make like Stuffed Fig Pastries with Honey and Nuts and Cafe Latte Ice Cream with shards of Coffee Tuilles. Before I get too distracted by the desserts, I need to tell you about these Carrot Pancakes. The spicy, little cakes are made with chickpea flour and grated carrots and are topped with a carrot hummus and a fresh tangle of sprouts with sliced almonds, orange chunks, and feta. 

This is the kind of dish that can easily be done in stages. The carrot hummus can be made a day or two in advance, and the pancakes can be mixed and formed and refrigerated until you’re ready to cook them. The feta salad is optional if you’d rather just serve the pancakes with the humus, or you could even sprinkle the hummus with crumbled feta by itself rather than make the salad. I started by making the hummus. I chopped some carrots into small pieces and boiled them until tender. The carrot pieces were drained and added to the blender with olive oil, rinsed and drained canned chickpeas, some chopped garlic, lemon juice, tahini, ground cumin, and salt and pepper. The mixture was blended until smooth, and I added just a bit of water for a softer consistency. With the hummus done, I moved on to the pancakes. Grated carrots were mixed with finely chopped onion, green chile, and I used one red chile as well, crushed cumin and fennel seeds, ground coriander, chopped cilantro, baking powder, chickpea flour, semolina, salt, and some water. Olive oil was heated in a skillet, and the thick batter was spooned into it in little cakes which cooked for a few minutes on each side. The recipe is written for making four to six cakes, but I made smaller cakes. For the salad, a dressing was whisked together with sherry vinegar, water, extra virgin olive oil, Dijon, and minced garlic. A mix of watercress, shiso, and sprouts is suggested, but I used pea shoots, onion sprouts, and cilantro leaves. Those were tossed together with chopped, segmented orange slices, sliced almonds, and crumbled feta. The dressing was added, and the salad crowned the dollop of hummus on each carrot pancake. 

There was a lot to like about this from the crispy, little pancakes to the pretty color of the hummus with carrots and the mix of added flavor from the salad on top. I would have enjoyed each of the three parts separately, but all together, they made a special dish. With so many interesting flavor combinations and ways to adapt the recipes for what’s in season, I’ll be reaching for this book often. 

Carrot Pancakes with Hummus and Feta Salad 
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from The Modern Vegetarian.

This recipe is perfect as a light lunch, snack or starter. It also makes great party canap├ęs, as it can be prepared in advance. The salad is entirely optional. 

serves 4–6 

For the pancakes 
1 1/2 cups / 150g carrots, grated 
1 small onion, finely chopped 
2 green chillies, seeded and finely chopped 
2 teaspoons cumin seeds 
1 teaspoon fennel seeds 
2 teaspoons ground coriander 
2 tablespoons chopped coriander 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1 cup / 100g chickpea flour (or besan or gram flour) 
1/4 cup / 50g semolina 
2 teaspoons salt 
2/3 - 3/4 cup / 150–200ml water 
3 tablespoons olive oil, for frying 

For the hummus 
6 large / 400g carrots, peeled 
4 tablespoons olive oil 
pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 
1 1/4 cups / 200g chickpeas, cooked (canned will do) 
1 garlic clove, finely chopped 
juice of half a lemon 
2 tablespoons tahini 
1 teaspoon ground cumin 

For the salad 
a bunch of watercress, thick stems removed 
1 orange, peel and pith removed, cut into segments 
1 bunch shiso (or any micro) sprouts 
1 bunch coriander sprouts (or coriander leaf) 
12 mint leaves, torn 
1 1/2 cups / 50g alfalfa sprouts 
1/4 cup / 25g sliced almonds, toasted 
pinch of ground cinnamon 
1/3 cup / 50g feta cheese, crumbled 

For the dressing 
5 teaspoons / 25ml sherry vinegar 
5 teaspoons / 25ml water 
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 
pinch of sugar 
1 garlic clove, crushed 

 Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. To make the pancakes, mix all the ingredients, except the olive oil, together to form a thick batter. Heat the oil in a small non-stick frying pan until hot, then spoon in about a quarter of the batter and fry until golden on both sides. Repeat with the remaining mixture to make 4–6 pancakes in total. Leave to drain on a wire rack, and then keep warm in the oven. 

Cut the carrots into thin slices, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in a roasting tin, add 200ml water and roast for 20–30 minutes until softened. While still hot, put them in a blender with the remaining ingredients and whizz to a smooth puree, adding a little water if too thick. Season again if necessary and refrigerate until needed. If you prefer, you can boil the carrots instead; just cook until tender and follow the recipe as above. 

To make the salad, mix all of the salad ingredients and toss together well. Whisk the dressing ingredients together and season to taste. To assemble the dish, reheat the pancakes in a warm oven, place on individual plates and top with the carrot hummus. Dress the salad with the sherry dressing and place on top of the hummus. 

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