1.27.2011

Glorified Egg Sandwich



Sandwiches are one of my favorite things to make. Between two slices of bread, the possibilities are endless. This open-faced version is a winning combination of ingredients -- I found it in CookingLight magazine and was initially skeptical when it paired arugula, ricotta and a fried egg. But after tasting the sandwich, I was hooked. (The first time I made it, I didn't have ricotta so I swapped in cottage cheese, which is a tasty alternative). I've made it more times than I can count and whenever I'm craving a hearty sandwich with interesting flavors, this one always delivers in a savory-breakfast kind of way.

OPEN-FACED SANDWICH WITH ARUGULA, RICOTTA AND FRIED EGG

1 multigrain ciabatta, toasted
2 eggs
1/2 cup ricotta
1 tsp thyme
2 cups arugula
Sliced red onion, optional

1. Coat a medium skillet with cooking spray. Crack two eggs into the pan; cook for 2 minutes. Cover, and cook an additional 2 minutes, or until whites are set.
2. Slice ciabatta in half and toast until browned.
3. Combine ricotta and thyme in a small bowl. 
4. Top each half of the toasted ciabatta with half of the arugula, ricotta mixture, and onion, if using. Top each with a fried egg and garnish with more fresh thyme.


1.22.2011

Throwdown: Lasagna


Feeling ambitious last night, I decided to pair two different types of lasagna against each other in a Bobby Flay-style "Throwdown." The first, a traditional meat-sauce-cheese version catering to my younger brother's simple, carnivorous preferences; the second, a meatless version with a sauteed vegetable and pesto filling for a more adventurous palate.

The Contenders: Turkey Lasagna with Garlic Marinara vs. Pesto Lasagna with Spinach, Mushrooms and Zucchini

Basic differences:

-The fillings-- ground turkey meat sauce vs. veggie-pesto mixture
-The cheese mixtures-- cottage cheese in the turkey vs. ricotta in the veggie
-The tomato sauces-- Garlic Marinara for the turkey and Tomato-Basil for the vegetable (same brand)
-The herbs-- parsley in the turkey lasagna vs. basil in the veggie
-The addition of pesto in the veggie lasagna

I used no-boil whole wheat noodles, shredded mozzarella and Parmesan in both dishes, providing a few constants between them. It was a quite a whirlwind trying to make them at the same time and keep the ingredients straight. Needless to say, one mess of a kitchen and an hour of baking later, the true test of the throwdown between traditional and non-traditional began with the fork.

The Recipes:

TURKEY LASAGNA WITH GARLIC MARINARA

Ingredients:

1 lb ground turkey breast
Cooking spray
1 1/2 cups water
1 (26-ounce) jar Monte Bene Farm Fresh Garlic Marinara Pasta Sauce
3 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
2 cups 1% low-fat cottage cheese
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup egg substitute
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 tsp black pepper
9 no-boil whole wheat lasagna noodles

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Cook the turkey in a large saucepan coated with cooking spray over medium heat until browned, stirring to crumble. Add water and pasta sauce; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Combine 2 cups mozzarella, cottage cheese, and next 4 ingredients (cottage cheese through pepper) in a bowl.

4. Spread 1 cup turkey mixture in bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Arrange 3 noodles over turkey mixture; top with 1 1/2 cups turkey mixture. Spread half of cheese mixture over turkey mixture. Repeat layers, ending with the remaining turkey mixture.

5. Cover and bake at 350° for 1 hour. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese, and bake, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Let lasagna stand 10 minutes before serving.


PESTO LASAGNA WITH SPINACH, MUSHROOMS & ZUCCHINI

Ingredients:

4 cups torn spinach
2 cups sliced baby portabella mushrooms
1 large zucchini, cut in half and sliced
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup jarred pesto
1 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 carton fat-free ricotta cheese
1/3 cup egg substitute
3/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
1 (25.5-ounce) jar Monte Bene Farm Fresh Tomato-Basil pasta sauce
1 (4-ounce) can tomato sauce
Cooking spray
No-boil whole wheat lasagna noodles

Directions:
1. Arrange the spinach in a vegetable steamer; steam, covered, 3 minutes or until spinach wilts. (Repeat process if it doesn't all fit in one batch). Drain spinach, squeeze dry, and coarsely chop.

2. Heat cooking spray in a medium skillet and add sliced zucchini and chopped onion; saute until browned. Remove from skillet and set aside in a medium bowl. Add mushrooms to skillet and saute for several minutes until browned.

3. Combine spinach, mushrooms, and pesto to the zucchini-onion bowl, stirring to coat; set aside.

4. Combine mozzarella, ricotta, and egg substitute in a medium bowl, stirring well to combine. Stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan, and set aside.

5. Combine the pasta sauce and the tomato sauce in a medium bowl.

6. Spread 1 cup pasta sauce mixture in the bottom of a 13"x9" baking pan. Arrange 3 noodles over pasta sauce mixture; top with 1 cup cheese mixture and 1 cup spinach mixture. Repeat the layers, ending with spinach mixture. Arrange 3 noodles over spinach mixture; top with remaining 1 cup cheese mixture and 1 cup pasta sauce mixture.

7. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook an additional 15 minutes until heated through.

The Reviews:

Turkey Lasagna-- Hearty, meaty, cheesy, classic. The cottage cheese gave it texture and flavor that the ricotta lacked in the veggie version. Overall, the layers held together well and each forkful landed a clean bite. Impressive cohesiveness of the ingredients.
Pesto Lasagna--The drier ricotta suited the moistness of the veggies, though it dominated texturally. The flavor of the pesto came through, though the spinach was the strongest component of the filling--I wished the mushrooms would have had more of a presence. I thought the red sauce was slightly lost within the layers, but its abundance on the top made up for the lack below. Compared to the turkey lasagna, the layers of this dish tended to slip and were more separate.

Being so different it is hard to pick a winner -- each lasagna had its own strengths. I loved the turkey lasagna as a meat version; its use of cottage cheese made it a standout compared to other classic varieties I've had. The pesto-veggie was more inventive and had a complex layering of flavors; the trio of spinach, mushrooms and zucchini was excellent and the incorporation of both pesto and red sauce was an interesting twist. I might try to combine the two in the future -- perhaps adding the meat sauce to the pesto-veggie version and swapping the ricotta for cottage cheese would produce a super-pasta sensation...


1.20.2011

Ethnic-Inspired Soup

Q: Garam Masala (from the Hindi for "hot mixture") is typically a blend of which four spices?
A: Ground coriander, cumin, ground red (cayenne) pepper, and tumeric.
...A fun fact that I learned from Light & Delish Magazine when I decided to try their recipe for Tomato-Coconut Soup with Spiced Chickpeas. The ingredient list includes garam masala -- a spice that I had heard of but never really known what was in it. Used predominantly in Indian dishes, the word "garam" refers to spice intensity, not heat. There was definitely a kick to this soup, but it wasn't "hot" in the same way as say, a chili pepper. The use of fire-roasted diced tomatoes contributed to the depthness of flavor of the soup as well. Adding coconut milk provided a creamy foil to the heat of the spices and tomatoes, while staying true to the ethnic influences. Spiced chickpeas rounded off the dish, adding a textural element and meatiness to the broth. I am especially fond of Indian spices and I love anything tomato so I found this soup an exquisite treat for the tastebuds.

TOMATO-COCONUT SOUP WITH SPICED CHICKPEAS

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp peanut or canola oil
1 large onion, diced (1 cup)
3 clove(s) garlic, chopped
2 tsp garam masala
1 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp crushed garlic
1 can (28-ounce) fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
3 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock or broth
1 can(13 1/2-ounce) light coconut milk
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
___________________________

3 Tbsp flour (I used white whole wheat)
1/2 tsp curry powder (I added a bit more to give it more flavor)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 can (15-ounce) chickpeas, rinsed and drained on paper towels
2 Tbsp canola oil

Sliced scallions, for garnish
Plain yogurt, for garnish

Directions:
1. Heat oil in a 5-quart soup pot over medium-high heat; add onion and sauté 4 minutes until translucent.
2. Stir in garam masala, ginger, and garlic and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until fragrant.
3. Add tomatoes with their juice and stock and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 25 minutes.
4. To make spiced chickpeas: While soup simmers, place flour, curry, and salt in a large food-storage bag; seal bag and shake to blend. Add chickpeas to bag and toss until coated. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Pour chickpea mixture into a sieve and shake off excess coating. Add to skillet and sauté 6 to 8 minutes, tossing chickpeas frequently until golden brown and crusty. Drain on paper towels.
5. Puree soup using an immersion blender. Stir in coconut milk and salt and place over medium heat until soup is heated through. Ladle into bowls. Spoon spiced chickpeas over each serving and garnish with sliced scallions and a dollop of yogurt.

1.18.2011

2011: The Year of the Local

According to the National Restaurant Association, these are the Top 20 Trends for 2011. (The buzz word: local):

1. Locally sourced meats and seafood
2. Locally grown produce
3. Sustainability
4. Nutritionally balanced children's dishes
5. "Hyper local," such as restaurants with their own gardens and chefs who do their own butchering.
6. Children's nutrition
7. Sustainable seafood
8. Gluten-free food and being food allergy conscious
9. Simplicity/back to basics
10. Farm/estate-branded ingredients
11. Micro-distilled/artisan liquor
12. Locally produced wine and beer
13. Smaller portions for smaller prices
14. Organic produce
15. Nutrition/health
16. "Culinary" cocktails, for example ones that have savory or fresh ingredients
17. Newly fabricated cuts of meat such as the pork flat iron and the beef petit tender
18. Fruit and vegetables as children's side items
19. Ethnic-inspired breakfast items, such as Asian-flavored syrups, chorizo scrambled eggs and coconut milk pancakes
20. Artisan cheeses


There's a lot of emphasis on sustainability as well, especially with seafood. In the main dish department there's a push for the unexpected with the introduction of newly fabricated cuts of meat (ie. Denver steak, pork flat iron, Petite Tender) and non-traditional fish (ie. branzino, Arctic char, barramundi). Same is true in the realm of sweets -- expect more savory desserts and deconstructed dishes that push the envelop on tradition and foster creativity.

There's also a strong focus on ethnic-inspired cuisine across the board. Appetizers are expected to feature street food like tempura, taquitos, kabobs and hummus along with dumplings and dim sum. Traditional ethnic breakfast dishes like huevos rancheros, shakshuka (?), and ashta (?) are expected to be forerunners along with the usual suspects with an ethnic flair -- Asian-flavored syrups, chorizo scrambled eggs, and coconut milk pancakes. As for side dishes, black rice, red rice and Asian noodles are at the top of the list.

An interesting juxtaposition arises in the produce category -- with so much emphasis on local and organic produce (which remain at the top of the list), there's still a strong presence of by their global opposites: exotic fruits and superfruits. I guess our domestic soils just aren't cut out to be gogi berry and guava growing environments...

With regards to preparation trends, it is no surprise to me that sous vide is the winner in that category. It is such a haute method right now; many chefs are swearing by it as the best way to cook. I've been needing an excuse to slow-cook meats underwater in vacuum sealed bags...

A few other emerging ingredients worth mentioning: heirloom beans, black garlic, ancient grains (ie. amarenth, kamut, spelt), and ethnic cheeses (ie. queso fresco, paneer, lebneh, halloumi).

There's a lot to be inspired by here, much to experiement with, but first, I better start growing...

1.16.2011

Dessert for Breakfast


Taking a breather from my soup and bread rampage earlier in the week, I decided to conjur up some Sunday brunch with the trusty ol' waffle maker. I took one look at the dusty device and suddenly realized I wasn't feeling Belgian this morning -- I was feeling French. I remembered a delicious breakfast that my sister, mom and I shared in Dublin at Lemon Crepe & Coffee Co. about a month ago. Let me rephrase that: our "breakfast" was more like dessert. If you ever have a chance to visit Dublin, put this place on your list -- the crepes they make are divine and the size of the menu is overwhelming. Sweet crepes, savory crepes, chocolate filled, meat filled, topped with fruit, drizzled with honey --you name it, they have it; you want it, they'll make it. We stuck with some simple pairings, ordering one filled with nutella and banana and another oozing with melted dark chocolate topped with strawberries. Sinfully sweet. Of course we had to try a savory one as well...the egg, cheese and mushroom filling did not disappoint and was the perfect foil to our sugary indulgences.

It was with this meal in mind that I embarked into uncharted territory to attempt the crepe. Having never made one before, I did some preliminary research on the technique, knowing that the delicate French version of the pancake required much more dexterity to make than its American sister.

I found that the ingredients were fairly simple and that once I was able to master the "skillet twirl" I was able to achieve the thin, flat shape of a perfect crepe.


First: The Ingredients
I incorporated a few different recipes into the final version that I made--


WHOLE WHEAT CREPES WITH ALMOND MILK

1 cup whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat for a lighter consistency)
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup almond milk (other versions called for regular lowfat milk or soymilk, but I thought this might give it an interesting nutty flavor)
1/2 cup water
2 tsp olive oil
2 large eggs


Second: The Prep
According to CookingLight, it is best to combine all of the ingredients in a blender and then cover the batter and let it rest, chilled, for 1 hour. This allows the proteins and damaged starch to absorb the liquid, ensuring that the crepes will be soft. This method also allows the air incorporated into the batter to dissipate, so the crepes will be paper-thin. After the crepe batter rests, stir it with a whisk to make sure the flour is evenly dispersed, and stir occasionally throughout the cooking process for the same reason. (The batter should be the consistency of heavy whipping cream -- fluid enough to produce a thin, even crepe, but with enough structure to hold together).


Third: The Making
A non-stick or cast iron skillet is recommended. I went with an 8-in cast iron sprayed with cooking spray to prevent sticking. When making a crepe the goal is to distribute a thin layer of batter quickly over the base of the skillet so that it will have uniform thickness and cook evenly. I followed the instructions to take a scant 1/4 cup of crepe batter and add it at once to the center of the pan. From there I began to rotate the skillet in a circular motion to allow the batter to run to (but not up) the sides of the pan. Not every attempt was a perfect circle, but by the end I was pretty confident with the technique.
Since crepes are so thin, they don't need very long to cook. Cook the crepe on for about a minute, until the edges begin to curl. Take a rubber spatula and lift the crepe. If the edges of the crepe appear to be crisp, the underside is brown, and it shakes loose from the pan, it's time to turn. It will need to cook only briefly―about 30 seconds or less―on the other side, just long enough to set the center of the crepe. I found that the time varied depending on the size of the crepe and the heat of the cast iron.


Fourth: The Enjoying
As an amateur, I was pretty successful in the crepe-making experiment. The recipe I used yielded about 13 crepes. I stacked them on a plate, covered it with foil, and kept them warm in the oven at 200 degrees until it was time to eat. As for the fillings and toppings, we went sweet this morning -- Nutella, peanut butter, chocolate yogurt, maple syrup, powdered sugar, blueberries, strawberries, banana and apple were among the fixings. Next time I think I will fill the crepes while still in the skillet to allow the fillings to warm and melt into the shell itself, but having them separate this time around gave my family the freedom to fill as they fancied. The were quite delicious and not nearly as difficult to make as I had anticipated.



1.15.2011

Dates with the Immersion Blender


I never considered Carrot-Cumin soup "pub grub" until I was served it in Ireland (with a hearty slab of brown bread...) I had also never considered combining carrots and cumin, but alas, the combination was magical on my taste buds. I decided to find a recipe after returning to the States and discovered it was nearly as simple as the name says -- with a few added secret ingredients. Somehow, despite its lack of added cream, this pureed concoction achieves a deliciously creamy texture. The cumin gives it a spiciness that enhances the carrot (with added onion and potato) flavors. I also added a bit of ground coriander to the recipe I found to give it even more complexity and a third alliterative "C" to its name. Another quick, easy, healthy, flavorful soup added to the repertoire. I'm developing an obsession with the immersion blender...
Here's the shortlist:

CARROT-CUMIN-CORIANDER SOUP

Ingredients:
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 lbs carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
6 cups chicken stock
1 Tbsp + 2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Crushed walnuts (optional)

Directions:
1. Clean, peel and cut all vegetables into chunks so they will cook quickly.
2. Heat oil in large pot. Saute carrots, onions and potato for about 5 minutes to heighten flavors.
3. Add chicken stock. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are well cooked (about 20 minutes).
4. Using an immersion blender, blend until quite smooth. (This may also be done by putting vegetables into a free-standing blender.)
5. Add cumin, coriander, salt and freshly-ground pepper. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve with crushed walnuts on top if desired.

More images from my food styling/photo shoot of the dish:




1.12.2011

Irish Brown Bread Test Kitchen: Round 2



After re-stocking my pantry with more flour and Irish butter, I am equipped to tackle the allusive recipe for brown bread again. Since the first recipe that I tried ended up being too dry, I did my homework to find wetter alternatives. I came across several recipes that added butter to the mix, as well as higher quantities of buttermilk and even honey. After some deliberation, here is the recipe that I concocted for my second attempt:

IRISH BROWN BREAD

Ingredients:
3 cups whole wheat flour (or stone ground wholemeal flour if available)
1/4 cup unbleached white flour
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp bran (oat or wheat)
Slightly less that 1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp honey
1 large egg
2 Tbsp melted Irish butter (I used Kerrygold)
1 tsp oil
1 1/2+ cups buttermilk
pumpkin seeds (optional)

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 400.
2. Put all the dry ingredients including the sieved baking soda into a bowl and mix well.
3. Whisk the egg, add it to the butter (melted), oil and the buttermilk.
4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid. Mix well and add more buttermilk if necessary. (I found the mixture still too dry at first, so I added at least another half cup of buttermilk). The mixture should be soft and slightly sloppy/sticky (like biscuit dough).
5. Pour into an oiled bread pan and top with pumpkin seeds if desired.
6. Bake for about 60 minutes, or until the bread is nice and crusty and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on wire rack.

I have to say, this time I think I got a little closer...inside the crusty exterior was a moist center that was more akin to the breads I ate in Ireland. The seeds on top were a worthy touch. The Kerrygold gave it a uniquely Irish buttery flavor. I think next time I want to try to find wholemeal flour to give it a more grain-dense consistency. But for now, I'm satisfied with the result and am content to each slice after slice while its still warm.

Beet-Fennel-Greek Yogurt vs. Immersion Blender


Despite my failed attempt at Irish brown bread last night, the pureed vegetable soup that I tried made up for my whole-grain failure. Inspired by the most recent issue of Bon Appetit magazine, I whipped up a brilliant magenta dish: Beet and Fennel Soup with Kefir. Unfortunately, the only type of kefir--a drink that looks and tastes like yogurt-- sold at the Fresh Market was pomegranate flavor, and since the recipe called for unflavored, I opted to substitute Greek yogurt for the ingredient. It is amazing that the simple trio of beets, fennel and Greek yogurt can combine to create such complexity in this dish. The intense ruby color of the soup makes the beets immediately recognizable, but beyond the intial sweet taste emerges the tangy undertones of the yogurt and the subtle licorice-like flavor of the fennel. I would have never thought to pair these three together, but their union makes for quite a delicous soup.

BEET & FENNEL SOUP WITH GREEK YOGURT

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped fennel bulb
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 large (2 1/2- to 3-inch-diameter) beets, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
Fennel fronds (for garnish)

Directions:
1. Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add chopped onion, chopped fennel, and fennel seeds. Sauté until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes.
2. Add cubed beets and stir to coat. Add chicken broth and bring to boil. Cover; reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until beets are tender, 18 to 20 minutes.
3. Puree soup in batches in blender. Return to same saucepan. (Or use an immersion blender right in the pan). Whisk in 1 cup plain Greek yogurt and season soup with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Rewarm soup.
4. Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle with additional yogurt; garnish with fennel fronds.

1.11.2011

Irish Brown Bread Test Kitchen: Round 1

So my first attempt at recreating the divine brown bread that I tasted in Ireland was a failure >>>

The recipe I tried from Food & Wine called for:
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten

I was apprehensive when I added the dry and wet ingredients and found that the mixture seemed much too dry. Despite this red flag, I continued as the recipe instructed, kneading the dough as best I could before placing it in the pan to bake. I even added a bit more buttermilk to try to moisten it a bit. Unfortunately the result affirmed my instincts -- after 50 minutes of baking the bread came out overly dense and lacked the moisture I encountered in the traditional versions. It also tasted floury and almost as if the ingredients hadn't been mixed well.

Next time I need to add something that will give the dough more liquidity, whether that be by more buttermilk or the addition of butter or oil. I will have to continue my research and experiment until I get the ratios just right. Regardless, this battle is not over...

Luck of the Irish (Cuisine)

Having recently returned from a three-week holiday in Ireland, I find myself longing to recreate several dishes that I tasted there. To be honest, I went to Ireland with low cuisine expectations, anticipating a diet of uninspired meat and potatoes. Instead I was met with dishes and flavors that transformed my stereotyped notion of traditional Irish food. I ate smoked salmon that was unlike any I had ever had in the States. After three weeks of overdosing on omega-3s and tea, I return with not only a newfound respect (quite possibly enjoyment) of previously-disliked potatoes, but also several new culinary conquests:

#1: Brown Bread
Moist, dense, hearty, buttery, whole grain goodness, this traditional bread is a staple at Irish meals. I have never seen it in the States, which makes me want to start an import business so I can stock our grocery stores. I could not get enough while I was there -- it got to the point where I began to judge restaurants based on the quality of their brown bread (a wannabe brown bread connoisseur...) Unfortunately, the slices that I smuggled home started to get moldy (it has a very short shelf life since there are no preservatives) so now I am on a mission to secure a traditional recipe so I can make it myself. The ingredients are fairly simple (whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, buttermilk, salt, baking soda, egg) and it is quick to make as it doesn't require a rising agent like yeast. So I just need to figure out which measurements work best. Let the testing begin...

#2: Pureed vegetable soups
Most Irish menus feature a Soup of the Day, which is quite often a vegetable soup (served with brown bread!) As opposed to the chunky variety that we often find in the States, most that I encountered abroad were pureed, which gave them a unique creamy consistency not often associated with vegetable soups. Memorable pairings that I tried include a celeriac, celery and tarragon soup, celeriac and thyme, and carrot and cumin. I recently made a leek and spinach pureed soup that was excellent and had a similar quality to those that I found across the Pond. I am most intrigued to try a celeriac version since I had never heard of the celery-like root before and am eager to see how it functions as the base of a soup.


Creations soon to be posted...