Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rutabaga Fries

Pretty much every root vegetable is fair game for oven fries, but since one of the cookbooks I really adore specifically called these out, I thought they were with a try when some rutabagas showed up in my CSA box. I've never gone out of my way to buy rutabagas, but I certainly don't turn them down when they show up on my plate, though it is quite a rare occurrence. Rutabagas are thought to have originated as a wild cross between cabbage and turnips, so if you are fans of both of these vegetables, you'll likely enjoy rutabagas as well. Roasting helps to mellow out the somewhat sharp and assertive flavor, bringing out a slight sweetness, and thus is gentler way of introducing rutabagas to those who have never tried them before. Now while these won't fulfill a craving for potato fries fresh out of a deep-frier, they are certainly a healthier and easier-to-prepare alternative for the home cook, right at home next to a cheeseburger and cold beer.

Rutabaga Fries
from Veggie Burgers Every Which Way by Lukas Volger
serves 4

2 rutabagas
2 teaspoons potato starch or cornstarch
3 tablespoons olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly grease a large baking sheet.

2. Slice off the top and bottom of the rutabagas to that they will rest flat on the cutting board. Then cut off the skin with a sharp paring knife or chef's knife by cutting against the curve of the flesh. (A vegetable peeler unfortunately doesn't cut thickly enough to scrape off all the skin). Cut into 1/4-inch matchsticks.

3. Toss the potato starch with the rutabagas, then add the olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt.

4. Spread the rutabagas onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake, flipping twice, for 25 to 30 minutes, until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Remove with a metal spatula and toss with additional salt to taste.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Streamlined French Onion Soup

There aren't nearly the vast number of options for using up mass quantities of onions (particularly red onions) as there are for most vegetables, but fortunately there's one standby to rely on-French onion soup. Unfortunately, making French onion soup typically requires lots of time and patience, things I am often short on, but America's Test Kitchen shares my frustration and has perfected a recipe for Streamlined French Onion Soup. A small amount of red wine releases a huge bouquet of flavors, opening up the perfect balance of sweet onions, savory broth, and sharp balsamic vinegar. French onion soup is a relatively simply dish, relying greatly on the complex flavors developed as the onions caramelize, but also on broth, wine, and herbs so it's of the utmost important that each of these ingredients are high-quality to make this most of this soup. (If you don't have any homemade stock at the ready, which most people don't, I recommend Pacific Natural Foods broths.)

French Onion soup is typically made on the stove top, then divided into ramekins, topped with bread and cheese, and baked. This recipe also included instructions for the baking step, but without a baguette on hand, I opted to make the soup and pair it with a delicious grilled cheese (get some Hook's if you can find it). I only included directions for making the soup since that is the only portion of the recipe I tested, but I know that this would be delicious topped with a crusty baguette and generous helping of cheese, so grab a baguette and fire up the broiler if you are so inclined. Although this isn't soup surely isn't first date food, if you have a partner who loves you and a little bit of time, whip up this surprisingly simple but luxurious feeling soup for your next cozy night at home.
Streamlined French Onion Soup
from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook
serves 6

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 pounds red onions (about 6 medium), halved pole to pole and sliced crosswise 1/8 inch thick
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 3/4 cups beef broth
1/4 cup dry red wine
2 sprigs fresh parsley
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are reduced and syrupy and the inside of the pot is coated with a deep brown crust, 30 to 35 minutes. Add the chicken and beef broths, red wine, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf, scraping the pot bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits, and bring to a simmer. Simmer to blend the flavors, about 20 minutes; discard the herbs. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pumpkin Pecan Cookies

With the New Year approaching and many people making a resolution to eat healthier, I offer up yet another in my series of healthy cookie recipes. I hate how a lot of people think that eating healthier means eating enjoyable tasteless food and I hope that my culinary adventures inspire people to experiment with and appreciate healthy ingredients, even if only in the smallest of ways. Although it does take a change in the way you cook and think about food, it's well worth the small effort to shift your attitudes and practices so that healthy and delicious food is a natural component of your diet and not a punishment (though life should never be without indulgences as well).

These tender and moist cookies get a bright citrus flavor from the orange juice and zest, wonderful toasty and nutty notes from the pecans and whole wheat pastry flour, with just a touch of sweetness and chewiness from the dates. One of the greatest things I have gained in my healthy cookie experimentation is an appreciation of the ability of dates to sweeten, act as a binder, and impart just a bit of chew with a subtle, yet delightful, flavor.

After the dessert smörgåsbords have been devoured but you're left needing a treat sans guilt, whip up a batch of these easy, nutritious, tasty little morsels. Equally appropriate for breakfast, a snack, or dessert, these will give you the energy to clean up the Christmas chaos and getting going on those New Year's resolutions.

Pumpkin Pecan Cookies
from Whole Foods Market
makes about 30 cookies

2 cups pecans, toasted and cooled
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup puréed pumpkin
1 tablespoon orange zest (from 2 small oranges)
3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from 3 small oranges)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chopped, pitted dates

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Put pecans and oats in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until a fine meal forms, about 25 times. Add flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves and pulse another 20 times to combine all the ingredients. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

2. Add pumpkin, orange zest, orange juice, vanilla extract and dates to the food processor. Blend until a smooth puree forms, scraping the sides down occasionally, about 1 minute. Form a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Scrape the pumpkin mixture into the well and fold all the ingredients together with a large spatula.

3. Scoop little heaps (about 2 tablespoons) of batter onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Flatten the batter slightly. Bake 20 minutes, until the bottoms are just browned. Remove to a cooling rack and cool slightly before serving. Store in an airtight container.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Kitchen Sink Granola

Although there are many wonderful granolas lining the aisles of the grocery store, there's rarely reason to buy them as granola is one of the easiest things to make yourself. Not only will you be able to combine your favorite ingredients in the perfect ratio for you, but you will save a ton of money in the process. Granola doesn't require a specific recipe, just a basic outline, but I still think it's worth browsing through recipes from reputable sources to look for creative combinations I may not have considered. I took a Martha Stewart recipe, adapted it for my preferences and what I had on hand to create what I've dubbed Kitchen Sink Granola. With an assortment of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, this granola contains a little bit of everything, but could certainly accomodate additional ingredients or substitutions with whatever strikes your fancy. I have plain yogurt topped with granola a couple of times a week for breakfast, so I've had ample opportunity to make many different kinds, but I still seem to find delightful new combinations on a regular basis. While a granola with a more focused flavor palate can be delicious, I love granolas like this where no two bites are the same. And although I typically enjoy it as part of a well-balanced breakfast, granola can also move seamlessly to the dessert realm when sprinkled generously on top of a high-quality vanilla ice cream.

The only real stumbling block when making your own granola is the potential for burning during the toasting process. While you may be lulled into a false sense of security during the first 10 minutes or so of baking, granola can go from pleasantly toasty to unrecoverably burnt in short order (particularly the coconut), so make sure to keep a close eye on your granola, stirring frequently, particularly towards the end of the cooking time.

Whether you're making a New Year's resolution to eat healthier, spend more time in the kitchen, eat fewer processed foods, or save money, this recipe can have a place in helping you achieve that goal.

Kitchen Sink Granola
adapted from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook : The New Classics
makes about 2 3/4 cups

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup whole almonds, chopped
2 tablespoons flax seeds
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons honey
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup raisins (golden or regular)
2 tablespoons unsalted roasted sunflower seeds

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Toss together the oats, coconut, almonds, and flax seeds in a medium bowl; set aside. Whisk together the oil, honey, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl; stir into the oats mixture. Spread out the oats mixture on a rimmed baking sheet.

2. Bake, stirring frequently, until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Transfer to a large bowl; stir in the dried cranberries, raisins, and sunflower seeds.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cheesy Orzo Baked in Acorn Squash

When I'm not feeling creative or am really busy, most squash that makes its way into my kitchen (and there's been a lot of it lately) is either roasted and pureed (butternut) or stuffed with grains and veggies and baked (acorn and festival). Even though these preparations aren't time-comsuming or elaborate, they are some of the most delicious ways to enjoy squash and this recipe certainly falls into that category. Quick-cooking orzo is combined with a few simple flavorings in a creamy blanket of milk and cheese for a fast and very satisfying dinner, perfect for Meatless Monday if you're a participant. This balanced plate of flavors-mildly sweet and soft squash, nutty whole wheat orzo, and salty, savory cheese-is sure to please your palate (and soul) on a dark, chilly winter evening. Although it's an easy, healthy dish, it can be made indulgent with whole milk or half-and-half, generous amounts of cheese, and crumbled bacon with a beautiful presentation that makes it elegant enough to serve for company. At whatever place in the indulgence spectrum you decide to jump in, I hope you give these charming cups of winter squash deliciousness a try.

Cheesy Orzo Baked in Acorn Squash
adapted from Bon Appetit, via Epicurious
serves 4

2 small acorn squash, halved, seeded
3/4 cup water
1 cup orzo (rice-shaped pasta; also called riso)
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed through a garlic press
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup low-fat (1%) milk
1/2 cup canned vegetable broth
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Dash of hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco), optional

1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Cut off thin slice from rounded side of each squash half. Arrange squash, open side down, in roasting pan. Add 3/4 cup water to pan. Cover tightly with foil. Bake until squash is tender about 35 minutes. Remove from oven; discard water. Turn squash open side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees F.

2. Meanwhile, cook orzo in pot of boiling salted water until almost tender, about 5 minutes. Drain. Return pan to medium heat and melt one tablespoon of butter. Add garlic and chopped onion and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are softened but not mushy, 7 to 10 minutes. Pour milk and broth into same pot; bring to boil. Add orzo; boil until liquid thickens and orzo is tender, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in cheddar and 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Season with hot pepper sauce, salt and pepper.

3. Divide orzo mixture among squash halves. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoon Parmesans. Bake until tops begin to brown, 8 to 12 minutes.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cinnamon-Walnut Oatmeal Cookies

I am nothing if not a creature of habit, and since I've been offering up a healthy cookie recipe each Sunday for some weeks, I figured I might as well keep in up since I still have a few waiting to be shared. At first glance, the first ingredient might turn off anyone not in the over-60 set, but I can assure you the prunes only bring good things to this cookie, keeping it moist and tender (as well as provide all of their legendary benefits). Unless you're enjoying these cookies with an issue of the AARP magazine and a Centrum Silver, these cookies won't make you feel like a geriatric, and will probably even make you feel a little healthier and energetic at a time of year when we can all use a little boost. In the holiday season, when butter and sugar laden desserts abound (and I enjoy them with great vigor), I also need tasty and healthy treats, lest I feel completely bogged down with indulgence, without enough energy for all the holiday shopping, wrapping, and celebrating (as well as the unfortunately-timed overtime at work). These tender, chewy little nuggets are packed with flavor and holiday spice, the perfect thing to keep you going during the hectic holiday season. Whip up a quick batch just to treat yourself, or share them with friends and family who aren't adverse to a little nutrition during the holidays.

Cinnamon-Walnut Oatmeal Cookies
from Whole Foods Market
makes about 30 cookies

1 cup pitted prunes
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

2. Put prunes, walnuts and sugar into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. In a large bowl, whisk together egg, vanilla, baking soda, applesauce and oil. Stir in prune mixture then add oats, flour, cinnamon and salt and stir until just combined.

3. Drop dough by the spoonful onto prepared baking sheets. Moisten your fingertips with a bit of water then gently press down each cookie to make a round shape. Bake until cooked through and deep golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and set aside to let cool.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Celery Root and Apple Soup

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may have seen enough winter vegetable-based soup recipes to last you well into spring, but my CSA bounty has inspired me create yet another one, this time featuring celery root (also known as celeriac). Celeriac is a wonderfully flavorful, but underutilized, root vegetable, perhaps intimidating potential cooks with its knobby exterior, which makes it more difficult to clean and prepare. Celeriac can be utilized both raw or cooked and while it has a delicious celery flavor, it is also quite adept at taking on other flavors as well. This soup follows a classic formula-saute onions in fat, add vegetables and broth, simmer until tender, blend into silky deliciousness, and season to taste with salt and pepper. What sets this soup apart from that classic formula I so often utilize is the addition of a small amount of apple cider vinegar at the end, which was not a part of the original Bon Appetit recipe that inspired my soup. Many home cooks, myself included, often forget how much better a dish is with the addition of just a small amount of acid, like lemon juice or vinegar, at the end. In the same way that a small amount of salt brings out all the flavors in a sweet dish without making it salty, the small amount of vinegar added to the soup at the end enhances the flavors in the soup without making it overtly acidic. This soup is hearty and savory, most assuredly a fall and winter dish, but the silky texture and bright edge from the apple cider vinegar keep it from being too dense. Not suprisingly, if you like celery flavor, you'll like this soup, but the tartness of the apple and sweetness of the onions keep it from feeling like just a bowl of cooked and blended celery.

It was made clear to me that this simple combination of ingredients was far more than the sum of its parts when one of my coworkers, commenting on the inticing aroma of my lunch, said that it smelled like sausage-a compliment I most gratefully accepted. If I can turn a combination of fruit and vegetables into something even remotely reminiscent of sausage, I think I've done something right.

Celery Root and Apple Soup
adapted from Bon Appetit, via Epicurious
serves 6 as a first course, 3 as a main course

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
4 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled celery root (from one 1 1/4-pound celery root)
3 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled cored Granny Smith apples (from about 2 medium)
1 1/2 cups chopped onion (about 1 large)
4 cups (or more) low-salt vegetable or chicken broth
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add celery root, apples, and onion. Cook until apples and some of celery root are translucent (do not brown), stirring often, about 15 minutes. Add 4 cups broth. Cover and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer covered until celery root and apples are soft, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat; cool slightly.

2. Puree soup with an immersion blender (or, working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth), adding more broth by 1/4 cupfuls to thin to desired consistency. Return soup to pot and stir in vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve warm.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Glazed Acorn Squash

When you've got good produce, it takes very little in terms of both ingredients and cooking technique to make an absolutely delicious dish, and this recipe is a prime example. Acorn, festival, and butternut squash all take particularly well to sweet glazes containing honey, brown sugar, or maple syrup and what are probably mostly commonly thought of as baking spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg. The combination of fat, sweetener, spices, and a touch of salt is a dependable combination for preparing winter squash for elaborate holiday meals and weekday dinners alike. With those expert pairings in mind, I was able to quickly put this side together while attending to all other facets of the meal and watch it be eagerly gobbled down with all the other trappings of a hearty Thanksgiving meal. Although squash wasn't a part of my Thanksgiving dinner as a kid, I've made it for at least the last two holiday meals I've hosted and I can see it becoming a part of the traditions I'm crafting as an adult.

Like so many of the recipes I share, this recipe is open to myriad interpretations, depending on what ingredients you have hand and what you'll be pairing with the squash; roasting the squash and pureeing the flesh with the same ingredients also produces a splendid result. With such a bounty of squash in my CSA box I don't always have time for elaborate and highly creative dishes, but I can also to come back to solid simple recipes like this one without being disappointed.

Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Glazed Acorn Squash
serves 4

2 small to medium acorn or festival squash
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Cut squash in half and then into 1/2-inch-thick rings, discarding end pieces, and place in a single layer on a prepared baking sheet.

2. In a small bowl, mix brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sea salt together. Brush the top half of the squash rings with half of the melted butter and sprinkle with half of the brown sugar mixture. Flip rings over, brush with the remaining melted butter, and sprinkle with the remaining brown sugar mixture.

3. Roast squash rings for 10 to 12 minutes. Flip rings over and continue to roast until the squash rings are caramelized and tender, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on desired level of tenderness. Remove from over and serve warm.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Oatmeal, Coconut and Sunflower Seed Cookies

These cookies are yet another experiment in my search for delicious mid-morning snacks to keep me going through the work day. I've made many kinds of bars (see here, here and here) and cookies recently that have fulfilled this need with great success, but the scientist and enthusiastic chef and eater in me just won't leave well enough alone so I've taken to the kitchen again, armed with another recipe from Whole Foods to make oatmeal, coconut and sunflower seed cookies. This recipe immediately peaked my interest because I have a deep love for Grace's Best Cookies, and although this is not a clone recipe (Grace's Best Cookies don't contain coconut), this delicious collusion of ingredients does not disappoint. As these are, for my purposes, a snack rather than a dessert, the hint of sweetness combined with the richness of the butter and coconut and the nutty sunflower seeds achieves a wonderfully satisfying balance that keeps my stomach from growling until nearly lunchtime. If these are intended as a special occasion dessert I would recommend increasing the amount of sugar, adding a bit of honey or serving them with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream. Although I certainly go all out and indulge myself with desserts made with sugar and white flour (although I generally find myself preferring the taste of whole wheat) from time to time, I love being able to treat myself in a small way every day with a cookie that feels like a indulgence, but is still filled with nutrition.

Oatmeal, Coconut and Sunflower Seed Cookies
from Whole Foods
makes about 2 dozen cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup grated unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 1/4 cups rolled oats, either quick-cooking or regular (quick cooking will make a finer cookie)
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2. Put butter and sugar into a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add egg, vanilla and salt and beat again just until combined. Stir in coconut and sunflower seeds. In a separate bowl, combine oats, flour and baking powder, then add to butter mixture, stirring until thoroughly combined.

3. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Bake until lightly browned and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes, then set aside to let cool. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wasabi Mashed Sweet Potatoes

I love sweet potatoes pretty much any way you can prepare them-fries (see here, here, and especially here), roasted, in hash and soupstir-friedcandied, mashed (see here, here, and here). In the past the additions to my mashed sweet potatoes have always been sweet, but this time I tried the contrasting flavor of horseradish with these wasabi mashed sweet potatoes. I'm a big fan of wasabi, and horseradish in general, but even I was a little wary of trying out this unconventional pair. The pungency of wasabi varies greatly from brand to brand, but I found that in my wasabi mashed sweet potatoes, the sharp wasabi blended nicely into the background, contrasting, but not overwhelming the sweet potatoes. If I go the horseradish route again with sweet potatoes, I'll try prepared horseradish or wasabi paste as the wasabi powders with artificial colorings or preservatives often have a bit of an off taste. Although it certainly won't replace my favorite additions of butter and maple syrup, this recipe was a nice change of pace and a great side for an ahi tuna steak with wasabi mayo, well-worth filing away in my recipe box.

Wasabi Mashed Sweet Potatoes
from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics
serves 4 to 6

6 cups cubed peeled sweet potatoes
water to cover
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon wasabi powder
1/4 cup butter
salt to taste
pure maple syrup or brown sugar to taste

1. In a covered pot, bring the sweet potatoes, water, and salt to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the sweet potatoes are very soft and easily pierced with a fork. Drain, reserving some of the cooking water.

2. Mix the wasabi powder with about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the potato cooking water to make a paste. Combine the drain sweet potatoes, wasabi paste, and butter and mash well. Add a little more of the cooking water, if needed. Add salt and maple syrup or brown sugar to taste.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Tis' the season for warm and comforting soups and with a bounty of inexpensive winter squash at the grocery store and farmers' market, I offer up yet another recipe for butternut squash soup. Although I've been the recipient of a plethora of winter squash in my CSA box, I haven't tired of it yet and been delighting in its ability to blend with Asian flavors, as in Thai Red Curry Squash Soup. With this soup I took a little journey to another part of Asia, melding smooth, sweet butternut squash with fragrant, exotic curry spices. Although certainly not redolent of my childhood, the beautiful melange of spices is extremely comforting and quite welcome in the deep cold of winter. For adventurous palates you may want to add even more curry powder, conversely reducing it for children or flavor-phobes, using this soup as a subtle way to introduce a new suite of potent spices. This soup is healthy, hearty, and bursting with flavor, and rounded out perfectly with a piece of naan for dunking. Hopefully this simple-to-prepare soup will find a place on your winter table next to more traditional American fare and transport you, if even only for a few minutes, to a sunny and beautiful land far away.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup
adapted just slightly from Ellie Krieger, via Food Network
serves 4

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (2 1/2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 quart low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth, plus additional broth or water, as needed
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more, to taste
2 tablespoons honey
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
4 teaspoons plain low-fat yogurt, for garnish (optional)

1. Heat oil over medium heat in a 6-quart stockpot. Add onions and garlic and saute until soft but not brown, about 6 to 7 minutes. Add the butternut squash, broth, curry powder and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until squash is tender, about 12 to 15 minutes.

2. Remove from heat stir in honey and puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender until smooth. Add additional broth or water, as needed, to achieve desired consistency. Add lemon or lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Oat-Date Bars

In my continuous search for alternatives to commercial granola bars, I decided to try out another recipe from Whole Foods, one of my favorite source for "healthy" cookies and the like. For both their taste and lack of artificial ingredients, Larabars are one of my favorite commercial granola bars, and they use dates as one of the primary binders. These simple bars also use dates to help bind the bars together, imparting structure and sweetness, though they get a little help from egg as well. Sweet, sticky dates are a splendid companion to nutty whole wheat flour and together with chewy oats and for a satisfying and quick to prepare, albeit tame, healthy snack.

As is my typical strategy, I started with the original recipe, but I immediately saw myriad possibilities for adding flavor and nutrition to this solid snack bar foundation (dried fruit, seeds, nuts, flax, coconut, honey, maple syrup, spices etc.) but this recipe's greatest attribute is its potential for adaptation and that's what makes it worth sharing. As I'm constantly telling other people (and doing myself), experiment! Too many people are fearful of making mistakes while cooking and baking, but sometimes in the culinary arts, just as in science, errors often create the most amazing results, and even if they don't, you've learned something for next time.

Oat-Date Bars
adapted from Whole Foods
makes 10 bars

2/3 cup chopped pitted dates, divided
1/2 cup water
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups quick-cooking oats(or old-fashioned oats for an especially chewy bar)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 375°F and grease an 8 x 8-inch baking pan. In a blender, combine 1/3 cup of the dates and water; blend until very smooth. Add egg and blend just until combined. In a medium bowl, combine oats, flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt and whisk until combined. Add date-and-water mixture and remaining 1/3 cup chopped dates; stir until moistened.

2. Scrape into prepared pan, level the top with a spatula, and bake until firm and lightly browned around the edges, about 17 minutes. Cool in the pan and cut into 10 bars. Bars keep in an airtight container for about a week. They can also be individually wrapped and frozen until ready to eat; allow about 2 hours for them to thaw.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cranberry, Ginger and Orange Chutney

Even though I'm clearly someone who loves to experiment in the kitchen, when it comes to holidays, I'm mostly a traditionalist. It doesn't mean that every dish on my holiday table is completely simplified, but I just don't think this is the time of year to be throwing chili powder into my cranberry sauce. This cranberry sauce nicely bridges traditional flavors with creativity, using the classic combinations of cranberry and orange and cranberry and ginger to great effect. My love for Joanne Chang was well-documented on this blog just earlier this week, and if you've come to trust in her palate after trying Thai Red Curry Squash Soup, I encourage to try her cranberry chutney recipe for your next holiday celebration. This cranberry sauce is a perfect balance of sweet, sour, and acidic flavors, but not too exotic that those with not-terribly-adventurous palates will run from the dinner table. That being said, if you're feeding people who truly flavor-phobic, this recipe sans balsamic vinegar and ginger is still a wonderfully balanced combination of cranberries and oranges, which would be delightful served with turkey, chicken, or even pork. While I enjoyed a healthy helping of this on Thanksgiving day, perhaps my favorite use was the cranberry chutney, sharp cheddar, and turkey melt I made on black Friday while tucked safely away in my home, as far from the madding crowd of shoppers as humanly possible.
Cranberry, Ginger and Orange Chutney 
from Joanne Chang via Food and Wine
makes about 5 1/2 cups

2 large navel oranges 
2 pounds fresh cranberries
1/2 cup water 
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
3/4 cup light brown sugar 
1/4 cup minced fresh ginger 
Salt and freshly ground pepper 
1. Using a sharp knife, peel the oranges, removing all of the bitter white pith. Working over a bowl, cut in between the membranes to release the sections. Squeeze the juice from the membranes into the bowl. Cut the orange sections into 1-inch pieces.

2. In a large saucepan, combine the cranberries and water with 1/4 cup of orange juice from the bowl and bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries have popped, about 10 minutes. Add the vinegar, both sugars, the ginger and orange pieces and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly, then season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.
The chutney can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thai Red Curry Squash Soup

When faced with pounds and pounds of beautiful organic squash from my CSA, my thoughts immediately turned to soup, and strangely specifically, curried soup with coconut milk. A quick search through Food and Wine recipes revealed that I am certainly not the only one to think of this as a perfect combination and was delighted to fine a recipe from Joanne Chang, owner of Flour Bakery and Cafe and co-owner of Myers + Chang with her husband, Christopher Myers, both in the Boston area. Although I've not been lucky enough to visit Boston and dine at either of her restaurants, I have had great succcess with her recipes in the past and I have immense respect for her diverse skills as a baker, pastry chef, and chef. My opinion of her is also greatly elevated by the fact that in every TV appearance she seems like a truly wonderful person with no ego and is a Harvard graduate who left her career to pursue a passion for cooking, one of those dreams that is constantly swirling around in my head. 

But on to the food! The sweetness of butternut squash is the perfect foil for curry spices, and the coconut milk makes everything irresistably creamy and smooth. I tend to eat a copious amount of soup in the winter, particularly since I started getting my winter CSA and this is nice change of pace from minestrone-type soups and dense stews (though they most certainly have their place, as well). The soup is unmistakably hearty and satisfying, but the Asian spices and ingredients keep the soup light and bright. When the days turn even colder, this soup is a fabulous taste of warm lands far, far away to transport you from the icy winds and dark skies of winter.

Thai Red Curry Squash Soup
serves 12 (as a first course)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh ginger, plus 1 cup slivered fresh ginger
2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
3 pounds kabocha, kuri or buttercup squash—peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch pieces
5 cups water
Two 13 1/2-ounce cans unsweetened coconut milk
2 lime leaves or 1 teaspoon lime zest
1 large stalk of fresh lemongrass, smashed and cut into 2-inch lengths
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large scallions, thinly sliced

1. In a large, heavy pot, melt the butter. Add the onion and sliced ginger and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, 7 minutes. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 2 minutes. Add the squash and water and bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer over low heat until soft, 25 minutes. Add the coconut milk, lime leaves and lemongrass, cover partially and simmer for 30 minutes longer. Discard the lime leaves and lemongrass.

2. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender; add it to a clean pot. Stir in the sugar and lime juice and season with salt.

3. In a medium skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the slivered ginger and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until golden brown and crisp, 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the ginger to paper towels to drain.

4. Reheat the soup; ladle it into bowls. Garnish with the fried ginger and scallions and serve.

MAKE AHEAD The soup can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Smoky Greens and Beans over Polenta

When it's cold outside, I crave hearty meals like this one. A hot, buttery, cheesy bowl of polenta topped with hearty greens and creamy beans is the perfect comfort food for the dark days of winter-balanced and nutritious, but still rich and savory, and just plain soul-satisfying. I've been in a bit of rut lately with kale, pretty much just roasting it every chance I get (see here, here, here, and here) because, as is so often the case, I get a little obsessed with a particular ingredient or preparation. And while I'd never turn down some roasted kale, I like to broaden my horizons a little bit and try something different. I've made a soup similar to ribollita with kale and white beans in the past and really enjoyed it, and this dish keeps the delicious, classic combination of white beans and kale, uniting them with velvety polenta. It's not quite a stew, but whatever you'd like to call this dish, it's a pure bowl of cold weather comfort. Don't have any polenta? The kale and bean mixture would still be delicious over barley, rice, or even pasta. Not a fan of kale? Spinach would make a fine substitute, though the cooking time for the greens would be drastically reduced. Hopefully this recipe will provide a little inspiration for your winter menu, when it's all too easy to get stuck in a meat-and-potatoes rut.

Smoky Kale and Beans over Polenta
adapted from Bon Appetit, via Epicurious
serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 14 1/2-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes in juice
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 141/2-ounce can vegetable broth
8 ounces coarsely chopped kale
1 15-ounce can cannellini or navy beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup polenta (I like Bob's Red Mill)
3 cups water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving

1. Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until soft and beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add tomatoes with juice and paprika; stir 1 minute. Add broth and greens; bring to boil, stirring often. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until greens are wilted and tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Stir in beans and simmer 1 minute to heat through. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

2. Meanwhile, bring water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium pot over medium to medium-high heat. Slowly add polenta, stirring constantly, and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue to cook for 5 minutes, until polenta is thickened. Remove from heat, stir in butter and Parmesan cheese, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Divide polenta between four bowls and top each with one-fourth of the bean and kale mixture. Grate additional Parmesan cheese over the top, if desired, and serve hot.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Butternut Squash Salad with Blue Cheese, Cranberries, and Walnuts

If you spent your Thanksgiving stuffing yourself to the gills with all manner of delicious foods (as you should) the way I did, you may be feeling a bit sluggish today and looking to lighten up your diet a bit over the weekend, while still enjoying leftovers. If you have any leftover squash, particularly butternut, this salad is an absolutely fantastic way to use it up. I did not create this salad to use up leftover squash (just to make a dent in the ample supply I got in my CSA box), but I thought it was the perfect recipe to share after Thanksgiving, particularly on a year like this with such unseasonably warm temperatures where a salad wouldn't seem so out of place on the dinner table. Creamy, sweet butternut squash pairs exceptionally well with pungent blue cheese, rich, crunchy walnuts, sweet-tart dried cranberries, and assertive red onions for a fresh, but hearty plate of harvest flavor. The massive salad allows you to chow down on a huge plate of food with all the fervor of a Thanksgiving meal without doing nearly as much damage to your diet. While you can't argue with the classic uses for Thanksgiving leftovers (it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a cold turkey sandwich the next day), hopefully this novel use can find a way into your holiday weekend dining as well.

Butternut Squash Salad with Blue Cheese, Cranberries, and Walnuts
serves 1

8 ounces butternut squash, cut into small cubes
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces spinach or salad greens, washed, and chopped
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 ounce blue cheese
Salad dressing, for serving (I recommend balsamic vinaigrette)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss squash cubes with olive oil, salt, and pepper and spread in an even layer on a baking sheet. Bake squash for approximately 30 minutes, tossing occasionally, or until squash is just tender.

2. Meanwhile, place greens or spinach on a large plate and top with red onion, cranberries, and walnuts. Once the squash has finished cooking, place the warm squash on top and crumble blue cheese on top of the warm squash. Drizzle with salad dressing and serve while squash is still warm.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Potato and Leek Soup

As hard as it was for me not to go back to the simple perfection of Julia Child's Potage Parmentier, which I have made time and time again, I thought it was about time I gave another leek and potato soup recipe a try. This recipe, like Julia Child's, is the height of simplicity. Every time I take a bite of leek and potato soup I am amazed at the depth of flavor in a dish with so few ingredients so I saw no reason to choose a more complicated recipe for my first foray away from the genius of Julia Child. And, as you can probably guess since I've decided to share, I was not at all disappointed by this recipe, even if it doesn't quite hold the special place in my heart that Julia's recipe does. Yet again, the simple combination of potatoes and leeks has come together in a perfect bowl of comfort that is so much more than the sum of its parts. Pureeing a small portion of the soup gives the soup a luscious creaminess, but maintains the hearty, rustic texture of the chunky potatoes and leeks. I can't explain exactly what makes potato leek soup so irresistable to me, but something about blending starchy, hearty potatoes and sweet, delicate leeks is absolutely transcendent. Your effort will be rewarded many times over with if you invest just a little bit of time and effort to make this delicious soup, as perfect for busy weeknight as it is for the first course at your Thanksgiving dinner.

 Potato and Leek Soup
from Gourmet, via Epicurious
serves 2, generously

the white and pale green part of 2 large leeks, split lengthwise, washed well, and chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup chicken broth
1 pound boiling, potatoes
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large heavy saucepan cook the leeks in the butter with salt and pepper to taste, covered, over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are softened but not browned. Add the water, the broth, and the potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice, and simmer the mixture, covered, for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. 

2. In a blender purée 1 cup of the soup, stir the puré into the remaining soup with the parsley, and season the soup with salt and pepper.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Do-It-Yourself Power Bars

In my renewed quest to find recipes for more homemade treats for my morning snack instead of commercial granola bars, I came across this absolute gem of a recipe from Heidi Swanson. Her recipes are the kind that make you crave healthy food, these power bars being no exception. The toasty walnuts and sweet-tart cranberries are perfectly accented by the subtle zing of crystallized ginger in these vibrant bites of flavor and nutrition. The original recipe called for just cooking down the brown rice syrup mixture, but I baked mine for a while to set them a bit more and add a little toasty, crunchy texture to these chewy bars. And as with so many recipes I try, this one is ripe with possibilities for experimentation-raisins and sunflower seeds, dried cherries and pecans, maybe even chocolate chips and coconut-the possibilities are nearly endless. Although there's not always to make everything I'd like to from scratch, recipes like this one make me happy to invest a little extra effort.

Do-It-Yourself Power Bars
adapted from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson
makes 16 to 24 bars

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
1 1/4 cups chopped toasted walnuts
1/2 cup oat bran
1 1/2 cups unsweetened crisp brown rice cereal
1 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil, leaving ample overhang to serve as handles, and grease coconut oil or canola oil baking spray. If you like thick power bars, ope for an 8 by 8-inch pan; for thinner bars, use a 9 by 13-inch pan.

2. Mix the oats, walnuts, oat bran, cereal, cranberries and ginger together in a large bowl and set aside. Combine the rice syrup, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly as it comes to a boil and thickens just a bit, about 4 minutes. Pour over the oat mixture and stir until the syrup is evenly incorporated.

3. Spread mixture evenly into the prepared pan and press firmly. Bake, rotating once, until the top is golden brown, about 15 to 25 minutes, depending on personal preference. Remove pan from oven and allow to cool until room temperature. Remove the granola bars from the pan using the parchment or foil sling and cut into whatever size bars you like.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Red Cabbage with Apricots and Balsamic Vinegar

I'll admit that cabbage isn't a vegetable I often purchase, but when a head of beautiful red cabbage showed up in my CSA box, I was more than happy to search for some interesting recipes and cook it up. Cabbage typically means one of two things to me-crunchy, fresh, Asian-style slaw or a soft, long-cooked accompaniment to sausage (typically enjoyed with a cold beer). This time, I went with a recipe closer to the latter route, but this cabbage dish isn't your average sausage companion. Striking the perfect balance between sweet and sour, the apricot preserves and balsamic vinegar play off each other beautifully, each bite bursting with bright flavor. The acidity and sweetness of this dish is a perfect companion to rich and fatty sausage, the contrast between the two dishes keeping each bite new and interesting. This dish is filled with a tremendous amount of flavor despite the short cooking time and will provide a bright spot on your dinner table, mingling perfectly against the heartier fare often served during the dark and cold days of winter.

Red Cabbage with Apricots and Balsamic Vinegar
from Bon Appetit, via Epicurious
serves 6

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
1 8-ounce red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1 1/2-pound red cabbage, quartered, cored, very thinly sliced
3/4 cup thinly sliced dried apricots
1/4 cup apricot preserves
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1. Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, allspice and nutmeg and toss 1 minute. Add cabbage and apricots and sauté until well coated, about 2 minutes. Add apricot preserves and vinegar and toss until juices are reduced to glaze and cabbage is crisp-tender, about 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated. Rewarm over medium heat before serving.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Creamy Parmesan Polenta with White Beans and Roasted Kale

Did you get a chance to enjoy the wonders of Roasted Potatoes Colcannon with Eggs? If you did, here's another wonderful way to enjoy roasted kale, and if not, here's another way to further tempt you to give roasted kale a chance. This plate of Italian-inspired happiness came about on a night when I was feeling a bit lazy and uninspired and was hunting around for some nutritious components I could put together quickly for a balanced meal. Crispy, salty roasted kale is every bit as irresistible here with polenta as it is with eggs-the combination of salty, crispy kale and creamy, rich polenta is so delicious that you won't be able to decide if it is the kale or polenta you've started (or rekindled) a love affair with (and it's probably both). The creamy cannellini beans blend seamlessly into the rich and savory polenta with the kale providing the perfect crunchy textural contast. This dish can best be described as pure comfort and is sure to make many  more appearances on my dinner table in the coming chilly winter months.

Creamy Parmesan Polenta with White Beans and Roasted Kale
serves 2

1/2 pound kale-stems and ribs removed, leaves chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup polenta
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup prepared white beans, preferably cannellini, kept warm

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large bowl, toss chopped kale with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Spread in an even layer on a prepared rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until kale is browned and crispy, tossing occasionally.

2. Meanwhile, bring 1 1/2 cups water and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add polenta to saucepan, reduce heat to medium or medium-low and cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, until polenta is thickened. Remove pan from heat, stir in butter and Parmesan, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Divide polenta evenly between two plates, topping each mound of polenta with half of the beans. Place half the kale alongside on each plate and serve hot, scooping up some of the beans, polenta, and kale in each bite.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Butternut Squash Bars with Cranberries and Walnuts

Did you get a chance to make Pumpkin Raisin Oatmeal Cookies for a healthy snack last week? If you didn't have time or that particular squash isn't your cup of tea, let me offer up another suggestion-Butternut Squash Bars with Cranberries and Walnuts. The original recipe contains white chocolate and an excessive amount of sugar, but I've scaled these back to a slighty sweet snack rather than a saccharin dessert. The sweet butternut squash beautifully complements the nutty whole wheat flour, rich walnuts, and sweet and tangy dried cranberries in these delightful little bars, perfect with a cup of tea. The dark brown sugar and butternut squash add just enough sweetness to make these feel like a treat, but the whole wheat flour, dried cranberries, and walnuts make these filling and nutritious enough to serve as a mid-morning or mid-afternoon boost or late night guilt-free nibble. If you decide to take these bars on the dessert route, add just a bit more sugar and perhaps some (dark) chocolate, if you like, for a delicious fall treat.

Butternut Squash Bars with Cranberries and Walnuts
adapted significantly from Whole Foods
makes 12 bars

4 tablespoons melted butter, plus more for greasing pan
1 1/2 cups peeled and grated butternut squash
1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan with butter or canola oil spray; set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, toss together squash, flour, cranberries, walnuts, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. In a large bowl, whisk sugar and eggs together until pale and thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in butter and vanilla, then add flour mixture and stir together just until combined.

3. Transfer to prepared pan and bake until just set in the middle and golden brown around the edges, about 30 minutes. Set aside to let cool, then cut into 12 squares and serve.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Spicy Carrot Soup with Goat Cheese

When faced with the task of using up a large cache of carrots before my first CSA delivery (where I, of course, got another hefty bag of carrots), I immediately thought of soup. I'll eat nearly any vegetable cooked with bit of sauteed onions, garlic, salt, and a few spices in some good vegetable stock and pureed to silky deliciousness for a hearty, healthy soup. High-quality vegetables (i.e. local and organic, if you can find and afford it) need very little help to be transformed into a delicious meal, but that doesn't mean that a beautiful vegetable soup isn't a perfect place to experiment with new flavor combinations. I started with the basic onions, garlic, salt, carrots, and vegetable stock and then looked into my cabinets and refrigerator for further inspiration. I (re)discovered a jar or harissa paste I picked up harissa paste at the farmers' market, the perfect spicy contrast to the sweet carrots. The refrigerator offered some Montchevre goat cheese, adding both creamy and tangy elements, creating a rich and nuanced soup. All of these flavors blend together into a smooth and comforting blend of spiciness, sweetness, tanginess and richness that brings out the best in carrots without burying their flavor. This fall and winter promises to be full of many bowls of comfort like this one, so if you like what you see here, stay tuned for the many more to come!

Spicy Carrot Soup with Goat Cheese
serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large or 2 small onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 quart vegetable or chicken stock or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces goat cheese, cut into small pieces
1 to 2 teaspoons harissa paste, or to taste

1. Heat olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add carrots, onions, and garlic and cook until onions are softened, about 8 minutes.

2. Add stock to pan with vegetables and bring mixture to a boil. Simmer until carrots are tender, about 30 minutes, and remove from heat. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. (Alternatively, puree soup in batches using a blender). With the soup off the heat, add goat cheese, whisking vigorously to blend completely. Add harissa paste, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, mixing thoroughly, to desired level of spiciness. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Roasted Potatoes Colcannon with Eggs

I'm a sucker for nearly any roasted vegetable, but recently I've renewed my love affair with roasted kale. All it takes is heat, olive oil, and salt and pepper to transform that robust green into a delicious salty snack as satisfying as any potato chip. But as much as I've been enjoying the massive piles of roasted kale I've been eating, I wanted to incorporate roasted kale into a more complete dish, instead of just enjoying it on the side.

When my husband is hanging out with the guys and I'm tasked with only feeding myself dinner, occassionally I'll treat myself to some take-out or a meal out, but more often than not I'll still cook myself a nice, balanced (and usually vegetarian) dinner at home. This dish, loosely based on the traditional Irish Potatoes Colcannon, came together when I was using up all the odds and ends of produce I had before my first CSA pick-up, but I was so happy with it that I've already made it again since. Crispy, salty roasted potatoes and kale become absolutely decadent when swirled in a pool of delicious egg yolk from a poached or over-easy egg. Equally appropriate for breakfast or dinner, this dish will comfort you through the cold fall and winter days to come. Want to make it even more savory? Cook up some bacon, toss the kale and potatoes in the bacon fat before roasting, and crumble bacon bits over the top-almost nobody can resist the siren song of bacon. Like it a little spicy? A little dash of Sriracha is the perfect finishing touch.

Roasted Potatoes Colcannon with Eggs
serves 2

1 bunch kale, stems and ribs removed, leaves chopped
8 ounces potatoes, cut into approximately 1/2-inch dice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and prepare two baking sheets with cooking spray. Toss kale with 1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl, then spread evenly on one of the prepared baking sheets. Repeat the process with the potatoes.

2. Place potatoes in the oven on rack in bottom third. After approximately 5 minutes, place the kale in the oven. Roast potatoes and kale, stirring periodically, until kale and potatoes are browned and crispy, about 20 minutes total.

3. Meanwhile, prepare eggs any way you like them (I recommend poached or over-easy). Divide kale between two plates, top each with half of the potatoes, and two of the eggs and serve hot.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pumpkin Raisin Oatmeal Cookies

In the summer, much more of my culinary efforts are focused on savory dishes than baking. Starting up the oven is less than appealing in ninety degree heat and there is so much beautiful fresh local fruit available that is delightful on its own or on top of (or in) homemade ice cream. But now that the temperatures have gotten cooler, I'm ready to throw myself back into baking.

I made these for my morning snack at work, so these cookies are not as rich as ones I'd make for dessert, but packed full of dried fruit and whole grains that give me that much-needed mid-morning energy boost. I often have a granola bar for my midmorning snack, but I feel much more satisfied eating something I made myself than just picked up at the store. I always buy granola bars without lots of whole grains, fruits, and nuts and no high fructose corn syrup or preservatives, but even most of the natural brands have more sugar than I really prefer. These are flavorful, but not overly sweet, so they hit that happy spot of treat and healthy snack and give me something to look forward to each day at work (my stomach often loudly growls in anticipation). I used raisins in these cookies because I didn't have enough dried cranberries, but I think either makes a delightful pairing with pumpkin. Next time I make these I'll probably cut back on the dried fruit and add either walnuts or pecans, but for a more indulgent cookie, some good dark chocolate would be most welcome in the delightful little bites. By the same token, you could also replace the pumpkin purée with butternut or acorn squash puree or sweet potato puree for something a little more off the beaten path. Like so many recipes I love, this recipe allows to be as creative as you'd like to be, so go forth and bake up some tasty fall treats!

Pumpkin Raisin Oatmeal Cookies
adapted from Whole Foods
makes about 3 dozen cookies

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons), softened
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin purée
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups raisins
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together oats, flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add pumpkin, eggs and vanilla and beat until combined. Stir in flour mixture until just combined, and then fold in raisins.

3. Drop cookies by heaping tablespoon onto prepared baking sheets and gently press with fingers to flatten into discs (note that cookies will not spread while baking). Bake 20 to 24 minutes or until lightly browned. If baking two sheets at a time, rotate sheets half way through baking. Transfer to wire rack to cool. Store cookies in an airtight container.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Whiskey Sour

Whiskey is definitely a spirit I've come to appreciate relatively recently in my history of consuming alcohol and the first way I ever consumed it was in a whiskey sour, on a friend's recommendation. Now I'd never touch anything with commercial sweet-and-sour mix (it's just way too saccharin for my taste), but I still enjoy the combination of sweet and sour flavors with all different types of whiskeys. My new passion for craft cocktails (and craving for a whiskey-based cocktail one night) led me to look up this recipe, which I was delighted to discover was as simple as I'd hoped it would be. Like with so many other things, a few simple ingredients can become way more than the sum of their parts, provided the ingredients are high-quality and fresh. Some things are classic and ever-popular for a reason, and this cocktail falls squarely into that category. It's sweet, it's sour, and blends beautifully with the flavor profile of a wide variety of whiskeys, though it's probably most commonly made with bourbon. If you've just had whiskey sours made with rail whiskey and commercial sweet-and-sour mix, you'll be amazed at how delicious this drink can be when you take the time to make it yourself from scratch with good ingredients. Slainte Mhath!

Whiskey Sour
adapted just slightly from Food and Wine
serves 1

2 ounces bourbon (or other whiskey)
1 ounce fresh lemon juice 
1/2 ounce simple syrup 
1 Maraschino cherry skewered with 1/2 orange wheel or lemon slice, for garnish 

1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the bourbon, lemon juice and simple syrup and shake well. Strain into an ice-filed rocks glass and garnish with cherry and orange wheel.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Roasted Parmesan Brussels Sprouts

I didn't discover the deliciousness of Brussels sprouts until last year, when I received them in my CSA box. My dad has less that fond memories of Brussels sprouts from his childhood, growing up the era of boiling vegetables into mush, and my mom is not a fan so they never subjected me to them during my childhood (and were probably just happy that broccoli was one of my favorite foods). Add the fact that Brussels sprouts have a notoriously bad reputation, I was a bit hesitant to try them when they first found their way into my CSA box, but I am extremely adverturous eater and will try nearly anything at least once. The first recipe I tried, Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Orange Butter Sauce from Susie Middleton's Fast, Fresh and Green, made me realize that I absolutely adore these delicious little cruciferous vegetables. That recipe was so delicious that I served it at Thanksgiving dinner and made my dad realize that Brussels sprouts could be delicious (and my mom realize they could be tolerable). After an impulse purchase of a large bag of Brussels sprouts at the farmer's market a few weeks ago, I created this super-simple recipe when I wanted to perk up my sprouts just a bit from a simple roasting in olive oil, salt, and pepper (although that is delicious as well). Just the addition of a bit of salt, savory Parmesan cheese after roasting makes this dish feel special and decadent, provided you're using good, freshly grated Parmesan cheese (like SarVecchio or Hook's). Let these recipes inspire you to forget all your pre-conceived notions and discover (or rediscover) Brussels sprouts; you may just discover a new favorite side dish.

Roasted Parmesan Brussels Sprouts
serves 2 to 4

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 425°. In a large bowl toss the brussels sprouts with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread Brussels sprouts in an even layer on a prepared baking sheet.

2. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, until the brussels sprouts are tender and browned in spots; rotating the pans and stirring the brussels sprouts halfway through roasting. Remove from the oven, transfer to a bowl, toss with the Parmesan cheese and serve hot.