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.