Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Minted Peas & Leeks

For Christmas dinner this year, I made a ham. It was a giant, bulky beast and I relished the idea of ham leftovers for many days after. The recipe for the ham comes from Saveur and it’s one I’ve made before. It couldn’t be any easier and more delicious: roast the ham in the oven for a couple hours and then baste it for another hour with an outrageously good glaze consisting of brown sugar, Dijon mustard, and orange marmalade. It comes out of the oven bronzed, the outer layer caramelizing into ham candy.
While plotting the rest of the menu, I thought of the classic combination of ham and peas. I’ve got some beautiful mint growing on the balcony and liked the idea of livening up some standard frozen peas with the fresh herb. I love leeks and thought their tender, buttery flavor would blend well with the other ingredients.
I really love this easy side dish because it can be made year round with simple, available ingredients but tastes decidedly bright and spring-like. This recipe also gussies up the humble frozen pea enough that it seems fancy and a definite departure from the boiled (or canned) peas I grew up with.

To serve 4:
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 large leeks
  • 16 ounces (500 grams) frozen baby peas, thawed slightly
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
  • Fine sea salt, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Cut off the dark green ends of the leeks. Cut them in half lengthwise and then thinly slice the leeks into half-moons. You should have about 1½ cups.
In a large skillet, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently until soft, about 15 minutes. If the leeks start to brown, turn the heat down.
Turn the heat up to medium and add the peas. Stir to mix well with the leeks and butter/oil. Cook until the peas are heated through, about 5 minutes. Add the mint and cook for a minute more. Remove from the heat and season with the sea salt. Transfer the peas to a serving dish and garnish with the lemon zest.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Chocolate Whiskey Cake

Imagine ordering yourself a strong coffee – no, make it a mocha – and since you’re feeling festive and all, you pour a nip of whiskey in there. Now put those elements in cake form and that’s what we’ve got here. Deeply flavored with rich cocoa + coffee notes, the cake is infused with the warm essence of whiskey.

I love a boozy cake this time of year and this one didn’t disappoint. The method is unique too as no mixer is required. Instead, coffee, butter, whiskey and sugar are combined in a saucepan and warmed through. The other ingredients are stirred in by hand and before you know it, the cake is in the oven.

I used my cathedral cake pan I got from Williams Sonoma years ago. I have a love/hate relationship with it. When the cake comes out clean, gothic and beautiful things are good. When pieces of cake remain in the pan and the rest of it pours out like a devastating cake avalanche, well, things are not so good. I liberally sprayed the interior with cooking spray and then dusted it with cocoa powder. Once it cooled in the pan for about 15 minutes, I flipped it onto the wire rack with no dramas whatsoever. A dusting of powdered sugar finished off my little cathedral snow scene.

This recipe came from Gourmet and I didn’t change a thing. The link is here and really, I can’t recommend it enough. Warm wishes this holiday season. I hope all of you are participating in much merriment.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Green Tea Soba Noodles with Fragrant Soy Broth

At this time of year, it's nice to take a break from the constant stream of unhealthy (but supremely delicious) holiday edibles and eat something that makes you feel good afterwards. I've had my share of Christmastime binges in the past where I honestly felt as if my main food group was...well...cookies. Speaking of, if you're still looking for some cookie recipes, check out the index at the top of the page. I've got a bunch of my favorites on there.

This recipe is the perfect antidote to the December madness. Green tea soba noodles with their moss-tinged earthiness are fantastic steeped in a highly flavorful broth that's been infused with notes of orange, chile and ginger. It's comforting and healthy all at once and makes for a substantial meal when topped with shrimp, silken tofu and some crisp broccolini.

Don't be put off by the long ingredients list. The first eight are for the broth which doesn't take much effort - it will be simmering in no time. The last three ingredients are garnishes which I don't recommend skipping. A generous squeeze of lemon juice amplifies the other flavors while the toasty sesame seeds and oil provide an appealing nuttiness.

If the broth is made in advance and the other ingredients are prepped, this can be a quick weeknight dinner.

For 4 servings:
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup shao sing (Chinese wine) or sake
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 3 scallions sliced into 3-inch lengths
  • A 4-inch slice of orange rind with no or very little pith attached
  • 5 thin slices of peeled fresh ginger
  • 1-2 Thai chiles, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • 7 ounces (200 grams) green tea soba noodles (cha soba)
  • 1 bunch brocollini
  • 12 large cooked shrimp
  • 3.5 ounces (100 grams) firm silken tofu, cubed
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • 4 teaspoons sesame oil
In a large saucepan combine the water, soy sauce, shao sing or sake, mirin, scallions, orange rind, ginger, and chiles. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes. Pour the broth through a strainer into a bowl, discarding the solids. Return the broth to the saucepan and keep warm until ready to use. The broth can be made a day or so ahead and kept in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, cook the soba according to package directions. Blanch the broccolini in boiling salted water until just tender, about 3-4 minutes. Drain and set aside.

To assemble: divide the soba amongst 4 bowls. Pour a 1/2 cup of the broth over the noodles. Place the broccolini, shrimp and tofu in each bowl. Garnish with a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a sprinkling of sesame seeds, and a teaspoon of the sesame oil. Serve additional broth on the side to add to the noodles if desired.

Adapted, a whole lot, from On-the-Fly Noodles with Shrimp in the Best American Recipes 2000 book.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ginger Pistachio Cookies

It's easy to gain inspiration from all the weighty cookbooks I own, not to mention the bevy of food magazines, blogs, websites, and TV shows that are out there. What is even more satisfying is getting that inspiration from a good friend. Last year I cajoled my pal Scott into guestblogging a cookie recipe of his that I love: Cream of Tartar Cookies. A couple of months ago he gussied them up with some orange frosting and crunchy, colorful pistachios, thus transforming them into Pistachio-Orange Cookies which recently won the Minneapolis Star Tribune Holiday Cookie Contest. So proud! Out of 268 entries his won which was not surprising as I have often been on the receiving end of his exemplary cooking skills.

I loved the idea of orange + pistachios together so I made these cookies incorporating zingy Australian candied ginger, candied mixed peel (lemon and orange), and some chopped pistachios. The result is a crunchy exterior with a rich, chewy interior. Each bite yields varying flavors of spice, citrus and toasted nuts - such a great combination of holiday flavors.

A note about the candied ginger: the ginger I used here isn't the thin slices of crystallized ginger I was familiar with in the U.S. Instead, these are cubes of ginger with no exterior sugar visible, quite similar to dried fruit. I'm sure the crystallized ginger would work just fine.

For about 3 dozen cookies:
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup raw (or white) superfine (caster) sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/3 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped toasted pistachios
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger
  • 1/4 cup chopped candied citrus peel
  • 1/3 cup coarse sugar
Heat the oven to 350f (180c). In the bowl of a mixer, beat the butter and raw sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat again.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, ground ginger, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined. Add the pistachios, candied ginger and citrus peel and mix again.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a shallow bowl. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and then roll in the sugar. Place on the baking sheet, spacing the dough 3 inches apart. Bake in the center of the oven for 12-14 minutes until the tops crack and are slightly golden. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container for a week or freeze for up to a month.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Curried Chicken Satay

When M & I were eating our way through Singapore back in June, we sought out a hawker stand that apparently served the best Roti John anywhere around. Roti John is this incredibly simple, decadent sort of omelet sandwich which essentially consists of a French baguette coated in butter and then fried in onions and scrambled eggs. It was hot, eggy, crusty and just plain good. Served with sweet chili sauce and a few slices of cucumber, we ate it up quick. Even though we wanted to, the idea of getting another Roti John seemed a bit over the top so we surveyed the other food vendors and spotted some tasty looking satay.

This satay was slightly different from any version I had eaten in the U.S. and I detected that the subtle Indian curry flavor was what set it apart. There was less emphasis on the typical peanut flavors and more of a vibrant sweet curry essence that was really wonderful and aromatic.

This is my attempt at recreating those flavors and I think I did a pretty good job. I love the turmeric yellow the curry powder gives the chicken and the underlying hints of coconut, crunchy peanut butter and soy come together nicely. I let this marinate for a full 24 hours and it was fantastic. There's no doubt that this sauce would compliment tofu, pork, beef, or prawns as well. I didn't do it this go around but I can see saving a little of the marinade before the meat was added to dip the skewers in after they're grilled.

For 8 skewers:
  • 2 tablespoons chunky peanut butter
  • 3 ounces (80 ml) coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon sweet curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound (.5 kg) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
In a medium bowl stir together all the ingredients except the chicken. Set aside. Cut the chicken into bite-sized cubes and toss with the curry mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.

Thread the chicken onto about 8 skewers. Grill, turning occasionally over a medium-hot grill until evenly cooked and charred in some spots, about 7-8 minutes. Alternatively, the skewers can be cooked in batches in a hot non-stick skillet until browned on all sides and cooked through.

Serve the skewers with steamed jasmine rice, grilled asparagus, lime wedges, chopped chiles, and some fresh herbs such as mint, basil or --if you must--cilantro (but not near me, because I can smell it from here).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rhubarb Apple Crumble

When I was packing my things to move to Australia, I had to be judicious in what I chose to pack and ship because a journey halfway around the world is not cheap. This meant that I had to narrow down my cookbook collection to only those deemed absolutely essential. My friends eventually took pity on me and volunteered to spread out my "non-essential" (but still deeply loved) books amongst my friendship circle to mail to me later.

I opened my VIP cookbook box after it traveled by sea with my other things for nearly 3 months and pulled out The Country Cooking of Ireland by Colman Andrews which won the James Beard Award for cookbooks. I got it as a gift from my good friends E&B and I think it may be the most beautiful cookbook in my collection. It is one of those books that inspires with its beautiful photography capturing rustic meals, gorgeous landscapes and various Irish folks and food.

I plan on cooking my way through it and have already made several recipes including a Lettuce & Pea Soup, Salmon with Bacon, Cabbage and Cream, and Soda Bread. They were all delicious and used simple but excellent ingredients. The Rhubarb Ginger Crumble caught my eye and I revised it to include apples. I cut back on the sugar by a cup because it seemed like a scary amount and also added chopped walnuts to the topping.

The result was incredibly good. The ginger is the winning element here. It adds a great zing to the tart rhubarb, sweet apples, and buttery upper crust. Baked fruit desserts always smell so amazing as they cook and this recipe did just that. I ate it warm for dessert, cold for breakfast the next day, sneaked spoonfuls until it was gone and loved it every time.

For 8 servings:
  • 5 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 Fuji apples, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
  • 1½ cups + 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1½ cups flour
  • 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ½ cup finely chopped walnuts
  • Pinch of salt
Heat the oven to 375f (190c). In a large bowl combine the rhubarb, apple, ginger, and the 1½ cups sugar. Butter a large glass baking dish and spread the fruit evenly in it.

In another bowl, combine the flour and butter. With a pastry cutter, blend them together until pea-sized crumbs form. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, the walnuts and the salt. Distribute evenly over the fruit, pressing down slightly.

Place in the center of the oven and bake, until the fruit is bubbling and the top is golden - about 60-75 minutes. Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or plain in all its glory.

Adapted from the Rhubarb Ginger Crumble recipe in The Country Cooking of Ireland by Colman Andrews

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Festive Favorites

When you find yourself away from family and friends in not only a new place but a different country, it's comforting to spend the day cooking something so traditionally American as a Thanksgiving dinner. Let me tell you, the fact that I put on sunscreen in the morning and cooked a homey, stick-to-your-ribs meal later that night is a surreal experience for this Midwestern girl.

Because we were cooking a dinner for two, we went with a chicken instead of a turkey and halved most of the other dishes. I tried out some new recipes and thought it pertinent to share them here because many of them would be perfect for Christmas as well.

First up, the chicken, which was grilled according to Steven Raichlen's always informative and thoroughly explained method of indirect grilling. It seems daunting at first but really it's just a matter of seasoning it well, chucking it on the grill, and trying really, really hard not to constantly lift up the cover to revel in the golden, crackling goodness. A turkey works just as well and makes a lot of sense because the bird isn't hogging the oven, leaving plenty of space for sides. A drip pan is inserted in the bottom of the grill to catch the juices which are essential for making gravy. Whole birds are fantastic on the grill year-round and I urge you to give it a shot.

I am a stuffing fanatic - surprising since I grew up eating the grossest stuffing ever. When I realized, as an adult, the many different ways that stuffing can be delicious I was hooked. This year I tried a recipe from The New York Times: Chantarelle & Pear Bread Stuffing. Combining mushrooms, pears, pancetta, plenty of fresh herbs and toasted bread, I adored this recipe. I didn't think that pears and mushrooms would go together but I was wrong. The pancetta imparted a savory, slightly smoky note but didn't overwhelm the other flavors.

I can't say enough about the Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes that I blogged about last year which are always a surefire winner. They can be made the night before then popped into the oven an hour before dinner will be served.

I was worried that I wasn't going to find any cranberries in the store here but I did! They were frozen which was fine by me. I poured them into a saucepan, still frozen, and added the zest of one orange, the juice of half an orange, a teaspoon of grated ginger, a 1/4 cup cranberry juice, a 1/2 cup raw sugar, and a sprig of fresh mint. I simmered it all until the berries popped and the sauce thickened. I threw out the mint when it was done and stored it in the fridge to cool. Delicious.

For something green, I simply steamed green beans, tossed them with melted butter, toasted slivered almonds and some fine sea salt.

I made a pie from another recipe in the New York Times which was over-the-top good, but I am going to tweak it a bit, make it again, and blog about it soon. It was a dessert to swoon over.

If you have any additional links to holiday recipes, please share them in the comments. Cheers!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Harissa-Spiced Carrot Potato Purée

You may have noticed that I've been briefly absent but I had really good reasons. My belongings arrived via boat after being stuck in the ocean for weeks due to sea congestion (who knew), I had to jump through all sorts of hoops at customs and quarantine once my many boxes were finally off the boat, and I moved into a new apartment -- it was all a little bit trying.

Enough about that for I have far nicer things to discuss like having a kitchen stocked with all my handy tools and essential items. My All-Clad pots and pans were the most welcome items as there is just no substitute for excellent cookware. I feel like me again and suspect that I'm finally getting a hang of this whole living-in-another-country thing.

I was at the grocery store thinking that it's sort of strange that in the 4 months that I've been in Australia, I have yet to eat, or cook, any lamb. I got some beautiful-looking loin chops and perused the aisles thinking about what should go with them. I spied a tube of harissa paste, a common North African staple, and thought that the piquant, red paste would set off some carrots nicely. I cooked the carrots with a potato to give the puree some heft and played off the carrot's sweetness by adding a touch of brown sugar.

This puree is a gorgeous color with an underlying spiciness. The harissa's heat sneaks up on you quickly so depending on your tolerance, add a 1/2 teaspoon to start and go from there.

For 4 servings:
  • 1 large potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1/4 cup reserved cooking water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon harissa paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Place the carrots in a medium pot and cover them with cold, salted water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and strongly simmer for 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and simmer for 15-20 minutes more or until both vegetables are easily pierced with a fork. Drain, reserving the cooking water.

Put the vegetables in a mixing bowl along with 1/4 cup cooking water, butter, oil, a 1/2 teaspoon of harissa paste, brown sugar and the salt. Mix on high speed until thoroughly combined and smooth. Alternatively, this can also be pureed in a food processor. Taste and add a bit more salt and harissa if desired.

Serve, sprinkled with the parsley.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cool Spinach & Artichoke Dip

There was this dip I used to buy at Whole Foods that was a guilty pleasure for a couple reasons: One, I knew it was loaded with man's greatest invention (mayonnaise) and two, it was strangely pricey. After the dip made it safely home, I would inspect the ingredients - spinach, artichokes, mayonnaise, parmesan cheese, roasted pepper, and lemon juice, if my memory serves me correctly. While shoveling large quantities of it in my mouth I would think - you've got to just make this on your own and stop throwing down money for an overpriced dip. That was years ago now and I finally got around to doing it.

I substituted the majority of the mayonnaise with silken tofu which does an excellent job of soaking up all the flavors around it. It adds a great creamy texture and binds the dip together too. Because there isn't any actual cooking involved, just chopping, whisking and stirring, this dip is a breeze to make. And, with the holidays right around the corner, this is a great recipe to have in your arsenal.

I served it with some good, crisp crackers and carrots, but I can also see this as a splendid sandwich spread, perhaps with some turkey and tomato.

For about 3 cups:
  • 10 ounces (250 grams) frozen chopped Spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 14 ounces (400 grams) canned artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup chopped roasted red bell pepper
  • 1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 5 ounces (150 grams) firm silken tofu
  • 1½ tablespoons lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, mash the tofu with a fork. Add the mayonnaise, parmesan cheese, and lemon juice. Whisk together until fairly smooth (there will be some texture because of the tofu). Add the spinach, artichoke hearts, and roasted pepper. Stir together until thoroughly combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with crackers and carrot sticks.

This dip will keep, refrigerated, for a couple days. Stir again before serving.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tea-Infused Spirits

I thought it only fitting to follow up my last post in which I declared that I was never drinking again with a fun-with-alcohol post today. I've moved on (quickly).

It's nice to have all my foodie friends out on the town eating and drinking so that they can alert me to any inventive goodness that is out there in the world. Guestblogger Alita did just that when she told me that she was at a local Minneapolis restaurant were she had a tea-infused cocktail--Earl Grey Vodka and Lemonade to be exact, and I loved the idea straight away.

These infusions couldn't be easier to make. The alcohol doesn't need to be heated to extract the tea and only requires a couple of hours to infuse. They can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge for quite a while so would make an interesting and easy special cocktail for a friendly gathering.

Along with making the Earl Grey Vodka, I also combined hibiscus tea with tequila. The vivid red color is absolutely gorgeous. Look for an herbal tea such as Red Zinger or any berry flavor -- the main ingredient should be hibiscus which is what you want. Don't use cheap booze here. The flavors of the alcohol need to be smooth and crisp so the tea can shine through.

For Hibiscus Tequila:
  • 1 cup silver tequila
  • 2 hibiscus tea bags (red zinger, berry, etc)
For Earl Grey Vodka:
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 2 earl grey tea bags
Pour the alcohol into a sealable container. Add the teabags, cover, and set aside for a couple hours, giving it a gentle shake from time to time. Remove the teabags and store the alcohol, covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Arnie Palmer Vodka Cocktail:
In a cocktail shaker combine 1 ounce earl grey vodka, the juice of 1 large lemon, 2 teaspoons (or more to taste) sugar, and a couple large ice cubes. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds or so and then pour into a highball glass filled with ice. Top with soda water, stir, and garnish with a lemon slice.

The easy version of the cocktail above requires a shot of the earl grey vodka along with good, store bought lemonade. Done!

Pineapple Hibiscus Cocktail:
In a cocktail shaker combine 1 ounce hibiscus tequila, 1/2 an ounce Triple Sec, 4 ounces pineapple juice and several large ice cubes. Shake together well. Pour into a chilled martini glass, with a sugar/salt rim and garnish with an orange twist or a pineapple wedge.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bean & Pea Tahini Salad

This past week I got to experience the Melbourne Cup - an event similar to the Kentucky Derby except that it's on a Tuesday and there seems to be a lot more alcohol involved. By 11 am the champagne was flowing and flowing and flowing. Several hours later, while dancing and working up quite a thirst, I recall dimly thinking that the best and quickest way to hydrate was to drink the nearest liquid...which was more champagne. By 8pm we were still out and about and I was stuffing my face with a burger, fries, onion rings and an orange Fanta.

Needless to say, the next day I laid around and took advil, looked hideous, drank gatorade and proclaimed that I was never drinking again! Ever! (lies). Post-recovery I directed my energies at detoxing and eating healthy for the remainder of the week. This lovely recipe was a result of all the debauchery.

This is definitely a main course salad as it's packed with all sorts of veggies as well as garlicky sauteed tofu, chickpeas, and dressed with a punchy tahini sauce. It does take a fair bit of work to get this all together but the end result is a healthy, vibrant vegetarian dish.

For 4 servings:
  • 1/2 pound (.22 kg) thin green beans, ends trimmed
  • 1/4 pound (.11 kg) snow peas, ends trimmed
  • 6 ounces (175 grams) firm tofu, rinsed, patted dry with paper towels, and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 14 ounces (400 grams) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs such as mint, chives, basil, and parsley
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
  • Tahini dressing*
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the green beans and snow peas for 2-3 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon and rinse under cold water in a colander. Drain the vegetables well. If you're feeling fancy, slice the beans in half lengthwise. Slice the snow peas into thin strips lengthwise. Place in a large bowl.

In a non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and saute until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tofu and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden on all sides. Add to the bowl with the beans and snow peas. Stir in the chickpeas, bell pepper, and herbs. Drizzle the dressing over the top and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

*For the dressing:
  • 3 tablespoons well-stirred tahini paste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • The juice of 1 large lemon
Whisk together the ingredients in a small bowl until smooth and creamy. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lemon Olive Oil Cookies

I picked up some lemon thyme at the market the other day and contemplated using it in a fish dish, or in a salad, or with some eggs but then opted for cookies because that seemed the most logical choice. Or maybe I just needed some sugar.

I'm still mixer-less down here and so have been mentally going through recipes that don't require butter to be creamed. Yes, as my friend Scott reminded me, there was a time before mixers and elbow grease was used instead. However, the other day I whipped egg whites until satiny peaks formed and let me tell you, I was fairly certain that my arm was going to give up and just fall off. Apparently, I am a wimp. This recipe requires just two bowls and mixes together (by hand) in a flash.

I remembered bookmarking a recipe from Mark Bittman for olive oil cookies in which he used both red wine and rosemary. I figured I would take that concept and go with a triple lemon version instead: herbal lemon thyme, lemon zest and juice, and sweet lemony icing.

The cookies are sort of a cross between a scone and a cookie with somewhat cakey interiors. There's no getting around the fact that the butter is missing, but really, I like these a lot. These not too sweet, herb-flecked bisquits are rustic, pretty-looking things that didn't require me to even break a sweat.

For about 2 dozen cookies:
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • ½ cup oats
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon thyme leaves
  • Lemon Icing*
Heat the oven to 375f (190c). In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, oil, milk, vanilla, lemon juice, zest, and thyme. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold together with a spatula until just moistened.

Lightly grease a baking sheet. Drop the dough by heaping teaspoonfuls, spaced 2 inches apart. Bake in the center of the oven for 12-14 minutes or until just brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack.

*For the icing, whisk together 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar, 1 tablespoon milk, 2 teaspoons lemon juice and 1 teaspoon lemon zest until smooth.

Once cool, drizzle the icing over the cookies and allow to set. The cookies will keep, covered for a couple days.

Adapted (a lot) from a recipe by Mark Bittman

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Black & Orange Salad

Happy Halloween friends! I thought a salad composed of black and orange colors would be most fitting for today. I found some black quinoa which I've never seen before and although I don't think it tastes different from regular quinoa, I do like the dark, rich shade. The similarly-hued wild rice adds a nice, chewy texture.

The real standouts in this recipe are the roasted pears and squash. I can see serving that up as its own side dish. The pear I had was very firm and I worried it would be a bit tasteless but roasting it brought out its sweetness nicely. I suspect that a riper pear wouldn't have worked as well. The rest of the salad is doused with a simple, light vinaigrette which is contrasted by the bold blue cheese, toasted pepitas and crisp green garnishes.

A salad is a little bit of a funny thing to post on such a candy-filled holiday, and as good as this recipe is, don't think I didn't wish I were stuffing my face with a large assortment of seasonal sugary goodness. This reminded me of one of my favorite David Sedaris stories, Us & Them, which touches on the important categorization of the Halloween candy ritual that I am certain most of us did at one point or another.

My own top tier pile consisted of Baby Ruth, Dots, Almond Joy, Reeses Pieces, Starburst (not the orange ones though), Bit O'Honey and Good & Plenty. The second tier was made up of most everything else. Lastly, the bottom tier, which I eventually threw away unless I was in a desperate situation, was a sad mixture of smarties, sweet tarts, dum dum's, that crap gum that lost its flavor in 5 seconds, and Milky Way/3 Musketeer bars. I won't even talk about the neighbors who gave out nickels.

For 2-3 servings:
  • 1/2 cup black quinoa
  • 1/2 cup wild rice
  • 1/2 a small butternut squash, peeled and cubed (about 2 cups worth)
  • 1 large firm Bosc Pear, cored, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • Thin slices of blue cheese, for garnish
  • A handful of mixed lettuces
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pepitas
Fill a medium saucepan with 5 cups of water. Add the wild rice and a large pinch of salt. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. When it comes to a boil turn the heat down, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the quinoa and bring back to a simmer, uncovered. Simmer for 15 minutes more. Remove from the heat, drain, and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 375°f (190°c). In a medium bowl combine the squash, pears, brown sugar, 1 tablespoon oil, and a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spread out on a lightly oiled baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, toss, and roast for 15-20 minutes more. Remove from the oven.

In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, the vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the warm grains to the bowl and toss to combine. Add the roasted squash and pears and gently toss with the grains.

To serve, spoon the grain mixture onto a plate. Garnish with a few leaves of lettuce, a couple slices of blue cheese and the pepitas. Serve warm.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Grilled Honey Pork with Pickled Apple Slaw

Back in the olden days (last year), when I worked at a regular desk job in marketing/graphic design, I was fortunate to have co-workers that were cool and funny and fun. We worked hard most of the time but there were the inevitable slow days and to quell our boredom we would play the Question Game. This was done via email of course so that we looked appropriately occupied and it should come as no surprise that the questions I came up with often centered around food. The top 2 were: if you had to choose only ONE side dish to have with Thanksgiving dinner, what would it be? And if you had to pick only one fruit to eat for the rest of your life, what would you pick? Please, do tell.

The amount of thought that went into people's responses was amazing. I personally went with stuffing for Thanksgiving and the apple for my fruit. The apple reasons are endless: cider, pies, sauce, good shelf-life, portable, and so on. Today when I somewhat randomly decided to quick-pickle sticks of apples, the result ended up being so terrific that it really became one more reason they are my fruit for life.

For this dish as a whole I thought about two classic pairings: pork and apple and apple slices with peanut butter (my favorite snack). The honey-spiked pork marinade is an easy no-brainer while the sharp astringency of the lightly pickled apples plays off the oiliness of the peanuts beautifully. I love the contrasts.

On an administrative note: I created a recipe index (yay!) so please, check it out. It can be accessed at the top right of the page under the header.

For the Pork:
  • 1 pork tenderloin, about 1 pound (.45 kg)
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider or juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3 scallions, chopped into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 large clove garlic, chopped
For the Pickled Apples:
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 medium apples, julienned
For the Slaw:
  • Pickled apples, drained
  • 1 hot red chili pepper, minced
  • 1/4 cup roasted, salted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Combine peanut oil, cider, honey, scallions, garlic and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper in a large ziploc bag. Add the pork and coat. Seal and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Prepare a hot grill. Remove the pork from the marinade and uniformly season with salt and pepper. Grill the pork on all sides, about 3-4 minutes per side, then turn the grill down to low and cook, turning once until the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from the heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Slice into 1-inch medallions.

While the pork is marinating, whisk together the water, rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add the apples and stir to coat. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To prepare the slaw, stir together the drained, pickled apples with the chile, peanuts, and mint. Drizzle with the sesame oil and toss again.

On a plate, place about a cup of the slaw and 2-3 medallions of pork. Serve immediately.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Spicy Chocolate Shortbread

You know that old adage about wanting something you can't have? Well since I arrived in Australia I been cooking Mexican food like it's going out of style. This partly has to do with the fact that M and his roommate practiced Taco Tuesday which inspired me to create something Latin-inspired each week to keep the tradition going and partly because the lack of Mexican ingredients down here makes it a challenge. I determinedly troll the aisles looking for canned black beans (no), chipotle anything (definitely no), queso fresco (absolutely no) and so on.

Last week I was whipping together some Fish Tacos with Lime Coleslaw and Mango Salsa when I decided that I needed something sweet to finish the meal that still captured the Mexican spirit. I've always been quite fond of the cinnamon-scented chocolate used in their sweets and so decided on a shortbread cookie with a few Mexican flavors mixed in.

The recipe, adapted from one which appeared in Gourmet, uses just one bowl and a fork. You'll have them in the oven in no time flat. The shortbread turns out dark, rich with deep yet subtle spice flavors. The cinnamon and cayenne definitely make the cookies something special and were a perfect end to our far away Mexican meal.

For 8 cookies:
  • 1/2 cup (125 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup superfine sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon granulated or sanding sugar
Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

Place the butter in a medium bowl along with the superfine sugar, vanilla and sea salt. With a fork, mash it all together until combined. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon and cayenne pepper together over the butter. Mix together with a spatula until thoroughly combined.

Pat the dough into an 8-inch springform pan. Sprinkle the tablespoon of granulated or sanding sugar evenly over the top. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until firm to the touch and just crisp around the edges. Remove from the oven, unclip the pan and slice the shortbread into 8 wedges. Allow to cool and then transfer to an airtight container. The shortbread will keep for one week.

Adapted from a recipe from Gourmet Magazine.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tomato Rice Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

I am guessing the title of this recipe grabbed some of you carnivores straight away because the magic word "bacon" caught your eye. I'm with you. I was daydreaming the other day about a BLT I had at the height of Minnesota summer at my good friend's Eric and Burt's house. Beautiful red oak leaf lettuce, juicy heirloom tomato slices, rich mayonnaise, and thick-cut bacon were all sandwiched between two slices of toasted WHITE bread. I hadn't had a BLT in years and man, it was incredible.

While daydreaming of bacon sandwiches, I gave the pantry a staredown trying to come up with something for lunch. I eventually pulled out brown rice and dates thinking I would make some sort of Morroccan-flavored salad. However, when I peered into the fridge I quickly scooped up some plump grape tomatoes, a big bunch of bright green basil, some creamy Australian chevre and a lone slice of bacon.

I know the dates and tomatoes sound like a strange match but really, the two different types of sweetness really plays off each other well. If you want to go through the trouble, the extra depth of flavor that occurs when the tomatoes are roasted is quite good. Otherwise, toss them into the salad fresh.

For 4 servings:
  • 3/4 cup uncooked long grain brown rice
  • 16 ounces (500 grams) grape tomatoes
  • 1 cup roughly chopped basil
  • 1/4 cup chopped bacon
  • 3/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup slivered dates
  • 1/4 cup crumbled chevre
If roasting the tomatoes, toss them in a tablespoon of olive oil, a pinch of sugar and salt, and cook them in a 200 degree oven until the skins have just burst. If using fresh tomatoes, slice them in half lengthwise.

Simmer the rice in salted water in a covered pot until cooked, but still al dente, about 45 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until just crisp. Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off all but 1 teaspoon of the bacon fat from the skillet. Add the olive oil to the skillet and then the shallot and chili flakes, sauteing until just translucent. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vinegar.

In a large bowl, combine the rice, tomatoes, basil, and dates. Pour over the warm dressing and toss gently but thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with the chevre and serve warm.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Creamy Parsnip Soup with Wild Rice & Chicken

    When you live on the opposite side of the planet from where you used to, like I do, there's a delight in coming across familiar foodstuffs that I thought I had left behind. Wild rice, for example, is such a common, local item in Minnesota that I did a double take when I walked past a big sack of it at the store here the other day. I scooped some up, noted its superspendy price tag, and headed home to make some sort of wild rice soup, reminiscent of Midwest autumns.

    I wanted to create a twist on an old classic and so instead of a rich, cream-based chicken and wild rice soup, I started by making a parsnip puree. From there I added in cooked wild rice and chicken and topped it off with some fresh, green snipped chives.

    I'm a huge parsnip fan. There's something about their mellow spiciness that sets them apart from other root vegetables. The texture when pureed was perfect - silky and creamy. I actually used lowfat milk instead of half & half or heavy cream and I didn't miss the extra fat one bit.
    • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 cup chopped onion
    • 1 medium russet potato, peeled and cubed
    • 4 medium parsnips, trimmed, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
    • 1/2 cup dry white wine
    • 3 cups chicken stock
    • 1 cup milk
    • 1 cup shredded, cooked chicken
    • 1 cup cooked wild rice, plus more for garnish
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
    Over medium-low heat, melt the butter and the olive oil together in a large pot. Add the onion and saute until translucent, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the potato and parsnips to the pot and stir to coat. Cook for a couple minutes, turn the heat to medium-high and add the wine. Briskly simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer again. Simmer until the vegetables are very soft, about 25 minutes.

    Ladle the soup into a blender, pureeing it in batches. Transfer the puree as you go into a bowl. When all the soup is pureed, return it to the pot, and set over low heat. Stir in the milk. Add the wild rice and chicken and cook until heated through. Taste and add salt and pepper.

    Spoon the soup into bowls, garnish with additional wild rice and fresh chives and serve.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Pumpkin Scones with Walnuts & Chocolate Chips

    I love pumpkin season back home and these scones from Guestblogger Alita are the perfect, seasonal treat - I only wish that I was there to be her official taste tester! Thanks to Alita for yet another great post. ---A Crafty Lass

    As excited as I was about Erin's latest adventure and the decision to move herself & A Crafty Lass to the land down under, I was also pretty sad. Erin is the friend who has taught me a lot about myself, about life and about cooking and experimenting with recipes - she's the friend who even ate the mistakes (and there have been more than a few in the 10 years we've been sharing creations)! I hated to say goodbye - but I wish her all the best, and no matter how many miles from each other life takes us, I'll be with her here guestblogging on this amazing site.

    Here in Minnesota, we also said goodbye to a beautiful summer and have been watching the leaves transform from bright greens to vibrant shades of yellow, orange and red. As we welcome autumn, we find leaves that crunch beneath our feet and pumpkins for sale in many farm fields just outside the metro area. This time of year my mind immediately turns to transforming those roadside pumpkins into delicious baked treats. I have a long list of pumpkin favorites: pumpkin spice cake, sweet breads, pumpkin bars, pumpkin oatmeal cookies and of course pumpkin pie. But I quickly realized I'd never done a breakfast pumpkin creation. Scones immediately became my first fall baking project. The combination of pumpkin, whole wheat flour, walnuts & chocolate chips make these a hearty start to the day, and a perfect accompaniment to that coffee or hot tea you'll need here on these crisp autumn mornings.

    For 8 Scones:
    • 1 cup white flour
    • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1/3 cup sugar
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 2 tablespoons softened butter
    • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
    • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
    • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
    • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
    • 1 cup powdered sugar
    • 1 tablespoon milk
    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Add in pumpkin, yogurt and butter, mixing as you add each ingredient. Mix in the walnuts & chocolate chips. Form the dough into a ball and place on a lightly floured surface. Pat the dough down into a circle about a 1/2-inch thick. Cut the dough into 8 pieces and put them on a baking sheet (I use a silpat). Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the edges are crisp and the top is lightly browned. Let them cool and then frost.

    To frost: whisk the powdered sugar with the milk and drizzle over the scones. Enjoy!

    Sunday, October 10, 2010

    Fava Beans with Poached Egg Crostini

    Yesterday I found myself sitting on a park bench underneath a remarkably giant fig tree in the center of Fremantle, Australia trying not be disturbed by the smashed bits of expensive fruit (in the USA at least) that covered the ground around the tree. The figs are scattered and smooshed as commonly as dead leaves and acorns are during the autumn months in the midwest. This sight will take some getting used to and I must resist the urge to scoop them up and turn them into Fig Newton's. As I sat on my bench contemplating figs, I had one eye on the big bag of fava beans (or broad beans as they are referred to here) I had bought at the market. It was nearing lunchtime, the sun was shining, and I looked forward to treating myself to a special lunch for one.

    Fava beans are strange creatures with their double-casing of pod and rubbery outer shell. It's good peaceful work shelling those beans. After they're out of their pod, a quick simmer makes the shell easy to peel off revealing the mild-flavored, pretty favas. They don't need much adornment so I tossed them with just a touch of olive oil and some good sea salt. I topped them with a toasted slice of baguette and a perfectly poached egg. A few snips of chives and several drops of luscious truffle oil completed the dish.

    Because there aren't many ingredients in this recipe, they need to be top-notch and although this made for a quick, light lunch, I can also see it being served as a first course for a special dinner. The truffle oil elevates it from something simple to luxurious. I drank a glass of crisp, mineral Sauvignon Blanc with it which seemed to be the perfect wine to cut through the rich egg and truffle flavors.

    To serve one:
    • 1 cup of shelled fava beans
    • 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
    • Pinch of sea salt
    • 1 long, thin slice baguette
    • 1 egg, poached
    • 4-5 drops truffle oil
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • Fresh chives, for garnish
    Bring several cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the favas and blanch for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water until they are cool enough to handle. Peel away the outer shell and discard. Toss the beans with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Set aside.

    Meanwhile, rub both slides of the baguette slice with the remaining teaspoon of olive oil and toast it in a preheated oven until golden.

    To assemble: Spoon the favas onto the center of a plate. Top with the baguette. Place the poached egg on the crostini. Sprinkle the egg with a touch of salt and a grinding of pepper. Snip some chives over the dish. Garnish with the truffle oil and serve immediately.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Passionfruit Crêpes

    I had never had a passionfruit in my life until I watched one of Nigella's cooking shows years ago in which she spoke rapturously about the odd, wrinkled-looking fruit. She was making a Passionfruit Pavlova and I was determined to impress my friends with this billowy dessert the next time I had a dinner party. When I headed to the grocery store to buy the passionfruits I was astounded - I realized I would be spending $18 on 6 of them. I hesitated, almost not able to do it, but in the end the passionfruit intrigue won out and I served the pavlova to rave reviews.

    To me, passionfuits are all about the perfume. They give off such a tropical, alluring scent that there is no mistaking them for anything common. When I was at the market here in Australia the other day, I stopped at stared at a heaping pile of passionfruits with a sign advertising "Passionfruits: $2.99 a bag". This bag contained 7 of them which almost caused me to jump for joy if I were a little more crazy. I'm in passionfruit country which is just splendid!

    I originally wanted to make some sort of a passionfruit shortbread until it dawned on me that I don't have a mixer (how does one cream butter without one?). So, I settled on crêpes instead. I've always been a pretty good crêpe-maker because it doesn't faze me that the first crêpe is inevitably not going to turn out that great. I suspect it has to do with the heat of the pan or getting into a groove of swirling the batter or something. Regardless, I set aside the ugly one for myself, forge onward and it all turns out fine.

    For 6 crêpes:
    • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
    • Pinch of sea salt
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 3/4 cup milk
    • 1 egg
    • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
    • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted + a bit more for greasing the pan
    • 6 ripe passionfruits
    Cut the passionfruits in half and scoop out the pulp into a small bowl. Stir the pulp together and taste it - if it seems a bit too tart, stir in a small amount of sugar or honey to taste. Set aside.

    In a bowl whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. In another bowl whisk together the milk, egg, orange zest, vanilla and the melted butter. Pour the liquid into the flour mixture and whisk thoroughly until the batter is smooth.

    Heat a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Lightly grease it with butter. Quickly pour a 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan and then immediately swirl the batter around in a circular fashion. Allow the crêpe to cook until just set, about 30 seconds, and then flip it and cook for 30-45 seconds more. Place on a plate and keep warm.

    Repeat with the remaining batter, adding a bit more butter as you go to the pan if needed. When all the crêpes are cooked, fold into triangles. Arrange two crêpes on a plate and spoon the passionfruit pulp on and around them. Dust with confectioner's sugar if desired and serve immediately.

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    Grilled Mediterranean Flatbread

    I've been loving the market's here in Western Australia where the fresh fruit and vegetables are abundant and grown locally in most cases. Having spent my whole life between Minneapolis and the Chicago-land area where the climate shifts dramatically and the growing seasons are sweet but short, I am enamored with what the down under markets have to offer year round.

    The other day there was a heaping pile of glossy grape-colored eggplants - the long skinny ones, not the large roundish ones, and I loved the sight of them so much I bought a bunch to make something with later. As I browsed, I grabbed some Roma tomatoes and a beautiful basil bouquet and thought I would make an Italian something or other. However, a zucchini ended up in my basket along with a variety of mint I'm not familiar with and so things took a Mediterranean turn. Some salty feta cheese was the missing component and so I got a block and headed home.

    M has become sort of a master pizza griller. I wanted to make a flatbread on the grill and so became a director rather than a cook and watched him do all the work. His technique works great...preheat the grill to low, stretch the dough out on a piece of oil-brushed foil, and then transfer the foil to the grill for about 15 minutes. The foil makes the pizza easier to maneuver and yields even cooking results.

    I call this a flatbread rather than a pizza because to me pizza is something slathered with red sauce and melted, gooey cheese. This recipe is all about layers of subtle flavors: the thin crisp crust brushed with garlic-infused oil, the smoky grilled vegetables, the sharp feta, and the fresh herbs.

    For 2 flatbreads:
    • 1 recipe pizza dough (I like this one from Gourmet), divided into two balls
    • 1 cup 1/4-inch slices eggplant
    • 1 cup 1/4-inch slices zucchini
    • 8 slices Roma tomatoes, sliced 1/2-inch thick
    • olive oil, divided
    • 1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
    • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
    Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic turns barely golden. Remove from the heat and set aside.

    Preheat a grill to medium-high. In a large bowl, combine the eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. Coat them with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill the vegetables for about 2 minutes per side. Remove and set aside. Turn the grill down to low.

    Lightly oil a piece of aluminum foil. Pat out one ball of the pizza dough into an oval. Drizzle half of the garlic-infused oil over it and then lay half of the grilled vegetables on top. Sprinkle with half of the feta cheese, half of the chopped herbs, and a light sprinkling of  sea salt.

    Transfer the flatbread with the foil to the grill and cook, covered for about 5-6 minutes. Check on it, rotating it if there's a hotter part of the grill, and cover again. Cook for an additional 5-6 minutes, keeping in mind that because grills vary, the cooking times can range from 10-20 minutes. Peek at the bottom of the crust every now and again to gauge when it's ready. It should be golden, crisp, with nice grill marks.

    Repeat the same procedure with the remaining ingredients. Cut into slices and serve.

    Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    Yogurt Apple Salad

    Ages ago, Guestblogger Alita and I had a lunch club. Twice a week we each had a day where we brought lunch to work for the both of us. We had read about this concept in Martha Stewart Living (no surprise there), and loved the idea of bringing a nutritious and inventive lunch for one another to spice up a boring or stressful workday. We were young cooks then and loved trying new recipes out on each other. The joy we took in smugly eating our feasts in front of our co-workers while they heated up Lean Cuisines and microwave popcorn was boundless.

    There were many standouts in our lunch club repertoire, one of which was the simplest of all. It was a recipe that came from Cooking Light magazine that combined grapes, yogurt, pecans and cinnamon. It was addictively good and I have adapted it many times over since then. My version uses a nice, crisp Australian Pink Lady apple as well as the tartness of dried cranberries and the extra crunch of sunflower seeds. It's important to use a good quality, preferably organic yogurt here.

    This recipe makes a few servings but the quantities can be easily multiplied and would make a nice addition to a brunch menu. It comes together quick and is just plain delicious.
    • 1 large apple, cubed
    • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
    • 1/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
    • 1 tablespoon raw sunflower seeds
    • 3/4 cup vanilla yogurt
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    In a medium bowl, combine the apple, cranberries, pecans and sunflower seeds. Stir in the yogurt and then the cinnamon. Serve immediately or keep covered in the refrigerator for up to one day.

    Sunday, September 26, 2010

    Toasted Super Muesli

    One of the best things about being food obsessed is that I get to occasionally seem smart and knowledgeable without really trying. M, for example, was bemoaning the fact that Australia doesn't have traditional American-style cocktail sauce at the grocery store and showed me this bottle of "seafood cocktail sauce" which was an alarming bright peach-colored mayonnaise. I said, "well, just make your own." He looked at me quizzically and I shrugged and said "just stir together ketchup and horseradish. That's all it is."

    This little moment reminded me that I generally am of the belief that most everything is better when it's homemade and that most storebought items are a rip-off. Take muesli or granola for example. It seems to me that any sort of good quality store-bought cereal is pretty pricey. I get that they are filled with all sorts of healthy goodness but still...we're mainly dealing with grains here.

    Any well-stocked bulk foods section of a grocery store will have what you need to create a fantastic, customized muesli and I stocked up on all sorts of great ingredients. I spent little money and the ingredients I bought were almost all organic. I'm calling my version "Super" because of the addition of dried goji berries (which are touted all over the place as being a superfood) and because the muesli turned out really, really good. The psyllium gives it an extra fiber kick too.

    Because this muesli is toasted for extra flavor and not baked like granola, the effort that goes into making it is minimal. I think I have the proportion of grains/crunch/sweetness down but there's plenty of room to swap ingredients.
    • 5 cups rolled oats
    • 1 cup flaked almonds
    • 1/2 cup raw pepitas
    • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
    • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
    • 3 cups puffed barley
    • 1/4 cup psyllium husks
    • 1 cup chopped dates
    • 3/4 cup crushed banana chips
    • 1/3 cup goji berries
    • 1-2 tablespoons packed brown sugar (optional)
    • 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
    In a large pot over medium heat, combine the oats, almonds, pepitas, sunflower and sesame seeds. Stir frequently until the mixture is lightly toasted and fragrant. Remove from the heat and set aside until cool.

    In a large bowl, stir together the puffed barley, psyllium, dates, banana chips and goji berries. Stir in the oats mixture and combine well. Sprinkle the muesli with the brown sugar (if using) and the cinnamon. Stir gently but thoroughly.

    Store the muesli in an airtight container.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    Crafty Down Under

    When I was in the 3rd grade, one of our assignments was to figure out how old we would be in the year 2000. When I realized I would be an ancient 24 years, it was absolutely shocking. We had to write a few sentences about what we would be doing in this surreal futuristic time. My unimaginative prediction involved being married with three kids and working as a doctor.

    Flash-forward to the present and I can confirm that I would make the worst fortune teller ever seeing that I am newly divorced, childless, not nearly smart enough to be in the medical profession, and just moved to the other side of the planet to live in Australia with my high school sweetheart.

    Clearly, this isn't a typical recipe post. This post is to take care of some business that I need to share with all of you because I've found that cooking and eating do not happen in a vacuum. They are so entwined with all aspects of life. The inspiration for recipes, the events, places and people that shape my posts are all a part of my blogging world. There was just no way to sneak down to another country and carry on Crafty business as usual.

    So instead of Minneapolis, I find myself in Perth. Instead of lakes and the Mississippi River, I now live near the Indian Ocean. When it's cold there, it will be hottest here. The upside-down seasons mean that there might occasionally be a rhubarb post in January and a pumpkin post in July. Snow and ice will not be missed but the absence of my friends, fellow cooks, gardeners and bakers will feel like a loss every day.

    I shipped my most essential cookbooks, pots and pans, springform cake pan, wooden salad bowl, pie plates, tart pans, the perfect ice cream scoop, mandoline, and much more. The things left behind - Le Crueset essential pot, Kitchen Aid Mixer, Cuisinart Food Processor, Ice Cream Maker - will be an inconvenience but I suppose part of being Crafty is about figuring it out on my own.

    I am 34 years old in the year 2010, and as I sit across the table from M, it's beyond bizarre to think that two kids from suburban Illinois are not only in the land down under but are here together. I could never have predicted any of this which really, should come as no surprise at all.

    Sunday, September 5, 2010

    Seared Tuna with Summery White Beans

    I had a bowl of fabled San Marzano Tomatoes sitting on my counter alarmingly going bad that had come from the local co-op. I've actually never seen them outside of a can and their smallish, almost peanut-shaped bodies were demanding that I eat them up quick.

    I had already been conjuring up some sort of a fresher version of the classic tuna and white bean salad recipe which is one of my go-to quick meals. I thought that perhaps the beans could be livened up with some perfect summer tomatoes and topped with fresh, instead of canned tuna. I had baby spinach in the fridge that needed eating and so it all sort of came together out of both necessity and my nearly constant food daydreaming.

    I was going to finish things with a squeeze of fresh lemon but made some super delicious seasoned bread crumbs instead, infusing them with zest and garlic. That added bit of boldly flavored crunch is the key to taking this meal from something really good to something extra great.

    This was a cinch to make and was done in less than half an hour. It's quick enough to be a weeknight meal but pretty enough to serve to guests.

    • 1/3 pound fresh tuna steak
    • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
    • 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons olive oil
    • 1 cup plum tomatoes, cut into small dice
    • 15 ounce can Cannellini Beans, drained and rinsed
    • 2 cups packed baby spinach
    • 2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
    • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

    Season the tuna on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a small, heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add one teaspoon of the olive oil. Add the tuna steak and sear on both sides for a minute or two until. Remove from the skillet and set aside.

    Meanwhile, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over a large skillet set over medium heat. Add all but one teaspoon of the minced garlic clove and saute until just fragrant, about 30 seconds, and then add the tomatoes. Cook the tomatoes for a couple minutes, then add the spinach. Saute until the spinach is wilted. Add the beans, season with salt, and cook for a minute more, until the beans are heated through.

    Place the remaining teaspoon of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat and add the reserved teaspoon of garlic. Cook until the garlic is just starting to turn golden, then add the panko. Cook, stirring frequently until the mixture starts to turn toasty brown then transfer to a small bowl. Add the lemon zest and a pinch of salt to it.

    Spoon the bean mixture between two plates. Thinly slice the tuna and arrange on top of the beans. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the tuna and serve immediately.

    Wednesday, September 1, 2010

    Nectarine Ginger Bars

    The other day I was doing a cookbook exodus, which included sorting through my big 3-ring binder of recipes I've torn out of magazines. I flipped through it perusing potential recipes from Eating Well, Cooking Light, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, The New York Times, and the dearly departed Gourmet. I'm pretty ruthless when it comes to getting rid of my things (clothes, shoes, purses, etc) but a mixture of nostalgia and the sense that I could really be missing out on the best.recipe.ever. prevented me from tearing anything out of my binder.

    I set it aside and moved on to my collection of family recipes. There I came across an oldie but a goodie that my mom used to make called "Apricot Bars". These bars are a rich crumbly mix of buttery pastry and a thin layer of canned apricot filling. I always really liked them and decided to do a little reworking of it.

    I switched out the apricot filling for some fresh nectarines, lacing them with some zingy candied ginger. I used all whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour which I was a bit worried about but learned that 2 sticks of butter makes everything delicious.

    These bars have a delicate, tender crumb and aren't altogether sturdy. It's best to allow them to almost completely cool before slicing and removing them from the pan. These bars don't keep for very long, not much longer than a day, but really, I don't think that will be too much of a problem.

    For 15 bars:
    • 3 ripe but firm nectarines
    • 1/4 cup finely minced candied ginger
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
    • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 2 cups whole wheat flour
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • ¾ cup finely chopped walnuts
    • Confectioner's sugar

    Peel and finely chop the nectarines. Place them in a bowl with the ginger, 1/4 cup of sugar and cornstarch. Stir together and set aside.

    In the bowl of a mixer, cream butter with sugar. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Stir in flour and salt. Add walnuts and blend well.

    Divide dough in half. Spread one half evenly into the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch greased pan. Cover with nectarines. Drop remaining dough by spoonfuls over filling, spreading out with a spatula. You don't have to be too thorough with this part as the dough will spread as it bakes.

    Bake at 350˚ until the top is golden, about 35 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack until almost cool. Slice and place on the wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, sift confectioner's sugar over each bar.

    Sunday, August 29, 2010

    Cucumber Lemongrass Soda

    Lately there has been an overabundance of merriment amongst me and my friends, including a trip to the State Fair last week in which I ate enough to feed a small army. I spent 8 hours wandering around consuming corn dogs, cheese curds, saltwater taffy, beers, and mini-doughnuts (there's more, but really, that's plenty). I felt awesome when I was eating all of it like I was some sort of bottomless pit, but the next morning I had a pretty major food hangover.

    The next day I tried to detox with some green tea and a nice salad which helped. However, due to sodium overload the day before I couldn't quench my thirst. I thought I'd whip up some sort of cleansing tonic for myself and came up with this citrus-laced, sparkling soda.

    I've always liked adding cucumber slices to water which Martha told me to do years ago in an old issue of Living. It adds such a pure, fresh note. There were some leftover stalks of lemongrass in the fridge from the dish I made in last post. I steeped the stalks in sugar and water resulting in a fragrant syrup. A touch of lemongrass syrup, sparkling water, crisp slices of cucumber and lemon made for a perfect summer refresher. I felt better straight away.

    For one drink:
    • 1 tablespoon lemongrass syrup* (more or less to taste)
    • Sparkling mineral water
    • 3 thin cucumber slices
    • 1 thin lemon slice
    • 1-2 stalks of fresh lemongrass

    Fill a highball glass with ice. Add 1 tablespoon syrup and fill with mineral water. Stir together. Add the slices of cucumber and lemon. Garnish with a lemongrass stalk and serve.

    *In a small saucepan stir together 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, and 1/2 cup lemongrass cut into 1-inch lengths. Bring to a boil and strongly simmer for about 3 minutes. turn the heat off, cover and allow to steep for one hour. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a sealable container and store in the refrigerator for a couple weeks. Makes about 3/4 cup of syrup.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    Beans & Cabbage in Coconut Sauce

    A couple months ago I was whisked away to Singapore, a place I have been dying to go to ever since I read Calvin Trillin's article in The New Yorker about the street food scene there. The country, and the food, did not disappoint. There's no doubt in my mind that I would be content going from hawker stand to hawker stand forever and ever eating my way through fish ball noodle soup, chili crab, and washing it all down with freshly-pressed sugarcane juice.

    One of the oddest (and memorable) meals we ate was called Nasi Lemak which is a dish that has many components to it. As the man in charge kindly explained to me, you start with coconut rice and the "gravy" which is a burgundy red chili sauce. To that most people add a fried egg, fried chicken and some stewed green beans in coconut milk. There were many other items to potentially add including: tofu cakes, fish cakes, hashbrowns (I know, so weird) and most alarming, hot dogs.

    I thought of the delicious soft stewed green beans that were piled on my Nasi Lemak plate when I saw heaps of fresh beans at the farmer's market the other day. I figured I could try my hand at recreating them and somehow got it right on the first try. At the last minute I decided to add red cabbage, which is growing in my garden, to the beans and it was a terrific combination. Although, I must warn you, the cabbage turns the sauce an unappealing murky mauve shade but just don't look directly at it and everything will be fine.

    Because the vegetables are stewed, and the whole point is to cook them until they're soft, this recipe can easily be made ahead and reheated the next day. I suspect they might have been even better the next day as they had time to soak in the delicious lemongrass-scented sauce.

    For 4 servings:
    • 1 garlic clove, chopped
    • 2 tablespoons finely chopped lemongrass
    • Large pinch of kosher salt
    • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
    • 1/2 cup chopped shallot
    • 1 red chili, minced
    • 4 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
    • 1/2 pound green beans, ends trimmed
    • 14 ounces light coconut milk
    • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
    • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
    • 1/3 cup chopped, roasted unsalted cashews

    With a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic, lemongrass and salt together. This will take a bit of work and some sweat. Really, it might work in a food processor as well but I was trying to be authentic. Set aside.

    Heat the oil in a wok or deep heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, chili and lemongrass paste to the oil and stir-fry until fragrant and soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add in the cabbage and saute for a couple minutes more, stirring frequently. Add the beans and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk and brown sugar and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and cook, partially covered, for 45 minutes. Stir in the fish sauce. Serve, sprinkled with the cashews.

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    Watermelon Raspberry Sorbet

    Today I was strolling through a neighborhood farmer's market with my good friends Guestblogger Eric and Burt. We checked out the peak summer bounty of beans, beets, squash, eggplants, herbs and tomatoes. At this particular market there are great local vendors offering amazingly good, local food including eggplant Parmesan hoagies, herby falafels, and thirst-quenching Arnie Palmer's.

    One of the vendors was selling watermelon popsicles and I felt quite satisfied with myself that I had made a similar frozen treat earlier this morning. Mine is currently in sorbet form and has the additional red richness of raspberries. This combination of fruity goodness could easily be made into popsicles if you have some molds, just omit the alcohol which keeps the sorbet from freezing solidly.

    One might not think that watermelon and raspberries are a match but I've been on this recent kick of combining foods that are the same color and let me just say: so far, so good. I'm assuming there are all sorts of nasty combinations out there...peas and honeydew come to mind for instance. But let's focus on the harmony that is lemon and yellow squash (my last post) and today's red sorbet which was a refreshing, supertasty treat.

    For one quart:
    • 4 cups cubed watermelon
    • 6 ounces raspberries
    • 3/4 cup simple syrup*
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 1 tablespoon white rum (or vodka)

    In the bowl of a food processor, combine the watermelon and raspberries. Puree until very smooth. Pour the puree through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Stir in the simple syrup and lemon juice. Refrigerate for one hour.

    For Sorbet: Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and process until quite slushy. With the machine running, add the rum or vodka until incorporated. Transfer to a quart-sized container and freeze. Allow to sit out for 20 minutes before serving.

    For popsicles: Omit the rum or vodka. Pour into molds and freeze until solid.

    * to make simple syrup, in a small saucepan combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Boil for several minutes, remove from the heat and allow to come to room temperature. Transfer to a container and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.