Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mango Coconut Sherbet

My friend Scott had the unfortunate experience of getting his tonsils out recently and so post-surgery I texted him and asked if I could make him some sort of frozen thing to soothe his wounds. Most people I know probably would have responded by saying, whatever you make would be great! or something along those lines. I knew better for Scott is a very particular sort of individual who thinks a lot of what I make is just gag-inducing (see this post). So, it came as no surprise that even through a narcotic haze, he texted me back saying - I want Mango or Coconut or Vanilla sherbet. So specific!

I thought maybe a tropical sort of combination would be nice so I went for the mango+coconut combo. The coconut milk added the requisite milkiness of most sherbets and the mangoes were mild and delicious. I whipped in some egg whites because I remember a while back Martha Stewart told me too. It definitely adds body to the sherbet.

I'm not exactly sure if it was my problem on that particular day or if this is just how it is but I created an insane amount of dirty dishes making this. Between the mango peels, pits, juice, food processor, mixer, saucepans, spoons, was nuts. Normally I like to assure all of you that things aren't going to be hard to make but I have found with any sort of frozen dessert, and of course canning, the clean-up can be quite the task. At the end though, you've got the homemade goodness to pass on.

For 1 quart:

  • 2-3 ripe mangoes
  • 1 cup coconut milk, well-stirred
  • 1 cup simple syrup*
  • 2 egg whites

Peel the mangoes and cut the flesh into chunks. Place in the bowl of a food processor and puree with a 1/4 cup of cold water. Pour the puree through a sieve and measure out 1 cup.

In a bowl combine the mango puree, coconut milk and 3/4 -1 cup of simple syrup depending on the sweetness of the mangoes. Stir together and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour, until thoroughly chilled.

With a mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and then beat in the mango mixture until smooth. Pour into the bowl of an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's directions. Freeze for one hour before serving.

*to make simple syrup, combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Spinach Agrodolce

I have that cookbook that I bet a lot of you have, The Silver Spoon. It stares at me, immense and daunting from my shelf and although I have looked through it many, many times, I typically get overwhelmed and put it away. Last winter, I cracked it open again, this time looking specifically for some Italian hors d'oeuvres and came across a unique sounding Crostini in Agrodolce, or sweet and sour sauce. I found myself chopping together prosciutto, capers, raisins, orange juice, and spooning it onto golden toasted crostini. It was so delicious. I loved it.

I was reminded of it recently when I came across a recipe in Cook's Illustrated for Sweet-and-Sour Broccoli Rabe which had similar flavors. I had heaps of spinach in the fridge and so whipped this together, adding pine nuts and substituting shallots for the onion and garlic.

I love the contrasting flavors of this side dish and found it so much more interesting that your typical steamed or sauteed spinach. This recipe is quick too, coming together in about 15 minutes. If you've got spinach growing in your garden right now, or arriving in your farm share, this is a great method for using it up.

For 2-3 side dish servings:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 8 ounces baby spinach

In a largish pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and add the shallots, stirring to coat. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of kosher salt. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes, being careful not to let them brown. Turn the heat down to medium if they are. Add the pine nuts and stir together for another minute. Add the raisins, vinegar, orange juice, and brown sugar stirring until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is somewhat syrupy, about 3-4 minutes more. Add the spinach in batches, stirring to coat with the sauce. This should be done quickly so the spinach is just wilted and still bright green. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.

Adapted from the recipe Sweet and Sour Broccoli Rabe from Cook's Illustrated.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Favorite Cookbooks: Spring 2010

The word around the Midwest streets is that things are about a month ahead garden-wise and so I found myself sitting in the sun with a pile of cookbooks next to me thinking about all the things I want to grow, cook, can and bake in the next few months. I narrowed down my stack of books to five favorites to share with all of you.
  • Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka: I acquired this book last summer and it is the perfect thing to get one in the gardening and spring cooking mood. It's a giant book, filled with recipes for every vegetable you can think of. Many recipes are unusual, particularly all of her vegetable ice creams like avocado and sweet pea. The book also has a great vegetable guide at the end detailing the best way to store, wash, and prepare veggies along with yields and equivalents. Last year I made her Szechwan Green Beans and Carrot Salad with Currants and Almonds. On my list for this season is Green Seafood Stew with Peas and Spinach, Zucchini Custard, and the intriguing-sounding Morels with Rhubarb and Asparagus.

  • Cafe Boulud Cookbook by Daniel Boulud and Dorie Greenspan: A long-neglected book that I have made merely one recipe out of even though every single thing in it sounds amazing. What I did make, Cervelle de Canut, was very, very good. It is ricotta spiffed up with lots of herbs, shallots and a little oil and vinegar. One day I will also make Artichokes a la Grecque, Socca Stuffed with Peppery Greens, White Gazpacho, Goat Cheese Flans with Garlic Herb Croutons and Lemon Lime Risotto with Asparagus.

  • The Art of the Tart by Tamasin day-Lewis: Guestblogger Alita got this for me ages ago and I absolutely love it but don't make nearly enough out of it. My go-to recipes from this book are the perfectly simple and correct (no cheese) Quiche Lorraine and the popular L'Aligot Tart which sports a decadent mashed potato and cheese filling. On the tart agenda for me is a beautiful Rhubarb Meringue Pie, a Fennel, Taleggio and Cardamom Tart and a Sorrel Tart.

  • The Splendid Grain by Rebecca Wood: Winner of the James Beard Award for Excellence as well as the winner of The Julia Child Cookbook Awards, there was no way I couldn't have this book. It provides such good information about grains of all varieties including simple methods of storing, cooking and purchasing them. I've got Quinoa Tarts with Kiwi Sauce, Baked Blinis with Strawberry Sauce, Lemon Coconut Rice Salad and Yellow and Purple Bean Tabbouleh on my list of recipes to make.

  • Flavors by Donna Hay: Fresh from my Australian adventure, I had to include one of my most beloved cookbooks by the prolific Aussie domestic maven, Donna Hay. This is one of those books that is so beautiful to look at, it's not necessary to make anything out of it...just stare at the pretty pictures. The book is all about Ms. Hay's favorite flavors and luckily for me, I love every one of them which include: vanilla, lemon/lime, ginger, chilli, garlic/onion, chocolate, salt/pepper, basil/mint and cinnamon/spice. I've made quite a bit out of this book but currently am interested in making Vanilla Milk Gelato, Lemon-Seared Squid, Chilli-Crusted Lamb with Cucumber Yogurt and Seared Tuna with a Lime Crust.

Got any great springtime cookbooks? Do tell.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Quinoa Tuna Salad

Here's how I know I like food: On the bus today, amongst my fellow familiar passengers (tattooed face guy, pretty eyes, crocs with socks, scary handsome, etc), I was traveling along listening to my iPod and daydreaming about making this salad when I got home later in the day. On the exterior I assume I look somewhat normal but really, mental food montages of what lives in my fridge and pantry were floating through my head.

I had it pretty well figured out by the time I arrived at my destination and when I got home today, I whipped it together fast. The quinoa cooks quick, just about 10 minutes, and my pencil-thin asparagus only needed to be added to the simmering grains for a minute longer.

While that was happening, I chopped up the bell pepper and chives, blended the vinaigrette, and combined it all in a bowl. I would say I was done in about 20 minutes tops and clean-up was minimal. This salad has simple, and few, ingredients but it's quite bright, fresh-tasting and satisfying.

For two servings:
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 6 ounces canned albacore tuna, drained
  • 1 cup asparagus, cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 1/3 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained and rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 heaping tablespoon chopped chives

Cook the quinoa in lightly boiling water until translucent, about 10 minutes, add the asparagus and boil for 1-2 minutes more. Drain and set aside.

While the quinoa is cooking, combine the tuna, bell pepper, and capers in a bowl.

In a blender, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, chives and a pinch of kosher salt. Blend until emulsified.

Add the cooked quinoa and asparagus to the bowl with the other ingredients. Pour the vinaigrette over and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve warm or chilled.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Asparagus, Tofu, & Orange Stir Fry

Usually around June I suspect that I start to turn a slight shade of green from all the asparagus I eat all spring long. I just love it and find it to be a very versatile vegetable, standing up to many cooking methods and holding its own in a variety of ethnic dishes. Asparagus grilled simply with some olive oil and sea salt is my go-to summery side. I'm not sure I've ever used it in a stir-fry though and so gave it a shot. Unsurprisingly, it was delicious.

This dish came together quickly and didn't require much preparation or cooking time. I bought the tofu and asparagus but had a random can of mandarin oranges in the pantry, as well as the sauce ingredients, and the chives were freshly clipped from my garden. I served it with some frozen Whole Grain Mix that I defrosted in the microwave which made it a very complete meal.

The key to nicely browned tofu is two-fold: it needs to be blotted with lots of paper towels to remove excess water and then when it's cooking, don't mess with it too much so it can achieve that crusty golden glow.

For 2 Servings:

  • 12 ounces extra firm tofu
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 2 cups asparagus, halved lengthwise and cut into 3-inch lengths
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup Shao Xing cooking wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon warm water
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives

Rinse the block of tofu under cool running water. Blot with paper towels. Slice lengthwise into 3 slabs and then cut each slab into 3-4 inch triangles. Set the triangles on a long sheet of paper towels, lay more paper towels on top and press down gently. Set aside.

Whisk together the hoisin, orange juice, soy sauce, and cooking wine. Set aside. In a wok or large non-stick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is very hot, add the tofu. Cook, without touching it, until the edges are a nice golden color. Flip and do the same on the other side. With a spatula, remove the tofu to a bowl and set aside.

If needed, add the additional teaspoon of oil to the skillet. Add the asparagus and cook just until bright green and browned in spots but still crisp. Add the tofu back in and then pour the sauce over. Stir so that the ingredients are evenly coated for a minute or two. Turn the heat down to medium-low and gently stir in the oranges and red pepper flakes. Pour the cornstarch mixture over and cook, stirring, for another minute until the sauce has thickened.

Serve immediately, garnishing with the chives right before serving.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Crunchy Fig Granola

Way back in December, I was intrigued by a post on Jeannette's great blog, Everybody Loves Sandwiches, where she detailed the secret to making granola that actually clumps up. I've made granola a few times and although the ingredients are good, the flavor itself is good, the clusters were never present. I tried out her recipe, tweaking the ingredients and making a larger batch, and am pleased to report that the magical clusters are there. Yay!

I already know how some of you are, and I know that you like to reduce sugar in recipes which is fine by me. But, the key to the clumps IS the sugar so make this recipe just as it is and then eat some celery and go for a run later or something.

I changed up the recipe using ingredients I had on hand. Every time I opened up my pantry this container of figs would stare at me so they were definitely going in the mix. The figs were joined by a crunchy wholesome mix of almonds, coconuts, pepitas and flax seeds. I used thick-cut rolled oats which add great texture but I am sure regular rolled oats would work just fine too.

For about 5 cups of granola:

  • 3 cups organic thick-cut rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 cup dried figs, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 2/3 cup raw pepitas
  • 2 tablespoons flax seeds
  • 4 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together the oats, cinnamon, salt, ginger and cloves. Add in the figs, almonds, coconut, pepitas and flax seeds. Stir again until well-combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, honey, brown sugar and vanilla. Pour the liquid over the dry ingredients and with a spatula, gently toss until everything is evenly coated. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Evenly spread out the granola onto the baking sheet and place in the center of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, gently stirring the granola every 10 minutes, until it is golden and fragrant.

Remove from the oven and set aside until cool. It's tempting to mess with it at this point because it smells so delicious but don't. As it cools it is clumping together and clumps are the best part. Be patient. Once it's cool, break it into clumps and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Adapted from "Better Than From a Bakery Granola" on Everybody Loves Sandwiches

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Welcome Spring!

Oh, it's so good to be back! I have missed my blog, missed cooking, and missed chatting with all of you. I was just in Australia for 3 weeks, on the western coast, and had an absolutely amazing time. I spent a week at home near Chicago after my trip to hang with my brother and mom and only arrived back in Minneapolis a few days ago.

I have lived in the Midwest my whole life and so am fully aware that March can be a really dodgy month often springing some glorious sun-filled warmth on everyone and then viciously dumping snow the next moment. Frankly, I wasn't sad at all to have essentially "missed" March. This past winter was particularly snowy and for the last bit of February, I would trudge through the snow on my daily dog walk and pretend I was already in Australia, although the waist-high snow piled high on either side of the walkway made that daydream a bit of a stretch.

But I'm back now - and was beyond pleased to see green, growing plants scattered all over the yard. It was an unexpected surprise and unusual to say the least. It has been warm here, the snow is long gone, and things seem to have gotten a bit of a head start.

Winter after winter, when I watch the snow pile up and the ice freeze over everything, I become filled with pessimism at the thought of my garden's survival and am almost always convinced that come spring, I am going to have plant corpses to deal with. Not this year! In the photo montage above that I took this afternoon, I encountered tiny baby lilac blossoms, grape hyacinth, old reliable chives, enough thyme to feed all of you for life, a sprig of green on my red currant bush, some sage that overwintered in a pot(!), various perennials, and vigorous looking raspberry bushes that I planted only last year.

This week I am going to tackle some recipes I have been plotting in my head and eat my way through all my favorite spring ingredients like strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb, baby lettuces, etc.