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.