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