Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beet, Leek & Barley Soup

Beets (or beetroot as they refer to it) are a popular vegetable here in Australia and I've been eating more and more of them. You rarely see a burger without a few slices of beet tucked into the bun which is a real favorite of mine now that I've had it a few times. I grew up not liking beets for no particular reason besides the fact that they were a bit odd-looking and tasted a little like dirt. Now though, that earthiness is appealing and they seem to be good just about every way that I have them.

That deep, purple-red hue is astonishing and I love the way that this soup looks. The sweet leeks play off the beets natural sweetness and the chewy barley adds some nice heft. The astringency of the lemon juice and the freshness of the dill is a needed garnish - I don't think the soup is quite as good without them.

I haven't had borscht in years but this soup is definitely a simpler, lighter cousin of the original. With just 6 ingredients and a little simmering this very pretty soup was being slurped up alongside the Guinness Rosemary Bread I recently made.

For 4-6 Servings:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
  • 3 beets, peeled and cubed
  • 1½ cups cooked barley
  • 4 cups stock
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the beets and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the stock and barley and bring to a simmer. Cover, and simmer until the beets are tender, about 45-60 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, adding more stock or water to thin the soup if desired. Ladle into bowls and top with some lemon juice and dill.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Maple Egg Cups

Once, a long time ago, a friend of mine who shall remain anonymous (ok fine it was Guestblogger Alita) and I gained some weight. Kind of a lot actually. We blamed it on winter and the lack of daylight and our hectic workloads - but the fact is there was only one culprit and it's name was the fun-sounding MxGxxxxxx.

There was a MxDxxxxx's that both of us passed by on our way to work and it became a frequent (daily) occurrence to swing by the drive-thru, eat it furtively in the car, and be on our way. Now, if you have never had such a thing and believe me, I know it's a touch horrific to admit that you have, I'll explain it to you. A scrambled egg, cheese and your choice of bacon or sausage is sandwiched between two pancakes that had these delicious pockets of maple syrup in them.

I pride myself on cooking healthy, mostly organic, often vegetarian, locally-sourced meals at home the majority of the time. You can imagine what a dirty little secret this was. To this day when either of us has gained any sort of weight we qualify it by saying things like - "I mean, I'm not MxGxxxxxxx weight or anything."

This brings me to the cute egg cups pictured above which are reminiscent of the sweet+salty+savory goodness of yesteryear. Whole wheat toast is brushed with a butter/maple syrup glaze and filled with a thin slice of prosciutto. An egg bakes in the center and they are so tasty. Perfect for a brunch-style gathering, the prep is minimal and they can bake while mimosas are being sipped. And, you don't have to eat them in secret.

For 6 cups:
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 6 slices whole wheat bread, crusts cut off
  • 3 thin slices prosciutto, cut in half
  • 6 eggs
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 350f (180c). Melt the butter with the maple syrup. Brush the inside of 6 cups of a standard muffin pan with the melted maple butter. With the palm of your hand, flatten the bread. Brush both sides of each slice with the maple butter and tuck into the muffin cup. Press the prosciutto into each one. If there's any maple butter leftover, drizzle it evenly over the prosciutto. Carefully crack an egg into each cup and grind black pepper over the top.

Place in the center of the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Check the doneness of the egg and continue baking if you'd like the yolk more set. The baking times will vary depending on personal yolk preference. 

Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spinach Feta Pie

Here's one of my favorites from Guestblogger Alita. I've been eating and making this recipe for years. The variations are endless, everyone seems to love it, and it's great as an unusual brunch dish or a vegetarian main course. Leftovers reheat perfectly too. --A Crafty Lass

Years ago I was invited to a 3-day creative retreat which was held at a spa located on a serene old farm about an hour West of Minneapolis.The retreat may have been informative, I don't really recall - because the most memorable thing I took away from that retreat were recipes for two items that my cooking repertoire would suffer without!

The chef on staff thankfully introduced me to this amazing rice and egg-based pie, and also a "healthy" wheat germ brownie, that may appear here soon. I make this pie pretty regularly and never hear complaints. To keep us from getting bored of this menu staple, I've taken liberties with the recipe over the years. We all quickly decided that this one, filled with Greek flavors, is our favorite version.

The original recipe was basically white rice, spinach, feta and eggs, topped with cheddar cheese but for this post I wanted to mix it up a bit. Erin and I often bounce ideas off of one another, sharing recipes frequently, and after brainstorming together decided that some added Greek-oomph would make this dish shine.

I upgraded the white rice to brown rice for the added fiber and other nutritional benefits and mixed in lemon, herbs and olives. I did struggle with the topping, thinking that cheddar was a little off-theme, but the bubbly, gooey cheese on this is a must, so I went with it. Enjoy this served with a spinach or Greek salad on the side.

For 6 Servings:
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/3 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 4 ounces (115 grams) crumbled feta cheese
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 10 ounces (280 grams) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 10 kalamata olives, sliced
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 400f (200c). Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat and saute the onions and the garlic for 3-5 minutes. Stir in the flour and salt. Gradually add the milk, stirring with a whisk until well-blended. Stirring constantly, bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, 1-2 minutes. Remove pan from the heat and gently stir in the cooked rice, feta, eggs, lemon juice, herbs, spinach and olives.

Pour the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle the cheddar cheese over the top and bake for 30-35 minutes.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Guinness Rosemary Bread

I wanted to make something for St. Patrick's Day that used Guinness besides Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake, which admittedly is one of the best things ever. Something savory instead of sweet. Stout and chocolate go so well together though and I'm itching to make some Guinness ice cream that I read about a while back. Maybe next year.

This year though, I remembered a recipe for beer bread that my mom had given me years ago. Hers required just 4 ingredients: beer, white flour, sugar and butter. The yeast in beer works with the self-rising flour to make a dense, quick bread type of loaf. The ease in which this comes together is unbelievable. A loaf can be baking in the oven within 15 minutes, start to finish. For real.

I made some modifications using Guinness of course and then ramping up the fiber with some whole wheat flour. I used honey instead of sugar and then topped it with both rosemary and the richly-scented flaky smoked salt that Maldon makes. I absolutely love this salt. Buy some if you see it.

Like all bread, it smelled amazing while it was baking. The herbal, smokey topping melded perfectly with the barely sweet, stout-infused loaf. This is really best eaten the day you bake it, served warm with a little butter.

Erin go Bragh!

For one loaf:
  • 12 ounces (350 ml) Guinness, room temperature
  • 2 cups whole wheat self-rising flour
  • 1 cup white self-rising flour
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon flaky smoked salt such as Maldon
Heat the oven to 350f (180c). Combine the Guinness, flours and honey in a large bowl. Stir together until just moistened. The batter will be quite thick. Grease a standard, greased loaf pan and spoon the batter evenly into it.

Drizzle the butter over the top. Sprinkle with the rosemary and salt. Place in the center of the oven and bake for about 45 minutes.

Place on a wire rack and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Take out of the pan, slice and serve warm.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Quick Carrot Bean Salad

In most of the cookbooks I own, I have post-it notes on many of the pages flagging recipes I'd like to try one day. Or, stuck in the first page, is a handwritten list that I jotted down when going through the book for the first time. I also have a long list on my laptop of ideas I have for recipes to try and eventually blog about one day. My inspiration often comes from these orderly sources or sometimes I can make something quite good on the fly.

This quick salad is one of those freestyled meals that actually worked. The other morning, with one eye on the clock, I was faced with bringing an emergency frozen meal to work for lunch, buying something over my break, or spending a few extra minutes attempting to whip something together. In the interest of eating up what we have, I made this in 15 minutes and still managed to find myself on the 7:40 am train.

I threw the rice in the steamer and got to work - carrot chopping, pine nut toasting, a little assembly and leftover buttermilk dressing to anchor the whole dish together. The salad is crunchy, savory, herbal and sweet all at once and made for a satisfying work lunch.

For 3-4 Servings:
  • 1 ½ cups cooked jasmine rice
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • 1 can borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk dressing*
For the dressing, combine 1 cup buttermilk, 2 chopped garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup chopped dill, 2 chopped scallions, a tablespoon of chopped tarragon, and a 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil in a blender. Swirl together until emulsified. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use - up to one week.

While the rice is still warm, combine the rice, carrots, currants, pine nuts and beans in a bowl. Pour the dressing over, toss again and serve at room temperature.

Buttermilk Dressing recipe adapted from the Buttermilk Farro Salad recipe at 101 Cookbooks.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Buttermilk Walnut Muffins

I woke up Sunday morning early, feeling full of energy. I peeked in the fridge and was confronted with odds and ends and leftovers and condiments stuffed into it. The pantry was no better so I declared that there would be no more grocery shopping until we ate everything already in the house.

The day before we had hosted a leisurely afternoon lunch with friends and I had made Heidi's very delicious Buttermilk Farro Salad. The salad itself was fantastic - plump grains and crisp shaved vegetables soaked up the tangy dressing nicely. Since I had half container of buttermilk left over, I set to work on these muffins.

Buttermilk in baked goods is like a magical ingredient, infusing the dough with moisture and a nice cakey texture. I stirred in finely chopped walnuts and leftover candied mixed peel I'd used around Christmas in these Pistachio Cookies. The muffins were sweetened with just a touch of honey but the cardamom sugar topping added a second layer of sweetness. To really let these muffins shine, serve them warm, straight from the oven with some additional honey and softened butter.

For 12 muffins:
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped candied mixed peel or 1 tablespoon finely grated citrus zest
  • 1 cup buttermilk, well-shaken
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup honey
Heat the oven to 400f (200c). In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cardamom, set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Stir the walnuts and citrus peel into the flour mixture. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, butter, and honey. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just moistened. The batter will be thick and lumpy.

Grease a muffin pan. Spoon the batter evenly into each cup. Sprinkle with the cardamom sugar and bake in the center of the oven until puffed and golden, about 15-18 minutes. Let cool slightly on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Serve warm with butter and honey.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Zucchini Rice Pilaf with Mexican Flavors

I've been way too hot lately which has translated into me being a bad, bad weeknight dinner cook. We had grilled cheese sandwiches one night (delicious), french toast with cinnamon and strawberries another night (again, yum) and lots and lots of popsicles. I should mention that I didn't make any of it. I laid sideways on the couch and read about good healthy cooking in a few much-loved cookbooks instead.

By the time Thursday rolled around I was determined to put something good and wholesome on the table. M rubbed a few filets of snapper with a nice chile powder and grilled them for just a few minutes per side. Meanwhile I was in the kitchen chopping away, whipping up this heavy-on-the-vegetables pilaf. I loaded it with onions, garlic, chiles and lots of little cubes of green zucchini. Fresh super sweet corn kernels got tossed in alongside the heartiness of chewy brown rice and black beans. A hint of tangy mild Tabasco was stirred in and the whole dish was topped off with crunchy pepitas and chunks of avoacdo.

Despite a bit of prep work, the pilaf was simple to make and doesn't require much actual cooking time, particularly if the rice is cooked in advance. It would make an excellent filling for a burrito and could accompany any number of latin-infused menus. 

For 4 servings:
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno chopped (seeded if you want less heat)
  • 1 medium zucchini cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 ears corn, kernels cut off the cob
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups cooked long grain brown rice
  • 1 teaspoon tabasco (I used the green one)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted pepitas
  • 1 small avocado, diced
Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and jalapeno. Saute, stirring frequently until the onion is lightly browned and soft. Add the zucchini, season with salt, and cook for a few minutes more. Add the corn, black beans, rice and tabasco. Stir thoroughly until all the ingredients are warmed and cooked through. Taste and season with additional tabasco or salt if needed.

Spoon the pilaf into a serving dish and top with the avocado and pepitas.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Chickpea & Almond Soup

I'm not sure what possessed me to make a soup in the middle of an Australian summer. Maybe I was missing my pals in the deep freeze on the other side of the world, maybe I was tired of eating food that didn't require cooking, or maybe I just wanted to make something with saffron in it because it's pretty. Who knows. What I do know is that I was sweating like mad while I was cooking it and sweating just as much when I had a steaming bowl in front of me. Somehow, with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, it was perfect and simple and elegant despite the 100 degree (Fahrenheit) heat.

This soup is a version of a Mark Bittman recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I love this book. I know his original book is a staple for a lot of people but I much prefer this one and have a long list stuck in it detailing his innovative meatless recipes I can't wait to make.

I went the easy route with my version and used canned chickpeas rather than dried and added a couple small potatoes because they were sitting on the countertop staring at me. I skipped the onion altogether and upped the garlic ante instead. It played off the almonds, potatoes and chickpeas nicely. The almonds are an unusual addition and I was curious to see how they would behave in soup. M & I both loved it and would make it again. The fact that dinner was on the table in half an hour was just a bonus.

For 4 servings:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1 cup diced yellow potatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the garlic and saute until just golden. Add the almonds, potatoes, saffron and a large pinch of salt and pepper. Saute for a couple minutes more. Add the chickpeas and the stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through. Taste and season with additional salt if needed.