Friday, March 30, 2007

Bahn mi? No, bahn you!

Ahhh the humble sandwich . . . a simple supper, a perfect and portable lunch . . . from the a fancy goat cheese-roasted veggie panini to the humble PB&J, sandwiches can be divine. Here's a great one adapted from Food and Wine magazine. It's an approximation of Vietnamese street sandwich bahn mi, which is often eaten for breakfast. It's spicy, easy, and tasty. I look forward to more of these come summertime.

Bahn Mi
3/4 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. light mayo
3 T. yogurt cheese, yogurt, or sour cream (I used lowfat homemade yogurt cheese)
1 large shallot, minced
2 carrots, halved crosswise and thinly sliced lengthwise
1/2 cup pickled cocktail onions and 1/4 cup pickling liquid
1 10-oz. baguette (I used whole-wheat), split lengthwise and toasted
Sriracha or other hot sauce, for spreading
1 kirby cucumber, thinly sliced lengthwise
Cilantro sprigs

In a bowl, toss chicken with 1 T. soy sauce. Cover and refrigerate one hour. In another bowl, mix remaining soy sauce, mayo, yogurt cheese, and shallot. In yet another bowl, mix the carrots with the pickled onions and their liquid; refrigerate one hour.

Heat a grill pan or broiler. Grill chicken over high heat until just cooked through, about 2 minutes per side.

Spread mayo mixture on cut sides of baguette, then spread with sriracha. Layer carrots, onions, and cucumber with the chicken. Lay cilantro sprigs over top and close sandwich.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Table for One

One of my most favorite food items is the fat little sea scallop. Sweet and mild, but still flavorful and delicious - perfect just as they are - scallops are a treat in our house. Scallops are also pretty expensive . . . Or they can be expensive. I picked up a bit less than a third of a pound for lil' ol' me and paid just over three dollars!

But the rub . . . the rub is that the little-over three-dollar pricetag increases greatly when Our Hero's appetite is factored into the equation. Maybe one day scallops can be a more frequent meal, for now it's an affordable treat for me when Our Hero's out of town. Like yesterday night.

All alone in the apartment, I drowned my sorrows (okay, not really) in a plate of scallops, a phone call to A, a glass of wine, and classic Robert Redford. (Sidenote: If only senators actually looked like him . . . I can imagine what it'd do to C-SPAN's ratings.)

A was saying she wasn't sure how to cook scallops, so I'll offer a brief guide. They are quite simple. Make sure you pat them dry with paper towels before cooking them. This ensures you'll get a nice brown sear. Heat a bit of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, and add scallops. They only need to cook about 2-3 minutes per side. It's important not to overcook them - scallops lose their delicate charm when they're chewy. And that's it. Done.

In this case, I set the cooked scallops to the side and added about a third of a chopped red onion to the pan. I then deglazed the pan with a bit of water, which released all of the crusty bits in the bottom of my pan (you'll get more crusty bits if you forsake nonstick, but either will work fine). I sauteed the onion for a short while, added about a cup or so of broccoli cut into small florets. I let that cook a few minutes, and added a handful of halved grape tomatoes. Once these softened, I removed the pan from the heat and squeezed a half of a lemon onto the veggies. I topped the mixture with a couple of tablespoons of crumbled feta. I must say, I enjoyed it immensely.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Jawohl, I am German!

My heritage is both Irish and German, but my Irish parent is a bit more - how shall I say - out about it (love you, Dad!). I love cabbage, colcannon, lamb stew, corned beef, boiled dinners, whiskey cake, whiskey (minus the cake) . . . This meal got me in touch with the other half of my family tree.

After Our Hero had a party for his Department at school, there was a two-pound bag of sauerkraut left in my fridge. I couldn't very well throw it away! I hate wasting food. I found a recipe for sausages with sauerkraut in Gourmet, and tailored it a bit to meet my health preferences, reducing the butter by two-thirds and using chicken sausages in place of those fattier varieties called for in the recipe. The result: a very simple, pleasant meal ideal for these times when we're waiting impatiently for a bounty of spring produce. It's not quite here yet - an exercise in patience.

Sausages with Sauerkraut
1 lb. cooked chicken sausages
1 T. unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped
2 lb. sauerkraut, rinsed well and drained
1/2 t. caraway seed
Freshly ground pepper
1 bay leaf
1 3/4 cups apple cider

Prick sausages with the tip of a sharp knife. Melt butter in a skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Brown sausages briefly, remove from pan, and set aside. Add onion to skillet. Saute until softened and beginning to brown. Add caraway, pepper and bayleaf, cook 1 minute. Add sauerkraut and cider. Nestle sausages in mixture. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.

Quite a Spread

Saturday night I went to JoMo's for snackies and wine. Her sister EMo joined us, as did new friend A2 (I have to distinguish from A somehow, perhaps I will come up with something better as I write). We share a love for all things edible, and really, I must say, outdid ourselves. JoMo's contribution (along with the vino) was an amazing bruschetta creation which I unfortunately did not capture on film. It was beautiful italian bread topped with pesto, roasted mushrooms and peppers, and cheese.

A2 brought impressive shrimp rolls stuffed with all kinds of good things and dipped in a spicy soy sauce. She also brought some delicious chicken-cucumber-mint skewers with dill dipping sauce. I love to dip. I was in heaven.

My contribution was the oft-requested Fig-Rosemary Spread (seen with both A2's finger and the very seasonal candy-cane spreader) and a bit of tapenade (see Tannenbaum at left), along with some crusty bread.

I love all things olive, and tapenade is definitely included. It was very easy to make. I used Alice Waters' recipe but made a significant change by adding parsley.

1 cup nicoise olives
1/3 cup loosely packed parsley
Fresh ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Splash of extra-virgin olive oil

Blitz all in a food processor or blender. Enjoy.

We called in Our Hero (or the Leftover Eliminator) to perform clean-up. He did good work.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wish You Could Smell This Picture

Yeah, yeah, I'd heard it all . . . Chez Panisse this and Alice Waters that . . . New American cuisine . . . Yaddayaddayadda.

Not that I doubted her expertise or the monumental changes she and her cohorts brought to our neighborhood grocery stores - I just had a hard time believing her recipes were all that.

Well, I tip my hat (or do I eat it?).

While visiting A in PrettyLittleTown, I picked up Chez Panisse Vegetables at the most drool-inducing gourmet kitchen supply store your sweet eyes have ever seen. A then had to endure me reading recipe titles aloud to her while we were both supposed to be concentrating on Very Important Things (namely, TV so trashy you can only watch it with your best friend). I read the book cover to cover before I arrived home, and it is taking every fibre of self-control in my being to stop myself from ordering Chez Panisse Fruit from (Must. Control. Self. Hands! Clicking! Mouse! NO! Breathe. Breathe.)

But seriously, folks, this recipe is delicious. The flavors and textures are perfect, and the lovely toasty walnuts and smooth ricotta salata bring it all together. When I mentioned to Our Hero that I was making pasta with cauliflower, he made a face. After he tasted it and was headed back for a second heaping bowl, he admitted he was upset because he liked it so much. I suppose liking cauliflower pasta could ruin a guy's image.

The pictures do not capture the beautiful interplays of browns, golds, and yellows in this dish. It's not monochromatic at all, but full of very subtle, delicate contrasts. Lovely.

Alice Waters' Whole-Wheat Pasta with Cauliflower, Walnuts, and Ricotta Salata
2 heads cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 medium onion, sliced into thin half-moons
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. whole wheat pasta (something shorter would work best, like penne)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes
White wine vinegar
1/2 lemon
1/2 cup toasted walnuts (you can do this in the oven or on the stovetop)
4 oz. ricotta salata or feta cheese

Put a large pot of water on to boil. Saute the cauliflower in a healthy amount of olive oil in a large, shallow pan. When it starts to soften, season with salt and pepper, then add the sliced onion and red pepper flakes. Cauliflower and onion will brown. Saute over medium to high heat until veggies are tender and golden-brown. The cauliflower should still be slightly crunchy and not taste steamed. Add garlic and remove from heat. Stir, and do not let garlic brown (add water if necessary). Add a bit of vinegar and the lemon juice and the toasted walnuts. Taste and correct seasoning (add more salt, pepper, vinegar, etc.). When pasta is done, toss with the cauliflower mixture. Serve with crumbled ricotta salata.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


I have loved Indian food since the first time I tasted it. I was a vegetarian at the time, and maybe 17. I loved the flavors, the heat, the spices I'd never tried before! From day one, I was a convert. Our Hero and my first date included Indian food. In college, I went at least two times a month (and probably closer to once a week) with my buddies (hi J!). Several of them had spent time in Nepal and so we sometimes ate with our hands, as Nepali tradition dictated. (Caveat: the curry smell will outlast many, many handwashings.) At our Rehearsal Dinner for our wedding, Our Hero's family went all out with a beautiful and delicious Indian buffet (thanks, M!).

Suffice it to say, we're fans.

J got me the most wonderful book as a wedding gift: Neelam Batra's 1,000 Indian Recipes. I use it often and though my creations don't exactly mimic restaurants' dishes (due, I think to my not using pounds of ghee), they are delicious and the flavors are unmistakeably Indian.

Last night I made saag, or a spinach curry. This recipe is quite simple, and a nice way to ease into Indian cooking (I'm still easing!). I add plenty of cayenne to Batra's recipe to suit our taste for spicy, but do what pleases you best. Although I do have access to paneer cheese, an Indian cheese often simmered in curries (and a kind of cheese I can actually make!), I made this with tofu. One could simmer chicken, chickpeas, or a variety of other things in the sauce for dinner.

Spicy Pureed Spinach Greens
5 quarter-sized slices peeled fresh ginger
3 large cloves fresh garlic, peeled
1-2 green chile peppers, stemmed
2 (1-lb.) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 T. melted ghee or a mixture of butter and vegetable oil
1 t. cumin seeds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 T. ground coriander
1 t. garam masala
1/2 t. ground paprika
1 (15-oz.) can tomato sauce
1 T. unsalted butter, cream, or plain yogurt

In a food processor or blender, process ginger, garlic, and chiles until minced. Add spinach and puree.

Heat the ghee or oil in a wok or saucepan over medium-high heat and add the cumin seeds; they should sizzle. Quickly add onion and cook, stirring, until golden. Mix in the coriander, garam masala, and paprika (and cayenne, if you like!) then add the tomato sauce and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes.

Mix in the spinach puree and cook until it comes to a boil, about 2 minutes (you may need to add a little water). Simmer 10 minutes to blend flavors. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer about 5 minutes. Mix in butter or cream. Serve over brown rice or with fresh naan, if you're lucky.

Monday, March 19, 2007


After seeing our new apartment again today, all I can think of is where I will put all my kitchen stuff? The apartment we're moving to is eons nicer in a much better neighborhood, but doesn't have as much kitchen storage. I'm thinking of ways to remedy this - hang pans on the walls? Shelving? The great thing about this place is that the kitchen is completely open to the dining area, so I may just take over the entire space, to maximize storage needs. It's so light and bright! (Wheels turning.)

Big news is that this place will have a dishwasher, which will lighten the burden on Our Hero significantly.

I made this for dinner early last week, I think. I have several other pictures waiting around to be posted, but this recipe is the most memorable, so makes the cut! I encourage you to make these - they are very simple, healthy, and freezeable for later use. The pesto is especially tasty and would be great with other kinds of meats and fish. The recipe's from Cooking Light.

Wasabi Salmon Burgers with Edamame-Cilantro Pesto
1/2 cup soft tofu (about 4 oz.)
1 (7-oz.) can red sockeye salmon, drained, skin discarded (bones will mash right into the burgers)
1 (6-oz.) can skinless, boneless pink salmon in water, drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh chive
2 t. dijon mustard
1/2 t. wasabi paste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg white
1/2 cup panko
1 t. canola oil or cooking spray
Whole-wheat buns, lettuce leaves, and red onion slices to serve
1/2 cup edamame-cilantro pesto (recipe follows)

Place tofu on several layers of paper towels. Cover with additional paper towels; let stand 5 minutes. Put in a large bowl with salmon; mash. Add next four ingredients (through egg white); mix well. Divide and shape into 4 1/2-inch patties. Dredge in panko.

Heat oil or cooking spray in skillet or on griddle over medium-high. Cook 3 minutes per side. Assemble with desired toppings, including a couple tablespoons of pesto. Enjoy!

Edamame-Cilantro Pesto
2 cups cilantro leaves
1 cup frozen blanched shelled edamame, cooked
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 t. canola oil
1 t. green curry paste
1 t. fish sauce
1/2 t. salt
1 clove garlic, peeled.

Blitz all ingredients in a food processor until smooth.

Back and Refreshed

Back from a needed visit with A and little F in PrettyLittleTown, USA. Thank goodness for them both. And thank goodness for tapas.

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed with the backlog of recipes to be posted, but I'm trying not to let it get me down! Things were quite busy in the week preceding my trip. Work, errands, a myriad of doctor's appointments (the old injury), and Our Hero's monopolization of the computer (for good reason) kept me from updating.

But here I am! I head back to work tomorrow, so spent much of today at various doctor's appointments, seeing our new apartment (which will have a dishwasher!), and stopping by the grocery and post office. I am resisting the impulse to check my email, which is likely full of work-related queries.

While in PrettyLittleTown, A and I cooked dinner in her well-equipped kitchen. A's request was for a pork recipe, as she's as new to the "other" white meat as I. We made an extraordinarily flavorful recipe from Eating Well (to which I now subscribe, having just cancelled my subscription to Everyday Food), pairing tender pork medallions with rich port, sweet figs, fresh thyme, and onions. I continue to be surprised with the flavor and texture of pork tenderloin, an incredibly lean cut of meat. Maybe that's why I can't stop posting pork recipes! A and I had a very civilised dinner of pork; double-baked sweet potatoes; and green salad with pears, pecans, and roquefort. Additionally, we enjoyed some criminally stinky muenster throughout the visit. She is my sweetie. Grab your best friend and enjoy this dinner with lots of leftovers!

Pork Medallions with Fig and Port Wine Sauce
16 small dried black Mission figs, stemmed
1 cup tawny (not ruby) port
2 t. plus 1 T. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup thinly sliced onion
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth or stock
1-2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt
Ground pepper
1 pork tenderloin, about 1 lb., trimmed and sliced into 1-inch rounds.
1/4 cup flour (we used oat flour, as it was around)

Place figs in a small microwavable bowl and cover with port. Cover the bowl and microwave on High for 3 minutes. (We approximated this on the stovetop.) Heat 2 t. oil in small saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent, 4-6 minutes. Add broth, thyme, bay leaf and the fig-port mixture. Bring to a boil and reduce by half, 10-12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. Dredge lightly in flour, shaking to remove excess.

Heat remaining T. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add medallions and cook until browned, 2-3 minutes per side. Add the reserved fig-port sauce; bring to a simmer and cook until the pork is done, but still a little pink in the center, about 2 minutes. The sauce should be syrupy. If not, remove the medallions with a slotted spoon to a platter and keep warm. Boil the sauce until syrupy. Discard the thyme and bay leaf. Serve.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Stay Tuned

Our Hero has been monopolizing the computer, but I do have recipes to post! Don't go away! I'll get them up in the next day or two.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007


It hasn't been the best of times for me, these past couple of weeks. Things have been highly stressful at work, due to a situation mostly out of my control. I have been operating in and out of sanity for a while, coping with an injury that just isn't healing. Suffice it to say that though things could be worse, they didn't really feel like they've been getting better.

And no, this post isn't going to end with a miraculous cure for my malady or my troubles at work, but Our Hero got some great news today, and after a few days of moping, I seem to be (hopefully) on an upswing. I had plans to cook dinner on Monday and Tuesday night, but just couldn't bring myself to do it. We ended up with delicious (albeit impromptu) California club sandwiches on Monday (turkey, uncured bacon, and avocado) and take-out (an awfully rare occurance in the Hero-Understood household) last night. It was a good excuse for sushi.

But tonight, after a reasonable day's work and a good workout at the gym, I was ready to get my skillet dirty. This recipe is so delicious and healthy. I highly recommend using butter as indicated; it gives the meal needed richness and flavor. I roasted the garlic and shallots a few days earlier, which made this recipe quite easy to prepare for a weeknight. This is also from this month's Cooking Light.

Herb-Crusted Pork Tenderloin
1 whole garlic head
6 medium shallots, quartered
2 T. butter (always unsalted), divided
1 1-lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed
1 1/4 t. chopped fresh thyme, divided (I used dried with great success)
3/4 t. salt, divided
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper, divided
2 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled sweet potato
1 1/4 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
1/2 cup chicken broth or stock
1/3 cup dry white wine
6 cups baby spinach or arugula

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove white papery skin from garlic head (don't peel or separate cloves). Wrap garlic head and each shallot in foil separately. Bake for 1 hour; cool 10 minutes. Separate cloves; squeeze to extract garlic pulp.

Place 1 T. butter in a bowl, microwave until melted (about 15-30 seconds). Brush butter over pork and sprinkle with some of the thyme, salt, and pepper. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork; cook 5 minutes or until browned on all sides. Slide into oven and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes (slightly pink). Remove pork from pan, tent with foil, and let sit 10 minutes.

While pork is cooking, melt remaining butter in pan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and garlic; saute 2 minutes. Stir in potato; saute 2 minutes. Stir in mushrooms, salt, and pepper; saute 2 minutes. Stir in broth and wine; bring to a boil, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender (6-10 minutes). Stir in greens and thyme; cook until greens are lightly wilted. Slice pork crosswise. Serve pork over potato mixture.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Kitchen Sunday

In like a lion is right . . . after venturing out into the whipping wind and cold twice today, once to go to the gym and again to hit the drugstore for a few essentials, I knew today would be lovely for puttering around the kitchen while the snow flew.

I accomplished a lot: I roasted some garlic and shallots for a dish later this week (see left), baked some Irish brown bread for breakfasts, roasted and pureed a squash (for later use) that was about to go south, started a recipe for preserved lemons, and fixed a tagine dinner. Whew. It sounds like a lot, but it was a relaxing, wonderful Sunday.

I also made refrigerator pickles. I got the idea from this post on Everybody Likes Sandwiches (an exciting new discovery), and took it from there. I'm not a bread-and-butter pickle person, so I made mine the sour, salty dill variety.

I highly recommend these, as they offer both crunchy goodness and same-day gratification. The picture shows the pickle jars sandwiching my soon-to-be preserved lemons. I'll offer the recipe after I can gauge the success of the results. The summery colors and flavors are a welcome diversion from the endless gray days.

Refrigerator Pickles
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
2-3 T. kosher salt
1 T. dried dill (or a bunch fresh)
1 t. crushed red pepper
1 t. black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Pickling vegetables (I used the traditional cucumbers, but possibilities are endless)

Heat vinegar and water in a medium saucepan. When it comes to a boil, add salt and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat. Add dill, pepper, and peppercorns to liquid. Pour liquid into two jars already filled with sliced vegetables and one clove crushed garlic each. Add vinegar as needed to top off jars (I had plenty of liquid). Let cool to room temperature; refrigerate. Apparently, these should last about a month. I doubt they'll be around that long.

On the Cheap

In Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma, he notes that Americans spend a great deal less of their income (approximately 10%) on food than other nations around the world. It's (one part of) Pollan's argument that in order to eat better as a nation, we must commit to putting more value on what we put into our bodies and spending more money to do so. I think this makes a lot of sense, but does present a serious problem for all those people in the US who have trouble affording even "cheap" food. They may have trouble paying rent, so a shift in even 2% of income to the food budget would be impossible. I find it particularly confounding that whole grains, of which all of the grain-based foods in my kitchen are made (except for Our Hero's pumpernickel sandwich bread), are more expensive than grains that have been processed and stripped of their nutritional value. Makes no sense to me.

In any event, this dish is quite affordable and virtuous, a protein-and-fiber-packed vegetarian meal. Cucumber-cream dresses it up a bit. The original Cooking Light recipe (I told you this month's issue was good) called for baby spinach in the cream, which made no sense to me. I added flavorful cilantro, which was quite refreshing and tasty. And doesn't it look pretty?

Dal with Cucumber Cream
Cucumber Cream:
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1/2 cup finely chopped seeded peeled cucumber
Dash of salt

1 T. olive oil
1 1/2 t. cumin seed
1 t. yellow mustard seeds
1 cup chopped onion
2-3 cloves minced garlic
Equal amount minced ginger
1 t. crushed red pepper
1/4 t. turmeric
3 cups vegetable broth, chicken broth, or homemade stock
1 1/4 cups dried lentils
1 cup water
1/2 cup chopped tomato (plum would work, I used diced canned)
1/4 t. salt
2 T. fresh lemon juice

Prepare dal. Heat oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add cumin and mustard seeds, cook 2 minutes, stirring. Stir in onion, garlic, ginger, red pepper, and turmeric. Cook one minute, stirring. Stir in broth, lentils, and 1 cup water; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes or until very tender, stirring occasionally. Uncover and simmer 20 minutes or until thick and creamy, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in tomato, salt, and juice. Serve with hot cooked brown rice and cucumber cream.

Prepare cucumber cream while dal simmers. Blitz all ingredients for cream in food processor. Cover and chill until time to serve.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Seasonal Pizza

Pizza is one of my favorite dinners to make. Dough recipes are easily divided in half and frozen for a busier day and topping options are only limited by your imagination. When Our Hero heard what was in this pizza, he wasn't so excited (OH: "Why can't we have pepperoni?" WU: "Because you ate almost an entire large pepperoni pizza from Leonardi's two days ago."), but when he tasted this one, it was declared a hit. There were no leftovers, a sure thumbs-up.

The toppings for this are certainly untraditional, but I urge you, TRY IT! It is the best pizza I've had since the mushroom-proscuitto version I made (and re-made) a few months back. The original Cooking Light recipe called for a 10-oz. Boboli-style premade crust. You could do that, or you could do what I did and make whole-wheat pizza dough of your own. I've made a couple of changes to the recipe.

Winter Greens, Pecorino, and Anchovy Pizza
Olive oil or cooking spray
1 sliced red onion
3 T. golden raisins
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 anchovy fillets, minced
6 cups torn or chopped white swiss chard or other winter cooking green (a bit over 8 oz.)
1/4 t. salt
1 t. crushed red pepper
Pizza crust option of your choice
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzerella cheese
1/4 cup pecorino romano cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 400 degrees if making a premade-crust version. Follow the directions here if making your own crust. Cook red onion slowly over low-ish heat until onion begins to turn golden in places, 10-20 minutes. turn up heat to medium and add raisins, garlic, red pepper, and anchovies. Cook a minute or two, stirring. Add greens, toss, and cover. Cook until wilted. Uncover and cook until liquid evaporates. Stir in salt. Cool slightly. Top your chosen crust first with the mozzerella, then the greens mixture, and then the pecorino. Bake according to your chosen crust method, 12 minutes or so.

Yes, Cans

You may have noticed that I often use canned tomatoes and beans, and (occasionally) broth . . . On some of the more (ahem) upscale foodie blogs, canned ingredients are shunned. Let's shun those snobs! Canned tomatoes are a great wintertime staple. I'd just as soon eat my hat as one of those pinky-white fleshed winter "beefsteaks". Of course cherry and grape tomatoes are good winter substitutes as well.

In addition to being generally healthy (watch the sodium content) and tasty, cans are convenient as can be. Cooking Light has a great issue this month, featuring meals that can be quickly thrown together on a really busy weeknight. Perfect! Aside from the aforementioned canned goods, these "quick" recipes also call for bottled minced garlic and ginger or prechopped vegetables to shave minutes off projected cook-times.

I don't use these items. I don't see how it's worth it to spend the extra money to have my deliciously mindless end-of-a-long-day prep work done for me. While I do have my lovely new Cuisinart, I generally don't use it for tasks as quickly run though as chopping an onion. More often than not after a long workday I find it comforting and stress-relieving to prep the ingredients for our dinner. This recipe is great for busy days, and makes plenty (leftovers!). It's from this month's Cooking Light with only a couple of changes.

Sausage and Spinach Soup
10 oz. hot Italian chicken sausage
1 cup chopped onion (about 1 large)
3-4 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup water
1 15-oz. can small white beans (Goya brand) - cannellini would work too
1 14.5-oz. can stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 14-oz. can reduced-sodium chicken broth (or homemade stock, if you have it around)
2 cups baby spinach
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Pecorino romano cheese, grated

Remove casings from sausage. Cook with a little oil or cooking spray (I use oil) in a large dutch oven or saucepan until browned. Break up sausage with spatula or spoon. Add onion and garlic, cook for 2 minutes. Stir in water, beans, tomatoes, and broth. Cover and bring to a boil. Uncover and cook for 3 minutes (I simmered mine for about 15) or until slightly thick. Remove from heat, stir in spinach and basil. Serve sprinkled with cheese.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Trying Out the Tagine

Our Hero was skeptical about the value of my new tagine, lovingly chosen by dear, dear A.

"You don't need any more kitchen stuff," he says. "This is a Hippie Pot. It is shaped like something hippies would live in." (Sidenote: How is a yert shaped, anyway?)

All Hippie Pot comments ceased once he tasted the lovely tagine of lamb and chickpeas I threw together in this beautiful dish. In the past I used dutch ovens to do tagine cooking, imagining there wouldn't be much difference between that and an authentic vessel. Our Hero even noticed a difference in the tenderness and juiciness of the meat. And the dish is so gosh darn pretty at the table. Still, if a tagine isn't on your list of must-haves, I've made them often in skillets and dutch ovens with great success.

I couldn't find an exact recipe for a tagine that suited my fancy, so I took elements from several and fashioned one to taste. These are not fussy dishes, and can be altered at will. I can't remember exactly how much of each item I included, but I think this is a good approximation.

Tagine of Lamb with Chickpeas
Olive oil
1 1/2 lb. lamb shoulder or leg, trimmed of fat, cut into stewing chunks
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. turmeric
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
2 large onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
Equal amount (approximate) fresh ginger, minced
1 cup orange juice
1 (I think it was 6-oz.) package dried apricots
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4-1/3 cup sliced almonds
Good handful each of cilantro and parsley, chopped

Heat enough oil to barely cover the bottom of pan (after swirling around a bit). Brown lamb on all sides. Add onion and cook until softened and translucent. Add spices, ginger, and garlic. Cook a minute or two to release flavors. Season with salt. Add orange juice and water to almost cover lamb. Bring to a boil (if you're using a tagine, you'll do this on low-to-medium heat), cover, lower the heat, and simmer very, very gently; 30-40 minutes. Stir occasionally, making sure there is enough liquid, adding water if necessary. Uncover dish, stir in apricots and chickpeas. Cover and cook 15 minutes. Uncover and simmer until dish reaches desired consistency (mine took another 15). Taste for seasonings, sprinkle with herbs and almonds, and serve with hot whole-wheat couscous. Sooooo good.

Note to Dad: This recipe could easily be made salt-free, as there are so many flavorful, wonderful ingredients that are given plenty of time to commingle and create something even better.