Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A little 3 course dinner for your next date night! Roasted Garlic with Bread, Black Forest Ham and Spinach Risotto, and Charred Pineapple with Ice Cream

This trio of courses is something I put together for my friends Brandon and Becca when they told me they were interested in cooking, and wanted to cook together, but didn't really know what to make.  I sent them the grocery list for all 3 first, then the recipes to follow.   They had a fun date night, and I know they have made it multiple times sense, which makes me happy !!!   You don't HAVE to make all three courses, but it's pretty easy, so 'eh, why not?  Here we go:

4 bulbs of garlic
loaf of french or italian bread, cut diagonally into 1/2 inch slices
olive oil
kosher salt
1 bag of fresh spinach
16 oz. really good deli ham- preferably black forest ham
2 boxes of chicken stock
1 Stick butter
1 sweet yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cups of risotto rice (aka short grain or arborio rice)
3/4 c white wine or vermouth
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup grated parmesan (fresh grated preferably)
1 pineapple
vanilla ice cream
couple tsp sugar

To start-   assemble ALL ingredients for both dishes and have chopped, measured and ready to go in tupperware or small bowls. (Mis en place- like we talked about last time!)  Read the whole recipe through at least once before you start.

Fresh Roasted Garlic with Bread

Preheat oven to 350
Cut off the top 1/8th or so of the bulb of garlic from the tip (not the stem) just so that you expose the tip of each clove of garlic. Do not peel garlic.  Set each bulb cut size up on a piece of tinfoil about 12 by 12".  Drizzle garlic with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, and wrap garlic (keeping it cut side up) so that it is completely sealed.  Set on rack in oven, roast for about 40 minutes.  Test one bulb for done-ness: carefully open tinfoil and check for cloves of garlic to have softened completely and turned golden brown.  When cloves are all soft, garlic is ready.  Keep wrapped in foil (so it stays warm) until ready to use.   To eat, simply squeeze the garlic onto bread, make sure to sprinkle each crostini with a bunch of salt (or it won't be as good) and enjoy!

Main course:
Black Forest Ham and Spinach Risotto

You will need to use your biggest pot to cook this.  Preferably one with a rounded bottom, but if that isn't an option, just use your biggest pot and make sure when you're stirring to get in the corners of the pot or the rice will stick and burn.   You will need a second, slightly smaller pot to hold the chicken stock.  To begin, heat the chicken stock to a boil (you can even throw some herbs in there if you want to- like a bay leaf and some fresh thyme if you have it).  Reduce heat to a simmer once it has reached boil.  You need it to be hot to use as you cook the risotto.
Wash your spinach well and slice it lengthwise (same direction as the stem) into thin shreds. The best way to do this is make small stacks with it facing the same way and cut one stack at a time.  Cut the ham into thin strips as well. Heat 1 TB of EVO and 4 TB of butter over medium heat until the butter melts- but does NOT brown.  Add the finely chopped onion and sautee until is soft and starting to turn golden (about 5 min) DO NOT BROWN. 
Reduce the heat, add the rice, stir to coat in oil and butter.  Cook, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes or until grains become translucent.  Add the wine, and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute until reduced.   Gradually add the hot stock, ONE ladleful at a time.  Stir constantly over medium heat (this makes the rice release its starch) making sure it doesn't stick on the bottom. You want the liquid to bubble and reduce, but not stick to the bottom of the pan.  You'll keep adding stock 1 ladleful at a time for about 25 minutes.  You may not use all of the chicken stock.  Expect to use about 3/4 of the amount, but it completely depends on the amount of heat you use while the rice is absorbing the liquid.  Once rice is soft to the bite (NO crunch AT ALL!)  stir in the ham and spinach with the last ladleful of stock.  You are just trying to heat the spinaach and ham.  Remove risotto from heat.  Add remaining butter and cream.  Mix well, then stir in the Parmesan until it melts.  Add a few pinches of salt to taste, and black pepper as well.  Garnish with grated parmesan.  Serve immediately.

Dessert:  Charred Pineapple with vanilla ice cream  Heat broiler with rack in top oven position.  (You can also grill the pineapple if that works better)
Use a cast iron or other heavy bottomed skillet, or if you don't have one, use a rimmed baking sheet.
Peel pineapple (use a serrated knife to cut the bottom 1/4 inch off of the pineapple so it stands up.  Cut the skin off one side at a time by cutting the skin off from top to bottom.  Lay pineapple on its side and cut into half-inch rounds.  Heat your baking pan or skillet under the broiler for 5 minutes to heat up. Carefully place 4 pineapple rounds in hot skillet.  Sprinkle each slice with a pinch of ground cinnamon and a teaspoon sugar.  Broil until edges turn golden, about 8 minutes, rotating pan as needed to brown evenly.  Serve warm or at room temp, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and another sprinkle of cinnamon.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Food for thought?

Everyone has that "one thing" that they do to de-stress, center themselves, or clear their head, right?  Well, you guessed it- mine's cooking.  Yesterday, it was just what the doctor ordered!  I needed to do a little thinking, so I woke up early and sure enough, made a huge batch of Spicy Green Bean Curry at 7am.  Perhaps you need to do a little thinking as well? Here's the recipe- it is something I came up with while making staff meal at work a few months back. Needless to say, it was a hit, and I make it at home from time to time. It makes a pretty good-sized batch, so have some hungry people around!  It's a bit more involved than the prior post, but trust me, it's nothing too fancy, and you can totally do it.  I know.  You'll actually learn a few things about Mise En Place, indian food and blanching today as well!  Here goes:

Spicy Green Bean Curry

1/4 c Canola Oil (or veg. oil, whatever is fine)
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 pice of fresh ginger- roughly 1.5-2" long, by 1", minced
1# carrots, bias cut (see below)
1 head cauliflower
3 Thai Chilies, finely minced (I didn't have these on hand, is ok to omit, but you'll need to up the spice by adding more sriracha)
1 tsp Sriracha (use 2+ if you don't have the Thai Chilies)
3 cans of coconut milk (shake them VERY well before opening)
2 TB yellow mustard seed
1 tsp tumeric
2 tsp curry powder (I use 1 tsp Sweet Curry powder and 1 tsp Maharajah Curry powder both from Penzey's Spices)
2 tsp Tiparos Fish Sauce (it's the best brand)
1 can of Hearts of Palm -cut into 1/4" rings (I didn't have these on hand, can be omitted)
1# (16 oz) green beans (you can use fresh and blanch them, or thaw from frozen) cut into 1" pieces
Zest and Juice from 1/2 lime
scant 1/4 cup Red Curry Paste (I always use Mae Ploy- its good)
1 bunch of scalions, bias cut
a handful of cilantro- chopped
1 yellow onion, large dice
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2" strips and halved
2 cans of whole potatoes, cut into 1/2" slices

Mise En Place!  (This is french for "everything in its place")
It is ESSENTIAL to get ALL of your ingredients measured and prepped in front of you so that you're not half-way through the recipe and you suddenly realize you need a pound of peeled, diced carrots, like NOW, before your sauce comes to a boil, and you haven't started! That's a recipe for disaster!  Once you start cooking, you can't stop! So if you don't already do this every time you cook- you're going to start now! Food Fairy says so! 

Once you have all of your ingredients pulled out of the fridge/pantry- weigh/measure everything so it is ready to go. Next start prepping the rest of the ingredientso you are 100% set before you even turn the stove on. You'll have to think through your veggies- the veggies that are fresh (except for zucchini) probably need to be blanched prior to using so they will turn out soft enough.  Canned or frozen veggies already have a softened texture so when you add them, they just need to be heated up, not cooked. You want all of your veg to finish at the same time, so order them in a way that makes sense to add them based on how long each needs to cook.  I blanched the carrots and cauliflower, and that's it.  Zucchini cooks up quickly so you won't need to blanch it.  Fresh is always better than frozen or canned, but sometimes it's just easier to use frozen or canned, depending on how much time you have, and what veggies are in season.

  1. Start a good sized pot of water boiling. Peel your carrots, cut at a bias (see photo). Wash and cut up 1 head of cauliflower into bite-size or slightly larger pieces.  When your water is boiling, add a palmful of salt. (I only ever use Diamond brand Kosher Salt).  Taste your water. It should taste like the ocean.
  2. Blanching:   you will need an ice bath ready before you start blanching. Blanching means that you drop your vegetable in water (it must be a rolling boil) to cook it to near-doneness, then immediately take it out and put it in ice water, to slow down and stop the cooking process. The faster you can do this, the brighter, tastier and more vibrant the veggies will be.  The only way to know when they are ready to come out of the water is to taste it.  It WILL continue to cook, so take it out before it is completely done. Also- you will still be heating the veggies back up, so leave them just a hair under-done, after cooling. We will blanch the cauliflower first, because the carrots will turn the water orange.  For your ice bath, just use a big bowl, fill it with some ice and water, and if you have it, set a strainer in the bowl, that way you can toss the veg into the strainer, it gets cooled down, and you can easily take all the veg back out of the bath to use it again for the next one.  Do this for all the veggies you are going to blanch, then put them aside, dump your water, and grab your pot to cook the curry.
  3. Dice your onion, chop your parsley, quarter your zucchini lengthwise, then cut into 1/2" chunks.  Cut your bell pepper into strips, then halve them so they are not as long.  Bias cut your scalions, mince your garlic and your ginger.  Thaw your green beans, open any canned items you are using, slice the potatoes.  Measure out spices, etc.  You should no be set to go!
  4. It's business time! Heat your large pot over medium to medium high heat.  Once the pan is warm, add your canola oil.  Roughly 1/4 cup, but enough to cover the bottom of the pan, and to coat the stuff you are sauteeing.  You can add more oil if it seems too dry as you sautee.  Add your 2TB yellow mustard seeds, sautee for a minute or so, add your garlic, let it cook just a bit, then your curry paste. Curry paste is basically a mash of very fragrant ingredients. You will sautee all this good stuff all together for another 2 minutes or so- until the curry paste becomes very fragrant.  Then add your ginger, sautee for another minute, add your onion and cook this until it begins to soften.   Then add your raw bell pepper and zucchini. These will need a little bit of time to soften.  By adding all of these ingredients individually and in the order they need to finish, it will mean everything will be perfect by the end. 
  5. When everything is softened, add your 2 cans of coconut milk and bring to a boil.  When you add the coconut milk, you stop the sauteeing process because the coconut milk is cold, and it drops the temp in the pan.  Crank the heat up and bring it to a boil, stirring well so nothing sticks to the pan.  You want to reduce the coconut milk down to a nice, milkshake-like texture.  It will seem like there is way too much liquid in the pan, but remember you are still adding a lot of bulky vegetables, and you need it to coat everything.  
  6. When your coconut milk has reduced enough, drop the heat back to medium and add the lime zest and juice, add the fish sauce, spices, sriracha and finally the potatoes, green beans, carrots and cauliflower.  Stir frequently to coat everything and let all of the veggies you just added heat up.  After 5-10 min, depending on how hot your stove is, you should be done!  TASTE it!  You probably need to add salt and pepper.   I added about a tsp of salt and a few good pinches of fresh ground black pepper.  Season it to taste.  If you are unsure how to season and don't want to oversalt your whole dish, just spoon some out into a bowl, season the bowl, and test just how salty you like it, then emulate that in the pan. You can adjust your heat as well by adding more Sriracha.   You're all done!   
  7. Serve your curry in a bowl and top with some chopped cilantro and fresh scalions. YUM!!!!!

I hope you all enjoy the heck out of this recipe, and after you've made it my way, make it YOURS!   See, you CAN cook!!!!

Next post-   an EASY 3 course dinner for your next date night!!!!!!   

Enjoy everybody!

Until next time....
Erin   "The Food Fairy"

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Today it begins....

Come with me! Let's take a little culinary journey together...

Just a few days ago, my travel buddy/darling husband and I returned from what can only be called an Epic Adventure.  We spent three weeks on the road, driving 4000+ miles in an exhausting, exciting trip.   The day had begun somewhere in Nebraska, it involved being stranded somewhere outside of Des Moines, Iowa, and even included doing major truck repairs outdoors during the most extreme lightning storm I have ever seen.  Somehow we were still in good spirits when we walked in the door upon our return, though we were both absolutely starving. You'd think we'd just order in some take-out, but if you know me, you'd know that's just not my style.  My immediate thought was, "What shall I make for dinner?"   So, exhausted as I was, I ran out to my (poorly attended) garden, picked all of the tomatoes in sight, pulled out the few remaining pantry staples I had left in the house, and made a fantastic mexican dinner.   My point?   If it was possible to throw together this tasty meal in about 5 minutes after such an grueling day, YOU certainly can do this after your exhausting workday.  I promise!! 

My first recipe is not so much a recipe as it is an inspiration. It is a very simple soft shell taco dinner.  The idea is that you can substitute whatever ingredients you have on hand, as I did, and tailor it to your liking. It's nothing fancy, but it proves you can make simple, delicious food in a flash!  Simple Mexican-American (Amexican?) -style food is SO easy to whip up in hundreds of ways (and for any # of people)  if you just stock a few simple ingredients!  It sure beats eating some crappy processed food!

Start with those super cute 6" flour tortillas. STOCK these at your house- they last a long time, are cheap, they're great for making the perfect size soft shell tacos or burritos etc. (they're the size of typical corn tortillas, but tastier in my opinion).  No one wants to eat a dried out, bulky tortilla. YUCK. These fit in your hand! Trust me, keep these on hand. Just warm a stack of them between paper towels in your microwave for a few seconds. (For you foodies, wrap stacks of them in tinfoil and throw them on the top rack of the grill to warm them and get some smoky flavor while you grill off your protein!)

I had a can of refried black beans on hand, some leftover cheese, hot sauce, some store-bought salsa, mexican spices, and those tomatoes from my garden.  That's it; and it was a pretty good meal. 

Dice up those tomatoes, heat up your beans, add some spices if you have them on hand. I used Cumin, Garlic Powder, Chilli Powder and a pinch of Penzey's Taco Seasoning. (I always stock Penzey's Spices- they are affordable yet impeccable in quality!).  If I hadn't been just getting home from being on the road, I would have had lettuce and sour cream to go with it.

You get the idea!  Here's a quick snapshot:

6" flour tortillas
refried BLACK beans
tomatoes from the garden
hot sauce (I use Tapatio salsa picante)
store-bought salsa
mexican spices

Heat beans, season with spices. Warm tortillas. Dice tomatoes. 
Spread beans on tortillas, add cheese, heat to melt cheese, then hit it with hot sauce, salsa, fresh tomatoes, whatever else you've got, and there you go!

Nothing fancy, but it was tasty and ready in 5 minutes.
Your turn! Go make it!  Tell me what you like to keep on hand for your quick mexican dinner!

Until next time....
Erin   "The Food Fairy"