I imagine all of us who cook have moments when we wonder, "why on earth have I never attempted [cinnamon rolls, poached eggs, steak au poivre, cheesecake, roast turkey, etc...]?"
I am not too proud to admit I have such moments often. Because I like to tinker with flavors and techniques in more familiar fare, I have holes (chasms) in my repertoire that need filling on a regular basis. Having a husband to remind (nag) me of what hasn't been made (i.e., "hey, this scampi/raspberry sponge roll/salmon with beurre rouge looks good, you've never done that before") helps...or at least (depending on my mood, namely my grumpiness quotient) moves me to action.
But today the motivation to go where I've never ventured before was all mine. Almost. Anne Burrell also played a role. She was making spaetzle, braised short ribs, and a zucchini salad with grilled jumbo shrimp and chickpea polenta on her new show Secrets of a Restaurant Chef this morning. I could take or leave the short ribs (I'm not big on bones in my food), but all of the other dishes she made added up to my idea of the perfect meal. I was particularly drawn to the spaetzle; her enthusiasm for the dish convinced me that today was the day to give it a go.
Half of America must have been trying to log onto the Food Network website on Saturday, because I couldn't load the page with Anne's spaetzle recipe, so I turned to another fabulous female chef, Dorie Greenspan, whose recipe for herbed spaetzle is on epicurious.
I used her recipe as a guide, but lightened it (replacing one of the eggs with two egg whites), swapping the assortment of herbs for spinach (had some hanging out in the refrigerator) and basil (our herb garden is growing leaps and bounds), and skipping her accompanying sauce altogether.
In a word, the spaetzle were spectacular. Why on earth have I not made these before now? I used Greenspan's suggestion of a box grater for rubbing the dough into the boiling water. It was decidedly fussy on the first round (and I managed to get green dough in my hair), but tries two and three were a breeze. I love the texture (tender and light) and the bright green from the spinach and herbs was springtime on a plate. I kept the remainder of the meal simple: a purchased rotisserie chicken and some cherry tomatoes sauteed in olive oil until they burst their skins--and let the spaetzle take center stage.
A star has been born in my kitchen. Here's to spaetzle.
Enlightened Basil Spaetzle (Spätzle)
The dumplings were every bit as delicious rewarmed on day two.
2 and 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg whites, room temperature
3/4 cup lowfat milk
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh spinach leaves
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Blend flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in large bowl. Whisk in eggs, egg whites, and milk, forming soft batter. Mix in the spinach and basil.
Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Spritz a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray.
Working with 1/3 cup batter at a time and using rubber spatula, press batter directly into boiling water through 1/4-inch holes on coarse grater, strainer, or wide ladle (I used my coarse grater with great results). Stir spaetzle to separate and boil 2 minutes. Using fine mesh sieve, scoop spaetzle from pot, drain well, and transfer to prepared bowl.
Melt the butter in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the spaetzle, tossing to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 4 generous servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1/4 of the spaetzle):
Calories 223; Fat 5.2g (sat 2.7g, mono 1.4g, poly 0.6g); Protein 4.7g; Cholesterol 97mg; Carbohydrate 36g; Sodium 435mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
In case you missed it, April 2nd was national Peanut Butter & Jelly Day.
I didn't miss it. In fact, I celebrated it the morning of the 2nd. But that was also the day I totalled my car. My ode to the day was put on hold.
Until now. Being around my dad for the past week includes daily reminders of peanut butter, because he is a full-fledged fiend of the stuff. The man travels with a small jar of it, and spoon (for eating it straight up; his father did the same) and rarely goes through a day without multiple samples.
The gene has been passed to me, and now to Nick, who thinks it is yummy in most every form (even Thai peanut noodles, so long as I pick off the "yucky parts" (i.e., vegetables) and keep the spices in check.
These pancakes were a hit with Nick, but also with me and Kevin. They made me wonder why I hadn't stirred peanut butter into the batter before now; it's such an easy, delicious, and frugal way to bolster a breakfast standby.
I'm stretching the "jelly" part; fresh berries were on sale, so both blueberries and strawberries were in the refrigerator. I plunked them on top for the "jelly", which was a hit all around the breakfast table (although I admit I still drizzled some maple syrup on top). Happy PB & J!
Multigrain Peanut Butter Pancakes with Fresh Berries
I used natural peanut butter to make these so that they can be made with other nut butters (such as cashew, almond, or hemp or sunflower seed). My sister is very allergic to peanuts, so I am always trying to use natural peanut butter in recipes to open the door for other nut and seed options.
These freeze well, making for extra-fast future breakfasts any day of the week; cool the pancakes completely after making, then place in zipper-top freezer bags (I place a piece of wax paper between the pancakes to prevent sticking). Rewarm in the microwave for about 45 seconds.
1 and 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour (e.g. King Arthur brand)
2 tablespoons ground flax seed
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/3 cups 1% lowfat milk
1 large egg
1/4 cup natural (or creamy-style) peanut butter (or almond or cashew butter)
Whisk the flour, flax seed, brown sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Beat the milk, egg and peanut butter in a medium bowl until smooth; add to dry ingredients and beat just until well moistened.
Spray a hot griddle or large nonstick skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Spoon batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto griddle or skillet. Cook until golden brown on both sides, flipping once. Makes about 12 medium pancakes.
Nutrition per Serving (2 pancakes and 1/4 cup berries):Calories 188; Fat 4.8g (poly 0.9g, mono 1.5g, sat 2.4g); Protein 3.5g; Fiber: 2.6g; Cholesterol 40mg; Carbohydrate 35g.
After several days of idyllic spring weather, Easter was a day of torrential rainstorms. Not good for the new spring dress I had planned on wearing to church, nor the Easter egg hunt (moved to the parish hall), but pleasant for the quiet day we spent at home reading, cooking, and playing with Nick post-service.
Because my parents were on the way, we didn't have guests over this year, so the menu was simple: a small pork roast, rubbed with herbs de Provence before roasting, green beans, and a recipe I've been agitating to make since it appeared in the December 2008 issue of Bon Appetit: Rösti-style Potato Latkes with Rosemary and Brown Butter Applesauce.
The pork roast and green beans were fine, the rösti butter-wonderful (despite falling apart--one day I'll get a rosti out in one piece), but the rosemary & brown butter applesauce was pure bliss.
My obsession for adding savory herbs to sweet foods only seems to intensify with each new experiment. Turns out that the marriage of rosemary and apples is a harmonious one, and the addition of the browned butter made the nuptials heaven in a spoon. The recipe called for running the applesauce through a food mill, but I prefer a chunky sauce, so once the apples were tender, I gave them a once-over with the potato masher and called it quits.
Now, to dessert: Cheap, easy, and gorgeous, pavlova is one of my top dessert dates. I usually stick with a wooden spoon for spreading the meringue into a circle or rectangle, but since it was a celebratory dinner (albeit a small family one), I rummaged through my box of decorating supplies for a large tip and piped my rectangle. This is not cake decorating: all that you need to do is aim and squirt, overlapping as much as you like. This was not a low-calorie meal, but I like that pavlovas are a balance of lightness (berries, egg whites) and indulgence (whipped cream). It's the perfect spring and summer splurge. Cheers!
Mixed Berry Pavlova
Note: I halved my recipe for Easter, since it was just me, Kevin, and Nick (enough for all of us plus leftovers for me :)). But most often I use double the proportions for all the ingredients below and spread to a 10-inch circle or 12-inch rectangle. Everything else is the same!
3 large egg whites
3/4 cup superfine granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons boiling water
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 cups assorted fresh berries, e.g., raspberries, blueberries, and sliced strawberries
Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a large baking sheet with foil.
In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat together whites, sugar, cornstarch, vinegar, and vanilla on low speed until just combined. Add boiling water; beat on high speed 3 to 5 minutes, or until mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks.
Spoon or pipe the meringue mixture onto baking sheet and spread into a (approximately) 7x4-inch rectangle or 5-inch circle. Bake Pavlova in middle of oven 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 200°F. and bake Pavlova 40 minutes more. Turn off oven and let Pavlova stand in oven 1 hour. Transfer Pavlova to a rack and cool completely. (Pavlova will be hard on outer surface and soft inside.)
Just before serving, whip the cream in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until it holds soft peaks; spread over Pavlova. Mound fruit on top of whipped cream. Makes 4 servings.
Separating Eggs 101:
When making certain dishes, like the meringue for this pavlova, you have to separate egg yolks from the egg whites. It's a bit tricky (and messy) at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's quick and simple.
Step 1: Using a single, sharp movement, crack the egg on the side of a bowl, as close to the middle of the shell as possible.
Step 2: Hold the egg in both hands and use your thumbs to gently break the shell in half over the bowl. Turn the shells upright and allow the white to fall into the bowl.
Step 3: Tilt the shells towards each other and slip the egg yolk from one shell to the other so that any remaining egg white falls into the bowl, taking care not to break the yolk. Continue until only the yolk remains. Tip the yolk into a separate bowl and discard the shells.
Note: If you're separating whites for meringues, make sure you don't get any of the yolk in the egg whites; the whites will sit in a puddle at the bottom of the bowl, no matter how much beating.
I enjoyed this delicious bowl of honey Greek yogurt, topped with berries and homemade granola, while perched on the toilet.
If you're growing squeamish wondering where this post is headed, fear not: the lid was closed.
My choice of breakfasting spot is surprisingly delightful, and easily explained: I eat as Nick bathes. I'm bathing him in the morning these days because (a) he's a boy who loves his bath, and there's more time in the a.m. (no looming bedtime); and (b) I can sit still for a solid 30 minutes getting a steam facial, drinking coffee, eating yogurt, and reading the New Yorker. I've even been known to throw in a few yoga poses, tub-side. The only downside: sitting on the toilet.
Back to the yogurt.
I am an equal opportunity yogurt lover, but I am nevertheless happy to tout the superiority of some over others. And if ever there was a yogurt that stands head and shoulders above the rest, it is Oikos Greek Yogurt, made by Stonyfield Farms. I am already a full-fledged fan of their full range of non-Greek yogurt, so when they asked if they could send me some coupons for a few free containers of their Greek-style yogurt, it was all I could do not to reply "Are you kidding me???!!!" Instead, I wrote some sort of milk-toast reply along the lines of "Sure, why not?"
If you are reading this, and have plans to head to the supermarket soon, add Oikos Greek yogurt to the list. If you have no such plans, make them, now. This is unlike any other yogurt you have tried. I should have taken a picture of my spoon standing straight up in the container, it is that thick. And tangy. And unctuous. It tastes like it must be loaded with fat, yet it's fat free (and very high in protein, 13 grams for a 5.3-ounce serving).
The only downside is the price. I won't mention a specific one here, because I don't want to deter any of you from trying it, but it's high. Yet frugal as I am, I am the first to vouch that it is worth every penny of the splurge.
I don;t know what their PR people will think of my post beginning in the bathroom, so I'll finish with a far more appealing image, that of Nick eating his own bowl-ful of the Oikos honey yogurt. He likes plain yogurt with a bit of honey or agave nectar, but I thought he might find the Greek yogurt too tangy, or the texture too different from his yogurt norm. But after one bite, he delivered his succinct review.
Looking directly into the bowl, he exclaimed, "I love you, yogurt!"
That's right. I went on a crash diet yesterday. And I loved it. The food was everything I could have hoped for, and more.
I do hope you'll try it; but only the diet, not the crash.
It's this simple: I wrecked my car on Thursday. Totaled. Worse, it was my fault entirely. No injuries besides some whiplash (and no Nicky in the car, hallelujah), but my nerves were in shreds, my stomach in knots. Once the doodle was down for his nap, I abandoned all work for a collection of Miss Marple stories (my 50th read? 100th? Somewhere between the two) , and plotted my dinner. I was in desperate need of culinary therapy.
Driving to the store for supplies was out; supper had to come from the pantry (or a pizza delivery guy). I scanned the shelves (while grabbing some tea biscuits; you can't read a British mystery without tea and biscuits and, in most cases for this blogger, fuzzy socks). Chickpeas? Check. Roasted red peppers? Check. Yogurt? Check. Hello Middle Eastern supper.
Chicken soup, beef stew, mac & cheese, and chocolate cake; they're all great, I like them as much as anybody. But Middle Eastern food hits all of my buttons. Here's what I made:
Falafel with Goat Cheese-Yogurt Sauce
Several elements of the dinner are more easily explained than others. The half bag of arugula in the produce bin was rinsed, spun, and tossed with nothing more than olive oil, salt & pepper, and my new obsession ingredient, sumac. I promise to write about sumac more in later posts. For now, suffice to say it is a powdered spice made from the berries of a bush that grows wild in all Mediterranean areas, especially in Sicily and and parts of the Middle East, notably Iran. It has a sourness and astringency much like lemon juice (and you can use it similarly in recipes). I think I'm developing some dependency issues with the stuff, it's good in and on everything.
The toasted pita? I scavenged a mildly frost-bitten bag from the depths of our freezer. The two rounds of whole wheat pita looked every bit as abandoned as they were, but I had high hopes that I could revive them. Defrosted, cut into triangles, and toasted in the oven, they came through, in high (ok, elevated edible) form.
What do you do with a poor excuse for a zucchini, a limp red onion, and a wrinkled eggplant? You cut, oil & season, then sock it to them at 450 degrees for 15 -20 odd minutes. Delicious.
Hummus is high on my list of comfort foods, but I didn't have enough chickpeas, nor any tahini, to make it. Moreover, Kevin will no longer eat hummus, having, according to him, eaten more than his lifetime quota of the stuff at English department parties in grad school.
Enter in muhammara, a Middle Eastern roasted red pepper dip spiced with cumin and cayenne, enriched with walnuts and olive oil, and ready in minutes after a quick whirl in the food processor. Kevin's as keen on it as I am, and I had the ingredients on hand, so there you go. I've been making another version of muhammara (from Gourmet 1993--also available on epicurious) for years (with a few tweaks), but after trying the new version that appeared in the November 2008 issue of Bon Appetit, I made the switch. It has a fraction of the oil (2 tablespoons vs. 3/4 cup) and far more walnuts, which I love.
I do make several tweaks to the muhammara, as follows: (1) I lightly toast the walnuts; (2) I use water-packed red peppers (I've never seen the olive-oil packed ones); (3) I reserve a few tablespoons of the liquid from the peppers, and add to the mix to make it smoother (it was too dry without); (4) I use a combination of 2 teaspoons honey, 1 teaspoon lemon juice in place of the pomegranate molasses; (5) I used fresh breadcrumbs--about 1 slice of bread whirred in food processor--instead of Panko (the latter are hard to come by in Nacogdoches, I have to mail-order them); (6) GARLIC!!!! Two to three mashed cloves. I think I need to write down my revisions in a new recipe, I made more changes than I realized!
Finally, falafel. I have no problem with falafel from a box--I make it, I like it, I think it's delicious. But while in graduate school, I started making it from scratch, too, and it's just as simple to make as the mix, and even more delicious. A yogurt sauce in the same company is always good, but I had a bit of soft goat cheese (more comfort, big time) hanging out in my dairy bin, so I whisked it in with the yogurt for a simple sauce. Oh goat cheese, how I love you.
I am revived, and thankful to be in one piece. Here's to crash diets.
Falafel with Goat Cheese & Yogurt Sauce
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 garlic cloves, mashed
1 large egg
1 15-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1/4 cup (about 2 ounces) soft (log-style) goat cheese
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 small garlic clove, mashed
To prepare falafel, place the breadcrumbs, cilantro, cumin, salt, red pepper, garlic, egg, and chickpeas in a large food processor. Process mixture until smooth. Divide mixture into 16 equal portions, and shape each portion into a 1/4-inch-thick patty. Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the patties, and cook 5 minutes on each side or until patties are browned.
To prepare sauce, combine yogurt, goat cheese, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1 minced garlic clove, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition per Serving: Calories 373; Fat 8.7g (poly 3.1g, mono 4.0g, sat 1.0g); Protein 15g; Fiber: 6.8g; Cholesterol 47mg; Carbohydrate 59g
What a fool I’ve been: it’s been more than a year since I last made rice pudding.
I was reminded of my lapse by Ms. Molly Wizenberg's (aka Orangette) ever-delightful column in Bon Appetit magazine last month, dedicated to the lumpy-bumpy stuff. Her recipe sounds just the thing—a good old-fashioned pudding, rich with heavy cream, whole milk, and vanilla bean. I'll get around to making her interpretation one of these days, but two factors prompted me to develop my own take:
(1) I'm trying to avoid extra-heavy desserts these days (aka "avoid exploding from one's pants")
(2) I had two cartons of vanilla soy milk in my pantry, purchased at a close-out price, that were fast-approaching their use-by dates.
So a lighter, dairy-free vanilla rice pudding is what I made to amend my folly.
I've made rice puddings in the slow cooker and in the oven, both with raw rice and milk or cream (i.e., no pre-cooking of the rice). I found both varieties dreadful, and a waste of several hours of anticipation. The rice never achieved a pleasantly plump quality, and the consistency was soup (or, in the case of the slow cooker experiment, slop).
I cooked the rice in water first, followed by a warm milk bath; just right. If Goldilocks were to try it, she would surely proclaim "this one is just right."
I am loathe to leave puddings and ice creams unadorned (I am more triple-topping banana split than vanilla cone), I added a dose of my favorite spice, cardamom (it loves vanilla, and vanilla loves it right back), and made a quick dried-cherry compote. It's fast, it's flexitarian, but more importantly, it's fantastic (warm or cold, breakfast, lunch, dinner, or all three).
Cardamom-Vanilla Rice Pudding with Dried Cherry Compote (Dairy-Free)
2 cups water
1 cup medium grain white rice (I used Arborio)
1 and 3/4 cups non-dairy milk (e.g., rice, hemp, almond or soy), vanilla or plain
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 recipe Dried Cherry Compote (below)
Combine the water and rice in a medium saucepan set over medium heat; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes.
Add the milk, sugar, cardamom and salt to cooked rice, stirring well. Return saucepan to stove. Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously, for 15-20 minutes or until very thick and creamy. (Note: If pudding is too thick, thin with a little more milk until desired consistency.) Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Cool slightly before serving. Makes 6 servings.
Dried Cherry Compote
Should I mention that this is perfection on yogurt and ice cream, too? I must, because it is.
1 cup (about 4 ounces) dried cherries
3 tablespoons sugar
1 and 1/2 cups water
1 and 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon orange liqueur or orange juice
In a saucepan combine the cherries, sugar, and water. Simmer 8 to 10 minutes. or until the liquid is reduced to about 1 cup. Stir the cornstarch mixture, add it to the cherry mixture, and simmer all, stirring, for 2 minutes, until thickened. Makes about 1 cup.
Nutrition per serving (about 1/2 cup pudding and about 3 tablespoons compote):
Calories 246; Fat 3.6g (poly 1.5g, mono 1.8g, sat 1.1g); Protein 7.7g; Cholesterol 22mg; Carbohydrate 53.1g; Sodium 121mg; Fiber 0.7g)
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)