Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cilantro pesto

It's only within the last year or so that I've experimented with pesto beyond the classic basil/pine nut/parmesan combination. This stellar cilantro pesto is by far the best one I've come across (although obviously not for the cilantro-haters out there). The pesto gets an Asian twist with ingredients like soy sauce and sesame oil, which makes for a really interesting and tasty sauce. I like to eat it with soba noodles and tofu, but I bet it would be great on chicken as well. It's definitely a quick and easy way to spice up a meal.

Notes on the recipe: I don't bother removing the cilantro leaves from the stems. It's all going in the food processor anyway, so why bother? Also, I use peanuts instead of pine nuts, and I think cashews would work as well. 

Cilantro pesto
Adapted from Gourmet Today
Serves 4

1/4 cup mild olive or vegetable oil
2 cups packed fresh cilantro leaves
2 tbs pine nuts
1 tbs fresh lime juice
2 tsp soy sauce (GT suggests using fish sauce instead for deeper flavor)
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Serve with tofu, chicken, rice, or noodles. Pesto freezes well.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Brie, apple, and arugula quesadillas

I have been super busy ever since the fall semester started up a few weeks ago. I'm trying to get my thesis research to the point where I can start to see the light at the end of the PhD tunnel, taking a class, doing some community work, and of course, cooking and blogging! Lately it has become very clear that I need to change my usual pattern of cooking fairly elaborate and time-consuming dinners every night. So I've been trying to to get some quick and simple recipes into my repertoire, and also save time by doing some cooking and vegetable prep over the weekend. I'm also trying to keep the freezer stocked with things like soup, meatballs, pesto sauce, etc. that help get dinner on the table fast (I'll be posting some of those recipes in the next few days). What do you do to keep weeknight meals quick but still interesting?

This quesadilla recipe is a perfect example of a quick, tasty meal. I found the recipe in the October 2010 issue of Cooking Light, and decided to make it for this week's Fall Fest, which features apples. (I originally wanted to make apple pie, but didn't get to it over the weekend, and yeah - see above paragraph about not making complicated things on weeknights). I really liked the mustard and apple cider mixture, and thought all the ingredients came together to a make a unique and sophisticated quesadilla.

An aside about apples - don't you love the apples that are at the farmers' markets now? The variety is amazing, and they are all so good. Plus I won't eat an apple unless it is perfectly crisp, and those are kind of hard to find at the supermarket. Fresh apples are definitely one of my favorite things about autumn in New England.

Some notes on the recipe: I had some trouble fitting all the arugula into the quesadilla - maybe it would work better if I let it wilt just a bit before trying to fold the tortilla over. I used a Honeycrisp apple, and I think I'll add more next time - half an apple per quesadilla would be good. Also, we had some whole wheat wraps around, so I used those instead of tortillas - tasted great.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Roasted turnips with parsley-mustard vinaigrette

Almost every stall at the neighborhood farmers' market sells Hakurei turnips (smallish white turnips, sometimes labeled "Asian turnips"). I tried them for the first time last summer out of curiosity, and ended up buying them almost every week after that. I usually eat them roasted with some browned butter or soy sauce. I never thought to pair them with a bright vinaigrette before I saw this recipe.

This one is from Food & Wine, September 2010, and is my Magazine Mondays entry for the week. It's easy to put together and would make a nice side dish for almost anything. And actually, I think the vinaigrette would be good on other roasted vegetables as well.

If you like turnips, I'd love to hear your favorite ways to eat them!

Grandma's hermit bars

My sister-in-law threw me a lovely bridal shower last spring. Knowing my fondness for cooking, she asked all the guests to contribute a favorite recipe, and compiled them into a little book for me. It was such a thoughtful gift! I love flipping through it, not only for the recipes, but also for the memories and connection to family and friends.

Have you ever heard of hermit bars? I tasted them for the first time a year or two ago at Andrew's grandmother's house, and I was excited that she contributed the recipe for my shower. They're kind of cakey in texture, humble and homey in spirit, and filled with raisins and spices. The flavors are perfect for fall. I'm not sure how they got their name - if you know, please share!

I didn't change much in this recipe, except to use white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose (as usual), and a combination of brown and white sugar instead of all white. The hermits came out great - perfect for an afternoon snack (and mid-morning snack, and dessert, and breakfast...)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Spinach pasta

Summer Fest has officially transitioned into Fall Fest, and this week's theme ingredient is spinach. To be honest, I was feeling kind of uninspired about this one - I just didn't really have any idea what to make. Pretty much the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to make a dish that didn't require removing the spinach stems...I'm kind of lazy about certain things (I just realized the irony of the last statement in a post about homemade pasta, ha). Anyway, I had some time to kill over the weekend, so I eventually decided to incorporate the spinach into some fresh pasta.

I was underwhelmed by how this pasta turned out - the flavor was good but the texture was too soft. Definitely not the best pasta I've made at home. I have a feeling this was my own fault, and not the recipe's - I used more spinach than called for, and I didn't let the pasta dry out enough before cooking. If any of you are expert pasta makers, please share your tips!

A note on pasta making - I use an Atlas hand-crank pasta machine to roll out the dough. Although it is time-consuming, I do enjoy the methodical process of rolling the dough into thinner and thinner sheets. I actually find it kind of relaxing. Kitchenaid also makes a pasta roller/cutter attachment for their stand mixers if you want to speed things up.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lentils with curried butternut squash and walnuts

Winter squashes of all shapes and colors are appearing at the farmers' market. I like trying different kinds, but I usually end up coming back to butternut squash - it has more meat than some of the other squashes, and it's easier to peel.

I especially love butternut squash in savory rather than sweet preparations. I think the sweetness of the squash works really well with contrasting flavors. In this recipe, the butternut squash is roasted with curry powder, and then mixed with lentils, toasted walnuts, lime juice, and cilantro - a really interesting combination of flavors and textures. I think I'd like it with a bit more lime juice than the recipe calls for, but Andrew really liked it as written. We both agreed that the dish was tastier after being in the fridge for a couple days - the flavors developed over time. The original recipe classifies this as a side dish, but I think it is filling enough to be a main, with some rice on the side. We also ate this stuffed into pitas, which was really good.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Potato and parmesan gratin

Okay so I don't often make potato recipes that involve lots of cream and cheese. But for this week's Summer Fest, featuring potatoes, I decided to forget about nutrition and make something decadent. I went with a potato gratin from Gourmet Today that they describe as "the ideal marriage of potatoes and cheese" - if Gourmet says it, I believe it! I was lazy with this recipe - I didn't peel the potatoes, and coarsely grated the cheese to avoid giving my arm a workout by finely grating. Maybe that made it a bit less pretty, but it still tasted good!

Potato and parmesan gratin
Adapted from Gourmet Today
Serves 8

4 pounds medium boiling potatoes
1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt or table salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk (I used 1%)
3 tbs softened unsalted butter
7 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (2 1/3 cups)

Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 deg F. Peel potatoes (or not, if you don't mind the peels) and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices - a mandoline is very helpful here. Spread potato slices out on a kitchen towel and sprinkle with salt.

Mix together cream and milk. Dot the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch pan with 1 1/2 tbs butter. Pour in 1/3 cup of the cream mixture. Layer one fifth of the potatoes in the dish (don't rinse or dry them), drizzle with 1/3 cup cream mixture, and top with one quarter of the cheese. Repeat 3 more times (this will use up all the cheese). Top with the last one fifth of the potatoes, and drizzle with the remaining cream mixture. Dot the top layer with the remaining 1 1/2 tbs butter.

Bake gratin uncovered in the preheated oven until potatoes are very tender and the top is browned, about 2 hours. Let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Toasted farro, green bean, and shiitake salad with tofu

For some reason, all my Magazine Mondays recipes have been coming from Cooking Light. I'm not sure why that is, since I flag lots of recipes in Bon Appetit and Food & Wine as well, but I'm really glad I stuck with Cooking Light for this one! This recipe is super tasty. The only thing I didn't like in this dish was the lack of heat in the dressing - I ended up adding a little Sriracha sauce to my bowl, which made it perfect.

Although this is called a salad, it really is a balanced main dish. The tofu preparation is rather time-consuming, but it is worth it - I loved the dense, firm texture of the pressed tofu. I made a few changes to this recipe: the original one calls for pearled barley, but I used pearled farro instead. Farro is a grain in the wheat family that I have been wanting to try for a while - my grocery store recently started carrying it, so I took the opportunity to give it a try. It cooks pretty quickly, and I liked it a whole lot in this dish. Wheat berries or brown rice would probably work well too. I also sauteed the beans instead of blanching them, and tweaked the amounts of some of the ingredients based on what I had available.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Zucchini sweet potato bread

This is my favorite quick bread recipe, and happily, both zucchini and sweet potatoes are in season right now! I first came across this recipe on Joy the Baker, and I've modified it to use white whole wheat flour, and also cut down on the sugar, because I don't like quick breads to be too sweet. This bread is hearty, moist, and flavorful, and makes a great breakfast...or afternoon snack...or dessert. And though I wouldn't exactly call it healthy, I think wholesome is an appropriate description. Enjoy!

Garlic soup with poached eggs

I was very excited to find out that Summer Fest is continuing on beyond the original schedule - continuing well into the fall in fact. This event has been so perfect for the theme of my blog, and I love the challenge of exploring a different vegetable/fruit each week. This week's theme is garlic. Garlic is something that I use all the time, but it is rarely the central focus of a dish. I thought about roasting it, or making garlic bread, but decided instead to try something completely new - garlic soup. You might think this sounds crazy, especially if you are imagining the pungent flavor of raw or quickly cooked garlic. But garlic cooked slowly is an entirely different thing. It becomes mellow and warm, and seriously, make this soup next time you're stuck inside on a rainy day. It is just so good. Think poached eggs on toast taken to a totally new level. In spite of the whole head of garlic in there, it doesn't taste garlicky - it just tastes comforting and delicious. The bread soaks up the broth while still retaining a bit of crunch, and when you cut into the egg, the yolk flows out and blends with the soup. And don't worry if you don't know how to poach an egg - I had never really done it before this, but I just followed the recipe instructions and they came out great!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Slow-roasted tomatoes


Nothing compares to the taste of a fresh summer tomato. Unfortunately, tomatoes won't be in season for very much longer, and it's going to be a long wait until next year. Over this long weekend, I decided to slow-roast some tomatoes to freeze and enjoy in the colder months. Plum tomatoes have been pretty cheap at the farmers' market, and they're perfect for roasting - I'm going to do another batch next weekend if they're still available at the market. Slow-roasted tomatoes are really versatile - you can chop them up to add to pasta, eat them on toasted bread, add them to salads, you name it.

Hope everyone had a great Labor Day and is enjoying what remains of the summer!


Slow-roasted tomatoes
Note: I decided to keep these tomatoes plain and simple, but feel free to add garlic or herbs if you feel like it.

Plum tomatoes, as many as you can fit in your oven!
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 225 deg F. Halve tomatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil (you can be liberal with the oil - it will get tomato-flavored and delicious, and you can collect the excess after roasting). Arrange tomatoes skin side down on a parchment paper or silpat lined baking sheet. I was able to fit 16 tomatoes on one baking sheet. Roast tomatoes for at least 5 hours, or until they have collapsed and begun to dry out, but still have some juice inside. You can dry them out more than the ones in these photos - I needed to use the oven for something else and took them out a bit early. Let tomatoes cool. Tomatoes can be stored in the fridge with the residual roasting oil, or can be frozen.

Quick chicken pot pie

I bought some celery root last week. I've heard good things about this ugly little vegetable, but I didn't know quite what to do with it. I finally ended up using it in a quick chicken pot pie, thinking that a warm, hearty dish would be appropriate for the rainy, windy weather that hurricane Earl was supposed to bring us. Although the hurricane never quite materialized, the pot pie was still delicious!

This recipe is from The Best 30-Minute Recipe. It's a quick version of chicken pot pie that is still really flavorful. I made the biscuits for the topping from scratch, which takes the recipe a bit over the 30-minute mark, but not by much. I really liked the addition of celery root here - the flavor and texture both worked well. But you can certainly use regular celery if that's what you have available.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ratatouille ragu

This dish is a great way to celebrate summer's last hurrah. It's packed with late summer produce, so hurry up and make it while you still can! This was inspired by a gnocchi appetizer that Andrew and I had at Highland Kitchen, a great restaurant/bar in Somerville. The gnocchi was topped with a really flavorful mix of roasted veggies, which we immediately decided to try and replicate at home.

This "ragu" (not technically a ragu, since it is meatless) is versatile, and soooo good. Roasting the veggies intensifies their flavors, and the herbs bring everything together. Cooking-wise, this is pretty simple, but it does require a good amount of chopping. We have enjoyed this over gnocchi and pasta, and I think it would also be good with polenta, or with rice, or as a topping for toasted bread, or stuffed into a pita...lots of options. You could also mix in some white beans if you want to add some protein.

This dish is just so summery and delicious - I hope you enjoy it. With the heat wave in Boston right now, it's hard to believe that it's September already. Fall veggies are coming soon...