Friday, October 22, 2010

Kale salad with sherry-walnut vinaigrette

When I was younger, my parents would sometimes let me help cook when people were coming over for dinner. This resulted in some mishaps (accidentally putting way too much chile powder in a taco filling, for example), but there were also successes. In particular, I remember making a salad once with greens, blue cheese, apples, and walnuts. Until then, my salads had always consisted of lettuce with chopped vegetables, so the idea of a salad with fruit/cheese/nuts instead of veggies was something of a revelation to me. And I think that salad gave me my first taste of blue cheese, which I am very grateful for!

This kale salad was something I put together for lunch last weekend, and it came out really good. And it also gave me my first taste of a new cheese, ricotta salata in this case. I went for a sweet-salty theme with the salad - sweet raisins, salty cheese, sweet & salty roasted walnuts. The dressing is from The Gourmet Cookbook - Andrew and I bought both sherry vinegar and walnut oil in Bar Harbor during our honeymoon, so the sherry-walnut dressing seemed fated to be made in our kitchen at some point.

Kale salad with sherry-walnut vinaigrette
Serves 3-4

1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves cut into thin slivers (I used Red Russian kale)
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 tbs maple syrup
1/2 cup coarsely grated ricotta salata cheese
1/2 cup golden raisins

Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook
1 1/2 tbs sherry vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
6 tbs walnut oil

Preheat oven to 350 deg F. Toss walnuts with maple syrup and sprinkle with salt. Bake in preheated oven until toasted and crunchy, about 4-5 minutes. Let walnuts cool. Toss together kale, walnuts, ricotta salata, and raisins in a large bowl.

Whisk together vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly pour in oil, whisking until well blended. (I make my salad dressing in a mason jar, and shake everything together instead of whisking).

Toss salad with enough dressing to lightly coat the kale (you will have leftover dressing). Eat salad within a few hours of dressing.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pear tarte tatin

This week's Fall Fest theme ingredient is pears, and I decided to try making a pear tarte tatin. Tarte tatin consists of fruit (usually apples) caramelized in butter and sugar, then topped with a pastry crust and baked. When done, it is flipped over so that the fruit is on top. It's not as fussy as traditional tarts - since it is baked upside down, you don't have to worry about the crust getting soggy, which means no blind baking (yay!). And the presentation is supposed to be rustic, so you don't have to worry about making it look perfect. That being said, tarte tatin can still be tricky to make, as I discovered with this one.

This was my first time making tarte tatin. I had a couple problems - the recipe said to cook the pears in butter and sugar until the mixture turned a golden caramel color...but it was hard to assess the color with everything cooking in a black cast iron pan. Also, during baking, the caramel oozed over the sides of the pastry and burned a bit, as you might be able to tell from the photos. Maybe I didn't do a good enough job of tucking in the sides of the crust? Maybe I didn't cook the caramel the right amount on the stovetop? I'm not really sure what went wrong. But in any case, it still tasted pretty good! The crust was nice and flaky, and the fruit was sweet and scented with cinnamon.

Recipe notes: I was in a bit of a rush when I made this, so I chilled the dough in the freezer instead of the fridge to speed things up. The recipe called for Bosc pears, but I only had an Asian pear and a Bartlett, so I used those instead. It came out absolutely fine - they were both firm enough to hold their shape during cooking. Also, my pears were huge, so I cut them into quarters or eighths instead of halves.

I know that some of the other Fall Fest participants are more experienced with tarte tatin, so please let me know if you have any tips!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Peanut butter banana bread

I have always loved peanut butter. As a kid, I would only eat the chunky kind, and later on switched to the creamy camp, where I still am now. I even remember trying peanut butter soup on a family vacation once. Bananas, on the other hand, I never really liked until a few years ago. It turned out that all it took to change my mind was smelling bananas one morning when I was very, very hungry. I started craving them immediately that day, and still enjoy them now. It's strange how tastes can change so quickly.

Once I started eating bananas more often, I quickly discovered how good the combination of peanut butter and bananas is. So when I saw this recipe for peanut butter banana bread in the October 2010 issue of Cooking Light, I couldn't believe that I hadn't thought of it before! I knew it was going to be delicious, and it didn't disappoint. The peanut butter adds a nice nutty flavor, and the peanut pieces add good texture. Regular banana bread is good, but I think this is even better!

Obviously bananas are not local to MA, but this is one of those recipes that I wanted to post about anyway. As for modifications, I used white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose, like I always do for quick breads. I also substituted 1/2 cup applesauce for some of the banana, since I didn't have enough banana around. It worked out really well - the bread still tasted like banana (not apple), but the banana flavor wasn't too strong. I'll probably do the same thing next time. Finally, the original recipe also included a peanut butter glaze, but I left that out - I knew the glaze wouldn't store or freeze well. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I like a good sandwich as much as the next person, but for me, sandwiches fall squarely into the lunch food category, not dinner food. I'm not sure why, since I consider burgers and quesadillas to be perfectly acceptable for dinner, and they're basically sandwiches...But in any case, I've started to rethink my position on sandwiches this week. Andrew and I were out of town for the long weekend and arrived back home late Monday night to an empty fridge. I haven't had time to do any grocery shopping since, so we've been making do with staples and freezer stock, as well as a loaf of bread and some apples that I picked up at the farmers' market near my office. Sandwiches have been on the dinner menu twice this week, and since our kitchen is always stocked with things like bacon, olives, and cheese, we've been able to make some pretty good ones.

With this post, I just wanted to give you an idea of some of the sandwiches that we're been making with the ingredients that we tend to keep around. We had bacon, apple, and cheddar sandwiches yesterday, and today I made an olive and tomato spread that went pretty well with grilled cheese (I had some slow-roasted tomatoes in the freezer, which came in handy). These recipes I've given aren't meant to be strict, and you should adjust the ingredient amounts to your liking.

What about you? Do you like to eat sandwiches for dinner? What are your favorite kinds to make?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Braised greens with bacon and white beans

Andrew and I are heading to my parents' house in Indiana tomorrow, and I still have to pack, so this is going to be a quick post. As I've mentioned in the past, greens are a bit of a challenge for me, although I'm starting to get a handle on how to cook them well. Recently I've discovered that braising is a great technique for some of the tougher greens that are popping up at the markets this time of year - the greens get tender but not at all mushy. This dish is simple enough for a weeknight dinner, but still very flavorful, mostly because of the cheese rind in the braising liquid.

One warning - wash your greens well! The dish isn't quite so enjoyable if you find yourself chewing grit...   

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Beet and apple salad

This week's  Fall Fest theme is "fall salads". Andrew wanted something with beets, I wanted something with apples, and we both love arugula, so this recipe was perfect for us. The original recipe actually called for Asian pear, but I substituted a Honeycrisp apple, which was really good. The only thing I would change for next time is to cut the apples into larger pieces - the flavor got kind of lost with the small matchsticks. Looking forward to seeing everyone else's entries!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Curried lentil soup with tomato and greens

I just watched an episode of Project Runway, and it had me bawling. What's up with that? This never happened when PR was on Bravo. But anyway,  it seemed like a good time to blog about something comforting, namely soup. This one comes together quickly, and makes a satisfying meal, perfect for these autumn days.

The original recipe (from The Gourmet Cookbook) calls for spinach, but I used radish and turnip greens. Next time I would pick one or the other - both was a bit too much. I also added carrots and potatoes to make the soup a bit heartier, and made a few other minor changes. The final product was reminiscent of an Indian dish that my mom makes often, and was nice to have around for weekday lunches. With a hunk of crusty bread, it makes a great dinner as well.