Monday, November 15, 2010

Cranberry pecan caramel bars

Yesterday, to procrastinate working on a paper, I baked up a batch of these delectable bars (and now, to procrastinate more, I'm blogging about it). I found the recipe in The Gourmet Cookbook a few days ago, and couldn't wait to try it. The bars have a layer of buttery shortbread topped with caramel, cranberries, and pecans, and finished with a drizzle of chocolate. They're decadent and perfect for the holidays, especially because cranberries are in season right now. The tart cranberries keep things from getting too sweet, and the combination of flavors and textures is fantastic. I especially liked the way the slightly salty shortbread worked with the sweet-tart topping.

I experimented a bit with the shortbread, using a mixture of all-purpose, white whole wheat, and oat flour, which gave it a slightly complex, nutty flavor. I also scaled the recipe so that the bars would fit in a 9 x 13 inch pan, rather than a 10 1/2 x 15 1/2 (who has a pan that size with sides?). Sorry for the slightly odd measurements that resulted. But given how buttery and delicious these are, it's probably best for my waistline that I didn't make the full recipe...

One important note: Make sure you have all the ingredients ready before you start the caramel step. You don't want to end up panicking because the caramel is already boiling and the corn syrup lid is stuck closed and you haven't yet toasted the nuts or chopped the cranberries. Yeah..that happened. Andrew actually had to punch a hole through the top of the corn syrup jar for me. Just be organized and you'll avoid the stress!

Andrew and I are leaving for India in a week, and I probably won't be able to post again until we return in December. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Brussels sprouts with bacon dressing

This recipe is my second contribution for this week's brassica-themed Fall Fest. As I mentioned in the last post, I had some trouble at first getting excited about brassicas, which are not the most glamorous of vegetables. However, I did have some brussels sprouts in the fridge and used Fall Fest as an opportunity to find something new to do with them.  I ended up making this simple, tasty side dish of braised brussels sprouts tossed with a savory bacon dressing. This recipe might be a good way to try to convert people who don't like brussels sprouts - a little bacon always helps, right?

Brussels sprouts with bacon dressing
Serves 4
Dressing adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook

1 pound brussels sprouts, stems trimmed and sprouts halved
4 slices bacon (1/4 pound), chopped
Olive oil
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup cider vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat 1 tbs olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add brussels sprouts and cook until sprouts are browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water to skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover skillet. Cook until sprouts are tender, about 7-9 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook bacon in a skillet over moderate heat until crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Pour off all but 1 tbs fat from the skillet. Add water and vinegar to skillet and simmer, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Immediately before serving, toss sprouts with dressing and top with bacon. Note: I only used about 2/3 of the dressing for this amount of sprouts. Leftover dressing can be used on other vegetables.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pasta with cauliflower and walnut pesto

This post is the first of my two entries for this week's Fall Fest, which features brassicas. Brassicas are a category of vegetable that includes cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage, to name a few. Even for a vegetable lover such as myself, it's not exactly the most exciting group...I'll admit that it took me a while to get inspired for this one. But after flipping through several cookbooks, I found this cauliflower pasta recipe, which is a keeper, as well as a few other brassica recipes that I'm looking forward to trying.

The pesto in this dish is made with cilantro, parsley, garlic, and walnuts. It's got a really interesting flavor, much more subtle than I expected. I thought it was a great match for the cauliflower and other vegetables. The recipe calls for fresh bell peppers, but they're no longer in season here, so I had to improvise. I'm determined to continue eating as much local produce as possible through the colder months, so I substituted some roasted red peppers (frozen from the summer) and a carrot. We also stirred in some chickpeas for added protein, but I forgot to add them before Andrew took pictures. I really liked the final dish with these additions - it's a satisfying single-bowl meal, and is good served warm or cold.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pommes paillasson (grated potato pancake)

Andrew and I had some friends over for brunch last weekend. When I was planning the menu, the idea of making potato pancakes or latkes crossed my mind, but I didn't want to deal with the hassle of cooking individual pancakes and keeping them all warm and crisp. This recipe is the perfect solution - too bad I found it a week late...anyway, this recipe makes one large potato pancake which can be cut into wedges for serving. The outside is golden brown and crisp, and the inside is soft and creamy. The Gourmet Cookbook recommends serving this as a bed for meat, because the tangled potato strands soak up juices nicely, but we ate it with eggs this morning. Whatever you choose to serve it with, it's really good!

Recipe notes: I cut the recipe in half and cooked the pancake in an 8-inch skillet instead of 12-inch. I also used red potatoes instead of russet, since that is what I had in the pantry. I'm sure russet potatoes would give a different texture, but I still enjoyed the result with red potatoes.

Pommes paillasson (grated potato pancake)
Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook
Serves 6

2 1/4 pounds russet potatoes
5 tbs unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Peel potatoes and grate using the large holes on a box grater, or the coarse shredding attachment on a food processor. Working in batches, gather grated potatoes in a clean kitchen towel and wring out as much liquid as possible. Put potatoes in a bowl and toss with salt and pepper.

Heat 3 tbs butter over moderately high heat in a 12-inch nonstick skillet. When foam subsides, reduce heat to moderate, spread potatoes in skillet, and press them down with a spatula. Cook until bottom of cake is golden brown and crisp, about 12 minutes (I cooked my smaller cake for 11).

Slide cake onto a large plate. Invert another plate over it, and flip the cake onto the second plate (with the smaller skillet, I was able to flip the cake directly from the skillet onto a plate). Heat remaining 2 tbs butter in skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides. Slide cake into skillet, browned side up, and cook until bottom is golden brown and crisp, about 12 minutes more (10 minutes for my smaller cake). Slide cake out of skillet and cut into wedges.

Note: according to the cookbook, you should be able to make this up to 30 minutes ahead of time, keep it at room temperature, and then reheat in a 450 deg F oven for about 5 minutes.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Kohlrabi/carrot/radish salad

This week's Fall Fest theme is root veggies, and it made me remember a recipe that has been sitting in my drafts for a while. It's a light salad of crunchy, julienned vegetables with a nice Asian-ish dressing. I found the original recipe - a kohlrabi and carrot version - on Orangette. If you haven't tried kohlrabi, this recipe is a good way to start. The taste of kohlrabi is somewhere in the middle of cabbage and broccoli stems, but sweeter. (I don't think kohlrabi is technically a root, but it looks like one, so I figured it fit the theme well enough...). I've also made this salad with radishes in place of the kohlrabi - milder radishes work well, and daikon is especially good. I think any combination of kohlrabi, radishes, and carrots is great here. This salad is really refreshing and is a nice accompaniment to richer dishes. I especially like the flavor the fennel contributes to the dressing.

Kohlrabi/carrot/radish salad
Adapted from this recipe on Orangette

2 medium kohlrabi bulbs
Optional: substitute radishes for some or all of the kohlrabi
1 large carrot
1 tsp. fennel seed
2 tbs. rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt, or more to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil

Using a sharp knife, peel kohlrabi bulbs. Peel carrots. Use a mandoline (or a sharp knife and a lot of patience) to julienne the kohlrabi, carrots, and radishes (if using) into matchsticks.

In a small dry skillet, toast the fennel seeds over medium heat until they are slightly browned and smell fragrant. Grind coarsely in a spice grinder, or with a mortar and pestle. Whisk together fennel, vinegar, salt, pepper, olive oil, and sesame oil in a small bowl. Add dressing to salad and toss to coat vegetables. Taste and adjust salt if needed.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Thai red curry squash soup

It's November (!), which means all my cooking magazines are filled with Thanksgiving recipes. I don't usually get very excited about Thanksgiving, which is a shame for such a food-centered holiday. My family never did a traditional Thanksgiving when I was growing up (my mom is a vegetarian, so roasting a turkey wasn't exactly an option), so I don't have a nostalgic attachment to the food. And although Thanksgiving food is always good, it's usually not that exciting, especially for someone who grew up on spicy Indian food. Which is why I was very happy to see the current issue of Food & Wine feature a series of Asian-inspired Thanksgiving recipes created by Joanne Chang (the chef behind the amazing Flour Bakery + Cafe). I love the idea of giving Thanksgiving food a multicultural twist - maybe I'll be creating an Indian-inspired Thanksgiving feast for my own family one day...

Out of all the recipes in the feature, the red curry squash soup looked especially appetizing, and seemed like the perfect way to use the butternut squash that had been sitting on our counter for about a month. And the soup definitely lived up to expectations - it was totally delicious, creamy, and flavorful. The curry and coconut milk blend really well with the flavor of the squash, without overpowering it. Plus the soup gets even better after sitting in the fridge for a day or two, so you can make it ahead of time.

Recipe notes: The recipe suggests kabocha, kuri, or buttercup squash, but I used butternut, and it was fantastic. I left out the lemongrass, lime leaves, and scallions because I didn't have any, and added a handful of cilantro leaves at the end. Andrew and I both thought the cilantro added really good flavor to the soup. I also added more than the suggested 1 tbs lime juice.