Friday, December 31, 2010

0 Recipe #225: Ring In the New Year with Pan-Seared Scallops in a Caviar-Champagne Sauce

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This regal dish will have you ringing in the new year in style. What was it that Robin Leach used to say on "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous" back in the mid 80's? "Champagne wishes and caviar dreams" or something like that? Well, this recipe might come close. :) In any event, it certainly sounds like a nice way to ring in the new year, eh?! Heck, if there's ever a time to luxuriate and enjoy the finer things in life, even if it's just one special time a year, the start of a new year would certainly be the time. :)

In reality, while this dish might sound extravagant, it's actually quite affordable. First, there are several decent varieties of caviar available on the market today that won't break the bank. This is particularly the case with some of the well-received American varieties, which are surprisingly well-priced. Try a nice American caviar like a hackelback, salmon, paddlefish, American sturgeon, or Black Bowfin, for instance. A lot of chain grocery stores sell a small tin (usually red or black lumpfish or salmon "caviar") for only a few bucks.

And, if you want to semi-splurge on a nice bottle of Champagne, you can even find a 375 ml bottle of Perrier-Jouët "Grand Brut" Champagne for about $12-15 or so. (Compare that to $50 for a 750 ml bottle.) If you consider that you are dividing that up amongst four people for a small flute each with a bit left over to be used as an ingredient for their dinner, that actually works out quite well.

Also, if you have a local seafood market, or access to a good Asian market, you can usually find good quality scallops for a decent price. Plus, it'll feel good knowing that you can all still enjoy yourselves thoroughly without having to cry into your pocketbook the day after. :) A New Year's Day hangover can be bad enough, so let's not add insult to injury, shall we?! ;)

So, make your guests (& yourself!) feel special with this extra-special dish. A little flair (yes, all 15 pieces - lol) and a little care goes a long way. Time to start the New Year off with a "pop." Of a Champagne cork, that is. :)


Pan-Seared Scallops in a Caviar-Champagne Sauce

Sauce Ingredients (Beurre Blanc):
1 Tbsp. (1/8 stick) unsalted, chilled butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 Tbsp. unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/4 c. Champagne or other dry, good-quality, sparkling white wine
1/8 c. low-sodium chicken broth
1/16  tsp. (a pinch) Dijon mustard (liquid, not powdered form)
1/2 tsp. fresh tarragon, finely minced
3/4 tsp. fresh Tuscan Blue rosemary leaves, finely minced* 
1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 Tbsp. fresh, Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely minced
1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. lite, nondairy creamer
1/2 tsp. reduced-fat/lite sour cream
1/16 tsp. (a pinch) salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Sauté Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 large, fresh bay leaf
2 Tbsp. shallots, peeled & minced (about 1 small shallot)
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & minced (about 2 large cloves)
1/2 c. fennel (bulb only), finely diced into 3/8" squares
1/2 c. (about 2 oz.) shiitake or cremini mushrooms, well-washed & sliced (about 3 large mushrooms)**
1/8 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 c. (or more) Champagne or other dry, good-quality, sparkling white wine
1/2 lb. large, fresh sea scallops (preferably diver-caught), cleaned/debris removed (about 8-10 large scallops)
1 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)
1 Tbsp. caviar
1 Tbsp. fresh chives, minced

Directions: Make the beurre blanc: Melt butter in a large (12-13") & very deep nonstick sauté pan over low heat and then stir in flour to form a roux. Next, turn up heat to medium, & immediately deglaze with Champagne & chicken broth, stirring occasionally. Then add Dijon mustard, & fresh herbs -- minus the parsley -- and reduce volume by half, turning the heat to low when it begins to bubble. Cook until thickened. Remove from heat & set aside. Let cool for a minute or two, then stir in parsley, lemon juice, creamer & sour cream. Season with salt & pepper, stir well to combine, & then transfer sauce to a medium-sized bowl, scooping out the remaining sauce with a heat-proof spatula. Thoroughly wash out pan & set aside.

Sauté the vegetables: In the same sauté pan, heat olive oil on low heat & then add bay leaf, shallots, garlic, & fennel. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add fennel & cook for 3 minutes, or until tender. Next, add mushrooms & quickly season with salt & pepper to reduce moisture. (Season from a distance above to ensure even distribution). Cook mushrooms until slightly golden brown around the edges, about 3-5 minutes. Turn up heat to medium & immediately deglaze with 1/2 c. Champagne, reducing the liquid's volume by half. Push vegetables to the outer edges of the pan to make room for the scallops & avoid crowding the pan.

Sear the scallops: Pat scallops dry with a paper towel & gently place into pan, turn up heat to medium, & cook until lightly seared (i.e., golden brown), about 3-4 minutes per side. Use a large, flat, slotted spatula to flip them over. If the level of the liquid starts to get too low, add more Champagne as necessary to avoid burning ingredients. (Champagne will sizzle when added to the pan, & will actually help brown the shallots, provided that you don't add too much at any one time.) Remove from heat & discard bay leaf.

Assemble the dishUsing the same slotted spatula, transfer 4-5 scallops to each plate, placing each serving of fennel & mushrooms around outer edges of the scallops. Be sure to scrape out the fond from the bottom & sides of the pan, using a heat-proof spatula. If beurre blanc has become too cold after you're done sautéing the scallops, reheat the sauce in the microwave for 1 minute to warm slightly. Pour 2-3 Tbsp. beurre blanc over each portion, & let cool for 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle each plate with 1/2 Tbsp. Parmigiano-Reggiano, if desired. Next, top each portion with a 1/2 tablespoonful of caviar, placing a small bit on top of each scallop. (You can also gently mix in the caviar to the cooled sauce if you prefer.) Garnish with a 1/2 Tbsp. chives per person & serve immediately, atop a bed of asparagus or spinach. Serve with a side of rice or couscous & a glass of Champagne. :-D

Bon Appétit!

Yield: 2 servings, with serving size of 4 scallops per person and 2-3 tablespoons of sauce.

Chef's Notes: In this dish, you will get the chance to master the classic technique of making beurre blanc, if you haven't already done so. It's actually a fairly easy procedure to do. In French, beurre blanc literally translates into the description, "white butter."

Tuscan Blue Rosemary
Please note that this version of the French-inspired sauce is a bit different than the standard "lemon-butter-crème fraîche" variety, as it's comprised of not only lemon & butter, but also Champagne, caviar, various fresh herbs, a dab of Dijon mustard, lite sour cream (a replacement for the crème fraîche), & a bit of lite, nondairy creamer (instead of cream!). All of these ingredients add body & balance to the dish.

Please be aware that caviar should only be added to the sauce after it's been removed from the heat. Otherwise, the outer sacs of the roe will harden & it won't taste too good. Heat ruins the texture of caviar & alters its flavor. Also, if you're using paddlefish caviar, do not combine it directly with lemon juice as this can ruin the taste.

*This recipe calls for Tuscan Blue rosemary, which has larger, wider leaves & a much milder flavor than the more commonly sold Rosmarinus officinalis (common rosemary). Its delicate essence goes perfectly with the fresh, crisp flavors of fennel and tarragon. The Champagne provides a beautiful, delicate finish to the scallops in this dish. The sauce in this recipe can of course be used to top other seafood dishes; it goes particularly well with shrimp, crab, or salmon.

**I like to use the entire mushroom, first cutting off the tips of the stems & then slicing the mushrooms into small strips. I then cut off the stems, & if they're very large, I'll slice them in half & toss them in along with the mushroom caps.

Alternate Serving Suggestion: If you prefer, reserve the fronds from the fennel & use them for garnish instead of the chives.

2 A New Year's Toast!

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It's now 10:07 pm here (EST) & there's less than 2 hours left to go until the ball drops in Times Square. Erik & I are in for the night, having a quiet but fun New Year's Eve. We like to stay off the roads on this night whenever possible for obvious reasons. ;)

So it's a night of takeout, movies, & gaming. And then bubbly, ball drop, & then bedtime. Hopefully we'll make it until midnight. :)

Thank you, family & friends, for helping to make 2010 a fantastic year. :) Wishing all of you a Happy, Healthy New Year! Here's to a fabulous 2011!

So cheers, cin cin, prost, sláinte, salud, à ta santé, चियर्स (ciyarsa), 干杯 (gānbēi), на здоровье (na zdorovye), 乾杯 (kanpai), 건배 (geonbae), Στην Υγεια σου (stin igia mas), فى صحتك: (fisehatak), לחיים (l'chaim), skål, iechyd da, å'kålè ma'luna, & all of that good stuff. :-D

-C

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

0 Recipe #224: Baja-Style, Tequila-Lime Shrimp Tacos with Avocados & Cilantro-Sour Cream Sauce

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We recently returned from a warm(er) destination, so that's probably what inspired this recipe idea. :) It was unseasonably cold while we were visiting -- so it wasn't actually warmer by much -- but we still had a good time all the same. So, who knows, maybe while I was there freezing my #$%@&! off in my sleep, I was dreaming of shrimp tacos jumping over a fence instead of sheep. ;) (Hey, I just realized that rhymes. Cool. :) )

If you're looking for a light & healthy meal that's also muy delicioso, try shrimp tacos, a classic staple of southern Californian cuisine. Just ask any West-Coaster to rattle off the names of comfort foods that remind them of home & summertime, & the odds are pretty good that shrimp tacos will be found on that list.

If you're lucky enough to be hanging out in warm weather this time of year, just fire up the grill, pull up your beach chair, & get ready for some tasty tacos. :) You can eat this while you're basking in the sun or perhaps watching the sun go down, with a nice cold one in your hand. Ahhhhhh.

Or, if an ice cold beer isn't your thing, this dish also goes well with a light, crisp white wine, pomegranate mojito, caipirinha, or pitcher of sangria. Or, if you're teetotaling it, might I suggest a niña colada or kiwi-ade, or perhaps another light & refreshing, non-alcoholic, fruit-based beverage from this blog. :)

Of course, this recipe can be enjoyed any time of year. It doesn't have to be hot outside. In fact, we had it for dinner tonight & it was a mere 28 degrees outside. Anything that makes you think about summer when it's cold outside has got to be a good thing, right?! ;)


Baja-Style, Tequila-Lime Shrimp Tacos with Avocados & Cilantro-Sour Cream Sauce

Shrimp Marinade Ingredients:
1/2 lb. medium raw shrimp (about 16-18 shrimp), peeled, deveined, washed, & cut into thirds
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (the juice of about 1/2 lime)
1/4 c. gold tequila
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, finely minced & densely packed
1/2 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & finely minced (about 1 large clove)
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. Mexican chili powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional)

Sour Cream Sauce:
1/2 c. light sour cream (or nonfat, plain Greek yoghurt)
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 tsp. lime zest
1/8 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/2 Tbsp. scallions, sliced crosswise into 1/4" thick rounds

Pico de Gallo: (Or, if you prefer, you can just halve this recipe.)
1 c. grape tomatoes, quartered (about 1/2 pint of grape tomatoes, or roughly 18 grape tomatoes)
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice (the juice of about 1/2 small lime)
2 Tbsp. red onion, peeled & diced
1/2 Tbsp. jalapeño, stemmed & diced (& also seeded, if you prefer less heat)
1 tsp. fresh garlic, peeled & finely minced (about 1 small clove)
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro leaves, finely minced & densely packed
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. pico de gallo seasoning (substitute with Mexican chili powder if unavailable)

Additional Toppings:
1 c. green cabbage, shredded (about 1/4 small cabbage head)
1/2 c. queso fresco, or feta cheese, diced into 1/2" cubes
1 ripe Haas avocado, peeled, pitted, diced, and generously covered with freshly squeezed lime juice to taste (to preserve color & prevent oxidation) (or substitute guacamole if preferred)
a few dashes of hot sauce (i.e., Tabasco pepper sauce, etc.), to taste (optional)
1 lime, quartered, for serving

Taco Shells:
8 soft, lowfat corn tortillas, 5-6" in diameter

Directions: Marinate the shrimp: Toss all of the ingredients for the shrimp marinade (including the shrimp!) into a large Ziploc/plastic bag, seal, & shake bag (or massage ingredients from outside of the bag) to evenly coat shrimp & thoroughly combine. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Prepare the condiments: Add all of the ingredients for the sour cream sauce -- except for the scallions -- into a blender & pulse until smooth. Transfer mixture to a medium-sized bowl. Whisk in scallions, cover, & refrigerate until ready for use. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together ingredients for pico de gallo sauce, cover, & place in the refrigerate to marinate until ready for use. Place all of the additional toppings into the appropriately sized bowls, cover, & refrigerate until ready for use.

Cook the shrimp: Preheat your grill, grill pan, or sauté pan over medium heat. Then pour the contents of the Ziploc/plastic bag onto a large (12-13") sauté pan. Stir frequently, cooking just until shrimp turn pink, lose their translucence, and begin to curl up, about 1-3+ minutes per side (depending upon cooking method & how fast your pans/ranges conduct heat). Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl, cover to keep warm, & set aside.

Make the tacos: Preheat your grill or a dry sauté/grill pan over high heat for a few minutes. Grill tortillas until lightly charred on both sides, only a few seconds per side. Or, if you're making them in a pan, heat the tortillas, one at a time, until light golden brown, about 15-20 seconds per side. Alternatively, you can also wrap them in a damp paper towel & heat them in a microwave, although they won't have the same beautiful charred/golden brown appearance created by the aforementioned cooking methods.

As soon as the tortillas are done cooking, immediately transfer them to plates, one at a time, folding over each tortilla "circle" (in half) to make the customary/standard taco shell shape, & then covering/wrapping them in paper/kitchen towels to keep warm. This folding process must be done while the tortillas are still warm & pliable; otherwise, it'll be like trying to fold over a wooden plank. ;)

Assemble tacos: Either pre-assemble the tacos for everyone yourself before calling them to the table, or better yet, delegate -- let people have some fun & make their own. :) Place shrimp, a dollop of pico de gallo, & other desired fillings (shredded cabbage, avocado, cheese, etc.) into each taco, & drizzle with cilantro-sour cream sauce. Place onto plates with lime wedges on the side. Serve & enjoy!

Yield: 8 servings, or 2 tacos per person for 4 people.

Chef's Notes: I strongly recommend making the pico de gallo & sour cream sauce several hours -- or if possible, a day or two -- in advance. You can also marinate the shrimp overnight or several hours in advance to make the kitchen prep even easier/quicker. That way, you'll have most of the kitchen prep already out of the way. Then, all you have to do is chop up a few of the toppings, cook the shrimp, & make the taco shells.

For the taco assembly, I made a mini taco bar, with each condiment & topping in its own separate bowl. I left the shrimp in the pan (but of course you can transfer them to a bowl if you prefer), & placed the taco shells on a plate covered with a kitchen towel. I placed all of the bowls on a table & lined them up in a straight line, assembly-line style.

This way, people can put as much or as little of whatever they'd like in their tacos. Plus, it can be a lot of fun to assemble your own tacos. The kids will love the opportunity to get involved & demonstrate some of their burgeoning independence. :) Gives Mom a break too. Obviously self-assembly is not recommended for the little ones, unless you like vacuuming. ;)

If you have household pets, it's best not to let them assume the role of vacuum cleaner when scraps from this dish do, in fact, fall onto the floor. First, this recipe contains lots of ingredients that are part of the onion family - garlic, onions, & scallions -- all of which are toxic for dogs & cats. Second, while jalapeños aren't necessarily toxic for dogs & cats, they aren't really that great for them either. So, please don't feed them jalapeños or other spicy foods to see how they'll agree with their digestive system(s). Then, you will be most certainly be vacuuming up after your "vacuum cleaner." ;) But all kidding aside, there are serious potential health consequences for your pets. So, please take care that these ingredients end up on the floor unattended. Not surprisingly, a lot of foods that tend to disagree with humans also tend to disagree with dogs & cats as well.

(I won't elaborate on this subject any further, since the subject of pet toxins, while certainly important, is a bit off-topic for a recipe blog, not to mention the descriptions of their effects are rather unpleasant; so if you want more information on this topic, just click on the previous links for more details.)

Variations: Grilling is really the best/preferred method of making this dish. So, if you've got a grill, I'd strongly recommend using it to make the shrimp & brown the tortillas. The grill adds that extra bit of flavor that just can't be reproduced in a sauté pan. A grill pan will come close to approximating this flavor, but a grill itself is really the ideal way to go for this recipe. Nothing like the flavor of fire. :) So hand over some of that primordial charred goodness!

Also, another way to serve this dish is to prepare it as an appetizer, i.e., in a "chips & dip" type format. If you're making this for a party, you could also offer black beans as an alternative protein source for vegetarians or people who don't eat seafood. Also, diced mango could also be served as a condiment as well.

I like using cabbage in this recipe because it adds an extra crunch to the tacos. Of course, you can try different varieties of cabbage (red, Napa, etc.) or just substitute lettuce for the cabbage, if you prefer.

Monday, December 20, 2010

2 Recipe #223: Mashed Red-Skinned Potatoes with Roasted Garlic & Fresh Herbs

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Other than the recipe itself, I don't have much else to add to the below information except to say that it's yummy & would go nicely with a thick & juicy steak! :-D


Mashed Red-Skinned Potatoes with Roasted Garlic & Fresh Herbs

Ingredients:
3 large, fresh garlic cloves, unpeeled
6-8 c. (or more) salted water (for boiling potatoes)
2 medium-sized unpeeled, red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed & washed (makes about 1 1/2 - 2 c. mashed)
1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. water
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, finely minced
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely minced
1/2 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, finely minced
1/2 Tbsp. fresh marjoram leaves, finely minced
1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
1/4 tsp. poppy seeds
1/8 - 1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper, or to taste
1/4 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste
2 Tbsp. lite nondairy creamer
1 Tbsp. fresh chives, chopped crosswise into 1/4" thick tubes (garnish)

Directions: Preheat convection toaster oven, setting it to the "broil setting." Roast unpeeled garlic on an aluminium foil-covered toaster tray (for easy cleanup!) for about 15-20 minutes, or until browned & very soft inside.

While garlic is roasting, bring a pot of salted water to rolling boil & boil potatoes for about 20 minutes, or until tender. When potatoes are done, you should be able to easily pierce them with a knife. Drain, quarter unpeeled potatoes into small wedges, place into a bowl, & set aside.

In the same pot, sauté all herbs & spices -- except for chives, salt, & pepper -- in olive oil for about 10 seconds on medium-low heat, stirring continually. (The goal is to cook the spices only long enough for them to release their essence & lose their bitterness. Don't overcook as herbs should still retain their vibrant green color.) Then turn down heat to low, add 1/4 c. water & continue to cook for about 3-5 more minutes, or until liquid has almost fully evaporated, stirring often. Remove from heat & return potatoes to pot. Using a potato masher, mash each potato wedge once until squashed flat. After mashing, there should still be small unbroken chunks of potato; this is the desired texture you want to produce. IMPORTANT: Do not overmash potatoes as this turns the potato starch into a glue-like pile of mush, which won't taste too good. ;)

When ready, remove garlic from oven & let cool for a few minutes. Then, peel & add to the mashed potato mixture. Mash garlic into potatoes with potato masher, only mashing each clove just enough so that it's completely flattened. Then add butter & mash once more, very gently. Season with salt & pepper, add creamer & chives, & mix together until just combined. Adjust seasonings & serve immediately.

Yield: 3-4 servings.

Chef's Notes: So why use a convection toaster oven instead of a regular, full-sized oven? Answer: Since the only thing that has to be roasted is a few (i.e., 3!) cloves of garlic, it'd seem a bit silly & wasteful to preheat such a large oven to cook such a small amount of food. :) By using a toaster oven instead of a regular, full-sized oven in this particular instance, not only is it more energy-efficient, but the roasting process itself will go a lot faster this way as well. :)

0 Recipe #222: Stelline with Rosemary & Red Chilies

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Here's yet another stelline recipe, which can be served as either a main course or a side dish. This one might seem very similar to the last stelline recipe I posted, but it's actually quite different. Although this dish does contain some of the same classic Italian flavors, it's actually got a much milder flavor. This is mostly due to the fact that, unlike the previous recipe, there's no garlic, lemon juice, or sun-dried tomatoes; there are also far fewer spices. However, the spices that are used -- particularly the rosemary -- take center stage, and are further enhance by the salty flavors of the olive brine & Parmigiano-Reggiano.

As mentioned previously, I'm trying to use up the rest of the fresh herbs & other produce before our trip. ;) There was exactly a half cup of stelline left, so that worked out perfectly too. The fridge is almost cleared out, & it feels good to know that nothing will go to waste. There's about enough food for about 2 more dinners, & enough leftover stelline vegetable soup from a few nights ago for about 2-3 more lunches. Think I'll be taking a break from eating/cooking stelline (& pasta in general) for a while. :)

Although our villa does have a live-in kitchen, I have to say that I'm also looking forward to letting someone else do the cooking for the better part of our vacation!


Stelline with Rosemary & Red Chilies

Ingredients:
4 c. lightly salted water, seasoned with a drop of extra virgin olive oil (for boiling pasta)
1/2 c. stelline (mini star-shaped pasta)
1/4 c. olive brine (from container of fresh cured olives, like Kalamata, etc.; don't used canned olive brine!)
1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 large, fresh bay leaf
1/4 c. fresh parsley, finely minced & tightly packed
2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, finely minced & tightly packed
1/2 tsp. fresh Thai (Bird's Eye) red chili peppers, stemmed, seeded, de-ribbed, & diced (about 1 small pepper)
1/16 tsp. (a dash) ground black pepper, or to taste
2 Tbsp. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded (or shredded vegan cheese substitute)

Directions: Bring a pot of lightly salted water, seasoned with a drop of olive oil, to a rolling boil, about 8 minutes. Add pasta & cook until al dente, according to package instructions. (Barilla's stelline takes 7 minutes to cook.) When ready, drain into a colander, fluff with a fork, & set aside.

After the pasta's been cooking for about 4 minutes, sauté the bay leaf, parsley, rosemary, & chilies in olive brine & olive oil on low heat in a large (12-13") sauté pan for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then pour in the drained pasta, stirring frequently. When liquid has almost completely evaporated, remove from heat. Season with black pepper, & gently fluff. Discard bay leaf. Cover pasta, mix in shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (to melt it), & let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving. (Top with pine/pignoli nuts, if desired.) Serve hot or warm.

Yield: 3-4 servings as a side dish, 1-2 servings as a main course.

Chef's Notes: This dish doesn't require the addition of salt. The olive brine provides enough salty flavor as well as the necessary moisture to cook the herbs & pasta.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

4 Recipe #221: Sensational Sugar Snap Salad

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The Kalamata olives add necessary balance in terms of both flavor & color. I forgot to add them in when I snapped the picture, but they really look & taste great with the other ingredients.

Here's a crisp and refreshing salad you can make in mere minutes. Like so many of the recipes on this blog, it's really easy to make. And of course, it's very healthy for you too!


Sensational Sugar Snap Salad

Ingredients:
1 c. fresh, raw sugar snap pea pods, ends snapped & cut into thirds*
1 c. unpeeled cucumber, scored lengthwise with fork tines all the way around & then diced
1/2 c. baby carrots, sliced crosswise into 3/8" thick rounds
2 Tbsp. Kalamata olives, pitted (about 8 olives)
4 Tbsp. scallions, sliced crosswise into 1/4" rounds
2 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped & densely packed
1 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped (or torn) & densely packed
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, densely packed
1 Tbsp. Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely minced & densely packed
1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp. fresh garlic, peeled & finely minced (about 2 large cloves)
1/8 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Directions: Place sugar snap peas, cucumbers, carrots, olives, scallions, & all herbs (mint, basil, thyme, & oregano)  into a large bowl & set aside. Pour olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, mustard, salt, & pepper into a cruet, cover tightly with lid, & shake vigorously until well combined. Pour dressing over salad & toss until dressing has thoroughly coated all of the ingredients. Taste & adjust seasonings accordingly. Marinate salad in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Yield: 2-4 servings.

Chef's Notes: Make sure that you choose sugar snap peas with tender pods. Some kinds are rather tough & fibrous on the outside & aren't ideal for eating. ;)

Variations: For more color & added interest, try adding a 1/2 c. quartered mushrooms &/or 1/4 c. red bell pepper. Slices of baby bok choy & some minced shallots would also work as well. Or, if you'd like to add some heat, toss in some seeded, diced Thai red chili peppers.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

0 Recipe #220: Trottole con Salsa di Sette Erbe (Trottole Pasta with Seven-Herb Sauce)

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This is an original pasta sauce recipe I created off the top of my head for tonight's dinner. It's kind of a cross between a pesto sauce & a tomato sauce. It's savory & salty, & its bold & zesty flavor is slightly reminiscent of puttanesca sauce. It also got an enthusiastic two thumbs up from Erik, which is always a good sign. :)

There are still a lot of fresh herbs left over in the fridge & since we're going on vacation soon, it's no surprise that they've all made an appearance in this recipe, hence the reference to the seven herbs. ;) I don't like to leave produce in the refrigerator while we're away, so I'm planning on using the remainder of the perishables before we leave. There isn't much, so it shouldn't be hard to eke out a few more recipes from what's already in the fridge.... That being the case, don't be surprised if a few more fresh herb & veggie-based recipes suddenly pop up on this blog over the next few days. :)


Trottole con La Salsa di Sette Erbe (Trottole Pasta with Seven-Herb Sauce)

Ingredients:
6 c. lightly salted water, seasoned with a drop of extra virgin olive oil (for boiling pasta)
1 c. trottole (a spiral-shaped pasta)
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & roughly chopped (about 2 large cloves)
1/4 c. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded
2 Tbsp. unsalted, slivered, raw almonds [or pignoli (pine) nuts]
1 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, destemmed and loosely packed
1 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, destemmed and loosely packed
1/2 c. fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped & densely packed
1/2 c. fresh cilantro, roughly chopped & densely packed
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, densely packed
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, densely packed
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, loosely packed
1/8 tsp. fresh Thai ("Bird's Eye") red chili peppers, stemmed, seeded, & de-ribbed (optional)
1 1/2 c. vine-ripened tomatoes, diced (about 2 large tomatoes)
1/4 c. Kalamata olives, pitted
1/2 c. olive brine (from the Kalamata olives container)
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
1 large, fresh bay leaf
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions: In a medium-sized sauce pot, bring lightly salted, seasoned water to a rolling boil, about 8 minutes. While you're waiting for the water to come to a boil, prepare the sauce: Place olive oil, garlic, cheese, & almonds (or pine nuts) in a food processor, and pulse until the mixture is finely ground. Next, add basil, mint, parsley, cilantro, oregano, thyme, rosemary, chilies, tomatoes, olives, & olive brine incorporating a small batch at a time (via the top feed tube) while pulsing the mixture until it becomes thick and smooth. Set aside.

When water is boiling, add pasta & cook until al dente, according to package instructions. (Safeway-brand trottole cooks in about 8-9 minutes.) Drain into a colander, rinse with cold water, & set aside.

Transfer the contents of the food processor to the same sauce pot you used to cook the pasta. Stir in bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, & simmer for about 15 minutes. (About half-way through, you can check on the sauce & stir it a bit to make sure it's not sticking to the bottom of the pan. If your stove top range tends to cook quickly, then you might want to turn down the heat even further.) Remove from heat. Season with black pepper, taste, & then adjust seasonings accordingly. Stir in lemon juice. Discard bay leaf. Garnish with additional shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano, if desired. Serve immediately.

Yield: About 2 cups, or roughly 4-6 servings.

Chef's Notes: This sauce will keep in the refrigerator for about 2-3 days, or a week, if you really want to press your luck. ;) IMPORTANT: If you plan to freeze this sauce, it's best to leave out the cheese and add it after you thaw out the pesto. Cheese doesn't freeze very well.

Where to find trottole: Safeway sells trottole, if you've got that grocery chain in your area. Or, if you're having trouble finding it in your area, you can also buy it online through Amazon.com.

Alternate serving suggestions: The sauce in this recipe could also be used as a topping for chicken, fish, or a vegetable dish like steamed zucchini or eggplant, etc. It's probably best matched with Mediterranean-style dishes.

Variations: This sauce would taste wonderful with the addition of fresh mushrooms. Alternatively, you could add different kinds of olives -- cracked green olives, Greek olives, etc. -- instead of the Kalamata olives.

0 A Fool's Errand & An Extended Deadline: Or, Where Did My Super-Chef Cape Go?! ;)

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Roughly 19 days ago, I made a decision that my cookbook-writing was going to take precedence over all else in my life, and that I was going to sacrifice almost all other activities -- sleep, a "normal"/regular bedtime, preparations for our upcoming vacation, social media interactions, household maintenance, heck, even exercise (!), etc. -- towards meeting that goal. That meant nonstop cooking & recipe-writing, and little time for anything else. I was going to try to get to 250 recipes by the end of the year if it was the last thing I did, even though that'd mean creating & cooking 2.5 recipes a day in order to reach that goal.

Yes, I know. That was a completely insane goal & set of expectations, and 19 days ago, when I first set my sights on reaching that goal, I honestly knew it deep inside. Even though I'd even stated as much on Twitter -- "Could I reach this crazy, impossible goal?" I wondered aloud  -- I thought that it would be fun to see how close I could get to that goal before the self-imposed deadline, i.e., 12/31/10. I did this full well knowing that I was going away on vacation for a week, and thus losing a whole week of time I'd normally have had had we not gone on vacation. Did I need to get my head checked? Maybe it was the sleep-deprivation talking. ;)

Of course, it was an exceptionally poor decision, but back then, for some strange reason, I thought that announcing it publicly on Twitter would force me to be publicly accountable, both to the goal itself & of course to those eagerly awaiting the publication of the cookbook. After all, I didn't want to lose face. :-D

In hindsight, this was sheer folly. No, scratch that, it was a fool's errand. :) I'll admit it: Unless I can create and cook 31 recipes in the next 4 days -- Ha, yeah, right ;) -- I will have I failed to meet this goal. However, it wasn't for lack of trying. I really busted my tail trying to meet that goal, sometimes creating, cooking, and posting as many as 2+ recipes per day. Of course, I kinda knew from the outset that I would fail -- I didn't have a snowball's chance in hell -- but, even so, it didn't stop me from trying.

Darn it, I knew that I should've re-evaluated my progress and the likelihood of achieving this goal. The moment I realized that I'd never achieve this goal in the first place, I should've just pushed the deadline forward to a more realistically achievable date. That's what I usually do. Don't ask me why I all of a sudden got so stubborn, instead of being my usual flexible self. Maybe it was just a compelling, burning desire to finish the cookbook. Yeah, that was probably it. ;)

Oh well, I didn't meet the goal, which in truth, wasn't really a surprise. ;) OK, so big freakin' deal. It's not like someone's breathing down my neck to get it done, except for my own inner fire pushing me forward to cookbook completion. However, it's time to forget the setbacks, move forward again, and modify my existing goals. There's literally no time to cry over spilt milk, not that I'd even shed a tear over something like this. :)

So, I'm now doing what I should've done a few months ago: I'm extending the deadline by another 2 months, i.e., to the end of February, 2/28/11. At least now I have a fighting chance of making the goal. I know with absolutely certainty -- that is, unless my computer explodes or I'm suddenly being hunted down by an angry, disappointed mob holding pitchforks ;) -- that I can realistically create 31 more recipes over a span of roughly 2 1/2 months, or the next 72 days, allowing for our upcoming week of vacation and a few days off in between recipe-writing to avoid complete & utter burn-out. :)


Not many people probably realize this, but I've been slowly working on the cookbook in a slow trickle, that is, whenever I've had a spare moment to write and test recipes, since July 2007. It wasn't until relatively recently that I've exclusively devoted my time to finishing the project. As compared to previous years, the recipe-writing process has really picked up at an incredible pace. Yes, it's been full steam ahead.

The archival data on this blog really tells the whole story. Just look at number of posts -- and a good number of them are, in fact, recipes -- in the blog archive by year:

► 2010 (221)
► 2009 (38)
► 2008 (42)
► 2007 (64)

Wow, pretty unreal, eh?! In light of these numbers and in spite of the recent, botched attempt to meet my short-term quota, I still feel really good about my accomplishments over the past year. There's still so much work yet to be done, but at least now I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I'm now planning for a mid-year release (for 2011), which I think is much more realistic, given that I still have to add chapters on general nutrition, sports nutrition, and information about how to plug in the cookbook's recipes into one's daily life & training for optimal athletic performance and enhancement of one's health and overall quality of life. Plus, I still have to polish the manuscript and do some preliminary rewrites & edits before submitting it for publication.

As I mentioned before, there'll be lots of new content -- new recipes not found in the blog, plus lots of useful nutritional and training information and advice. I'm hoping that the extra time will give me a chance to make this cookbook even better, with even more value packed into its pages. I hope that you will be patient as the "cookbook construction" process continues. As they say, good things come to those who wait.

It's time to put the hard hat back on and keep drilling away until I reach the finish line. On your mark, get set, GO! :-D

Friday, December 17, 2010

0 Recipe #219: Avocado-Olive Dip with Fresh Basil & Sun-dried Tomatoes

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If you're looking for a quick and easy-to-make hors d'œuvre platter to bring to a holiday gathering, here's the perfect party dip to serve alongside cut-up, raw veggies (i.e., crudités). It's something a little bit out-of-the-ordinary, instead of just serving the usual ranch or blue cheese dressing-based dip. Plus, with a lot of crowd-pleasing ingredients, it's bound to be a surefire hit with the guests!


Avocado-Olive Dip with Fresh Basil & Sun-dried Tomatoes

Ingredients:
1/2 c. avocado, peeled, pitted, and smashed with a fork (about 1 small Haas avocado)
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 Tbsp. fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely minced
1 Tbsp. fresh basil, roughly torn & tightly packed
1 Tbsp. scallions (including greens) (about 1 small scallion)
2 Tbsp. Kalamata olives, pitted & diced
2 Tbsp. sun-dried tomatoes (i.e., the kind that's not packed in oil), diced into 1/4" squares
salt, to taste*
ground black pepper, to taste

Directions: Using a fork, thoroughly mash together avocado with lemon juice & Parmesan in a medium-sized bowl. Next add parsley, basil, & scallions & continue to mash until well-combined. Next, add olives & sun-dried tomatoes, season with salt & pepper (to taste), & once more mash everything together. Chill until ready to serve. Dip can be chilled overnight or for several hours if you'd like to make it in advance. Transfer to a small serving dish (i.e., ramekin, glass custard dish) and place into the center recess of a crudité party platter with dividers. Serve & enjoy!

Yield: About 1 c., or 1 ramekin-sized portion.

Chef's Notes: Be sure to add the lemon juice to the avocado mixture right after you scoop out the avocado, which will prevent oxidation, & hence discoloration of the avocado.

*There are already lots of salty ingredients in this dip -- the Parmesan, the olives, etc. -- so use the salt sparingly, or if preferred, simply omit it. I used just a pinch, or 1/16 tsp. to be precise, and found that to be the perfect amount.

Variations: To shake things up, you could also try substituting cracked green olives for the Kalamata olives or try using a mixture of different varieties. To make this recipe vegan, simply leave out the Parmesan cheese, or use some variety of vegan imitation cheese (i.e., "soy cheese" & the like), preferably something with some zing & some saltiness that approximates the taste of Parmesan.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

0 Recipe #218: Zesty Za'atar Chicken - Zippity, Zangity, Zing!

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As promised, here's the recipe for tonight's dinner. Yeah, I know. Another za'atar recipe. :) You can put this stuff on almost anything & it'll taste good, as evidenced by the number of za'atar-based recipes on this blog. :) Can you tell I absolutely adore the stuff?! ;)

Seriously, chicken and za'atar are one of the most heavenly, lip-smackingly delicious combinations ever. The za'atar gives it just the right amount of "zip & zing." Just try it & you'll see what I mean. :)

This recipe is so quick & easy to make that you can make it under 15 minutes flat. Practically effortless. Easy and delicious. Sounds like a winning combination to me!


Zesty Za'atar Chicken

Ingredients:
1/2 lb. (8 oz.) skinless, boneless chicken breasts, rinsed, defatted, tendons removed, & patted dry
2 Tbsp. plain bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. za'atar spice mix (see recipe)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & finely minced (about 2 large cloves)
1 fresh, large bay leaf (or dried, if unavailable)
1/4 c. dry white wine
salt, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, roughly torn (for garnish)

Directions: Place rinsed, defatted chicken breasts onto a clean, non-porous surface. Cover with plastic wrap & tenderize, pounding with the bumpy, textured end of a meat mallet until 1/8" thick. Cut chicken into 2" wide strips & set aside. Thoroughly combine breadcrumbs & za'atar in a medium-sized bowl. Dip each piece of chicken into the bowl, thoroughly coating both sides. Shake off excess & lay onto a plate. Repeat this process until all chicken pieces have been breaded. Set aside.

Next, sauté garlic & bay leaf in olive oil in a large (12-13") sauté pan on low heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally. Deglaze with white wine, reducing liquid for just a few seconds before adding chicken. Transfer breaded chicken pieces from the plate into the pan, spacing pieces far enough apart so as not to crowd the pan. Season with salt & pepper, to taste. Cook chicken for a few minutes per side, until breaded exterior turns golden brown on both sides. Watch the pan carefully as tenderized chicken doesn't take very long to cook through & brown, 2-3 minutes at most. When ready, remove from heat & discard bay leaf. Divide into equal portions. Transfer to plates, & garnish with mint leaves. Serve immediately.

Yield: 2 servings.

0 Recipe #217: Savory Stelline with Fresh Herbs & Sun-dried Tomatoes

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Stelline are miniature, star-shaped pasta that can incorporated into dishes in many different ways. They can be used much in the same way as couscous or orzo, i.e., as one of the ingredients in a rice pilaf or other side dish. Alternatively they can be added to soups (as in this recently-added recipe), or eaten as a main dish, perhaps with some Parmigiano-Reggiano & other complementary ingredients.

I made this recipe as an accompaniment to tonight's dinner, a Mediterranean-style chicken dish, which I'll be posting next. :)


Savory Stelline with Fresh Herbs & Sun-dried Tomatoes

Ingredients:
4 c. water (for boiling pasta)
1/2 c. dry, uncooked stelline (mini star-shaped pasta)
2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & finely minced (about 2 large cloves)
1 large, fresh bay leaf
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely minced & tightly packed
2 tsp. fresh oregano leaves, finely minced & tightly packed
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, finely minced & tightly packed
1/2 c. dry white wine
1/8 - 1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste (3/16 tsp. is actually the perfect amount)*
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
3 Tbsp. scallions, sliced crosswise into 1/4" thick rounds (about 2 large scallions)
2 Tbsp. sun-dried tomatoes (i.e., the kind that's not packed in oil), diced
1 tsp. fresh mint leaves, finely minced & tightly packed

Directions: Bring a pot of lightly salted water, seasoned with a drop of olive oil, to a rolling boil, about 8 minutes. Add pasta & cook until al dente, according to package instructions. (Barilla's stelline takes 7 minutes to cook.) When ready, drain into a colander, fluff with a fork, & set aside.

After the pasta's been cooking for about 3 minutes, sauté the garlic, bay leaf, parsley, oregano, rosemary in olive oil on low heat in a large (12-13") sauté pan for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Deglaze with white wine, then pour in the drained pasta, stirring frequently. When liquid has almost completely evaporated, remove from heat. Season with salt & pepper, stir in scallions, sun-dried tomatoes, & fresh mint, & gently fluff. Discard bay leaf. Cover pasta & let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot or warm.

Yield: 3-4 servings as a side dish, 1-2 servings as a main course.

Chef's Notes: *If you don't have a 1/16 tsp. measure, just fill the 1/8 tsp. only half way. ;) Speaking of which, I got a fantastic set of measuring spoons & cups at Amazon.com several months back. The measuring spoons go from 1/32 tsp. (a "smidgen") up to 1 Tbsp., and the measuring cups go from 1/8 c. to 2 c. I highly recommend them. They're SO useful & now that I have them, I can't imagine cooking or baking without them! They're well-made but only cost a few bucks (around $6). Not bad for a 19-piece set, eh?! Since I cook so much, I must confess that I bought multiple sets for when the other ones are in the dishwasher. ;) It's such a small investment but it really does help. Good measuring spoons are an essential kitchen tool that every cook should have!

0 Recipe #216: Kick-ass Kiwi-ade

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Earlier this year, I came up with this drink idea on a hot summer's day when I was looking for something different to make other than the usual lemonade or limeade. It's light and frothy, tart and sweet, and very, very refreshing.


Kick-ass Kiwi-ade

Ingredients:
12 large fresh mint leaves
2 c. ripe kiwi, peeled, hulled, sliced crosswise into 1/2" thick rounds, & then quartered (about 4 kiwis)
2 c. seltzer water (club soda)
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste (optional)
1/4 c. + 2 tsp. honey, or to taste
ice cubes (or crushed ice)

Directions:  Add the mint leaves to a large glass pitcher. With the side of a spoon, mull the mint leaves by pressing them against the sides of the pitcher. Next, purée kiwis in a blender, pulsing until smooth. Add seltzer water, lemon juice (if using), & honey, in that order, to the blender & pulse until well combined. Transfer contents to pitcher & stir well with a long spoon or stirrer. Refrigerate & add ice just before serving. Serve & enjoy!

Variations: For an even more colorful presentation, you could also add kiwi slices (sliced crosswise into rounds), or for even more color, add both orange and kiwi slices. You could also make it alcoholic, spiking it with vodka for a vodka kiwi-ade or beer for a kiwi shandy. Or, try adding champagne or sparkling wine for a unique & unusual mimosa.

Yield: Makes about 40 fl. oz. (5 cups), or 4-6 servings.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

0 Recipe #215: Beet Greens & Tomato Salad

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This salad has both Italian and Greek influences. It contains beet greens, which, when cooked, taste very similar to spinach.

Beets and their greens are classified as superfoods. They are fat-free & low in calories but packed full of nutrients & antioxidants (like beta-carotene & other carotenoids). Beet greens are a good source of betaine, folate (a.k.a. folic acid or vitamin B9), iron, potassium, and vitamin C.

Beet greens have many wonderful health benefits. They aid in the reduction of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol (i.e., the "bad" kind of cholesterol), while at the same time elevating HDL levels (i.e., the "good" kind of cholesterol). They also lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, & stroke, protect against cognitive disorders (such as Alzheimer's), type-2 diabetes, & stomach cancer, and help cleanse the kidneys, spleen & gall bladder. Beet greens promote tissue growth & musculo-skeletal health, and also help protect the liver & arterial walls. Additionally, they have anti-inflammatory properties.

One notes of caution: Beet greens contain significant amounts of oxalates, which, in high concentrations, can crystallize in bodily fluids & potentially cause kidney & gallbladder problems. So, those with existing kidney & gallbladder problems (i.e., a propensity to form kidney stones, etc.) might want to avoid eating beet greens.

Beet greens (& beets) do have a high sugar content but a very low glycemic index (GI = 64). So, that means that the sugar conversion in the body occurs very slowly & therefore helps to stabilize blood sugar levels.

And lastly, if you're an athlete, you will love this last benefit. :) Beets & beet greens have been shown to naturally enhance athletic performance. In a study conducted by the University of Exeter, scientists found that cyclists who drank a half-liter of beetroot juice were able to ride up to 20% longer than those who drank a placebo beverage of black currant juice.

So next time you're gearing up for a workout, you might want to eat some beets &/or beet greens a few hours earlier! :-D


Beet Greens & Tomato Salad

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. shallots (1 large shallot)
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & finely minced (2 large cloves)
6 c. whole beet greens (stalks & leaves), chopped crosswise into 1 1/2" pieces
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano, roughly chopped
1 c. olive brine (to deglaze)
1/2 c. Kalamata olives, pitted & halved
3 1/2 c. fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped (about 6 medium-sized tomatoes)
1/4 c. sun-dried tomatoes, (i.e., the kind that's not packed in oil), julienned
1/2 c. (or more) fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 c. nonfat feta, crumbled
ground black pepper, to taste

Directions: In a large (12-13") sauté pan, sauté shallots & garlic in olive oil on low heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Then stir in beet greens & rosemary, & cook for 15 more minutes. Deglaze with olive brine, & then stir in oregano. Cook until liquid has been reduced to a thin layer on the bottom of the pan. Then remove from heat & drain remaining liquid. Transfer contents into a large heat-proof bowl & let cool. When beet greens mixture has cooled, add in chopped fresh (raw) tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, & feta. Season with black pepper & toss well. Serve warm or cold.

Yield: 4-6 servings as a main course & 8-10 servings as a side dish.

Chef's Notes: This salad could also be used as a topping for pasta as well.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

0 Recipe #214: Homemade Alphabet Soup For Grown-Ups :)

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Homemade alphabet soup with stelline, miniature star-shaped pasta.

Like many other kids, I grew up eating Campbell's alphabet soup. When we were small, our mother would feed us their "vegetarian vegetable" soup (with ABC's), usually on a cold winter's day. She'd call us in for lunch after we'd been playing in the snow -- we'd usually spend hours outside making snowmen & igloos. :) We'd come out of the cold, quickly peel off our jackets and snow boots, and then head into the kitchen for a nice hot bowl of alphabet soup.

I haven't had Campbell's alphabet soup in years, but obviously have fond memories of eating it as a child. It was something we really used to look forward to as kids, primarily because it would give us an excuse to play with our food and get away with it. ;) We'd spoon out the letters and arrange them on our plates, seeing how many words we could spell from our bowls. It was great fun!

So, from this inspiration came the idea to make a grown-up version of alphabet soup, but of course, it can enjoyed by adults and kids alike.

The nice thing about this version is that it has far less sodium and other additives than Campbell's version. That means you won't have to keep running into the kitchen for a glass of water every few minutes. ;) Plus, there's a great variety of vegetables in it. So you can enjoy this soup knowing that every tasty mouthful is good for you too. :)

As for pasta choices, you can either go with the traditional ABC's or try using mini pasta shapes like stelline, orechiette, anelletti, rotelli, ditalini, tripolini, tubetti, gnocchetti sardi, rahettiradiatori, or farfellini. So go wild and just have fun with it!


Homemade Alphabet Soup For Grown-Ups :)

Ingredients:
1/2 gallon (8 c.) water
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & finely minced (about 2 large cloves)
1/2 c. yellow onion, peeled & diced
1 large, fresh bay leaf
1/2 c. celery, chopped crosswise into 1/4" thick pieces (about 1 large stalk)
1 c. baby carrots, sliced crosswise into 1/4" thick rounds
1/2 c. parsnips, peeled & sliced crosswise into 1/4" thick rounds (about 1 1/4 large parsnips)
1 c. red-skinned potatoes, peeled & diced into 1/2" cubes (about 1 medium-sized potato)
2 Tbsp. fresh dill, finely minced & tightly packed
1/4 c. fresh curly leaf parsley, finely minced & tightly packed
1/2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, roughly chopped & tightly packed
1/2 c. miniature pasta shapes (alphabet letters, stellinerotelliditalinirahettiradiatorifarfellini, etc.)
1 c. (canned) cannellini beans, drained & rinsed (about 1/2 of a 19 oz. can)
1 1/4 c. fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, diced (about 1 1/2 medium-sized tomatoes)
1 1/2 c. fresh watercress, roughly chopped & tightly packed
1 1/2 c. fresh baby spinach, tightly packed
6 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper or to taste
2 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped & tightly packed
1-2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste

Directions: Bring water to a rolling boil, about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic, onion, bay leaf, celery, baby carrots, parsnips, potatoes, dill, parsley, thyme, & rosemary, and continue to boil, uncovered, until vegetables have become tender, about 15 minutes.

While soup is boiling, make the mini pasta shapes. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water, seasoned with a drop of olive oil, to a rolling boil, about 8 minutes. Add pasta & cook until al dente, according to package instructions. (Barilla's stelline takes 7 minutes to cook.) When ready, drain into a colander & set aside. At this point, you should be ready to add the remaining vegetables to the soup.

Add cannellini beans, tomatoes, watercress, spinach, & tomato paste to the soup, and continue to boil for about 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally to evenly distribute tomato paste. Season with salt & pepper, & remove from heat. Add basil & lemon juice (a bit at time, to taste), give soup a quick stir, & then cover & let rest for about 10-15 minutes, or until cool. Discard bay leaf.

Add pasta into soup just before serving. Serve immediately.

Yield: Approximately 1/2 gallon (8 c.), or about 4-6 servings.

Chef's Notes: Only make the pasta shapes if you're going to serve the soup on the same day. Otherwise, you can refrigerate the soup until you're ready to serve it. And then, just before serving, boil, drain, & add the pasta to the soup.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

0 Recipe #213: Za'atar Omelette

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This omelette is as delicious as it is easy. After cooking nonstop for days on end, I felt that it was time to make a quick & simple meal tonight for a change. Hence, another omelette recipe. :) For dinner. Yet again. :) Enjoy!


Za'atar Omelette

Ingredients:
3 eggs
1 Tbsp. "lite" non-dairy creamer
salt, to taste
cracked black pepper, to taste
1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, to season pan
1 tsp. za'atar spice mix
1/4 c. nonfat feta cheese, crumbled
1/8 tsp. za'atar spice mix, for garnish

Directions: Beat together eggs, creamer, salt, & pepper in a small bowl. Set aside. In a large (10"), nonstick sauté/omelette pan, melt butter on high heat. Then reduce heat to low & pour in egg mixture. As soon as the omelette starts to set, quickly & evenly sprinkle 1 tsp. za'atar across omelette, followed by the feta cheese. Lift up omelette on one side to check its underside to see if it's ready to be folded over. When ready, fold omelette over & continue to cook until desired color (i.e., light golden brown, etc.) has been reached. Then flip over & cook a few seconds more on the other side. (Cooking time may vary depending on how you like your omelettes.) Transfer to plate(s), sprinkle with additional 1/8 tsp. za'atar, and serve hot or warm.

Yield: Makes 1-2 servings.

Chef's Notes: Make sure you do not fold the omelette prematurely, as this will make it harder to flip the omelette later, & thus, also harder to cook it evenly. Also, depending upon your stovetop range, you might need to alter the cooking temperature in order to get the best result(s). I have a gas range & cook with Caphalon cookware, both of which conduct heat very well, so the food tends to cook very quickly. Hence, this is why I cook my eggs over low heat. However, this may or may not work for you. Adjust accordingly.

Another useful tip: You might've noticed that when you beat eggs together in a bowl and then lift up the bowl, you'll usually find a "ring of egg" left behind on the counter top. To avoid this, simply place the bowl inside of another bowl. This works even better than a paper towel, which will typically stick to both the bowl & the countertop after soaking up the egg. ;)

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