Monday, January 21, 2013

Beet and Carrot Salad with Fennel Pollen

This may be the best beet salad I've made! Fennel pollen adds a licoricey note, with an interesting little bit of umami. I also threw in some celery leaves and fennel fronds because I had them around; celery leaves add great flavor without having to commit to the texture of actual celery stalks.

One of Bon Appetit's predictions for this year's food trends is salads without the greens, consisting of all kinds of shaved vegetables. That's particularly timely because the recent cold snap in California and here in New Mexico has wiped out a lot of the winter greens crop, making the prices for what greens did survive sky-high. Our CSA, Skarsgard Farms, just happened to bet on root crops this year instead of greens, which I guess is fortunate. So let's make the most of the root vegetables we have!

3/4 lb beets
3/4 lb carrots
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbs sherry vinegar
1 tsp honey
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Small pinch fennel pollen (a little goes a long way)
2 Tbs chopped celery leaves, fennel fronds, or parsley

Using a mandoline, slice beets and carrots as thinly as possible. Heat a large pot with a steamer and a little water, toss in the pile of veggies, and steam until just tender. People say if you slice beets thin enough, you don't have to cook them, but I like to cook them lightly to take off that slight astringent edge.

Whisk oil, vinegar, honey and Dijon together in a medium bowl. Add vegetables and toss thoroughly. It's great either warm or cold, but it's good to let it marinate a little bit. Sprinkle in the fennel pollen and herbs, and toss some more. Serves 6 or more as a side.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Lentil and Winter Squash Soup

Lentil soup may be the most misunderstood soup ever. I've had so many terrible versions. It starts out gloppy and bland, then people start adding all kinds of stuff to try to make it better, and it ends up totally disgusting.

It's like at a restaurant salad bar, where there are so many choices of things that you can't help but put a little of everything on, and afterward you realize you would have been so much happier with just two or three carefully chosen additions.

This version is simple yet packed with flavor, and entirely vegetarian! It's adapted from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, The New Spanish Table, by Anya Von Bremzen. A basic sofrito of red peppers and onions builds a flavorful broth. Roasted garlic makes it really nice, but I honestly think it would still be good if you left it out. Just don't add anything!

1 large head of garlic
3 T. olive oil
1 1/2 C. green or brown lentils, washed and picked over
1 lb. winter squash or sweet potato, cubed
8 C. water
1/2 t. dried thyme or marjoram
1 bay leaf
1 t. red chile powder
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
2 onions (one cut in half, one diced)
2 red peppers, diced (roasted red peppers from a bottle are fine)
1 t. smoked paprika
A pinch of saffron (optional)
2 T. sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper as needed

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Cut the top of the head of garlic, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil in a small baking dish. Roast until soft, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring lentils and water to a boil in a large pot. Skim off any foam and add the marjoram, bay leaf, red chile, half the tomatoes, and two onion halves. Simmer about 20 minutes, until lentils are not quite tender. Add squash and simmer another 20 minutes, until it is almost tender.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet on medium heat, and cook diced onions and peppers until soft but not browned. Add tomatoes and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add this mixture to the lentils. Mash the roasted garlic with the saffron and add to the pot. Add vinegar, salt and pepper as desired. Serves 4-6 as a main course.

Chicken and Mushroom Soup

This soup is quick to put together with leftover chicken and canned broth (Swanson's All-Natural is my favorite). If you really want to start from scratch, it's fine to use raw chicken and just cook it a little longer. For homemade stock, I've recently become a convert to roasting the chicken bones in the oven, or at least browning the neck in a skillet - it yields a much richer flavor.

Any mushrooms will work in this recipe, but it's especially nice with our locally grown oyster mushrooms. Since celery isn't grown locally, I thought maybe turnips would work as a substitute in the mirepoix; both have an earthy flavor. In any case, the turnips soak up the flavor of whatever you cook them in, and they're delicious here.

2 T. butter
1 large carrot, diced
1/2 large onion or several shallots, diced
1/2 lb. turnips, diced
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1 C. dry white wine
1 1/2 C. chicken stock
1/2 lb cooked chicken, sliced
1/2 C. heavy cream or half-and-half
Salt and pepper as needed

Melt butter in a large pot or wide skillet; add onion, celery, and turnips. Cook until soft and slightly browned, then remove from pot. Add mushrooms and cook until nicely browned. Add wine and the vegetable mixture, and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Add stock and chicken. Simmer until the flavors blend, about 20 minutes. Add cream and heat until just warmed again. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Serves 4 as a first course, 2 as a meal.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Raw Kale Salad with Poached Quinces and Smoked Almonds

Here's something great to do with the poached quinces of my last post!

I'm a recent convert to raw kale salad... I really thought it would be tough and weird, but it is wonderful. This Genius Recipe from Food52 was my first introduction, but the possibilities are endless. Some friends brought a great one with dried cranberries to Christmas this year. I know a lot of people like the versions they serve at Whole Foods or the Co-Op deli, but I prefer to leave out the sesame/soy sauce type stuff and stick with a basic lemon and olive oil dressing.

Kale is a great canvas for many wonderful salad combinations, because it feels so much heartier than lettuce - you feel like you're eating a solid meal. One of my New Year's resolutions is to eat salad at least twice a week, and I'm not big on side dishes because I'm really not a great multitasker. So I'll be focusing a bit more effort on dreaming up all kinds of hearty main dish salads. You might be wondering, how does Ms. Veggie Obsession not do this already? Even though I love veggies, I must confess... when I get stressed out I tend to fall back on comfort food like meat and potatoes and mac'n'cheese. This combination of kale, poached quinces, smoked almonds and gorgonzola is very satisfying.

1 bunch kale (any kind will do, the curly kind is especially nice)
1 T. lemon juice
2 T. olive oil
1/2 - 1 t. coarse salt
1/4 cup smoked almonds
1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese
1/2 cup poached quinces

Slice the middle rib out of each kale leaf, then roll them all together and slice into 1-inch ribbons. Toss in a large bowl with the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt, squeezing it a bit with your hands until it begins to look almost as if it was cooked. Don't skimp on the salt - it needs plenty for the flavor to really pop! Toss the remaining ingredients in with the kale to combine, and pile onto large plates. Serves 2 as a main course.

Poached Quinces

I  must have bought 20 pounds of quinces at the farmers' market this year, and I still wish I'd bought more. They are such an amazing fruit - incredibly fragrant when raw (they'll perfume your whole house in the most wonderful way) and more delicious than either apples or pears when cooked!

The only strange thing is, you can't eat them raw. They're too astringent. But there are so many great ways to eat them cooked - we've had quince pie at Thanksgiving, quince and goat cheese tart, beef stew with quinces, saffron chicken with quinces... honestly, anything with apples is better with quinces.

There are so many recipes for poached quinces out there, but this is definitely the best one I've tried - it is adapted from the one in Yotam Ottolenghi's wonderful cookbook, Plenty. If you can't find quinces, you can try it with firm pears or apples. Use them in tarts, on salads, for dessert with ice cream, with a cheese plate, for breakfast with yogurt and granola, or maybe even for quince tarte tatin.

4 cups water
3 cups sugar
1 t. black peppercorns
Zest of 1 orange, peeled off in wide strips
4 bay leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cup red wine (optional, but great)
4-5 pounds quinces

Preheat the oven to 275F. In a Dutch oven, place the water, sugar, peppercorns, orange zest, bay leaves, lemon juice and wine. Bring to a boil on the stovetop, over medium heat. Meanwhile, scrub the quinces well, and cut them into eighths. Remove the core with a sharp knife, adding the slices to the pot as you go. Cover the pan tightly, and cook in the oven about 2 hours. The quinces should be completely tender and the sugar syrup should have thickened a bit but still be pourable.

Prepare 4 quart jars and water bath for canning. I just put the jars in the water and bring the whole thing up to a hard rolling boil; when the water is ready, the jars are sterilized. Warm the 2-piece lids in a skillet of water. Ladle the quinces and syrup into jars and screw on the lids. Lower into the boiling water with the jar lifter, and keep at a gentle boil for 45 minutes (this is for our elevation of 5000 feet; you can get away with 5 minutes less for every 2000 feet less elevation). Turn off heat and let jars sit in the water about 5 minutes, then lift out, set on a dishtowel, and let cool overnight undisturbed.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Grapefruit Mousse made with Grapefruit Curd

I have been meaning to try this recipe for Juniper Grapefruit Curd from one of my favorite blogs, Hunger and Thirst. And it is marvelous!

It's pretty amazing once you realize curd can be made from any kind of citrus, or really any kind of juice. On our trip to Seattle last week I tried a wonderful spiced apple curd... maybe next I'll make rhubarb curd!

Many curd recipes call for cornstarch as a thickener, but this method always seems to come out grainy for me. Most will say to use a double boiler, but I can testify that this is not necessary (unless you have really thin-bottomed pans, I guess). This recipe is done right on the stovetop and uses only eggs and egg yolks for thickening. I might even try it with just egg yolks next time.

Since there's already such a perfect curd recipe out there, I thought I'd try to come up with a novel way to use it. Although it is tempting to just eat it with a spoon, that would be very dangerous!

So, I made grapefruit mousse. Julia Child's definition of mousse is just any creamy whipped dessert. Technically it seems there's no one correct/traditional way to make a mousse, but some things just seem wrong. Rachael Ray's recipe for grapefruit mousse calls for marshmallow fluff! Another top hit for grapefruit mousse was just basically whipped cream with some grapefruit segments folded in, although I did like their idea of adding Campari. Many mousse recipes call for gelatin, which I'm not really that into. And some called for vanilla, which I wasn't too excited about with the grapefruit.

Mousse is often billed as a "light" dessert, but since most recipes consist mainly of whipped cream, that strikes me as quite funny! Since the curd is so rich, I thought I would see if I could use something a bit lighter than heavy cream to make it into mousse. I recently discovered you can actually whip half-and-half if you get everything really cold before you start. It definitely worked, it just has a softer texture, it won't really whip up to stiff peaks, but that's ok with me. Sour cream can also be whipped to a similar soft but fluffy texture, and gives kind of a nice extra flavor.

1/2 cup Grapefruit Curd (with or without the juniper)
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup sour cream

Make grapefruit curd according to recipe. Chill a metal bowl, beaters and the half-and-half in the freezer for 15 minutes. Beat on high speed for several minutes, until it is fluffy, like soft whipped cream. Beat sour cream in a separate bowl. Fold both together with the curd, using a rubber spatula. Here's the technique to avoid stirring all the air out of it: pull the spatula straight toward you, then scrape it back along the curve of the bowl; rotate the bowl 1/4 turn and repeat, until just mixed. Scoop into pretty glasses and chill for an hour or more. Garnish with grapefruit rind. Serves 4.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Oxtail Stew with Turnips

The turnip gets the eloquent recognition it deserves in one of my favorite Christmas movies, Last Holiday (with Queen Latifah). Gerard Depardieu, playing a famous chef, delivers this great line:
“The poor baby turnips. Nobody likes them, you know? Of course, life is easy if you are a truffle or a shiitake mushroom. But the turnip is to be loved because she’s a self-made woman of vegetables. All the others you can only destroy with cooking. But the turnip, she gets better. So, you see, it’s not how you start but how you finish.”
So true. I love it!

We've been buying grassfed beef in bulk from Joan Bybee, of MesteƱo Draw Ranch, and last time she gave us an oxtail along with some other soup bones. Like other tough cuts, it's great after a long stewing. There are many recipes for oxtail stew, but I thought I'd try it with red wine, loosely adapted from several recipes I found online. It's a great make-ahead dish, because the rich flavors meld better after a night in the fridge. It's also the perfect vehicle for turnips!

2 pounds oxtails (or any other stew meat and soup bones)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
2 large carrots, cut into about 1-inch pieces
1 can (14.5oz) diced tomatoes
1 lb. turnips, cut into about 1-inch pieces
2 cups dry red wine (I used a Malbec)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 bay leaf
1 t. thyme or marjoram
1 t. salt
1 t. black pepper

Heat oven to 400F, and roast oxtails until browned, about 30 minutes. Heat oil in a large pot over medium flame. Add onions and carrots, and cook until onions are translucent. Add tomatoes and cook until they deepen in color and smell sweet, just a few minutes. Add oxtails and all remaining ingredients with just enough water to cover. Put the lid on and let it simmer over very low heat until meat is nearly falling off the bone, about 2 to 3 hours. Adjust seasonings to taste, adding more honey or vinegar if desired. There will be a lot of fat from the oxtails, so skim off as much as you can, or refrigerate overnight and remove the fat once it's solidified. Serve hot with roasted potatoes, spaetzle, or crusty bread. Serves 4-6.