Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Where have all the flowers gone?

Garden Fresh Risotto with Crispy Prosciutto, Chard, and Zucchini Blossoms
Summer gardens are just starting to yield amazing produce in these parts, and ingredients I wouldn't usually get my hands on are becoming available. Take zucchini blossoms, for example. They aren't the type of thing I can usually just pick up at the grocery store as easily as onions or apples. Lucky for me, my gardening-obsessed colleague had an abundance of these lovely and rather delicate orange blossoms. In addition to the zucchini blossoms, he sent me home with a bag brimming with crisp green chard, a juicy green bell pepper, and fragrant basil leaves. I originally intended to throw all this lovely produce into a pasta dish, but when I found my gluten-sensitive friend, Arin, would be joining me for dinner, I decided on a creamy, flavorful risotto dish instead. This is an elegant, but pretty simple meal that makes the most of this season's best produce. Enjoy!

- 1 lb. Arborio rice
- 7 oz. prosciutto, torn into small pieces
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1 large bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 large handful fresh chard, stems removed and leaves torn into small pieces
- 8-10 fresh zucchini blossoms, stamens removed, and roughly chopped
- 6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
- i small handful Italian parsley, chopped
- 6 c. warmed chicken broth
- 2 c. dry white wine
- 2 Tbsp. cooking sherry
- 1/4 c. heavy cream
- 1 c. shredded Manchego cheese
- salt and pepper

Melt butter in a large, heavy stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add torn pieces of prosciutto and cook until it begins to crisp and turn brown. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Turn heat down and add zucchini blossoms and chard leaves. Cook for 1-2 minutes until they turn soft and fragrant.

Remove from heat and reserve with cooked prosciutto. Add shallot and bell pepper to pan (if it is dry all a tablespoon of olive oil). Stir over medium heat until the shallot and pepper begins to soften and turn very fragrant. De-glaze pan with cooking sherry and scrape browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add rice to the pan with 1 c. of warmed chicken broth and white wine. Stir over medium until the liquid soaks into the rice and begins to evaporate. Slowly add the remaining broth about a half cup at a time, stirring frequently to help the liquid absorb. (If the rice is still tough after adding all the broth, add a little water to keep moist.) Turn heat to low, add cream and shredded cheese and stir to combine. Turn off heat and add chopped herbs, prosciutto, zucchini blossoms, and chopped chard. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Eat up! Yum.

Lil' Devils

Kickin' Deviled Eggs with Curry
Deviled eggs are one of the best go-to appetizers out there. What can I say? People just love them. Vegetarian and gluten-issue-friendly, they get gobbled up in a snap. Angie offered to host our most recent dinner extravaganza and texted me: "Just bring an appetizer." Hmmm. Low on funds and in need of a grocery trip, I whipped up  a batch of these tasty little beauties with on-hand ingredients. I hope you enjoy this spicy twist on a beloved classic. They were gone in the blink of an eye. I used a half dozen eggs for this batch, but the recipe is easily doubled to feed a bigger crowd.

- 6 large eggs
- 1 Tbsp. curry powder
- 2 tsp. Sriracha hot sauce
- 1 tsp. white Balsamic vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. minced shallot
- 1 Tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
- 3 Tbsp. minced fresh Italian parsley, divided
- 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper
- 2-4 Tbsp. mayonnaise

Bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil. Add eggs, cover, and boil for 10-12 minutes until eggs are cooked through. Drain hot water and rise with cold water to bring temperature down so that you may work with eggs. Allow the cooked eggs to rest in cool water for 10-15 minutes before handling.

Gentle peel eggs by rolling on the counter top to break shells. Remove and discard shells, reserving cooking eggs. When eggs are peeled, slice in half lengthwise. Pop out the yolks into a medium bowl and reserve cooked whites on a serving tray.

Carefully mash up egg yolks in medium bowl with the tines of a fork. When they are broken up add vinegar, Sriracha, cilantro, 2 Tbsp. of minced Italian parsley, curry powder, pepper flakes, and 2 Tbsp. of mayonnaise. Mix thoroughly with a fork and then season with salt and pepper to taste. If the mixture is dry, add more mayonnaise by the tablespoonful until it is at the right consistency, moist, but not runny.

Using a teaspoon, carefully fill each sliced egg half with a small dollop of filling. The filling should be evenly distributed amongst the 12 egg halves. Carefully garnish each with a small pinch of the remaining Italian parsley. Refrigerate until you serve. Yum! People go crazy for these things!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Curry on Home

Curry and Kale Soup with Potatoes and Lamb Meatballs
Soup is one of my favorite meals, not just because of its simplicity and versatility, but practically speaking, it's just a great way to put a twist on leftovers and use whatever is sitting in the crisper or pantry the day before I'm due for a grocery trip. The veggies in this yummy and spicy soup were what I happened to have, but it would be great with any number of produce choices (zucchini, leeks, or arugula certainly come to mind). Try it tonight for a quick and satisfying dinner.

- 1/2 lb. ground lamb
- 1 egg
- 2 Tbsp. dried bread crumbs
- 2 tsp. red pepper flakes, divided
- 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese 
- fresh Italian parsley
- 2 shallots, one grated, and one minced
- garlic powder
- olive oil for frying
- 1Tbsp. dry cooking sherry
- 2 carrots, grated and diced
- 2 pieces celery, grated and diced
- 1 tomato, seeded and diced
- 4 c. chopped kale
- salt and pepper
- 1 Tbsp. curry powder
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1 qt. chicken broth
- Parmesan cheese rind
- crumbled feta cheese

In a small bowl, combine ground lamb, bread crumbs, egg, grated Parmesan cheese, grated shallot, Worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp. red pepper flakes, 1 tsp. garlic powder, ground cumin, and 2 Tbsp. minced Italian parsley. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Using fingers, combine mixture until ingredients are thoroughly integrated, but not over-worked. Carefully roll portions of the lamb mixture into 1 1/2" balls in the palm of your hand, set aside. The mixture will make about 12 small lamb meatballs.

In a medium, heavy-bottomed sauce pan heat olive oil, about 1 Tbsp. per batch over medium high heat. Add 6-7 meatballs to the hot oil. Carefully brown the meatballs, turning the meat carefully with a pair of tongs. When all sides have a nice brown crust, remove from heat. Cook the rest of the meatballs, adding more oil when necessary. The meatballs only need to be browned, they will cook through completely in the hot broth.

After you have removed the meatballs from the pan, add minced shallot and cook over medium, using a wooden spoon to scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. After 2-3 minutes when the shallot has begun to soften, add carrots and celery. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes until vegetables have softened. Add cooking sherry to pan with diced tomato, curry powder, paprika, 1 tsp. pepper flakes, and 1 tsp. garlic powder. Stir frequently until most of the liquid has cooked off. Add chicken broth, Parmesan rind, and potatoes and bring heat to high. Bring mixture to a boil, cover, lower heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. 

Remove cover and add browned meatballs to mixture. Re-cover pot and simmer and additional 5 minutes. Remove cover and add chopped kale and 2 Tbsp. minced Italian parsley, stirring with a wooden spoon to combine. Cook with kale over medium for about 5 minutes, until it becomes bright green. Remove soup from heat and season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Serve soup with a crumble of fresh feta on top. Yummy stuff!

An Egg-ceptional Food

Baked Eggs With Roasted Vegetables, Tomato Sauce, and Garbanzo Beans
I have a fondness for eggs . . . and not just because my sweetie and I have taken to raising chickens. This miracle food is the unsung hero of a number of beloved desserts, the heart of any good brunch menu, and simply darn tasty. This is a wonderfully simple and quick vegetarian dish with a spicy kick and plenty of delicious veggies. It's protein-packed and filling without being overly heavy. Awesome served with slices of flat bread or chips, you're going to love this for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

- 2 c. mixed roasted vegetables (for this recipe I used a mixture of red pepper, onion, and eggplant, left over from my Grilled Lamb Burgers with Roasted Veggies and Flat Bread)
- 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes in their juices
- 1 14.5 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
- salt and pepper
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. curry powder
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1 Tbsp. cooking sherry
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
- 4-6 large high-quality eggs
- prepared tzatziki sauce
- crumbled feta cheese
- minced fresh Italian parsley
- flat bread, pita chips, tortilla chips, or potato chips for serving

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy, oven-proof skillet over medium. Add minced garlic and jalapeño pepper and cook, stirring frequently for 1-2 minutes until the pepper begins to soften and the garlic becomes fragrant. Add cooking sherry and continue to stir until most of the liquid has cooked off, about 3 minutes.

Add tomatoes, beans, roasted veggies, paprika, cumin, curry, pepper flakes, and garlic powder to skillet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir to combine ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the head to medium low and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the tomatoes have softened and the mixture has thickened. 

Sprinkle crumbed feta cheese over the mixture with a couple of tablespoons of minced fresh parsley. With a wooden spoon, make wells, evenly spaced apart, in the tomato mixture and  crack an egg into each well. Take care not to crack the yolks. Sprinkle each egg with a little salt and pepper and transfer the skillet into the hot oven. 

Allow skillet to bake in oven long enough for the whites of the eggs to set, but the yolks should still be a bit runny. This will take about 8-12 minutes. 

Remove skillet from oven and sprinkle mixture with additional fresh Italian parsley. Divide up contents of skillet (1-2 eggs per person) and serve with a dollop of tzatziki sauce and chips or flat bread for dipping.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

All-American Lamb-burger

Grilled Lamb Burgers with Roasted Veggies and Flat Bread
My love of juicy, flavorful lamb is no big secret. It might just be the Russian in me or it might be the fact that lamb is freakin' delicious. It's a magical sort of meat . . . and by "magical" I mean "fatty." Where do you think all the flavor comes from? I was looking for a little twist on the basic burger for some evening grilling and came up with this mouth-watering entree. It's an entire meal, complete with a hearty helping of veggies, on a piece of flat bread. Serve some honey-drizzled berries for dessert and you've got a perfectly delicious Mediterranean-inspired barbecue for four! Please note- this recipe makes a HUGE amount of roasted veggies. You'll have plenty to spare for another use.

- 1 lb. ground lamb
- 4 pieces of flat bread (warm in oven before serving)
- 3 tsp. ground cumin, divided
- 2 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 2 Tbsp. minced fresh mint
- 2 Tbsp. minced Italian parsley
- 3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar, divided
- 1 shallot, finely grated
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced 
- 1 eggplant, trimmed and cut into 2-3" pieces
- 3 green onions, trimmed and sliced crosswise into 3" pieces
- 1 red pepper, seeded, trimmed, and sliced into 2" pieces
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- Tzatziki sauce, prepared hummus, and crumbed feta for serving

Roasted veggies are one of my absolute favorite flavor-boosters. They are so easy to prepare and incredibly versatile.

Preheat oven to 400˚F. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with foil and spritz lightly with cooking spray. Arrange sliced veggies on the sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper, oregano, and 1 tsp. ground cumin. Drizzle with olive oil and 2 Tbsp. of balsamic vinegar. Roast in oven for about 30-40 minutes. Check occasionally and mix up with a pair of tongs to make sure they are not sticking. When they are soft and brown, remove from oven and set aside to cool. These can be make a day or two ahead. They keep up in the fridge just fine. When you are ready to serve, remove from fridge and allow to come to room temperature.

In a large mixing bowl combine ground lamb with 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar, remaining cumin, pepper flakes, paprika, grated shallot, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and minced mint and parsley. Work mean gently with your fingers to make sure all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Meanwhile, heat grill. Prepare ground lamb mixture into four equal-sized patties. They should be round with a small indentation in the center. (This handy little trick keeps the burgers from puffing up in the center when they cook.)

Grill burgers on a hot grill to your desired doneness. I usually like mine with pink in the middle, so it's about 3-4 minutes per side depending how hot the grill is. Never smash down burgers with a spatula while cooking, this just presses all those wonderful juices out and makes for a drier, less flavorful burger.

To assemble burgers, top a warmed piece of flat bread with a spoonful of hummus, then some roasted veggies, and then the cooked lamb burger. Top with tzatziki sauce and crumbled feta. These are definitely "knife and fork" burgers and are great served with a crisp and simple tomato and cucumber salad. Happy grilling!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Griller Flavors!

Grilled Pesto Pork Loin with Balsamic Onion Jam and Kale Potato Cakes
The grilling season is in full-swing and my sweetie and I have been taking full advantage of our awesome new grill (which may just be one of the greatest Craigslist scores of all time). With our friends Spencer and Hillary coming over for a little weeknight dinner, I wanted to make something that could be mostly prepared ahead of time and then finished when the guests arrive. Don't let the multiple steps intimidate you. This is actually a very fast and easy meal to put together. I really suggest trying the Kale Potato Cakes as a side for other means or the Onion Jam as a topping on any number of proteins. I served the dinner with a simple cucumber and tomato salad dressed with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Dessert was provided by Spencer. Apple pie. It was delicious. 

- 2 1-1/2 lb. pork loins
- 4 cloves garlic
- a small handful of chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves, divided
- 8 large fresh basil leaves
- juice from one lemon
- 1/4 c. sun dried tomatoes packed in oil
- about 1/4 c. olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 3 large yellow onions, peeled, sliced in half lengthwise and then cut into strips
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. cooking sherry
- 3 medium sized russet potatoes, peeled
- 1 bunch of kale, leaves pulled from thick stems and roughly chopped
- 6 large green onions, trimmed and white and green parts finely minced
- 1 bunch fresh chives, minced
- 2 tsp. garlic powder
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 c. flour
- vegetable oil for frying

In the bowl of a food processor combine peeled garlic cloves, fresh basil leaves, about half the Italian parsley, and lemon juice. Pulse until the garlic and herbs are nicely minced and combined, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add sun dried tomatoes with their oil and run the food processor. While the mixture is blending, slowly add more olive oil until the pesto begins to have a smooth, creamy texture. It might take between 2 Tbsp. and 1/4 c. to get it right. Season pesto with a few grinds of pepper and about 1 tsp. of salt. Set aside. Prepare pork loins by patting them dry with a paper towel then sprinkle all sides with salt and pepper. Place loins in a resealable plastic bag or glass container and cover all sides with pesto mixture. Cover tightly and allow to marinate at room temperature for about twenty minutes if you are intending to grill immediately. Otherwise, cover and marinate in refrigerator overnight.

When you are ready to grill, remove pork from refrigerator for about 20 minutes before cooking. Heat the grill while waiting for the meat to warm up a bit. Place on a hot grill and cook for about 15 minutes, turning frequently, to cook thoroughly on all sides. A thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat should register about 145˚F to have the meat at medium rare. Remove from heat, tent with foil, and allow loins to rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving with Balsamic Onion Jam.

Good things come to those who wait. People rush the caramelizing process too much. It takes at least a good 45 minutes of low heat to get a good, sweet brown on the onions. Be patient. Cook the jam the night before. Just set the onions on a low stove and go about your business. They only need to be stirred occasionally.

Begin by melting butter in a large heavy pan (I like using my cast-iron skillet for this) over a medium heat. Add sliced onions and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Let them soften in the butter over medium for about 5 minutes until they begin to turn translucent. Then, turn the heat down to low, give them a good stir, and walk away.

Feel free to check back on the onions every 15-20 minutes for a good stir. They will begin to brown and then turn really soft at about 45 minutes. At that time, turn up the heat to medium-high. Add balsamic vinegar and cooking sherry to the pan. Stir mixture together and allow liquid to cook off and infuse into the onions. Once all the liquid has simmered away, about 5-8 minutes, remove onions from heat. Store in refrigerator if you're making them ahead of time. Allow to come to room temperature before topping pork loin with such a delicious concoction.

This is my newest adventure in kale. I LOVED it. I served them with "Sri-rancha" - basically Sriracha hot sauce mixed with ranch dressing, but sour cream or ketchup will do just fine.

Begin by bringing a pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch kale leaves for about 1 minute until they are softened slightly and bright green. Drain the hot water and rinse leaves with cold water to stop cooking process. Squeeze out any excess water with your hands and place leaves into a large bowl.

Peel potatoes and then grate them into bowl with kale using the large side of a box grater. Add chopped chives, green onions, and remaining Italian parsley to the mixture. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Add beaten egg and flour to the mixture and combine thoroughly. It's really easiest to do with your hands to make sure that everything is properly distributed. Heat enough oil in a large, heavy skillet to cover the bottom of the pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is very hot, add the kale-potato mixture in 1/4 c. mounds.

Fry each cake on both sides for about 2 minute per side until they are hot and golden-brown. Remove from hot oil with a spatula and drain on a paper towel-lined cookie sheet. Blot out excess oil from top with a paper towel. Continue working in batches, adding more oil as needed until all the cakes are cooked. Serve immediately. Or, if you are preparing ahead store in an airtight container until you are ready to finish up. To serve, heat up in a 400˚ F oven for about 10-12 minutes. They will crisp up perfectly.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Getting Fresh With You

Fabulously Fast Summer Pasta
There is just so much good produce at my disposal right now! The tomatoes are red and ripe, the arugula is perfectly crisp and peppery, and the garlic is fragrantly sweet. During these warmer months I love abandoning my beloved cheesy-creamy sauces for fresher, lighter ingredients in my pastas. This extremely quick and easy dinner was put together using the bright and fresh ingredients from the co-op. It comes together in a snap and is a tasty way to make the most of summer's bounty.

- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 12 oz. small-shaped pasta
- 2 c. fresh arugula
- 4 slices, thick cut bacon, diced
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- juice from 1 lemon
- 8 large fresh basil leaves, sliced into thin strips
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 2 Tbsp. cooking sherry
- salt and pepper
- 3 oz. crumbled feta cheese

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil. Add pasta and cook to al dente, about 7-8 minutes. Drain, reserving about a cup of the pasta cooking water, and set aside. While waiting for the water to boil, make the quick tomato sauce.

Place bacon in a large skillet and cook over medium high until it becomes slightly brown and has rendered most of its fatty goodness. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon from pan and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Reserve about a tablespoonful of bacon fat in the pan. Add olive oil and heat to medium high.

Add garlic to pan and stir for about 30 seconds until it becomes sweet and fragrant. Add cooking sherry to hot skillet to de-glaze the pan. Stir vigorously, scraping brown bits from the bottom. Add halved tomatoes and lemon juice to the skillet and turn heat down to medium. Stir occasionally until the tomatoes begin to wither and soften. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and sugar. Cook for about 5-7 minutes until the tomatoes have burst.

Add cooked pasta, arugula, basil, and pasta water to the tomato mixture. Toss together and heat over medium high for about 1-2 minutes until ingredients are thoroughly cooked through and hot. Transfer cooked pasta to a large serving bowl and sprinkle with cooked bacon and crumbled feta cheese. Toss to combine thoroughly. Eat!

Just Desserts

Strawberry and White Peach Buttermilk-Maple Cobbler
There are so many delicious ingredients in the title of this recipe . . . I'm not quite sure where to start. Summer entertaining is hands-down awesome! An evening outdoors with good friends and grilling is one of the greatest pleasures in life. The only thing that can make those moments sweeter is just the right dessert. Right now we're in a produce transition from my favorite early summer strawberries into stone fruits and (lucky for me) the local co-op is brimming with both. Strawberries or white peaches? Which to choose? Well, duh . . . both. Cobblers are a fun way to take advantage of delicious summer fruits with an even easier-than-pie pastry topping. I found maple sugar at Trader Joe's and had to try it. The unique flavor of this sweetener hit a memorable note on my taste buds. Try it! You're definitely in for a treat.

- 1 pt. fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and sliced lengthwise
- 4 white peaches, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 c. sugar
- 1/4 c. honey
- 1 Tbsp. cinnamon
- 1 Tbsp. freshly grated ginger
- juice from 1 lemon
-  2 Tbsp. tapioca
- 2 Tbsp. corn starch
- 6 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into small peices
- About 1 c. buttermilk
- 2 c. flour
- 1 Tbsp. baking powder
- 1/2 c. maple sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. large-grained sugar for sanding

In a medium bowl, combine strawberries, peaches, 1/2 c. sugar, honey, cinnamon, fresh ginger, lemon, tapioca, and corn starch. Stir gently to combine thoroughly and set aside. Allow mixture to rest for 15-20 minutes for the fruit to soften while preparing the biscuit topping. 

Preheat oven to 400˚F. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together egg with enough buttermilk to make about a cup of liquid. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour with baking powder, salt, and maple sugar. Place pieces of cold butter into the flour mixture and work in together with a pastry blender until a coarse mixture forms.

Slowly pour buttermilk mixture and vanilla into the flour mixture and work with a pastry blender until a lumpy batter forms. If it is too dry, add a few extra splashes of buttermilk. The batter should be rather thick and lumpy with a silky sheen to it.

After the berries and peaches have softened, pour mixture into a 9" baking dish. Spoon tablespoons of the buttermilk biscuit mixture evenly over the berries. Sprinkle the topping with large-grained sanding sugar. Bake cobbler in oven for 25-30 minutes on a foil-lined baking sheet until the berry juice begins to bubble and run out of the dish and the topping begins to brown. Serve with fresh whipped cream or your favorite gelato . . . great summer dessert!