Showing posts with label side dishes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label side dishes. Show all posts

Friday, July 21, 2017

Char-Grilled Baby Lettuce with Asparagus & Feta, Served with Grilled Opah

I am always happy to find a good quick recipe to get on the table at the end of a long week. This easy grill-pan recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of Char-Grilled Baby Lettuce with Asparagus & Feta, could easily be a meal on its own for me but I had some local opah (moon fish) fillets and some cherry tomatoes that needed to be used up so I put it all together for a tasty and not-too-heavy dinner, that I was able to cook in one pot for the asparagus and one grill pan.

Hugh's recipe calls for goat cheese and we have lovely local goat cheeses that I buy often, but tonight I happened to have leftover mild sheep milk feta in the fridge so I used that instead. The asparagus, baby romaine, cherry tomatoes, and opah are all local. 

Hugh says, "Char-grilling is usually associated with meat, but it works wonders with vegetables, too, caramelizing their natural sugars and leaving them tender and deliciously bittersweet. I like to use a firm goat's cheese here, such as Woolsery English Goat, but any firm, not-too-pungent cheese would work well, or go for good old Parmesan."

Char-Grilled Baby Lettuce with Asparagus & Feta
Slightly Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
(Serves 4)

About 1 lb asparagus
4 little gem or other baby lettuces
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve

salt and freshly ground black pepper
around 3 oz firm, not-too-strong goat's cheese, or cheese of choice

Bring a pan of salted water to a boil. Snap the woody ends off the asparagus and drop the spears into the boiling water. Blanch for a minute or two (depending on thickness), until al dente, then drain.
Meanwhile, cut the lettuces in half down the middle, leaving them joined at the root end. Put in a large bowl with the drained asparagus, add two tablespoons of olive oil, season generously and toss to coat, working the oil and seasoning into the lettuces a little with your hands.
Heat a ridged griddle pan or heavy-based frying pan until very hot. Add the lettuce halves cut-side down, cook for two minutes until golden brown and wilted on the base, then turn over and cook for a minute or two more. Transfer to a large, warmed serving platter.
Now add the asparagus to the pan and cook for about four minutes, turning occasionally, until tender and patched with brown. Arrange on the platter with the lettuce.
Thinly slice the cheese (or, if it's particularly crumbly, crumble it) and arrange over the griddled veg. Trickle with a little more oil and serve at once. Add some bread and this makes a great starter, but it's also a delicious side dish.

Notes/Results: This was such a good dinner! It was quick and easy to make--a pot for blanching the asparagus--needed in this case as the local asparagus was quite thick, and one grill pan for the lettuce, then the asparagus, and then the opah. I kept the opah simple--just salt, pepper, and a tiny sprinkle of smoked paprika grilled to perfection and served with lemon. It worked well with the sweet cherry tomatoes and the baby lettuce-asparagus mix. The grilling brings out the sweetness of the baby lettuce and gives it and the asparagus so much good flavor--complemented by the slightly salty but mild feta that gets nicely softened by the warm vegetables. I will happily make this again. 

I'm linking this recipe up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week's theme is Get to Grilling! You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

I'm also linking it up to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

Happy Weekend!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Grilled Asparagus and Veggies with Garlic and Anchovy Dressing

Summer is on the horizon and it's already causing me to want to up my green veggie intake--but sometimes veggies can be a bit boring. That's when you fire up the grill pan and throw the ingredients for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Garlic and Anchovy Dressing into the blender. It works as a starter, or even a light meal on a humid night.

I made the dressing primarily to go with some asparagus, but tossed a small zucchini, some baby lettuce, and a few skewers of sweet little tomatoes onto the grill pan for some variety. Delicious with a glass of crisp white wine.

River Cottage says, "This punchy anchovy-based dressing – similar to the Italian classic bagna cauda – is a year-round favourite and easy to whip up from the sort of ingredients you’re likely to have in your store-cupboard and fridge. It’s a superb accompaniment to all kinds of veg – raw or cooked. We love it as a dip for crunchy summer crudités, but also serve it as a dressing for steamed purple sprouting broccoli, calabrese, cauliflower and kale. It will keep happily in a jar in the fridge for at leas"t a couple of weeks. It will probably separate, but can be re-emulsified by shaking or whisking."

Crudités with Garlic and Anchovy Dressing
From Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall via
(Serves 4)

50g (1.75 oz) anchovy fillets, drained
150ml (5 oz) olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled

leaves from a sprig of thyme
a few basil leaves (optional)
1/2 small red chilli, or a pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 tsp Dijon or English mustard
2 tsp cider vinegar or wine vinegar

a few twists of black pepper

For the dressing, simply blitz all the ingredients together in a blender until completely smooth. Or, if you are using fresh chilli, you might prefer to chop it very finely by hand, then stir it into the blitzed dressing to give it a little texture.

Leave the dressing for half an hour or so, to allow the flavours to mingle and develop, then transfer to a large bowl.

Prepare the crudités: halve or quarter lengthways the lettuce hearts and larger baby vegetables, such as courgettes and carrots. Leave the smaller ones, such as pea pods and radishes, whole. Arrange them on a platter and serve with the dressing.

Notes/Results: Yum! If you like garlic, you will enjoy this dip. And if you are afraid of anchovies, don't be--they blend right in, just adding delicious Caesar salad dressing-like flavor to the dressing. Although it would be delicious with raw veggies, lightly grilled veggies are just so much more appealing. I just cooked them all on one grill pan, lightly brushed with olive oil until tender crisp on the zucchini and asparagus, lightly browned on the baby romaine, and until just softened on the baby tomatoes. If you want to make it more of a meal you could add some quartered hard-boiled eggs, steamed root vegetables, and/or chunks of poached fish and it would be perfectly delightful. Quick, easy and really good. I will happily make this again and use whatever veggies I have on hand.

It's maybe not the "pubbiest" of bar snacks, but I am linking this yummy starter that pairs well with wine up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week's theme is Pub Grub. You can see what everyone made by checking out the picture links on the post.

Happy Aloha Friday!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Women in the Castle" by Jessica Shattuck, Served with a Recipe for German Sweet Braised Cabbage & (Vegan) Grilled Sausages

Happy Tuesday! On today's TLC Book Tour stop, I am reviewing the wonderful World War II novel, The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck. Along with my review, I cooked up a plate of German Sweet Braised Cabbage inspired by the book and served it up with some (vegan) smoked apple sage sausages for a homey, German-themed meal.
Publisher's Blurb:

Three women, haunted by the past and the secrets they hold
Set at the end of World War II, in a crumbling Bavarian castle that once played host to all of German high society, a powerful and propulsive story of three widows whose lives and fates become intertwined—an affecting, shocking, and ultimately redemptive novel from the author of the New York Times Notable Book The Hazards of Good Breeding.
Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once-grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resister murdered in the failed July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows.
First Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin’s mother, the beautiful and naive Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resister’s wife, and her two boys, now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war.
As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband’s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war—each with their own unique share of challenges.
Written with the devastating emotional power of The Nightingale, Sarah’s Key, and The Light Between Oceans, Jessica Shattuck’s evocative and utterly enthralling novel offers a fresh perspective on one of the most tumultuous periods in history. Combining piercing social insight and vivid historical atmosphere, The Women in the Castle is a dramatic yet nuanced portrait of war and its repercussions that explores what it means to survive, love, and, ultimately, to forgive in the wake of unimaginable hardship.

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (March 28, 2017)

My Review:

I do love a good World War II historical novel and I have worked my way through many of them over the years. I have come to seek out the books that give me a different perspective of the war and The Women in the Castle does just that, exploring the lives of three different German women, brought together and caught up in the war--each suffering and looking for redemption in their own way. The women--Marianne, Benita, and Ania, are unlikely to be friends outside of war, it is only a promise Marianne makes to look after the wives and children of the resisters who along with her husband and her best friend and past love, tried to stop Hitler by assassinating him. When that plan fails, the men are condemned to death and it is only the fact that Marianne is a woman and her husband was from a privileged and well-thought of family, that leave her able to survive, make a life for her children in the family's castle, and bring Benita, Ania and their children to stay with her. 

The women are very different--Marianne is bold and judgmental, Benita is fragile and shattered, and Ania is strong and practical. Each are flawed and human and through the chapters which move from 1938 and before the war, the horrible war years and the years afterward up to 1991. Shattuck portrays each woman through her story and her memories--giving glimpses of what led them to the role they played and how they ended up at Burg Lingenfels. Often times when you read about the war, it is easy to judge people for what they did or did not do. Looking at the German perspective was especially interesting to me as it isn't one I read about often. Shattuck makes these women relatable, giving me insights to their plight and allowing me to empathize with them and their sorrow and guilt--even if I didn't always like them or some of their actions and decisions. As in most books of war, not everything ends happily for everyone, but things are wrapped up in a satisfying way that felt authentic to the characters and story. I really enjoyed The Women in the Castle--it is absorbing, unique and it touched my heart. Highly recommended.


Author Notes: Jessica Shattuck is the award-winning author of The Hazards of Good Breeding, which was a New York Times Notable Book and finalist for the PEN/Winship Award, and Perfect Life. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, New Yorker, Glamour, Mother Jones, Wired, and The Believer, among other publications. A graduate of Harvard University, she received her MFA from Columbia University. She lives with her husband and three children in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Find out more about Jessica at her website and connect with her on Facebook.


Food Inspiration: 

Although much of the story takes place in the thick of war, there is food to be found in The Women in the Castle. Some examples include: At the castle in 1938 there is a party with champagne, potted fish, smoked meats, pork meatballs with parsley sauce, steamed dumplings, asparagus wrapped with ham, jelly molds, pineapple flambe, caviar on toast, pork roasts, apple tortes, and cake. During the war, the castle suffers food shortages but does much better than many with plenty of carrots, cabbage, and potatoes, as well as fresh raspberries, gooseberries, and other fruit in the summer. There is porridge, soup and broth, dried meat, bread, cookies, stollen and plum schnapps, shelled peas, eggs, spinach soup, barley, and pickled vegetables. Several German dishes are mentioned like schnitzel, various sausages and wursts with curry ketchup, pfeffernusse kuchen, kaiserschmarrn and kartoffelpuffer, along with weissbier to drink. Holiday packages from America included oranges, chocolate bars, gum, and Kraft cheese. Finally, a picnic at the castle (a happy day for the characters) featured cold meatballs, potato salad, pickles, fresh plums and cake with raisins.  

Ultimately I went to one of the three most mentioned foods for my inspiration. Along with carrots and potatoes, it seemed like every German garden contained heads of cabbage and dishes like cabbage, potato and carrot soup were a common meal. I looked online for a cabbage dish that sounded good and found a recipe for Sweet Braised Cabbage from Just Like Oma: Quick German Recipes

It seemed simple and interesting with its sweet and sour flavor. Being a meat-free eater, I was going to serve it with trout (a fish mentioned in the book) but then I saw some vegan Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage Sausages and since sausages were also mentioned frequently, I decided to serve them along with the cabbage for a German-inspired dinner. 

Just Like Oma says, "Bayrisches Weisskraut, aka Bavarian Cabbage, comes from the Bavarian region of German. Sauerkraut seems to be the most commonly thought of German cabbage recipe. This, however, is a very easy way how to cook cabbage and is often used as a side dish to accompany many German meals. There's a certain sweet/sourness to this braised cabbage dish that's like eating candy! It really does taste great with almost anything!"

German Sweet Braised Cabbage
Slightly Adapted from Just Like Oma: Quick German Recipes
(Serves 4)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
3 Tbsp sugar
1 garlic clove, crushed (I used 3 cloves, roasted garlic)
1/2 large white (green) cabbage, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper
1 tsp caraway seeds (I used 1 Tbsp)
1 cup water or broth (I used veggie broth)
1 Tbsp vinegar or to taste (optional) (I added)

(I added some chopped fresh parsley to serve)
(I thickened the sauce as noted below) 

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, add the onions and brown slightly--about 6 to 7 minutes. Stir in the sugar and let the onions caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add the cabbage, garlic, caraway seeds, and water or broth to the onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Bring mixture to a boil and simmer, covered, about 30 minutes or until the  cabbage is tender, stirring occasionally and adding extra water or broth if needed. Season with more salt and pepper if necessary and add vinegar to taste if desired.

*Note: To thicken the sauce, dissolve 1 Tbsp corn starch in a bit of cold water. Slowly add just enough to the simmering liquid until it thickens.

Notes/Results: I realize cabbage isn't always a popular food but this preparation is quite good--it has plenty of flavor between the onions, vegetable broth and caraway seeds and the sugar and vinegar give it a lovely balance of sweet and sour tastes that perfectly offset the meaty flavor of the vegan sausages. I love caraway and added extra seeds, as well as thickening my 'sauce' with the cornstarch and adding a bit of parsley for color. Vegan 'meat' substitutes are an infrequent choice for me because I don't always love the texture or the processing, but these Field Roast sausages are not bad--especially when grilled on all sides so the outside is a bit crisp. Of course you can pair this cabbage with regular sausage or anything really. All together, it made for a not-too-heavy, but still satisfying lunch that (vegan sausages aside) ;-) captured the spirit of the book. I will happily make this cabbage recipe again. 

I'm also linking this post up to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.

Note: A review copy of the "The Women in the Castle" was provided to me by the publisher, Harper Collins, and TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Caramelized Fennel with Goat Cheese and Five Favorite Yotam Ottolenghi Recipes

Oh Ottolenghi! How I adore you. Even more after noshing on this bowl of caramelized fennel and goat cheese goodness. 

We are celebrating the amazing Yotam Ottolenghi as our Monthly Featured Chef this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs. Arguably, one of IHCC most popular chefs, we cooked with the master of vegetables and flavors back in 2013 and he holds a special place in many of our hearts. More dramatically but completely true, Ottolenghi actually saved IHCC! 

Settle in, here is a little IHCC history...

When it started in 2009, IHCC had four hosts/founders and in the spring of 2013, two of the four made the choice for different reasons, to stop co-hosting this event. My pal Kim (Stirring the Pot) and I were left and feeling pretty burnt out ourselves, we made the hard decision to end IHCC with the current chef at the time, Madhur Jaffrey. We had looked to see if anyone wanted to step in and take over the event, but couldn't find any takers and just didn't see things continuing. Those of you that have ever hosted a weekly event know that while the community you build is rewarding and it can be incredibly fun, it can also be a lot of work to keep things going week after week for years. We were tired and uninspired, but we were also having some regretful thoughts about just ending the club and so we scheduled a phone call to decide what to do. 

In addition to being finally getting to talk to each other in person, which was lovely, Kim and I were able to determine that we still wanted to cook together and to cook with the community that IHCC built--but, we needed a chef that would spark inspiration and make us want to dive back in. Still somewhat unknown in the U.S., Yotam Ottholenghi was a fast-rising global star, his recipes were new and exciting, his cookbooks gorgeous, and so we made one of our handful of non-voted-on chef decisions and chose him as our new featured chef! We also asked Sue of Couscous & Consciousness to join the hosting team (a most excellent decision if we do say so ourselves), switched to a picture link format, and came up with a few other fun changes to switch it up a bit (like being able to cook any former IHCC chef's recipes during Potluck!). Three years later, IHCC is still growing strong with old and new friends and new chefs and experiences. And that my friends, is today's history lesson of how Ottolenghi saved our cooking club. ;-) 

Moving back to the present, I have many Ottolenghi recipes tagged to make, but decided to go back to my first Ottolenghi cookbook, Plenty and pick a simple fennel recipe. I am crazy about fennel and I liked that this recipe used all the parts of it and mixed it with goat cheese and dill. I was able to get some small locally-grown fennel bulbs as well as some Surfing Goat Dairy "Udderly Delciious"--a simple, plain Chevre that is gorgeously soft and creamy. (Side note: if you are ever in Maui, definitely go by the Surfing Goat Dairy and take the tour. Bonus fun points if there happen to be adorable baby goats to pet when you go and if you try a chocolate/goat cheese truffle!)

Caramelized Fennel with Goat Cheese 
From Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
(Serves 4)

4 small fennel bulbs
3 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
2 Tbsp sugar (reduced to 2/3 Tbsp for half-recipe)
1 tsp fennel seeds
coarse sea salt and black pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed
3/4 cup roughly chopped dill (leaves and stalks)
5 oz young and creamy goat cheese
grated zest of 1 lemon

Start by preparing the fennel bulbs. First, cut off the leafy fronds, keeping a bit aside for the garnish. Next, slice off the end of the root and remove the tough outer layers, making sure the base still holds everything together. Cut each bulb lengthwise into 1/2 in. thick slices.

Melt butter and olive oil in a large frying pan over high heat. When the butter starts to foam, add a layer of sliced fennel. Do not overcrowd the pan and don’t turn the fennel over or stir it around in the pan until one side has become light golden, which will take a few minutes. Using tongs, turn the slices over and cook for another few minutes. Remove from the pan, add a bit more olive oil and butter if needed and repeat the process with the remaining raw fennel.

Once all the fennel is done and removed from the pan, reduce the heat, then add the sugar, fennel seeds, and plenty of salt and pepper to the pan. (I also added the garlic here) Fry for 30 seconds, adding a little more oil or butter if needed, until the sugar is dissolved, then return all the fennel to the pan and caramelize them gently. Once the fennel is caramelized, coated with sauce and tender (but still with a bit of firmness to it).

To serve, toss the fennel in a bowl with the dill. Taste and adjust seasoning. Arrange on a serving plate with spoonfuls of goat cheese, a drizzle of olive oil if desired and garnished with the reserved fennel fronds and the lemon zest. 

Notes/Results: Oh yes, this fennel made me happy. Such a great combination of sweet, herby, savory, and tangy. I made a half-batch with three small-ish fennel bulbs and halving or reducing most of the the other ingredients and then proceeded to eat the entire soup-size bowl for dinner with no regrets. ;-) Yes, there is a good amount of butter, olive oil, and sugar in this recipe but it is a splurge-worthy indulgence indeed. I was going to replace the sugar with honey, but instead I used about 2/3 of a tablespoon of coconut sugar and it worked well. I will definitely make this again.

In addition to saving IHCC, introducing me to the wonders of sumac and harissa, and teaching me how adding ice water to hummus while blending makes it ultra-fluffy, Ottolenghi led me to cooking some incredibly delicious dishes. I learned not to fear long lists of ingredients and to trust implicitly, his unique flavor and ingredient combinations.
That makes it hard to choose my favorite Ottolengi recipes as there have actually been very few that were not favorites, but I limited myself to my Top 5--the ones I loved, craved, and still think of the most.

I tried to resist having multiple soup recipes as favorites, but Ottolenghi makes it difficult as his soups are incredibly delicious with great layers of flavor. So, I narrowed myself down to two soups. The Garlic Soup with Chickpeas and Harissa from Plenty is probably my favorite Ottolenghi soup out of the many I have tried. The flavor is in the garlic (there's 25 cloves in the soup), herbs, and in the homemade harissa paste that goes on top. To make it more substantial, I added in the chickpeas and it was perfect. Mmm... makes me want to go make it again right now! ;-)

The Spicy Chickpea and Freekeh Soup from Plenty More is my second favorite soup, both for the hearty and nicely-spiced soup itself, as well as the fabulous Creamed Feta Paste that topped it. Hearty, warm and spicy, this is a satisfying and memorable bowl of soup. 

Barley Risotto with Marinated Feta from Jerusalem makes me happy just to look at it. It was one of my first forays into non-rice risotto and it was AMAZING! Just a great example of the combining of flavors and ingredients in unexpected ways that Ottolenghi is known for. 

A recipe that I loved and remake frequently is the wonderful Asparagus and Samphire (Sea Asparagus) from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. Since sea asparagus is readily available here and I can find local asparagus most of the year, it's an easy and delicious starter or side salad with fish and I love the fresh tarragon and sesame-garlic dressing.   

I make variations of Ottolenghi's Walnut & Fruit Crumble Cream from Jerusalem (here it's Almond/Walnut & Blueberry Crumble Cream) all of the time--in fact I am cooking a gluten-free version for a GF cooking class series I am teaching this month. There is nothing I don't love about this recipe--the fruit, the nutty crumb topping, and the pillowy cloud of spiced cream, yogurt, and mascarpone cheese is the stuff dreams are made of. 

There are my Top Five Ottolenghi Favorites. However, if you click on the Yotam Ottolenghi tab on my side bar, you can see more of how his wonderful recipes came to life in my kitchen. 

Do you have an Ottolenhi favorite?

You can see the Ottolengi recipes that everyone made this week for our Monthly Featured Chef Event by checking out the picture links on the IHCC post. 

I'm also linking up this review and recipe to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Ellie Kreiger's Healthier Creamed Spinach (A Dairy-Free Version)

I adore creamed spinach. I love it as a side dish. I can eat it as an entree. Shortly after I stopped eating meat and poultry a few years back a friend of mine celebrated his birthday at a steak house. There was a fish entree and some seafood on the menu too, but I wasn't really in the mood for that and instead I ordered a side of creamed spinach and a side of mushrooms for my entree. At first, my friend kept apologizing for the restaurant pick but I think it became apparent that I was completely content with my dinner choices. ;-)

The only thing I don't love about creamed spinach is the amount of fat and calories it contains--making it most suitable as a occasional indulgence. This week's theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs is side dishes and I knew wanted to try Ellie Krieger's healthier Creamed Spinach from her So Easy cookbook since I've had it tagged to make for ages. To make it a true side dish, I served the spinach with some wild King salmon--simply seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little Old Bay Seasoning, seared or blackened on all sides over high heat (and a bit of coconut oil) and then cooked until just past translucent inside.  

I made some changes to the recipe based both on what I had on hand and to pump up the flavor a bit as I noticed it had mixed reviews on Food Network. I don't keep milk on hand since dairy makes me stuffy (I try to save my dairy-eating for good cheese indulgences), and so I used non-dairy unsweetened coconut milk instead of low-fat milk and unflavored coconut creamer in place of the evaporated milk. For flavor, I added 1/4 cup more of shallots--taking some extra time to caramelize them, and added four cloves of garlic. I am not a big nutmeg fan so I subbed in sweet paprika, added a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and used a good amount of cracked black pepper. My changes are in red below, as are a few cooking tips that helped with flavor and texture.

Creamed Spinach
Adapted from So Easy by Ellie Krieger  or at
(Makes 8 Servings)

2 10-oz packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 small shallots, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup) (I used about 3/4 cup)

(I added 4 cloves of garlic, minced)
4 tsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups low-fat (1%) milk (I used So Delicious unsweetened coconut milk)
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth (I used homemade no-salt veggie stock)
2 Tbsp evaporated milk
(I used coconut milk creamer)
pinch of ground nutmeg (I used a large pinch of sweet paprika) 
(I added a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Squeeze all of the water from the spinach. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the flour to the pan and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the low-fat milk and broth and cook, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook 2 minutes.

Add the spinach and simmer until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the evaporated milk and nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper.

Deb's Cooking Tips for this recipe: I think the key to making this dish its best is to give it some extra time and love. Ellie notes to squeeze all the water from the spinach and it needs to be as dry as possible--whatever your method for draining spinach. (I use my TofuXpress, defrosting the spinach completely in a colander first, then putting it in the press using the heavier spring. I pour the pressed liquid out every 15 minutes or so for the first hour, then loosen the press, stir the spinach, and press again, leaving it overnight in the fridge. When I am ready to use it, I dump any remaining liquid and remove the spinach from the dress onto a clean kitchen towel. I take a few minutes to "fluff" out the spinach, separating it so that it is easier to stir into the cream.) I cooked the shallots longer than the 2 minutes in the recipe--about 8-10 minutes, until they begin to color and caramelize a bit, then add the garlic and continued to saute another 2-3 minutes. It takes a bit longer but is well worth it in terms of taste. Texture-wise, I made sure to cook the flour well and gradually stirred in the broth first, whisking until completely smooth before adding the (coconut) milk. I then simmered the cream sauce for 5 minutes, until it was nice and thick, before stirring in the spinach and cooking until tender. Taking this extra time and effort yielded ultra creamy spinach.

Notes/Results: Nothing completely takes the place of a butter, cream, and cheese-filled creamed spinach, but this was a great substitute. It's still rich, creamy and flavorful and so much healthier and less guilt-inducing. In case you were worried, it doesn't taste like coconut and using it in place of dairy milk adds a bit more fat, but less calories. I would be happy eating it as my entree but it was delicious with the salmon. I have plenty leftover and it may end up as breakfast tomorrow, warmed and with a fried egg on top. I would definitely make it again when I get a craving--with the changes I mentioned above. 
You can see what Ellie Krieger recipes everyone cooked for our Scentsational Sides theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs by checking out the picture links on the post. 


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Middle Eastern Couscous with Saffron, Crispy Onion-Crusted Mahi Mahi, and My Top Ten Favorite Jacques Pépin Recipes

This is our last week cooking with Jacques Pépin at I Heart Cooking Clubs--at least on a weekly basis. I'm sending him off with two recipes from his More Fast Food My Way; Middle Eastern Couscous and a Crispy Onion-Crusted Mahi Mahi.  

I first made and posted the couscous back in September 2008 and I have made it a few times since, loving the color, aroma, and flavor from the saffron. I like it as a side dish for fish and had some local mahi mahi to use up this weekend. I liked the idea of crumbing the mahi with pulverized canned or packaged french-fried onions before pan-frying it, and took that preparation from Jacques's Onion-Crusted Sole with Anchovy Butter.

It's always fun to go back and remember the recipes I have cooked with the current IHCC chef and choose the ones that stand out as my favorites. I am afraid that I did not do Jacques Pépin justice this past six months in quantity of recipes. Much of the time was  tough personally for me, I took a blogging break, and I was not in the mood to spend much time in the kitchen so I picked mostly quick and easy dishes to make. I thought I would only be able to come up with my top five recipes, but actually when I went back and looked, I had ten recipes that I really liked. Most of these are pretty simple to make and all had a masterful combination of flavors and ingredients that I have come to associate with Chef Pépin.

My Top Ten Favorite Jacques Pépin Recipes

Middle Eastern Couscous with Saffron
Adapted From Jacques Pépin: More Fast Food My Way
(Serves 4)

2 Tbsp good olive oil
2/3 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
About 1 tsp crushed saffron pistils
1 cup Israeli couscous
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (homemade or low-salt prepared) (I used veggie stock)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 sprigs fresh tarragon or parsley for garnish (I used fresh cilantro)

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over high heat and add the onion, pumpkin seeds and saffron. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, then add the couscous and mix well. 

Add the chicken stock, salt and pepper, mix well, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Uncover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes longer to dry the grains and make them fluffy. 

Serve garnished with the herb sprigs.


Onion-Crusted Mahi Mahi
Adapted From Jacques Pépin: More Fast Food My Way
(Makes 4 Servings)

2 large eggs
4 mahi mahi fillets (about 6 oz each), or fish of your choice
1/2 tsp salt
6-oz french-fried onions (I used garlic black pepper onions)
3 Tbsp canola or peanut oil
1 lemon, quartered

Beat the eggs in a shallow bowl until smooth and well combined. Pat the fish fillets with paper towels to dry them thoroughly. Sprinkle both sides with salt. Put the fried onions in a food processor and process until smooth and powdery. Transfer the onion mixture to a large plate. 

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet. Dip the fish fillets in the eggs and then into the powdered onion. Cook on each side, until well-browned and just barley cooked in the center (about 2-3 minutes per side depending on the thickness of your fish), turning carefully with a large spatula. Serve with lemon.  

Notes/Results: The couscous remains one of my go-to side dishes. It is quick and easy to make but looks elegant, exotic, and pretty on the plate. The onion coating on the mahi mahi added so much flavor (I used a package of garlic and black pepper fried onions) and the fish was moist and tender. I didn't make the anchovy butter that accompanied the fish recipe this time as I felt the couscous and fish pairing didn't need it, but I will next time. An easy dinner and a great way to end six months with Chef Pépin.

I am linking this post up at IHCC where you can see how everyone said "Au Revoir Chef
Pépin!" by checking out the picture links on the post. 

We will be spending the next six months at I Heart Cooking Clubs exploring healthy and delicious recipes with cookbook author, registered dietitian, and healthy cooking expert, Ellie Krieger--so come join us!