Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pancetta-Wrapped Asparagus

As I've mentioned before, I've been buying...and eating...a lot of asparagus these days. But usually by myself. My other half insists he only likes the canned version. (No comment.)

However, bacon (or something like it) is always a secret recipe to get him to eat something. So I pulled out the stops and prepared this as a side dish tonight. It was wonderful (and yes, he ate it.)

This is wonderful as written, but also can be broken into its parts. The pancetta-wrapped bacon by itself is delicious. And the dressing would be yummy on plain ol' grilled or steamed asparagus (or another vegetable for that matter).

One note: Make sure you have the pancetta THINLY sliced (a la prosciutto) when you get it at the deli counter. Mine was a little on the thick side and didn't wrap (or stay on the asparagus) as easily as it should have.

Pancetta-Wrapped Asparagus
From Food & Wine.
Makes 6 servings.

2 pounds medium asparagus
1/2 pound very thinly sliced pancetta
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons chopped thyme

Tightly wrap each asparagus spear in a slice of pancetta and refrigerate until chilled, about 20 minutes.

Light a grill or preheat a grill pan. In a small bowl, stir the orange zest and juice with the mustard and olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Grill the asparagus over moderate heat, turning often, until they are just tender and the pancetta is crisp, about 5 minutes total. Transfer the asparagus to a platter and drizzle with the dressing. Sprinkle with the thyme and serve.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Wedges

Cabbage is cheap. Cabbage is good for you. And cabbage is easy to prepare. So why aren't you cooking cabbage more often?

Here's a great recipe to get this green head back in your side dish repertoire. (Note: I would adapt in next go-round and shred the cabbage to make sure it cooks through more thoroughly...make sure you still brown it in the first step though.)

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Wedges
Serves 4.
From Everyday Food.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 head green cabbage, quartered through the core
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
coarse salt and ground pepper

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium. Add cabbage, and cook until golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes per side.

Add vinegar, sugar and 1 1/2 cups water; bring liquid to a simmer. Cook, turning once, until cabbage is tender (test by poking it with a knife) and liquid is syrupy, 12 to 15 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mediterranean Chicken Packets

Remember foil packs? Hobo packs? You do if you were a Boy Scout or went camping growing up. The old fashioned version included ground beef, potatoes, onions and preferably little seasoning. If you cooked it in the campfire, you ended up with burned potatoes and raw meat in the middle. Ah....good times.

Leave it to Martha Stewart and her Everyday Food to update, flavorize and "health up" foil packs. This version includes classic Mediterranean ingredients and healthy chicken. They're a full meal on their own, but a little couscous or a green salad on the side wouldn't hurt.

Note: I am printing the original recipe, but I left the capers out. I don't care for them. And the packets took longer to cook that the 22 minutes listed.

Mediterranean Chicken Packets
Serves four.
From Martha Stewart's Everyday Food.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (6 to 8 ounces each)
coarse salt and ground pepper
1 can (14.5 ounces) dices tomatoes, drained
4 artichoke hearts (from a 14 ounce can), quartered
12 Kalamata olives, halved and pitted
4 teaspoons capers
1/2 cup crumbled feta (2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place four 12 inch squares of parchment paper or foil on a work surface. Place a chicken breast on one half of each square, leaving a 2 inch border: season with salt and pepper.

Dividing evenly, top chicken with tomatoes, artichokes, olives, capers and feta. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning and oil. Fold parchment over ingredients and crimp edges to seal.

Place packets on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until chicken is opaque throughout, 20 to 22 minutes. (Note: Mine took 35 minutes to get completely done.)

Food/Wine Pairing:
Do like the Mediterranean folks do and open a rosé with this one!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pistachio-Crusted Pork Chops

Tired of fish and chicken the other night, the other half requested pork chops. From the trusty recipe file came this interesting recipe which gussies up traditional breading with the zing of lemon and the richness of pistachios. It's so good it doesn't need any kind of sauce.

Pistachio-Crusted Pork Chops
From Everyday with Rachael Ray.
Makes four servings.

1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
Four 1-inch-thick pork chops
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Preheat the oven to 400°. Using a food processor, finely grind the nuts, garlic, lemon peel and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Transfer to a shallow bowl; whisk in the breadcrumbs.

Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. Dip each chop into the egg, then coat with the nut mixture; transfer to a baking sheet.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chops and cook until golden, about 2 minutes on each side; return to the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 140°, about 20 minutes.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Carrot-Ginger Smoothie

Here's a healthy breakfast in a glass. I added protein powder and a tablespoon each of wheat germ and flax seed to mine this morning.

Make it even easier by "preassembling" it (minus the ice) in your blender container and refrigerating it overnight. All you'll have to do the next morning is add the ice and whir away.

Carrot-Ginger Smoothie
Makes one smoothie.

1 banana, cut into chunks
1 cup ice cubes
1/2 cup bottled carrot juice (or even better...make your own fresh juice)
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
3/4-inch piece peeled fresh ginger, coarsely chopped

Puree all ingredients in a blender.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Red Curry Shrimp Skewers

Here's a great and easy appetizer/snack. Most complicated part is putting the shrimp and basil on the skewer......

Red Curry Shrimp Skewers
Makes 24 hors d'oeuvres

2 tablespoons red curry paste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
24 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
24 large basil leaves

Preheat broiler.

Stir together curry paste, oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt and atir into shrimp. Spread onto a broiler pan.

Broil shrimp 4 to 5 inches from heat until just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes.

Thread base of basil leaf on a skewer, then thread shrimp, cradling it in basil by skewering tip of leaf. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tilapia with Balsamic Butter Sauce

Here's a recipe that adds great flavor to a menu of simply prepared ingredients: tilapia, mashed potatoes and sugar snap peas (although I substitued some simply sauteed spinach since I had it on hand).

Tilapia with Balsamic Butter Sauce, Thyme Mashed Potatoes and Sugar Snap Peas
Makes 6 servings.
From Bon Appetit.

Thyme mashed potatoes
3 pounds russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, quartered
4 1/2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
6 tablespoons (or more) warm whipping cream (or milk for a lower-fat option)
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme

Boil potatoes until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain; return to pot. Add butter, 6 tablespoons cream, and thyme; mash. Season with salt and pepper. Do ahead Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm over medium heat, stirring often and adding more cream by tablespoonfuls if dry.

Sugar Snap Peas
2 cups sugar snap peas, strings removed

Cook snap peas in boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Drain. Return to same pan; set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon butter to peas; stir over medium heat until warmed. Season with salt and pepper.

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 4- to 5-ounce tilapia fillets

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in each of 2 large skillets over high heat. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper. Sauté fish until golden, about 2 minutes per side.

Balsamic Butter Sauce
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Simmer vinegar and garlic in small saucepan over medium heat until reduced to thick syrup, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

When all components of meal are ready, rewarm balsamic syrup over medium-low heat. Whisk in 1/2 cup butter 1 piece at a time.

Divide potatoes, tilapia, and peas among plates; drizzle with sauce.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Two Asparagus Accompaniments

Asparagus is everywhere in the grocery stores and markets. Fresh and tender and inexpensive, it's a staple of my spring kitchen. Here's a twofer...a couple of easy ways to gild the asparagus lily.

Asparagus with Creamy Mustard Sauce
Mayonnaise has always been my secret weapon when it comes to steamed vegetables. Even if I'm not necessarily in the mood for steamed broccoli for example, I've discovered that a dollop of mayo on top makes it just that much more delicious. (Just don't overdo obviously.) Here's an easy sauce that kicks simple mayo up a notch.

In a bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar and 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle over steamed asparagus (warm or chilled).

Steamed Asparagus with Warm Goat Cheese
I've prepared these little crusted goat cheese disks before...serving them on salad greens with a tangy sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. I'd never though of them as an accompaniment to asparagus, but it's a perfect pairing. This was dinner last night.

Slice a 5 ounce log of fresh goat cheese into 4 disks; dredge in flour, dip in beaten egg and then coat with panko breadcrumbs. Freeze for 15 minutes.

In a medium nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add cheese disks and cook until browned, about 1 minute per side. Season steamed asparagus with salt and serve with cheese disks and lemon wedges.

Food/Wine Pairing:
Asparagus is a challenge to pair wine with. It can often make even a good wine taste metallic or otherwise "off." No reason to skip the wine though. With both of these recipes, the creaminess of the mayo and the goat cheese offers something for your palate to grab on to. Try an herbal Sauvignon Blanc (maybe one from New Zealand?)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sushi Etiquette

I've been eating lots of sushi these days. It's perfect as I work to lose some of this extra weight. Of course, I have to stay away from the decadently fried rolls that we Americans call sushi. And, more often than not, I'm ordering sashimi (sans rice) since I'm avoiding the dreaded "bad carbs."

So I was interested to read some tips on sushi etiquette in a recent issue of Bon Appetit magazine. I learned a few things...and it's been great conversation fodder with me and my sushi-eating companions.

  • When you can, sit at the sushi bar. Get to know the sushi and become a "regular." You'll be most likely to get the best and freshest fish. And perhaps an extra treat or two along the way.
  • It's OK to use your fingers for sushi or rolls. The loosely packed rice is likely to fall apart when you use chopsticks anyway. Just make sure you DO use chopsticks for sashimi.
  • Don't overdo it on the soy sauce or wasabi. After all, the purpose is tasting the freshness of the fish. Nigiri sushi (with rice) has a dab of wasabi under the fish anyway.
  • When you dip the sushi in the soy sauce, dip it in fish side first; the rice will soak up more soy sauce than you need. And place it in your mouth so the fish is the first thing to touch your tongue. Again, THAT's what you're there to taste.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pork Shoulder with Salsa Verde

It seems as if everyone is looking for the most economical meals possible. Every e-mail newsletter I get from the various foodie outlets seems to be concentrating on that. Of course, I've always looked for those kinds of opportunities. There's no reason that the Life Should Be Beautiful life should be complicated or expensive.

Here's a recipe that I prepared this afternoon. It's really quite simple, and the results are delicious. The piquant sauce cuts right through the richness of the meat. I cut the huge roast (15 pounds!) I had in two and shared the plentiful final product with some neighbors and my parents. After a couple of sandwiches made with the leftovers, I figure that this cost about a buck a serving. Economical indeed.

If you're not serving lamb, this would be a great feast for your Easter gathering.

Pork Shoulder with Salsa Verde
From Bon Appetit.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Salsa Verde:
3 anchovy fillets (or substitute 3 teaspoons of anchovy paste...always a good ingredient to have in your pantry)
1 garlic clove, peeled
3/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/3 cup (lightly packed) chopped fresh celery leaves (I have to confess I left these out and just increased the amount of parsley I used.)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage (ended up using plain old rubbed sage here)
1/2 cup olive oil

With small food processor running, drop anchovies and garlic through feed tube and finely chop. Scrape down sides of bowl.

Add parsley, celery leaves, lemon juice, lemon peel, red wine vinegar, chopped rosemary, and chopped sage. Using on/off turns, process until almost smooth. With machine running, gradually add olive oil.

Transfer salsa verde to bowl. Season with salt and pepper. NOTE: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Pork Shoulder:
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 8-pound whole bone-in heritage pork shoulder roast (Boston butt)

Position rack in lowest third of oven; preheat to 450°F.

Mix garlic, sage, rosemary, coarse kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper in small bowl. Brush oil all over pork, then rub spice mixture all over.

Place pork on rack set in roasting pan. Roast 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 300°F and continue to roast until instant read thermometer inserted into center registers 185°F, about 6 1/2 hours.

Remove pork from oven; tent with foil to keep warm. Let rest 15 minutes. Cut into 1/2-inch-thick pieces and serve with salsa verde alongside.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mini Cajun Mushroom and Crawfish Tarts

These are wonderfully complex tasting. And simple if you take advantage of frozen crawfish tail meat that you can find at most grocery stores..

Mini Cajun Mushroom and Crawfish Tarts
Makes 30 hors d'oeurves.

4 ounces crawfish tails (or substitute shrimp)
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh mushrooms
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 package semi soft cheese with garlic and herb (like Alouette)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon milk
2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
2 packages mini phyllo shells (30 total)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coarsely chop crawfish tails and set aside.

In a large skillet, cook the mushrooms in the butter until tender and liquid is evaporated (about 4 minutes). Add Cajun seasoning, lemon juice and pepper. Cook one minute more. Cool slightly.

In a medium mixing bowl, place cheese, egg and milk. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until combined. Stir in the mushroom mixture, the crawfish tails and the parsley.

Place phyllo shells in a baking pan or mini muffin pans. Spoon filling mixture into shells. Bake about 15 minutes at 350 degrees, until filling is set. Serve warm.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Asparagus Potato Puff

As winter disappears and spring pokes its head out, it's asparagus season. At this time of year, with the green stalks plentiful and less expensive, we'll have it at least a couple of times a week. So expect quite a few asparagus recipes in the next several weeks. This one might even be nice for your Easter brunch.

Asparagus Potato Puff
From Weight Watchers magazine.
Makes four servings.

3/4 pound large red potatoes, scrubbed and thinly sliced
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cup fat-free egg substitute (or use 1 1/2 cups egg)
1/2 cup fat-free milk
4 tablespoons grated pecorino Romano cheese (or Parmesan)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 red onion, chopped

Combine the potatoes and enough lightly salted cold water to cover by 3 inches in a large saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Uncover and boil 5 minutes. Stir in the asparagus and continue to cook until the potatoes are fork-tender and the asparagus is crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain the potatoes and asparagus in a colander and let cool.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Whisk the egg substitute, milk, 3 tablespoons of the cheese, salt, baking powder, and cayenne in a large bowl.

Spray a cast-iron or heavy ovenproof skillet with non stick spray and set over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir the asparagus and potatoes into the egg mixture. Add the egg mixture to the skillet. Reduce the heat; cover and cook until the mixture is almost set, 10 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon cheese. and transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake until the puff is cooked through and the top is golden, about 5 minutes.

Cut into wedges and serve immediately. (You can also refrigerate for up to 2 days and serve at room temperature.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pork and Lemongrass Wontons

When I was testing recipes for a post on Chinese New Year's a couple months ago, I made two kinds of steamed dumplings: these and these. But I also made these delicious deep-fried treats for my other half...he's a big fan of Chinese take-out crab wontons. They're delicious and the dipping sauce is a cinch to make.

Pork and Lemongrass Wontons
Makes 5-6 dozen.

13 ounces ground pork
1 teaspoon finely chopped (or grated) fresh ginger
1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, finely sliced
1 can (7 ounces) water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives or scallions
1/2 teaspoon chili paste (or chili-garlic paste)
2 tablespoons plum sauce
1 teaspoon chili oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Wonton wrappers
Oil, for deep-frying

In a bowl, combine all filling ingredients. Mix well with your hands. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.

Working with one wonton wrapper at a time, place about two teaspoons of the filling in the center of each wrapper and wet the edge of the wrapper with a brush or finger. Gather up the corners, bring the edges together in the center and press firmly to seal. Repeat until all filling has been used.

Deep-fry the wontons, in batches, in moderately hot oil for 3-4 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve hot with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce:
1/2 cup light soy sauce
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
1 teaspoon chili oil

Stir all ingredients together to combine.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Creamy Hot Artichoke Dip

This is as easy as it gets. Dump it all together and bake it up. With a can of artichoke hearts in your pantry, you're always prepared for last-minute guests.

Creamy Hot Artichoke Dip
Makes three cups.

1 can (14 ounces) artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, finely chopped

Combine all ingredients and place in small baking dish.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until heated through. Serve with tortilla chips, toasted baguette slices or veggies.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Warm Spiced Olives

Cold olives are a nice summery snack with a cocktail or a bracingly cold copita of manzanilla sherry. But there's no reason not to have them on a cool spring night as well. This recipe infuses a variety of olives with deep spicy flavors. Serve them warm with a rich red wine.

Warm Spiced Olives
Makes approximately two cups.

2 cups mixed olives
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs rosemary
3 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 long strip orange zest
1 long strip lemon zest
Extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place olives on 18 inch length of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Toss with the bay leaf and other spices. Add the citrus zests and drizzle with olive oil.

Wrap the foil around olives and seal seams.

Warm in the oven for 15 minutes. Serve while still warm.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lemon-Shallot Scallops

Here's a wonderfully delicate, but delicious way to prepare scallops. I paired this dish with an equally citrusy French Chardonnay at the 2008 Wine Dinner, but it would also go well with a Spanish Alabarino or a slightly herbal New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Lemon-Shallot Scallops
Serves 6.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds sea scallops
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons butter
3 tablespoons minced shallots
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup dry white wine (ideally the one you are pairing with the dish)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Sprinkle scallops with salt and pepper and add to pan. Saute 2 minutes on each side. Remove cooked scallops from pan and keep warm.

Melt butter in same pan. Add shallots and garlic; cook for 30 seconds. Add wine and lemon juice; cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat; sprinkle with parsley.

Serve over cooked rice or couscous or lightly dressed salad greens.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Szechuan Spicy Noodles with Carrot-Cucumber Relish

Here's another entry in the ongoing transformation of this blog into "Life Should Be Beautiful...and Asian." Thanks both to my ongoing health kick and my recent trip to the Asian market, lots of Asian recipes are getting pulled out. And this is one of the best ones yet.

And it's what I call a triple play. The recipe itself is wonderful just as is. But you'll also discover it's a wonderful sum of some delicious parts. The peanut sauce (minus the pork) would be great on grilled chicken, grilled shrimp or even steamed vegetables like broccoli. The relish also can stand on its own as a cool accompaniment to roasted or grilled pork. Improvise away!

Szechuan Spicy Noodles with Carrot-Cucumber Relish
From Cooking Light.
Serves four.

1 cup shredded seeded peeled cucumber (one cucumber)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded carrot (1 carrot)
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil

To prepare relish, place cucumber in a colander; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss well. Drain 1 hour. Place cucumber on several layers of paper towels; cover with additional paper towels. Let stand 5 minutes, pressing down occasionally. Combine cucumber, carrot, vinegar, sugar, and oil in a medium bowl; stir until well blended. Cover and chill 1 hour.

8 ounces udon noodles (thick, round fresh Japanese wheat noodles) (You could also substitute soba (buckwheat) noodles or even whole wheat spaghetti.)
1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup natural-style peanut butter
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon chile paste with garlic (such as sambal oelek)
Cooking spray
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions (1 bunch)
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
6 ounces ground pork
2 garlic cloves, minced

To prepare noodles, cook noodles according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and set aside.

Combine broth, peanut butter, soy sauce, and chile paste in a small bowl; stir well with a whisk. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; coat pan with cooking spray. Add onions, ginger, and pork to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until pork loses its pink color. Add garlic to pan; sauté 30 seconds. Pour broth mixture into pan; bring to a simmer, and cook 1 minute or until slightly thickened.

Pour pork mixture over noodles; toss well. Serve with relish.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

One Pot Ginger Chicken, Bok Choy and Couscous

Somehow I have become ad hoc Executive Chef to my parents. They're taking every opportunity they can for me to fix them a healthy dinner. This is what we had as we babysat my niece and nephew the other night. It once again fits in with the Asian/steamer bender I seem to be on.

One Pot Ginger Chicken, Bok Choy and Couscous
Serves four.

1/2 cup soy sauce
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
One 1 1/2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
1 bunch scallions, half thinly sliced and half cut into 2-inch pieces
6 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed and halved
One 10-ounce box plain couscous
1 1/4 pounds baby bok choy, halved lengthwise and rinsed

In a shallow baking dish, whisk together the soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil and ginger; stir in the 2-inch scallion pieces. Season the chicken with salt and add to the marinade, turning to coat. Let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Line a footed metal colander with 2 layers of damp cheesecloth, allowing 2 inches of overhang. Place in a pot and add enough water to just reach the colander bottom. Bring to a simmer; have a small pot of boiling water on the side. (Note: I just used my bamboo steamer lined with cheesecloth so the couscous didn't drop through.)

Pour the couscous into the colander. Place the chicken thighs on top in a single layer, pressing up the sides of the colander, if necessary; reserve the marinade. Cover and steam, adding more hot water as needed, until the chicken is cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, simmer the reserved marinade until thickened, about 4 minutes; strain.

When the chicken is almost done, scatter the bok choy on top, season with salt and steam for 3 minutes. Transfer the bok choy and chicken to a platter, drizzle with the marinade and top with half of the sliced scallions. Stir the remaining scallions into the couscous, season with salt and serve with the chicken.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Baked Lamb Shanks with Leeks and Carrots

In honor of my brother's birthday today, I'm posting a recipe from the wonderful wine dinner the whole family shared in December.

This was the main course. I paired it with a rustic, but refined Rioja Reserva. It's another winning recipe from Cook with Jamie.

I made a slight goof when I prepared the recipe. Thinking it was just another braised recipe, I put all the ingredients in my Dutch oven. That was probably all right, but my mistake was to let the shanks cook longer than the recipe called for. the lamb was wonderfully cooked and crusty, but the veggies on the bottom of the pan were blackened beyond edibility. So watch things carefully so they don't get overcooked.

Baked Lamb Shanks with Leeks and Carrots
Serves 4.

6 sprigs of fresh rosemary
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
15 fresh sage leaves
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
Salt and pepper
4 lamb shanks, French-trimmed
12 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
2 large carrots, peeled and finely sliced
1 onion , peeled and finely sliced
1 leek, washed, halved and finely sliced
Olive oil
2 cups white wine

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pull the leaves off two sprigs of the rosemary and place them with most of the sage, the thyme and the butter in a food processor. Pulse until well-blended and season with salt and pepper.

With a knife, create a pocket between the meat and bone of each lamb shank. Divide the butter between the pockets, pushing the butter in with your fingers.

Tear off four large pieces of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Divide the vegetables and garlic among the four sheets, creating a pile in the middle of each sheet. Rub the lamb shanks with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place one shank on the top of each pile of vegetables. Top each with a sprig of rosemary and a few sage leaves.

Pull up the sides of the foil around each shank and pour 1/2 cup white wine into each. Gather the foil around the bone and pinch to tighten. Tear or cut excess foil off if desired.

Place the four parcels in a baking pan with the bones facing up. Bake for 2 1/2 hours. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Spanikopita Cups

Here's an easy appetizer that delivers the great taste of spanikopita without all the work. the recipe calls for puff pastry (and it's delicious), but I might try pre-made phyllo cups next time fo an even truer take on spanikopita.

Spanikopita Cups
Makes 24 appetizers.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 (10 ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut twelve 2 1/2 inch rounds from each puff pastry sheet; prick each with a fork. Press into a mini-muffin pan.

Heat olive oil in medium skillet. Add onion and cook until soft. Stir in spinach, feta and pepper. Fill puff pastry shells with spinach mixture.

Bake at 375 degrees until golden, about 20 minutes.

Food/Wine Pairing: I served this at a wine dinner paired with an Italian sparkling wine, Zardetto Prosecco. I think the toastiness of sparklers (especially true Champagne) is great with any appetizer involving puff pastry. Try it and see.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Soba Noodles with Shrimp and Snow Peas

One of my purchases on my Asian market field trip a couple of weeks ago was soba noodles. They're much like spaghetti, but made with buckwheat flour, so perfectly fine for me to eat as I look for "good" carbs for my diet.

With the soba in hand and a Martha Stewart brown rice bowl recipe as inspiration, I made a wonderful lunch of soba with shrimp and snow peas in a spicy-sweet sauce. It's easy, healthy and delicious.

Soba Noodles with Shrimp and Snow Peas
Serves four.

4 servings soba noodles
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp
1/2 pound snow peas, trimmed and halved on the diagonal
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated or finely minced
1 tablespoon chile/garlic paste

Cook soba noodles according to directions. Drain and rinse with hot water. Set aside and keep warm.

Meanwhile, mix the soy sauce and next three ingredients and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a wok or large skillet and add shrimp and show peas. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until shrimp are opaque and snow peas are bright green, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add ginger and chile-garlic paste and saute for another thirty seconds. Add sauce and stir until heated through, another thirty seconds.

Serve immediately over soba noodles.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Buttermilk Cornbread with Black-Eyed Peas

At my house, the other half "cushions" a bowl of my famous black-eyed peas with cornbread. This is the next best thing, I guess. The black-eyed peas are IN the cornbread. (Of course you can gild the lily and serve it with some more black-eyed peas dumped on top.) It would be great as a side with fried chicken or chicken-fried steak.

Buttermilk Cornbread with Black-Eyed Peas
From EveryDay with Rachael Ray.
Makes 12 servings.

2 1/4 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
5 tablespoons butter, melted
One 15.5-ounce can black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained (I used two cups of leftover homemade black-eyed peas that I rinsed...still had yummy bits of bacon and onion in them.)
One 4-ounce can chopped green chiles, drained

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate large bowl, stir together the buttermilk, cheese, eggs and butter. Stir in the black-eyed peas and the chiles, if using.

Add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients; using a fork, stir gently until just combined. Pour into the prepared baking dish and bake until golden-brown, about 25 minutes. Let stand for 20 minutes, then cut into 12 squares.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Baby Lobster Rolls

Here's an elegant appetizer that you should serve at an elegant dinner party or some other "dress up" occasion... Or just fix up a batch and sit on the couch! A bumper catch of lobster has prices at very low levels...so indulge.

Baby Lobster Rolls
Makes 16 appetizers.

8 slices dense white bread (like Pepperidge Farm) or 16 brioche buns
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 medium cucumber with half the peel removed in stripes and sliced into 16 paper-thin slices
1 cup cooked lobster meat
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 tablespoon green onion, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix lobster, mayonnaise, tarragon, green onions and seasonings.

Use a small cookie cutter to cut sixteen bread rounds.

Brush both sides of the bread and toast them under a broiler until golden on both sides, turning once. Set aside and let cool.

Place a slice of cucumber on each round and top with a tablespoon of the lobster mixture.

Food/Wine Pairing: Lobster? Champagne or another of your favorite sparkling wines of course...

Friday, March 06, 2009

Wasabi Dressing

This feisty salad dressing is from a more complete salad recipe in Food & Wine. I post the dressing recipe by itself here, because it lends itself to so many salad ingredients.

Start with a bed of "neutral" lettuce like butter lettuce. Then, add your favorites. Poached shrimp or chicken. Asian pear. Cucumber. Avocado. Scallions. Celery. Water chestnuts. You name it. (Although notice that these are not strongly flavored ingredients. You want the dressing to star in this salad. So I'd avoid things like radishes and red onion.) Then, instead of croutons, top it with sliced almonds or even better...slightly crushed wasabi peas. Yum.

Wasabi Dressing
Makes almost one cup dressing.
(These are the original proportions, but I halved the recipe quite easily.)

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons wasabi powder
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons water
Salt and pepper

Whisk all ingredients together and season with salt and pepper.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Cocktail of the Week: Caipiroska

A couple of nights ago, I hung out with a friend at Alo, a hip offshoot of La Duni here in Big D. I had a wonderful frozen concoction of lime juice, pisco and Pama (pomegranate liqueur) and it got me thinking about (and craving) those wonderful summer cocktails like the mojito and the caiparinha.

Well, the next day, I found myself in a conversation with a friend of mine who is gifted and talented in all things Latin American. I asked him about the difference between pisco and cachaça. (Yeah...our conversations are always that deep and philosophical.) Well, he set me straight, and after explaining the differences (countries and distillation sources), mentioned that he thought both tasted like (unmentionable). As an alternative he prefers, he offered the caipiroska (caipirinha made with vodka). So I tried it last night....

It was quite tasty. Smooth...almost like a vodka gimlet. (Not surprising since the ingredients are quite similar.) Here's the recipe I used. (Note: I like my caipirinhas/caipiroskas sweeter and limier than traditional recipes.) I have to admit though...I also still like the almost medicinal "bite" that cachaça can provide. Try both variations and see what YOU think.

Makes one cocktail.

Muddle one lime cut into eight pieces with one tablespoon superfine sugar in an 8 ounce glass. Add the juice from one half lime. Fill glass with crushed ice and then top things off with vodka (use cachaça for the traditional caipirinha). Stir and drink up. Salud!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Slow-Cooker Vegetable Chili

I seem to be making a lot of chilies these days. And apparently the only thing that makes a soup a chili is the addition of chili powder. Here's one that utilizes another of my favorites...the good ol' Crock Pot. It's healthy too...a Mexican minestrone, if you will..,

(Note: Although the other half and a neighbor disagreed with me, I think this could use a little more spice. You might experiment with a bit more chili powder. Or add a dash of cayenne or crushed red pepper....)

Slow-Cooker Vegetable Chili
From Southern Living.
Makes 15 servings.

2 large carrots, diced (1 cup)
2 celery ribs, diced (1/2 cup)
1 medium-size sweet onion, diced
Vegetable cooking spray
2 (8 ounce) packages sliced fresh mushrooms
1 large zucchini, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
1 yellow squash, chopped (1 cup)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon seasoned pepper
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
3 cups tomato juice
2 (14 1/2 ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained (You could use Rotel-style tomatoes if you'd like.)
4 (15 ounce) cans pinto, black, great Northern, or kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen whole kernel corn

Sauté first 3 ingredients in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat 10 minutes or until onions are translucent. Add mushrooms, zucchini, and squash; sauté 3 more minutes. Add chili powder and next 2 ingredients, and sauté 5 more minutes.

Stir together tomato sauce and tomato juice in a 6-qt. slow cooker until smooth. Stir in diced tomatoes, next 2 ingredients, and carrot mixture. Cover and cook on LOW 8 hours.

Note: Cool leftovers, and freeze in plastic freezer containers or zip-top plastic freezer bags for up to 2 months.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Spicy Stir-Fried Chinese Long Beans with Peanuts

One of the treasures I found in my recent Asian market outing was Chinese long beans. While they are the same color and general shape as traditional string beans, they are much longer. I found this recipe that featured them. It was delicious...earthy, nutty, spicy. It's worth trying to find them. Although if you can't, try the same treatment with "regular" green beans.

Note: I didn't have fresh Thai chiles on hand (and there seems to be different definitions of what that means anyway) so I used a combination of one serrano and one jalapeno, seeded and diced finely. Plus I threw in a half-teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes. I have posted the original recipe below, however.

Spicy Stir-Fried Chinese Long Beans with Peanuts
From Gourmet.
Serves four.

1 1/2 lb Chinese long beans
1/2 cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts (2 1/2 oz; not cocktail peanuts)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 to 3 small fresh Thai chiles (to taste), finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 large shallot, halved lengthwise, then very thinly sliced crosswise (1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Cook untrimmed beans in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer with tongs to a large bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking, then drain in a colander and pat dry with paper towels. Trim beans and cut crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces.

Meanwhile, pulse peanuts in a food processor until about half of peanuts are finely ground and remainder are in very large pieces (do not grind to a paste).

Stir together soy sauce, chiles, and salt in a small bowl.

Heat wok over high heat until a bead of water dropped onto cooking surface evaporates immediately. Add oil, swirling to coat wok, then add garlic and stir-fry until garlic begins to turn pale golden, about 5 seconds. Add peanuts, and stir-fry until all of mixture is golden, about 30 seconds. Add beans, and stir-fry until hot and well coated, about 2 minutes. Remove wok from heat, then stir in soy sauce mixture and shallot, stirring until shallot has wilted. Drizzle in lime juice and season with salt, then transfer to a bowl. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Marinated Bocconcini

I refuse to consider this a cheat...even though I have posted a similar recipe before. This is a perfect example of a "theme and variations" recipe...something I am quite fond of. A combination of ingredients that can change to suit your own personal tastes. The constant in this one is bocconcini (those wonderful little balls of mozzarella) and olive oil. The seasonings are what you should feel free to play with.

Marinated Bocconcini
From Martha Stewart's Everyday Food.
Makes four servings.

1/2 pint bocconcini (about 20 balls)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon, peeled into long strips (I cheated and used a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice.)
4 small sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

In a medium bowl, combine bocconcini, oil, lemon zest, rosemary, red-pepper flakes, and salt. Let stand at room temperature, at least 30 minutes, tossing occasionally. (Or cover and refrigerate up to 2 days, bring to room temperature and toss before serving.)

Monday, March 02, 2009

Blue Cheese and Scallion Dip

This dip is SOOOOO easy. And just as delicious. We included it in our Academy Awards Party spread. And I think I am going to make it tonight to have with cocktails before a small dinner party we're hosting...

Try it with a good quality thick-cut potato chip. (I've become a big fan of Kettle Bakes lately.)

It's versatile as well. I can imagine it stuffed into a baked potato, as a sandwich spread or even a cool sauce on a grilled chicken breast.

Blue Cheese and Scallion Dip
Makes about 2/3 cup.

2 oz blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons chopped scallion greens

Gently stir together cheese, sour cream, and most of scallion, leaving cheese chunky. Garnish with remaining scallion.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sausage with Escarole and White Beans

This was dinner last night. It will have you pretending you're an Italian peasant. (OK...maybe in this economy the Italian part is the only pretending you'll have to do!) It's easy to make and the end result is delicious. Plus it's healthy. Escarole is high in vitamin A, iron and potassium. And the beans are a great source of fiber and fat-free protein.

Pair this one-pot wonder with a fruity Italian red and some crusty bread and you have a wonderful meal.

Sausage with Escarole and White Beans
From Real Simple.
Serves four.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage (Use turkey or chicken sausage to make things healthier.)
2 small onions, cut into wedges
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)
1 cup low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth
1 19-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 small head escarole, tough stems removed and roughly chopped (You can also substitute chard or spinach.)
Kosher salt and pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the sausage, turning occasionally, until browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest, covered, at least 5 minutes before slicing.

Add the onions to the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine and broth and bring to a boil. Add the beans, escarole, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the escarole wilts, about 3 minutes.

Spoon into individual bowls and top with the Parmesan. Serve with the sausage and crusty bread, if desired.