Monday, November 29, 2010

Salad Days: Beets, Pears, & Clementines

Salad days: What does that phrase even mean? For us, it means eating seasonal produce and putting more green than ever on our plates. In this post-Thanksgiving/pre-Christmas world we are living in, it just seemed right to eat a little lighter than usual. So we had salad for dinner both Friday and Saturday night after our big Thanksgiving feast on Thursday.

Here in the South, we can grow delicious greens in the fall and winter, and at the market, farmers are selling arugula, watercress, mesclun, and the like right now. In addition, the fall has some really wonderful produce to offer like beets, clementines, and pears.

I keep my salad dressing pretty simple in order to allow the flavor of the ingredients to shine through. You want a good olive oil to add some richness, a nice vinegar to add some acidity, and something to add a bit of sweetness and balance. It's simple to adjust this basic champagne vinaigrette recipe to fit almost any salad. If your greens are more bitter than you like, add more honey. If you are using citrus in your salad, back off the vinegar by half. It's important to taste to see how all of your ingredients go together and adjust your dressing accordingly.

Champagne vinaigrette:
Whisk together equal parts olive oil and champagne vinegar, add a spoonful of local honey, one diced shallot, salt, and pepper. This dressing can be enhanced by adding herbs such as thyme or a few strands of lemon zest.

Beet, Arugula, and Almond-Pepita Granola Salad:
2 cups small beets (peeled, quartered, sautéed in olive oil over medium heat until soft)
arugula (cleaned, dried)
8 sprigs fresh chervil
2 tablespoons granola (it's good, trust me)
4 thin slices aged white cheddar

Spinach, Pear, and Bleu Cheese Salad:
champagne vinaigrette
2 pears (sliced and placed into the dressing)
spinach (cleaned, dried)
1/4 cup chopped almonds
2-3 ounces blue cheese (crumbled)

Marinated Clementine and Pea Tendrils:
champagne vinaigrette
4 supremed clementines (sliced and placed into the dressing)
pea tendrils
2 slices of aged goat cheese

P.S. I'm running the Memphis Marathon in less than a week. As St. Jude Heroes, my brother, brother-in-law, and I are raising money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. Every dollar I raise will be matched up to $2000. So if you can donate to a worthwhile cause, or if you want to learn more about why I run, please click HERE. No amount is too small. Thank you for reading!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Dutch Baby + Strawberries & Sweetened Ricotta

"A Dutch baby a day!" the wife exclaimed after the first bite of this amazing and perplexing treat. I whipped up this one from a recipe I spotted in GQ. It's as simple as you can imagine. The cool thing is watching the batter climb the walls of the pan and then tower over them. I watched it happen, and I'm still not sure how it works. I am sure that is is one of the most delicious desserts I have ever tasted. I'm sure it'd be wonderful sprinkled with a little powdered sugar, but we couldn't resist stuffing it with macerated strawberries and sweetened ricotta cheese.

Dutch Baby

2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a 10-12 inch frying pan into the oven with the butter. Once the butter melts, pour the batter into the pan and return it to the oven for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.


1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
1/8 cup sugar

1/2 cup ricotta
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
1 tablespoon milk

1/2 a lemon
tablespoon of powdered sugar

Mix strawberries with 1/8 cup sugar and set aside. Whisk together the ricotta, honey, sugar, vanilla, and milk until well incorporated. Spoon the strawberries into the dutch baby, top with cheese mixture, squeeze the lemon on top, and sprinkle with powdered sugar. No real need for those forks; as you see in the photograph, you might as well just tear into it using your hands. Hmmm...I wonder what I'll put in tomorrow's Dutch baby.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Grilled Vegetable Terrine

Imagine a grocery bag brimming with fresh vegetables: squash, eggplant, mushrooms, red peppers, and spinach. Now picture it all being compacted into the size of a cheesecake. This terrine was my attempt to compete with the turkey. I have this same showdown every year. It's the centerpiece vegetarian dish I made for Thanksgiving, and I wanted it to be beautiful to look at without looking anything like a meat substitute.
It took 24 hours, 2 foil-wrapped bricks, and a little bit of babying, but I don't mind. In my view, that's what a Thanksgiving meal should entail: ritual and presentation. Each layer is seasoned, grilled, and bursting with smoky flavor; egg and goat cheese add richness in between it all.

This year, we did something new since we didn't host the event at our house. After all the prepping and schlepping, we had a relaxed meal with the Memphis + St. Louis crew. In addition to the vegetable terrine, we brought thyme-and-truffle mac-and-cheese (which the four boys under the age of five surprisingly loved), brussels sprout salad (everyone else's request this year), and three kinds of cranberry sauce (apple-triple-ginger was the winner).
We are so lucky and thankful for so many things. In addition, we have had a head-spinning surprise this week being named a Blog of Note and watching as more and more people discover our site, a labor of love since 2008. Welcome to those of you who have chosen to follow what we make; we hope to inspire you to get into your kitchen and cook as well as connect with the people you love over food that's great for you.

Grilled Vegetable Terrine

2 Not-Beef bouillon cubes
white wine vinegar
6-7 large portobello mushroom caps
4 medium zucchini
3 medium yellow squash
1 medium eggplant
6 red bell peppers (roasted & peeled)
20 ounces fresh spinach (blanched & squeezed dry)
4 ounces goat cheese
4 medium eggs
handful of fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic
olive oil
salt & pepper

Mix bouillon cubes with 1/3 cup of olive oil and 1/2 cup of white wine vinegar. Pour mixture over the gill-side of the mushrooms and set aside. Run the zucchini, eggplant, and squash over a mandolin. (Each slice should be about 1/8 inch thick, so adjust your mandolin accordingly.) Lightly sprinkle each slice with salt and pepper.
Now fire up your outdoor grill. This would be a great time to roast the red peppers first. Next, grill the sliced vegetables over a high flame for about 3 minutes per side. (You will need to do this in batches.) Set vegetables aside to cool. Finally, grill mushrooms gill-side-down for about 4 minutes, then turn them, weigh them down with a brick, and grill for another 4 minutes.

Into a food processor, add the spinach, goat cheese, eggs, garlic, parsley, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Blend mixture until smooth. Now you're ready to start assembling the terrine.

I formed my terrine in a spring-form pan, but you could use a loaf pan or even a casserole dish. I started with the zucchini just because it looked pretty; the first layer you put down will be the top of the terrine. Other than that, the order is unimportant. Between each layer of vegetables, spoon about 1/4 cup of the spinach mixture. Continue until you have used all of your vegetables.

Place the spring-form pan on a pizza pan or rimmed baking sheet, place a slightly smaller pan on top of the terrine, and stack two foil-wrapped bricks on top of that. Allow this crazy looking contraption to sit in the fridge overnight. The next day, remove everything from the top of the terrine, pour off and excess water that has been pushed out of the terrine during the compression, and bake it in a 350 degree oven for 2 hours. Allow it to cool completely before turning it onto a serving plate. Slice with a sharp knife. It's delicious with a little ricotta and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Whew! In the end, it really did seem worth the effort.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cranberry-Pomegranate Sauce

I always try to figure out a new way to make plain old cranberry sauce interesting this time of year. Maybe it's seeing the towering wall of gelled cranberry-in-a-can at the store is what always motivates me to try something completely different.

Making cranberry from scratch is super-easy and only takes about an hour at most. Since whole (huge!) pomegranates seem to be popping up everywhere for cheap right now, I think this sauce will be a good addition to this year's Thanksgiving table.

I'm going to experiment today with cranberry-clementine and triple-ginger cranberry-apple. Basically, you can make up any combination of juice, zest, sugar, spice, and cranberries -- it's sure to be better than whatever is hiding out in those cans.

Cranberry-Pomegranate Sauce

2 pints cranberries (organic ones taste sweeter)
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1 whole pomegranate
3/4 cup cane sugar
1 tbsp. honey
Meyer lemon zest
pinch of salt
dash of clove powder

Rinse cranberries and pour them into a tall-ish saucepan. Pour in pom juice. Turn heat on medium-low. Cut the whole pomegranate and remove the seeds; you can run them through a food processor and strain out the seeds. Pour that into the pan along with the sugar, honey, lemon zest, salt, and clove. Cook for about 30-40 minutes until the cranberries pop and the sauce thickens.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Roasted Roma Tomatoes + Smoked Buffalo Mozzarella Pizza

This is one of my favorite pizza combinations I have ever made, and I have made quite a few pizzas in my day. The smoked cheese and the sweet, roasted roma tomatoes play well together on top of a quick-to-make olive oil crust. The flavor profile of this pie reminds me very much of southern barbeque with all of its sweetness and smoke. You must try this next time you make pizza at your house.

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups bread flour
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon rapid-rise yeast
1/8 cup olive oil
about 6 ounces of warm water

The flour, salt, and yeast go into the food processor with the dough blade attached. With the food processor running, pour the olive oil in and then slowly add enough water to bring the mixture together into a ball. You will know when this happens. Roll the dough into a ball and set it on a plate covered by a large bowl to rise for an hour or so.

For the topping:
10 large roma tomatoes (peeled, halved, and seeded)
1 large ball of smoked buffalo mozzarella (sliced)
2 ounces of goat cheese (crumbled)
parsley (chopped)
salt & pepper
olive oil

Place your pizza stone on the bottom rack, and start to preheat your oven to 550 degrees. Place tomatoes cut-side-up on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place tomatoes in the oven until they begin to darken on the corners. Remove tomatoes and turn them over. Place them back in the oven for a few minutes to get some color on the other side. Remove them and allow them to cool. Roll, toss, or pat your dough ball into a twelve-inch round. Add flour to your pizza peel and transfer the raw crust to the peel. Smash roasted tomatoes into the crust, and top that with sliced mozzarella and crumbled goat cheese. Slide this onto your pizza stone and allow it to bake for about 8 minutes. Remove pizza, drizzle with a little olive oil and return it to the oven for 2 more minutes or until desired doneness is achieved. Allow pizza to cool for a few minutes, add chopped parsley, slice, and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fire-Roasted Mini Poblano Peppers

Ahhh! The simple things in life. These flavorful little poblano peppers grown by Van Cheeseman of Flora Farms made one of my favorite meals, huevos rancheros, even better. I simply tossed the peppers in olive oil, grilled them over a high flame until lightly charred and soft, sprinkled them with Maldon salt, and allowed them to cool. The smoky, spicy, salty flavor of the peppers was a perfect complement to the richness of the eggs, the acidity of the tomato sauce and the starchiness of the black beans. Next time I get my hands on a few of these mini peppers, I'll stuff them with rice, cheese, and egg before throwing them on the grill. I can't wait.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Veggie Burgers (You know, the kind made with actual vegetables.)

You can use just about anything (except meat!) to make your very own veggie burgers. And you should, for all the reasons explained in this diatribe of mine. Basically, my homemade veggie burgers are always a combination of various grated veg + beans + onions, all held together with bread crumbs and eggs. (I've tried to make them vegan, but I found that the egg is my binder of choice.)

These particular burgers were made with 2 medium-sized beets, 3 carrots, a handful of spinach, some mashed white beans, red lentils, a small baked sweet potato, a caramelized onion, white wine, 2 eggs, and a cup of panko. For flavor, I add salt, pepper, a few tablespoons of mustard, maybe a squirt of ketchup, and a crumbled Not-Beef bouillon cube. I ran all the vegetables through the grater on my food processor, and the long strands of veg seems to help the burgers hold together. (Just make sure the finished mix is not wet. It should stand up on its own much like a bread dough.)

I added the other ingredients and then spooned them into 4-inch ring molds before baking them at 350 degrees until the tops looked on the dry side. Allow the burgers to cool completely, then panfry them in a bit of olive oil to serve. The burgers pictured had pea tendrils and homemade pickles from Van Cheeseman's booth at the wonderful Saturday morning Tsunami parking lot winter-long farmers' market, peeled roma tomatoes, and sharp cheddar on a wheat bun.

The Chubby Vegetarian Burger
(makes 15 large patties or 20+ smaller ones)

Meat (ha!):
4 cups mushrooms (any kind)
2 cups shredded beets
1 cup shredded carrots
1 1/2 cups shredded bell pepper
3 1/2 cups beans (pinto, black eyed peas, black beans, chickpeas)
2 1/2 cups barley (cooked in vegetarian vegetable stock)

Mash beans with a potato masher, but leave some lumps for texture. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the mashed beans, vegetables, and the barley.

Flavor base:
2 cups sliced onion
6 cloves smoked garlic
1 cup celery
1 vegetarian vegetable bouillon cube
1 1/2 cups white wine
1 tablespoon mustard
2 tablespoons ketchup

Slowly brown onions, garlic, and celery in a bit of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the vegetable bouillon cube, white wine, mustard, and ketchup. Raise the heat and reduce until most of the liquid has evaporated. Transfer mixture to the food processor and blend. Add this to the vegetable, bean, and barley mixture.

3 cup bread crumbs (panko or sourdough)
4 eggs (beaten)

Add breadcrumbs and eggs to the mixing bowl and stir until well incorporated. Stick the mixture in the fridge for at least two hours. This will allow the flavors to meld and will make the mixture easier to manipulate. Form patties by shaping the mixture into a tennis ball-sized ball and flattening it out onto a lined, oiled baking sheet. Make sure to smooth the edges with your fingers; this helps ensure they stay together. Each patty should be about 4 inches across. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until the center of each burger feels like it has set. Allow burgers to cool completely. Store patties in an airtight container or freeze.

To serve the burger, brown both sides in a skillet with some olive oil or brush patty with olive oil and grill over an open flame.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Curried Cauliflower Soup

My mother-in-law makes a delicious cauliflower soup every year at Christmastime. The problem is that she will only make it once a year. She always makes me my own special batch with vegetable stock rather than the chicken stock the recipe demands. I have tried to convince her that she could just make the whole batch with vegetable stock since there is no other meat in the soup, but she is a stick-to-the-recipe kind of gal, so I get a pot all to myself. I never understood how curried cauliflower soup became a part of the family tradition, but somehow it did. Here is my version with red curry paste and basil oil that is sure to make an appearance on your table this holiday season.

Curried Cauliflower Soup:

1 head cauliflower (broken into florets, stems chopped)
1/2 white onion (diced)
1 shallot (minced)
1 tablespoon red curry paste
pinch of lemon zest
1 Not Chick'n cube
3/4 cup white wine
1 can light coconut milk
splash of rice wine vinegar
pinch of sugar
olive oil

garlic chives
jasmine rice
thinly sliced hot peppers

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss cauliflower in a few tablespoons of olive oil and spread onto a baking sheet; roast until the tips of the cauliflower are golden brown (10-15 minutes). In a soup pot over medium heat, sweat onion, shallot, curry paste, lemon zest, and bouillon in a few tablespoons of olive oil until onion is soft. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the wine. Cook until the wine is reduced by half.

Add all of the stems and half of the florets of the cauliflower to the pot along with the coconut milk and sugar. Using an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth. Ladle soup into a bowl, top with a scoop of jasmine rice, a few of the roasted cauliflower florets, a drizzle of basil oil, and garlic chives.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Super-Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies

Okay, we don't usually cook like this. But once upon a time when our house was strictly vegan, Keebler Soft Batch cookies were the dairy-free guilty pleasure in the cupboard. This was many years ago, my children; it was during our six-year tenure at The Belvedere's corner apartment. #1001 loomed high above Union Avenue, and it featured the following: super-cheap, utilities-included rent, an unbelievable view of downtown Memphis, FedEx planes flying in at all hours of the night, and fire engines blaring down one of the six lanes of traffic at all times. Every crazy story we have comes from this time period, and really, this particular place. It also was where we learned to a cramped, dark kitchen with hideous 1980's appliances and little more than 2 square feet of counter space, no less.

So Soft Batch may no longer be dairy-free, but I still crave them at odd times. Late one night last week, it was decision time: would we make a grocery store run or find a recipe to try? This one is so close it's scary -- as is the amount of butter it requires. Still, it tastes a whole like the perfect cookies from the bright red package I remember.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Basil-Infused Olive Oil

This week, I desperately wanted to capture the taste of the basil that's still thriving in our raised bed herb and vegetable garden. I always love it when people pass along homemade infused olive oil, and it seems so thoughtful and impressive to know how to make it, bottle it, and then get to happily share it. I just had to learn.

Using this recipe made the process pretty simple, and now I have basil oil to use on salads and for dipping in bread, not to mention a last swoosh to top off other upcoming Italian dishes. (I'm willing to bet the straightforward recipe would also produce a knockout result with other herbs like thyme, rosemary, tarragon.) I did use two stacked mesh strainers instead of cheesecloth, and it worked out just fine.