Saturday, February 28, 2009

Colorful and Crunchy Asian Slaw

This is a salad that honestly pleases even the most ardent of non-salad lovers. It's crunchy, it's flavorful, it's full of color. All of the ingredients are in season through the winter, and readily available at the farmers market. Best of all, you can make it for a crowd for mere pennies - which is a good thing considering how fast it disappears! Trust me on this one - it's delicious.

Crunchy Asian Slaw
  • 1 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 6 cups shredded green cabbage
  • 2 cups shredded red cabbage
  • 2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1 cup celery, small dice
  • 1/2 cup jicama, small dice
  • 12 ounces snap peas, chopped
  • 8 radishes, small dice
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped (including green tops)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh cilantro, chopped
Toss all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Top with dressing (recipe to follow).

  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2+ tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons toasted Asian sesame oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1+ teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Up to 1 cup mayonnaise
Combine all ingredients except mayonnaise; stir until sugar dissolves. Slowly whisk in mayonnaise until desired consistency. Pour over salad, mixing gently to coat.

Profiteroles with Chocolate-Macadamia Semifreddo

As we've established: I don't make desserts. Lucky for me (and this blog) - I have friends that do! This is a recipe whose origins aren't exactly known (it was either a Martha Stewart or Sunset recipe of the month back in 1994....) - but my good friends Lori and Carolyn have been perfecting it ever since. Carolyn made the perfectly pleasing profiteroles a couple days ago to serve at a party in honor of yet another friend, Sharyn. It was such a hit, I knew I had to con her out of the recipe and post it here. Good luck to those of you eager to make it yourself - it's truly scrumptious, and not too sweet (an excellent criteria for dessert in my book!).

Profiteroles with Chocolate-Macadamia Semifreddo
Contributed by Carolyn Hindes, by way of Lori Morgan

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, plus 1 large egg white, if needed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Bring butter, sugar, salt and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from heat; stir in flour. Return to medium-high heat; stir with a wooden spoon until the batter pulls away from the sides of pan, about 4 minutes.

Transfer batter to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until slightly cooled, about 2 minutes. With mixer on medium speed, add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Test batter for doneness by dabbing it with your finger; as you pull away, a sticky thread should form. If not, add the egg white one teaspoon at a time.

Fit a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch round tip and fill with batter. Pipe 1 1/2-inch diameter rounds 2 inches apart onlined sheet. Gently smooth peaked tops with a moistened fingertip. bake until golden brown, 28-30 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. To assemble, halve the profiteroles horizontally nd fill with a tiny scoop of semifreddo (recipe to follow) and top with melted chocolate sauce (any chocolate sauce will work - find a good fancy one in a jar at your local gourmet market).

Chocolate-Macadamia Semifreddo
  • 2/3 cup salted macadamia nuts
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast nuts on a baking sheet until pale olden brown, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely. Pulse the nuts and chocolate in a food processor until coursely ground, Add 1/2 cup sugar; pulse until combined, about 7 times (do not overprocess; mixture should not form a paste). Set aside.

Beat cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a large bowl; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Meanwhile, beat egg whites in the clean bowl of electric mixer with whisk attachment until soft peaks form.

Fold egg whites into whipped cream; gently fold in nut/chocolate mixture. Spoon into a glass abking dish; smooth with a rubber spatula. Press plastic wrap on surface and freeze at least 4 hours.

Mo's Manicotti: Quick! Hide the Vegetables!

Whenever I can find a way to increase the vegetable intake in my diet, I do it. You'll find me tucking all manner of veggies into various dishes in all sorts of ways. It's sneaky, and it works! My husband inevitably devours the vegetable goodness long before I reveal just how veggie-packed his meal was. The secret is in the packaging. This recipe masquerades as a pasta dish, potentially oozing with cheese and calories. Not so. The pasta shells simply hold together a virtual garden of delights, with only a dab of fat-free ricotta cheese to lend it some creaminess. And the sauce is a scrumptious departure from a traditional manicotti marinara: it's made with fire-roasted red bell peppers, which kicks up the flavor quotient considerably - and the bright orange color can't be beat.

Mo's Manicotti
  • 1/2 package +/- manicotti shells (this recipe makes approximately 7-9 shells)
  • 1/4 cup(+/-) olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, diced fine
  • 2 cups button or crimini mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 cups zucchini squash, diced fine
  • 2 cups fire-roasted eggplant, diced fine (I had some grilled eggplant leftover from the day before - but found that the grilling makes for a much better flavor! It's worth the extra step.)
  • 1 pound frozen spinach, thawed and well-drained
  • 1/2 cup ricotta
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 1/2 cup mozzerrella cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1-2 cups skim milk, room temperature
  • 1 12-ounce jar or can of fire-roasted red bell peppers, juice included (equivalent to 4+ peppers if you roast them yourself)
  • 1 15-ounce can of tomato sauce
  • Kosher salt, to taste
Prepare manicotti shells according to package directions. Drain and set aside to cool. In a large pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, mushrooms, zucchini and eggplant; saute until onions are clear and other ingredients are soft. Drain excess liquid and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the spinach, ricotta and fresh herbs to the bowl; combine well. As you are mixing the filling ingredients, salt to taste. Stuff each manicotti shell with the filling mixture (there is no pretty way to do this - just use your hands and get dirty!). Set stuffed shells aside.

To prepare the sauce, start by combining roasted red peppers and tomato sauce in a blender. Puree until smooth; set aside. On the stovetop, make a basic roux: melt the butter over low heat in a suacepan; when melted and foamy, add the flour and whisk to combine. Slowly add the milk and continue whisking to create a creamy white sauce. When the white sauce is at the desired consistency, add the pureed pepper/tomato sauce; stir to combine.

Pour enough sauce to cover the bottom of a 9x12 casserole dish. Place the stuffed manicotti shells in the dish side by side. Pour the remainder of the sauce over the top, covering the shells thoroughly. Sprinkle with shredded mozzerrella, if desired. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20-30 minnutes, or until sauce is bubbly and the cheese has melted (don't overcook, or the pasta shells can get dried out).

Variation: Add chopped Italian-style chicken sausage to the filling mixture to add some protein.

Meaty Minis: Meatloaf - Right-Sized!

We love meatloaf at our house, but can rarely - if ever - justify making a whole loaf for just the two of us. So rather than forgo the comfort food (and the meatloaf sandwiches made with the leftovers!), I make individual-sized mini loaves by using muffin tins instead of a loaf pan. Voila - perfectly proportioned protein! Great for lunches, or to freeze for later. This recipe is a take on my husband's family recipe (the original is in the Fare to Remember cookbook) - and it actually is quite healthy, especially if you use ground turkey in lieu of beef (or just really lean beef!).

Mini Meatloaves
  • 1.5 pounds lean ground beef or ground turkey breast
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped fine
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup Dijon or course grain mustard
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste, thinned with 1 cup (+/-) water
Combine onion with just enough olive oil to coat in a saute pan; cook over low heat until onions are clear. Add all ingredients except for the tomato paste into a large mixing bowl; combine well. Fill individual muffin tins with the meatloaf mixture; brush the tops with the thinned tomato paste. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Let cool before removing from tins.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Lobster Macaroni and Cheese: Decadence Defined

If you know me well, you will probably be astonished to even see this recipe on my blog. It is just so completely the opposite of how I normally eat or prepare food, that you may question my motives and/or my sanity. But rest assured - my healthy eating habits haven't given up the ghost, but sometimes you just have to give in to the temptation of something so completely decadent that you're willing to pay the price (lots of extra time at the gym!). I fell in love with the concept of lobster mac-n-cheese at a wine industry event Randall and I attended some years ago in Lake Tahoe. One of the chefs at the event had prepared his version of this dish - I was hooked at the first bite. So, I came home and recreated it, and dust it off every now again when the occasion dictates.

Lobster Macaroni and Cheese
  • 3 cups uncooked elbow macaroni pasta
  • 12 ounces lobster tail pieces, fully cooked
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk, room temperature
  • 4+ cups white cheese, shredded (For this recipe, I like to use a combination of white cheeses. I use 1 heaping cup each of New Zealand sharp white cheddar, French Comte, a Swiss Emmental from France, and a Swiss Gruyere. I like the combination of sharpness/nuttiness/creaminess of the various cheeses, but if you just want to pick one white cheese and stick with it, that would work ok too. I'd recommend a gruyere.)
  • 1/4 cup white truffle oil (optional - but why the hell not?)
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook the macaroni according to package directions; drain. Start the cheese sauce by making a roux: Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. When melted and foamy, add the flour and whisk together to form a paste. Add 1 cup of milk; continue to whisk until mixture is blended and creamy. Start adding the cheese 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly. As the cheese melts, continue to add remaining milk and cheese in 1-cup increments. If the cheese sauce seems too thick for your liking, you can add in more milk as desired - just use small increments and keep stirring. Add the white truffle oil once all the cheese and milk have been incorporated. Once the cheese sauce is fully melted and blended, add the pasta and the lobster; stir well to coat. Pour mixture into a casserole dish (or in individually-sized ramekins - a great way to manage portion size... as if it matters!). Top with bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Bake in a 400-degree oven until topping is browned and the mac-and-cheese is bubbling, approximately 30 minutes.

Art of the Chokes

I love artichokes - don't get me wrong - but I'm not always a fan of the traditional method of eating them. Translation: artichoke leaf as a conduit for melted butter or a big scoop of aioli. Oh who am I kidding? I love that method too! But my waistline and my conscience don't, so I shy away from that preparation in lieu of this flavorful and much more healthful adaptation. When grilling artichokes, I often prefer to use small globe or even baby artichokes so that you can eat the whole darn thing - not just the bitty nub of goodness at the end of the more mature artichoke leaves. And the beauty of this recipe? No butter or mayo in sight - the artichokes are delicious all on their own.

Grilled Artichokes
  • Small globe or baby artichokes, stems and leaves trimmed
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Grill seasoning of your choice; McCormick brand makes several readily-available tasty combinations in its Grill Mates line of products (I make my own with a combination of dried minced garlic, gray sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper, red pepper flakes, a dash of smoked paprika and a dash of chili powder)
  • Parmesan cheese, grated
Start by steaming the artichokes until they are soft at the base of the leaves (you can easily stick a fork in to the choke), and the leaves pull away easily. Don't overcook them at this stage - they still have to stand up to the grill. Once they are finished steaming, slice them in half lengthwise when they are cool enough to handle.

With a teaspoon, gently remove and discard any of the bristly choke that sits atop the artichoke heart. Liberally squeeze lemon juice on the face of the artichokes, as well as in between the leaves (spread the leaves apart gently with your fingers to get the lemon juice down into its base). Coat each artichoke with olive oil. Dust the face of the artichoke with a mixture of grill seasoning and Parmesan cheese; also sprinkle the mixture down among the leaves using the same gentle spreading action employed for the lemon juice.

Place the artichokes on a hot oiled grill. Cook for 3-5 minutes per side, or until artichokes are nicely charred.

Pumpkin Risotto: How Very Stirring

There's nothing quite like risotto in terms of versatility. You can serve it as either a side dish or a main dish, and is just as delicious classically prepared or all gussied up. The creamy texture of perfectly cooked arborio rice makes a fabulous base for just about a million different variations; this pumpkin version is super easy, and is not laden with cheese and butter as the majority of risotto recipes are! The key to making perfect risotto is in the constant stirring. The starch in the arborio rice gets released as it cooks, and if you're not constantly stirring and adding liquid, it very quickly can turn to sticky mush. But it doesn't take long, so it's worth every loving turn of the spatula.

Pumpkin Risotto
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup arborio rice (and yes, it has to be arborio)
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree (straight out of the can is good, unless you really want to make your own!)
  • 1 cup dry white wine (room temperature); I recommend a chardonnay that has gone through a secondary malolactic fermentation so it has a rich, buttery taste - as opposed to a fruit-forward style of wine (for this recipe, I used a La Crema 2006 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay)
  • 3 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken stock (warmed) - use vegetable stock for a vegetarian version
  • Salt, to taste
  • Parmesan cheese, grated
In a heavy saucepan, saute the shallot and garlic in the olive oil over medium-low heat; cook until the shallots and garlic are clear and tender. Add the arborio rice and saute in the oil for about 2 minutes. Maintain a medium-low temperature as you introduce the liquid ingredients. Add the white wine; stir constantly. Once the wine has been absorbed, start adding the hot stock 1 cup at a time as it is absorbed. Continue to stir constantly. Add the pumpkin in 1/2 cup increments as you add the 2nd and 3rd cup of stock. Once all of the stock has been added, season to taste with salt and continue to stir until the risotto reaches a creamy texture and the rice is al dente. Serve garnished with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

Leaf it to the Grill

I had a grilled Caesar salad recently at Sonoma's El Dorado Kitchen restaurant. The warm grilled romaine reminded me of just how much I love grilled lettuces, and jogged in my brain a dish I like to make this time of year when endive and radicchio are abundant at the farmers market. Grilling these leafy bundles mellows out their bitterness, and makes for a delicious winter salad. The dish as I make it was something I learned when I first moved to the Bay Area and was on a date (with whom? I don't exactly remember....) at a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant in San Francisco's North Beach Italian neighborhood. The restaurant no longer exists, but thankfully, the execution of this dish is so simple that it was easy to recreate. The key to its tastiness is in the finish: a drizzle of balsamic reduction on top of the charred, wilted leaves - voila! Taste explosion.

Grilled Endive and Radicchio with Balsamic Reduction
  • Heads of Belgian endive, split lengthwise*
  • Heads of radicchio, quartered*
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, to taste
  • Balsamic vinegar
*Note: When slicing the heads of the endive and radicchio, be sure to leave the stem end intact so that the leaves don't dismantle themselves.

Brush the sliced endive and radicchio with a light coat of olive oil; season with salt. Place face down on a very hot oiled grill (or grill pan on the stove top). Cook approximately 2-3 minutes per side, or until the face is properly charred and the leaves have started to wilt. Drizzle with balsamic reduction and serve while warm.

To make a balsamic reduction, slowly simmer balsamic vinegar in a sucepan until it has reduced by half, thickens and becomes a sweet syrup. For this recipe, you don't need much - start with perhaps 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar and increase/decrease depending on the amount of endive and radicchio you are preparing.