Thursday, January 29, 2015

Maple-Orange Oatmeal with Caramelized Pecans

Here's a flavorful, quick breakfast for two, or one adult and a couple of kids.


Maple-Orange Oatmeal with Caramelized Pecans

Source: How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman
Yields 2 good-sized bowls

1 c rolled oats
1 c milk
zest from 1 orange
2 T unsalted butter
3/4 c pecans
2 T maple syrup, plus more for drizzling if you like

Put 1 c oats, 1 c milk, 1 1/4 c water, and a sprinkle of salt in a medium saucepan over high heat. Grate the zest from the orange and add it to the pot.

When the liquid comes to a boil, turn the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally until the liquid is just absorbed, 8-12 min.

Put 2 T butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. When the butter starts to sizzle, add 3/4 c pecans and 2 T maple syrup. Cook, stirring frequently and adjusting the heat so the syrup doesn't burn, until the pecans are coated and caramelized, 3 or 4 min. Turn off the heat.

When the oatmeal is done, divide it between 2 bowls. Top with the pecan mixture, drizzle with a little more maple syrup if you like, and serve.

Note: The first time I tried this recipe I made it with unsweetened almond milk. The texture and flavor were fine but I did require more syrup.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Tom and Sol's Favorite Burger

We've been on a bit of a Bittman kick while Betsy has been enjoying her copy of his latest cookbook. Some others of the family must have Bittman on our minds, too. Just a few days before Christmas, Tom and Sol treated Ty, Andrea, Leon, and me to these burgers in Amsterdam. They are juicy, flavorful, and beautiful, especially when garnished with sauteed tri-color peppers and fennel. Sol likes to grill up a few jalapenos, too.


Tom and Sol's Favorite Burger: Pork-Fennel Burger

Source: Mark Bittman
Serves: 8

1 fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into large chunks
3-4 cloves garlic
2 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, with some of the fat, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 T fennel seeds
1 teas caraway seeds, optional
1 teas salt
1/2 teas pepper, or more to taste

garnishes: orange slices, chopped olives, chopped parsley, or sliced fennel and peppers sauteed in olive oil

Place fennel and garlic into a food processor and pulse until just chopped; place in a large bowl. If any of the pork cubes are mostly fat, place those in the processor and run the machine until the fat is just chopped. Working in batches, process the remaining meat with seeds, salt and pepper, until meat is just chopped (be careful not to over-process). Add to the bowl and mix well. Shape mixture into 8 patties.

To broil or grill, the heat should be medium high and the rack about 4 inches from the heat source. Cook the patties about 5 minutes on each side, turning once and then again if necessary, about 8-10 minutes total. On the stovetop, heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat (know your stove and adjust accordingly) and add patties; cook undisturbed for about 3 minutes then rotate them so they brown evenly. When browned, turn over. Total cooking time is about 10 minutes. The patties can remain slightly pink in the center.

Garnish and serve on buns, or not.
For more on grinding your own meat for a variety of burgers, see this article by Mark Bittman


Friday, January 23, 2015

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Michael and I both adore these Brussels sprouts. I've eaten Brussels sprouts a number of ways, and so far this is my favorite. Rarely do sprouts inspire second helpings, but these do, for both of us.

As I've tried more recipes from How to Cook Everything Fast, I've learned that Bittman's prep times are shorter than they are for me in real life. Whether that's because I have no culinary training or that I have little people around that interrupt me as I'm making dinner, I don't know. So I've had to make a few adjustments to the "prep as you go" nature of the recipes. This is one that I've made a couple of times already, and I expect it will make this vegetable much more common on our plates.


Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Source: How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman

2 T extra virgin olive oil
6 slices bacon
1 1/2 lbs Brussels sprouts
salt and pepper

Trim about half of the sprouts: cut off the bottom and remove the first couple of leaves from each sprout.

Put 2 T olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Chop 6 slices bacon and add them to the skillet. Cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until it releases some fat and crisps in places, 5-7 minutes.

While the bacon cooks, finish trimming the sprouts. Add the Brussels sprouts to the partially cooked bacon, along with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and 1/2 c water.

Cover and cook, checking once of twice and adding small amounts of water as needed, until the Brussels sprouts are a little shy of tender, 8-12 minutes, depending on their size.

Remove the cover and raise the heat to high. Cook, resisting the urge to stir too much, until the liquid evaporates and the Brussels sprouts become brown and crisp in places. Taste and adjust the seasoning and serve hot or warm.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hot Spiced Grape Juice

While at Betsy's house during the week of  Halloween, we made this drink with juice from mystery grapes grown in my garden and bottled in my kitchen this summer. On colder winter days I've made it at home, too. Warmed like this, it is much like hot apple cider but a bit more rich.


Hot Spiced Grape Juice

Source:  The New Midwestern Table  by Amy Thielen
Serves:  8-10

1 quart home canned grape juice or 2 quarts store-bought grape juice or reconstituted frozen grape juice
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
3 whole star anise
1 teas allspice berries
1 (3-inch) chunk fresh ginger, peeled and sliced

Dilute home made grape juice with 1 quart water. Stir it (or whichever kind you are using) together with other ingredients in a pot and bring to a simmer on the stove-top or in a slow-cooker. Turn off heat and let steep for at least 20 minutes before serving in mugs. 

Salmon Frittata with Arugula

Frittatas (an Italian variation of omelets) are among my favorite quick meals and usually around my house this egg dish is a hodge-podge of whatever ingredients I can find. Although this means they are never the same, this method has the advantage of using up small portions of foods and increasing variety in our diets. I cook this frittata whenever I have left over salmon. Even if you can't find arugula easily, you should try this. You might try thinly sliced cabbage or radishes as a garnish, instead.


Salmon Frittata with Arugula

This is how I make frittata for Leon and me, although two thirds become leftovers, so this would be enough to feed four.

These are general guidelines since every time I make this, it is somewhat different. Don't be afraid to try this even though directions are non-specific. I've never had a bad frittata.


eggs: I usually use around 5 large eggs, but use more if my farmers market eggs are small
oil or butter
cheese: a couple of handfuls of Cheddar (I prefer sharp), Jack, Manchego, Asiago, Gruyere, Emmentaler, smaller amounts of Parmesan. I find that mozzerella is too mild but it could be used, especially if you combine it with Parmesan.
salt and pepper
allium: something from the onion family...scallions, leeks, or onions, cooked at low heat until soft, and/or garlic either minced or thinly sliced
greens: if you have them, either left over or a couple of handfuls of chard, spinach, or kale (or more arugula)
vegetables: if you have them, green beans, summer squash previously cooked
herbs: if you have them...chopped parsley, chives, cilantro, thyme...these are particularly nice if you don't have a green vegetable already in the mix.
salmon: previously cooked and broken into bite-sized pieces, around 1 cup
arugula: a large handful, or more, per serving (this is optional, but it pairs well with the salmon and gets one more of your veggie servings in) 

If you have raw greens, onions, or vegetables saute them in oil over medium heat in a 9-inch non-stick skillet until they are soft. This skillet should be one with a broiler safe handle (usually that means metal). In the meantime, whisk the eggs in a small mixing bowl. Stir in the salt and pepper, cheese, scallions, herbs, and salmon. Once the vegetables are soft, stir in some garlic and cook for 30-60 seconds. Make sure there is some oil left in the skillet so the eggs won't stick. Add a couple teaspoons more, if needed. Pour the egg mixture over the ingredients already in the skillet. Lightly stir with a rubber spatula to incorporate the vegetables, smoothing the top slightly. Let the frittata sit and cook until most of the egg mixture has solidified but the top is still somewhat liquid. Check occasionally with a knife, lifting the edge to see if the bottom is becoming over-browned. (On my stove-top, I cook this on medium, no higher.) You will likely need to cook this a time or two to know how your stove behaves; try it at medium, or medium-low to begin with.)

At this point, place the skillet under the broiler (about six inches below) and cook for 2-5 minutes until the top is lightly browned. (In my oven, I do not preheat the broiler, but you may want to do so.)

While the dish is cooking, clean and dry the arugula, tearing it into bite-sized pieces, if preferred, and place a couple of handfuls on each plate.When the frittata is finished, cut into wedges and nestle into the arugula and serve.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Spiced Lentil Soup

Betsy once pointed out that our comfort food file contains many foods with chocolate as a major component. As much as I love chocolate and find it comforting it is not the only food that I turn to when I need a boost. Although some savory comfort foods are the mainstays of my winter meals, they are worth cooking any time of the year.

When I was a young mom, my husband received an Air Force assignment to a location I'd never heard of and on a globe it showed up as a dot the size of a pinhead, Bahrain. As it turned out the whole family was fortunate enough to accompany Leon for three years of adventure. Of the gulf countries Bahrain ran out of its oil money early and at the time it was beginning to establish itself as a banking center. The island had not taken on the glitzy character of a Las Vegas on steroids. There was much that was still undeveloped and reflected the old culture of the Middle East. We liked to frequent a restaurant that had no sign with its name in English or Arabic. The proprietors drew attention to the place by spotlighting high ropes sporting red and white flags which waved in the wind. We came up with our own name, calling the place "Twenty-seven Flags." It was here that I first tasted homey, warm, and humble lentil soup with the perfect amounts of spice and lemon.

This particular recipe comes very close to my memories of the Bahraini soup and deserves a place in the comfort food file because just one whiff takes me back to a lovely time in my life.


Spiced Lentil Soup

Adapted from: cooks
Serves: 4-6

The authors of this recipe recommend using Lentils du Puy, a French green lentil. That said, you can use almost any tan, black, or brown lentil but cooking times may vary depending on the type of lentil you choose. 

3 slices bacon, cut into 1/4 pieces
1 large onion, chopped finely (about 1 1/2 c)
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped medium (about 1 c)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 T)
1 teas ground cumin
1 teas ground coriander
1 teas ground cinnamon
1/4 t cayenne pepper (or less if you don't like the heat)
1  14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 bay leaf
1 teas minced fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teas dried thyme)
1 c lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 teas table salt
ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 c dry white wine
4 1/2 c low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 c water
1/2 teas lemon juice
3 T minced fresh cilantro leaves

Fry bacon in a 4-quart heavy saucepan, stockpot, or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp. Remove from pot with slotted spoon and set aside. Remove all but 1-2 T fat from pan and add onion and carrots, cooking and stirring occasionally until vegetables begin to soften. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cayenne; cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Stir in the tomatoes, bay leaf, and thyme and cook for a minute or two. Stir in the lentils, salt and pepper. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the vegetables are softened and the lentils have darkened, 8-10 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to high, stir in the wine and cook for a minute while the wine simmers. Add the broth and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover partially, and simmer until the lentils are tender but retain their shape, about 30-35 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.

Puree 3 c soup in a blender until smooth. Return to the soup and stir. Add the bacon, lemon juice, and 2 T cilantro, using 1 T to sprinkle on top before serving.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Salted Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls

Everyone in the family has loved this little truffle. And they come together really quickly--about 15 minutes hands-on time, with 15 minutes in the freezer.


Salted Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls

Adapted from How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman
Yields 36 balls

2 T unsalted butter
3 oz bittersweet chocolate
1 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 c peanut butter
heaping 3/4 c powdered sugar
flaky sea salt or kosher salt

Put 2 T butter in medium microwave-safe bowl. Chop the chocolate and add it to the bowl. Microwave the mixture, checking and stirring occasionally until the butter and chocolate melt, a minute or two.

Add 1 c peanut butter and stir until it's evenly incorporated. Blend in 1 c powdered sugar and stir until the mixture is smooth.

Put a piece of wax or parchment paper on a rimmed baking sheet. Use 2 teaspoons to drop 1-inch balls of dough onto the sheet. Sprinkle the tops with a little salt. Put the baking sheet in the freezer and freeze just until the balls firm up a bit, 10-15 minutes. Serve.

The balls will stay firm in the fridge; store in an airtight container in between layers of wax paper. Depending on the size of your crowd, there may not be any left!

If you have more time, try rolling the balls in finely chopped peanuts before freezing.

Note: You may want to play with the sugar amounts in this recipe until it matches your taste for sweetness. The original recipe called for 4 oz of either semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, as well as 1 full cup of powdered sugar.