Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Flatbread with White Beans, Chard and Sausage

We all get in ruts.  If you've been around for other posts, you'll see I have been in a soup rut.  I also tend to get in a rut of making sausage and greens soup or serving greens with sausage over polenta or as my go-to solutions for the neverending procession of greens in my veggie box.

When the weather is warming up however, suddenly the hearty soups and heavy meals I have made all winter are not quite as appealing yet I'm still getting greens and they won't stop coming til mid-June.  This week was our first Spring-like weather and the last thing I wanted was soup or polenta.  Although my raw food friends have told me chard is great as a salad green, that wasn't working for me either.  But, I did have some very flavorful cannelini beans that I had overcooked to the point they practically mashed themselves and lacking actual sausage, I did have some ground turkey that takes no time to make into simple Italian sausage.  I also had a batch of the basic dough from Artisan bread in 5 minutes a Day sitting in my fridge waiting to be made into pizza or flatbread.  So with a quick wilting of the greens and a few ingredients in the turkey to create the sausage, I had a great dinner.

Feel free to use ready-made sausage if you have it, leave it out for a perfectly balanced veggie meal or use grilled or sauteed chicken breasts coated with Italian seasoning.  Canned beans are fine, just drain them and mash them with some garlic and olive oil.  Use whatever greens you have on hand - spinach, chard, kale, etc.  And if you only have salad greens, bake them with only the beans and sausage then top with a quick cold salad of mixed greens tossed with a light vinaigrette in the style of a piadini - a salad topped pizza that you fold and eat like an Italian taco.  I added the chopped tomatoes and basil shown in the picture, but they are definitely not essentials unless it's tomato season.  In fact, when I made it the first time around, I only had oven-dried tomatoes so I reconstituted them in boiling water and used those.  (This is actually the more seasonal choice since tomatoes won't technically be in season for at least 2 more months.  I just happened to have some fresh pesticide-free ones on hand bought simply because I was craving them.) You can also add chopped artichoke hearts or olives if you want to as well before or after baking.

If you are gluten intolerant then you may want to try the recipe on this site for Pat's Thin Crust.

CWYG Stats

Veggie Box - Chard

CWYG Stats - white beans, flour, yeast, water, ground turkey, garlic, garlic

Flatbread with White Beans, Chard and Sausage
1 recipe Pizza dough (regular or gluten-free, your favorite recipe)
1 1/2 cups drained white beans, mashed with garlic and olive oil to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
Homemade or ready made Italian Sausage - not in casing (I use this recipe), optional
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 yellow onion, chopped

1 bunch chard or other greens, washed, stemmed and chopped
Chopped tomatoes, or reconstituted dried tomatoes, optional
a few leaves of basil, optional
parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 475 degrees.  Divide the dough into 4 pieces and flatten each to make a 6-8" disk.  Slide into the oven on a cookie sheet or baking stone to partially bake.  Set aside.

Cook Italian sausage, if using, in the olive oil, then remove and reserve oil in skillet. Saute garlic and onion in the olive oil, then add the chard and a little water.  Season with salt then toss to wilt.

Layer beans, greens and sausage and roasted tomatoes (save fresh ones til after baking), artichokes or olives if using, on the partially baked flatbreads, then sprinkle with a little cheese if you want to. Slide them back into oven and bake until the crust is well-browned.  Garnish with chopped raw tomatoes and basil if you have them.  Feel free to drizzle with a little extra olive oil and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Super Easy Mac N Cheese (no Boxes required!)

Harry can't get enough pasta.  He recently asked me to make him a 3 gallon pot full of mac n cheese for his birthday meal.  While I probably won't make quite that much (although I did suggest making that much and freezing small containers that would be all his for his birthday present...I saw the wheels turning in his brain!  "Mine, all mine. Mwah Ha Ha!!")

He is longing to go to Italy (he says for the architecture, but don't we all go to Italy for the pasta and pizza?) and I know he's going to feel like it's his homeland when he does finally experience the REAL pasta.

So when I asked my kids what I should make for dinner tonight, I wasn't at all shocked when he said Mac n Cheese. And thankfully, they don't really have much of a grid for the boxed variety. (Though my kids know a blue box won't enter our house, they have heard tales of the "olden days" when Kyle and I would eat a box of mac n cheese right out of the pan.)  They know that means real cheese, milk, and pasta combined in some way will create a magically oozing, cheesy pan of goodness.  And had I not purposefully set aside half of it in a different baking pan for the following day's lunches, they would have easily finished it off that night - everything in moderation is our motto.

It makes me sad to know many American kids only know the salty-sweet blue box variety (salty-sweet should only describe a good dessert, not an entree) and think the homemade variety is gross. I've heard it so many times from Moms who were trying to do a good thing for their kids and since their kids' palates have been blown on the fake, they just didn't get it.  It's not only the blue box either, the organic and gluten-free mac n cheese brands may be more wholesome on the outside, but they are still reliant on a lot of salt and sweeteners, though they may be the organic versions. 

So, give it one more shot.  I literally made this in 15 minutes.  Getting the water to boil and the optional baking steps take the longest.  You can make the stovetop version of the sauce while the pasta is cooking and the best part is you have all the ingredients if you have kept your List ingredients stocked. By the way this recipe is gluten-free if you use gluten free pasta.  Or make it for yourself or guests and include a variety of fun cheeses (blue, Gruyere, brie, whatever you have on hand), bacon, sun-dried tomatoes, etc.

CWYG Stats
Veggie Box - carrots (not in the recipe, but I served alongside as a simple vegetable to distract them from the other awaiting pan)

CWYG Items - pasta, milk, cheese, cornstarch, mustard, butter, salt

Mac n Cheese
1 lb penne or macaroni
2 cups milk
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard (or 1 tsp mustard powder)
2 tsp kosher salt
4 cup shredded cheese, divided

Heat oven to 350 degrees if doing Baked version.

Cook the pasta according to package EXCEPT check it 3 minutes before it states.  The pasta should almost be crunchy in the middle if you're going to bake it.  If you're just going to do a stove-top version it needs to just barely be done.  The sauce will continue to cook it.

While the pasta is cooking, whisk the cornstarch into the milk and brink it to a boil.  After it thickens, add the butter, mustard, salt and half the cheese.  Stir in the cooked pasta.

Stovetop version:  Simply stir in the remaining cheese until melted and serve.

Baked version:  Transfer to a baking dish and top with the remaining cheese.  Bake for 20 minutes or until bubbly and golden on top.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprint Cookies - Gluten Free

On the days I'm not cooking for clients are prepping for a cooking class, my days are spent at a coffee shop.  I'm surrounded by noise, listening to my favorite tunes and looking at, thinking about and developing recipes for food.  These are my favorite days.  I'm in my happy place.  

Today, though I was also seeing a deluge of rain falling incessantly beyond the warm walls of my "third place". Milk and cookies became paramount to making the day better.  I don't even know where the peanut butter and jelly thought came from.  I rarely have PB&J worthy bread sitting around.  I usually make the crunchy crusted European style bread from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day that prefers to be topped with only good butter and acompanied by a frothy cafe creme. (I happen to be married to a would-be barista that can perfectly duplicate the cafe cremes we came to love in the cafes in France.)  But there it was, I suppose the comfort factor was part of it, but as I tend to do, a simple PB&J wasn't going to do the trick.

But cookies, that would work.  Peanut butter cookies with my kids making a thumbprint and filling it with the really good European style strawberry jam I had just picked up.  It was a romantic cookie-making daydream but I was going to make it happen.  

Four Ingredients...That's All.  You have them right now.  Go look!  (As soon as you're done reading and commenting on this post, that is.)

CWYG Stats

CWYG Items - Peanut Butter, Eggs, sugar, jam

Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprint Cookies
Makes 1 1/2 -2 dozen cookies depending on how big they are.
1 cup peanut butter (chunky or smooth)
1 cup sugar (I use organic unrefined sugar which is also called evaporated cane juice)
1 egg
Strawberry jam (or whatever you like) as needed

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the peanut butter, sugar and egg in a large bowl.  Form into 1" balls and place 1" apart on a cookie sheet.  Make a thumbprint in the middle of each and fill with about 1/2 teaspoon of jam.

Bake for 10 minutes or until the edges are just starting to brown.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Salmon Tostadas

Fish tacos are a everyone in California.  They started in the Baja region, but they are on every taqueria menu even here in Northern California.  With grilled or sauteed fish, salsa and toppings of cabbage, avocado and a tangy Mexican crema (equivalent to sour cream) sauce they are much lighter than the carnitas and other meat offerings at Mexican restaurants.  I love them!

So I found myself with a half head of cabbage in my fridge still left from the veggie box I received on St. Patty's day (appropriate, right?).  I had made the requisite Colcannon (it was ugly and really not blog-worthy, but it filled the need in my half-Irish husband along with his Irish beer.) with part of it but not wanting to throw out anything I knew there was something else to be done with it. 

As I started rooting around in my fridge to see what to do, I found some leftover Lime Pickled onions (lime juice and salt-soaked red onions), black beans, perfectly soft avocadoes, corn tortillas, a little cotija cheese (Mexican crumbly cheese not unlike feta but without the strong flavor) and the remains of two different salsas. In my freezer was a half package of Salmon burgers from Costco.  Looks like fish tacos to me.  The tostada idea came about purely out of necessity.  I only had a few tortillas and they were fairly dry - Grocery shopping day was yet to come in the week - so I knew crisping them up would serve two purposes: Hide the staleness (Is that a game?) and make them more challenging to eat and thus make everyone eat less than if there were plenty of nicely warmed ones that call for eating two or three extras with butter and honey or sugar at the end of the meal. (Bad habit from Mexican restaurants in Texas.)

I had done a Mexican cooking class the week before which accounted for the largely Mexican contents of my fridge. If you don't have these things, use canned salmon and beans, feta or other cheese in place of cotija, sour cream rather than crema, lettuce for cabbage, pickled jalapenos in place of the onions, whatever salsa you do have or even whip some up using pantry ingredients (Great recipes in both "Rock Star in the Kitchen" and "Everyday Mexican" recipe collections ready to download here.)  The point is, try these puppies.  They are healthy and a great way to get non-fish eaters to eat salmon. 

CWYG Stats
Veggie Box - cabbage

CWYG Items - salmon, black beans, tortillas, cheese, salsa, sour cream

Salmon Tostadas
8 corn tortillas
olive oil
1 lb salmon burgers or wild salmon fillets (Or 3 cans boneless, skinless salmon flake into big pieces)
Chile powder
2 cups refried black beans (or mashed canned beans heated with cumin and salt to taste)
4 cups shredded cabbage or lettuce
mashed avocado, salsa, cheese and sour cream for serving
pickled onions or jalapenos, optional

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Brush the tortillas with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Bake until crispy, checking periodically to make sure they do not burn.

If using salmon burgers or salmon fillets, season with salt and chile powder then saute in olive oil for 7-8 minutes or until just barely cooked through.  Heat beans and then keep warm.

Layer the beans on the crispy tortillas, then top with salmon, avocado, cabbage, salsa and cheese.  Drizzle with sour cream that's thinned with a little lime juice.  Finish with pickled onions or jalapenos or serve on the side, if desired.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Casual Friday - Soft and Crunchy Tex-Mex Tacos

We all know Casual Fridays.  They became popular in the 90's as a cost-free perk for corporations to offer employees.  Somehow, we were supposed to be convinced that the company cared since we got to wear jeans and costing nothing. I walked out on a casual Friday in 1994 from the corporate world and aside from a brief stint as a temp in 1995 when we needed extra money, I have never looked back.  I have been running food businesses of one kind or another since then and my life is spent in black t-shirts and jeans so everyday is casual day for me.  

Casual Friday has taken on new meaning with kids since it is in reference to dinner.  With a limited food budget and two hungry boys that can outeat my husband, eating out is a rare treat.  To make it feel fun, relaxed and weekendy, we generally lean to a homemade version of takeout and many times include a movie.  Pizza (balls of dough for each person to stretch and top), Asian, Mexican. Still fresh ingredients, no mixes or prepared ingredients, but fun none the less. And we can all get in on it.  Whether it's a make your own (MYO as my kids call it) dinner with all the assorted toppings sitting out for tacos or pizza or everyone rolling spring rolls to go with curry, it's a great way to end the week with everyone hanging out and "working" together.

El likes to have routine and heard about someone having Taco Tuesday.  We tried it for awhile, but I found that in order to stick with it, I was having to actually buy extra ingredients each week to do this in addition to my LIST ingredients so I decided to wait and do it on the occasions when I found the ingredients already in my pantry and veggie box.  This was the week. 

I got Little Gem lettuces in my box and had organic ground beef in my fridge.  The taco seasoning is mixed on the fly (have you ever read the ingredients on the packages?  You probably have all the good stuff in your pantry and the bad stuff you don't want anyway so skip it and DIY.) and we always have cheese and yogurt which is our sub for sour cream.  Salsa is so easy to make and so much better than anything on a shelf that I always either have some frozen or the ingredients handy to make it. (Want salsa recipes, see my Everyday Mexican recipes, here.

Frustrated with crunchy taco shells that always fall apart, we went a different route and used corn tortillas, with a big pinch of crushed tortilla chips (which are around quite a bit as well) added to each taco to give them crunch.  Use soft wheat tortillas if you want, but with the corn they are gluten-free.

CWYG Stats

Veggie Box -  Little Gem lettuce

CWYG List Items - ground beef, onions, garlic, spices, cheese, yogurt, salsa (frozen)

Soft and Crunchy Tacos
1 lb ground beef
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp ancho chile powder
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp paprika
1 cup water
corn tortillas
crushed tortilla chips, optional
shredded cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce, salsa and sour cream for serving

Brown ground beef in a skillet, then add the onion and garlic.  Saute until the onions and garlic are softened.  Add all the spices and salt, then saute for another 2 minutes to toast spices.  Add 1 cup water and cook until the water is reduced to a thick sauce.

Serve on warm tortillas with crushed chips, cheese, lettuce, salsa and sour cream.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shrimp Escabeche with Cilantro Rice

Acid and salt  These are the two most important words to know when you're wanting to learn to get off the grid for cooking.  When teaching my classes, I think my students are most surprised by  how much salt I use and by the fact that vinegar and citrus juices show up in everything.

The Asian cuisines are most notable for capitalizing on the four main tastes - salty, bitter, sour and sweet and more recently the indescribable fifth taste - Umami - that makes us salivate with even the aromas of charred meat, mushrooms, soy sauce, etc. Why do you think you can't stop eating sushi or curry once you start?

However, in my own food adventures, I've realized that this concept transcends every cuisine if you conscientiously taste as you go.  Making chili?  Try adding a teaspoon or two of apple cider vinegar just before serving and watch all the spices come to life.  What about creamy French dishes?  Without a quick squeeze of lemon at the end, you have a rich, mouth-coating dish lacking definition.  That bit of acid wakes it up.  Grilling steak?  Sprinkle with coarse salt and a squeeze of lemon to heighten the charred flavor.   Mushrooms love a bit of lemon or sherry vinegar.  Pickled vegetables or a quick peppery salad brighten up everything from pizza to burgers.  Try it.  You'll see.

Escabeche is the Latin method of pickling everything from vegetables to fish.  With shrimp in my freezer, it just seemed right to start there to make a very light and perfect-for-Spring entree.  Carrots and jalapenos almost always reside in my veggie drawer and of course onions and garlic are in my pantry so it came together rather quickly.

CWYG Stats
Veggie Drawer - Carrots, jalapenos

CWYG List - onions, garlic, shrimp, vinegar, oil, spices

Shrimp Escabeche with Cilantro Rice

1 lb peeled and deveined shrimp
2 tbsp Western Smoky Blend from Harrison's Spice Blends (email here for info) or
1 tbsp chile powder mixed with 2 tsp salt
2 tbsps olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
2-4 jalapenos, sliced (depends on your taste)
5 cloves garlic, 2 sliced, 3 whole
2 carrots, sliced
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
2 tbsp salt
2 bay leaves
2 tsps each coriander and cumin seeds, optional
3 cups cooked rice, seasoned with chopped cilantro, juice of 1 lime, salt and 1 minced clove of garlic
  1. Toss the shrimp with the seasoning.
  2. In a large skillet, cook the shrimp in hot olive oil until curled and pink. Remove with a slotted spoon to a deep bowl.  
  3. Saute onion in oil until softened and slightly golden.  Add jalapenos, sliced garlic and carrots. Sauté for a minute.  Place veggies in the bowl with the shrimp.   
  4. In the same pan, bring vinegar, water, salt and spices to a boil.  Pour over veggies.  Slightly smash the garlic cloves, then add. 
  5. Let stand until completely cool if you are not serving right away. Refrigerate for up to 3 days.
  6. Serve chilled or warm with cilantro rice and chopped avocado.

Monday, March 14, 2011

BACON!! Oh Yeah, Cauliflower Soup, too.

Cauliflower admittedly isn't the most fun veggie in the box, but with a little finesse it's fine.  I do have one son who would not touch it...til today.

I'm not a fan of "Sneaky" vegetables, but with this creamy soup, I knew he would like it.  Though I found myself turning my body strategically while adding the white florets to keep him from seeing, I had to be honest with him when he point-blank asked what was in the pot.  I expected the usual "Mom, I don't like cauliflower" thing, but before he had a chance to say it, I pointed to the bacon. Total distraction - Like Dug in the movie UP was with squirrels.

As I've probably mentioned, bacon is one of those things that I truly feel that even the most die-hard vegetarian will eventually fall to if given the opportunity.  How can you really resist crunchy, salty and somewhat sweet all in one simple ingredient?  Really! You can tell me you don't like it?

Once the creamy white soup was ladled into bowls and topped liberally with bacon and cheese it was not only dinner, but leftovers were lunch the next day for my prior cauliflower hating progeny.

The cauliflower adds fiber and Vitamin C, but feel free to use all potatoes if that's all you've got.  The potatoes were really a cover for the cauliflower anyway.  You truly aren't a bacon lover (and sadly, I do have one friend who literally gags at the thought of smoked pork products in general), then drizzle fruity olive oil and sprinkle with fresh herbs.  Don't forget the salt! Oh and if you are really like my friend, tell me what you use instead.

CWYG Stats
Veggie Box - Cauliflower, green garlic, potatoes, green onions (garnish only not completely necessary)

CWYG Items - olive oil, potatoes, bacon, cheese

Cauliflower Potato Soup
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 lb potatoes (mine were from the farm so they were German butterballs I think)
1/2 lb cauliflower broken into florets and stems chopped (you can use more, this is what came in my box)

1 bunch green garlic, chopped or 3 cloves garlic minced
2 tsp sea or kosher salt
water or chicken broth to cover
1/2 cup half n half or cream
1/2 cup plain yogurt
cooked bacon, shredded cheddar and slice green onions for garnish

In a large saucepan, saute onion in olive oil until softened.  Add remaining vegetables along with salt and cover with water or chicken broth. 

Cook until all the veggies are very soft.  Blend using a hand blender or by transferring to a blender container.   (remove center part of cover and use a kitchen towel to prevent splattering.)  Return to pan and stir in cream and yogurt. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Garnish with bacon, cheese and green onions if desired.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Easiest Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookies

Three ingredients!  That's it.  And the absolute best peanut butter cookies you will ever eat.  Dip them in chocolate, press the middle in and add a chocolate kiss, make a jam thumbprint, eat them plain.

They're all good.

The ingredients are in your fridge and pantry right now!

Go make them. I think the milk is calling...

CWYG Stats

CWYG Items - peanut butter, eggs, sugar

Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cookies
1 cup peanut butter (either one, crunchy or smooth)
1 cup sugar
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix the ingredients well.  Form into 1" balls and place on a cookie sheet.  Press lightly with your palm or a juice glass to flatten slightly.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until slightly crisp and brown on just the edges.  Remove and cool slightly.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Italian Chicken Soup with Kale Pesto

As you may guessed, based on yet another soup post, it's still cold and rainy here in Cali.  (Okay, if you're from the Midwest or Northeast, you're probably wanting to slap me, but it is cold for here!)

Red Russian kale was staring at me from my veggie drawer and the questions were starting about dinner. 

To improv the flavors of sausage, dried Italian herbs and fennel seeds came to the rescue in flavoring the typically boring chicken breast.   Besides the usual carrots, onions and celery I added white beans to bump up the protein and fiber of the soup.  This is where it took a decidedly Italian turn, the kale rather than going in by itself, became a condiment at the table.  Replacing basil, which is not in season, with kale I made a pesto to be swirled in like you would swirl in pesto to a minestrone or pistou to a Pistou (It is both the name of the soup and the name of the condiment, both referring to the Southern French version of pesto made without nuts or cheese.)  If you want the recipe for the pesto (Winter Pesto is my official recipe name) as well as other condiments, rubs and marinades, download my Rock Star in the Kitchen collection here otherwise, simply make your favorite pesto recipe subbing kale or chard for the basil.

CWYG Stats
Veggie Box - Red Russian kale, carrots
CWYG Items - onions, garlic, celery, chicken, white beans, chicken broth, walnuts, lemon, parmesan

Italian Chicken Soup with Kale Pesto
1 lb chicken breasts, cut into 1" cubes or short strips
1 tbsp Italian herb blend or 1 tsp each dried thyme, oregano and rosemary
1 tsp fennel seeds lightly crushed in mortal and pestel or mini food processor
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp olive oil
2 carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 can white beans, drained (or 1 1/2 cups if you have made your own)
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup Kale Pesto

 Season the chicken with herbs, fennel and salt.  Rub it in good and let it stand for a few minutes.  Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan.  Add the chicken and brown well.  Remove and set aside.  Add the carrots, celery and onion and reduce heat to medium.  Saute until softened slightly then add back the chicken, white beans and chicken broth.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are softer but still have a bit of crunch.

Serve each portion with a big dollop of pesto and a little extra cheese.  This is great with crusty bread and a glass of Sangiovese or Pinot Grigio.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Iron Chef every week - Parsnips!

The secret ingredient...what's it going to be?  Each week Riverdog Farm faithfully brings me a big box of veggies.  I have no control over what's in it.  What was once highly annoying for a recovering control freak has become a joy.  Even my  boys race to the door around 7:30 on Thursdays to see what we've got.

Parsnips were my secret ingredient of the week.

The creamy white, rough carrot-looking vegetable had eluded me for years.  My multitude of French cookbooks employed them faithfully in many ways, but since they were not prevalent in the grocery stores  except in an easy-to-overlook plastic bag that looked just like packaged carrots, I hadn't ever gone out of my way to cook them.  Oh, yeah, I just recalled there was a day about two years ago when they had come in my box and they sat around for awhile before I cooked them.  When at last I did, the decided upon cooking method of pureeing them like potatoes was a complete failure.

But there they were staring me in the face again. So not being one to back down, I knew it was time to make them work. Lightbulb!!  Parsnip Fries!  Somewhere in all my food reading (was it a blog, a magazine, yet another cookbook?) I had heard about them.  I conquered them...though I didn't love them, half my family did and devoured the whole plate.  They are high in potassium like potatoes, but have a bit more fiber and lower carbs.  If you like sweet potato fries and find yourself face-to-face with a bunch of parsnips, try this!

CWYG Stats

Veggie Box Items - Parsnips

CWYG Items - Olive oil, salt, pepper, herbs (Feel free to add any fresh herbs you might have on hand, like rosemary and thyme.  Or you can toss them with these after the emerge from the oven.)

Parsnip Fries
1 bunch parsnips
Olive oil, salt and pepper
Herbs, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Peel the parsnips then cut out the woody core by cutting the parsnips in quarters lengthwise and then cutting the core out at an angle.  Cut the now core-less quarters into 3" pieces, then cut each one into thin sticks.  Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread out in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  Bake until brown and crispy.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Curried Chicken and Cauliflower

I have loved spicy food since I was a toddler. I'm not one of those "chile-head" types that see how hot they can go without exploding internally. I really enjoy the heat in combination with flavors. To that end, I love all the cuisines the utilize chiles--Mexican, Indian, Thai--to name a few. One of my most vivid memories of the Cours Saleya Market in Nice is the spice vendor with the burlap bags brimming with every shade of earth imaginable. In seconds, both my eyes and my palate are in heaven.

My little tins of spices came to life today as I began to assemble the makings of a curry. It was dinner-and-a-movie date night and since our kids don't love spicy things like Kyle and I do, I thought it was the perfect time to make it.

I drew upon my time spent with a friend from India (I guess she would be more of an acquaintance since it was really my only time with her). She was preparing a "thank you" feast for a group of people who had helped her and her husband while they were in the states. The connector was a mutual friend whom I was just getting to know but she knew enough about me to know that I loved to cook (30 seconds into the "how-do-you-dos" and you'll know that about me). She asked if I would be interested in coming and helping her friend prepare the feast and, always eager to learn a cuisine from a native cook, I cleared my calendar.

Throughout the day, I was amazed at how different it was than what I had imagined. It wasn't all bright yellow and the spices weren't a pre-mixed blend from a McCormick bottle. There was black cumin (which I have yet to find around here), cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, and tons of onions, fresh ginger and garlic. I became her sous-chef and prepped all the veggies. As in most cuisines, there are the ingredients that start almost every recipe: Holy Trinity in Cajun--bell pepper, onion and celery; Mire Poix in French--carrot, onion, celery or the Latin Sofrito--chiles, onion and garlic.For Indian, it's onion, ginger and garlic (at least it was for the region my new friend was from and in the sub-continent, there are inherent differences to each region, city and quite naturaly, each family.) By the way, notice a trend here?? Onions are your pantry's best friend.

Anyway, I watched as she sizzled the onions til almost black in copious amounts of ghee (brought from India) before adding large quantities of minced ginger and garlic along with the bashed cumin seeds, coriander and cardamom pods. I bashed spices off and on all day to prepare for each dish and loved every minute of it. Whole cinnamon sticks and bay leaves were added when making the rice and upon trying the first mouthful I really could have feasted it was so very flavorful and satisfying. But this being a true feast, she made several other dishes and they all started the same way. You would think that it would all taste the same after awhile, however the spices played off their host so well that though the dishes blended well inherently, they each had their own character as well.

So here's my take on curry. I didn't write anything down that day (what was I thinking?) so I couldn't remember exactly how she did everything, but what I did do was start with whole spices or at least several single spices instead of dumping in a bunch of generic curry powder. Oh, and I roasted the cauliflower separately with some of the spices to pull out the sweet flavor, then tossed it in at the end rather than simply sauteing it with the sauce.

NOTE:  To stay true to my food philosophy, I do not want you to go find all these individual spices. For many of you, there is a spice bottle rack hanging out in the recesses of your pantry with these unopened spices just waiting for today.  Go in there now...both you and they are in luck.  For the rest of you that have followed the "if you haven't used it in 6 months, throw it out" mandate and don't have these on hand, use the pre-mixed curry powder you probably do have, just wing it or if you just want to gather these spices, look for a health food store or a local grocery with a well-stocked bulk area and buy tiny bags of the spices.  Whatever you do, do not buy these or any other spices in the glass jars at chain grocers (or even Walmart for that matter).   They are low quality and they charge at least 5 times more per ounce because you are primarily paying for the packaging.  (For instance I bought a 1 ounce plastic jar of generic big-name turmeric at a local deep discount grocery store for $2.58 then went to Whole Foods later in the month and bought 4 ounces of organic turmeric along with cumin seeds and coriander seeds in bulk spices for a total of $1.56.) Visit to order directly to your home if you are in need of updating your spice cabinet and they will send you a free gift with your order.  My last order I got a package of 8 vanilla beans for free!

CWYG Stats
Veggie Box - Caulfilower

CWYG items - spices, onions, garlic, ginger, chicken, oil, coconut milk, rice

Curried Chicken and Cauliflower

1 tbsp whole cardamom pods
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp turmeric, divided use
sea salt (or kosher) to taste
1 smal head cauliflower separated into florets
olive oil to drizzle
2 tbsp coconut oil (what I used) or ghee or olive oil
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 3" piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne (for heat only so you can leave out for mild)
a bay leaf or two
8 oz chicken breast, sliced thinly
Juice of one lime (or lemon)
1 can coconut milk, shaken well
1/2 cup water
Basmati Rice for serving

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bash the cardamom and coriander in a mortar and pestle (or pulse in mini food processor) until broken up. Toss half of the spices along with half of the turmeric and a generous sprinkle of salt with the cauliflower on a cookie sheet. Spread the spiced cauliflower into a single layer and drizzle with olive oil and roast until brown on the edges.

Meanwhile, heat the coconut oil over medium high heat and add the onion. Cook until it begins to turn dark brown on the edges and is very soft then add the garlic and ginger. Stirfry for a couple of minutes then add all the spices except the bay leaf. Once the onion mixture has taken on a beautiful golden hue, add the chicken and saute until it is no longer pink. Add the lime juice and cook until completely reduced and incorporate into the chicken/onion mixture. Add a generous pinch of salt along with the coconut milk and water. Cook for 10 minutes or until the coconut milk has reduced a bit. Serve over rice.

Copyright 2012 TablaVie Personal Chef Service

All photos and recipes may not be used without express permission from Christi Flaherty, owner and creator of Cook What You've Got Concept and blog.
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