Friday, October 20, 2017

Winter Squash Agrodolce

Last Year's Post:  Mahogany Chicken with Smoky Lime Sweet Potatoes
Two Years Ago:   Grain Bowls with Halloumi Cheese

"Agrodolce" is an Italian term for sweet and sour, a classic sauce in many cuisines.  It's often used for vegetables and fish, and is perfect for an unusual twist on your typical baked fall squash dish.  You can use any winter squash as long as you can peel it which pretty much eliminates acorn squash.  (I guess you could cut an acorn squash in half and get rid of the seeds, then cut and bake slices without peeling.  That would work just fine as long as your guests are up for cutting the peels off.) 

Butternut squash works well.  I used a kabocha squash just because I hadn't tried one before, and found it difficult to peel.  I finally ended up cutting it in half and cleaning out the seeds, then cutting the slices and peeling each individual slice with a small knife.  Good thing The Lawyer was around to help.  Next time I'll use a butternut.

This would make a great side dish with a roast pork or chicken, and of course would be an elegant addition to a holiday table.  I also like it very much as part of a vegetarian winter salad with fresh greens, toasted pecans, chopped apple and some crumbled blue cheese.

Winter Squash Agrodolce
Yield: 4-6 servings

1 medium butternut or kabocha squash, peeled, seeds removed, cut into 1" wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons golden raisins, chopped
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place squash on a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with oil; season with salt and pepper.  Toss to coat evenly. Roast, turning once until golden brown and tender, 30–35 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring vinegar, honey, raisins, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 8–10 minutes.

Brush half of warm agrodolce over warm squash. Transfer to a platter.  Just before serving, spoon the remaining agrodolce over the squash.

Do ahead
Dish can be made 3 hours ahead. Store tightly wrapped at room temperature.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Mini Croutons

Last Year's Post:  Tuscan Barley Soup
Two Years Ago:    Chicken Limone Pasta

I love how croutons can give a nice crunch to salads and soups, but I don't love store-bought croutons in a box.  They're huge, hard as a rock, and way over-seasoned to compensate for the fact that they have no taste.  Other than that, they're perfect.

My solution is to make very small croutons, which you can scatter over the top of your salad for nice little crunchy bits with every bite.  By contrast, store-bought croutons on a salad need to be approached with care and planning or you'll end up at the dentist since they're the approximate size and consistency of a matchbox car.  Small croutons are also perfect as a garnish for soups and even for pastas such as spaghetti with pesto or baked pasta dishes.  Crush some of the croutons in a small bowl with the back of a spoon and sprinkle over vegetables such as green beans or roasted Brussels sprouts for a little extra crunch.

You can use any type of bread for this recipe, and a few leftover slices from a loaf are just perfect.  A dark rye might be a nice color contrast to potato or cauliflower soup, for example.  It helps if the bread is thinly sliced to start since you'll be cutting it into tiny cubes.  I would advise against trying to use a food processor because in my experience they produce uneven results - some big pieces, some small - unless you grind the bread all the way down to crumbs.

Another advantage to making your own croutons is that you can add whatever seasonings you like.  It's fun to experiment with Italian seasonings, garlic salt, french seasonings, or even some chili powder to spice up some croutons for something like beer cheese soup.  I listed garlic salt because it's a good basic flavor that will go with a lot of things but feel free to use whatever you want.

I bake croutons rather than using a fry pan to toast them because I think it's easier to control the amount of browning and the oven produces more uniform results.  Just be sure to watch them closely near the end because they brown pretty fast when they're small.

Mini Croutons
Makes 2 cups

2 cups bread, preferably thin-sliced, cut into 1/3” cubes (approximate)
¼ teaspoon garlic salt (or other seasonings)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350d.

Place the bread into a bowl and add the garlic salt or other seasonings.  Toss to combine.  Slowly add the olive oil in a drizzle while stirring, one tablespoon at a time, until all the croutons are evenly coated.  Taste and adjust seasonings if  needed.

Spread the croutons in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Place on the middle rack of the oven for 5 minutes, then stir and return to the oven for an additional 5-8 minutes until golden brown.  Remove and let cool completely.  If desired, blot on paper towels before storing in an airtight container.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Broccolini Fried Rice

Last Year's Post:  Apple Strudel
Two Years Ago:    Smoked Salmon Cakes

I left any mention of meat out of the title of this recipe because you can make it with chicken, or any cooked leftover pork or steak, or go vegetarian with tofu or even just cashews.   It's very versatile.  The base recipe has rice, of course, with broccolini, eggs, snow peas, edamame and/or green peas and a very simple but flavorful sauce made from soy sauce, orange zest and orange juice.

Stir fries and fried rice are two different things.  Stir fries require that all the prep work is done in advance and then the actual cooking takes places very fast and at very high heat.  Fried rice also requires advance prep work and some fast cooking at the beginning.  But when the rice is added in the middle of the process, you press it down into the pan and then step back and leave it alone for a few minutes to crisp on the bottom.  After it's crisp, everything speeds up again.  It's important to the final texture of the dish not to rush the rice-crisping step, and it's also very important to use day-old rice because it dries out overnight and won't clump up plus it will crisp up and brown much better.

The prep work here takes 15-20 minutes, but the actual cooking goes fast so this is a good (and healthy) weeknight meal assuming you made the rice the day before.  I particularly like it served with a little chili oil mixed in for some heat, but others may prefer it with soy sauce for a milder dish.  Serve both at the table so everyone can choose for themselves.

Broccolini Fried Rice
4 servings

Cook’s Notes
If using meat that is already cooked or tofu or cashews, sauté the broccolini in the first step as listed (without the meat) and add the cooked meat with the snow peas, edamame and liquids at the end.
If you are preparing rice especially for this dish, you'll need to cook about 1 cup raw rice. Rinse the rice first to remove some of the starch so it's less sticky when it comes time to fry. Spread the cooked rice out on a rimmed baking sheet or plate to cool so the steam can evaporate, then transfer to a resealable container and chill.

1/4 cup vegetable oil, dividedEasy Fried Rice with Chicken and Broccolini Recipe / Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Food Styling by Rhoda Boone
4 green onions, sliced on the bias, divided
1 pound boneless skinless chicken, cut into 1/2" slices (OR cooked chicken, pork, beef, tofu or cashews)
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, finely grated or pressed
1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
1 bunch broccolini (about 6 ounces), ends trimmed, sliced in half lengthwise and cut into 2” pieces
4 cups cooked white rice (preferably day-old, long-or medium-grain)
3 large eggs, beaten to blend
1 cup snow peas, cut in half on a diagonal
1/2 cup frozen edamame or green peas
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
Zest of ½ orange
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice (from about 1/2 orange)
Chili oil and soy sauce for the table

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet or wok over high. Reserve about 2 tablespoons sliced green onions; add remaining onions to oil and cook, tossing occasionally, about 1 minute. Add chicken, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and ginger, then add broccolini and toss until incorporated. Cover and cook until chicken is cooked through and broccolini is tender, 2–3 minutes more. Transfer to a large bowl.

Heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil in skillet over high. Add rice and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, toss to coat, then press rice into a single layer, and cook, undisturbed, until crisped on the bottom, about 3-4 minutes. Lift a corner of the rice to see if it’s starting to turn a light golden color; if not, let it cook for a minute and check again.  When the bottom of the rice is lightly golden and crisp, stir and move it to one-half of skillet and add eggs to other half. Cook, stirring gently to form curds, until soft set and just cooked through, about 1 minute, then fold into rice.

Fold in snow peas, edamame, soy sauce, and orange juice. (This is where you should add cooked meat, tofu or cashews.) Cook, tossing, until warmed through, about 1-2 minutes. Add broccolini mixture and toss to combine. Divide among plates, then top with reserved scallions. Serve with chili oil and soy sauce at the table.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Pasta with Shrimp and Vin Santo

Last Year's Post: Parmesan Chicken Bake (No Mayo)
Two Years Ago:   Sausage, Kale and Potato Soup (Copycat Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana)

This recipe is adapted from one of the pasta dishes at Bar La Grassa, a beloved Minneapolis restaurant.  Isaac Becker is its revered chef/owner.  Bar La Grassa has been red-hot ever since it opened in 2009 and pasta is one of its fortes.  Although I've been to the restaurant I've never had this particular dish, but people rave about it.  So when I stumbled across the recipe in a magazine courtesy of Bar La Grassa, of course I had to try it.  I was particularly curious about Vin Santo because I'd never heard of it.  Turns out it's a not-overly-sweet dessert wine that's not readily available in every corner liquor store, although the larger stores will probably stock it.  It pays to call around.  If you can't find it, the recipe suggests Moscato but I think a sweet Marsala or even brandy would also be a good substitute.

The first time I tried the recipe exactly as written.  Although the flavor was very good, I thought there was too much pasta for the amount of sauce and shrimp and that it was a little one-dimensional.  I scrolled through over 300 photos on Yelp for Bar La Grassa to see if I was missing something, but yup - they serve a bowl of primarily pasta with a coating of sauce and some shrimp.  I don't want to criticize Chef Becker's vision, but I typically like contrasts in flavor, color and texture in a dish so I cut down on the pasta and added peas, toasted pine nuts and a shower of black pepper the next time I made it, and liked it much better.  That's why I say it's "adapted from".  If you want a more authentic version leave out my additions and increase the pasta to 1 pound.  Oh, and use penne.  I used cavatappi because I think it looks more interesting, but the restaurant uses penne pasta.

It's a delicious dish, with a luscious creamy sauce that coats every piece of pasta and shrimp without leaving a big pool in the bottom of the dish.  Granted, I wouldn't eat it every day but it's a wonderful indulgence on special occasions.  Make it for your next date night dinner - it's fast and easy but very special.

Pasta with Shrimp and Vin Santo
Serves 4

10 ounces penne (or other dried short-cut pasta such as cavatappi)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 lb shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed, cut in half lengthwise
¼ cup dessert wine, either Vin Santo or Moscato
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
½ cup frozen peas
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons fresh basil, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish
Kosher salt and coarsely ground fresh black pepper

Cook the pasta in a large pot of well-salted boiling water.  Remove from the heat 1 minute before it’s al dente; drain and toss with a splash of olive oil.

Warm the tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat and add the shrimp and shallots.  Add a large pinch of salt and cook the shrimp in batches, if necessary to avoid crowding the pan, until they are barely translucent and not quite done (they will finish cooking later), about one minute per side. Remove the shrimp and set aside. 

Add the wine and cook until mostly evaporated, then add the cream and peas and cooking, stirring, for a minute or two to warm the peas and slightly reduce the sauce.  Add the pasta and shrimp to the pot and continue to cook, stirring, until the sauce has thickened and coats the pasta, 2-3 minutes.  There should not be much sauce left pooled in the bottom of the pan.  Add about ½ teaspoon kosher salt and the shredded basil and toss.

Serve in shallow bowls garnished with pine nuts, coarsely ground black pepper, and additional basil.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Roasted Cauliflower with Pasta and Walnuts

Last Year's Post: Korean Rice Bowls
Two Years Ago:  Healthy Baked Apples

This is an excellent and somewhat unusual pasta dish that can be served warm, room temperature or cold which makes it a good choice for any time of the year.  Plus, it's much lighter and healthier than most heavy red-sauce pastas.

I've recently discovered vegetables that I thought I didn't really care for all that much such as cabbage or cauliflower can actually become wonderful when they're cooked to the point that they turn into something else.  For cabbage, that means cooking it down until it's very tender and sweet (see cabbage and spring onion tart) and for broccoli or cauliflower that means roasting or sauteing  until they're pretty well torched (see chicken and caramelized broccoli ramen) which results in a much deeper and nuttier flavor.  The roasted cauliflower is a highlight of this salad, along with the walnuts and bacon.  (You could also use a combination of roasted cauliflower and broccoli if you want.)   Leave the bacon out and you've got a great vegetarian meal.

The sauce is very simple - good olive oil with a little garlic flavor (or a lot, depending on your taste). You could also add additional red pepper flakes to spice things up - there's just a small amount on the cauliflower.  The cauliflower only roasts for about 20 minutes so you could make this meal in the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta, making it a good choice for a weeknight meal.

Leftovers are excellent cold for lunch - just add a few drops of olive oil and maybe a squeeze of lemon to fresh things up.

print recipe
Roasted Cauliflower with Pasta and Walnuts
Serves 4

 1 small head cauliflower, large stems removed, florets separated and halved
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (more for serving, if desired)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
9-10 ounces short-cut dry pasta (such as penne or ziti)
2/3 cup frozen peas
¼ cup olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
4 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
2 slices bacon, chopped, fried until crisp and drained (optional)
¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Preheat oven to 450d.

Add cauliflower to a mixing bowl with olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and sea salt.  toss to coat, then spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer.  Roast for 15 minutes, then turn the florets over.  Turn the oven to broil and return to the oven for 5 minutes or so, watching closely, until browned.  Remove and let cool.

Heat a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to directions, adding the peas to the cooking water during the last 1-2 minutes.  Drain.

While the pasta is cooking, add the garlic cloves to the ¼ cup olive oil in a small saucepan and warm gently for a few minutes over low heat.  Remove the garlic cloves.

Return the pasta and peas to their cooking pot and add the garlic oil, parsley and parmesan, tossing to combine.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve with the walnuts and optional bacon scattered on top and additional parmesan on the side.  Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.  (If refrigerated, add a little additional olive oil and toss before serving.)

Friday, September 15, 2017

California Chicken, Avocado and Goat Cheese Salad

Last Year's Post: Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup
Two Years Ago:   Mexican Baked Egg Casserole

I do love a beautiful green salad, don't you?  They're so refreshing and healthy.  One thing I've discovered is that if your salad has a large number of ingredients you can cut down on the amount of chicken to make it even healthier.  Of course, feel free to up the amount listed below but honestly we felt it was plenty and were perfectly satisfied.

If you marinate the chicken in advance, it's very easy to throw together the vinaigrette while the chicken cooks (or make that in advance too).  Then all you have to do is a little ingredient slicing and you're good to go.

One of my favorite tricks to make a salad even more appealing is to chill the salad plates in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so. It makes the salad seem restaurant-special.

Have you discovered watermelon radishes yet?  They taste like a mild version of a regular red radish but they're so pretty with the pink center and pale green ring on the outside.  I always have fun at checkout when I buy one because the cashiers never know what they are. Like the trick of chilling your plates, adding one unusual ingredient can elevate your entire salad to a new level.  Here's what they look like in the store - you'd never know how pretty they are on the inside.

 And take some time arranging the ingredients to make sure the colors look good next to each other.  My final suggestion for this salad is to use smoked almonds rather than regular almonds because again, it just adds a little extra flavor.  And it seems very California-y.

California Chicken, Avocado and Goat Cheese Salad
Serves 4

Note: because there are so many other ingredients the recipe calls for less chicken than, say, in a chicken Caesar salad.  Feel free to increase the amount as desired.

8 ounces boneless skinless chicken tenders or cutlets
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon kosher salt and pepper
2 heads romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
1/3 English cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 watermelon radishes, thinly sliced (can substitute red radishes)
1 avocado, sliced
4 ounces crumbled goat cheese
½ cup smoked almonds, coarsely chopped
Large handful of sprouts or micro greens

White Balsamic Vinaigrette:
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
¼ teaspoon each kosher salt and pepper

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic, parsley, basil, paprika, cayenne, and salt and pepper.  Between 2 pieces of plastic wrap, gently pound the chicken tenders or cutlets to an even thickness.  Place them in a zip top bag and pour the marinade over.  Close the bag, massage the chicken to coat evenly, and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to overnight.

To make the vinaigrette, combine all ingredients in a glass jar and shake well.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.  Keep stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium high.  Grill the chicken for 2-3 minutes per side, until cooked through.  Let rest, and then thinly slice the chicken.

In a large bowl, toss together the lettuce, cucumbers and vinaigrette.  Divide among 4 large plates, preferably chilled.  Divide the chicken slices between salads, and surround with avocado slices, radish slices, cherry tomatoes, crumbled goat cheese and almonds.  Garnish with sprouts and serve.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Lemony Kale and White Bean Soup

Last Year's Post: Italian Tuna
Two Years Ago:   Grilled Hawaiian Filipino Adobo Pork

This is a wonderfully comforting soup with the touch of lemon, rich chicken broth, and creamy beans, plus it's incredibly good for you.  For some reason I think white beans are very soothing, maybe because they're so creamy.  Anyway, this would be a great dinner to have during a particularly stressful week because it's light, healthy, warm and comforting all at the same time.  Make it in advance and all you have to do is reheat it on your worst day.  And because the soup is relatively light, it makes a nice transition into fall without going all the way to a big bowl of chili.

The chicken broth plays an important role her so use the best quality that you can find, or make your own.  I did that recently and it was actually a fun project plus I have containers sitting in my freezer just ready for the next recipe. Click here if you're interested.

If you don't want to make your own broth, be sure to use a low sodium variety.  One of the main reasons to make your own soup is to control the sodium.  Prepared soups (whether canned, from the deli or in a restaurant) have unbelievable amounts of sodium - check it out next time.  I love Panera soups, for example, but a bowl of their soup can have as much sodium as you should consume in a day, if not more.  I didn't list the amount of salt to add to the soup because it all depends on the sodium level in your chicken broth - start with a small amount and taste as you go.  You can always add more at the table.

Serve the soup with some crusty bread for a very satisfying meal.

Lemony Kale and White Bean Soup
Serves 4-6

Note: There are no amounts given for salt and pepper because it really depends on the chicken stock you use.  I used zero-sodium chicken stock and add ½ teaspoon of both salt and pepper while cooking and it still needed more salt at the table.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large stalk or celery, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, diced
1/8 cup dry sherry
6 cups good quality low-sodium chicken stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
1 bunch Tuscan (Lacinato) kale, stemmed, washed and chopped
2 (15 oz) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (or 8 oz dried white beans, cooked and drained)
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon

In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the celery, carrots, garlic and shallots and sauté until just tender, 5-8 minutes.  Deglaze with the sherry, then add the stock, bay leaf and thyme.  Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 15 minutes.    Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

Remove the thyme and bay leaves, then add the kale and simmer for an additional 8 minutes. Add the beans and lemon zest and juice and cook, stirring, for 5 more minutes to make sure everything is hot.  Taste and adjust seasonings again if needed.  Serve hot.