Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Strawberry and Rhubarb Crumble

Strawberry and Rhubarb Crumble is a classic spring/summer dessert that I've always wanted to try. I love crumbles of almost any variation and the sweet-tart combination of strawberries and rhubarb is absolutely wonderful. If you don't cook with it, Rhubarb stalks look similar to pink/red celery and they have a tart crispness similar to apples. I don't recommend eating it raw by any means but it bakes up beautifully in desserts. You can find it in the produce section of almost any grocery store. I found this recipe at the very end of last month's Bon Appetit magazine and decided to give it a try. I halved the recipe, using a smaller (8x8 would be ideal) square glass baking dish instead of a 9x13. First I preheated the oven to 375. Then I cleaned and sliced the fruit (2 cups strawberries, halved and approx 4 stalks of rhubarb, cut in half length wise and the into 1/2 inch pieces) and tossed it with 1/4 cup of sugar that I'd mixed with the seeds of half a vanilla bean.

I set the fruit aside while I made the crumble topping: 1/2 stick chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes Scant 1/3 cup sugar 1/4 cup old-fashioned oats 1/4 cup husked hazelnuts, toasted , coarsely chopped 1/3 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all purpose flour small pinch of salt

I mixed it all together in my standing mixer with the paddle attachment until it started resembled a struesel texture (about 4 minutes on a medium-low speed.)

I poured first the fruit into the baking dish sprayed lightly with Pam and then sprinkled the topping over. I baked it in the middle of the oven for 35-40 minutes until the topping was barely golden brown and juice at the edges of the pan were bubbling.

I served it still warm with a generous scoop of John's favorite Mayfield Vanilla Ice Cream and it was fantastic. The filling was the perfect blend of sweet and tart, complimented nicely by the crunchy topping. The added flavor from the hazelnuts really made it. So yummy...

We ate left overs for a day or two and I'd venture to say it doesn't keep much longer than that in the fridge- it starts to get a little soggy...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Herb-Marinated Pork Tenderloin with Grilled Vegetables

The chaos of selling/buying houses, planning for the move to Kentucky, working, etc. has me a wee bit behind in the blog posts... my apologies...but Masters Sunday, we had friends Morgan and Guy over to watch the end of the tournament and to grill some dinner. We had an open house earlier in the day so I was in search of a make-ahead recipe. Thumbing through one of my many Ina Garten cookbooks I decided on her Herb-Marinated Pork Tenderloin recipe. I followed the recipe to the letter, leaving the pork in the marinade about four hours. (On second thought I used only two pork tenderloins so I cut back on the ingredients proportionally.) The pork was INCREDIBLY flavorful. Ina says she lets them go overnight but there is so much lemon juice in the marinade that I'm sure any longer than 5-6 hours would start to "cook" your pork. I promise you that four hours was plenty in terms of packing in lots of yumminess. I also made a separate marinade for the grilled veggies. I mixed together: 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar juice of half a lemon 3 tablespoons of olive oil 1 tsp honey 1 scant tsp dijon mustard 1 clove of garlic- minced leave from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme 4-5 basil leaves, sliced thinly pinch of kosher salt and cracked black pepper I let this sit for a few hours and then poured it over the vegetables an hour or so before grill time. I used two green zucchini, one yellow, one red bell pepper and one red onion for lots of color. I cut them into roughly one inch pieces and then threaded them onto skewers before grilling. John grilled both the pork and the veggies to perfection. The pork was just medium, barely pink in the center and the veggies were tender but still had a crispness to them. I decided against a starch because we'd snacked on home made pimento cheese toasts before dinner while sipping Arnold Palmer's- a delightful combination of sweet tea, lemonade and vodka. I made my own pimento cheese in this case but you could easily use store bought. I toasted baguette slices under the broiler for barely one minute per side. I then layered a generous spoonful of pimento cheese and a thin roma tomato slice on top. I sprinkled the top with a tiny bit of salt and pepper before sticking them back under the broiler for 20-30 second or just until the top was barely bubbly. After all, it wouldn't be the Masters without pimento cheese.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Grilled Vegetable Quinoa

When the weather's nice, there's nothing easier than throwing something on the grill after work. (Maybe that's because John mans the grill and therefore I'm only responsible for prep and clean-up while he does the "cooking." Nonetheless he never complains when we have lamb chops on the menu. I cut one rack of lamb into double chops, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. I did the same with two zucchini squashes (sliced length-wise, approx 1/2 inch thick) and one red onion (sliced into rounds approx the same thickness). Grilling veggies is tough. You either grill them on a piece of tin foil- losing some of the charring and grill flavor or you risk losing them through the grill rack while flipping. Onions are particularly dangerous because the rings separate and they slip through the cracks even easier. This time I attempted to thread the onion slices onto a sharp metal skewer so that John could just flip them all at once. Unfortunately the skewer broke many of the onion rings which caused them to fall but I think it helped a little.

While John was grilling, I cooked some quinoa per the package instructions, I think it was about one cup of dry quinoa. If you're not familair with quinoa, it is a delicious and super healthy alternative to rice or cous cous. It cooks up quickly like cous cous but has all of the health benefits (and many more) of brown rice. According to a website that I consulted: •Quinoa is 100% whole grain and is close to being a perfect food source in the balance of nutrition it provides. Technically it's not a grain but the seed of a leafy plant related to spinach. Quinoa is an excellent source of protein - 12% to 18%. According to The National Academy of Sciences, quinoa is "one of the best sources of protein in the vegetable kingdom".

I also prepared a quick garlic vinaigrette to pour over the lamb chops:

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

juice of half a lemon

one large garlic clove, finely minced or pressed

one tablespoon of chopped fresh chives

pinch of kosher salt and some black pepper

I like the idea of a vinaigrette with grilled meats when you don't have time to wait on a marinade. You can use any combination of vinegars/oils/spices/herbs/etc. to add flavor at the very last minute.

The lamb chops cooked quickly, approx 3 or 4 mins per side for medium rare. The veggies took approximately the same out of time. While the chops rested, I diced up the grilled vegetables and tossed them into the cooked quinoa with 1/4 cup or so of chopped fresh chives and a generous pinch of kosher salt and pepper.) I served two double chops a piece alongside a generous pile of the grilled veggie quinoa and passed the garlic vinaigrette at the table to drizzle over top. Lucky for John I wasn't quite ambitious enough to eat both chops so he ended up with left overs for lunch.

With dinner we enjoyed one of my new favorite Malbec's from Layer Cake. The Layer Cake Shiraz has gotten a lot of hype recently however I much prefer the Malbec. Its around $15 a bottle and absolutely fantastic.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Grouper Puttanesca

If you're familiar with pasta puttanesca, you know that it has a briny, savory sauce made of tomatoes, olives, capers, onions and such. Many years ago I saw Giada De Laurentiis make a fish dish with a similar combination of cooked vegetables. I can't seem to find her recipe anywhere but I've adapted it a few times into my own since- it comes out a bit differently each time. I found some beautiful, wild-caught grouper at Whole Foods. I purchased a whole filet, approx one inch thick - weighing not quite 1.5 pounds and cut it into three pieces. (My brother in-law Nate was joining us for dinner.) I drizzled it very lightly with olive oil, seasoned it with kosher salt and pepper and placed in a glass baking dish sprayed with Pam.

Meanwhile I prepared a tomato-based vegetable concoction to serve with the fish: 1 medium yellow onion- thinly sliced 1 medium fennel bulb- top removed and thinly sliced 1 teaspoon of honey 4 cloves of garlic- minced 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1/2 cup white wine zest and juice of half a lemon 1 large can of petite diced tomatoes- with the juice 1 tablespoon of capers- drained 1/4 cup of pitted calamata olives- barely chopped 1-2 tablespoons of fennel frawns (the top of the fennel, looks like dill) - chopped I started with some olive oil in large saute pan over medium high heat. I cooked the onion, fennel and honey for 8-10 minutes or until tender and beginning to caramelize. I then added a pinch of kosher salt, some black pepper, the garlic and thyme and cooked 1-2 mins more.

In the meantime, I broiled the grouper in the oven for approximately 8-10 minutes until golden brown on the top and barely firm to the touch. (Its better to slightly under cook it because it continues to cook for a minute or two in the tomato mixture before serving.) Next I deglazed the onion and fennel pan with the white wine, zest and lemon juice and cooked for 2-3 minutes until the liquid had mostly evaporated. I lowered the heat to medium-low and added the can of tomatoes (not quite the whole thing, about 3/4 of the can) and cooked for 15-20 minutes or so, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid had evaporated. At the very end, I added the capers, olives, and chopped fennel frawns-mixing gently- turning the heat down to a low/simmer. While the sauce was simmering, I quickly sauteed some french green beans in a saucepan with some minced garlic (1-2 cloves), olive oil, salt and pepper- covering with a lid for a few minutes- using the steam to cook them through.
Just before serving I tucked the fish filets into the vegetable mixture, covering them completely to let the sauce flavor the fish. I then plated the fish with a generous heap of the mixture on top. (Though it actually might make for a nicer presentation if you served this in a shallow bowl- setting the fish filet on top of a bed of the veggies. I'll try that next time.)
The sauce would be delicious served over pasta, chicken, just about anything- though it really goes perfectly with a flaky white fish. It packs a ton of flavor into VERY little fat and calories too. The green beans were very tasty with this however a simple green salad would work too.
Nate and I sipped a glass of Shoo Fly Buzz Cut white wine featured in a recent post and it was very nice with the meal. John had a light French Pinot Noir that worked well too. I think you could go either way, playing off either the white fish or the tangy tomato sauce.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Deconstructed Chicken Gyro Salad

One of my standard weeknight go-to dishes is a Greek style dinner salad. The combination of feta, cucumbers, tomatoes, and a tangy red wine-oregano vinaigrette is my idea of heavenly. I usually just toss it all together on a plate in a hurry but this last iteration was my best yet. John grilled two boneless chicken breasts that I had seasoned lightly with a mixture of: 1.2 tsp kosher salt a few grinds of cracked black pepper 1/4 tsp each of of garlic salt, dried oregano, and paprika I mix the seasonings together in a little bowl and then rub them onto the chicken with some olive oil. If I'm not feeling patient enough to wait on a marinade, I go with a similar quick dry rub for pork, fish, shrimp, what have you... I also sliced one small red onion into wedges and him grill those up also. In the meantime I made a quick Tzatziki sauce: 1 cup greek style yogurt (Fage is great- I used fat free)
1 very small garlic clove- pressed/minced
zest of a lemon (about half of one lemon's worth)
juice of half the lemon
1/4 cup cucumber- grated with a rasp
1 tsp chopped fresh dill kosher salt and pepper
Next I mixed up a TANGY Lemon Juice and Red Wine Vinaigrette: 1/4 cup of olive oil 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar juice of half a lemon 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 1/2 teaspoon dried mint one tiny garlic clove- minced salt and pepper Both the vinaigrette and the tzatziki sauce are just mixed together quickly in a small bowl. As the chicken was coming off the grill, I arranged my veggies onto the two dinner plates:
Mixed baby greens
Cucumber slices
Grape tomato halves
Feta cheese- cut into cubes
Grilled red onion wedges
I also warmed some store bought naan bread (similar to pita but better in my opinion) in the oven and sliced it into pieces for dipping into the tzatziki sauce. Once the chicken had rested 10 minutes, I sliced it and arranged on the plate with the veggies. I dressed everything lightly with the vinaigrette and then served tzatziki sauce on the side. I drizzled some over the top and used a little extra for dipping along the way.
It was a healthy easy dinner for two in this case but could also work for company. You could arrange all of the ingredients on a huge platter to feed a crowd, letting everyone build their own gyro or salad. I would plan on at least 1/2 chicken breast per person.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Baked French Toast

Recent posts have revealed my strong affinity for breakfast foods, so I was very excited about the opportunity to host Easter brunch for some friends this past weekend. While brunch is a really fun and different way to entertain, it takes some careful planning in terms of preparation time- on this occasion in particular because we went to the Easter service at Boone Hall Plantation and then had people back to the house shortly thereafter.

Paula Deen's Baked French Toast recipe is an old favorite of ours and you can make it the night before. You simply pop it into the oven the next morning. My sister found this recipe a few years ago and its actually much like a breakfast bread pudding - served with warm maple syrup for drizzling. As you can imagine, anything Paula Deen falls to the rich and artery clogging end of the spectrum but heavens, it is d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s.

I followed the recipe exactly with the exception of a few attempts to lightened it up a bit:

1. Used 3 cups of whole milk instead of using any half and half

2. Went heavier on cinnamon and lighter on nutmeg (just a preference thing)

3. Used only 1 stick of butter for the praline topping- cutting the sugar to 3/4 cup as well

4. Omitted the nutmeg from the praline topping (preference)

Alongside the french toast we had brown sugared bacon. If you've never made it before its really easy and absolutely yummy. Toss the raw bacon with brown sugar (maybe 1/3 cup per pound of bacon) in a ziplock bag to evenly coat and then roast the bacon in the oven at 375 for about 40 minutes. I put a rack over a cookie sheet (spray first with Pam for easier clean up) and then arrange the bacon slices over the rack so that the drippings drain off of the bacon while it cooks. The bacon gets perfectly crispy with an almost candy like crunchy coating. (I left the bacon in the bag with the brown sugar in the fridge over night and then put it in the oven with the french toast as soon as we came in from church. They were finished almost exactly at the same time.)
Scrambled eggs are a Cobetto family favorite as well and we are VERY particular about how they are cooked. The secret is to cook them slowly over low heat to keep them fluffy and to avoid overcooking them. For eight people I used 12 eggs, 1/4 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of sharp cheddar cheese, a generous 1/4 cup of chopped fresh chives, a few dashes of Texas Pete and 1 tsp kosher salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. I whisk it all together until its very well incorporated and then cook in a buttered nonstick skillet over low or medium low heat, stirring constantly but very gently. I take them off the heat just before they look completely cooked through because they'll continue to cook a bit more. I also warm the serving dish in the oven while I prepare them so that they stay hot all the way to the table. (I scrambled the eggs at the VERY last minute but it only took 5 minutes or so.)
I'm convinced that John must have been Jewish in a past life because he has such a crazy love for lox and bagels. My Dad's family is half Jewish so I decided to weave a little Passover into our Easter with a platter of smoked salmon and the traditional accompaniments. I served lightly toasted mini bagels, whipped cream cheese, thinly sliced red onion (soaked in ice water over night to cut some of the bite), capers and fresh dill on the side- letting everyone build their own bagels. (I had this arranged the night before so that I just had to pull it out of the fridge as guests were arriving.)
I also served a big bowl of fresh berries dressed lightly with a teaspoon of sugar and a squeeze of fresh orange juice- and of course essential to any successful brunch event-a mix-your-own mimosa and Bloody Mary bar. We rolled ourselves from brunch out to the beach at Sullivan's Island for some sunshine- and for some of us a little snooze. All in all I'd say it was the perfect Easter Sunday.

Dinner for One: Chicken Paillard with English Peas, Asparagus and Arugula

Friday night dinner was a little bit lonely last week as John didn't make it home but I decided to enjoy it nonetheless. There is something cathartic about ending the week in the kitchen, preparing a simple but satisfying meal while sipping on a glass of wine... even if you're flying solo. I started with a fresh organic chicken breast from Whole Foods and pounded it to about 1/2 inch thickness between two sheets of plastic wrap. I use a rolling pin to do this- careful to keep an even thickness and to avoid tearing the chicken. I then seasoned it with salt and pepper and coated it lightly with flour. I cooked the chicken over medium-high heat in a mixture of butter and olive oil until crispy brown- about 4 minutes per side.
I set the chicken aside on a plate, tented with foil to keep warm, while I prepared the vegetables. I decided on fresh English peas and Asparagus at Whole Foods- two quintessential Spring ingredients. Every cooking magazine that I open this month is teeming with recipes for dishes centered entirely around spring green vegetables. I grabbed two large handfuls of peas (still in in the pods) and one bunch of asparagus. If you've never purchased them fresh before, the peas look like super-sized sugar snap peas. The pods are very easy to pop open along the seam and then you run your finger through to pop the peas out. I steamed them in a covered pot, with a barely a centimeter of water, over medium heat until they were tender, 2-3 minutes max- draining and rinsing with cool water to stop the cooking process.
Meanwhile I trimmed the woody ends off of the asparagus and then sliced them into half inch pieces on the diagonal. (I only used about 2/3 of the bunch.) In the same pan that I'd used to for the chicken- the pan dripping add flavor- I drizzled a tablespoon or two of olive oil over medium high heat. I then added one clove of garlic- minced- and the asparagus pieces, tossing to coat. The asparagus wasn't super thin but it only took 3-4 minutes of sautee-time before it was crisp-tender. Next went in the peas, zest of about half a lemon, some salt and pepper and a little pat of butter at the very end. I didn't have any fresh mint on hand but that would have been an excellent addition- a very classic flavor compliment to fresh peas- fresh basil would be great too.
I served the chicken warm, not necessarily hot, alongside a generous pile of sauteed veggies and topped everything with a pile of arugula salad: I combined one heaping cup of arugula, juice of half a lemon, drizzle of olive oil and tiny pinch of salt and pepper into a bowl, tossing to dress the greens.)
The lemony dressing on the greens picked up the zest in the vegetables, adding a nice zing to the dish. The sweetness of fresh peas doesn't even compare to that of frozen ones and the asparagus has noticeably more flavor at this time of year in particular. Not to mention the organic chicken actually tastes like CHICKEN which is a very different experience as compared to your average grocery store variety.
I picked up a bottle of ShooFly Buzz Cut white wine from Australia at Whole Foods as well. I keep seeing it everywhere so I decided to give it a try. Priced at only $9 I was very pleasantly surprised to find it was quite tasty and a perfect compliment to the dish. This very well could be a new staple for summer 2010. The winemaker's notes read as follows:
A lush blend of juicy, tropical Verdelho and exotically perfumed Viognier combine with Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling to create a refreshing, firmly structured wine. Rich and vibrant flavors of tropical fruit, apricot, and grapefruit work wonders on the palate. Drink now or hide in the cellar for 3 years.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pasta Primavera with Cherry Tomato Pesto

Spring fever has officially hit the low country with temperatures in the high 70’s and now 80's this past week! The warm temperatures, longer days (and swim suit season right around the corner) I was craving some pasta with fresh spring vegetables or, Pasta Primavera - ironically, meaning "Spring Pasta" in Italian. There is not really an official recipe for this dish. I’ve made it a thousand times- a thousand different ways. I start with whatever looks fresh at the store or in some cases whatever I have in the fridge and it always comes out delicious. The very first thing was to start my pasta pot filled 2/3 of the way with water to boil. I leave the lid on and just let it boil away until I’m ready for it. (If it goes too long, you’ll need to add more water because it evaporates.) Next I prepped my fresh herbs and veggies: 1 bunch of asparagus- ends removed and sliced into 1 inch pieces 1 container of cherry/grape tomatoes- sliced into halves 3 small-medium yellow squash- sliced in half length-wise and then sliced 1 jar marinated artichoke hearts- roughly chopped 1 large shallot, thinly sliced 5 cloves of garlic, minced 1 cup fresh basil- sliced into chiffonade 1 handful fresh parsley- chopped In a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, I sautéed the asparagus and squash in a little bit of olive oil until crisp tender but cooked through. I then transferred them it to a dish and set aside. In the same skillet over medium high heat I added another three tablespoons of olive oil and three tablespoons of butter. As soon as the butter melted I added the shallot, garlic and cherry tomatoes and tossed it all together. I turned the heat down to medium and let it cook for 5-8 minutes until the tomatoes were melting into a sauce and the garlic and shallots had softened. I let this cool a quick minute while I added one box of whole wheat penne pasta to the boiling water along with a generous sprinkle of kosher salt. I set the timer one minute less than the package called for to ensure that the pasta cooked to perfectly al dente. Next I tossed the tomato mixture into the food processor along with ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese, 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, and my basil and parsley. I pulsed the blade until it was all blended together- resembling a pesto-like sauce. At this point my pasta was finished. I drained it and then added it back to the pasta pot- adding the asparagus, squash, marinated artichoke hearts and the tomato-pesto-sauce. I tossed it all together and served with some additional grated parmesan cheese along side. The sauce was much lighter than a traditional pesto but still very flavorful. The vinegar and the artichokes added a little zip to the whole thing. You could easily serve this at room temperature or even as a pasta salad. It would also be delicious with the addition of some grilled chicken or shrimp. It would serve 4-6 people as a main course however we enjoyed eating the leftovers too!