Friday, January 30, 2009

Pasta with Golden Beets and Their Greens

Did you know I majored in Italian Studies in college? I speak the language and I studied at l'Universita di Ferrara for a semester my junior year. When I graduated, I took a job as a travel agent with an Italian Tour company in Boston. Whether I liked that job (I didn't) and whether I still work there (I don't) is not relevant to this post; the point is that the Italian-born owner of the company was an excellent cook. If I came in with leftover Spaghetti Bolognese for lunch, she would tell me how her mother made Bolognese. Every once in a while she would bring in homemade pizza that was really delicious. She also subscribed to Gourmet magazine. It was just my luck that she subscribed both in her name and in the name of the company, and I usually snagged the extra copy floating around the office. That first year out of school was the first year I really had to cook for myself and the magazine was an inspiration. I still make the first thing I ever cooked from Gourmet - Seared Tofu & Vegetables with Coconut Sauce from the September 05 issue. When I quit that job I lost my access to free issues and I only picked it up at the grocery store every once in a while.

Until this year, when I bought myself a Christmas present: I finally (finally!) subscribed to Gourmet. AND there was a *special offer* on the interwebs, so I subscribed to Bon Appetit, too! So now you know the long and winding road that takes us to today's recipe, Pasta with Golden Beets and their Greens, from the February 2009 issue of Bon Appetit. I've messed with the name a bit because I've messed with the recipe a bit. I'm not a fan of farfalle for purely aesthetic reasons (I think they look sort of juvenile on the plate) so I used gemelli instead. I also cut the recipe in half because I only bought one bunch of beets and it was just me for dinner.

Aren't these beautiful greens? I have purchased beets at the grocery store and had greens so sad and lifeless that I tossed them rather than trying to salvage them, but these guys are just so perky and tasty-looking, exactly what the recipe called for. You could use red beets if you want, but your pasta will definitely turn pink.

Oh, and this isn't the speediest of recipes. It was fine with me, because like I said it was just me and I was watching old episodes of No Reservations and was perfectly content, but if you don't have 40 minutes to caramelize onions, maybe save this for another day, hm? Elise has posted a time-lapse video of caramelizing onions which is really amusing, but here are mine at 0 minutes:

10 minutes:
20 minutes:
30 minutes:
and finally, 40 minutes and ready to go in the finished dish.

Speaking of the finished dish (and please forgive the weird Space Odyssey perspective in this photo, I got impatient to eat and this is the best one I got), doesn't this look yummy? The sweetness of the onions sets off the earthiness of the beets really well and the pine nuts are a welcome crunch. And I got to feel like I was really behaving, since I ate the WHOLE vegetable AND there were leafy greens. I hope you like it, too.

Pasta with Golden Beets and Their Greens
2 generous servings

small handful of pine nuts
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 very large onion (or two smaller onions), sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 bunch golden beets with greens, beets peeled and cut into wedges, greens washed and cut into 1 inch strips
6 oz (about half a box) dried pasta of your choice
Parmesan cheese

Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for 2-3 minutes until they smell good and are golden in spots, set aside. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet, then add the sliced onion and saute about 10 minutes until it is starting to soften. Reduce heat to medium-low, and continue to cook the onions, stirring every few minutes, until the caramelize and become brown, another 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of well salted water to boil. Boil the beet wedges until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from water with slotted spoon and return water to a boil. Add the pasta to the water and cook until al dente.

Once the onions are browned and the pasta is cooking, add the beet greens to the skillet with the onions along with another tablespoon of oil. Cover and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the greens are tender. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water, and return the pasta to the pot along with the onions and greens mixture, pine nuts and about 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan. Add pasta water, 1/4 cup at a time to moisten if you like. Season with salt and black pepper, and serve, topped with more shredded cheese.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Blue Cheese Risotto (and a Large Piece of Meat)

Given that photo, I think you may be surprised to hear that steak is not the star of this post. Nope. I marinated it (and it's twin) in some red wine and garlic, dried it thoroughly, seasoned it thoroughly with salt and pepper, and cooked in a cast iron skillet on high heat: rare for Adam, medium-rare for me.

Ooooh, hey, here we go. Risotto! That's the star here. Isn't it crazy how rice and broth and a little bit of olive oil can go from just a pile of grains to something smooth and creamy and, say, the perfect bed for a delicious steak?

It's creamy, starchy, slightly stinky-in-a-good-way from the blue cheese. Add a little steamed spinach to make you feel virtuous, and you will have a meal your boyfriend might just say is one of his favorites you've ever made. I'm just sayin'.

Blue Cheese Risotto
adapted from Bon Appetit, December 1997

4-5 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
1 medium shallot, diced
1 cup dry white wine
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
salt and pepper
1/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (about 2 ounces)

In a medium pot, bring the broth to a simmer; you'll want to keep it warm but not boiling. Heat the olive oil in a wide, deep saute pan over medium heat and add the diced shallot. Saute for a couple of minutes until the shallot is softening, then add the rice and toast it, stirring. After a couple of minutes the rice should be starting to show a few spots of golden toastiness. Now add about a cup of the warm broth and stir.

You don't actually have to stand right near the stove and stir constantly, but you should stir frequently. When you drag a spoon through the rice and the liquid doesn't rush back in to fill the space, add more liquid, a half cup at a time. Keep stirring, and after about 20 minutes to half an hour, the rice will release its starch and become creamy. You might not use all the broth, but if you run out before the rice is done, just keep going with water. Taste it, the grains should be al dente, not mushy, but definitely cooked through. At this point, crumble in the blue cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over spinach and under steak.

Serves 2 with leftovers.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Oh, nuts!

You guys, I have blogger's guilt. I actually have been cooking, I've just been neglecting to tell you about it. There have been some misses, I admit. I made a rather lackluster wild rice salad with tofu, arugula and pecans and... no blue cheese, because I had forgotten to buy it. I over-steamed some baby bok choy while attempting to recreate my favorite side dish from Wagamama.

My shot at preserving lemons for the first time is as yet undetermined - they'll be ready in a couple of weeks (just in time for my birthday, wee!) but I think I used the wrong kind of jar because the ones at the top are not submerged and I think maybe they should be.

On the other hand, there have been some hits! Last week I made that yogurt cake again and it came out really well - I cooked it all the way through, which I think helps (heh) and Adam very artistically berry-fied it.

Saturday night my friend Jeremy and I had a little cook a thon and made some delicious chicken and dumplings (from the Cook's Illustrated recipe - highly recommended), of which I took NOT ONE SINGLE PHOTO. (forehead smack)

I also brought these delicious mixed nuts to an Inauguration Party/Poker Night on Tuesday. The original recipe over on Pink of Perfection has you mix them with rosemary and brown sugar and cayenne, but I had no rosemary save my beYOND dead plant in the corner, so I left it out.
I upped the cayenne because, well, I knew who would be eating deez nuts. I think they came out just dandy - salty and sweet and crunchy with a slow burn, they go really well with beer. Plus they take less than ten minutes to whip up. They're better once they've cooled but pretty tasty warm, too. I made 4 cups because I knew I was going to a party, but 2 cups is a reasonable amount of nuts, too.

Sweet & Spicy Nuts

4 cups unsalted mixed nuts, I used a cup each of walnuts, almonds, cashews and pecans
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (lower this to 1 teaspoon if you don't want them spicy!)

In a wide dry skillet, toss the nuts over medium heat until they smell good. Add the butter and toss the nuts as it melts, then continue tossing the nuts and letting them cook in the butter for about a minute. Mix the sugars and cayenne in a small bowl, then add the mixture to the nuts and stir. It should take a couple of minutes for the sugar to caramelize, then you can spread the nuts on a cookie sheet and allow them to cool. You may need to break up chunks of nuts, and if you started with raw unsalted nuts, sprinkle some kosher salt on top. If you had roasted salted nuts in the beginning, you probably don't need to add salt.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Menu For Hope V, or I'm a Winner!

Did you bid on anything during Menu For Hope this year? I did, and Oh. My. Gosh. DUDES! I won it! I won a $100 gift card to King Arthur Flour!

This is really very exciting. I have my eyes on the dough whisk and a silicone baking mat, but I'm open to other suggestions... What's the baking item YOU can't live without?

Also, thanks to Susan at Wild Yeast for offering such a great prize!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sesame Peanut Noodles

I seem to be on a bit of an Asian Noodle kick lately. I think it's because I actually found soba noodles and miso paste and tofu at the Hippie Mart* near Adam's house. Asian ingredients are tough to come by in South Boston... we have rather limited grocery options. Anyway, I thought a bowl of cold (ok, room temp) spicy peanut noodles would about hit the spot, and I was right! I used three different colors of peppers because I had leftover peppers from a hummus plate the other night, but one small sweet bell pepper should get the job done. Add some cubes of tofu and you've got yourself a complete meal. More or fewer red pepper flakes will adjust the spice factor, and be careful not to use too much peanut butter or you'll end up with an unbalanced bowl of oddly sweet noodles that just tastes weird and sort of like a sandwich.

Soba noodles come separated into four little bunches within the package; I used one and had leftovers for lunch** the next day but this could easily be doubled to feed four. If you're using whole wheat spaghetti or unmeasured noodles, you want a bunch that has a diameter roughly the size of a quarter

Spicy Peanut Sesame Noodles
2 servings

Soba noodles, one quarter sized bunch for two modest servings
3/4 cup cubed extra firm or firm tofu
1 small red bell pepper, sliced
2 scallions, sliced
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

For sauce:
2-3 Tablespoons smooth peanut butter
generous 1/4 cup soy sauce2 teaspoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped2-3 tablespoons rice vinegar2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
pinch of sugar or 1/2 teaspoon honey1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (or hot sauce)
warm water

Start a pot of water to boil while you make the dressing; when boiling add the soba and cook according to package directions (my noodles were fairly fine so they took about three minutes).

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients for the sauce and add a couple of tablespoons of warm water. Whisk with a fork to combine until smooth, add more water if you want a thinner dressing. TASTE THE SAUCE. Adjust accordingly - if it's too sweet, add more soy sauce, if it's too salty add more peanut butter, add red pepper flakes or hot sauce for more spice. When it tastes the way you want it, set it aside.

When the soba noodles are done cooking drain and rinse under cool water, then return to the pot and add the dressing, tofu, peppers and scallions. Toss to combine, and divide into serving bowls. Top with toasted sesame seeds.

*Ok, so the Hippie Mart is actually Pemberton Farms in Cambridge, and it's more of a gourmet food store than a place to buy granola (not dissing granola, just using it as an example). We call it the Hippie Mart because it's not a corporate grocery store.

**When I took my noodles out of the fridge for lunch the peanut butter had congealed a bit and the noodles were all stuck together. I would let it come to room temp before eating leftovers in the future, or just eat it all for dinner!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Shrimp Ramen

I may have mentioned before that I'm a big Alton Brown fan. This particular recipe is one I've used before, but last time I followed the directions. Heh. You're supposed to lay down the half brick of ramen noodles (yes, the 11 cent ones) in a tin foil square and stack the other ingredients on top, then make a pouch and pour in the liquids, and bake the whole thing in a 400 degree oven for fifteen minutes.

Except I'm almost out of tin foil. So I heated the liquids (veggie broth, mirin, soy sauce, sesame oil) in a pot, then added some red pepper flakes, then added the veggies and shrimp together. I think next time I'll wait and add the shrimp at the very end; they got a bit overcooked what with the boiling instead of steaming. I also halved the original recipe but kept the original red pepper amount - so this was a spicy one. Also, soy sauce is plenty salty (even the low sodium variety) so I didn't add any extra salt. Next time I'll play with adding more and different vegetables, and I bet you could use chicken or beef in place of the shrimp, too...

Spicy Shrimp Ramenadapted from Alton Brown
serves 2
1 brick ramen noodles, broken up a little bit (toss the nasty spice packet)
10-12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 scallions, chopped
1/4 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup dried mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, depending on how spicy you want it
3 cups vegetable broth (can add more if you like a brothy-er soup)
1/4 cup mirin (or use a combo of a scant 1/4 cup white wine and a tablespoon rice vinegar)
2 Tbsp soy sauce (low sodium preferred)
2 tsp sesame oil

Combine the veggie broth, mirin, soy sauce and sesame oil in a medium pot over medium heat until it simmers. Add the noodles, red pepper flakes, both kinds of mushrooms, scallions and onions, stir everything under and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook another minute or two until the shrimp are pink and cooked through. Taste for spice, add more red pepper for more spice or more veggie broth to dilute if it's too salty. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Broccoli Rabe with Beans

Santa was awfully kind to me this year: he brought me the exact cookbook I asked for! Despite having just hit it's 10th birthday, Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is gaining in popularity. Perhaps it's the growing number of so-called flexitarians who try to leave meat out of many meals but don't maniacally eschew it from their bellies.

Anyway, as much as I despise all these new terms for describing exactly what you will and won't eat (good lord, please don't ever call me a foodie- what an insipid term), I find myself identifying with the flex idea. I don't eat a lot of meat because I don't cook a lot of meat. I like steak, but I love vegetables.

Broccoli Rabe with Beans and Breadcrumbs
Serves 3-4

2 cups cooked beans (if using a can of beans, rinse them first)
4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup vegetable broth (or 1 cup of the water the beans cooked in, if you cooked your own)
1 bunch broccoli rabe
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 small clove garlic, minced
Salt and Pepper
Parmesan cheese

Wash the broccoli rabe and trim the tough ends off, coarsely chop. Heat 3 Tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the onion, carrot, bay leaf and oregano and lower heat to medium-low. Saute, stirring occasionally until onion is translucent and soft, about 8 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe and cup of broth.

After 2-3 minutes or when the rabe wilts down add the beans and stir. In a separate skillet, combine the bread crumbs, minced garlic, and 1 Tablespoon olive oil and toast, stirring occasionally, until the crumbs are crispy and golden. Set aside.

Cook the broccoli rabe and beans another 15 minutes or so until everything is tender but not mushy. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve in wide bowls topped with garlic crumbs and parmesan cheese.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

And how was your holiday?

Oh, hi there. I know I said I'd be back soon, and hey! Here I am! But I hope you didn't have your heart set on a recipe, because first I have to tell you about my ridiculous holiday travels. I will do it in bullet point format, because there are some crazy twists and turns and I think you will thank me for the Clif notes.

The original plan: direct flight from Boston to Kansas City on December 22nd, rent car, drive to Northeast Oklahoma, spend 5 days with Adam's family, drive back to Kansas City on December 26th, return car, fly Kansas City to Boston (via Milwaukee).

Here's what actually happened:
  • We got to the airport in Boston to a flight "delayed about half an hour" according to the agent who checked us in.
  • At the gate we heard from some other passengers that the flight would be delayed a couple of hours. No big deal, it's a direct flight.
  • Our original flight on Midwest Airlines was cancelled, 10 minutes before the flight was supposed to take off.
  • We waited in line to be re-booked; in an hour they had helped 3 people.
  • When we were the second people in line, we were sent to another counter and promised there would be no line. There was a line of 6 other parties.
  • When we got to the front of the second line, we said please get us to any of the following cities: Dallas, Kansas City, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, or Rogers, Arkansas. There was nothing available to anywhere. It was December 22nd.
  • We offered to drive to Oklahoma (somewhere between 24 and 30 hours drive time, depending on whether you stop), Midwest said they would pay for the car.
  • Nobody would rent us a car for a one-way 1500 miles. This is the only point in the story where I cried: the very nice shuttle driver for Enterprise offered to take us to the other car rental booths.
  • We went back to the Midwest counter. Meanwhile, Adam's mom had pulled into a travel agency in Oklahoma, and found us a flight on Southwest to Tulsa out of Providence leaving the next morning (December 23rd).
  • Midwest finally offered to pay for our new flight, move our return trip to Sunday (since at this point we had eaten up at least a a day in travel time), get us to Providence, and pay for a hotel so we wouldn't have to figure out a way to get to Providence in the morning. And they bought us lunch. Thanks, Midwest!
  • Since this is ostensibly a food blog, I will now share a photo of our dinner that night at the Holiday Inn Express in Providence:
  • December 23rd: we got up in Providence, took the hotel shuttle to the airport, and took off to Chicago, where we would change planes for Tulsa.
  • We made it to the sky above Chicago. We circled for an hour and half. We ran out of fuel and visibility was still terrible, so we were re-routed to Louisville, KY for fuel.
  • In Louisville, we sat for two or three hours on the tarmac. They let people off the plane (when we finally had a gate). They refueled. They put people back on the plane. We took off for Chicago again.
  • This time, we landed in Chicago! Yay! While we taxied to the gate, I called Southwest, explained the situation, and got us re-booked on the next flight to Tulsa, since we had missed our 12:30 flight. Done! Flight was supposed to leave at 5:30.
  • This is what Chicago looked like:
  • Don't these people look happy? We went to the gate in Chicago to confirm our status on the next flight to Tulsa. When they looked up our reservation, we were booked to... wait for it!.... Tucson, AZ! WRONG.
  • Once that was straightened out, we hung out in this mess for about six hours, waiting to see if we would make standby on the flight that was scheduled for 5:30 but would more likely take off around 7:15.
  • We made standby. Except the flight left the gate at 8:15. And sat on the tarmac waiting to take off for an hour and a half.
  • We were informed we needed to be de-iced again and also refueled because of all the sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off.
  • We went back to the gate, refueled. Went back to the tarmac, de-iced. Took off, finally, at 11:00.
  • We were to stop in St. Louis to exchange passengers but not change planes. We landed at 2:00 am on December 24th.
  • Why do I have a picture of the St. Louis airport at 2 am if we weren't changing planes? Because they pilots were no longer allowed to fly! They had spent too long in the cockpit and had to take a break! Of course! So we got in that line of happy looking people and waited to be re-booked. AGAIN.
  • We met a lovely couple from St. Louis who had waited at the airport for hours for this flight. They considered driving. We considered buying the gas and going with them.
  • Instead, Southwest added a flight at 8 am for those of us who had been displaced. They did this at 3 am.
  • We pulled some benches together and slept for a couple of hours at the airport in St. Louis.
  • In the morning, our flight was delayed again. Not even surprising anymore, is it? We took off around 9:00 am on Christmas Eve. At least we got to see this:
  • Flying can be beautiful! We finally landed in Tulsa at 11 am or so on Christmas Eve. In fact, we had a very visit. Christmas was fun. But I don't plan to travel during the holidays anytime soon. Someone remind me of that in 11 1/2 months, ok?