Thursday, April 28, 2011


If you've been following me for a while, you know that over this past year, I've tried taking on some new cooking challenges. One of them that really pushes me out of my comfort zone is meat, and over the holidays, I roasted both a heritage turkey and a goose. Shortly afterwards, I came across the recipe (link below) in the holiday entertaining issue of Fine Cooking magazine. Finally, in Spring, (ironically the day that we saw the first baby ducklings at a walk around Green Lake) I got around to actually making these Roasted Duck [Hindquarters] with Tangerine-Hoisin Glaze.

Because there are only two of us, I bought duck hindquarters - which is what is pictured in the recipe photo. I scaled back the recipe by about 1/4 (made extra glaze, but it's so delicious I will use it on something else, and used all the rub - in fact, if I was making the recipe as directed, I might have run out of rub!) The only thing that needed to be adjusted was the baking time; 30 minutes per side at 350 (1 hour total), then broil as directed.

I was really impressed with how delicious this was! The flavors of the rub and the glaze truly complement the rich, dark duck meat. I was especially surprised by how crispy and incredibly tasty the skin became. I know a lot of people (well, mostly my grandmothers) who love the skin on the roast turkey or chicken, but the thought of it to me is pretty distasteful. This was the first time I honestly had a glimpse of how crackly and delicious the skin can become under the right baking conditions. The glaze is very sweet, but perfectly balanced.

For the two of us, I served this with a baked sweet potato (I love a dash of five-spice powder on sweet potatoes, so thought it would go perfectly with the spice rub in this dish) and a green salad. I would absolutely serve this to company, and as so often is true with roasting, so much can be prepared in advance, and then placed in the oven while you await your guests.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cardamom Birds' Nests

I am a big fan of Monica Bhide's A Life of Spice blog. I first encountered here as a writer for NPR's Kitchen Window, and she continues to entertain and educate at NPR and through her own independent venues.

I'm not particularly fond of coconut, but Will is, and so when Monica posted this recipe for cardamom macaroons, and I faced the ever-growing supply of egg whites in my freezer, I decided these would be worth a try. I saved it for a couple weeks, but it wasn't until today - Easter (not otherwise on my radar except for discount Cadbury eggs the day after) that I decided to finally try them. I think it was the recollection from childhood of those horrifyingly-green-dyed "birds nest" confections made by Russell Stover that my grandmother would always put in my easter basket. I didn't like coconut then, either, but as a five- and six-year old, I thought it endlessly fascinating and clever that a candy would be shaped like a bird's nest so it could hold tiny jelly bean "birds eggs." If you don't know what I'm talking about, I found this photo on the Russell Stover website.

(I also, disappointingly, found some online reviews from supposed "food bloggers" who adore these things...)

So, these birds nest of yesteryear emerged from some blissfully long-supressed part of my memory to inspire me today to make coconut macaroon cookies. And sadly, my childhood glee of clever candy led me unwisely to dye my macaroon batter. I do not know why I would do such a thing. But I haven't decorated eggs for many years now, it perhaps it was simply pent-up and mis-directed food coloring energy. In any case, Easter aethetics aside, these cookies are very good, even for a professed coconut non-appreciator.

The recipe is small, only making "24 mini" (and I only got 22 out of my batch). I would think it could easily be doubled. And while the flavor ratios are good, I think the ingredient proportions might be slightly off... the recipe says to "stir 2 minutes over medium heat until slightly dry" - my batter was very liquidy even after 4 minutes. I used it all anyway, and it led to pools of sticky liquid around the base of each cookie. Next time I think I will cut back the maple syrup to 1/4 cup.

Besides my disastrous dying effect, I also personalized this recipe by substituting almond extract for the vanilla, and adding an additional dash of nutmeg to the cardamom spice. When I went to serve them, I was able to pull off some of the melted puddle, so they looked like actual macaroons on the serving plate. I will make this recipe again, with the changes outlined above, because they have a really nice sticky sweetness from the maple, and an exotic flair from the cardamom, and a chewy center like a good macaroon should. Plus, they are terribly easy.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A bit of a struggle... so thank you delicious DeLaurenti's

I had sort of a rough time with my new recipes this week. I bought some very expensive ingredients to try some dishes outside my typical repetoire, and ended up being pretty disappointed in the results. It probably started with the foreboding death of our immersion blender as I attempted to blend garbanzo beans and flour to make a cracker appetizer. I would still like to try this recipe, but I can't revisit it until the sting of burnt-out kitchen applicance has subsided.

Next up was gumbo, something I'm not especially fond of anyway, but a particular favorite of Will's. It got off to a great start with a deep brown roux, but when I had to add the okra, even though I used frozen, already sliced pieces, the slime was still oozing from it. (If you don't know what "slime" to which I'm referring, check out this great article by Monica Bhide and prepare to be completely grossed out. I thought the article would have prepared me enough to stomach the actual process, but it didn't. By the time it came to eat the gumbo, all I could think about was slime.) We'd also bought was looked to be lovely smoked mussels from Central Market's excellent seafood section. And while they had great flavor, the texture was so chewy we ended up chewing them and then spitting them out. And even worse, the first night Will ate it, he had a cold, but for the leftovers the next day, his comment was "I'm surprised it's so bland..."

Two culinary disappointments in one week is very rare for me. But speaking of rare, that's what happened next. I purchased excellent beef at $25/pound to try these Asian Beef Wonton Cups. Again, with the bad omens, when I went to bake the wontons, they had spoiled. I threw them in the compost and determined to simply proceed with the recipe, and serve it over rice noodles. I prepared the tenderloin as directed, but when I went to slice it into pieces it was of a flesh tone I absolutely can not stomach. I ended up stir frying it with the vegetables and noodles. It tasted fine, and I'm not a beef connaisseur anyway, but I know that for a beef lover, this dinner must have been a terrible waste of ingredients.

So, by Saturday, my capacity for taking on a new challenge had been significantly diminshed. Not to worry! We went downtown for some other errands, and finally happened to be at the Pike Place Market during business hours for DeLaurenti's  market. I'd been craving some Amaretti cookies, and Will and I both wanted to explore what other Italian specialty items they have. In their refridgerated section, they had some house-made raviolis filled with blue cheese and figs. We snatched up a package and started plotting dinner. Do I feel sorta guilty writing about some purchased ravioli I made for dinner? Yes, a bit. But these were so delicious, and it was an actual creative process to determine how to serve these... they couldn't simply be boiled and topped with a jar of tomato sauce!

Instead, walnut oil immediately came to mind as the dressing. Figs, blue cheese, and walnuts are a classic combination. I melted a bit of clarified butter in a pan, and added some raw chopped walnuts to toast them. When they were golden and fragrant, I set them aside, added a bit more butter, and some walnut oil to the pan, and sauteed thinly sliced onion and slied mushrooms. Because the raviolis were fresh, I only left them in boiling water for three minutes, then transferred to the pan with the vegetables and tossed them until they were glistening. Served alongside asparagus roasted in a shallot-mustard vinaigrette and a green salad, then sprinkled with the toasted walnuts and just a bit of parmesan cheese, this was heavenly!

Phew, week redeemed.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

It could almost be Springtime...

Too look in the market, I would think it was Spring already! (Sadly, the 45-degree-rainy days are not concurring with my market assessment!) I have been lusting after the multi-color carrots for weeks now, and this time I finally cracked. Last summer I posted about purple carrots, and the bunch I bought had two of those, along with an orange, a white, a red, and a yellow. I trimmed the tops, leaving just a squirt of the stem on, and saved the greens to sprinkle on salads like parsley or dill, then simply halved lengthwise, and roasted the carrots in a bit of olive oil at 425 degrees.

Along with the carrots, I picked up a special purchase of fava beans, and tried them out in this main-course salad.

2 T minced shallot
juice from one lemon
1 T walnut oil
2 T olive oil
1 t white balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

1 large celery rib, diced
1/2 large onion, diced
1 1/2 cups Israeli cous cous
3 cups stock
1/2 pound fava beans, shelled (about 1/2 cup total)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T pine nuts, toasted
1 large firm but ripe tomato
hearty handful fresh basil, chiffonaded

Mincing the frilly greens from the tops of the carrots makes for a beautiful garnish!
I sprinkled them on the roasted carrots.

Frances Mayes talks incessantly about the springtime delights of fava beans in Bella Tuscany so I was interested to try them. She simply sautes them with lemon, garlic, and olive oil. I'm not sure that would really do it for me; they were a nice addition to this salad, and a way to add some heft to an otherwise light main dish, but they weren't the star. This was pure, fresh, Printemps in a bowl, and didn't need any more jazzing up, but I will probably add some olives, capers, or maybe some feta cheese next time for a tang.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Swordfish Steaks and Spaghetti

I saw this recipe prepared on "Lidia's Italy" on PBS. As it marked only the second time I've ever written down the recipe while watching a cooking show, I decided it was worth trying. Plus, I enjoy most fish, but swordfish is not something typically in my repetoire (it's pretty expensive!) so this was a nice place to start.

The biggest issue I had was simply finding appropriate-sized baking pans to nest in each other for steaming. I dropped my pan with the fish into the pan of boiling water and had to quick! retrieve and drain! before it cooks from boiling instead of steaming! But it was still delicious. While I'm sure this same recipe would be excellent with many different kinds of fish, the swordfish (on Monterey Bay Aquarium's list of "safe/good alternatives") is really excellent. It has a firm, but oily texture, and a rich, but completely "un-fishy" flavor. It's not something you want to try and cover over with strong sauces or salsas. This recipe would be easy to size up or down for however many people you are serving, and makes for a light summer meal, or an elegant dish for entertaining.

Lidia doesn't really measure anything, so neither did I; quantities below are approximate, use your eye and dress to taste!

Steamed Swordfish Steaks
serves 2
2 small swordfish steaks
1/2 lemon, sliced cross-wise into thin rounds
1 clove garlic, sliced cross-wise into thin rounds
olive oil to moisten
crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon capers (drained)

Preheat oven to 400. Toss all ingredients except fish together in a baking pan that is the right size to hold the steaks in a single layer. Nestle each steak into the pan, rubbing with the oil and lemon mixture, with a few slices of lemon and garlic underneath and on top of each piece of fish.

Place the baking pan into a large roasting pan, and fill the large pan part-way with boiling water. Cover the larger pan tightly with foil, so that the steam from the water in the larger pan will cook the fish in the smaller pan. Bake at 400 15-20 minutes, or until cooked through.

Just before serving, sprinkle each piece with a dusting of dried oregano.
Lidia had a cool trip where she has oregano springs that are dried (instead of just the leaves). She held the sprig by the stem, upside down over the fish, and just brushed it between her palms so some of the dried leaves would get slightly crushed and fall off the stem down onto the fish. I wasn't able to do it that way, but I did serve each piece atop a bed of the spaghetti (recipe below). The light floral herbality of saffron was just enough to flavor the pasta without making a strong aroma that would overpower the delectable swordfish. It also gives it just a hint of color to contrast the white of the fish, but be sure to serve each piece with some bright slices of the lemon and the dark capers. For further contrast, I plated this with a spoonful of the Kale and Broccoli that is appears in another of my April, 2011 postings.

Spaghetti in Saffron Cream Sauce
serves 4
1/2 package thin spaghetti or angel hair pasta, cooked according to package directions and drained
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
white pepper
squeeze of lemon

Melt butter in large skillet. over medium heat. Add shallots and stir just until moistened and softened, but not turning brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in saffron, pepper, and cream and mix well. Add cooked pasta, squeeze of lemon juice, and toss to coat and heat through. Serve hot.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tuscan Black Kale

My last post was about getting ourselves in the spirit for travels to France. I neglected to mention that as part of the same trip, we will also be spending time in Italy, so similarly at home have been trying to learn and immerse ourselves in Italian culture. In addition to studying Italian language, reading guidebooks about Italy, and watching travel shows, we also read Frances Mayes's Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany, and discovered Lidia's Italy and Gourmet's Adventures with Ruth on public television. These cooking shows definitely make us hungry for authentic Italian food!

Just a few days after Will read in Under the Tuscan Sun about ribollita (literally, "reboiled" soup), we saw Ruth Reichl discover Tuscan Black Kale - one of the main ingredients of ribollita on her show. So, when a few weeks later I saw organic Tuscan Black Kale in the market, I brought home a bundle.

Below are three recipes I made using the kale, all of which I recommend. They are easy, tasty, and unique. Kale (and other hearty greens) are so healthy and really stand up well to lots of different cooking preparations. They are also great for taking on the road to a potluck (as I did with the cauliflower recipe), as they keep their form and flavor over time.

Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Kale and Garbanzos
serves 6-8
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1/2 shallot, minced (about 1/4 cup)
1 can garbanzo beans
2 teaspoons stone-ground (or dijon) mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
juice from 1/2 large lemon, divided
1/2 bunch kale (about 12 leaves)
1/3 cup smoked almonds, chopped

Preheat oven to 400.
Mix mustard, oil, and 1/2 of the lemon juice (1/4 of lemon). In a 9x13" baking pan, mix cauliflower, shallot, and garbanzo beans, then toss with dressing. Roast in oven for about 25 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until cauliflower starts to brown at the tips.
Meanwhile, chiffonade the kale by lining up the leaves along their stems, and then rolling them around the stem into a tight pack and cutting cross-wise.
When roasting is complete, toss kale with hot ingredients and remaining lemon juice, and stir until wilted. If necessary, return to oven for a minute or two just until the kale is coated in dressing and starting to wilt.
Stir in chopped smoked almonds. They are pretty salty, so beware of adding additional salt, but a little extra sprinkling might be necessary. This is good hot or room temperature; I made it about two hours ahead and just left it out before I took it to a friend's house for dinner and we ate it at room temperature.

Kale and Grapes
serves 4
1/2 bunch kale, washed well and cut into bite-sized pieces (or chiffonade as described above)
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste
15-20 green grapes, halved
1-2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Melt butter in large heavy saucepan over medium/medium-low heat. Add shallot and cook 2-3 minutes until softened but not browning. Add kale pieces/strips and coat in butter mixture. Push greens to exterior edges of pan, and add grapes, cut side down. Sprinkle greens with salt and pepper to taste. Stir lightly, until grapes are softening and greens are wilting. Push ingredients to center of pan, and drizzle vinegar around edges of pan, working quickly to scrape up the pan flavorings before liquid fully evaporates, and incorporating into the kale.

Sprinkle with pine nuts and serve immediately.

Note: all the ingredients can be prepared in advance, as they won't turn brown or shrivel up, but when you are ready to serve this, you'll need to work quickly because it doesn't take long for this to all come together.
The grapes are a really pretty green-on-green contrast, adding a sweet juiciness to the bitter, toothsome kale. The nuts add a bit of richness and crunch to augment the crunch of the cooked but still biting kale. This makes a great alternative to a green salad when you want something hot but still tasty, deep green, and vegetable-laden. I served this with some of the leftover Roast Chicken Provencal.

Broccoli-Kale Salad with Cranberries
serves 4
1 small head broccoli, cut into small florets, and stems chopped into bite-sized pieces
about 6 large or 8 smaller leaves black kale
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon pineapple juice (or orange or lemon juice)
1 teaspoon stone-ground mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Layer the broccoli stems, then the florets, then the kale in a steamer basket, and steam, covered, over boiling water until crisp tender, about 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together dressing ingredients.
Toss dressing and cranberries with steamed vegetables while hot. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I used pineapple juice in this dressing because I had tiny bit leftover from another recipe. But it makes a really nice sweetness that goes well with the tart cranberries and slightly bitter greens. You could also try orange or lemon juice, but it would definitely give it a different balance. I served this with swordfish and spaghetti in a saffron cream sauce.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Chinese 5-Spice Flank Steak

This is a recipe from the Contemporary Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices (page 304). I had great success recently (though not with a corresponding photo, which is why there isn't yet a post about it) with the Lamb Korma and Chicken Tikka Masala from the same cookbook, so I was excited to try this braised beef. There was also an excellent recent article in the Seattle Times about stir-frying, which seemed to make an complementary accompaniment to this the first night. Since this made enough for five servings, the second night I made a roasted cruciferous salad. Details follow.

Chinese Five-Spiced Beef
serves 4-6
3/4 cup soy sauce
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly ground Chinese Five-Spice
Four 1/4" thick slices of fresh ginger
Two 1/4" thick slices of fresh galangal
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 stalk lemongrass, bottom 4 inches only
1 1/2 pounds flank steak

The recipe calls to boil all ingredients except the meat in a dutch oven, and then reduce heat to low and add beef, the cover tightly and simmer 2-3 hours. I used 1/2 cup soy and 1 cup water, and just added everything all togehter in my crock pot and cooked on high for 2 hours, then on low for 2 hours. It is delicious. Remove lemongrass, ginger, and galangal before serving. Slice steak across the grain and return to pot to heat through before serving.Serve over rice. I used a delicious and attractive Bhutanese red rice which has a nutty texture and a slight sweetness that really went well with this.

Stir Fry Vegetables
serves 2
Really, any vegetables will work, I tried to choose ones that I thought would complement the strong soy flavor of the sauce. Other good choices which I simply didn't have available would be: pea pods, green beans, bean sprouts, and water chestnuts.

1 large carrot, cut crosswise on the bias into 1/2" thick slices
1/2 head broccoli, cut in florets
1/2 small green or red bell pepper, sliced
4 asparagus spears, cut into 1" long pieces
2 large mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 large clove garlic, crushed and sliced
sprinkle of dry mustard powder

Coat bottom of wok with vegetable oil and heat over medium high heat until drop of water dripped in center sizzles. Have all vegetables ready so that once they are added to the pan, you can stir them continuously. When oil is ready, add carrots and broccoli. Stir fry about two minutes to give these sturdier vegetables a heat start on cooking, then add the more tender selections, along with the garlic, and stir continuously until just crisp-tender, about 3 minutes more. Sprinkle with mustard powder. Because I was serving this with the beef above, I used about 1 tablespoon of the beef cooking liquid/sauce to deglaze the wok, and give the vegetables excellent flavor before serving.

Cruciferous Salad
serves 4
1 head cauliflower, cut in florets
1 head broccoli, cut in florets
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoons roasted sunflower seeds
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon olive oil plus additional for roasting
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 - 1 teaspoon hot chile garlic sauce
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400.
Toss florets in enough olive oil to coat and spread in shallow baking dish. Roast about 30 minutes until tips are golden, stirring once part-way through cooking.
Meanwhile, toss together raisins, seeds, and cilantro, and mix dressing ingredients. Toss roasted vegetables with remaining ingredients and dressing and serve warm.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Chestnut Cheesecake and a French Fantasty Repast

We are planning a trip to Provence, so when I came across this recipe for Roasted Chicken and Potatoes Provencal, the day before having a couple of friends over for dinner, it seemed like the perfect way to get even more into the spirit of planning. The recipe is another from Tony Hill's Contemporary Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices, and in line with my previous experiences, this did not disappoint. He writes that much of the pleasure of this recipe comes from how easy it is to prepare, and I have to agree. My friends were coming over at 7, and I wasn't due home until 6, so I needed something that I could get ready in advance and Will could pop in the oven for me. I dressed the chicken in the morning and the aromatic fragrace was already filling the kitchen by the time I got home.

The potatoes are par-boiled and when the chicken comes out (it needs to rest before carving), in they go to the very same roasting pan to turn golden in the drippings and herbs from the chicken. Since they're already cooked, they only take about 10 minutes in the oven, and I prepared a separate pan of asparagus with lemon, garlic and butter that snuggled up next to the roasting pan during those last same 10 minutes. Garnish the asparagus with pine nuts and fresh basil while Will slices the chicken and we have a delightful Provencal feast.

But no feast is worth writing about without the perfect dessert with which to finish. When we were in Paris, there were Chestnuts everywhere; roasted on open grates at streetcorners, glazed in pastry shops, and pureed into sweets and savories of all kinds. Bonne Maman makes delicious james and jellies that are readily available in grocery stores here, so when I found the rare jar of Chesnut puree in a specialty store, I snatched it up. And I had the perfect way to incorporate it for this meal! A hold-over recipe from the holidays, Chestnut Cheesecake by Nigella Lawson.

I made some substitutions based on what I had (not necessarily because of personal taste preference), so I'll post my version here.

Chestnut Cheesecake
serves 12

For Crust
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
couple shakes (or better yet - passes across the grater of fresh) nutmeg

Blend all ingredients in food processor. Press into bottom and up sides of a 9" or 10" springform pan, first wrapping foil around the exterior of the pan.

For Filling
8 oz cream cheese, softened
8 oz neufchatel cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup plain yogurt (mine was fat-free)
1 teaspoon lime juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon dark rum
12 oz sweetened chestnut puree (I used Bonne Maman brand)

Preheat oven to 400. Blend cheese and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Add yogurt, and flavorings. Mix until combined. Add chesnut puree, and mix until well blended, or if desired, leave streaks for a marbled effect.

Pour batter into prepared crust. Place pan into a roasting pan and fill with water one-inch up sides of cake pan. Bake for 60 minutes, or until top is set, and starting to turn golden around the edges, but still wobbly in the center. Remove from water bath, and foil, and cool on rack, then refrigerate overnight.

You can see how soft the center is from this photo; it has plenty of structure but a
silky creaminess that is really excellent. If you prefer it more firm, don't bake it in the
 water bath; that will also give it a crispier crust, but you risk the top of the cake
cracking which is not as pretty and it doesn't bake as evenly that way.

Note that the recipe calls for a drizzling sauce. I made this as directed, but didn't find it syrupy at all, even after steadily boiling for 10 minutes. I don't think added anything to the dessert, so even if it was thicker and glossier, like a caramel sauce, I don't think I'd bother with it again. The cake is delicious as it is, with the right amount of sweetness.

Our meal was delightfully complemented by a 2006 Cabernet Franc from Walla Walla Vintners, which I highly recommend.

Roast Chicken Provencal
One 5-pound roasting chicken, rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon grey salt (or Kosher salt)
5 tablespoons Herbes de Provence
1 large lemon, washed
1 pound yukon gold potatoes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. With a mortar and pestle, or between your hands, crush herbes with salt. Coat chicken with oil, and rub with herbes inside and out. Stuff with lemon cut into quarters. Place on rack in roasting pan. Bake 90 minutes, or until thermometer in thigh is 160 degrees. Remove rack and chicken, cover chicken with foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes before carving. Meanwhile, parboil potatoes cut into 2-inch wedges. Place in roasting pan in drippings, and return to oven for about 10 minutes until golden.

Roast Asparagus
1 pound asparagus
1 large clove garlic
olive oil
1/2 large lemon
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup pine nuts, chopped
4 large leaves fresh basil, chiffonaded

Wash and trim asparagus. Lay in even layer in baking dish. Grate garlic over and spread evenly. Squeeze 1/4 fresh lemon over. Brush with a light coat of olive oil. Roast for 12 minutes at 400 degrees. Remove from oven, stir, and toss with butter cut into small pieces, and pine nuts. Return to oven for 2-3 minutes, until butter is melted and nuts are toasted. Just before serving, squeeze remaining 1/4 lemon over and sprinkle with fresh basil.