Saturday, January 30, 2010

Andalusian Pilaf - Special Guest Recipe

 Andalusian Pilaf - recipe and photo by Charles Larry

One of the joys of moving back to my hometown a few years ago is being here to help plan our class reunion for later this year. We've only had two previous reunions, but we've been out of high school long enough to have had a few more, and everyone is really looking forward to this one.

I don't have to say how many do I? You can just look and my picture and guess, can't you. Yeah, this will be our . . . uh . . . fifteenth . . . twentieth . . . something like that.

Anyway, a number of us who live in town (and are still able to get around on our own) have been meeting to make plans and, most important of all, locate our classmates.

I didn't help organize our past reunions, but I suspect having the Internet, Email, Google, Facebook and social media sites have made it easier to find people than in the past.

Uh oh! That could have been a clue!

It seems as soon as we do connect with each new found person there is an instant link with an ever-growing group of classmates on Facebook, and the emails begin flying between people who haven't seen each other in . . . well . . . several years.

That's it! No more hints!

All of this 21st century communication has also allowed classmates living far away to become more involved in the planning. My friend, Stan, is working with me on save-the-dates and invitations -- all by email. He and his wife live in KY and own a stationery and gift shop. I have nice handwriting and care about the proper placement of stamps on envelopes.

Another friend, Charles, has done some amazing artwork for a couple of special items to commemorate our class and he sent them to us via computer. Charles also noticed that I have a blog, so checked it out and got in touch with me. 

And guess what? Charles cooks too! And I'm not sure which is proper . . . he is vegan . . . or, he is a vegan . . . but he is. I told him I'd love to see recipes of anything he makes, since I'm always looking for new food finds for Cora Cooks.

And I mentioned, too, that all my friends know to "shoot it before you eat it."

Well, a couple of days later, this gorgeous picture and delicious recipe from Charles showed up in my email.

Uh, Charles, did I forget to mention that it's not good form to show up the blog host with pictures that far exceed the beauty and quality of her own?

Notice that rule does not apply to recipes though. Good food, better food and best food are always appreciated, no matter who makes it! I'll eat almost anything with cumin and/or olives, just so you know.

I have to admit that I've not made this myself -- yet -- or even tasted it, except with my eyes. Can you believe I don't have a bit of tofu in the house at the moment? Yeah, I know.

I also can read a recipe and know the flavors in my mind, and I can see that beautiful bowl of pilaf and just know that this is something special.

First Kristin wants vegetarian. And now Charles sends me vegan. OK, I asked for the vegan recipes, but is there some cosmic coincidence thing going on here?

1 c. Rice
Pinch Saffron (or 2 tsp. Paprika + 1/2 tsp. Turmeric)
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
2 tsp. ground Cumin
1 large Onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 lb. extra firm Tofu (drain and wrap in kitchen towel for at least an hour, up to 12 hours, in refrigerator)
1/4 c. Red Wine
1 tbsp. Soy Sauce
1 15 oz. can diced Tomatoes (or fresh if in season)
1/2 lb. baby Carrots (or carrots peeled and cut to bite-size)
1 lb. Green Beans (or asparagus if in season)
6 oz. baby Spinach 
1/2 c. small stuffed Green Olives
1/4 c. chopped Flat-leafed Parsley
1 tsp. dried Thyme
1 Serrano Chili, finely chopped

Cook rice with saffron and salt.

Meanwhile, tear tofu into bite-sized pieces. Heat olive oil. Add cumin and sauté onion and tofu.  After 5 minutes or so, add garlic and sauté another 2 minutes. Add wine, soy sauce, and liquid from tomatoes. Saute until liquid is absorbed and tofu is browning.

While tofu is sautéing, cook green beans and carrots (carrots are best coated with olive oil and roasted in 400F oven.)

Add spinach to tofu and cook until wilted. Mix all together in a large bowl:  the tofu mixture, rice, carrots, green beans, olives, parsley, thyme, chili, and salt to taste.

Print Recipe

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mashed Sweet Potatoes With Orange Zest and Spices

Kristin, one of the trainers where I work out, asked if I had any good sweet potato recipes . . . that were vegetarian . . . and that could be made in a microwave. Living in a sorority house -- the same one I was in btw, at the same university, just a few years ago, or so it seems -- limits her personal cooking to the microwave. But between school and work, she sometimes has to come up with her own quick and easy vegetarian dishes to fill in for missed meals. 

Excuse me a minute, I must have drifted off again. Even though I just had my one year anniversary of regularly working out at Curves, the phrase "work out" connected to me in any positive, physical sort of way still sounds sort of surreal! And I'm still sort of in shock that all those things "they" say about regular exercise are true. But they are. I'm living proof. Who knew! 

So here it is Kristin at Curves! 

As luck would have it, I had just discovered a delightful sweet potato recipe, easily adapted to microwave preparation for vegetarians. 

Forget about every ooey-gooey-sticky sweet potato recipe you've ever tasted at holiday meals. Instead, think light. These mashed sweet potatoes have bright citrus-spice flavors that would be perfect for morning, noon or nighttime meals or snacking. 

Yeah, mashed sweet potatoes could be a snack! I couldn't stop eating them and it was the middle of the morning when I made them. So there! 

And even though I altered the original recipe with the addition of some cinnamon, for a little richer flavor, it didn't dull the wonderful zing of the orange juice and zest. 

In fact, MFH preferred the cinnamon version, but not just because he read an article recently about the health benefits of cinnamon -- anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, helps regulate blood sugar  -- to your daily diet. He must hear what "they" say too. 

So Kristin, here is your microwavable, vegetarian sweet potato recipe, with an extra healthy dose of all kinds of good things. Hope you like it! 

(Adapted from The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger) 

2 large sweet potatoes (about 1 ½ lbs.), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
¼ c. low-fat buttermilk
2 tbsp. fresh orange juice
1 tsp. finely grated orange zest
½ tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
salt to taste 

Place the sweet potato chunks in a steamer over a large pot of boiling water. Cover and steam until fork-tender – about 12 to 15 minutes. While potatoes are cooking, heat the buttermilk in the microwave for 20 seconds, just to take the away the chill. Do not boil or it will curdle – which is not the end of the world, but the sweet potatoes will have white specks. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot. Add the warm buttermilk and orange juice; mash until smooth. Stir in the orange zest, nutmeg and cinnamon. Season with salt, as needed.
Serves 4.
Approximately 160 calories per serving. 

Note: If you don’t have a stove-top steamer, place the raw sweet potato chunks in a microwave-safe covered casserole and cook on high until softened. Mash sweet potatoes and continue preparation in the casserole dish, as directed in the recipe.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Kids In The Kitchen - Buffalo Hot Wing Dip & Buffalo Hot Wing Pizza

Steve and Grant vs. Kristen and Emily
Way back in November, Grant and Kristen brought their friends, Steve and Emily, to our house for a little rest and relaxation visit. The big plan: Make homemade pizza in the brick oven.

One of four! 
I assembled the ingredients to make the dough and gathered the kids in the kitchen. Each of them made a batch of dough and we set it out to rise.

Kristen and Emily know how to handle pizza dough! 
The four batches of dough all turned out beautifully and Kristen and Emily masterfully rolled all that dough into thirteen perfectly thin crusts. While they rolled, we pre-baked the crusts for a few minutes each, which makes them easy to handle in the brick oven, hold heavier toppings well, and makes the crust really crispy after the second baking. 

  Grant shows how the ingredients for the dip go together really f-a-s-t! 

Then Grant and Kristen made up a batch of Buffalo Hot Wing Dip from a new recipe that came to me through friends -- Kittie to Sally to me.

Take me to the fire! 

While we got everything together inside, Dean was busy getting the brick oven hot outside.

 What man doesn't love building a fire? 

The pizzas were all delicious - crispy, cheesy and hot. Some of the best we've ever made. Emily is now crust master, right behind Uncle Jeff. The Buffalo Hot Wing Dip was a hit to! In fact, it was so good, Steve used it to top one of the pizza crusts and declared it to be the best one of the evening. Buffalo Hot Wing Pizza is really good!

But wait! There's more . . . Buffalo Hot Wing Pizza! 

I don't want to rush the season, but Buffalo Hot Wing Dip and Buffalo Hot Wing Pizza would both be wonderful food for Super Bowl Game Day -- or any game day, or any tailgate, or . . . any day at all.

  Bring on the Fritos? 

1 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese
2 c. shredded cooked chicken breast (supermarket rotisserie chicken is perfect!)
1/4 c. Frank's hot sauce
1/2 c. ranch dressing
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 c. celery, finely diced (optional)

In a pan on top of the stove, melt cream cheese over medium -- watch it closely! Remove from heat and stir in shredded chicken. Pour in hot sauce, ranch dressing and cheese and stir to blend completely. Pour into a casserole dish. Bake at 325 degrees until lightly browned on top. Remove from oven and sprinkle diced celery over top of casserole. Serve with Fritos Scoops, tortilla chips or Ritz crackers. Makes 1 medium casserole dish. Recipe can be doubled.

Note: Make this recipe lighter by using low-fat cream cheese, fat-free ranch dressing, low-fat cheddar cheese and serve it with 2-inch celery chunks for dipping.

Print Recipe

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Spur-of-the-Moment Roasted Fennel - Crazy Good!

Inspired by the Saturday morning Food Network shows and a well-stocked refrigerator, I decided today was the day to roast some fennel for the first time.

I'm one of those people who actually likes fennel, especially in salads with sliced oranges and a light vinaigrette. The two flavors have a similar note on my palate and together they sing perfect harmony.

Of course, life is never as simple as "this won't take long, I have some fresh fennel in the fridge right now, let's do it!"

I opened the refrigerator only to discover a package of fish had leaked all over a glass shelf.

Ooooookaaaaay . . . grab some paper towels and the bleach-water spray bottle. One paper towel left on roll, of course! (I can't pretend I don't know how that happens?)

Downstairs for paper towels, oh, and while I'm here, the Kleenex needs replacing in the den . . . and the master bath. Of course, I know how that happens too. 

There they are! Not the paper towels, of course. I haven't even gotten that far into the room by then. There are the forgotten clothes in the washer and dryer.

Dump the clothes from the dryer onto the table in the bar. (Even as I do that, I know it will come back to bite me on the butt later.) Sigh. For now though, transfer the washer load to the dryer.

Stay focused.

Grab armloads of paper products and head back upstairs -- just two short flights -- and change out the Kleenex boxes in the master bath. Back down one flight to the kitchen and change out the Kleenex boxes in the den and the paper towels in the kitchen.

Finally, fish-juicy containers removed from the refrigerator. Shelf cleaned -- with too many paper towels. Containers cleaned -- more paper towels. Fish juice rings cleaned on counter. No lingering fish odor or contamination anywhere. Order restored.

Back to the fennel roasting project.

Cutting board, check. Knives -- no knives! Why? Why? Why? Gather clean knives from the dish rack. In the interest of safety, I recall, the whole batch of knives should hit a few licks to sharpen them before slicing anything else. ALL knives now steeled for duty.

Finally, slice fennel, toss with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt . . . head slap. Oven not preheated!

Turn on oven to 400 degrees and wait -- Viking always slow to heat. Head slap again. (Red mark beginning to appear on forehead!)  Small oven will heat much faster than large oven.

Turn off big oven. Turn on small oven. Move fennel to smaller baking sheet -- large one won't fit in small oven.

Shorter wait. Shove pan of fennel into oven and wait. House begins to smell h-e-a-v-e-n-l-y.

Remove fennel and pounce on the very hot, very crispy, blackened . Mmmmmmmmm. Oooooooo. Ahhhhhhhh. Better than French Fries!

Snap! Come to my senses and remember to take a picture before the whole pan of fennel is devoured.

Big head slap! I shouldn't have waited so long to try roasted fennel.

It is so crazy good! Must get more fennel NOW!

Well, right after I meet the neighbors for pizza. There's always time for pizza!

I'll get back to the fennel. Note to self -- buy more fennel.

All in a day's work.

Hmmmmm . . . roasted fennel on pizza . . .

1 or more bulbs of fresh fennel
olive oil
kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice green stalks off top of fennel bulb. Slice fennel bulb in half lengthwise. Remove core by making triangular notch around it. Cut each half lengthwise into quarters. Place on baking sheet; toss with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Roast until nicely browned and crispy on edges. Eat immediately or serve with other food - if you can wait.

Print Recipe

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Soup Weather

“Soup is the song of the hearth...  and the home.” - Louis P. De Gouy, The Soup Book (1949) 

Well into the morning, there was nothing comforting about the view through my windows. 

A gloomy gray haze had stalled and settled over the fields just beyond the naked trees.

It was a cozy-up-to-the-fire day. Alas, no fire. 

It was a curl-up-with-a-good-book-on-the-couch day. Deadlines loomed.

It was a sneak-a-lazy-nap day. Too early . . . and . . . deadlines.

OK, it was a make-some-soup day. Perfect.

Soup to nourish, to warm, to soothe and to inspire.

And apparently, soup to brighten up the day. The sun was burning through the haze and warming up the window seat before I even finished putting the pot on to simmer.

What a good feeling . . . making soup with re-purposed bits and pieces that have not yet taken up permanent residence in the back corner of the refrigerator. A week of stellar performers called out to take a bow. Culinary recycling. Virtuous cook.

And later the same day . . . a warm delicious lunch, a bright cozy corner, and one deadline met. 

Behold, the power of soup!

A container of spaghetti sauce, with crumbles of Italian sausage and ground beef. 
A package of mixed vegetables - carrots, zucchini, cauliflower and peppers. 
Some leftover roasted potatoes from earlier in the week. 
Broken pieces of gemelli pasta from the end of a bag in the pantry. 
A can of cannelini beans. 
Garlic and onion, of course. 
A hearty dash of Italian herbs. 
All covered with splashes of end-of-the-cartons chicken broth and beef broth. 
Set to simmer over a slow flame. 
A healthy grating of parmesan cheese, just before serving.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Rosemary Dijon Roasted Potatoes - Healthy Eating

Here's the best part about beginning a "healthy eating plan" vs. a diet. A healthy eating plan is a lot like a vacation resort -- all-inclusive. And that's a very good thing.

Nothing is off-limits. Including potatoes with the occasional splash of good olive oil, seasoned and roasted to a golden, crispy turn.

A small dice on the potatoes helps them sprawl out over the plate and fool the eye into thinking less is more.

And they cook a lot faster too. Hunger is so urgent in the first few days of a healthier eating plan.

These potatoes were a cozy bit of comfort served with a slice of rosy ham and crunchy whole green beans, simmered briefly in fresh orange juice. The green beans, not the ham.

Salty, spicy and sweet. Those are food groups, right? I thought so too.

Day 3. 

So far so good.

2 large baking potatoes
1 tbsp. olive oil
½ tsp. finely chopped dried rosemary
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. seasoned salt
1/3 c. shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and pat dry potatoes; cut into ½-inch cubes. In a large Ziploc bag, squeeze and blend olive oil, rosemary and mustard. Add potatoes and continue squeezing and turning bag until potatoes are evenly coated. Spread potatoes on lightly oiled or non-stick baking pan. Sprinkle with half of seasoned salt and half of shredded Parmesan cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until lightly browned; remove from oven and use spatula to turn potatoes. Sprinkle lightly with remaining seasoned salt and Parmesan cheese. Return pan to oven and continue to roast for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned on second side. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 6. (Somewhere in the neighborhood of 130 calories per serving - but don't quote me.)

Print Recipe

Friday, January 8, 2010

Maximum Rib Roast From A Minimum Kitchen

Look what I found in my long neglected blog email -- just a month late! 
My family and I spent Thanksgiving in a small rental cottage in Venice Beach. Despite the minimally stocked kitchen, my children and I decided to make your beef roast, which has become a family favorite. We had to skip the puree and used chopped vegetables instead, and we roasted the beef in a foil disposable pan. The meat is kosher and turned out beautifully. Thank you for sharing the best roast recipe I have ever made.
The first photo is of me and my son's girlfriend before we put the roast into the oven. The second is the beautiful roast.


Click here for the Printer Friendly Recipe to appreciate what a great feat Laura and her kitchen crew managed to perform, in a beach house kitchen no less - without a food processor! Now that's cooking!

Thanks to Laura for reading my blog, for cooking this amazing roast and for being fearless in the kitchen. And big thanks for sending the note and the pictures. You did yourself proud -- and me too!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Savory Bean Soup From A Humble Pot of Beans

 Happy New Year Savory Bean Soup

It has always been a tradition in my family to serve beans and cornbread for dinner on New Year's Day. When I was growing up, it was no problem for the eight of us to lay waste to the entire pot in one meal. However, once I was cooking for just two of us, a pot of beans could last forever, prompting me to learn to make bean soup. Well, not so much learn to make bean soup, as dare to create bean soup, for in my kitchen, soup is a creative work in progress until the last ladle full is served.

The beans were last minute this year, so I ignored the "soak them overnight" rule. Instead, I rinsed them very well, covered them with hot water, brought them to a boil, turned off the heat and then covered the pot to let them sit and soften for an hour. After that, I drained the water and added a quart of beef broth, more water to cover well, and about eight ounces of lean diced ham. The beans simmered over medium heat until they were cooked through -- tender, but not mushy. That's it. We ate them with cast iron skillet cornbread and contemplated the good fortune coming our way in a year begun over a humble pot of beans.

 In the beginning . . . a humble pot of beans

Today it is about 20 degrees outside, the pond has iced over and I have declared it to be the first official day of soup season. I took the leftover beans out of the fridge and transformed them into a savory bean soup. As I said, it's something I usually do without benefit of a recipe, so this time I sauteed some vegetables I had on hand -- shredded carrots, chopped onion, shredded cabbage, minced garlic, chopped curly endive, a large pinch of thyme and another of freshly ground pepper, all cooked in a little olive oil until softened. Then I added all of that to the beans, along with a can of diced tomatoes, a quart of chicken broth and enough water to fill the pot. The flavors simmered and blended together over medium heat for about 30 minutes before I ladled the finished soup into bowls for our lunch. We added grated Parmesan at the table.

Today's version of bean soup may be one of my best ever!

But it's only fair to tell you, I say that just about every time I make any kind of homemade soup.