Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fixed Oven, Naan Pizza, & Brussels Sprout Love

Me playing the vital "light holding" role in fixing the oven.
After weeks of an oven-less existence, the element finally came today in the mail.  In celebration of such a momentous and much-awaited day, I broke in the oven by baking up some naan pizzas. 

Having a working oven is a wonderful thing.
I love naan.  For those unaware of the beauty of naan, it's an Asian flatbread, most commonly used in Indian cuisines.  While it's perfect for scraping up the last bit of palak paneer, it also makes a phenomenal pizza crust.  It can hold up to lots of sauce and toppings, and gets a little crunchy on the outside when you bake it, while still retaining a soft, chewy inside.  

Naan pizzas are a staple in the Confoy household.  Not only are the quick and easy, but they allow the variety to gives everyone what they want.  Since half of the family doesn't eat dairy, and three-fourths don't eat meat, my lacto-carnivore brother often finds the dinners I make lacking in the things he enjoys the most - meat and bleu cheese.  But on Make-Your-Own-Pizza Night, he can stack as much prosciutto, salami, bacon, and bleu cheese on his naan as that leavened bread can handle.  

Me?  I like a base of roasted tomatoes, then some sauteed veggies.  Usually I go for onions, mushrooms, and yellow and green squash.  Tonight, I added some roasted brussels sprouts 1) because in a recent issue of her magazine, Martha Stewart put brussel sprouts on a pizza, and 2) I have been craving them (yes, I crave brussels sprouts.  Actually, I love brussels sprouts.  I know that they're the vegetable that everyone hates, but if you roast them instead of boiling them, they are the most delicious thing in the world.  Bobby Flay's Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate and Vanilla-Pecan Butter turned me on to the wonderfulness of sprouts).
Mmm, brussels spouts.
Basically, you all know how to make pizzas.  You can buy naan pre-made at the grocery store (the brand Fabulous Flats is great), and then just top it off with whatever you want.  Really, whatever you want.  Mozzarella and basil?  Steak and pineapple?  Shrimp and chocolate?  Not judgement here.  I'm leaving this one up to you.

Note: Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, until toppings are warm or cheese has melted.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Feel Good Soup

Thanks to my brother, I am now the proud owner of a head cold.  Less than 24 hours since symptoms began and I've already got a nice red ring around my nose that only too much rubbing with tissues can get you.  Now I don't want to seem over dramatic, its not a bad cold at all, its just annoying.  It makes even the simplest task (like changing my sheets this morning) exhausting and overwhelming. 

Normally I milk the whole sick thing, making others fetch me orange juice and tissues, and make me soup, but alas, my family members are all staying late at work/school tonight, so I was forced to fend for myself.  I decided to cook up a soup with garlic, spinach, and winter wheat berries.  

Do you know what's even worse than having a cold?  Chopping onions with a cold.  The sinus pressure increases so that your head fells like it's going to spontaneously implode and your whole face begins to leak various liquids.  It's terrible.  I suggest that if you have a non-sick person around, act really week and feebly, guilting them do the onion chopping for you. 

I also suggest you eat this soup out of a big mug with a slice of good bread for sopping up the broth.  Even if you're not sick, this soup is soul-warming and best served while watching your favorite feel-good movie - for me, It's Complicated always does the trick.  So whether you're under the weather, or just looking for something to cozy up with, this soup is the perfect feel good soup.

Feel Good Soup
1 tbs olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
¼ red onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
¼ carrots, diced
1 tbs dried minced sage
1 tbs dried minced thyme
1 tsp pepper
6 cloves garlic, sliced
2 large handfuls spinach, chopped
5 cups vegetable stock
2 cups water
2 tbs soy sauce
1 cup uncooked wheat berries

+ In a medium pot, combine 1 cup of vegetable broth, 2 cups water, and wheat berries.  Bring to boil, then lower to simmer and cover.  Cook for about an hour, or until the berries split open (when they're done, they'll be slightly chewy).
+ While the berries are cooking, in a large pot, saute the onion, celery, and carrot in olive oil until the onions become clear and soft.  Add the sage, thyme, and pepper.  Stir and continue to cook until the veggies begin to brown.
+ Add the garlic and cook until that begins to brown as well.  
+ Add the spinach, then pour the remaining 4 cups of the vegetable broth and soy into the pot.  Lower to simmer and cover.  Cook until berries are done.
+ Once the wheat berries are cooked, add them to the broth.  Add seasoning to taste.  Cook for at least another half hour (the longer it cooks, the more the flavors will develop and the berries will absorb some of the flavor).  

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscar-Worthy Crab Cakes

Day 10 of Oven-less Existence:
It’s been over a week since we discovered the bottom burner of our oven had spontaneously combusted and shattered into three pieces, but I'm still forgetting that it’s in disuse.  For example, today is Oscar Sunday.  My family quite enjoys the awards, and the excuse to drink prosecco (I told you.  We're prosecco whores).  I also use this occasion as an excuse to make semi-fancy food.  However, this makes for quite a difficult task when limited to cooking sans oven. 
Tomatoes in foil pouch.

But the lack of working oven has not stopped me.  I decided this morning that I’d make crab cakes over a spinach salad topped with roasted tomatoes for our elegant Oscar dinner.  Only later - while in the checkout in the supermarket - did I realize that roasting would be slightly difficult without an oven.  However, I was not willing to give up my original vision (part of my anxiety stems from the fact that I like planning things, and when things don't go exactly as I've planned them in my head, or something throws a snag in the schedule, I start to have some issues).  These tomatoes were going to happen.  It was going to work.  They were necessary for this dish.  And necessity is the mother of invention - which is why I commissioned my dad to start a fire in the fire pit (I’ve tried doing it myself.  Really, I have, but last time I made a fire pit I successfully accomplished burning an entire Sunday Edition of The New York Times without any of the wood catching fire).  I stuck one of the racks from the oven over the charcoals, made a little pouch out of parchment lined foil, and roasted those babies very slowly over the fire pit. (Tip: If you want to try this, make sure you have heavy duty aluminum foil, or double-up on foil.)  They turned out to be a completely different animal than the those roasted in the oven; the oven tomatoes are shriveled skills with a thick, soupy juice, and these fire roasted tomatoes remained whole and sweet, while absorbing the smokiness of the pit.

While these crab cakes were not nominated for any Academy Awards, they received 4 Stars from the CAFD (Confoy Academy of Fine Diners).  

This crab cake recipe makes 6 cakes.  I served mine over a the roasted tomatoes and a simple salad of chopped spinach, red onion, and Brianna's Lemon Tarragon vinaigrette. 

Oscar-Worthy Crab Cakes 
1 tbs Brianna's Champagne Caper Vinaigrette
½ cup Vineyard Pantry Cabernet Roasted Garlic Mustard
1 tbs lemon pepper
1 egg
1 tsp Himalayan Pink Salt
1 cup panko
1 can (16 oz) claw crab meat

Crab Cake, Mimosa, Oscars.

+In a medium bowl, combine vinaigrette, mustard, pepper, egg, and salt. 
+ Add the panko and crab meat and mix until well combined.
+ Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour (you can keep them in the fridge overnight if you want to prepare the crab mixture the night before).
+ Form the crab mixture into palm-sized balls and flatten into patty form.
+ Heat skillet or large sauce pan on medium-high heat.  Spray with cooking spray, or lightly grease with olive oil.  Cook cakes for 5 to 8 minutes on each side, or until brown and crispy.  Serve hot, or cold the next day on a fresh roll.

Note: You can replace Brianna's vinaigrette with any light vinaigrette, Vineyard Pantry with another grainy mustard, and pink salt with a table salt.  These are ingredients I had in the house, and happened to all work amazingly well together.
I may have finished this off before Billy Crystal finished his opening bit.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What I Love About Cooking.

Citrus Soy Glazed Chicken in the oven!
A few days ago, my college friend Adrienne called me because she had gone home for the weekend and wanted to cook dinner for her boyfriend.  She said that she loved the look of the Citrus Soy Glazed Salmon but wanted to make it with chicken instead.  While I'm not super familiar with cooking poultry, I thought that the flavors would work well.  I walked her through the recipe, and after a few phone calls and texts from the supermarket and kitchen, I received these photos via text of the delicious meal and beautiful chef.  She made the same glaze, but then just poured it over some chicken breasts in a pan along with some potatoes that had been drizzled with olive oil and hit with a little salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme.

Adrienne and her chicken out of the oven!
This is what I love about cooking.  The fact that you can take something, or an idea, or a flavor and translate it to something else.  Nothing is set in stone, it's all transitive, moldable, and another word I can't think of.  The creativity and versatility of cooking.  I love the sharing of not only recipes, but of knowledge.  And the idea that its all customizable (that's not a word, but I think it should be).  You can take a basic recipe or idea and adapt it to your specific tastes and dietary likes or limitations.  I love that a glaze I made specifically for salmon can be translated to chicken, something that I don't eat and have never cooked.  It's brilliant.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Classy Dinner Party Tomato Shrimp Pasta

In my family, birthdays are a big deal.  Actually, that's an understatement.  Birthdays are a HUGE deal.  Birthdays are everything.  And they don't just last one day, oh, no no.  They last a whole week.  That's right.  A seven days of celebrating and honoring of the birthday boy or girl.  Most of the time this means they get to choose meals or what we watch on television, but really its just an excuse to guilt people into doing whatever you want and pop a bottle of sparkling every night for a week.

Slaving over a hot stove.
This year to kick off my birthday week, I trained up to my alma mater for a little dinner party with the college gang.  I spent most of last week trying to decide what to make; I mean, I wanted something easy that would serve ten people, but that would look gourmet and fancy enough for a classy dinner party.  After a lot of web-surfing and soul-searching, I decided on a tomato sauce with shrimp over spaghetti - tomato sauces are probably the easiest thing to make, and what's more posh than shrimp, really now?  This recipe was perfect, because I was able to get it prepped and on the stove in about 15 minutes, before the bulk of people arrived, and then just let it stew and the flavors develop while we had cocktails and appetizers.  By the time we were ready to sit down, the sauce was done and we were all fairly toasted.  It was the perfect dinner party dish.

Tomato Shrimp Pasta
2 tbs olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small sweet potato, cubed
1 tbs basil
1 tbs oregano
2 tsp red pepper flakes
½ cup red wine
1 large can diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato sauce
2 pints cherry tomatoes
2 lbs spagehtti
1 large bag of cooked frozen shrimp
salt and pepper to taste

+ In a large sauce pan, saute the onions and garlic in oil until the onions become translucent.  Add the sweet potato until the onions and potato just start to brown.
+ Add the herbs and red pepper and mix until well combined.
+ Add wine to deglaze the pan, then add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and one pint of cherry tomatoes.  Give a good stir.  Season to taste.
+ Cover and cook for as long as desired, at least 30 minutes.  Put water on to boil.
+ Once the water is boiled, add the pasta.  Stir the sauce, add the last pint of cherry tomatoes and shrimp, and season to taste.  When the pasta is done cooking, the shrimp should be heated through and the cherry tomatoes soft but whole.
+ Strain the pasta and return to pot.  Spoon a small amount of sauce into the pasta and stir until evenly covered.  Serve in large bowl with remaining sauce poured over the top.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Citrus Soy Glazed Salmon

I love fish.  All seafood to be exact.  Last year when I went through a "hardcore vegan" phase, I still ate fish (hence the quotation marks.)  Tuna, squid, anchovies, crab, mussels, shrimp, scallops, lobsters, I love it all.  Salmon is my all-time favorite though  Baked, grilled, seared, raw: I'll eat it any way you give it to me.

At home, I follow a pretty regimented method for cooking my fish.  Preheat the oven, place the fish in a baking dish, drizzle it with a little olive oil, dash of salt and pepper, and then pop it in the oven until its pink and flaky.  Its seriously that easy.  I think people have this preconceived notion that cooking fish is hard, but just follow my four step process (dish, season, bake, and serve) and you'll be a master pesca-chef. 

Every time I cook it though, I deviate from this base by adding whatever happens to be in the house at the time.  Sometime I add a different seasoning (curry powder, red pepper flakes, paprika), or spread some jam or preserves on top of the fish (I highly recommend Trader Joe's Fig Butter), or I create my own marinade.  

Tonight was one such night.  I just bought a bunch of lemons and a new bottle of soy, so viola!  Citrus Soy Glaze!

Very Important Note That You Need To Read Before Proceeding To Recipe:
Note the delicious color of this farm-raised salmon.
Always Wild-Caught fish.  ALWAYS.  You know how grass-fed beef is healthier and tastier than corn-fed beef?  Same goes for fish.  Fish farms are no different from the meat industry's factory farms.  Farm-raised fish are industrially produced and manufactured; they feed the stock corn to fatten them up quickly, they don't have the room to move and exercise meaning they're fatty and lack flavor, and they add anti-biotics to the feed.  These fish are exposed to more chemicals on farms and are lacking in the nutrients that they get from living in, you know, their natural habitat.   Take salmon for example, there's a huge difference in color: farm-raised is almost grey, while wild-caught is a dark, beautiful, well, salmon color (farms will sometimes add dyes to the feed in order to make the fish's meat pinker).  I'm going to stop this rant now, but don't ever have me catch you at the fish counter at the supermarket buying farm-raised fish.  And if they don't have wild-caught at the counter, check the frozen section.  All fish is frozen, its just that the fish at the counter has already been defrosted, so there's really no difference.  I always try to have some fish in the freezer for days when I can't get the the store, or just feel like making fish tacos.  Okay, rant officially over.

Oh, one last thing.  This recipe serves four fish-loving adults (aka my family).

Citrus Soy Glazed Salmon
1½ lbs wild-caught salmon (just in case you forgot)
2 tbs honey
¼ cup orange juice
juice and zest from ½ lemon
1 tbs soy
3 cloves garlic, minced
pepper to taste

+ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
+ Mix honey, orange juice, lemon juice and zest, soy, garlic and pepper in a medium bowl.
+ Place the salmon in a baking dish.  Cover with marinade.
+ Bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on the thickness.  Baste with marinade throughout cooking to prevent from drying out. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Green Berry Smoothie

Over the past couple of years - riding the coat-tails of the health food craze - the smoothie-juice fad has been on the rise.  Whether its juice cleanses or beverage-centric franchises like Jamba Juice, or whether they're made with strawberries and bananas or beets and kale, the health conscious just can't seem to get enough.  

And I, dear reader, am not immune.  I always like to think of myself as a non-conformist, but in reality, I'm just as easily swayed by whats ever popular at the moment.  Especially when it comes to food.  

I'm not really hardcore when it comes to health fooding, so I haven't really gotten into juices - that and the fact that our ancient juicer is buried somewhere in the caverns of the basement.  However, lately, smoothies have become a part of my daily life.  Not only do I start each day with one, but they are the perfect pre-yoga meal. 

My recipe varies day-to-day, depending on what mood I'm in and what we have around the house, but I have a few essentials on stock:

+ frozen spinach or kale
+ frozen mango
+ bananas
+ non-dairy milk (almond or coconut)

+ dried fruits (cranberries, pineapple)

Berries have been on sale this months, so I've been doing a lot of spinach and blueberry shakes.  You can add a little nut butter and cocoa powder to banana and almond milk for healthy chocolate milk shake.  Soak some oats in the milk for a few minutes, then throw them into your shake for added thickness.

A trick to making these seem more like a meal than a beverage, is to top it off with some dried fruit or a little granola and eat it with a spoon.  I think its the fact that using a spoon makes you stop and really enjoy the smoothie, instead of drinking it quickly and not really tasting it.

While these light fruit smoothies might not seem like much, they are deceivingly filling, especially if you use milk, nut butter, or oats.

Tonight before heading to class at YogaAbove (http://www.yogaabove.com/class_schedule.htm), I made myself this smoothie.  Its a little bigger than I usually make, but its basically my dinner, so I think it balances everything out.  I also topped it off with some dried cranberries and grapes nuts for some added texture. 

Berry Green Smoothie
⅓ cup dry rolled oats
½  cup almond milk
1 frozen banana
⅓ cup fresh blueberries
3 whole strawberries
⅔ cup frozen chopped spinach

+ In a small bowl, combine the oats and milk.  Give a quick stir to dunk the oats in the milk, then allow to soak in fridge for at least a half an hour. (Note: This isn't mandatory, but makes the smoothie have a thicker and smoother texture.)
+ In a blender, combine oats and milk with the rest of the ingredients.  Blend until smooth.
+ Serve immediately.  Top with dried fruit or granola.