Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Eat More Kale

Princeton, New Jersey has officially dubbed March "Eat More Kale" Month - a town wide, month-long celebration and awareness campaign for this super leafy green.  It all started with a Vermont man making "Eat More Kale" t-shirts out of his garage.  The employees at the bent spoonSmall World Coffee, and Whole Earth Center all starting wearing these shirts, sparking discussions of how to promote kale and eating healthy.  Soon, the movement was embraced by over a dozen local businesses and organizations.  Not only is kale being highlighted in dishes around town, but when you buy kale products (t-shirts and salad at Small World, a pint of kale ice cream at bent spoon) a bunch of kale will be donated to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen
So what exactly is kale, and why does Princeton want me to eat more of it?  Kale is found in recipes all over the world from Europe (Denmark, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany, Portugal) to East Africa to Asia (China, Taiwan, Japan).  It's a form of cabbage that comes from the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, and brussels sprouts.  Up until the Middle Ages, it was the most common green in Europe.  During World War II, the UK cultivated massive amounts of the easy-to-grow kale in order to replace nutrients lost from diets due to rationing.  Kale - also known as "farmer's cabbage" - is high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, and calcium.  When eaten raw, kale possesses both sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol, which have been shown to have anti-cancer properties; the latter boosting DNA repair and blocking the growth of cancer cells.

There are many different varieties of kale, but the most likely ones to be found at your grocery store are dino kale, green kale, and red kale.  Dino kale is a dark green with flat, smooth-edged leaves (they look like dinosaur scales, which I assume is where it got its name).  It is also the mildest of the three.  Red kale and green kale are very similar looking with their curled, crinkly edges; the only difference being that the red kale is tinted purple around the edges and is more bitter and tough.
Red, Green, and Dino Kales
Besides being ridiculously nutritious, kale is ridiculously versatile: raw, baked, sauteed, steamed, savory, sweet, blended, combined, by itself, chips, pesto, hummus, anyway and every way.  Which is why, for this blog entry, I'm giving you a full day of kale.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  So much kale that you'll be sick of it.  I'm only teasing, you could never get sick of kale, because there are so many things you can do with kale it's kind of insane.

In honor of "Eat More Kale" month, I've donned my celebratory t-shirt and put together an entire days menu featuring kale, kale, and more kale.  I used both raw and cooked kale, as well as using it in sweet and savory dishes.  For your pleasure we have for breakfast, a Tropical Dino Smoothie made with - you guessed it! - the dino kale; lunch is a Raw Green Kale Salad with chickpeas and homemade dressing; and for dinner, the finale, a sweet and spicy Red Kale and Butternut Squash Curry with brown basmati rice.

So, go!  Go buy a bunch of kale - make that three bunches - and make these recipes.  Or better yet, do some creating of your own with this amazing versatile ridiculous nutritious leafy green.

Tropical Dino Smoothie
1 cup dino kale, de-veined and roughly torn
¼ cup orange juice
1 banana

1 cup fresh cut pineapple
⅓ cup fresh cut mango

+ Combine ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth (or chunky, if you're like me).  If needed, add more juice until to reaches desired thickness.

Raw Green Kale Salad

½ bunch green kale, de-veined and roughly torn
1 can chick peas, rinsed
¼ red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs umeboshi vinegar (or any other vinegar)
2 tbs orange juice
1 tbs honey
salt and pepper to taste

+ Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, juice and honey in a small bowl.
+ Place kale on the bottom of a large bowl, topped with onion and chick peas.  Toss with dressing and serve.

Red Kale and Butternut Squash Curry

1 bunch red kale, de-veined and roughly torn
1 large yellow onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic
1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 20 oz package of pre-cut butternut squash
1 cup shredded carrot
½ cup fresh mango, chopped
2 cups fresh pineapple, chopped
2 tbs curry powder
2 cups wine
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup brown basmati rice
olive oil
salt and pepper

+ In a medium pot, combine rice and 2 cups stock.  Bring to a boil, then stir once, cover and reduce to a simmer.  Cook for about 45 minutes (or until all the liquid has been absorbed) without uncovering or stirring.  Once it's done, uncover, fluff with a fork, drizzle with a little olive oil and keep covered until served.
+ In a large sauce pan or large pot, saute onions and garlic over medium-high heat.  Add the squash, potato, mango, and pineapple, cooking for a few minutes.  Add curry powder, salt and pepper to taste, and give a good stir.  Add half the stock and half the wine.  Place the kale on top, and cover and cook until the squash and potato are fork tender, and the kale has wilted.
+ Remove ⅓ of the curry and place in a small pot.  Using a stick blender, blend until the mixture is smooth (if you don't have a stick blender, a normal blender will work just fine).  If the mixture is too thick to blend, add a bit of the reserved stock or wine.
+ Place the blended mix back into the pot and give it a good stir.  Add the remaining stock and wine, season to taste.  Cook until alcohol has cooked off, stirring occasionally.
+ Serve the curry over the basmati rice with a side of warmed naan.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Working Girl Dinner

Let me start off by apologizing for disappearing for a week - I am sorry. However, a very big part of me isn't sorry since my lack of updating is due to my recent employment. Yes, that's right, I am no longer an unemployed post-graduate.  I am officially employed. And I have to say, so far, I'm absolutely loving it.  Not only am I working as a barista - the breakfast bartender, making your life better one drink at a time - but I'm working with some truly amazing people.  They were incredibly welcoming to a newbie who asks far too many questions, and I feel like I've been there for much longer than a week.  I think I've settled in very nicely, though my milk foaming could use a little work.

Only downfall to my recent employment?  A job kind of takes away of a lot of the idle time around the house that I've been using as prep and cooking time.  Not to mention the fact that when I get home all I want to do is crash on the couch and have others serve me.  That being said, I really miss cooking.  That's why, today after work, I stopped at the grocery store and picked up a few quick items to add to things I already had in the house for dinner.  At home we had a of bag baby scallops in the freezer, a quart of cherry tomatoes, a bunch of scallions, fresh basil, and elephant garlic.  You heard me right, elephant garlic.  My two favorite things in the entire world combined by a genius to make one amazing thing.  This garlic dwarfs a normal clove, and cuts like an apple.  It's crisp and fragrant, but makes your eyes water like the worst onion - my whole face was hurting actually.  While the garlic is bigger, the flavor is more mild and less aggressive than regular garlic.  But I digress...

So at the store, I grabbed some ingredients to fill in the blanks and then sort of threw things together.  You know how much I love throw-together dinners, and they turn out to be the perfect meals for working girls with a small budget and even less time.
Elephant vs. Regular Garlic Clove

A Sort-of Scampi
1 quart cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch scallions, chopped
4 tbs fresh basil, chopped
2 cloves elephant garlic
1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups vegetable broth
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
½ yellow onion
 cup white wine (Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc)
1 lemon, zest
1 bag frozen baby scallops
½ lb wild-caught shrimp
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

+ Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a medium bowl, toss tomatoes, scallions, basil, and garlic in a splash of olive oil.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Pour the tomatoes into a deep baking dish (scraping the olive oil and seasoning from the bowl with a spatula).  Bake tomatoes for about an hour, or until shriveled and juicy.
+ In a medium pot, bring quinoa and vegetable broth to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and add broccoli.  Simmer uncovered until the liquid is absorbed and the grains have split.
+ In a large sauce pan, saute onions in olive oil until translucent.  Add the garlic and cook until just beginning to brown.
+ Mix the shrimp and scallops with zest, a little olive oil, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.
+  Add the shrimp and scallops to the pan, then add the wine.  Then cover and cook until shrimp is curled and pink, and the scallops turn white.
+ Serve with a scoop of shrimp and seafood over a bed of quinoa topped with the roasted tomatoes.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

St. Paddy's Day Shenanigans

This St. Paddy's Day was my first one as a legally drinking adult in the United States.  Last year I was 21, but I was in London, in a pub called the Hobgoblin eating Thai food while listening to a fiddle band and a short Irish bloke in a football jersey curse out the bartender for not pouring his Guinness quickly enough.  It was perfect.

This year, St. Patrick's Weekend was jam-packed full of things to do with fun people and ridiculously good food. On Friday, my friends Ally and Julie came to my house for a sleepover, so I decided on an Irish-themed menu: Irish soda bread, "meat" and potato stew, and Irish Car Bomb ice cream floats.
I used Ina Garten's soda bread recipe. Since this bread doesn't call for yeast, and therefor doesn't need any time to rise, you can make and bake it in under an hour.  My Italian grandmother used to make soda bread every year, but I used to absolutely hate it.  It was always really dry and baking soda-y.  While this recipe calls for currants and only a teaspoon of orange zest, I used golden raisins and used whole orange worth of zest - the plump raisins have more sweetness than the currants, and the zest gave it a punch of flavor that my grandmother's was always lacking.  (In defense of my grandma: while her soda bread wasn't her finest work, her spaghetti sauce is killer, and I have yet to be able to replicate it on my own.)
The "meat" and potato stew came from one of my favorite vegan recipe sources: Post Punk Kitchen.  I used her Seitan Porcini Beef Stew recipe with a few minor changes.  I could not find dried porcini mushrooms anywhere, so in their place, I used a medley of fresh mushrooms - the package included oyster, shiitake, and baby protobello.  Instead of throwing them into the stew towards the end, I sauteed them with the onions and garlic on a low heat, so that they browned, but didn't shrivel and get lost in the stew.  Now I'm not big on meat replacement products, mainly because I tend to stray away from processed foods.  However, I found some un-beef strips at Trader Joe's whose ingredients list wasn't lengthy or full of unrecognizable products, so I decided to try them out instead of the vegan sausage.  They actually worked really well - they tasted like the rest of stew, but added the meaty texture that was needed.  And the stew was perfect.  It was exactly the meat and potato dish that I had been craving for the day and went extremely well with a Guinness.

I saw the recipe for the Irish Car Bomb floats about a week ago on Petite Kitchenesse and was trying to come up the perfect excuse to make them.  Thanks again to Ally and Julie for allowing themselves to act as my excuse.  Since making ice cream is a little labor intensive (especially dairy-free), I bought a pint of regular vanilla ice cream and a pint of coconut milk vanilla ice cream, put them in the stand mixer with some Baileys, and then put it back into their cartons and let it reform in the freezer.  We learned that the more ice cream the better.  Also, if you're adding the whiskey-caramel on top, know that it immediately sinks to the bottom, so give it a good stir before sipping, unless you enjoy a big mouthful of sweet whiskey deliciousness, which I do.
Saturday, I headed into the city to see Once, an incredible new musical set in Ireland, where the actors are also the orchestra, and the music is Irish and folksie - I downloaded the soundtrack as soon as I got home and have been listening to it non-stop.  We started the evening out at my aunt and uncles house in Bronxville with some wine and Irish cheeses.  Then trained into the city where we had dinner at The Glass House Tavern, a cozy little joint in the middle of the theater district.  It was surprisingly well-priced for where we were and the quality of the food.  I did the prix fix dinner and got black truffle risotto, Alaskan salmon filet over roasted corn and cous cous "risotto", and a warm chocolate cake with fresh berries for $35.  And the food was amazing.  Beyond amazing.  Not only did it taste good, but the presentation and portions of everything were wonderful.  Not to mention the little Irish soda bread rolls that came before the meal.  Between dinner and the show, it was an amazing way to spend the day.
My Sicilian grandmother(who can't make soda bread)'s birthday is St. Patrick's Day, so today we headed over her house for a little throw together celebration.  I was given the task of cake baking, and since my grandma is a huge Bailey's fan, I decided to make another recipe I've been looking for an excuse to make for a while now: Irish Car Bomb cake - do you see a theme emerging for this weekend?  I used a recipe from the Brown Eyed Baker, but made a cake instead of cupcakes.  I also ran out of time to make my own icing, but just mixed the Bailey's into some store bought icing I had in the pantry, and it worked just fine.  Before I put the chocolate whiskey ganache filling in between the cakes, I drizzled some whiskey onto the exposed cake so that it soaked in.  It ended up not being the prettiest cake, but it was wonderfully delicious and paired perfectly with a pint of Guinness.
Tonight, my mother and I had the actual Irish Car Bomb cocktail which is a Boiler Maker with Guinness and a shot of half Bailey's half whiskey.   All in all, it turned out to be an absolutely fantastic St. Paddy's weekend - even though it was lacking a tiny foul-mouthed Irishman.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Berries (Blue + Black + Straw) = Pi

My attempt at making a pi symbol in the crust.
It's the day again.  The day that we eagerly await all year, the excitement building as it gets closer, writing and re-writing our letters to Euclid hoping that he'll leave presents in the pie tins we leave sitting out on our kitchen tables.  Yes, today is Pi Day, March 14th, in honor of the irrational constant that represents the ratio of any circle's circumference to its diameter - 3.1419526, oh, you know the rest.
To celebrate this momentous day, I have broken out my Pi Day t-shirt made in 8th grade for Mrs. Conway's Algebra class.  Alright, can I just say this, to get it out of the way?  I love Algebra.  I know, I just graduated with a degree in English Creative Writing, which means that I should have a natural aversion to mathematics and science, but I love Algebra and Physics and Chemistry.  Finding x, God, I could spend all day finding x.  Whew!  I feel so much better now that that's off my chest.  I actually just got finished helping my brother with his factoring homework, and I felt momentarily fulfilled by the simple multiplication.  I think its the simplicity.  And the idea that there's an definite answer.  You are able to come to a conclusion, to finish, to accomplish something with a bit of easy and simple logic.  Sigh, if only life were as simple as foiling.

It being Pi Day and all, what to make for dinner was a no brainer - just like the square root of 65,536 - I made not one, but two pies.  I mean, for God's sake, it's Pi Day!  It only comes once a year, and what better way to celebrate than with sweet and savory pies.  To be honest, I think that pie may be the perfect food.  Yeah, I said it, the perfect food.  There's a pie for every season, occasion, meal, taste, temperature.  Fruit pies, custard pies, pot pies, quiche, spanakopita, meat pies.  There are so many variations, that you really could just live on pies for the rest of your life if you wanted to - and let's be real, who wouldn't?

When I was little, I used to hate the crusts and would just scrape out the sweet gooey filling, leaving a shelled-out carcass of dough. As I grew and my horizons were broadened, I embraced the flaky, buttery, crunchy texture that crusts add to the pie.  However, my focus still remains on the filling, so I usually make a one crust pie (either a bottom or top crust).

Speaking of crusts, a doughy crust is the worst.  I don't think I've mentioned my bitter hatred for soggy things - wow, you're learning a whole lot about me today.  Cereal that's been sitting too long, cookies dunked in milk, socks wet from the rain, and especially soggy pie dough.  That's why I tend toward a top crust, which insures maximum golden brown flakiness.  However, when baking ridiculously over-stuffed pies - like the berry one I made tonight - two crust are sometimes necessary.  And don't scoff at the store-bought crusts.  If you have the time and energy to make a crust from scratch, awesome.  But the frozen ones are quick and easy, especially the roll out kind, because you can mold them into whatever size or shape you need.  Plus, always having a couple crusts in the freezer is perfect for spontaneous pie making.

Seafood Pot Pie
2 tbs olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 cup carrots, roughly chopped 
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped into bite sized pieces
1 20 oz container of cut, uncooked butternut squash
1 tbs rosemary leaves
1 tbs thyme
2 tbs fresh basil, cut into strips
4 cups vegetable broth
½ cup frozen peas
½ cup frozen corn
1 bag frozen seafood medley (a la Trader Joe's)
2 tbs cold butter, cut into cubes
3 tbs all-purpose flour
1 sheet frozen pie crust
salt and pepper to taste
Golden-crusted Seafood Pie
+ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
+ In a large pot or sauce pan, saute onion, celery, carrot, and garlic in olive oil over low-medium heat.
+ Once the veggies become translucent, add the sweet potato and butternut squash.  Then add the rosemary, thyme, basil, and salt and pepper.  Saute for a few minutes, or until the onion, celery, and carrot just begin to brown.
+ Add the vegetable broth, cover, and turn the heat to medium-high.  Cook until the potato and squash are fork tender.  If the broth begins to boil, turn heat down so that it maintains a simmer.
+ Stir in the peas, corn, and seafood.  Turn the heat up slightly.  Taste and season accordingly.
+ In a measuring cup, fork together the butter and flour, until it gets a crumbly texture.  Spoon in a few tablespoons of broth from the pot.  Mix together until a thick rue begins to form, add more broth or more flour if needed (it should look like pancake batter).
+ Slowly pour the rue into the pot, stirring constantly, until desired thickness is reached.  If too thin, just mix a bit of flour and broth in the measuring cup.  If too thick, add a bit of water.
+ On a lightly floured surface, roll out the crust so that it's large enough to cover a 9x13 baking dish.
+ Pour the filling into the baking dish.  Cover with crust, poking a few holes in the top.
+ Bake for an hour, or until the crust is golden brown.

Triple Berry Orange Ginger Pie
1 pint blueberries
1 pint blackberries
1 pint strawberries, quartered
1 tbs fresh ginger, grated
¼  cup honey
¼  cup all-purpose flour
½ orange, juice and zest
2 sheets pie crust

+ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
+ Put all the berries in a large bowl.  Gently fold in the ginger, honey, flour, juice, and zest.  Cover and refrigerate while completing next steps.
+ Unroll one pie crust into a pie pan.  Fill with pie weights or beans, and bake for 7-10 minutes, just before the crust begins to brown.
+ On a lightly floured surface, roll out the second crust so that its about two inches wider than the pan.
+ Fill cooked crust with berries, then place the rolled out crust on top.  Cut any excess dough from the edges, and secure the crust tightly around the edges.
+ Bake for an hour, or until the crust is golden brown.  Serve with vanilla ice cream, fresh whipped cream, or a tall flute of bubbly.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Operation Home-Made Pasta

About a month ago we had a new kitchen floor put in, which of course meant completely reorganizing the cabinets and installing a pantry in an old closet.  In the course of taking everything out of the cabinets, I made some interested discoveries.  For example, we own not one, but three cast iron corn bread molds - two in the shape of little corn cobs, one with various Arizona-themed shapes (coyote, cactus, crescent moon, armadillo).  I also found canape bread molds, an espresso maker with milk steamer, and an Easy Bake oven with remnants of a vanilla cake circa 1999.
Aside from the random kitchen ware, I stumbled across an unopened box of pasta making attachments for our KitchenAid stand mixer.  My dad and I have been wanting to make our own pasta for ages, but we always shied away from it, since we didn't have a roller.  However, this pristine box of shiny stainless steel gadgets changed it all.

We chose a lazy Sunday afternoon for our pasta making endeavors.   We used a pasta recipe for KitchenAid mixers, basically because it gave specific speed and setting directions.  After a quick run to the health food store for semolina flour (and a cappuccino at the cafe next door) and quick review of the KitchenAid manual, we were ready.

Now, I knew that making pasta from scratch wasn't going to be a breeze, but it was a little more...intense than expected.  I think part of the issue was a lack of adequate counter space.  Okay, there's something you should know about me - I never clear enough kitchen space for myself when cooking.  I always end up working in a cutting board sized space, with spices, kitchen towels, utensils, and empty containers piled up around me.  I know I should be more organized, but it works for me.  However, when making pasta, I suggest having a large, clean work area.  You need to have somewhere to lay out the rolled pasta before you cut it - clearing your kitchen table, cleaning it, and dusting it with flour would work best I think.

We decided to hand-cut the pasta, since rolling out the dough, changing the attachment, and then cutting it seemed like it would take too long.  In reality, my dad cutting the rolled dough into long strands with a pairing knife took quite a bit of time and added effort.  It wasn't until his last piece of rolled dough that he thought of using a pizza cutter, which made things go a lot faster.  We only rolled and cut half of the dough last night, and this afternoon, I cut the rest, but this time using the cutting attachment, which was way easier and simpler than hand cutting it - though it didn't have that charming rustic look.
Makeshift drying racks.
Also, the recipe I used called for a "pasta drying rack", which I didn't even know such a thing existed.  In it's place, we covered the bottoms of some plastic hangers and hung them from our kitchen lamp and cabinets.  It felt kind of trashy, but, you know, in a good way.
Since I wanted to highlight the pasta, I cooked down some tomatoes, garlic, onions, and basil down in white wine - I mean, after putting all that energy into its production, I didn't want to drown it in a heavy sauce.  Not only was the sauce nice and light, but so was the pasta itself.  The flavored reminded me of an egg noodle, but not as thick and dense.  Normally if I have two plate fulls of pasta, I feel overly full.  But after two plates of this stuff, I could still have eat another two...or four.  It's going to be the perfect alfresco summer dinner - I'm picturing our teak table, fresh cut flowers, tiki torches, a sun dress, a big glass of a bright white, and this pasta with lemon, peas, and asparagus.  Jeeze, I cannot wait for summer.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Salmon Burgers & Pickled Red Onions

In case you're agoraphobic or haven't been on Facebook and seen all the weather related statuses, today was an absolutely gorgeous day.  A sun-glass-wearing, take-your-dog-to-the-park, break-out-your-sandals, driving-with-the-windows-down-and-radio-blaring, napping-on-a-blanket-in-your-backyard kind of spring day.
Peppermint and I at the park.
I picked my mom up from work, and we decided we were going to grab some takeout for dinner, but as we were driving home - the warm breeze reminded me so much of the beach I could practically taste the salt in the air - I was hit with the overwhelming feeling that this was the perfect night for a burger and an ice cold beer.

So, we stopped at Wegmans, grabbed some buns, salmon, and a six pack of River Horse Triple Horse Belgian-Style Ale.  I love River Horse Brewing Company because its local (run out of Lambertville, fifteen minutes from my house), it's all hand crafted, and it's wonderfully delicious and really cute boys work there.

Salmon burgers are the easiet thing in the entire world to make...besides a bowl of cereal.  They're a blank slate.  You can add whatever ingredients or flavors that you like - fresh herbs, dressings, marinades, veggies or just salt and pepper.  I made ours with a little pepper, garlic, and soy.

And hey, going to the store, buying ingredients, coming home and cooking took the same amount of time it would have taken to go to a Chinese joint, order, wait for the food, and bring it home.  No time lost in our last minute change of plans.  And we got beer.  So win-win.
Oh, and I've mentioned my obsession with Bobby Flay, right?  Okay, so my dad and I went through a huge Throwdown phase.  For those of you who aren't familiar with Throwdown, it's a show where Bobby finds a chef famous for one dish, challenges them with his version of that same dish, then local celebrity judges have a blind taste test and they choose the best dish.  It gets pretty intense, and the challenged chef's aren't always gracious when Bobby's dish gets voted best.  Point of this tirade is that Bobby Flay uses pickled red onions in as many dishes as he can: tacos, empanadas, potato salad, hot dogs, burgers, you name it.  The only thing he didn't put them on was his Coconut Cake (which is one of the best goddamn things I've ever tasted).  Anyway, I've been wanting to make them for a long time, so the other day I was bored and made them.  They ended up being super easy and ridiculously good, and I have since tried to work them into every dinner - fish tacos last night, salmon burgers tonight.  They're sweet and tangy, adding great flavor without overpowering.  They seem to compliment everything.  Basically, they're magic.

Bobby's Pickled Red Onions
1 cup red wine vinegar
½ cup lime juice
¼ cup water
3 tbs sugar
1 tbs salt
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

+ In a small sauce pan, bring the vinegar, lime juice, water, sugar and salt to a boil. 
+ Remove from heat, let cool for ten minutes.
+ In medium bowl, cover the onions with the vinegar, then cover and refrigerate for at least four hours.

Note: Instead of a bowl, I used two mason jars, putting half of the onion in each and then sealing.

Salmon Burgers

1 lb wild-caught salmon, skin removed, cut into large chunks (ask your fish monger to do this for you)
4 tbs soy sauce
4 cloved garlic, roughly chopped

pepper to taste

+ Combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse until salmon is broken down, but remains chunky.

+ Form salmon into palm sized balls, and then flatten into patties.
+ Cook on grease skillet or grill for 5-7 minutes on each side, depending on size and thickness.  Or if you're cooking on a George Foreman, 6-8 minutes.  
Burger and Beer.  Beautiful.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Empanadas for My Ecuadorian Followers

This past summer I worked at a camp in Maine.  I can't describe the experience any other way than that it was life changing.  I know it sounds silly - that camp changed my life - but it's true.  Not only did I grow and challenge myself in ways I never had before, but I met some really incredible people.  My fellow counselors came from all over the world, introducing me to cultures I had never encountered, and new aspects of cultures that I had thought I knew and understood.  The best part is that I still keep in touch with many of the people I met that summer, despite long distances.  The fact that these people are still a huge part of my life is a testament to the impact that they had on me that summer and how truly incredible they are.
Just a few of my fellow counselors. <3
One such counselor and incredible person is Tricia.  We first bonded at The Badger Cafe over red wine and a Grilled Vegetable Napoleon (eggplant, portabello mushrooms, onions and zucchini, grilled and stacked with pesto and goat cheese).  It was at that moment that we realized we were kindred foodie spirits.
The night and meal in question.
Tricia is currently teaching English in Riobamba, Ecuador, and has been following my culinary escapades.  So, I asked my fellow food-obsessed friend if there were any Ecuadorian recipes that would be fun to cook and feature here.  She recommended a favorite and a classic Ecuadorian dish: empanadas.  Empanadas are a filled pastry that can either be savory or sweet - picture a miniature version of a calzone.  In Ecuador, they are commonly filled with vegetables and carne guisada, or steamed meat, and served with aji, a spicy, salsa-like dipping sauce.  Cheese is another popular filling, either savory with vegetables or sweet with cooked fruit and dusted with sugar.

Now, I am no stranger to the wonderfulness of the empanada.  I first fell in love with these hand-held delights about eight years ago in D.C. when I ate at Julia's Empanadas.  My family was on vacation, staying in Adams Morgan.  We arrived later in the evening, starving, but after a long day of driving, didn't feel like going out to a sit-down restaurant.  We decided on grabbing some take-out to bring back to the hotel room where we could crash.  My mom and I ventured out in search of food.  My mom was the one to catch sight of Julia's from across the street.  I remember not thinking too much of the hole-in-the-wall joint with a walk-up counter and one tiny table, and being a little intimidated by the exotic smells and unfamiliar words on the little description cards on the glass display case in which laid rows of golden brown pastries.  We got a grab-bag of empanadas: vegetarian, beef for my brother, chicken for me (yes, I went through a meat phase), and some fruit and cheese ones for dessert.  I admit I was nervous to try this strange, new food.  However, to this day, eating those warm, flaky, amazing empanadas in that tiny hotel room, listening to the live music from a bar down the street and people watching out the window is one of my strongest food memories, and one of my fondest.  Every time I go to D.C., I go out of my way to make sure I get an empanada at Julia's.

My dad was roller-outer and cutter,
I was filler and closer.
So, you could say that I was eager and ecstatic to tackle this dish.  However, I know that my attempt would not come anywhere close to Julia's or what Tricia is eating down there in Ecuador.  That's why I decided to put my own spin on the traditional recipe.  I wanted to keep the flavor profile authentic, but since I no longer eat meat, I settled on a seafood filling.  I made a roasted tomato salsa, instead the hot aji.  I also decided to bake the pastries instead of frying them because 1) baking is healthier, 2) I've never fried anything before in my life, and for a recipe I've never done before I didn't want to add to the complexity and possibility error, and 3) Julia bakes her empanadas.  I did, however, make my own pastry dough, using Bobby Flay's Empanada Recipe (though I switched lard for vegetable shortening).  I'm mildly obsessed with Bobby Flay, and have complete faith and trust in his recipes.  However, the pastry ended up being the most difficult part of this dish.  I've made pie crust and breads before, but empanada pastry is a completely different animal.  It's extremely crumbly, and difficult to get to stick together.  I thought that after some time in the fridge it might bind better, but when it was time for rolling it out, I realized it was much too crumbly.  I added warm water and kneaded the hell out of it, until it got to a consistency I felt good about.  In hindsight, I think it was still a little too dry for my liking, but it held the filling and tasted delightful.  So, it was more my perfectionism than the dough not being right.
Careful filling action.
A quick warning about over-stuffing - Don't.  It's easy to want to put a lot into the pastry, but it makes them overflow and hard to close up.  Then again, the overfilling gave mine a rustic homey look, and made my hands very, very messy.

Roasted Tomato Salsa

1 pint grape tomatoes
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
½ green Italian frying pepper, minced
1 tbs chopped cilantro, roughly chopped
1 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

+ Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
+ In a medium bowl, toss tomatoes and shallots in olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  
+ Transfer to shallow baking dish.  Bake for an hour, or until tomatoes have popped and shriveled.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.
+ Once tomatoes have cooled, pour onto cutting board and give a rough chop.  In a medium bowl, mix in pepper and cilantro.  Serve cold.
Reflection and messy work area
Seafood Filling
1 tbs olive oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 bag Trader Joe's Seafood Medley
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp chile powder
2 tsp paprika
⅓ cup red wine
1 tbs butter
3 tbs flour

+ In a large sauce pan, sautee shallots and garlic in olive oil until they begin to brown.  
+ Add the seafood.  Give a quick stir, then add seasonings.  Stir, then add red wine.
+ Turn heat up to medium high, cover and cook for about five minutes.  Meanwhile, in a measuring cup, mix butter, flour, and a bit of liquid from the pan to create a rue.
+ Uncover, add rue, and stir until the liquid begins to thicken.  Cook until seafood is cooked.  Turn off heat and allow the mixture to thicken.
+ Put about 2 tbs of filling into the middle of each pasty circle.

Follow Tricia on her adventures by reading her travel journals:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Satuday @ the Farmer's Market

You know what I love about spring more than the warm weather or robins or crocuses or kite flying or naps in the sun or pastel colors or waking up to the sun shining through my bedroom window?  The return of farmer's markets.  I love farm markets.  I'm lucky enough to live in an area loaded with farms and markets to sell their produce.  My favorite, Gravity Hill Farm is a small organic family-owned farm, and a five minute drive from my house.  Unfortunately, Gravity Hill doesn't open and begin selling until late in the spring, as do most farms.  Thankfully for me, the Trenton Farmer's Market is open all year round.

What's great about the farmer's market in Trenton is that not only does it feature produce from local farms, but there are permanent meat and cheese vendors, a winery, a fish monger, and bakeries, not to mention fresh pasta, peanut butter, honey, herbs and spices, and the Amish.  Yes, the Amish have made it to Trenton, a fact which the market boasts proudly.  The Amish are here and they brought Whoopie Pies.

Basically, they have everything.  And its all local.  The best part is the atmosphere; the coldness of the supermarket (fluorescent lighting, tile floors, lack of interaction between shoppers other than evil stares when someone cuts someone else off with their chart) is traded for the warmth of the farmer's market.  It's always the same people.  The vendors basically haven't changed since I was born, and the same people shop there every week.  You walk through the market and you hear the regulars greeting each other, and talking about their kids and estranged family members while sitting sharing a coffee and danish or plate of fried chicken.  There's a sense of community at the market that makes the whole shopping experience so much more enjoyable.
My dad and I hit up the Trenton Farmer's Market this morning to browse and pick up dinner fixings.  Right inside the entrance is the Terhune Orchard booth.  The Princeton farm is famous for their apples and cider, and their cider donuts are beloved by the Confoy family.  Aside from baskets and baskets of apples, Terhune had a lovely selection of fresh pies, fresh flowers, and spaghetti squash.  The girl working the booth was extremely helpful, steering us toward the best apple for chunky sauce (Winesap) and her own spaghetti squash recipes.  So, we bought some apples to make applesauce and squash to roast up.
After that, we hit up the Amish for a pie and free cookies.  (I have to say, those Amish have the cutest children in the entire world.  A five year old served us our cookies and worked the register, then ordered her father around about what needed restocking.  Adorable.  I couldn't handle it.  I wanted to steal her, but I felt like that might have been frowned upon.)

To finish up our time at the market, we walked outside and across the parking lot to the fish monger.  Now, while it looks like it might be a front for various illicit activities, its an amazing place to buy your fish.  It's got a great selection that's all fresh, and the monger really knows his fish.  Not only was he willing to answer questions we had (I got a nice little lesson on crabs and their behavior during this time of year), he gave us a deal on the filet of salmon we bought.  

Overall, it was a terribly successful Saturday outing, which led to a wonderfully delicious, fresh, and locally grown dinner.  While I love the Trenton Farmer's market, I can't wait till later this year, because for me, nothing beats a spring morning spent outdoors at the farmer's market.  
Spaghetti squash, Salmon, Homemade Apple Sauce

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mom's Magic Elixir

Yesterday, this head cold knocked me on my ass.  I spent most of the day curled up on the couch in a robe and veil of self-pity watching an endless stream of Lifetime movies (my terrible dirty pleasure).  I sipped O.J. and leftover Feel Good Soup, but nothing seemed to get me out of the sick-funk I was in. 

When my mom got home from work, I won't lie, I played the I'm-sick-and-incapable-of-doing-anything-on-my-own card.  She disappeared into the kitchen and concocted what I can only describe as Magic Elixir.  After one piping hot mug of this ginger and lemon miracle, I immediately felt better.  The biting ginger and sour lemon cleared my head and warmed my entire body.  I had two cups last night and then woke up before my mom left for work so she could show me how she made it - and its a lot easier than I thought.

I think I'm on my 5th cup of the day,  and my funk has dissolved as has most of my cold.  It's even making this dark grey day seem bright and fresh.  Magic, I tell you.

Now, I'm not a tea drinker - I never quite understood the appeal of drinking mildly flavored hot water.  However, this isn't tea, it's better.  It tastes bright and fresh, almost like warm lemonade, even though that sounds like that would be gross, I promise you its not.  

This recipe makes three mugs worth of elixir.  It's great because you make up a batch, then just reheat when you want another cup.

Mom's Magic Elixir
3 cups water
1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
½ lemon
3 tbs honey

+ In a medium pot, combine water, grated ginger, and zest ¼ of the lemon.  Put one tbs of honey into the bottom of each mug. 
+ Bring mixture to a slow boil, then juice the lemon into the mixture.
+ Take off heat and pour into mugs (you could strain the liquid, but I like a little bit of pulp in mine).  Stir so that the honey melts into the elixir.  Serve piping hot.