Raindrops on Roses…

2010/03/31

In my kitchen, there are many things I love. Some are old and some are new. Some were gifts, some I bought myself, and some I have no idea where they came from. But they are all quite useful, and I want to share them, so I have decided to write a series on some of my favorite things. They might not be as endearing as whiskers on kittens, but they certainly beat brown paper packages tied up with string.

Favorite Thing #1, My Apron

This favorite thing is actually quite new; I only got it last Christmas. My adorable sister bought it for me. As you (maybe) can see from the picture, I have put up a hook at the entrance of my kitchen so I can put it on when I go into my kitchen and take it off when I leave. The apron is made by Vera Bradley, which doesn’t mean much to me except that it is very pretty (the pattern is called Symphony in Hue). I like that it is rather big (some aprons don’t actually cover your clothes very well), fully adjustable, and has two large pockets which come in handy sometimes. To make it even better, my sister had it monogrammed for me.

It also came with this lovely box for recipe cards, which is getting good use in its own right. I got so many wonderful things for Christmas this year (more will probably show up in later posts), but these are really one of my favorite gifts of all time (right up there with the Chip ‘n’ Dale dolls I got when I was 4). Thanks Phillie!

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Jerusalem Artichokes for Passover

2010/03/30

As many people know, last night was the first night of Passover. I had completely forgotten, so we didn’t do anything special. However, tonight I remembered that I had bought some Jerusalem Artichokes last Saturday at the farmers’ market, and I thought they would be fitting to cook for dinner. Jerusalem Artichokes, also called Sunchokes, look like potatoes, but have a slight artichoke flavor. Last year, I had bookmarked this recipe for a Jerusalem Artichoke and Parmesan Tart from Whole Foods, but couldn’t find any, so I never made it. As written, the tart looked a little heavy (and I didn’t have all the ingredients for the crust or even the filling on hand), so I made a few modifications.

Step 1) The Crust:

The cornmeal crust in the Whole Foods Recipe sounded good, but I did not have any polenta on hand. Instead I used this Olive Oil Tart Crust made with part whole wheat flour from Chocolate and Zucchini, that I have made before. I followed the recipe exactly, and it came out well. I really liked the flavor, but the edges were sloppy. I really need a tart pan.

Step 2) Preparing the Jerusalem Artichokes

The sunchokes I bought were particularly knobby, which made using a peeler impossible. Instead I had to slice them and then take the skin off with a knife. This took forever. Then I simmered them for quite a while (longer than in the recipe), while I got everything else ready.

Step 3) The Filling

I sauteed some onions in garlic in butter, and then put them on top of the sunchokes instead of mixing them into the custard like in the recipe.

For the custard, I mixed 2 eggs (beaten), just less than 1/3 cup sour cream, and 1/3 cup milk (2%), until it was an even constistancy, then I stirred in about a teaspoon each of dried thyme, grey sea salt, and black pepper, and about 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg. This was slightly lighter than the mixture in the recipe, which used an egg and 2 yolks and half and half with the sour cream. Then I grated some cave-aged Gruyere over the top. I baked it at 400 F until the custard was set (about 20 minutes).

I really liked this, and Ian seemed to like it okay, too. The Jerusalem Artichokes had a nice flavor, and the texture was nice, too.

With this tart, I served a really pleasant salad.

For the salad, I used a base of mixed lettuce. Then I added some Vidalia onion, shaved asparagus (made with the vegetable peeler like yesterday), and a slice of buffalo mozzarella (from Blue Ridge Dairy) seasoned with salt and pepper. I topped the salad with a lemon vinaigrette (dijon mustard, onion, grey sea salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice).

Dishes like these make me feel like Spring is really here. Apparently the weather this week won’t hurt, either.


A Quinoa Salad for Spring

2010/03/29

I almost followed a recipe today. It sounded so good, and I really wanted to try it as it was written. It was for a Quinoa Salad with Arugula, Asparagus, and Avocado, by Cooking with Amy. You can read it if you click on the first link there. Unfortunately, when I cut into my avocado, it was rotten, and Ian didn’t care to go out and get me another. So instead I just made a quinoa salad with arugula and asparagus. Other than the avocado, I followed the recipe quite closely, although I used bottled lemon juice because it is what I had on hand, omitted the optional dill, and finished it with a sprinkle of parmesan.

In case you didn’t click on the recipe, which you most certainly should do, the dish consists of  thinly shaved asparagus, arugula, (avocado), green onions, and quinoa (a South American fruit, technically, that resembles a grain) in a lemon-olive oil dressing. It tasted quite good, but it needed the avocado to cut the acidity. It also wasn’t very filling, which the avocado might also have fixed. Both Ian and I were still hungry, even though he also had a chicken breast.

I made Ian a pan-fried chicken breast seasoned with lemon (maybe a little too much) and black pepper. After defrosting the chicken, I dipped it in a mixture of lemon and melted butter, and then in a mixture of all-purpose flour, corn flour, garlic, salt, and pepper. I was afraid the lemon wouldn’t be enough, though, so I poured the lemon butter into the frying oil. This was a bad idea; it lowered the smoking point of the oil, so the fat began to burn before the chicken was done, and also the lemon flavor was a bit too much (how could I have known?). Also the batter crumbled and stuck to the pan, though I don’t know if that was the fault of the lemon butter, or the corn flour added to the mix, since I have had similar problems with fried green tomatoes made with the same corn flour. Oh well, I will know better next time.


Pasta Peperonata

2010/03/28

I hadn’t felt well earlier today, so I just wanted to make a simple dinner tonight. Earlier this week Ian had requested pasta and garlic bread, so I thought that sounded good. I had 3 bell pepper halves left over from the fajitas last week, so I decided to make pasta peperonata. This was actually the first meal I ate in Russia, because my first flatmate there was Italian, and she made it the night I arrived.

Pasta Peperonata:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 of a sweet onion (Ian really likes onion so I used more like 3/4)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 bell peppers (I used 1/2 each of yellow, orange, and red)
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (I used white balsamic vinegar)
  • salt and pepper
  1. Warm a large frying pan over medium heat, then add the olive oil. When it is warm, add the onions and garlic, and sweat them until the onions are translucent. Then add the peppers, and continue to cook until the peppers are soft. Add the basil, salt, and pepper. When the pan starts to get sticky, add the balsamic vinegar.
  2. Meanwhile, boil half of a box of penne pasta in salted water. When it is al dente, drain, but safe a few tablespoons of the pasta water to add to the peppers. Add the pasta to the skillet and stir to combine. Plate and top with parmesan cheese.

I served this with garlic bread (which probabaly could have used a few more minutes in the oven and a little more butter, but it was still good). It is really good comfort food that is also easy to make.


Kale and Polenta Stuffed Pumpkin

2010/03/24

I love stuffed vegetables because they are so versatile. There are so many different possibilities for vegetables and fillings: tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini and peppers in the summer, and cabbage and all sorts of squashes and pumpkins in the winter months.

The stuffed squashes I made tonight were based on this recipe on the blog What We All Want. However when I saw this recipe, my first thought was, that is far to many pots and pans. So I adapted it to fit my weeknight sensibilities.

I started by roasting a small pumpkin, with butter, salt, and pepper, at 350 F until it was fork tender. This took a while, but that was okay, I had other things to do.

I melted some butter in the skillet, and added some onion and garlic. When the garlic started to brown, I added about 2 cups of kale, with the stems removed. When it wilted (pictured above), which didn’t take long, I added enough vegetable broth to cover the bottom of the pan. When the broth started simmering, I added 1/8 cup uncooked polenta. As the polenta absorbed the broth, I added more until it was cooked, then seasoned it (a little too) generously with salt and pepper.

When the polenta was done, I spooned the filling into the pumpkin halves, topped with some gouda, pine nuts, and parmesan, and then broiled it for a few more minutes until the cheese was bubbly and the pine nuts were toasted.

This was very filling and more than enough for me, but Ian was still a little hungry and ate some leftover pizza, too. Unfortunately winter squashes are at the end of their season, so I will have to wait to make it again.


I hate squirrels!

2010/03/24

I used to think squirrels were cute, but then I started gardening, and things like this happened.

It is hard to see in this picture, but almost all my tiny carrot sprouts, that only just started coming in, were uprooted. I tried replanting a few, but I don’t know if this is going to work.

They also rooted a bit through the radishes, which are growing like wildfire, but not as much. I guess squirrels don’t like radishes as much as they like carrots.

My beets are also starting to come in, which is exciting. They were untouched by our little rodent friends.

Also untouched, knock on wood, was the lettuce bowl. Last Sunday I added some Catalina spinach seeds to the mix, so I am looking forward to everything growing up.

Finally, my first fava bean sprout has emerged. I only planted 4 of these, which might have been a mistake, because this pot was rooted through a while back, and I am not sure how many are left to sprout.

Oh well. You live and you learn. And you buy a wooden owl.


Yellow Oyster Mushrooms with Wild Rice

2010/03/23

I fell in love with these beauties at the farmers’ market last Saturday. They were just so bright and seemed perfect for spring, and anyone who knows me knows that I am a sucker for produce in pretty colors, even if it doesn’t stay after cooking. I thought these would be good with some wild rice and chicken for Ian. For myself I had bought some Baked Tofu (savory flavor) from Trader Joe’s.

For the mushrooms, I melted some butter over low heat and sweated a couple teaspoons shallots until they were translucent. Then I added the mushrooms and cooked them for a couple minutes until they were shiny. Then I added about 1/2 cup white wine, and cooked until the mushrooms absorbed most of it. Then, since I didn’t have any cream, I added a mixture of 1 teaspoon melted butter, 1 teaspoon sour cream, and 1/2 cup milk (the butter will start to solidify again if the milk is cold, which isn’t a problem). When the sauce was mostly reduced, I added a little parmesan cheese.

I really like this wild rice blend, which contains brown rice, red rice, barley, and rye berries. I followed the instructions for cooking on the package, except I added a vegetable bouillon cube, because Ian thinks it isn’t very flavorful. It was a little salty, in my opinion, but Ian thought the salt level was adequate.

My tofu steak was not very good. Actually I didn’t like it at all and threw it away. Maybe the flavors just didn’t go together, but I could not eat it at all. Perhaps in a different preparation…

Ian liked his chicken a much better. I think some fresh chives or other herbs would have brightened up the dish and made it far more attractive, but I didn’t have any on hand. It was still quite good (without the tofu), just not as photogenic.