November 18, 2010

Of Applications and Appetizers

Let's talk college applications, shall we?  How they're the bane of my existence.  Page after page of information to fill out, straining my brain to answer ridiculous prompts that will supposedly give each school a personal insight to my self without sounding cliche/groveling/desperate.  On top of just plain putting yourself out there for rejection.  This is so not my thing.

And we haven't even gotten to the part where I will be a university student, pursuing an undergraduate degree with a sea of students 10 years my junior.  Assuming that all my hopes and dreams come true, I could potentially be that person in class.  The older one who always sits in the front (why are they always there in the first row?), hand shooting up at every opportunity to ask question after question, offering up more opinions than are necessary.  People, I may just have to fill that role.  I don't mean to offend.  Good for you, front of the class student, for participating and being involved.

Can we just skip to the part where I have the degree, already?  I want to be a part of that club.

Sure, I'm being melodramatic, although not entirely untruthful.  This will all be worth it.  So what, I waited 10 years to go back to school, at least I know I'm going after something I'm passionate for.  I'm ready now to be a serious student.  My brain is prepared to be stuffed, challenged and crammed full of science-y nutrition stuff.  (Yes.  That is the technical term).  But really?  Applications due during holiday season?  I want to think about delicious Thanksgiving meals and all the ways I will stuff myself silly.  Champagne toasts and plates piled high with dressing and turkey and cranberry sauce - in that order.  Pumpkin, or perhaps sweet potato pie with clouds of whipped cream.  Not applications, transcripts and essay prompts.

Are you still there?  I promise I'm done now, I even feel a little better.

Here, let me take a little stress out of your planning at least if you're in charge of an appetizer.  This is it right here!  Absolutely do not look any further!  These open-faced tea sandwiches may not be traditional (?) with their Asian influenced flavors, but they sure are a crowd pleaser.  I've made them on several occasions and each time the entire plate gets inhaled in mere minutes.  The guests are all polite, nicely taking just the one to nibble on while nodding their heads in approval.  "So fresh!" they say.  Then I walk away, smiling, and this must be the point where they stuff 4 more into their mouths at once or else grab a handful for the purse or pocket, because, POOF, the plate is empty.  I don't blame them, they are delicious, but I might recommend you make extras unless you like the pleading looks of hungry guests.

Radish and Chive Tea Sandwiches
Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2008

I can usually get about 20-24 pieces of baguette covered with this amount of butter, even though the original called for only 16.  Sometimes I cheat and use green onion tops instead of chives, either works, I've never had any complaints.  Use your discretion for how many this will serve, but I brought 24 of these to a dinner party of 8 people and I know they would have eaten more if they had the opportunity.

4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons minced chives, divided
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
24 1/2-inch-thick baguette slices
10 radishes, thinly sliced
Fleur de sel, for garnish

Mix butter, 2 tablespoons chives, sesame seeds, ginger, and oil in small bowl.  Spread butter mixture over each bread slice. Top with radishes, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle with remaining chives and fleur de sel.

November 16, 2010

Chicken Soup for the (adaptive) Soul

It's beginning to look a lot like soup weather.  That time of year where I'm guaranteed to make soup so frequently I'll begin to wonder when the last time I didn't eat my meal out of a bowl full of liquid was.

Oh soup, you take so many forms!  Pureed and smooth, chunky with vegetables, thick with cream.  They can be swimming with broth or they could be a rich and hearty stew topped with dumplings.  First course, only course or lunch.  Three cheers for soup!  Every bite is soul-warming and satisfying; the steam warming your face as you lean in, the bowl your personal hand warmer.  I think the chilled evenings are getting to me.

If you took a peek at my rapidly expanding - and let's be honest, completely out of control - list of bookmarked recipes, I'm sure you'd find that almost 1/4 of them are a soup of some form, rivaled only by the list of desserts and sweets.  Obviously, I have my priorities in order.

For no particular reason, other than striking my fancy at just the right time (that right time being when I sat down to make the week's meal plan and corresponding shopping list), I plucked this recipe out of list-oblivion.  A rotisserie cooked chicken and leftover rice soup, studded with bright red Thai chile slices and punched up with cilantro basil and lime.  So simple, so quick, if only a wrench weren't thrown into to the works; the store had sold through their rotisserie birds for the day.  Being stubborn and not wanting to try another store or wait another day, I instead poached some chicken breast I had at home and then used the poaching liquid in place of the chicken stock, supplementing just slightly to make up the volume.  You're no match for me, wrench!  And if I hadn't forgotten to toss in the handful of shrimp, I bet it would have been even better.  But I'm not beating myself up over it.  There's plenty more soup weather ahead, an entire winter's worth of soup making opportunities, to be precise.

Cambodian Chicken and Rice Soup
 Adapted from Food & Wine, March 2008

The original recipe has you use a 3 lb. store-bought rotisserie chicken and already made (or purchased) chicken stock.  However I had frozen chicken breast on hand so I decided to poach that instead and use the poaching liquid, now a light chicken broth, in the place of pre-made stock.  But if you're looking for a quicker weeknight meal, I encourage you to use all premade broth and the rotisserie chicken as was originally intended.  Also there were some shrimp that were supposed to be tossed in towards the end which I left out by accident.  Next time little shrimp, next time.

4 servings

1 pound chicken breast
4 cups water
1 carrot, quartered
1 celery stalk, quartered
1/4 of a small onion
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup (or one 14oz can) chicken stock
3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup cooked jasmine rice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 pound shelled and deveined shrimp (optional)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped basil
1 Thai chile, thinly sliced
Lime wedges, for serving

Trim chicken breast of fat and place in a saucepan with 4 cups water, chopped carrot, celery and onion and a good pinch of salt.  The chicken should be completely covered by the water.  Bring to just a simmer and cover, leaving the lid just slightly ajar and cook for 20 minutes.  Turn off heat and let the chicken cool in the liquid.  Once cool enough to handle (maybe an hour) remove the chicken to a cutting board and with a slotted spoon remove and discard the vegetables, reserve the liquid.  Cut or shred chicken into large pieces.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Add the ginger and garlic and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the reserved poaching liquid plus extra broth, fish sauce, honey and rice and bring to a boil. Add the chicken pieces and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the shrimp (if using) and cook just until opaque, about 1 minute. Stir in the lime juice, cilantro, basil and chile and serve right away, passing lime wedges at the table.

November 12, 2010

My Love for a Green

Things that I love: Desserts - man I've got a killer sweet tooth.  Cheese - haven't met one I don't like yet.  Except the fake kind.  But that, uh, obviously doesn't count.  My family - they're pretty fantastic.  D is pretty great too.  My cat - at the risk of sounding like a crazy cat-lady, yes, I love my cat.  Sushi.  Dumplings.  Shopping, and KALE.
    Say what?  Yes, kale.  I used to think it needed to be cooked, sauteed, braised and thrown into soups.  I was wrong.  I don't eat it because it's a healthy, dark leafy green rich with antioxidants, beta carotene and Vitamin C & K, that's just a perk.  It's fantastic raw as well.  It has a bit more bite to it, a bit more chew and that translates to more flavor than your average head of romaine or supermarket lettuce.

    Which is why, when this email from Tasting Table landed in my inbox, there were two reasons I knew it was going to be a great recipe.  Firstly, what a fantastic take on Caesar salad - using kale in place of hearts of romaine.  You mean I get to feel less guilty about eating a salad coated in a fatty homemade sauce of olive oil and egg yolk?  Sign me up!  And secondly, the recipe comes from Chad Robertson's new cookbook "Tartine Bread" of San Fransisco's famed Tartine Bakery.  It's impossible not to love that place with their delicious freshly baked bread, pastries and quiches.  Really the combination was a no-fail-must-make-tonight-need-this-right-now kind of a thing.

    However this was just a salad; some greens, a dressing, croutons and a dusting of cheese, not quite a meal.  And sometimes, particularly on Mondays, I don't want to cook 2 or 3 things to round out a meal just because I'm dead set on making a certain dish.  I really wanted this salad, but I know that while I can be satisfied by a plate heaping with vegetables, the more manly half of this household likes something with a little more protein.  And what's quicker to make than shrimp?  Just 3 minutes in a hot pan and the salad, now a dinner, is perfect.  Hardly much extra work for me and a happy household overall.

    Hey, you're eating kale instead of lettuce, give yourself a pat on the back!

    Kale Caesar Salad w/ Herbes de Provence Shrimp
    Adapted from TastingTable which in turn adapted it from "Tartine Bread", Chad Robertson and

    A few things.  I didn't use the original Caesar dressing recipe, I just couldn't bring myself to commit 1 1/2 cups of olive oil to a condiment that I rarely use, instead I found a different one on  Unfortunately, though I was excited to make it with raw egg yolk, this one didn't call for it, but I found it worked quite nicely with an extra kick from the dijon that the original lacked.  It's also scaled down to be just enough to lightly coat 4 servings because I don't like salads drenched in dressing.  Feel free to use as much as you see fit as this recipe is for only 2 servings of salad with leftover dressing.  Also, the addition of shrimp was all me.  Sauteed quickly with a little more herbes de provence it bulked up the salad to make it meal.  And although the recipe calls for lacinato kale, I made it once with just curly green kale and once with lacinato and both were delicious, so don't freak if you can only find one kind.

    2 generous servings

    4 1-inch slices of day old country bread, cut into 1 inch cubes (about 2 cups)
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence

    1 large clove garlic, minced
    1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste (or 2 fillets)
    1 teaspoon dijon mustard
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

    1 large bunch of kale (curly green or lacinato), washed, dried and torn into small pieces
    1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
    1/2 pound shrimp, rinsed and dried
    1 teaspoons herbes de Provence
    1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

    Make the croutons: Preheat the oven to 400°. In a medium bowl, toss the bread with the olive oil, a pinch of salt and the herbes de Provence, if using. Spread the bread on a baking sheet and bake, turning the croutons midway through, until golden brown and crisp, about 10 minutes.

    Make the dressing: Mix minced garlic, anchovy paste and dijon into a paste.  Add lemon juice, salt and pepper and mix to combine.  Whisk (or with a fork) the olive oil and set aside.
    Make the shrimp:  Put olive oil in a small saute pan over high heat.  Add shrimp, herbes de Provence and a pinch of salt and toss to coat.  Cook for about 4 minutes, tossing or mixing frequently.

    To compose salad:  Toss the kale with half the dressing until evenly coated.  Add parmesan and croutons and toss again.  Divide onto two plates and top each with half the shrimp.  Reserve remaining dressing for another use.

    November 7, 2010

    Fall Colorings

    Stellar Salad Mix - Maggie's Farm
    Heirloom Carrots - Maggie's Farm
    Cherry Tomatoes - Suzie's Farm
    Pea Shoots / Onion Sprouts - Suzie's Farm
    Delicata Squash - Suzie's Farm
    Persimmons - Terra Bella Ranch
    Beemster XO & Juni Cheese - Taste Cheese
    *bonus honey crisp apple from Pudwill

    November 4, 2010

    Italia via Caponata

    I have something to tell you that may shock you.  It's not actually shocking, but the look on people's faces when I tell them would seem to imply otherwise; I don't have cable.  That's right.  No.  Cable.

    Have you picked yourself off the ground yet?

    Okay, good.  I feel like I may be the last person on Earth who doesn't have cable.  No 300+ channels at my fingertips to maximize my procrastination tendencies.  No news programs, no cooking shows, no movie stations.  And I like it that way.  You see what I do have is this thing called the internet and Hulu and Netflix streaming, and believe you me I watch plenty of programming that way.

    Where was I going with this?  Oh, right.

    So D and I have been watching Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations in marathon sessions on Netflix streaming (9 whole seasons available with just a click of a mouse!) where we sit around and drool at all the amazing food he gets to eat, and cringe when he's offered weird delicacies such as fermented shark or an ostrich egg cooked in the ground, smothered in coals.  But when the food's good, it's oh-so-good, inspiring new cravings every 10 minutes and a new destination to add to the "must visit" travel list.

    The place that gets me every time, I mean really makes me crawl with jealousy, is Italy.  When I see pictures, the beaches, the food or hear stories about strolling plazas and eating freshly made pastas and gelato for every meal, my heart melts.  Italy, come to me.  And when I can no longer take the yearning, I start flipping through Jamie's Italy, just to torture myself a little more.

    Eggplant Caponata
    Adapted from Jamie's Italy, Jamie Oliver

    4 servings

    olive oil
    2 large purple globe eggplants, cut into large chunks
    1 heaping teaspoon dried oregano
    sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
    2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
    a small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and stems finely chopped
    2 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed, soaked,and drained
    a handful of green olives, pits removed
    2-3 tablespoons best-quality herb vinegar
    5 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
    2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted (optional)

    In a large pan, pour in a couple of glugs of olive oil, and place on the heat. Add your eggplant chunks and oregano, season with a little salt, and toss around so the eggplant is evenly coated by the oil. Cook on a high heat for around 4 or 5 minutes, giving the pan a shake every now and then.

    When the eggplants are nice and golden on each side, add the onion, garlic, and parsley stems and continue cooking for another couple of minutes. Feel free to add a little more oil to the pan if you feel it's getting too dry.Throw in the drained capers and the olives and drizzle over the herb vinegar. When all the vinegar has evaporated, add the tomatoes and simmer for around 15 minutes or until tender.

    Taste before serving and season if you need to with salt, pepper, and a little more vinegar. Drizzle with some good olive oil and serve sprinkled with the chopped parsley leaves and the pine nuts if you like.