Monday, March 29, 2010

Farfalle & Me

I just wanted to post the final recipe from Saturdays cooking class. Then I'll get back to the book. You know the cookbook? The one I swore I would write, even if it killed me? ( I don't know why I would swear such a thing, can't imagine dying over a cook book...I should get back to the point now).

Farfalle with caramelized onions spinach and pine nuts, a dish I prepared for class, is one of my favorite light pasta dishes. Sauce-less and fairly healthy, the sweetness of the onions moves to the foreground. The wilted spinach is tasty and looks pretty against the cream colored bows, toasted pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.

This dish didn't use to be light, a while back I would use about a half pound of butter between caramelizing the onions and browning some (which made the bows taste amazing). Tasty as they were, cooking like that has caught up with me. I have been ignoring high blood pressure, the carrying of an unneeded/unwanted fifty-five pounds (and a lot of excuses) I need to change.

The dish is lighter now, butter free and still a favorite. As I try to lighten up as well, I hope all my changes taste this good!

Farfalle with Spinach and Caramelized Onions

1 pound onions sliced
2 tablespoons brown sugar as needed
salt to taste
1⁄2 pound farfalle pasta
1⁄2 pound spinach leaves
1⁄4 cup pine nuts toasted
olive oil
Parmesan cheese garnish

1. Cook pasta in salted water until aldente.
2. Drain, lightly coat with olive oil and set aside.
3. In a medium skillet heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil, add onions, raise heat and brown onions.
4. Add sugar if needed and reduce heat. Allow to cook slowly until onions reduce and turn a rich caramelized brown color. Salt to taste.
5. Sauté pasta with caramelized onion and a little olive oil as needed, stirring until distributed throughout the pasta.
6. Add Pine nuts, fold in spinach, just until spinach begins to wilt.
7. Sprinkle with Parmesan before serving.
About 5  servings

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Quick Couscous and Vegetables

There are countries that have elevated the making of couscous to an art form, this country isn't one of them.  I don't have to tell you, we live in a culture that is on the go. Honestly, I often want nothing to do with working in the kitchen after slugging it out on a freeway!

GOOD NEWS! there is a whole wheat boxed couscous that cooks in 5 minutes which is not only easy, but a tasty way to showcase vegetables and offer a healthy main dish or side. A quick dish of couscous is an alternative to picking up unhealthy fast food.

For my cooking class yesterday I decided to make the quick box version. A lot of people in my class did not realize couscous is not a grain but actually a pasta made of durum wheat semolina. I like it both hot cold, dressed like a pasta salad or "Taboule Salad" stuffed in a tomato.

I showed my class that you can stir in some home made lemon vinaigrette in place of the oil, salt, pepper and lemon in the recipe, it's fast and adds a bit more flavor.

Couscous with Vegetables

2 cups Couscous
2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cups olive oil
1⁄2 bunch fresh mint leaves chopped
1 cup feta cheese crumbled
1 small zucchini
1 small yellow squash
1 large carrot
1 small red onion items
1 small red bell pepper
2 roma tomato diced

Clean vegetables and slice diagonally. Blanch carrots. Sprinkle vegetables with olive oil and salt grill or roast zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, red onions and bell peppers.
Follow directions for couscous. After cooking add the lemon juice, salt, pepper, olive oil and stir to coat.
Cut vegetables to size and  Fold into the couscous, the vegetables and feta . Top with other mint, and tomatoes. About 8 servings

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cooking Class Crepes

Maybe it's just me, but I all ways thought of crepes as a out of reach dish that elegant people at Sunday brunch enjoyed, (dreamy far away look) fancy crepes served stiffly on fine china to tables draped in crisp linen by an alert waiter named Pierre.  I am not saying that his name has to be could be Bill.

Why did I choose crepes for my cooking class today? Because...I learned that these delicious paper thin pancakes are easy  (unless I'm cooking them in front of 50 people, that's when I can't turn one out to save my life). Lucky I have my fold in the pan method, roll it out the pan like a carpet filling tucked in the middle instead of trying to flip and cook both sides. Whew!

Flash back to 2001...  I had the opportunity to assist Graham Kerr aka "Galloping Gourmet" in a cooking show (surprise, he was doing a demo on crepes). My job was to make a stack of the delicate crepes for his show, (along with shopping, pulling the equipment, mise, assisting and doing the dishes).

Not feeling fully comfortable at my crepe skills, I made about a trillion for practice. Here's the funny part. In my notes, Mr. Kerr had said "some crepes with sage leaves", I took that to mean, crepe's with leaves pressed in the batter when cooked. I can't tell you how many "takes" it took to get a few sage leaf crepes right, but when he slapped his knee and laughed, I knew I misunderstood! Turns out I was just to put the sage leaves on the side, so he could show a savory crepe filling option.

I like to use Julia Child's recipe it is my all time favorite it is rich and buttery tasting and well worth the binge. In case you are stronger then I, and can resist the Julia's version Julia's crepe recipe can be lightened by using non fat milk, 4 egg whites,  sugar substitute and canola oil, but really? At only 120 calories they are an elegant as they are in reach.

To fill the crepes in cooking class today, I made "fresh cheese" which is yogurt strained for 10 or more hours. I mixed the 2/3 cup of cheese with a teaspoon of orange marmalade and a pinch of salt. I also caramelized some strawberries, by cooking them very quickly in a hot pan. Finally the sauce was made with orange juice and lavender reduced to a syrup (strain out lavender before serving) Topped with fresh berries and powder sugar. Way tasty.

Note:For a savory crepe, leave out the sugar but add a 1/4 t of salt and a tablespoon of finely chopped herbs.

Go make some crepes because the delicate thin pancakes are perfect wrappers for any sweet or savory fillings. Wrapped in its tender flexible, and even filled the most healthy ingredients, "go gourmet" (by the way, Graham Kerr liked the sage crepes and used them in the show!) Though Pierre...or Bill might think my crepes need work, I feel elegant and can enjoy them all the same.

Crepes Julia

¾ cup milk
¾ cup cold water
3 egg yolk
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 cup flour
5 tablespoons melted butter

Place ingredients in a blender jar in the order in which they are listed. Cover and blend at top speed for 1 minute. If bits of flour adhere to side of jar, dislodge with a rubber scraper and blend 3 seconds more. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

In a heated 6 inch non stick pan brushed with olive oil, pour in 2 tablespoons crepe batter. Swirl to coat bottom of pan. Allow batter to set and when sides begin to slightly curl turn the crepe over and cook the other side 15-20 seconds turn out on a plate. Repeat until remaining batter is finished.

Another method: is to cook only one side, while in the pan add the filling to one side. Using a spatula, lift side of crepe over the filling and roll up out of the pan onto a plate.

Note: The first crepe rarely comes out.

Mahi Mahi with Orange Chimichurri

Oranges, really?
In the  book, "Will Write For Food" author Dianne Jacob gives homework. One exercise is to write about a piece of fruit that you like.  I wanted to choose something really exotic, but all I could think of was oranges. I didn't mean to pull out a personal childhood event and strange too, I'm not remembering eating oranges delicious moment.

"We road our ponies, my friends and I under the limbs that scratched our faces under branches that hung heavy with fruit. The sun was high the air scented with faded blossoms and dust from the horse trail that bordered a neglected orchard. Oranges like vintage ornaments, danced on the tips of branches just out of reach. Laughing we stood carefully on pony backs, seasoned circus performers pulling down bitter, hard to peel orbs of wild citrus. Bees like sentries circle watchfully. The fruit is hardly sweet, impossible to swallow but is no match for a youthful dare. Blistered tongues, sticky fingers, sour puckered faces the sun slanted and the ponies step quicker toward home."

Probably not what she envisioned for the exercise.  Now for dinner. The oranges thing has me thinking about a delicious orange chimichurri sauce I have been using for years from a  beautiful William Sonoma Book called "Festive Occasions" use it on everything but it is great on Mahi Mahi. This is a healthy way to prepare any fish, and cooks up moist every time.

Chimichurri Sauce
1 cup olive oil
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ cup orange juice
1 whole orange zested and juiced
1/2 cup onion minced
1 tablespoon garlic minced
½ cup parsley minced
1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup cilantro

combine all ingredients in medium bowl.
Cover and set up to 5 hours

Mahi Mahi en Papilliot
Season Mahi Mahi with salt a squeeze of fresh orange. Place 5 ounce of fish on a piece of parchment about 12x12. Dose with a  couple tablespoons of the chimichuri sauce and place two orange slices on top with a little more chimichurri. Fold the parchment down several times over the top and in from the ends. To secure the ends tuck the last fold under the parcel. Bake parcels in a hot 450 degree oven for 14 to 18 minutes  cooking time varies depending on thickness of fish. When the fish is ready,  serve each diner their own packet to open at the table.

RE-Published - Off The Bottle-Lemon Viniagrette

I am proud to say I am off the bottle. It's been well over a decade and I haven't looked back.

The situation had gotten bad, I settled for a less then I deserved. The people in my life were understanding and supportive yet surely unfulfilled. I gave up bottled salad dressing for the ones I love, for myself, and you can too.

It isn't always easy, giving up a habit. The store shelves are studded with shiny rainbow of vessels. They promise flavors of the Mediterranean, of places like Russia and the Orient, but they rarely deliver. I think there's probably more bottled dressings then people in Los Angeles. Even celebrity faces peer out from the labels.

Once I realized making dressing was really pretty darn easy and just got to it, salads have never been better. I use it beyond salads as marinade, bread dip, drizzled on vegetables and even fruit. Sometimes I love homemade dressing so much I have to restrain myself from dabbing it behind my ears or pouring it on pancakes.

12 Step Plan for Salad Recovery

1. If possible, find a friend with an over producing lemon tree.

2. Trust in only the freshest ingredients.

3. Take the first step and mix up some Lemon Basil Vinaigrette;

Lemon Basil Vinaigrette

3/4 cups light salad or olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoons basil
1/2 minced shallot
1 clove crushed garlic
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
3. Mix and Chill Dressing-
In a glass bowl whisk mustard, lemon juice, garlic and shallot. Stream in oil whisking briskly. The color will lighten and the dressing will thicken. Chiffonnade basil, stir in season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Be willing to make adjustments in oil or lemon juice in the recipe as lemons vary in acidity.

5. Admit Salad greens should be clean and dry, cut or torn in bite size pieces.

6. When your entirely ready, use a extra large bowl to work in place any heavy items such as tomatoes in the bottom.

7. Humbly, drizzle tomatoes and any other salad garnish first, then place greens on top.

8. Trust the use of gloved hands to gently toss salad, drizzle in additional dressing as needed.

9. Come to believe trying different vinegars or other citrus are good for variety.

10. Make a decision to add honey, fruit, jam or cheese to create new tastes.

11. Never be afraid to use dressing for marinating, as a dip and to season other dishes.

12. Go to everyone you ever served a so so salad to, and make them a new one!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Visions of Vegetables

Toiling in the hot sun I cleared and tilled the land. I might have even plowed it some, but I'm not sure that's the proper term. After hoeing, weeding, dodging worms and getting dirt under my nails, I had a "huge" plot 3 foot by 4 foot plot to plant my crops.

I had made up my mind that this was the year I would plant an amazing vegetable garden. My plans got rained out a half dozen weekends in a row. But yesterday was the day!  We live on a tiny lot on a corner in Orange County, but that wasn't about to stop me and neither was the horrified looks from my husband as he saw me carrying the rusted shovel across the yard.

"Look", I assure him, "I figure as long as we have planters they might as well be growing dinner instead of shrubs". Ignoring the dramatic hand laid across his forehead, I moved the begonias.

My son Zayne enthusiasticly joined in bringing a ton of questions, "why do you have to turn up the soil, why do you have to get the roots and rocks out, why make mounded rows?" Which of course I had the best answer,"because my dad did."

Growing up on an urban farm, my family planted a garden about a half acre which is enormous by Southern California standards. But I was the "weeder" not the "seeder" so I was kinda winging it here. I tried to remember all the things my dad did when he planted a zillion beans, squash, corn and tomatoes.

My son opened the packets while I dumped them on the top of the mounds. I covered them in dirt, and a quick prayer as Zayne finished by labeling the rows so the gardener knew there was a plan.

As the sun set yesterday, Zayne and I marveled at our accomplishment. We took "before"pictures to document our soon to be amazing garden. My husband, now looking mildly amused say's "is anything ready to eat?'

Monday, March 1, 2010

Learning Curve

Anybody miss me? I feel like a bent fork and its been eons since I posted. It's also been over a week since I worked on my cookbook. Sigh. I'll go with blaming work, but not in a bad way, I happen to love my job and love that I have a job!

Let's see when I last left off, Fine Cooking Magazine wrote an issue that looks just like the cookbook I'm devastated but they happily agreed to back off and put my name on the cover. Okay what really happened is that friends and blogger buddies told me to cheer up, carry on, finish the book ( Fine Cooking was encouraging too).

I wish I could remember who tweeted the name of this inspiring book,  "Will Write For Food" by Dianne Jacob, truly a life boat sent to rescue my drowning ambition. In the first chapter it's apparent if I want to write a cook book, you bet my work's cut out for me. Ms. Jacob is teasing me with well written passages by accomplished authors and challenging me to "get passion across, write about the senses, describe my own voice" shes tough. I like her.

Straight away I try out some writing exercises. It's like going to the gym for the first time, I'm overwhelmed by things I've never tried before. To think all this time I thought I was writing about food, was I saying anything at all?

I set in front of the keys and will them to type brilliant things about "artichoke cheese cake" a recipe in my book. It reads back like a commercial for teeth whitening. Looks like I need more exercise, I just hope I'm not sore tomorrow.