Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Kibbeh


Alternative grains. It basically breathes the word "hippie". But they've become the latest bandwagon to jump on, culinarily speaking. Quinoa, bulgur, couscous, farro, wheat berries (seriously?), they all have become familiar items in your local supermarket all of a sudden. But apart from cous cous, I had rarely cooked with any of them.

But, on a crazy whim, I had recently decided to attempt tabbouleh, a dish fundamentally based on bulgur wheat. So, off I went, purchasing the requisite alternative grain. The dish was a hit, but now I was left with all this...well...alternative grain. Now, I like tabbouleh as much as the next person, but I certainly wasn't going to be eating it straight for the next three weeks to use it up. And I had no idea what else I could make with it.

Well, thanks needs to be given, once again, to Martha Schulman, who includes this recipe in her "Cleaning out the pantry" section of her column. Although, for some reason, her pantry seems to include every single alternative grain on the planet. Well, I suppose she is the writer behind a "healthy recipe" column. It does make a certain amount of sense.  

So, kibbeh (which strangely almost rhymes with tabbouleh...is there a bizarre rule of "-eh" endings when it comes to bulgur?). I had no idea what it was but it used bulgur and therefore was right up my alley.

It turns out, it's a wonderful hearty salad (although she makes it into little appetizer balls, an extra touch I wasn't going to do) with fabulous middle eastern flavors. It's also super easy. Win. Win. The only thing that takes some time is the soaking of the bulgur itself (just pour boiling water over it and let it stand an hour). Now, I was tempted to try and skimp on the timing, but a taste test after 35 minutes or so, I was convinced to give it the full hour treatment. Schulman's recipe also lacked oomph, so I boosted some flavors to make it a more aromatic salad. It's great as a main course salad without anything else, but if you want to make it extra hearty, throw some chopped chorizo on it or put it on a bed of salad leaves, and you're in business.

Serves four to six





Ingredients

3/4 cup fine bulgur (or, really, any bulgur- depending on how picky you're feeling)

2 garlic cloves, halved, green shoots removed

Salt to taste

1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and finely chopped

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/4 cup dried cranberries

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Method
Place the bulgur in a bowl, add salt to taste and pour on boiling water to cover by 1/2 inch. Let sit for one hour, then drain and squeeze out excess water.

Place the garlic in a mortar and pestle with a generous pinch of salt, and mash to a paste. Stir into the bulgur. Add the walnuts, olive oil, parsley, mint, pepper, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, cranberries, and  the lemon juice. Moisten your hands and knead the mixture for a couple of minutes, then allow to sit for 15 to 30 minutes.

Serve either on its own as a salad or roll into small balls and place on top of lettuce leaves to serve as appetizers.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Spinach and Asparagus Pasta with Chorizo


Do you ever have one of those moments where something comes out nothing at all like you planned?
Yeah. Me too.

This dish, in fact, is the result of one of those moments.

Now, nominally, this was supposed to be "Lasagna with Asparagus and Chives", based on the latest Martha Schulman entry on the New York Times.

But, as you'll probably notice in the picture above, there's a stunning lack of lasagna noodles. And also chives. Trust me. Chives feature nowhere in the above picture.

You see, I'm not usually a lasagna person. It's usually way too dense and rich and overwhelming (and usually with way too much tomato sauce, but let's not open that particular can of worms at the moment). But when I saw this version, I thought "This is a lasagna I can get behind". It looked light and summery with not too much sauce (no tomatoes in sight! Just a nice light ricotta) and perfect for a Sunday dinner. This plan was made all the better as I even had (or at least thought I had) lasagna noodles already in my cupboard.

So off I trundled to Tesco, picking up the few things the recipe called for. Asparagus? Check. Basil? Why not? Ricotta? Sure! Why not throw in some spinach, just to be fun and daring? Chives? Well, alas, Tesco was out of chives, but as I had already collected my basil, I thought its absence surely wouldn't hurt anything. And that was all. I proudly walked right past the pasta section, confident in my well-stocked cupboard.

Well, I'm sure you can see where this is heading. To my surprise (and dismay), as I rooted around in my seemingly-lasagnaless pantry, I remembered I had thrown out my noodles some months back when an ant colony had decided to take up residence in our kitchen. While thankfully the ants were now gone, unfortunately so too were my lasagna noodles. Which, it seemed, were basic prerequisites for a lasagna.

No matter. I had other types of pasta. It would serve. And it did! Actually, the whole dish worked out quite well. The ricotta sauce as advocated by Martha Schulman served just as well on non-lasagna noodles (as one would expect) and combined with shredded basil, raw spinach, and some chorizo thrown in for good measure, it was a dish that was surprisingly more-ish.

So thus, while I can claim inspiration by the inimitable Recipes for Health, I have to call this recipe an original.

Serves Four


Ingredients

1 pound asparagus, trimmed

1/2 cup ricotta

2 garlic clovse, finely minced or (preferably) pureed

3 tablespoons chopped basil

1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 pound lumache pasta

1/4 cup (1 ounce) freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino romano (or a combination)

1 bag, washed spinach

1/2 tsp each of red pepper flakes, oregano, thyme, and rosemary

6 ounces Spanish chorizo, diced


Method

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, salt generously and add the asparagus. Meanwhile, fill a bowl with cold water. Boil thin stalks for three minutes, thicker stalks for four to six minutes until tender. Using tongs, remove the asparagus from the pot and transfer to the bowl of cold water. Drain and cut on the diagonal into 3/4-inch lengths.

Add the pasta to the boiling water, and boil until cooked al dente -- firm to the bite. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the ricotta with the oil, garlic, and spices. When the noodles are done, remove 1/2 cup of the pasta water, and add to the bowl with the ricotta. Mix together well. In a large bowl, add the spinach and the asparagus, basil and Parmesan or pecorino to the bowl. Mix the ricotta mixture into the spinach and asparagus. Drain the lasagna, and toss with everything. Serve at once.


Snickerdoodles


Although I have no idea where the name for these cookies comes from, the best way to describe them is like sugar cookies with a hug. Honestly, I have absolutely no idea what makes them taste so good. Take a sugar cookies and roll it in cinnamon sugar. Sounds good, absolutely. But no. They're delicious. Scrumtulescent, I believe would be the word for them. These are classic suburban cookies at their finest.

And they're perfect for baking when strangers come round. That is, when you're not sure whether the recipient likes chocolate or is allergic to nuts or one of the host of other maladies that strike chefs down everywhere. Granted, they won't be on a celiac's top ten list, but apart from them and the vegans, it's hard to find someone who won't like these.

And so for such classic Americana delicacies, there's no better place to turn than the institution that is The Joy of Cooking, now in its 3 billionth edition.

But honestly, if you make these once, you'll have the recipe memorized. It's just that easy. And because I insist on making everything complicated, I actually threw a little pumpkin pie spice into the mix as well (that is, a blend of allspice, cloves, and nutmeg). I'm not sure if it did anything, but with or without, these cookies are definite crowd-pleasers.

Makes about 30 cookies

Ingredients

2 cups all purpose (or plain) flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
Optional: 2 tsp. Pumpkin pie spices (allspice, cloves, and nutmeg)

For cinnamon sugar topping
1/4 cup sugar
4 tsp. ground cinnamon

Method 


Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease or line 2 cookies sheets. Whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

In a different bowl, beat the butter and sugar until well combined. Add the eggs and beat again.

Finally, stir in the flour mixture.

Now combine the sugar and cinnamon to make your topping. Shape the dough into 1 1/4 inch balls, roll in the cinnamon sugar, and arrange about 2 1/2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until the cookies are light golden brown on the edges, about 12- 14 minutes. Let stand to briefly, then remove to a rack to cool.




Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bacon-Topped Cornbread with Chiles and Cheese



I get hungry just by looking at the name of this dish. I mean, goodness, what isn't there to love? I feel this should be part of my ongoing series of why "Everything's better with bacon". Because it clearly is.

There's no denying cornbread is an American staple. Humble and easy to make, it goes with just about anything. Drizzle honey over it and make it sweet. Chop up some bacon (as we see above) and make it savory. It's hard to go wrong with cornbread.

But strangely, cornbread is still a foreign entity to most Brits. Baked in a skillet, there's something fantastically "frontier-y" about it. There are about 8 million recipes for cornbread online and debates as to how to make it properly can be fierce. While cornbread seems to span the length and breadth of America, you can be judged instantly on where you're from depending on how you make it. Now, I don't have a secret family recipe for it (clearly, as I'm posting this online) but this one, slightly modified from this version via epicurious is tasty as any I've had and fairly easy to make. Judging from the bacon added, I'm thinking this recipe must have Southern origins, but I like to think that I added a bit of southwestern flair to it. Hey, you have to represent local pride somehow. Anyway, I added chiles and Parmesan cheese to the mix, but as I said above, cornbread is forgiving enough to add pretty much anything to.

I also may have forgotten to stir the corn into the mix, accidentally making it a topping. I ended up liking the result, but by all means, stir into the batter before baking. 

Ingredients

6 thick-cut bacon slices

1 cup medium-grind cornmeal

1  cup all purpose flour

2 tablespoons golden brown sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/3 cups whole milk

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons honey or agave syrup

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup frozen corn kernels (unthawed)

Optional: 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, 2 jalapeno chiles (sliced)

Method

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Reserve 2 tablespoons drippings from skillet.

Crumble bacon into small pieces.

Coat 12-inch diameter ovenproof skillet (I used the same as I fried the bacon in. It makes it an easy one-dish preparation) with bacon drippings.

Whisk cornmeal and next 4 ingredients in large bowl. Whisk milk, eggs, honey, and butter in medium bowl. Stir milk mixture into dry ingredients.

Mix in corn (or reserve to place on top), cheese, and chiles.

Place prepared skillet in oven until very hot, about 10 minutes. Pour batter into skillet.

Sprinkle bacon (and corn, if using) over.

Bake cornbread until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.

Cool in skillet at least 30 minutes.

The batter prior to baking.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pan-Toasted Sweet Corn with Wilted Kale and Black Beans

I have no idea why this recipe is so tasty. No clue. I actually debated about making it, after looking at its ingredients. I thought, "Sure, it's healthy, but will it taste like anything?"

Oh. But it does.

Strangely enough, my mother used to make a version of this (based on a Rick Bayless recipe, may the Mexican gods forever shine upon him) with Mexican chorizo and my family used to gulp it down in buckets. No corn in that one, but the essential beans and kale stewed in a broth were the same. I had completely forgotten about the recipe (as Mexican chorizo is impossible to get here), but I recently made the discovery of the Whole Foods recipe section on its website, and it looked, well, like excellent inspiration for healthy side dish. But such a delicious one? Never in my dreams.

Seriously. You won't believe me until you make this. Make it. Try it. It's wonderful.

Serves 6

Ingredients 

Mmmm. Corn.
Kernels from 2 ears sweet corn (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 bag kale or swiss chard (if using chard, cut into medium pieces, separating the stems from the leaves)

1/3 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth, plus more as needed

4 garlic cloves, sliced

1/4 teaspoon crushed red chile pepper

1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added black beans, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1/4 cup raw green pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

1 green chile, sliced

Diced Spanish chorizo (1/2 cup's worth) also works really well in this as do Pasilla or Adobo Chiles

Method

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Add corn kernels and cook, shaking the pan and stirring, until the kernels brown, about 5 minutes. Remove corn from the skillet and set aside.

Rinse the pan to remove any browned corn from the bottom. Return the skillet to medium heat and add broth, garlic and pepper flakes.

Add chard stems (if using) and simmer until just tender, about 2 minutes. Add chard leaves (or kale) and stir until they begin to wilt and all fit in the skillet.

Cover and cook until the kale/chard is very tender, about 5 minutes; add more broth a tablespoon at a time if it gets dry. Uncover the skillet and stir in beans, chorizo, chiles, vinegar and pumpkin seeds.

Cook for 2 more minutes. Transfer the kale/chard mixture to a platter and sprinkle with the toasted corn.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Whole Wheat Breadsticks



I can't help it. I love bread. I mean, I really love it. Save your pastry. Save your cakes. Give me a fresh-baked loaf of good ol' white bread any day and I'll be as happy as a clam. Of course,  in this Atkins "evils of carbohydrates" world in which we now live, my obsession is a sinful one. And while I usually take such doom and gloom of yeast and flour with a pinch of salt (ok, more than a pinch), I do find it hard to get up the gumption to make bread for myself very often.

Why?

Because it takes forever.

Literally. Forever.

In my perfect world, I would own a bread machine, crank it up at night, fall asleep, and awake to my very own loaf of bread, baked for me by the little elves of machinery.
Alas. This is not currently the case.

So when its raining cats and dogs outside and I find myself with very little else to do (or rather little else I want to be doing, such are the joys of procrastination), bread-making seems a good activity.

And, taking that into consideration with the above nutritional scare tactics about the evils of white bread, I took my inspiration from the latest NY Times "Recipes for Health" column and decided to try the joys (evils?) of whole wheat breadsticks.

To be honest, aside from the kneading (which I hate and loathe with the passion of a thousand suns), these were surprisingly easy to make. If you make sure you put the dough in the right area to rise (which, in my case, is a turned off oven with a bowl of hot water underneath it), then you're sure to have delicious breadsticks within a few hours. And on the time scale of bread-making, that's positively instant.

Ingredients

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 1/2 cup lukewarm water

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 cups whole-wheat flour

About 1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt


The rolled-out dough, just before being left to rise.
Method
Dissolve the yeast in the water in a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in the honey. Let stand for five minutes. Stir in the olive oil.

Combine the whole-wheat flour, the unbleached all-purpose flour, and the salt. Add to the liquid mixture. If kneading by hand, stir until you can turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead for 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to your hands and worktop (I needed to add probably another cup of flour for this bit. Be liberal).

If using an electric mixer, mix at medium speed for 8 to 10 minutes. Add flour as necessary so that the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. The dough should be elastic and just slightly sticky.

The dough, just before baking
 Lightly flour your work surface or brush with olive oil. Using your hands or a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 14-by4-inch rectangle. Make sure there is enough flour or oil underneath the dough that it doesn’t stick to the work surface. Brush the top with oil. Cover with plastic wrap, then with a damp kitchen towel. Allow to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until nearly doubled. (Being England, I had no good place to let the dough rise. If you share my fate, turn on the oven on its lowest heat setting for a few minutes, then turn it off. Put a bowl of just boiled water on the bottom of the oven and then the dough above that. This will give a good damp atmosphere that should encourage your dough to rise.) 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with the racks positioned in the middle and upper thirds. Brush sheet pans with olive oil. Cut the dough crosswise into four equal pieces. One at a time, cut each piece crosswise into six equal pieces. Roll each piece between the board and your hands, as if you were making it into a rope, until it is as long as the baking sheet. For a tighter strip, twist the strands from one end to the other. Place 1 inch apart on the baking sheets until you’ve filled two baking sheets. Continue to shape the remaining breadsticks while the first batch is baking.

Place in the oven, and bake 15 minutes. Switch the pans top to bottom and front to back, and bake another 10 minutes until the breadsticks are nicely browned (they will be darker on the bottom). Remove from the heat, and cool on a rack. Shape and bake any remaining dough as instructed.


Maple-Oatmeal Fruit Crisp



I have no idea what the difference is between a crumble and a crisp. To me, they both involve fruit and a delicious crunchy topping, usually made out of oats, sugar, and butter.

Knowing bakers, there's probably some precise distinction between the two (you melt the butter before you add the oats in a crisp, or some such thing), but, I can't be bothered to find out what it is.

That being said, whether they are crisps or crumbles, they are delicious. And perfect for summer. And the perfect way to make a lazy dessert. Cut up fruit. Add flour, oats, sugar, and butter. Bake. See? Nothing to it. And because you can add whatever fruit is in season at the time, you get to come up with your own endless varieties of the dessert. Because I focus less on the measuring and more on getting the thing baking, I've never made the same crumble twice. But that's not to say they weren't all delicious.

Now that I've insisted on the unnecessary element of measuring in a crumble/crisp, I present the following very measure-based recipe, adapted from the annals of NPR and their kitchen window series. While I'm usually an "organic" crumble-maker (measurements are for wusses), I wanted to try their very complex version, to see if there was a way to improve on the glories of easy crumble making.

And when I say complex, I mean it took me 7 minutes instead of 5 to make. But still. Coconut? Walnuts? Cranberries? Maple syrup?! NPR, calm thyself. There's no reason to get so darn complicated. But, the recipe was delicious. So if you're feeling like you need a little extra complication in your baking life, this crumble is for you. If I'm ever pressed to serve crumble at a dinner party (and why wouldn't you?), this might be a good bet to show off the dressed-up nature of the dessert. Otherwise, for an easy dessert, I might go back to my basics: oats, flour, sugar. Or, if I'm honest, the ready-made crumble topping at Tesco (shhhhh, don't tell anyone). ;)

Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients

Topping

1/4 cup whole-wheat flour

3/4 cup rolled oats (or more)

1/4 cup sugar

4 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons maple syrup

Filling

3 peaches or other stone fruit, pitted and chopped

1 cup blueberries, raspberries or blackberries, or a combination

1/4 cup dried cranberries

4 tablespoons chopped walnuts or almonds

1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon flour

5 tablespoons maple syrup

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the flour, oats and sugar together. Cut in the butter, working the mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Drizzle in a bit of maple syrup, adding more if the mixture is very dry.

In a large bowl, mix the fruit, nuts, coconut, cinnamon, ginger and flour together and stir well to combine. Drizzle with maple syrup to taste (if the fruit is not too sweet, add a little more).

Spread the fruit in an 8-inch square baking dish and cover with the topping. If the topping doesn't cover all the fruit, sprinkle more oats on top. Be liberal.)

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until fruit is bubbling and topping is crisp.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fried Okra


I do not hail from a part of the country where okra is a staple. No, no. I'm from the other side. The anti-okra side. The confused okra side. The side that sees the weird foreign slimy vegetable and think: "Really?" 

But my anti-okra statement was predicated on nothing if not so much as a misunderstanding of southern cuisine. If you see an ingredient that you don't like, bread it and fry it. Which 100% of the time = crazy delicious.

And so it is with okra. And as it was available at copious cheap amounts at my local farmers market, I decided to test my southern style by "frying up a batch".

And it can't be simpler. Slice okra. Add cornmeal and flour. Maybe some spices. Fry. 
But I don't trust my okra knowledge, not yet. And so I drew inspiration from a self-proclaimed southerner. 

And so I set myself the task of frying up the most questionably authentic okra I've ever attempted. And it was delicious. So delicious. It won't win any awards for nutrition, but damn, I want to make this every day. 








Ingredients

A fair amount of okra (I would say about 3 handfuls was enough for 2-3)

-A splash of milk or cream (I used cream, but honestly, you could even omit this)

-1/4 cup self-raising flour

-1/4 cup cornmeal (yellow or white, I use yellow)

-1 tsp paprika

-1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

-1 tsp achiote (if you have it, really any spice works)

-salt and pepper to taste

-Vegetable oil 


Method

Mix your breading. Combine flour, cornmeal, and spices and season with salt and pepper.

Wash and slice your okra into small rounds, no more than a half an inch thick. Place slices in a large bowl.

At this point, heat the oil in your pan. You want to have enough oil so that it just barely covers the bottom of the pan (if you add too much, you may end up with soggy okra which would be a tragedy).

If using the milk/cream, add it now to the okra. Remember, just a splash! Mix the okra and cream well.

Now add the breading to the okra, again stir to combine and make sure each piece is coated.

Test the oil in your pan to see if it's ready. Throw a piece of okra in and if small bubbles emerge around it, you're good to go. You don't want to see a crazy rush of bubbles, otherwise your pan is too hot.

Add the okra in a single layer to the pan and leave it alone. Really. Don't indulge the inclining to stir. Let it fry. (Otherwise, you'll lose the breading.)

After a few minutes, about 2-3, see if the bottom of the okra is turning golden-brown. If so, you are now ready to flip. Turn the okra over with a spatula and now let the other side fry up nicely.

When both sides are nicely golden brown, take it out of the oil and leave it to drain on paper towels. Serve hot and enjoy.


It may not look beautiful, but, trust me, it's delicious.

Ham Hock with Potatoes and Apples

The proud Hock o' Ham

What was I saying about "proteins with stuff"? Well, this certainly qualifies. Actually, this recipe alone could be the reason why I still call myself a proud meat-eater. Apart from the fact that this dish takes forever to make (no last minute weeknight dinners here), this dish has little to complain about.

The featured meat is what is usually termed in my world a ham hock, but is to the Brits apparently a pork knuckle. Who knew? Anyway, it's one of the cheaper cuts of meat around and just one of these puppies will easily feed three people. You have to make sure to get the uncured kind for this recipe. This took a bit of searching for me, but it will let the flavors of the caraway seeds and garlic really shine through. Nothing, however, will explode if you can't find one and must use a cured one instead. Such is life, right?

This recipe combines all things British and American in my mind. A ham hock will quintessentially be Yankee fare, but the "roasting" element of this recipe does waver towards the British side of things. It also (as a bonus) features a make-your-own-pork-crackling element. Well, if I wasn't sold before...

Nigella Lawson, also, the reigning sultry queen of the British kitchen must be thanked for the inspiration behind this recipe. Oh Nigella, the things you do for us. All while wearing revealing clothing.

Ingredients

2 tsp sea salt flakes (or 1 tsp pouring salt)

1 tsp caraway seeds

2 garlic cloves, crushed or grated

2 pork knuckles (also called hocks), rind scored

2 onions, peeled and sliced into rounds

2 eating apples, cored and quartered

4 baking potatoes (or 1kg/1lb 2oz other main-crop potatoes), cut into quarters lengthways

500ml/17fl oz good-quality amber or dark beer (not stout, I used Wychwood amber beer)

500ml/17fl oz boiling water

Method

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Put the salt and caraway seeds into a bowl, add the minced or grated garlic, and mix everything together. Rub the pork knuckles with this mixture, getting right into the slits in the scored rind.

Make a bed or platform of the onion slices in the bottom of a deep-sided roasting tin. Sit the pork hocks on this onion layer and cook them in the hot oven for 30 minutes.

Take the tin out of the oven and quickly arrange the apples and potatoes around the pork knuckles. Carefully pour over 250ml/9fl oz of the beer, aiming for the pork knuckles so they’re basted as the liquid is poured into the tin. Return the tin to the oven, turning this down to 170C/325F/Gas 3. Continue to cook at this lower temperature for two hours.

Turn the oven up again to 220C/425F/Gas 7, pour the rest of the beer over the pork knuckles, and continue to cook at the higher temperature for another 30 minutes.

Take the tin out of the oven and transfer the apples and potatoes to a warmed dish. Lift the hocks onto a carving board, leaving the onion and juices in the tin.

Put the tin on the hob over a medium heat and add the boiling water, scraping any burned onions up from the bottom of the tin using a wooden spoon to de-glaze the tin and make a gravy.

Meanwhile, take the crackling off the pork knuckles and break it into pieces. Pull apart or carve the meat and pile it onto plates with the apples and potatoes. Pour over the gravy and serve with some German mustard.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Four-Spice Salmon

I'm all about easy proteins right now. A full day at work doesn't inspire the kinds of long-simmering stews and fussy pastry that were getting my appetite going during the winter months. I usually shy away from the "meat with stuff on it" preparation method, but in recent weeks I've been won over to the cause. A pork tenderloin with a bit of mustard and oil on it can be delicious and the same goes for a spice-rubbed salmon. Dishes that can be made in the space of 10 minutes flat and you have yourself a hearty main dish.

Thus it was that I tried Bittman's Four-Spice Salmon, something he insists is the best thing ever. I had not had spice-rubbed anything in recent memory so I was keen to give it a try. The dish gets absolute points for ease in preparation but, while I gleaned over his wordy paragraphs about the need to grind your own spices and harvesting your own local fillet from the salmon farm down the street, I realized that in this case, he may have been right.

This dish needs oomph. Ooomph it does not get from pre-ground spices and Tesco-brand salmon. Believe me, the flavors are there, hidden in the background. You know that there's potential for spicy extravagance as you bite into your fillet.

But it needs a kick, and unless you can do the aforementioned grinding and harvesting, my solution to this problem is to nudge the spiciness quotient up a notch. I suggest some chili flakes or powder, just to add a bit of heat to the dish. It doesn't mask the other delicious combination of flavors of the spice rub, but if you, like me, are stuck with brand X spices, this may bring out a tad more flavor in the dish than otherwise.

Having done that, the dish is an absolute win. A main course that is not your standard boring salmon fillet "with stuff on it". It's a beauty. One I will be using again.

Ingredients

4 6-ounce, skinned salmon fillets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon coriander seeds or ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon whole or ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seed or ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp chili flakes or power (or to your taste)
2 tablespoons peanut oil, grape seed or other neutral oil, or clarified butter

Method

Season fillets on both sides with salt and pepper. If necessary, combine spices and grind them to a coarse powder in a coffee or spice grinder. Press some of the mixture onto the top of each fillet.

Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the oil or butter and, when it shimmers, place the fillets, coated side down, in the pan. Cook about 2 to 3 minutes, or until the spice mixture forms a nicely browned crust.

Turn the fillets and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the salmon just slightly resists when pierced with a thin-bladed knife.

Skillet-Baked Asparagus and Eggs

It took me some time to get on the asparagus bandwagon. In Arizona, where seasons are practically non-existent (unless you count hot and, well, hotter), one doesn't grow up with the amazing produce which summer is associated with in most of the rest of the world.
While our plants and trees withered and died in the ever-increasing temperatures of May, June, and July, the rest of the world was feasting on summer produce. So I never realized just how thankful you can be, after the dregs of winter (what, another butternut squash dish?), that you now have an entirely different and varied repertoire of vegetables to play with in terms of cooking.

And thus, asparagus. The summer vegetable loathed by children the world over. I was no different. They looked like trees and if you overcooked them, well, they were a mushy mess. No. Thank. You.

But, done right, they're amazing. I mean, really amazing. And paired with eggs? Game over. I'm not sure what it is about the two that make them perfect for each other, but you can literally put almost any egg dish with a properly roasted asparagus or two, and you have perfection on a plate. Trust me, the NY Times devoted an entire article to it. It's that good.

And thus I present skillet-baked asparagus and eggs. If I hadn't sold this meal enough on just the virtues of asparagus and eggs alone, this is also a one pot dish. Roast asparagus. Add eggs (and a touch of cream). Stick in oven. Eat. Simple as pie.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil, more for drizzling
3/4 pounds asparagus trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
8 large eggs
6 tablespoons roughly chopped soft herbs like basil, cilantro, chives or parsley (use at least 2, I used basil, cilantro, and parsley, which was an absolute win: don't hesitate to add the herbs liberally.)
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Lemon wedges, for serving
Flaky sea salt for sprinkling.

Method

Heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil until shimmering. Add the asparagus and the scallions and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until asparagus is browned and tender.

Whisk together the eggs, 4 tablespoons of the herbs, and cream. Whisk in Parmesan, salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture over asparagus and place the skillet in the oven.

Bake for about 17- 20 minutes, until set, but still slightly jiggly in the center. Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before serving. It is best warm, not hot.

Squeeze one or two lemon wedges over it, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with flaky sea salt and remaining herbs. Cut into wedges.


Yield: 4 servings.

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