Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sage Parmesan Crackers



Everyone likes to have at least one "crowd pleaser" recipe in their collection. And if that recipe happens to be the easiest thing in the world? So much the better. These sage crackers were a spur of the moment decision a few years back, taken from Mark Bittman's gloriously helpful "101 Head Starts to the Day" (the NY Times has apparently been helming the culinary delights of Thanksgiving for years). I wasn't quite sure what to expect of them, as they were honestly too simple to be trusted. But when they disappeared out from under me, I realized I had a goldmine on my hands. Now they're trotted out every Thanksgiving.

I've also taken to doubling the recipe, because of the thin crumbly nature of the crackers, they tend to yield a fairly small amount once cut into squares. They also may provoke moments of panic when you realize there's no physical way to "roll these out" as Bittman suggests.

 I've also taken to patting them into shape on the baking sheet and cutting them afterwards. It saved me a mountain of frustrated rolling and allowed me to enjoy these little sage-y parcels even more.

Ingredients
1 cup flour
1 tsp salt

1/2 cup grated Parmesan
4 tbsp cold butter
1/4 cup cream
2 tbsp finely chopped sage.

Method
Preheat over to 400 F.

Mix 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup Parmesan and 4 tablespoons cold butter either in a large bowl or in a food processor. Add 1/4 cup cream and 1 tablespoon finely chopped sage.

When just combined, roll as thinly as possible (or simply pat into the baking sheet), score into squares, sprinkle with salt and bake at 400 degrees until golden.

Let cool, then break into pieces.

Cranberry-Quince Chutney



Cranberry sauce. You can't have Thanksgiving without it. Although a (small) part of me holds a fond remembrance for the canned sauce (you know, the one that held the "can" shape), there is something true and good about making your own. And thankfully, unlike pumpkin, England embraces the cranberry (as they also feature cranberry sauce as part of their traditional Christmas meal) which makes it relatively easy to find in the markets around this time of year.


Along these lines though, I can't help but yield to the experimentalist when it comes to cranberry sauce. Every food website even marginally connected with the US right now features at least 10 recipes for varieties on the sauce. Thick, thin, spicy, sweet, you can find almost any ingredient or style you could imagine. After spending way too many hours on the internet scrolling through versions of the "world's best cranberry sauce", I ended up going with the recipe found in my ancient copy of the Thanksgiving 2009 issue of Food & Wine. This was perhaps the last physical copy of a recipe magazine I ever purchased, but it has proved its use for two years now and I can't fault it yet. Although I would never make a quince cranberry sauce in the US (good luck trying to find them in Arizona), England also seems to be busting out all over with the fruits currently, making tracking down ingredients a cinch. It did make an absolute vat-full of sauce however, so if you're NOT planning on feeding 30 people at your next Thanksgiving, you might want to think about halving the recipe.








Time: 1 hour

Makes: 6 cups


Ingredients
1 tbsp. canola oil
1 small onion, minced
2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 star anise pod
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
3 quinces (8 ounces each), peeled, cored, and finely diced
1 Granny Smith apple: peeled, cored, and finely diced
1 12-ounce bag fresh/frozen cranberries (or 340 grams)
1/2 cup golden raisins



Method
In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Add the onion, ginger, garlic, allspice, and star anise and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the sugar, vinegar, and 1 cup of water and bring to a simmer. Add the quince, apple, cranberries, and raisins and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thick and jammy, about 25 minutes.

Discard the star anise. Serve the chutney warm or chilled.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Fried Chickpeas with Chorizo and Kale


This is the best kind of "weeknight dinner" recipe. It's fast, simple, and perhaps the tastiest thing in the world. It also is phenomenal because it also technically could count as a "one pot" dish. Although I'm not sure Bittman would classify it as a main course, I've always thought of it as one. Basically because it's so delicious I never want anything else.

Although Bittman technically calls for spinach with this recipe, I prefer kale. It's texture is a bit richer and it fries up wonderfully under the broiler, giving it the perfect toasted crispness to go with the chorizo and chickpeas.

Also, for this recipe, the use of Spanish chorizo is a must. Any other sausage doesn't have the rich pepperiness of the Spanish variety and the simplicity of the dish requires a bit more of a kick from the meat. If you want to up the tastiness/smokiness factor even more, I recommend adding even more paprika (and perhaps even some cayenne) to the chickpeas as they're frying in the oil. It boosts the flavor wonderfully.

Paprika-ed chickpeas

Serves about four as a main course

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, as dry as possible

2 tsp. paprika

Salt and black pepper

4 ounces chorizo, diced

1/2 pound spinach, kale, or chard roughly chopped (I prefer kale)

1/4 cup sherry

1 to 2 cups bread crumbs



Method
Heat the broiler or grill.

Put three tablespoons of the oil in a skillet large enough to hold chickpeas in one layer over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add chickpeas and sprinkle with salt and pepper and the paprika.

Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until chickpeas begin to brown, about 10 minutes, then add chorizo. Continue cooking for another 5 to 8 minutes or until chickpeas are crisp; use a slotted spoon to remove chickpeas and chorizo from pan and set aside.

Add the remainder of the 1/4 cup of oil to the pan; when it’s hot, add spinach and sherry, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook spinach over medium-low heat until very soft and the liquid has evaporated. Add chickpeas and chorizo back to the pan and toss quickly to combine; top with bread crumbs, drizzle with a bit more oil and run pan under the broiler to lightly brown the top.

Serve hot or at room temperature.



Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thai Mushroom Soup baked in a Pumpkin + Toasted Pumpkin Seeds


Behold, the mighty pumpkin. Well, surprisingly, not that mighty in the land of the Brits. Despite the hordes of pumpkins and pumpkin-flavored items in the US, alas, the UK (as I have waxed lyrically about previously) seems to shirk the glories of this gourd.

Although pumpkin soup is not completely unknown on this side of the Atlantic, versions seem to promote the standard "peel, cube, and cook" varieties. Now, I don't know if you've ever tried to peel a pumpkin, but there are few less rewarding tasks in this world. And a task guaranteed to either cause significant harm to you and/or your pumpkin, probably leaving you with little desire to carry on in the soup-making task.

Which is why *this* version of pumpkin soup is so glorious. No peeling required! Just the standard jack-o-lantern trick of cutting a lid on the top and scooping out the glorious pumpkin seeds (to be toasted later). Baking the entire pumpkin also makes a great display for the table (Martha Stewart eat your heart out) and you also get to live dangerously: Will the pumpkin collapse in the oven? Won't it? Yes, the soup takes a bit of patience, but the combination of Thai and autumnal flavors in this thing are completely worth it. Originally this soup (in a much simpler yet absolutely still delicious form) was found via River Cottage and basically involves cooking a bunch of cream and cheese in a hollowed pumpkin. My version makes the concoction a bit more soup-like with some complex Asian flavors and some mushrooms thrown in for earthiness. It's a soup that's a bit time-consuming but wonderful on those cold autumn nights.

Serve 4-6

Ingredients
One large pumpkin
1 can coconut milk
1 1/2 cups dried porcini mushrooms (rehydrated in boiling water and left to soak for up to 30 minutes, but SAVE the water which you rehydrated them in!!! If you don't want to use this, 2 1/2 cups chicken broth)
1 cup chestnut mushrooms, sliced
2 green or red finger chilies, diced
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
8 oz. gruyere cheese, grated
1/2 cup single cream
4 slices bacon (or bacon lardons), cooked and drained of fat
2 tbsp. Olive oil
3/4 tsp white pepper
Salt and black pepper to taste
Cilantro/Green onions (optional)

Method

Preheat the oven to 375ºF/191ºC.

Using a narrow pointed knife, slice around the stem of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle. Scoop out pulp and seeds (but don't forget to keep the seeds for toasting!). Place the emptied pumpkin on a large baking tray that has been covered with aluminum foil.

Fill the pumpkin with half of the grated Gruyère cheese.

Meanwhile, heat a deep saucepan on med-high and add the olive oil. When hot, add the onion and garlic and saute for approximately 3-5 minutes. Add the rehydrated porcini mushrooms, chestnut mushrooms, and chilies. Cook for another 3-5 minutes, or until the mushrooms go soft and start to sweat. Add the bacon and cook for another 30 seconds to a minute. 

At this point, add the porcini mushroom water or chicken broth along with the coconut milk. Stir. Add in gently, while stirring, the 1/2 cup of single cream and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Season to taste with salt as well as the black and white pepper. 

A perfectly "done" pumpkin
Pour the mushroom soup mixture into the cavity of the pumpkin, on top of the gruyere cheese. Sprinkle the rest of the gruyere cheese on top of the soup mixture. Season again with salt and black pepper. 

Replace the lid of the pumpkin and place the entire thing in the oven to be roasted slowly. Depending on the size of your pumpkin, this may range anywhere from 1 to 2 1/2 hours. The key to cooking the pumpkin is to keep a wary eye on its structural integrity. Once the skin on the outside of the pumpkin starts to sag, be warned! There is a fine line between the glories of a cooked pumpkin and a heap of mush inside your oven. If in doubt, remove the pumpkin from the oven, remove the lid, and check for the done-ness of the inside flesh (should be fairly soft). 

When serving, make sure to scrape the inside of the pumpkin so that each bowl gets a good portion of the flesh and cheesy goodness (which by now has melted into the pumpkin itself) alongside the soup. Serve with cilantro and/or sliced green onions on top as garnish. 

Toasted Spiced Pumpkin Seeds


A fall classic and a great snack and/or soup topper!!

Ingredients
Seeds from one pumpkin (washed and dried)
Olive oil
Salt/Black Pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp achiote (or other chile powder)
1/4 tsp cumin

Method
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

After removing the seeds from the pumpkin, rinse with water, and remove any strings and bits of squash. Pat dry, and place in a small bowl. 

Add the cayenne, cinnamon, achiote, and cumin to the bowl and stir to coat.

Scatter the seeds on a sheet pan in a single layer and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Bake for 7 minutes and stir. Bake for another 7 minutes (or until seeds start to look dry and crispy). 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Spiced Brown Sugar Carrot Bread


Well, I've finally done it. I gave in to the power of the veg box. No longer will I trawl the aisles searching desperately for fresh swede, tomatoes, or spinach. No, no. Every Tuesday, like clockwork, a very nice man deposits a very large box of farm-fresh vegetables outside my doorstep. Alongside any other little niceties I've decided to order from them that week. Which has recently included squash, bread, and even a pumpkin for Halloween. Just to make my veg box people (Abel & Cole) extra-loveable, they have a habit of including free things each week with their delivery. This week was milk. Bless them.

But with the powers of the veg box come great responsibilities. The household now has more fresh nutritious vegetables than it often knows what to do with. We have heaps of onions. Bags of potatoes. Gallons of spinach. And acres upon acres of carrots. This has produced more than a few glorious stir fries, but you can only use so many carrots in one stir fry before things start to go...a bit orange.

So what better way to use up all the bounty of the earth than to make quick breads? Carrots are particularly fabulous for this purpose, and considering that we're moving into the winter season, they are wonderfully warming. Despite the fabulous successes of previous carrot bread recipes, I went out on a lark and took the first one I could find from the Internet. I was particularly struck by the use of cardamom in recipes. So, why not try it myself?

And, oh yes, that worked quite nicely. The crispy brown layer of sugar on the top makes this bread particularly more-ish, and the inclusion of cardamom is a nice subtle layer that doesn't override the other traditional flavors of vanilla and cinnamon. I do however highly recommend making sure you have greased your pan adequately. Despite loving attention to detail, my bread refused to unstick from its loaf tin moorings, resulting in far more crumbs and bite-size pieces than standard "slices". Ah well, still tastes great.



Makes: 1 loaf

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cups packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 1/4 cups shredded carrots (about 7 ounces)

Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Coat 1 8-by-4-inch loaf pan with cooking spray or grease and lightly flour the pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the light brown sugar and granulated sugar until smooth. Add the oil in a thin stream, beating at high speed until the batter has doubled in volume, about 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and lemon zest. Fold in the shredded carrots. Beat in the dry ingredients at low speed in 3 batches, mixing well between additions.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, filling it two-thirds full. Bake in the middle of the oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let the loaf cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning them out onto a rack to cool completely.

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