Saturday, November 24, 2012

Quickie Broccoli Pesto made it through Thanksgiving and have just crossed the threshold into Holiday Land.

Or in my case, tech. 

For those of you who aren't familiar with the term "tech," it's the week before a show opens when all of the fabulous production elements come together.  Not only do the actors have to remember their lines, music, and choreography, they must do so while dealing with costumes, lights, sound, and a band.  And really long rehearsal days.

So now is the time to have a plan for a healthy and fast meal.

Broccoli Pesto is super fast, super filling, and super tasty.  And, this recipe makes a ton so you can nibble on it throughout your hectic week.

By the way...If you are in Chicago this holiday season, come see "We Three Liza's" at the Steppenwolf Garage!  I'm the one in purple.

Broccoli Pesto

Blanching the garlic mellows out that intense raw flavor while still snazzing up the broccoli.  Mix it up with some quinoa, spread it on sandwiches, or thin it with a little bit of water and serve it over pasta.

3 heads broccoli
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup almonds
4 Tbl olive oil
2 1/2 Tbl red wine vinegar
3/4 cup fresh basil
salt 'n pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cut broccoli into florets and chop stems into 1" chunks.  Once the water boils, add broccoli, garlic, and almonds.  Cook until broccoli is tender but still a vibrant green, about 5-7 minutes.

Drain broccoli and reserve 1/3 of the florets, placing them in an ice bath to shock the veggies and stop the cooking process.

Place remaining broccoli, garlic, and almonds in a food processor with basil and 1/4 cup water.  Puree mixture until relatively smooth, adding just enough oil to help things along.  Adjust seasoning to taste.  

Pesto will keep in the refrigerator covered for five days.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Taking Stock in Stock

I've always thought making your own stock was a big waste of money.  Basically you are boiling the crap out of whatever you are using, making it inedible by the end.

And then, I tried making a roasted vegetable stock.

Great Gaia, is this stuff good!  And, when you come right down to it, it basically costs the same since you make about 3 quarts of the stuff.

I made a batch last week, and I have been amazed at how many ways I've found to incorporate it into my cooking.  Here's one of the dishes I came up with...

Roasted Vegetable Stock

1/2 pound carrots, cut into 1" pieces
2 parsnips, cut into 1"pieces
3 ribs celery, cut into 1" pieces
8 oz crimini mushrooms, halved
2 red onions, quartered with skins on
1 red pepper, cut into 1" pieces
1 head of garlic, halved
thyme bundle
1 bunch fresh parsley
3 bay leaves
2 Tbl tomato paste
1 tsp crushed red pepper
12 cups water
2 Tbl olive oil
salt 'n pepper

Heat oven to 450.  Arrange vegetables on a roasting pan or baking sheet in a single layer.  You may need to use two pans.  Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and crushed red, and toss to combine.  Throw on the thyme bundle and bay leaves, and roast those suckers for 35-40 minutes, turning veggies half way through the cooking time.

Once veggies are nice and roasty, transfer to a large stock pot and cover with 12 cups of water.  Add parsley and tomato paste.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer covered for one hour.

Pass stock through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on solids to release as much liquid as possible.  Discard veggies and store in air tight containers.

Baked Polenta with Mushroom Gravy

I love this dish on a cold night.  The crispy polenta is the perfect vehicle for the earthy mushrooms, and it comes together quickly, especially if you use store bought polenta!

For the gravy
8 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
8 oz oyster mushrooms, sliced
8 oz shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbl olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup cognac
2 Tbl fresh rosemary, minced
2 sage leaves, minced
2 cups Roasted Vegetable Stock
2 Tbl flour *
fresh parsley for garnish

Over medium heat, saute onions until golden about five minutes.  Add garlic and cook for one minute.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add mushrooms and cook until browned, about five to seven minutes. Stir in sage and rosemary.  Add cognac, and flambe to burn off the cognac.  Once the flames have extinguished, sprinkle with flour and cook for about two minutes until the flour has browned slightly.  Add stock.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for five minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Preheat oven to 425.  While mushrooms cook, slice polenta into cakes.  Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and brush lightly with olive oil.  Bake cakes in the oven for 10 minutes, flipping half way through, or until lightly browned and crisp.

Place the polenta cakes on individual plates, spoon over gravy, and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

*If you are avoiding flour, bring stock to a boil with 1/2 cup diced potato.  Once a fork slides easily into the potatoes, transfer to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Add to the pan.

For the polenta

This takes a little bit of care, but it's a great work out for your arms!  Polenta can be made without the dairy, if'n you have a mind.

2 cups water
1 cup milk
1 cup polenta
pinch cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
4 sage leaves, minced
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese

Bring milk and water to a boil with plenty of salt, bay leaf, and a pinch of cayenne pepper.  Slowly whisk in polenta, reduce heat, and continue whisking for about 10 minutes.  We don't want a clumpy mess.  Once the polenta is incorporated, switch to a wooden spoon, stirring occasionally, and continue to cook until polenta is smooth.  You may need to add more milk or water.  Discard bay leaf and stir in sage and mascarpone.

Line a 9 x 9 class dish wish plastic wrap, allowing for overhang.  Spoon polenta evenly into dish and cover with the extra plastic wrap.  Chill in the refrigerator until it is firm. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Terrine Terrain

As you might suspect, I love Thanksgiving.

It's a holiday that is a celebration of food, family,  While I don't necessarily care about the latter, although I have been known to jump into a friendly Turkey Bowl competition with friends, the thing that tugs on my heart strings most is having the opportunity to give thanks for loved ones near and far and to eat some deliciousness.  And to spend the day cooking, drinking, and laughing with a glorious bunch of fools I call "family."

I have always thought that preparing a meal has more to do with self-expression and love than sustenance. As my former professor at Northwestern, Dwight Conquergood, so wisely spoke, "Food is not feed." It tells a story of who we are, where we come from, and brings communities together. 

Folks are usually obsessed about The Bird on the big day.  But what about the other, veggie friendly contributions to the feast?  It takes a village, no?  Our table is filled with roasted Brussels sprouts, braised turnip greens with apples, mushrooms, peas, and sweet potatoes (without the marshmallow, thank you very much).  There are a host of dishes that capture the flavors of the season and are still healthy!

So, if you are headed off to a potluck Thanksgiving (or hosting one yourself), might I suggest bringing along some Pomegranate Couscous with Grilled Eggplant and Kale or Farro with Butternut Squash, Apples, and Dried Cranberries

Or, if you have the mind, take some time to assemble this delicious terrine.

Grilled Vegetable Terrine

This is a total showstopper and is surprisingly easy to make.  Yes, there are many steps, but you are basically layering veggies in a pan and turning it upside down!  Your friends don't have to know and you receive the accolades from serving this beautiful dish!

1 large eggplant, cut into 1/4" rounds
2 large zucchini. cut lengthwise into 1/4" strips
1 red pepper
2 yellow peppers
1/2 cup quinoa, cooked
16 oz frozen spinach, thawed
3 cloves garlic
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup almonds
1 cup basil leaves
2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
2 tsp tahini
Walnut and Fig Pâté (recipe follows)
4 Tbl olive oil (divided)

Char peppers directly on gas burners, turning frequently until completely blackened (or roast in a 450 degree oven for approximately 30 minutes until charred).  Place peppers in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Set aside.  Once cool enough to handle, remove core, seeds, and skin and slice into 1/2" wide strips.

Squeeze thawed spinach in a dish towel to remove as much of the liquid as possible.  Heat 1 Tbl olive oil with one one clove of garlic smashed.  Once garlic has browned, discard and quickly saute spinach in garlic oil for 1-2 minutes, until aromatic but still a vibrant green.  Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.

On a grill pan over high heat, grill zucchini and eggplant slices in batches.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

In a food processor, puree sun-dried tomatoes, almonds, basil, and balsamic vinegar.  With the motor running, drizzle in remaining 3 Tbl olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a small bowl, combine cooked quinoa, tahini, and 1/4 of the cooked spinach.

Now we're ready to get down to business.  Line a 9 x 5 loaf pan with plastic wrap, allowing for at least 4" overhang.  Of the remaining spinach, gently press 2/3 onto the four edges of the pan.  Place eggplant in a single layer on the bottom and cover with half of the pesto.  Layer on zucchini slices and cover with mushroom pȃté. Layer in peppers and spread over quinoa mixture.  Add another layer of eggplant, pesto, and zucchini.  Cover with remaining spinach.  Fold excess plastic over terrine.  Cut a piece of cardboard to fit snugly inside the rim of the pan.  Place a couple of cans on top to weigh it down and refrigerate over night.  Unwrap plastic wrap and invert on a serving platter.

Pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Mushroom, Walnut, and Fig Pâté

This earthy spread is as delicious as it is versatile.  Spread it on dark bread toast point with some arugula as an appetizer, thin it out with roasted vegetable stock for a hearty pasta sauce, or spread it on sandwiches with roasted veggies.

8 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 medium shallots, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup dried black mission figs, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup cognac
thyme bundle
3 Tbl olive oil, divided

Heat 1 Tbl olive oil over medium flame and saute shallots until translucent, about three minutes.  Add garlic and cook for one additional minute.  Add mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaf and saute until browned, about five to seven minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

While mushrooms brown, toast walnuts in a dry saute pan until aromatic.  Add walnuts and figs to mushrooms, and cook for two to three minutes.  Add cognac and cook until the cognac is completely evaporated.  Remove from heat, and discard herbs.

Pulse mixture in a food processor while drizzling in just enough oil to provide some moisture.  Mixture should be smooth but still slightly chunky.  Allow pâté to come to room temperature before serving.  Keeps in refrigerator covered for three days.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Dinner in 15 minutes or under

I love taking my time when I cook. Nothing melts away the stress of the day like spending time playing in the kitchen, coaxing out flavors through roasting, baking, or braising.

But, sometimes, time is not on your side, and you need to get something healthy that comes together in minutes.  In those moments of harried reality, I turn to one of my fave ingredients, the Brussels sprout, for inspiration and sustenance.  By shaving the sprouts, or thinly slicing them, you cut your cooking time by over half!  Deglazing your pan, which simply means using a liquid to scrape up any delicious browned bits of food, makes for a quick sauce for your dish.

Here are two quick meal solutions featuring the littlest of cabbages.

Brussels Sprouts with White Beans

This dish comes together in minutes and is totally satisfying.  The quick saute leaves the sprouts crisp which balances out the creamy texture of the beans.  Try with cannellini beans, too!

1 1/2 lbs. Brussels sprouts
1 1/2 cups Northern white beans (15 oz can, drained and rinsed)
1/2 cup shallots, sliced (1 large shallot)
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of crushed red pepper
2 Tbl olive oil
2 Tbl lemon juice (about half a lemon)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt 'n pepper

Over medium heat, saute shallots in oil for three minutes, until translucent.  Add garlic and crushed red pepper and cook for one minute.  Be sure to season with salt as you go.

While onions cook, trim off the ends of the sprouts while leaving the base intact.  With base side down on your cutting board, thinly slice (or what I refer to as shaving) the sprouts.  Once the shallots and garlic have become fragrant, add sprouts to pan.  Cook for about four to five minutes, until sprouts are tender but still crisp.  Add beans and heat through.  Deglaze the pan with lemon juice and stir in parsley.

Adjust seasoning and serve!

Brussels Sprouts and Grapes (quick edition)

This is a revved up version of the slow roasted  Brussels Sprouts with Red Pearl Onions and Grapes. Tons of flavor in a fraction of the time! Serve over quinoa for a filling meal.

1 1/12 lbs Brussels sprouts, shaved
1 1/2 cups red seedless grapes, havled
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup sweet onion or shallot, sliced
1 1/2 Tbl tarragon vinegar
2 Tbl fresh tarragon, chopped
2 Tbl olive oil
salt n' pepper

Over medium heat, saute onion or shallots in olive oil until translucent, about three to for minutes.  Add garlic and cook for one additional minute.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add sprouts and grapes and cook until sprouts are tender yet crisp, about four to five minutes.  Deglaze pan with tarragon vinegar.  Garnish with fresh tarragon, and you're done!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Quickie Dinner

The holidays are going to be on us sooner than we expect.  That means zero time for anything.  In fact, I've gotta scoot to rehearsal so here is a fast and healthy dinner, ready in 15 minutes (or less)!

Whole Grain Penne with Kale, Black Olives, and Capers
Add some pine nuts at the end for a nutty bite!

16 oz whole grain penne
1 large bunch kale, stemmed and torn (about 8 cups)
1 medium shallot
1/3 cup oil cured black olives, pitted and halved
2 Tbl capers, drained
2 Tbl olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced

juice of 1 lemon
pinch red pepper flakes
2 Tbl parsley, chopped

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and prepare pasta according to package directions (minus one minute).  Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.

While pasta cooks, heat oil over medium flame and saute shallots until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for one minute.  Add olives and red pepper flakes and cook until heated through, about 3 minutes.  Add kale and toss to wilt, about 2 minutes.  Add capers, lemon juice, and pasta.  Stir in enough pasta water to finish wilting the kale and make a light sauce.  Adjust seasoning and serve.

Easy, peasy, cool breezey.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

Looking for a diary free dinner that is full of flavor and takes about 15 minutes to make?

Give this a whirl!

Penne with Sun-Dried Tomato "Pesto" and Wilted Spinach.

The smoked paprika adds a surprising depth of flavor to the dish.

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbl pine nuts
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 Tbl red wine vinegar
1 tsp fresh thyme
1/4 cup olive oil
pinch of crushed red pepper
2 1/2 cups fresh spinach
16 oz whole grain penne

Cover tomatoes and garlic with boiling water in a bowl and allow to steep for 15 minutes.  Drain and reserve 1/4 cup of the liquid.  Transfer softened tomatoes and garlic to a food processor.  Add pine nuts, vinegar, paprika, thyme, red pepper, and 2 Tbl of the reserved steeping liquid.  Pulse until smooth, adding more water if necessary. With the motor running, add olive oil.

Prepare pasta in salted water according to the instructions.  Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water and drain.  Return pasta to pot, add 1/2 pesto, spinach and pasta water.  Toss until pesto becomes a smooth sauce and spinach has wilted.  Garnish with pine nuts.