Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thank Goodness There’s a Salad
What’s cooking? French Caesar Salad and Grapefruit-Pomegranate Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

A couple of reminders from the Kitchen Goddess on Thanksgiving prep: Here are the links to my coverage on a couple of topics you may find helpful.

1. Don't forget about the candles. See my post on Candles.

2. Need ideas on table setting or napkin folding? I covered both in a post on Napkin Folding and Other Obsessions.

And before I move on to today’s topic, I’d like to say how thankful I am for all of you who show up to laugh with me or cook with me – hopefully both. You inspire me. I wish you all a weekend of fun and good food!

* * *

Amid the piles of carbohydrates on the Thanksgiving table, it’s always a relief to find the occasional bit of green or fruit. And I don’t know about you, but I get really tired of the same old salads. So here to help you out are a couple of what I hope are fresh ideas. The only part of any of these that’s a bit tedious is the grapefruit sectioning, but you can do that the day ahead.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fancy That! Day 4 of the Veggie Marathon
What’s cooking? Asparagus Coins

This is it, folks. The end of the veggie marathon. Next week, I’ll have a couple of posts on salad possibilities, so come see me then.

Today, the Kitchen Goddess has outdone herself. Now, I will warn you ahead of time that this process will seem a bit precious – the idea of blending and straining to produce ½ cup of Parsley Water, for example. I get it – even the name, Parsley Water, sounds ridiculous and frou-frou. But you must trust me when I say how amazing this dish is, and on so many levels.

First, the look is just great, don’t you think? I mean, who would ever get the idea of slicing asparagus into those tiny circles? Thomas Keller, the chef-owner of The French Laundry in Napa Valley and Per Se in Manhattan, that’s who. They remind me of that great scene in the movie Big, when Tom Hanks gnaws away at the tiny baby corn cob. Ridiculous? Maybe, but also totally fun. And the color is a spectacular green.

Second, the taste is simply out of this world. Light and unbelievably fresh – the full asparagus flavor with a natural sweetness, and a hint of the herbs in the sauce. The texture is slightly crisp yet not at all raw. You will want to eat the entire dish yourself.

And finally, it doesn’t really take that much time. Certainly not on the day of the meal. You can make the Chive Oil and the Parsley Water a couple of days ahead, and you can slice the asparagus a couple of hours ahead and keep them in the fridge in an airtight container. Once you start the actual cooking, it’s no more than 6 minutes before you’re done.

Kitchen Goddess note: This recipe will take hours longer if you are not careful with the mandoline slicer and accidentally remove the tip of your little finger and have to call your son the almost-doctor to find out what to do. And then you will spend at least the next couple of days with your little finger wrapped in gauze and surgical tape. So take a lesson from the KG and watch what you’re doing with that slicer.

By the way, I should mention that I had a bumper crop of chives in my garden this year, so I doubled the recipe for the Chive Oil and put some in small jars for a few of my friends. It’s a bright emerald green (see photo below), with a light, clean flavor, and goes well drizzled on green vegetables or a sautéed fish fillet.

Asparagus Coins

Adapted from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home

1½ pounds asparagus (best is thickness of ¼-⅜ inch), tough ends removed
3 tablespoons Chive Oil (see below)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons Parsley Water (see  below)

Special equipment: Japanese mandoline slicer

Divide the asparagus into two bunches so that the tips are even, and wrap each bundle securely with a rubber band. Cut the spears to be all the same length. Holding a bundle upright, slice in ⅛-inch rounds on a mandoline. You’ll need to move the rubber bands closer to the tips once or twice as you go, and to rotate the bundles as you hold them, to keep the slices uniform. Stop when the remaining tips are 2-2½ inches long. Kitchen Goddess note: It’s possible – if you’re careful – to thinly slice the bundles even when the lengths aren’t exactly the same. Or you can use a chef’s knife to slice the asparagus into thin rounds.

Set a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the Chive Oil and the asparagus tips, season with salt and pepper, and sauté, stirring. You want to make sure the tips get well coated in the oil. Cook 1½-2 minutes until the tips are beginning to sizzle.

I love this shot with the steam coming off the pan, don't you? Very surreal.

Add the asparagus rounds and continue to sauté, stirring, until the rounds look cooked on the edges but not in the centers, about 2 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons of the Parsley Water and continue to cook, stirring, another 1½-2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the final tablespoon of Parsley Water, stirring to coat. Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

Parsley Water

Makes ½ cup

6 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 tablespoon honey
3 cups flat-leaf parsley (leaves and tender stems), washed and patted dry

Put the water in a small bowl in the freezer until a thin film of ice forms on top.

Set a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Stir in the honey and allow it to caramelize lightly (about 5 seconds), then add the parsley and stir quickly to coat with the honey for about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and scrape the contents into the ice water.

Put the parsley and liquid into a blender and blend until smooth. (I never actually reached the smooth stage – perhaps the difference between working with my Cuisinart blender and Keller’s commercial Vita-Mix blender – but by scraping down the inside and reblending a couple of times, got a very serviceable result.) Strain the contents through a fine-mesh strainer and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

Parsley water keeps 2-3 days in the fridge or can be frozen for up to a month.

Chive Oil

Makes about ¾ cup.

1 cup chives, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 cup canola oil

Place the chives in mesh strainer and run under hot tap water for a minute, to soften and remove chlorophyll taste. Drain and blot as dry as possible.

Add half the chives to a blender with half the oil, and blend for 2 minutes. Add half the remaining chives and oil to cover, and blend another 2 minutes. Add the remaining chives and oil and blend a final 2 minutes. Store in a container in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Stretch a piece of cheesecloth across the top of a small bowl and secure tightly with a rubber band. Pour the chive oil mixture onto the cheesecloth and allow to drip through for 1-2 hours.

Carefully remove the cheesecloth so it doesn’t droop down into the bowl of oil, and discard the solids remaining on the cheesecloth. The oil can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, or in the freezer for a month.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fancy That! Day 3 of the Veggie Marathon
What’s cooking? Spinach and Sautéed Mushrooms

In an interview on NPR the other day, I heard my favorite poet, Billy Collins, describe poetry as “the spinach of literature.”

That’s how bad it’s gotten for poor spinach. Despite its position near – if not at – the top of the list of the world’s healthiest foods, spinach suffers disparaging remarks from all sorts of otherwise good people.

■ “I detest spinach because of its utterly amorphous character....the only good, noble and edible thing to be found in that sordid nourishment is the sand.” – Salvador Dali, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali

■ “I don’t like spinach, and I’m glad I don’t, because if I liked it I’d eat it, and I just hate it.” – Clarence Darrow

■ “On the subject of spinach: divide into little piles. Rearrange again into new piles. After five or six maneuvers, sit back and say you are full.” – Delia Ephron, How To Eat Like A Child

■ “It’s broccoli, dear.” “I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.” – cartoon caption for The New Yorker by E.B.White

But consider this:

1. One cup of cooked spinach provides 10 times your daily need for vitamin K, 3 times the daily need for vitamin A, and more than 25% of the daily need for vitamin C, manganese, folate, magnesium, and iron.

2. That folate I mentioned? It prevents spina bifida in developing fetuses, and has been shown to reduce the rate of age-related cognitive decline. (I’m sorry, what was I saying?...) Folate (folic acid, or vitamin B9) also reduces blood pressure.

3. A recent study of the impact of vegetable intake on the risk of prostate cancer found that only spinach delivered significant protection. Other diseases spinach helps to prevent: heart disease, osteoporosis, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, and arthritis.

So what can we as cooks do to help our precious families and friends beyond the standard dictum to “Eat your spinach, dear. It’s good for you.” (I actually heard my grandmother say that to my mother when my mother was in her late 50s. It’s hard to stop mothering.)

Well, first, we can cook it not so much. Fresh spinach salads are great, but the Kitchen Goddess is all about cooking vegetables this week. Just not cooking them too much. Cooking spinach will help get rid of the oxalic acid in the leaves, which not only helps you absorb the minerals better – it also makes the leaves taste sweeter.

The best way to cook spinach is to steam it. If you prefer to boil it, do so for only a minute, so you don’t lose all that good folate. And the Kitchen Goddess finds that if you pair your spinach with something really yummy, like sautéed mushrooms, it all gets eaten – even by people who might otherwise just push it around the plate.

Kitchen Goddess note: Spinach can’t be cooked in advance. On the other hand, you’re only cooking it for a minute. But you can cook the mushrooms an hour or two earlier and reheat them in a sauté pan before you cook the spinach. And you can wash the spinach ahead of time – just make sure to lightly rinse the leaves again right before you cook them so that there will be some water on the leaves.

Spinach and Sautéed Mushrooms

2-2½ pounds fresh spinach
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
1-1½ pounds mushrooms (white button or crimini), cleaned and stems trimmed; mushrooms left whole if small, sliced thickly or quartered if large
freshly grated nutmeg

Garnish: lemon wedges

If you are using mature spinach, soak well to remove any sand, and discard the stems; if using baby spinach, remove as many of the long stems as you have the patience for and lightly rinse the leaves before cooking.

In a medium sauté pan over medium-low heat, melt the butter and oil. Add the onion and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 2 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high, and when the oil is very hot, add the mushrooms. Sauté the mushrooms, using a combination of techniques that include stirring and tossing the mushrooms and shaking the pan, for 4-5 minutes. At first, the mushrooms will absorb all the fat, then after 2-3 minutes, they’ll release some of that fat and begin to brown. Once they have browned lightly, remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and nutmeg, and cover to keep warm.

In a larger skillet – one with a cover – place the spinach (with just the water that clings to the leaves). Add 2-3 pinches of salt and some nutmeg. Cover and cook over medium-high heat, turning the leaves a couple of times, until just wilted, about a minute. Drain in a colander, pressing the leaves gently with the back of a wooden spoon to release excess liquid. Fluff up the leaves with your fingers.

In a warmed serving dish, place the spinach around the edge and spoon the mushrooms into the center. Garnish with lemon wedges.

Serves 6-8.

Kitchen Goddess final note: If you have any of this left over, throw it all – mushrooms and spinach – into a skillet with a small can of diced tomatoes and a little tomato paste, heat it up, and stir in some pasta. Cover it all with finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and call it dinner.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fancy That! Day 2 of the Veggie Marathon
What’s cooking? Gem-cut Carrots

This is the second in a series of four posts to present veggies as the gorgeous foods that they are. On the theory that what looks good tastes better.

I’m not sure how husbands and wives ever work together, unless the wife just says “Okay, honey,” and follows his instructions. It doesn’t seem to work well at our house in the reverse – i.e., when the wife (that would be me) is giving the instructions. Maybe it’s my tone of voice. Or my tendency to assume the role of the Hollywood director. Maybe he’s just too sensitive for this job. In any case, you can’t even imagine how fraught with potholes was the process of getting these photos. (I know, I should have done a tiny video, but if this series took three takes, I don’t even want to imagine the process.)

The important thing I wanted to show you today is this really lovely way of cutting carrots so that they don’t look like something out of a can. I got this technique from one of my classes at the Culinary Institute, and while it takes a bit of practice, it’s much easier than it looks.

Step 1: Holding the knife at a 45º angle to the carrot, cut the tip of the carrot off to create a clean angled edge.

Step 2: Roll the carrot 180º, keeping the knife at the same 45º angle.

Step 3: Slice the carrot at the point of the cut edge nearest you, to produce a carrot piece with two angled edges.

Step 4: Roll the carrot back 180º – still keeping the knife at the same 45º angle – and make another cut as in Step 3.

Step 5: Keep rolling the carrot back and forth as you cut, always maintaining the knife at the same 45º angle to the carrot.

It’s called a gem cut, and when you’re finished, the darlings really do look like bright orange gems. The same cut works well for parsnips, too.

For cooking the carrots, I adapted a recipe from Thomas Keller’s wonderful book of family-style recipes, Ad Hoc at Home. And here’s a confession: I bought the non-organic carrots because I believe they’re sweeter than the organic ones.

Kitchen Goddess note: These carrots may be cooked a day ahead, stopping before you add the last 2 tablespoons of butter, and refrigerated in their liquid. Then when you are ready to serve, reheat them in a sauté pan, reducing the liquid just slightly, and swirl in the extra butter.

Gem-Cut Carrots

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, separated
2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut in gem shapes
kosher salt
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds (or 1 teaspoon ground coriander)
2 tablespoons dry sherry or Madeira
1 cup fresh carrot juice (alternatively, you can use fresh-squeezed orange juice)
large pinch of sweet curry powder

Garnish (optional): Quinoa Crispies

In a large sauté pan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the carrots, season lightly with salt, and cook, stirring frequently, for 7-8 minutes, lowering the heat if necessary to keep the carrots from browning.

In the meantime, put the caraway seeds and the coriander seeds into a sachet bag. Set the bag aside. (If you use ground coriander, stir it into the carrots when the carraway seeds go in. And if, like me, you don't mind the presence of carraway seeds in the dish, there's no need for a sachet bag at all. It’s just a bit more elegant without them.)

Add the sherry and continue to cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes. Add the carrot juice, the curry powder, and the sachet, and allow the carrots to just simmer another 4-6 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally, until the carrots are tender enough to your liking. (The timing will depend on the size of your carrot gems.)

Remove the sachet and turn the heat to medium high, to reduce the sauce slightly, and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, one tablespoon at a time. Season to taste with salt, and garnish with Quinoa Crispies. Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fancy That! Putting Verve into Your Veggies
What's cooking? Haricots Verts

The Kitchen Goddess wanted badly to include in this post three veggie side dishes – all beautifully presented. But then she got a little wordy here, and the post was going to be so long that only the most die-hard fans would have read to the end. Therefore, as a special pre-Thanksgiving treat, Spoon & Ink will be presenting a different vegetable dish – appropriately gussied up – every day this week through Friday. So come on back again tomorrow, and happy cooking, y'all!

It’s pretty widely known that the sense of smell is critical to the sense of taste. In fact, taste is mainly smell, and what we think of as “taste” is more properly called “flavor” – a combination of taste, smell, texture (also known as “mouthfeel”) and other factors such as temperature.  But according to Nestlé scientist Dr. Julie Hudry, “The individual’s evaluation of food, before it is eaten, is a crucial stage, not only for making nutritional choices, but for impacting the entire eating experience.”

Get that? The way food looks helps us decide – before we take a bite – whether we’ll enjoy it. So if we want our families and friends to make more healthful choices, we need to make the broccoli look as yummy as the sausage dressing.

The Kitchen Goddess has long been an advocate of great presentation. Before now, though, I’ve figured that was just because I like anything to look good. Strong colors, nice shapes, thoughtful arrangement on a plate. But now I can be even more zealous, knowing it will encourage my family and friends to eat the turnips and cauliflower.

So, away with those limp green beans, those carrot coins reminiscent of school cafeteria lunches, and that olive-toned spinach. Let the Kitchen Goddess show you how to add zest to your zucchini, panache to your peas, and flair to your fava beans. (I’m not actually addressing those particular veggies, but it was fun thinking up the alliterations.)

Today – and for the rest of this week – the Kitchen Goddess brings you a little bit of presentation magic. Together, we will get some sparkle and vitamins into your meal.

Haricots Verts – Little Green Bundles of Joy

Our first makeover candidate is green beans – specifically haricots verts, those long, thin French beans that at least in my grocery store come packed in 1- or 2-pound bags. Soooo easy. (Of course, you can do this with American green beans, but the French beans are tenderer, crisper, and have a slightly sweeter taste.) Here’s how we make them lovely as well.

Beans don’t take long to cook, so get ready:

■ A large pot of heavily salted boiling water – as in one cup of salt per gallon of water. This amount of salt accomplishes two important objectives: it keeps the color of the vegetables from leaching out into the water, and it seasons the food in a nice, all-around way. And use lots of water in the boiling because you want the water not to lose its boil when you drop the cold vegetables into it. Any time the temperature drops below the boiling point, the vegetables release enzymes that dull the color, and we want bright, vibrant color. (You’ll be truly amazed at the color you get.)

■ An ice-water bath for the cooked beans.

■ A drying rack set over a baking sheet and covered with paper towels.

Trim just the stem end of the beans and let them soak in a bowl of water until you’re ready to cook. Don’t try to cook too many pieces at a time. (In a gallon of water, I’ll cook the beans in batches of 15-20.)

Drop the beans into the boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes. Test one at the 2-minute mark, and see how you like it. When they’re done to your liking, remove them quickly and put them into the ice bath just until they’re cold (30-45 seconds). Drain the cooled beans on the paper towel-lined rack.

For the presentation, I took long chive leaves and tied them around bundles of 15 beans each. Fast and easy. You can store them on a covered tray in the fridge this way for a day.

Also on the day before serving, sauté 1 cup of Panko crumbs in 2 tablespoons of butter on medium-high for 3-3½ minutes. Add a little salt and store overnight in an airtight container.

Let the beans come to room temperature for at least an hour before serving. When you’re ready to serve, drizzle either a teaspoon of melted butter or a teaspoon of vinaigrette on each bundle, and sprinkle them with toasted Panko crumbs. Serve them individually on small plates, as I did here, or set up a platter with all the bundles arranged on it. You can also add sliced almonds if you like.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Red, Red Wine (with apologies to Bob Marley and UB40)
What’s cooking? Brasato al Barolo on Creamy Polenta

If you want to have even more fun and sing along as you read this post, click here.

As much as I love to cook, I’m not all that fond of red wine. And in the grand irony that shows up in many marriages, red wine is what my husband loves most to drink. So he’s always happy when he hears me say that I’ve bought a nice piece of beef to cook for dinner.

“So, my love, how will we be cooking that steak?” he asks.

“Well, I found this very interesting marinade,” I say. “It’s got soy sauce, and sesame oil, and...”

Then I stop because I notice his facial muscles have achieved a pained look, and he’s holding his head in his hands, making those motions that suggest he’s about to start pulling his hair out. He wants it simply done, so he can pull out one of his big Italian reds. That’s just not the way I think.

But this spring, we joined a small group that wants to do gourmet dinners in which everyone prepares a course. Our turn to do the main course was in October, so I promised to plan around the wine, instead of the other way.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Together Again
What’s cooking? Roasted Asparagus with Quinoa Crispies

I’ve recently come back from a reunion with a group of women who were my pledge class sorority sisters. It’s been a long time since our college days, but this is now our third get-together in the last six years, and the enthusiasm for them doesn’t seem to be waning. Each time, some 15-20 of the original 25 show up.

Oddly enough, this year also witnessed a reuniting of my husband’s college friends, who as a group (22, including spouses) have been committed to gathering every other year for the past seven years. So what is it that has us now compulsively revisiting those who knew us when?

Part of it, of course, is that we finally have the time. The kids are grown, we’re at least semi-retired from work, and if we manage the venue well enough, it’s a pretty cheap getaway. Yet it’s the deeper desire –  to revisit who we were when we were still raw and unformed, to recognize and reflect on the distances we’ve traveled, to recast ourselves in the light of maturity – that I think exerts the real pull.