October 30, 2010

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry

We tried out this stir fry not too long ago and it left us wondering - why haven't we been making more stir fries? You get meat, veggies, rice, and delicious sauce, all mixed together on your plate. There's garlic and ginger, which are both excellent things. It's pretty quick and easy to make, with minimal clean-up. Once you have the basic technique and ingredients down, it's easy to make endless variations with your favorite meats (or no meat) and veggies. We've made a couple stir fry and noodle recipes from Epicurious before creating this one, and found that these Asian condiments are well worth having in your pantry: oyster sauce, soy sauce, and hot chili oil (basically soy and peanut oil with chili flakes). They add great flavor (savoriness and spice) and can be used in all sorts of Asian dishes.

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry (serves 2)

- 1/2 lb flank steak
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- Black pepper
- 1/2 tsp chili oil
- Vegetable oil for cooking
- 1 small to medium sized head of broccoli, stem removed and broken into individual florets
- 1 carrot, cut into julienne
- 4 green onions, cut into thin slices
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tsp chopped fresh ginger
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp stock (actually we had no stock on hand this time around and used some white wine instead, which tasted just fine. You could use both. Most similar recipes we've looked at call for sherry, but that's not something that we usually have on hand, and white wine does the trick)
- Handful of cashews

Slice the steak into strips as thin as possible and put them in a bowl with the oyster sauce, chili oil, and some generous grindings of black pepper. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes. If you're making rice, you'll want to get this started before you start cooking the stir fry, which cooks up quite quickly (especially if you want brown rice, which takes around 45 minutes to cook).

Heat the oil over medium heat in a cast-iron skillet or wok (both are great for stir fries but if you don't have either any skillet will do). When it's hot, add the beef, making sure to turn the pieces over occasionally and cook until just cooked through (about 5 minutes). Using a slotted spoon, remove the beef from the pan and set aside on an extra plate.

Add a little more oil if needed and put the broccoli and carrots in the skillet. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the green onions. Cook until the broccoli and carrots are tender (about 8-12  minutes total, longer if the recipe size is increased). Remove the vegetables from the skillet and put them on the plate with the beef.

To make the sauce, add the stock and/or wine, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger to the pan. Cook until the garlic and ginger are fragrant and the sauce is slightly thickened, then put the beef and vegetables back into the skillet, mix well, and when everything is warm and coated in sauce, serve over rice. Sprinkle a handful of cashews on top, if desired.

October 26, 2010

Jammy Granola Bars

It was rainy this weekend and I was still trying to get over a cold that has managed to last four weeks, so we were pretty well stuck in the house. This is definitely a situation that calls for for baking, but there was one problem: we didn't have any eggs, and the rain and the cold made it unlikely that we were going out in search of them. We had to find something that we could make with the ingredients we had on hand, and once again The Craft of Baking came in very handy with an appealing recipe for raspberry granola bars, which called for butter, flour, sugar, oats (no problem on all of those), pecans (to be replaced with a combination of almonds, cashews, and pumpkin seeds), and raspberry jam (we had some blackberry jam in the fridge).

We made a few adjustments to the recipe (other than the replacements necessitated by what we had in our kitchen). First of all, the original called for a stick and a half of butter. Now, we have no problem with butter, but we just couldn't bring ourselves to put this much into something that we were preparing ourselves, especially since it was supposedly a "breakfast" item. A stick of butter in the croissant I bought from the French bakery? No problem; I didn't see it go in. But a stick and a half in my granola bars? Surely we could make do with less.

We also cut down the sugar a bit, and added a little molasses to deepen the flavor and help hold the dough together (since we had cut out a quarter of the butter). We also added vanilla and cinnamon, because those two things are almost always a good idea. The result: great success! These granola bars are dense, flavorful, and strike a nice balance between sweet and savory. You get a nice sweetness from the jam but the bar part itself is not overly sweet, letting the nut and oat flavors shine through. These are a legitimate, filling, nutritious breakfast food, but also tasty enough to satisfy a sweet tooth for an afternoon snack. The basic recipe could easily be adapted: if you want them a bit sweeter try adding some honey to the molasses/butter mixture; or skip the jam and mix chocolate chips, raisins, or other dried fruit into the dough. Or keep the jam and go all out! Whatever you do, we think you will enjoy these granola bars.

Jammy Granola Bars (makes 9 - 12)
Adapted from The Craft of Baking

- 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick)
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup chopped toasted nuts of your choice
- 1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 and 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 cup to 1 cup jam (we used half a cup because that's what we had; the original recipe calls for a cup. Half a cup worked, but you might want more).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line the bottom of an 8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat (we browned it but honestly couldn't really taste the brown butter among all the other flavors). Remove from heat and let cool, then stir in the molasses and vanilla.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, sugars, salt, baking soda, and nuts. Pour in the butter mixture and mix well. Put about half to two thirds of the dough into the bottom of your baking pan and press down, packing it firmly and distributing it evenly throughout the pan. Spread the jam over the layer of dough, pour the rest of the dough on top of the jam and press down.

Bake for 45 minutes (we didn't really notice a color change but it was definitely fragrant when done). Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool completely on a wire rack before cutting. Cut into 9 or 12 squares (we did 9 but these bars are quite dense and filling, so 12 would probably be appropriate, depending on your appetite).

October 23, 2010

Lentil Soup with Andouille Sausage

We've learned quite a bit about Andouille sausages recently, starting with the very simple fact that we like them. A lot. They have a wonderful spicy smoky flavor and just a little bit of these tasty sausages adds a whole lot of flavor to a dish. They are a perfect match for hearty, earthy lentil soup; put them in and you will barely need to add any other flavor. The lentils take a bit of time to cook (about an hour) but much less compared to other dried beans, and overall there is very little prep time to this recipe. This soup is a great lunch on a cold fall or winter day, and hearty enough to be served for dinner as well - it would be wonderful paired with a piece of crusty bread or even a grilled cheese sandwich, as we did (we've recently become obsessed with a smoked cheddar that we discovered, so we had a very smoky meal).

Oh, did you want to know the other things that we learned about Andouille? Well, first of all, it's kind of sort of French, or at the very least seems to have come from France but really took on its current state in Louisiana, and is a big part of cajun cooking. There is an Andouille festival in LaPlace, Louisiana (which we apparently just missed!). According to Wikipedia, it's made with pork, pepper, and garlic, and is smoked over pecan wood and sugarcane. And perhaps the most important thing that we learned (although I already knew this from personal, terrible experience): "though somewhat similar, it is not to be confused with andouillette." Thank you for that advice, Wikipedia, though it comes a little late, because in France I once DID confuse andouille with andouillette, and when my dinner came it was certainly not what I expected. I won't go into detail here, though, because I don't want to ruin your appetite - I will allow the curious to click on the link and learn why, exactly, one should not confuse these two sausages. On to the good stuff...

Lentil Soup (serves 4-5)

- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
- 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
- 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 and 1/3 cups dried French lentils
- 3 and 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 Andouille sausage (about 1/2 pound), chopped into pieces to your liking
- Salt and black pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium sized saucepan. When the oil is hot, add the carrot, shallot, celery, and rosemary. Cook until fragrant and soft. Add the lentils, stock, and sausage, bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down to low, cover the soup, and cook until the lentils are tender, about one hour. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

This soup would lend itself well to a number of variations - if you want to go veggie, leave out the sausage, but we would recommend adding a bit more seasoning (cayenne pepper would be nice). You could make it a bit Middle Eastern by adding lamb sausage and cumin and curry. You could throw in some dark greens (like kale or chard), chopped tomatoes, or potatoes. It's hard to go wrong with lentil soup!

October 20, 2010

Apple Cider Bread

There isn't a whole lot to say about this recipe, other than that baked apples in pretty much any form (crisp, cobbler, tart, sauce, muffin) are delicious, and that we must have forgotten about that when we started mourning the end of summer and berry season. In the past week, we've consumed apple sauce, apple crisp, and are obviously not tired of apples because today we decided to work on perfecting a recipe that caught our eye in The Craft of Baking.

The first time we made this recipe, which was originally for muffins, the result tasted pretty good. We loved how it the grated apples gave it a very moist texture similar to banana bread, and the cider added a nice kick to the flavor. But we found that the batter was a bit too liquid (making the muffins flat and small), too sweet, and lacked the kick from the spices that are the baked apple's best friend. We adjusted the proportions a bit (less liquid, more flour, and more cinnamon, plus ginger and nutmeg) and changed from muffin to loaf (because we thought the muffins would come out too small since they didn't rise much last time, though our new batter was much less liquid and would probably work fine as a muffin). We are very pleased with the result, and happy after all that fall is here.

Apple Cider Bread (makes about 6 servings)
Adapted from The Craft of Baking

- 1 medium granny smith apple (or other tart baking apple)
- 1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 and 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup apple cider
- 1/4 cup yogurt (or sour cream)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Pinch of cinnamon and sugar (we used demarara) to sprinkle on top of the loaf

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a standard loaf pan with parchment paper, and butter the sides. Grate the apple using the largest holes on a grater. Put the grated apple in a strainer and give it a gentle squeeze to remove as much of the liquid as possible.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, sugar, egg, apple cider, yogurt, and vanilla. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined, then fold in the grated apple. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the loaf cool in the pan for 20 - 30 minutes before removing it, then let cool completely on a wire rack.

October 14, 2010

Pumpkin Ravioli

We've been thinking about Thanksgiving a lot recently. After all, it's a holiday with very little pretense of being about anything other than food. Michael's parents and brother and my dad will be coming here for the big feast (it was our idea, but fortunately, it wasn't very hard to convince them). Our plan is to experiment with fall flavors but not feel tied to the standard traditions of turkey/stuffing/sweet potato, etc. We were intrigued by a recipe for pumpkin gnocchi at Delicious Days, but then Michael's parents told us about some delicious pumpkin ravioli they get at a Whole Foods in Connecticut, and we just got a new ravioli maker, so we had to test out a pumpkin ravioli recipe.

The ravioli was not entirely a success, but that's mostly because of the ravioli maker itself. The dough stuck to the metal piece that's meant to cut the noodles apart, and it did not cut them, either, so pulling them out by hand resulted in a pretty big mess. We ended up making the rest by hand, which worked far better. Note that it was a Smitten Kitchen post that had inspired us to buy the ravioli maker in the first place, and that we (okay, I) are apparently not very good readers. I just saw the beautiful pictures and wanted to make ravioli with my very own ravioli maker, but did not read the entire post where she talks about the same exact problem that we had. Oops.

The good news is that the pumpkin filling was excellent. This was the first time that we had cooked with a real live pumpkin, and though it was labor intensive, we think that the work was worth it. It was savory and sweet and rich and creamy without being overwhelming, and made our whole kitchen smell like fall. We had plenty of leftover pumpkin that would be well suited to other applications - we're planning to make a risotto with the pumpkin stirred in to coat the rice, then add some sauteed chard. You could also do a lasagna with béchamel, or just serve the pumpkin itself as a side - a more flavorful mashed potato! We served the ravioli with a brown butter sage sauce, which was a perfect complement to the dish.

Pumpkin Mash (makes enough for ravioli for three, plus extra)

- 1 medium sized sugar pie pumpkin
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 1/2 cup stock, plus more if necessary
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp turbinado, demarara, or dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

First you need to butcher the pumpkin. Slice it into eighths and remove the skin with a paring knife. Scrape out the seeds and stringy interior, and chop the flesh into half inch cubes. Heat some butter in a medium skillet over medium heat, then add the shallots and let cook until fragrant. Add the cubed pumpkin and all other ingredients, and mix well. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is very soft (about 30 minutes). Add additional stock if it starts looking too dry. Gently mash pumpkin with the back of a spoon, and let cook for another 15 minutes. If you want a finer purée, put it in the food processor.

Ravioli (for three servings)

If you don't have a pasta maker, you can buy pre-made wonton wrappers.

- 1 cup of flour
- 2 eggs

Make a mound of flour on a working surface. Make a well in the middle of the flour and put the eggs into the well. Use a fork to gently incorporate the eggs into the flour. Knead with your hands for a minute or two, adding additional flour until you have a slightly sticky dough.

Make balls about two inches in diameter, and put them through the pasta maker to make sheets as thin as you can (we use setting 6 on ours). Lay a sheet of pasta flat on your working surface, and place tablespoons of pumpkin filling about two inches apart. Lay another sheet on top and with your fingers, carefully press down between the ravioli. Use a pastry cutter or sharp knife to cut the ravioli apart. Cook in boiling water for 2 - 3 minutes.

Sage Brown Butter (for three servings)

- 2 tbsp butter
- 4 sage leaves, chopped

Melt the butter over medium heat and add the sage leaves. Cook, stirring frequently, until the butter has turned slightly brown (you will smell a nutty smell and see that the butter has separated and that the bits of fat have turned brown). When finished, toss with the cooked ravioli and some freshly grated parmesan cheese.

October 10, 2010

Cauliflower Mac and Cheese Gratinée

Macaroni and cheese was probably the first thing that my mother taught me how to cook, and it was one of the few things I knew how to cook well when Michael and I met. It is the quintessential comfort food for me, and it used to be my go-to dish when I was cooking alone. Michael likes it too, of course - who wouldn't? But he feels that a mound of carbohydrates and cheese is just not enough to satisfy him. And recently, when Michael has been out of town and I've cooked for myself, I've found myself moving away from mac and cheese and cooking things that involve more veggies. Maybe that means I'm a grown-up?

So, we've been working on ways to make this classic dish more hearty, satisfying, and nutritious. We've also been pondering the great mac and cheese conundrum: the crispy top produced by baking is delicious, but baking dries out the creaminess of the sauce, which is one of the best parts. We tried a lot of different vegetables and we fell in love with cauliflower in mac and cheese - it has a perfect, slightly crisp texture and a flavor that blends nicely with cheese. Mushrooms add a nice earthiness, and using gruyere cheese really elevates the flavor of the dish. We also decided to top it off with breadcrumbs and brown the dish quickly in the broiler so that we could have the best of both worlds: crispy and brown on top, creamy and smooth inside.

There are plenty of variations on this recipe; we also really like it with a leafy green like chard or kale in addition to the cauliflower.

Cauliflower Mac and Cheese Gratinée (serves 4)

- Olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 a large head of cauliflower, broken up into florets
- 1/2 pound matsutake or other wild mushrooms, sliced
- 10 oz penne pasta
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp flour
- 3/4 cup milk (we used 1%; any fat content will work)
- 1 cup grated gruyere cheese
- 1 cup fine breadcrumbs
- Salt and black pepper to taste

Heat some of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and let it cook just until fragrant (about 2 minutes). Add the cauliflower, season with salt and pepper, and cook until tender but still slightly crisp (about 10 minutes). If the cauliflower gets too dry, add a splash of wine, stock, or water to deglaze the pan. Remove the cauliflower and set aside.

In the same skillet, heat more oil at just over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook until all the water has evaporated and the mushrooms are tender and slightly browned (about 10 minutes). Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside.

At this point, begin cooking the pasta according to your package's directions. Meanwhile, make the sauce. First melt the butter in the same skillet over medium heat. Once it has melted, add the flour, mix well, and let the two bubble together for a couple of minutes before whisking in the milk. 

Keep whisking until the milk has thickened. Add the cheese, salt, and pepper, mix well, and put the cauliflower and mushrooms in to rewarm them. When the pasta is ready, mix all ingredients in a baking dish. 

Turn the broiler on to high and put the baking dish in. Bake until the top is golden brown (about 5 minutes) - you'll want to keep a careful eye on this one, since there's a fine line between perfect and burnt!

October 5, 2010

Sweet Potato Enchiladas with Refried Beans

I have always loved sweet potatoes, but Michael has been fairly lukewarm on them. This is probably due to my sweet tooth and the fact that I always ate my sweet potatoes sweet - I'm talking baked with crispy golden marshmallows on top or mashed with tons of butter and brown sugar. Those things tasted good. But we both had a revelation about sweet potatoes when we tried a side dish of sweet potatoes at Doña Tomas, a California/Mexican restaurant in Oakland. The potatoes were sweet, savory, and spicy all at the same time, mashed with cumin and chili powder and other delicious Mexican spices. Michael was sold on sweet potatoes and I became a sweet potato convert - ah ha! Sweet potatoes are already sweet. What better way to enjoy them than by complementing the sweetness with savory and spicy flavors? (By the way, I'm not knocking the sweet sweet potatoes. if someone put a plate of sweet potato and marshmallow casserole in front of me right now, I would definitely eat it.)

So, we created this dish, using a green tomatillo sauce from Bon Appétit and adding a side of what we call refried beans (I say that we call them that because we haven't consulted any recipes here and are not really sure if they are authentic refried beans; we just put some things together, and they tasted good.) The enchiladas are also good with butternut squash or a combination of squash and sweet potato, and we've done it with the addition of fresh corn in the past, which was delicious. You could even put the beans inside the enchiladas rather than on the side.

Tomatillo Sauce (makes about 1 cup)
Adapted from Bon Appétit, July 1998

- 4 tomatillos
- 1/4 cup vegetable or chicken stock
- 1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro
- 3-4 chopped green onions, white part and a few inches of green
- 1/2 of a jalapeño
- Salt and black pepper to taste

Husk the tomatillos and remove the stems. Cook them in boiling water until they are just soft, about 4 minutes. Place tomatillos in a food processor with all other ingredients and puree.

Sweet Potato Enchiladas (makes 6)

- 1 large sweet potato or yam
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/2 of a small white onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/4 cup vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 6 corn tortillas, 6 inch diameter
- 1/2 cup coarsely grated pepper jack cheese or other soft, mild cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use a fork to poke holes in the sweet potato so that the juices can be released as it cooks. Put the potato on a piece of foil and bake until tender, about 1 hour. Let the sweet potato cool, peel of the skin, and chop into large pieces (or, if you're rushed, you can just burn your fingers!)

Heat the vegetable oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Cook the garlic and onion until soft, about five minutes. Add the sweet potato and the stock and cook together for 3-4 minutes. Then, using a potato masher or the back of a spoon, mash the potato until it is fairly smooth but still has some chunks. Add the butter, cumin, chili powder, cayenne, and salt and pepper, and mix well.

Before you assemble your enchiladas, check what kind of tortillas you have. We use a corn/wheat blend that is quite flexible, but many corn tortillas will break if you bend them when they are cool. If your tortillas are not flexible, moisten a paper towel and wrap the tortillas in it. Place them on a plate and warm in the oven for about ten minutes.

Put a thin layer of tomatillo sauce on the bottom of a baking dish. Scoop some sweet potato filling into a tortilla, add a sprinkling of cheese, roll the tortilla, and place it, seam down, in the baking dish. Continue until you've filled all your tortillas. Cover the enchiladas with the remaining tomatillo sauce and a sprinkling of cheese. Bake until they cheese is golden and bubbly, about 20 minutes.

"Refried" Beans

- 1 can of black beans, drained
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup onion, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, chopped
- 1 teaspoon chopped jalapeño
- 3 tbsp vegetable or chicken stock
- 1/2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- Salt and black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the onion, garlic, and jalapeño until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the black beans, stock, butter, and all the spices. Stir together until the butter has melted, then mash the beans in the same way you did for the sweet potatoes, leaving a few beans whole or not fully mashed.

(Notice that there are no pictures of the bean making process. We took some. They did not look appealing. Refried beans are not the most aesthetically pleasing food, but they are tasty!)