26 February 2013

Donor request: it's a wine and cheese party!

This one is going out to Eric Kent and Tiffini Electra X, who recently made a generous donation to DFT and requested a post on wine and cheese pairings.  You, too, can request a blog post if you donate here.  Thanks a million, Eric and Tiffini!

Cheese + sauce + bread = happiness
     + booze = perfection

Sharp cheeses (white cheddar, Irish cheddar) + spicy/sweet chutney (call me tacky, but I love cheap old Crosse and Blackwell's Major Grey's Chutney which is distributed by Smucker's in the States) + water crackers
     Best with: lagers, crisp white wines, gin cocktails

Nutty cheeses (sharp cheddar, Parmesan, Asiago) + tangy mustard (preferrably whole grain with some heat) + pumpernickel or rye toasts
     Best with: German beer!  Maybe some cut up flavorful sausage and little dill pickles, too!

Salty, milky cheeses (queso fresco thinly sliced) + tamarind paste (also thinly sliced) + [cracker optional]
     Best with: semi-sweet white wines, good rum or tequila on the rocks (This also works for dessert)

Stinky cheese (bleu, gorgonzola) + pear conserve  or marinated grapes + rye or fennel crackers
     Best with: Chardonnay, champagne

Creamy cheeses (brie, manchego, chevre) + balsamic fig spread + fluffy baguette slices
     Best with: a chilled glass of rose or a smoky Scotch on the rocks

Fresh mozarella + tomato slices + basil leaves + crusty bread (= deconstructed Caprese)
     Best with: Lambrusco or a fruity Merlot

I like to offer one of each--a sweet and a more pungent offering--and also put out a neutral nut like Tamari roasted almonds to act as a palate cleanser.  You can try to get away with offering one drink that works with both plates, but why be stingy?

22 February 2013

Indian Stir Fry with Okra

I bought a bag of frozen okra because it was there, and because I thought, "I like okra, so why don't I ever eat okra?".  Then it sat in the freezer so long that I started to get scared--should I eat it?  What is frozen okra like?  Will the sliminess make me puke when I'm cooking it?  And I also recalled that I've never had it prepared in a healthy way in my life--just as a fried side in Southern restaurants.  But I am cheap and I was determined to make good on the $1.99 + tax I paid for it.  And that's when it occurred to me that it isn't just Dixie natives who eat the stuff, it's people living in hot climes all over the world.  In particular, it shows up in Indian dishes.  They, too, seem to relegate okra to a side item, but why couldn't it be quickly stir fried on a busy weeknight?  And why couldn't a stir fry involve Indian, rather than Chinese, flavors?  

Indian Stir Fry with Okra

Serves 4

1 tablespoon peanut oil
½ yellow onion, diced
½ small Serrano pepper, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ lb. okra, trimmed and cut into ½-inch rings (frozen is also fine)
1 (14.5-oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
½ cup cooked chick peas
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Crushed peanuts for garnish

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm the peanut oil and sauté the onion until it starts to get soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the Serrano pepper, garlic, ginger, mustard seeds, and cumin seeds and continue to cook until seeds begin to sputter, about 4 minutes.  Add the okra and cook until it begins to brown, about 8 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes, curry powder, turmeric, chili powder, and about a teaspoon of salt.  Lower to medium heat, cover, and simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add cilantro, chick peas, and salt and pepper to taste.  Combine thoroughly and serve over basmati rice with crushed peanuts on the side to pour over the top.

19 February 2013

Recipe review: No-bake Energy Bites

This recipe has gone cyclically viral at least three times since I got on Pinterest, and each time I think silently in my head, "Oh, I love those things".  But who needs another bland thumbs-up on Pinterest?  So I am saying it loud and proud right here: "I love these things"!  They are tasty, quick to put together, and keep well in the fridge or freezer.  I have made them in a pinch when company was coming over and I had nothing to offer alongside nerve-rattlingly strong coffee, when we are out of cookies and my husband is starting to tear the kitchen apart looking for dessert, and just because I love chocolate and peanut butter together.  Everyone who has ever eaten one at our house loves them, and if you freeze them they'll keep for weeks (plus, you can eat them right out of the freezer--the fat content in the peanut butter keeps them from getting too hard).

The recipe I originally pinned comes from Gimme Some Oven's blog and can be found here.  I de-hippied them a little bit so that I wouldn't have to make a trip to Vitamin Cottage for ingredients, and the result is found below.

Be forewarned, though, fare reader--whenever a dessert-like item is presented to you, filled with fat and sugar, no less, as a "healthy snack", you know that's bullshit, right? These are globs of peanut butter, chocolate chips, and honey.  Don't eat too many in one sitting.

Photo from Gimme Some Oven.

No-bake Energy Bites

Makes about 20-25 balls

1 cup (dry) oatmeal (I also used old-fashioned oats)
2/3 cup coconut flakes
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup ground flaxseed 
1/2 cup chocolate chips 
1/3 cup honey 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl until thoroughly mixed. Let chill in the refrigerator for half an hour. Once chilled, roll into small balls. Store in an airtight container and keep refrigerated for up to 1 week, freezer up to 2 weeks.

15 February 2013

Peanut Butter Bars with Chocolate Chips Are For Non-Lovers

I didn't post any Valentine's recipes because, although I am happily married, I find that holiday nauseating. I will always hate it and think you are a tool for buying into those stupid Hallmark cards, heart-shaped pendants, and roses.  However, if you would like to drown your leftover irritation from this week in sugar, this post is for you.

This dough smells and tastes just like the inside of a Butterfinger, and when it's cooked, it becomes a salty-sweet masterpiece to rival any of those fancy salted caramels in the chocolate shops.  I love it with coffee, a glass of vanilla almond milk, or late at night after an alcohol-soaked night out.

Peanut Butter Bars with Chocolate Chips

3 eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
½ cup creamy peanut butter
¼ cup butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 teaspoons salt
¼ cup chopped salted peanuts
½ cup chocolate chips

Cream eggs, sugars, peanut butter, butter, and vanilla together until fluffy.  Add remaining ingredients and stir thoroughly (the dough will be thick and sticky).  Spread into a lightly greased 9 x 13 inch pan.  Bake at 325°F for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Cool and cut into squares.

My Sunday morning breakfast.

12 February 2013

Recipe review: Warm Farro with Winter Vegetables

Last summer I traveled to northern Italy and made a new friend named farro. I'd never heard of it before, and I have since stocked up and make it pretty often to take to work for lunch.  (Psst, you can buy it in large bags from Amazon for a pretty good price if you're interested.)  I tried Warm Farro with Winter Vegetables from La Cucina Italiana, an interesting magazine that mixes simple recipes with very complicated ones utilizing obscure ingredients, all the while curating rare, traditional Italian recipes and great information about Italian wines.  It's part cooking, part food history and genealogy, and it's a fascinating read if you are interested in Italian food culture, even when you can't make a thing from it.  

If you compare my version of the recipe with the original (linked above), you'll see I tried to save all the flavors present while pairing down the number of dirty pots and tedious steps to follow, a consistent complaint I have about the magazine.  I also bumped up the bacon content, so you're welcome. 

I usually eat salads for dinner, and this is a nice variation on the usual cold vegetables doused in vinegar when the house is feeling particularly drafty.  

Warm Farro with Winter Vegetables
Serves 4

  • zest of 1 orange
  • salt
  • 6 ounces kale, stems and center ribs discarded and sliced into thin ribbons (chiffonade)
  • 1 cup farro
  • 1/2  pound Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced
  • 4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 5 ounces cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch matchsticks
  • 1 1/2 cups cubed (about 1/2-inch), peeled butternut squash (from a 1 1/4-pound squash)
  • 2 slices bacon (optional), cut into small pieces
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • red wine vinegar
Bring 1 large pot of salted water to a boil. Add farro and cook, stirring occasionally, until farro is tender yet still firm, 20 to 25 minutes. 
While farro is cooking, set up a steamer insert (the kind that sits on top of the pot) filled with the Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and celery and cook over the farro.  Check occasionally; depending on how firm you want them, veggies should be done in 15-20 minutes. (If you don't have this kind of steamer, bummer for you--get one at Ikea.  For now, you can do it in a separate pot.)
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 375F.  Line a baking sheet with foil and scatter the cubed squash and bacon in a single layer.  Bake until squash is tender and bacon is crisp, about 25 minutes.

In the last 5 minutes of cooking the farro, stir in the sliced kale, and continue to boil until farro is done and kale is a bit wilted.  This is a good time to check the doneness of your steamed vegetables so that they don't get too mushy.
Drain the farro and kale and place in a large serving bowl along with the steamed vegetables, orange zest, bacon (go ahead and throw a little bit of the grease in there, too) and squash; stir to combine.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, drizzle with red wine vinegar, and enjoy! 

08 February 2013

Shepherd's Pie gets a makeover

I love Shepherd’s Pie, from the rich stew underneath to the crusty, golden brown mashed potatoes on top.  It’s a staple in British and Irish pubs, and it was a special treat we would occasionally eat at home growing up.  I equate it with cold winter nights, adventures abroad (in which I learned that many of my family's staple meals were merely rip-offs from the motherland), and the massive tangle that is Midwest-Irish-British-whatever-the-hell culture. But it’s filled with stuff I don’t eat much anymore: cheap cuts of meat, butter, loads of white potatoes… The trick is keep what’s best about the pie--the rich, hearty flavors and that fantastic crust on top--without creating a heart attack on a plate.  Easy.

Shepherd’s Pie, Made Over

1 small head cauliflower, roughly chopped
1 russet potato, peeled and chopped
2 small parsnips, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
¼ cup plain yogurt
4 oz. grated cheddar cheese (optional)
Salt and black pepper to taste

In a large pot of salty water, boil the cauliflower, potato, and parsnips until soft.  Drain and mash by hand with the garlic, yogurt, and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in cheddar cheese.  This step can be done the day before and refrigerated or can occur while you make the filling.

Olive oil
4 oz. dried shitake mushrooms, hydrated, drained of excess water, and chopped
½ cup broccoli florets and stems, chopped
1 small yellow onion, diced
½ green bell pepper, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon minced chives
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, pinch salt, and the smoked paprika and sauté until tender.  Stir in the broccoli, mushrooms, pepper, tomato paste, and red wine, lower to medium low heat, and cover.  Allow to stew about 10 minutes, remove from heat, and stir in chives and salt and pepper to taste.

Grease a a large pie pan or medium-sized casserole dish with a bit of olive oil.  Pour in the vegetable stew and smooth out so it’s even.  Spread the potato mixture on top, gently smoothing like a thick layer of icing over the stew.  If the potatoes are cold, cook uncovered in the oven for 20 minutes at 400°F before broiling; if everything is hot, place under the broiler and cook about 10 minutes, or until potato mixture gets browned.

Please, for the love of god, have this with a porter or stout while shouting over cheesy 80s punk music from the U.K.

05 February 2013

Recipe test: butternut squash and caramelized onion galette

Yes, it's another recipe test from Smitten Kitchen's new cookbook, and it's another keeper.  (It's also available on her blog here). With a side salad, this makes a terrific lunch or dinner, and there is something wonderfully romantic about its rustic nature alongside mismatched glasses of a funky French white wine.  Am I getting too Anthropologie on you?

I made a couple of adjustments: I used acorn squash instead of butternut, and I also used a homemade sourdough pizza crust my husband had made and put in the freezer.  I also threw in some smoked paprika because I thought the squash needed a little something-something. So, I've included those changes to the recipe pasted below; click on the above link for the original. 

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette

Serves 6

For a similar version of the sourdough crust, click here.

For the filling:
1 medium acorn squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced in half-moons
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
3/4 cup fontina cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces), grated or cut into small bits
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves

Make pizza crust following link above. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. cut squash in half and scoop out seeds. Lightly salt the flesh and place cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet.  Add water to the baking sheet until it's almost full and bake for 30 minutes or until pieces are tender. Set aside to cool slightly, then peel away the skin and cut into bite-sized pieces.

While squash is cooking, melt olive oil in a heavy skillet and cook onion over medium-low heat with the one teaspoon of the salt.  Stir occasionally and cook until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Stir in cayenne.

Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Mix squash, caramelized onions, smoked paprika, and herbs together in a bowl.

On a floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 12-inch round. Transfer to a pizza tray or baking sheet lined in parchment paper. Spread squash, onions, and herb mixture over the dough, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Fold the border over the squash, onion and cheese mixture, pleating the edge to make it fit. The center will be open. Sprinkle cheese on top, hitting some of the folded-over crust.

Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, let stand for 5 minutes, then slide the galette onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature. Serves 6.

01 February 2013

Chick Peas rule!

They're smooth and potato-y, packed with protein, high in fiber, and low in fat. The canned variety are OK, but I like to cook a big batch of chick peas in my pressure cooker and use them in salads, soups, and for impromptu hummus when friends drop in.  Here's another thing I found to do with them, a sort of smoother, Italian-flavored version of hummus, which stands in well for polenta or any other starch alongside fish or meat.

Chick Pea Puree with Basil

2 cups cooked chick peas
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 large handful fresh basil
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and black pepper to taste

Whir all ingredients together in a blender or food processor and season to taste. This will keep for a week in the refrigerator, though I don't recommend freezing--the texture gets weird.

Serve in place of polenta as a healthier side or under meats and fish.  Can also be stirred into hot cooked pasta as a sauce along with some fresh diced tomato.  OR, you can use it as the base of a soup--just add vegetable stock until you get a consistency you like, then toss in leftover vegetables and cooked rice or pasta.