Monthly Archives: April 2010

Ratatouille

This past weekend we had some close friends over for BBQ and Wii bowling.  We had planned on grilling some sausages and hot dogs – keeping it fairly simple.  However, (SG please accept my utmost apology), I forgot one of our lovely guests was a vegetarian.  Sitting at my desk at work I instantly purveyed the contents of my kitchen in my head: no veggie burgers, seafood, tofu, etc… Eggplant – Yes!  I had some eggplant, onions, garlic, a green pepper, an orange pepper, fresh parsley, and some tomatoes – all the fixings of a pseudo-ratatouille, minus the zucchini.  This dish was simple to make, and it made a lot.  I had leftovers for lunch the next day even after 4 people ate it – 3 as a side dish and 1 as a main course.  Ratatouille is such a big name for such a simple dish, but it’s really just a French dish from Provence that has all the above ingredients listed plus zucchini.  There’s multiple ways to cook it: sauteed in olive oil on low heat, baked in the oven with cheese on top, etc…  It can also be eaten hot or cold as a main course or a side dish.  I sauteed mine in olive oil over low heat and served it hot.  I also added a jalapeno for some extra kick.  Hope you guys enjoy this one!

Ingredients:

  • olive oil
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 jalapeno minced
  • 2 lb. medium-sized eggplants cubed
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 orange pepper, diced
  • 1 c chopped fresh basil
  • 1 c chopped fresh parsley
  • black ground pepper for seasoning
  • salt for seasoning

Directions:

  1. In a large stock pot, combine 2 tbsp olive oil, garlic, parsley, basil, and tomatoes.  Simmer partially covered for about 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, toss the eggplant with 1/2 tsp salt in a large colander and let stand for 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a skillet, cook the onions with 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat for about 8-10 minutes or until soft.
  4. Transfer the onions to a large bowl, add 2 more tbsp olive oil to skillet, and cook the peppers and jalapeno until soft about 10 minutes.
  5. Transfer peppers to the onion bowl and pat the eggplant dry.
  6. Add another 2 tbsp olive oil to the skillet and cook the eggplant over medium heat until soft about 10 minutes.
  7. Add the vegetables to the tomato sauce and simmer covered another 30 minutes.

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Seasonality

The beginning of spring in the DC-Metro Area brings not only Cherry Blossoms, massive amounts of tourists, and warm weather, but the opening of farmer’s markets as well.  Many of the smaller farmer’s markets will open the first week in May.  The larger ones, like Eastern Market and Old Town farmer’s market, are already open.  With the help of the VA Department of Agriculture, I’ve compiled a seasonality chart to show you which vegetables and fruits are in season throughout the year.  If you don’t live in the DC-Metro Area, you can look on your state’s department of agriculture website for a similar chart – or you could just go down to your local farmer’s market and see what they’re selling.  I think, for the most part, many of the mid-Atlantic and even North East states’ seasonality charts will be quite similar to this one.

JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUNE JULY AUG SEPT OCT NOV DEC
Apples
Asian Pears
Asparagus
Beets
Blackberries
Blueberries
Broccoli
Cabbage
Cantaloupe
Cucumbers
Eggplant
Grapes
Green Beans
Greens/Spinach
Herbs
Nectarines
Onions
Peaches
Peppers
Potatoes
Pumpkins
Raspberries
Rhubarb
Squash
Strawberries
Sweet Corn
Sweet Potatoes
Tomatoes
Watermelon

My mom has a rhubarb bush that grows insanely large and yields more rhubarb than she knows what to do with.  She’s coming down for a visit this weekend, and I’m hoping her rhubarb is coming with her as well.  If her rhubarb is not ready yet, then I will eagerly wait for my local farmer’s market to open next week.  Stay tuned for rhubarb recipes!

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Greek Moussaka

(Food & Wine’s Photo… We were so hungry, I forgot to take pictures!)

A few nights ago I made Greek Moussaka for dinner; a dish that is similar to eggplant parmesan and/or lasagna, except it has a white béchamel sauce on top.  Greek Moussaka typically has three layers – eggplant slices, ground lamb, and béchamel sauce.  I used a recipe from Food & Wine magazine that I adapted to fit my own personal preferences and tastes.  First, lamb is expensive – I used ground beef, since I already had it in my freezer.  Ground turkey would be just as suitable and even healthier for you too.  Second, cream sauces, in general, are usually heavy and loaded with salt and calories.  In order to curb our calorie and sodium intake, I used fat-free cream cheese and skim milk to make the sauce.  I added fresh ground pepper to the sauce to compensate for any blandness that may have resulted from using fat-free and skim products.  With some warm bread and a nice glass of dry red wine, this dish was flavorful and satisfying after a long day at work.

Ingredients:
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground beef or turkey
  • 1/2 c dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 c canned crushed tomatoes (15-ounce can)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ground black pepper
  • 1 eggplant peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 1/4 c Parmesan
Directions:
  1. Heat the broiler. In a large stainless-steel frying pan, heat 1-2 tablespoons of the oil over moderate heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the beef and cook until the meat loses its pink flavor, about 4 minutes.
  3. Stir in the wine, tomato paste, tomatoes, bay leaf, cinnamon, allspice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and ground pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, brush both sides of the eggplant slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Put the eggplant slices on a large baking sheet and broil until browned, about 5 minutes.
  5. Turn eggplant slices over and broil until browned on the other side, about 5 minutes longer.
  6. Meanwhile in a small saucepan, combine the cream cheese, milk, and ground pepper. Warm over low heat until just melted.
  7. Spray an 11-by-7-inch baking dish. Layer half the eggplant in the dish, then half the meat sauce. Sprinkle with half the Parmesan. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, meat sauce, and Parmesan.
  8. Spoon the cream-cheese sauce on top and broil until just starting to brown, 1 to 2 minutes.

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Fig Muffins

My parents recently came down to visit my sister and I for Easter.  With them, they brought various goodies from a Mennonite store named Sauders that’s located in Seneca Falls, NY.  Mennonites are similar to the Amish in that they choose to lead simple and pious lives – they live off the land that they cultivate and harvest.  This store is unique because everything they sell is handmade and absolutely delicious… no added preservatives or processed stuff here.  My mother brought down one of my favorites goodies to snack on… dried figs.  I love dried figs – fresh figs are even better.  I snacked on them for several days, but noticed that they began to go soft.  For fear of wasting these little guys , I decided to bake some fig muffins from a recipe adapted from my W&S Muffin cookbook.  These muffins are easy to make and are a nice alternative to the unoriginal standbys… blueberry and chocolate.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup water or apple juice*
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 12 dried figs, stemmed and quartered
  • grated lemon zest
  • 2 c flour
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/4 c dark brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

*Apple juice is preferred since it will give the figs that much more flavor.  However, I didn’t have apple juice and used water.  The zest and the butter will make up for any flavor lost using the water.

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the water and butter over medium-low heat until butter melts.
  2. Remove from heat, and add figs and lemon zest.  Set aside and allow the figs to soften, about 1 hour (Please note: My figs were already fairly soft, so I only let these sit for about 30 minutes.)
  3. Preheat the oven to 375
  4. Grease or line 11 muffin cups
  5. Stir the flour, sugars, baking powder, and salt.
  6. Add the cooled fig mixture, eggs, and vanilla and stir until the batter is mixed.  Do not overmix.
  7. Spoon the batter into each cup filling the cup to the rim
  8. Bake until golden about 20-25 minutes
  9. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving

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Filed under Desserts

Moroccan-Spiced Beef with Couscous

This morning I grabbed some ground beef out of the freezer to have defrosted and ready to go for dinner when I got home.  However, I realized I didn’t know what I wanted to make.  I knew I wanted to make something simple and quick – nothing that would take longer than 30 minutes since I’m usually starving when I get home from work.  Also, I wanted to make something with ingredients I already had on hand.  My usual ground beef standbys are pasta with beef ragu, tacos, meatloaf, meatballs, etc… But I just didn’t feel like making the same old fare.  I began thinking about all the spices that I have.  Many of these spices rarely get used.  In my case, Turmeric, Paprika, Coriander, All Spice, etc… I have all of these, but they’re just not in my traditional cooking repertoire.   However, it is nice on rare occasions when I find a recipe that requires any of them (i.e. Moroccan-Spiced Beef).

I found this recipe in Good Housekeeping and was excited that it was fairly straightforward and not very time consuming.  The flavors in this dish are quite different from what my husband and I are used to eating… different in a nice way though.  Sometimes change is good and this is often the case with us when we eat the same flavors or cuisines over and over again.  So if you have some ground beef on hand and you want to literally spice up your food, this is a great recipe.  It’s also great for those folks, like myself, who have a lot of spices (i.e. paprika and all spice) lying around in their cupboards.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 carrots diced
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp all spice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 can chickpeas drained
  • 1 c fresh parsley chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • fresh cracked pepper for seasoning
  • 1/2 c chicken broth
  • 1 box plain couscous

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add carrots, onion, paprika, all spice, and cinnamon.  Saute until veggies are tender, about 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in ground beef and cook until meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the chickpeas, parsley, salt, cracked pepper, and chicken broth.  Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or until mixture thickens slightly.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare couscous as directed.
  5. Serve beef mixture over the couscous

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Eating Sustainable Fish

(Me holding a 5lb. live lobster)

This past weekend I had the pleasure of tagging along with my friend Laura to a Slow Food event at a sustainable, wholesale fish company in D.C. called ProFish.  The purpose of the tour was to get a tour of the facility, learn how to determine whether a fish is sustainable or not, and what to look for when buying fish.  The tour was led by a ProFish employee named Peter.  Peter was a former fisherman in Gloucester for over 20 years and was even a fisherman on the boat the Andrea Gail 3 years before it was lost at sea.  Those of you who’ve seen the movie the Perfect Storm recognize the Andrea Gail as the swordfish boat that went down at sea after returning from an expedition to the Outer Banks, Newfoundland back in 1991.  As you can imagine, Peter was a wealth of knowledge about all things fish-related.


(Laura holding a Branzino – commonly known as European sea bass)

Peter explained that Profish has over 700 types of seafood that come from as far away as Australia.  Once the fish land into Profish’s hands, they inspect it to determine the quality and freshness of the product.  For example, they will open up the fish’s gills to see how red they are.  The deeper the shade of red the gills are, the fresher the fish.  A fish with brown-colored gills is not as fresh as one with red gills and therefore, the quality of the meat will be inferior.  Moreover, because a fish is considered fresh does not mean that it will smell more fishy.  On the contrary, the fresher a fish is, the less it will smell.  After handling several different fish, including an Arctic Chard from Iceland, an Escolar, a Branzino from Turkey, and a King salmon from WA, it was surprising how little these fish actually smelled.  What was also interesting, and something I don’t think most consumers know, is that salmon often has coloring added to it.  In other words, the salmon is dyed to look pretty-in-pink merely for the consumer.  That is not actually how pink it really is.  Many times, the color of the fish is determined by what the fish was eating before it was caught.

(Skate – popular eating in Canada and France)

(Cleaning a skate fish)

We then discussed what it means if a fish is sustainable.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA, “seafood is sustainable when the population of that species of fish is managed in a way that provides for today’s needs without damaging the ability of the species to reproduce and be available for future generations.”  In other words, overfishing is unfortunately quite common around the world.  Swordfish at one point were being over-fished to such extents that fishing licenses were revoked in order to curb their over-fishing and eventual extinction.  There were also many regulations enforced to prevent over-fishing such as a weight requirement — a swordfish had to weigh more than 100 lbs in order to be kept.  Because of strict fishing regulations that were put into place, swordfish is starting to come back and will hopefully continue to thrive.  Moreover, bluefin tuna is another fish that is in dire straights as a result of overfishing and lax fishing regulations.  In March of 2010, a proposal led by the U.S. to impose restrictions on bluefin tuna was shot down by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.  Bluefin tuna continues to be over-fished and is on the verge of extinction.

(wild King salmon from WA)

So you might be reading this and thinking well what can I do as the consumer?  How can I make a difference?  First, when purchasing seafood from the market or the store, always ask where the fish comes from.  Someone knowledgeable should be working behind the counter and should know exactly where this fish has been caught.  If no one behind the counter knows where that fish was caught, a red light should go off immediately in your head that this fish may not be the greatest quality.  Next, it’s always best to buy the whole fish in order to see what you’re getting.  You can ask the person handling the fish to open up the gills for you, let you see how red those gills really are.  They should also be able to fillet the fish for you since you may not want to bring an entire fish home with you.  Next, always ask if the fish is sustainable.  Farm raised fish is sustainable.  According to NOAA, if you are buying fish from a U.S. fishery you can rest assured that the fish is meeting various national standards (10 to be exact).  These standards help ensure that the “fish stocks are maintained, overfishing is eliminated, and the long-term socioeconomic benefits to the nation are achieved.”  Fish is a wonderful food that provides us with numerous health benefits.  As a consumer, you can play your part in preventing over-fishing by asking these simple questions and making sure you eat sustainable fish.  Eat smart — eat sustainably!

(Escolar – commonly referred to as white fish sushi)

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Spinach and Ham Frittata

I had the honor of hosting Easter this year for my side of the family and of course had plenty of honey-baked ham leftover.  I was getting sick of eating ham sandwiches for lunch, so in order to get rid of the stuff, I decided to make a frittata for dinner one night.  This recipe has been adapted from an Alton Brown recipe (I love him).  I switched a few ingredients, basically whatever I had on hand.  I came home late and was still able to whip up a great meal in less than 15 minutes.  This is a great recipe and a practical and easy way to get rid of those Easter leftovers.

Ingredients:

  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 c Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/2 c spinach
  • 1/2 c ham, diced
  • parsley for sprinkling
  • splash of Tabasco sauce for taste (optional)

Directions:

  1. Turn your oven on broil
  2. In a small bowl, beat the eggs
  3. Add the Parmesan, salt, and pepper to the eggs
  4. In a skillet over medium-high heat, add the ham (if not cooked) and spinach.  Saute for 2-3 minutes
  5. Pour the egg mixture over the ham and spinach and saute for 4-5 minutes
  6. Sprinkle with parsley and place pan in oven and broil 3-4 minutes or until egg is set
  7. Sprinkle with a splash of Tabasco and serve warm

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CulinAerie: Knife Know-How

Thanks to an amazing Christmas gift my husband gave me this year, I recently took another class at CulinAerie cooking school in McPherson Square entitled Knife Know-How. This class is extremely beneficial to the beginner or the skilled cook.  If you’ve ever wondered what the proper way to hold a knife is, how to chiffonade basil, or how to break apart an entire chicken, then this is the perfect class.  This class taught me that I’ve been holding my knife the wrong way for all these years and have been cutting the wrong way!  While it’s difficult to describe how exactly to hold the knife or to cut in words, Chef Susan Holt explained that one of the most important things to using your knife properly is the same rule of thumb that all golfers learn early on… always follow through!  Instead of only using a small part of your knife blade, always utilize the entire blade in order to get the knife’s maximum use.  The best way I can describe it is that your hand needs to move back and forth across the entire object you’re cutting in one smooth, fluid motion.  Chef Holt recommends using Wustof or Hencles knives.  While these knives are expensive, one will immediately tell the difference.  I had been using cheap knives for quite some time, and then was blessed with a brand new set of Hencles knives for my bridal shower.  What a change!  I cut, sliced, butchered parts of my fingers the first few times I used these knives, but to me, that was a good sign.  I could instantly tell the difference between a cheap knife and a good one.  If you don’t want to spend a ton of money on a whole new set of knives (totally understandable), buy a good chef’s knife.  Chef’s knives are versatile, all-purpose utility knives that can be used for most anything in the kitchen – -chopping vegetables, mincing garlic, etc…

One of my favorite things about this class was the fact that I learned how to break down an entire chicken.  This has always been on my personal culinary-to-do list for quite a while.  Chef Holt taught us how to differentiate between the front and the back of the chicken, where those tender pieces of meat called the oysters are located, and how to cook using the breasts, thighs, wings, and yes… even the backbone (i.e. chicken stock).  The recipe we made the thighs, breasts, and wings with is called Chicken with Grainy Mustard, Cream, and Tarragon.  This chicken came out absolutely flavorful and juicy!  No dry, bland chicken breasts here.  If you’re wary of using dark meat or breaking down an entire chicken, I encourage everyone to try this recipe with chicken breasts that have the bone-in.  Trust me… bone-in will give the chicken that much more flavor.  Kudos to CulinAeria for another wonderful cooking class that left me with a greater knowledge of food than I had before!

Ingredients:

  • 4 pieces of chicken on the bone (breasts and/or leg and thigh)
  • Kosher salt
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced fine
  • 1/2 c white wine
  • 1 1/2 c chicken stock or water
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp good-quality grainy Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp fresh chopped tarragon leaves

Directions:

  1. Liberally season the chicken with salt and pepper
  2. Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat and add oil.  Add chicken to the pan, skin side down and cook for about 3-4 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from the pan to a plate
  3. Add the onion and reduce the heat to low
  4. Add the white wine and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring up the browned bits
  5. Add the chicken stock/water and cream and bring to a simmer
  6. Return the chicken to the pan, cover, and cook on low for 30-35 minutes, turning the chicken a couple times
  7. Remove the chicken to a serving dish and keep warm
  8. Bring the sauce to a boil and simmer until sauce is reduce by half, 5-10 minutes
  9. Add the mustard, tarragon, and salt and pepper to taste
  10. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve with rice

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Babka Bread (Easter Bread)

One of the fondest memories I have of my grandmother is baking Easter bread with her.  This Easter bread, or what my grandmother referred to as Babka bread, is an Eastern European bread that is sweet and almost cake-like.  My Baba, Ukrainian for grandmother, set aside an entire day solely dedicated to baking loaves and loaves of this wonderful bread.  She had several of her own techniques for baking this bread including using heavy bath towels to cover the loaves so they would be warm and rise faster instead of kitchen towels.  She braided her Babka so that it looked more like a Jewish challah bread.  She also placed the loaves of bread into aluminum roasting pans that would enable the loaves to expand during the rising stage as well as during baking.  I don’t recall my Baba having a recipe that she referred to, but instead, baked these loaves purely from memory.  There were no kitchen aids or kneading hooks when she baked.  She did everything by hand and every loaf had to be pampered and prepped just right.  I remember being impatient — I always wanted to cut the rising time short so I could eat this bread sooner.  This bread is extremely versatile – – it can be eaten warm right out of the oven, cold spread with jam, toasted with butter, or even used as sandwich for leftover Easter ham.  This year, my mother and I both decided to bake this bread.  While my bread did not come out as delicious as I remember my Baba’s being, I know that this Sunday when I eat my mother’s babka bread, it will bring back irreplaceable memories of baking this wonderful Easter treat with my Baba.  While I did not share my grandmother’s family recipe that I used here, I did find a recipe that is very similar.  Enjoy and Христос воскрес (Happy Easter)!

Ingredients:

  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1 c warm water
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 3 large eggs, beaten, plus 1 for glaze
  • 5 c flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c unsalted butter at room temp
  • 1 c golden or regular raisins (optional)

Directions:

  1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the sugar, 3 eggs, 4 1/2 cups of the flour, the salt, butter, and raisins. Place the bowl on the mixer, attach the dough hook and knead on low speed, working in the remaining flour as necessary to keep the dough from being too sticky, until the dough is smooth and elastic, 5 to 7 minutes. (The dough should stay soft and will become less sticky with kneading.)
  3. Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in bulk, about 2 hours.
  4. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper. Punch down the dough.  To make a 3-strand braid, cut the dough into 3 equal pieces with a sharp knife. Using your palms, and starting in the center and working outward, elongate 1 piece by rolling it gently against the work surface with even pressure until you have formed a rope as long as the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining pieces.
  5. Lay the 3 pieces out and begin braiding them.  Pinch the ends together at the top and at the bottom, and tuck the strands under at the ends.
  6. Place the braided loaf on the prepared pan, cover with a dry kitchen towel, and let rise again in a warm, draft-free spot until the loaf doubles in size, 45 to 60 minutes.
  7. Preheat to 350°F
  8. Brush the braid gently with the beaten egg. Bake the braid until it is nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Makes 1 large braided loaf.

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