March 31, 2013

Lentil Salad with Fennel, Almonds and Lemon Vinaigrette

Note: The recipe for this salad can also be found in the current issue of our excellent community newspaper, The Southwest Journal.  

Lentils are easy, healthy and great in salads. You could serve this for a main course or a side. It has slices of crisp and bright fennel - a vegetable that makes spring seem closer - crunchy almonds, creamy goat cheese and one of my favorite vinaigrettes (which contains no vinegar). 

Lentil Salad with Fennel, Almonds and Lemon Vinaigrette

Serves 4 

1 cup lentils (french green or black hold up best for salads)
1 medium fennel bulb
½ cup sliced almonds
¼ cup crumbled feta or goat cheese (optional)

Lemon Vinaigrette

Makes about half-cup

2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼  teaspoon pepper

Cook lentils according to package directions or go here, drain and set aside in a large bowl. 

Preheat oven to 350º. Spread sliced almonds on sheet pan and toast in oven until lightly browned and fragrant (about 10 minutes).  Slice fennel bulb as thinly as possible using mandoline or serrated knife. Chop 1 tablespoon of the lacy fronds.

Make vinaigrette: Whisk lemon juice with Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Add olive oil while whisking to emulsify. 

Pour half of vinaigrette, fennel and toasted almonds over warm lentils and toss gently. Add more dressing as needed (warm lentils will absorb some). Sprinkle with fennel fronds and cheese (optional). Serve warm or at room temperature. 

March 26, 2013

Lamb Lettuce Wraps

Lamb Lettuce Wraps with Tzatziki

We have a tiny happy place in our neighborhood called Clancy's Meats & Fish. Their meat is clean, local and I can walk there. The people behind the counter are relaxed and friendly. They ask what you're cooking and offer ideas of their own. Plus they allow dogs inside and, if they're not too busy, they'll come around and give your pooch a little tartare. More expensive? Yes - but perhaps that encourages us to eat meat more mindfully.

I picked up some ground lamb today that I fried, spiced up and put into a crispy romaine leaf along with sliced tomatoes, onions and tzatziki. Kind of a lamb taco/lettuce wrap/gyro kind of thing. You could add a grilled pita to the mix if you want more of a traditional sandwich. So good.

Lamb Lettuce Wraps

Serves 4

1 lb. ground lamb
1½ teaspoons cumin
1½ teaspoons smoked paprika (pimenton)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Romaine or other crisp lettuce leaves

Cucumbers, peeled and sliced
Tomatoes, sliced
White onion, sliced thinly and rinsed in ice water to take out some of the bite

Put a little olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add ground lamb and brown, breaking up into small pieces with a fork until just a tiny bit of pink remains. Drain off some of the fat. Add spices and stir well. Turn heat down and simmer for five minutes, adding a little water or olive oil if the mixture seems dry. Spoon into the center of the lettuce and top with tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and tzatziki. Fold together and dig in.


Makes about a cup

7 ounces plain greek-style yogurt
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and coarsely grated
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate for an hour or two (or not - it's good right away but better if you give the players a chance to bond).  


March 21, 2013

Sweet Potato Fries with Blue Cheese Sauce

This is a quick dressing-up (i.e., adding something extra so I can justify sweet potato fries as a meal) of a frozen product.

It's cheating, I know.

It's not whole food, I know.

It's not healthy even though it's sweet potatoes, I KNOW.


It's real good though.

The sweet crispy fries pair well with the pungent warm cheesy sauce. Add a glass of cold white wine and an episode of VEEP and you've got just the thing to chase the it's-too-cold-when-is-spring-gonna-get-here weeknight blahs.

Sweet Potato Fries with Blue Cheese Sauce

Frozen Sweet Potato Fries baked according to package instructions (or go ahead and make your own from scratch and shame me)

Blue Cheese Sauce

Makes enough for one large serving of fries

1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup chopped flat parsley (or chives)
1-2 teaspoons sherry vinegar*
Good pinch black pepper

Heat cream over medium low heat until bubbling around the edges. Add blue cheese and stir to melt. Add pepper, parsley and sherry vinegar. Let reduce for a minute or two. Remove from heat, let rest for another minute and pour over hot fries.

* Start with one and add more if it suits you. I like a lot of acid to cut the rich blue cheese but you may not. To each her own.

March 17, 2013

Beet Salad with Crispy Crumbs and Egg

Beet Salad with Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

Last week at the grocery store, I spotted some beets with very spry looking greens attached so I grabbed them and decided to make a salad using the whole lot. If you haven't tried raw beet greens...maybe this will inspire you. They're fairly mild tasting, sturdy, crunchy, and packed with vitamins.

I threw in radish for spiciness, green beans just because, hard boiled egg for richness and toasted bread crumbs to absorb a bit of the lemon-parmesan vinaigrette, infiltrate every part of the salad and contribute a crunchy little pop to every bite. 

The beets take time to cook, but you can do everything else while they roast (or cook them a day or two ahead of time and put in the refrigerator). To save time (and pots) I blanched the green beans in the water the eggs were boiling in (is that bad?). If you don't find nice beet greens you can substitute arugula or other hardy green. My daughter loved this and asked for it two nights in a row. And of course I made it because I'm a sucker for a compliment from a teenage girl. 

Beet Salad with Crispy Crumbs and Egg
Serves 2

4-6 beets with greens
3 radishes
½ lb. green beans
2 hard-boiled eggs

Lemon-Parmesan Vinaigrette
Makes about ¾ cup - you'll have some leftover (lucky you)

¼ cup lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup olive oil
Black pepper to taste

Crispy Crumbs
1 cup panko crumbs (or finely ground day-old baguette)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pinch kosher salt

March 13, 2013

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bars

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Bars

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bars

Oh my oh my oh my. These are good. I thought I was off my pretzel kick but...guess not. No reason to when they keep delivering the toasty salty flavor I so enjoy.

These are no-bake, rich and sweet. Reminiscent of cookie dough or a peanut butter cup. You can use milk or dark chocolate for the frosting, (or a blend of semi-sweet and butterscotch chips which was what my college did in their version of these - and many a round-faced freshman could attest to their wonder). My family devoured these in record time.

Note: I've adjusted this recipe a little since it was originally published, adding a bit more butter and doing the mixing in the food processor. This improves the texture and makes the bars less crumbly.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bars

Makes 9 large or 18 small

4 cups pretzels
1¼ cups creamy peanut butter
1½ cups powdered sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Flaked salt, shredded coconut flakes (optional)

1. Put 4 cups of pretzels (look for ones with no added sugar/corn syrup) into bowl of food processor and let it rip for 15 seconds until it resembles a coarse flour (you can also do this by hand by putting the pretzels in a zip-top bag and bashing away with a rolling pin). 

2. Put butter in saucepan and melt over medium-low heat adding vanilla and peanut butter at the end to warm through. Stir to blend and pour over pretzel crumbs. Process just until combined then add powdered sugar and process again until blended (batter will be thick and somewhat dry). 

3. Press firmly into ungreased 8 x 8 glass dish (a piece of wax paper will make this sticky job easier). 

4. Melt chocolate chips in the microwave (or in a heatproof bowl over simmering water) in 30 second increments, stirring after each until almost smooth. Heat cream in separate dish to near boiling, pour over chocolate and stir until completely smooth. Pour over bars and spread to edges. Sprinkle top with flaked salt or coconut flakes, if desired. Chill for a few hours, cut and enjoy.  

March 9, 2013

Spanish Chorizo Tomato Soup

Spanish Chorizo Tomato Soup with Manchego and Croutons

Last summer a friend gave me her recipe for red chimichurri sauce (garlicky, smoky with a hit of vinegar) that knocked my socks off. It was so good I was eating it with a spoon instead of drizzling it over steak or eggs or something more respectable. It got me thinking, if I make a soup with those flavors, I could legitimately eat it with a spoon. there any other food that has that garlicky, smoky, vinegary flavour.... why yes, Spanish chorizo. The italics are to differentiate it from Mexican chorizo which is delicious but very different (the butcher at my grocery told me they weren't when I had trouble finding it, but trust me dear man, they are).

The only Spanish chorizo I could find was cured (dried -  another guy at another meat counter told me Spanish chorizo is by definition cured but me thinks I should do a bit more legwork to confirm that) so it is a bit chewy...but the flavor. The flavor! This stuff has TONS of flavor. It punches up just about anything including this rustic tomato soup to which I added fresh croutons and creamy manchego cheese to balance the spice and acidity.

March 5, 2013

Cauliflower Steaks with Marcona Almond Lemon Pesto

Cauliflower steak with marcona lemon pesto

I snagged part of this recipe from Food52 which is one of the best food sites out there. Great writing, recipes, photography and a clean modern layout that feels fresh and makes me want to cook and eat. 

This preparation is so clever because it creates loads of brown surface on the cauliflower, and the brown parts are what we always scramble for at our house. I'm serving it on a pile of angel hair pasta tossed with a lemon-basil-almond pesto. I have Marcona almonds (more expensive, skinless, softer and milder than regular almonds) so that's what I'm using, but you could use regular almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, etc. Delicious. 

Cauliflower Steak
adapted from Bon Appetit (February 2008) via Food52

Makes about 3 steaks

1 head cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 350º. Slice cauliflower into thick (one inch) slices (save leftover pieces for another use). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat oil in oven-proof heavy skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Fry cauliflower for 2 minutes per side or until brown. Then put skillet in the oven for 10 minutes until steaks are tender.

Marcona Lemon Pesto

Makes about 1 cup

1 cup marcona almonds
1 cup basil
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ cup finely grated pecorino romano
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup olive oil

Grind almonds and garlic in food processor. Add basil, lemon zest, salt and pulse until roughly combined (you can also do this by hand with a big knife and you'll get a lovely rough mix and a stress reliever). Add olive oil and cheese and pulse (or stir) until it comes together. Toss with a half pound of cooked pasta (reserving a half-cup of the pasta cooking water to thin the pesto when tossing). 

March 1, 2013

Brown Butter Berry Crisp

Brown Butter Triple Berry Crisp

Fruit crisps. Warm tangy fruit with crunchy sweet topping - great fresh from the oven with a hunk of ice cream and even better cold for breakfast. Everyone likes a crisp and they're easy and versatile. I make them all the time.

I've found the best topping is the simplest - one cup of everything: flour, oatmeal, walnuts, brown sugar and butter, plus a pinch of salt. I wondered if substituting brown butter (beurre noisette - common in french cooking and super trendy here in the USA) for the regular kind would make a difference, so I browned some up, chilled it solid and...

Well, hello there...

Good. Really good. The butter is more intense with a subtle caramel flavor that adds depth to the crisp topping. A keeper. 

Chilled Brown Butter
Browned and chilled butter

Berry Brown Butter Crisp

Serves 4-6

6 cups frozen mixed berries 
1 cup oatmeal (not quick cooking)
1 cup flour
1 cup toasted walnuts
1 cup light brown sugar
1 stick chilled brown butter
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Brown the butter in a saucepan over medium high heat until brown bits appear and it smells incredible (4-5 minutes). Pour into small heatproof dish and chill until solid (1 hour). Preheat oven to 350º. Put walnuts on a sheet pan and bake for about 5 minutes or until color deepens and they're fragrant. Chop roughly and place in a bowl along with oatmeal, flour, brown sugar and salt. Stir. Add chilled butter in small ½ inch hunks and work into the dry ingredients with your fingers until a lumpy, rocky dough comes together.  Put frozen berries in a 2 quart baking dish (shape doesn't matter - you want berries to be at least 2 deep). Sprinkle topping mixture over and bake for 40-45 minutes or until topping is brown and crunchy and the berries bubble up the sides. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Brown Butter Berry Crisp

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