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Friday, June 24, 2016

Cauliflower and Peas, Indian-Style

Snow peas and French bush beans in my garden
Sugar snap peas are currently in season in Boulder. You can get them at the farmers' market. They are always available at my favorite Asian market, Pacific Ocean in Broomfield, or at my local Costco. And most years, I can get them from my garden. I love sugar snap peas which is why I grow them every year. Even though, they take up a fair bit of space, require a lot of water and sun, and some years yield a disappointing amount of peas. But, I persevere in growing them. Because I do love them!

This recipe is adapted from the NY Times. As it turns out, cauliflower has gone on sale this week, which makes this a double win.

As with other stir-fries, it's important to have your ingredients prepped and measured before you start (what we chefs call mise-en-place). Stir fries happen fast and you can't be chopping or measuring things as you go.

Stir-fried Curried Cauliflower and Peas
(serves 4)

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 ½ pounds cauliflower (about ½ a large head), cut into florets
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons grated ginger
1 medium jalapeno chile, sliced thinly (if you want less spice, remove the seeds)
3 Kaffir lime leaves (optional)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ pound sugar snap peas or snow peas, stems and strings removed
2 scallions, cut into 2" julienne
juice of ½ a lime
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro

Heat oil in a large skillet or wok with a cover over medium-high heat. Add cumin and black mustard seeds and cook until the mustard seeds start to pop. Partially cover because once they start to pop, they will start shooting all over the place! Add the turmeric and stir for 15 seconds. Add the cauliflower, garlic, ginger, chile, lime leaves (if using), salt, and black pepper to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes. Stir often to avoid burning. Add the peas, stir, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover. Cook for 5 more minutes until peas are crisp-tender. Stir in scallions, lime juice, and cilantro. Check for salt. Serve immediately.


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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Pickled Cauliflower

This recipe is from Too Many Tomatoes, Squash, Beans, and Other Good Things: A Cookbook for When Your Garden Explodes. It was originally published in 1976 and republished in 1991. It is one of my go-to vegetable cookbooks because so many of the recipes are simple, tasty, and full of veggies. Since it's from the Dark Ages, it also avoids some of the annoying things one finds in newer cookbooks, my primary pet peeve being the use of "superfoods" and trendy ingredients. Though I am a trained chef and I adore interesting food, I often fall back on tried-and-true recipes from the past because they are simple and they work. In this case, it might even get you to eat your vegetables, which isn't a bad thing.

If you happen to have an exploding garden (I do, on occasion: see here and here), this cookbook will be your friend in times of overabundance. If you don't have a garden, fear not, dear reader! Produce goes on sale and this cookbook will help you create delicious veggie-filled dishes from cheap supermarket produce too.

Cauliflower Antipasto
Quick Pickled Cauliflower & Carrots
(makes about 6 cups)

1 medium head cauliflower (about 1 ¼ pounds)
4 medium carrots, peeled
⅔ cup cider vinegar
⅔ cup water
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ Tablespoons sugar
1 large clove garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Trim off leaves from cauliflower. Peel lower stalk because it is quite fibrous. Cut the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces. Slice carrots ¼ inch thick. Place the cauliflower, carrots, and remaining ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce the temperature to low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly and transfer to a container for storage. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours for best flavor though it tastes pretty good fresh from the pot. Will keep at least a week, refrigerated.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Baked Polenta

Polenta can be a time-consuming dish. Like risotto, it requires a lot of stirring. Or does it? No, it does not! You can bake it in the oven and it comes out perfect every time. It's so super-easy, I don't think I'll ever make it on the stove top again.

You can use all water or use ½ water and ½ milk. The polenta will be richer and creamier if you use whole milk.

Baked Polenta
(serves 4-5 as a side dish)

2 cups cold milk or water
1 cup yellow corn grits or dry polenta (I like Bob's Red Mill)
½ to 1 teaspoon salt (use the lesser amount if you are going to mix in cheese)
2 cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 10" x 8" baking dish with butter or non-stick cooking spray. For ease of entry/exit from the oven, place on a cookie sheet.

When oven reaches temperature, combine cold milk or water with corn grits in a large bowl. Combine salt with boiling water and whisk to dissolve salt. Add salted water to grits and stir. Gently pour into the greased baking dish. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Stir before serving.

You can also embellish your polenta with cheese. Stir in ½ cup (or more if you like cheesy) at 45 minutes, then bake for another 5 minutes to melt the cheese. Stir again before serving.

Note: The original recipe said use a 9"x5" pan, which may work but I have never tried it that way!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Mussels Baked with Tomatoes and Potatoes

Sadly not my local seafood market. These are HUGE mussels on display at the River Market in Valdivia Chile

Dropped off the map recently. Went to Texas to visit family. Not much cooking going on there, though I did make a damn good Greek lamb stew for the fam. Did manage to snag some epically good BBQ at Pecan Lodge in Dallas. Boy, if you are near there, check it out! Delicious. Seriously delicious. Just expect to wait in line - it's also very popular. Back to husband breaks his collarbone. Yeah, that's been fun. And, we just broke ground on our new house in the mountains and we had relatives visiting from Chile. Whew!
Just had to share a photo of the spread at Pecan Lodge. That beef rib weighed nearly 1 1/2 lbs! No, I didn't eat it by myself.

I made this because mussels were on sale. I love mussels. Actually, I like most food that comes from the sea. Mussels are cheap, very nutritious, and amenable to many preparations. Most mussel lovers know of moules frites. This is a bit different, a casserole. Hearty and tasty. The original recipe came from Marcella Hazan and I pulled it out of Gourmet. And I tweaked it. Because that's what I do.

Mussels Baked with Tomatoes and Potatoes
(serves 4)

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ pounds potatoes, scrubbed
1 14-16 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
3 pounds mussels, debreaded and scrubbed
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
4 Tablespoons panko crumbs
4 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
salt & black pepper
non-stick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray a 2 quart deep gratin dish with cooking spray or grease with a little olive oil.

Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan. Cover with water, add about ½ Tablespoon salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until tender but not soft. Drain and run cold water over the potatoes to cool. Set aside while you cook the mussels.

In a large pot, cook the mussels, covered, over medium heat until they open. It takes about 5 minutes for most of them to open. Remove the open ones to large bowl and cook for another 2 minutes. If a mussel doesn't open, discard it.

While the mussels are cooling, peel the potatoes and slice in ¼" slices. Lay the potatoes in the gratin dish and season with salt and black pepper.

As soon as the mussels are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the shells and set the meat aside in a medium bowl. Add olive oil, parsley, garlic, 2 Tablespoons bread crumbs, 2 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Mix to combine well. Taste it for seasoning and adjust if needed.  Spread the mussels on top of the potatoes. Top with the drained tomatoes. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Cover with the remaining bread crumbs and cheese. Spray generously with cooking spray (see Note). Bake for 20 minutes until the top is golden. Let the dish sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Note: Being a small person, I try to cut back on the fat (which adds lots of calories) where I can. If you want to make this richer, toss the bread crumbs for topping the casserole with an additional 2 Tablespoons olive oil rather than using the cooking spray.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"Flourless" Chocolate Almond Cake with Dried Cherry-Almond Caramel Glaze

This isn't a flourless cake, hence the quotes around flourless in the title. It does include flour, but it's flour turned into a form acceptable for Passover. There are a whole lot of rules for baking at Passover. As I am not at all observant, I make a cake because it tastes good. I would never recommend a cake just because it is Kosher for Passover.

Passover may be halfway over now but if you are like me, that can of matzoh cake meal is still mostly full, because how many cakes are you going to bake and eat in a week? Here is a cake that tastes great AND helps you use up that can of matzoh cake meal. In fact, it's so good, I would make this when it's not Passover. If you don't have matzoh cake meal, I'll bet it will work just fine with cake flour instead.

It's a variation on a classic chocolate-almond torte. Lots of butter, lots of chocolate, lots of eggs - separated so that the whites provide the leavening. Instead of the small amount of flour in such a torte, it contains matzoh cake meal. Which is flour made into matzoh turned back into flour. Yeah, it's one of the imponderables of religion.

"Flourless" Chocolate-Almond Torte with Dried Cherry-Almond Glaze
(serves 16)

For the cake:
butter or margarine for greasing the pan
2 sticks(½ pound) butter or margarine, at room temperature
8 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
¾ cup slivered almonds, toasted (see Note)
1 cup sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
6 eggs, at room temperature, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup matzoh cake meal

For the glaze:
½ cup dried sour cherries
¼ cup Kirschwasser (cherry brandy)
1 cup sugar
½ cup slivered almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

Grease the bottom of a 9" x 3" springform pan. Line the bottom with parchment. Grease the parchment and the sides of the pan. Set aside.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Melt the chocolate in a medium bowl set over a saucepan of hot, barely simmering water. Remove the chocolate from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, process the almonds in a food processor until finely ground and set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with an electric hand mixer), beat the butter with ¾ cup of the sugar and the salt on medium speed until soft and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks and vanilla and mix on medium-low speed until smooth. Gently fold in the chocolate, ground almonds, and matzo cake meal.

In another large bowl, using the whisk attachment or clean beaters, beat the egg whites on high speed until they form soft peaks. Add the remaining ¼ cup sugar and beat until the egg whites form stiff peaks,. 

In three batches, use a rubber spatula to gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spread evenly, and bake until the top starts to brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just some moist crumbs attached, 40-45 minutes.

While the cake is baking, soak the cherries in the liqueur in a small bowl. Run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan to release the cake from the pan. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes.

While the cake is cooling, make the glaze:
In a heavy-based medium saucepan, stir the sugar and ½ cup water together over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to medium high and cook, swirling occasionally and brushing down the sides of a pan with a wet pastry brush to wash down any sugar crystals, until the caramel turns a deep, amber brown. Carefully add ¼ cup water (it will bubble a lot; be careful as it is VERY hot), and whisk together until the mixture acquires an even, syrupy consistency. Drain the cherries and then stir them into the caramel, along with the chopped almonds.

Remove the sides of the springform pan. Using a second rack, flip the cake over and remove the bottom of the pan. Peel off the parchment paper. Place a 12" cake plate over the cake and flip to get the cake on the plate. Pour the caramel mixture evenly over the cake, distributing the cherries evenly over the top. The glaze will spill over the sides. Let the cake cool completely to room temperature before serving.

Note: To toast the almonds, place them in a small baking pan in a 325°F oven for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally so they toast evenly. Watch carefully once they start to brown because they can burn quickly.

Altitude Adjustment (5400 ft.):
  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • When beating egg whites, beat to very soft peaks before adding the sugar. Once the sugar is added, only beat to soft peaks.
  • Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F when you place the cake in the oven.
Adapted from a recipe at

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Food Photos: The Bane of My Existence

Why do I use photos that clearly aren't a photo of the dish I'm writing about? Because I hate having to take photos of my food! Sometimes, it's my dinner. If I need to style the dish, I'm eating a cold dinner. No thank you! Sometimes, my dinner isn't particularly photogenic. As a blog reader, I'm annoyed by articles that have endless photos of the food from every angle along with many photos of the production. Overkill, I say. I also have no patience for scrolling over a bunch of photos to get to the recipe I am looking for.

But, a photo is important for catching a reader's eye in the overwhelming noise that is the internet. That's why I include interesting photos of food that I have found in Wikipedia Commons in my posts, when I don't like/can't be bothered to snap a gauzy, perfectly lit photo of my dinner (oh, wait, I never do that). Live with it. I cook and I write about food which is my passion. Photography definitely isn't my passion. I leave that to people who are way better at it than I am!

Now, I discover that the photos blow up my list of most popular posts. Ugh! As I said, photos make me crazy. [It's a bug in the widget from Blogger so I hope the thumbnails will reappear at some point.]

The photo above is mine. It's not all that pretty but that cauliflower sure tastes good! It's seasoned with tahini, lemon juice, and Aleppo pepper. Aleppo red pepper is slightly spicy - not nearly as hot as crushed Italian red pepper - and has a lovely fruity flavor. I think it's far more useful in the kitchen than crushed red pepper because it's more subtle. Find some. You won't be sorry. It's great on eggs, hummus, chicken, and right here in this cauliflower recipe.

Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini and Lemon
(serves 4-6)

non-stick cooking spray
1 large head of cauliflower
¼ cup tahini
juice of 1 lemon
¼ to 1 teaspoon Aleppo red pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray a large rimmed cookie sheet generously with non-stick cooking spray.

Trim off leaves and cut off the tough bottom of the stem on the head of cauliflower. Most of the stalk is edible so don't try to cut out all of it. It will cook up tender. Slice the cauliflower about ½" thick. The slices won't hold together; doesn't matter. Put the cauliflower, in a single layer, on the greased cookie sheet. Spray with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt. Roast the cauliflower in the hot oven for 30 minutes or until tender.

While the cauliflower is roasting, combine the tahini, lemon juice, and Aleppo pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.

When the cauliflower is done, remove from the oven and increase the heat to broil. Spread the tahini sauce evenly over the cauliflower. Return the cauliflower to the oven and broil until the sauce browns up. Serve hot.