Thursday, March 27, 2008

Skillet Greens with Cumin and Tomatoes

Skillet Greens with Cumin and Tomatoes

Another one from the April 2008 issue of Bon Appetit magazine?!

This one is a true winner. Simple, all available and recognizable ingredients, and best of all: a great way to dress up one of the few foods that isn't restricted from any diet: greens.

The recipe called for sauteeing garlic; I immediately departed and used shallots instead. I just like them. But I will try garlic next time, I think they'd stand up better to the cumin.

Sauteeing some sort of onion relative and cumin together in olive oil is brilliant. Brilliant! From the first sizzle of saute, I was hooked. Then add in the greens, and it's already fabulously promising. Once the tomatoes went in, the scent of the cumin had me dancing with impatience to try it. And there isn't long to wait, since greens cook so quickly.

I used a mixture of kale, spinach and a little arugula. I like arugula in salads, but I'd never heard of it cooked in dishes (is there a reason for that?) No matter, I really couldn't distinguish the arugula. The only thing I'd do differently with the greens next time is to keep out more stems, which the recipe wisely advises.

And wow, it completely delivered. I loved it! The tomatoes lent a sweet punch to greens that can lean toward bitterness, but also made for a very attractive dish.

This recipe hits the mark on every count: simple, few and easily available ingredients, super-healthy, acceptable to even the strictest vegan or diabetic, flexible, fast -- and really, really good. 10!

Chocolate Honey Tart

Chocolate Honey Tart

Another find from the April 2008 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. Why did I save 8 recipes from a magazine I don't like that much? For this one, I think it was the photo with the recipe, which looked nothing like my chocolate tart.

I had some technical issues making the crust. First, I used chocolate bunny grahams, suffering a stab of the creeps grinding up little bunnies in a food processor. They were too dense, I really needed real chocolate graham crackers. Next, I overbaked the crust so it came out too crunchy. Then I realized I'd omitted the honey -- hello, it's in the recipe name! -- from the crust. I attempted to compensate by drizzling some honey onto the crust afterward, but I can't say it added much.

I made the full recipe and split it across 4 mini-tart pans, simply because I didn't have a single full-size tart pan.

For chocolate, I used a mixture of 73% cocoa Dagoba chips (disks, really), and some Ghirardelli semisweet chips. I wanted a grownup chocolate, and one that wasn't too sweet, but in this form I think more semisweet and less 73% would have been called for.

It was time to learn how to make and drizzle icing from a baggie with its corner snipped off! I mixed some confectioner's sugar and half-and-half and a few drops of honey (gotta get it in somehow), put them into a ziploc bag, snipped off the corner, and drizzled away. This was fun, until I realized I should have sealed the bag when much of the icing oozed out the top onto my hand. But it got the point across.

A few raspberry sprinkles (from a sprinkle bottle misplaced in the baking chocolate aisle at Whole Foods -- which I took to be a sign from my cooking fairy godmother) made for a lovely presentation.

A photographer friend was visiting, so I used the opportunity to learn how to improve my food photography. He didn't have the right lens for this sort of close-up shot, but was able to get a nice one anyway with his fancy-schmancy SLR camera.

But even more telling is the shot he got with my so-not-fancy point-and-shoot.

Both taken in my dim dining room. The right camera and lighting would make a big difference, but the biggest difference is in the photographer.

I could probably improve the next tart with a better crust and slightly sweeter chocolate, but I can't say that heavy rich chocolate desserts are my favorite anyway. I like cakier things. I'm sold on the icing technique though!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Orecchiette Carbonara with Leeks

Orecchiette Carbonara with Leeks

My recipe ideas seem to be driven more by coincidence and impulse than any practical matter. This time, I caught a bit of Robin Miller's Quick Fix Meals, in which she made a carbonara with prosciutto. The same day I found this recipe in the April 2008 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. Add to that the coincidence of having some prosciutto to use up, and some orecchiette taking up pantry space for far too long, and the need for a trip to Whole Foods anyway for the leeks, and we have a dinner plan.

I love ultra-simple recipes. Not too many ingredients, all easily available, each making a big mark on the final composition. It's colorful and tasted just how it looks -- soft in some places, with zing in others.

The recipe actually called for bacon, but I really liked how the thin prosciutto added unexpected crunch with lots of flavor. In fact, this recipe doesn't even call for salt, and didn't need it -- how often does that happen? I was surprised how flavorful it was from so few ingredients.

My orecchiette fell apart though! I only had a few actual ear shapes, otherwise it was mostly pasta pieces. And it doesn't still taste the same, since how it looks matters a great deal. Fortunately, this one really still tasted great.

I threw caution to the winds and didn't have a mac'n'cheese backup for the kids. I often rely on hot dogs and chicken nuggets for a quick fix, but if I'm making dinner for all of us, they get grownup food. Besides, my younger son is game to try almost anything.

My older son took one look at this mixture and said, "I'm not eating that!"

With resignation, I served everyone and then did some quick triage in the kitchen. When I entered the dining room, I was shocked to see my husband and both boys all quietly eating it. My older son even said, "Mm, I like this, Mom!" I didn't push my luck by asking what got them to try it.

A winner. I might have to extend my trial subscription to Bon Appetit after all.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Arugula and Goat Cheese Tartine

Argula and Goat Cheese Tartine

One unexpected side-effect of having children is joining mom's groups and hence going to a lot of potluck parties. It's always a challenge coming up with things to bring that can be easily eaten without sitting down at a table with a fork and knife. Never mind that kids will actually eat.

But sometimes, mom's groups get together without the kids (shh, those are our favorite events), and then we can go to town with grownup food and ingredients. This tartine recipe is among them. It came again from the Barefoot Contessa episode "French Made Easy." I made it even easier by buying mini-toasts at Whole Foods -- or so I thought. The tiny size called for cherry tomatoes, which are definitely not easy to slice.

Goat cheese also came from Whole Foods, and I wilted like an arugula leaf when one of the moms said, "You can get a whole huge log of this for $4! at Trader Joe's!" Not at Whole Foods. I've never worked with arugula before, the leaf doesn't have much body, so it sticks and conforms well to the goat cheese smear, but isn't easy to work with since it's so droopy and even stretchy.

I thought this was a wonderful combination. The goat cheese was smooth and creamy, but not so strong that the sweetly bitter argula couldn't get a word in edgewise. Sweet cherry tomatoes are a joy all by themselves. The combination was also delightfully colorful. If I had to pick a nit, it's that the arugula leaf wasn't attractive since it wilted so quickly.

Overall this got good reviews from the moms. From me too, though the preparation was a little more work than I'd expected, but I brought that on myself by buying such a small base.

I have to wonder how this would do with basil too...hmm!