A few mornings ago my fridge was completely empty of vegetables...which was good because I was leaving on a long weekend trip home to Ohio. My flight was in the afternoon, which was such a luxury. I usually take early flights when heading east. So I was able to make myself a nice meal before heading to the airport...with leftovers to take on the plane. Ever since I read 'Cooking For Mr. Latte' by Amanda Hesser, my view on plane food has changed. She takes a gourmet meal with her every time she flies. So I thought, why not do the same?
I took a power walk down the street to run some errands, and popped into the grocery for asparagus and a bottle of ginger Kombucha tea. All the other ingredients were waiting for me at home. It was one of those days that I felt like I had all the hours in the world to get ready, and then once I got home from the grocery, I was a frantic tornado in my apartment...flipping an egg, caramelizing shallots, packing the last minute charging cords into my suitcase, checking my flight status (which was delayed), and watering my plants. I whipped up the asparagus, ate, packaged the rest in a plastic container for the plane and ran.
Caramelized Shallots and Asparagus
Yields 2 servings
This is a super simple way to fancy up your vegetables, whether you have fifteen minutes or two hours. If you have a shallot or onion laying around needing attention, pull out the brown sugar and get caramelizing.
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, very thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
1 level Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 bunch asparagus, chopped into small eraser-sized pieces
Additional splash of olive oil
Heat a medium saute pan on medium heat. Pour in the olive oil and allow to heat up. Drop in the shallots. Cook for a good 10 minutes until they become nice and relaxed, fully cooked and browned. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and saute for another minute. Add in the brown sugar and stir to coat each piece and allow the sugar to melt. Splash in the balsamic and stir quickly (it may get really steamy for a few seconds depending on the heat of the pan). Scoop the shallots out of pan and onto a separate plate.
Plop the asparagus into the same pan and stir in a little extra olive oil to release any of the leftover sugars in the bottom. Cook the asparagus for 3-5 minutes, adding in salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat and stir in the caramelized shallots. Serve as a side to an omelet and toast or at dinner with baked chicken and wild rice.
Posted by Alli Shircliff at 11:40 PM
Risotto is a comfort food that creeps into my mind on cold windy days. It is a sort of an adult version of macaroni and cheese but with all the veggies, a splash of wine and a toasted seed accent. It always reminds me of my trip to Europe about three years ago. I hopped around to seventeen cities, within five countries using trains, buses, and mostly my feet...all in the matter of five weeks. Needless to say, I had to nourish myself with samplings of every type of cuisine.
My favorite two weeks were in Italy. I had grand plans to make it all the way down to Sicily. But after my first stop in Venice for two nights, I quickly realized that if I wanted to fully experience a city, I would have to stay at least two nights per city. And I already mapped out Florence, Rome, Sienna, Milan and Cinque Terre. The days and nights were adding up. So Rome would be the most southern city for that particular trip. Always a good reason to come back to do Southern Italy another time.
I really outdid myself by the end of the Rome trip. By foot, I covered all the major (and minor) landmarks, ate pasta, pizza, fresh mozzarella, chocolate croissants, many shots of espresso and glasses of wine. I walked at least ten miles a day. After going to Pisa and Cinque Terra, I stumbled into Milan for my last Italian stop. I had just been on the beach in Cinque Terre, to sadly be greeted with rainy Seattle weather while in Milan. So the only thing left to do was eat and shop. I got quite an bagful of great shoes and clothes. But my most memorable part of Milan was artichoke heart risotto.
I wasn't staying in the nicest area of town, so I went for a fairly early dinner of risotto and red wine. Upon arrival of my steamy plate, my eyes widen...my posture straightened. I think the lights may have even dimmed and turned a shade of red. I vowed to savor every single bite of this perfect dish. I could smell the wine wafting from the plump pieces of rice.
So when I got the invitation from Judith to attend a pressure cooking class at Allrecipes I jumped on the chance...hoping risotto would be on the menu. And sure enough it was. In addition to apple bread pudding, carrot orange ginger soup, and farfalle with sausage and peppers. It was quite amazing to see how much time is saved by cooking with a pressure cooker. After the squash and onions were cooked and the pressure was applied to to the pan, the risotto only needed about seven minutes to work it's magic. So I thought, 'Why don't I try a similar recipe at home, and see how much longer it will take in an old regular pan.' The difference was about twenty minutes. Quite a savings in time. I am convinced now of the time saving abilities in addition to the versatility of a pressure cooker. I mean...apple bread pudding in about twenty minutes? Not bad at all.
Butternut Squash and Kale Risotto
Inspired by Rachel Fredricks' cooking demo at Allrecipes kitchen
Risotto is one of those dishes just asking for variety. It is a chance for you to use extra vegetables in the fridge or freezer...such as frozen artichoke hearts, mushrooms or peas. Butternut squash and kale are really bright and flavorful so try those out too. Any sort of broth will do as well.
1 Tbsp olive oil
3-4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into small 1/2-1'' cubes (fresh or frozen)
(Save the seeds to roast and top the risotto. Directions below)
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice, dry
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth) + 2-3 cups water (as needed)
1/2 cup white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)
2 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh kale, minced into tiny pieces
Butternut squash seeds
Salt and pepper
Pull out a medium to large saute pan because this is a pretty bulky dish. Turn the heat onto medium and warm up the olive oil. Pour in the squash and the onions. Saute until the onions get slightly translucent and the squash has softened a little bit. There is more cooking to do, so they don't need to be fully cooked yet.
At this point, preheat your oven to 425 degrees if you are going to roast the seeds. Clean the seeds in a strainer to get rid of any extra stringy squash insides. Dry by squeezing them in a towel. Transfer to a small bowl and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour the seeds onto a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet. Roast for about 10 minutes. Check on them often to be sure they aren't burnt. You may need to keep in a little longer if they aren't quite crisp after 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
Meanwhile, add the rice to the squash and onions. Stir for a few minutes so the rice gets a little toasted. Sprinkle in a little salt and pepper. This is when your workout starts. Pour in about a cup of the broth and continuously stir until all the liquid gets absorbed. Repeat the with rest of the broth, doing a cup at a time. Slowly but surely, the rice will begin to fluff up. Add in the wine next. I add this toward the end so you still get a hint of the wine flavor by the time you eat it. At this point, use additional water if it isn't cooked fully by the time you use up the broth and wine. This stirring process should take about 20 minutes...give or take 5 minutes.
Once the rice is cooked, stir in the butter so that every piece of rice gets a little coating. Sprinkle in the cheese and fully integrate it until all is melted. Add in the kale. You will have a nicely green flecked risotto. Adjust any salt and pepper needs.
Plate immediately. Drop a few roasted squash seeds on top of each serving. Serve alongside chicken and roasted vegetables like we did or whatever suits your fancy.
Posted by Alli Shircliff at 10:31 PM
These two mysterious sauces at Indian restaurants used to always intrigue me. Before I was of the mind to simply ask what they were, I just dipped away unknowingly. I knew the green sauce was made of cilantro and was the spicier of the two. Although I preferred the sweet dark sauce thinking it was of a plum nature.
Until...several years ago my mom loaned me The Hindi Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan. This is a story of mothers and daughters, relationships, and tradition...with recipes and food flavoring the way. Each chapter ends with a recipe that has been discussed in some form. Upon finishing the book, I photocopied every recipe and have been using them as reference for the past five years. She successfully demystifies Indian cooking and simultaneously warms the heart and the kitchen. Years later I still think about the book especially when I am on a long flight home or am cooking a big Indian meal.
My little apartment has experienced cashew butter chicken, chapatis, homemade naan and paneer, curried cauliflower, aloo gobi...just to list a few. My favorite part of cooking Indian food is the warmth and spice it adds to the room and to our spirit. There is something quite magical about the way a room transforms with the perfume of cinnamon, the dip of naan and the light of a candle. This post is also in celebration of upcoming Diwali aka 'festival of lights'. I am not of Hindu background, but from what I hear and read, it is a celebration among family and friends on the triumph of good over evil. What a great way to start the fall season but with family, friends, food and celebration.
So pull out your pots and pans and start celebrating. Or in the case of this recipe, gather up the mint and cilantro, squeeze the lime and start blending...and dip away with full knowledge of what the chutney entails. If you are wondering what the dark sweet chutney is... it is tamarind! Remind me to feature that on another occasion.
From 'The Hindi Bindi Club' book
Yields 1 cup
1 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
1/4 cup yellow onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated (or chopped)
1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced (use more or less as you like)
3/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp lime juice (freshly squeezed)
2 Tbsp water
Measure all ingredients into your food processor or blender. Blend until smooth (like the texture of pesto) and pour into a small serving bowl. Letting the flavors marry for at least 15 minutes is ideal before serving. But if time is ticking, it will still be a refreshing start of the meal for your guests. Dip papadams and naan or pour a little over your rice.
Posted by Alli Shircliff at 3:35 PM
This morning is one of the most heavenly mornings. I was actually dreaming last night about how great my morning was going to be today. As of recent, I have stepped onto a social roller coaster that just hasn't stopped moving. It has been the most glorious ride with beautiful scenery and dozens and dozens of people, food and experiences. I equate it much to the boat ride they take in Willy Wonka...but without the worms crawling over the people's faces. Those of you that need a refresher, click on the highlighted Willy Wonka above, and you will go directly to the scene. There have been a few days in the past weeks where I felt like the image they show of Willy Wonka sitting there looking back and forth slowly with his eyes...taking in the scenario...with his wild hair only partially contained under his top hat. Take out the terror and confusion in the video, and add in laughter, wine glasses clinking and sunny rolling hills and you've got a glimpse of my most recent adventures.
It all started with my solo road trip down to San Francisco. It was a fairly last minute decision on my part, but I got an offer to house sit in the Mission and I just couldn't turn down such a fun offer. So I literally packed up my car in a matter of a Sunday evening and headed South. Along the way, I visited with a friend in Portland, went to Bob's Red Mill Headquarters, stayed at a lovely B&B in Ashland, reported my fresh produce to the California border patrol, and sang my way through the hills of northern California to the Mission.
During vacation I always intend to have relaxing days, but I get so excited to explore and 'Carpe Diem' as B and M say. So my mental calendar of events builds with every sip of coffee in the morning. I think 'well if I am in that area of town, I can see this and that while I am there'...and all of the sudden I have a personal brochure of events in my head.
A few of the activities I covered: familiarizing myself with the Italian deli in the Mission, driving out to the coast to Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay followed by a lovely Indian dinner with M in warm Palo Alto. I also got a thorough visit with the Berkeley area, had lunch at Chez Panisse, had coffee with a fellow blogger, discount clothes shopped with a friend and had dinner with another friend in downtown SF. I explored the raw vegan community's local watering hole and restaurant (twice)...starting dinner off with a shot of wheat grass and a bowl of raw butternut squash and apple soup. Amazingly good. So fresh and clean. I walked home feeling vibrant and full of nutrients and ideas for the next day.
I could go on and on about the SF trip...but I will save those anecdotes for another rainy day...that was just a few days worth of detail. But one point I must mention is how much I have learned in the past three weeks. That the more you open yourself to new experiences, the more colorful your life's canvas gets painted. And you find yourself in situations you would have never imagined. Life is so wonderful in that way. And as they say, 'The universe is generous to those who follow their heart.'
Now that brings us full circle to the pineapple compote. This morning was the first morning in three weeks with not a mark on my social calendar. This was by design....and much much needed. I woke up, whipped up some French toast, tossed together the pineapple compote and sipped coffee. I have been devouring Woody Allen movies recently...so I popped in 'Melinda and Melinda' while taking pictures of pineapple. I am taking myself on a date to the movies later and might sneak in my own bag of homemade truffle popcorn and a little jar of 'juice'...Ahh life is good. Stay tuned for more.
Pineapple Coconut Compote
Yields about 1/2 cup
You will see below that I used two different kinds of coconut...unsweetened and sweetened. I did this simply because I had both on hand and prefer my dishes on the less sweet side. But by all means, use 100% sweetened coconut if you prefer. You can also experiment with different types of juice. Compote is rich with opportunity to use different fruits and juices that you already have in the refrigerator.
1 cup frozen pineapple chunks
2 Tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut
1 Tbsp sweetened coconut
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 Tbsp orange juice
Measure all of the above ingredients into a small saute pan. Turn heat onto medium. Slowly stir all ingredients together and bring to a simmer. Allow to simmer for about 10 minutes until the liquid has reduced down to more of a syrup. Here you can you use your personal preference. You can either turn off the heat and spoon the compote onto your French toast immediately. Or you can pour it into a food processor to have a more pureed version, such as myself. Even with pureeing, you will still get the pleasure of chewing it a bit because of the coconut. Whichever way you go, you can serve it atop a piece of bread or French toast sprinkled with a little more coconut. Or you can refrigerate and eat it more as a jam.
Posted by Alli Shircliff at 2:26 PM
A few weeks ago, in the midst of the other dinner extravaganzas, I had another one with my Food Group girlfriends. This is an ever evolving group of girls that get together to talk about food, wine, love, jobs, traveling...all the topics of interest for girls in their 30s and 40s. The core of our group is that we have a common love of food and either already work in the field, or have a desire to and try to help each other out with ideas.
We can always count on a having extremely tasty food when we get together. I wanted to experiment with a Cooking Light recipe...Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato soup. I am not usually one to serve soups at dinner parties, but thought since it was at my house, I could dirty up as many pots, pans and dishes as needed. So R, S, D, K and I gathered around the table...
As you can see, a common theme of my parties is using un-matching dishes that complement each other some way. It adds a level of comfort to the setting. I had tons of leftover mint from the Indian feast the week before and parsley from the soup recipe. So I made a yogurt dip with mint, parsley, lime juice and lots of pepper. It was a spicy start to the evening. As the guests all trickled in, the table quickly filled with wine, kale salad, Caprese skewers, mushroom risotto (made in a pressure cooker). I mean, can it get any better than this? Yes it can...we finished the night off with fresh berries and shortcake hydrated with a heavy pour of port.
So next time you have friends over for dinner, you can really outdo yourself by making this recipe. It has so many different dimensions that come together to make a warming start to the rest of your evening. It goes really well with a glass of red wine too...but then again, what doesn't?
Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup
Adapted from Cooking Light August 2011
Yields 4-6 servings
This is one of those soup that surprises you with every sip. The combination of the roasted red pepper with the toasted chickpeas and almonds and fresh parsley weaves itself together for a thoroughly satisfying starter. The original recipe calls for smoked paprika, which I didn't have, so I used a smoked red chili powder. It also calls for adding ham to the chickpeas while roasting. I had vegetarian guests, so didn't do this part, but it sounds like a nice salty dimension.
1 red bell pepper, cut in half and de-seeded
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
8 cloves garlic, peeled and divided (3 diced and keep 5 whole)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 28oz can whole peeled tomatoes, no salt added with or without basil added
1/2 tsp smoked paprika or smoked chili powder
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 15oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp chopped almonds, toasted
Preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper. Place the red pepper, skin side up, on the sheet. Broil until blackened. (Depending on your broiler, can take 8-15 minutes.) Remove from oven and put the hot red pepper in a plastic bag and seal. Set aside to let it steam in the bag. After about 10 minutes, remove from bag to easily peel the blackened skin off.
Reduce the oven heat to 450 degrees. In a large saute pan or Dutch oven, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the 3 diced garlic cloves and saute for just a minute or so. Add the cream and tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add in the paprika (or smoked chili powder), sprinkle of salt, and red pepper flakes. Stirring occasionally, simmer for 20 minutes with a lid on. Turn off heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Ladle the tomato mixture into a food processor or blender. Add in the peeled red pepper. Puree until very smooth.
Pour the chickpeas and 5 peeled whole garlic cloves onto your baking sheet lined with fresh parchment or Silpat. Slowly pour the 2 Tbsp olive oil, cumin and pinch of salt onto the chickpeas. Toss evenly. Roast for about 10 minutes. Give the chickpeas a good stir. In a dry corner of the same sheet, pour in your almonds to toast. Roast for another 3-5 minutes making sure the almonds don't burn.
Ladle the pureed soup into soup bowls. Top with the roasted chickpeas, almonds and fresh parsley. Get ready for an incredibly synergistic experience to start to your dinner.
Posted by Alli Shircliff at 3:04 PM
It is that recipe swap time of month again! Christianna from Burwell General Store's monthly choice of recipe from her vintage cookbook had gotten all of us recipe swappers excited and into our kitchens whipping up different twists. This month's recipe is called Hot Slaw....I have to say I looked at this with partially squeezed eyes using peripheral vision. I audibly let out a quick 'Hm?' Hot dressing on hot cabbage?
So I brought it up the situation with my mom. And to my pleasant surprise, she told me that this is a common dish served in Cincinnati...with the addition of bacon. Ahah. My roots knew hot slaw. She had me at bacon. As many vegetarian converts agree, bacon was my trasitional food back into the land of carnivore. I was 'veg' for about nine years before I started having dreams about bacon. BLTs. Pancakes and bacon. Crispy bacon by itself. I would wake up asking myself 'Did I eat bacon?' 'Should I tell someone about these dreams?' 'Why am I not eating bacon?'
So after a few more of these dreams I confessed to my roommate M, who was also a 'veg' that I was considering crossing over the tracks. To my delight, she had been considering the same thing. So hand in hand we joined the community of meat eaters and haven't looked back. My brother still likes to remind me that these slices of bacon were once animals. True as it is, I just couldn't deny what my subconscious was integrating into my dreams.
So I transformed the original vegetarian version of the hot slaw by sprinking it with a tad of saltiness from our good friend bacon. This bumped up the heartiness of the dish and almost made it a meal in itself. M and M (girlfriends, not the multi-colored treat) came over for a progressive dinner of homemade hummus with homemade pita chips and carrots and wine. Followed by slaw and broccoli with warm bacon dressing. Followed by gnocchi with pesto. Followed by peanut butter cookies with chocolate, coconut and homemade vanilla whipped cream. Can you tell I was trying to clear out the cabinets and refrigerator?
I experimented with adding the dressing to steamed broccoli as you can see in the picture below. We all agreed that we actually liked it better on the broccoli versus the cabbage because it soaked up the dressing a little better. So try either vegetable...or branch out and try a different one. Either way, you can't go wrong with bacon infused dressing.
Everyone in our swap group has a different story to tell about the cooking adventure leading to the recipe. So please check out each one!
Slaw with Warm Bacon Dressing
Adapted from Epicurious.com
Yields about 4 servings
Out of habit, I accidentally poured out all of the bacon drippings after pulling the pieces out of the pan. After I promptly cleaned the pan, I could have hit myself on the forehead with it. The bacon drippings are supposed to flavor the dressing...Ack! Oh well, less saturated fat. So as you make this, you can either pour out the drippings, or use some of them, or all of them. Just be sure to replace them with plenty of olive oil. This is why I have given a range for the oil. The amount can be determined by how much bacon dripping you choose to use.
1/2 head of purple cabbage, sliced very thinly
2 slices of good quality thick bacon
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup raisins
4 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
First begin by taking the half of purple cabbage and carefully slice it into the thinnest pieces possible. I used a big serrated bread knife and that worked out quite beautifully. In big handfuls, place into a large bowl. Pinch a bit of salt into the cabbage and massage it a little to soften it. We want it to keep it's crisp quality, but allow it some time to relax just a little. Set this aside while preparing the dressing.
Heat a medium to large skillet on mediun high heat. In a dangling manner, place the bacon into the heated pan. Allow to cook and crispen enough on both sides so that it will easily break apart later. With tongs, take the cooked bacon out of pan and let it dry off on a paper towel lined plate.
Here you can either pour out a little bit of the grease and add in olive oil, or keep all the grease in and add less olive oil. Chef's choice here. Lower the heat to medium and add in the garlic and raisins. Cook just until the garlic begins to lightly brown, just a minute or two. Add in the vinegar, a little more olive oil, salt and pepper and simmer for a few minutes. Crumble the bacon into the dressing. Carefully taste. If it needs an addition of something, do so now.
Turn off burner and pour the warm dressing over the relaxed cabbage. Toss well. Serve immediately as an appetizer, alongside a nice piece of grilled chicken or as a slaw on a grilled portabello mushroom sandwich.
Posted by Alli Shircliff at 6:15 PM