Recipes and Me

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Avocado and Grapefruit - the Perfect Marriage

I’m on a roll with salads as of late!  This recipe needs little introduction, it’s that good.  And best of all it is one of the simplest salads (say that five times) you could prepare, yet it looks so pretty that it can easily be served when you have friends or more formal company over for lunch or dinner.  I confess that I sometimes have eaten this salad 3 days in a row when I am experiencing an addiction to grapefruit or avocado.  The most surprising thing is how full you actually feel after eating it.  It looks so demure and delicate but the healthy fats from the avocado keep you full and happy and the grapefruit is refreshing and light.  It’s a perfect marriage.   I first had this salad at a nice restaurant years ago and I don’t remember the meal being particularly memorable but the salad certainly was and ever since then I have loved the combination of avocado and grapefruit.  About a year ago I came across a recipe Ina Garten has for this salad and I liked the simplicity and flavor of her vinaigrette recipe.  The tanginess it adds is perfect with the buttery avocado.  This version is an adaptation of Ina Garten’s recipe from her book, Barefoot in Paris (beautiful book).  Enjoy!

Avocado and Grapefruit Salad
Serves 4-6

3 ripe Hass avocados (the ugly looking brownish ones – they are the best)
3 large red grapefruits
1/2 cup good fruity olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Place the Dijon mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a bowl.  I have a trick here for dressings – I use an oblong bowl which is so good for the whisking motion needed to make a mixture emulsify into a dressing.  Slowly whisk in the olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified.

Cut the avocados in half and remove the pits (just whack the pit with a knife and it will come right out).  Use a medium sized spoon to get under the avocado skin and run the spoon all the way around to lift the avocado meat, in tact, out of the skin.  Cut each avocado half into 5 slices. Place the slices in the vinaigrette and set aside. Use a large sharp knife to slice the peel off the grapefruits, removing any white bits from the skin.  Hold the grapefruit in one hand and, with the other hand, cut between the membranes to release the grapefruit segments.  The juices will start to spill out of the grapefruit so make sure you are doing this over a cutting board or paper towels!

I like to arrange the grapefruit on individual serving plates as a bed for the avocado, just spoon the avocado out of the vinaigrette and place on top of the grapefruit.  It’s just such a beautiful display of color.  Arrange it however you feel looks best, you really can’t go wrong with arranging this salad.  If needed, drizzle a bit more vinaigrette on top, and give it one last sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spring on the Salads!

Spring is finally here and as if my taste buds have automatically adjusted to the change, I’ve been having cravings for great entrée salads.  Not just a boring plate of greens and dressing, but something interesting with a lot of flavor.  So last weekend while sitting outside on the patio, catching up on some reading, I got a craving for one of my favorite salads – Salade Lyonnaise.  It’s a salad I discovered while living in France for a short while.  It involves a wildly free type of lettuce, a warm dressing with bacon and sweet shallots, crispy homemade croutons, and a beautiful poached egg right on top.  It seems as if every bistro in Paris has a rendition of this salad, it truly is a classic.  And it’s genius. It involves but a few components and yet the variety of textures and flavors is so satisfying.  Now there is one thing I must say upfront.  This recipe involves a poached egg, a really runny one.  For all you anti-runny egg people let me say, I’ve never been a huge fan of runny eggs either (well I guess until I discovered this salad).  Admittedly, I’m mostly a scrambled egg kind of girl.  But in this recipe having the bright yellow yolk nice and runny is so key to the flavor and creaminess of this salad.  Just trust me, don’t overcook the egg.  You’ll like it…a lot.

Salade Lyonnaise (Frisée Salad with lardons and poached egg)
4 servings

7-8 cups (8 oz. or so) frisée lettuce, washed and trimmed into bite sized pieces
Rustic bread (I use a sourdough boule, French baguettes work well also)
½ pound good quality thick sliced bacon
2 small or 1 medium shallot, chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
4 tablespoons sherry vinegar (could also use a nice white wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon mild Dijon mustard
4 eggs (use VERY fresh eggs, they won’t poach correctly if they’re not fresh)
1 teaspoon white vinegar
Kosher salt
Cracked black pepper
Olive Oil (I prefer a lighter fruity olive oil for salads)

Put washed and trimmed frisée lettuce in a large salad bowl and set aside.  Slice bread into 3 slices that are about 2 inches thick.  Remove the crusts from the slices of bread and discard.  Cut the bread into big cubes, about 1 inch in size.  Drizzle just a little olive oil over the bread cubes, sprinkle a tiny bit of salt and pepper over the bread and just toss a couple of times with your fingers to moisten all of the bread.  Heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Throw the bread in the pan and toast, turning as needed to toast on all sides, for 5-7 minutes until the bread cubes have turned into golden croutons.  Turn off the heat, remove the croutons from the pan and set aside (it’s ok to snack on one or two to reward yourself for your crouton making patience, they are pretty irresistible).  Wipe the pan so there aren’t any bread bits left. 

Cut the bacon slices crosswise into strips about ½ inch thick.  Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in the pan and bring it to medium heat.  Put the bacon in the pan and fry for about 10 minutes until crisp.  Remove the bacon strips (lardons) and place them on a paper towel.  Add the chopped shallots to the pan and cook for a couple of minutes until they become soft.  Add the sherry vinegar and Dijon mustard to the pan and whisk until it begins to boil and then turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, bring a saucepan (4 qt. or slightly larger) with 2 inches of salted water and the teaspoon of white vinegar to a very gentle simmer.  Crack an egg into a small dish and at water level tip it into the simmering water.  Wait just a few seconds and then use a spoon to push the white of the egg around the yolk so it is completely covered (with an older egg, you’ll have a bunch of wispy pieces of the white that pull away from the yolk and leave the yolk exposed).  Let it poach for 2 minutes. Meanwhile crack the next egg and follow the same step (I usually do 2 eggs at a time in the pan and then start over with the last 2).  Remove the eggs as they are ready and place on a plate with a paper towel to drain off any water.

Throw the croutons in the bowl with the greens.  Put the bacon back in the pan with the dressing, bring it to medium heat just for a minute to warm through, and stir (the dressing may separate a bit, it’s ok).  Pour the warm bacon dressing over the lettuce (it will wilt a little) and toss to coat.  Sprinkle with kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste.  Top each person’s salad portion with a poached egg (everyone gets to break their own egg and let the creamy yolk become part of the salad dressing).

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Banana Fana Fo Fana...with Chocolate

If there’s one breakfast bread I love, it’s banana bread.  When else do you get to say, “Oops I forgot about that fruit sitting on the counter and now it’s black.  Great, I’ll use it to bake something fantastic” ?  Rarely, I hope.  And the other reason I love banana bread is that there are so many variations you can try that work beautifully.  Like coconut?  Try throwing a bit of shredded coconut in the batter one time.   Like walnuts or chocolate, or both? Throw some in the batter another time. 

So this version is one I like to make with dark chocolate chunks and walnuts, they both go so well with the strong banana flavor and the bitterness from the chocolate provides a nice contract to the classically sweet banana.

Banana Bread with Chocolate Chunks and Walnuts

4 very ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs beaten
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temp
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 ¾ cups all purpose flour + 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Cream together butter and sugar for a few minutes until fluffy and light yellow.  Add the beaten eggs and mashed bananas and combine well.  Sift together 1 ¾ cups all purpose flour, the salt, the baking soda, and the baking powder.  Add the dry ingredients to the banana mixture, mixing 1/3 at a time.  Scrape down the bowl as necessary to make sure all of the ingredients mix well.  Don’t overmix the batter.  Add the vanilla and mix briefly just to incorporate before turning off the mixer.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of flour over the chocolate chunks and chopped walnuts and mix with your hands to ensure the flour gets on all of the chocolate and walnuts.  Add the chocolate and walnuts to the batter and stir by hand, just enough to incorporate.  Pour the batter into a well greased and floured loaf pan.  Bake 60-65 minutes or until set and golden brown.  If the bread starts to brown too quickly, tent it with foil for the remainder of its time in the oven. Let it cool (will be very gooey until the chocolate cools).  Enjoy!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Comfiest Comfort Foods

During the cold winter months (stop mocking the rest of us, you Floridians) I find myself craving warm comforting foods, nothing pretentious – just the kind of warmth you can slip on like a cozy old sweater you bring out every year.  Sometimes I get carried away with my justifications telling myself that, like animals of nature, I need the substantive stuff to carry me through winter.  Now the right side of my brain knows I’m actually referring to a bear or another hibernating creature when I think this may be a requirement for my survival through the harsh winter days in my urban and modernly well-equipped home, but if I have a molten chocolate soufflé on my mind, or an aromatic pasta with braised beef and pancetta, the kind of logic that dissuades me from enjoying these things is not going to stop me.  The truth is, rich indulgent dishes are a treasure and although they can’t be enjoyed on a consistent basis year round, unless a coronary is something you’d also be interested in having, we can certainly give into these indulgences sometimes And I find no better time than winter, that wonderful season when the wind whips around you almost like it’s attacking you and the ground is barren without any lively color.  There’s no better time to be able to come inside to a warm fireplace and a hearty yet beautiful meal that warms your bones, and quite possibly your soul.  And of course if you share it, you won’t feel so glutinous now will you?

This is one of my favorite things to make on a cold winter’s day.  I grew up making my family’s wonderful macaroni and cheese recipe so I’m well at home in this dish but this version is a bit modernized by more than the usual stick of cheddar.  It was inspired by a few things.  There was a Mac’ and Cheese dish I once had at a party and loved.  It was elegant and had a creamy white medley of cheeses.  Sitting there stuffing my face I had an epiphany, that I should try using the same cheeses I love to use in vegetable gratins for a macaroni and cheese dish.  Then, like fate, I came across a recipe the wonderful Barefoot Contessa makes for macaroni and cheese with bacon.  That’s right, bacon!  I know most of you are sold right there.  Now admittedly I have never made the Contessa’s recipe but as soon as I read the word bacon in her recipe, I knew I had to incorporate that into my dish.  What flavor!  So once again, with me in the kitchen adding a bit of this and a bit of that and with helpful inspiration, I’ve settled on a macaroni and cheese dish that is my go to recipe for company or a classy dinner at home. So of course I have to share it with you.

This will fill a 9 ½ x 14 glass dish with a little extra leftover for a small round dish to keep at home if you so sneakily choose.  You can of course halve the recipe if you’ll just be making it for dinner at home.  I’ve done this served alongside grilled peppercorn steaks and garlicky creamed spinach (I was trying to be very classy that night).  This recipe does handle adjustments very well, don’t be afraid to take liberties.

Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb corkscrew (cavatappi) or penne pasta
12 ounces thick cut bacon
12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
10 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (white), grated
5 ounces Fontina cheese, grated
2 tbsp parmesan cheese, crumbled
5 or 6 nice sized sage leaves
4 slices sourdough bread (using a sourdough bread round, day old is fine too)
4 cups whole milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 °F.  If the bread is fresh (not day old), leave the 4 slices out on a paper towel and set aside so they dry up a bit.  Place a metal baking rack on a sheet pan and position the bacon in a layer on the rack. Bake 15 to 17 minutes, until the bacon has a nice color and is pretty crisp.  Meanwhile get a stockpot of water on the stove and set the heat on high to boil the water.  When the bacon is done line a plate with a couple of layers of paper towels and transfer the bacon to the plate. Let it cool.  Meanwhile, salt the boiling water and add the pasta.  Cook until al dente, 7-8 minutes.  The bacon should be cool enough now, go ahead and cut it into ½ inch pieces while the pasta is cooking.  When the pasta is done drain it in a colander.  Give the pot a quick wipe inside with a paper towel so it is dry.  Add the butter to the stockpot.  It will start to melt immediately from the residual heat.  Set it on medium low heat on the stove.  Once the butter has melted add the flour and whisk quickly so the flour does not burn.  Whisk continuously for 1 minute until the mixture is very smooth and a bit shiny.  Add the milk SLOWLY and continue to whisk (think of it like tempering eggs, the cool milk will make the flour stiffen up a bit so adding it slowly helps the mixture emulsify better).  Keep whisking for a few minutes until the mixture is hot and completely smooth. Turn off the heat.  Now add the gruyere, extra-sharp cheddar, fontina, 2 teaspoons salt, 4 or 5 turns of freshly ground black pepper, and mix together.  Add the drained pasta and chopped bacon.  Stir well.  Pour into the large glass dish and your sneaky individual dish.

Cut the crusts off of the sourdough bread.  Place the bread slices in a food processor and grind for 5 seconds and then pulse for about 30 seconds until you have large crumbs. Tear the sage leaves in half just to help the processor out.  Add the sage leaves and the 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese and pulse to combine with the bread. Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the pasta. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is browned nicely and the cheese is bubbling.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Does it Get Easier than Roast Vegetables?

One of my favorite ways to prepare vegetables is to roast them.  It brings out this lovely sweetness and a really concentrated flavor in the vegetables.  It’s also a great way to amp up the flavor, especially in winter, when a number of vegetables aren’t at their peak and the selection is a bit limited.  And best of all, roasting vegetables is the easiest thing in the world!  You throw some veggies into a pan, pretty much whatever you like, drizzle them with some olive oil, sprinkle some salt and cracked black pepper on top, and voilà!  They’re ready to go in the oven and just hang out while you tend to other things.  While you go take a bubble bath, clean the living room, watch a little HGTV or Lifetime (I’ll never admit to watching Lifetime if questioned, just know that), or whatever it is that strikes your fancy that day, those vegetables will do all of the work for you.  No frequent stirring or check-ins needed.  In fact you want these puppies to stick to the pan a bit so they can get a nice crisp exterior and a slightly charred appearance.  

Some of my favorite vegetables to roast are carrots, parsnips, red peppers, Roma tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, and red onions.  The possibilities really are endless though.  Here is a delicious yet simple recipe I love to make because it’s a one stop shop of sorts.  You get your veggies and carbs all in one tasty dish and it’s a perfectly rustic companion for roast chicken or grilled meats.  I’ll be honest, with roast vegetables I usually throw some of this and some of that in the pan so I rarely measure anything, which makes this dish pleasantly flexible.

Roasted Carrots, Parsnips, Potatoes, and Leeks (serves 4-6)

1 pound carrots
1 pound small parsnips
1 pound small red potatoes
3-4 large leeks
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
Olive Oil
A few sprigs of thyme or any of your favorite herbs (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 °F.  Peel the parsnips and cut off the “skinny” ends. Discard the ends (they’ll burn).  Cut the parsnips in half and then again diagonally so you have 4 fairly even sized pieces for each parsnip.  You don’t need to peel the carrots, just rinse them well to get any dirt off.  Cut the carrots in the same fashion as the parsnips (if you have jumbo sized carrots you need to cut them in half first).  Cut the red potatoes in half, quarter the larger ones to ensure they cook all the way through.  Cut the ends off of the leeks and cut rounds from the leeks starting from the white part, about ½ inch thick, up to a bit of the green but stop there.  Do not cut or include the leaves, they’re not edible.  

Throw everything on the pan and sprinkle with the salt and pepper.  Add a few sprigs of thyme or any of your favorite fresh herbs if you like. Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables, about 4 tablespoons, and toss everything with your hands to get the oil on all of the vegetables.  Roast the vegetables in the oven for 40 minutes, stirring a bit around  the 20 minute mark.  And like I said, voilà!