Tequila Lime Carne Asada with Spring Salsa

My husband and I tag teamed on this one. He came up with the Tequila Lime Marinade and I came up with the Spring Salsa.

Tequila Lime Marinade

Ingredients
3 green onions
2 cloves garlic
1/3 to 1/2 of a jalapeno
1/2 cup cilantro
1/2 cup tequila (plus extra for the cook)
Juice of one lime
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon chili powder
Salt and pepper

1 pound grass-fed hanger steak (substitute flank steak or skirt steak)

Method

  • Pulse all ingredients (except steak!) in food processor until finely chopped.
  • Place steak in a non-reactive dish to marinate.
  • Slather steak with olive oil, salt and pepper generously and cover with marinade.
  • Cover and place in refrigerator for two to 12 hours.
  • Remove steak from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before cooking. It will cook more evenly if it is at room temperature.
  • Preheat oven to 375º F.
  • Heat an oven-proof frying pan to medium-high heat. A cast iron pan works great. Coat pan with thin layer of olive oil and add steak. Reserve marinade.
  • Sear both sides, about one minutes each side.
  • Add marinade to pan and place in pre-heated oven. Cook for five to 10 minutes, depending on how you like your steak done. If using a meat thermometer, see chart above.
  • Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let it rest for five to 10 minutes. Use a sharp knife and slice into thin strips.

Serve on warm corn tortillas and top with Fresh Spring Salsa.
Serves four.

Fresh Spring Salsa

I didn’t miss the tomatoes in this one bit. Experiment with any veggies you see at the farmers’ market.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 to 1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup sweet onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon jalapeno, chopped
3 medium-sized carrots, julienne (or cut to match stick size)
4 to 5 medium-sized radishes, sliced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • In a medium-sized bowl, add lime juice and honey. Mix until well blended.
  • Add onions, garlic and jalapenos to mixture and let sit for 10 minutes.
  • Add carrots, radishes and cilantro and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serves four. Keeps refrigerated for three days.

Baked Falafels

Every now and then, my husband and I get a craving for falafels (Middle Eastern chickpea fritters best smothered in a spicy tahini sauce and served on a thick pita). I’ve been hearing rumors about a falafel joint coming to Hudson, NY. Until it materializes, we’ll have to make our own to get our fix.

The first thing about making falafels that struck me was that you don’t use cooked chickpeas. In fact, if you try this recipe with cooked chickpeas, it will most likely fall apart. Dried chickpeas are key. You can usually find dried chickpeas in bulk sections of health food stores.

Chickpeas’ nutritional claim to fame, like other beans, is that they are an excellent source of dietary fiber, which helps to lower cholesterol. They are also an excellent source of folate and magnesium and a good source of iron. I like to toss in turmeric for its anti-inflammatory properties and flax seeds for a dose of brain-healthy omega 3s.

Most falafels are fried. I don’t have a problem with fried food, as long as it is fried in good oil (like coconut oil or ghee), but I prefer to bake falafels. Instead of frying a few at a time in batches, I can place all of the patties in the oven and work on the tahini sauce (or the dishes!) while they are baking.

Falafels are traditionally round balls. I find that flat patties work better, especially if you aren’t using a deep fryer. Plus they are easier to eat. Flat falafels are less likely to bust a seam in your pita. Nobody likes busted pita bread!

This recipe is adapted from a Tyler Florence recipe (his version is fried).

Ingredients
2 cups dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon cumin seeds (substitute ground cumin)
1 tablespoon coriander seeds (substitute ground coriander seeds)
1 tablespoon turmeric powder (optional)
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds (optional)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil

6 pieces of whole wheat pita bread

Mixed greens, chopped tomatoes, chopped cucumbers and diced onion for garnish (any combo of these will do).

Method

  • Place dried chickpeas in a large bowl, cover with water and soak them overnight (or up to 24 hours). Add more water, if needed. Drain and rinse thoroughly.
  • Place cumin and coriander seeds in a heavy bottom pan (I use a cast iron frying pan). Heat over medium-high heat until fragrant (3 to 5 minutes). Grind in a spice or coffee grinder.
  • Place the soaked chickpeas in a food processor and pulse to coarsely grind.
  • Add the baking powder, onion, garlic, spices and herbs; process until the mixture is pureed.
  • Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for 20 minutes (this can be made a day in advance).
  • Heat oven to 400º F.
  • Generously coat a baking sheet with olive oil (three tablespoons). The oil will give it a nice crust.
  • Form small patties with falafel mixture and place on prepared baking sheet.
  • Bake for 10 to 15 minutes on each side. You want a nice golden brown crust.
  • Open the pita bread halves to make pockets (careful not to split all the way) and place two to three falafel patties into each. Drizzle with the tahini sauce and/or hot sauce and top with greens, onions, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Makes 10 to 12 patties.

Chana Saag

This chickpea and spinach dish is one of my favorite Indian meals. It’s quick, easy and a nutritional powerhouse. Don’t fret if you don’t have all of the spices. It’s best with all of the ones listed, but could be equally delicious with other Indian spice combinations. I always buy spices in bulk. They are a fraction of the cost and you can get just the quantity you need. Ground cardamom is a good example. A 1.75 ounce jar runs about $12. In bulk, the same amount is a little over $3.

I like to double this recipe to have leftovers for lunch or to freeze for a super-quick heat-and-serve dinner.

Ingredients
2 tablespoon olive oil, butter or ghee (ghee is Indian clarified butter)
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 medium-large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, grated
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala (an Indian spice mixture)
2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more of less to taste)
2-3 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh when in season, box/canned when out of season)
4 cups of cooked chickpeas
1 pound fresh spinach (or one box/bag frozen)
1/2 cup plain yogurt

Method

  • Heat oil/butter on a large pot over medium heat. Saute onions until soft. Add garlic and ginger and saute for couple minutes. Be careful not to let the garlic get brown.
  • Mix all the dried spices together.
  • Add ginger, tomatoes and spices to pot. Cook over medium-heat for 10 minutes (if you are using frozen spinach add now).
  • Add chickpeas and fresh spinach and cook for about 10-15 minutes more, until heated through.
  • Stir in yogurt and serve
  • .

Serves 4
Serve with rice, naan (delicious Indian flat bread) and, my favorite, mango chutney.

Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto

Any day now, ANY DAY NOW, we should be greeted with a true harbinger of spring—asparagus. They start out as tiny spears poking up through the soil in the spring and end in the fall as 5-9 foot tall, unruly, ferny bushes. Asparagus is a good source of Folic Acid and potassium. Around here, you should start seeing it on farm stands in the next few weeks. I think the best asparagus is picked early in the season, so get it while the getting’s good!

To get the most tender part of an asparagus stalk, hold it at both ends and bend. It should snap at the point separating the tender part from the part that tends to get a little tough. I use the tender spear tops for steaming, grilling, etc., and save the bottom part for soups. The longer asparagus sits around the tougher it gets, so farm-fresh local stalks (as always) will be your best bet.

Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto
Serves 4

I had dinner at my friends Kristi and Illya’s a while back. Illya made the perfect risotto, it was so creamy and delicious that I imagined it was chock-full of butter and cream. It wasn’t. It didn’t have a lick of cream and only a dab of butter.

I had always heard how laborious and difficult risotto is to make. Illya assured me that it wasn’t and showed me how. He was right. Risotto is an easy, but impressive, dish to make. The variations are endless. One of my favorite, over-the-top rich risottos is Gorgonzola and mushrooms.

Arborio rice is traditionally used in risotto. Its high starch content gives it a beautiful creamy consistency. You may substitute other types of rice but you won’t get the same degree of creaminess.

Ingredients
1 pound tender asparagus (about 3 cups) cut into 1/2 inch-long pieces
5 to 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 pound Prosciutto chopped (La Quercia is my favorite brand)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt/pepper to taste

Method

  • Using a medium-large frying pan, sauté onions in olive oil until soft.
  • Add 2 cup of Arborio rice to the pan; toast the rice over medium-high heat for a few minutes.
  • Keep a pot/bowl of warm chicken/vegetable stock close by. Add a ladleful of stock to the pan with rice. Stir to keep the rice from sticking. Once the stock has been absorbed, add another ladleful. Keep repeating.
  • Meanwhile, steam asparagus for 5-7 minutes. Asparagus is done when the color is bright and vivid green.
  • Once about half of the stock is added, add the Prosciutto and steamed asparagus
  • Add the remaining stock as before, one ladle at a time. The rice should be tender but not mushy. If the rice is not tender, you can continue to add small amounts of water until the dish has a nice creamy consistency.
  • Add butter and cheese and stir well.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve risotto warm. Add a salad for a meal, or serve a smaller portion as a side dish.

Soaked Flour Honey Wheat Bagels

I look forward to Tuesday nights for two reasons. First, we watch Lost. We are helplessly addicted to the show. It is the one show we plan around. Second, it has become bagel and lox night. It’s an easy, healthy dinner. We use wild salmon lox, cream cheese, red onions, tomato slices (in season) and a squeeze of lemon, all on a homemade bagel. We round out the meal with a salad or whatever vegetables we have on hand.

Yes, I did say homemade bagel. I’ve started making my bagels from scratch. And yes, I still consider it an easy dinner. This dinner is not as quick as it would be if you used already made bagels, but homemade bagels are easy and much healthier for you than store bought bagels.

As with all things you make from scratch, you know exactly what is going into it.  Bagels from a bakery probably have less junk than pre-packaged bagels (find a bag and see if you can pronounce all of the ingredients), but those jumbo bakery bagels can pack 400 calories (before you add the cream cheese). Make your own and you know exactly what you are eating and you can make normal sized bagels. These bagels have about half as many calories (even less if you make 3-ounce bagels) than a bakery bagel.

There are bagel recipes that you can make from start to finish in less time than my recipe, but since I like to do things the long way, you’ll need to start my version the night before. Don’t be afraid, this actually saves time. I can get home from work, shape and bake the bagels in a jiff with the already-risen dough.

There is also an extra benefit to letting your dough rise overnight. The yogurt helps breaks down the phytic acid. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, soaking grains, “… neutralize phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. Vitamin content increases, particularly B vitamins. Tannins, complex sugars, gluten and other difficult-to-digest substances are partially broken down into simpler components that are more readily available for absorption.” Sounds good to me, especially if all you really need to do is add yogurt to your dough and let it rise overnight.

There is more than one way to roll out a bagel. I’m always impressed with the speed and grace of a professional bagel baker. It’s like some sort of slight of hand trick. They roll a long rope, cut with one hand and somehow make a perfect bagel with the other. I have neither grace nor speed when I’m forming bagels. I use a more pedestrian method of rolling a ball and poking a hole through it. It works just fine.

It may take more than a few tries before you can pull off H&H quality bagels (and you would probably not be able to do that using my whole-wheat-only recipe). But in my book, I’ll take a hot out of the oven bagel over a store-bought one any day!

Ingredients
2 cups water
1 cup yogurt
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons honey plus 2 tablespoons honey (for the water bath)
5 to 6 cups whole-wheat flour (if you want a less dense bagel, use half regular unbleached white flour or white wheat flour)
Oil for coating bowl and baking sheet

Method

  • Combine the water, yogurt, yeast, flax seeds, salt and 3 tablespoons of the honey. Mix by hand or in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. I just mix it by hand.
  • Gradually add 5 cups of the flour and mix until the mixture comes together.
  • Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and no longer sticky, about 5 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour.
  • Grease a large bowl with oil. Place the dough in the bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot for 12 to 24 hours. The dough should almost double in size.
  • Remove from the bowl and punch down the dough. Divide into 12 to 14 equal pieces.
  • Form each piece of dough into a smooth ball. The smoother you make it, the smoother your bagel will be. No worries if it is a bit lumpy, it will still taste good.
  • Punch a whole in the middle of each ball and widen the hole to about 2 inches. Repeat with the remaining dough. Place on a lightly greased surface, cover with a clean cloth and let rest until risen, but not doubled, for about 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Lightly grease or line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a medium sized, heavy pot, bring 1 quart of water to boil. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of honey.
  • In batches, add the bagels to the water and boil for 30 seconds on each side.  I use a smallish pot, so I only do one bagel at a time. You don’t want to crowd them. Place bagels onto the prepared sheet pan and place in preheated oven.
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

Want to make your our cream cheese? Go to Cream Cheese and Whey.

Bi Bim Bop

My husband and I moved from Brooklyn to the Hudson Valley a few years ago. We traded the plethora of ethnic food restaurants for rolling hills and fresh air. We’ve been trying to fill that void by making many ethnic meals ourselves. This dish is a combination from my taste memory for our favorite place in Koreatown and what we happen to have in the fridge. Feel free to substitute the vegetables with whatever you have on hand.

Ingredients
1 1/2 pounds ground beef (local and/or grass-fed preferred)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
2 cups kale, chopped
1 cup zucchini, chopped to match stick size
5 to 6 garlic cloves
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger (Tip: I keep ginger in a plastic bag in the freezer. It never clogs up the grater when it is frozen.)
1 cup bean sprouts
1 teaspoon turmeric (optional, I just add it to most things)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 to 3 teaspoons chili sauce, such as Sriracha
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame seeds (toasted)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 cups cooked rice
4 eggs
Sea salt

Method

  • Preheat oven to 400º F, place large, heavy pot with a lid (cast iron, enamel or ceramic) in oven while preheating.
  • Add a pinch of sea salt to ground beef and brown in a large sauté pan, drain grease and set aside.
  • Add olive oil and onions to sauté pan. Add kale and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
  • Add mushrooms, zucchini and garlic, continue to sauté.
  • In a small bowl, mix together turmeric, soy sauce, honey, chili sauce and vinegar. Add mixture to vegetables.
  • Remove the now hot pot from the oven and add 2 teaspoons of sesame oil to it and then add the cooked rice. You are trying to get a nice crust going on the rice.
  • Place the pot back in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Add the ground beef over the rice, then the vegetables. Be sure to get all of the sauce from the sauté pan.
  • Cook for 15 minutes.
  • Crack four eggs over the top of the dish, return to oven, cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes (or until the egg whites are opaque).

Serve with homemade kimchi and Sriracha.

Shrimp and Sausage Jambalaya

This is a modification of my husband’s recipe. For one, he would never use brown rice in jambalaya (or gumbo). I like making dishes more nutritious when I can, so I always like to use brown rice. He also always uses Tony Chachere’s Seasoning. I used plain old cayenne pepper, black pepper and salt. He also uses fewer tomatoes. Other than that, the recipes are exactly the same!

Ingredients

1 pound of andouille sausage sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I like a bit of spice, so I use 1/2 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 to 8 cloves of garlic, minced
26 ounces of chopped tomatoes with their juice (or two cans)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cups of shrimp stock or water
1 pound of medium shrimp, peeled
2 cups of long grain brown rice

Method

  • Brown sausage, set aside.
  • Place oil and onions in a 6- or 7-quart Dutch oven or large pot (with a lid). Cook onions over medium heat until translucent. Add bell pepper, celery and seasoning and cook for about 5 minutes.
  • Add garlic, tomatoes and tomato paste, continue to cook over medium heat and stir until combined.
  • Add 3 cups of shrimp stock or water and bring to a boil.
  • Add sausage and shrimp and stir.
  • Stir in rice, cover and turn down heat to medium-low to low.
  • Keep covered and simmer for 35 minutes, or until the rice is tender.
  • If there is still liquid in the dish, remove lid and continue to cook, stirring often until the liquid has reduced.

Serve with large slab of cornbread. Yum!

Serves four to six.

Pan Roasted Pork Chops with Maple Orange Sauce

If you haven’t noticed, it’s maple syrup season around here. I am very excited about this. I am awed by the fact that you can make something so delicious from tree sap. Did you know it takes 30-40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup? Lucky for you we have lots of local farmers who take care of that part.

Ingredients
4 pork chops, 1 inch thick (I use bone-in but boneless is fine)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 cup orange juice
Salt, pepper

Method

  • Mix orange juice, minced garlic and 1/4 cup of maple syrup. Pour over pork and marinate for at least 20 minutes.
  • Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet over high heat. Add pork chops (reserve marinade), salt and pepper each side.
  • Cook for a minute, turn and cook other side for a minute.
  • Turn heat down to medium-low. Cover and cook for 3-5 minutes a side until internal temperature reaches 140º to 150º
  • Remove from skillet and set aside.
  • Add marinade to skillet.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of maple syrup
  • Heat over medium-high heat until sauce reduces and starts to thicken about 3-4 minutes, stir constantly. It will be a nice dark brown color.
  • Pour sauce over pork chops. Serve with a fresh salad or roasted vegetables.

Serves Four.

May Y’all: Chicken Gumbo

This is my husband’s recipe.

Ingredients
2 pounds of chicken thighs (skin on/off and boneless choices are up to you)
2 pounds andouille or hot smoked sausage, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup oil (either use the drippings from the sausage or add olive oil)
1 stick of butter
1 cup flour
2 large onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
4 quarts chicken stock
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning, or cayenne pepper to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 bunch scallions, chopped
Filé powder (dried sassafras) to taste
Cooked rice (enough for 12 servings)

Method

  • In a large heavy gauge pot, brown the sausage, drain off most of the drippings and reserve. Keep a little in the pan for the chicken. Set sausage aside.
  • In same pot, over medium-high heat, brown chicken thighs for 7 to 8 minutes each side. Set aside.
  • For your roux, heat the oil and butter until melted and then slowly add flour. Stir constantly over medium heat, until the roux reaches a dark brown color (this may take 20 to 30 minutes). If it burns even slightly, throw it out and start over again.
  • Add the vegetables and stir quickly. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes.
  • Add the stock, vinegar, seasonings, chicken (you can either add the chicken thighs whole, or cut them into pieces) and sausage. Simmer for about an hour. Try not to let the gumbo boil, or the roux might break (separate) and nobody wants a broken roux.
  • Add the chopped scallions and heat for 5 minutes.
  • Serve over rice in large shallow bowls.
  • Sprinkle filé powder in each bowl.

Accompany with crusty French bread.

Serves 12.

Muffuletta

New Orleans has a rich and diverse culinary history. Of course, we have French and Cajun influences. And with an influx of immigrants in the late 19th century, there is also an Italian influence. Enter Central Grocery, circa 1906, and the Muffuletta. Traditionally, this is made on a large round Italian bread about the size of a dinner plate. The olive mix is the best part of this sandwich, so use whatever thick-crusted bread you want.

Ingredients

1 loaf of Italian round bread
1 cup olives, pitted and chopped (I use a combo of green and black olives)
1/4 cup of capers or chopped caper berries
1/2 cup giardiniera, chopped (Italian pickled vegetables)
1 tablespoon onions, minced
1 clove garlic, large, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 to 2 pounds of a combination of sliced deli meat, such as ham, mortadella, salami (I like an assortment of Fra’Mani Salumi)
4 slices provolone
4 slices mozzarella


Method

  • In a medium-sized bowl, mix together olives, capers, caper berries, giardiniera, onions, garlic, ground pepper, lemon juice, olive oil and crushed red pepper. Cover and let sit for an hour or more.
  • Cut bread in half horizontally. Brush each half with a little of the juice from the olive mix.
  • Spread with olive mix on each half and then layer the meats and cheeses.
  • Cover with loaf top. Slice into quarters and serve.

Serves four.

African Peanut Stew

Some cooks like to test their recipes before serving them to guests. I see guests as excellent guinea pigs; they get to experience my good meals and my bad ones. I like to think it gives my husband someone to commiserate with when they don’t turn out so well.

The other night, we invited our neighbor John over for African Peanut Stew. This is a recipe that I cut out of the Washington Post probably 10 years ago. I’ve made it many times and have modified the original recipe to suit my taste. It is a delicious, interesting, one-dish meal; warm, filling and healthy. It is perfect for these cold winter evenings. No problems there.

What I had never made is Ugali. Ugali is a cornmeal dish that is supposed to be like a soft bread and is often served with African dishes. It is served in the middle of the table; diners pull off bits, roll it into a ball, smash it with their thumb and then use the dough to scoop up the stew. Mine came out like over-cooked grits. After we all, good-naturedly but unsuccessfully, tried to grab a piece (imagine eating oatmeal with your fingers), I added a serving spoon. We improvised and ate it like dumplings in the stew. We did eat just about all of it, but I won’t count it as a success. At least it tasted good!

As I was making the stew, I was struck by all the healthy stuff I was adding to it — sweet potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, turmeric, garlic, pumpkin seeds, etc. I wanted to find out just how healthy the dish was so I turned to NutritionData.com This cool site analyzes the nutritional value of your recipes. You search for your ingredients, select the amount and add it to your recipes. It’s a bit time consuming but, when you’re done, you have an in-depth dietary profile of your recipe. You can also print out a nifty nutrition label just like the ones on packaged foods. I was so proud of the nutritional prowess of this dish that I was tempted to print out a label and slap it on the side of the bowl.

Here’s the abridged lowdown:
Calories: 401; Vitamin A: 308% RDA (Wow!); Vitamin C: 51% RDA; Vitamin E: 22% RDA; Vitamin K: 231% RDA; Vitamin B6: 26% RDA; Folate: 31% RDA; Protein: 30% RDA; Calcium: 11% RDA; Iron: 32% RDA; Magnesium: 50% RDA; Potassium: 28% RDA. Not too shabby.

The peanut butter pushes the fat content to 40% RDA, but I don’t fret about that. The only fats that I try to totally avoid are trans fats. Just be sure that you are buying all-natural peanut butter with no partially hydrogenated oils. The only ingredient in your peanut butter should be peanuts (and maybe salt). Some peanut butter makers add partially hydrogenated oils to keep the peanut butter from separating. I’d much rather stir my peanut butter than ingest trans fats!

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 (10-ounce) bag spinach, washed (you may substitute kale or other greens)
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups diced tomatoes (or about 2 cans or one 26 ounce box)
4 cups vegetable stock (or water)
1 cup natural peanut butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon honey (optional)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
1 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted, chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped


Method

  • Heat oil in a large soup pan or Dutch oven over medium heat.
  • Add onions and chopped sweet potatoes.
  • Finely chop the spinach (I give mine a whirl or two in a food processor) and add to pot, sauté until the onions are soft.
  • Add garlic, ginger, turmeric, salt and cayenne pepper, sauté for about a minute (do not brown garlic).
  • Add tomatoes and vegetable stock; bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are tender.
  • Add peanut butter; stir to combine.
  • Add vinegar, honey, pumpkin seeds and cilantro. Cook a few more minutes until thoroughly heated.
  • Season with salt and pepper.

Serves eight.

This post appears on Real Food Wednesdays.

Bouillabaisse

boulaTraditionally, bouillabaisse was considered an everyday meal, not the fancy dish it has become. This simple Provencal fisherman’s stew was made with whatever the catch of the day was. The first time I had bouillabaisse was at a restaurant in Maine with my friend Todd. While the mound of seafood piled in the bowl was impressive, it was the broth with which I was enamored.

The backbone of a bouillabaisse is the stock, so use a good one. I make my own fish stock. I once left a dinner party quite happily with the fish heads from the night’s meal. (If you are shy, it helps to know the host well when asking to take home the table scraps.) Anytime I have leftover fish parts, shrimp shells or, if I’m particularly lucky, lobster shells, I place them in a pot of water, let simmer for about an hour, strain and either use it right away or let the stock cool and freeze it.

Saffron is another essential ingredient of bouillabaisse. Unfortunately, saffron, which is cultivated from the stigmas of crocuses, is one of world’s most expensive spices. Luckily, a little goes a long way. Anise or fennel adds to the complexity of the broth as well.

For me, after the broth, the best part of bouillabaisse is the rouille. Rouille is garlicky, spicy and delicious. It is spread on nice, crunchy French baguette slices and traditionally served with bouillabaisse. The baguette slices are often floated in the stew.

Health wise, this dish is isn’t too shabby. It has fish, so you’ll get a dose of omega-3 fatty acids, and the tomatoes are loaded with of vitamin C and lycopene. Plus, I believe the six cloves of garlic, and the garlic in the rouille, help ward off vampires … I mean colds.

Fish is one of those things that we hear we should add to our diets. We also hear that some types of fish are full of mercury and other seafood is in danger of being over fished. It’s hard to keep track of all of it. To the rescue comes the Monterey Bay Aquarium and their nifty pocket guide to sustainable seafood. I downloaded and printed the one for the Northeast region. And yes, I have been known to whip out the credit-card-sized guide at the seafood counter in Price Chopper.

Shelling out for a bunch of seafood plus the saffron can put a strain on your wallet, so I often make ours with just fish (but I always use saffron). Like I said, it’s the broth that makes me happy, the rest is just window dressing.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium leek (cleaned thoroughly and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Additional onion may be substituted)
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced (additional teaspoon of fennel seeds may be substituted)
1 medium celery stalk, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons anise seeds or fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups chopped tomatoes with juice (canned or fresh)
6 cups fish, seafood or lobster stock
1/4 cup Pernod (or any anise flavored liquor)
2 to 3 pounds assorted seafood (use any combination of any or all listed): Littleneck or other small clams, well scrubbed; white-fleshed fish, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces; sea scallops; lobster; mussels; shrimp.

Method

  • Heat butter and olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat until the butter is melted.
  • Add leaks, onion, fennel bulb and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender.
  • Add bay leaf, anise seeds or fennel seeds, saffron, garlic, salt and cayenne pepper and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.
  • Add tomato paste and white wine. Cook, stirring, for about a minute.
  • Stir in chopped tomatoes.
  • Add fish stock.
  • Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. The bouillabaisse broth can be made a day in advance; in fact, I think it is better the next day.
  • Add Pernod.
  • Bring to a gentle boil again and add seafood. Cook for five to seven minutes or until seafood is done. Discard any clams or mussels that do not open.

Serve with rouille on French bread.
Serves six.

Brined Roasted Chicken

roastedChickenI love to roast chickens. I know that with one bird I can get two or three meals, a soup and, maybe most importantly, the bones for making stock. It’s very satisfying for my frugal nature.

I try to only buy locally raised, organic chickens. My thinking on meat is to buy better quality and eat less. Your overall meat costs will be close to the same and you’ll be healthier for it, especially if you use the extra room on your plate for vegetables.

My sister likes to stuff her birds with grapefruit, so I follow suit and use whatever citrus I have on hand. Lately, I’ve been into brining my chickens. It produces a juicy chicken and imparts a nice flavor throughout the meat.

Ingredients
Whole chicken about 2- to 3- pounds
1/4 cup salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 garlic cloves minced (for the brine)
1 orange (or half of a grapefruit or 2 lemons)
3-4 garlic cloves slices (for roasting)
1 Tablespoon olive oil or butter
pepper

Method

  • The night or morning before you plan to roast a chicken, place chicken in a large bowl or pot and cover with water.
  • Mix salt, minced garlic, brown sugar in about two cups of water and add to the pot/bowl with the chicken.
  • Refrigerate and soak for 6-12 hours.
  • After brining, rinse the chicken in cold, running water. Pat dry.
  • Heat the oven to 400°F with rack in middle.
  • Place chicken in a pan, breast-side up. I used a roasting pan with a rack but you can set the bird in a regular oven pan.
  • Brush olive oil (or butter) over the bird
  • Stuff the cavity with citrus, quartered. Place many garlic clove slices under the skin.
  • Pepper all sides and the cavity.
  • Place chicken in the oven. Roast it until internal temperature of the thigh reaches 170°F (About 50-60 minutes). If you don’t have a meat thermometer, cook until the juices run clear.

Let it rest for 15 minutes. This will lock in the juices. Serve chicken with roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes (skins on for extra nutrition). Save the dripping for gravy.

Note on trussing:
I never bother to truss my chickens. If you want to be fancy (and some say have the chicken cook more evenly) get some kitchen twine and tie the legs together. If you are serving to guest, be sure they see the nicely trussed bird so they can be duly impressed.

Aloo Gobi

agooThis classic Indian dish is delicious and over-the-top good for you.

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and sliced into medium-sized slivers
3 medium potatoes and cut into 1/4 inch pieces
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 small hot pepper, minced (remove seeds, unless you want a very spicy dish; substitute one teaspoon red pepper flakes or omit if you want a mild dish)
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon cumin seed (or 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin)
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 large cauliflower head, chopped
26 ounces diced tomatoes
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Method:

  • Heat olive oil in large saucepan or soup pot.
  • Add the chopped onion, potatoes and cumin seeds to the oil. Cook over medium high heat until onions are translucent. Stir often.
  • Add garlic, hot pepper, ginger and dried spices.
  • Add cauliflower and mix well.
  • Add tomatoes and water. Cover and simmer on medium for about 20 minutes or until the cauliflower and potatoes are tender.
  • Top with fresh cilantro and serve on a bed of basmati rice with a side of papaya chutney and naan or flatbread.

Serves six to eight.

Apple Cheddar Melt

applecheddarI love the combination of crisp apple slices, cheddar cheese and spicy mustard. This open-faced sandwich is one of my favorites at Sammy T’s in Fredericksburg, VA.

Ingredients:
4-slices of hearty whole grain bread
1 tart apple, sliced into medium thin slices
4 slices of extra shard cheddar cheese
Spicy mustard
1 Tablespoon roasted sunflower seeds

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 400º F
  • Spread mustard on bread.
  • Sprinkle with sunflower seeds, top with apple slices and cheddar cheese.
  • Place in oven and cook until cheese melts.

Makes two open-faced sandwiches.