Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chocolate Mousse


After presenting The Gastronomer with a meal of crackers with artichoke dip, stuffed bell peppers, and potato-leek soup, I concluded with a chocolate mousse for dessert. I considered other mousse recipes but chose this one for its simplicity, and because it uses marshmallows rather than raw eggs. Apparently some people think you can't make a good, fluffy mousse without raw eggs, but I assure you, this is not the case. The Gastronomer liked this one so much that she made it again less than a week later. You can find the recipe and helpful photos here.

Yield: 6-8 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: 30 minutes + chilling time
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 45 minutes

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Potato Leek Soup


I served this soup alongside stuffed bell peppers for The Gastronomer's second Christmas meal. Or more accurately, I should say I served it after the stuffed bell peppers. Unfortunately, my timing wasn't quite right on this night; as a result, we were quite full of peppers by the time the soup arrived and weren't in the right mood to enjoy its milder flavors. I'll have to make it again sometime--I'm definitely a fan of leeks.

Recipe by The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 4 to 5 pounds leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced (about 11 cups) and rinsed thoroughly
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 3/4 pounds red potatoes (5 medium), scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven and stir in the leeks and garlic. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the leeks are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the broth, potatoes, thyme, bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Smash some of the potatoes against the side of the pot to thicken the soup. Discard the bay leaves and season with salt and pepper.

Yield: 6-8 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: 55 minutes
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Smørrebrød: Open-faced Sandwiches with Flounder, Shrimp, and Basil Dressing


After suffering through one of the coldest weeks I can remember in Los Angeles, I felt compelled this past weekend to break out The Scandinavian Cookbook. I flipped right to the January chapter--given that the temperature hadn't cracked 290 K in days, it just seemed like the right thing to do. This open-faced seafood sandwich caught my eye--a new take on familiar ingredients. Shrimp are one of The Gastronomer's and my favorite things to cook at home, and although the flour-coated fish didn't turn out quite as attractive as in the cookbook, I was generally pleased with the results. It was a different sort of dish than we're used to eating, with much cooler flavors than those typically found in Asian or Latin American cuisine. Funny how people in hot climates like to eat scalding noodle soups, while people in the arctic seem to prefer sandwiches topped with chilled sour cream.

Recipe by The Scandinavian Cookbook
  • 20 fresh basil leaves, finely shredded
  • 3 fresh parsley sprigs, leaves only, minced
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 3/4 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup rye flour
  • 4 large flounder fillets
  • Butter, for cooking
  • 4 slices rye bread
  • 4 ounces mixed greens
  • 4 ounces frozen cooked shrimp, defrosted
  • 1 lime, cut into 4 wedges
Combine the basil, parsley, and lime juice in a bowl, then fold in the crème fraîche. Season with salt and pepper and place in the refrigerator. Mix the rye flour with some salt and pepper and use this mixture to coat the flounder fillets. In a skillet, melt a little butter and cook the fillets for 4 minutes on each side, or until firm to the touch. Divide the greens among the bread slices, then put a warm flounder fillet and some basil cream on each one. Top with the shrimp and a lime wedge. Serve immediately while the fish is still warm. Cold beer is an excellent accompaniment.

Yield: 4 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 30 minutes (included shelling and cooking 1 lb of shrimp)
Substitutions: Instead of using pre-cooked shrimp, I blanched them myself at home. They're really luxurious--it almost doesn't seem fair how easy it is. Just drop the shrimp in salted boiling water for 30-45 seconds; they'll continue to cook a bit after you take them out of the water. The grocery I went to didn't have flounder, so I substituted tilapia. I didn't feel like purchasing rye flour for a single recipe, so I just used all purpose flour. Finally, unsure of the proper pronunciation of the dish's name, I've taken to affectionately calling it "schmorgesborg."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Spaghetti with Spinach and Anchovies


This dish makes an excellent weeknight dinner. It's very fast, and the flavors are simple but satisfying. I like spinach fine, but generally prefer its flavor to be kept in the background. However, in this dish it really works well with the garlic and anchovies. I was glad I splurged for pine nuts--they really do add to the experience. The recipe calls for capelli, which as far as I could tell from the pictures is indistinguishable from spaghetti. I'll wait for an Italian to correct me...

Recipe adopted from Pasta: A cook's guide to the delicious world of pasta and noodles with 500 recipes
  • 1 1/4 lbs fresh flat-leaf spinach or 3/4 lb frozen spinach
  • 1 lb capelli d'angelo
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can (~ 2 oz.) anchovy fillets, chopped
Wash the spinach thoroughly in a colander and place it in a large pot with only the water that naturally clings to the leaves. Cover and cook over high heat, shaking occasionally, until the leaves had just wilted and the spinach is bright green. Drain well and set aside.

Cook the pasta in lightly salted water. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add the pine nuts, and fry until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside (if you don't have slotted spoon, a fork works in a pinch). Add the garlic to the pan and fry until golden. Add the anchovies, then the spinach, and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the spinach is hot. Stir in the pine nuts. Drain the pasta and toss in a serving bowl with butter or olive oil. Top with the sauce, fork it through roughly and serve.

Yield: 4 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 50 minutes
Substitutions: The proportions seemed a bit skewed in the original recipe, which called for 2 lbs of fresh spinach, 2 garlic cloves, and 6 anchovy fillets. 2 lbs appeared to be an enormous quantity of spinach--I could barely fit 1 1/4 pound in my pot--but having seen it cook down and tasted the final product, I'd say adding a bit more would have been fine. Maybe the anchovy fillets in Britain are bigger than ours, because 6 wouldn't have been nearly enough. Even though I used a whole can, which turned out to be 15 fillets, The Gastronomer wished that the pasta had been fishier.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Stuffed Bell Peppers


Of all the recipes I made for The Gastronomer's 2008 Christmas present, these bell peppers may have been her favorite. She frequently requests that I make them again, and once when I was out of town she ate them for four meals straight. The original appeal for me was the apparent intricacy of stuffing meat inside a vegetable, but in fact they're a classic American dish that's quite easy to execute. The recipe's success can be largely attributed to the following theorem:

ground beef + cheese + ketchup = delicious

which has been experimentally confirmed over 10^9 times. However, there is some added complexity here which is far above the intellectual level of a fast food hamburger.

Recipe by The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
  • Salt
  • 4 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers (6 oz each)
  • 1/2 cup long-grain white rice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 3/4 pound ground beef
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained with 1/4 cup juice reserved
  • 5 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (1 1/4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • Pepper
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
Cook the rice by any method you choose. While it is cooking, cut off the top 1/2 inch of the bell peppers and scoop out the insides (it's easy to do with your hand). Bring a pot of salted water to boil, then add the peppers and cook until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Remove the peppers from the water and drain.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the beef and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl with the rice, and add the tomatoes, 1 cup of the cheese, and the parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the ketchup and the reserved 1/4 cup tomato juice. Place the peppers, cut side up, in a 9x9 baking dish. Divide the filling mixture evenly among them. Spoon the ketchup mixture over the tops, and sprinkle on the remaining grated cheese. Bake about 30 minutes, or until the cheese is browned.

Yield: 4 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Substitutions: We often leave out the parsley when making these, and have also tried using Parmesan instead of Monterey Jack Cheese with good results. Adding some extra garlic to the meat mixture never hurts.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Artichoke Dip


This was first dip I ever made at home--I don't buy this sort of thing at the store very often, so I can't really compare the quality of the final product, but it was so easy, I'd definitely make it again. I recommend whipping some up before sitting down to enjoy the Alabama-Florida game this Saturday (unless you live in Los Angeles, in which case you should stock up on baked goods Saturday morning at Eat My Blog).

Recipe by The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
  • 1 (8 oz) package cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 (14 oz) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon
Microwave cream cheese until very soft, about 30 seconds. Stir in the milk, artichoke hearts, lemon juice, and tarragon. Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour before serving. Enjoy with your favorite crackers.

Yield: About 1 cup
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 20 minutes

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mustard and Panko-Crusted Tofu with Kale and Yams


It seems appropriate to follow up a barbecuing post with an uber-healthy vegan recipe. Looking for an alternative to our usual Asian tofu preparations, The Gastronomer and I stumbled upon this recipe on Aided by The Gastronomer's brilliant suggestion to supplement the prescribed mustard coating on the tofu with Panko bread crumbs, it turned out wonderfully.

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit, September 2007, courtesy of Epicurious.
  • 1 14-ounce package firm tofu
  • 1/4 cup spicy apple mustard
  • About 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 bunch kale, stem cut from each leaf, leaves thinly sliced crosswise (about 8 cups)
  • 1 medium red-skinned sweet potato (yam; about 12 ounces), peeled, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Cut tofu into eight 1/2-inch-thick slices. Squeeze the slices between two paper towels to remove some of the moisture from the tofu. Spread both sides of each tofu slice with mustard, then cover them with breadcrumbs (this is easy to accomplish by pouring some breadcrumbs on a plate, then placing the tofu slices on the plate and flipping them over, taking care not to break up the tofu).

Heat about 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and ginger and sauté 4-5 minutes. Add the kale, sweet potato, and lime juice. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook until the potatoes are tender and the kale is wilted, 10-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a small amount of vegetable oil in another large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the tofu; cover and cook until the bread crumbs are golden, about 2 minutes per side .

Arrange kale and sweet potato mixture on a plate. Overlap tofu slices atop vegetables and serve.

Yield: 4 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Substitutions: The original recipe called for 1/2 cup whole grain Dijon mustard--I chose to use spicy apple mustard and found 1/4 cup to be sufficient. I love ginger and used at least 2 tablespoons, while the original recipe only called for 1.
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