Friday, October 28, 2011

The Holidays are Coming! Time for Chocolate

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Ready or not, here come the holidays.  I've been seeing Christmas decorations in stores since the first day of October (!) so I figured it was time to do a holiday recipe.   I wanted to post a contender in the "United Way Bake Sale/Cookie Swap/Holiday Present" category that will appeal to everyone with a sweet tooth and especially chocoholics (that would be you, Terry!).  It works great for all three occasions - if your company has a fund-raising bake sale, if you participate in a cookie swap, or if you want a little present to give to someone this season.  Did I mention that it's chocolate?  How about DOUBLE CHOCOLATE?

Speaking of presents, I have to tell a brief story.  Several years ago The Lawyer stumbled across some bright green felt pea pods in a store and for some unknown reason decided they would make great Christmas presents for his sisters.  I've mentioned his sense of whimsy before, right?  Anyway, the pea pods had a zipper.  When you unzipped them there was a row of plump little peas with smiley faces.  It was bad enough that he decided to give them to his grown sisters, but when I found out that he signed both of our names to the gift cards I was appalled.  Luckily they're well acquainted with his sense of humor and understood.  Thank goodness - enough people think I'm a little off center without adding zippered pea pods to the evidence pile.

So, back to food.  Biscotti are stylish and a little bit fancy, but they're surprisingly easy to make.  Basically they're just a cookie that's baked twice - once as a big log, and then again after they're cut into pieces.  This particular recipe is much more chocolate-y than anything you would buy in a store due to the combination of cocoa powder and chocolate chips.  Great dunked in coffee!

* * click here for a printable recipe version * *

Double Chocolate Biscotti with Walnuts
Makes 30 biscotti

2 cups all purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips (or mini chocolate chips)
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350d and either butter and flour a large baking sheet, or place parchment on the baking sheet.

In a medium bowl whisk the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together.  In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat together the butter and sugar, then add eggs and beat until combined well.  Stir in the dry ingredients by hand, then stir in the walnuts and chocolate chips.

Flour your hands, then divide the dough in half and form each into a log on the baking sheet that is approximately 12 inches long and 2 inches wide.  Flatten the tops slightly and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. 
formed and ready for baking
Bake for 35 minutes, then remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes.  With a large knife cut each log diagonally into fifteen ¾” slices. 

baked and cut

Flip them on their sides on the baking sheet, return to the oven, and bake for 10-12 minutes more until crisp.  Remove from the oven and immediately place biscotti on a wire cooling rack until completely cool.  Store in an airtight container.

cooling on a rack

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pork Tenderloin with Port and Dried Cherry Sauce

I was thinking about fall as I was driving around the other day.  Growing up in the Midwest, I never really realized that fall could be an entire season. Then I spent three months in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I was there from September through November and it was a beautiful fall the entire time.  The same thing happened when I moved to Louisville, KY.  Fall really can last longer than 2 or 3 days!  This year is a good example of "fall" in the Midwest - from 85 degrees to 40 degrees in one week.  Blink and you miss it.  I blame it on the jet stream, which is my favorite scapegoat for most things.

Even if the weather is messed up, you can still pretend.  Nothing says fall like a delicious pork and fruit dish.  I sometimes struggle with pork roasts or pork chops - they're so lean that they tend to dry out.  But pork tenderloin is a whole different story - it's very tender even though it's lean, and the perfect size to make a four-serving meal. Just be sure not to overcook the meat - it's OK if it's slightly pink in the middle.  Here's my tip of the day - don't use the prepackaged marinated pork tenderloins prevalent in every store.  They're full of chemicals and sodium and have a funny aftertaste, at least to me.  Search out natural (not marinated) tenderloins, although they're sometimes hard to find.  My latest discovery was at Costco, and I've also found them at Trader Joe's.

The sauce for this dish has dried cherries and port wine, which gives it a rich flavor and a slight sweetness that go well with the pork.  The color of the wine and cherries also makes it pretty enough to serve to company, although it's easy enough to make during the week.  If you're going to serve wine with dinner, don't serve port - it will be too sweet on its own (it's a dessert wine normally).  Serve a good Pinot Noir.

* * click here for a printable recipe version * *

Pork Tenderloin with Port and Dried Cherry Sauce
Makes 4 servings

1 cup ruby port or other sweet red wine
1/3 cup dried sweet cherries
4 teaspoons seedless raspberry jam
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 ½ pound pork tenderloin
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
Fresh parsley sprigs, optional

Hot cooked couscous or rice

Combine the first four ingredients.  Cut the pork tenderloin crosswise into 16 pieces and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat, then add the pork pieces and brown on the first side (approximately 3 minutes).  Flip the pork and brown on the other side, then remove from the pan.  Add the wine mixture to the pan, scraping up any leftover brown bits.  Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.  Cook for 2-3 minutes until reduced slightly, then remove from the heat and stir in the butter until melted.

Serve the pork and sauce over the couscous or rice.  Garnish with parsley.

browning the pork pieces

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Lemon Roasted Halibut with Lentils and Tomatoes

I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way I became a fan of lentils.  When I was a kid there was no way I would eat them - they're suspiciously like a vegetable and they're so brown.  Then there's lentil soup, or what I like to call Brown Glop.  What it took to convert me was the discovery of French green lentils, called Lentils du Puy.  They're about half the size of "normal" lentils, they're not brown, and they don't get mushy when cooked.  Rather, they have a pleasant pop when you eat them. They can often be found in food co-ops and some upscale grocery stores.  Recently I also discovered some beautiful small Umbrian lentils in a specialty food store in California, and some wonderful small black lentils at my local Whole Foods.

Since I also had French green lentils on hand and some normal brown lentils that I accidentally bought a few months ago, I guess that officially makes me Lentil Obsessive. 

I thought I'd show you the difference.  The normal lentils are on top.  On the bottom, left to right, are black, Umbrian and French green lentils.

Lentils have very high nutritional value and are a great source of fiber, iron and protein along with several other nutrients.  All the small lentils have the same great firm texture when cooked and are basically interchangeable in recipes.  I used black lentils in the recipe below, but you could easily use French green lentils instead.  I'll post another recipe in the future where I used the Umbrian lentils in a chicken dish with lemon mustard sauce and spinach. 

OK, enough about lentils.

The other, equally important part of this dish is the halibut.  Halibut has recently displaced salmon as my favorite fish - it has a clean, mild flavor and a great flaky texture with absolutely no fishy taste at all.   The marinade gives it a wonderful lemon flavor with a hint of garlic.  Be careful not to marinate the fish too long - lemon juice is an acid and will literally start to "cook" the delicate fish.  Fair warning - halibut is relatively expensive because it's so popular.  It's worth the time to search out your local fish mongers and compare prices rather than buying at the local grocery store.  Besides, then you're ensured of getting absolutely the freshest fish.

** click here for a printable recipe **

Lemon Roasted Halibut with Lentils and Tomatoes
Serves 4

¼ cup fresh lemon juice (about one large lemon)
¼ cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4 6-oz skinless halibut fillets

1 cup small black or French green lentils
4 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup sliced green onions
3 cups baby spinach leaves
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

 Lemon wedges for garnish

 In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper until smooth.  Pour the mixture into a sealable plastic bag, add the halibut pieces and coat them thoroughly with the lemon mixture.  Refrigerate for 35 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

While the halibut marinates, place the lentils and water with a large pinch of salt in a medium pot and bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer according to package directions, typically 25 minutes or so (depends on the type of lentils).  Drain and set aside.

After 35 minutes have elapsed, remove the halibut from the marinade and place in an aluminum foil lined rimmed baking sheet.  Roast until the fish flakes easily with a fork, about 15 to 18 minutes.

While the fish is roasting, heat the1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the spinach and cook until just wilted, about 2 minutes.  Add the green onions, tomatoes, lentils, thyme, and parsley to the pan and stir to combine.  Cook until warmed through, about 1 minute.  Stir in the lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Divide lentils between plates, place a piece of halibut on each, and garnish with a lemon wedge.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Scones and Art

This blog is about interesting food, right?  Scones are a fairly interesting food in their own right - probably not something you have every day for breakfast - but how about a scone with blue cheese, green onions and spinach?  Now that's interesting.  Scones are surprisingly easy to make and freeze beautifully.  The next time you want a special breakfast make a batch of these the day before, then simply reheat the next morning while your coffee brews.

Before going on to the recipe, I want to point out the coffee cup in the picture above.  My friend Robin is an award-winning artist who works in several media.  I was fortunate to nab her series of iris coffee cups many years ago and treasure them still.  They are a most lovely creamy white color and each portrays an iris in a different stage of blossoming.  We also have several of her fabulous paintings.  I am so jealous of talented artists!  She recently mentioned a photograph of a white peony that I'm dying to see.

Anyway, on to scones.  There are many scone recipes out there with orange, cranberries, etc. etc. but I think these savory scones taste great.  Two different recipes were given to various family and friends - this one and a version with cheddar, green onions and bacon - and this recipe was the winner.  Any time a recipe wins against bacon, that's impressive!  If you don't happen to like blue cheese, feel free to substitute.

Savory Breakfast Scones
Makes 12  scones
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter
4 oz crumbled blue cheese
6 green onions, white and green parts thinly sliced
3 oz fresh spinach, chopped
1-1/2 cups buttermilk, divided

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Put the stick of butter in the freezer for 15 minutes to make it easier to cut.  While the butter is in the freezer, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  Take the butter out and cut into small cubes.  Add the butter to the dry mixture and cut it in with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles small peas.  Alternately, pulse all ingredients in a food processor.  Stir in the blue cheese, green onions, and spinach by hand.
Add 1 cup of buttermilk to the mix and stir by hand just until all ingredients come together.  If the dough is too dry to hold together, add additional buttermilk by small amounts until the dough can be formed into a ball.
Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a lightly floured board.  Cut the dough into two pieces and pat each into a disk 5” in diameter.  The disks will be 1-1/2 to 2” tall.  Cut each disk into 6 wedges (like a pie) with a large knife. 
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Place all 12 scones on the baking sheet.  Bake for 20-22 minutes until light brown.  Remove to a cooling rack to cool.
To serve, reheat in a microwave or toaster oven and serve with butter.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Gingered Turkey and Spinach Salad

It's always been a mystery to me why more Americans don't eat turkey year-round.  It's a very lean protein, delicious and cheap at the store.  What more could you want?  I think one reason why people don't eat it more is because the traditional Thanksgiving whole roasted turkey thing can be so daunting.  Not to mention that if you have a small household you'll be eating turkey forever. Luckily, you can find smaller turkey cuts readily available in the stores these days.  This recipe uses a split boneless skinless turkey breast that makes just four servings.  When I bought it at the store it cost slightly more than $5.00 as a bone-in breast that I skinned and boned myself.  Not bad.

The following recipe has a definite Asian flavor but not at all like a teriyaki.  The turkey tastes primarily of ginger with light garlic and cinnamon notes.  It's much more complex than your regular heavy soy-sauce taste.  Although the salad is light and healthy it's surprisingly filling due to the crunch of the noodle/nut/seed combination.  Altogether it's a wonderful light dinner that I really encourage you to try.  (The turkey also makes an amazing sandwich on whole wheat with sliced cucumbers, lettuce and mayo.)

Note that this recipe requires some advance planning as the turkey needs to be marinated and roasted in advance.  Sometimes this can be an advantage -  this past weekend is a great example.  I knew we would be visiting an Alpaca farm on Sunday afternoon due to The Lawyer's highly developed sense of whimsy.  I marinated the turkey on Saturday and roasted it Sunday morning, then threw it in the refrigerator before heading off to Alpaca Land.  Note that the afore-mentioned sense of whimsy combined with a passion for photography can lead to some pretty interesting pictures.  The Lawyer recently created a photographic series of Domestic Animal Noses and Beaks.  What can I say?  You can't make this stuff up.

alpaca photos courtesy of The Lawyer

When we returned home from the Alpaca adventure, all we had left to do was mix a quick salad dressing, slice the turkey, toast some crunchies and toss the whole thing - 20 minutes tops.  Obviously this would be a great recipe for any busy night (including work nights) if you marinate and roast the turkey in advance.  Even if you aren't heading to an Alpaca farm.

** click here for a printable recipe version **

Gingered Turkey and Spinach Salad
Serves 4

Note:  plan ahead as the turkey needs to be marinated and roasted in advance.

For turkey
1 (2 lb.) turkey breast, skinned and boned (weight is before skinning and boning)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
¾ tsp cinnamon
2 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger root
¼ cup unsalted chicken stock
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

For salad
4 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 3-oz bag Asian noodle soup mix (such as Top Ramen), noodles coarsely crushed
1/3 cup slivered or sliced almonds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 6-oz bag of baby spinach
6 green onions, white and green tops thinly sliced

To Make Marinade:
Combine garlic, cinnamon, ginger root, stock, sesame oil and soy sauce in a gallon zip top bag.

To Prepare the Turkey
Put the turkey in the bag and turn several times to make sure it is evenly coated.  Refrigerate, turning occasionally, for at least 8 hours and preferably overnight.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Remove the turkey from the marinade and scrape off any excess garlic and ginger.  Reserve the marinade and allow the turkey to come to room temperature while the oven preheats.  Heat the vegetable oil in an oven proof skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute the turkey until golden brown on the first side, then turn and continue cooking for one minute.  Put the turkey in the oven for 45 minutes.  While it bakes, bring the reserved marinade to a boil and remove from heat.  After 20 minutes, remove the turkey from the oven and baste with the reserved marinade, then return to the oven for the final 25 minutes.  The thickest part of the breast should read 165d on a meat thermometer when it comes out of the oven.  Let rest until cool, then place in a fresh zip top bag with any accumulated juices in the refrigerator for several hours.

To Make the Salad:
Whisk 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the sugar, vinegar and soy sauce together in a small bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.  Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add the noodles (reserve seasoning packet for another use), nuts and sesame seeds and stir until toasted and golden, about 5 minutes.  Pour contents of skillet into a large bowl and cool 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, slice the turkey into thin slices.  Add the spinach and onions to the large bowl and toss with enough dressing to coat.  Divide between plates and place turkey slices on top.  Drizzle turkey with any leftover dressing.

after browning, before roasting