Friday, April 29, 2016

Leek, Bacon and Gruyere Tart

Last Year's Post: Spanish Asparagus Revuelto
Two Years Ago:   Coconut Lime Grilled Shrimp with Pineapple Rice

Mother's Day is coming up, and I have a suggestion for a much more fun alternative to a stuffy, over-priced restaurant buffet.  I've been doing this Mother's Day brunch menu for a long time, and it really works.

Here's the game plan:
1.  Make one or more savory tarts, depending on the size of your crowd.  The one shown above is popular with all age groups and can be served warm or at room temperature.
2.  Buy a big plastic container of cut-up fruit at the store, and put it in a pretty bowl.  (No one will ever know.)
3.  Buy croissants, muffins and other pastries and arrange them on a large platter.
4.  Buy at least 4-5 fun and interesting organic juice blends and stick them in a big tub of ice.  Add a bottle of champagne to make mimosas for the adults.
5.  Make a big pot of strong coffee.

If you have family members who always ask "what can I bring?", assign the fruit, pastries, juices and champagne to others.  That way all you have to do is make the tart(s) and brew the coffee.

If it's a nice day, have the party outside.  Everyone is relaxed and the kids have so much more fun than if they were forced to dress up and sit at a restaurant table for endless hours.  And interestingly, the juices are usually the hit of the party because people like to try different kinds that they wouldn't normally have.

This particular tart recipe combines sauteed mild leeks with bacon and nutty Gruyere cheese and is absolutely delicious.  It calls for an 11" tart pan which is pretty big and would serve 6 for dinner with a salad and crusty bread, or would easily serve 8 as part of a larger brunch.  If you want to make a couple of different tarts or quiches (basically the same thing except a quiche pan is deeper than a tart pan), here are a couple of other ideas I've posted in the past:  roasted tomato tart with goat cheese and black olivescotswold quichewild mushroom and gruyere quichesummer harvest quiche, and cabbage and spring onion tart.  If you do make two different tarts, cut them into smaller pieces so everyone can try both.

Leek, Bacon and Gruyere Tart
Serves 6-8

One unbaked pie crust, homemade or purchased
4 slices bacon, cut into small dice
1 oz. (2 Tbs.) unsalted butter
3 large leeks (white and light green parts only), cleaned and sliced crosswise 1⁄4 inch thick to yield about 4 cups
1 Tbs. unbleached all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1⁄3 cup heavy cream
1⁄3 cup whole milk
3⁄4 tsp. kosher salt
1⁄8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
2⁄3 cup grated Gruyère (or Emmentaler)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 450°F.

Roll the dough out to a 14-inch circle about 1⁄8 inch thick.  Transfer the dough to an 11-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and press it carefully into the corners and up the sides of the pan. Fold any excess dough back into the pan and press along the sides to make a sturdier rim. Prick the surface of the dough all over with a fork, line it with parchment, and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. Put the pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the edges of the tart shell are dry and flaky (but not browned), about 10 minutes. Remove the weights and parchment; the center should still be moist and raw. Prick the bottom again and return the shell to the oven. Bake until the bottom surface is completely dry, 5 to 7 minutes more. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Lower the oven temperature to 375°F.

Make the filling:
In a 12-inch skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp and golden brown, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a dish and set aside. Discard all but about 2 tsp. of the bacon fat. Set the skillet over medium-low heat, add the butter, let it melt, and then add the leeks. Stir to coat them with the fat, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir the flour into the leeks and cook uncovered, stirring, for about 2 minutes to cook off the raw-flour flavor. Set aside and let cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, lightly whisk the eggs. Add the cream, milk, salt, nutmeg, and several grinds of pepper and whisk until blended. Add the bacon and leeks to the mixture and stir to combine.

To assemble the tart, scatter 1⁄3 cup cheese over the cooled tart shell and pour in the egg mixture. Spread the leeks evenly. Scatter the remaining 1⁄3 cup cheese evenly over the top. Bake until the custard is set and the top is light golden brown, about 35 minutes. Let cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Chicken with Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice

Last Year's Post:  Mustard Swordfish Kebobs

I found this recipe on the New York Times website and was intrigued by the fact that it came from a cookbook of food from Jerusalem ("Jerusalem: A Cookbook" by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi).  I looked the book up to see if there was a defining characteristic to the food of the city, and found (not surprisingly) that it's been influenced by Muslims, Jews, and the diverse ethnic make-up of the region - I think of it as sort of a unique Middle-Eastern blend.

In any event, the most surprising part of the recipe to me was that it was at once familiar and comforting (it is chicken and rice, after all) while also being mysterious and exotic (when was the last time you cooked with green cardamom pods?).  The deeply caramelized onions make the house smell great, and the spices add their fragrance as the rice and chicken cook.  The low-and-slow cooking method results in very tender and moist chicken and perfectly cooked rice, and the herbs are the final bright touch.  The fact that it's a one-pot recipe doesn't hurt, either.

I adapted the recipe, which you can see here (including a video), because I prefer boneless skinless chicken thighs and also because it seemed to contain way too much rice for four people.  I'd suggest warning people about the whole spices when you serve it - the cinnamon sticks are pretty obvious but the green cardamom pods tend to blend in (they aren't really all that green) and the cloves are the same color as the currants. No one wants to break a tooth.  I guess in theory you could try to fish out all the whole spices before serving, but you'll still probably miss one or two so I'd warn everyone anyway.  Plus they look cool on the plate. 

Speaking of currants, I tried to find barberries but was unsuccessful even with the local upscale grocer, Trader Joes and Whole Foods.  I might have made the trek to a Middle Eastern market but I already had currants in my pantry and I don't think it would have made much of a difference anyway.

You can never have too many chicken recipes, right?  This is a great and very healthy alternative to get you out of the same old rut.

Chicken with Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice
Serves 4

2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ tablespoons barberries, or currants
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 green cardamom pods
Scant ¼ teaspoon whole cloves
 1 ½ cinnamon sticks, broken in two
1 ¼ cups basmati rice
1 ¾ cups boiling water
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
1/3 cup dill leaves, chopped
¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
½ cup plain Greek yogurt, optional

Put the sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar dissolves.  Remove from the heat, add the barberries, and set aside to soak.  If using currants, skip this step.

Heat half the olive oil in a large sauté pan for which you have a lid over medium heat.   Add the onion and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown.  Transfer to a small bowl and wipe the pan clean.

Place the chicken in a mixing bowl and season with 1 teaspoon each salt and black pepper.  Add the remaining olive oil, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon and use your hands to mix everything together well.  Heat the sauté pan again and place the chicken and spices in it.  Sear the chicken until golden brown on each side and remove from the pan.  The spices can stay in the pan, but don’t worry if they stick to the chicken.  Add the rice, caramelized onions, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.  Drain the barberries and add them (or the currants) also.  Stir well and return the seared chicken to the pan, pushing it into the rice.

Pour the boiling water over the rice and chicken, making sure the rice is submerged.  Cover the pan and cook over very low heat for 30 minutes (check at about 20 minutes to see if a little more water is needed to prevent burning).  Take the pan off the heat, remove the lid, quickly place a clean tea towel over the pan, and seal again with the lid.  Let stand for another 10 minutes.  Finally, add the herbs and use a fork to stir them in and fluff up the rice.  Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.  Serve hot with optional yogurt on the side.

Note:  warn guests that the dish contains whole spices that should be picked out and not eaten.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Benedictine Sandwiches

Last Year's Post: Korean Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Two Years Ago:  Prosciutto, Gruyere and Egg Toasts

The Kentucky Derby (or as they call it in Louisville, simply "Derby" - not "the Derby", just "Derby") is coming up in a few weeks, so I thought I'd publish a local Louisville specialty in its honor.  I lived in Louisville for several years and as a northerner was very pleasantly surprised by how beautiful the city is and how friendly the people are.  I was also surprised by the thriving local food scene and how many local and regional specialties there are - bourbon balls, Derby pie, Hot Browns (an open-face turkey sandwich with bacon and cheese sauce, yum), and Benedictines are just a few.

When I first moved to Louisville I was out shopping and wandered into a cute little sandwich shop called The Cheddar Box Cafe for lunch.  I noticed something on their menu board called "The Benedictine" which mentioned it as a local favorite so I decided to try it.  Boy, was it good!  I looked it up when I got home and no wonder it's good, can you say cream cheese. (Totally unrelated side note:  I vowed I wouldn't go to Derby unless I could go in style and wear a big hat.  Luckily, friends had box seats so I got to go, although I discovered that you get a major headache from wearing a big hat all day much less feeling mildly ridiculous.  But it was great fun.)

Unless you're from Louisville you've probably never heard of a Benedictine, but it's really good and would be perfect for a Kentucky Derby party or any summer party because the cucumber filling is so refreshing.  It got its name because it was invented in the 1890's by Jennie Benedict as a tea sandwich and it's been a local favorite ever since.  There's a controversy in Louisville over whether to add green food coloring to the filling or not - some people like it with the naturally pale green tint, and some people tint it all the way to neon green.  I opted to go the untinted route but you could certainly add some green if you want.  Another controversy involves whether to add bacon strips or not - I left it out but I can see it would be a great addition.  (You've probably figured out by now that Louisville people take their Benedictines very seriously.)

The filling is very easy to make but note that it's important to soften the cream cheese first, and the finished filling is refrigerated for an hour, so plan ahead.  And if you serve Benedictines for a party, cut each sandwich into four little triangles just like Jenny Benedict would have.

print recipe
Benedictine Sandwiches
Serves 4 generously

Note:  the cream cheese needs to be softened and the cucumber spread is refrigerated for an hour before serving so plan ahead.

1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 ½ tablespoons mayonnaise
1 ½ tablespoons finely chopped red onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 slices wheat or whole grain bread
2 cups micro-greens or alfalfa sprouts

Grate the cucumber on the large holes of a box grater.  Wrap the grated cucumber in a clean kitchen towel or cheesecloth and squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible.

Combine the cream cheese and mayonnaise in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix until smooth, about 1 minute.  Add the cucumber and red onion and mix until combined, about 30 seconds.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To assemble the sandwiches, divide the cream cheese mixture evenly between 4 slices of bread.  Top with micro-greens and the other 4 slices of bread.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Brazilian Burrito Bowls

Last Year's Post:  Prosciutto, Mozzarella and Radicchio Panini
Two Years Ago:   Mixed Berry Jalousie

Clean, healthy eating doesn't have to be boring.  This recipe is a great example:  it contains white rice fragrant with lime, spiced black beans, and coleslaw with cilantro-garlic dressing - plenty of big flavors that you can spice up or down however you want.  If that's not enough, it also has crunchy radishes and crispy green plantains (a new thing for me).  The only thing that gave me pause when I found the recipe is that plantains are traditionally fried in Brazil which didn't fit with my vision of healthy eating.  So, a little research later I found a recipe for plantains that are baked rather than fried.  I'm sure they don't taste quite as good as the fried version, but they were crispy and delicious anyway.  Since I've never had the fried version they were plenty good enough for me.

I anticipated that a trip to a Mexican market would be necessary to find green plantains, so I was pleasantly surprised to find them at my local Fry's.  That could partly be due to the fact that I live in Phoenix where all types of  Mexican and Central/South American ingredients are more prevalent, or not.  You'll have to check your own store to find out.  Anyway, when you find them, they look like a big long green banana.

You don't want the yellow ones for this recipe because they're too sweet.  When cooked, the green plantains aren't sweet at all and instead are starchy, much like a potato.  They're stubborn to peel but the recipe I discovered suggested microwaving them, which helps.  If you decide you want to fry them rather than baking, follow the recipe through the step where you flatten them, then just fry in oil until golden and crisp.

Don't be scared by the chili powder and cumin mixed in with the beans - they add flavor but not much heat.  If you like your food spicy, you could add some cayenne as well or add some jalapeno into the coleslaw mix.

I'm trying to add more vegetarian dinners to our diet in the on-going quest to eat healthy in an unhealthy world.  This fits the bill without making you feel deprived.

Brazilian Burrito Bowls
Serves 4

1 cup white rice
1 ¾ cups water
Zest of one lime
Juice of 2 limes, divided
2 chopped green onions
2 (14 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup water
½ cup chopped green onions
½ cup cilantro leaves
2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
4 cups shredded cabbage
2 green plantains
Cooking spray
4 radishes, sliced
Cilantro leaves, for garnish

Preheat oven to 425d.

Line a large baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray.

To cook the rice: heat 1 ¾ cups water in a saucepan to a boil.  Add rice, lime zest and juice of one lime.  Stir, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes until water is absorbed and rice is tender.  Stir in the 2 chopped green onions and keep warm.

For the beans:  combine the black beans, chili powder, cumin and a small amount of water in a saucepan and heat on low until warmed through.  Keep warm.

For the cabbage:  put the vegetable oil, water, remaining lime juice, green onions, cilantro, garlic, salt and sour cream in a food processor and pulse until mostly smooth.  Toss the cabbage with enough sauce to coat and reserve the remaining sauce.

For the plantains:  trim the ends off the plantains.  Score each along two sides just deep enough to cut through the skin.  Microwave for 6 to 6 ½ minutes (if only using one, microwave for 3 to 3 ½ minutes) until soft.  The skins will turn black.  Carefully peel the plantains and cut them into ¾” slices while hot.  Flatten each piece with the bottom of a small glass coated in cooking spray.  Place on the foil-lined baking sheet and coat generously with cooking spray.  Season with salt and bake for 10-12 minutes, then flip and bake an additional 8 minutes until golden and crisp.  Season with salt again.

To serve, place a scoop of rice, beans and cabbage into each bowl.  Add plantains and radishes on top.  Garnish with additional cilantro leaves and drizzle with extra sauce.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Manchego Cheese Quesadilla with Pepper Jam

Last Year's Post: Labneh
Two Years Ago:  Classic Potato Gratin

This is my version of a no-recipe dinner.  I was on the way home last night with no idea of what to have for dinner except I knew The Lawyer wanted to grill something.  When I stopped at the store nothing in the meat case looked appealing so I grabbed some flour tortillas, a wedge of Manchego cheese, some pepper preserves and a container of micro-greens.  Done.

This is so easy I'm not even going to pretend it's a recipe - just grate your favorite cheese (fontina, manchego or goat cheese would work particularly well with the pepper jam), put it on some flour tortillas, top with another tortilla, brush both sides with a little olive oil and grill outdoors or on a grill pan or in a skillet until the cheese has melted and the tortillas are golden on both sides.  Serve with the pepper jam (which you can find in almost any grocery store with the other jams) or onion jam if you can find it, and any kind of small greens.  Dinner is served in about 15 minutes.

It's basically an interesting twist on a grilled cheese sandwich, and it makes the perfect light dinner for one of those nights when you've had one of those days.

No recipe (see above)