Monday, October 24, 2011

Cumin-Roasted Carrots

I find that there are two pretty universal challenges for people when it comes to cooking.  First, the assumption that really good food is complicated, time-consuming, and requires exotic ingredients.  Second, that opinion that vegetables are bland, generally made as an after thought, steamed or boiled after the meat and starch have been carefully prepared.

Well, neither of these statements are true.  Good food can be amazingly simple, and vegetables can be delicious with just a little care taken.

The ingredient list here is simple- six total, and half of them, the salt, pepper and olive oil, are things that sit out on my counter all the time.  That just leaves carrots that become caramelized and sweet, cumin that complements the earthiness of the carrots, and a little lemon juice to balance the sweetness with some acidity.  Toss everything together, slide into a hot oven, and you're free to spend as much time and effort on the rest of dinner as you want.

Cumin-Roasted Carrots
adapted from Mark Bittman

What's in them:

1 lb. carrots, peeled and halved or quartered
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Juice of half a lemon

How to make them:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Combine all ingredients but the lemon juice, making sure the coat the carrots evenly with the olive oil and seasonings.  Spread the carrots on a baking sheet, and roast for about 25 minutes, until slightly caramelized.

Squeeze lemon juice lightly over the carrots, and serve hot, warm or cold.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

French Onion Soup

Just in time for real fall weather, the theme for this week's recipe swap on A Taste of Home Cooking was soups and stews.  I was happy to get Hezzi-D's recipe for French onion soup.  I love it, from the rich caramelized onions in it to the gooey, crusty cheese and bread on top.  But sadly, I'm the only person in the house willing to touch it, so I rarely bother to make it for myself.

Since I am the only person who would eat it, I only made a third of the original recipe, and so simmered it stovetop rather than trying to get it to work in such a small quantity in the slow cooker.  Normally, I'd just use a smaller dish in the insert, but I was going to be home to keep an eye on the soup.  It was delicious, tons of onion flavor, with just a hint of sweetness from the caramelization.  I also really liked the addition of seared steak for a little extra beef flavor.  I used a skirt steak, and then sliced it up for sandwiches and quesadillas later in the week rather than leaving it in the soup.

French Onion Soup
adapted from a Paula Deen recipe via Hezzi-D's Books and Cooks

What's in it:

1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp butter, divided
2 tsp sugar
1 steak of your choice, cut into 1/2" dice if you plan to leave it in the soup
¼ c dry white wine
2 c beef broth
1 c. water
1-2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (I used 2 tsp because I love how it brings out the beef flavor)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 bay leaf

baguette slices, for topping and serving
3/4 c Gruyere cheese, grated

How to make it:

In a medium soup pot, melt one tablespoon of the butter. Add the steak, cooking to desired doneness if leaving whole for another purpose.  Remove steak, and set aside or store as desired.
Add another tablespoon of butter to the pot.  Once it is melted, add the sliced onions. Sprinkle the sugar on top and sauté over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelized, about 20 minutes.  Add wine, and bring to a boil, making sure to scrape up all of the brown bits off the bottom.
Add the beef (if including in the soup), broth, water, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, thyme, and bay leaf to the pot.  Simmer for 2-3 hours.
About 30 minutes before serving, butter the baguette slices with the remaining tablespoon of butter, sprinkle with a little extra black pepper, and broil until golden brown, 5-10 minutes depending on your oven and where the rack is.

Turn on the broiler. Ladle the soup into oven proof bowls or mugs. Top with toasted bread and grated Gruyere cheese.  Broil 6 inches from heat for about 3 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and browned.  Serve immediately.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Smoked Gouda and Spinach Risotto with Bacon and Mushrooms

While cleaning out the fridge the other day, I came across an unopened block of smoked Gouda from Wisconsin, and it has become a little bit of an obsession.  I've had it on grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon and apple slices, cubes of it stirred into roasted tomato soup, and with apples and grapes as an afternoon snack.  It's creamy and rich, with just a hint of delicate smoke flavor.  I have to admit I'm a little sad that my regular trips to Wisconsin are at an end, since it means my access to high-quality, inexpensive cheese is now severely limited.

When I was trying to come up with other ways to use my prized Gouda, risotto came to mind, since it's delicious in it's own right, but also makes a great canvas for whatever other flavors your heart desires.  Earthy mushrooms and salty bacon always go well with Gouda, and spinach provided some color and freshness.  There is a lot of cooking something, then setting it aside, but the recipe makes up for that by needing just a single pan.

Smoked Gouda and Spinach Risotto with Bacon and Mushrooms
adapted from Cooking Light and Mary Ellen's Cooking Creations

What's in it:

6 sliced of bacon, diced
2 c sliced cremini mushrooms
5 cups chopped spinach (about 5 ounces)
1 tablespoon butter
2 shallots, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 cups Arborio rice or other short-grain rice
1/2 c dry white wine

3 1/2 c less-sodium chicken broth
1 c shredded smoked Gouda cheese

How to make it:

In a deep saucepan, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon begins to crisp; set bacon aside.  Remove all but about a tablespoon of the bacon fat, reserving it for later.  Add the mushrooms to the pan, stirring to coat with the bacon fat, and cook until golden-brown, about 8-10 minutes, then season with salt and pepper.  Set the mushrooms aside as well (I just use one big plate for all of the "set-asides").  If the pan is dry, add a couple of teaspoons of the reserved bacon fat back to the pan, then add spinach a handful at a time until it's all wilted, seasoning lightly with salt to draw out water.  Set that aside too.

Melt the butter in the same saucepan, add any remaining bacon fat, and then add shallots and garlic, cooking until just softened and fragrant, about a minute or two.  Stir in the rice, and cook until the grains become translucent, about 2-3 minutes.  Pour in the white wine, scraping up any brown bits from the pan surface.  Let the wine cook off, and when the rice looks mostly dry, pour in about a half cup of the broth.  Allow it to simmer, stirring often.  Continue to add the broth in half-cup portions, still stirring often.

When the rice is done, stir in the reserved spinach, half the bacon, and 3/4 cup of the cheese.  Serve the risotto topped with mushrooms, garnished with the remaining bacon and cheese.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Shrimp and Corn Chowder

Well, I guess I shouldn't have complained about our unseasonably warm temperatures, since they were immediately followed by rainstorms and general gloom.  Looking for the silver lining, we've been eating a lot of soup to warm us up a bit.  

This is a little bit lighter take on chowder; lower-fat cream cheese and milk take the place of heavy cream, and a big portion of veggies bulk things up for a more filling meal without adding calories or another pan to wash.  I used a leftover baked potato here, since I like the flavor and texture of them over boiled potatoes, but feel free to just dice a potato and toss it in to simmer before you add the shrimp and cream cheese.

Shrimp & Corn Chowder

What's in it:

4 slices of center-cut bacon, chopped
2 shallots or half of a medium onion, finely diced
1/2 one bell pepper, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
sprinkle of cayenne pepper
4 c chicken or vegetable stock
1 medium baked potato, skin removed and flesh lightly mashed
1 c frozen or fresh corn kernels
1/2 c milk
1/2 lb shrimp, shells & tails removed, roughly chopped
3 oz cream or neufchatel cheese
3 scallions, thinly sliced (optional)

How to make it:

Fry  the bacon in a Dutch oven or pot until brown, but not yet crispy.  Remove the bacon to some paper towels to drain and pour off all but a tablespoon of the bacon fat.  Add the shallot, bell pepper and carrot, stirring over medium heat, cooking until softened and just barely starting to brown, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute stirring occasionally.

Stir in the flour and spices, coating the vegetables and allowing the flour to cook for a minute or two.  Add the broth, scraping any bits from the bottom of the pot as you pour.  Add the baked potato and corn, stirring break up potato and combine, then add the milk.  Bring the chowder to a simmer, and let cook for a few minutes.  Add the shrimp and cook just until they turn pink and are cooked through, then stir in the cream cheese.  Season with salt and pepper and serve, sprinkling with scallions if desired.

Monday, October 10, 2011

No-Knead Pumpkin Rolls with Maple-Brown Sugar Glaze

Summer has been hanging on by it's fingernails here, with a few days of temps in the high 70s and low 80s here and there, but in my mind, fall is here.  We've been apple-picking and cider-drinking, we've gotten pumpkins and funny-shaped gourds, and I'm already thinking about my Thanksgiving menu.  So while it might not feel like pumpkin cinnamon roll weather, it is just that time of year.

These are delicious, and ridiculously easy for how impressive they are.  The bread is surprisingly light, and the filling is almost tooth-achingly sweet, which goes just perfectly with a cup of slightly bitter coffee.

No-Knead Pumpkin Rolls with Maple-Brown Sugar Glaze
from the Kitchn

What's in them:

For the dough:
2 Tbsp warm water
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (1/2 package)
1/2 cup milk
4 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 c pumpkin puree
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 1/2-3 c all-purpose flour

For the filling:
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

For the icing:
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 c milk
1/2 c brown sugar

2 Tbsp real maple syrup
pinch salt
1 1/4-1 1/2 c powdered sugar

How to make them:

Stir the yeast and water together and let sit a few minutes until the yeast is dissolved.

While the yeast sits, warm the milk and butter in a small saucepan on the stove top just until the butter is melted. Combine with the sugar in a large heat-proof mixing bowl and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Let the milk mixture cool until it is just warm to the touch, then stir in the yeast and the pumpkin. Add the salt and two and a half cups of the flour all at once, stirring until all the flour has been absorbed. Squish it between your hands if you’re having trouble incorporating the last of the flour. The dough will be sticky, but should come together in a shaggy ball. If it's still more like cookie batter, work in an additional quarter to half cup of flour.

Cover the dough and let it rise until doubled, about 1-3 hours. Punch the dough down and refrigerate it for at least an hour, or overnight.  You can skip the refrigeration, but the dough will be harder to work with.

To shape the rolls, dust your work surface with a little flour and turn the dough out onto it. Pat it down into a rough rectangle and then use a floured rolling pin to roll it into a rectangular shape about a half an inch thick, longer than it is wide. If the dough gets sticky, sprinkle a little more flour on the dough’s surface and on your hands.

Melt the butter in the microwave and stir in the brown sugar and the spices. Spread this over the rectangle of dough, leaving an inch of bare dough at the top. Starting at the edge closest to you, roll the dough into a cylinder and pinch it closed at the top.

Grease or butter the bottom of and 8"x8" baking dish or a 9" cake pan. Cut the roll into eight or nine individual rolls 1 - 1 1/2" thick. Place them into your baking dishes so they have a bit of space on all sides to rise. Cover them with a clean kitchen towel and let them rise until they fill the pan and look puffy, 30 minutes for already-warm dough and 1 hour for dough that’s been refrigerated overnight.  Rolls can be refrigerated again overnight, and removed from the refrigerator about 45 minutes before you're ready to bake them.

About 20 minutes before baking, begin heating the oven to 375°. When the rolls are ready, bake them for about 25 minutes, until the tops are golden and starting to look toasted around the edges.

While the rolls are baking, mix the icing. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk and butter. When the butter has melted, add the brown sugar and salt. Stir until the brown sugar has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the powdered sugar. This should form a thick but still pourable glaze.

Let the rolls cool for a minute or two, then pour half of the icing on top. Eat them immediately, with an extra dollop of icing on each so that the sides get some too.

Leftovers (if you have any) will keep for several days and are best reheated for a minute in the microwave.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Roasted Winter Vegetable Pizza

Every summer I always forget how much I love winter squash, so fall is always full of pleasant surprises when I rediscover favorites like butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash. They’re hearty and healthy, and I love the caramelly sweetness that comes out when they’re roasted.

As soon as a saw the picture of a pizza with that tell-tale bright orange of butternut squash on Pinterest, I was caught. I glanced briefly at the linked recipe, but ended up just winging it.  This pizza is definitely one of my new favorite ways to eat squash!

Roasted Winter Vegetable and Bacon Pizza

inspired by

What’s in it:

For a 10", relatively thin-crust pizza,

1 c of any mix of butternut squash, red potatoes, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, or any other squash or root vegetable that strikes your fancy, thinly sliced (chopped up leftover roasted veggies would be great too)
2 tsp olive oil or bacon fat + 1 tsp olive oil

salt & pepper
1/2 pizza dough

1/3 c ricotta cheese
2 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 c shredded cheese (I used a mix of fontina, gruyere and mozzarella)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

How to make it:

Preheat oven to 375.  Coat vegetables with 2 teaspoons of olive oil or bacon fat, spread on a baking sheet, and roast until they are completely cooked through and begin to take on some color, about 10-15 minutes.

Increase oven temperature to 525.  Stretch pizza dough out into a 10" round.  Brush lightly with the remaining teaspoon of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Spread ricotta evenly over the dough, then arrange vegetables and bacon on top.  Add cheese, then sprinkle the rosemary over it.

Bake until cheese starts to bubble and brown, about 10-12 minutes.