Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Easy Appetizers: Chipotle Shrimp

First of all, it's pronounced chip-OAT-lay, not chip-OADLE like I thought before I moved down the street from the ubiquitous purveyor of gourmet burritos and tacos.

These make a delightful starter, and one that I can count on whipping up at the last minute. I always have frozen shrimp in my freezer and a can of chipotle chiles in my pantry. And usually cilantro. These would be a great base for shrimp fajitas, too, with some fresh avocado and corn tortillas. The avocado would really pacify the palate. These shrimp are muy caliente. Anyway, the recipe is adapted from Mexican Everyday, a fantastic cookbook from Rick Bayless.

Chipotle Shrimp
Print recipe only here

Serves 2-4

1 pound medium-large peeled and deveined shrimp
One 15-ounce can Muir Glen Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes
2-3 canned chipotle chiles in adobo
1 tablespoon of adobo sauce (reserved from canned chiles)
1 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 cup water or stock
salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon)
2/3 T fresh cilantro, chopped

Puree the tomatoes, chiles and adobo in a food processor and process until smooth. I use my mini-prep processor for this.

Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and saute gently for one minute. Add tomato-chile sauce. Bring to a boil and cook five minutes. Add broth or water and salt and bring back to a boil.

Add shrimp and cook 3-5 minutes, adding more water or stock if it gets to thick.

Transfer to plates when cooked through. Top with chopped cilantro and serve immediately.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

I'm Innovative. And You Are...?

I have a weakness for short personality quizzes (and no patience for longer ones). The New York Times Well Blog recently ran one such quiz to assess your cooking personality. The categories are:

a) Giving: Friendly, well-liked and enthusiastic, giving cooks seldom experiment, love baking and like to serve tried-and-true family favorites, although that sometimes means serving less healthful foods.

b) Methodical: Talented cooks who rely heavily on recipes. The methodical cook has refined tastes and manners. Their creations always look exactly like the picture in the cookbook.

c) Healthy: Optimistic, book-loving, nature enthusiasts, healthy cooks experiment with fish, fresh produce and herbs. Health comes first, even if it means sometimes sacrificing taste.

d) Competitive: The Iron Chef of the neighborhood, competitive cooks have dominant personalities and are intense perfectionists who love to impress their guests.

e) Innovative: Creative and trend-setting, innovative cooks seldom use recipes and like to experiment with ingredients, cuisine styles and cooking methods.

I consider myself a Healthy cook, but that didn't register as highly in my results since I refuse to sacrifice taste. Taste should not be sacrificed in cooking. Ever.

Take the quiz here. And if you're inclined, post your results in the Comments section.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Garden of One's Own

I get why the Obamas are putting in a garden on the South Lawn. They have the space and the staff to tend it. I love the idea of gardening. And this summer I might just assemble a kiddie pool container garden on my roof deck. But, I'm much more inclined to support my local CSA (find yours here) and neighborhood farmer's markets than grow my own. Virginia was right. The reality behind having a garden of one's own comes down to being able to afford it.

Also, victory gardens served a specific purpose and it seems odd to suggest we go back to that place in time. Granted, we're in a bit of a pickle right now. But food is not the only thing that travels to us. Are we going to go back to making our own clothes? Become isolationists? Take time out of the workweek so we can put homegrown cabbage on our tables? I don't know what's going to get us out of this mess, but I know what won't: donning overalls, composting our 401K statements (and dollars), and living like survivalists.

Greed and selfishness got us where we are. Not everyone's greed, of course, but I think we'll go farther as a nation by looking out for another with more concern. We build community and an economy by depending on each other, not by hoarding cabbages. Let's let the small farmers do the farming.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Two Light Entrees for Early Spring

This time of year I really enjoy lightening up our weekly menus. Less soup. Less hearty. More lemon. More Green. The lamb we ate last night was a perfect early spring meal, and very easy to pull together. Two meals are on the sidebar with no attached recipes. Here's what you do to create them at home.

Lamb Roulade with Rosemary and Gorgonzola
If this combination doesn't appeal to you, try another, like Feta and Fresh Oregano

Pick up leg of lamb (about 6-8 ounces per person - or more if you'll need to remove lots of fat), fresh rosemary, Gorgonzola and asparagus. Oh, and some greens and a pear for a salad. And some kitchen twine if you don't have it.

Preheat a skillet and the oven to 375. I was cooking for two and just used my toaster oven rather than the full oven.

Unroll the lamb and trim off all the fat - even the stuff hiding inside.

Finely chop about 1 T rosemary.

Sprinkle the lamb on both sides with kosher salt. Arrange it back together as if you were reassembling it and sprinkle the rosemary on top. Top with crumbled Gorgonzola - just a tablespoon or less - and sort of push it into the gaps.

Take a piece of twine and wrap around the outside of the lamb and pull it together to create a little bundle.

Spray skillet with canola spray and sear both sides of the lamb, cooking each side for about 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the asparagus, lay on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper. Set aside.

Transfer the lamb to a baking sheet and roast in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, depending on thickness and cooking preference. Toward the end of its cooking time, slide the asparagus into the oven and roast for about 3-5 minutes or to your liking.

Let the lamb sit for at least five minutes before slicing and serving. For a more individual presentation, you can trim the lamb into individual portions and prepare a tied bundle for each person. It's more work, but it does look lovely when plated.

Lemon Chicken Fricasse
You will need a pounder or some muscle and a big serving spoon. Also, one boneless, skinless chicken breast per person, two lemons and fresh parsley.

Heat a non-reactive skillet over medium high heat.

Rinse and dry the chicken breasts and pound to a quarter-inch thickness.

Dredge in flour (with added salt and fresh pepper).

Add 1 T canola oil to the skillet and cook the chicken breasts, in batches if necessary. Cook both sides for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate if you're cooking in batches.

Finely chop 2 T fresh parsley and squeeze the juice from the lemons, straining out seeds.

Return the chicken to the skillet and add the lemon juice. Simmer for 1-2 minutes. Add the parsley and a pinch of salt (many would add butter here, but I advise skipping it) and cook another minute. Serve immediately.

There you go - two light, early spring meals. Happy Monday!

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Quiche For People Who Don't Like Quiche

I like quiche on a case by case basis, and not like a wino who says the same thing and yet means something very different.

The only way I'll even eat quiche is if it's short in stature. I do not dig on deep dish, so I use ½-inch tall, removable-bottom tart pans to make quiche. The portion size and ratio of crust to filling are both much more reasonable using these pans. Plus, they make the quiche easier to cook correctly.

Quiche are great for entertaining. You can make them up to a few days in advance of your event and warm them up that morning. If you don't drop at least one while chatting with guests as you remove a warm quiche from the oven you're better at multitasking than I.

I regularly make two kinds - traditional Quiche Lorraine and Spinach Feta & Caramelized Onion. The base is the same for both. With a pre-baked tart shell, you could fill it with anything you like (asparagus and Gruyere, tomatoes and basil, sauteed leeks and fontina, roasted Mediterranean vegetables), top it with the base and have a fine quiche.

First, you'll need a good pie dough. Make your pie dough a few days before your event. Pie dough likes to rest a lot, and extra time in the fridge won't hurt it.

Print pie dough recipe here.

Base for one 9-inch quiche
Whisk together:
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 cup milk or cream (or a combination of both)
salt and pepper to taste
pinch nutmeg

Quiche Lorriane
Add to bottom of prebaked tart shell (lined with pie dough):
½ - ¾ cup crumbled, cooked bacon
½ - ¾ cup grated or diced Gruyere
Cover with base and cook at 350 for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until nicely golden and set.

Spinach Feta and Caramelized Onion
Print recipe only here

Add to bottom of pre-baked tart shell (lined with pie dough):
3-4 ounces baby spinach, sauteed quickly in a smidge of olive oil
(Note: baby spinach seems to have less water which makes it helpful for quiche. if you use regular spinach make sure to drain it well - once sauteed, transfer to a strainer and press with a ladle.

1-2 ounces feta (1/3 cup), diced or crumbled
1 medium onion, caramelized slowly in olive oil
Cover with quiche base and cook at 350 for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until nicely golden and set.

Seen on the food blogs:
Simply Recipes' Mushroom Quiche
101 Cookbooks' Spinach Mushroom Quiche
Smitten Kitchen's Leek and Mushroom Quiche

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Irish Soda Bread, Redux

Last year, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, I wrote about wholemeal Irish soda bread. (Read that post here.) It's a great thing, but making it demands you first acquire an imported wholemeal flour. I haven't found a mill in the US that produces European style flour, which seems odd. I bought mine online and was thrilled with the result. But spending more for shipping than the actual flour seemed too excessive to do twice. So this year I'm going back to the soda bread of my youth. It's scone-like with raisins and caraway seeds. You know the one...

Irish Soda Bread with Raisins and Caraway Seeds
Print recipe only here

Makes one 1# loaf (8-inches in diameter)

2 cups flour
1 T plus 1 ½ t sugar (or 1.5 T)
1 ½ t baking powder
½ t salt
scant ½ t baking soda
3 T unsalted butter
1 egg
¾ cup buttermilk
1 ½ t caraway seeds
¾ cup raisins

Preheat oven to 300°

Spray a 8 or 9-inch pie dish with canola spray and reserve.

In a Cuisinart (or bowl of stand mixer) combine dry ingredients and pulse to combine.

Add butter and process or mix until completely incorporated.

Crack egg into a separate large mixing bowl and whisk.

Add buttermilk and whisk to combine.

Add caraway seeds and raisins and stir to combine.

Pour dry ingredients over liquids. Using a large spoon or stiff spatula, combine with a few strokes until it just comes together into a ball.

Turn dough into prepared pie dish and bake for one hour.

Print the recipe for Wholemeal Irish Soda Bread here.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Waters, Waters Everywhere

Is it me or is Alice everywhere these days? Not that there's anything wrong with her recent foray into politics (touché, JP!), but between the Kitchen Cabinet, the organic bailout and the op-ed on school lunch, she seems to have set aside her chef knives and picked up a pen (pen = mightier?).

I can relate to the knives for pen swap. So can chef, author and TV personality Anthony Bourdain. Only Bourdain picked up a megaphone AND pen. He had this to say about Alice Waters in an interview with DCist back in January:

“Alice Waters annoys the living shit out of me. We're all in the middle of a recession, like we're all going to start buying expensive organic food and running to the green market. There's something very Khmer Rouge about Alice Waters that has become unrealistic.”

Hmm. Bordain’s trouble with Waters stems from his estimation of her arrogance or naivete (and I do take his point about the recession and food costs). But the trouble with the Khmer Rouge was less their radical agrarian communism and more that they kept killing people. All I'm saying is that it's not a fair comparison, seeing as Alice Waters doesn't have blood - or pesticides - on her hands.

For more, follow the post and comment trail from The Internet Food Association.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

On Fecklessness and Jicama

Recent headlines suggest that as long as AK-47s remain legal and marijuana remains illegal* there’s gonna be serious trouble south of the border. Being a Blogger of Little Brain I cannot speak intelligently about how to solve this problem, but - hello?!? - it’s not a new one. Mexico has had powerful drug cartels (feeding Hollywood with an endless supply of storylines) forever. Seems we’re just taking notice now because the country finally has a President with a backbone. Of course he’s going to need a lot of cash to beef up enforcement of his War on Drugs. Which is why we should all eat more jicama. Hey, it’s a start. And with NAFTA up for renegotiation and the last US dollar already spoken for, it’s the least we can do. Plus, jicama is really good.

I was served jicama this way as an amuse bouche at a great restaurant in Washington DC (maybe Tim can comment on the name). I've loved jicama always but only use it in one recipe: Grilled Pesto Chicken Salad. Here I've trimmed it into batons, doused it with a spray of fresh squeezed lime juice and sprinkled it with a good chili powder (in this case, a medium heat chili powder). When you've got guests coming over for Carnitas or Tacos you should feed them this, plated individually. They will be very impressed.

* Eat Cheese or Die?
Calvin Trillen once took suggestions for making Wisconsin's license plate motto ("America's Dairyland") as flamboyantly patriotic as New Hampshire's ("Live Free or Die"). "Eat Cheese or Die" won. Too funny. Of course lawmakers in the nation's capital (their plate moto is "Taxation without Representation"), terrified by perils of listeria and concerned that cheese could kill a foodie, took legislative action to save us all.

I don't want to get the common American Libertarian all fired up but, really?!? Bicameral support for cheese legislation?? (Ok, ok. I don't know the ins and outs of how a bill becomes a law, but bicameral sounds awfully good here.) I just don't see how the case can be made that an unpasteurized cheese aged less than 60 days is illegal in the US and not an AK-47? Does the news that Walmart, the master of the supply chain, cannot keep up with the demand for ammo right now scare you? It should. More than listeria or taxation without representation.

For more info on Mexico's drug problem read an informed opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal: In Praise of Mexico's War on Drugs.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

And the Winner is...

....catherinelisa who correctly chose cake #7 - an almond cake with Amarena cherries and mascarpone mousse filling. It is finished with a white chocolate band and white chocolate corneli on top. This cake was made in early June 2000, and was one of the first cakes I photographed. Well, that's partly true; I have older photos of wedding cakes but I didn't want to use those here. Congratualtions, CL!

Thanks, everyone, for playing and for all the birthday wishes. And I didn't even have to throw Pinch a party at Chuck E. Cheese like Andy suggested! But I like the mental image of Pinch cracked out on complex carbohydrates, scampering around the arcade, and having a birthday meltdown when Señor Cheese didn't make his promised appearance.

The cakewalk down memory lane was fun for me - remembering the people they were made for in Telluride and Chicago. Pinch has certainly helped recover some of the lost love for layered cakes. But the celebration is over - it's back to cooking that sensible food we love so much. Next up: jicama!

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Celebrating Pinch's First Birthday with a Cakewalk

1. Chocolate Layer Birthday Cake

Before Pinch made its debut one year ago today I was in a funky place with my cooking skills. I wasn't using them in a manner that was satisfying. Since my training was almost exclusively in the pastry kitchen I found myself spreading a lot of sugar, butter and white flour love (death?) and not nearly enough about the healthier foods I served at home. It wasn’t a dramatic Lady Macbeth moment with me racked with guilt over the butter on my hands, but it was close. “What, will these hands ne'er be clean?”

2. Classic Yellow Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Coconut

3. Chocolate Layer Cake with Strawberries and Whipped Cream

A year has passed and the exercise of blogging about the foods I love and writing recipes for the meals I serve has rekindled my appreciation for the skills I amassed in the sweet kitchen. In celebration of Pinch’s first birthday, twelve birthday/celebration cakes are pictured. Since knowledge and cake are meant to be shared, the first commenter to correctly guess the oldest cake wins a chocolate torte from the Pinch kitchen. And yes, I will ship outside of Chicago. :)

4. Chocolate Layer Cake with Strawberries and Whipped Cream and Chocolate Frosting

5. Banana Cake with Whipped Cream

Getting to write and think about the things in our kitchens and markets that make life simpler and more healthy has been its own reward. It pleases me to no end to be a resource for healthy, family friendly meals and the occasional celebration cake. Thanks so much for reading this past year.

6. Mocha Layer Cake

7. Almond Amarena Cake with Mascarpone Mousse

8. Classic Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting

9. Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

10. Chocolate Cake with Blackberries and Cream

11. Baby Shower Cake: Sponge Cake layered with Mascarpone Mousse and Amarena Cherries

12. Flourless Chocolate Torte -- Could be yours!

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