Thursday, March 31, 2011

Going green..

Sometimes a protein packed salad is enough to keep you going, but the trick is to make it stick to your ribs so that you don't follow it up with a bag of chips. Nuts and meat in a salad are no brainers- they give you the essential nutrients and fill you up, but the dressing, in my opinion is what makes or breaks the salad. Having said this, I tend to stay away from mayo or cream based dressings as much as possible with the exception of a creamy Caesar dressing ( homemade) every now and again. It goes without saying that store-bought dressings are a no-no for me. I often turn to a simple fresh vinaigrette when tossing up a salad in a hurry. A good quality olive oil is a must and I use a secret ingredient - a balsamic glaze, instead of a balsamic vinegar which can be very acidic in taste. A balsamic glaze is syrupy in texture and adds a subtle sweetness to the dressing. A splash of walnut oil is great when used along with walnuts and is particularly great with baby arugula or spinach. The way I look at it, a salad has several components: 1. greens 2. fruit and /or nuts 3. vegetables 4. protein 5. cheese ( optional) 6. dressing Just by changing up these components it is easy to create different salads at the drop of a hat. So get creative and lose a few pounds in the bargain! Recipe for a rotisserie chicken and pomegranate salad: 1 rotisserie chicken breast cut into slices a few onion rings 1 head of Romaine lettuce cut into bite-sized pieces 1/2 a pomegranate seeded 2 tbsp chopped walnuts For the dressing: 2 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil 1 tbsp balsamic glaze 1 tsp walnut oil 1 clove of garlic crushed salt and pepper to taste Combine all the ingredients for the dressing in a bottle and give it a good shake or whisk it together in a bowl. Arrange the filling into a salad bowl and pour the dressing over it . Toss and serve.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Eating healthy...

It's that time of year when sudden bursts of warm weather remind us that summer is on its way. No more hiding inside bulky sweaters and coats. It's definitely time to eat healthy and watch the waistline! I unfortunately have a family that collectively loses their appetites whenever they hear the word "Fish". I do my part by ignoring them and trying to make the meal as interesting as possible, mostly by trial and error and that's how this particular dish came about. It has several components but is quick and easy once you get the hang of it. Surprisingly there are no complains once they get a taste... Recipe for pan roasted Salmon with a citrus thyme sauce: 4 pieces salmon salt and pepper 1 tbsp olive oil 2 Idaho potatoes 2 cloves roasted garlic salt and pepper carrot sticks and green beans or any vegetables of your choice For the sauce: 2 tbsp butter 2 tbsp lemon juice 1 sprig of thyme salt and pepper 1. Heat a pan and add in the olive oil. Season the fish with the salt and pepper and sear it in the pan till golden. (I finish mine in a hot oven just before serving) 2. Cook the potatoes. Mash them with the roasted garlic, salt and pepper till there are no lumps. 3. Blanch the vegetables in a pot of boiling salted water. Plunge them into ice water briefly and set them aside. They should be bright in color and crunchy. 4. Make the sauce by melting the butter and whisking in the lemon juice and thyme leaves. Season well and set aside. 5. To serve: Heat / finish cooking the fish by placing them on an oven tray in a hot oven. Assemble the plate starting with a ladle of mashed potato. Top with the salmon. Place the veggies alongside. Heat the sauce quickly and ladle over the fish.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cookie Monster

I enjoy baking and do so at least once a week. If I’m not whipping out a dessert I find myself surrendering to my fat tooth and baking Sablés or French Butter Cookies. Slightly sandy in texture, as it’s name implies ( sables means sandy) these cookies have a rich buttery flavor with a hint of citrus, which make them my personal favorite. They are reasonably easy to prepare and the dough keeps well in the fridge or frozen to be used as needed. Since they are neutral in flavor, one can play with different options like keeping them skinny and sandwiching them with a raspberry jam or throwing in a fistful of crushed pecans or mini chocolate chips or simply using a colored sugar for sprinkling to make them more festive.

Recipe for Sablés:
1 cup unsalted butter at room temp
½ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
zest of 1 lemon
2 egg yolks
2 cups AP flour
egg wash ( egg white and a little water combined for brushing on)
coarse or raw sugar for sprinkling
1. Beat the butter till smooth with an electric mixer. Add in the sugar, salt and zest. Continue beating till the mixture is combined. Then add in the egg yolks and continue beating.
2. On low speed, add in the flour a little at a time till it is incorporated . Scrape the mixture out. Divide into 2 parts and roll into logs wrapped tightly with plastic wrap.
3. Refrigerate overnight or until the dough is firm. If it is to be frozen, place tightly wrapped dough into Ziploc bags. ( thaw in refrigerator overnight before use)
4. Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush the dough with the egg wash and sprinkle generously with the sugar. Slice into 1/2 inch widths and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden at the edges of the cookies. Cool slightly before removing from the baking sheet.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pizza Night

It was officially Pizza night at our house this past Friday- don't ask why. We just decided and went a little crazy, steering clear from the mundane when we picked the toppings. It was fun stretching the dough and trying to get them to look like perfect circles. They were not perfect by any means, but in the end they tasted pretty good. The toppings were determined randomly and instantly from what we had. There was no plan or recipe- we just went to town and the results were great, which got me thinking that this was a great way to go when entertaining. A pizza smorgasbord is not something that any one would turn down, especially with a frosty beer and good company.
Recipe for Pizza dough:
2 cups AP flour
1 heaped tsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp warm water
1/4 tsp sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup water or as needed
1/4 tsp salt
1. Mix the yeast, water and sugar and leave in a warm spot to bubble up.
2. Combine the flour with the yeast mixture, salt and the oil and mix together, adding in the water gradually until the dough is soft and pliant. Rub with a few drops of olive oil and place in a bowl covered with plastic wrap till it doubles in size. Punch the dough down, wrap and leave to rise again.
3. Cut the dough into 4 parts and roll out to the desired thinness.
4. Place the rolled out dough onto greased baking sheets and spread with the toppings. Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes or until the edges are golden and crisp.
Toppings :
#1. Grape tomatoes sliced, mozzarella, grated Romano, sea salt, pepper, drizzle of olive oil
#2. Basil pesto, grated Parmesan, Swiss cheese slices, sun dried tomato, baby spinach leaves, salt and pepper
#3. Spaghetti sauce, mozzarella, sliced peppers, basil leaves, sliced olives, salt and pepper
#4. Spaghetti sauce, sliced red onion, mushrooms, grape tomatoes, Swiss cheese slices, grated Parmesan, salt and pepper.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tasting Indie Blue

Ellie, Kelli and I were out on the town Saturday night and couldn't decide on what to eat or where to go. A bottle of Cab later we decided to trek down to Collingswood ( hotbed of culinary action) to try for a table at Indie Blue which happens to be very popular in our neck of the woods. The girls suddenly developed a taste for hot and spicy, so off we went. Recently relocated to a larger space across the road from it's earlier location, Indie Blue proved to be quite chaotic while we waited for a table. Harried busboys and waiters navigated their way skillfully through throngs of waiting customers with heavily loaded trays. The hostess ( also the owner) graciously allowed us to drink our bottle of wine while we waited leaning up against the cash register. It was good to finally be seated at our reserved table a half hour later.
The menu was interesting, each description headed up by cheesy adjectives like " scrumptious" and " delicious ", but overall it was quite extensive and featured primarily North Indian dishes with a Vindaloo thrown in for good measure. I left the girls to do the ordering since they know enough about Indian food to handle it and they did pretty well. The appetizers were the best part of the meal starting with the vegetarian samosa which came with a very well made Chole( chick peas) and Tandoori Paneer in a hot and spicy sauce accompanied by mixed greens in a light dressing.
The Naans were hot, as was the saffron rice. The entrees were Sag Lamb ( read goat in a spinach sauce) Rogan Josh ( again goat in a spicy curry )and Chicken tikka in a creamy sauce. The food was fresh and well seasoned and the waitstaff polite. It was money well spent and if were to be asked for an Indian Restaurant recommendation I would not hesitate to point them in the direction of Indie Blue.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's a Wrap

Burritos, the quintessential Mexican fast food always make dinner time exciting with an array of fillings to pick and choose from. Not to be confused with a taco, a Burrito is made with a large flour tortilla filled with rice, beans, shredded lettuce, chicken/beef, salsa, sour cream, grilled corn, sauteed onion, red peppers, grilled jalapenos and much more. To change it up, I sometimes use grilled shrimp, a cilantro pesto, Cotija cheese and pinto beans. What you put in it can be entirely based on personal preferences, which makes it versatile and fun. It's a great way to feed large groups of people- everybody makes their own so you can't go wrong. Sides of guacamole, sour cream and hot sauce keep it interesting. Unlike other fast food this one can be tailored and made healthy- lots of different beans and veggies hide well inside the big wrap.

The list of ingredients may seem deceptively long but don't let that be a turn-off. It's really not that complicated and the end results pretty delicioso!

My recipe for Burritos:

4-6 large flour tortillas

1 cup white or brown rice
2 tsp oil
1 small onion sliced
1 tsp salt
2 cups chicken stock

1 can black or pinto beans
1 Chipotle pepper
½ cup Chicken stock
2 cloves garlic
Salt to taste

2 cups chopped rotisserie chicken or leftover roast beef
Grilled corn, sautéed onions and red peppers, shredded iceberg lettuce,
Sour cream or cheese (crumbled or shredded)
Salsa *

1. Heat the oil in a pan and saute the onion. Add in the rice and saute briefly. Heat the chicken stock and cook the rice on a simmer until done.

2. Cook the beans in a pan over low heat with the minced garlic, chopped Chipotle pepper and hot chicken stock till the mixture is homogenous.

3. Heat each tortilla over an open flame just until it is soft and pliable. Place the fillings down the centre in a line starting with the rice, beans and protein followed by the rest. Wrap by closing two opposite ends and gently pulling and overlapping the other two ends into a tight package.

*Salsa- chopped tomatoes, onion, lime juice, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, honey and salt.

**Guacamole- mashed avocado, cilantro, tomato, diced onion, jalapeno, salt and lime juice.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Moroccan table...

If I were to pick an exotic food destination, it would be Morocco. The cuisine is a diverse and unique mix of Mediterranean, Moorish and Middle Eastern influences. Although they are best known for their Tagines and Couscous, Moroccan cuisine has a lot more to offer and is not to be confused with African or Arab fare. Even their simplest dishes are packed with flavor with an intense use of spices and herbs. Ingredients like preserved lemons, dried fruit, oranges and mint show up unexpectedly in many of their dishes and make this cuisine distinctive. My Moroccan Pork Roast is by no means a traditional recipe, but something I pulled together by taking ideas from several recipes. Even though I stray, I have tried to keep the integrity of this fascinating cuisine.
Recipe for the Pork Roast:
1 medium sized pork loin
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp coarse salt
Morrocan rub *
1 large onion sliced
2 cloves garlic sliced
1 tomato chopped
2 cups hot chicken stock
* Morrocan Rub
1 tsp each : coriander seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, smoked sea salt, garlic salt,
dried mint leaves, black pepper, 2 bay leaves

1. Brush the pork loin with 1 tbsp olive oil and gently pat in the rub. Heat the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan and sear the meat on all sides to a golden brown.
2. Add in the sliced onion and garlic. Sauté briefly, add in the tomato and the chicken stock. Cover and simmer or place in a hot oven for about a 1/2 hour. The pork should be tender and moist. Serve over Couscous.
Tip: Cook the couscous according to the package directions and mix in dried apricots, slivered almonds and raisins. Drizzle with oilive oil and the juice of 1 orange. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over with fresh chopped parsley.