Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sweet eats.... sweet potato and bean quesadilla

Planning dinner every night can be a challenge especially if there are slim pickings in the fridge and I happen to be fresh out of .... practically everything. Several trips to various grocery stores are imminent but in the meanwhile I have to wing it. There's sweet potato ( originally meant for fries) and there are cans of black beans. The combination may raise eyebrows but it is a match made in heaven. The cheese and sweet potato melt together and create a luscious filling that is gooey and contrasts well with the crisp toasted tortillas. Now that I think about it diced peppers, onion, bacon or just about anything can be thrown in for some extra oomph. I added in baby spinach ( great way to get kids to eat their greens) and the results were phenomenal!
Roasted peppers, salsa or avocado go well with these quesadillas but they do well on their own and don't really need the extra frills.
Recipe for Sweet Potato Quesadillas:
4 sweet potatoes
2 teaspoons oil
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 can black beans drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
salt to taste
1 cup pepper jack or Mexican cheese blend
1 cup baby spinach leaves
8 tortillas ( plain or flavored)
cooking spray

1. Cook the sweet potato, mash, season and set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a pan and saute the garlic and the onion until fragrant. Add in the beans.
( At this point any other veggies can be added in). Season with salt and add in the cumin and chili.
3. Assemble the quesadilla by placing 4 tortillas on a flat, clean surface. Spoon a fourth of the potato onto each and top with the bean mixture cheese and spinach. Place the second tortilla over this and press down gently.
4. Heat a griddle and cook on each side till the cheese melts and the tortillas are crisp. Cut into quarters and serve hot topped with avocado, sour cream, or salsa. A sweet red pepper roasted accompanies it well.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Scallop Risotto

Every now and then I have a running streak with a particular cuisine and it takes a while for it to wear off. These days Italian tops the list; in the past couple of weeks I've cooked everything from pesto pizzas to polenta. As the fever pitch diminishes I round off with a creamy, mushroom risotto with fresh Diver Scallops. I often lurk around the fish department waiting for the arrival of fresh seafood and am rewarded with the best ( provided the friendly fish guy is around) He is a super salesman and knows his fish! This time he suggested the scallops which were meaty, pale and juicy.
A scallop is usually sold without it's shell which is fan shaped with stripes of various hues on the outer side. The meat of the scallop which is circular, is mostly made up of the adductor muscle which helps it swim around. They can be pan fried, breaded and deep fried or sauteed. I added mine to a mushroom risotto for flavor and sweetness.
A Risotto is a meal in a bowl and is vastly overshadowed by pasta in Italian cooking but it is nevertheless a dish that holds its own. It takes practice and a great deal of patience to cook a perfect risotto but the end results are always appreciated. Arborio rice, chicken broth and Parmesan are the key ingredients and it always helps to have a bottle of white wine handy. This creamy rice dish is often served as an appetizer but I tend to serve it as an entree, seeing that it has its share of protein, starch, and veggies and is far more satisfying in a larger serving!
Years ago I learnt to make a risotto from a chef who walked me through the process so diligently that it remains fresh in my memory even today ( which is saying a lot!) He then allowed me to taste it before serving it to customers. It was comfort food at its best, down home cooking, creamy and unforgettable.

Mushroom Risotto with fresh Diver Scallops:

2 tablespoons olive oil
6-8 fresh scallops, patted dry and seasoned with salt and pepper
2 small shallots diced
3-4 cloves garlic sliced
2 cups Arborio rice
2 cups assorted mushrooms
1 cup white wine
2- 3 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup cream ( optional)
salt to taste

1. Heat the olive oil in the pan and sear the scallops on each side till golden. Remove and set aside.
2. Saute the garlic and shallots till fragrant and add in the rice.
3. Saute the rice briefly and add in the mushrooms. Continue cooking stirring often to prevent the rice from sticking. When it starts to stick add in the wine and simmer till it evaporates.
4. Add in 2 cups of the broth and simmer covered till the rice is cooked. Stir as needed and add in additional stock if necessary. Season to taste.
5. Once the rice is completely cooked add in the scallops and stir in the butter, cream and Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tetrazzini and Zeppole- Buon appetito!

Italians love their food and the kitchen is where family and friends cook, eat and bond with each other and what better way to spend an evening than with friends eating good food and drinking great wine? Pam and Michele were coming to dinner and asked for chicken and pasta; I was happy to play it safe since it was my first attempt at cooking them a meal. They came armed with bottles of Chianti and Vernaccia di SanGimignano a Tuscan white dating back to the Renaissance and rumored to be a favorite of Leonardo da vinci's. Pam also brought us Zeppoli, a traditional pastry made by Italian bakers once a year to celebrate the feast of St. Joseph on the 19th of March. The pastry was moist with a rich ricotta filling and topped with whipped cream and a candied cherry. It tasted like a cross between an eclair and a doughnut and definitely worth the calories....
I decided to do an old fashioned Tetrazzini casserole seeing that this long forgotten classic is getting a face lift and making a come-back. Michele happens to be a picky eater and was the butt of many jokes over the past week about being served brains and innards- which I convinced her is my specialty. She didn't know what to make of it and brought along a jar of ready-to-eat food as back up( she insists that that was a joke!). Either way it was a treat to watch the girls clean their plates and ask for seconds and thirds!
A chicken Tetrazzini casserole is a wonderful one pot meal. It involves many steps and is not a dish I would consider simple to prepare, but with a little prep work it is a worthwhile effort.

My recipe for Chicken Tetrazzini Casserole;
1 whole cooked chicken (a rotisserie chicken works well)
1 onion, diced
6 cloves garlic
2 cups assorted mushrooms
1 cup wine
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 heaped tablespoon flour
salt and pepper
sprigs of thyme
2 cups milk
1 cup cream
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup breadcrumbs with Italian seasoning
cooked linguine

1. Shred the chicken or cut into bite sized pieces. Heat oil in a pan and saute the mushrooms till all the water evaporates and they turn golden. Add in the onion and garlic and saute till fragrant.
2. Add in the wine and simmer till the wine evaporates.
3. In a separate pan, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Cook briefly, stirring continuously add in the stock and the milk. Stir in the thyme leaves and seasoning and cook till it is thick enough to coat a spoon.
4. Add in the cream and half the cheese. Combine the remaining cheese with the breadcrumbs.
5. In a large bowl combine the chicken, noodles and the mushroom mixture with the sauce. Fill into an oven proof dish and top with the breadcrumb/cheese mixture.
6. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes approximately or until the top is golden and crisp. Rest at room temp for 10 minutes and serve.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Give it a whirl...

I cook noodles quite often and in spite of it get stuck with substantial leftovers. Cooking the exact quantity is daunting ; I worry that I'll run short and inevitably wind up with too much. Recycled noodles tend to get over-cooked and never taste as good, so I figured the best thing is to use it cold in a salad. This is when I start to get creative and improvise. It isn't long before I throw in half a dozen pan fried shrimp and it turns into a phenomenal salad.... the best part is being able to use a ton of different vegetables. A great way to use leftover cooked chicken, tofu and veggie scraps. With a little imagination this salad could go in many different directions for instance you can turn up the heat with sliced hot peppers or give it a twist with a little thai curry paste when sauteeing the vegetables or simply by adding ginger or lemongrass to the dressing. So go ahead and give it a whirl....

My recipe for Asian Noodle Salad:
2 cups cooked egg noodles
6 shrimp, cleaned, rinsed and seasoned with salt and pepper
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp peanut oil
2 scallions sliced diagonally
1/2 cup grated carrots
handful of pea pods or peas
cabbage or broccoli slaw, broccoli florets or beansprouts ( optional)
sliced shitake mushrooms
sliced peppers

Peanut Cilantro Dressing:
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
1 1/2 tbsp sriracha sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp onion flakes or minced onion
1 tbsp sesame oil

1. Arrange noodles in a bowl. Prepare the dressing by blending all the dressing ingredients together briefly. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
2. Heat the peanut oil in a pan and saute the shrimp. Set aside and stir fry the garlic followed rapidly by the rest of the veggies. Give it a quick stir and pour over the noodles. Add the dressing and toss quickly. Serve immediately.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rice Pudding with date molasses

Rice pudding is the ultimate comfort food and also a ceremonial offering in many countries stretching from the Middle East to India. Although it comes in many guises and is called by various names, it is probably the world's most commonly known dessert. Comprising of staples like rice, milk, sugar and raisins, it is easily made from what's in your pantry on short notice.
Known as Kheer or Payesh in parts of India, it is made with many different varieties of rice and can range from condensed milk to molasses for the source of sweetness.
In my opinion, small grain rice gives it a better consistency and using equal parts cream and low fat milk gives it the right amount of creaminess. Cardamom, cinnamon , vanilla or simply bay leaves can be used to flavor it. I guess what I'm saying is that it is a very bendy recipe- you can do what strikes your fancy and there are no hard and fast rules, but just as you think that this is a breeze the pot boils over and you lose half the pudding. The tricky part is to keep an eye on the pot once it starts to simmer. It sticks real easy and it also boils over the minute you turn your back. My recipe is what works for me - feel free to play with it and make it your own and watch it disappear...

My Recipe for Rice Pudding with Date Molasses*:
1 cup small grained rice
2 bay leaves
2 cups milk
1 cup light cream
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup date molasses grated or pounded into a powder (add more if you like it really sweet)
2 pods crushed green cardamom seeds

1, Bring the milk to a boil with the bay leaves and add in the rice. Stir often and simmer the mixture uncovered till the rice is cooked and the mixture thickens.
2. Add in the molasses and continue cooking. It should get a rich color and be creamy in consistency. Add more milk or cream if the mixture is too thick. Stir in the raisins and sprinkle over with the cardamom. Refrigerate when cool and serve cold.
* Date molasses can be found in any Indian grocery store. They come in great big hard lumps in a jar.