Friday, April 27, 2012

ChezCindy: Roasted Vegetables

Last weekend while rummaging through my refrigerator vegetable drawer, I realized I had too many vegetables that were in risk of being wasted.  I tend to over-buy as the beautiful colors and variety of produce lure me like a moth to a bright light.  I hate throwing away unused foods, so I took just about everything from the drawer, plus potatoes and onions from the pantry and combined it all for roasted vegetables. 

Included in my vegetable roast were red skin potatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini, yellow pepper, red onion, and fennel.  I tossed all with olive oil, kosher salt, ground black pepper and added fresh sage leaves. 

It is important to cut all the vegetables to a similar size for even cooking.  I used a shallow-sided roasting pan (2-3 inches deep) and roasted in the oven at 400 degrees.  The beauty of roasting anything is that you can vary the temperature as needed.  The temperature can range from 375 - 425, if you are cooking something along with the vegetables that requires a specific temperature.  Another lovely thing about roasting is that is needs little attention.  Simply place the pan in the oven and leave it alone for 30-40 minutes.  Take it out after roughly 20 minutes; give the contents a stir to distribute for even browning. Continue cooking until you have a gorgeous brown color on all the vegetables.  To serve, sprinkle with sea salt and fresh chopped parsley. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

ChezCindy: Ham & Cheese Waffles

I recently saw this concept for ham and cheese waffles as an homage to the writer's mother who made ham waffles as a childhood favorite.  I couldn't wait to give it a try.

When I eat waffles or pancakes, I want the sausage nestled next to the waffle and covered with syrup. I love the taste of the savory pork and the sweet maple goodness combined as one bite of deliciousness. Yummmm.  So why not add the pork right into the batter.  Genius. 

My recipe is a standard waffle batter, but as you ladle the batter into the waffle maker, add a tablespoon of thinly sliced deli ham and shredded cheese.  The recipe can also be made without the ham and cheese for a more traditional waffle. 

If you don't own a waffle maker, I encourage you to look at a second hand store or watch for a sale to buy one.  Or maybe, your aunt has one tucked away in the cupboard you can borrow.  Waffle batter is easy to make and the outcome is so much better than the toaster frozen variety you can buy as ready made.

Ham & Cheese Waffles
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 cup of flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cup of milk
2 eggs, separated
4 ounces sliced deli ham
2 ounces of grated white cheddar cheese

Preheat waffle maker.  Melt the butter, set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.  In medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the milk together.  In yet another bowl, whip the egg whites until they form a loose meringue; set aside.  Whisk the egg yolk/ milk mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined.  Stir in the melted butter.  Fold in the egg whites.  (The whipped egg whites will help yield a light, crispy waffle.)  Spoon a ladle full of batter into your prepared waffle maker.  Top the batter with 1-2 tablespoons of ham and cheese, depending on the size of you waffle maker.  Close the waffle iron and bake as per the directions of your maker.  Waffle will be golden brown with crisp bits of ham and cheese baked in.  Serve with butter and maple syrup.  Garnish with additional ham and cheese. 

Traditional waffles can be made by eliminating the ham and cheese. 

For an alternate variety, try adding 1 teaspoon of cinnamon or 1 tablespoon of cocoa and 2 additional tablespoons of sugar to the dry ingredients. 

*Waffle Footnote*
I had unused batter that I kept in the refrigerator for a few days and decided to make blueberry waffles with the remaining batter. I ladled the batter into the waffle maker and added frozen whole blueberries on top of the uncooked batter. Closed the lid and baked as normal. The blueberries of course were smashed by closing the lid and were baked into the batter. They came out beautifully.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

ChezCindy: Strawberry Shortcake Scones

I was at the local grocery store and got drawn in to buying fresh strawberries in April.  Pleasantly surprised when I brought them home, they were actually quite good.  Not as sweet as summer, but good.  It is amazing the quality of produce we can enjoy when shipped from so far away.  After having strawberries and yogurt for a few days, I really wanted to make something more indulgent, like strawberry shortcake.  Which leads me back to my scone recipe. 

I have used scones for the base of my strawberry shortcakes for the last few years.  Lemon scones are a delicious contribution to balance the sweetness of the sugared berries, topped with freshly made whipped cream, lightly sweetened.  Adding the zest of one large lemon to the dry ingredients, and the juice of one-half lemon to the wet ingredients will complete the basic scone recipe to make lemon scones. 

Basic Scones
 2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup flour for kneading
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs

To make lemon scones:  add the zest of one large lemon to the dry ingredients, and the juice of one-half lemon to the wet ingredients. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line 2 large sheet pans with parchment paper.

In the bowl for an electric mixer, add the 2 cups of flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Gently combine.  Take the butter from the refrigerator, (you want the butter to be as cold as possible) dice into tiny pieces, 1/2-inch cubes.  Add to the flour mixture, mix at low speed until the butter is the size of small peas.  The key to a great scone is that the butter will not be completely combined into the flour. 

In a separate large measuring cup for liquids, measure out the cream.  Add the eggs, lightly mixing the cream and eggs together.  With the mixer on low speed, add the cream/egg mixture to the flour.  Mix just until blended.  The dough will not be fully pulled together at this point.  

Working on a clean counter surface, sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of flour onto the surface.  Transfer the scone dough directly onto the floured surface.  Using your hands, gather and press the dough to come together with a kneading technique.  You should still see bits of butter in the dough.  Shape the dough into a flat disc.  Flour a rolling pin to roll out the dough to a 1-inch thickness.  You may need to sprinkle more flour onto your work surface.  Using a biscuit cutter, cut out the scones, place onto the prepared sheet tray.  Collect the scraps, roll out the dough, cut more scones.  Brush the tops with an egg-wash (beaten egg and 1 tablespoon of water).  For sweet scones, sprinkle the tops with sugar.

Bake in the hot oven for 20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through cooking time.  Remove from the oven, the tops should be slightly browned, slide the parchment paper off with the scones in place, directly onto your counter to cool.  

Once cool, I drizzle my sweet scones with a powdered sugar glaze.  Combine 1/2 cup powdered sugar with 1 tablespoon liquid - could be juice, milk or water.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

ChezCindy: Spring-time Poached Salmon

Spring-time Poached Salmon

As we transition from Winter's heavier meals of braised meats, perfect for Spring brunches is Poached Salmon with an Herb Vinaigrette. 
This winter I made many braised meats that were all very pleasing and appropriate for the shorter daylight days and colder temperatures.  Meals that make you just want to tuck in and feel comfort in the belly.  With the changing season, now the palette is seeking less heavy foods and the markets are displaying fresh spring ingredients. 

Braising and poaching are similar methods of cooking, basically heating food at a low temperature in a liquid such as water or broth.  The transfer of gentle heat allows for foods to stay moist and produces a soft texture.  Long braising is used for tougher large cuts of meat. While poaching is used for heat sensitive foods such as eggs and fish. 

This poached salmon can be served as a whole side of fish, impressive for a brunch display, or by cutting the fish into smaller pieces.  Cutting the salmon into pieces is easier, especially if you do not have a pan large enough to contain the side of salmon.  The method is the same regardless whether cutting into pieces or not.  The salmon can be served chilled or at room temperature. 

Poached Salmon with Herb Vinaigrette
1 side of Salmon, 1 1/2 - 2 pounds
4 tablespoons of white vinegar
1/2 cup of thinly sliced shallots or white onion
2 carrots, thinly sliced
3 whole cloves garlic
10 whole peppercorns
2 sprigs of tarragon or parsley

Rinse the salmon.  Cut into 4-6 pieces or leave as whole.  Place the salmon in a large, shallow pan and cover with cold water.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Place the pan over medium-high heat to bring to a boil.  Once you reach boiling, immediately reduce the heat to a simmer.  Continue to cook for 3-5 minutes.  Avoid over-cooking.  Remember that the salmon has already been cooking as you are bringing the water temperature to a boil.  Resist the temptation to cook longer than 5 minutes. 

Remove the salmon from the hot liquid with a slotted spoon or spatula.  Allow to cool for several minutes.  When cool enough to touch, I prefer to remove the skin.  It should come off easily by gently pulling up a corner of the skin, and gently scraping back with the edge of a spatula.  Place the salmon onto your serving tray.  Serve with plenty of the Herb Vinaigrette.  This is excellent with fresh cherry tomatoes, steamed red skin potatoes, or blanched green beans. 

Herb Vinaigrette
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons capers, drained
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil or tarragon, roughly chopped
1 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
fresh ground black pepper

Place all ingredients, except the oil, into a blender or food processor.  Pulse to chop and combine.  With the machine running, slowly stream in the oil to bring together to the consistency of a smooth sauce.  Serve with the poached salmon or fresh steamed vegetables. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

ChezCindy: The Magic of Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs

Mystified by the magic of perfect hard boiled eggs?  It seems odd for me to follow a "recipe" when making hard boiled eggs, but my success increases greatly when I do.  Here is the method I follow.

Place the eggs in a single layer in a pan, cover with cold water, about one inch above the eggs.  Place the pan over medium-high heat.  Heat the water to just before a boil, (boiling the eggs will make them rubbery) cover and turn off the heat.  Allow the eggs to sit in the hot water for 10-15 minutes.  Drain, then fill the pan with ice cold water.  Keep the eggs in the cold water until fully cooled before peeling, about 20 minutes.  Using eggs that are a few days old, yields easier peeling.  The fresher the egg the more difficult to it will be to peel.  If you only have fresh eggs, keep them in the hot water (without direct heat) for twice the recommended time. 

Other thoughts on eggs:
  • Brown eggs are not healthier than white eggs.  The shells reflect the color of the hen's feathers. 
  •  Many recipes benefit from allowing eggs to come to room temperature before using them.  Especially when baking.  If the recipe calls for room temperature butter, this should be the same for the eggs.  Allowing eggs to sit out for 20-30 minutes is safe.
  • Store eggs in their carton on an inside shelf in your refrigerator, as opposed to the built-in slots in the door.  They will stay fresher longer, as the continuous opening of the door will expose the eggs to a lower temperature.  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

ChezCindy: Give Beets a Chance

I grew up thinking beets came from a can.  Who ate purple food that was smelly and weird-looking?  Well my mother did.  (She ate beef tongue too.  Pretty hip for back then.)  She didn't try to convince us to eat beets, but we were aware of their existence.  Later in life, traveling in Carmel, California, I had beets as part of a salad in a restaurant that would become one of our favorite restaurants, Casanova.  I probably pushed them around on the plate, and maybe ate one by accident.  I'm sure I decided this is what beets taste like in California.  Everything tastes good in California on vacation.  Right?
It was much later in life that I decided to try cooking beets for myself.  I did some research.  Got purple stained hands while trying to peel the beets.  Roasted them in the oven.  Added them to a salad.  Hmmm... not quite the same as Casanova.  I gave up for a few more years.  Honestly, it took a few unsuccessful attempts to figure out how to cook beets and more importantly, how to add them to a salad that is delicious.
There is wonderful produce in our markets now.  Maybe that is part of my new success.  You can find organic beets of many colors.  There are the traditional purple, but I like the orange ones.  They tend to be a little sweeter and milder in taste. Beets partner well with cheese, especially soft goat cheese, dried dates and figs, and walnuts.  Add greens and a champagne vinaigrette, and you have a delicious salad.  Here is what I have come up with. 

Roasted Beets
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Wash the beets to remove any remaining soil.  Cut off the tops and the root ends.  Cut the beets into quarters or halves for the larger size beets.  Working with a large piece of heavy duty foil, place the beets in the center.  Pull up the sides of the foil to contain the beets, drizzle with olive oil, (you can use walnut oil or canola oil), sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Close up the sides of the foil and seal to make a small packet.  Place the packet on a baking tray with sides, roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes.  Remove from the oven.  Carefully open the packet, avoiding the steam heat that will escape, using a small knife, test for doneness by inserting the knife into a beet.  It should feel tender, but not mushy, through to the center.  Allow the beets to cool.  Once cool, remove the skins.  Cut into smaller pieces.  

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese, Dates, Walnuts, with Champagne Vinaigrette
Mixed greens
Roasted beets, cut into small pieces
Goat cheese crumbled into small pieces
Toasted walnuts

Champagne Vinaigrette
1 scant tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 scant tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 grinds of black pepper
2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil

Add the Dijon mustard, honey, salt and pepper to a medium sized bowl.  Whisk to combine.  Add the vinegar, whisk to combine.  Slowly add the oil, drizzling while whisking the contents quickly.  (wrap a kitchen towel around the base of the bowl to keep it from spinning)  Salad dressing can be stored in a squeeze bottle or a small container for about a week. 

ChezCindy: Cruciferous Vegetables - Friend or foe?

Brown Butter Cauliflower-Tomato Sauté

There are 2 camps when it comes to cruciferous vegetables - people either love them or hate them.  There's usually no middle ground. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts to name just a few.  Many people have invited broccoli to the table, but it is still not fully embraced like the green bean.  Which is too bad because these vegetables are called "super-vegetables" being high in vitamins and nutrients, fiber, with huge anti-cancer properties. 

Cauliflower is a favorite of mine.  Most often I do a quick sauté to brown planks of cauliflower, then lightly dust with parmesan cheese.  There are only 4 ingredients: cauliflower, butter, kosher salt and a small amount of grated cheese.  Here I have used orange cauliflower and added yellow tomatoes. 

Because the cooking process is quick over high heat, it losses the bitter, strong tastes that people don't like about these vegetables.  The butter brings out a nutty. sweet flavor, using the cheese just as garnish.   I  cook the entire head of cauliflower and store it in the refrigerator, re-heating it as a side dish, adding it to an omelet for dinner, or combining with pasta.

Brown Butter Cauliflower
Working with a head of cauliflower, remove the green leaves, stems and core.  Slice the head in half.  Then slice into planks, providing a flat surface area so that the cauliflower will have good contact with the pan.

Next, using a large non-stick saute pan, add a tablespoon of butter to the pan, place over medium-high heat.  Allow the pan to get hot, melting the butter, but not sizzling.  Add the planks of cauliflower in a single layer so that all of the pieces have contact with the pan, filling in with the little bits that have crumbled.  With a large head, you may need to do this in small batches, adding more butter as needed.  Do not stir or turn for several minutes.  Using tongs, peek at the cooked side of the cauliflower plank to see if it has browned like in the picture below.  As each plank has browned, turn over so that each piece has become beautifully browned.  This just takes a few minutes. 

Add the tomatoes, if using, and continue browning.  As the second side browns, sprinkle with kosher salt, black pepper if desired.  Grate the parmesan cheese over the top and serve.