Saturday, February 23, 2013

ChezCindy: Carrot Parsnip Soup

Carrots can generally be found in vegetable bins in most homes.  Underappreciated and not really thought of as the star ingredient.  Perhaps maybe with carrot cake.  No argument there.   Always yummy and delicious. But I was looking for more ways to enjoy carrots for lunch and dinner.

Carrots are inexpensive, super healthy, and delicious.  I prefer them cooked as opposed to eating them raw.  Cooking highlights the flavor of carrots, and they need little adornment.  I enjoy them roasted with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper.  Always easy and quick as a side dish for dinner. 

This carrot soup recipe turned out to be a perfect winter soup.  Its bright orange color is sunny even on the grayest winter day. Great texture, creamy without using any cream; with a subtle sweetness brought out by addition of parsnips.    

Carrot Parsnip Soup
2 tablespoons oil, divided
1 cup chopped onion
1 pound carrots
3/4 pound parsnips
1 cup water
3 cups unsalted vegetable stock, divided
2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy bottom soup pan.  Add the chopped onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring over medium heat until soft.  

Peel the carrots and parsnips.  Cut into 1/2-inch pieces adding to the pan with the onions.  Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, stirring to combine.  Cook for about 10 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften.  Add in 1 cup of water, continuing to cook for 15 minutes.  Once the vegetables are mostly tender, add 2 cups stock, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30-35 minutes until the vegetables are tender.  Remove from heat, cooling for 10 minutes.

Transfer the cooled carrot mixture to a blender or food processor, (or use an immersion blender) puree until smooth.  Return the pureed soup to the pan.  Taste for seasoning, adding the white pepper and more salt if necessary.  Add the remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring to thin the soup until you reach the preferred consistency.  Serve hot. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

ChezCindy: Winter Root Vegetables - Turnips!

Up until a few weeks ago, I don't think I had ever eaten a turnip.  To be really honest, only in the last few years have I understood which vegetable was a turnip and which were parsnips.  Parsnips look like carrots and turnips are round, purple and white in color.  Parsnips are cousins to carrots and turnips are in the same family as radishes. 

Winter brings on the opportunity or challenge to try different seasonal vegetables.  Food magazines and newspaper articles feature recipes that inspire to go beyond carrots.  Thus, my inspiration to try roasted turnips.  To my great surprise, the texture was creamy and the flavor sweet.  I decided to partner them with sliced butternut squash, cut from the long neck of the squash, roasted with fresh thyme. 

Consider using turnips when making a vegetable soup or beef stew. Simply peel, cut into small cubes, and add as you would potatoes and carrots.  Purchase smaller turnips as opposed to those larger in size, as the large older turnips are hotter in taste. 

Roasted Turnips and Butternut Squash with Fresh Thyme
1-pound turnips
1-pound butternut squash
4-5 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt & ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 
Peel the turnips and squash.  Cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices.  Place the sliced vegetables and thyme sprigs into a medium bowl.  Add the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Toss to coat the sliced vegetables. 

Place the sliced vegetables onto a heavy baking sheet, laying them in a single layer.  Sprinkle the thyme sprigs over the slices.  Place baking tray in the oven, roasting for about 20 minutes.  Halfway through roasting time, turn over each slice to brown the other side.  Remove from oven.  Serve warm. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

ChezCindy: Flavored Herb Salt

When I recently made Spaghetti Squash Spaghetti , I took some time to reacquaint myself with Chef Michael Chiarello's Tra Vigne cookbook.  One of the things I like about his cookbooks is along with the featured recipes, he always provides side notes on "Chef's Tips", "Entertaining Notes", or "Wine Notes", that are helpful and educational.  I discovered a Chef's Tip for frying rosemary.  

Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs.  Smelling it makes me smile.  My outdoor rosemary shrubs usually last throughout the winter, maybe getting just a bit brown.  I take great pleasure in walking out my backdoor, trudging through the snow to snip off a stem or two of rosemary.  When I saw this tip for frying rosemary, I had to make it.  Chef's instructions were to deep fry it.  I did not want to drag out my deep fryer just to fry a sprig of rosemary.  So I improvised.  I took a shallow saute pan; poured in about a cup of olive oil.  I heated the olive oil and gently added the sprigs of rosemary.  They sizzled right away.  I let them sizzle in the olive oil for about 60 seconds.  When most of the sizzling subsided, I removed them to drain on a paper towel.

Once they were cool, Chef Chiarello's notes explained that the crisp rosemary could be added to salt and other spices to make a seasoned salt.  But now what to do with the olive oil.  I hated to waste it.  I then realized that I had made rosemary flavored olive oil.  I strained it into a jar and have been using it in my cooking this week. 

So now you are asking yourself, what would I do with rosemary salt and rosemary olive oil?  The first thing I made was popcorn.  Once popped, in place of butter, I drizzled the rosemary olive oil over the popcorn and sprinkled with the seasoned rosemary salt.  

Next day, I sautéed chicken breasts in the rosemary olive oil.  They came out beautifully browned and with just a hint of rosemary.  They were delicious in a chicken sandwich. 

The oil or the salt would be wonderful with beef or lamb.  I would love to grill a steak and finish it with a sprinkle of the rosemary salt and a drizzle of rosemary oil.  That would be beautiful.  Or use the salt and oil with roasted or baked potatoes.  A drizzle of oil on grilled or toasted bread would be nice with melted cheese and honey.   

If you decide to make the fried rosemary, rosemary salt and olive oil, be sure to use them within a week's time.  These are not meant to be stored for long term use.  Honestly, I can think of so many ways to use these.  Eggs, cheese, grains pastas, any savory food really. 

Fried Rosemary
3 small sprigs of rosemary
1 cup olive oil

Place the olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium high heat.  Once the oil is hot, add the sprigs of rosemary for 60 seconds.  Remove to a paper towel to drain. 

Rosemary Olive Oil
Once the oil from the fried rosemary has cooled, pour through a funnel into a bottle or jar.  Use within 1 week. 

Rosemary Seasoned Salt
1 teaspoon fried rosemary
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Place the fried rosemary onto a paper towel.  Gather the paper towel to close the rosemary within; rub the paper towel to crunch the rosemary into small bits.  Remove the stems.  Place 1 teaspoon of rosemary leaves into a small jar or bowl.  Add the kosher salt.  Shake or stir to combine. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

ChezCindy: Cut-out Cookies

Holidays often bring forward the tradition of baking cookies, certainly at Christmas.  But for me, Valentine's Day has always meant making cut-out cookies.  I'm sure this stems from family times in the kitchen with my mother.  She had a large collection of cookie cutters.  I have early memories of rolling out cookie dough, stamping in the cookie cutter to create the shaped cookies.  

I also have a happy memory from my early teenage years of baking my own cut-out cookies.  Generally, any cookie dough that is used for cut-outs calls for refrigerating the dough before rolling it out.  That step didn't sit well with me.  I wanted to complete the process without having to wait 30-60 minutes for the dough to chill.  So I set out looking through all of my mother's cookbooks for a cut-out cookie recipe that could be used straight away.  I find it interesting that the young age of 13 marks the beginning of when I began researching recipes!

The recipe used here for these heart shaped cut-outs is the one I found at that early age.  It is a basic sugar cookie that rolls out well.  The scraps come together easily to roll out for a second pass.  And, it makes a delicious soft sugar cookie.   

Sugar Cookie Cut-outs 
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line sheet trays with parchment paper, set aside.

Working with a stand mixer or with a large bowl mixing by hand, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Blend in the vanilla. 

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, blending well. 

Working on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick.  Stamp out with the cookie cutter shapes as desired.  Place the cookies onto the parchment lined sheet trays.  Gather the scraps together into a ball and roll out for a second pass.  Continue until all dough has been cut into desired shapes. 

Bake in the oven for 10-11 minutes until lightly golden brown.  Slide the parchment paper, with the cookies in place, from the baking sheets.  Cool before frosting.   

Monday, February 11, 2013

ChezCindy: Spaghetti Squash Spaghetti

This recipe is influenced by the fabulous Napa Valley chef Michael Chiarello. Chef of the celebrated Tra Vigne restaurant, and most recent restaurant Bottega, Chef Chiarello specializes in Italian cuisine featuring fresh California ingredients. He is author to 7 cookbooks; founder of NapaStyle cookware and home goods, presenting a Napa Valley way of life. I came upon this recipe in his Tra Vigne Cookbook and was amazed at how delicious this meatless recipe is.

The recipe uses spaghetti squash along with spaghetti noodles. To paraphrase Chef Chiarello, I would like to tell you to eat this because it is full of great nutrition, but really, eat it because it tastes great!

Chef Chiarello uses Parmesan cheese with his recipe and adds a bit of spice to his tomato sauce by incorporating cooked, mashed jalapeno pepper into it. I skipped the heat of the jalapeno and used goat cheese in my sauce. This comfort meal is satisfying and delicious.

Spaghetti Squash Spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 spaghetti squash, about 2 pounds
1/2 pound thin spaghetti pasta
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
3 cups tomato sauce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash in half, scoop out and discard the fibers and seeds. Season the cut side of the squash with olive oil, salt & pepper. Place cut side down onto a rimmed baking sheet. Add 1 cup of water to the pan to help steam the squash.

Bake the squash until tender, 45-55 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool.  When cool enough to handle, scrape the squash out of the shells in long strands into a large bowl.  Season with salt, pepper and butter.  Set aside. 

Prepare the pasta as directed on package.  When the pasta is done, drain; add to the bowl with the squash.  Toss well, but gently.

Warm the tomato sauce, either your homemade or favorite jar.  Stir in the crumbled goat cheese to the warmed sauce.  Add enough sauce to the spaghetti to coat as desired.  Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley. 


Saturday, February 9, 2013

ChezCindy: My Chocolate Hero

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts

Alice Medrich is my chocolate hero.  For years, I would happen upon a recipe of hers in various food magazines and always found them to be wonderful.  I finally bought a cookbook of hers (Bittersweet -available on Amazon) and much to the joy of my chocolate-purist husband, have made many more recipes of hers. 

For those of you not familiar with Alice Medrich, she is often thought of as the "Julia Child of chocolate", a self-taught chocolatier, author to 8 cookbooks - 3 of which have been selected as Cookbook of the Year award winners.  Her name is synonymous with chocolate.  Her recipes are innovative, delicious and yummy.  Her knowledge is masterful and her experience is vast.  If you need detail on chocolate, reference Alice's work for your answer.  If you need a delicious chocolate recipe, pick up one of her cookbooks. 

Last weekend I kind of went chocolate crazy.  I made classic chocolate truffles, bittersweet chocolate decadence cookies (known as chocolate fudgies in our house), and chocolate mousse, all recipes from the Bittersweet cookbook. We shared half of the goodness with another chocolate-purist friend to celebrate her birthday.  This weekend I am trying a new recipe from Alice's book, Bittersweet Deception.  The recipe can loosely be described as a "flourless" chocolate cake.  It is made in a round 8-inch cake pan, with many of the same ingredients as mousse, but with 2 tablespoons of flour, and baked in a "water-bath".  I'll let you know how it comes out. 

The recipe I am sharing with you today is Alice's Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts.  The browned butter add a rich nutty flavor, working in harmony with the fudgy chocolate and the crisp bites of walnuts.  If you are not used to working with browned butter, don't be afraid to allow the butter to get really brown.  These are my favorite brownies. 

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup toasted walnuts
2 teaspoons water
1/4 teaspoon salt

Position rack in the bottom third of oven; preheat to 325 degrees.  Line an 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against the sides and leaving a 2-inch overhang.  Coat the foil with non-stick spray.  Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat.  Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at the bottom of the pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Stir to blend.  Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot).  Add eggs to hot mixture, 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition.  When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended.  Beat vigorously 60 strokes.  Stir in nuts.  Transfer to prepared pan. 

Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), about 25 minutes.  Cool in pan on rack.  Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan.  Cut the brownies into 4 strips.  Cut each strip crosswise into 4 pieces.  

ChezCindy: Kale Chips

Kale Chips

I love potato chips.  To think that kale chips could replace potato chips is not what I was hoping for, but I could try.  I had been hearing about kale chips for quite a while now, but had not taken the time to actually make them.  I eat kale wilted like spinach, or adding it to a frittata or raw in a salad; so kale has become a regular vegetable in my world.  On a recent visit with my niece, she had kale chips set out with the lunch she was serving.  My first taste.  They were really good.  So I did some research. 
Kale chips can be baked at a variety of temperatures, from 225 degrees for an hour to 425 for minutes.  I chose to try the middle range of temps at 375.  They were delicious and easy!  But then I thought, have I taken something so healthy and lessened it's nutritional value.  Not at all.  Cooked kale maintains the healthy vitamins A and C, calcium and potassium.  Bonus.
Once baked, the kale chips are a bit fragile and delicate.  I found that they last several days stored in an air-tight container, but are best on the first day.  Try eating them as you would any salty snack.  Or add them to a sandwich in place of lettuce for an interesting contrast of textures.  Here's how you make them. 

Baked Kale Chips
1 large bunch of kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Rinse the kale leaves and dry thoroughly with kitchen toweling or using a salad spinner.  Remove the tough stems and tear the kale leaves into pieces, about 3-4 inches.  This does not have to be precise, but don't tear too small as the leaves shrink while baking.  Place the leaves into a large bowl; drizzle the olive oil over the leaves, sprinkle on the salt.  (I found that the salt goes a long way.  For my taste, I used slightly more than 1/4 teaspoon for roughly 6 -7 cups of torn kale leaves.)  Using your hands, massage the leaves so that they are coated with the oil.

Using 2 large baking sheets, spread the kale leaves out onto the sheets into a single layer.  Avoid overcrowding the sheets, spreading out the leaves so that they don't overlap.

Bake in the oven for about 8 minutes.  Pull the sheets from the oven. Using a spatula, stir the leaves for even cooking.  Return the sheets back to the oven for an additional 2 minutes; total baking time is about 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven.  Slide the kale chips from the trays onto a paper towel.  The chips will continue to crisp as they cool.  Serve when cool.  Store in an air-tight container.