Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Fearful Gourmet BAKES -- Date nut bars!

The Fearful Gourmet does not ordinarily bake. In fact, I think the only thing I've baked til now was a cheesecake for a boyfriend when I was 20 (which I wouldn't eat because I'm afraid of cheesecake) and  a batch or two of simple cookies. But I was inspired by my friend Janet, baker extraordinaire, to give baking a try.

Janet shared with me an easy recipe that doesn't require too much equipment and uses very little butter. Aside from a little mishap with my mixer resulting in my being covered in sugar (and to a lesser extent, butter) it went off without a hitch. The resulting bars are rich, flavorful and filled with crunchy nuts and chewy dates. Yum!

Prep time - Minimal
Nice enough to bring to someone's house?
Oh yes!
Would I make it again?
Yes - Possibly even later today!
Gluten free?
My grade
- A 

Date Nut Bars 

  • 2 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp hot water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 1 box dates (1 1/4 cups chopped)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (I used closer to 3/4 of a teaspoon)

Cream butter with sugar, add eggs, water and vanilla. Mix flour with baking powder - add to wet. Mix and add nuts and dates. Spray square pan with pam and spread batter. Bake 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees. Cut into bars when cool and roll in confectionery sugar. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Curiously Comforting - Greens and Egg Noodles

Everyone has their own version of comfort food. For some, it's mac and cheese, or mashed potatoes, or chicken soup. By definition, comfort food "comforts" -- makes you feel better, makes you feel cared for. (It's funny how food can do that).

My comfort food is a little odd. When I'm having a rough day and I need a lunch or dinner that will make me feel happy, I always turn to the trusted greens and egg noodles. The beautiful thing about this simple recipe is that you can (and I have) use any greens you have around -- Swiss Chard, turnip greens, beet greens, kale, spinach, even broccoli rabe will work (although it may take a bit more cooking).  I use garlic salt instead of fresh garlic to speed up on the prep, but you can use fresh garlic if you prefer.

This recipe is for a single, generous serving.

Greens and Egg Noodles

- 2 oz uncooked wide egg noodles
- 1 bunch of greens (any kind - see above), washed and roughly chopped with water still clinging to the leaves
- olive oil
- juice of 1 lemon
- whipped butter
- garlic salt
- crushed red pepper

Fill a pot of water and bring it to a boil and cook egg noodles according to the package directions.

Pour a small amount (a tsp or two) of olive oil in the bottom of a pot on medium heat. Sprinkle red pepper flakes into the oil according to how spicy you like things. (Start off with just a shake - you can always add more later).

When the oil is warm, add the chopped greens, sprinkle generously with garlic salt, and cover the pot. Let the greens cook, stirring occasionally, for ten minutes or so, until they've cooked down and are tender. If there is too much liquid in the pot, uncover and cook uncovered until it reduces. If there is too little liquid to steam/saute the greens, add a sprinkle of water and cover the pot again.

When the greens are cooked and the noodles are done, drain the noodles thoroughly. Add the juice of a small lemon, and about a tbsp of whipped butter (or less) to the greens and stir until butter melts. Add noodles to the greens, mix well and taste. Add garlic salt or extra hot pepper if needed.

Prep time - minimal
Nice enough to bring to someone's house? Perhaps, but this is best made for just one or two people.
Would I make it again? Over and over!
Gluten free? No
Vegetarian? Yes
My grade - A

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Beat the Heat with Watermelon Gazpacho

When I get my New York Times on the weekend, one of the first things I look at are the recipes in the Magazine section. This week, they had a whole section on watermelon and one of the recipes was for Watermelon Gazpacho. Now I happen to LOVE gazpacho -- which is typically made with tomato, cucumber and onion/garlic -- but it doesn't always love me...  It's a heartburn-inducing dish.

But I showed the watermelon gazpacho recipe to my daughter, Emily who is an excellent cook, and she was interested enough to try making it. The result? Oh man -- now THIS is something I could eat the entire summer. Sweet, savory, spicy and refreshing, all at once, this is a dish that would wow anyone. Serve it with a crisp green salad for lunch on a hot summer day, or as the first course before a BBQ.

Credit goes to Mark Bittman, one of my favorite cookbook authors, who wrote the NY Times article. I highly recommend this dish.

Prep time - minimal
Nice enough to bring to someone's house? Yes!
Would I make it again? Absolutely!!
Gluten free? Yes
Vegetarian? Yes
My grade - A

Watermelon Gazpacho

- 1 small watermelon (about 3 lbs) cut into large chunks
- 2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- salt and papper
- fresh basil
- olive oil

Put watermelon, tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice in a food processor and pulse, adding a few ice cubes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill in the fridge, and garnish with fresh basil and a few drops of olive oil. Yum!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

One Pot Pasta - The Easy Way

I'll confess that when someone posted a photo and recipe on Facebook that involved throwing dry pasta, chopped tomatoes, basil, garlic and broth in a pot and boiling it all together to form a pasta with sauce dish, I was skeptical. But I was willing to try it. After all, in Ann's world, the less pots to clean, the better. I adore one-pot meals and make them whenever possible. So, despite my doubt, I was open to trying this one.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the right ingredients. So, I took the chance of using what I had: orzo for the pasta, chicken broth, veggies, some white wine....  The result? A winner! The pasta and vegetables were tender and well covered in a flavorful sauce - reminiscent of Risotto. Couldn't be easier.

One-Pot Pasta

  • 12 oz dry pasta (I used orzo)
  • 1 large head of Swiss Chard - stems sliced and leaves cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 can of chick peas (undrained - use the liquid as well)
  • 2 large cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes in juice
  • 4-6 small carrots, sliced
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • 32 oz broth (I used organic chicken broth)
  • 1/2 cup or more of dry white wine
  • 1 tbsp high-quality olive oil
  • lemon juice
1. Pour dry pasta into a large pot. Throw in the rest of the vegetables, the crushed red pepper (I used a lot because we like it spicy), and sprinkle with lemon-pepper or black pepper and salt if desired (don't use too much salt because of the broth). Add the broth, wine and oil to the pot. Cover and bring to a boil (the Chard will start to shrink down).

2. Stir frequently and well. When the mix reaches a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Stir every few minutes to ensure that the pasta isn't sticking.

3. When the liquid is almost gone and the pasta is tender (10 -15 minutes or longer, depending on the type of pasta), remove from heat. Stir in a tbsp or two of lemon juice to taste and serve in bowls.

Notes: This is what I call a "loosey-goosey" recipe, meaning that you can be flexible. More broth, less wine. Maybe some other liquid instead. Any sort of pasta will do, as will any sort of vegetables -- mix and match. Same with the seasonings. Try oregano and basil for an Italian flavor, or cilantro and chili for a Mexican one. Be creative!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bok Choi and Bacon

Have I mentioned that I belong to a CSA? Don't know what a CSA is? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and basically it means that you are buying a share in a farm for a season and your payment entitles you to a share of what the farm produces. In my case, it means a box of interesting vegetables (and sometimes strawberries) once a week from The Golden Earthworm Organic farm

It's always interesting (and often challenging) to come up with ideas for what to do with all the vegetables. This week I got a couple of bunches of bok choi -- which is a Chinese vegetable, in the cabbage family. It's very good stir fried with garlic and ginger and soy sauce, or put in soups, etc, but I decided to try something different.

Last night a friend dropped off (of all things) a HUGE bag of bacon. I'm not sure I've ever seen so much bacon -- three or four pounds probably. Did I mention I live with vegetarians? So that four pounds of bacon... all mine.

I am, however, a fairly healthy eater, and I couldn't fathom just making a huge plate of bacon, so I decided that for lunch I'd combine the bacon and the bok choi and make myself a cooked green lunch. While I ate it as lunch, I think it's probably best suited for a side dish. It would work with any number of greens -- spinach, swiss chard, kale, etc.

Here's the basic idea...

- Bok choi (or any other greens) - chopped. About 4 cups, but really whatever you want.
- Bacon - 2-3 strips

In a frying pan, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove bacon, and put on paper towels to dry. Wash and roughly chop greens. (I also added a garlic scape - which is the top shoot of garlic - to this dish.). Cook the greens in the bacon fat, adding salt and pepper as desired. When the greens are wilted and bright green, remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Top with the crumbled bacon.

Easy and delicious!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Garlicky White Bean Dip

Some people belong to book clubs, some belong to wine clubs -- I belong to an olive oil club. Four times a year, a box from Sonoma, CA, arrives with two bottles of gourmet olive oil. It's expensive. And it's worth it. I'm a big fan of this olive oil club -- I've had the opportunity to try oils that tasted grassy, peppery, fruity, and nutty. And I can tell you that there is as much variety in olive oils as there is in wines.

So I have to give a plug to the company that I get my olive oils from -- The Olive Press. The oils are marvelous -- worth the splurge. These are not oils for frying in -- these are oils to savor, to dip your crusty bread into, to drizzle over fresh greens. The Olive Press also includes recipes in the box with my shipment, so last night I tried making (very last minute) the Garlicky White Bean Dip to take to a gathering of some close friends.

It was both a huge hit and incredibly easy to make. Using high quality olive oil is key. If you need to whip something up for a last minute get together, this is the thing to make. Or, for a quiet night in, make a batch of this, get a loaf of crusty bread, some ripe tomatoes, a piece of cheese and a good bottle of wine, and you are set.

Prep time - minimal
Nice enough to bring to someone's house? Yes!
Would I make it again? Absolutely!!
Gluten free? Yes
Vegetarian? Yes
My grade - A

So, without further ado...

Garlicky White Bean Dip

  • 1 15-oz can white beans (I used cannellini)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 3 tbsp high quality olive oil (I used The Olive Press Master Blend EVOO)
  • 1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Served garnished with more parsley and a drizzle of olive oil. Yum!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Braised Beef in Red Wine with Orange Zest

Wow. Let me repeat myself... Wow.

You know you've made a good dish when the minute you finish eating it, you feel like cooking it again. For those of you wondering what I was going to do with the beef that was the subject of my previous post, this is the result - the meat was falling-apart tender, as were the carrots. The onions, wine and orange zest melded into a flavorful and complex but not overpowering sauce. 

This recipe was from the September 2008 issue of the now shuttered Gourmet magazine. The issue's focus was Paris, and the recipes were primarily French. This recipe, as printed in the magazine, was called "Joues De Boeuf Aux Agrumes" which actually means beef cheeks braised in red wine with orange zest, but there was no WAY I was going to cook anything with a name like "cheek." The recipe listed beef chuck as an alternative to beef cheeks, and you can be sure that I found that option far preferable. The butcher cut the meat up for me, thereby sparing me from the psychological trauma of having to cut it myself, and the rest was a breeze.

My tasters (my parents) and I gave this recipe an A. In addition, I'll note that it has very few ingredients (only 6), and spends much of the cooking time braising in the oven, giving the cook time to clean the kitchen, make the side dishes, drink some wine, and put on makeup, and drink some more wine before the guests arrive. There was one dicey moment when I took the Le Creuset out of the oven and opened it and was greeted with what looked like blackened food -- but it turned out it was really just the wine that gave that appearance. (For those of you who have seen the movie Julie and Julia, you'll remember the scene when Julie was making Boeuf Bourguignon and fell asleep while it was braising in the oven. When she woke up, hours later, the dish was overcooked and she threw it out. My dish looked just like that -- but it was PERFECT.)

The best thing about this recipe is its simplicity. You brown the meat, you saute some carrots and onions, you pour in a bottle of wine, and throw the whole thing in the oven for three hours. Couldn't be easier. Yet it creates a dish that you could proudly serve to company (provided they don't look at the pot the minute it comes out of the oven).

My mom said it was better than anything she could get in a restaurant. My dad -- who I will hereafter refer to as "the fussy gourmet" -- said that it was good, but "you probably could make something just as good with Lipton Onion Soup Mix."  (Note: my dad believes that you shouldn't bother cooking anything WITHOUT Lipton Onion Soup Mix -- it is apparently the key ingredient for everything.)

Prep time - minimal
Did the final version look like the magazine picture? Yes!
Did it make a full meal? Yes!
Would I make it again? Absolutely!!
Gluten free? Yes
Vegetarian? No
My grade - A

What did I learn from this recipe? Wine is a great tenderizer for beef. You really have to get the oil hot and the beef dry in order to brown it. If you put enough wine in anything, it will probably taste good.

Without further ado -- here is the recipe (my version -- not the beef cheek version).

Braised Beef in Red Wine with Orange Zest

- 2 lb boneless beef chuck roast cut in four pieces against the grain
- 2 Tbsp grapeseed or vegetable oil
- 1 lb (about 3) onions, coarsely chopped
- 1 lb baby carrots
- 1 (750-ml) bottle dry red wine (I used Cabernet Sauvignon - an inexpensive bottle)
- 8 (3- by 1-inch) strips of orange zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in the middle.

Pat beef dry and season with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Heat oil in a 4- to 6-qt heavy pot over meduim heat until it shimmers. (I used a 5 qt Le Creuset - it goes from stovetop to oven, making it perfect for this purpose). Brown beef on all sides, 6 to 10 minutes total. Transfer to plate with tongs. (I browned two pieces at a time).

Add onions, carrots, 3/4 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add wine and zest and bring to a boil. Add beef and return to a boil. Cover pot and braise in oven until meat is very tender 2-3 hours. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with carrots and sauce.

I served this with steamed broccoli, mashed potatoes and a salad.  Recipe says it makes 4 servings, but I got 6 out of it.