Archive for the ‘Vegtables’ Category

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Beans, glorious beans!

August 10, 2009

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I love, love, love green beans. Their snap. Their crunch. Their verdant, subtle sweetness. (The only form of green bean I can’t stand is, honestly, the canned variety. Such sadly abused beans make me sigh, not swallow.)

So when the husband concocted a salad that starred one of my favorite vegetables, I insisted that he make it again. And again. And again. This green bean salad elevates the slender green minxes to new heights. It features a tangy, sweet, light dressing that makes all the green bean’s best qualities stand out in relief. Think you’ve got some fresh, tender, delectable green beans from the grocery store? They’ll be even more mouthwatering when lightly dressed with this precocious concoction, and made lovely with a smattering of sweet, acidic grape tomatoes.

Doesn’t the humble green bean deserve some star treatment? (Especially after years of abuse at the hands of bean canners and cafeteria ladies?) I should say so.

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And now, the husband’s take…

This salad was really just an idea I whipped together. Now, it’s become a staple and a frequent demand from the wife. A couple of months ago we were visiting family, and I decided to throw together a barbecue as a quick way to feed a good number of people. I found some great green beans and wanted to serve them cold, but needed a dressing. A few minutes later I put this together, and was surprised to hear the very satisfied, “Mmmms…” and “Can I have this recipe?” requests that started coming my way.

Of course, I hadn’t a clue at first what “exactly” I had done. I had made it thinking I wanted a sorta-vinagrette for the salad… but nothing too tangy, watery, or sweet so that the beans and tomatoes were still the focus. Once again, it took insistence by the wife to have me sit down, think about it, write it down and then of course make it “bloggable.”

A few notes about the recipe. First, when I originally made it, I had yellow wax beans in as well. I would have loved to have put them in this version and in the photos; I think they add a great variety in presentation and texture. However — and I don’t know why because they seemed pretty ubiquitous growing up in the Midwest — I cannot seem to find them easily in Northern Virginia. My family in North Carolina says they don’t see them much either. (So, bean farmers, what’s the deal?) Anyway, I’d recommend them if you can get them. Just use equal parts green beans and yellow wax beans.

Second — and this is crucial — you want the beans to be “al dente.” This salad is all about crunch. Better to slightly undercook the beans than overcook them. Therefore, it’s important to pull them from the boiling water and shock them in the ice bath or under cold running water. If you lose that satisfying crunch, I’m not sure even a good dressing makes it worth the effort.

Third, the recipe below produces at least twice as much dressing as you need. I simply keep the rest handy for people to add extra themselves or for a quick version later (currently, I’ve a batch sitting in the fridge in an old Dijon mustard jar). But, with all that extra dressing, use it sparingly. When I overdressed it once, I really felt the green beans and the tomatoes became lifeless and worthless. So, use a careful hand when preparing.

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Green Bean Salad with Dijon Dressing
Ingredients:
2 lbs. green beans
1 cup grape tomatoes (quartered)

Dressing:
¼ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup sherry vinegar
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. fresh ground black pepper

Directions:
1. Bring to a boil a large pot of well-salted water (it should taste like the ocean).

2. Prepare an ice bath of equal parts ice and water.

3. Trim the ends off the green beans and then cook them in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Transfer to the ice bath. Once the green beans are cool, drain and allow them to air dry.

4. Whisk together the ingredients in the dressing and set aside. Note: The dressing should be just slightly salty. This allows the whole salad to be well dressed.

5. In a large bowl, toss together the beans, tomatoes and dressing. Move to a serving dish and enjoy. Note: In dressing the salad, I typically put very little on the beans, but most along the sides of the bowl and toss the beans to coat. This recipe likely makes enough dressing for twice the number of the beans, but I always make extra and it keeps very well.

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A refreshing rhubarb-grapefruit salad for a sizzling summer day

June 10, 2008

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It’s hot here. Brutally hot. The kind of hot where the scorching seat of your car can inflict third-degree burns and the sidewalk can literally cook eggs. It’s too hot to venture outside. It’s too hot to move. It’s almost — dare I say it — too hot to eat.

Wait. It’s never too hot to eat.

Of course, at times like these you do have to be very discerning about what you eat. That’s why my husband has cooked up — all caps, here – a REFRESHING salad that reminds the eater that no, it won’t always be 100 degrees outside, it will get better… and why don’t you go to the pool or something.

Yes, his rhubarb-grapefruit salad does speak that eloquently to me. It is light and (it bears repeating) refreshing, with a delightful sweetness from the cooling grapefruit and crunchy rhubarb and a wonderful twang from the zesty vinagrette. Plus, that beautiful heap of greens hides shredded mint to further cool your taste buds… and the whole thing is just plain gorgeous.

Sure, it’s hot outside — but at least the salad I’m eating is cool.

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And now the husband’s take…

Well, the wife is right about the heat.

When I got in my car today, I saw something I didn’t think was even possible. I looked down at the dashboard where it displays the temperature and saw three numbers: a 1 and a 0 and another 0. That’s right: One hundred degrees here in the US capitol.

It was the empirical evidence of what the last four days have been — HOT. A stifling hot. The kind that, unless you have been trained in Arizona for several years, you are unlikely to survive if you go outside. The kind that makes you sit in your air conditioned house and not want to move for fear that any slight twitch of friction might cause the trees outside your window to ignite.

But even with triple-digit heat, you still get hungry. The solution? Cold recipes. Something refreshing to keep the minions happy. This salad is all about being cool. While there is a stove component, you can do even those parts over a grill. Or you can bear 10 minutes of high heat.

Now to the brass tax on this recipe — there are a lot of little things going on. First, you have the poached rhubarb. It is cooked lightly in a sweet syrup of sugar and grenadine. Second, the grapefruit. It becomes the backbone of the salad through the tartness of its flesh, and its acidity in making a vinaigrette. Third, the greens. They are a combination of spring greens and herbs to give brightness. Fourth, syrups. Simple syrup is used to keep the grapefruit from becoming too tart, and a ginger syrup adds a bit of zing. Finally, there is a little bit of pecan to give you that deeper flavor and savory sensation that would traditionally be associated with a cheese (which has been omitted since dairy and 100 degree temperatures don’t mix).

Finally, I want to suggest a pair of perfect drinks for this. When we came back, my wife mentioned my growing love affair with beer. And the past few days, I’ve had reason to enjoy the pleasures of beer. So my suggestions to pair with this are two fruit-influenced beers. First is Abita’s strawberry harvest lager. Enough subtle strawberry to match with the grapefruit and rhubarb that you get a nice fruit flavor. Second is Unibroque’s Ephémère. This beer is fermented with apple juice and then flavored with classic orange peel, coriander and allowed to develop slightly bready character by being bottled with its yeast. Both these beers are delicious and dry (meaning not sweet…).

By the way, let’s not go into the fact I chose such light, delicate beers as my first recommendations. It’s hot enough without my manhood being questioned… just wait until the red meats and I’ll show you!
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Poached Rhubarb & Grapefruit Herb Salad

Yield: 2 servings
Ingredients:
3 cups water
2 cups sugar
2-inch piece of ginger (peeled & chopped)
1 large ruby red grape fruit
1 cup spring greens
1/2 medium head frisee lettuce
12 leaves mint (chiffonade/thin ribbons)
20 leaves flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pecan (toasted/crushed)
rhubarb batons (see recipe below)
salt
pepper

Directions:
1. Prepare the rhubarb according to recipe below.

2. Prepare the syrup. In a medium-size sauce pan, combine the sugar and water over high heat. Once the sugar has melted completely, pour half out and set aside. Return the other half to the heat and add the chopped ginger. Bring the sugar water to a boil until it starts to form tight bubbles and thicken into a syrup. You are looking for something the consistency of maple syrup. Remove from heat, let cool. Once cool, strain the ginger out, and cover or place syrup in a bottle. The ginger syrup should keep refrigerated nearly indefinitely. Both this and the rhubarb can be done a day in advance easily.

3. Supreme the grapefruit. Using a sharp knife, slice the top and bottom of the grapefruit off just until you reach the flesh of the fruit. Slicing along the shape of the fruit remove the pith and skin of the fruit. This should leave you with just the juicy flesh. Working over a bowl, cut along both sides of each membrane, removing the grapefruit segments. Allow the juices to collect in the bowl and place the segments in the unflavored sugar syrup you set aside earlier. Once all the segments are removed, squeeze the remaining fruit over the bowl to extract the last of the juice.

4. Make the vinaigrette. Whisk together the reserved grapefruit juice with two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. And salt and pepper to taste.

5. Wash and dry all the herbs and lettuce. Toss together. Then toss gently in a little of the grapefruit vinaigrette. Place on a plate. Make sure you have a decent amount of frisee, this is what will give your lettuce height. Layer with some grapefruit segments, rhubarb batons, pecans, and then gently drizzle the ginger syrup lightly over the salad.

Rhubarb Batons

Ingredients:
2 stalks rhubarb
500 ml water
100 ml grenadine
200 g white sugar

Note: This is based on a recipe by Heston Blumenthal. You can find it printed in the Times here. Furthermore, this recipe makes more rhubarb than is needed for this recipe. However, I found them a delicious sweet/tart snack, so I didn’t make any alterations to the amounts in this recipe.

Directions:
1. Clean the rhubarb and cut stalks into 2-inch segments. Make sure you discard any leaves of the rhubarb. They are poisonous and can give you a nasty stomachache.

2. In a medium-size saucepan, add the water, sugar and grenadine. Bring the water to 65C/150F. Add the rhubarb, shut off heat, and let sit for 15 min.

3. Pour rhubarb and liquid into container and refrigerate for several hours.

4. Once cool — and when you are ready to make the salad –slice the rhubarb into thin strips along the length, creating planks of rhubarb, then cut the planks lengthwise again to create batons. (Note: A sharp knife is your friend even though these will be soft.)

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Thoughts on Baby Food or Pea & Mint Crostini?

June 6, 2008

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I think we can all agree that food resembling baby food is generally unappetizing. Take, for example, jarred mashed peas. Greenish gray, strained yet lumpy, smelling vegetal and yet not fresh… baby food peas are, well… gross.

That is why this recipe is such a conundrum.

Yes: The fresh, vibrant, and delicious mixture atop that golden, crunchy crostini is, in fact, mashed peas. But this is no baby food (although our baby did devour it).

It is a delightful romp through an English garden in spring. It is a refreshing taste of green with a hint of mint that draws your mouth into a smile. It is all other kinds of food haiku that I can’t quite put into words.

Those meddlesome peas turn out to be absolutely delicious when shelled and mashed fresh out of their pods. Then my husband enhances them even further by adding a kick of a mint and a hint of lemon. Next, he adds an amazing crunch by spreading them over a piece of golden french bread, drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil. And finally, he make the whole thing dazzling by adding the peppery bite — and visual flair — of a watercress salad.

It’s true: I’ll never look at baby food the same way again.

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And now, the husband’s take…

I had the pleasure to be in Chicago a few weeks ago. The negative was that I was alone — no Jack and no wife. The positive was that I was in Chicago — and I was hungry. So, I had to eat. As a result, I had the good fortune to escape one afternoon to Avec in the West Loop.

I had some inspiring food while I was there. Avec’s food focuses on the Mediterranean regions of France, Spain and Italy. Most of the menu is designed to be shared communally, with small and big plates — all of it served in a hip little wood box of a room. Visually, it reminded me a lot of New York’s Momofoku, complete with its three-man kitchen serving at the bar.

Now, we don’t do restaurant reviews here… so the question is: Why am I going on about this place? Well, I like to give credit. This dish was inspired by my meal at Avec.

I wanted something simple and light to go with a heavy and spicy dish I’d ordered. The waiter insisted that I try Avec’s pea crostini. Now, I’m a new father. I’ve served my son a good amount of pea purée in recent months and I’ve had some exposure to mashed peas from a container. And let’s just say… I wish I was a better father and had spent more time preparing homemade vegetables for my son. So, I was hesitant to go along with the waiter’s suggestion.

But I’m glad I did.

The recipe here is a quick one. Once the water is boiling, this dish can be on the table in 15 minutes. You can even boil the peas in advance and refrigerate them for a couple days. Just don’t blend them before you’re ready; even with the lemon juice’s acidity, pureed peas will turn an unappetizing brown by the next morning.

The only slightly unusual ingredient here is ricotta salata. This cheese is made from the same curd of ricotta, but it is pressed and dried. It has a relatively neutral flavor, is shockingly white and has a texture similar to feta, but without the gamey quality of sheep or goat’s cheese. I can find ricotta salata at high-end grocers like Whole Foods or at independent cheese mongers. In the end, the cheese adds very little in flavor because the mint, lemon and peas dominate. But its shocking white was a great aesthetic choice, so I used it. I think it makes very little difference; so, substitute away!

Click here for recipe.

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Pea & Mint Crostini

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Ingredients:
1 cup shelled peas
2 radishes
1 bunch watercress
1 lemon (zest & juice)
5 medium leaves of mint
Ricotta salata
Baguette
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Directions:
1. Salt water until it tastes of sea water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the peas and cook for 6 minutes. The peas should be soft in the mouth — overcooking is not a negative. Strain the peas and shock in an ice bath to stop cooking.

2. Slice the bread into thin discs, brush lightly with olive oil, lightly salt, and toast.

3. Combine the lemon juice, zest, peas and mint and then blitz with stick blender. The texture should be paste-like, similar to baby food. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Spread the puree on toast, then garnish with leaves of watercress, slices of radish and grated ricotta salata.

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Taco night redux: Duck tacos with corn and blood orange salsa.

February 15, 2007

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Ah, taco night. I’ve lavished praise on that sacred evening in the past, but it’s worth repeating. I love taco night: My husband makes some tasty, spicy beef filling, whips up some salsa fresca, dissects some avocados, piles on sour cream and cheese, and even makes his own homemade taco shells.

As you can imagine, then, I was a bit disturbed when he threatened to mess with this winning formula. And by adding duck, of all things. (Some of you may recall my general lack of enthusiasm for that particular type of poultry. Ill-prepared duck, people, is not a happy thing to behold — or, er, eat.)

Now, mouth full of delicious duck taco, I can safely ask: “Why do I bother to doubt my husband?” (Here he clasps his hands over his head and shakes them like a champion. Another marital score settled by outstanding cooking.)

I knew things were on the right track when, as he was carving up delicate and thin pieces of duck breast, I — ahem — sampled one, and found the meat to be tender, juicy, spicy and delightful. It had all the things to like about duck, and none of its distasteful qualities (a fishy, fatty, chewy texture). Then I spied the special salsa my husband had prepared: a sweet and spicy corn and blood orange salsa fresca that served as a perfect partner to the spicy duck. And finally, I saw that he’d prepared all my special toppings — cheese, avocado, sour cream — and of course, homemade taco shells.

Fear not, folks. Taco night has been preserved… and, dare I say it, improved?

Click here to download the recipe for Duck Tacos.

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Spanakopita: The triangulation of feta, phyllo and spinach.

January 15, 2007

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Ah, the magic of finger foods.

Spanakopita is one of my favorites. Why? First, because it harnesses the luscious combination of spinach and feta. Those two kids were just made for each other. Second, because it deploys that tastiest of all store-bought pastries: phyllo dough. Who doesn’t succumb to the siren song of layers of buttery, crispy, paper-thin dough?

Better still, spanakopita is a crowd pleaser — ready to pulled out for any occasion where utensils are optional. Not only is it tasty, but those little Greek triangles look fairly impressive stacked up on your hors d’oerves table. Guests from carnivore to vegeterian will love the tang of feta meets spinach, and appreciate the subtle buttery crunch of the phyllo dough… the papery remnants of which they’ll lick, satisfied, off their lips.

I personally devour spanakopita, so it’s a good thing that it’s also so easy to make. Once you get your production line going, those little phyllo triangles will stack up like cars in DC traffic. Long a staple of my family’s party gatherings, my husband has turned his mad culinary skills to these little phyllo devils… with typical outstanding results. So, if you have a gathering where finger foods are the order of the day, try adding spanikopita to your lineup. Your tummy, and your guests’ tummies, will thank you.

Click here to download the recipe for Spanakoptia.

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What’s a little fried food between friends? Parsnip chips.

December 22, 2006

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Munch, munch, munch.

Let’s face it: Homemade chips are the bomb. We are genetically and evolutionarily driven to consume salty fried snacks. And while you can’t always yield to Mother Nature’s urges, if you’re going to sock away that many calories, you want them to be worthwhile, don’t you?

That’s where these homemade parsnip chips can come in.

They’re delicate, sweet and light — yet fried and salty. It’s a contradiction I can’t explain, particularly with my mouth full of parsnip chips. Honestly, I found these unexpectedly tasty. Viewing the vegetable that they come from, I was duly skeptical. But from that oversized white carrot, that humble root, comes a superior chip. It tastes a lot like what I thought a sweet potato chip would taste like — except I’m usually disappointed by sweet potato chips (they’re often too chewy, thick and mealy).

In fact, it turns out that parsnip chips were what my imagination, and tummy, were craving.

So when you’re mindlessly reaching for that bag of Lay’s, bat your hand away, man. Pull out that other white root vegetable and get a fryin’. You won’t be sor… Munch, munch, munch.

Click here to download the recipe for Parsnip Chips.

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Breakfast fit for a cartoon sailor: Spinach and caramelized onion frittata.

December 18, 2006

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“He’s strong to the finich cause he eats his spinach…”

If you weren’t brainwashed into eating this perfect vegetable by a husky sailor with a muscle disorder, you’re missing out. Not only is spinach tasty by itself — sauteed with butter and garlic, eaten raw as a salad, or apparently, following Popeye’s example, straight out of a can — it also plays nicely with others. What others? Well, eggs, bacon and carmelized onions, for example.

Well, you might argue, lots of things probably taste good with eggs, bacon and carmelized onions. … Exactly. This recipe can satisfy the spinach lover or the spinach faint of heart. Fluffy eggs surround a mound of dense, green goodness, which is punctuated by sweet carmelized onions and the wonderful maple-salty goodness of bacon. And of course, the cheese — a lovely golden topping to cap off the verdant frittata.

Try it. You know Popeye would eat it — it’s gotta be better than spinach straight from a can; though, we don’t recommend trying to lift a car over your head after eating it. I mean, it won’t make you that strong. (Which is a shame, really.)

Click here to download the recipe for this fritatta.

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