Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Puttanesca Sauce

WE RECEIVED A CATALOG FOR Continuing Education classes for the upcoming Spring/Summer session at our local Community College. These classes are always excellent and I have taken a number of them over the years--some of them career related, but most for personal enrichment. I love the art classes.

As I was browsing this latest catalog, I noticed a class for Basic Keyboarding (which I don't need).
The description states, "Come and learn the ancient art of keyboarding using all ten fingers". Ancient? I might have said, traditional. How established does something need to be, to be considered ancient?  I did once hear someone say, "Back in ancient times--50 years ago.  . ."

I have heard various stories about Puttanesca sauce. Sauce of the harlot was invented as a quick to prepare sauce made from pantry staples, at night, when the markets are closed?  And from my understanding, it was invented in the mid-twentieth century. Between the fact that markets are now open 24-hours-a-day and this dish's creation in, like, 1960, make it ancient?

Puttanesca Sauce
(Grace Parisi/Food and Wine, 9/2007)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled
6 anchovy fillets
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 (35 ounce) can whole peeled Italian tomatoes with their juices, crushed by hand
Pinch of sugar
2 basil sprigs
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
1 Tbsp. capers, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Add the garlic, anchovies and crushed red pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the canned tomatoes with their juices, Stir in the sugar, basil, olives, and capers. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer the sauce over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it thickens and is reduced to 3 cups, about 30 minutes. Season again with salt and pepper. Discard the basil springs and garlic.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lemony Quinoa and Cabbage with Chickpeas and Olives

WHY IS QUINOA SO EXPENSIVE? I have mentioned before that it is not my favorite grain. But I do like its nutritional profile and because of its popularity, I see very enticing recipes for it everywhere I look. Like this one, which is adapted from Martha Stewart. I was intrigued by the combination of ingredients--quinoa, cabbage (one of our favorite vegetables,) chickpeas, olives, lemon, and dill, all well loved, yet I couldn't quite imagine how they would taste combined. I am happy to report that we loved this dish and I will be making it again. Perhaps next time, I will experiment with a different grain?

Back to the price of quinoa. . .

Quinoa grows best at cool high altitudes at 2500 to 4000 meters, unlike rice or wheat which grow efficiently on large acreages of flat farm land. The top producers of quinoa are farmers in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru. You know what that means: steep mountainous terrain, not easily mechanized, and difficult transport.

From now on, if I choose to purchase quinoa, I will happily pay the price.

Lemony Quinoa and Cabbage with Chickpeas and Olives
1 cup quinoa, well rinsed
2 cups water
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 head cabbage, sliced
1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup large green olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped fresh dill
Yogurt or sour cream for serving

Bring water to a boil. Stir in quinoa and 1/2 tsp. salt; return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes. Uncover, raise heat, and cook until water evaporates and quinoa is dry and tender, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.

Heat oil, over medium-high heat. Add cabbage and cook, stirring often until tender and golden brown in places, about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat. Stir in quinoa, chickpeas, olives, lemon juice and zest, Toss to combine, season with salt and pepper. Stir in dill and serve topped with yogurt or sour cream.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Restorative Miso Soup

My husband and I went on a well needed getaway. We drove from beautiful Asheville, North Carolina to Augusta, Georgia without ever getting on an interstate highway. We took U.S. highway 25 through small towns and rural areas of South Carolina. Along the way we saw many not-yet-opened for the season stands promoting peaches and boiled peanuts. We saw dozens of antique stores which made Pritchard Parker very happy. We saw abandoned farmhouses and barns in various states of decrepitude. We saw sprawling McMansions. We drove through several quaint and beautifully maintained small towns.

And we drove through vast expanses of nothing but pine trees and straight, flat roads. (Which make Pritchard Parker nervous because he is so used to driving on the steep and curving roads in the mountains). We saw beautiful sunsets and a full moon rising, which was a special treat for us because we are not used to seeing the horizon.

Once home, after sleeping in a hotel room and eating restaurant food, as much as I enjoyed it, I wanted something simple and easy to cook; nourishing and grounding to eat.

Thus miso soup.

The miso I use is locally produced using ancient methods. The good news is that it is available nationwide through Great Eastern Sun and you can even order it from their website. (Not an affiliated link).

Miso is a high-protein, fermented soy product with a salty flavor which is very health-promoting. Miso is considered a living food, therefore, you never want to boil it. If your soup is not cloudy and moving around, the enzymes have been destroyed. Miso soup begins with a broth called Dashi which is made from Kombu and Bonito flakes.

Kombu is seaweed an edible ocean plant.

Bonito, a mackerel, is steamed, smoked, aged, dried to a wood-like hardness, and shaved into flakes.

Dashi is a very flavorful broth for cooking all kinds of foods. With some added soy sauce, it makes a wonderfully satisfying noodle broth.

For miso soup, I love using Japanese style silken tofu which is unlike the Chinese style tofu, packed in water, and found in produce departments. This tofu really does have a delicate and silken texture without the tangy taste. Find it on the grocery shelf in aseptic boxes.

Restorative Miso Soup
2 quarts dashi
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
4 scallions
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 bunches baby bok choy, sliced
6 Tbsp. traditional red miso
12 oz. silken tofu, cut into cubes

Bring dashi to a simmer. Ladle about 1 cup into a small bowl, add the miso and whisk until smooth. Set aside.

Bring the remaining dashi back to a simmer and add the scallions, carrots, bok choy, letting them cook until barely tender. Add the tofu and the miso being careful not to boil the mixture. Once it is heated through, ladle into soup bowls and garnish with additional sliced scallions and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.

2 (4-inch) square pieces of kombu
2 quarts water
1 cup bonito flakes

Place the kombu in a large saucepan, cover with the water and soak for 30 minutes.

Place the pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Add the bonito flakes and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the broth and return to the pan. Continue with the recipe.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Black Skillet Parker House Rolls

A VERY OLD-FASHIONED STYLE of bread, Parker House Rolls are soft, buttery, and slightly sweet. These rolls are unlike the rustic, crusty, dense, seedy, whole grain breads so popular today. I do love the artisan breads being created nowadays, but these fluffy rolls hit a comfort zone I needed to feel.

I usually find "talk about the weather" to be so dreary, boring, mundane. In ordinary conversation it seems  so redundant, but in relation to food it seems more pertinent. Cold weather equals warming food. And it has been cold! record-breakingly so, here in the mountains of western North Carolina.

I decided to make a beef stew and wanted bread to go with it.

I had recently had a couple comments on my blog from one of our fellow bloggers. To acknowledge and respect,  I visited her blog. That is where I got the idea for these rolls. You just never know where inspiration will come from do you?

The recipe made 2 dozen rolls for me. I baked the first dozen, then covered the remaining dough and refrigerated it overnight. The next day, I took the dough out and let it sit at room temperature for about an hour. Then I kneaded it down a bit and formed another dozen rolls and let them rise an additional 2 hours. I must say, the rolls were much more delicious the second day and in my experience working with yeast breads, it should never be rushed. Allow plenty of time for resting and rising.

Black Skillet Parker House Rolls
(adapted from My Catholic Kitchen)
1/2 cup warm water
1 cup warm milk
1/2 cup honey
1 packet yeast
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp salt
5 - 6 cups flour

Combine the warm water, milk, honey, and yeast and set aside for about 10 minutes.

In a stand mixer with a dough hook, combine the yeast mixture, butter, salt, and 5 cups of flour. Mix and knead, adding more flour until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl and clings to the dough hook, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead a few times. Pinch off balls of dough and form into rolls, pinching the seams on the underside to make a smooth top. Place the formed rolls into a well buttered cast iron skillet, leaving space between each one. Let the rolls rise in a warm place  for 2 hours, until doubled in size. Bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees. Brush generously with butter and serve piping hot.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

New Orleans Red Beans and Rice

NO MATTER HOW YOU MAKE IT, Red Beans and Rice will always be a New Orleans legacy. Although today is Mardi Gras, I made this dish yesterday, Monday, which is the traditional day it is served in both homes and restaurants. According to legend, ham was typically served for Sunday dinner. Monday, laundry day, the leftovers were used to flavor a pot of beans which could simmer all day while the clothes were being scrubbed.

(I am so thankful for my washer and dryer).

There is no set recipe for this dish, but a few things are traditional. Some kind of smoky meat is used to flavor the beans, be it ham, tasso, bacon, fatback, ham hock, sausage. Red beans, dark red kidney beans, and light red kidney beans are all fine here. I used the latter. The trinity is always used--onion, celery, bell pepper, along with typical creole flavorings of thyme, bay leaves, and cayenne pepper.

Allow plenty of time to cook the beans, most of which is hands off time. In the end, you want the vegetables to have melted into a creamy sauce.

New Orleans Red Beans and Rice
1 pound dried red beans, inspected and soaked overnight
2 quarts water
1 meaty ham bone or a thick slice of ham cut into cubes
1 bunch scallions, including green tops
1 green pepper
2 stalks celery
3 medium onions
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
4 bay leaves
Cayenne pepper to taste
Salt to taste
Hot white rice to serve

Rinse beans and put into a big, heavy pot. Add water and ham. Set uncovered on a burner at medium heat. While the beans are warming, chop and add scallions, green pepper, celery and onions. Then add thyme and bay leaves.

When the mixture boils, reduce heat and cover. Stir every 20 - 30 minutes for three hours. Then, with a wooden spoon, mash about one-fourth of the beans against the side of the pot. If they don't mash easily, try again after half an hour.

Forty minutes after mashing the beans, taste and season with cayenne pepper, but don't use too much; this is supposed to be delicious but subtly flavored. Continue to cook while preparing white rice.

Ladle beans and sauce over the rice and serve. It's hard to believe, but all the vegetables cook away to nothing. The mashed beans thicken the sauce to a creamy consistency.

Even more flavorful rewarmed after a night in the refrigerator.

PS. New Orleans is a city near and dear to my heart. And yes, I have been there during a Mardi Gras season.