Archive for April, 2011

Occasionally I find myself in cookbook ruts, kind of like food ruts. I only cook food from one cookbook for a long stretch of time, just like I might eat granola and yogurt for breakfast every day for two weeks and toast and an egg every day for the next two weeks.

This is my excuse for not cooking something from a birthday gift from my dear friends, Jon and Jess, earlier. Being the thoughtful friends they are, they gave me a beautiful cookbook by Deborah Madison called Local Flavors. The book is organized by produce by season and includes sections like: “Cabbages, Kale, and Other Crucifers;” “Vining Fruits and Vegetables;” and “Winter Fruits: Citrus and Subtropicals.” This organization will be helpful to me when I come home from the farmers market crazed about what to do with my newly purchased bounty.

My first endeavor from my birthday gift was “Bright Lights Chard Gratin,” which calls for a brightly colored “rainbow chard” which I had never heard of nor seen. I used regular swiss chard instead. After washing and chopping the greens, sauteing the onion and garlic, I really wasn’t expecting anything outstanding, just a simple, healthful, and hopefully good dish. What I ended up with was a rather unattractive, very, very tasty dish that reheated well for leftovers. I was pleasantly surprised by the way all of the simple ingredients combined into something so wonderful. So here is the recipe from Deborah Madison, via Jon and Jess (thanks guys!)

“Bright Lights Chard Gratin” from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison

Serves 4 as a filling main dish, 6 as a side dish

2 lbs. chard, including half of the stems

4 T. unsalted butter

1 onion, finely chopped

salt and pepper

1 c. fresh bread crumbs

1 garlic clove, minced

3 T. chopped parsley

1 T. flour

1 c. milk or cream (I used 1% milk)

1 c. goat cheese, crumbled

Separate the leaves and chard stems. You can do this by stacking and aligning the leaves and cutting the stems off all at once. Wash the leaves in plenty of water. Chop them. Trim the stems and wash them well and drain them.

Melt half the butter in a wide skillet (or large pot) over medium heat. Add the onion and stems from the swiss chard. Cook stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes until the onion begins to brown a bit.

Add the chard leaves, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt, and cook until wilted and tender, about 10 additionally minutes.

While the greens are cooking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a 2-quart baking dish. Melt half the remaining butter (1 T.)  in a small skillet and add garlic, bread crumbs, and parsley. Cook for about a minute while stirring. Scrape the crumbs into a bowl and return the pan to the heat.

Melt the last tablespoon of butter in the small skillet. Stir in the flour and whisk in the milk. Simmer for five minutes and season with 1/2 t. salt.

Add the milk mixture to the chard mixture. Add the goat cheese. Taste the mixture and add more salt and/or pepper if needed.

Pour the mixture into the oiled baking dish and cover with the bread crumbs. Bake until heated through and golden on the top, about 25 minutes.

Let sit for a few minutes before serving.

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slow-cooked pork tacos

Big news in my world – I’m moving! While staying in Louisville, the kitchen that has allowed me to cook so many things in the last year will be changing, and I will have to adjust to a new environment. This will also probably mean a slow-down in blog posts in the next month or so – as it has meant for the last few weeks while I’ve been searching for housing to be shared with the cheese-grater extraordinaire – which will also be an adjustment. Instead of cooking for one and occasionally two, I’ll be cooking for two more often. And perhaps having a meal cooked for me every once in a while (hint, hint…).

All that aside – today’s recipe is, in my opinion, the best thing I have made all year, maybe even EVER. I’ve been on a taco kick recently, sparked by the also-amazing pork tacos at the restaurant, Hammerheads, in Louisville. I apologize to my vegetarian and vegan readers, because this would be difficult to subtract the meat and keep the same taste level. If you like/ eat pork, and you like tacos, this is delicious. Tender, saucy, spicy  meat with kicky pickled onions, all cooled down by some mashed avacado… I’m craving the meal all over again.

I didn’t alter the recipe from the original much at all – except for using crushed tomatoes instead of diced, and using a little less, a little leaner meat. So here’s the recipe, from Food 52, for the best pork tacos you will ever have (except for maybe those at Hammerheads…)

Slow-Cooked Pork Tacos, from Food 52

Serves 6 (2 tacos per person – leftovers taste great!)

2 t. cumin seeds (or 2 t. ground)

1 t. coriander seeds (or 1 t. ground)

2 t. ancho chili powder (Nuts and Stuff, now located at 1000 Barret Ave. in the Highlands, right by Lynn’s Paradise Cafe , is a great place to get this)

1 t. chipotle chili powder (ditto ancho chili powder)

1/2 t. dried oregano

1 and 3/4  pounds boneless pork shoulder trimmed of fat and cut into 3/4-inch chunks

Kosher salt

Vegetable oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 poblano pepper, chopped

1 serrano chili, seeded and finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1  15-oz. can crushed tomatoes

1 cup chicken stock

2 large limes

Corn tortillas

2 avocados

Pickled onions (recipe below)

The originally recipe calls for toasting the coriander and cumin and then grinding the spices. Normally I would do this, but I was starting the cooking later than planned due to an unfortunate kickball accident involving my dining companion and future roommate, and just used ground spices that I did not toast. It still turned out great. If you want to toast and grind your own spices, here is what you do: put the cumin and coriander in a small pan and set over medium heat. Toast the spices for a minute or two, shaking the pan occasionally, until they’re fragrant. (Be careful not to burn them.) Grind the spices finally using a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle.

Add the spices to a small bowl, stir in both chile powders and the oregano and set aside.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the pork well with salt and add  the meat to the pot. Brown it well on all sides, about 4 minutes total, and transfer it to a bowl using a slotted spoon.

Lower the heat to medium. Add the onion, poblano, serrano and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or so, until you can smell it.

Stir in the spice mixture and cook for another minute.

Return the meat to the pot, with any juices that have accumulated, and add the can of crushed tomatoes and chicken stock. Squeeze in the juice of half a lime and add 2 teaspoons of salt.

Turn the heat up to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Turn down the heat, cover the pot and simmer gently for an hour. Uncover the pot and continue to simmer until the pork is very tender and the sauce is reduced and thick, 30 to 60 minutes longer.

Taste for seasoning, adding salt if needed, and squeeze in the juice of another half a lime.

Serve with warmed corn tortillas, mashed avocado, and the picked onions.

Pickled Onions

1 medium red onion

1 T. kosher salt

2 T. sugar

1/4 medium beet, peeled

Handful cilantro

Cider vinegar

Slice the onion thinly and put it in a microwaveable container. Add the salt, sugar, beet and cilantro. Cover everything with about 1/2 c. water and 1 c. cider vinegar (or 1 part water to 2 parts vinegar). Microwave for 1 minute, stir, and microwave for another minute. Cool, then cover and refrigerate overnight, or while everything cooks – like I did because I didn’t plan ahead that much.

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Having just returned from the first day of the spring farmers market in Louisville, I went a little bit crazy. I didn’t go crazy at the farmers market though. I showed great restraint THERE and came home with only a head of green lettuce, two pounds of Kentucky bison stew meat, and a new ingredient – red spinach. As soon as I walked in the door of  my apartment, I began scouring my cookbooks and the internet for a suitable recipe to honor this beautiful and new-to-me vegetable.

I couldn’t just turn it into a salad (too easy), or dump it into a cheesy spinach lasagna (would cover up the spinach too much), or even just steam it (too boring). I wanted something unique! Something different! Something delicious! Something that would bring out the natural flavor of the red spinach.

I stacked up my most promising, veggie-centric cookbooks and began searching for the best recipe. I couldn’t just use my imagination, I needed THE ONE RECIPE.

This is something I recognize about myself – my inherent need to follow a recipe. I’m working on this and often tweak recipes as I go, but still. It was a little ridiculous. I finally realized how crazy I was… trying to find the perfect recipe that wasn’t too simple. I took a breathe, sat back, and cracked open my newest cookbook and turned to the salad section.

Yes – the salad section. I need to get over my need to always whip up a new, complex-ish dish. What more perfect method of using red spinach exists except by showcasing it in a salad? Maybe with a homemade dressing (to up the complexity-factor a bit).

I had been eyeing Melissa Clark’s cookbook In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite for a while before buying it at a sad, going-out-of-business sale at Borders. This book is full of delectable-sounding recipes and I wanted to make most everything right away. Since buying it one and half weeks ago, I’ve already made 4 things with plans to make a 5th this week.

Most of the recipes are accompanied by essays, and I particularly enjoyed the one about salad. It was all about using more than just bagged salad and bottled dressing to create something equally easy and much more interesting and less expensive. Well, maybe not equally easy. You do have to wash the lettuce, and mix the dressing together. But really, it isn’t too difficult. One of the recipes included is for spinach dressed with a zippy mustard and garlic dressing. It sounded easy, and delicious. And made me excited to make the salad.

After filling my newly-cleaned sink with cold water, I washed the spinach in two changes of water. This allows all the dirt and sediment clinging to the spinach to fall to the bottom of the sink. I then dried it in my salad spinner – which has been a great, if a space-hogging, addition to my kitchen. I then used an almost empty jar of dijon mustard to mix up the dressing (a technique I learned from the Amateur Gourmet, who learned it from Dorie Greenspan). It’s a great, easy way to use up the last of the mustard in the jar, and to create a reusable salad dressing container.

To make a long story short, all of this fretting turned into a salad I craved. A salad I was excited to eat. I hope you’ll try it too.

And the red spinach? Well it was delicious. Sweeter than regular spinach and perfectly complimented by the tangy, garlicky dressing. Not a bad way to showcase a vegetable experiment, even I did rely on a recipe.

“Spinach and Avocado Salad with Garlic Mustard Vinaigrette” from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark

dressing makes at least 4 servings (will keep in an old mustard jar, or other container, in the refrigerator for a while – at least a few weeks)

2 garlic cloves

a pinch of kosher salt, more to taste

juice from one half of a lemon

1 t. dijon mustard (I used what was left in the jar)

4 T. extra virgin olive oil

about 6 cups  spinach leaves (or other dark greens, like arugula) (enough for 2 to 4 salads)

1/2 avocado, cut into cubes

Using a heavy knife (or a mortar and pestle if you have one), mince the garlic together with a pinch of salt until a paste forms. Use the side of the knife to smear and mash the garlic once it is minced. Scrape the paste into the mustard jar (or a small bowl). Whisk in the lemon juice, mustard, and another pinch of salt. Screw the cap on the jar and shake until the salt is dissolved (or use a whisk). Then either whisk in the oil or add it to the jar and shake again.

Place the avocado and spinach in a large bowl, add the amount of dressing you want and toss. Add additional salt and lemon juice if needed.

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cauliflower mac

The last few months (since the holidays, really) I’ve been trying to eat less and exercise more. I’ve avoided making this the focus of my blog – but I feel some explanation is necessary with this post.

I love macaroni and cheese, as can be surmised by the 4 iterations of it on this blog, five including this one.

Here they are:

resurrection mac and cheese

spicy mac and cheese

cheese pasta with pumpkin and pancetta

simple stove-top mac and cheese

While I’m a firm believer in eating whatever you want in moderation, sometimes having real, full-fat-oh-so-delicious macaroni and cheese is just too much temptation to handle. So when the craving for macaroni and cheese struck recently, I remembered this recipe from Mark Bittman.

This version of mac and cheese relies on mashed cauliflower, mustard, stock, and spices to flavor the pasta, and just a touch of cheese to add additional flavor and creaminess. The pureed or mashed cauliflower mimics a creamier, fattier cheese sauce. “Mimics” is the key word here. While I enjoyed this pasta and found it pretty tasty, it wasn’t terribly filling and was definitely missing a “satisfying” quality. I suppose this might have come from more cheese, or cream, or another source of fatty protein. It was good, but I’m not sure I would make it again. I think I’d rather eat a little less of the real thing, if I could control myself.

“Creamy Cauliflower Mac” from The Food Matters Cookbook, by Mark Bittman

1 T. olive oil, plus more for greasing the baking dish


2 1/2 c. vegetable or chicken stock

2 bay leaves

1 cauliflower, cored and separated into large pieces

8 oz. penne, or other  whole wheat pasta (like shells, ziti, or elbow)

1/2 c. grated Cheddar cheese or Gruyere, or another good melting cheese of your choice

1 T. Dijon mustard

1/8 t. nutmeg

black pepper

1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 c. or more of bread crumbs

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9-in square baking dish (or similar size) with a little oil. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.

While the water is coming to a boil, put the stock with the bay leaves in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When small bubbles start to appear on the sides (after about 5 minutes on the heat), turn off the heat and let stand.

When the water has started boiling, add the cauliflower and cook until very tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Scoop the cauliflower out of the water with a slotted spoon and translate to a blender, food processor, or a bowl. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until not yet edible and still a little chalky inside, about 5 minutes. Drain the pasta and rinse quickly with cold water to stop the cooking. Put the pasta in the greased baking dish.

Remove the bay leaves from the stock. Carefully process the cauliflower with 2 cups of the stock, 1 tablespoon of oil, cheese, mustard, nutmeg, and a dash of salt and pepper. If the sauce seems too thick, add another 1/2 c. of stock. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss carefully. Spread in the dish evenly. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs over the top. Bake until bubbling and browned, 15 to 20 minutes.

Note: If you don’t have a food processor or blender, you can mash everything together in a large bowl using a potato  masher. It will be less creamy – but will still work.

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