Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Colorful Dinners without dreaded pumpkin spice

The end of October is orange time and pumpkin spice tsunami time. (It's been so overdone someone recently posted a cartoon ad for pumpkin spice motor oil.) The good news is we don't have to get gaudy or tacky to be colorful and flavorful. Opportunity is knocking down the door.

These nippy days are perfect for roasting fennel, braising red cabbage, baking sweet potatoes, even combining the last corn and tomatoes with the first butternut squash. It's time for a vibrant root vegetable stew or potpie, which I am making for company tomorrow night: parsnips, sweet potatoes, daikon, rutabaga, blue potatoes, purple onion, leeks, carrots, celeriac, turnips, ginger, coriander (ground cilantro root) and garlic. There's an exact recipe in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking. It's healthy and nutritious to the moon, dramatic but so simple to prepare, gloriously colorful and tasty to boot. It's perpetually popular.

Now is also cranberry time, about time because these little red orbs are medicinal fireballs that burn away all sorts of messed in the body. And it's the fig's crowning moment too boot, so break out the prosciutto because the original combo was not melon and prosciutto and when you put these two together you'll taste why. For a breakfast treat or heartwarming ice cream topper, you can stew figs with anise seed and cloves. You can also cook them down into a most delicious fig butter for all your toast, and for crackers with goat cheese.

Braised red cabbage recipe is in How to Fix a Leek..... So is the easiest, tastiest cranberry preserve with walnuts and raisins. You can also throw a handful of fresh cranberries into your apple tarts and pies just as you can throw them into the pot when you are preparing apple sauce. The two fruits love each other.

Here fresh off the press is the English chef Nigel Slater's autumn suggestion:
Kale and Sweet Potato Bubble and Squeak
serves 2

Peel 2+ lbs of sweet potatoes and cut them into large pieces. Place them in a steamer basket or colander and steam over boiling water for about 30-40 minutes, until tender to the point of a knife. In a dry frying pan, toast ½ tsp of cumin seed and ½ tsp of chili flakes. Remove and mix them with ½ tsp of sweet, mild, ground paprika.  Lift the sweet potatoes out, tip them into a bowl (or the saucepan emptied of its water) and mash them thoroughly with a good 2 oz butter, some salt and a grinding of black pepper, and the toasted cumin, chili and paprika.

Remove the tough stalks from 1+ lb kale. Cook the kale for a minute or two in a saucepan with about 1" of water, covered by a lid. Drain and roughly chop. Fold the kale into the sweet potato. Pile into a dish, top with a few knobs of butter and bake at 350º for about 25 minutes until lightly crisped on the top.

Here's roasted fennel, Italian style:
serves the usual 4-6

4 medium fennel bulbs (about 2 1/2 lbs), cut off the tops and greens but save the fringe greens
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste
1/4 c good quality olive oil
1/2 tsp fennel seed (use less anise seed as substitute) crushed if you can
3 garlic cloves, smashed
pinch red pepper flakes to your taste for heat
2 tsp rosemary
1/2 lb shredded mozzarella
1/4 c coarse bread crumbs
1/2 c grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp chopped parsley and those fennel fronds you saved

Heat oven to 375º. Remove the fennel bulbs top tough exterior layer. Cut each crosswise (with the grain) into 1/2" disks. Bring a large pot of salty water to a boil. Add fennel and boil 1 minute to soften. Put in a bowl of cold water, drain and pat dry.  Season with salt and pepper to your taste. Use 1 tbsp of the olive oil to grease a baking dish and layer the fennel in it. It should end up 1 1/2" high.

In a small bowl, blend 3 tbsp olive oil, fennel seed, smashed garlic, red pepper flakes and 1 tsp rosemary. Drizzle 2 tbsp over the fennel with a pinch of salt. Sprinkle on 1 tsp rosemary leaves, then cover with mozzarella. Cover this with breadcrumbs, the remaining oil/garlic mixture and finally the parmesan on top.

Bake uncovered 20-25 minutes until browned. Garnish with the chopped parsley/fennel fronds and serve hot. Great with roast chicken or pork. If you are vegetarian, serve it with a mushroom leek risotto.

And finally a Mexican inspired stew of corn, squash and beans heated by chilies.
Serves 6

1/2 cup whole, skin-on almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 tbsp ancho chile powder
2 tsp dried Mexican oregano, crumbled
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled, halved, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed well
1  28 oz can diced fire roasted tomatoes with juice
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup corn kernels
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus extra for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper to your taste
Sour cream for serving

Add the almonds, sesame seeds, chile powder, oregano, cumin, and measured salt to the bowl of a food processor and process to a fine meal. Set aside.
Warm the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ground almond-spice mixture and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Add squash, carrots, beans, tomatoes, and broth or water and bring to a boil, stirring to make sure the almond mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat, partially cover the pan, and let the stew simmer, stirring occasionally, until the squash is very tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. If the stew threatens to dry out, add a bit more broth or water.

Add the corn and measured cilantro. Season with pepper and taste, adding more salt if needed. Continue to simmer until the corn is hot, about 5 minutes. Ladle into warmed serving bowls and add a dollop of sour cream with a sprinkling of cilantro leaves.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Stomach safety

First a reminder to those in colder climate where growing season is over: stock up on as much local garlic as you can. Remember most of that blazing white supermarket stuff not otherwise identified as to point of origin is likely coming from the seriously toxic soils of China and has been dipped in formaldehyde to give it that bright complexion. Eat local.

Another reminder brought to you by Roger Cohen's gluten-free opinion column in the New York Times.  I happen to totally agree with him that all the food fetish is the narcissism of the I'm special competitive consumer culture rampant among those under 45. For one thing, their new fuss over ancient gluten is misplaced and misinformed. Non-celiacs who have a verifiable physical reaction to bread are most likely being poisoned not by good old gluten but either by hyped up industrialized wheat with far more than normal gluten so it can be processed more easily, or more probably by the toxic glysophate, the lead chemical in all that Roundup sprayed on industrially grown wheat two weeks before it is harvest.

I've been in the food business as a caterer but the most frustrating time I ever had in a kitchen was at a Dharma Center where half the meditators insisted on special foods just for them. I watched two young cousins start life malnourished because their mother suddenly wanted to be viciously vegan. Last week I ate with a family that is vegetarian because they don't want to eat meat but they have no problem eating other critters killed for their supper: fish. Really? At least Tibetans who had no choice in their frozen desert highland but to eat meat or starve had the resolve to eat only large animals so that one death saved many people. They refuse to eat fish, shellfish, Cornish hens and anything even remotely one on one.

If you want to eat meat, and some of us need to do that from time to time to keep our gut going, try doing it so, as the Thai people would say, you don't butcher at the table. No huge slabs. Itsy bits of pork sausage for flavor on pasta, an occasional stew packed with vegetables, a little ground lamb stuffed into a large eggplant. You can't easily undo 10,000 years of human digestion. The Dalai Lama tried going, how shall I say? cold turkey, and ended up hospitalized. Cutting back to maybe three days a week will do it. Because so many of us are trying to do that, last year 10 million less animals were slaughtered for our dinner.

And don't obsess over the sea salt. It may not contain the vital nutrient you see in cheap salt that's been iodized. Your thyroid will dumb down. So keep some iodided salt on hand to throw into the pasta water and stews and places where you don't need glamour from salt. 

Oops, I started out to write about colorful eating without pumpkin spice and sidetracked into this sermon.
Hope it helps.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Color! and a bit of news

Autumn: the moment your dinner plate can be as colorful as all outdoors.
I roasted and mashed the squash, braised the cabbage with raisins and caraway, sauteed the shisito peppers, and put those Hakurei turnips and pomegranate seeds in a green salad--all served with splashy yellow polenta egg pancakes with roasted red pepper.  The baby sweet potato will get daubed with soy and olive oil and roasted later.

And now the news:
Niman Ranch, the meat purveyors of supposedly pasture raised organic pork and lamb, has been sold to Perdue, you know who. The touch guy who made all those tender industrial chickens. Get your meat from your local farmer. It may cost more but that can help you to eat less. Reports say 10 million--10 million less animals died last year because we are eating less meat.  Let's keep on keeping on.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Blowing Hot and Cold

 I want to apologize for the way this blog always looks but Google's Blogspot with which I am stuck is absolutely impossible to use. It is a horrid program.

Root vegetables are out of the ground, their rich colors piled high on farmers' market tables beside all the winter squash making its debut. And in between the last jewels of summer: tomatoes green and red, eggplants of all sizes and peppers in more colors than Joseph's coat. If there was ever a time to indulge in some fine home cooking, it is right now in the chill before the frost.

For a chilly night,
Autumn Chicken Pot Pie
with leeks, red onion, carrots, celery, bell peppers and baby sweet potatoes topped with a cornbread crust (not on so the photo could show the interior) 4-6 hungry souls*

I made this with two large boneless breasts but I'd prefer 4-5 whole thighs for their flavor. In any event, I recommend slathering the raw chicken with your favorite spice mix: mine for chicken is hands-down Berbere from Ethiopia. Cut the breasts into large bite-sized pieces.

After that, you need 1 large leek, 1 red onion, 2 garlic cloves, 3 medium carrots, 2 stalks of celery, 1 red bell pepper and if you can't find a few baby sweet potatoes from a farm, throw in a 8-10 baby white or yellow or blue potatoes skin on. You will also need 2-3 cups of chicken broth, salt and black pepper and your preferred spices: i loaded this with thyme, rosemary, coriander and a pinch of cinnamon because a pinch of cinnamon revs up everything. (Remember you've got spice on the chicken.) Lastly either flat leaf parsley or cilantro if you like it more peppery.

*If this were spring chicken pot pie, you'd want leeks, purple onion, fresh peas, celery and parsnips, even fresh fava beans.

Dice the onion and mince the garlic. Cut everything but red pepper into a large bite-sized piece. Slice the pepper into thin strips. Heat 4 tbsp butter in a heavy gauge casserole and when it's melted toss in the onions. If you want to make this super fabulous, you can toss in a pinch of saffron for those onions. When onions are soft and translucent, add the garlic, leek and chicken. Stir fry a minute or two to get the chicken to begin brown.

Toss in your spices, then the rest of the vegetables. Add salt and fresh pepper to your taste. Cover everything with chicken broth. Or vegetable broth. Or water.  Stir to blend. Bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer and cook 20-30 minutes, until everything is close to tender. Don't go to mush.

Using a slotted spoon, distribute the chicken and vegetables evenly in a deep pie dish. Add chopped parsley or cilantro.  Sift 1/4 c white flour into the pot and whisk it into the liquid. Raise heat on the liquid so it reduces and begins to thicken beyond runny. Pour enough over the contents of the pie pan to just cover.

Using polenta or masarepa or corn meal, make a dough according to package instructions. I always add a tsp of chili pepper, a tsp salt and 1/4 c grated cheese to the dough. If you have a roasted poblano pepper around, smash it in too.  Cover the pie pan with dough, sealing the edges.  Bake at 350º 30 minutes or until crust is crisp and starting to brown.  Let it sit 5 minutes before serving. 

For a warmer moment
Crushed corn Salsa
2-3 ears of corn cut off the cob
2 tbsp butter
1/2 c ricotta cheese
1 roasted poblano pepper
2 tsp corn oil (to thin the mix slightly)
1 tsp dried oregano
Juice of a lime
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 bunch cilantro
Sauté the corn in the butter until it's richly cooked.  Pour the contents of the pan into a food processor and add the remaining ingredients. Whiz into a paste for dipping your favorite tortilla chips in.

Color on a drab day: Piperade
the all purpose Basque dish shows off the dazzling array of colored peppers right now

serves 4-6
1 large green bell pepper, washed and seeded 1 large red bell pepper, washed and seeded 
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, washed and seeded 
1 sm Poblano pepper, washed and seeded
1 med-lg red onion, peeled 
3 lg garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 c olive oil
Fresh ground pepper to your taste
Chopped fresh flat leaf parsley or cilantro, your taste, for garnish
Optionally: 2-3 tomatoes, diced   
Slice peppers into long thin strips. Cut onion into thin rings, cut rings 
in half and break apart. In a large sauté pan, heat oil. Add onion
and oregano and stir-fry on medium heat until onions are soft. Add garlic and peppers. keeping them in a uniform direction. Cook over med/low heat until soft but still bright, maybe 15 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook until tomatoes break down. Remove from heat and stir in the green garnish to serve.    Here they are centered among roasted baby cauliflower to accompany grilled lamb chops at a potluck.  They can go on a grit souffle, an omelet, a burger, in rice or with sausages.  

Home roasted red peppers with local goat cheese

 Because red peppers are so cheap right now and won't be for long, it's good to indulge in all their vitamin C. If you have a grill, great: roast 'em. If not and you have a gas stove, tend them carefully over an open flame, turning with tongs until they start to blacken. Then you can finish roasting them in the toaster oven or big oven at 425º for 15 minutes. Pop into a brown paper bag, close it and let them sit. Then remove and you should be able to peel off the membrane. Cool the peppers, halve and clean them.  Dress with good quality olive oil, sea salt and a twist of black pepper.

Tradition kicked up a notch: corn and beans for a colorful table
Another dish that's owed to pepper plethora right now.
 serves 4
2 tbsp corn oil
1 sm red/purple onion, minced
1 green bell pepper, diced*
1 Anaheim pepper, diced (this is light green and torpedo shaped and is used to add color and heat)
 3-4 ears fresh corn, cooked and cut off the cobs
1 can red kidney beans, drained
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 c fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste 

 In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Add the onion and both peppers. Sauté just until soft. Add the corn, beans and oregano. Cook to heat through. Season with salt and pepper, Stir in the cilantro leaves and cook another minute. Remove from heat and serve.
 *In this photo I used a red pepper because I had one to use up.

Because you can: roasted baby cauliflower with chimichurri
Buy a baby cauliflower per person or 1 for every 2 people.
Put them all on a baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle salt.
Roast at 425º 12-15 minutes until they have started to brown and are very tender.
Put on a serving platter and slather each with chimichurri. I've posted that recipe in the past. 
    These look large but that plate is bread-and-butter size. The smallest of the lot was maybe 2 1/2".