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Archive for March, 2011

Like many, my mood (and palate) are affected by the weather.  This week (still March), instead of rain, gloom, and cold, it’s 75-80 degrees and sunny.  Gone are my pumpkin cravings.  I’m feeling lazy, a bit sluggish (Rice Kernel is sick and not sleeping well), and nowhere in the mood for anything hot or gut-busting.  (A pint of sorbet or ice cream could have fed the soul and belly tonight, but it was already empty from lunch.)  In search for some quick comfort, these sesame noodles filled the void.  Starchy, salty, smooth, and silly easy.  They are light and silky and deliciously versatile hot or cold.  Eat them plain, or tossed with some vegetables, tofu, or chicken.  

Note: I’ve used soba noodles for some added nutrition.  Made of buckwheat, these Japanese thin noodles are quickcooking and high in protein and B vitamins.  They are hearty and nutty.  If the texture doesn’t suit you, whole wheat or regular pasta is as delicious with this sesame dressing.

Sesame Soba Noodles 

Ingredients

    5 garlic cloves, minced
    2 tsp ginger, peeled and grated
    2 tbsp agave nectar (or honey or sugar, but you may require more sugar)
    6 tbsp rice vinegar
    6 tbsp soy sauce
    1 tbsp sesame oil
    1 16 oz package of soba noodles, whole wheat or regular angel hair/spaghetti pasta
    3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds, for garnish (you can toast the seeds in a 350 degree oven while putting together the sauce)
    1/2 cup green onions or chives, chopped
    red pepper flakes, optional

Directions

  1. Place the first six ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Stir constantly until the agave dissolves.
  2. Cook the soba noodles or pasta according to package instructions. 
  3. Pour the sauce over the boiled and drained pasta (while still hot) add the sesame seeds and chopped scallions.  Serve hot or chilled. 
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Cuban-Style Pork Chop

Pork chops (especially thin cut) are quick and easy to prepare, but they are so bland by themselves I’ve tried every imaginable way to enhance their flavor.  I came across this recipe for Cuban-inspired chops and found the combination of citrus juices balanced perfectly with the earthiness of oregano and cumin.  If you prefer a spicier marinade, add a jalapeño chile, seeded and sliced thin. 

Cuban-Style Pork Chops, adapted from Emeril Lagasse

Ingredients

    Splash white vinegar (I used rice wine)
    1 tbsp kosher salt
    1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
    juice of 1 lime or lemon
    2 tbsp minced garlic
    1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
    1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
    1 tsp dried oregano
    1/2 cup olive oil
    1 tsp cumin
    6 thin cut boneless pork chops (or bone-in, if you prefer)
    1 spring of rosemary (optional – Rice Kernel threw it into the marinade)

Directions

  1. In a shallow baking dish, combine the vinegar, salt, pepper, orange juice, lime juice, garlic, onion, red pepper, herbs and cumin.  Drizzle in about 1/4 cup of oil.  Then in the same dish, lay the pork chops so that they are completely flat, turning to coat in the marinade.  Let sit for at least 10 minutes or up to several hours.
  2. Heat remaining oil on medium high in a large sauté pan until almost smoking. 
  3. Place the pork chops in the pan and cook until browned, about 3-4 minutes.  Flip and continue to cook on other side for an additional 1-2 minutes.  Remove the pork chops to a plate and cover with foil.
  4.  Then, in the same pan over medium heat, pour in the reserved marinade and let simmer 2-3 minutes.  Serve over pork.

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I’ve had my eyes on this cake for a long while.  With antioxidant-rich blueberries, vitamin-packed citrus, whole grains, and protein-, calcium-, and probiotic-rich yogurt …. oh who am I kidding, the health benefits of this loaf are but a footnote.  I mean, the original recipe is one of Ina Garten’s most famous!  In Ina’s language that means, (1) “how bad can that be?” and (2)” how good can it be for your waistline?”  All kidding aside, this is a great snack cake to keep around when a craving for sweets occurs (which tends to happen regularly in this household) – and partly because it can be made less sinful. 

Rice Kernel decided to skip his afternoon nap today so I enlisted his help.  Not a bad idea, per se.  Let’s just say my “helper” made a few unexpected modifications.  First, he claimed the alluring container of full-fat yogurt I had purchased for the recipe (we only buy Fage 0%).  Thinking I better pick my battles wisely with a sleep-deprived toddler, I let him have it.  I could see his expression: “Why have you kept this rich goodness from me?!”  While he was eating, I grated and squeezed some lemons.  In the time I threw away the peels, Rice Kernel decided the yogurt in the mixing bowl (for the cake) needed some citrus.  And, in a heartbeat, the cake inherited fat-free yogurt and an extra 1/3 of a cup of liquid.  New motto: baking is an art, not science. 

Despite the personalizations, our loaf was delectable.  The inclusion of yogurt  and oil create a moist, custard-like center with a tender crust.  (Ours was probably a bit more cheesecake-like, rather than poundcake-like, with the substitution of nonfat yogurt and additional liquid.)  The blueberries and lemon add a tart and refreshing lightness.  If you prefer the taste of oranges, grapefruits, or limes to lemons, don’t hesitate to make the substitution.  This cake can handle your imagination – poppy seeds, raspberries, nuts, chocolate.  Utterly simple and versatile, this cake will certainly become a part of your repertoire.

(Will report on my Orange Creamsicle (Popsicle) and Orange Olive Oil Pignolia Nut versions of this cake soon!)

Lemon-Blueberry Yogurt Cake, from Smitten Kitchen, with minor adjustments

Ingredients

    1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon white whole wheat flour (regular whole wheat will make the tender cake a bit too tough)
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    1 cup plain yogurt (we used non-fat; full-fat was used in the original recipe)
    1/2 cup + 1 tbsp of agave nectar (or 1 cup granulated sugar)
    3 extra large eggs
    2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (approximately 2 lemons)
    1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1/2 cup vegetable oil (or olive oil)
    1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen, thawed and rinsed
    1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan.  Line the bottom with parchment paper.  Grease and flour the pan.
  2. Sift together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, vanilla and oil.  Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.  Mix the blueberries with the remaining tablespoon of flour, and fold them very gently into the batter.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 (+) minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear.  Set aside.
  4. When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before flipping out onto a cooling rack.  Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan.  While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in (a pastry brush works great for this, as does using a toothpick to make tiny holes that draw the syrup in better).  Cool.

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When Rice Kernel was younger, he delighted in playing with dry pasta, rice, and, above all…. quinoa.  Hey, my sandbox-loving son needed a tactile replacement during the wet winter months.  (In retrospect, all of the above dry grains were choking hazards.  No harm, no foul, right?)  My husband isn’t particularly fond of the “Mother Grain,” as it is referred to, so it never had a regular place on our dinner table.  But once Rice Kernel began taking solids, the food-conscious parent in me knew I should introduce my little one to this little powerhouse grain. 

Rice Kernel took to quinoa quickly (“I like it.  It’s cwon-chy,” he still tells me) and I try to incorporate it when I can these days.  Quinoa’s flavor is slightly nutty with a pleasing, toothsome texture.  Simple to cook, it blends well with other ingredients.  It’s so versatile it can be substituted for rice, pasta, couscous, bulgur or millet in just about any recipe.  What’s more, it has the highest protein content of any grain and since it contains all eight essential amino acids, quinoa is considered a complete protein.  

Tonight, I’ve loaded the quinoa with a bounty of vegetables.  It’s perfect as a main dish or as a side dish onto which you can nestle some grilled or pan-seared meat or seafood. 

Spring Quinoa Pilaf with Pine Nuts

 

Ingredients

    1 3/4 cups chicken broth (homemade or low sodium)
    1/2 tsp coarse salt plus additional for seasoning
    1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained 3 times
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    4 green onions, thinly sliced
    1 small onion, chopped
    1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley and/or cilantro
    1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
    Salt and freshly ground pepper
    2 cups of vegetable add-ins: peas, beets, carrots, zucchini, asparagus, leeks, cucumbers, corn etc.

Directions

  1. Bring broth and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt to boil in medium saucepan; add quinoa.  Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until quinoa is tender and broth is absorbed, about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat; fluff with fork.  Cover and set aside.
  2. Set a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add olive oil and garlic; saute 30 seconds.  Add your choice of vegetables and saute until just tender, about 5-7 minutes.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Add cooked quinoa, green onions, parsley and/or cilantro, and pine nuts.  Toss to combine and adjust seasonings as necessary.

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Ninety-nine percent of the time, we have a side of vegetables on our dinner table.  They’re nutritious, guilt-free, and, frankly, we’re a veggie-loving bunch.  This is one of the most humble, easiest, and flavorful dishes. 

Shimeji, or “beech,” mushrooms are Rice Kernel’s favorite mushroom variety.  So it was only a matter of time before I memorialized it in a post.  More often than not, he eats them all before my husband or I can serve ourselves any.  They are called “beech” because they often grow on fallen beech trees.  These petite mushrooms have a white base and either a white cap or a cracked, speckled brown cap.  Their texture is smooth and crunchy.  Once cooked, the flavor is delicately mild, buttery, and nutty.   

Braised Brown Beech Mushrooms with Cabbage

Ingredients

    1 tbsp vinegar (cider, white wine, or sherry)
    1 tbsp soy sauce
    1 small head cabbage, quartered, cored, and chopped into long strips
    1 head/package beech mushrooms, cleaned and separated
    2 tbsp olive oil
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Heat a large pan over medium-high heat.  Add oil and cabbage and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Cover and cook an additional 3 to 5 minutes, until cabbage is wilted but still a bit crunchy. 
  2. Add beech mushrooms, cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until tender.
  3. Add vinegar, soy sauce, salt and pepper.  Adjust seasonings as desired.

 
Add the vinegar, and then the cabbage and boil over high heat until the cabbage is wilted (don’t overcook it – it should still have tooth), 2 to 3 minutes. Drain, then toss in a bowl with the butter, oil, the parsley, chives, and salt and pepper, to taste.Directions

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Rice Kernel and I have a natural affinity for shrimp.  Crunchy shrimp, to be exact.  My husband, FHE, will never let me forget that adjective.  When we were in high school, there was a particularly memorable dinner.  We were out to dinner with my parents and someone ordered shrimp.  I had barely sunk my teeth into a piece when my tongue hurled it into a napkin and I lamented (I’m toning it down) its mushy, soggy, inedible texture.  FHE couldn’t quite understood why I found the texture so troubling.  (No doubt he was thinking, “you are too picky.”)  Since then, I’ve endured years in the Midwest where shellfish is not always the freshest and moments at school and work where I felt satisfied just to find time to scarf down a meal.  Needless to say, my standards operate on a sliding scale these days.  But when it comes to shrimp, I can’t deny the texture and mouthfeel of perfectly cooked shrimp: crunchy, firm, crisp, al dente.  Rice Kernel agrees.  Only he’s mildly allergic…. Alas.  That doesn’t stop him from telling me to buy it.

Here’s a speedy shrimp stir-fry with sugar snap peas (one of Rice Kernel’s favorite raw and cooked vegetables) and sweet carrots.  It’s a trifecta of crunch.  (If only I had reserved Rice Kernel’s bag of cashews from snacktime and threw them into the mix…. next time.)

Shrimp with Sugar Snap Peas and Carrots

Rice "dome" optional: but much more fun for a 33-month-old to "smush" and "crush," as Rice Kernel put it.

Ingredients

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined (I used fairly large tiger prawns)
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp rice wine
pinch salt
pinch white pepper
2 carrots, peeled and julienned (cut into matchstick-size pieces)
1 cup sugar snap peas, ends trimmed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 inch ginger, minced
1 scallion, sliced
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 tbsp chicken stock
dash sesame oil

 

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, mix together the shrimp, cornstarch, rice wine, salt and pepper.  Let sit for 5 minutes or in the refrigerator for up to several hours.
  2. In a large pan, heat 1 tsp olive oil on medium-high heat.  Add half of the ginger and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the shrimp and stir-fry for 1 -2 minutes until it is pale pink and not quite cooked through.  Transfer the shrimp to a plate and set aside.
  3. To the same pan, heat 2 tsp olive oil on medium-high heat.  Add the garlic, ginger and the white part of the scallion.  Cook for 1 minute.   Add the sugar snap peas and carrots and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, adding a pinch of salt and stock during cooking.
  4. Toss the cooked shrimp to mix (another minute).  Add salt, pepper, and sesame oil to taste.  Remove from the heat and garnish with scallion.  (And cashews?)
  5. Serve with pasta or rice. 

Note: This is a dry, non-saucy stir fry.

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I was thrilled to find this recipe.  We’re lucky to find strawberries year-round and Rice Kernel and I delight in them almost daily.  We had half a pound that were becoming too ripe and I thought, instead of freezing them, what can I bake them into?  Breads, muffins, pies, and shortcakes immediately came to mind.  Then I came across this recipe.  With all the ingredients on hand, I was curious to see a strawberry cookie. 

This “cookie” is really a cross between a cookie and a scone.  It’s tender from the addition of heavy cream with a bit of chew.  It’s mildly sweet with beautiful, fruity bursts of strawberries.  As Martha describes them, they are a portable version of the classic shortcake treat.  We’re just emerging from ten days of rain and, with sunny skies and 60- to 70-degree weather forecasted for the week, these cookies are the perfect treat to lift the spirits and usher in Spring!  (Even if the weather is still chilly or gloomy where you are, these cookies provide a cheery reprieve and a reminder that Spring will arrive.  Eventually.)

Strawberry Shortcake Cookies, from Martha Stewart

Ingredients

    12 ounces strawberries, hulled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (2 cups)
    1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
    1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
    2 cups all-purpose flour (or white whole wheat, or mix)
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
    3 ounces (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
    2/3 cup heavy cream (can substitute 2/3 of mix: 1/3 butter and 3/4 cup milk)
    Sanding sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (original recipe calls for 375 degrees, but my cookies were browning too quickly so I turned down the heat).
  2. Combine strawberries, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining sugar in a large bowl.  Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter, or rub in with your fingers, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in cream until dough starts to come together, then stir in strawberry mixture.
  3. Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment, spacing evenly apart.  Sprinkle with sanding sugar, and bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool.
  4. Cookies are best served immediately, but can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1-2 days (you can pop them in the toaster oven to recrisp a bit).  We enjoyed them with whipped cream.

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