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Archive for April, 2008

Check the tabs at the top. I have added a new page which will include tips for cooks and wannabe cooks. Please suggest any time-saver, or food-improver, cost-reducer, life-enhancing tip and I will include any I deed proper. 

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Enjoy Vivaldi’s Spring Concerto from the Four Seasons.

 

 

Spring is finally bursting free from the frosty fetters of winter here in Ohio. We welcome it with open arms. I know there will most likely be some cold days ahead. April is the cruelest month, after all. Last year, after 80 degrees the first week of April, we were treated to temperatures in the teens a week later, fatally freezing flower buds from trees and shrubs and making for a relatively drab season.

So far this year, daffodils, tulips, magnolias and rhododendrons have been spectacular and I’m hoping that our crabapples, which went from brown to green last year, skipping the anticipated bright pink flowers of previous years, will give us a beautiful display in the coming weeks.

The greening of the countryside brings us the first fruits of the seasons, or, vegetables, in this case. Fresh asparagus beckons me to the kitchen to come up with new ways to prepare one of my favorite vegetables. So far this year, we have steamed it and roasted it. Today, I will include it in risotto verde. You can call it “green rice” if Italian words scare off your family members from trying this most delicious side dish. Actually, I could make this an entree if I could afford the extra carbs.

Pioneer woman has a great photographically illustrated tutorial on risotto. Her humorous accounts of cooking and her life in general are greatly amusing and informative. Be sure to check out her photography and “lessons in Photoshop for the average person”.

 

What makes my “green rice” green, is the addition of spinach, asparagus, and peas, if all three are on hand. I usually have a few bags of frozen peas, and fresh or frozen spinach, and in the spring, and asparagus every other week or so. Grab some onion, white wine, chicken broth and parmesan cheese, and you’re good to go. This is perfect with any meat entree. With a tossed salad or some fruit, you have a complete meal.

RISOTTO VERDE

Serves 6-8

2 c. onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 T. butter

1 T. olive oil

1 c. Arborio rice (it must be arborio rice or marked for risotto)

1/2 c. white wine

1/2 t. salt

2 (14.5 oz.) cans chicken broth, simmering, over low heat (homemade broth, if possible)

6 spears asparagus, cut into 1/2″ pieces, or however many you want

1 c. frozen chopped spinach (thawed and squeezed dry), or 2 c. fresh spinach, chopped*

1 t. dried tarragon

1/2 c. frozen green peas, thawed

1/4-1/2 c. parmesan, grated or shredded (try to get a hunk of parmesan, but go ahead and use the green package if that’s what you have

1-2T. butter, optional

milk or cream, optional

 

1. Heat butter and oil in large heavy saucepan. When hot, saute onion 5-7 minutes until soft and translucent, then add garlic and cook, stirring, one minute more.

2. Add the rice and stir one minute to coat the grains with oil.

3. Add the wine and cook, medium-low heat, stirring, until wine is absorbed.

4. With the risotto pot on a medium-low setting, begin gradually stirring in the hot broth, about 1/4 – 1/3 cup at a time, stirring quite often until it is nearly completely absorbed. Then add the next portion of broth, continuing to stir until absorbed.  Keep the pot of risotto simmering, not boiling. There should never be a lot of liquid in the pot which means that you must keep careful watch and stir often to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Don’t worry – it’s not nearly as complicated as it sounds. You’ll catch onto the idea of gradually softening the rice as you prepare the recipe and you will know when it is done.

5. When adding the last bit of broth, add the asparagus, peas and spinach. Stir to combine. Taste a few grains of rice. If they are still firm, add more broth (or water if you have used up all the broth) and continue the process, tasting every minute or two until the rice is creamy and tender. 

6. Add the tarragon and parmesan. Stir in the last tablespoon of butter, if you want to boost the richness a bit. Let stand off the heat for 5 minutes.

7. Add a little milk or cream if desired if the risotto seems too dry. It should be creamy and moist.

 ************************************************************************************************************ 

The whole process can take as little as 20 minutes or more likely 30. It depends on the rice,  your stove, the temperature of the broth, the pan, and who knows what else. It can rest, covered, off the heat for a few minutes while you get the rest of the meal on the table. The constant stirring really is no big deal. It just means a quick stir every minute or so. Don’t paint your toenails, take an important phone call, or work in the yard while you fix risotto. That way lies perdition. And Minute Rice instead of risotto.

There are ways to partially prepare risotto ahead of time, methods used by restaurants whose patrons don’t usually want to wait a half-hour for their meals. I leave you to find those methods if you desire.

Give risotto a try and discover what Pioneer Woman and I have in common. Yum.

*I used a cup of leftover creamed spinach the last time I made this dish. It worked great!

 

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I have often extolled the culinary virtues of pork tenderloin herein and you may be tired of reading about it. If so, I apologize for yet another tribute to “the other white meat”. But if I can convince one of you “non-believers” to give this lean, quick-cooking, flexible, and delicious cut of meat to give it a try, I will be satisfied with my efforts. Go for it!

I have explained that the whole tenderloin, usually large enough for 4 modest servings, can be sauteed, or pan roasted, oven baked, or grilled, skewered, sliced, cubed, stuffed, rolled, or even ground (perish the thought), and sauced with any number of concoctions, sweet or savory, even sweet and savory. Herbed, spiced, tarted up with colorful fruits or vegetables. The imagination presents the only limitation.

Here is one of my favorite ways to cook quickly a tenderloin sliced into medallions. These cook quickly, about 6-8 minutes. The sauce is an herby, port wine enhanced, broth-based sauce flavored with a touch of tomato paste and pitted prunes which add a deep sweetness to the pork. Once all the ingredients are gathered and prepared, the whole recipe is finished in about a half-hour.

SAUTEED PORK MEDALLIONS WITH PRUNES

Serves 3 or 4

One pork tenderloin, cut in 8 slices, about 1″ thick

1/2 t. salt

1/4 t. pepper

1 t. ground cumin, optional

2 T. oil

1 sprig rosemary, leaves stripped from stem and chopped*

1/2 c. finely chopped onions

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 c. port

1 T. red wine vinegar

1 T. tomato paste**

1/2 c. chicken broth

12 pitted prunes

1-2 T. butter

2 T. fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped

1. Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Flatten the pork slices slightly and sprinkle with the salt, pepper and cumin.

2. Saute the pork in batches in hot oil 3-4 minutes, turn and saute other side 4 minutes. Repeat with remaining batch. Remove pork to a warm plate and cover with foil.

3. Lower heat to medium, add onions and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and rosemary leaves. Cook, stirring, for a minute to soften.

3. Add port, vinegar, tomato paste and broth. Deglaze the pan. Add prunes and cook, stirring occasionally to reduce by approximately half.

4. Return pork and any accumulated meat juices on plate. Add butter and stir to combine.

5. Serve pork with sauce and sprinkled with the fresh herbs.

*If you’re not a fan of rosemary, just put the whole sprig in the pan when you add the port and remove it when you are ready to serve. It will add just a touch of rosemary flavor.

** If you don’t have tomato paste, you can use catsup in a pinch. I always have a tube of tomato paste, one of the best convenience items for cooks. You can squeeze out the amount of tomato paste needed and return the tube to the refrigerator to store.  The small cans of tomato paste usually leave half the contents or more to be dealt with later. For me, that used to mean the contents suffering a long, slow death in the back of the refrigerator. I know, I know. You can put dollops on a plate and freeze them, keeping them in a plastic bag in the freezer until needed. I tried that once and could never find the bag quickly. Believe me, the tubes are much more user-friendly and cost effective.

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Image from www.handsoffcooking.com

I used to have a luncheon for my mother and mother-in-law for Mothers’ Day. It was fun trying to plan a menu that was “girly” enough to be special for the “Moms” and yet hearty enough to appeal to the “Dads” who were invited as well. 

One time I prepared a multi-course meal, keeping the total calorie count for all dishes, including dessert, under 500 calories.  We had salad, skinless chicken breasts with a red bell pepper sauce, fresh green beans, and a raspberry dessert. It all tasted rich and delicious, belying the low calorie dishes.

If you want to pamper your mom(s), start looking through your recipes, or mine, and come up with some recipes for pretty dishes, a few special touches, good china and silver, and needless to say, flowers on the table. Any mother would feel honored to be feted in such a way.

Most moms, and dads, too for that matter, enjoy a tasty chicken salad. Easy to prepare ahead, in fact improving with a day’s rest, it makes a great luncheon centerpiece. With a bed of leaf lettuces, some fresh vegetables or fruit to garnish the plate, and a mound of chicken salad, you will serve a feast for the eyes as well as for the palate. Top it off with  some quick bread, like banana or nut bread, and fruit and cheese for dessert. 

Mimosas or Bellinis would be grand for those moms who would enjoy a special bit of alcohol in the middle of the day. Otherwise, iced or hot tea, punch or coffee would do. 

I usually make a more or less traditional chicken salad, mayonnaise based, with chopped celery, a little bit of onion, and usually meat from the chicken breast only. There are a few additions I use occasionally. After I mix the chicken, celery and onion, I sometimes add coarsely chopped pecans, and grapes. (The grapes are cut in half and added just before serving to keep the salad from becoming too watery. If your grapes are small, by all means, don’t halve them, and you can add them right at the start with the other ingredients.)

To the mayonnaise, I add a healthy amount of curry powder. You can be the judge of what “healthy amount” means. I usually add a tablespoon or so. But it all depends on the amount of chicken, et al., the kind of curry powder being used, and how much you and your guests like the curry flavor. Along with the curry powder, I add several tablespoons of mango chutney. A few teaspoons of lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste will finish it.  As with most salads, you have to adjust the amounts or omit some ingredients to suit yourself. 

I would probably fix a nut bread and serve butter or cream cheese with it. A few perfectly julienned carrot sticks around the plate of chicken salad, and presto! You have a lovely luncheon entree. The fact that you prepared it the day ahead makes it so much easier for you to set a beautiful table in relaxed manner.

 

Raspberry sherbet, strewn with a few fresh raspberries, and a simple cookie would be irresistible for me. If you have the time, soften the sherbet a bit and dish out perfectly formed sherbet balls earlier in the day, stored in the freezer, of course. Remember to cover them with plastic wrap to prevent strange freezer odors from permeating the dessert. Lemon, lime or orange sherbet would be equally fine.

If you are lucky enough to have some family serving pieces or china, now’s the time to bring them out and use them. You have nearly a month to get ready. No excuses, now. It’s the least you can do. If you have no longer have a mother, or she is unable to come for a meal, prepare a special luncheon in her honor of in her memory. You will be doing yourself a favor too.

 

(Image credits: Chicken Salad -www.handsoffcooking.com/salad.jpg

                         Sherbet – wikipedia)

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A Chat about Chutney

When the British colonized India, one of the subcontinent’s treasures brought back to England was the British adopted taste for Indian food. Curries and chutneys became more and more visible on English tables. We, who enjoy these treats, owe a tip of the chef’s toque to India and her cuisine.

Chutneys have evolved far from Indian tastes to accomodate some westerners’ desire for less heat in their chutneys. Major Grey’s Mango Chutney, probably the most well known chutney throughout the US, is relatively mild, and if often the only chutney available on a grocer’s shelves. It remains to the curious cook to seek recipes for chutneys and start experimenting.

My sister tells the story about the time she cooked up a batch of chutney and took a jar to Sal, her local butcher in Brooklyn. When she returned a few days later, she asked him if he had tried the chutney. He told her it was very good and that he had eaten the whole jar – plain, old chutney, by itself. He didn’t understand that it was a condiment. 

That must have been good chutney!

She has kindly furnished her recipe, from Fanny Farmer.

From my sister, Ellen:

 

“This must have been awhile ago. I haven’t made homemade chutney for awhile. I used to make it from our apples upstate, very labor intense, due to their size, but it was delicious. Oh yes, also I used our green/ red tomatoes.

The recipe I used was from the Fanny Farmer cook book. I also referred to the Ceylon cookbook, from years ago. Most of those chutneys were made with mango, and pineapple and other tropical fruits.

As far as the butcher, it would have been Sal, our local Italian butcher who made delicious steak pinwheels, stuffed with parsley and cheese. He also taught me how to made great meatballs ( I still use his recipe). he has since moved to Florida and the space is now a Korean mini grocery, run by Mrs, & Mr. Lee, both Buddhist. We always bring them back Buddha statues from our travels.

APPLE CHUTNEY:

The recipe from Fanny Farmer is : * (I never added the flour)

Put in a bowl:

     3 cups chopped green tomatoes  

     Sprinkle with salt

Let sit 12 hours & drain.

Mix:

     1 quart cider vinegar

     2 T of salt

     1 lb. of brown sugar

Chop:

     12 tart apples, seeded

     2 spanish onions

Put all in a sauce pan and add:

     1 lb. or raisins

     1 T of ground ginger ( I chopped fresh)

      2/3 cups of fresh mint

Cook over low heat until tender.

Mix 2 T of flour & 1/4 cup water and add.*

Simmer to proper thick consistency. Makes 4 pints.

Refrigerate for storage.

 

I remember using dates, sometimes instead of raisins. Chutney is great, I use it often as a side dish, especially with cottage cheese as the other side dish.

Now I buy Poonjiaji’s “Major Greys’s Mango Chutney”

I have also lately used it in my new guacamole recipe:

     3 ripe avocados.

     2 heaping T of Poonjiaji mango chutney

     some fresh grape tomatoes, chopped

     sour cream as needed (to balance)

     1 large handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

     1 T of sambol or harrisa sauce

     1 lime squeezed

     salt & pepper  

I always adjust flavors as I assemble.

There are many chutney recipes.It is fun to make somthing you can eat over a long period of time.”

 

Thanks to my sister for her contribution to our “chutney chat.”

 

Ten years ago I made some apple chutney to go with a pork tenderloin that I was going to brown and then continue roasting in the oven. I made the chutney early in the afternoon, and let it cook slowly on the stove for an hour or two until it reached the consistency I wanted. I served it at room temperature with the pork that I sliced in thick slices. I used some of the remaining chutney the next day as a sauce for chicken breasts. 

APPLE CHUTNEY 

3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and finely chopped

1 c. chopped onion

1/4 to 1/2 c. brown sugar

1 c. water

3/4 c. cider vinegar

1/2 c. finely chopped red pepper

1/2 c. currants

1 T. fresh ginger, minced

1 1/2 t. minced garlic cloves

1 t. salt

1/2 t. red pepper flakes

1/4 t. nutmeg

1/4 t. allspice

pinch of cloves

 

Combine ingredients in heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, lower heat and simmer for about an hour until thick and syrupy. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature.

 

BONUS RECIPE  — CHUTNEY SAUCE

[I seasoned boneless chicken breast halves with salt and pepper and sauteed them in a skillet with hot olive oil and butter. When the chicken was done, I removed them to a platter and kept them covered with foil while I made the chutney sauce.]

 

Drippings in skillet

1/4 c. white wine

1/4 c. chicken broth

1/4 c. apple chutney

2 T. heavy cream

1. Discard most of the butter and oil in skillet.

2. Deglaze the pan with the white wine over medium heat, scraping up the good browned bits on the bottom of the skillet.

3. Add the broth and return the chicken to the skillet. Cook over medium- medium low heat for 5 minutes to partially reduce the sauce.

4. Add the chutney and cream and cook over low heat, partially covered  for 5 minutes more, adding more cream or broth to the sauce if desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve the chutney sauce with the chicken. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Match Made in Heaven

 617px-apricots_one_open.jpg If you peruse cookbooks and cooking magazines like I do, you undoubtedly have seen  a good deal of dishes pairing pork and apricots. Some use the fruit itself, and others use apricot jam or preserves or even apricot puree. I even use dried apricots alone or with other dried fruit as a stuffing for pork loin. 

With a pork loin in the frig and a busy day on tap, I wanted to prepare a relatively simple dinner, preferably one that required little last minute preparation. I remembered this recipe, first prepared in April, 1995.  Today is the first of April, 2008, so it seemed destined to be fixed this month. Why not today? 

The pork roast will sit all day in a garlicky marinade with dry sherry, soy sauce and other ingredients, then roasted. Some of the marinade is saved and boiled for a few minutes with more sherry and soy and a small jar of apricot preserves. This sauce can then be brushed over the finished roast and served alongside as a sauce.
The tangy, slightly sweet concoction goes well with the mild pork and calls for a distinctly tasty vegetable side dish, such as broccoli, asparagus or Brussels sprouts. Tonight it will be broccoli. 
Here’s the recipe. I hope you find time to try it and let me know if you like it!
PORK ROAST WITH APRICOT SAUCE
Marinade: 
2 garlic cloves, chopped or minced
1/2 c. dry sherry
1/2 c. soy sauce
2 T. dry mustard
2 t. thyme
1 t. powdered ginger  
3-4 lb. pork loin, boneless, tied 
Sauce: 
2 T. reserved marinade
2 T. dry sherry
10 oz. apricot preserves
1 T. soy
1. Mix marinade ingredients and place in food quality plastic bag with the pork. Marinate in the refrigerator 8 hours or overnight.
2. Open bag, reserve 2 T. of the marinade and set aside. Remove the pork and discard the rest of the marinade.
3. Preheat oven to 350 and roast pork in a shallow pan  approximately 1 1/2 hours or until thermometer inserted into the center of the roast reads 160 degrees. (This will result in the meat being slightly pink in the center. This is safe with today’s pork and is desirable with the meat remaining tender and juicy. Further cooking will dry the meat too much.) Remove the meat from the oven, tent it with foil, and set aside.
4. In a small saucepan, combine the reserved 2 T. marinade and the rest of the sauce ingredients. Bring to a boil, boil for 4-5  minutes. Brush over the roast, slice it 1/4-inch thick, and serve with the remaining sauce.
Happy dining!

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