Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Beet Risotto with Beet Greens

Here's another recipe involving beets that I love. It was actually my introduction to using beet greens, and I love that this recipe uses the whole beet, stems and all. The rice takes on a really vibrant hue, so the whole dish looks hot pink, which I think is really neat. How often do we get to eat fuschia food? There's a nice contrast of textures here: soft onions, creamy rice, nice bite from the beets, and the tender greens. This is a great dish year round - light enough for spring or summer, hearty and earthy enough for fall.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Beet Greens, the Underappreciated Veggie

Years ago I did a shameful thing. I knew the key to buying good beets was to purchase them with crisp greens intact. So I bought beautiful whole beets from the local farmer's market. I made delicious things with the actual roots, but I threw away the tops. At the same time, I was buying bunches of swiss chard and kale. How foolish I was! Beet greens are delicious and nutritious, with a taste and texture similar to chard. And when you consider that you're actually getting two separate veggies from a single purchase, it's very economical, too.

You can cook beet greens like chard or kale: thoroughly wash, trim the woody core, and slice into 1" strips. You can then sautee them with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and a bit of broth, with a little red pepper flakes, or do what I did, and throw them in a soup for the last ten minutes of cooking. They go great with cannellini beans, rosemary, and if you like, a little Italian chicken sausage, topped with a grating of hard Italian cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Honey "Pearls" and Grapefruit-Ginger Syrup

At least a year ago, maybe even over two years ago, my hubby ordered the powders necessary to make those fancy molecular gastronomy "caviar" or "pearls" - sodium alginate and calcium chloride. And they sat in our cupboard until this weekend, when we finally dusted them off and got to using them.

If only I'd known how easy it was, I would have done it long ago! And for under $20 for both powders, you only use 1-3 grams at a time, so you get a lot of mileage out of your purchase. Plus, it's fun!

I wanted to make honey pearls, to go with a panna cotta, which I'd also never made before. After the one I'd had at Cafe Juanita, I felt I at least had a good benchmark, and would know if what I made would turn out good enough (it did).

It all came together nicely. Creamy, midly sweet, delicate vanilla panna cotta has a bit of tang from the buttermilk, and given an ethereal ring of lightly sweet honey pearls and tangy-bitter grapefruit. All of this is easy: the hardest part was actually getting the panna cotta out of the ramekin!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Larb Gai - fresh and herb-laden Thai chicken salad

Larb, at least as I've come to know it, is a fresh, herb-laden Thai salad, with finely minced or ground lean chicken, lemongrass, mint, cilantro, and lots of lime. Toasted rice powder is a traditional topping, for toasty flavor and a little crunch, but toasted sesame seeds do the trick for me. It's fresh, light, and healthy, and you can put it together while the rice is steaming. You can eat it as a lettuce wrap with rice, or do as my husband does, and mix it all up. It's tasty either way.

This is really made best during the summer, when herbs are fresh, plentiful, and cheap, and the romaine is crisp and sweet. But it had been a while, and I was had a craving for it, so I indulged my need for something so light and fresh tasting.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Dinner at Cafe Juanita

This is a restaurant review - no recipes or pictures here, sorry!

For my husband and my collective birthdays (our birthdates are only 2 days apart), we decided on dinner at Cafe Juanita. We both adore Italian food, and while I had been once before, he had never been. My previous experience had been mixed; some items were stellar (the octopus!), while others were too salty (the rabbit plini) or I just didn't care for the dish (the roasted beets - loved them, but having them on a bed of almond butter tasted like eating the guts of a peanut butter and beet salad sandwich. No thanks).

I'm very happy to report that we had a fantastic, fabulous, near-perfect dinner. Which is saying something because I am very picky with fine dining - I expect everything to be perfect. The rest will be a blow-by-blow of each course, which my husband and I shared each of, lest you think I ate 6 courses all by myself.

We started with the carne cruda - essentially Wagyu beef tartar. Finely diced and nicely presented raw beef with a tiny soft-boiled quail egg on top, this had an exceptional balance of richness tempered by a light and lively acidity (orange? lemon? it tasted citrusy but I couldn't quite place it). It came on 3 very thin bread crisps, but I thought paired perfectly with the crackers provided on the bread tray. Now the bread tray actually deserves a little writing on its own: several varieties, thick and thin, very nicely arranged on a long platter, with some fantastic bread and crackers. Unfortunately, I didn't care for the puff cheese twists (a little dry) and the fried pasta dough with thin dried orange, while interesting, was too sharp and hard to truly be enjoyable. But everything else was lovely.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Weeknight Pollo en Pipian Verde

Here's another great weeknight meal - lots of flavor, doesn't make too many dishes, and comes together in a snap. This is a bit of a cross of between a Rick Bayless recipe for Salmon in Luxurious Green Pipian, which uses tomatillo salsa as a shortcut, and the more traditional flavors of a pipian with toasted and ground pepitas, peppercorns, cloves, sesame seeds, and cumin. Adding all those lovely spices and toasting them fresh gives the sauce a really nice base and complexity, but using a good quality tomatillo salsa cuts the time down significantly. I used a combination of Bayless' Frontera tomatillo salsa and a small can of Herdez. Adding zucchini rounds out the dish.

I know, it doesn't look terribly appetizing. But it's delicious, I promise.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hungarian-style Chicken Stew with Tomatoes

I know, I know. My first post here involving paprika really shouldn't be a weeknight dish, or even worse, something totally unauthentic. But it is. Some day, I'll post the real deal, just like my grandma made, with nokedli (Hungarian dumplings, basically spaetzle) and full-fat sour cream and the hour long plus cooking time. But when I asked dh what he wanted for his birthday, he said "Chicken Paprikash... like you used to make." Which means Chicken Paprikash before I figured out the real recipe. The wrong recipe that I used that had canned tomatoes and small chopped up pieces of chicken so it would cook quicker, basically a totally botched version. Later, when I asked my grandmother whether it had tomatoes I got a loud "Nnooooooooooo! No tomatoes!!" with a hint of disgust. So Brian tells me to call it something else, and I did, but in my heart it will forever be imposter's Paprikash Csirke.

However, it's tasty, and sort of scratches my chicken paprikash itch on a weeknight, so I won't feel shame or apologize for that.