Sunday, May 30, 2010

Vegetable Stock

I feel as if this week just slipped by without my even noticing. I regret to admit that I did not get around to much cooking this week. I did however get my fill of chocolate cake and fruit flan thanks to Mike and the girls at work! I am now one year older and probably one pound heavier! On top of all the birthday fun this week I also took one giant step into adulthood and traded in my peppy sports car for a more practical Subaru Outback. Funny how life changes when you least expect it. One day your thinking "I wouldn't be caught dead driving a station wagon" and the next your jumping at the chance to get rid of your 2 door coupe!

I have learned so many new and enlightening skills over the past few weeks that I feel the need to improve quite a few of my recipes. With that said, you may notice some of my recipes disappearing. I will be working on re-posting these with new and improved techniques and ingredients.

First on my cooking improvement list is to stop following recipes step by step and begin to taste for balance and use my own intuition to tell me what I need to add next. I am going to start at the beginning and learn the fundamentals and commit to applying these to every dish I make from here on out! Well, at least I'm going to try.

I woke up this morning eager to find inspiration for today's dinner. This involved a trip to the produce market which is not unusual for a Sunday morning. This time around I decided to leave my shopping list behind. In order to find balance in my cooking I need to start off with only the freshest ingredients, buying what looks appealing instead of what is on my shopping list. Today I shopped based on what was in season and fresh!

Today I am making vegetable stock. Partly because its Sunday and I have the time to do so and partly because I recently learned the importance of using real stock in my fundamentals cooking class at the French Mint. This is one of the improved ingredients you will notice in my recipes from now on.

You really don't need a recipe to make vegetable stock. However, I have roughly outline one you can use as a base. 
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 cup leek greens, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2-3 stalks celery with leaves, diced
  • 1 cup squash, cubed
  • 1 potato, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1/4 cup green lentils, rinsed
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme or 6 branche
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 handfuls lovage leaves, roughly chopped
  • 8 branches parsley, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 8 cups cold water
  1. Heat butter in a large pot, add vegetables, herbs, garlic and nutritional yeast, 1/2 cup  water, and cook for 15 minutes over medium heat. Pour in 8 cups of water, bring to a boil; then simmer partially covered for 40 minutes.
  2. Pour stock through a sieve and press out as much liquid as possible. Add salt to taste. Use immediately or store in refrigerator for 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
Note:  Keep odds and ends of vegetables in your freezer until you are ready to make stock. For example I made leek soup last week so I kept the ends of my leeks for stock.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Yellow Split Pea Dhal

As an aspiring home cook I am yet to learn the secret to a really good curry. I can admit without shame that all my curries not only taste the same (inspite of using different spices) but tend to lean to the bland side of the flavor scale. I am beginning to learn the importance of knowing the fundamentals of cooking and how the in-between steps are what makes for a truly mouth watering, full flavor meal.

Unlike many hobbies or tasks we perform on a daily basis cooking is one of the few that enables you to actively appreciate every step of the way. You have the opportunity to engage in all the human senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Next time you are cooking try to engage each one of these senses and you will begin to notice all the beautiful colors and wonderful aromas. Most importantly you will learn to cook by taste and not by measurement. I believe this is where I fall short. A good home cook does not need to follow a recipe but instead uses it as inspiration, while allowing the senses to tell you what you need to do next.

I am constantly fascinated by some of the cooking tips and techniques I learn from cook books and more recently from my fundamental cooking classes at the French Mint - which I highly recommend. I have never given my spice shelf much thought other than to take note of which ones are running low. So here is a tip that might inspire all of you to label and replace old spices in hopes of a simple improvement in the flavor of your cooking. Always store your spices in airtight containers in a cool, dry, dark place. Also, you will want to label your spice containers with the date they were opened or filled with fresh spices, as the recommended lifespan is 6 months for ground or flaked spices and 12 months for whole spices.

As most of you know, curry powder is a blend of many different spices and can be made easily at home. In fact you can be assured that your home made blend of curry powder will have more flavor then the store bought variety as you will know your spices are not only fresh but quality. I have outlined a recipe for curry powder that you can use as a base in developing your own preferred curry blend.

Final tips in closing; let your taste buds help you to develop your curry (always keep a taste spoon near by). Be patient and let the flavors mingle; curry is always most flavorful on the second day. And last but not least, take the time to enjoy the delicious aroma wafting through your kitchen.

Curry Powder
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cardamom seeds
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 dried red chiles, broken in pieces, seeds discarded
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  1. Toast the whole spices and the chiles in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat, shaking the pan often to prevent burning. Toast for a couple of minutes until the spices smell fragrant. 
  2. In a clean coffee grinder, grind the toasted spices together to a fine powder. Add the turmeric and give it another quick buzz to combine. Use the spice blend immediately, or store in a sealed jar for as long as 1 month. (Yield: about 1/2 cup) 
Yellow Split Pea Dhal

Note: I soaked my split peas for 8 hours prior to cooking.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pecan Logs

Your not living if your not indulging in the odd treat now and then! Of course it helps to have friends to share these treats with, as we all know how easy it can be to overindulge.

If you like pecans you will surely love these cookies. I am a little mystified as to how Martha managed to get all the pecans to form such a nice crust as most of mine just fell off. And yes, I did press them in! My only thought is that maybe my pecans were too coarse. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Roasted Portobello and Caramelized Onion Pizza with Arugula Pesto

TGIF! I'm feeling a little giddy, not just because I'm on my second glass of wine but because Friday is my all time favorite day of the week! There is the wonderful feeling of freedom and the potential for two full days of me time. The possibilities are endless apart from those necessary commitments such as laundry and grocery shopping. At least I enjoy the latter!

This weekend I start my first of five fundamental cooking classes. I will be learning proper knife skills which I'm sure will greatly improve my amateur cooking skills and at the very least teach me how to sharpen my knives!

So enough about me. Whats for dinner? I am sure I have mentioned at least once before, I am a bit of a traditionalists when it comes to Friday. I tend to opt for easy finger food such as pizza and burgers. This time around pizza was on the menu and local arugula was in my fridge from my last market trip.

I have been waiting for the perfect moment to bust out an arugula pesto recipe. For those of you that have never tried arugula before it has a very fresh peppery taste to it. I quite like it, but I bet there are quite a few people that would much prefer traditional basil or sun dried tomato pesto (either would work for this recipe). We had an unfortunate mishap with the pizza dough so the crust you see pictured is just a store bought shell. This recipe yields two pizzas.

Arugula Pesto
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
  • 4 cups arugula, heavy stems removed
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 
  • Dough for two medium pizzas (I use my bread machine to make dough)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced
  • 3-4 vine ripened tomatoes, quartered
  • 4 large or 6 medium sized portobello mushrooms
  • 1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 cups cheese (I used Mozzarella and Asiago)
  1. To make pesto throw all ingredients into a food processor and process until smooth. Season with freshly ground sea salt and pepper.
  2. Preheat oven to 400°. 
  3. In a medium frying pan heat up 1.5 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. When oil is nice and hot add onions (should sizzle). Stir so all onions are coated with oil. Cover with lid and lower heat slightly. Cook until onions become very soft and turn caramel color, about 20-30 minutes. 
  4. While onions are cooking, spread tomatoes out on a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with minced garlic and freshly ground sea salt and pepper. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until wrinkly and soft. The aroma will be amazing!
  5. In a large frying pan heat up 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat (8 on my dial) add portobello mushrooms and allow them to fry until their juices are released. Squeeze 1 tsp of fresh lemon juice over mushrooms and stir with a pinch of freshly ground sea salt and pepper.
  6. Raise oven temperature to 500°.
  7. Roll pizza dough into two medium size crusts. Smear both with generous amount of pesto and top with tomatoes, onions and mushrooms. Sprinkle cheese.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes or until crust begins to brown.
Note: If using a pizza stone you will need to allow the oven to cool before placing stone in oven and heating up to 500°. If you add a cold pizza stone to a hot oven you risk cracking or shattering your stone. Also this method will allow the stone to distribute heat evenly.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tortilla Soup

If you haven't made tortilla chips before, do so now! They are easy to make and look really impressive in Mexican soups. Mike liked them so much I had to hide them so he didn't eat them all before the soup was ready!

You don't need to follow a recipe to make this soup, in fact I urge that you don't. I think you need to taste as you go along so you don't end up with a soup that is too spicy or too bland. If you like your soup more brothy add more stock. If you like it thicker add less. You can add bell peppers, corn or black beans just to name a few extra ingredients. You can make this soup vegan by omitting the cheese and sour cream and if you are a carnivore you can add bits of rotisserie chicken.

Tortilla Chips
  • 4 tortillas, julienned
  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced thinly
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-3 (depending on your spice preference) fresh jalapeno peppers, sliced
  • 2-4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 lime juiced (or more to taste)
  • 1 28 oz can chopped fire roasted tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3 tbsp goat cheese
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  1. To make tortilla chips; preheat oven to 400°, arrange tortilla strips on a baking sheet and bake in preheated oven until lightly browned, 3-5 minutes (or until brown and crispy). Set aside.
  2. Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and jalapeno and sauté 7 minutes, or until soft, stirring occasionally. Add garlic, and sauté 1 minute more.
  3. Stir in tomatoes and vegetable broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low. Cover, and simmer 25 minutes. Stir in cilantro and lime and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Place sliced avocado into bowls and ladle soup over top.
  5. Combine goat cheese and yogurt in small bowl. Swirl goat cheese mixture into each serving and top with crispy tortilla strips.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Kale Chips

These are so cool! They are crunchy, tasty and so addicting. I don't think I'm alone when it comes to craving salty potato chips. Now there is a guilt free way to enjoy chips and sneak in some really awesome nutrients thanks to Kale's super food complex! Watch the video twice and you will be making these in your sleep.

Laurene, many thanks for introducing these to me!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Eggs, Asparagus and Truffled Hash Browns

When there is nothing but asparagus and eggs in your fridge and a few straggler potatoes in your pantry. When it's Friday night and your exhausted from a week of work. There is a movie you've been waiting all week to see and you finally don't have to get up at the crack of dawn. And, when you are so hungry you're pretty sure your stomach is eating itself...well that might be exaggerating a bit. But what I'm trying to lead up to is the breakfast for dinner phenomenon. It's simply genius. I have to admit that I indulge in breakfast for dinner on a bi-monthly basis. It's quick, easy and so very satisfying!

This doesn't really require a recipe, but for inspiration sake I will roughly outline the instructions to serve two people.
  • 1 bunch asparagus, rinsed and trimmed
  • 2 large russet potatoes, washed and diced into small cubes
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1.5 tsp truffle oil
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • freshly ground salt and pepper
  • 2-3 eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 400°. In a medium size bowl stir together diced potatoes, truffle oil, 1 tsp olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Spread on to a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes or until soft.
  2. Meanwhile prepare your asparagus by spreading out on another baking dish. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in oven below potatoes for the last 10 minutes.
  3. Prepare your eggs any way you like. Serve over asparagus sprinkled with shavings of Parmesan or Asiago cheese with a side of hash browns.