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November 23rd, 2010 | 2 Comments »

Thanksgiving is just a few days away. Like you need to be reminded of that? We’ll be experiencing a pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm this year but I’m thinking it won’t hamper any of our plans. My family is all local, and hardy winter souls with dependable cars and a lifetime of snow experience. Plus it’s a homemade meal. They don’t miss that for anything.

My menu is planned and it’s always pretty simple. The family is not much for experimenting with rambunctious flair; they like their mashed potatoes, a good smoked turkey on the grill and plenty of gravy. We’ll drink wine, snack on cheese and crackers and enjoy each other’s company and really, that’s all that matters at all on a holiday, isn’t it?

Snacks are an important part of any gathering, and since I’m doing the cooking, someone else is bringing the pre-meal offerings. But if it’s me making something for nibbling, I like a bit of variety and spice.

For something delicate and different, this Herb Flatbread from a long ago Gourmet magazine is a simple and delicious option. It’s good enough to eat alone, or topped with a thin slice of sharp cheese. It’s a bit too delicate to spread much on, but nice to have in a cracker basket.

For something really different to spread on your dinner rolls, or a good hearty cracker, this Roasted Red Pepper butter is an awesome option. It’s rich, with the sharp tang of roasted peppers, and could even turn a pan of mashed potatoes into a unique delight.

And if you want to really stretch your wings and offer something bold, spicy and off the beaten track, this fragrant nut and spice mix called Dukka is a wonderful option for an appetizer. A fragrant crush of nuts, cumin and coriander seeds and a little coconut, it makes for a good crunchy texture against soft bread that’s been dipped in olive oil.

The  most important aspect of any holiday gathering, though, is to relax, enjoy the day and the company and don’t sweat out every detail. Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving is full of warm smiles, plenty of laughter and lots of delicious food.

Dukka- middle eastern spice mix
From July 2008 Food and Wine magazine

1/4 c. each raw pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts and cashews
1/4 c. coriander seeds
1/4 c. unsweetened coconut
1 1/2 T. cumin seeds
1/4 c. sesame seeds

In a 350 degree oven, roast the nuts until golden brown and fragrant, stirring occasionally, about 10-15 minutes. Empty into bowl to cool slightly. In a skillet over medium heat, toast coriander seeds until fragrant and browned, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from pan to bowl for cooling. Toast cumin and coconut until coconut is golden, 4-8 minutes. Cool with coriander. Toast sesame seeds until golden, 4-6 minutes. Cool separately.

In work bowl of food processor, combine nuts, coriander, cumin and coconut; pulse until coarsely chopped, or preferred consistency. Empty into large bowl and add sesame seeds, stirring to combine. Season with a little kosher salt and black pepper if desired. Keep in airtight container, either refrigerated or frozen.

Roasted Red Pepper Butter

1 c. room temp butter
7-oz jar roasted red pepper, drained and finely minced
2 t. milk
1 T. fresh chives, minced
1 T. fresh parsley, minced
1/4. c. fresh grated parmesan or asiago cheese
Salt and Pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and beat with a hand mixer until smooth and fluffy. Can be shaped into a log and chilled, or stored in a plastic container.

Hint: with the peppers, the finer you mince, the prettier and more spreadable the butter will be. I used a knife on mine but next time will use a food processor or chopper to get them even finer.

Herb Flatbread (from Gourmet magazine)
1 3/4 c. unbleached flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1-2 T. fresh herb of choice
1/2 c. water
1/3 c. oil

Heat oven to 450 with a pizza stone on middle rack. Combine dry ingredients and herbs. Make well in center and pour in oil and water. Stir with spoon until a soft dough forms. Turn out onto parchment paper and knead about 5-6 times to bring dough together. Can be divided into 2-3 small balls and rolled flat, or rolled out as one large circle. Drizzle olive oil over top, sprinkle with sea salt and more herb and transfer, parchment and all to heated stone. Bake until browned in spots and fragrant- time will depend on how thin dough is rolled. Remove from oven and cool (don’t cool on stone- it will continue to bake). Slice with pizza cutter and enjoy.

Glorious greens and Spinach Pesto

June 8th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

Maybe I was a rabbit in another life. Or maybe it’s just my normal summertime affliction, but greens have dominated my meals as of late.

What fuels this obsession, and it can certainly be called one, is the availability of the ‘live’ lettuce heads my grocer has started carrying. I found these last summer and the love affair was ignited like an inferno; a big bunch of varied lettuces are packaged with the root ball intact. They can be planted and grown at home, or like I do, simply chopped off at the root, washed and held in the fridge. The amount of lettuce one gets in these offerings is grand, the quality is terrific and the price is exceptional, a bargain if there ever was one. I’ve bought two at a time and happily dug into their depths for countless meals, relishing the ease, the taste and the light fare. The bonus is that it’s a locally grown product by Minnesota’s own Bushel Boy.

Still, I’m chomping at the bit to get into Market season, where farmers by the score sell buckets of fresh lettuces for insanely cheap prices. A dollar gets me a five-quart buckets worth of fresh lettuces, almost more than I can manage, but that never seems to stop me. Once June is ever-present and the weather beckons me to other options, ones that don’t include standing over a stove, having fresh greens in the fridge gives me endless options for meals. I’m satisfied to have a plate of leafy goodness that hides all sorts of other crunchy vegetable options, a grain and legume for protein with a simple squeeze of a fresh lime and a dash of balsamic, and maybe a piece of chicken for Griffin to help his carnivorous cravings. With these offerings, and a few decent salad dressings, my young man surprised us all recently, including himself, when he ate a grilled chicken salad with amazing gusto and exclaimed  “That was the best salad I’ve ever had. And I never expected to use the words ‘best’ and ‘salad’ together ever!!”

Well, neither did we, and it was an awfully nice thing to hear.

So it was with great anticipation that I awaited the start of one of my favorite local satellite Farmers Markets and drove towards it with excitement. Imagine my disappointment when the normally over-crowded parking lot where it is held instead was home to just about half a dozen vendors, with only one selling any type of green stuff. I felt like a slowly deflating balloon, but shouldered on, purchasing a sackful of organic spring greens, spinach and radishes. At least it was a good start, and while I was heading back home with my goodies, the sack of spinach, crammed full of dark green curly leaves, gave me the idea of making Spinach Pesto and then dinner was born.

organic spinach 002

Pesto is a favorite around here, well- of the adults anyway. A few summers in the past, I had a garden bounty of basil that I turned into approximately 20 cups of pesto that I coveted in the freezer for months to come.  I’ve been slow to experiment with other forms of pureed greens, but no more; this spinach pesto, combined with some remaining roasted red peppers that I found in the fridge, was so light, delicious and flavorful that now the craving for pesto, in any form, can be squelched with nary an effort outside of cleaning a bounty of my favorite leafy green.
spinach pesto pasta 004spinach pesto pasta 005

And it turned a plain box of pasta into a superb weeknight meal.

spinach pesto pasta 010

Spinach Pesto
by Kate

4 c. washed spinach leaves, stemmed
1/3 c. olive oil
3 T. toasted pine nuts
1 clove fresh garlic, chopped

Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth, scraping down sides as needed. This pesto can be frozen for quite some time with only minimal loss of flavor. Do not add cheese to pesto if planning to freeze, otherwise, add to taste your preferred hard cheese.

For the Pasta-
Heat water to cook pasta.

I diced two ripe tomatoes and sliced a medium shallot. Sautè the shallot in olive oil, in a deep sided pan, until soft and starting to turn slightly golden. Reduce heat and add tomato, cooking over low heat until it begins to break down only slightly. Stir minimally.

When the pasta is ready, lift all the pasta with tongs straight from the cooking water and into the saute pan. Stir to coat with the tomato mixture, then spoon in about a half cup of the prepared pesto. Using a little of the pasta water, thin the pesto slightly and toss to coat. Add more pesto if so desired. Top with grated cheese and toasted pine nuts and season to taste.

I stirred about a cup of chopped spinach leaves into this as well for a little more color and texture.

Simple Tip of the Day:
When you use spaghetti for a pasta dish, do you break apart the strands before placing them in the boiling water? Does tiny shards of broken spaghetti fly all over the kitchen?

Try this instead:
spinach pesto pasta 007

Leave the pasta in the box and bend the box over the edge of your counter. All the broken pieces stay in the box, eliminating the annoyance of finding them scattered around your kitchen for days to come. Also, if you salt your pasta water, pour the salt directly into the box with the pasta while you wait for the water to boil. That way, you’ll never forget to add it.

Pesto Magic!
Pesto is so endlessly versatile. Have you ever stirred pesto into burger meat? It’s one of my favorite ways to use it. The oil helps to keep the meat moist and it gives the finished product huge flavor. Griffin won’t eat pesto on pasta, but when I turn the remains into a grilled and fragrant burger, he spares no restraint in consuming it without question.

Pesto is also wonderful in a grilled cheese. We didn’t get around to utilizing this method with the spinach pesto this time, even with wonderful Jalapeno Cheddar bread available as a base, but in the foreseeable future, I’m pretty certain this will be dinner.

Spread some pesto on slices of french bread, a pocketed ciabatta or crusty semolina sesame and sprinkle a little grated hard cheese over the top. Try something different than parmesan or asiago- maybe manchego?- and then place the slices under the broiler for a few quick minutes. Watch carefully! This is an excellent appetizer. Thick slices of fresh tomato can also be spread with pesto and cheese and broiled to a sizzling snack.

Roasted vegetables get a nice enhancement from being served with pesto, especially potatoes.

Pesto salad dressing is wonderful. A tablespoon or two can be added to your standard oil/vinegar mix, or thinned slightly and simply tossed with your greens.