July 12, 2017 Swiss Chard Quesadillas

Tuesday evening is Joe’s night to work late and although we don’t sit down for dinner when he comes home, I like to have a little snack ready. We sip a little wine, catch up on the days activities, maybe watch some television in the kitchen. This quesadilla was inspired by what I had in the fridge and the garden that summer evening. I have used spinach in a quesadilla in the past, why not some Swiss chard this time? A little sweet onion, sautéed until caramelized would be a good contrast to the earthy flavor of chard. All I needed now was a wrapper and some queso. I didn’t have tortillas on hand but I did have some sandwich wraps that could fill in. I always have several varieties of cheese in the fridge, the sharp flavor of cheddar worked well here.

We are still in the process of thinning the chard plants out. They are supposed to be 9-12 inches apart so it didn’t take long to pick what I needed. The chard is still relatively young so it wouldn’t need the long cooking that late summer chard does. I discuss basic chard preparation in this post. I also used some of the finely chopped stems for texture and their brilliant color.

I think a sweet onion works best with this flavor combination. I used a Vidalia, but whatever variety your market is featuring this week is fine. Sweet onions are low in pyruvic acid, the component that makes your eyes tear. I recently read that one of the best ways to store Vidalias is wrapped separately in a paper towel and stored in the refrigerator. I will be trying this method out.

If you are making a quesadilla you can’t forget the queso. If you prefer not to use cheddar, a Jack cheese would be a good choice too. I served the quesadillas plain, sour cream or a tomatillo salsa would be a good accompaniment. Next time I might add a few slivers of pickled jalapeno to the mix. Cooked black beans would be a good addition or some sautéed mushrooms. This recipe is just based on what I had on hand that evening. Golden crisp on the outside with healthy greens, a little sweetness from the onion with the creaminess of cheddar, this is a winning combination for a quick and delicious light meal or snack.

 

Swiss Chard Quesadillas

Makes two 8″ quesadillas

Ingredients

  • 16-18 medium to small chard leaves
  • 1 medium sweet onion
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Butter
  • Tortillas or wraps
  • ½-1 cup shredded cheese, I used cheddar, mozzarella or jack works too

Directions

  1. Wash chard leaves in several changes of water. Separate the chard leaves from the stems. Chop the leaves roughly. You should have 5 cups loosely packed leaves and ½-1 cup finely diced chard stems.
  2. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a 10 inch non stick skillet over medium high heat. Add stems and a sprinkle of salt and cook until softened, 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the chard leaves and the water that still clings to the leaves and cook until wilted. Add a tablespoon more of water if necessary to wilt the leaves. Move stems and leaves to a plate and keep warm.
  4. Slice a medium onion very thinly, a mandolin or food processor is good for this. You should have 3 cups loosely packed thin slices.
  5. Wipe out the pan, add another tablespoon of oil and heat over medium high heat, cook onion until softened and brown. Reduce heat to medium if necessary. This should make about 1 cup of caramelized onion.
  6. Let the skillet cool off a bit and wipe out with a paper towel. Over medium high heat melt a teaspoon or so of butter and a little olive oil. When the butter is melted, add the first wrap or tortilla, spread out one half of the chard over this as evenly as possible.
  7. Evenly spread the cooked onions over the chard and then sprinkle the cheese over. Place the second wrap over the cheese and press down with your hand or a spatula to melt the cheese and make it adhere.
  8. Cook for 2-3 minutes on the first side, it’s okay to peek to make sure it isn’t browning too much. With the help of the spatula, flip and cook on the other side, about 2 minutes, adding a little more butter and oil if necessary.
  9. Move the quesadilla to a platter and keep warm, repeat cooking process with the second quesadilla. Cut quesadillas into wedges 4 to 8 pieces as desired.  Serve warm.
Chop the stems.
Sweet onion sautéed until golden brown.
Sautéed chard and stems are first to go on.
Then the sautéed onion.
Then a sprinkling of cheese.
A second tortilla or wrapper in my case, goes on top. Press down to help the cheese adhere. This was taken after this first quick flip.
Let it get golden brown.

July 4, 2017 Quick Pickled Baby Beets

The hot days of July are upon us so it’s time to harvest the root crops planted in early spring. that are still in the ground. We said good-bye to the radishes several weeks ago after the first heat wave of the summer. Warm temperatures cause radishes to bolt and become woody in texture. They will be planted at the end of summer for a fall harvest. The first planting of Japanese turnips have been harvested and now it’s time to harvest the rest of the beets.The”life cycle” of our beet consumption began with very small thinnings we add raw to our salads. The second thinning produces slightly larger leaves the size of spinach that are sautéed in olive oil with a little garlic and red pepper flakes for a wonderful side dish. Baby beets are sliced as thinly as possible or julienned and added to green salads.The Chiogga beets look pretty in salads, a slice looks like a candy cane bulls-eye and the Golden beets bring a pop of bright yellow.

I love beets, especially pickled ones. I have canned pickled beets in past summers for long storage, this year I thought I would make refrigerator pickles. Quick pickled baby beets couldn’t be simpler to make. These refrigerator pickles require very little prep and they are ready to eat after a few hours in the brine. Divide your beets by colors or they will bleed into each other. The brine is a touch sweet with a little spice. These pickles will last for several months in the refrigerator.

Just picked beets from the garden.
After a good clean up.

 

Quick Pickled Baby Beets

Makes 2 pint jars

Ingredients

  • 1 lb baby beets,  separated into colors
  • 1 c white wine vinegar
  • 2 t kosher salt
  • ½ c sugar
  • 2 T honey
  • Fresh ginger slices
  • 1 t coriander seed
  • 1 t black peppercorns
Trimmed and ready for pickling.

Directions

  1. Wash beets well, trim off the leaves and leave about an inch of stem on the beets. Separate beets into colors if you don’t want them to bleed into each other.
  2. Bring a medium pan of water to a boil. You can put all the beets of one variety in the pan, start checking the smaller beets at the two minute mark. Beets should be easily pricked with the tip of a knife, larger beets will take a few more minutes.
  3. Drain beets well in a colander. Place in a heat proof container like a canning jar, separating out the varieties.
  4. Combine vinegar, salt, sugar, honey and spices and bring to a boil. Pour the hot canning liquid over the beets and set aside to cool. Once cool, store in the refrigerator.

 

December 2, 2016 Tuna Poke

dsc_8340aOne of the highlights of last summer was our trip to the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen Colorado. It is touted as America’s premier culinary event, and certainly lived up to those expectations. We enjoyed three days of cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and best of all, the grand tasting pavilion. It was there that we, and 5000 other fanatical foodies sipped, savored and sampled our way around the massive white tents. One area we were certain to stop at during each grand tasting was to sample the offerings of Food and Wine magazines best new chefs. Everything we tried was imaginative and delicious as well. Not coincidentally, the July issue of Food and Wine magazine offered recipes from each of these up and coming chefs.

With memories of the wonderful small plates we enjoyed at the classic, it was time to try some of their dishes for ourselves. This summer I tried the rather ambitious, summer squash with lemon curd and citrus vinaigrette from chef Brad Kilgore. Joe was more interested in the Tuna Poke on Nori Crackers. This very simple version is from Ravi Kapur, chef at Liholiho Yacht Club, a San Francisco restaurant with Hawaiian, Indian and Chinese influences.

If you are not familiar with it, poke, pronounced POH-keh is a raw fish salad. Poke, means chop or chunk, which refers to the bite sized pieces the fish is cut into. It is commonplace in Hawaii, found everywhere from the deli departments of grocery stores to fine dining establishments.

The first time we tried it just for ourselves and the poke passed our taste test with flying colors. The nori crackers are a nice “cheffy” touch but speaking on behalf of the cleanup crew, messy and not necessary for the home cook. For this recipe, make the poke with sushi grade ahi tuna from the most reputable vendor you can find. The spicy mayo has only three ingredients, tamari, sriracha and mayo. So it’s very simple, finely chopped tuna, scallion, ginger, jalapeno, tamari and dark sesame oil combined in a bowl and seasoned with salt. Spoon the poke on black sesame crackers, I like the ones from Edward and Sons, easily found in large supermarkets. Dollop or pipe some of the spicy mayo on top. Garnish with some Asian microgreens and a few toasted sesame seeds. We have served it at two parties so far this year, both to rave reviews.

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Tuna Poke

Serves 6-8

Ingredients for the Spicy Mayo

  • ¼ c good quality mayonnaise
  • ¼ t tamari
  • 1 t sriracha (or to taste)

Ingredients for the Poke

  • 12-oz sushi grade tuna cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 4 t minced scallions
  • 2 t minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 t seeded and minced jalapeno
  • 1 t tamari
  • ½ t toasted sesame oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Black sesame crackers
  • Asian microgreens and toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Directions for the Spicy Mayo

  1. In a small bowl whisk all the ingredients together until smooth.

Directions for the Poke

  1. In a large bowl, fold all the ingredients except the garnishes together; season with salt.
  2. Spoon the poke on the black sesame crackers and dollop with some of the spicy mayo. Garnish with sprouts and sesame seeds.

November 23, 2016 Butternut Squash Quesadillas

dsc_8327aAn often requested hors d’oeuvre from my catering days were butternut squash quesadillas with chipotle lime dipping sauce. They were a lighter alternative to classics like miniature beef wellingtons or scallops wrapped in bacon. A recipe I originally found in Gourmet magazine and now on the Epicurious website, it seemed to be universally liked by everyone. Crunchy on the outside, sweet roasted butternut squash and melted cheese inside, they disappeared as quickly as wait staff could get them out to hungry guests. The flavors of the roasted squash, onion and garlic are a perfect combination with creamy jack cheese, and sweet red pepper.

Begin the recipe by roasting squash cubes, an unpeeled onion cut in segments and several cloves of  garlic. Since we had a large butternut squash crop this year, I am getting faster at peeling and chopping my own squash. But if you don’t want to take the time, you can purchase butternut squash that has already been peeled and cubed. It is considerably more expensive for the convenience.  For the best results, roast cubes rather than baking squash halves . Although the roasted squash will be puréed before it is spread on the quesadilla, roasting cubed squash and the onion, allows the natural sugars in the vegetables to caramelize and enhances the flavor.

On a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle the squash cubes, onion and garlic with a neutral oil (vegetable, safflower) and toss lightly. Spread them out as evenly as possible so the squash will roast, not steam. Halfway through the cooking time use a plastic spatula to toss the cubes around a bit to maximize the surface area that gets browned. The garlic will be done first, use tongs to remove it to a work surface. Continue to roast the squash and onion until tender, as much as 15 more minutes, I like to check about every five minutes or so at this point. The squash will be soft and browned in places. Remove the peel from the onion and the garlic.

While the squash is cooking you will have time to chop the red pepper. Cut it into small dice, it will make for neater pieces when you cut the quesadillas. Place chopped pepper and jack cheese into separate bowls at your work station.

In a food processor or blender, purée the squash, onion and garlic until not quite smooth, leave it just a little chunky and transfer to a bowl. On a work surface spread out four tortillas. Next to the tortillas, place your bowls of squash puree, pepper and onion. Since you will be using one-fourth of each item on the tortillas, it’s relatively easy to “guesstimate” how much to use. Spread the puree first, evenly, almost but not quite to the edges, then sprinkle on the red pepper and then the cheese. Top with a second tortilla and press lightly to adhere. Spread a light coating of softened, not melted butter on either side of each tortilla. This step is little messy, you can put a sheet of waxed paper on two large baking sheet to cut down on the butter getting all over your work surface.

Heat a 7 inch non stick skillet over medium high heat until hot and cook the quesadillas. While the first side is cooking, press down lightly on the quesadilla so that everything sticks together, it will make the flipping easier. Cook the quesadillas about 3 minutes per side, you can lift up a little to see if you have achieved the light toasty brown color. I use a plastic spatula to flip them over, with a little help from my hand. Repeat with the remaining quesadillas and regulate the heat as necessary. Transfer to a warm oven while you are cooking the remaining quesadillas. Cut the quesadillas into 6 to 8 wedges, I have found a pizza wheel makes the neatest cuts.

Serve quesadillas with chipotle lime dipping sauce. Years ago when I first made this recipe it was difficult to obtain chipotles, now they are available at any supermarket. Chipotle peppers are smoked and dried jalapenos that are marinated in a tangy sweet red sauce. A little chipotle goes a long way. It is better to add a little at first to see how it tastes. The sour cream will mellow the chili out and the lime adds a nice contrast.

The dip can be made ahead, and even though the recipe doesn’t say so, the quesadillas can be made ahead. Reheat the quesadillas in a warm oven for about 10 minutes or until they feel hot. The important thing to remember whether fresh or reheated is to let the quesadilla rest for a few minutes before cutting. Too hot and the filling oozes out and is a mess to eat.

I have always used the recommended flour tortillas, I’m sure other varieties would work too. If you like your food spicy, pepper jack cheese could be substituted or any other good melting cheese. They would make a good vegetarian entree or a light lunch along with a green salad.

Butternut Squash Quesadillas

Makes 24 to 32 pieces

Ingredients

  • 5 c butternut squash, peeled and cut into ¾ inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, unpeeled and cut into eights
  • 1 large garlic clove, unpeeled
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 8- 5 to 6-inch flour tortillas
  • 1 c chopped red pepper
  • 1 c coarsely grated jack cheese
  • ½ stick unsalted softened butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Arrange squash cubes, onion and garlic in a single layer on a shallow baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and toss lightly to coat.
  3. Roast vegetables in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the garlic is softened. Transfer garlic to cutting board.
  4. Roast squash and onion for an additional 15 minutes or until tender. Discard peels from the onion and garlic.
  5. Purée the squash, onion and garlic in a food processor. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6.  On a work surface, spread out four tortillas. Spread one-fourth of the squash purée on each of the four tortilla. Sprinkle each tortilla with one fourth each of  the red pepper and the cheese. Top each quesadilla with a plain tortilla, pressing gently together. Spread each side of the quesadillas with a thin layer of softened butter.
  7. Heat a medium non stick skillet over medium high heat until hot and cook quesadillas, 1 at a time until golden, about 3 minutes on each side, transferring to a cutting board.
  8. Cut each quesadilla into 6 to 8 wedges and serve with chipotle lime dip.

Chipotle Lime Dip

Makes one cup

Ingredients

  • 1 canned chili in adobo, minced
  • 2 t fresh lime juice
  • 1 c sour cream

Directions

  1. In a small bowl  stir the chili and lime juice into the sour cream until well combined. Can be made ahead,  cover and chill.

 

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Spread out squash, onion and garlic on a parchment lined baking sheet.
After roasting
After roasting the vegetables.
Process until not quite smooth, you want the butternut squash to have some texture.
Process until not quite smooth, you want the butternut squash to have some texture.
Spread the puree evenly over four tortillas to about a quarter inch from the edges.
Spread the puree evenly over four tortillas to about a half inch from the edges.
Next is the finely diced red pepper.
Next is the finely diced red pepper.
Top it with an even layer of Jack cheese.
Top it with an even layer of Jack cheese.
And another tortilla.
And another tortilla. Press down so everything sticks together.
Cook individual tortillas in a non stick pan on both sides until they are golden brown.
Cook individual tortillas in a non stick pan on both sides until they are golden brown.

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October 30, 2016 Sweet Pickled Celery

dsc_8190aAs mentioned in my previous post, from day one, the traditional accompaniments for buffalo wings have been celery sticks and blue cheese dressing. Last week, we were pleasantly surprised with the sweet pickled celery served with the buffalo cauliflower at The Vault. It requires no special canning equipment and you can make it in small batches. No delayed gratification here, you can enjoy it as soon as the canning liquid cools.

This quick and easy recipe is courtesy of celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay. I have been enjoying the most recent season of Ramsay’s reality cooking competition, MasterChef, while I exercise on the elliptical machine. For some reason our new Xfinity cable box saved several seasons of MasterChef as something we might enjoy. Well I am happy to say “cable box, you get me.” With all of his swearing and in your face style with the contestants, I forgotten what an amazing chef he is.

This recipe is from Ramsay’s Ultimate Home Cooking cookbook and was an accompaniment for buttermilk fried chicken. Interesting, since the episode I watched today featured a fried chicken challenge for the losing team on MasterChef. No chicken here, just pickled celery.

Start with a head of celery, separate into individual ribs or stalks, remove any strings and wash and rinse well. Cut celery on the diagonal into one inch lengths and place in pint jars with lids that have been sterilized with hot soapy water. Over medium high heat make a simple syrup of equal parts 1 cup water to 1 cup sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add peppercorns, herbs and vinegar and bring mixture to a boil. Carefully pour the hot liquid over the celery filled jars. The celery will cook a bit, shrink and resettle from the hot liquid. You will be able to add more celery when this happens. When the liquid cools, the celery is ready to eat. It will be even better if you have time to refrigerate it overnight.

Great as an accompaniment to buffalo cauliflower, an antipasto platter or chopped finely and added to chicken or egg salad.

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Sweet Pickled Celery

Ingredients

  • 1 medium bunch celery
  • 1 c water
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 t black peppercorns
  • 1 t mustard seeds
  • 1 t fennel seeds
  • ½ t cloves
  • ½ t salt
  • 6 T white wine vinegar

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Directions

  1.  Cut celery into individual stalks, wash and cut into one inch long diagonal pieces and place into sterilized pint canning jars. Fill the jars to the top. Keep extra celery aside to add later.
  2. Create a simple syrup of one cup water and one cup sugar. Add to a medium size pot along with the peppercorn, mustard and fennel seeds, cloves, salt and white wine vinegar. Over medium high heat, stir to dissolve sugar and bring to a rolling boil.
  3. Carefully pour the hot liquid into the canning jars. Wait a minute or two, the hot liquid will cook the celery a bit and shrink it, leaving more room for additional celery left over from the first step. Pack the celery in tightly, covered with the pickling liquid.
  4. As soon as the liquid cools, the celery can be eaten.  Even better if you refrigerate it overnight.
The final product served with blue cheese sauce and pickled celery.
The final product served with blue cheese sauce and pickled celery.

October 26, 2016 Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

dsc_8213aInspiration for the recipes at Sue’s Seasonal Palate comes from many sources. Sometimes it’s a magazine article I’ve read, an intriguing recipe from the internet or a dish I’ve recently tried in a restaurant. The latter was the case for this recipe.

Last weekend we got together with some long time friends at a popular brewpub called The Vault. It’s located in a former bank built in 1889 in the historic borough of Yardley Pennsylvania. The owners of the Vault bring their own brand of sophistication to the brewpub concept and have turned it into an experience that is unique. No deafening pop or rock music or a bank of televisions tuned to the latest sports programs, they have chosen to feature live and recorded jazz that enhances the relaxed atmosphere and is more conducive to conversation. The beer is brewed on premises and the offerings from the kitchen are made in-house or sourced locally. Both the kitchen and the brewery are open to view. Though I am more of a wine drinker I really enjoyed the Sweet Potato Ale. The menu includes a nice selection of starters along with sandwiches, interesting salads and pizzas from their wood fired oven. The menu is definitely a cut above the average pub fare and one of their appetizers made me want to recreate it at home.

Our server suggested we start off with an appetizer of buffalo cauliflower to share for the table while we were pondering our other food choices. For a brief history of the buffalo wing we only need to go back to 1964 where they originated in, no surprise here, Buffalo, New York. The story has several versions but the most popular and my favorite, is that one evening, Teressa Bellissimo, co-owner of the Anchor Bar was challenged to whip up a late night snack for her son and his friends. “Mother Teressa” found some large chicken wings that had been deemed too meaty for the stockpot. Bellissimo chopped the wings into two sections, deep-fried them and tossed them with some hot sauce. She served them with celery that was part of the Anchor Bar’s antipasto and some of the house blue cheese dressing. The wings were reported to be an immediate local success and the first official Chicken Wing Day was celebrated on July 29, 1977. Over fifty years later they are a national favorite consumed everywhere from bars, to sporting venues to “competitive eating events” like the Philadelphia Wing Bowl and Buffalo’s annual National Buffalo Wing Festival.

It wasn’t enough for cauliflower to be a substitute for mashed potatoes, couscous and even pizza crust, the versatile vegetable takes the place of chicken wings in this recipe. The Vault’s buffalo cauliflower is described on the menu as buttermilk cauliflower, house buffalo sauce, chive sour cream and the real surprise, sweet pickled celery. The calorie count for six pieces of deep-fried chicken wings at one website I looked at was 616. Though I have nothing against traditional buffalo wings I also thought this recipe was worth the somewhat healthier do-over.

Start with a large head of cauliflower and break into chicken wing size florets. I was aiming for 1½ in by 2½ inches in length, you should have 5 to 6 cups of “wings” and probably more. Some recipes I found called for the cauliflower to be roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper. I wanted the florets to have a bit more substance so I coated the cauliflower with a simple batter of flour, milk and spices. Substitutions can be made here, almond milk for vegans, rice flour for a gluten-free diet. If you use rice flour as I did, you may need to thin the batter out a bit more.

I tried at first to dip the pieces by using the handle at the bottom of my cauliflower “wing”. This turned out to be a very messy approach., It is easier to use tongs to dip the individual pieces in the batter. Dip each piece thoroughly, lift out and allow the excess batter to drip back into the bowl. To minimize clean up, line the baking sheet with foil or parchment. Since several of the blogs I read mentioned excess batter clumping up and sticking to the baking sheet, I chose to place the florets on a wire rack thoroughly sprayed with Pam over the baking sheet. Preheat oven to 425°F, (convection heat) and bake for about twenty minutes or until golden. I flipped the pieces halfway through the baking process.

While the cauliflower is baking, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the hot sauce and stir to combine. In a medium bowl, combine the cooked cauliflower and sauce, toss gently to combine. Place the cauliflower back on the baking sheet and bake for another 10 minutes, until the cauliflower begins to crisp. Serve immediately with plain or sweet pickled celery and blue cheese dressing or sauce.

Cauliflower pieces shouldn't be too small.
Cauliflower pieces shouldn’t be too small.
A simple batter of flour, spices and milk.
Ingredients for the batter.
A simple batter of flour, spices and milk.
A simple batter of flour, spices and milk.
Dip cauliflower pieces in the batter. Place on a wire rack above the parchment lined baking tray for easy clean up.
Dip cauliflower pieces in the batter. Place on a wire rack above the parchment lined baking tray for easy clean up.
While the cauliflower is baking, stir together melted butter and hot sauce.
While the cauliflower is baking, stir together melted butter and hot sauce.
After the cauliflower has baked to a golden brown, mix with hot sauce and butter.
After the cauliflower has baked to a golden brown, mix with hot sauce and butter. Bake until crisp.
The final product served with blue cheese sauce and pickled celery.
The final product served with blue cheese sauce and pickled celery.

Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

Serves four or two very hungry  people

Ingredients

  • 1 c flour, can be all-purpose, whole wheat, brown rice etc.
  • 1 c milk, almond milk or water
  • 1 t  garlic powder
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ t ground paprika
  • 1 head cauliflower,cut into florets
  • ½ c hot sauce (I used Franks Original)
  • 3 T butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Spray a large wire rack with cooking spray to place over the baking sheet.
  2. Combine flour, water, spices, salt and pepper in a large bowl and stir until smooth. Using tongs, dip cauliflower pieces in the batter. Coat well, lift out and allow the excess to drip back into the bowl.
  3. Arrange cauliflower in a single layer on the wire rack that is on top of the baking sheet.  Bake 20 minutes or until golden.
  4. In a small saucepan, melt the butter, add the hot sauce and stir to combine. Pour evenly over cauliflower. Toss gently until cauliflower is evenly coated.
  5. Bake 10 minutes or until cauliflower begins to crisp, rearranging florets occasionally if needed. Serve with celery and blue cheese dressing.

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April 26, 2016 Spinach and Mushroom Quesadillas with Tomatillo Salsa

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Still inspired by an abundance of, you guessed it, spinach, I was looking for yet another way to use our bounty. Inspiration this time came to me in the form of a quesadilla. Crispy on the outside and melted and creamy inside, spinach adds a healthy component to this popular dish. Quesadillas are easy and delicious any time of day, as a quick snack, lunch, even for breakfast. To accompany the quesadillas I made a simple tomatillo salsa.

With the exception of the cilantro and garlic, the ingredients for the tomatillo salsa came straight from our freezer. Preparing tomatillos for the freezer is easy, I remove the papery husks and freeze them whole and raw in quart bags. A previously frozen tomatillo will not hold up to roasting but are fine in raw preparations like this. The Numex Joe E. Parker pepper used in this recipe is an Anaheim style pepper with a long slender shape and mild heat. We have an interesting variety of frozen hot peppers from gardens past,  milder ones like Joe E Parker and poblanos to hotter ones, cayenne, jalapeno, serrano and Thai hot. The surprising thing is that freezing them does not diminish their heat in the least. When a recipe calls for several hot peppers, I start with one, it is much easier to add heat than to take it away.

As always, picking the spinach takes more time than most of the steps in the recipe. The filling is easy to make and used twelve cups of fresh spinach, a real plus for me. If you don’t have an abundance of spinach in your garden, use bagged baby spinach. The slightly more assertive flavor of cremini mushrooms compliments the spinach nicely.

The options for cheese are endless. I used pepper jack and cheddar cheese, a good melting cheese is important here. Choose a large heavy bottom skillet to cook quesadillas. Just a light brushing of oil in the pan is all that’s necessary to brown the tortilla and keeps it from getting greasy. You can either fold one tortilla in half or stack one on top of another. I press lightly on the quesadilla in the pan to allow the cheese to melt a bit and hold the layers together before it is flipped.  The pizza wheel is the perfect tool to cut it into portions. Finished quesadillas can be held in an oven on low heat for 20 minutes.

Spinach and Mushroom Quesadillas

Makes four 8″ quesadillas

Ingredients for the filling

  • 1½ T olive oil or bacon drippings
  • 8 oz mushrooms, button or cremini, stemmed and sliced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • ¼ c finely chopped red onion
  • 12 c spinach, large stems removed

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Directions for the filling

  1. In a large skillet heat the oil or bacon drippings over medium high heat.
  2. Add the mushrooms, stirring constantly, until they begin to brown.
  3. Add the onion and garlic and continue cooking, stirring frequently until it looks translucent.
  4.  Add the spinach by the handful, wilting it before adding more, until it is all used.  Do not overcook.  Season with salt to taste.

Ingredients for assembling the quesadillas

  • Eight 8″ soft tortilla or taco shells, I used whole grain
  • Olive Oil
  • 1½-2 c grated cheese, I used a combination of pepper jack and cheddar

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Directions for assembling and cooking the quesadillas

  1. Preheat oven to 180°F.
  2. Place four tortillas on two baking sheets, divide evenly the spinach and mushroom filling and the grated cheese between them.
  3. Top with the four remaining tortillas and lightly press to seal.
  4. Place a 12″ heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat.  Brush the skillet lightly with olive oil.
  5. Place the quesadillas in the skillet one at a time, pressing down lightly but firmly and cook for about 3 minutes on each side. You can peek by lifting up with a spatula to see if it is getting golden brown. Transfer the cooked quesadillas to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven, lightly covered with foil.
  6. Slice each quesadilla into 6-8 wedges, a pizza cutter works well here, and serve hot with tomatillo salsa or your own favorite.

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Tomatillo Salsa

Ingredients

  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed and seeded and quartered
  • 1 Numex pepper, stemmed and seeded and quartered
  • ¼ c roughly chopped red onion
  • 1 lb tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut into quarters
  • ¾ c loosely packed, lightly chopped cilantro

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Directions

  1. With a food processor or blender running, drop in the garlic cloves one at a time letting each piece get finely chopped before adding the next. Add the peppers, onion,  tomatillos and cilantro and process until smooth.

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November 12, 2015 Okonomiyaki or Japanese Pancake

DSC_5036a“Okimiaki” was the one word message Joe sent me one Tuesday night during his office hours. My response, “huh?” seemed appropriate, poor guy, he has been working too much I thought. His response was “Japanese pancake made w cabbage- I want to make them”.

Okay, that was a new one for me, I thought I knew quite a bit about Japanese cooking so I did what everyone does these days, I Googled it. No appropriate response for the okimiaki spelling but when I googled “Japanese pancake” I started getting some information.

Joe heard about the Japanese pancake from a patient of his who is a chef and a writer. She and some friends were making them for a party. It was something new for both of us. I have quite a few Japanese cookbooks that go beyond the typical sushi and sashimi recipes, none gave any reference to Japanese pancakes or okonomiyaki as they are also called. I even called on a friend who travelled to Japan this past spring to see if she could give me any insight but she was not familiar with this now puzzling dish.

I learned that okonomiyaki is Japanese street food made popular in the cities of Osaka and Hiroshima. Because of it’s shape, it is sometimes referred to as Japanese pizza or pancake in the United States. The ingredients in an Osaka style okonomiyaki are mixed together while the ingredients in a Hiroshima style are layered and topped with noodles and a fried egg. Okonomi is translated “what you like” and “yaki” is grilled or cooked, so okonomiyaki is essentially “cooked as you like it.”  The one thing they all have in common is a pancake like batter and shredded cabbage, the rest is up to the cook to make the pancake “as they like it”. There is special okonomiyaki flour, the only difference I could find in it were the special seasonings and possibly some powdered yamaimo, Japanese yam. Yamaimo’s gelatinous texture gives the pancake added fluffiness.

The “as you like it” aspect can get interesting and I have seen recipes include shrimp, squid, pork belly, cheese and vegetarian options. How you top your pancake is equally important and might include chopped scallions, sesame seeds with a flourish of okonomi or tonkatsu sauce and Kewpie mayonnaise. Bottled tonkatsu with the red bull dog on the label is also labeled “vegetable and fruit sauce” but you have to read down the list of ingredients a bit to find either. I presume the brown color is from the prune paste. There are also recipes on line for tonkatsu sauce. You will find Kewpie mayonnaise on the Asian aisle in larger supermarkets. It has a Kewpie doll with outstretched arms on the package. It differs from our good old fashioned Hellman’s with it’s use of rice vinegar, giving it more tang and MSG to up the umami flavor.

I spent quite a bit of time contemplating what recipe to use. I wanted to stay fairly basic for our first attempt and decided on an Osaka style recipe from Serious Eats. We, or as I should really say, Joe made them on a sashimi night which is a weekend night when we recreate some of our favorite sashimi recipes using salmon, scallops and tuna. His efforts turned out quite good, the first was topped with bacon, then he got a little more creative and topped the second with seared tuna. We finished them off with tonkatsu sauce, mayo (not Kewpie) with sriracha, toasted sesame seeds and pickled ginger. The combination of the crispy exterior and soft interior is quite addictive and very filling. We had enough for a breakfast okonomiyaki for Joe and smaller ones for dinner the next day. Would we try them again? Not every week, but definitely.

Okonomiyaki

Makes 4 large pancakes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups dashi or low-sodium chicken stock
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 8 cups finely chopped cabbage-we used a combination of green and red
  • 2 cups chopped raw shrimp or baby shrimp
  • 8 scallions, sliced, divided
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 8 slices bacon, sliced in half- the second, slices of seared tuna
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Kewpie Mayonnaise or sriracha mayo
  • Okonomiyaki or tonkatsu sauce
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • Pickled ginger

Directions

  1. In a large bowl whisk together flour, dashi or stock, and eggs. Add chopped cabbage and mix so that the cabbage is gently folded into the batter. Fold in shrimp and scallion whites then season with salt.
  2. Heat 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat until shimmering. Add 1/4 of the batter, gently pushing the batter down with a spatula until flattened. Cook until underside is browned, about 4 minutes, then place 4 pieces of halved bacon on the top side. Gently flip the pancake so that the side with the bacon is now cooking. Cook until the bacon is crisp and the pancake is cooked through, about 5 more minutes. Serve immediately with mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce, toasted sesame seeds, pickled ginger, and scallion greens. Repeat with remaining pancakes.

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May 10, 2015 Raincoast Crisps with Raisins and Rosemary

DSC_2581aThere’s a cracker I love that I have to buy whenever I stop in at Whole Foods, Raincoast Crisps. Created by Parisian trained chef Lesley Stowe, she started her own cooking school and catering company in Canada’s raincoast, Vancouver, over 25 years ago. The crisps originated from a bran bread that she served in her catering business with smoked salmon. Always looking for new and original ideas, on one occasion she sliced the bread and dried it out. It was met with approval from her kitchen staff so she decided to “pump it up” with additional ingredients.  That was the beginning of the Raincoast Crisp.

The crisps are toasty and nutty, loaded with ingredients like pumpkin seeds, raisins, and pecans.  They are delicious to nibble on their own or maybe just a spread of soft cheese or your favorite preserve. One never tastes like enough and it’s easy to justify munching a box full because they are so good.  So what’s the problem? At 7.99 and up per 6 ounce box they are a pricey indulgence. So some intrepid bloggers came along and cracked the code and a rather similar recipe is available to any one who is able to whip up a quick bread.

The DIY recipe is very simple to make. Stir together the ingredients and bake in mini loaf pans. Alternately you could bake them in two square cake pans for longer skinny slices. Be sure to thoroughly cool the loaves after baking before proceeding to slice. You could give them a short stay in the freezer to firm them up or just wait till the next day to proceed with the recipe.

The next step is to slice the crackers as thinly as possible. Most of recipes I read said that it makes about 8 dozen crackers. That meant I needed to make 24 slices from each of the 4 loaves. I came fairly close, or maybe that had something to do with slices I had to “test” before baking! I used my thin blade serrated Cutco knife to make the thinnest and most even slices. I experimented with a food slicer which was ok, it’s important to maintain even pressure to keep the slices neat.

Bake the slices like super thin biscotti until they are crisp and golden. Now that I know the proportions of the recipe I am looking forward to customizing it.  Different flours,  dried fruits, spices and nuts, the possibilities are endless.  I served mine with a delicious soft goat cheese from Giggling Goat Dairy, a new vendor at my local farmers market in Wrightstown. The goat dairy is located in Dublin Pa and they make and sell fresh French-style goat cheese known as chèvre, a traditional style Feta as well as spreads and dips. I’m certain I will be frequenting their stand quite often this summer.

Raincoast Crisps with Raisins and Rosemary

Makes about 8 dozen

Ingredients

  • 2 c flour
  • 2t baking soda
  • 1t sea salt
  • 2c buttermilk
  • 1/4c brown sugar
  • 1/4c honey or maple syrup
  • 1c raisins
  • 1/2c lightly chopped pecans
  • 1/2c roasted unsalted pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4c sesame seeds
  • 1/4c flax seeds
  • 1T chopped fresh rosemary

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Stir together flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Add the buttermilk, brown sugar and honey and stir to combine. Add the raisins, nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds. flax seed and rosemary and stir until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
  3. Pour the batter into 4 mini loaf pans that have been sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake loaves for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating halfway during baking time. The loaves should be golden and springy to the touch. Remove loaves from the pans and cool on a wire rack.
  4. Allow the loaves to cool completely, then freeze for about an hour. This will allow you to slice the loaves as thinly as possible. I used a serrated edge knife for the neatest cut.
  5. Place the slices on baking sheets that have been lined with parchment paper. Bake the slices at 300°F for about 15 minutes, then flip them over and bake for another 10 minutes until crisp. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.
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Slices on a parchment lined sheet ready for their second bake.
Delicious on their own or with a spread of goat cheese, this is the fresh garlic peppercorn from Giggling Goat Dairy.
Delicious on their own or with a spread of goat cheese, this is the fresh garlic peppercorn from Giggling Goat Dairy.

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November 17, 2013 Eggplant “Pizzas”

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Joe’s not so little greenhouse set out in the garden extended our growing season for some vegetables to the latest date ever. When he brought in the last of the peppers and eggplants on Sunday I knew I needed to find a special way to use them to commemorate the end of their growing season. The peppers, for the most part were transformed into one of his favorites, stuffed peppers and for the eggplant I turned to a recipe from Julia Child.

In her 1975 cookbook, From Julia Child’s Kitchen, among personal anecdotes  and recipes for Caesar Salad (yes, Mr. Caesar Cardini actually made this tableside for a young Julia and her family), consommés, stews and apple charlotte is this gem. Tranches d’aubergine a l’italienne might put off the average cook, but eggplant pizzas, now that’s something we can all relate to. The recipe made a second appearance as miniature eggplant pizzas in her 1989 work and one of my favorite go-to cookbooks, The Way to Cook.

The classic pear shaped variety of eggplant like Black Beauty works best here. I began by cutting the eggplants crosswise into 3/4 inch planks, the skin was relatively thin so I left it on.Then I salted the slices on both sides to extract excess liquid. This is a step I would skip in the summer when the eggplants are at their freshest and not very seedy. I let the eggplants sit for about a half hour and started my sauce.

The day before I defrosted two quart bags of my roasted tomatoes, a 28 ounce can of plum tomatoes or a store bought sauce can substitute here. Step one for me is to pour off the liquid that accumulates in the bag, a little lagniappe for the chef. It’s definitely not the prettiest, but it is the best tasting tomato juice you will ever try. I sautéed one finely chopped onion and two chopped cloves of garlic until softened but not brown, about five minutes. Then the tomatoes and the rest of the liquid are added to the pan, breaking up the larger chunks of tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. When the tomatoes have cooked down sufficiently, I put them through a food mill to strain out most of the seeds. This results in a smoother sauce.

The eggplant slices are patted dry and lightly brushed with olive oil. I baked the eggplant slices on a wire rack over a baking sheet so that both sides would cook evenly. As Julia says “not so long that the slices become mushy and lose their shape”. After twenty five minutes I removed the baking sheet from the oven and now set the oven to broil. I covered the slices with a generous coating of tomato sauce and sprinkled a combination of mozzarella and grated Parmesan. The “pizzas” are now returned to the oven until the cheese is melted and slightly browned. Julia suggests these as part of a vegetarian combination or arranged around a main event, be it an omelet, a steak or a roast lamb.

Eggplant pizzas would make a good snack or a light lunch with a salad. A recipe that’s vegetarian, low carb and gluten free, as always “Our Lady of the Ladle“, Julia was ahead of her time.

 

Julia Child’s Eggplant Pizzas

Ingredients

  • 2  large eggplants (about 1 lb. each)
  • 1T salt, for drawing water out of eggplant
  • 2T olive oil for brushing eggplant before roasting
  • 2 t Italian seasoning, for sprinkling on eggplant before roasting
  • 1/3 c freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/3 c finely grated low-fat mozzarella

Sauce Ingredients

  • 1T olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, very finely chopped
  • 1 28 oz. can of plum tomatoes (or use 3 cups peeled and diced fresh tomatoes)
  • 1/2 t Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 t dried oregano

Directions

  1. Cut eggplant into 3/4 inch thick slices. Place eggplant pieces on a double layer of paper towels and sprinkle both sides generously with salt. Let the eggplant sit with the salt on it for about 30 minutes to draw out the liquid. (After the eggplant sits for 15 minutes, turn on the oven to 375°F.
  2. Make the tomato sauce while the eggplant sits. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic just until it becomes softened and fragrant.   Add the diced tomatoes, Italian seasoning and oregano.
  3. Then let the sauce simmer on low until it’s thickened. Break up tomatoes with a fork while the sauce cooks. (You can add water as needed. Let sauce simmer until ready to put on eggplant slices.)
  4. After 30 minutes, pat the eggplant dry with paper towels. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices lightly with olive oil and sprinkle tops with Italian seasoning. Place eggplant slices on a wire rack over a baking sheet. Roast the eggplant about 25 minutes, but “not so long that the slices become mushy and lose their shape” as Julia says.
  5. While the eggplant roasts, combine Parmesan with mozzarella. After 25 minutes or when eggplant pieces are done, remove eggplant from the oven and turn oven setting to broil. Spread a few tablespoons of sauce on the top of each eggplant slice, sprinkle with thin basil slices and top with cheese blend. Put pizzas under the broiler until the cheese is melted and slightly browned.
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We are still harvesting salad greens, spinach and arugula from the greenhouse.
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Cooking down the roasted tomatoes.
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Putting the cooked tomato sauce through a food mill makes a smoother sauce and eliminates most seeds.
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Doesn’t look like the stuff in a bottle, but it is the best tasting tomato juice you will find.
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Served with a simple salad of baby greens and radishes from the garden, eggplant pizzas make a delicious light lunch.