February 3rd, 2016

Carrot-Cauliflower Soup with lemony cilantro oil

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I’ve never talked about it here, but one of the food hats I wear is that of restaurant critic for our newspaper, The Tennessean. For over six years, I’ve been covertly dining around town and writing columns about my experiences. “Dream job!” so many people say to me. I smile and respond, “Yes and no.” Like most jobs, it has both its up and down sides.

I enjoy being out in the community, and this work allows me to go to many many places, sampling many many dishes (some wonderful, some less so) that I would otherwise not be in a position to do. While I don’t believe that any of my negative reviews have put someone out of business, I do think that my focus on an eatery, be it brand new or one of the old and perhaps forgotten ones, can make a difference in terms of its success.

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However!
Dining out at least two times a week, eating a wide variety of foods can wreak havoc on a body. No matter if it’s high-end, chef-driven, farm-to-table, mom-and-pop, ethnic, or low brow, restaurant food simply is richer, more calorie laden than what I cook at home. (Plus I wind up eating more than I normally would.)

I’ve adopted a plan: VB6. Vegan Before 6pm It’s not new. Mark Bittman, cookbook author and former New York Times food columnist, introduced this concept a few years ago. He would eat strictly vegan–no meat, no eggs, no dairy—throughout the day. Instead, lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains. After 6pm, he would eat, in moderation, whatever he wanted.

He found it to be effective-simple-flavorful way to shed unwanted pounds and overall improve health.

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I’m only on day 3 of this new approach. I have confidence that this will help–I’ll let you know in weeks to come. In the meantime, I wanted to share this especially delicious soup I recently made that satisfies any number of dietary criteria:

It is vegan. (No meat, eggs or dairy)
It is gluten free. (No wheat)
It is paleo. (No dairy, wheat and cereal grains, potatoes, legumes)
It is whole 30. (No meat, dairy, wheat, grain, legumes.)

Did I mention that it is truly delicious? (Smile)
and,
It is easy to make! (might be the best part.)

I found the recipe on the New York Times cooking website, and its sunny appearance appealed to me. The recipe is by the esteemed Melissa Clark, who notes that the soup’s beauty is that once you make it, you don’t need a recipe. Any number of vegetables and variations are possible.
Of course, I made a few alterations.

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Cauliflower is the versatile wonder-vegetable. Simmered and pureed, it gives the soup its velvet body. Carrots add bright sweetness; onions and garlic are ever the work horses in anchoring the soup’s foundation.

But, it’s in the layering of spices and lemony herb oil that brings true dimension to the dish, and soulful satisfaction in the eating.

Be sure to toast the coriander seeds in the skillet to release the aromatic oils before crushing them with your mortar and pestle. Lemon zest and juice stirred into the olive oil-cilantro mixture really make it sing.

beautiful spoonful

CARROT-CAULIFLOWER SOUP WITH LEMONY CILANTRO OIL
adapted from Melissa Clark, Cooking New York Times
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
pinch cayenne
1 quart vegetable stock
zest and juice from one lemon
½ bunch cilantro, leaves finely chopped
2 teaspoons coriander seeds

Place a large pot over medium heat. Add the oil and heat until warm. Stir in onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute. Add carrots and cauliflower. Season with salt, turmeric, and curry powder. Pour in vegetable stock. Cover and bring mixture to a simmer for 10-12 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, make the garnishes—toasted crushed coriander and cilantro pesto oil.
Recipes are below:

Remove the soup from the heat. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth. Taste for salt and adjust.

Ladle into warm soup bowls. Sprinkle toasted crushed coriander over each, then spoon and dot a little cilantro pesto oil and serve.

Makes 4 servings

cilantro oil

Crushed Coriander
In a small skillet over medium heat, toast coriander seeds until fragrant and golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and coarsely crush.

Cilantro Pesto Oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves
zest and juice of one lemon
salt, to taste

In a small bowl, add the olive oil, cilantro, lemon zest and juice. Stir well.
Add a pinch of salt to taste. Stir well again.

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Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 21 Comments »




December 14th, 2015

Favorite Cookies of the Moment

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I have a friend who has a nice philosophy about food. If ever asked, “What’s your favorite _________?,” —-and you can fill in that blank with burger, cupcake, taco, milk shake —- she’ll respond,

“It’s the one I’m eating now.”

I love that comment, her expression of pure appreciation, relishing the delicious moment in whatever form it takes.

I’m hard-pressed to pick favorites, but I have my opinions. Yes, we all know there are hundreds of thousands “Best-Ever” cookie recipes circulating the ‘net. I won’t make that claim. But these three current faves follow my holiday baking protocols:

1. They are easy to make, even in big batches
2. They are different in flavor and appearance
3. They have great taste, without being overly sweet
4. They keep well in a cookie tin, ideal for gift-giving or sharing at home over coffee or tea

Scroll on down for Maggie’s Mama’s Date- Nut Pinwheels, Garam Masala Kitchen Sink Cookies, and Glazed Lemon Rosemary Shortbreads.

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Maggie’s Mama’s Date-Nut Pinwheels

Over the years, I’ve written about my cooking adventures in the country with my friend Maggie.

She and I baked these beautiful pinwheels on the fly last year–and they were so good, I had to make them again. This recipe was handed down from her mama, also an excellent cook, and the dough actually benefits from being made up ahead of time, wrapped, and frozen.

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If Maggie ever saw rolls wrapped in wax paper in the family freezer, she knew that her mama would soon be baking the date-nut pinwheels. So much anticipation! Those cookies signaled the Christmas season.

There are two parts to the recipe–the brown sugar dough, and the date-nut filling. Living in Louisiana, Maggie’s mom always used pecans, but walnuts work just as well. The only update that we made to this old-fashioned recipe was substituting butter for shortening in the pastry.

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Here’s an i-Phone image of Maggie’s recipe, circa 1977, handwritten on loose leaf notebook paper with a Bic green ink pen. (in the South we don’t just say “pen,” we say “ink pen.” A means of differentiating it from its Southern sound-alike “pin,” I suppose.)

Next up, Garam Masala Kitchen Sink Cookies

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These might look like ordinary oatmeal cookies, but don’t be deceived.

Joy Martin, a fine baker (winner of many blue ribbons at county fairs) and avid potlucker brought these ingenious treats to one of our Third Thursday Community Potlucks several years ago. She took a basic oatmeal cookie recipe and elevated it with chocolate chips, walnuts, orange zest, and the warming Hindi spice blend, Garam Masala.

That bit of citrus coupled with the aromatics of cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, clove, fennel, black pepper, and bay leaf brings incredible dimension to the cookie. The spice mix is remarkable in this sweet application, imbuing as much flavor and satisfaction here as it does in savory dishes.

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These drop cookies are truly delicious, and I had to include them in my cookbook. Joy happily contributed her recipe, which makes a huge batch–at least 5 dozen. (Potluck standards, don’t you know!)

You can cut it in half without sacrificing anything. Customize them, too, if you like. I added a handful of dried cherries to the latest batch, which added luscious dark fruit pops to some bites.

Last, but not least, I give you the delectable Glazed Lemon-Rosemary Shortbreads.

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Marla brought these brown-edged, butter-rich cookies to a potluck and I fell in love with them. There’s lemon zest and finely chopped fresh rosemary folded throughout the dough. The glaze is a whisk of olive oil, fresh lemon juice and confectioners sugar. Fresh rosemary leaves embellish each one.

The recipe also found in my cookbook, these cookies have become one of my signature offerings at my book presentations and signings. They are easy to make (you can make the dough up ahead of time, shape it into a log, wrap and refrigerate it until ready to slice-and-bake) They transport well. They are pretty, and not too sweet. Lemon and Rosemary–how can you go wrong? People go crazy for them. Every time.

I’m convinced I’ve sold more books because of them! (Thanks, Marla.)

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LEMON-ROSEMARY SHORTBREAD COOKIES
(from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook)

For the shortbread:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 large egg
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups all purpose flour

For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons water
rosemary sprigs for garnish

In a mixer bowl, cream butter and sugar together on medium speed for 3 minutes. Add zest, rosemary, egg, lemon juice, vanilla and salt, and beat for 1 minute. Scrape down bowl. At low speed, add flour and mix just until combined; do not overmix.

Roll dough out between two large sheets of parchment paper to 1/4-inch thickness. Chill dough for 30 minutes. (or form into logs; wrap and refrigerate overnight. then, slice into rounds.)

Preheat oven to 350.

Cut out dough using your favorite cookie cutters. Place cookies onto parchment-paper-lined baking sheets, and bake for 16 to 18 minutes or until edges are golden. Remove to a wire rack.

Make the glaze by combining powdered sugar, olive oil, lemon juice and 2-3 tbsp of water as necessary to achieve a spreadable consistency. Drizzle and spread glaze over each cookie and top with rosemary sprigs.

Makes 35 to 40 cookies

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GARAM MASALA KITCHEN SINK COOKIES (from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook)
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon fresh orange zest
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons Garam Masala
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups chopped, toasted walnuts
2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup dried cherries (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat butter and sugars until creamy. Add eggs, orange zest, orange extract and beat well. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and Garam Masala. Beat the flour mixture into the creamed sugar mixture a little at a time until combined. Fold in oats, toasted walnuts, chocolate chips and dried cherries.

Drop rounded tablespoons full onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and bake for 12 minutes, or until golden brown.

Makes 5 dozen

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MAGGIE’S MAMA’S DATE-NUT PINWHEELS
2 1/4 cups pitted dates, chopped
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
1 cup butter
2 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs, well beaten
4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Combine the dates, sugar and water in a saucepan set on low hear. Cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add nuts and cool.

Meanwhile, beat the butter until fluffy and add the brown sugar gradually, work until light.
Add the eggs and mix well.
Add remaining ingredients (sifted together) and mix well.
Cover and chill thoroughly.
Roll out chilled dough and spread with filling.
Roll up tightly, wrap in plastic, and place into the freezer

To Bake:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Remove rolls from freezer. Unwrap and slice about 1/2 inch thick and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat.

Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Makes 5 dozen pinwheels

HAPPY HOLIDAY BAKING TO ALL!

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Posted in Cookies, Desserts, Recipes | 16 Comments »




April 18th, 2014

Lemon Lemon Lemon Chicken

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One afternoon, on my way home from the food bank, I stopped by my friend Teresa’s house for a visit.

Teresa is a food stylist and recipe tester, also author of the beauteous blog Food on Fifth. This particular afternoon she was deep in testing mode for Relish Magazine, with a trio of recipes using chicken thighs heading her list: A sage/provolone-filled roulade, a “nonna” style baked with herbed breadcrumbs, and a lemon chicken.

“Lemon chicken?” I mused. “Does the world really need yet another lemon chicken recipe?”

“It just might,” Teresa said. “Stay and judge for yourself.”

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Soon, Relish editors Jill and Candace arrived for the tasting of the testing.

We started with “nonna’s” recipe and deemed it respectable, if a bit bland. Number two, the cheese-filled roulade, was a step-up in flavor and dimension.

“I’ve saved the best for last,” said Teresa.

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Enter the lemon chicken, roasted to golden, drenched in sauce. Teresa served the thighs with torn hunks of baguette, to sop up the sauce.

“You won’t want to miss any of this.”

Oh, my. The table fell quiet, followed by murmurs of approval. The chicken was succulent under its crackled skin, an intense gush of lemon sparked with garlic, oregano, and a fiery pinch of red pepper flakes. We all sopped sauce and marveled.

What had made this lemon chicken, “the best ever” ?

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We examined the recipe–a simple one, at that–and decided that three elements made the difference.

1. The dish is made with the chicken thigh, which is the most flavorful (and economical!) cut. It has a higher fat content and doesn’t dry out like the breast. After you roast it (simply seasoned at this point with salt and black pepper) for 35 minutes, you pour off the fat and liquid–making it ready to accept the lemon sauce.

2. There’s a whole lot of fresh lemon juice in the recipe–figure one lemon per thigh. I add a little zest too.

3. An unexpected ingredient: Red Wine Vinegar. A couple of tablespoons is added to the olive oil-lemon juice emulsion. I’ve never seen that done before, and I believe it really amplifies the rich lemon taste.

I made a large batch of this for potluck, where it was devoured with gusto.
We named the dish Lemon Lemon Lemon Chicken. When you taste it, you get it.

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LEMON LEMON LEMON CHICKEN (adapted from RELISH Magazine)
12 cleaned and trimmed chicken thighs (bone in, skin on)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
12 lemons
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Rinse chicken and pat dry. Liberally season with salt and black pepper. Place skin side up in a large baking dish or sheet pan.
Bake for 35 minutes.
Squeeze the lemons to get 1 1/2 cups juice. Zest 2 of the lemons. Whisk in the red wine vinegar, zest, minced garlic, red pepper flakes and oregano. Finally whisk in the olive oil, slowly, to create an emulsion.
After 35 minutes of baking, remove the chicken from the oven. Drain all the liquid from the pan.
Pour the lemon emulsion over the chicken. Return to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes.

Serve the chicken and sauce with hunks of crusty bread for sopping.

Serves 6

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Posted in Meats/Poultry, Recipes | 23 Comments »




January 31st, 2012

Lemons to the Rescue

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My friend Allison confessed that she was becoming a hoarder. Not in the Crazy Reality TV way–thank goodness. More like in the Fill the Pantry with Good Food way. She had been buying big crates of citrus–Cara Cara oranges, and organic lemons—and making batches of marmalades, limoncello, lemon curd, preserved lemons, and the like. And, she still hadn’t made much of a dent in her purchase. So I was very happy to be the recipient of a bag of these luscious fruits, along with a pretty jar of her Cara Cara marmalade.

There’s nothing to match the power and versatility of the mighty lemon, whose juice and fragrant zest elevate all manner of sweet and savory things. And, as my initial foray into 2012 has been marked with a little slump in the kitchen, a gaze at the cooktop and cutting board with a world-weary eye, I recognized Allison’s kind gift as more than a bag of excess citrus trying find a home. No.

It was lemons to the rescue.

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Just seeing them in the welcome sunlight this afternoon was a lift alone.
Lemons for Dinner? You bet.

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My cousin Cathy and her husband John are both avid cooks. Whenever we get together, we love to share recipes and cook. Last visit, Cathy brought a lemon-based pasta recipe from her collection to prepare. “Capelli d’Angelo Olio e Limone” or Olive Oil and Lemon Angel Hair, from the 1997 cookbook Pastissima! Pasta the Italian Way was simple–deceptively so. There were few ingredients—a sauce comprised of onion cooked in a fair amount of olive oil, mixed with a lot of lemon juice, tossed throughout pasta, and dusted with parmesan.

It took mere minutes to make—and was truly delicious.

The lemons today inspired my to recreate the dish—with a few modifications. Rather than using onion, I substituted a leek. Lemon and leek are terrific together, and the strips of light green tangled throughout the pasta bring welcome color.

Other change-ups include red pepper flakes for bite, over black pepper, and pecorino-romano for pungency, over parmesan.

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Without question, this pasta would be a fine foundation for a plank of grilled fish, a tender fillet of trout, even a scatter of lump crabmeat. But solo, it is exceptional, light yet rich, with a pleasant tang. It’s the kind of toss that accentuates the angel hair, rather than masking it with a complex sauce. So use your best here–DeCecco’s Capellini No.9 has been a constant favorite.

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This romaine salad is one that I refer to as a “Mock Caesar”—it lacks the depth that anchovies bring to the traditional version, but is just right for the Vegetarian in my household.

Here lemon juice, roasted garlic cloves, and extra virgin olive oil cream up together into a vibrant dressing, generously tossed on chopped romaine leaves mixed with some finely sliced red cabbage.

Again, simple ingredients—simply assembled. It’s more a matter of using your best. Roasting the garlic brings out an inherent sweetness, and the softened cloves act as an emulsifier in the lemon-forward dressing. A crusty piece of ciabatta transforms readily into croutons. Sprinkle some fresh thyme over the cubed bread before toasting for an welcome herbal note.

With this salad and pasta, you can let the lemony sunshine in.

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CAPELLINI WITH LEMON, LEEKS, AND OLIVE OIL (adapted from Pastissima! Pasta the Italian Way by Leonardo Castellucci
1 Leek, finely sliced
1/3 cup Olive Oil
Juice of 1 1/2 large Lemons
Sea Salt
Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 cup shedded Pecorino-Romano
6 ounces Capellini (DeCecco is excellent)

Heat olive oil on medium in a skillet or cast-iron pot. Add the leeks, and cook for about 5 minutes, until they become soft. Cook the capellini according to package directions–about 2 minutes in a large pot of salted boiling water. Drain well.

Place pasta in the pot with the leeks and olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt, red pepper flakes (a couple of pinches) and pour lemon juice over all. Add most of the shredded cheese, reserving some to garnish the top of the pasta after it is served. Toss well, so that the lemon, olive oil, and leeks coat all the strands of pasta.

Serve in warm bowls. Dust with more pecorino. Enjoy!

Makes 2 generous servings.

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ROMAINE SALAD WITH ROASTED GARLIC-LEMON DRESSING
1 head Romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and chopped
1 cup Red Cabbage, very finely sliced
2 cups homemade Croutons (cubed from a good crusty loaf, tossed in olive oil, seasoned with salt, black pepper, fresh thyme–toasted in a 300 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned)
1 cup shredded Pecorino-Romano

Juice from 1/2 large Lemon
3 Garlic Cloves, oven-roasted
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Cracked Black Pepper

immersion blender

In a salad bowl, assemble romaine, red cabbage, croutons and shredded pecorino.

In a measuring cup or small mixing bowl, place lemon juice, roasted garlic cloves, salt and pepper. Using the immersion blender, begin mixing. The garlic will cream into the lemon juice. Add the olive oil slowly, and continue blending. Taste for seasoning.

Pour over salad greens and toss well. Serves 4

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Posted in Fruit, Pastas, Recipes, Salads | 28 Comments »