Showing posts with label Main Dish. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Main Dish. Show all posts

Monday, March 20, 2017

Smoky Cauliflower Frittata

Happy first day of spring! Here's to the return of fat-bellied robins, green lush landscapes, farmer's markets, outdoor entertaining, planting herbs, and taking my bicycle out for long rides. The older I get the more I appreciate what the change in seasons brings. Particularly feelings of self-renewal. Longer days, warmer weather, and more vibrant landscapes always increase my energy level. Not that I am a slacker by any sense of the imagination, but I just seem to operate on a slightly higher ramped up level when spring arrives. However, I am not quite sure I am ready to put all of that energy into the kind of use the person who shall remain nameless would like to see. Cleaning out and organizing closets/dresser or purging things that haven't seen the light of day in decades aren't exactly the things I like to do with my energy surge. Although life would probably be so much easier if I didn't have to spend so much time looking for things. Maybe this will be the year. Anything is possible.

For as much as I love eggs, cheese, and most vegetables it's rather surprising there are not more frittatas in my life. Considering they are so much easier to make than an omelet, quiche, a chorizo and egg piperade, uovo al forno (baked eggs), or even herb and cheese baked eggs, frittatas should be making more regular appearances at my table. Sometimes some kind of push or some kind of wake up to call is all I need to get back to making foods with great flavor and versatility. This time it came in the form of a dinner at my sister's house. Yes, that would be my one and only younger sister, the one who manages to discover some really great recipes before I do.

The recipe for this Smoky Cauliflower Frittata is one Yotam Ottolenghi shared in his cookbook "Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi". A chef and cookbook I had learned about from my sister several years ago.

If anyone has a flair for making vegetarian dishes feel substantial, satisfying, and deeply flavorful, it would be Yotam Ottolenghi. And his recipe for this frittata does not disappoint. It is everything a frittata should be and then some. It is hearty, it is a savory custard, it feels indulgent, it and it could not be easier to make.

The smoky mozzarella, an aged cheddar, some creme fraiche, dijon mustard, and a sweet smoky paprika give this frittata a depth of flavor unlike any other frittata you have ever had. It isn't just the combination of ingredients used, it's the amount of each of them in relationship to the number of eggs (only 6).

There are two parts to this frittata: the egg custard and the cauliflower.

But let me also spend some time talking about some of the ingredients in the custard. From the smoky mozzarella (scamorza), to the aged cheddar, to the dijon mustard, to the freshly chopped chives, to the creme fraiche, to the sweet smoky paprika, the ingredients in this frittata matter.  When looking for the mozzarella, you may come across cheese labeled only as scamorza. Unless it says smoky scarmorza, you don't want to buy that cheese. The smoked mozzarella will have a very light brown, thin skin on it and it will come in either ball or sliced form. When choosing a cheddar, look for any white cheddar two years or older. The smokey sweet paprika adds a complex flavor to the frittata. The original recipe called for 2 teaspoons (which I used), however, by reducing the amount to 1 1/2 teaspoons you would still be able to keep the focus on the flavor rather than on the heat and smokiness. If you haven't cooked with smokey sweet paprika before, I would recommend you use only 1 1/2 teaspoons the first time you make this frittata. Instead of the richness that cream brings to most frittatas, this one uses creme fraiche. It's thicker, less tangy, and richer in flavor than sour cream. It is also slightly more expensive than sour cream. If there was ever a time to not think about cost, this would be one of those times. And last but not least, there is the dijon mustard. The frittata is made with two, yes two Tablespoons of it. Not all dijon mustards are the same. Choose a really good one (see note below for a recommendation).

The cauliflower goes through a two step cooking process before the custard is added to it. In a pan of boiling water, a small head of cauliflower cut into bit sized florets, are cooked until semi-cooked (approximately 4-6 minutes). Not too soft, not hard would be the non-technical way of defining semi-cooked. Drained and dried, the cauliflower florets are then cooked cooked in olive oil until lightly golden brown (approximately 5 minutes). Pressing on the florets lightly with a spatula helps to sear or brown them.

With the cauliflower lightly golden brown, the custard is poured into the pan. Working quickly, use a fork to spread the cauliflower evenly in the pan. Over medium heat, the frittata cooks on top of the stove for approximately 5 minutes. After sprinkling some of the remaining grated cheese over the top the pan goes into the preheated 375 degree (F) oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the frittata is set.

After removing the frittata from the oven, allow to rest for several minutes before cutting into wedges and serving. While it is best served hot out of the oven, I found myself picking at some of the room temperature leftovers and feeling as happy as I was taking a warm bite of it.

If making this frittata for lunch or dinner, simply serve with a peppery green salad tossed with a light (champagne or lemon) vinaigrette, and some warm bread. To make it even heartier (and appeal to the non-vegetarians in the group), bring some grilled steak to the table. And yes, the idea for the grilled steak came from my sister. The perfectly done (medium-rare) thick strip steaks served at dinner were made by my grill master brother-in-law. 

Celebrate the arrival of spring this weekend by serving this frittata for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner. Open up a good bottle of wine and invite friends or family over. When serving this frittata for brunch, day drinking is allowed and encouraged. 

Smoky Cauliflower Frittata (inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's Smoky Frittata recipe from his cookbook "Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi"
Serves 4 to 6

1 small head of cauliflower, cut into medium florets
6 large eggs
4 Tablespoons creme fraiche
2 Tablespoons dijon mustard 
1 1/2- 2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
3 Tablespoons finely chopped chives
5 ounces smoked mozzarella or smoked scamorza, coarsely grated (including skin for extra flavor)
2 ounces aged (at least 2 years old) cheddar, coarsely grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 Tablespoons good quality olive oil

1. Simmer the cauliflower in a large pan of boiling water for 4-6 minutes, or until semi-cooked. Remove from boiling water and allow to dry on a paper towel lined plate.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (F).
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs creme fraiche, dijon mustard, and sweet smoked paprika. Make sure the eggs and creme fraiche are thoroughly blended.
4. Stir in the chives and 3/4 of the grated cheeses. Season with kosher salt and pepper.
5. Heat olive oil in a medium sized (10 inch) ovenproof frying or cast iron pan. Fry the semi-cooked cauliflower for about 5 minutes, or until lightly golden brown on at least one side.  Note: Press down lightly with a spatula to get brownness on one side of the cauliflower.
6. Pour the egg mixture over the cauliflower. Working quickly, use a fork to spread the cauliflower evenly in the pan. Without continuing to stir, cook frittata on medium heat for about 5 minutes.
7. Scatter remaining 1/4 of the grated cheeses over the top and place pan in oven.
8. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until frittata is set.
9. Remove from oven. Allow to rest several minutes before cutting into wedges. Serve immediately.

Notes: (1) I used 2 teaspoons of the sweet smoked paprika (and loved the flavor), however, may consider reducing to 1 1/2 teaspoons the next time I make it. (2) My favorite dijon mustard is Maille. (3) Use a good quality frying pan (preferably one non-stick) or a cast iron pan when making the frittata. Lodge makes great cast iron pans. (4) Served with an arugula salad lightly tossed with a champagne or lemon vinaigrette you have a perfect meal. (5) Leftovers, if you have any, can be reheated in the microwave.

Winter snow shadows (Morton Arboretum, March 2017).

Monday, January 9, 2017

Baked Blueberry Oatmeal

The number of private fitness centers, yoga, bar, and pilates studios, and indoor cycling facilities located in my hometown have increased significantly over the past couple of years. They almost rival the number of local restaurants. Last year at this time I can now honestly admit I was a little intimated to go into any of them. It seemed everyone I saw walking into or working in them looked as if they could be featured on the next covers of Women's/Men's Fitness, Self, or Shape magazines. I imagined their physical and cardio endurance, flexibility, and strength to be at the same levels as Olympians. Even having one of those well-coordinated, stylish, high tech, high end workout wardrobes wasn't enough to give me the confidence to walk into any of those intimidating places. I felt 'invisible' running on the streets and running path with my friends, however, the idea of being in rooms surrounded by mirrors was almost too much for my insecure self to handle. Remember the episode on Friends where Chandler, in response to Monica's claim the camera added ten pounds to her prom picture, asked her 'So how many cameras were actually on you?'. Well, in a weird sort of way, that irrationally explains how I feel standing in a room of "circus" mirrors (if cameras add ten pounds, mirrors must add...twenty?). Fortunately, all (well maybe a significant amount) of that paralyzing anxiety subsided and I found myself not just walking by, but walking in to a fitness center and yoga studio. What could have caused such a significant shift in attitude? Reading a significant number of articles on the importance of cross-training to improve my running and health? Nope. A running injury subsequently leading me to discover some my internal body levels were more than a little less to be desired? Nope. Being surrounded by a small circle of friends (aka 'my posse') who also wanted to experience better versions of themselves? Yep.

Unscientific proof there really can be positive, transformational power emanating from the colloquialism 'the more the merrier'. Or is it 'misery loves company'? Whether it's one or the other or both, my perceptions, endurance, and strength have all changed for the better. Although mirrors still make me anxious.

This past weekend I had a craving for oatmeal. Growing a little tired of my usual yogurt, almonds, and dried cranberries concoction, I needed something warm to eat. Something on the healthy side.

I came across a baked oatmeal recipe made with two of my favorite fruits: bananas and blueberries. Only I don't like them together in the same dish. So I made a few changes to it.

Nuts, oatmeal, and blueberries. A health food trifecta! 

Combine them with some real maple syrup, whole milk, heavy cream, an egg, a little bit of melted butter, some sea salt, baking powder, and a generous amount of cinnamon and you have the makings of a deeply delicious, satisfying baked oatmeal dish. 

Surprisingly fresh blueberries were available at the grocery store this week. However, you can use frozen ones. Additionally, you can make this baked oatmeal with other fruit combinations. Blueberries and blackberries, blueberries and raspberries, or blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are just a few of them. In assembling the baked oatmeal, two thirds of the oatmeal lines the bottom of a buttered glass or ceramic baking dish. The remaining one third will end up sprinkled over the top.

Think of this Baked Blueberry Oatmeal dish as a layered one. Blueberries on the bottom, followed next by the oatmeal/nut mixture, then the maple sugar/milk mixture, and finally a finish of more blueberries and walnuts.

In a preheated 375 degree (F) oven, the oatmeal bakes for 35-45 minutes or until the top is beautifully browned and the oatmeal is set. Maybe because my baking dish was deep, my baking time was slightly over the 45 minute mark. 

After removing from the oven top with the remaining one and a half tablespoons of melted butter and allow the Baked Blueberry Oatmeal to rest for about five minutes before serving. Pouring a little maple syrup over the top of each individual serving is optional, but one of those options that should be required. 

If you are looking for a new breakfast or brunch dish to serve your family, friends, or posse, make this one. In a little more than hour, the entire Baked Blueberry Oatmeal can be assembled, baked and served. But make it for yourself as it reheats perfectly. Quite possibly you might find yourself craving oatmeal even more after tasting it. Sort of like me now craving yoga and high intensity workouts now that I experienced them.

Baked Blueberry Oatmeal (slight adaptation to Heidi Swanson's Baked Oatmeal recipe from her book Super Natural Every Day: Well Loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen)

2 cups old-fashioned oats (Recommend Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats)
1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted, coarsely chopped and divided
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 - 2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk (See Notes)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 large egg
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and divided
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 to 3 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
Additional maple syrup for serving

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees (F). Butter an 8 or 9 inch glass or ceramic baking dish and set aside.
2. In a medium sized bowl, combine the oatmeal, 2/3 of the walnuts, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Stir to combine.
3. In a separate medium sized bowl or large glass measure cup, combine the milk, cream, vanilla, maple syrup, 1 1/2 Tablespoons melted butter, and egg. Whisk to combine.
4. Layer 2/3 of the blueberries on the bottom of the prepared baking dish.
5. Spread the oat mixture evenly over the blueberries.
6. Pour the milk/maple syrup over the top. Press down gently to ensure the oat mixture is completely submerged in the liquid.
7. Scatter the remaining 1/3 blueberries and 1/3 walnuts over the top.
8. Place baking dish on a baking pan. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the top is golden and the oat mixture has set. Note: My baking time was closer to 50 minutes.
9. Remove from oven and allow to rest for several minutes.
10. Top with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter and, if desired, drizzle additional maple syrup over individual servings.

Notes: (1) Can use 2 cups of whole milk instead of the milk/heavy cream mixture.  Or alternately use 1 cup whole milk and 1 cup heavy cream. (2) I used two teaspoons of cinnamon because I like for there to be a discernible cinnamon flavor in my oatmeal. Feel free to use only 1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon. (3) Fresh or frozen blueberries can be used. Can also use a combination of fruits (i.e., blueberries/blackberries, blueberries/blackberries/raspberries, etc.) (4) My baking time was just slightly over 45 minutes as I had used a deep baking dish. Begin checking at 35 minutes if using a shallow baking dish. Be sure to let the Baked Blueberry Oatmeal rest for at least 5 minutes before serving. (5) This Baked Blueberry Oatmeal reheats perfectly and is as yummy as it is coming out of the oven.

Grazing horses on a blue sky, bitter cold winter day.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Macaroni and Cheese, Version 2

Winter has barely started and we are already experiencing some bone chilling, painfully cold days here in the midwest. The kind of days where you don't really want to leave the house as you irrationally fear frostbite will immediately set in even by merely stepping in the cold for the minute it takes to bring the garbage containers out to the curb, to walk from the car into the grocery store, or to bring more wood in to keep the fire in the fireplace going. Days where cozying up with a good book (preferably sitting near a warm fire), binge watching all of those shows you couldn't find the time to watch, and/or eating comfort food are the simplest of life's pleasure. Yet somehow they feel more like one of those 'pinch yourself' moments of indulgence.

A couple of years ago, the Huffington Post shared their list of the 25 Best Comfort Foods. Number three on the list was Macaroni and Cheese. A dish listed somewhere on almost every other best or quintessentially classic comfort food list ever published. Not surprisingly the search for Macaroni and Cheese recipes increases as the temperature decreases. Seems everyone goes on the hunt for the creamiest, cheesiest, dreamiest version of the most addictive of all comfort foods when the weather turns wicked. But most of us want not just creamy and cheesy, we want some crunch! In other words, we want our Macaroni and Cheese to have it all.

Recipes for making Macaroni and Cheese fall into two general categories: (1) those completely made on the stove and (2) those baked in the oven. This creamy, cheesy version begins on the stove and finishes in the oven.

Traditionally Macaroni and Cheese is made with elbow macaroni. But nothing prevents you from changing out the type of pasta in this dish. Although choosing the right kind of pasta is critical as using the wrong kind of pasta will affect the dish. Select a pasta having nooks and crannies to catch and hold onto the cheese sauce. Pasta shapes like shells, cavatappi, and farfalle are good at trapping the cheese sauce and can transform your Macaroni and Cheese dish from a simple to an 'up-scale' one.

The foundation of the cheese sauce is a roux made with equal parts butter and flour. Warmed whole milk is slowly added to roux, turning the mixture into a bechamel sauce. By using slightly warmed milk, you will spend less time whisking to get the sauce to the desired consistency. Salt, pepper, some Tabasco sauce (I like Cholula Hot Sauce), heavy cream and grated cheeses will finish off the sauce.

Cook your pasta al dente (i.e., firm, but with some bite) as it will continue to cook in the sauce when baked in the oven. More often than not I cook my pasta about a minute longer than the recommended al dente time listed on the bag/box. But test it before adding any cooking time. To temporarily stop the pasta from cooking any further, rinse in cold water as soon as you drain it in a colander. Be sure to drain the pasta before adding to the sauce.

I used an aged white sharp cheddar (from Vermont Creamery) and gruyere in this Macaroni and Cheese as both are known for melting easily and complimenting one another. If at all possible, never use pre-shredded cheese as it will not deliver as rich of a taste as cheeses freshly grated do. If you don't have or can't find gruyere cheese, use Parmigiano-Reggiano, Fontina, or a mild Gouda to go with the white sharp cheddar.

As tempted as you will be to eat the sauced pasta right out of the pan (and you will be), you will be rewarded for your patience if you pour (all but one or two small bites) it into your buttered casserole dish.

Sprinkle the reserved half cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese over the top of the casserole, before evenly spreading the buttered bread crumbs. Instead of using boxed bread crumbs, put some (white, egg or brioche) bread and/or rolls in a food processor and process until the mixture is crumbly. One generous cup of bread crumbs mixed with four Tablespoons of melted butter covered the casserole perfectly.

The Macaroni and Cheese bakes for 25-30 minutes in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven. It's done when the bread crumbs turn a beautiful golden brown and some of the sauce is bubbling up along the sides of the dish. Allow to sit for at least five minutes before serving.

This is a creamy, cheesy macaroni and cheese. The combination of the sharp cheddar and gruyere cheeses blended together contribute to giving the finished dish a great depth of flavor. And the buttered bread crumbs give it the perfect bite of crunch.

This version of the Macaroni and Cheese is the perfect side dish to go with barbecue, burgers, or grilled chicken, however, it's one where it can be a meal all unto itself. Serve with a simple salad and some white wine and you have the makings of a dinner party. To take this dish up a notch or make it slightly more decadent, top the servings with some sautéed lobster medallions or top the entire dish with them. Regardless of how you serve it, it is destined to help you survive the winter as well as completely satisfy a macaroni and cheese craving for at least a week.

On a side note, this version of Macaroni and Cheese may be my most favorite. I don't think I will be looking for another recipe any time soon. If ever.

Macaroni and Cheese, Version 2 (slight adaptation to James Beard's Macaroni and Cheese recipe as shared in his cookbook Beard on Pasta)
Serve 6-8 as a side dish. Serves 4 to 6 as a main course.

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk, warmed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco, or more to taste (Note: My favorite is Cholula Hot Sauce.)
1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream 
1/2 pound cavatappi or elbow macaroni, cooked al dente
8 ounces white, aged sharp cheddar, freshly grated and divided (Note: An eight ounce block of cheese is equivalent to 2 cups of grated cheese)
1 1/2 ounces grated gruyere  
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
4 Tablespoons melted butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Butter a 12 inch casserole dish and set aside.
2. Melt 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter over low heat. Add flour and stir with wood spoon or spatula until the roux is frothy and the taste of raw flour is gone (approximately 3 minutes).
3. Add warmed milk gradually to the roux, stirring hard all the while. 
4. Turn up the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is just to the boiling point.
5. Turn down heat and let simmer for several minutes. Stir in salt, pepper, and Tabasco.
6. Stir in one half cup heavy cream and simmer for a couple of minutes longer.
7. Mix in three quarters (1 1/2 cups) of the grated cheddar and all of the grated gruyere into the sauce. Stir until cheese has melted. Remove from heat. Note: If sauce seems too thick, add the remaining quarter cup of heavy cream.
8. Cook (to al dente), rinse in cold water, and drain pasta. 
9. Mix pasta into the sauce.
10. Pour mixture into prepared dish.
11. Mix bread crumbs with melted butter.
12. Top mixture with remaining 1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese and the bread crumb mixture.
13. Bake for 25-30 minutes until bubbly and bread crumbs have nicely browned.
14. Allow to set for 5 minutes. Serve.

Notes: (1) The first time you make this Macaroni and Cheese, use the traditional elbow macaroni. (2) Top individual servings of the Macaroni and Cheese with lobster medallions to turn it into a lunch/dinner course. (3) Instead of using slices of bread, buy a fresh roll from your bakery or in the bakery section of your grocery store to make the bread crumbs. (4) Reheat leftovers on a low heat microwave setting.

Shadows on the canyon walls in the Lower Dells at Matthiessen State Park, Oglesby, IL (January 2017)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Thanksgiving Round Up: The Sides

If there was ever a holiday dominated by traditions, Thanksgiving might be the one having this distinction. At least in my world. This is not to say that every Thanksgiving is the same. It isn't. Oh, there are elements of continuity from year to year (with one unforgettable exception), but it has become a tradition to be sightly non-traditional. Although there is one sacred part of the meal: the turkey, stuffing, and gravy. Mess with that part of the dinner and, well, I will not take responsibility for what could happen next or how far I will spiral downward. Yet changes to the appetizers, sides, desserts, or even the table setting would not even phase me at all. My Thanksgiving flexibility is clearly compartmentalized. 

This year will be a very different Thanksgiving. With the person who shall remain nameless not returning home from an out of the country work assignment until after this holiday, I am left with deciding how, where, and with whom I will honor and celebrate it. At the moment, my fiercely independent side is having an ongoing conversation with my traditional side, with both sides being egged on by a few other personality characters (aren't we all more or less multidimensional?). Fortunately I have some time before having to make a decision. But for those of you fortunate enough to have a Thanksgiving plan already in place, maybe this is your year to change it up a bit. Particularly the meal part of the day. To encourage you to add something new to your holiday table, I will be re-sharing some of my favorite 'perfect' for Thanksgiving dinner recipes over the course of the next few weeks. First up. Well, the sides, of course.

Each of the following seven sides have appeared on 'my' Thanksgiving table more than once. It would be safe to say there is at least one (Wendy's Mashed Potatoes) where everyone's day would be ruined if it wasn't served. And not just because it's 'tradition'. All but one of them can be made the day before and are easily transportable. Each vary in their levels of richness. None of them are what you might consider 'low calorie', although the Roasted Brussels Sprouts Gratin might object. There are no obscure, hard to find, or must go to the ends of earth to find ingredients in any of the recipes. However, I won't guarantee they will be available if you wait until the night before Thanksgiving to do your grocery shopping. All seven of them push the limits on what most would consider 'best ever', 'the most insanely delicious side ever', 'worth fighting over the last spoonful' and/or 'worthy of going on a last meal list'. A click on the link below each of the photos will take you immediately to the recipe. As Ina Garten might say 'How easy is that?'. But don't feel you have to wait for Thanksgiving to make any of them. These sides would make any Sunday dinner, dinner party, and/or Christmas/Hanukkah meal memorable. 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts Gratin

Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Bread Pudding

Cheesy Hasselback Potato Gratin

Sweet Potato Casserole

Boursin Spinach Gratin

"Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving." (W.T. Purkiser)