The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes. -Julia Child

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Roasted Parsnip and Carrot Salad with Pomegranate


AZEats recipe #3: So I'm reading over the list of foods my friend in Azerbaijan said she had available and one jumps out at me - parsnips. I think I have only been served parsnips once in my entire life, and I couldn't tell you what they taste like to save my life. Oh wait, those were turnips. Yeah, zero parsnip meals. So of course - I must tackle the parsnip challenge.

But first I had to buy some. I go to the grocery store and see some white root looking things. Could they be it? No signage. I look closer and see "parsley root" - close but not quite. Eventually I find them (signed), looking like a pile of carrots that Bunnicula attacked. I realize that I don't know what to look for in a parsnip. They all look a bit blah. I pick out the firm ones with fewer obvious defects and bring them home...where they sit for over a week in my veggie crisper because I've been too busy or too out of town to cook.

I finally got some time to cook them (thankfully parsnips store well), but then the problem became - how do I cook them? Googling for parsnip recipes yields lots of soup recipes and parsnip purees, but that isn't what I'm looking for. I finally find a recipe on the Food Network site that at least gives me an idea. It involves orange and ginger flavoring. And ooh - it uses pomegranate, another ingredient widely available in Azerbaijan. Let's do it.

Modifications from the original: This recipe was one where you read it and knew right away it would need some modifications. First off - it practically called for more onion than other veggies combined. Also - pomegranate isn't in season around here right now, so instead of topping the dish with pomegranate seeds, my version of the recipe has you reduce pomegranate juice to create a "dressing" of sorts. It really worked well and gave the whole dish some neat red highlights as well as additional flavor. But I think pomegranate seeds would be best of all, so go for the real stuff, you folks in Azerbaijan.

Roasted Parsnip and Carrot Salad with Pomegranate
Serves 4 (as a side dish)
Adapted from Food Network Kitchens
Printable Recipe

2 large carrots (about 12 ounces)
2 parsnips (about 10-12 ounces)
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
Zest of 1/2 orange
Juice of 1 orange
1/2 cup peanuts
1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (see note below re substitution)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 cup pomegranate juice OR seeds of 1 ripe pomegranate

Preheat oven to 350.
Peel parsnips and carrots and chop into pieces about 1/2 to 3/4 inch on each side.
Mix all ingredients except the cilantro and pomegranate, making sure the oil and spices are evenly distributed.
Pour into a roasting dish and put in oven. Cook for about 40 minutes or until parsnips and carrots are soft, stirring halfway through. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
While the veggies are roasting, pour the peanuts into a shallow dish (a pie tin works perfectly) and toast in oven for about 5 minutes, or until slightly browned.
To make the pomegranate "dressing" - Pour the pomegranate juice into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil until juice has at least halved in volume and begun to thicken. Remove from heat.
Stir cilantro leaves into vegetables. Top with the peanuts and drizzle with the pomegranate (or sprinkle pomegranate seeds on top). Serve while still slightly warm.

Verdict? Sweet, tangy and peppery good. Parsnips are a totally different taste than I expected, crisp with a hint of licorice (but just a hint - I don't like licorice but the parsnips are good). Next time I might consider omitting the black pepper and using cayenne instead, perhaps adding a bit of honey. But I certainly enjoyed it as is.

While eating the leftovers cold over a salad today, it struck me that a dollop of goat cheese might be nice on it as well. Just an idea~ Oh, and if you're one of those (weird!) people who don't like cilantro (it is genetic, I know, I just love the stuff), you might try substituting with flat leaf parsley.

Bonus ingredient tip: Ginger (in the root form you buy in the produce section) keeps well in the freezer. Just wrap it tightly in plastic and store inside an airtight bag. When you need to use some, peel the skin off of the frozen root using a paring knife and grate it with a Microplane or other fine grater. This way you'll always have it when you need it and won't waste money buying a whole root just to use a small amount.

Parsnip picture above by Gaetan Lee, used pursuant to Creative Commons License.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sweet Ricotta Blintzes with Strawberry-Balsamic Sauce


I love breakfast. Well, not that yogurt and muffin I eat at my desk while reading my email. Weekend breakfast. I'm not a morning person but when I wake up on a weekend morning with nothing to make me rush out of the house, well - that is one of my favorite moments. It has so much potential. I could do anything! I could eat anything! Sometimes I even think of what I want to make to eat the night before, I love it so much.

Usually I go for eggs, maybe pancakes, but this particular Saturday I decided to go in a different direction. Crepes, I thought...with ricotta (after inventorying my fridge). A few cookbooks later and I found my starter recipe in that standby book for home cooks - the Joy of Cooking. It is a blintz recipe. After a moderate amount of research trying to figure out the difference between a blintz and a crepe, I'm convinced it is pretty much the same thing, with crepes being of French origin and Blintzes hailing from eastern Europe. Some say it is about yeast, others about cooking one one side vs. two...If anyone cares to shed any more light on this, I'd welcome the info.

Modifications from the original: The ricotta, of course (the original calls for farmer's cheese or cottage cheese). I left out the orange zest and raisins optionally called for in the original - the former because I hated my zester and the latter because I didn't have any. I added a dash of orange extract instead and I think it worked. I now have a spiffy Microplane (love it!) so I'll try it with zest next time. I think raisins would be overkill at best and at worst out of place in this dish, so I vote for leaving them out.

And oh yes, the strawberry balsamic sauce. Why vinegar with strawberries, you might ask? Well, balsamic vinegar isn't your usual vinegar. It has complex flavors and sweetness of its own. And it really seems to bring out the strawberry's own flavors. I confess to not coming up with this combination on my own, but having some raspberry balsamic jam at an Italian market. It worked there, and I'd like to think it works here.

One final note - I'm sure this seems like a lot of work, but let me tell you that it really isn't so bad, especially since so much can be made in the blender/food processor. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to prepare the blintzes. Just keep that pan buttered and they'll come out perfect. Sure, this isn't as quick and easy as pancakes from a box, but with not too much work you can have a breakfast that tastes like something you'd happily pay good money for from a restaurant.

Sweet Ricotta Blintzes with Strawberry-Balsamic Sauce
Serves 2-4

Printable RecipePreparation notes: The below recipe is in three parts, the blintz itself, the cheese filling, and the strawberry sauce. The blintz batter needs to sit for 30 minutes and the strawberry sauce needs to simmer for a while, too, so I advise tackling all the tasks in this order: 1) prepare blintz batter through the resting stage, 2) prepare strawberry sauce and start it simmering as directed, 3) make the cheese filling, 4) cook the blintzes, 5) fill, fry, top, eat! You can also prepare the blintz batter, cheese filling, and strawberry sauce a day in advance and refrigerate it.

Sweet Blintzes
Adapted from Joy of Cooking
Makes 8-10 blintzes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
3 eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
When ready to prepare blintzes, coat an 8 or 10 inch skillet with butter. Heat pan over medium-high heat. When butter is melted, remove skillet from heat and pour in about 3 tablespoons of the batter, enough to just coat the bottom of the pan. Return skillet to heat and cook until the bottom is golden and the top is dry. Place blintz on a piece of wax paper and prepare next, stacking the finished blintzes between sheets of wax paper.

Ricotta Filling
Adapted from Joy of Cooking

1 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
2 ounces cream cheese
1 egg
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon orange extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more as needed

Combine all ingredients except the butter and oil in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth.
Drop an equal amount of the filling in the center of the uncooked side of a prepared blintz.
Fold in the sides of the blintz to make a rectangular package in which the cheese mixture is completely encased.
Heat the butter and oil in a skillet until the butter is melted and any bubbles have subsided. Add the blintzes, seam side down. Cook until the bottom is golden and then flip and brown other side as well.
When the blintzes are done, set them on a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb any excess oil.
Transfer the blintzes to the serving plate and top with the strawberry sauce.

Strawberry-Balsamic Sauce
by Me
2 cups strawberries, hulled and cut into chunks
1 tablespoon butter (unsalted if you have it)
3 tablespoons sugar (use an extra tablespoon if your strawberries aren't very sweet)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

In a small saucepot over medium-high heat, stir together the strawberries, butter, and sugar. Bring to a boil. Boil for 3-5 minutes, or until the mixture has nearly reached your desired consistency. Add 1 tablespoon of the balsamic vinegar and let boil for one more minute. Reduce heat to low and and add remaining tablespoon of vinegar. Stir and let simmer until thickened, or until you're ready to eat!

Verdict? Yummmmm. Seriously. I'm getting hungry thinking about these now, and I just ate lunch. By the way, you can freeze the assembled blintzes (before pan frying them), so feel free to make a double batch and store some for later use. I have three of these babies in my freezer at home; can't wait to go eat them. Breakfast for dinner anyone?

By the way - if you want to attempt to reduce the fat used in this dish, you can probably get away with pan-frying the filled blintzes in your most non-stick skillet with less oil/butter or even cooking spray. For making the blintzes in the first place I'd advise trying to butter the skillet just every other blintz if trying to reduce the fat. That second one will be a bit tougher to get out of the pan, but it should still be fine. This dish will never be totally low fat but you can trim off a bit here and there. Enjoy!

By the way - sorry for the long delay between posts. Life got busy for a bit, but look for a new recipe tomorrow, one for you AZEats people. That one will be followed by more breakfast. Yummm.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Jamaican Style Rice and Peas


When I was growing up, there were several "Aunts" of mine who would make rice and peas. For the uninitiated, rice and peas is a dish common to many Caribbean and Central American countries. It is basically kidney beans (or pigeon peas or whatever bean the particular country has available) mixed in with rice and spices. Sounds simple and kinda bland, right? Not so, trust me.

I always looked forward to going over to my Aunts' houses for rice and peas. There were slight variations in them, some were spicier, had more coconut milk, etc., but I liked them all. The rice in each of them was perfectly cooked, not one grain stuck to another. This - I cannot accomplish. I think they may have used a rice cooker; I'll cling to this belief so as to not be a total rice failure.

But I'm okay with my rice failure. I came to this realization when sitting over a bowl of my own take on rice and peas, my "mushy" rice giving the whole thing an almost risotto-esque quality. Probably not true to the original, but tasty and comforting nonetheless. And so I'll share the recipe with you - with a tip of the hat and apologies to my Jamaican/Panamanian/Bajan relatives.

Preparation notes - This recipe can be made using canned beans if you're deciding to make this at the last minute. Just put them in a pot and start from where you add the coconut milk. The texture will be a bit different but it'll taste much the same. For those who have had the dish before, mine is heavy on the coconut milk, thyme, and spice in general. It isn't "spicy" per se (unless you let the scotch bonnet pepper break), but lots of different spices are used to give this dish its full flavor. If you do want this spicy, pierce the pepper once or twice before you put it in the pot. Keep an eye on it to make sure the seeds don't spill out into the rice or else you'll probably want a fire extinguisher handy when you eat.

Jamaican Style Rice and Peas
By Me, Serves 4-6
Printable Recipe

2 cups dried kidney beans (or one 15 ounce can)
1 15 ounce can coconut milk
2 cups vegetable stock (or water)
1 cup white rice (long grain, or whatever you have)
3 scallions, cut into 2-inch strips
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed and coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon allspice
5 sprigs fresh thyme (by sprig I mean small groups of single stems)
1 scotch bonnet pepper (or habanero if not available)

Rinse kidney beans and let soak overnight in a large bowl, covered with several inches of water.
In a large pot, boil the kidney beans in 6 cups of salted water for approximately 40 minutes, or until a bean can be easily crushed. Watch while boiling to make sure some water remains in the pot.
Stir in the coconut milk, vegetable stock, rice, garlic, scallions, garlic, salt, and thyme sprigs. Add the pepper, being sure not to break the skin.
Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for about 30 minutes or until rice is fully cooked, stirring occasionally to prevent rice from sticking.
Remove pepper as soon as you notice its skin has broken. Remove thyme stems before serving. Taste for salt and serve.