Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fancy recipes

Life lesson learned: just because it's in a fancy cooking magazine with an artsy photo and includes hoighty-toighty steps like "steep the dried lavender buds in the heavy cream until fragrant, about 10 minutes" doesn't mean it's going to be good. Really, it doesn't. Just follow your instincts. Sometimes people just want graham crackers with chocolate frosting on them, and that's okay.

Curry Orzo

So, this recipe was born of necessity. I realized one hour beforehand that I was going to a church potluck, and I didn't have anything to bring. Using only what I had in my cupboards, I tried to recreate, with a few twists, a dish I frequently have for lunch at the super-limited deli where I go to school.

Curry Orzo

  • 2 cups orzo pasta
  • 1 cup shredded carrot
  • 2 small-to-medium apples, chopped
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1/4 cup red onion, chopped
  • 1 handful raisins (I didn't have any raisins on me at the time, but I'm sure they would have been great in it)
  • 1 handful cashews (again, I think they'd be good, but I didn't have any on hand)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons yellow curry powder (curry powder is highly variable, so this is totally flexible. The kind I use is quite hot, so I tend to go on the low side)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry, ground ginger root
  • salt to taste

Boil the orzo in salted water, about 10 minutes or until al dente. Meanwhile, mix the olive oil, honey, curry powder, cinnamon, and ginger in a small bowl. Drain the orzo and rinse with cold water. Mix with the carrots, apples, celery, onions, raisins, and cashews. Pour the spice mixture over and stir until well-distributed. Refrigerate and serve cold.

Sweet Potato Ginger Soup

This one turned out to be a church-dinner favorite. I borrowed the original recipe from The Gilded Fork, which is a great website to get really classy, show-stopping recipes, but I wanted something a little thicker, more sweet-potatoey, and more flavorful. I upped the vegetables and herbs, and I was really happy with the result. Upping the ginger gives it a little zing which I really like.

Warning. I got carried away one time making it, and zested a whole orange into it, and that was WAY too much.

Sweet Potato Ginger Soup

  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for sauteing
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons grated ginger
  • 4 or 5 carrots, peeled and cut up
  • 2 medium to large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut up
  • 3 cups vegetable or chicken broth (you may want to have some more on hand, just in case it's too thick)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon crushed rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • Fresh parley and croûtons for garnish
Out of the ordinary equipement
  • Blender or food-processor
  • Zester
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the garlic and onions, and cook over medium heat until slightly translucent. Add the maple syrup, honey, and ginger. You can play around with the amounts honey and syrup to make it sweeter if you want. Cook until golden brown.

Add everything else (except the garnish), and raise the temperature until the broth starts boiling. Reduce the heat, and simmer until the vegetables are soft. Blend until very smooth (it's kinda' gross if it's still chunky). Garnish with croûtons and parsley.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cranberry-Pear Tart with Macadamia Phyllo Crust

So for Thanksgiving this last year, my family had an iron-chef challenge. I was assigned cranberries, and I decided early on to bring my 'A' game. After 2 months of experimentation, brainstorming, and tempting intermediates (cranberry-brie wontons being the most promising), I decided on this amazing entry.

It's a combination of two different recipes--one from the Whole Foods website and one from the back of a box of Athens Phyllo dough--with a lot of variations.

Now the important questions, did I win the iron chef challenge? In all technicality, no, I came in second; however, it was discovered after the fact that the winner (my sister's fiance, with Pumpkin Cheesecake Cupcakes) used cake mix, and thus, I feel should be disqualified.

Cranberry-Pear Tart with Macadamia Phyllo Crust

The Crust:
  • One half-box (20 sheets) frozen phyllo dough (paper-thin sheets of dough for Greek pastries; usually in grocery store frozen foods with the puff pastry, pie crusts, etc.)
  • One half-cup macadamia nuts, finely chopped or ground
  • 1 stick melted butter
The Filling
  • 4 bosc pears
  • Several tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 12-oz bag of fresh cranberries
  • 1 or 2 spoonfuls of raspberry jam
Out-of-the-ordinary equipment
  • Scissors
  • Tart/quiche pan with a removable bottom (I use an 11-inch pan)
  • Brush or something to spread melted butter

NOTE: the phyllo dough is really temperamental and will dry out/crack if you're not careful. Keep it covered when not using.

Using the bottom of the tart pan as a pattern, cut a large circle out of 20 sheets of the phyllo dough (usually a package has two sleeves of dough, each with 20 sheets). Before using each sheet, brush it with melted butter. Layer the sheets in the tart pan, making sure to cover the sides of the pan, also. In between every few layers, sprinkle some of macadamia nuts (being sure to leave some for the final topping). Don't let the crust come up much past the edge of the pan: it'll just burn in the oven.

Peel and slice the pears into 1/3 - 1/2 inch wedges. Melt enough butter to cover the bottom of a pan, and saute the pears till slightly translucent at the thin parts and slightly browned. You'll probably need to do it in 2-3 batches. Retain as much of the liquid as you can in the pan. After you're finished with the pears, add the cranberries to the pear juice / butter in the same pan. Check over the cranberries because sometimes they still have stems attached. If you need to add a little more butter, go ahead. This is Thanksgiving, you can splurge a little. Cook until the cranberries start to pop and break open. Add up to 1/4 cup sugar to taste (I don't really like it super-sweet). Add the raspberry jam, and mix well. It should be pretty gloopy at this stage.

Pour the cranberry gloop into the phyllo crust, and then arrange the pear slices on top making it presentable: this is a competition, after all. Sprinkle the top with the leftover ground macadamia nuts. If you want some presentation points, put 2-3 whole cranberries and a whole macadamia nut in the center of the tart on top. The heat of the oven with brown the nuts and cause the cranberry to pop a little, making a cool little garnish.

Bake the tart at 350-degrees for 15-20 minutes. Watch carefully, though, because the phyllo can burn easily; watch the edges of the crust, and if they're getting dark, you tart's probably about done.

Friday, March 28, 2008

An experiment

I hate following recipes. I always get sidetracked in the middle of them by crazy ideas like, "do you think I should add sweet potatoes to this?" I love to experiment. Being bound by a recipe is stifling; it's like being trapped in a 3x5 prison guarded by Martha Stewart and Betty Crocker; sometimes you just want to break out, live dangerously, put apples on the pizza or raspberries on the porkchops, substitute carrots for bok choy, parsley for mint, cut the fennel in half, and just leave out the star anise entirely because you have no idea how to use the scary-looking spice. So, here on my new blog, I thought I'd share some of my more promising experiments.

Now, I'll be honest with you: not everything I have created has been good by any means. I have resigned myself to eating lots of disgusting things following failed experiments(like the time I made an enormous pot of spicy curry noodles after having made substitutions for just about everything; they were so bad, and I ended up eating tupperwares full of it for lunch for a week). Just for your benefit, a little bit of orange zest goes a long way (a really long way), you really shouldn't use the green parts of leeks, and you can't substitute skim milk for heavy cream. However, experimenting is fun. It's like an adventure where you have no idea how things will turn out until you're putting it on a plate and offering it to your friends (that's where things get a little scary, but I'm glad I have understanding friends).