Monday, March 28, 2011

March is a Fair-Weather Friend

Recipe: Late Winter Root Vegetable Gratin

March is an odd month. It's not quite spring, but you're desperately sick of winter. The weather oscillates between spring jacket and winter coat temperatures and you just wish mother nature would make up her damn mind.

March is also a pretty bad month for eating. Spring veggies aren't quite in season, but by this time I'm so sick of eating root vegetables that I would rather go back to stuffing my face with burgers. I am trying to stay creative, and (mostly) vegetarian, so because of this I've started to make some really complicated dishes.

For the most part, my cooking style can be defined by "Let's throw it all in a pot and see what happens." It could be any variety of ingredients or cuisines, but really I've become the master of one pot wonders. This is because I rely on having left overs and the one pot wonder always leaves me with a full fridge. But I'm sick of it. Just like I'm sick of root vegetables and winter.

Today I stretched my imagination, and decided to make a casserole of sorts. I guess this dish is sort of like a more elegant version of my usual tricks, but at least I don't feel like I'm eating the same old stuff every week. Warning: it was a lot of work to get all these veggies peeled and sliced, but I think they payoff was pretty great. You can definitely substitute with your favorite root vegetables or remove your sworn vegetable enemies. Its a perfect late winter dish, using up the last of our cold weather vegetables but the addition of leeks and fresh herbs gives it the freshness of spring. This can make a great side dish or be served with a salad and some bread to make a full meal.

Late Winter Root Vegetable Gratin 

1 recipe Bechamel, with 1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 leek, fine julienned
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBS butter
2 celery root, peeled and sliced thinly on a mandolin
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced thinly on a mandolin
3 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly on a mandolin
2 golden beets, peeled and sliced thinly on a mandolin
1 turnip, peeled and sliced thinly on a mandolin
1/2 bulb fennel, shaved
2 TBS fresh tarragon, minced
1 TBS breadcrumbs
Just before the béchamel is added.

1. Make béchamel according to recipe. Add parmesan during the last 5 minutes of cooking

Layering the vegetables
2. Preheat oven to 350. Caramelize leeks and garlic in butter over high heat. Once pan begins to brown, add a touch of water to deglaze the pan. Once water has evaporated and pan begins to dry, add a splash more water. Continue these steps as necessary until leeks are soft.

3. In a casserole pan, layer the sliced vegetables. Make sure the vegetables are sliced very thinly, as they will take forever to cook if they are too thick. About halfway up, add a layer of the cooked leeks, 1TBS tarragon, and half the béchamel. Continue to layer the vegetables until you have used them all up, or until the pan is full. On the top layer, add the rest of the leeks, tarragon, béchamel, and top with breadcrumbs.

4. Cook in oven until all the vegetables are soft and the top of the gratin has browned, about one hour. Enjoy with steamed greens and a nice baguette.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Brunch Should Not Just Be Limited to the Time Between Breakfast and Lunch

Recipe: Spinach, Tomato, Corn and Ricotta Omelette

Around here, brunch is everyone's favorite meal. Walk outside your door on a Saturday or Sunday morning around 10 or 11 o'clock and you'll see dozens of people hoofing it down the street on their way to their favorite brunch spot. My favorites include (but are not limited to) Uncommon Ground, for their exceptionally spicy chilaquiles, Takashi, for their ramen noodles and to see my old boss, and Bakin' and Eggs who has a Bacon Flight and I'm guilty of ordering it. What I love most about going out to brunch, besides the endless coffee refills, are those perfect brunch staples: omelets and breakfast potatoes. Everyone has their favorites, some people crave a mile high stack of pancakes to soak up their Saturday nights, some people go for the heathy and bland oatmeal option, while others like a perfectly scrambled egg, but for me I like that soft mixture of eggs, vegetables and cheese folded together like a little breakfast present and given to me with a crunchy and salty breakfast potato on the side. (Speaking of breakfast potatoes check out Frasca. They make a great hash, that is loaded with cream and parmesean. It's not for the weak of heart, but go for it if you're up for the challenge.)

But, brunch food doesn't have to be eaten only in the haze that is Sunday morning. I like to eat it at any time of the day. The omelette is my go-to meal when I've eaten all the leftovers and I don't feel like cooking much. All you need is a few eggs, some vegetable ends, and a potato to have the makings of a delicious and easy dinner.

The omelette is a tricky dish to master. I still find myself starting out to make an omelette and ending up with more of a veggie scramble but it all goes to the same place, right? So, don't worry if you screw up your first (or your hundredth) try.

Even though it's March, the fresh ingredients in this dish make me yearn for summer. If you're feeling adventurous try making the ricotta yourself. I wasn't at the time and I find store bought ricotta to be just as nice.

Spinach, Tomato, Corn and Ricotta Omelette

2 eggs
A splash of milk
2 TBS frozen corn, defrosted
2 TBS red onion, diced
2 TBS tomatoes, diced
1 large handful spinach
2 TBS ricotta
1 TBS butter
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Heat 2 TBS of canola or olive oil in a skillet. Add red onions and sweat on medium low heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and corn and cook a few minutes longer, until the tomatoes have softened. Remove from heat and reserve.

2. Heat rest of oil in a clean saute pan. Wilt spinach in pan and mix with corn, tomato, and onion mixture. Season with a little salt and pepper.

3. Whisk eggs, milk, and salt and pepper together until whites are fully blended with the whites. Heat butter in a non stick pan and add eggs all at once. Briskly jolt the pan back and forth over the flame, as if you were sauteing something, until the eggs have covered the entire size of the pan. Cook until eggs have set and remove from heat. Do not be afraid to undercook the eggs. An omelette should be nice and moist. Once the eggs have set, remove pan from heat and fold omelette on to a plate. Top with corn mixture and crumble a little bit of ricotta over the top. Enjoy with a simple salad of mixed greens or a nice crunchy piece of bread and butter.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Those Quinoa Crazy Americans

Recipe: Twice-Fried Plantains with Quinoa, Corn, and Black Bean Salad

For some reason (that I cannot quite decipher) quinoa is all the rage right now. Sure it's a healthy heirloom grain (according to Wikipedia, the most accurate source of information, it has a balanced set of amino acids making it the most complete protein in the plant family), but it's kind of expensive (so much so that people in it's native Bolivia aren't really able to afford it anymore) and the taste, while alright, has nothing on bacon. I don't really understand the craze, but we've been using it at work so much that I finally decided to give it a try at home.

Quinoa, as I mentioned before, comes from South America, most notably Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. At work we use quinoa in recipes with a variety of styles from Californian to Tex Mex, but I wanted to highlight quinoa's origin and create an original dish inspired by South America.

I have never been to South America. Guatemala is the closest I have come so I drew on experiences from that trip to create this dish. I figured it was close enough. Black beans, corn and plantains were staples for us on that trip and so I wanted to highlight those ingredients in this dish.

Twice Fried Plantains with Quinoa, Black Bean and Corn Salad

For the plantains
3 plantains (I used ripe ones, but next time I'm going to try it with green ones)
3 cloves garlic
Flour, for dredging
Salt and pepper, TT

1. Peel and slice plantains 1/2" thick. Fry slices of plantains either in a deep fryer (if you're lucky enough to have one) or pan fry them in a saute pan with an inch of oil over medium low heat. Fry until golden brown on all sides.
2. Smash plantains in a bowl with the garlic cloves and some salt. Form into patties, about an inch around and 1/2" thick. Dredge in flour and re-fry in the same oil. Fry until the patty is golden brown and crispy.

For the Quinoa Salad
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup white quinoa
2 cups water
1 red onion, diced
2 jalepenos, minced
1 cup black beans, cooked in a large pot by simmering in water
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 bunch scallions, sliced thinly
3 TBS cilantro, minced
2 roma tomatoes, small diced
1 bunch collard greens
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup lime juice
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat canola oil in a large pot. Sweat onions and jalepenos for 3 to 4 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add quinoa and toast for 1 to two minutes. Cover in water and simmer until quinoa is cooked.
2. Meanwhile heat a little more oil in a saute pan. Add garlic and sweat for 1 minute. Add collard greens and saute for 4 to 5 minutes or until greens have wilted.
3. When quinoa is almost cooked, add beans, corn, tomatoes, cooked collard greens and season with scallions, cilantro, lime juice and salt. Cook for 1 minute more and enjoy hot or cold.