Shrimp in romesco with wilted spinach: It’s CSA time again!!

I’ve been doing CSA or Community Supported Agriculture for about 4 years now.  How it works is you buy a share of produce from a local farm for a season, and they send you a box of goodies every week, or every other week depending on how big a share you buy.  Ours comes from Harmony Valley Farmsin Viroqua, Wisconsin, and has never disappointed.  Well that’s not entirely true.  CSAs are like playing the stock market.  Your fortune rises and falls with the farmer’s fortunes.  But that is part of the point I think, closely allying yourself with local farmers gives you a connection to your food that is sadly lacking in today’s culture.

Let’s all, as cooks and foodies, take that next step in the Food Revolution and start giving a crap about where we get our food.  But make no mistake, this is not a high moral stance.  I admit, supporting the local economy by buying local organic foods makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  But the bottom line is, that if you buy your vegetables locally they can ripen in the ground and not on the Sysco truck, and that makes them taste better.  And that makes cooking them easier because you are halfway to the end zone from the get-go.

The last time I took a cooking class with Chef Tory(word count of article before I mentioned Chef Tory or L’etoile was 215, for those of you scoring at home) he told us why the food at his restaurant was so amazing.  “I make really good stock, and I buy the very best local ingredients I can.  And then I just don’t mess them up.”  This is not rocket science.  We have a leg up on all those French Chefs from 100 years ago because we don’t need to make a sauce to cover up the fact that the meat we are serving it over is spoiled.

I used to think “organic” food was hippy-dippy bullshit.  I cringed when a chef mentioned that they were “all about the ingredients”.  As opposed to what??  “Seasonal cooking”?  Bah!  I’ll cook what I want when I damn-well feel like it.  But now I understand.  Their food tastes better because the stuff they make their food out of tastes better.

Which leads us to this recipe.  And a bit of an admission.  I had to go off on a rant there, well firstly because it’s fun, and kind of my thing.  But secondly because the lovely Mrs Citizen Chef deleted the pictures I had taken of this dish, so I needed something to fill the space.

The main impetus behind making this was I had over-wintered spinach from the farm to use up.  And if you’ll notice, the spinach part of this recipe could not be more simple.  Wilt the spinach with some oilve oil, throw on some salt and that.  is.  it.  I gilded the lilly a bit by putting some 25 year old balsamic on at the very end, but what the heck.  It was amazing.  And the shrimp in romesco sauce was awesome as well.

Shrimp In Romesco with Wilted Spinach
Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes, Servings: 6

Note: From “The Zuni Café Cookbook” by Judy Rodgers.

Romesco base
2 tablespoons raw almonds (about 12 nuts)
1/4 cup hazelnuts (about 32 nuts)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped drained tomatoes or peeled ripe tomatoes
1 1/4 cup mild-tasting extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 ancho chile
1 1/2 ounces chewy, white peasant-style bread (about 1 thick slice), crust removed
2 to 3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon l’Estornel brand red wine vinegar or other red wine vinegar fortified with a few drops of sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon mild paprika
Salt

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Drop the almonds in a small pot of boiling water and leave for about 10 seconds. Drain, slide off the skins, and rub dry. Set aside.

2. Roast the hazelnuts on a small baking sheet until the skins darken and start to split, 10 to 15 minutes. While they are still hot, bundle them in a towel, then scrunch and massage them to rub off most of their skins. Pick out the nuts and set aside.

3. Turn the oven to broil. Spread the tomatoes one-half-inch thick in a small, shallow baking dish. Trickle with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and broil until the tomatoes char slightly and bubble, a few minutes. Remove from the broiler.

4. Reduce the oven heat to 425 degrees. Meanwhile, pour a few cups of boiling water over the chile and leave to swell for a few minutes. Drain and then stem and seed the pepper.

5. Pour olive oil to a depth of one-half inch into an 8- or 10-inch skillet and set over medium-low heat. Test the temperature with the edge of the slice of bread; when it barely sizzles on contact, reduce the heat slightly and add the bread. (You may need to cut the bread into pieces so it fits into the pan in a single layer.) Check the underside at 1 minute; it should be beginning to color. Fry until it is the color of cornflakes, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Drain and cool on a paper towel.

6. Thickly slice the garlic, then pound to a paste in a mortar. Scrape into a processor and add the chile, fried bread, almonds and hazelnuts. Grind to a fine, moist paste, scraping the sides frequently. Scrape in the tomato and process to a paste. Add the vinegar, paprika, the remaining extra-virgin olive oil and salt to taste. Taste; it should be bursting with flavor, although not overly spicy. The flavor of the paprika will come out over time.

7. Spread the paste in a thick layer in a small, shallow baking dish and bake until the surface has turned dark orange with occasional flecks of brown, about 8 minutes. (Makes about 1 cup. Can be made up to a week in advance.)

Shrimp and assembly
1 cup chicken stock, shellfish fumet (concentrated stock), water, or a combination
3 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 cup yellow onions
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
1 1/4 pounds large shrimp in their shells or just over 1 pound peeled shrimp
3/4 pound spinach, stemmed, carefully washed and dried

1. Bring the stock, fumet or water and the white wine to a simmer in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat and stir in the romesco base. Taste for salt. Cover and set aside for about 30 minutes. As this brew cools, the crumbs will begin to swell and soften, which will give the sauce a nice texture.

2. Place the diced onions in a 3-quart sauté pan with about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and a few pinches of salt. Cook over medium heat until translucent and tender, about 5 minutes. Add the romesco and warm through, about 1 minute. Add the shrimp and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook gently, turning each one over once in the thickening sauce, until the shrimp are just firm and opaque, about 4 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp.

3. Meanwhile, warm another 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the spinach and sprinkle with salt. Gently turn and fold leaves until they are uniformly wilted and bright green. Taste for salt and add another trickle of oil if the spinach seems lean.

4. Divide the spinach among warm plates. Arrange the shrimp on top. Taste the sauce, and correct the salt. The romesco should be fluid but thick; reduce briefly or add a splash of water if it seems either watery or pasty. Spoon the sauce over all.

~Citizen Chef

Advertisements

Indian Style Curry with Potatoes, Cauliflower, Peas & Chickpeas

When you need a break from cooking, try bingo games online and maybe win some money

Here at AwK, there’s been an ongoing behind-the-scenes debate with the authors about Cook’s Illustrated. As much as we love CI, as well as their entire entourage of magazines and books, not much is free.

CI Indian Vegetable Curry

No one here has a problem with that — we get it. You’ve heard my rants about Food & Wine magazine and how I can’t justify paying for a magazine that has all of the recipes listed online before my magazine even gets into my mailbox, but the upside is that I have no problem cooking their dishes and reposting them here.

CI’s a little more tricky. Their business model eliminates advertising and instead relies on actual subscribers. Crazy, I know, but for this very reason we’ve been reluctant to have a free-for-all reposting of their recipes. So that’s why you haven’t seen a lot of CI/America’s Test Kitchen, as much as we love ’em.

You will, however, get a periodic one from me. I justify it like this — I pay for a magazine subscription and an additional fee for an online description, which should allow me to post something awesome from CI at least once a month. And, I agree, if I post then I should at least try to get you to buy the magazine. Here goes: If you love delicious food and you’re looking for a fantastic cooking magazine that eliminates fluffy articles (that you won’t read anyway) and pages upon pages of advertising (that you will ignore), Cook’s Illustrated is the way to go.

Now with my apologetics and endorsements out of the way, here’s something that kicks ass: Indian-Style Curry with Potatoes, Cauliflower, Peas and Chickpeas.

The first time I had the pleasure of eating this was a couple of months ago. The recipe had been published in the recent “Soups & Stews” magazine that I had picked up back in March, and was the first thing out of the magazine that I made. From the first bite until the last, I couldn’t stop myself from making all kinds of obscene noises, that’s how good it was.

Not that my spouse minded.

Indian Vegetable Curry

Indian-Style Curry with Potatoes, Cauliflower, Peas and Chickpeas
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

2 tablespoons curry powder (sweet or mild)
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped fine (about 2 cups)
12 ounces Red Bliss potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 – 1 1/2 serrano chiles, ribs, seeds, and flesh minced (I used 1 jalapeno)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 medium head cauliflower, trimmed, cored, and cut into 1-inch florets (about 4 cups)
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 1/4 cups water
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas , drained and rinsed
Table salt
8 ounces frozen peas (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup heavy cream
Plain, nonfat yogurt (as garnish)
4 cups cooked basmati rice

Toast curry powder and garam masala in small skillet over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until spices darken slightly and become fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove spices from skillet and set aside.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions and potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are caramelized and potatoes are golden brown on edges, about 10 minutes. (Reduce heat to medium if onions darken too quickly.)

Reduce heat to medium. Clear center of pan and add remaining tablespoon oil, garlic, ginger, chile, and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add toasted spices and cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute longer. Add cauliflower and cook, stirring constantly, until spices coat florets, about 2 minutes longer.

Add tomatoes, water, chickpeas, and 1 teaspoon salt; increase heat to medium-high and bring mixture to boil, scraping bottom of pan with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Cover and reduce heat to medium. Simmer briskly, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in peas and cream or coconut milk; continue to cook until heated through, about 2 minutes longer. Adjust seasoning with salt and serve immediately, passing condiments separately.

It’s delicious and obscene noise worthy. Serve this up on top of cooked rice. At the time I was out of basmati, but it was still great on top of cooked jasmine. Indian dishes can be topped with an assortment of things like chutney or a relish (which CI has recipes for if you’re interested), but I like mine with plain, nonfat yogurt. The yogurt also helps cut down on the spiciness if you went a little overboard with the peppers.

Weeknight Cooking: A
Overall Cooking: A-

Apple Muffins

I don’t keep breakfast items readily available in the house. There’s always dry cereal, but we don’t use the milk fast enough to warrant keeping a lot of it in the refrigerator, and the cereal sits alone, unwanted. I like breakfast, specifically something that goes well with my coffee. Yep, you guessed it — more Ellie!

Unfortunately a lot of my photographs that I took didn’t come out well so, just a few minutes ago, I set up a little faux photo studio made from pages of a white “While You Were Out” message pad.

It was the best I could do.

apple-muffin-1

I wish these were a lot more photogenic. Sadly, their modest appearance just doesn’t do the taste justice. These little gems are moist, sweet muffins with tender bits of apple baked throughout. And they’re delicious. Coming from someone who generally dislikes apples, that’s quite a statement. But that’s not the best bit. What really makes this little gem is the tasty brown sugar, cinnamon and pecan streusel on top.

Apple Muffins 2

These go together fast and they’re very easy, not to mention that they contain a lot of nutritious things your body needs — such as the applesauce and whole wheat. And yet, I don’t taste the “diet” element in this, something I am incredibly picky about. I don’t drink diet sodas nor do I eat a lot of sugar substitutes. They don’t taste right to me. These scrumptious muffins taste dynamite and you’re giving your body good, too.

Most importantly, it’s great with my coffee. I take two of these to work with me in a little plastic sandwich bag so I can eat them at my desk. They’re incredibly moist and surprisingly sweet and, because they’re in muffin format, they’re portable.

The recipe was adapted from Ellie Krieger’s book that I’ve been going on and on about. You’re probably sick of hearing about it by now, but I’m just in love with what I’m able to find inside. Remember those portobello lasagna roll ups I made not too long ago? I remade them the other night using creminis and turkey sausage. So yummy.

Anyway, most of the ingredients for this recipe were already in my cupboard, except for the applesauce. The only applesauce I had contained sugar, and what the recipe recommends is natural. To compensate, I cut the brown sugar in half, and still came out with something really special. My version is below. You can find Ellie’s original in her book, or on the Food Network website.

Apple Muffins
Adapted from Ellie Krieger

Cooking spray
3/8 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 Golden Delicious apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 12-capacity muffin pan with cooking spray. In a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, the pecans and cinnamon.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose and whole-wheat flour, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk the remaining 3/4 cup sugar and oil until combined. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in the applesauce and vanilla. Whisk in the flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the buttermilk. Whisk just until combined. Gently stir in the apple chunks.

Pour the batter into the prepared muffin pan and sprinkle with the pecan mixture. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to remove any air bubbles. Bake for 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center of 1 of the muffins comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the muffins to loosen them and unmold. Cool completely on the rack.

I’m going to keep making these so I can have them on hand. I have a lot of leftover blueberries in my fridge so I’m going to switch those in for the apple and see what happens.

apple-muffin-bite

Fool for Pho

Citizen Chef and I share several passions. Good cooking, fine dining, a nice wine, those he and I share in common.

The obscene man-crush on Fabio from Top Chef isn’t a shared feeling; though I do feel that Fabio is a great chef.  (news on the Fabio front)

Another thing that we share is our inspiration for, and enjoyment of, is Pho. Pho (pronounced “Fuh” by most people – actually, the pronunciation is a variable as far as I can tell, as no one pronounces it the same way twice) is a world famous Vietnamese noodle soup involving beef and beef related products swimming with some rice noodles and a nice clear beef broth. That is Pho Bo (aka Beef Soup). There is also a chicken related Pho, but that could be another post. So for our purposes, we are going to concentrate on the beef soup.

This is the Pho I made!
This is the Pho I made!

Now you may be asking yourself, “Self, why would Squidlegs really like a Vietenemese dish since he is not, pretty obviously, from said region of the world?” And you would be asking yourself a very good question. And I have an answer for you… And yourself. Recently on the wonderful “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” there was an episode where he and his old boss from his restaurant in New York got up early just to go eat a good bowl of Pho for lunch. Yes.. There was that much waiting around. But they both agreed that it was worth it. If Tony says something is that good, I gotta go try it. I was inspired. I ran right out and… Well I totally forgot about it. Forgotten, until Citizen Chef came back from vacation, talking about Pho and how it was pretty darned good.

So then he and I had to try it together. On his home turf, we made arrangements to go try a good Vietenemese place near by. But it was closed the night we were going out. So his town actually had a second Vietenemese restaurant. Off we went. And it was pretty darned good.With some spring rolls and slow food delivery, we made a good time of it and enjoyed the food. We also made commitments that he would try the place we were going to be trying and that I would try the one restaurant in my neck of the woods. I managed to pull one over on Citizen Chef though, because two nights later, I went to other restaurant in his town and tried Pho again. Sneaky, aren’t I? It was pretty good. I thought that the broth, one of the key components, was a little lacking, but I did get this batch of Pho to-go, so I may have missed some of the nuances in the really hot broth or fresh noodles. I also tried the restaurant in my home town and, again, while good, wasn’t great! so the quest continued.

Now, all of the above was a set up for me telling you that I have the secret to good American Pho. I say American Pho as I am sure many of our Vietnamese readers or friends will tell you that no one over here can really get the ingredients or knows the secrets of real Pho. But this stuff is pretty damned good if I do say so myself. I found this recipe online (please check out the full page for the recipe… it’s somewhere in the middle.) All of the pictures in this post are from my attempt at cooking this, but the writer of the blog above also has some great pictures.

Finished Broth
Finished Broth

THE BROTH
2 onions, halved
4″ nub of ginger, halved lengthwise
5-6 lbs of good beef bones, preferably leg and knuckle
1 lb of beef meat – chuck, brisket, rump, cut into large slices [optional]
6 quarts of water
1 package of Pho Spices [1 cinnamon stick, 1 tbl coriander seeds, 1 tbl fennel seeds, 5 star anise, 1 cardamom pod, 6 whole cloves – in mesh bag]
1 1/2 tbl salt
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 inch chunk of yellow rock sugar (about 1 oz) – or 1oz of regular sugar

Char: Turn your broiler on high and move rack to the highest spot. Place ginger and onions on baking sheet. Brush just a bit of cooking oil on the cut side of each. Broil on high until ginger and onions begin to char. Turn over and continue to char. This should take a total of 10-15 minutes.

Parboil the bones: Fill large pot (12-qt capacity) with cool water. Boil water, and then add the bones, keeping the heat on high. Boil vigorously for 10 minutes. Drain, rinse the bones and rinse out the pot. Refill pot with bones and 6 qts of cool water. Bring to boil over high heat and lower to simmer. Using a ladle or a fine mesh strainer, remove any scum that rises to the top.

Boil broth: Add ginger, onion, spice packet, beef, sugar, fish sauce, salt and simmer uncovered for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the beef meat and set aside (you’ll be eating this meat later in the bowls) Continue simmering for another 1 1/2 hours. Strain broth and return the broth to the pot. Taste broth and adjust seasoning – if you want a little more flavor, add a few dashes more of fish sauce, large pinch of salt and a small nugget of rock sugar (or large pinch of regular sugar).

Everything ready for the broth
Everything ready for the broth

THE BOWLS
2 lbs rice noodles (dried or fresh)
cooked beef from the broth
1/2 lb flank, london broil, sirloin or eye of round, sliced as thin as possible.
big handful of each: mint, cilantro, basil
2 limes, cut into wedges
2-3 chili peppers, sliced
2 big handfuls of bean sprouts
Hoisin sauce
Cock sauce (Sriracha)

Prepare noodles & meat: Slice your flank/london broil/sirloin as thin as possible – try freezing for 15 minutes prior to slicing to make it easier. Remember the cooked beef meat that was part of your broth? Cut or shred the meat and set aside. Arrange all other ingredients on a platter for the table. Your guests will “assemble” their own bowls. Follow the directions on your package of noodles – there are many different sizes and widths of rice noodles, so make sure you read the directions. For some fresh rice noodles, just a quick 5 second blanch in hot water is all that’s needed. The package that I purchased (above) – needed about 45 seconds in boiling water.

Ladling: Bring your broth back to a boil. Line up your soup bowls next to the stove. Fill each bowl with rice noodles, shredded cooked beef and raw meat slices. As soon as the broth comes back to a boil, ladle into each bowl. the hot broth will cook your raw beef slices. Serve immediately. Guests can garnish their own bowls as they wish.

Everything needed to make a good bowl of Pho
Everything needed to make a good bowl of Pho

There are a couple of notes about the recipe above.

  • I used flank steak and I got a little over a pound. I used half for the broth and then shredded it for the actual bowl and then thin sliced the other half for the “raw’ portion that gets cooked by the broth.
  • The broth is really fatty if you use soup bones, so at one point my kitchen looked sort of like the soap-making scene in “Fight Club,” but without the chemical burns. Just fair warning, you will want to use a ladle and get the first inch to two inches of liquid off the top of the broth before proceeding to the second 1-1/2 hour simmer. I actually poured the liquid into a seperator and out of 4 cups of liquid, had less than a cup of broth, all of the rest was fat.
  • It doesn’t say to, but I toasted the spice pack before I put it together. I recommend that. It was really nummy!
  • This is not a race, take your time. It will take a whole afternoon to make this.
  • While I was at the store getting items for this dish, I found some beef/tendon meatballs in the asian frozen food section. I highly recommend that in addition to the other meat in the dish. You boil them for 15 minutes right out of the freezer and cut them in half and put it in the soup bowl, as I did. I really encourage you to add this, as it brings a great flavor and texture to the game.
  • There are a couple of other condiments that you should consider.
    • Chili Garlic Paste (found in asian sections of big grocery stores, or oriental food markets
    • Beef Paste, found in the same place
    • Fried Minced Garlic, which I actually didn’t find, so I didn’t try it, but I have had it in a restaurant and it adds another layer of flavor.
  • About the hoisin and “cock” sauce (so called because of the rooster on the bottle, get your minds out of the gutter!), you don’t see it in the photos, but I did add it. It is about a tablespoon of each, but that will spice it up, so you may want to use less of the cock sauce.

So that’s it. The secret to great Pho. It was awesome and I am not just saying that because I gloating. Though I am. It was just really, really good. And once the excess fat was removed, it is even pretty healthy. I hope you try it and enjoy!

Squidlegs

Portobello Mushroom Rollups with Tomato Sauce

I’m still on my Ellie Krieger kick as I’m still fighting my own Battle of the Bulge. My cravings as of late have been more for carbohydrates, so I opened Ellie’s cookbook to see if I could find something that would satisfy, yet provide a healthier option.

Portobello Lasagna Rollups with Tomato Sauce 1

Well, hello there. Come here often?

The downside about this recipe is that it does take a while. Aside from the active time, the tomato sauce takes about 20 minutes to simmer and the overall dish takes another 30 – 45 minutes to bake. What would have made it more efficient for me from a time management perspective is if I hadn’t needed to run to the grocery store before coming home. If you have these ingredients on hand ready to go, then it won’t be an issue. I hadn’t planned ahead, and that was my fault.

Easy Tomato Sauce
From Ellie Krieger, The Food You Crave

1 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, drained, tomatoes chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper

Everything on this list I already had in my pantry, but for some reason I had forgotten that I already had an existing can of whole tomatoes. It was the grocery store brand, nothing special, of peeled, whole roma tomatoes. But, like I said, I didn’t remember that and I didn’t have a chance to check my pantry because I was going straight from work. So I picked up a can of Hunt’s whole tomatoes. A 28-ounce can. It’s a big can. Like, a can with lots of space inside for lots of tomatoes.

And have I yet mentioned what a large can the Hunt’s 28-ounce can is?

hunts-whole-tomatoes-28ounce-can

It’s a big freaking can. Here’s what the Hunt’s website has to say about their whole tomatoes (i.e. incriminating evidence):

hunts-website-whole-tomatoes

Did you notice the part about packing the OH SO MANY TOMATOES in their OWN JUICE?

I opened up the GINORMOUS 28 OUNCE can and drained it. As I’m pouring it out into the sink, I’m looking at what’s coming out and I’m thinking, “Hmm. That doesn’t look like tomato juice to me… it looks like tomato sauce.”

But I keep pouring, and pouring, and still pouring. What the crap? Once I got to the bottom of the can, guess how many tomatoes I was left with?

Three! Three freaking tomatoes out of that entire can! Actually, there weren’t even three – I had two regular sized romas and one very small roma, about half the size of the other two! Two and a half tomatoes out of that entire freaking can, weighed down by a bunch of sauce!

Guess what brand I won’t ever be buying again? That’s right, Hunt’s. Luckily I had that generic brand to fall back on, and (Thanks, Mr. Wegman!) it had a dozen or more roma tomatoes inside, in actual juice.

After that disparity, I was a little concerned about my ingredients, as I wasn’t sure how many tomatoes were expected to be in the sauce. But I bravely forged ahead anyway. What can I say? I was hungry.

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes longer. Add the remaining ingredients and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Yield: 6 servings

This sauce didn’t have a lot of liquid in it, which was fine — but again, there were no notes in the recipe so I was confused about the instruction that said “simmer”. There wasn’t much to simmer so I just put it on a back burner and kept it on low while I started on the lasagna.

Ellie's Easy Tomato Sauce

Another thing to note is that I cut this in half since I was only serving two people, and it came out to the exact needed portions. The serving size is a 1/2 cup. That may sound like very little, but this dish isn’t a very saucy dish to begin with, so it really does work out.

Nutritional Information:
Calories: 94
Total Fat: 3G
Protein 2.5G
Carb: 14G

Excellent source of: Iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin C
Good source of: Fiber

So while that was simmering, I started on the lasagna.

Portobello Lasagna Rollups
Adapted from Ellie Krieger

12 whole-wheat lasagna noodles (about 3/4 pound)
2 teaspoons olive oil
12 ounces portobello mushrooms, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups Easy Tomato Sauce
1 (15-ounce) container part-skim ricotta cheese
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 egg, lightly beaten
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch ground nutmeg
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
3 ounces grated part-skim mozzarella cheese (about 2/3 cup)

A couple of notes about the noodles. First of all, I couldn’t find any whole wheat lasagna. I found whole wheat everything else except that, so I just used regular. I also used Barilla brand, since I usually do anyway and also because it’s the preferred brand of America’s Test Kitchen. In my own experience, I’ve found Barilla’s cooking lasagna noodles to be a lot thicker and sturdier than other brands.

Then I had another problem. I didn’t want them ripping apart as soon as I removed them from the hot water, nor did I want them overcooked from the baking process, so I boiled them two minutes less than the recommended al dente time, knowing they would soak up more liquid during the baking process.

And they did. They came out perfect.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cook the noodles two minutes less than the al dente time according to the directions on the package. Drain them well and spread them out onto aluminum foil or waxed paper to prevent them from sticking.

Chop up the portobellos.

Portobello Mushrooms

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and all the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce and simmer for 2 minutes.

Chopped Portobellos & Tomato Sauce

In a medium bowl combine the ricotta cheese, spinach, egg, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, a few turns of pepper, and nutmeg. (Note: I did not add the salt.)

Ricotta Mixture

And here’s where it gets fun. Literally. I had a good time doing this part. If you have kids, they’d probably love doing it, too… as well as smearing it all over, and flinging it, and eating it and painting their siblings and walls with it…

Okay, so maybe involving small children isn’t a good idea, but it was fun for me.

Spread 1 cup of tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9 by 12-inch baking dish. Spread about 2 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture onto a lasagna noodle. Top with about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the mushroom mixture.

Cooked Lasagna 1

Cooked Lasagna 2

Cooked Lasagna 3

To make sure I was creating equal portions (I wanted consistency) I used an actual tablespoon and, given that I had halved the recipe, I ended up making 7, one more than expected. So I could have either used the extra innards to really thicken up the rolls, but I think it was better this way because, although this doesn’t look like it would stuff you, it did. I could barely get through two of these, and my spouse, who is a bottomless pit, could barely get through three… and the entire loaf of garlic bread.

It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.

Roll the noodle and place it into the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining noodles.

Rolled Lasagna, Pre-Bake

Spread the remaining 1 1/2 cups of sauce over the lasagna rolls. Top with grated cheeses, cover loosely with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 10 minutes more.

Portobello Mushroom Rollups With Easy Tomato Sauce

And here’s the nutrition information (includes the tomato sauce in its calculation):
Serves 6, Serving size: 2 Rolls
Per serving:
Calories: 500
Total Fat: 18G
Protein: 26G
Carbs: 56G
Fiber: 12G
Cholesterol: 76MG
Sodium: 1110MG

Excellent source of: Calcium, Fiber, Iron, Niacin, Potassium, Protein, Riboflavin, Thiamin, Vitamin A, Vitamin C
Good source of: Copper, Pantothenic Acid, Selenium, Awesomeness

This was a fantastic dish, and I even brought the remaining two rollups for lunch today. I will definitely make this again. As a weeknight cooking dish, the time it takes to make it, as well as the amount of dishes that I used are cons, but as I was wolfing it down all of that went away and I didn’t care anymore. As a regular dish… well, it’s not fine dining, but it looks good on a plate and even those who dislike mushrooms (such as my spouse) didn’t seem to mind as much as usual. It’s also a healthier option for a good looking, great tasting pasta.

Weeknight Cooking: A-
Overall Dish: B+

Orecchiette with Broccoli, Roasted Garlic, and Pine Nuts

This little dish appeared last week as the April 30 Food & Wine Recipe of the Day. What struck me about it was that it reminded me of a dish I used to order at a Seattle restaurant, though the one I used to order had the addition of small clusters of goat cheese sprinkled in.

I definitely recommend adding the goat cheese.

Orecchiette with Broccoli, Roasted Garlic, and Pine Nuts

Orecchiette with Broccoli, Roasted Garlic, and Pine Nuts
Courtesy of Food & Wine

1 head garlic, separated into cloves
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds broccoli, cut into small florets
3/4 pound orecchiette
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1/2 cup fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Heat the oven to 325°. In a small ovenproof dish, toss the garlic with the oil. Cover with foil and roast until soft, about 30 minutes. Put the pine nuts in a separate pan and toast alongside the garlic until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

When the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze the flesh out of the peelings and mash the garlic into the warm oil remaining in the baking dish. Add the salt and pepper.

In a medium saucepan, steam or boil the broccoli until just done. Steaming will take about 5 minutes and boiling will take about 2.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the orecchiette until just done, about 15 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Drain the orecchiette and toss with 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water, the broccoli, the garlic mixture, the pine nuts, and the Parmesan. If the pasta seems dry, add more of the reserved pasta water. Serve with additional Parmesan.

My only mistake on this is that I quickly unwrapped all of my garlic cloves before remembering they needed to bake while still in the wrappings. Unfortunately, the garlic browned and hardened, so it wasn’t a smooth paste. To get around that, I gave it a spin in the food processor and pulverized it until it was mostly spreadable.

Orecchiette With Broccoli Roasted Garlic and Pine Nuts

Aside from my screw up, this was a light and delicious little lunch. Even just preparing the broccoli with the garlic-oil paste would make a fantastic side dish. Full props on this tasty dish… and that has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a sucker for broccoli.

Maybe.

Weeknight Cooking: A-
Overall Dish: A-

Rustic Pear Tart with Whole Wheat Crust

As you know, I’m a big fan of Ellie Krieger and her James Beard nominated book, The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life. Since my recent food focus has been a little more health-conscious, I’ve been thinking about hitting her cookbook hard. After all, I own it, so why shouldn’t I cook more from it?

Rustic Pear Tart

As I was searching around the web for more about Ellie, I came across an Ellie cooking fan club of sorts. Every week someone on the blog list chooses an Ellie recipe from her cookbook. Everyone in the group makes it then posts their results on their own respective blogs.

Every well-known chef these days seem to have their own blogging groupies: Ina Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa, has a group called the Barefoot Bloggers. Dorie Greenspan has her own Tuesdays with Dorie group. One very intrepid (and perhaps masochist) cook loves the French Laundry so much that she went through its entire cookbook from cover to cover. Foodies and wannabes everywhere tuned in to her blog with fascination and applause as she did. As soon as she was finished, she picked up Grant Achatz’s Alinea.

And there are others out there, hungry for more.

Get it? They’re hungry for mo— You’re right. I’m sorry.

Personally, I love the idea of group blogs, which is why CC and I started AwK. I’d be interested in joining up with some intrepid food groupies, but finding a group that’s right for me has been difficult. I love to bake, so I considered getting in with the Dorie group back when they were still accepting members. The downside to that group is everyone has to bake the required dessert every other week, and that’s the minimum. With only two people in my house, that’s a lot of dessert to either eat or put down the garbage disposal. There’s Ina Garten, but I don’t know much about her except that she’s got a slew of food products and her own show on the Food Network — I tried sitting through an episode once, but it was like taking a few Vicodin and watching Nascar in slow motion and without sound. At least Rachel Ray keeps yapping through her thirty minutes.

The other option would be to join the Ellie Krieger group, but I just can’t past the name: Craving Ellie in my Belly.

Perhaps Dr. Lecter would like a membership.

According to Ellie’s website, she’s coming out with a new cookbook soon, called So Easy: Luscious Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Week. If there’s a group out there that wants to go through this book, but doesn’t want to put Ms. Krieger into anyone’s belly, I’ll probably join it. In the meantime, I think I’m on my own.

Rustic Pear Tart Slice

This week, I went with the Rustic Pear Tart. It’s got a whole wheat crust and simple honey glaze on the top. Each slice is only 200 calories and 8 grams of fat.

My spouse alerted me early on that he doesn’t like pears. It’s probably for the best, because this was so good I ate half of it in one day.

Rustic Pear Tart
Adapted from Ellie Krieger

Crust:
1/2 cup whole-grain pastry flour or regular whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons lowfat buttermilk
3 tablespoons ice water

Filling:
3 medium pears
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Glaze:
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon boiling water

What I changed on this was the method of dough making. The original recipe calls for whisking the dry ingredients then gently blending with a fork until the dough forms small pebbles then slowly pouring the buttermilk and water and gradually combining…

Screw that. I went with ye olde food processor.

Whole Wheat Dough - Food Processor

In a food processor, pulse together the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, salt and butter until the butter is fully cut up and chunks are no longer visible.

Even after the butter is spread evenly, it ends up looking like dry powder.

In a small bowl combine the buttermilk and ice water. Pour into the processor bowl and pulse until combined. Pat the dough into a 4-inch round and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

That’s no offense to the old fashioned way, but that way takes about 25 minutes, and mine takes 5.

My way wins.

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and prepare the filling. Peel the pears, core them and cut into 1/4-inch slices. In a large bowl toss the pear slices with the lemon juice. Sprinkle in the cornstarch, brown sugar and cinnamon and toss until the pears are evenly coated. Set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough into a large circle about 9 inches in diameter. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and draping the dough over the rolling pin, transfer to the prepared baking sheet. If the dough breaks at all patch it up with your fingers.

Arrange the pears in a mound in the center of the dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Fold the border over the filling. It will only cover the pears partially and does not need to be even.

The mounding was a little confusing for me, because the tart looked really funny with everything just piled up in a huge ball. As it cooked, the pears softened a great deal and began to mold together and, when they were done, it wasn’t such a crazy dogpile in the center of the tart.

Here it is as it’s going into the oven:

Pear Tart Prebake

Bake the tart for 15 minutes then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, keeping the tart in the oven all the while, and bake for another 40 minutes, until the pears are tender and the crust is golden brown.

In a small bowl stir together the honey and boiling water to make a glaze. When the tart is done remove it from the oven and brush the honey glaze all over the top of the fruit and crust. Transfer to a plate to cool slightly. Cut into 6 wedges and serve warm or a room temperature.

I liked this a great deal. The honey glaze on top was the deal maker, adding that needed hint of sweetness. During the baking process, the pear juices and sugar soaked into the inside of the crust, giving it a little deliciousness that prevented me from skipping the end, like I sometimes do with a pizza.

The simplicity and deliciousness of this can’t be beat. I will definitely make this again.

Rustic Pear Tart with Whole Wheat Crust

And here’s the nutrition information:
6 servings, serving size 1 wedge

Per Serving:
Calories 220; Total Fat 8 g; (Sat Fat 5 g, Mono Fat 2 g, Poly Fat 0 g) ; Protein 3 g; Carb 36 g; Fiber 4 g; Cholesterol 20 mg; Sodium 55 mg
Good source of: Fiber, Thiamin

Pear Tart Slice Section