Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Scarlett Runner and Fennel Soup...a Mountain Story

Never cook beans at high altitudes. Never. Of course I told myself this 3 years ago when I tried making split pea soup for dinner one night while in the High Sierras of Mammoth. It was noon and I thought I'd just be extra cautious and start the soup. "I'm going to start cooking dinner," I announced. "That's ridiculous," Gray responded. "It won't take 7 hours to make split pea soup. And besides, do we have to eat that? It smells like gym socks!" I glared at him, imagining the Wiicontroller in his hand coming to life and smacking him upside the head. "It does not," I barked. "And even if it did, you're still eating it!"

sauteed the onions, carrots and celery in a bit of olive oil, tossed in the peas with water to cover, and left it to "do its thing". Well, fast forward 8 hours and those peas had not done a darn thing! No breaking down, no softening, no nothing. Those freaking lazy peas! There they sat among the mirepoix, hard as a rock, with the water just looking back at me as if to say, "It's not my fault. It was the PEAS!!" It's also important to note that I am a 6:30 pm dinner diner. So by 8 pm I was about to eat my arm. "Let's just go out sweetie," Gray said, simultaneously trying to calm me while not getting eaten himself. "NO!!" I screamed. "I made soup and we are going to eat soup!" And we did. With our side salad and bread, we ate that crunchy pea soup bite by bite. Each terrible gulp felt as if my mouth walked into a cloud of chalk. By the end of the bowl I was willing myself to finish it. "Come on, Jamie. You can do it," I coached. "You show that measly little bowl of soup whose boss!" And I did. HA! Take that you crunchy, stubborn peas. With a tummy full of undigested pea parts, I collapsed onto the couch, uncomfortable yet undefeated. I have since never made a bean, split pea, lentil, you-name-the-legume soup while visiting Mammoth.

That is, until last weekend. OK, I cheated a little. I knew I wanted to make soup, you know, to complete our snow flurried visit. However, I was not about to relive my split pea horror. So I did what any resourceful girl would do. I cooked the beans a head of time. The trick worked beautifully. The soup came together in no time flat and the beans were perfectly creamy, with just the slightest bit of toothiness. Just as they were meant to be. Fantastico! So I cheated, so what! I give you all permission to cheat a bit on execution when necessary. However, if anyone has a trick on the best way to man-handle legumes in the mountains, I am all ears. Enjoy.

Scarlett Runner and Fennel Soup
Serves 4-5

I am notorious for throwing whatever I have into a pot and calling it soup. Sometimes it works, sometimes it REALLY doesn't. This time, thankfully, it did. Feel free to use celery for the fennel but I have to say, the fennel gives it a lovely touch of sweetness. Also if you cannot find scarlett runners, use any large creamy bean. Ayecote morado, cannellini, cranberry, or borlotti will all work beautifully.

1/2 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 fennel bulb, fronds trimmed, cored, and diced
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3 cups scarlett runner beans, cooked
5-6 cups organic chicken stock or water
2 cups escarole, washed and shredded, feel free to substitute with kale or chard
sea salt and pepper to taste

In a medium stock pot, heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add in the onion and a pinch of salt and saute for 3-5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the carrots and fennel and cook until they have softened. Add in coriander and nutmeg and heat through. Throw in the beans with another pinch of salt and cover with stock or water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Add the shredded escarole and cook until bright green and wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour 1/4 cup olive oil into the soup and stir well. Feel free to add a bit more if you like it particularly rich :) Ladle into bowls and enjoy!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mama's Birthday Dinner

"The second I became pregnant with you, I knew I was having a girl," my mother sang. "I was so happy! All I wanted was a little girl with curly hair." This is a story I have heard a million times and yes, she got her wish. I couldn't control my curly mane if I tried. A much less talked about but just as strong parental desire for my mother was that this curly haired child would love to cook, promising countless hours of mother-daughter time the kitchen. That, unfortunately, was not in the cards. Granted I adore cooking now and rarely want to be anywhere but my kitchen, but this is a relatively new phenomenon. As a child I HATED cooking, just hated it. I was perfectly satisfied to eat any of my mother's creations (chicken in mayonnaise-curry sauce was a favorite) but help her in the process, no way! Every few months my mother would gently ask, "Jamie, would you like to help mommy make dinner?" "NO!", I'd emphatically state.

Even baking didn't interest me, it still doesn't actually, but looking back, what kid doesn't want to bake cookies? Luckily my mother found a baking compatriot in my little sister, which got me off the hook. Laura would make these ghastly concoctions in her easy bake oven that my mother lovingly ate. I specifically remember a cake resembling a flat round turd that Laura quickly doused in a powdered sugar, nonfat milk, and food coloring frosting. As my mother cautiously cut the thinnest possible slice I shouted, "MOM, that is SOOO gross!" "Jamie, be nice," she scolded. "I want to encourage your sister." "Yes, but do you have to put your life on the line for it?," I questioned. I must admit, my sister is now quite an excellent baker, most likely due to my mother's unconditional culinary support.

Not one to push, my mother gave up all hope of cooking with me pretty soon after I admonished her advances. Of course with my new view towards cooking, my mother now stands in the kitchen, mouth agape in amazement, wondering what happened to her anti-cooking daughter. "I never thought this day would come! I'm SO happy", she says. "I know, Mom. I love you. Now come help!"

My mother's birthday has always been a special date for me. March twelfth: 3/12. The curves of the 3 and 2 remind me of my mother's soft nature, of her innate "motherness". Fine I admit it, I am a Mama's girl! And the possessiveness I feel towards her birthday is simply an extension of my adoration. I decided this year I wanted to make something new and exciting. I usually stick to favorites but I was ready to go out on a limb this time. I came up with a menu I new she would love: roasted cannellini beans with sundried tomatoes and parmesan, braised fennel in lemon, and farro with pine nuts. As I cooked through the afternoon the aromas of sweet fennel and garlic emanated from the kitchen, spilling into every room in the house. "Want a glass of red wine," I asked. "Sure, it's my birthday!", she replied. By the time the food was done, my slight mother was clammering for her birthday meal through purple teeth.

Her first bite was the farro with pine nuts. "What is this??" she questioned. "Oh, it is SO good. Like barley...but BETTER." Next came the cannellini beans. "Jamie, this is amazing. With each bite I get a little surprise of parmesan and tomato." Finally, the fennel. "Who would have thought to cook fennel this way? I always avoid it because I'm scared!" By the time the meal was over my 120 pound mother had polished off seconds of the beans and fennel and fourths of the farro. (Not that I was counting.) I left her enough for lunch the next day, glad to provide another meal for the birthday girl. When I got home on Sunday I worried how I would top this year's extravaganza. "Don't worry," I told myself. "You have an entire year to figure it out."

Farro with Golden Onions and Pine Nuts
Serves 2-3

1 cup farro, rinsed and drained
2 cups water
2 tsp. salt
2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, minced
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

Cover farro with water by 2 inches in a bowl and allow to soak overnight. Drain in a colander.

Combine farro, salt, and 2 cups of water in a medium sized pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and boil for 10-15 minutes, until farro it tender but not mushy. Remove from the heat, drain any excess liquid and set aside.

Heat the oil in a saute pan and add in the onions and a pinch of salt. Saute on low-medium heat until golden, about 20 minutes.

To serve, combine the farro, onions, pine nuts, and parsley. Add salt and a bit of olive oil to taste and enjoy!

Cannellini Beans with Sundried Tomatoes and Parmesan
Serves 4-5

2 cloves of garlic, chopped
4 tbs. extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups kale or swiss chard, washed and chopped
2 tbs. fresh rosemary, chopped
4 1-inch pieces of hard Parmesan cheese
1 lb. cannellini beans, picked over and rinsed
1 cup sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, chopped
1 cup pot liquor
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
Sea salt to taste

Cover the beans with water by 2 inches in a large bowl and let them soak overnight.

Drain the beans in a colander. In a large pot, cover the beans with water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender, about 1 hour. Drain the beans into the colander, saving the pot liquor for later use.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small Dutch oven, warm up 2 tbs. of olive oil, toss in the garlic, and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add in the kale and saute for another few minutes until tender. Add the rosemary, Parmesan, cannellini beans, tomatoes, a pinch of salt and 1 cup of pot liquor. Stir well. Cover with the lid and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and allow the beans to crisp up in the oven, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, drizzle with remaining olive oil, top with parsley, and serve.

Braised Fennel in Lemon
Serves 4

4 tbs. extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 fennel bulbs
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup water
2 tbs. fresh lemon juice

Cut off fronds from the fennel bulbs. Cut bulbs lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices, leaving the core intact. Heat 2 tbs. of oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Place the fennel slices in the pan, sprinkle with salt and brown well, turning each slice over once.

Reduce the heat to low and add in the garlic, water, remaining olive oil and lemon juice. Cover and cook for 10-12 minutes until fennel is quite soft and tender. Add another squeeze of lemon if you like and serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Goat Cheese, Potato and Kale Frittata

When I fall in love, I fall hard. Maybe it's the Scorpio in me but I am extremely passionate and quite gifted at obsessing. Husband, dancing, my 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep, these are things I LOVE! I also tend to get obsessive about food (ya think!). And because I am a sucker for structure, when I love a food I will eat it morning, noon, and night. (Yes, even if the food is chili.) Eating the same thing over and over again doesn't feel restrictive to me but rather comforting. Yes, it is safe to say spontaneity is not my forte.

My current food love is my goat cheese and greens frittata. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever make, let alone fall in love with, a frittata. With its rich cholesterol laden eggs and dairy, this was a definite NO NO in the previous Jamie world of no animals fats. However since converting to conscientious omnivory, I now enjoy my organic/pasture raised animal products with measured zeal. (FYI: cholesterol from high quality meat, eggs and dairy help firm cell walls and reinforce tissue.) You should also know I never thought dairy would work its way back into my life. After an unfortunate entanglement involving Brie, Camembert, and a toilet, I decided I was allergic to all cheeses. As it turns out goat cheese, with its low levels of lactose, does quite well in the Jamie tummy. I'm still not into the rich and gooey cow's milk cheeses, but I am all about a light and tangy fresh chevre.

Before we continue, I need to say something about dairy because it hurts my soul to endorse a food with such a huge lobby behind it. I actually think Americans consume far too much dairy. Dairy, like meat, should be a lovely addition to your vegetable, bean, nut/seed, and fruit laden plate. A good way to make this transition is to think of yourself as a plant eater who dabbles in meat and dairy consumption. This will make it much easier to cast vegetables and vegetarian proteins as the star of your meal and relegate animal products to the chorus.

Also please note, not all dairy is created equal. There is a major difference between the politically-backed commercial milk companies and your local/organic dairy farmer. Organic dairy (especially raw) is higher in healthy omega 3s, and completely devoid of the hormones and antibiotics so prevalent in commercial milk products. By buying local dairy you also support your community, which needs your love far more than the larger milk conglomerates do. Lastly, too much non-organic commercial dairy can create digestive distress, breathing problems, and mucous formation. (For more info read what organic and non-organic milk does in our bodies and how the animals are treated.)

OK, back to my frittata addiction. The beauty of this dish is you can put anything you want in it. You can be spontaneous! I love how changing up ingredients is my singular version of spontaneity. Whateva! Use leeks or green garlic for the onion and substitute beet greens, broccoli, or Swiss chard for the kale. Another lovely addition might be sun-dried tomatoes with fresh parsley and thyme.

Create your own version and let me know how it goes. Be careful though, you might come down with your own frittata obsession :)

Goat Cheese, Potato and Kale Frittata
Serves 3-4

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon rosemary
2 1/2 cups kale, washed and chopped
2 teaspoons salt (plus a pinch), divided
1 1/2 cups potatoes, washed and thinly sliced
8 eggs, cracked and beaten
3-4 tablespoons chevre goat cheese
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Set a shelf on the middle of rack the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. In a large oven proof or cast iron skillet over medium heat, warm the oil and saute the onions until translucent. Add in the garlic, rosemary, and a teaspoon of salt and cook for another 2 minutes. Toss in the chopped kale and cook until bright green, about 4 minutes. Once the greens are done cooking, take the skillet off the heat.

In the meantime, place the sliced potatoes in a saucepan with a pinch of salt and enough water to cover. Cook over medium heat, covered, until the potatoes are tender but not falling apart. Drain, let cool for 4-5 minutes, and combine with the kale and onion mixture.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and the remaining salt. Add the eggs to the skillet and stir to combine. Lastly, break up the goat cheese into teaspoon-sized bites and sprinkle it over the egg mixture.

Place the frittata into the oven and bake until firm and a bit puffy, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve with roasted potatoes and cabbage slaw. Enjoy!