Monday, February 27, 2012

Stomach-Soothing Minestrone

There are Sundays when I spend the whole day cooking a feast, then there are Sundays when all I want to do is make some nutritious, cleansing soup. After Nate and Deb's wedding on Saturday night, this was definitely a day of cleansing (when I was finally able to move off of the couch!), which meant soup was on the menu.

Because I knew zucchini, spinach and cannellini beans would play a major role, I narrowed in on a couple of minestrone recipes then got creative, making enough beans for both the soup and a bean spread, and roasting a couple of red bell peppers that I also used for both.

Thanks to my chef constantly extolling the values of using a pressure cooker, I finally used mine for something other than beets and made both the beans and the soup in it. To make beans, simply cover them with about 2 inches of water, add a 2-inch piece of kombu (a seaweed that is supposed to make the beans more tender) and bring to a full boil. Let boil fully, uncovered, for 5 minutes, then skim the surface to remove the gassy foam. Then cover and pressure-cook for 35 minutes to 1 hour, until beans are soft. If you check the beans and they're not done, be sure to add more water if it's needed. When beans are fininshed, drain the water and use immediately or store in a sealed container for up to three days.

Minestrone Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 chicken breasts, diced (or use 3-4 cups cooked, shredded chicken)
1/2 cup roasted red bell pepper, diced
1 can diced tomatoes
4 cups broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or less if using store-bought broth)
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup zucchini, chopped
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
1 cup uncooked elbow noodles
10 ounches fresh spinach, roughly chopped
Parmesan cheese

Heat pressure cooker over medium-high heat, and add the olive oil. Add onions, carrots, celery and garlic and stir until onion becomes translucent, about 5 minutes. Add chicken (if using shredded chicken, add with the broth), and stir occasionally until chicken is no longer pink on the outside. Stir in diced peppers, tomatoes, broth and spices and bring to a simmer.

Add zucchini and cannellini beans, bring to boil, then add noodles and cover. Pressure cook for 10 minutes; remove lid, stir in spinach and serve topped with Parmesan cheese.

Cannellini Bean and Roasted Red Bell Pepper Spread
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
1 roasted red bell pepper (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red chile flakes
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Place beans, bell pepper, salt and chile flakes in a food processor and slowly drizzle in olive oil as you run the machine. When mixture begins to run smoothly, add lemon juice. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Note: Feel free to add 1 to 2 cloves of minced garlic, if desired. Just keep in mind that the flavor can get pretty potent if you're planning to use the bean spread for more than a day.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Healthy Pasta Bake in 15 minutes flat

It's possible I overbooked myself tonight, with a Vortex Cellars wine tasting just north of the city and The Dignitaries' three-year anniversary of the Seattle P-I's in the south end. And with home smack dab in the middle, there was no question about whether we would find the time to eat. The only question was whether it would be faster to go out and grab a quick bite to eat or to whip something together at home.

We pondered the options, I pondered the pantry, and I decided the wine drinking needed to continue, which meant home was the only realistic choice. With just 30 minutes to spare, I sliced up some onion, garlic and spinach, and got cooking with wine glass in hand.

Spinach and White Bean Pasta Bake
2 cups uncooked rotini pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
10 ounces spinach, chopped
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, divided

Cook pasta according to package directions, and preheat broiler.

Heat a large sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil, then stir in onion until it begins to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and stir for about 30 seconds, then add tomatoes, oregano and basil. Simmer while the noodles cook, at least 5-10 minutes. When pasta has about 2 minutes left to go, add the beans to heat them through.

Drain pasta, then stir spinach into the sauce until wilted. Stir in the noodles and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese until everything is just barely mixed. Transfer to a baking dish, then sprinkle mozzarella and remaining 1/4-cup Parmesan cheese on top.

Broil until cheese begins to bubble, just a few minutes, then serve immediately.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Coconut milk cools down spicy cauliflower soup

This creamy cauliflower soup might not look like much, but that's sort of the point of making a bisque anyway. It's supposed to be so smooth and creamy that you can't see anything but the color of the vegetable. I'm still learning the garnishing part, so maybe next time I'll cut up some chives before I grab my camera!

Cauliflower is chock-full of nutrients like vitamin C and fiber, but it’s not always beloved when served on its own. This soup, which is just as smooth and creamy as it is daringly spicy, is sure to please both those who love and loathe cauliflower.

Belly-Warming Cauliflower Soup
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 small leek (white and light green parts only), thinly chopped
½ head cauliflower, chopped (about 3 cups)
1 star anise
5 whole cloves
2 whole allspice
½ teaspoon garam masala
¼ teaspoon red chile flakes
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
½ teaspoon salt

Heat medium sauce pan over medium-high heat and add coconut oil. Cook leeks until they begin to wilt and brighten in color, about 4 minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook until it begins to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the star anise, whole cloves, allspice, red chile flakes and garam masala, and stir for about a minute. Add coconut milk, water and salt, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer until cauliflower has softened but is not yet mushy, about 20 minutes. Remove star anise, whole cloves and allspice, then blend until smooth. Reheat if needed, then serve.

Note: You also can place the anise, cloves and allspice in a piece of cheesecloth tied shut with a piece of twine. Add with the water.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Spread the love with Cranberry Bean and Pesto Spread

While I was preparing for my culinary class this week, I was pondering just what I could do to make a bean spread that was creative. Who hasn't tried hummus with sun-dried tomatoes, or pesto, or roasted bell peppers? But then again, although I've tried all those as store-bought brands, I've never actually made them.

So I rather boringly decided to throw together a bean dip made with cranberry beans that we pressure-cooked (in under an hour, oh my!) mixed with pesto ingredients. Boring, perhaps, but also dang delicious! So delicious, I just must share it with you!

Cranberry Bean Spread with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
2 sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil
2 teaspoons oil from sun-dried tomato jar
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, packed
2 cups cooked cranberry beans
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup water
1 teaspoon salt
Dash freshly ground black pepper

Chop garlic in a food processor, then add pine nuts, followed by sun-dried tomatoes and their oil, all with the motor running. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the basil. Add some of the olive oil if needed to help blend the basil. When processed ingredients have a similar consistency, add the beans. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil. Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time until the right consistency has been reached. Add salt and pepper, then adjust seasonings to taste. Serve with crackers or flat breads and vegetables.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Experiments with Sage and Pork Chops

For years, I've been making Pork Chops with Mustard Sauce pretty much every time I buy pork chops. Once in a while, I'll mix it up and make Wiener Schnitzel or some other time-consuming dish, but my mainstay is just so quick and easy.

However, after experimenting in my culinary class with sage, one of the few herbs my sensitive palate doesn't hate, I decided to try to throw something together with my new favorite herb.

Unfortunately, my new favorite herb didn't add quite as much flavor to the dish as I thought it would, but because I brined the pork chops (the secret to success every time, it seems) they still turned out buttery and delicious:

Sage Pork Chops
3 cups water
1 teaspoon cracked peppercorns
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
4 boneless pork chops
2 tablespoons olive oil
16 large sage leaves
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Juice of 1 lemon

In a large glass bowl with a lid, stir water, peppercorns sugar, salt, sage and zest until salt has dissolved. Add pork chops. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 12 hours.

Discard brine, then rinse pork chops and pat dry with paper towels. Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet big enough to fit all the pork chops over medium heat. Cook sage in oil for 1-2 minutes on each side, but do not burn. Remove sage from skillet and set aside. Place garlic cloves in oil and cook until brown and fragrant. Discard garlic.

Place pork chops in skillet and cook on each side for 6-8 minutes, or until lightly browned. A meat thermometer should register 155 degress Fahrenheit. Set pork chops on a plate and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, add the lemon juice to the olive oil and let simmer until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Drizzle sauce over pork chops and garnish with cooked sage leaves.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A guiltily delicious weekend with Buttermilk Biscuits

What do you do on the weekend with a half-pint of buttermilk that needs to get used? Well, make buttermilk biscuits, of course!

Buttermilk Biscuits
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening, cut in small pieces
2/3 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix together dry ingredients, then add the shortening and continue mixing until it looks like coarse corn meal. Slowly add the buttermilk until dough is just barely mixed. Dump contents on a lightly floured surface and knead for 1-2 minutes. Roll out to a thickness of 3/4-inch, then cut out biscuits using a floured mug/glass and place on cookie sheet.

Bake in preheated oven until golden, about 8-10 minutes.

Note: I actually used bacon grease for this batch, and they turned out delicious but not quite as fluffy as with shortening.