Saturday, February 25, 2012

Wilted spinach salad with tomato coulis

Last fall Amanda and I ate at a crepe restaurant where the star of the dish was something called "tomato coulis," which we'd never had before. I looked for it in stores, but couldn't find any pre-made, and when I looked up recipes online there were a vast array of options people were calling "coulis," from versions akin to chunky soup to versions resembling a smooth ketchup. Ours was more like a coarse pesto, which I couldn't find a duplicate for.

So after a great deal of experimentation, combining this and that technique, I have perfected my favorite version of coulis, which works equally well as a salad topping (presented here), a salsa (with chips), a sandwich spread (on patty melts), and a pasta sauce (over cheese tortellini). It's a garlicky, sweet, salty and tangy intense flavor that's great to have on hand to liven up a dish.

Salad ingredients (serves 4):
9 oz spinach
a few drizzles olive oil
4 oz feta cheese
1 avocado
1 cup (or more) tomato coulis

Coulis ingredients (makes 2 cups, so store the leftovers in a jar in the fridge):
3 oz package sun-dried tomato halves, dry packed
about 24 medium-sized leaves basil (leaves from a 1.5 oz bunch)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup canned diced tomato, salted (otherwise add 1/2 tsp salt)
1/4 cup minced sweet onion
2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

1) Layer the ingredients in a food processor, then pulse until the sun-dried tomatoes are chopped well, and the mixture is about the consistency of pesto. (These pictures are of a quarter batch, when I was testing; you'll have much more than this in your bowl.)

2) Let sit in refrigerator for two hours to let the flavors absorb. (Note that my recipe is rather garlicky and spicy. If you prefer a milder flavor, use 1 garlic clove and 1/4 tsp crushed pepper.)

3) To make the salad, separate spinach into two stainless steel pans (or you could use two shallow baking sheets, or whatever you have on hand), drizzle with a little olive oil and toss. Add feta, and broil in the oven for 8-10 minutes or so until spinach wilts and feta is warmed.

4) Plate the spinach/feta mixture, top with 1/4 avocado each, and add a generous amount of coulis. (If serving as a main course, you can add protein by cooking four hamburgers, slicing each one into strips, and plating one underneath each salad.) Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Roasted parsnips and carrots

I love parsnips and this is one of my favorite ways to eat them. Delicious!

Ingredients (serves 3):
2 large parsnips
2 large carrots
3 oz Landjaeger links (or salami, if you prefer)
1/2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp coarse dijon mustard
1/2 tbsp honey

1) Peel parsnips and carrots, then cut into long strips. Cut Landjaeger into long strips as well.

2) Rub butter on the bottom of a 9x13 glass pan. Add the parsnips and carrots, then sprinkle salt over it. Top with meat strips.

3) Bake at 425º for 16-18 minutes, until tips of the vegetables on top are just a bit browned/blackened.

4) Rub 1 tsp mustard onto each of three plate, then use tongs to add the hot food on top. Drizzle 1/2 tsp honey over the top of each plate of vegetables. Serve and enjoy.

(Tip for leftovers: Skip the mustard and reheat the dish with a handful of fresh peapods. It's a less savory, more sweet option.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Little chef

"Apa, could you not make your delicious thing? Because Mama likes my recipe better."

—Corin, after topping a plate of carrot and parsnip peelings with pastel candy sprinkles, and delivering it upstairs to Amanda

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Pepperoni-crunch pizza

One of our favorite pizzas in recent years is the "Tom's Special" at Pegasus Pizza on Alki, and what makes it utterly unique is the strips of pepperoni on top that curl a bit and get very crunchy. Who knew that the old staple pepperoni pizza could be a completely different experience? The other special ingredient is sunflower seeds, which add to the crunch. The way these ingredients stay crunchy is by being lifted up off the base of the pizza by a bevy of diced vegetables and toppings.

For some reason, it's taken me several years to realize that I could duplicate the taste at home rather easily, making it much more affordable to have it often. Here's the relatively simple quick fix to an ordinary take-home pizza:

1 medium-sized unfrozen take-and-bake pepperoni pizza
1/3 of a green pepper
1/2 of a roma tomato
1 medium mushroom
1/8 of a sweet onion
1/3 cup sunflower seeds

1) Preheat the oven to the temperature recommended on the pizza instructions. Remove pepperoni and most of the cheese and set aside.

2. Dice the vegetables and cut the pepperoni into strips.

3. Layer the vegetables first, then the cheese, then the sunflower seeds, and finally the pepperoni.

4. Place in oven (on a pizza stone, if you have it) and bake for one minute less than the instructions recommend. Then turn on the broiler for 1-2 minutes to get the pepperoni extra crispy (but don't burst the crust). Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Crepes, crepes, & more crepes

Crepes were one of our family traditions when I was growing up, on the table for New Year's Day, birthdays, report cards, and other special occasions. My mom has a dedicated crepe pan for the job, and because of that, perhaps, it took me many years to make crepes part of my routine as an adult, because they just didn't taste the same without the four-decades-old plug-in round skillet. (I'd bought one that was similar, but unfortunately not temperature-adjustable, and it was merely adequate.)

Corin changed that in a hurry, because he loves him some crepes. I had much more opportunity to test different methods of cooking and finally found the perfect alchemy after I inadvertently adjusted the original recipe. (It had never crossed my mind that they were coming out too doughy and thick because I have only whole milk in the house, not skim — until one time by accident I started making crepes and had only 3/4 cup of milk available, and attempted to make up the rest with water and some powdered sugar to compensate for the lactose. It was better than any batch I'd previously made.)

Here's my recipe if you wish to attempt:

Ingredients for 16-18 crepes (can be easily doubled if necessary):
2 eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup cold water
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1 cup unbleached flour
1/8 cup powdered sugar
1/8 cup melted butter

1) Mix all ingredients in the order given. Let sit 15 minutes.

2) Heat a nonstick, sloped-sided 8-inch pan at just past medium heat on the stove. (I use setting #6 on my electric stove for the first two or three crepes, then turn it down to #5, exactly medium, thereafter. I have no idea what that temperature is, though, so you'd have to experiment.)

3) Using a 1/4 cup measuring scoop, get it about 3/4 full, and pour into hot pan toward one side. With the other hand, immediately begin tipping/swirling/shaking the pan to let the batter coat the bottom of the pan. Make sure the batter gets up the sloped sides to get crispy edges. (This is a hallmark of the family crepes that at was at last able to duplicate with the right pan.)

4) Once the edges are crispy (1-2 minutes), flip crepe over and cook another 30 seconds or so. Either serve immediately to a table full of hungry family members at a table stocked with breakfast fillings, one crepe at a time, or you can set crepes in a stack to keep warm as you make a dinner filling on the stove and then served the wrapped crepes to your family.

Here are just a few ideas for fillings that we enjoy:

• Corin's current favorite is just powdered sugar in the middle and rolled up.

• Amanda's favorite is Nutella spread inside. (My family decided that Nutella combined with fresh fruit, like strawberries or blueberries, was a new top choice.)

• Our family favorite growing up was Lingonberry preserves (once a rarity we had to stock up on on our biannual trip to Maine, now available at IKEA and our local supermarket).

• Bananas with maple syrup. Most fruits and most syrups will work in some combination.

• I'm weird and sometimes like them folded into triangles with crumbled bacon inside. I like the soft/crispy contrast.

• On the dinner side of things, asparagus cooked in béarnaise sauce is simple and delicious.

• This past year we had Thanksgiving dinner wrapped in crepes — turkey and rice casserole with added green beans, mushrooms, and crispy onions, topped with cranberry sauce.

• Mushrooms with cheese is also quite easy and gourmet.

• Avocado, tomato, chicken and pesto makes a nice treat.

• Use your imagination and run wild — crepes pair with so much!