Monday, November 24, 2014

Crispy Delicata Rings with Currant, Fennel, and Apple Relish

I love squash with a fervent ardor. If you see a girl at the Greenmarket trying to transport a giant gourd under each arm muttering to herself that it's really time to switch from 3 lb weights to 5 lb weights at the gym—but grinning like an idiot as she ungracefully continues the struggle—it's probably me. Hey, it's a labor of love! Because once I finally lug those child-sized cucurbitas home, that's when the real work begins. Peeling, seeding, chopping, and roasting for a minimum of 40 minutes—many times over an hour—until it's finally ready to eat. No Whole Foods, I will not give in and by your overpriced, pre-cut, time-saving containers—I treasure those extra three dollars, thank you very much.



Like any regular vegetable zealot weirdo, I have OCD tendencies about the preparation of my squash. Butternut gets cubed and roasted, often added to a chunky minestrone or pureed for a soup of it's own. Acorn is sliced into wedges, drizzled generously with maple syrup and eaten just so as a snack or side. Spaghetti squash is the go-to pasta substitute, heaped under a thick tomato sauce or winter stew.

But then I discovered a game-changer: delicata squash, featured in this Crispy Delicata Rings with Currant, Fennel, and Apple Relish recipe.  Similar in size to a kirby cucumber, these guys can easily be bought by the half-dozen without undertaking an accidental arm work out.  Furthermore, they don't need to be peeled—or even roasted! In this recipe, the delicata are cut in half-inch rounds and pan-sautéed for a total of 4 minutes. Unstrenuous squash: who knew!

Because delicata is cylinder-shaped, it sliced into rounds, which transforms into rings after the seeds are scooped out. The shape is super fun, like onion rings or dried apple rings or gummy rings, and make for quite the artistic presentation too: while the recipe is deceivingly simple, the presentation is artistically beautiful; echoing the flavors' sophistication.

Grounding the dish are the squash rings; earthy and heat-kissed, perfectly bronzed and blistered. Lime zest and juice add an unexpected but welcomed tang, while the cider-based relish is juicy and thick; dissolving like candy on the tip of your tongue. This side will standout anywhere, so consider a delicata debut on Thursday's Thanksgiving table!


Crispy Delicata Rings with Currant, Fennel, and Apple Relish (By TheWimpyVegetarian)
Serves 4

Crispy Delicata Rings:
  • 2 delicata squash
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • 1 lime
1. Slice the ends off of the squash. Slice into ½" rings and remove the seeds with a spoon. Reserve the seeds for another use or roast them with some cayenne pepper, salt, and cumin and sprinkle over the finished dish.
2. Lightly salt the squash and let sit for 30 minutes. Completely dry off with paper towels, removing the salt. Heat enough oil to coat a sauté pan over medium high heat. Lightly salt the squash rings with fresh salt and add them to the pan. They should sizzle the moment they hit the pan. Don't crowd them or they'll steam more than they'll brown. Sauté until lightly browned (about 2 minutes per side).
3. Remove to a plate and add lime zest and juice (use grate and juice of ½ lime per each delicata).
4. Top with the Currant, Fennel and Apple Relish and serve warm. Optional: add spiced roasted squash seeds or fennel fronds.

Currant, Fennel and Apple Relish:
  • ½ cup dried currants (can substitute raisins)
  • ½ crisp apple, peeled, seeded, finely diced (e.g. Pink Lady)
  • 1 fennel bulb, outer layer removed, finely diced
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 tablespoon Calvados (can substitute regular brandy)
1. Combine all ingredients in a small pot and simmer over medium low heat until the cider is reduced by half. Strain and sprinkle over the Crispy Delicata Rings.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Double Mushroom Chicken with Red Wine Reduction

The original title of this dish is actually Hunter's-Style Chicken. The "hunter" refers to the stew's semblance to chicken cacciatore; both share a commonality of braised chicken, tomatoes, herbs, and wine. But here's the thing. To me, a hunter's stew sounds like a combination of all things meager and scarce: the scrappy, peasanty fruits of a disappointing bow-and-arrow labor in the woods.  (Maybe I'm just picturing myself out there.) Is there deer? Quail? Regarding the mushrooms....wouldn't a more appropriate name be Forager's-Style Chicken? At any rate, the title of the stew wasn't doing it for me, so I renamed it Double Mushroom Chicken with Red Wine Reduction. Because this stew is like Iggy Azalea. It's fancy. 
The "culinary equivalent of a big chunky sweater," this chicken stew is sumptuous and soul-warming, hearty to the core. It begs to be eaten in the depths of winter (or next week, if you've been keeping track of this bomb cyclone business) alongside a cozily-light fireplace and glass of full-bodied wine in hand. How convenient—you'll have an open, almost-full bottle of vino after step 5!
Rich healthy food seems like an oxymoron; indeed, upon seeing a recipe for mushroom-wine sauce my eye immediately scanned for the butter, cream, and fatty red meat to follow.  In this stew, however, full-flavored ingredients define the richness—heaviness is nowhere to be found. Earthy, buttery porcini and crimini mushrooms reach a truffle-like caliber, while the fruity, aromatic red wine adds its own cornucopia of fragrance and frill.  Fresh holiday herbs like thyme and savory give feasting character, and quality tomatoes (try for fresh Campari, canned San Marzano, or both) complete the base of the robust stew. The original recipe called for skin-on chicken parts of meat both light and dark, but the sauce is so wonderfully decadent on its own that you can absolutely stick with boneless, skinless chicken breast and be fine.  It also suggested layering the stew over creamy Parmesan polenta, but in keeping with my rich-yet-healthy theme, I served mine on top of brown basmati rice with a side of steamed broccoli.
My alternate title for this post was "Lazy Hunter's-Style Chicken," because I took a few shortcuts.  After simmering on the stovetop, the stew is supposed to be transferred to the oven and baked for an hour, but my pan wouldn't fit in my tiny apartment oven. So on the stovetop we stayed, with a perfunctorily thickened sauce. (If you can, I would try to bake it—I bet the consistency would be out of this world.) I already mentioned that I substituted chicken breasts for darker skin-on pieces; but when cooked correctly, the latter is fall-off-the-bone tender: it's up to you which parts to use.
Double Mushroom Chicken with Red Wine Reduction (adapted from Food52)
Serves 5-6

Ingredients:
5 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts or 1 3 to 3 ½ lb. chicken, quartered (or an equivalent amount of skin-on parts of your choice)
Kosher or sea salt
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms
extra-virgin olive oil
¾ pound crimini mushrooms
2 ounces sweet vermouth
1 ½ cups chopped white or yellow onion
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated (about 1 cup)
3 cups chopped ripe Campari tomatoes or canned peeled San Marzano tomatoes; drained
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
a pinch of red chile flakes
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (such as fresh thyme, savory, and flat-leaf parsley)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.* Arrange the chicken pieces on a plate and pat dry. Season well with salt and set aside.
2. Cover the porcini mushrooms with 1 cup of boiling water and let steep for a few minutes until the mushrooms are soft. Remove the mushrooms, finely chop and set aside. Reserve the mushroom soaking liquid, and set aside as well.
3. Warm 2 tbsp of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over high heat.  Brown the chicken parts in batches, skin-side down, until all chicken is browned and crisp-skinned. (If using boneless skinless chicken breasts, cook each side until they begin to bronze.) Remove the browned chicken pieces to a plate and set aside. Pour off all but a thin layer of the rendered fat (if present).
4. Trim and quarter the crimini mushrooms and add to the pan. Cook until browned on all sides, then add the chopped porcini and the red vermouth, cooking until the liquid has evaporated. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
5. Add the chopped onions to the pan with a sprinkle of salt, adding a little more oil if necessary, and cook until soft and opaque. Add the carrot and toss through, then add the tomatoes, tomato paste, chile flakes, wine, and reserved mushroom liquid, stirring well and bringing to a simmer.
Toss the chopped herbs with the mushrooms and return to the pot, stirring through. Nestle the chicken pieces on top, being sure to add any of the juices that have accumulated. 
6. Cook until chicken is tender and red wine reduced on stovetop or in oven: 
FOR STOVETOP: Simmer pot for 15 minutes covered and 15 minutes uncovered, turning chicken once, until chicken is cooked through and sauce slightly reduced.
FOR OVEN: Cover the pot with a parchment lid, and transfer the pot to the oven. Cook for at least one hour, preferably more, until the chicken is falling-apart tender and the sauce thick and reduced. 
7. Add salt to taste. Serve over grain of your choice with a sprinkle of chopped flat leaf parsley or thyme sprig on top.

*Only complete this step if you plan on baking the stew. If keeping on stovetop, skip.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pumpkin Maple Pecan Granola

Because it's decorative gourd season, motherf*ckers, I set out last weekend to plan a fall-themed Saturday up there with the best of them. Last year was apple picking and baking Perfect Pumpkin Apple Bread; this year, hiking and Pumpkin Maple Pecan Granola. In retrospect, I totally should've reversed the order of my activities, because the granola would've been a great snack mid-hike!

A few photos from the hike...


Am I the only person who never realized how easy it is to make your own granola, or has Minimalist Baker just triumphed again? This recipe is SO easy! Mix together wet and dry components, combine, bake for 30 minutes. Done. Chock-full of whole, protein-packed ingredients, natural sugars, healthy oils, and fiber-packed pumpkin, this granola is unalloyed pure; a testament to the benefits of whole eating. Choose this toothsome snack for a real energy boost—whether it be to start your day or a mid-afternoon snack—where excessive sugar, unhealthy oils, and processed ingredients won't pull you down.

I chose this recipe because its pumpkin-thrice: real pumpkin puree and pumpkin seeds accompany the pumpkin pie spice. So many "pumpkin" recipes just call for the latter ingredient—that kind of feels like cheating, doesn't it? So in addition to the cozy, mellifluous fragrance of cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, and allspice (the combination of which defines pumpkin spice, FYI); the granola is fragrantly coated in a warm mixture of pure pumpkin, maple syrup, and coconut oil too. Seriously falltastic. I'm going to be honest, the taste of chunky pureed pumpkin isn't overwhelming (you kind of have to search for it, in fact....) but the granola's excellently spiced nature will wholly satisfy that pumpkin craving; a total trump over any pumpkin spice latte for sure.

This granola is truly fantastic. The crunchiness of the golden roasted oats, pepitas, and pecans against the sweet, juicy raisins—coated in an autumn blanket of maple and spice—is simply delicious.  When baking in the oven, it smells like a pumpkin pie, spiced apple cider, and pumpkin bread all rolled into one. Despite earning the healthy stamp for its wholesome ingredients and low(er) sugar content, the nature of granola is still extremely caloric: this one runs about 125 calories per 1/4 cup. To avoid eating it all by the handful in one sitting (albeit insanely tempting), try sprinkling it into less calorie-dense mediums like milk and bananas or low-fat yogurt to stay full without packing too many cals.

Amendments to the original recipe: I lessened the 3 tbsp of sugar to 1 tbsp; next time I will omit it all together as the maple syrup is plenty sweet, added in raisins (dried cherries would be a great alt), and doubled up on the cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. I think I'll try adding cooked quinoa in the future too: more crunch, more protein, why not?

Another reason as to why you should make this your annual pumpkin cooking project? It lasts. Unlike pies, breads and spiced ciders which feed a crowd in a single sitting (and thereafter are extremely difficult to keep around), this granola can sit airtight for weeks; an intermittent breakfast or snack ready for you to reap this freaky-as*ed (McSweeney again) harvest whenever you please.


Pumpkin Maple Pecan Granola (adapted from Minimalist Baker)
Makes about 5 cups

Ingredients:
3 cups rolled oats
1 ¼ cups raw pecans
⅓ cup raw pepitas
½ cup raisins or dried cherries
1 tbsp sugar (optional)
¼ tsp of sea salt
¾ tsp pumpkin pie spice (plus extra dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice)
¼ cup coconut or canola oil
⅓ cup maple syrup (can substitute agave nectar or honey)
⅓ cup pumpkin puree

Directions:
1.    Preheat oven to 340 F.
2.    Mix the oats, nuts, seeds, raisins, spices, sugar (if using), and salt together in a large bowl.
3.    In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the oil, maple syrup, and pumpkin puree and whisk. Pour the saucepan contents over the dry ingredients and quickly mix with a wooden spoon.
4.    Spread the mixture evenly onto two baking sheets* (or bake in two batches) and bake for 23-33 minutes, stirring a bit near the halfway point.
5.    Once the granola is golden brown (usually about 25 minutes), remove from oven and let cool completely. It will crisp up as it cools.
6.    Transfer to an airtight container, where it will keep for a couple weeks.


*This ensures the mixture is completely spread out in a single layer. The mixture does fit on one baking sheet, but it will be compact and not properly crisp if too crowded.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Vinegar Carrots with Toasted Sesame Seeds

People often ask me how I pick my recipes. Do you set out with a recipe in mind, they ask, or do certain ingredients inspire the dish? The answer is a bit of both. For example, now that it is fall, I feel obliged to add a new hearty soup to my repertoire and will google accordingly. But other times, the ingredients just speak to me (hello!) as was the case with this Vinegar Carrots with Toasted Sesame Seeds recipe. On a weekly trip to the Union Square Farmers Market, I came across the most beautifully rainbowed bunches of carrots I'd ever seen. Creamy ivory, golden yellow, and deep, regal violet stalks accompanied the expected orange taproot; complete with cartoonish big, bushy green tops.


At the farmers market, my beta-carotene buddies didn't just speak to me—they shouted with glee. "Pick me! Are we not the most colorful bunch of carrots you've ever seen? How excited are you to cook with us!" And finally, "can you not just roast us though? That's boring."

Ok, I conceded. But which to pick: the fat, rotund roots or the thin, delicate bunch?  In a rush I grabbed the former, a decision I was grateful for later on: the thicker carrots peeled wonderfully for this quaint little side salad.

I loved this recipe because the ingredients are mainly pantry items, but the end result was so unique and delightful that I felt, flavor-wise, like I was experiencing something completely new. Pleasingly nutty, tangy and acidic, and kickin' in heat and honey; each ribbon packs quite the flavor punch. As the weather cools and our appetites gear up for heavier grub (stews, roasts, etc), think of this light, lithe carrot salad as a choice side to accompany that hearty fare. It's easy to evolve this side into a main too: just add spiced chickpeas and a heaping cup of cooked quinoa for an easy, healthy, and certainly colorful fall lunch or dinner.

Vinegar Carrots with Toasted Sesame Seeds (from The New Persian Kitchen)

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds (white or black)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Sea salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds carrots, cut lenthwise into thin ribbons via peeler or matchsticks via mandoline
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, tightly packed

Directions:
1. Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the sesame seeds and alternate between shaking the pan and stirring the seeds. When the seeds start to pop, after a couple of minutes, transfer them to a plate and let cool to room temperature.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegars, honey, sesame oil, red pepper flakes, sesame seeds, and 1/4 tsp salt. Pour the dressing over the carrots, add the cilantro, and toss well. Season with salt, to taste, and serve. (If you can, make the salad a few hours before serving to let the carrots soak up the dressing.)