Saffron

One of the most golden moments in my life took place in Vegas. (I know, you too.) We were finishing an absolutely divine meal at RM Seafood. The food was incredible, and we got to meet RM (Rick Moonen) to boot. Yum. Go there.

While all of our food was extraordinary, the most amazing moment came during dessert. They do this totally fun ice cream taste test with 16 tiny cups of wild flavors you’d never dream of in ice cream form. Think: balsamic vinegar, sour cream, garlic, avocado. Not necessarily flavors you want to eat, but it sure is fun testing your palette and reaching for a taste that you know so well, yet can’t put your finger on. Of course the competitor in me got fierce. My memorable moment came when I correctly identified a mysterious flavor that was stumping our table. In an instant: saffron! Fortunately our waiter was walking by at the moment I blurted it out, and if he wasn’t actually impressed, he was a darn good actor. Saffron!

So of course whenever I think of saffron now, I feel like a champion and think of ice cream. But since the attractive nuisance barely ever gets ice cream for dessert now let alone dinner, I had to find another recipe. Good thing I had a butternut squash lying around. And from the look on his face, you’d think the attractive nuisance thought he really was eating ice cream. Barefoot Contessa to the rescue again!

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Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash (Barefoot Contessa)

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash (2 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large)
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes. You should have about 6 cups. Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss it with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.

In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the pancetta and shallots on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the shallots are translucent but not browned. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 full ladles of stock to the rice plus the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Continue to add the stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry, then add more stock. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total. Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes and Parmesan cheese. Mix well and serve.

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When the farmer hands you lemons…

…make lemon bars! Especially at 11pm on a Sunday night. What? We had such a healthy dinner. And I didn’t have any other immediate need for those lemons. And I had a real hankering. And I only made half the recipe. (But I given the challenge of finding a pan with perfect dimensions for half a recipe, I recommend going whole hog on this one.) Plus they were quite delicious!

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Lemon Bars (Barefoot Contessa)

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the filling:

  • 6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (4 to 6 lemons)
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup flour
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Chill.

Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.

For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.

Cut into triangles and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Plentier

Okay, I’ve clearly been cooking a lot from my new cookbook, Plenty. But I had to try these two, too. I even got the attractive nuisance to enjoy two foods he doesn’t really like — eggplant and mango — in the same dish. Great success! Two more I’d make again. (Plus I got to use my new mortar and pestle!)

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Soba noodles with eggplant and mango (from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi)

Serves 6

  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 fresh red chile, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • grated zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1 cup sunflower oil
  • 2 eggplants, cut into 3/4-inch dice
  • 8 to 9 oz soba noodles
  • 1 large ripe mango, cut into 3/8-inch dice or into 1/4-inch-thick strips
  • 1 2/3 cup basil leaves, chopped (if you can get some, use Thai basil, but much less of it)
  • 2 1/2 cups cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced

In a small saucepan gently warm the vinegar, sugar and salt for up to a minute, just until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the garlic, chile and sesame oil. Allow to cool, then add the lime zest and juice.

Heat up the sunflower oil in a large pan and shallow-fry the eggplant in three or four batches. Once golden brown remove to a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt and leave there to drain.

Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally. They should take 5 to 8 minutes to become tender but still al dente. Drain and rinse well under running cold water. Shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to dry on a dish towel.

In a mixing bowl toss the noodles with the dressing, mango, eggplant, half of the herbs and the onion. You can now leave this aside for 1 to 2 hours. When ready to serve add the rest of the herbs and mix well, then pile on a plate or in a bowl.

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Cucumber salad with smashed garlic and ginger (from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi)

Serves 4-6 as a condiment or a side dish

Dressing

  • 3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tsp Maldon sea salt
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 4 small (or 8 mini) cucumber (1 1/4 lbs), peeled
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 3 tbsp chopped cilantro

To make the dressing, whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a medium mixing bowl.

Add the sliced red onion, mix well and leave aside to marinate for about an hour.

Place the ginger and salt in a mortar and pound well with a pestle. Add the garlic and continue pounding until it is also well crushed and broken into pieces (stop pounding before it disintegrates into a paste). Use a spatula to scrape the contents of the mortar into the bowl with the onion and dressing. Stir together.

Cut the cucumbers lengthways in half, then cut each half on an angle into 1/4-inch-thick-slices. Add the cucumber to the bowl, followed by the sesame seeds and cilantro. Stir well and leave to sit for 10 minutes.

Before serving, stir the salad again, tip out some of the liquid that has accumulated at the bottom of the bowl and adjust the seasoning.

Steak for V Day

Served my man a big ol’ steak for dinner on Valentine’s Day. A cauliflower steak! And he loved it. So did I. The toughest part was actually cutting the cauliflower into steaks. I managed to cut two steaks, but the rest of the broken-up cauliflower tasted just as good with the sauce and tapenade. Yum!

And we obviously had to have a side dish (although I wasn’t about to put it on the same plate as my beautiful cauliflower presentation). Went with another from new favorite cookbook, Plenty: Green couscous. Another winner.

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Cauliflower Steaks with Olive Relish and Tomato Sauce (Bon Appetit)

Ingredients

  • 1 large head of cauliflower
  • 1/2 cup pitted oil-packed black olives, finely chopped
  • 3 sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 plum tomatoes, cored, quartered

Preparation

  • Remove leaves and trim stem end of cauliflower, leaving core intact. Place cauliflower core side down on a work surface. Using a large knife, slice cauliflower into four 1/2″ “steaks” from center of cauliflower (some florets will break loose; reserve). Finely chop enough loose florets to measure 1/2 cup. Transfer chopped florets to a small bowl and mix with olives, sun-dried tomatoes, 1 Tbsp. oil, parsley, and lemon juice. Season relish with salt and pepper.
  • Preheat oven to 400°. Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large heavy ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, cook cauliflower steaks until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side, adding 1 Tbsp. oil to pan between batches. Transfer steaks to a large rimmed baking sheet. Reserve skillet. Roast cauliflower until tender, about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, return skillet to medium-high heat and add garlic cloves and tomatoes, one cut side down. Cook until tomatoes are browned; turn tomatoes over and transfer skillet to oven with cauliflower. Roast garlic and tomatoes until tender, about 12 minutes.
  • Transfer garlic, tomatoes, and 1/2 Tbsp. oil to a blender; purée until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Divide tomato sauce among plates. Place 1 cauliflower steak on each plate; spoon relish over. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Green couscous (from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi)

Since I’m not typing up the intros to these recipes, I should mention that he suggests adding feta cheese to this. I did. That’s the white stuff in the pic. It was worth it. (Thanks, sister!) Oh, and a friendly tip — be careful about your green chile. Some are pretty dang hot and will make your face numb. Just a warning.

Serves 4

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 3/4 cup boiling water or vegetable stock
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp group cumin

Herb paste

  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 tbsp chopped tarragon
  • 2 tbsp chopped dill
  • 2 tbsp chopped mint
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup unsalted pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 3 green onions, finely sliced
  • 1 fresh green chile, finely sliced
  • 1 1/4 cup arugula leaves, chopped

Place the couscous in a large bowl and cover with the boiling water or stock. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry the onion in the olive oil on medium heat until golden and completely soft. Add the salt and cumin and mix well. Leave to cool slightly.

To make the herb paste, place all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until smooth.

Add the herb paste to the couscous and mix everything together well with a fork to fluff it up. Now add the cooked onion, the pistachios, green onions, green chile and arugula and gently mix. Serve at room temperature.

Cooking Malaysian street food is no biggie

Just whipped up some Mee goreng. It’s Malaysian street food. Don’t worry about it.

But if you want to say the same thing to your friends and family, make this. You’ll feel cool! And full. It’s really good. Only tip I’ll offer is that you should cook the noodles according to their package’s instructions before throwing them in the wok. It’s probably just boiling them for like 10 seconds, but starting with soft noodles is a good thing. Trust me.

Oh, and I’ve been to the Asian market and stocked up on some items. Here’s what I’ve learned: there are a lot of different kinds of soy sauce (not just the red kind and the green kind). I own three. (Wait! Four!) I’m sure you could substitute and still make a delicious dish but I’ve definitely enjoyed using authentic ingredients when I can.

Don’t skimp on crisping up those shallots. I learned that you do this by lightly coating the slices in a little bit of flour before throwing them in some oil. Once they look good, remove and put on a paper towel. Sprinkle with salt.

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Mee goreng (from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi)

Serves 2

  • 2 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 8 oz firm tofu, cut into 3/8-inch-thick strips
  • 4 oz green beans, trimmed and cut into half at an angle
  • 4 oz choi sum (or boy choy), cut into large chunks (both leaves and stalks)
  • 11 oz fresh egg noodles
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp sambal oelek (or another savory chile paste), plus extra to serve
  • 2 tsp thick soy sauce
  • 2 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 2 oz Mung bean sprouts
  • handful of shredded iceberg lettuce
  • 1 tbsp crisp-fried shallots
  • lemon wedges to serve

Set a wok or a large pan on high heat. Once hot, add the oil and then the onion, and cook for about 1 minute to soften a bit. Add the tofu and French beans and cook for 2 to 3 minutes to give the tofu a bit of color. Stir gently as you cook, trying not to break up the tofu.

Next, add the choi sum. When it wilts, add the noodles and carefully spread them in the wok using tongs or large chopsticks. You want the noodles to get a lot of heat, almost to fry. Mix gently, cooking the noodle for about 2 minutes. Now add the spices, sambal oelek, soy sauces, water and bean sprouts and toss carefully. Cook for about a minute, or until the noodles are semisoft.

When ready, top with lettuce, transfer to serving bowls and sprinkle with crisp shallots. On the side, serve lemon wedges and a small bowl of extra sambel oelek.

Sprout envy

I’ve got some great go-to brussels sprouts recipes (well, mainly our fave Momofuku sprouts) but when I saw this, I realized I had to try it. SO glad I did. Seriously delicious. So delicious that I decided to type out the entire recipe for those of you without this cookbook. See, that’s a major commitment to brussels sprouts!

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Brussels sprouts with tofu (from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi)

Serves 4

  • 2 tbsp sweet chile sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 5 ounces firm tofu
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts
  • about 3/4 cup sunflower oil
  • salt
  • 1 cup sliced green onions
  • 1/2 small fresh red chile, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups shiitake mushrooms, halved or quartered
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Whisk together in a bowl the chile and soy sauces, 2 tablespoons of the sesame oil, the vinegar and maple syrup. Cut the tofu block into 3/8-inch-thick slices and then each slice into two squarish pieces. Gently stir into the marinade and set aside.

Trim the bases off the sprouts and cut each from top to bottom into three thick slices. Take a large nonstick pan, add 4 tablespoons of the sunflower oil and heat up well. Throw in half the sprouts with a little salt and cook on high heat for about 2 minutes. Don’t stir much. You want the sprouts to almost burn in a few places and cook through but remain crunchy. Remove to a bowl. Repeat with more oil, salt and the rest of the sprouts. Remove all the sprouts from the pan.

Add 2 more tablespoons of the sunflower oil to the pan, heat up and saute the green onions, chile and mushrooms for 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to the sprouts bowl.

Leave the pan on high heat. Use the tongs to lift half of the tofu pieces from the marinade and gently lay them in the pan (be careful as the oil will spit!), spacing them apart and in one layer. Reduce the flame to medium and cook for 2 minutes on each side, or until they get a nice caramelized color. Transfer to the sprout bowl and repeat with the rest of the tofu.

Once all the tofu is cooked, remove the pan from the heat and return all the cooked ingredients to it. Add the remaining tofu marinade and half the cilantro leaves. Toss everything together and allow to cool down slightly in the pan. Taste and add salt, if needed. Stir in the remaining sesame oil (plus extra, if you like). Serve warm, but not hot, garnished with the sesame seeds, if using, and the rest of the cilantro.

Plenty

I’ve been enjoying a new vegetable cookbook, Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi. It has lots of intriguing recipes from around the world. Unfortunately, we weren’t wild about the first one that we tried. Not fans of the greek yogurt/tahini sauce at all. The spices, lime, chile, and cilantro were good, but I don’t plan on making this again. Spoiler alert: there are better recipes from this book already posted on this here blog!

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Roasted butternut squash with sweet spices, lime, and green chile (from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi)

Serves 4-6

  • 2 limes
  • Maldon sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 lbs)
  • 2 tbsp cardamom pods
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 1/2 tbsp tahini
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 green chile, thinly sliced
  • 2/3 cup picked cilantro leaves

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Trim off the limes’ tops and bases using a small sharp knife. Stand each lime on a chopping board and cut down the sides of the fruit, following its natural curves, to remove the skin and white pith. Quarter the limes from top to bottom, and cut each quarter into thin slices, about 1/8 inch think. Place them in a small bowl, sprinkle with a little salt, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, stir and set aside.

Next, cut the squash in half lengthways, scoop out the seeds and discard. Cut each half, top to bottom, into 3/8-inch-thick slices and lay them out on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Place the cardamom pods in a mortar and work with a pestle to get the seeds out of the pods. Discard the pods and work the seeds into a rough powder. Transfer to a small bowl, add the allspice and the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, stir well and brush this mixture over the butternut slices. Sprinkle over a little salt and place in the oven for 15 minutes or until tender when tested with the point of a knife. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Peel off the skin, or leave on if you prefer.

Meanwhile, whisk together the yogurt, tahini, lime juice, 2 tablespoons of water and a pinch of salt. The sauce should be thick but runny enough to pour; add more water if necessary.

To serve, arrange the cooled butternut slices on a serving platter and drizzle with the yogurt sauce. Spoon over the lime slices and their juices and scatter the chile slices over the top. Garnish with the cilantro and serve.