Monday, March 26, 2012

Crispy Smashed Fingerling Potato Fries

These fingerling fries may be the culinary equivalent of Beauty and the Beast... somewhat challenged in what we might consider attractive, but entirely magical.

While I have, on a number of occasions, admitted to being a Potato-Cheese-Bread girl at the core, it was the Mushroom-Nut burger at a local restaurant (Gruner) that we were after when we became entirely smitten with the fries... smashed fingerlings, of all things.

It's not that these little gems are that unusual. They are readily available... and roasting is mainstream. However, even the simplest of preparations can be eyeopening and these little taters prove this point. They offer all the goodness of the best baked potato (twice baked, if that's your thing) and all the love of a great crispy fry... a perfect match. Only they are oven-baked with just a scant bit of olive oil.

The thing with fingerlings is their size works for them. They are small, have good potato mass and, yet, when smashed have a great concentration of skin to crisp up. As such, they are magical.

I have no idea how Gruner achieved their little basket of goodness (served with an amazing homemade ketchup, by the way), but these little fingerlings started with a good parboil, until fork tender. Then they are drained and transferred to an olive-oil coated sheet pan... and smashed.

Then... dressed. A little drizzle of olive oil, kosher salt, ground black pepper... and a sprinkle of shredded parmesan cheese on this particular outing...

Then popped into a hot oven to roast for a good bit... until crispy... and golden... and magical...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Roasted Brussel Sprouts & Cauliflower Salad with Tamari-Blood Orange Vinaigrette

Crazy good.

I made peace with brussel sprouts a few years ago when I agreed to try some that had been roasted with parmesan cheese and mixed with bits of crispy bacon. It was a bit of an epiphany at the time, as I had happily written off this mini member of the cruciferous family of cabbage, broccoli, and the like. Most of what I made within this lot was simply chopped fresh or lightly steamed. And, brussel sprouts rarely made the cut... until I discovered the wonders of roasting.

So, recently, when the roasted brussel sprouts and cauliflower salad at a local restaurant was touted as being "simply delicious," I reserved my skepticism of the accolade and agreed to share a plate. Perhaps they were "good," but "simply delicious" (for brussel sprouts?) was likely, I assumed, a misnomer... a bit of an overzealous sell. What I learned, however, was that simply delicious is just a more refined way of saying crazy good.

The sprouts and cauliflower are brilliantly roasted and golden tinged after just 15 minutes or so. And the bits of leaves that break loose char just enough to give the salad a powerful little pop of added flavor. Together with the bright-hued leaves that are blanched and added in with bits of fresh blood orange, the salad is quite good even undressed.

I think, however, that it is the salty-sweet zap of the tamari-blood orange vinaigrette that takes this salad from good to really good... from simply delicious to crazy good.

Not having a recipe to follow, this is what I came up with...

Cut and remove ends of brussel sprouts. Doing so will release some of the full, outer leaves... which you need to set aside for a quick blanch later. They'll add a lovely pop of color and hint of freshness to the final plating.

 Then slice each head in half... and then each half into thirds or quarters to get little wedges. (This slicing is what produces those leaf bits that get charred so beautifully when roasted.) Once sliced, transfer veggies to one side of a large baking sheet, leaving room opposite to add cauliflower.

Dice cauliflower and add to sheet pan. Drizzle veggies with some extra virgin olive oil and just a little touch of kosher salt and ground black pepper. (The tamari that you add later has a bit of a salty pop so you need to take that into account when seasoning.)

Pop the veggies into a hot oven (425 degrees) for about 15 minutes, until golden brown and slightly charred. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, blanch the brussel sprout leaves you held aside earlier (in a pot of salted boiling water)... for just about 30 seconds. Remove to a paper towel to drain.

Supreme one large blood orange (over a small bowl to catch drippings). Cut supremes in half and set aside. Squeeze remaining membrane over bowl to release additional juice. Do the same with all the peelings from the orange to gather as much juice as you can. Ideally you'll want about two tablespoons.

Mix in a bit of tamari, extra virgin olive oil, and a touch of champagne vinegar (I used a pomegranate variety). Season with just a touch of kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste. Combine roasted veggies, blanched leaves, and blood orange supremes. Dress with vinaigrette and serve.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Easy Farro Salad

Our paper has a relatively new weekly column, Diary of a Diabetic Chef, that I've found to be both interesting and entertaining. The author takes a light approach to a pretty heavy subject and its sudden impact on his culinary life, both personal and professional. Though he offers a Beef Pho in today's read that sounds pretty good.. even given my mostly vegetarian approach to cooking... it is his philosophy on cooking that really resonates with me. He says "the more one cooks by recipes the more reliance on them is established." And, conversely, "the more one can break away from them, the closer one becomes to being a real cook." (1)

I had a conversation with a friend recently on the subject of recipes and we both agreed that we don't often use them... and yet, we both have piles and piles of them... subscribe to more than our fair share of culinary magazines... acquire and house far too many cookbooks... and continually dissect and analyze great dishes we've had while dining out, in the hopes of recreating the "recipes" at home. Both of us also regularly supply our children with recipes... and yet, neither of us really likes the idea of writing down instructions.

Given my particular bent when it comes to recipes, and the irony in attempting to chronicle them (as I do here), I do believe they have great value... more to some than others. Most importantly, I feel they serve as a wonderful foundation in learning to cook... particularly important for anyone who thinks they can't. Something strikes you (or your gut), most likely a visual... and voilá... you have specific instructions to attaining that visual. How great is that? Then, over time, you become more adept at connecting the visuals that appeal to you with the instructions to achieving them... basically reading recipes and getting a pretty good feel for how a dish will taste. With more and more practice, you acquire a good working knowledge of ingredients... you learn what you like and what you don't like, what flavors mesh well together, what seasonings appeal to you, etc. And that's when recipes move from being a foundational safety net to being predominantly inspirational. You become a "real" cook.

This little blogging project of mine has proven this theory in that both our girls, thinking they didn't have any culinary skills whatsoever, are becoming quite adept at creating great meals. What started as a complete adherence to the instructions I'd provide has moved more and more to cooking without a "safety net"... trusting their own judgment and palate.

This past Sunday, while our oldest packed her bags after visiting for a long weekend, I put together a little package of ingredients and a note for this simple farro. Basically, it read...

"Cook farro (about a cup or two), clean and blanch sugar snap peas (quick 60 seconds in salted water, then ice bath to cool). Slice/dice sugar snap peas, artichoke hearts (drained of water), red pepper, and green onions; toss together with a small can of sliced black olives (drained) and a good crumble of feta cheese. Add cooled farro to mix, drizzle with a bit of good olive oil and a nice squeeze of fresh lemon juice; toss to combine. Season with kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste."

Not really a recipe... just some inspiration (and a care package with all the ingredients!) for one of my favorite salads... for one of my favorite girls.

(1) "A delicious pho recipe just "fuh" you, dear readers, by Ken Gordon, Diary of a Diabetic Chef, The Oregonian, 7 March 2012, Living sec., D1.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Pan-Sautéed Salmon with a Fresh Greens and Roasted Vegetable Salad {Topped with Blood Orange Supremes and a Blood Orange-Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing}

Most nights we try to grab dinner in a fairly easy manner... striving to use the freshest ingredients on hand. Michael Pollan's mantra of "eat food, not too much, mostly plants" is kind of the undercurrent of what we strive for. Having said that... a great basket of frites on a weekend night is not turned away!

Salads, or a mix of greens and grains (or beans), tend to drive our weekday meals. The fact that we love most of what gets lined up in the produce department is a good thing. It's fairly easy to run down that aisle and select items that will pair well together. And, if the protein component isn't what it should be... an easy sautéed side of salmon is a great add.

This meal came together with the simple request for a "salad...preferably using kale." I happen to really like kale but also feel that it can be kind of bold when used raw. Adding a medley of roasted veggies is a  great way to balance a mix of greens that tend to be anything but shy. And, a chopped presentation really serves to temper the "personality" of kale, keeping the greens in balance with the rest of the veggies... nothing cut too big or bold to take over! Fresh chopped celery and scallions round out this raw component and lend a great crunch factor.

For the roasted part of this salad, I chose radicchio, red pepper and asparagus... all veggies that mellow beautifully after a quick roast. All the veggies can be set on the same baking sheet, drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper and then pulled in phases... the radicchio and peppers finish up quicker than the asparagus. (Letting the radicchio go too long will result in a very fragile leaf... yummy but quick to disintegrate.)

Blood oranges... so good right now... offer a perfect finish, lending a punch of fresh, sweet citrus flavor. And... these oranges serve as a great base for a vinaigrette that carries the subtly-sweet, fruit-forward flavor through the salad.