Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fresh Spring Rolls

A healthy alternative to fried spring rolls, fresh spring rolls are easy to make once you get the hang of folding them. Believe me, the first few rolls I made weren't picture perfect, but they still tasted great so don't be intimidated by the finicky rice paper sheets. I made about 12 rolls, they kept relatively well stored in airtight containers, and made great lunches and after work snacks. I wouldn't keep them for more than about 5 days though as the rice paper tends to dry out and become a bit tough. Although the recipes I consulted tended to just boil the shrimp, I decided to quickly pan sear them with a few spices to add additional flavor to the rolls. I also made a few rolls without the rice noodles and added more of the other fillings instead. Less starchy and require one less ingredient, I think I may make more noodle-free rolls in the future.

Fresh Spring Rolls

1/3 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
   (alternatives: baked tofu, grilled portobello mushrooms, or grilled salmon)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon paprika
~1 teaspoon chili powder, to taste

8-12 dried rice paper rounds
1 cup bean sprouts
1 bunch mint
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch thai basil
1 red/orange/yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 small red leaf lettuce
3-4 ounces rice vermicelli/bun (optional)

Ginger-Lime Sauce for dipping

-Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, add the rice noodles, and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water immediately and keep covered.
-Toss the shrimp in the olive oil, paprika, and chili powder. Cook quickly in a hot skillet, turning once after 2-3 minutes and remove promptly and let cool. Do not overcook.
-Fill a large flat dish (pyrex dishes work well) with about 2 inches of hot water, as hot as you can stand is best. Heat a pot of water to refresh the dish as it cools.
-Wet a kitchen towel and lay it open on the counter. This will keep the rice paper moist as you build each the roll.
-Place a rice sheet, edge in first, into the hot water. Swish it gently, letting it wet completely, about 8-12 seconds. Remove the rice paper from the water and lay it flat on the damp towel.
-Lay 2-3 shrimp onto the center of the rice paper in a row, depending on the size of your roll. Add a small bunch of rice noodles, a small bunch of bean sprouts, a few slices of pepper, and several of each type of fresh herb to the roll, keeping the ingredients as close together and compact as possible. Top with a piece of rolled lettuce and lay one lengthwise edge of rice paper over the filling while pressing down on the filling to tightly wrap the roll. Fold in the two outer edges of the rice paper and then roll the spring roll into a cylinder. You can trim excess rice paper from the roll if your sheets are larger than you need.
- Cut each spring roll in half diagonally and serve with the ginger-lime dipping sauce.

Carrot Soup

Velvety, smooth, and rich, this soup embodies these qualities without any added cream or milk. Young spring carrots tend to be much sweeter than their older siblings and I highly recommend spending a bit more money to get young carrots for this recipe. Be sure to balance the soup's sweetness with a couple healthy grinds of black pepper or prepare the ginger carrot soup variation listed below.

Carrot Soup

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium leeks, white and green sections thinly sliced (one medium onion, diced can be substituted)
1 quart of chicken or vegetable stock
2 large springs of taragon
1.5-2 pounds of young carrots, scrubbed and sliced
kosher salt
Juice of one orange (~1/2 cup of freshly squeeze orange juice will work)
1 tablespoon maple syrup
freshly ground pepper

-In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt one tablespoon of butter and the olive oil. Add the leeks and sauté until translucent, about 3-5 minutes.
-Add 1 quart of stock, the carrots, taragon sprigs, one teaspoon of salt, and bring the mixture to a boil while stirring occasionally. Once boiling, reduce the heat until the soup maintains an active simmer and cook, still stirring occasionally, until the carrots are fork tender, about 20-30 minutes (depending on the thickness of your carrot slices).
-Remove the taragon sprig, add the orange juice, maple syrup, and last tablespoon of butter. Use an immersion blender to blend soup until it is completely smooth. Alternatively, let the mixture cool and purée soup using a blender. Please be careful when puréeing hot soup in a blender- hot soup explosions are not fun. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Variation: Omit the tarragon and add 2 tablespoons of finely grated ginger to the soup pot when the carrots are almost tender and ready to be blended.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Herbed Quinoa

Commonly mistaken as a grain, quinoa is actually a seed that is more related to beets and spinach than the grain grasses. Quinoa is high in fiber and a complete protein source that is quick-cooking and delicious. I've started substituting quinoa for couscous and rice in some recipes to reap the benefits of this mighty little seed.

I came across this recipe and decided to take advantage of the chives in my garden that were ready to harvest, thanks to our recent stint of sunny weather. From start to finish this dish takes less than 30 minutes to prepare and all the herb additions can be prepped while the quinoa cooks. Best paired with lighter-flavored foods, you could consider serving this alongside fish, quiche, sautéed spring vegetables, or chicken.

Herbed Quinoa

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch chives
1 tablespoon butter
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

-Combine the quinoa and stock in a medium saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer until all liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
-Finely chop the chives and 1/2 a cup of the parsley leaves, reserving the stems. Place the rest of the parsley and stems in a food processor and process thoroughly. Turn the contents of the food processor into a double layer of cheesecloth and wring out the parsley juice into a small bowl.
-When the quinoa is cooked, stir in the chopped chives, parsley, butter, and parsley juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Adapted from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spicy Lemongrass Tofu

Another success from the Flavors of Asia cookbook, this dish brings Vietnamese food home without ordering takeout. If you know you'll be short on time in the evening, dice the tofu and marinate it overnight in the refrigerator which will make dish preparation that much easier.

To make this dish more health conscious I think you could bake the tofu instead of pan frying it in vegetable oil. To make this adjustment I suggest baking the tofu at 350°F until it is golden brown, gently stirring occasionally. Then, sauté the onions, garlic, and shallots as described below and toss in the baked tofu at the end.

Spicy Lemongrass Tofu

1/4 cup lemongrass stalks, finely chopped (white center only)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons serrano chiles, chopped (1-2)
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
2 teaspoons ground tumeric
4 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
~1 pound firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
1/4 cup minced shallots
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup Thai basil leaves
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped

-Mix the finely chopped lemongrass, soy sauce, chopped chiles, chile flakes, tumeric, sugar, salt.
-Dice tofu into ~1/2 inch cubes and gently toss in the marinade and let sit for 15+ minutes.
-Add 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil to a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add the tofu so it has space to brown (you may need to do this in two batches) stir gently until the tofu is lightly browned, about 4 minutes.
-Remove the tofu from the pan, add the other 3 tablespoons of oil to the pan and sauté the onion until it has softened, about 10 minutes. Add the shallots and garlic, cook for 30 seconds, add the tofu and stir gently until it has reheated. Add the Thai basil, half of the peanuts and serve, garnishing each serving with the remaining peanuts.
-Serve with rice.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ginger-Lime Sauce

After being forced to leave so many recipes uncooked that required a mortar and pestle, I finally bought one this weekend. Perhaps I was inspired by the spring weather, spring forward, and spring sprouts.


A kitchen tool that is both easy to clean and versatile, I honestly don't know why I didn't purchase a mortar and pestle earlier. During a recent trip to the local library I borrowed The Flavors of Asia by Mai Pham and the Culinary Institute of America. A collection of recipes from China, India, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, I knew I had to take a recipe or two for a spin. The first recipe that caught my eye- Ginger-Lime Sauce which was served with pan-seared fish.  I prepared the book's pan seared fish recipe with snapper (salmon, snapper, mahi mahi, halibut, or black cod are suggested) which I topped with the Ginger-Lime Sauce prior to serving, but, after preparing the dish their way, I feel you could grill the fish and have a equally good and more healthy meal. Additionally, I served the fish on a bed of greens (lettuce, thai basil, cilantro, cucumber, and green onion) and used  the sauce as a light dressing. This sauce is so delicious and versatile I bet it would also be lovely on scallops, shrimp, or as a dipping sauce for fresh spring rolls.

Ginger-Lime Sauce

1 tablespoon white sugar
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 serrano chile, chopped
3 tablespoons minced ginger
3-4 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons lime juice (~2 limes)
2 tablespoons water

-Grind the garlic, chiles, ginger, and sugar to a paste using a mortar and pestle.
-Transfer to a small mixing bowl and stir in the lime juice, fish sauce, and water. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

- You can grind the garlic, chiles, ginger, and sugar using a blender. Not only is this method faster, it will produce a much smoother sauce. You can also mix in the lime juice, fish sauce, and water in the blender.

Adapted from The Flavors of Asia, Mai Pham

Monday, March 15, 2010

'Instant' Steel-Cut Oatmeal

Nuttier, chewier, and more satisfying, steel-cut oatmeal is my weekday breakfast of choice. Less processed than its rolled counterpart, steel-cut oats have greater nutritional benefits and more 'oaty' flavor.  Having eaten both steel-cut and rolled oat oatmeal for many years, I feel like the steel-cut oatmeal is more filling.  This may be due in part to its lower glycemic index, which causes a lower initial insulin spike, and provides your body with a balanced and sustained energy source.

Now, I know some of you are saying "I don't have the 30+ minutes to make steel-cut oatmeal, my mornings are hectic enough." No need to worry about that, I've developed a recipe to make instant steel-cut oats without help from fancy gadgets or frozen packets. I typically make several servings at once to eat during the course of one week. One final bonus- this recipe is starchy, burnt, and gluey, oatmeal pot free. 

'Instant' Steel-Cut Oatmeal

3:1 Water: Steel-Cut Oats (For four servings I use 3 cups of water : 1 cup of oats)

-Bring water to a boil in a lidded saucepan. Add oats, shake pan gently to distribute and cover in water, and remove the pan from the hot burner. Let the covered pan stand overnight or until it has cooled to room temperature and the oats have absorbed all the water.
-Package cooked oats in individual serving containers or in one container and refrigerate.
-Place the desired portion of cooked steel-cut oats in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 2-3 minutes. Garnish with the toppings of your choosing and enjoy.

Topping Ideas: Honey, brown sugar, maple syrup, dried cranberries*, raisins*, dried apricots*, banana, strawberries, blueberries, almonds, chopped walnuts.

*These toppings can also be added to the boiling water with the oats if desired.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

In the middle of winter, make the blandest roma tomatoes delectable with this slow roast recipe. They are delicious on their own or with toasted bagels, egg breakfasts, salads, sandwiches, or anything else you would accompany with fresh tomatoes. Feel free to add fresh or dried herbs to the tomato marinade which will pack additional flavor into these gems.

4 pounds roma tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4-1/2 tsp. of oregano, basil, rosemary, etc. (optional)

Set oven to 200 degrees. Toss tomatoes in the olive oil, seasonings, and sugar and gently toss. Place face up on a cookie sheet and bake for approximately seven hours, depending on the size of the tomatoes.

 -Adapted from Cooking Light, December 2009

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sage Butter Sauce

"With enough butter, anything is good." - Julia Child

A sophisticated comfort food, this pasta sauce takes less than 5 minutes to make- an attribute I took advantage of after an arduous day at work. Even though the dish calls for a stick of butter, it is a light sauce that is not too rich or heavy. This sauce is best served with a filled pasta that will contribute its own flavors to the dish. I used roasted vegetable and butternut squash ravioli from Capellino, a local company, but your favorite filled pasta should also work beautifully. I must warn you, this meal elicited quite the 'yay food!' moment... proceed with caution.

1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
10 large sage leaves
kosher salt and pepper
1 cup pecorino romano cheese, finely grated

Melt the butter in the pan over medium heat, lay the sage leaves in the butter, and heat until the butter is sizzling gently. Toast the leaves for about one minute.

Ladle in 1 cup boiling pasta water, stir in the sauce and simmer for about 2 minutes, reducing the liquid by half. Gently toss in the pasta.

Finish the cooked pasta and sauce in the skillet, continuing to toss gently. Take the skillet off the heat and toss in the cheese. Serve immediately.

-Adapted from Lidia's Family Table, Lidia Bastianich

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Crispy Breaded Shrimp

Shrimp are a delicious and quick cooking weeknight meal idea. If possible try to find sustainably harvested shrimp that are local, preferably, or from the same continent at least. Inspired by a magazine recipe, I instantly altered it by replacing the arugula with kale and adding extra garlic and red pepper flakes. I would have liked to use arugula, but it didn't look fresh at the market and decided to go with a more hearty, in-season alternative instead.  I really like this recipe because I feel like the shrimp could be paired with many things and I've posted a few suggestions below to hopefully inspire ideas of your own.

1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
kosher salt and pepper
~ 1 tsp red pepper flakes (to taste)
5 tbsp olive oil
1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cloves of garlic, chopped or pressed
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 bunches kale, destemmed and chopped into ~1 inch strips

Preheat oven to 400°F
Mix the bread crumbs, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large bowl. Add the shrimp, gently toss to coat, and transfer the shrimp to a baking sheet, spreading any residual breading over the shrimp.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook briefly, stirring, for about 30 seconds.  Add the kale tossing it to coat it in the oil, sprinkle with 1-2 teaspoons of salt, and partially cover the skillet with a lid. Reduce the heat to medium low and let the kale cook until almost tender but not completely cooked, stirring occasionally.
Bake until the shrimp are cooked through and the breading crispy, 8-10 minutes.
When the shrimp are a few minutes from finished, increase the skillet heat to medium-high, add the beans, 1/4 cup water, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.

-use swiss chard, arugula, or your favorite green instead of kale
I would add quick cooking greens (like arugula) at the end of preparing the side dish (Heat the garlic and red pepper flakes, add the beans and heat through, and toss in arugula just before serving)
-subsitute quinoa or wild rice cooked in vegetable stock for the cannellini beans
Many flavorful starches would pair well with these shrimp.