Monday, February 23, 2009

Pasta Salad with Asparagus, Zucchini and Peas

I was on the phone with my sister having our weekly food conversation. She was describing a cashew chicken and pasta salad recipe she wasn't sure whether or not she had sent me (she had). As I was looking at the recipe, I realized I had the makings of something similar close at hand, even (and especially) the cashews. I had already planned a pasta dish - I had fresh asparagus and zucchini on hand, along with some Italian sausage in the freezer that I was going to use for a pasta sauce. But a Chinese-inspired salad seemed much more refreshing.

I didn't have snow peas, so I went to Jewel. The fresh snow peas did not look good and they didn't have any frozen (which my sister said worked in a pinch of there weren't fresh). They did have frozen sugar snap peas so I bought a bag of those. I had some blood oranges on hand (my purchase of which having been inspired by misreall's comments on this post.)

I also had a bunch of fresh dandelion greens Treasure Island had on sale. They looked so beautiful I had to bring them home with me even though I wasn't sure how I was going to use them. I decided to cook them up the same way I cook fresh spinach - I rinsed them and then placed them in a hot skillet so they could steam in their rinse liquid. I didn't add any other liquid. It works like a charm every time.

This was pretty easy to put together, and it was quite good. Even though it feels like we're still in the throes of deep winter, there are teensy weensy signs of spring. This is hearty enough for winter, but hints of what's coming just around the bend.

The irony of this dish, though, is that I completely forgot to add the cashews. I don't think it suffered without them, but I will remember to add them next time. Oh, and maybe the chicken as well.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


12-oz. package whole wheat spaghetti or linguine
2 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 shallots, diced
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-1/2" pieces
3 small zucchini, cut into 1-1/2" chunks, blanched then sliced
1 bunch dandelion greens
10 oz. fresh sugar snap peas, or 1 10-oz. package frozen
2 Tbsp toasted Sesame seeds
1 blood orange, supremed


3-4 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp sherry

Cook pasta according to pacakage directions. Drain and place in large bowl. Add dressing and toss well.

Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add shallots and cook until translucent and just beginning to caramelize, about 7 minutes. Add asparagus (and snap peas if fresh) and cook until just tender, 3-5 minutes. Add zucchini (and snap peas if frozen) and cook until just heated through. Add to pasta and place skillet back on the stovetop over medium heat for the dandelion greens.

Rinse dandelion greens and then chop into pieces. Add to skillet and cook until just wilted, about 3 minutes. Add to pasta.

Toss all of the vegetables with the pasta until well mixed. Adjust oil, vinegar, or soy sauce to taste. Add sesame seeds and mix again.

Serve garnished with blood orange segments.

Created 2/15/09

Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lentils and Bulgur (Imjadara)

I wrote about this dish back when I was first blogging, but it's such a good, easy-to-make dish that it bears repeating. It's healthy and relatively inexpensive; in short, it's all good. Lentils, water, bulgur, onions and a little oil. Salt and pepper to taste, and that's it.

I especially like it with black, or beluga, lentils. They hold their shape best, and don't get mushy like the regular khaki-colored lentils I grew up eating. The bulgur adds a warm, toasty flavor and the caramelized onion punctuates each bite with sweet goodness.

There's something about the combination of flavors that makes this an irresistable dish. Do yourself a favor and make up a batch. You'll see what I mean.
Home Cookin 4.9 Chapter: Pasta and Grains


1 c. dried lentils, rinsed
4-1/2 c. water
1/2 c. cracked wheat
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, slivered

Combine lentils and water in large saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook approximately 25 minutes then add wheat, salt and pepper. Cook 15 minutes more, until lentils are tender, stirring frequently. Add hot water if necessary.

In another skillet, heat oil, add onion, and saute 7-10 minutes, until browned. Stir onions into lentil and bulgur mixture.

Serve with tossed salad and hot pita bread.

Lean Bean Cuisine: Over 100 Tasty Meatless Recipes from Around the World, by Jay Solomon (Prima, 1994)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Curried Red Lentil Soup Redux

Back in December 2005 I wrote about this delicious Curried Red Lentil Soup. I made it a couple of times and then forgot all about it. Since it has been such a cold winter here in Chicago, I found myself digging deeper into my collection of warm, hearty dishes that could help take off the chill, and I ran into this gem.

It's a simple soup that doesn't take long to make and doesn't have that many ingredients, but it packs a powerhouse of flavor. When I wrote about it back in '05, I had cut the amount of curry from two tablespoons to two teaspoons. I had forgotten about that when I made it this time, and it tasted much better to me this time than last time. And there's something about the popped mustard seeds that takes it over the top.

I love all lentils, but I especially love how red lentils disintegrate into whatever liquid in which they are cooked. They turn from a pretty orange-pink into a golden, almost glowing, yellow. Of course the curry powder helps that transition.

I did not make my own curry powder, although I do usually like to toast and grind my own spices. These days I just do not have the time nor, to be honest, the inclination. Instead, I use the sweet curry powder that is put together by my friends at The Spice House. If you're not going to take the trouble to make your own, I would recommend taking the trouble to find a good one. If that turns out to be one of the more commercial brands' versions, fine. But there are many different kinds of curry blends out there and I think it is worth exploring them. Some are sweeter, some spicier, some hotter. Each one brings its own personality to the party and I like to use different ones for different dishes.

You may be tempted to omit the popped mustard seeds from this recipe. Don't. They are what makes this dish and it will not be the same without them. If you do leave them out, don't blame me if you don't like it. And don't say I didn't warn you.
Home Cookin Chapter: Soups and Stews


Serves 8

2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp black mustard seeds
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped ginger, or 1 tbsp ground
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
2 jalapenos, chopped, or 1 canned jalapeno
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp sweet curry powder
1 lb. (2 cups) red lentils
3 qts. vegetable stock (I use 2 qts. stock and 1 qt. water)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup plain yogurt

In a small saucepan with a lid, heat vegetable oil with the mustard seeds. Cover pot; cook for approximately four minutes, or until popping sound stops.

In large soup pot, cook onion, ginger, garlic and jalapeno in oil. Add curry powder and cook 2 more minutes. Stir in lentils, stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until soft, approximately one hour, stirring occasionally. Using potato masher, partially mash the lentils to thicken the soup.

Just before serving, stir in the mustard seeds with their cooking oil, the lime juice, and the cilantro. Garnish each serving with a dollop of yogurt and sprinkle with more cilantro.

Slightly adapted from Beans: More Than 200 Delicious, Wholesome Recipes from around the World, by Aliza Green (Running Press, 2004)

Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Skirt Steak Salad with Grapefruit and Orange Segments

What to do with those beautiful citrus segments you created after you learned how to supreme? Here's one delicious dish.

It started when I bought a bag of Texas red grapefruit (the only grapefruit I will eat. Don't accept any Florida substitutions). I supremed them when I got them home and put them in a bowl in the fridge. I also had a bag full of honey tangerines and a few mineolas that looked too good to just leave at the store. In short, I had a surplus of citrus.

And a skirt steak in the freezer. I've come to love these flavorful steaks. They defrost quickly, cook in five to six minutes total (maybe seven to eight if you like them a little more done than I do), and they are full of flavor seasoned only with salt and pepper. A perfect weeknight meal.

Throw in the beautiful fresh spinach and green leaf lettuce I also couldn't resist bringing home with me and you have a delicious lunch or dinner.

Place skillet over high heat. Add a tablespoon of canola oil and let the pan get smoking hot. Lay skirt steak out on a flat surface, removing any silver skin. Cut it into pieces that will fit in the skillet. Season with salt and pepper, then gently place in hot skillet. Cook three to five minutes on each side. Remove from pan. Let rest fifteen minutes, then slice against the grain.

You can find another description of this technique here.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Vegetable Beef Soup with Braised Beef Shanks

One good thing (and quite possibly the only good thing) about having such a long spell of below-freezing weather is that you have the chance to work on all of those hearty winter dishes you always promised yourself you would try. (Don't challenge me on this, I'm desperate here.)

When I was a child, Campbell's Vegetable Beef Soup was one of my favorite lunchtime meals. The carrots, peas and potatoes were cut into uniform squares of soft mush, the beef was tender and quite flavorful, and there were little pearls of barley sprinkled throughout that were my favorite part. It is interesting to note that I absolutely hated cooked peas and cooked carrots, and was none too fond of potatoes either, unless they came to the table in fry or chip form. But there was something about the flavor of the broth that made all of them taste good. Somehow, it made them all taste the same, and together they created a flavor profile that was miles away from how any of them tasted on their own. I would spoon out and slurp up all of the liquid first, and then eat the remaining vegetables and beef like a stew.

After I grew up and developed an appreciation for peas, carrots, and potatoes on their own, that mushy sameness of flavor palled and I outgrew the canned vegetable soup. I wanted to make my own, but I wasn't sure I could achieve the same kind of consistency I remembered from the condensed version using fresh vegetables. And I had no idea which cut of beef to use to get the right texture and flavor.

But now that I've been braising so successfully, I brought home some beautiful beef shanks that my butcher assured me were perfect for making soup. He hasn't let me down yet, so I decided the time has come for me to tackle vegetable beef soup.

I decided to make it a two-part process. The day before I was going to make the soup, I braised the beef shanks.

First, I seasoned the shanks with salt and pepper and roasted them in a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes to give them a good sear. While they were roasting, I sauteed onions, celery and garlic in my braising pan for a few minutes, then added carrots and the fennel stalks left over from my pot roast. I tied together several sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary and threw that in as well.

After the meat was seared, I nestled it among the sauteed vegetables and poured about a half a bottle of Marco Real Tempranillo in (of course any red wine will do), covering the meat about two-thirds of the way up. I brought it up to a simmer, then lowered the heat as low as it would go, covered the pan, and let it cook for about two and a half hours, until the beef was tender enough to shred a little when I pulled at it with a fork.

I removed the beef from the pan and let it rest. I took out the tied thyme and rosemary stalks and then I strained the broth from the vegetables, and then stored the beef with its broth in a container in the refrigerator overnight. I discarded the braising vegetables; they had done their work and had no real flavor left in them.

The next day, I was ready to tackle the soup. And it was everything I hoped it would be, and had been afraid I would not be able to create. The vegetables were soft and tender, but not mushy. Each retained its individual flavor, but they all worked well together. The beef was tender and full of flavor, and the wine lent fullness of body that made the soup rich and hearty. The barley pearls added a chewy contrast that made this the perfect dish for a freezing winter day.

This made enough soup for me to freeze half and still have enough for lunches for the week. The final kick is that the collagen in the beef shanks makes the soup incredibly thick; I had to thin it out with water after the first day. So I guess I've truly created my own brand of condensed vegetable beef soup.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


2 large braised beef shanks, cubed, with braising liquid
3 Tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3 large or 4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 quart vegetable, chicken or beef broth
approximately 2 cups water
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 cup barley pearls
1 cup frozen peas
1 10-oz. bag frozen corn
salt and pepper

Heat oil in large soup pot over medium low heat. Add onions, celery and garlic and cook until just translucent, about three minutes. Add carrots and cook another three minutes.

Add potatoes and liquid from beef shanks, broth, and enough water to cover all of the vegetables. Add thyme; season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer over low heat, and cook for about 15 minutes, until potatoes are just beginning to soften. Add barley and stir.

Continue to simmer on low for about 50 more minutes, or until barley is cooked through. Halfway through, add the cubed beef.

Add peas and corn and cook until just heated through, about 10 minutes.

Can be made ahead and frozen. If soup thickens overnight, just add water to desired consistency.

Created 1/27/09

Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup

When I first moved to Chicago, I ate many solitary meals at the Melrose Diner down the street on Broadway and Melrose. Their daily specials were good, cheap, and had enough variety to hold the burn-out factor at bay. Soup or salad, entree, and dessert for under ten dollars was a pretty good deal. Of course, that was nineteen years ago so the amounts have shrunk and the cost has gone up, but it's still a pretty good deal. As I've mentioned before, my brother and I eat there a lot whenever he is visiting from Austin.

No matter what I ordered, I always chose the soup when they had sweet and sour cabbage, and they almost always did. It was the best sweet and sour cabbage soup I had ever tasted. Perfect balance between sweet and sour, just the right consistency of both liquid and cabbage, and big chunks of carrots, celery and onion.

For years I tried to find a recipe that came close, without success. When I finally had access to the internet, it was during the height of the cabbage soup diet, so no matter what keywords I typed in, all the hits were for the diet. I couldn't find a sweet and sour cabbage soup recipe to save my life.

Until I stumbled across a database compiled by a subscriber of the newsgroup. At the time, the complete database was online; now you have to register to have access to it all, and you might have to pay (the site does not make it clear). I looked for my soup recipes and found quite a few. The one that grabbed my attention was super easy and, as it turned out, delicious, largely thanks to a secret ingredient: Frank's Bavarian Style Kraut.

And of course I've refined upon it over the course of the years. In the original recipe, you just throw everything into the pot and cook it for a couple of hours. Nothing could be easier, but it lacked a certain depth of flavor that sweating the onions and cabbage in a little vegetable oil provided. Brat purists might want to turn away, but once I found home-made brats at the Apple Market I've started adding that to the pot as well.

Even with the added steps and new ingredients, though, it's a simple recipe. It takes about half an hour to prep, and then cooks unattended for the next couple of hours on the stove or in the crockpot, and it will warm you up on these cold winter nights.

This makes a big ol' pot of soup. I usually throw half of it in the freezer right away. It freezes well, and I have enough for a few days without getting sick of it.
Home Cookin Chapter: Soups and Stews


2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2-3 lb. cabbage, roughly chopped
juice of 1 lemon
12 oz. can tomato paste
28-oz. can chopped tomatoes
14-oz. can Frank's Bavarian Style Kraut
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb. brats or other sausage, sliced 1" thick (optional)

In large pot over medium-high heat, saute onion in 1-2 olive oil until wilted. Add cabbage and cook until it just starts to wilt, about 3 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients. Fill each can once with water and add to pot. Bring to boil, lower heat as low as it will go, and simmer for 2 to 3 hours, until cabbage is translucent.

About halfway through, taste for balance of sweet and sour and adjust if necessary.

If using brats or sausage, add to the pot after two hours and cook another hour and a half.

Adapted from recipe found on the Recipe Archive

Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (

Monday, February 02, 2009

How To Supreme an Orange or Other Citrus

Wintertime is citrus time. Which is nice because we can use a little brightness shining through these bleak miserable days. Oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes bring a much-needed splash of color to the table and complement those rich, dark hearty soups and stews that are the other thing that make these cold months so bearable.

I like to add orange or grapefruit wedges to salads. They work especially well with beets and winter greens. And there are so many varieties out there these days. Every season I find one that stands out. A few years ago it was clementines, then blood oranges. The Florida honey tangerines are always super sweet, which is a good thing because they are full of seeds and only their honey sweetness makes it worth working through all of the seeds.

Mineolas have been particularly good for the past couple of years. A cross between grapefruit and tangerines, they are both sweet and tart at the same time, and have an intense, sharp flavor that makes them particularly good in salads.

The best way to utilize citrus in a salad or other dish is to cut it into segments, which is called supreming. This method releases the segments from the membranes and creates little jewels of flavor. I always eat my grapefruit this way now. I'll supreme six at a time into a big bowl and then I have it ready whenever I want it.

This sounds like a tricky process, but it isn't really that difficult. Here's how you do it:
First, you cut off the ends of the fruit, making sure to expose a good amount of the flesh. Squeeze the juice from the two ends into a bowl; you can use it for the dressing, or add it to sparkling water. I should warn you right here that you are going to be leaving quite a bit of flesh behind. If you worry too much about that you will end up with shredded pulp instead of fruit segments.

Put a cut end down on a steady cutting board. Place a sharp knife against the top cut end and slice down the side, being sure to cut past the membrane. Again, it will seem a little wasteful but it's the only way to get the segment out. If it looks like you cut too much of the flesh away, squeeze it into the bowl to capture more of the juice.

You might not get all of the peel and membrane off with the first cut. After you have cut the first pass around, just go back and clean up anything you left behind. Here is what the orange will look like once you have removed all of the peel and membrane. It's ok if there's a little of the pith remaining. Just be sure that none of if crosses over the back of the segment or you will have trouble getting it out.

Pick up the fruit in your non-dominant hand (right hand in my case) and hold it over a bowl. See where the membrane lines are? Take a paring knife and cut down one side of that line as closely as you can, then twist the knife under the arc and push the segment away from the membrane on the other side. Or cut down the one side and then cut down the other to release the segment. You might have to experiment a little to find the method that works best for you. Rotate the fruit in your hand as you continue to remove each segment from the membrane. Don't worry about trying to get all of the flesh out or you will drive yourself crazy. Once you have removed all of the segments, squeeze the juice from the flesh that remains with the membrane. You will end up with enough juice to make a heavenly vinaigrette. Or, if a dressing isn't in the works, just drink it. Awesome.

And here you can see a bowl full of beautiful wedges, just waiting to be thrown into a salad. I usually just use one bowl for both the segments and the juices but I wanted a clean shot for the camera.
And there you have it. Nothing could be simpler.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...