Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tomatoes Stuffed with Brown Rice and Feta

This is my new favorite thing to eat. Saveur says "When making this dish, use firm tomatoes; if they're too soft, the tomatoes may collapse when baked. We suggest using a creamy, less briny French feta in the rice filling to round out the tomatoes' tanginess, but any good-quality feta will do." I strongly suggest adding 1/2 a cup of chopped dill. That addition somehow makes it taste like you're eating a little bowl of spanikopita filling -- and really, what could be better than that?
(Photo by Andre Baranowsky)

1 tbsp. plus 1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 large firm beefsteak tomatoes
Kosher salt, to taste
2 1⁄2 cups cooked, cooled Short-Grain Brown Rice
1 1⁄2 cups roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
3⁄4 cup crumbled feta
1⁄2 cup plus 2 tbsp. chopped fresh mint
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Rub the inside of a 3-quart baking dish with 1 tbsp. of the oil and set aside. Using a serrated knife, cut off the top third of each tomato and discard the tops. Cut 1⁄8" off the bottom of each tomato so that they'll sit upright in the baking dish; discard bottoms. Using a small spoon (a grapefruit spoon works the best), scoop out the seeds and pulp from each tomato and discard. Sprinkle the insides of each tomato with a little salt. Place the tomatoes upside down on a plate layered with paper towels and let them sit for 30 minutes to extract excess tomato juice, which may make the filling soggy.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 400° and make the rice filling: Stir together the remaining olive oil, rice, parsley, feta, mint, and garlic and season with salt and pepper. (You should have about 4 cups of the rice mixture.) Arrange the tomatoes in the prepared baking dish, cut sides up, and fill each with about 2⁄3 cup of the rice mixture, mounding the tops slightly. Using a small brush, coat the tomatoes with some of the olive oil from the baking dish. Bake the tomatoes until the filling begins to bubble and brown lightly and the tomatoes soften, about 45 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 6.
This recipe was first published in Saveur in Issue #111

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Best Oatmeal Cookies

I read somewhere that using melted butter results in a soft and chewy cookie, and I can now confirm that important fact at the god's honest truth.

1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 large egg
1/2 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 cup white chocolate chips or raisins
1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a food processor, process the brown sugar, 1/2 a cup of the oatmeal and the granulated sugar until it’s very fine; set aside.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, the salt and the baking soda. Add in the remaining oats and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and the corn syrup. Mix with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).

With the mixture on low speed, add the processed oatmeal mixture and mix until combined.

Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix until just combined.

With the mixture on low speed, add the remaining dry ingredients and mix until just combined (don’t overmix).

With a wooden spoon, mix in the chips and cranberries.

Roll dollops of the cookie dough into balls and place them onto the cookie sheets, leaving about 2 inches between cookies. You can make these as large or small as you like.

Bake the cookies for 10 minutes (keeping an eye on them so they don’t burn if you’ve made small cookies). When they’re done they should be slightly golden around the edges.

Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and let rest on a rack for 10 minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Let your cookie sheets cool and then repeat with the remaining batter.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Deborah Madison's Pan-Seared Tofu with Thai Red Curry Glaze

I pan-seared the tofu as described below, but then switched up at the last minute and added a Thai-inspired cashew sauce instead of the red curry glaze in the recipe. Hard to go wrong with anything by Deborah Madison. The red curry glaze is killer too.

1 one-pound package firm or extra-firm tofu, drained
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon Thai red curry paste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon peanut oil
Minced cilantro for garnish

1. Cut tofu widthwise into six slices.

2. Combine coconut milk, stock, fish sauce, lime juice, curry paste and sugar in small bowl, and set aside.

3. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet until shimmering. Add tofu, and cook over medium heat until golden brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Turn and cook about 5 minutes more.

4. Add coconut milk mixture to pan and simmer, turning tofu once, until liquid reduces to thick syrup and tofu is glazed, about 2 minutes. Transfer tofu to serving platter, and scrape the glaze left in pan over tofu. Garnish with minced cilantro and serve immediately.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Thai-style Cashew Sauce

Cashew butter
Soy sauce
Thai fish Sauce
Coconut milk
Thai roasted chili paste
Thai red curry paste
Lemon juice
minced garlic
minced scallion

"Floaters" -- or -- the best possible matzo ball soup

My secrets for authentic matzoh ball perfection? Fresh dill, proper seasoning, chicken fat instead of olive oil and egg whites beaten to stiff peaks. Go forth and float, meine kinder...

1 cup matzo meal
4 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup oil (For maximum flavor, I like use the chicken fat that congeals on the surface of my homemade stock here, but olive oil works just fine too.)
1/4 cup water (some people use seltzer. I don't see a noticeable difference.)
1 scant tablespoon salt
4 dashes fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill

10 cups homemade chicken stock
1 chicken bouillon cube
2 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

Mix matzo meal together with the salt, pepper and garlic. Taste the mixture. It should taste slightly overseasoned at this point. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks and oil until doubled in volume and mix into the matzo meal mixture. Add the chopped dill and water. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites to stiff peaks with an electric mixer, making sure that both the bowl and the beaters are very clean and have no trace of grease on them before beginning. Fold the beaten egg whites into the matzo meal mixture in three batches, folding the last batch in very gently so the mixture maintains its volume. Refrigerate for 1/2 to 1 hour.

Bring chicken stock to a boil and add the boullion cube.
Moisten the palms of your hands with cold water before forming each matzo ball. Form the matzo balls - approximately walnut sized in diameter, and as perfectly round as possible - and drop them directly into the boiling stock. They should float to the surface within thirty seconds or so. If they stick to the bottom, gently dislodge them with a spoon so they can float freely. When all of the matzo balls are formed, carefully drop the carrots into the pot. Cover and cook at a rolling boil for ten minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and continue to cook at a simmer for at least 30 minutes more. Taste a matzo ball to make sure that they are entirely cooked through. Add the rest of the chopped dill to the pot, adjust for seasoning and serve.
(This recipe yields 12 perfect matzo balls)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Quick-rise Dinner Rolls

Hot DAMN! Perfection on a plate. Fluffy and tasty and rich.
2 cups water
1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup water
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 packages quick-rise yeast
1 teaspoon salt
7 ½ cups self-rising flour

In a large bowl place 2 cups of water and butter. Microwave for 2 ½ minutes. In another bowl, mix 1 cup sugar and eggs. In separate cup, microwave ½ cup water for 30 seconds. Add 1 teaspoon sugar and dissolve the yeast – mix. Mix butter, water, sugar, and eggs mixture together; add salt. Mix in the yeast mixture. Stir in 7 ½ cups flour. Mix well and let rise. When ready to use, dump onto floured surface, lightly knead using enough flour for easy handling. Shape into rolls (or bread loaves) and place on greased baking sheet (or loaf pan).
Let rise for 30 minutes in a warm area or until doubled in size. Brush tops with melted butter. Bake at 400, until tops are golden. Turn out to cool on a rack. Brush tops with melted butter again. Makes 24-30 rolls.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Light Corn Muffins or Pancakes

These muffins gave me a chance to try out the "Edna Lewis Baking Powder" I mixed up last week, with excellent results. Miss Lewis felt (as do I) that double-acting baking powder gives baked goods an off-putting metallic taste. She recommended mixing up one's own baking powder, using 2 parts cream of tarter to 1 part baking soda. These muffins came out light and golden and satisfying, and I didn't miss the taste of whole milk or butter for a second. We turned the leftover batter into a tasty batch of corn pancakes this morning, topped with blackberries and syrup.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup enriched corn meal
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup skim milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 egg whites or 1 egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 400F. Combine dry flour, corn meal, sugar, baking powder and salt (if desired). Stir in milk, oil and egg, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened. Pour batter into 12 greased or paper-lined medium muffin cups. Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Velvety Broccoli Feta Pasta from the Apartment Therapy "Kitchn"

Velvety Broccoli and Feta Pasta
(photo and recipe by the good folks over at The Kitchn)
This one's a keeper. Broccoli and feta have such a natural affinity for one another, and the method is so simple, that it got me wondering about other possible vegetable-cheese combinations for this easy, weeknight pasta sauce. Acorn squash and fontina with a little fresh sage, maybe?

1 pound broccoli
2 tablespoons water
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1/2 small onion or two shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup chopped flat parsley
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup feta cheese (low-fat if you want to be good) - divided
1/4 cup water

Cut the broccoli into small florets and steam on the stove or in the microwave with the 2 tablespoons of water. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large sauté pan. Cook the onion and garlic until it just begins to soften then add the broccoli. Cook for several minutes or until the onion turns translucent. Add the parsley and cook until it's well wilted. Pour in the lemon juice and simmer for about two minutes.

Transfer to a blender and add 1/4 cup of the feta cheese and the 1/4 cup water. Puree until smooth, adding a drizzle of olive oil and a little more water if it sticks and turns to a lump. Puree until as smooth or chunky as you prefer.

Taste and add any necessary additional salt and pepper. Serve with a good ridged pasta like the rotini above.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Chicken and Dumplings

I first tasted chicken and dumplings circa 1992 when Elissa took me on a pilgrimage to Dip's Country Kitchen in Chapel Hill. I've never forgotten the taste of them, and have always longed for more. Of course, I had no idea that when I set foot in Dip's I was entering the chicken and dumpling wars, between devotees of the fluffy, matzoh-ball-like Northern drop dumplings, (often disparagingly referred to as being "yankee," although historically speaking, they are every bit as Southern as the other kind) and the proponents of chicken stewed with flat, rolled dumplings called "slickers" or "chicken pastry," like we had at Dip's. But join I did, and now I'm a crusader.

So, what is it now, seventeen years later or something like that? Last week I finally turned out my first batch of chicken and rolled dumplings, and Bill was wildly delighted with the results. Completely over the moon. Said they tasted exactly like Viola's, which is really as high as praise ever gets over here in Viola's Kitchen, so I was very pleased.

You can imagine that I thought I was being very clever, cutting Goya "discos" (empanada dough) into strips instead of rolling out my own dumplings, but it turns out that busy Southern cooks have been using packaged biscuit dough in exactly the same way for years. Oh well. So I'm not going to revolutionize Southern cooking...

Here's what I did do and will do again soon:

Simmer chicken thighs in chicken stock with diced celery, carrots, onion, a bay leaf, fresh thyme and parsley for about an hour. Strain the broth and reserve the chicken and vegetables. Discard the herbs. Bring the strained broth to a simmer.

Cut the Goya discos into strips and coat each strip with flour before dropping into the broth. Stir gently to separate and then cover tightly for fifteen minutes. Taste to see if the dumplings are done and have lost their "raw" taste and texture. If not, cover and continue to cook until done. The broth should have thickened to the desired consistency. If not, thicken with a little additional flour and water. Shred the reserved chicken and add shredded chicken and reserved vegetables back into the pot. Adjust for seasoning. Watch husband swoon with delight.

Last week I also became an instant fan of Southern Plate. What a marvelous cook! I clipped out her chicken and dumplings recipe, just in case I decide to try her biscuit dough method sometime.

Southern Plate's Chicken and Dumplings:
3 or 4 chicken breasts
32 oz Chicken Broth
1 can cream of chicken soup
1-10 count can Pilsbury layers biscuits
salt and pepper to taste

Cook chicken breasts in approx. 4 c. of water until fork tender, about 45 minutes. Place broth in medium to large sized pot. Stir cream of chicken soup into gently boiling broth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pull biscuits apart into three layers. Dip each layer into flour and then tear each layer into three pieces and drop into gently boiling broth mixture. Do not stir biscuits a lot, or they will cook up, only gently push dumplings down into broth as they float to the top. Cook about ten minutes after last dumplings are added. Add shredded chicken and turn on low until ready to serve.

Carmine's Pasta Giardiniera

Actually, this is an adaptation of the Carmine's recipe. Mine is a bit lighter than the official version, with no sacrifice of flavor. At the restaurant, we used to use thinly sliced mushrooms and zucchini in addition to the vegetables listed here, and amped everything up with chopped basil and parsley.

1/8 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons prosciutto, diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 small onion, diced large
1 broccoli spear, diced small
1/2 cup chicken stock
handful fresh spinach or arugula, chopped
1/2 cup sweet peas
2 cups tomato sauce
1/2 cup half and half
1 cup grated parmesan cheese, optional