Monday, January 31, 2011

Leftover pasta frittata, finger food for your Super Bowl party

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Still looking for Super Bowl recipes? There's nothing better for a party than a simple pasta frittata.

It's essentially a pancake made out of leftover cooked pasta, sauce and all. You mix the leftover pasta (any shape) with eggs and cheese, then fry the whole mess up in a hot pan. Brave souls will try to flip it using the upside-down plate trick - I used to do it - but lazy bums like me stick the whole thing under the broiler for a few minutes to cook the top. Cut it into wedges, serve hot or warm or cold, eat with fingers. This is a-one party food, picnic food, and especially midnight snack food (trust me on this one).

Spaghetti frittata with wild mushrooms and bacon

Pasta pancake (frittata)
  • 4 cups leftover pasta, with sauce and add-ins
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Anything else you think might work: crumbled bacon, diced cooked chicken, leftover cooked vegetables, capers, chopped anchovies, a few sun-dried tomatoes....
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
Preheat the broiler on high with the rack on the second-highest shelf.

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Heat an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl in the olive oil, then dump in the pasta-egg mixture. As it sets, lift up the edges with a spatula so more of the egg can run underneath.

When the bottom is set and browned, put the skillet under the broiler. Check it after three minutes to make sure it's not burning. I usually leave it in about five minutes, but it will burn easily, depending on the strength of your broiler.

When the top is golden brown, remove the pan from the oven and let the frittata sit in the pan for about 10 minutes. The residual heat will cook the egg all the way through, if it hasn't already, and letting it cool will allow it to set up a bit before you take it out and cut it.

After a little bit, slide the frittata onto a board. Cut into wedges and serve.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A new way to love radishes: Radish MiniSticks from Duda Farm Fresh Foods

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I believe I've told you about my fascination with radishes. I am determined to make the radish a mainstream vegetable. How can something so crunchy, so beautiful, so refreshing be relegated to the role of perpetual garnish? I won't have it.

Luckily, Duda Farm Fresh Foods agrees with me. They are going to great lengths to make radishes more appealing to Americans. Last month they sent me a sample of their new Radish MiniSticks, radishes cut into thin batons. It was love at first sight. In fact, the entire package disappeared into the mouths of my family before I had a chance to snap even one photo. Red-faced, I had to ask for another sample so I could get some decent pictures for this post.

I've shredded my share of radishes using both hand graters and my food processor, and I haven't been able to replicate this particular cut. They're thin but retain plenty of crunch, and they don't wilt when dressed. Normally I slice radishes thinly on a mandoline for my simple radish salad, but I used the MiniSticks with exactly the same dressing, and I liked the results even more.

The MiniSticks worked beautifully mixed with truffle butter and spread on baguette slices, a variation on my radish truffle butter sandwiches, for which I also normally use thinly sliced radishes. I even added some to a batch of chicken salad on a whim. They're also excellent straight out of the bag. The Duda website has lots more suggestions, including cucumber radish raita, radish and lime ceviche with grilled shrimp, and a great-looking radish Greek yogurt dip (Super Bowl menu planning, anyone?). 

So the next time you're looking to change things up a bit in the vegetable department, think radishes. Whether you grab a bunch from the produce department or a bag of prepared radishes in the bagged salad aisle, you'll be adding color and crunch to your life. And I will have won one more battle in the Radish Wars.

Thanks to Duda Farm Fresh Foods for the samples of Radish MiniSticks. Other than the free sample, I was not compensated in any way for this post. I just really love radishes.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Herbed cheese popovers

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When I lived in New York in the years after college, I ate a lot of Sunday brunches. It was a great meal to eat out with the girls when you worked full-time, were between boyfriends, and had a limited restaurant budget. Sunday brunch was cheap and often included a mimosa. You could linger over it for an hour or two while you decided how to waste the balance of the weekend. And if you ate enough at brunch, you could make it a two-meal day, which conserved both money and calories (theoretically).

One favorite spot was an upper West side restaurant called Popover Cafe. Their bread basket was full of - do I have to say it? - popovers. I'd never had one before my first brunch there, had no idea that the laws of physics allowed so much steam to be trapped inside so little bread. Popover Cafe served their popovers piping hot with a little white crock of strawberry butter. I'd break the dome into crunchy bits, then peel the rich, eggy bottom into layers, dipping them into the pink butter before letting them melt on my tongue.

When the Incredible Edible Egg people posted a popover recipe last weekend, I succumbed to a massive deja vu and baked a batch. I went out on a limb and added some savory notes to the batter: dried chives and Penzey's Spices Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle seasoning, a mixture of Romano cheese, garlic and Italian herbs. They stuck to the muffin tin a bit, but it didn't matter. The domes came out high and crisp, the bottoms all eggy layers. I ate two. My husband, seven. Popovers at home. Now that's Sunday brunch.

Herbed cheese popovers
adapted from Incredible Edible Egg
  • 3eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp dried chopped chives (or 2 Tbsp fresh snipped chives)
  • 2 tsp Penzey's spices Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle (or 2 Tbsp grated Romano cheese, 1/4 tsp granulated garlic, and 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning herb mixture)
Preheat to 425 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin thoroughly with nonstick cooking spray.

Beat the eggs in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment on high until they're foamy and light, about 3 minutes. Add the milk and melted butter and mix on high another minute. Change to the paddle attachment, set the mixer to low, and add the flour, salt, chives and spice mixture. Mix until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Fill the muffin cups about 2/3 full. Bake about 35 minutes, until the popovers are puffed, well browned and firm. Open the oven door, pull the muffin tin out, and pierce each popover with the tip of a paring knife to release the steam. Bake the popovers another 3-4 minutes. Loosen the edges of the popovers with a knife or small offset spatula. Serve immediately with butter.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mediterranean orange salad with feta

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Citrus season in southern California is truly a beautiful thing.

Yesterday morning before work I walked around my neighborhood. In the valleys, the perfect climate for growing citrus, entire city blocks are lined with orange, lemon and grapefruit trees. I live by the coast, which is cooler and marginally less hospitable to citrus. Regardless, everywhere you look there's a tree filled with orange or yellow fruit. It may get neither as big nor as sweet as the citrus fruit in the valleys, but still I find it overwhelmingly attractive. There's a tangerine tree down the block I particularly covet this time of year. I don't know those neighbors, but every winter I try to work up the courage to knock on their door.

The best oranges I've ever had grew in the yard of my mother's cousin Bernice. She raised her family here in Los Angeles while I was growing up in New York, so we didn't get to know each other until I moved west. She lived alone in a traditional ranch house in the San Fernando valley, and when my kids were small I tried to visit her once a month or so. There was a huge old navel orange tree that produced softball-sized fruit in the winter, fluorescent orange and sweet as candy. I'd take a hundred home in trash bags, then spend hours scrubbing and peeling. No scurvy in our house!

Bernice died a few years ago, and every time I see oranges stacked at the market I think of her. This salad makes me think of her, too, because it's best made with huge, juicy, super-sweet navels like the ones that grew in her yard. The sweet orange contrasts nicely with the salty feta, briny olives and sharp red onion. If the oranges are too sour, it just tastes sour.

If you're really motivated, supreme the oranges by cutting away the orange peel and white pith, then painstakingly cutting each segment away from the membrane - but then be very careful tossing the salad, because the orange segments will be much more fragile without their protective skins. I don't think it's necessary, anyway, and in a "What would Nigella Lawson do?" sort of way, I'll just tell you that it's up to you how fussy you want to be.

Mediterranean orange salad with feta
  • 10 navel oranges
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp minced preserved lemon OR zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp Italian parsley, chopped
Zest two of the oranges with a Microplane, reserving the zest for later. 

Put an orange on a cutting board and slice off both ends. Stand the orange on one end and cut down, slicing the peel and pith away from the orange and exposing the flesh. Do this all the way around; some of the flesh will come away with the peel, but that can’t be helped. Now slice the orange flesh into 1-inch rounds, and the rounds into chunks. Put the orange chunks in a big bowl.

Shave the red onion with a mandoline, or slice it in half-moons as thinly as you can. Cut the olives in half. Add those and everything else, including the orange zest, to the bowl, and toss gently. Be generous with the salt and pepper; even though the olives and feta are salty, you’ll still need more salt to balance the sweetness of the oranges.

Let the salad sit at room temperature for an hour, tossing gently every quarter-hour or so, to let the flavors meld. Serve sprinkled with more crumbled feta, if you like.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Greek cucumber salad with feta

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When my mother visits, I pull every recipe out of my archives that qualifies as low-carb. I can always do a green salad, but sometimes I crave (we all crave) a salad with a little more oomph. That's why I love this cucumber salad with big Greek flavors: feta cheese, dill, Kalamata olives, lemon. English or Persian cucumbers keep their skins and thus don't wilt much, so the salad has a great crunch, too.

I'll often serve this salad with or on top of chicken breasts which I've sliced thinly, marinated in a little lemon juice and olive oil, and grilled quickly over high heat. Can't ask for a better low-carb dinner than that.

Greek cucumber salad with feta and dill
  • 1 English cucumber (or 3 small Persian cucumbers), diced
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch dill, chopped
  • 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
  • zest and juice of one large lemon
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • freshly ground black pepper
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and toss gently. Note that you should not need any salt - between the olives and the feta, it will be salty enough. Put salad in the refrigerator about 30 minutes to let the flavors combine.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Potato galette with duck fat

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There's a plastic container filled with duck fat in my refrigerator. It's labeled "liquid gold" to guard against enthusiastic refrigerator cleaning (mostly my own; I do a weekly sweep to get rid of old stuff). The duck fat is left over from the roast duck with quince glaze I made before the holidays. I made a total of three ducks, from which I harvested about two cups of duck fat.

I told my kids that you haven't lived until you've eaten potatoes fried in duck fat. To prove this, I made a potato galette. Actually, I made two. The first one flopped. I suspect I used too little duck fat. Also, because I cooked it entirely in the oven, the galette didn't develop that amazing crust on the bottom I was expecting. We ate it, but no one was blown away.

And then I made the second one. This time I pulled out Julia Child's The Way to Cook, one of my favorite cookbooks of all time. Of course Julia would know how to make a perfect potato galette! I followed her advice and washed some of the starch off the sliced potatoes before laying them into the already-heated cast iron pan. But then I did my own thing. The duck fat, of course. I left the potato skins on. And I added a little grated Romano cheese between the layers, plus a sprinkling on top. I cooked it covered on the stove, then moved it under the broiler without its protective foil to crisp the top.

The result: "transplendent," as that ditzy post-hippie said to Woody Allen in Annie Hall. Crispy top and bottom, creamy white inside, with a richness you can't even get from butter. I cut it into wedges and passed it around the table. We might have heard angels singing. Or, wait, I bet that was my younger son, who sings his way through life. He ate three pieces. It's one of the few dishes I've made in the past 10 years of which we had no leftovers.

A mandoline (my favorite: the Oxo Good Grips hand-held mandoline slicer) makes slicing the potatoes much easier, but if it's just you and a knife and your infinite patience, you'll do fine. Use a cast-iron pan if you've got one for the best bottom crust.

Potato galette with duck fat
  • 3 large Idaho russet potatoes, washed but not peeled
  • about 1/4 cup duck fat
  • about 5 Tbsp olive oil
  • about 4 Tbsp grated parmesan or Romano cheese
  • salt and pepper
Using a mandoline, slice the potatoes about 1/16" thick - in other words, very thin, but not paper-thin. As you slice them, drop them into a bowl of cool water. When you've sliced all the potatoes, swish them around in the bowl a bit to wash off some of the starch. Remove the potato slices to a lint-free towel or several layers of paper towels, and dry them well.

Meantime, heat a cast-iron pan (or another very heavy ovenproof skillet) over medium-high heat. I used a 10-inch skillet, but a 12-inch would work, too - your galette will end up bigger but thinner, which is fine. Add a few tablespoons each of the duck fat and the olive oil and swirl them around to coat the bottom of the pan.

Now, working quickly, lay one layer of potato slices in the pan in a circular pattern, overlapping the slices slightly. Sprinkle the layer with a little duck fat, a little olive oil, a little grated cheese, and salt and pepper. Repeat, making additional layers, until you've used up all the potatoes. I got about four layers in. Over the top layer sprinkle some duck fat, olive oil and salt (no cheese yet on the top).

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the potatoes with a layer of aluminum foil, pressing the foil down onto the top layer of the galette. Now cover the pan with a lid that fits inside the pan, to keep the foil pressed down. Wrap the edges of the foil down and around the sides of the pan so very little steam escapes as the galette cooks. It will take about 20-25 minutes for the potatoes to get tender; test them after about 20 minutes by sliding the point of a sharp paring knife straight down into the top of the galette. If there's no resistance, the potatoes are cooked.

Heat the broiler, Sprinkle the galette with a thin layer of the grated cheese and put the pan, uncovered, under the broiler. Browning the top should take no more than 3-4 minutes. Watch it closely, because it will burn if you leave it in even 30 seconds too long.

When the top is brown and the cheese is melted and blistered, remove the pan from the oven. Use a large spatula to unmold the galette onto a cutting board. Let it rest a few minutes, either in the pan or on the board, before slicing into wedges. Serve hot.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Winter greens soup with mushrooms

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Some days call for a bowl of steaming soup. We've had more than our share of those days lately in Los Angeles - rainy, gray days when you can't quite warm up, even when you're swaddled in a cozy blanket on the couch drinking mug after mug of hot tea.

My mom is visiting from New York. I assumed she'd find any January day in Los Angeles downright balmy. But she's had a chill she can't shake. So I gave her a few sweaters and made her soup.

This soup is about as simple as it gets: a little bacon, an onion, some garlic, winter greens and sliced mushrooms simmered in chicken stock. With a few thick slices of whole-grain bread and some good butter, it's the perfect lunch for a rainy day.

Winter greens soup with mushrooms
(makes 4 servings)
  • 2 slices bacon, diced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups sliced crimini or button mushrooms
  • 4 cups mixed winter greens, chopped or torn into small pieces (e.g. kale, chard, mustard greens)
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • grated parmesan or romano cheese, for serving
In a large pot, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon pieces are starting to brown. Add the onion and saute another 2 or 3 minutes, then add the garlic and the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms start to give off their liquid. Add the greens and chicken stock, bring the pot to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer about 20 minutes, until the greens are soft. If you use prepared chicken stock, you probably won't have to add salt - but check before serving, just to be sure.

Serve the soup hot, passing the grated cheese at the table.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Watermelon radish salad recipe

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I'm a huge fan of unusual vegetables. When I discovered watermelon radishes at the Santa Monica farmers' market a few years ago, I was blown away. From the outside they didn't look like much - pale green, about the size of a tennis ball - but inside, oh! that gorgeous magenta! There's only one grower who has them regularly, but I've been known to make a special trip just for these beautiful babies.

I'm pretty sure you can figure out from the photo above why they're called watermelon radishes. They're called shinrimei in Chinese. I love the crunch and the grassy flavor, which varies from mild to slightly peppery. We eat them raw. I slice them into thin half-moons and serve them instead of chips with dip. Or I'll cut them into batons and add them to a crudite platter. I hear they're sometimes grown smaller, closer to the size of normal radishes, but I've only seen the huge ones.

Kyocera CSN-182S-NGR Wide Julienne Slicer, Green
Kyocera  julienne slicer
Recently I acquired a Kyocera hand-held shredding gadget (see photo, right). I broke it in with a couple of gorgeous watermelon radishes. Then, as is my habit with radishes of all kinds, I tossed the shreds with lemon, olive oil and a pinch of salt, just like my everyday radish salad. Interestingly, that very simple radish salad recipe has consistently been one of my all-time most popular posts. Go figure. Maybe my radish evangelism is working!

Anyway, the watermelon radish salad: delicious. And gorgeous, too.

Watermelon radish salad
  • 2 large watermelon radishes
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt
Peel the very outer layer off the radishes - not too much, because you still want the outer layer to look green. Grate or shred the watermelon radishes using the Kyocera julienne slicer mentioned above, or the largest holes of a box grater, or your food processor. In a large bowl, toss the watermelon radish shreds with the lemon juice and olive oil, and add a pinch of salt. Taste and add more salt if you like. Serve chilled.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Cheese crisps, an easy low carb Atkins recipe

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My mom arrived from the East coast a few days ago and is staying for a nice long visit. I'm completely thrilled. I have a few weeks off from work, and we have a list of things to do once the kids are back in school: movies, shopping, lunch, visiting friends, more shopping. All the girl stuff we don't get to do together that often.

Normally when people visit I spend a lot of time cooking. My mother, however, is on that $^%$&#&*# Atkins diet. I allow that she has been extremely successful on it and has lost a lot of weight in the past year, and I'm very proud of her. And she's not on the all-bacon version, either - vegetables do work their way onto her plate - so I'm not (as) worried about her arteries. But her low carb Atkins diet makes it much harder for me to cook for her.

We had some friends over the other night. They got truffled flatbread and Jarlsberg bacon puffs. But for my mom, I made these low carb cheese crisps. It's one of the easiest cheese recipes you'll find. All it takes is a hot nonstick pan, some shredded cheese, and a spatula. Completely Atkins-friendly, and completely delicious.

This works with any kind of shredded hard cheese. The exact cooking time will vary based primarily on how much water the cheese contains, so watch the pan carefully. And make sure you turn on the fan - pan-fried cheese makes smoke.

Cheese crisps
  • Shredded cheese (e.g. parmesan, romano, Jarlsberg)
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Have a plate lined with paper towels waiting on the counter next to the stove.

Scattering a generous pinch of shredded cheese for each, make three or four small circles of cheese in the pan. You want the cheese spread out, not piled high - this will make the crisps lacy and thin. When the edges start to brown (about 30 seconds), carefully flip over each circle with a thin spatula. Cook another 20-30 seconds, then remove the crisps and let drain on the paper towels. The crisps will - um - crisp up as they cool.

Serve at room temperature.