Smokin’ Aces (Joe Carnahan – 2006) C-

Kind of entertaining, but not much.

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VDP: Butternut Squash Soup with Parmesan Croutons

Saturday, January 19, 2008

When I saw Jamie oliver make this on TV the other day using whole butternut squash, skin and all, I knew I had to give it a shot. I wanted to see how it compares with my regular butternut squash recipe that onvolves the long roasting of the squash first and a cup of cream at the end. I also wanted to see if leaving the skin on makes any difference.

I wanted to make it vegetarian, so I substituted my flavorful vegetable stock for chicken stock. Other than that I made the recipe as is. It is so easy and takes less than an hour from start to finish. The base is a mirepoix and garlic, sautéed till soft along with rosemary. Then I added the chunks of butternut squash and stock.

After it simmers for about 40 minutes and everything is soft, I used my handheld blender to puree it to a smooth velvety consistency. The parmesan croutons are made of crusty bread, rubbed with olive oil and parmesan. Then the slices are cooked in a dry nonstick pan till the cheese melts and turns crispy.

The soup is outstanding, and for the little work involved it certainly ranks up there with my traditional recipe. As for leaving the skin on, I cannot really tell the difference. However, for those who know what a pain it is to peel the darn things, I certainly appreciate the fact that I can make this soup and not bother with peeling.

In addition to the croutons, the fried sage leaves and the drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, I also served this tasty soup with a few small dollops of crème fraiche. I had also roasted the seeds with some spices to sprinkle on top, but totally forgot to use them. Oh well, they tasted great as a snack afterwards.

VDP: Roasted Pepper Salad with Fresh Mozzarella

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Earlier this week I picked up a few bell peppers of different colors. At about 50 cents each, these were quiet a deal even though out of season.

I broiled them till charred on all sides earlier in the week in preparation for ‘something’. I was thinking maybe I can stuff them. However, life intervened again and I had absolutely no time to do anything elaborate. Instead I made this quick, beautiful and delicious salad.

I peeled the peppers and tossed them with olive oil, lemon juice, dried oregano, salt and pepper. I plated them with little balls of fresh mozzarella and on top I grated lemon zest. That lemon zest really takes this to another level. To eat, I served them with toasted slices of homemade crusty bread rubbed with garlic.

VDP: Vegetable Stock

Cooking more vegetarian items means making sure I have a good supply of vegetable stock for stuff like soups. Making this brew could not be easier. The recipe I followed is from Bittman’s “How To Cook Everything Vegetarian“. A mixture of onions, potatoes, celery, carrots, parsley, garlic, mushrooms and a few drizzles of olive oil is simmered with enough water to cover with a couple inches. That it. Strain it and you have a very flavorful stock. The mushrooms or mushroom stem here makes all the difference. It gives the stock a nice earthy, almost meaty flavor. To make the stock more robust, the veggies can be sautéed or roasted as well.

VDP: Mushroom Ragout with Burghul and Yogurt Sauce

Saturday, January 12, 2008

If you do not know what burghul is, click here where I explained it once before. It really is a delicious and quick-cooking grain that can be cooked in many interesting methods or not at all. It can even be soaked for an hour, drained, flavored and eaten as is. This time I did cook it to go with the simple mushroom ragout.

Ragout is really just my fancy name for it. This is a typical dish you’d find at most Lebanese mezze (tapas, appetizers) spreads. It ranges from tongue-numbingly spicy, to mild. I make it mild since my wife does not like spicy foods. I add more chili flakes later on my portion. To make this, I cooked a whole bunch of bell peppers with onions, one chili pepper and garlic in olive oil. Then I added some cut up mushrooms and sautéed for a few minutes. Lastly I added some canned peeled and crushed tomatoes and let it stew gently for 30 minutes. It needs to be a little acidic, so at the end I adjusted the seasoning and added some lemon juice. This can be served hot, cold, or room temperature.

For the burghul, I use a 1X1 ratio of liquid to grain. For a simple burghul dish like this one, as opposed to using it as stuffing or in Kibbe, I use the medium or coarse grind. I just sautéed some green chopped onions in olive oil and toasted a cup of burghul in there for a minute or so. Then added a cup of water and reduced the heat to low. Covered and let it cook for 20 minutes or so. The grains should be cooked tender but still have a bit of bite to them. They should be fluffy and not mushy.

The yogurt sauce is just whole milk yogurt, olive oil, chopped fresh mint, chopped green onions (the green tops), salt and pepper.

VDP: Grilled Cheddar Cheese Sandwich and Hot Chocolate

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Not much time to cook last night. Diana decided to have a bowl of cereal with cold milk. I was not crazy about the idea. Instead I did a quick dinner of grilled cheese and a cup of hot chocolate.

Whole Wheat Potato Bread

The sandwich is of course very simple. I used home baked whole wheat potato bread. This bread is another fantastic recipe from “Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor“. It contains no white flour at all and like most recipes in the book, is made using a soaker (whole wheat flour and potato water mixed and allowed to sit overnight) and a starter (same like soaker, but with yeast and is refrigerated) to give it lots of flavor and lift. The potato water and mashed potato make this incredibly soft and tender almost like white bread. So, spread some Dijon mustard on the sliced bread, top it with sharp white cheddar and gently toast it in a little olive oil until the cheese melts.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich

The hot chocolate recipe I’ve been using, unless I’m in a real rush, is from “Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme” and he calls it Caramelized Cinnamon Hot Chocolate. Caramelize some sugar with a stick of cinnamon till it gets nice and mahogany colored. Add some boiling milk -be slow, gentle and CAREFUL from all the sizzling- and a little water, mix to melt the caramel. Lastly add some melted bittersweet chocolate, remove the cinnamon and I use a hand blender to thoroughly mix and foam up the beverage. Served piping hot, this is our favorite hot chocolate drink by far. It is so satisfying on it’s own or with a salty accompaniment like crackers or a grilled cheddar cheese sandwich.

Hot Chocolate

Do you like this mug? I sure do. It’s my latest and one of my favorite mugs. Picked it up along with three other pots on our latest trip to Colombia in December. They are handmade from clay and only in one place, a small town called La Chamba. You can Google them and buy them online, but they are way cheaper to buy in their home country. Wanna see the rest of them? Sure you do. Here.

La Chamba Pots