Saturday, February 27, 2016

Spaghetti with Chunky Tomato Sauce

When the tomato sauce stands on its own, it's time to make your own simple sauce. And since, as of late, I have been on some kind of inexplicable pasta kick, I present to you one of the simplest tomato sauces.

Sure, if it were summer, one would pluck tomatoes from the vine, snag a few pounds from the farmers market, or procure some at the local grocery store. However, we're fully ensconced in February, and I am aching for the acidic sweetness of tomatoes. Canned it is. Do obtain the best canned tomatoes you can find. Cook's Illustrated, in its wonderfully geeky way, has taken all the guess-work out of selecting your canned tomatoes. In this breathlessly empirical article, they conclude that San Marzano tomatoes are not actually worth all the hype. Instead, they recommend good old Muir Glenn whole tomatoes. 

Composed of ingredients probably found in your pantry (maybe you'll need to substitute some dried oregano and basil), this sauce is a snap. But these two questions remain: What is it when those sweet, acidic tomatoes stew in olive oil for an hour with some garlic, onion, and herbs? Why does the resulting sauce equal much more than the sum of its delightful parts? 

Answers to which I cannot provide. But I'll just keep making this economical and simple staple in the core of winter and not mind at all.


Spaghetti with Chunky Tomato Sauce

4 Servings 

1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, chopped, liquid reserved
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fresh oregano leaves
6-8 large fresh basil leaves, julienned
1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp tomato paste
salt and pepper

3/4 lb spaghetti
6-8 basil leaves, for serving
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving

1. Heat the chopped tomatoes and their liquid in a medium sauce pan, add 2 Tbsp of the oil, the oregano and basil, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2.  Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in another medium saucepan over medium-low heat, add the onion, and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion softens, 6-8 minutes.

3. Stir in the tomato paste, season with salt and pepper, then reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until it thickens and has turned brick red, about 20-30 minutes more.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta to the pot and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes.

5. Drain well, then transfer the pasta to a warmed serving bowl, add the sauce, and toss well. Top with basil and cheese.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Lamb Stew with Apples (Estofado de Cordero Con Manzana)

About six years ago, I bemoaned the fact that one of my fathers-in-law owned a cookbook I wanted. Through the modern miracle of amazon and the generosity of my husband, he snapped up a used copy for me as my Christmas present. And oh, how I love it. 

And the question must be asked: why did he wait so long?

I decided to begin with one of the simplest recipes in the book: a lamb stew. And oh, how I love lamb stew, and it has shown up on this blog twice before. 

About two years ago, I made a lamb and fruit stew out of the Middle East that was quite tasty, for I am a huge fan of quince and of saffron--that stew married lamb with those two delicacies, and I was hooked. 

And then, as you know, in December, I made what I declared to be the best lamb stew I have ever had. I'll still stand by that declaration--that Tunisian lamb stew was better than this one, but only because I preferred that spice palate. Seriously--coriander, cinnamon, paprika, cayenne--all are spices right up my alley.

But this stew was quite satisfying, particularly in its simplicity.  Lamb, tomatoes, onions, and apples stewed in white wine. It was the perfect one-pot meal.

Something about sweetness paired with lamb, and ooh boy. Be it a handful of almonds or cored apples or quinces, these stews call out for a hit of something sweet to balance the savoriness of the lamb.  And it doesn't matter if we travel to Tunisia, Lebanon, or Spain, the spice combination blended with that sweetness and with the lamb guarantees a gratifying meal.

Penelope Casas, our cookbook's author, nods to the Moorish origin of this Spanish dish from Andalusia in her headnote to the recipe. That self-same father-in-law who owned this cookbook before I did traveled to Andalusia recently, and he declared that given his druthers, he would live in Andalusia. His druthers also include gainful employment, which he has not yet figured out how to ensure in Andalusia, so instead, he lives in Berkeley.

Sadly, I have not ever traveled to Spain. And if this stew is any indication of the food of Andalusia, I suspect I, too, would never want to leave.


Lamb Stew with Apples (Estofado de Cordero Con Manzana)

4 Servings 

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 lbs lamb stew meat cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
1 apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, skinned and chopped
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cups dry white wine

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the oil in an ovenproof casserole and brown the meat well on all sides. Season with salt and pepper.

2.  Stir in the apple, onion, tomato and tomato paste. Cook a minute, then pour in the wine and adjust the seasoning. Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer to the oven. 

3.  Cook for 1 1/2 hours, adding chicken broth or water if the liquid cooks away. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Banana Tonic Smoothie

I have some issues with all the hype around smoothies. Some people out there suggest that the smoothie is what will cure the nutritional ails of the 21st century. Such is the case with my latest in smoothie cookbooks, Green Smoothies, by improbably named Fern Green, a food stylist who apparently writes cookbooks while managing a boutique hotel in central Italy. According to this cookbook, the smoothie will cleanse and detox the body, provide alkaline and acidic balance, and help prevent disease. It will replace your caffeine fix (what!?), benefit kids who don't like veggies, give you energy, and purify the blood. That's a lot of promise in a jar.

My love of the smoothie almost guarantees that I have one almost every weekday for breakfast. Portable and easily made the night before, most of my smoothies taste remarkably the same, given that I hardly vary my recipe: yogurt, fruit, spinach, flax seed, and maybe celery. They're fast. They're easy. They're definitely no-brainers. 

But, man, they get boring.  

So enter in a new smoothie book, and I am happy. 

This little recipe book on juices and smoothies is well presented with photographs of the whole foods on the left page and a bottle of the macerated and liquified stuff on the right. Lovely enough. Yet, the book smacks of the juicing, de-toxing craze that I have a hard time getting fully behind. Green gives a 7-day juice detox plan that looks, well, uncomfortable and nigh starvation. And with every recipe there is a snazzy little graphic that purports this smoothie is "detoxifying," "body stimulating" (!?), "blood nourishing," "brain powering," or even "fat flushing" without ever explaining what that means (again, what is "body stimulating"--will I start to tingle?) or how she draws these conclusions.

I started with a Banana Tonic Smoothie, which is supposed to be a "blood nourishing" and "anti-inflammatory" "diuretic." 
  • A quick Google search leads me to find that romaine is a diuretic.
  • The best I can do for "blood nourishing" is this article from the San Francisco Chronicle, which at least gives a slew of reasons for finding foods high in B-12 (supports red blood cell function), vitamins A and D (white blood cell support), vitamin K (platelet production), protein (hemoglobin and antibodies). Bananas, while high in B-6, manganese, vitamin C, and potassium, don't really fall in that category. Romaine is high in vitamin K and A as well as folate, so once again I think the romaine is picking up the slack. 
  • And for the anti-inflammatory claim, Web MD (site of every diagnosis for death I have given myself in the past five years) merely states that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is one way to begin an anti-inflammatory diet. 
It seems as if Green's claims check out, but I wish this book were a little more science-minded in its presentation. We all want to be healthy, yes. But I also want my cookbooks that purport to present healthy options to be clear in their science. Call me a nerd.

However, that said, I do like the little book as it is fodder for a slew of new morning smoothies or juices--and even her juices look like they would make some dynamite smoothies, so I am seeing both sections of the book as one in the same. I suspect with Green's prodding, I will be adding bok choy, fennel, and broccoli to my morning repertoire. I certainly added romaine with this first featured smoothie, Banana Tonic, a leafy green I don't normally throw in a blender with a banana. 

So maybe more of my smoothies will be delightfully green, and perhaps the range of smoothie ingredients will grow around these here parts. But I am still in the dark about what it means to have a body-stimulating smoothie.  I'll be over here, confused, probably with some caffeine.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


Banana Tonic Smoothie

Adapted from Green Smoothies

1 smoothie

1 small head of romaine lettuce
2 bananas
1 handful of mint leaves

1. Blend the ingredients with 1/3-1/2 cup of water.  Add more water if necessary to reach your desired consistency; then drink.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Cauliflower Gratin

One dish meals are the ultimate in comfort food. And cauliflower mixed with rice and a cheese sauce and then topped with more cheese and bread crumbs screams mid-winter simple preparation and high carbohydrates. Which, let's face it, is exactly what we all crave come February.

The husband was away with his friend up in Fort Bragg, so I had license to cook what I liked and to eat it whenever I pleased. I'll admit, popcorn featured as a dinnertime meal one night. Another night I had a smoothie. 

I am not ashamed.

However, I made this little recipe from The Sprouted Kitchen's sophomore cookbook Bowl and Spoon. Admittedly I halved it so I would have only one night of leftovers, and I make that statement with a great deal of regret. I should have made the whole recipe and then indulged in this one dish meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

I will also admit I intended to make a lovely, crisp salad to accompany this dish. I did not. That, I do not regret. 

Thusly, my dinner was just pure, clean, comfort food. 

And it was good.


Cauliflower Gratin

4 Servings (with a salad for a meal)

2 pounds cauliflower florets
1 cup cooked rice (brown is great, but any kind of rice is fine)
2 Tbsp butter
2 large cloves of garlic
1/4 onion, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp basil
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 to 1/3 tsp cayenne
1/2 cup + 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
3/4 cup + 1/4 cup shredded Gruyere
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 tsp olive oil
Chopped fresh parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square pan.

2. Cut the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces and steam for 5-7 minutes. Combine the cauliflower and rice in a mixing bowl and set aside.

3. In a saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, salt and pepper, and saute until softened.

4. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly add the milk, stirring to combine. Turn the heat down to low and let thicken. Add the nutmeg, basil, oregano, cayenne (I like it pretty spicy, so I went with 1/3 teaspoon; you make your call). Stir in 1/2 cup of Parmesan and 3/4 cup of Gruyere just until melted.

5. Pour the warm cheese mixture over the cauliflower and rice, add another few pinches of salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Pour into the baking dish.

6. In a medium bowl, stir together the 1/4 cup Parmesan and 1/4 cup Gruyere, bread crumbs, olive oil, and additional salt and pepper. Sprinkle the cheese and bread crumb mixture atop the cauliflower.

7. Bake for 20 minute, or until the edges start to bubble. Turn the heat up to 500 degree, and cook for 6-10  minutes, until the top is golden brown.  Remove and let col slightly. Sprinkle with parsley and serve warm.