Sugar Pumpkin “Hummus”

October 6, 2012 § 2 Comments

This is going to be quick; no convincing, no nutrition information or wordy phrases (sorry Paul) and it’s mainly because every second spent doing something other than studying alpha helices, beta-pleated sheets and amino acids seems kind of, I don’t know, unproductive. BUT we all have to eat so I might as well share one of my recent favorites.

I know, why didn’t we think of this before? Anyways, this can be used as a dip, a spread, a body mousse or a dressing and, can be made with other fleshy winter squash, nut/seed butters and spices. With that said, this lightly spiced pumpkin-tahina combo has been my favorite thus far.

I do have to mention that a creamy tahina (also know as tahini but I have had trouble calling it that since hearing Israelis throatily proclaim it tah-hina as if it’s a goddness of some sort) and pungent garlic are necessary here (since they are really the only ingredients). Cumin, sumac, nutmeg, black pepper, paprika or a touch of cayenne would certainly lend some character, but here is the base, you do the rest. Also,  I will give the recipe for homemade tahina, which is by far the strongest and most satisfying, but you can certainly fine some decent tahina around.

Oh by the way, I was joking about the body mousse thing…

Sugar Pumpkin “Hummus”

Hummus: 2 cups of sugar pumpkin puree*,  1/3 cup tahina,  2 cloves raw garlic,  about 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil and fine grain sea salt to taste.

*Roast a large, gutted pumpkin at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes or until soft then scape out the flesh. In a food processor, or blender pulse the pumpkin until sooth. 15oz of organic canned pumpkin works as well.

Tahina: 2 cups hulled sesame seeds, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil or sesame seed oil and 1/4 tsp sea salt (or more to taste)

In a skillet, toast the sesame seeds one cup at a time until light brown and fragrant. In a food processor pulse the toasted seeds until they form a fine meal. Add the salt. While running the food processor, add olive oil in a stream, processing for about 15 seconds. Pour the tahina into a bowl and mix with a fork until there are no dry lumps. Taste and season with more salt if necessary.

Note: Freshly milled tahina can be stored in a mason/bell jar in the refrigerator for approximately 2 weeks.

In a bowl combine the pumpkin puree, tahina and olive oil. Mix until fully combine. Press (with a garlic press) or chop the garlic then add it to the pumpkin mixture. Mix well, and season with salt or desired spices. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

This recipe makes about 4 servings. It can be kept refrigerated in an airtight container for 4 days, but I guarantee it won’t last that long.

Lebanese Nut Rice

June 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

Top Left: Slivered Almonds; Right: Cinnamon Sticks and Lamb Bones; Bottom Left: Unsalted, Shelled Pistachios Right: Pine Nuts

Yes, it’s as good as it sounds.

Rice is something I’ve always struggled with. I enjoy it when other people labor through the simmering and stirring for me, but every time I concoct a rice based dish I’m sorely disappointed.  Repetitive disappointment in the rice department bruised my ego a bit. I mean over half of the world’s population probably eats rice every day, multiple times. If they can cook it so well what was I missing?  The answer – the right type of rice. This recipe uses short grain rice, which is, in my opinion more palatable than long grain which tends to be a harder and more dry (in my very humble experience). This earthy combination is one not to miss out on. The recipe comes from a Middle Eastern cookbook, Artichoke to Za’atar by Greg and Lucy Malouf. Shann gave me for my birthday last summer and I must say I appreciate it exponentially more after experiencing the cuisine of Israel.  However, it doesn’t take a trip to the Middle East to realize this rice is exceptional.

In the book, Greg and Lucy suggest stuffing a baby lamb with the Lebanese nut rice. I didn’t have that kind of time and am sure that finding someone to sell me an entire baby lamb would be a lengthy project within itself. That being said, I think this rice would be tasty stuffed in anything be it the cavity of a chicken or between the fleshy walls of a cored tomato (or any type of winter squash when they are in season). So instead of stuffing I did a bit of modifying through out the recipe. In place of the ground lamb, I substituted bones from the shoulder of a lamb I saved after making lamb confit. I preferred using the bones because they provide depth without adding ground meat, but I’m sure the meat would add a pleasant texture, especially if you decided to use this for stuffing. Also, I used about a cup of each of the nuts instead of 2/3 of a cup. This is not necessary but definitely added more flavor, texture and richness.

Bones from anything be it turkey or lamb can work to add flavor if cooked in the rice stock. Fresh cinnamon sticks are necessary so be sure to find some that are fragrant.

Rice

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil,  1 large white onion, finely diced,  5 ounces of ground lamb*,  3 cups organic short grain brown rice,  1 quart vegetable stock**,  1 cinnamon stick,  1 tsp crushed black pepper, sea salt to taste

*Ground beef or lamb bones can be used instead of ground lamb. **Chicken stock or beef stock can be substituted depending on what meat or bones you use to flavor the rice. Also, you may need 2 quarts (8 cups or 1/2 gallon) depending on the rice you use.

To Serve

2/3 cup pine nuts,  2/3 cup slivered almonds,  2/3 cup unsalted shelled pistachio nuts,  1/2 cup olive oil,  2 small garlic cloves,  juice from 1 lemon, 1/2 cup cilantro leaves

Lebanese Nut Rice

In a large cast iron skillet or heavy bottom pan heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Saute the onion and ground lamb or lamb bones until the onion is soft and translucent and the meat is browned. Add the rice and the vegetable stock and bring to a boil within four minutes. When boiling add the cinnamon stick, reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook without stirring until the rice has soaked up a majority of the stock. If the rice is still hard add 2-4 more cups of stock and continue to simmer until the rice softens and becomes chewy.

Meanwhile, heat the 1/2 cup of olive oil over medium heat. Add the pine nuts, almonds and pistachios until fragrant and golden brown. With a slotted spoon remove the nuts and add them to the rice when it is finished cooking. Save the nut infused oil.

Chop and smash the garlic into a paste. Heat 3 tablespoons of the nut-infused olive oil with the garlic and lemon juice until boiling. Pour over the rice when ready to serve

Enjoy with a hearty serving of tzatziki and some sliced cucumber with a indulgent drizzling of olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Bon appetite.

Lemon-stachio Pesto Crusted Salmon

May 2, 2012 § 2 Comments

With the bright flavor of lemony pistachio pesto and a bold fish one can not go wrong.

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There is no beating the pesto’s crunchy top and soft innards after it’s been roasted onto the flaky salmon filet.

Salmon. The go to fish of the USA: Eat more salmon, eat more fish! You’ve heard it over and over and chances are, you’ve bought some salmon and cooked it – possibly rather unsuccessfully? Salmon is tough, especially if you don’t usually eat fish, because it does taste like fish. Now in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with fish – which I eat often, but if you like pesto (Come on, who doesn’t like pesto?!), this is a good way to tame the bold taste of salmon without squandering it.

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*To roast garlic leave it in the peel and toss it in the oven (with whatever else you’re cooking) until the peel beings to loosen and the garlic is fragrant.

 Pesto, taken literally, actually means anything that has been pounded or crushed, as the word pesto has roots in the Italian word pesta and the English word pestle. With that being said, abandon your typical ideas about pesto and be daring. Pesto originated in Genoa, Italy (when I visited this region I was inspired by their seemingly competitive gardens laced with row upon row on perky basil plants) as a mosaic of  basil, pine nuts and olive oil, yet today there are thousands of hybrids. Here we’ll use some pungent roasted garlic, basil, spinach, pistachios and lemon juice to make a bright pesto, far from overbearing. Give it a shot and don’t hesitate to tweak it to meet the needs of your taste buds.

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Pesto

1 cup fresh Genovese basil leaves,  1 cup organic baby spinach,  1 cup shelled pistachios, salted  3/4 cup pecorino romano, freshly grated,  1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil,  1 large clove garlic*, roasted,   3 Tbsp lemon juice, black pepper to taste

Salmon

Use any species of fresh caught (NOT farmed**) salmon. One person can usually eat a 4-8oz filet. To be safe, make one 6-8oz (about half pound) filet per person. Left overs are delicious topping a salad the next day.

Lemon-stachio Pesto Crusted Salmon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit on roast. Cover a baking dish or pan with parchment paper and coat with oil. Put fish in/on the baking dish and refrigerate until ready to use.  Meanwhile, combine basil, spinach, pistachios, and pecorino romano in a food processor. Process until completely mixed. Add olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. Pulse until pistachios are completely ground into the pesto. Pulse in crushed black pepper if desired.

Top the salmon with the pesto and bake for 15 minutes. Cut a filet open to check the middle, it should be opaque and flaky with an internal temperature of 140 degrees. If it is slightly pink, it’s finished. Let the salmon sit (out of the oven) for 2-5 minutes so it can finish cooking. Serve immediately.

**Note: Farmed salmon may help feed the global population, but it’s not the best for anyone. Due to it’s unnatural diet that consists of a conglomeration of grains and soybeans, it’s higher in omega-6 fatty acids, which you are most likely getting in abundance from your daily diet. Stick with wild caught to get the most authentic salmon flavor, an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids and a healthy dose of astaxanthin (With no added color – Yes, farmed salmon does have added color).

Bon appetit.

Tea Simmered Winter Squash Quinoa

December 8, 2011 § 2 Comments

Simmering sencha: earthy, grass-toned, mellow & slightly astringent. Browned Garlic: bold, pungent, spicy & sweet.  Preserved Lemon: bright, acidic & a bit adventurous.

These flavors from common kitchen foods meld together to create something worth repeating; again and again and again.

Anyone who has been sorely disappointed by the flavor, or lack there of, in quinoa can join the millions. I’m sure many people who are on the quest toward healthier eating lug home a bag of this protein-packed grain in hopes it will solve all of their problems. They get home, cook the grain in water, add some salt, pepper & olive oil & never touch it again. To those of you who have experienced that, this will certainly change your minds. Plus, who doesn’t love butternut squash & some savory mushrooms?

Oyster mushrooms add some "umami" depth to an already teeming-with flavor & nutrients vegetable-grain dish.

Not to mention the fact the this is a perfect whole grain option for people who have to eat gluten-free. Whole grains (wheat berries, oats, barley, rye, millet, amaranth, etc) were not meant be consumed in the ugly form of “whole wheat” pre-sliced bread, “whole wheat” Pillsbury Frudals, “whole grain” pre-made packaged pancakes or any of the like (I’m not kidding, this is what our government, according to MyPlate, considers a serving of whole grains).  Whole grains are meant to nourish our bodies – stop falling for the health claims on the sides of corporate packaged foods & get adventurous.

People complain that it is too expensive to eat healthfully, but buying bulk whole grains is probably one of the cheapest things you can get. Things get expensive when you start buying the “healthy” packaged stuff.  Oh, and forget the MyPlate recommendations – let’s make all of our grains whole.

But getting back to the bliss; if you don’t have preserved lemons this really won’t be the same. I’m sure you could try peeling lemons, then letting the peels hang out in sea salt for a couple days & you would probably get something similar, but if you want to preserve your own lemons the link is here: Preserved Lemons. Or you can always buy them online (if you’re in a rush): Buy Preserved Lemons

Tea Simmered Winter Squash Quinoa

5 cups of water,  5 heaping Tbsp Sencha tea (5 green tea bags works too), 2 cups white quinoa,  2 whole butternut squash,  1 cup mushrooms, assorted, chopped,  7 cloves of garlic, 1 preserved lemon,  1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 Tbsp,  3 Tbsp dried oregano,  feta cheese to garnish

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit on roast. Slice the squash into 1 inch thick pieces & roast for 35 minutes until the skin has lifted & the flesh can easily be pierced with a fork. Fill a medium sauce pan with 5 cups of water – cover & bring to a boil. Add the tea & steep for 10 minutes. Strain the water to remove the loose tea leaves or remove the tea bags. Add the quinoa & bring to a rapid boil while covered, then reduce the heat & stir constantly (keeping it uncovered) until the quinoa has absorbed all the water (it will be light, fluffy & will expand to about four times the original amount).

Meanwhile, peel garlic & gently smash it under the side of a large knife. This can be done by putting the garlic on a cutting board, holding your knife so the blade is parallel to the bored & banging the side of the blade with the heel of your hand to squish the garlic. Slice the lemon vertically into eighths, then chop the slices into 1/4 of an inch pieces.

In a skillet add olive oil & heat for 2 minutes. When oil is warmed, add garlic & the chopped lemons. After 5 minutes add the oregano. Continue cooking over medium heat until the garlic is browned. When the garlic is golden brown, pour the oil mixture over the quinoa.

In the same skillet used to brown the garlic, saute the chopped mushrooms in 1 Tbsp of olive oil until fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Chop the squash into cubes & toss into the quinoa. Add the sauteed mushrooms, taste & season as desired. Before serving, drizzle with olive oil & throw in a handful of feta for added creaminess.

This is a good recipe to make at the beginning of the week & refrigerate. It tastes great on top of kale or spinach or can be reheated for a quick dinner.

Enjoy.

Bread & Brown Buttered Hen of the Woods

October 29, 2011 § 3 Comments

It’s short & simple: the best ingredients yield the most impressive products. Now, enter foraged mushrooms, the epitome of good ingredients, into the equation & you’re bound to have a product that even the meek-mushroom-deniers will desire.

Hen of the Woods, Grifola frondosa, or Maitaki is a common mushroom in the Northeast.

The art (or sport) of foraging mushrooms has been seriously dismissed in some parts of this country, but it’s certainly exciting that there is a rising interest in the sport (we can call it a sport right?). Because mushrooms occur in the same, much sought after “secret spots” each year, mushroom knowledge is usually passed down between generations. Once someone in the family finds a spot, it’s to that spot they’ll return annually when the season for the mushrooms arrives.

This recipe is easy & can be duplicated with anything from fish to eggplant. The most important thing to keep in mind is that what you make your bread crumbs out of does mater. Like I said earlier, what you put in is what you get out. An old loaf of sourdough, buttery crackers, or a stale grainy baguette all work, but the secret is to mix whatever you use with a cup of walnuts (a trick that my mom taught me).

Looks like chicken, but it's not, I promise.

Bread & Brown Buttered Hen of the Woods

2 packages of your favorite whole wheat crackers*, 1/2 cup walnuts,  10, 2-3oz hen of the woods “filets”, 1 egg,  1/2 cup organic whole milk,  2 Tbsp butter** &  salt & pepper to taste

*You can use anything, Late July, Barbara’s Wheaties, Back to Nature, or even Ritz crackers. If you do use bread, be sure the loaf is at least 2 days old & has been baked so that it hardens (like toast).

**olive oil, grape seed oil, coconut oil, or ghee works well here too, they just should not be browned.

Beating lightly, combine egg & milk in a large bowl until homogenous. Add the “filets” & let them soak for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, pulse crackers & walnuts in a food processor until they become granulated, but not dusty. Dump half of the bread crumbs in a plastic bag & the other half on to a large plate.  In a skillet brown the butter over medium-high heat. Browning the butter (for more about brown butter check out the last post) will take about 3-4 minutes over high heat.

One by one coat the soaked filets in bread crumbs & add them to the pan (if needed, add more bread crumbs to the plate as you go). Adjust the heat to medium & let the breaded filets cook for 5-7 minutes until golden brown. Flip & repeat until both sides are golden & slightly crunchy. You may need to add more butter or oil if you notice the pan looks “dry”.

Serve over a bed of greens or as a grilled pizza topping. This recipe can also be used to bread any white fish or for eggplant. If you are using it to bread fish, soak the fish filets & prepare the bread crumbs the same way, but bake the fish (in a baking dish coated with olive oil) at 350 degrees F, for 35 minutes, or until flaky.

Have you ever foraged wild mushrooms before? If so, please share your experience & your suggestions for cooking/baking/pickling them!

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