Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pilaf with Carrot, Dill, and Orange Zest

Mr. Rosemary is and always will be my biggest fan and best critic. He is the litmus test for everything I make. He tolerates well my constant experimentation and insistence that we need a varied repertoire of food, that we need to try new things, instead of only his perennial favorites.
Which brings us to rice.

Although rice is a staple in three quarters of the world, it is not a favorite in this household.  While he could eat noodles or pasta all day long, rice just doesn't have the same appeal.  I have tried introducing orzo ("Looks like rice, but it isn't. This is just wrong," says he.) to a very lukewarm response.

Mixing rice with spinach was much better received.  We will not even discuss brown rice.

So you could have floored me when I served this rice dish to his rave reviews.  He commented on it before even mentioning the teriyaki pork tenderloin, which he adores, and the roasted asparagus (ditto).

It's fresh and easy and a close-to-perfect spring side to serve alongside your Easter ham.  (Or lamb, if I had my druthers.)  I do suggest doubling it.  The two of us easily ate this amount!

I originally got this recipe from the 20-something son of a friend over 25 years ago, before I was more careful about acknowledging sources.  I apologize to the creator.

Pilaf with Carrot, Dill and Orange Zest
makes four servings
2 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil
2 medium carrots, shredded (about 1 cup)
1 cup long grain white rice
grated zest of one orange
1 bunch fresh dill leaves, washed and chopped (1/2 cup chopped)
1 3/4 cup hot chicken or vegetable broth

Melt butter or heat oil over medium heat in a heavy saucepan.  (I like to use half butter. half olive oil.)Add carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, about five minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, 2 or 3 minutes more.  Stir in orange zest, then dill, then broth.  When boiling well, cover and reduce heat to very low and cook 20 minutes.  Turn off heat and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

(A) Date (with Destiny) Bars

Is tempting fate the same as changing destiny?  Sometimes, I get the feeling I've just got to change something that seems to be destined.  Guess I better explain.  . .

When I was interviewing for one of my first jobs (way back) I had to complete a psychological profile/aptitude test.  I was applying for a mid-level management position (and I think they didn't even administer the test if you weren't going to be hired.)  Still I was nervous about it.

When the psychologist sat down with me to review the results, he said that I had excellent verbal skills (no surprise) and lousy math skills (also no surprise.)

What did surprise me was something he said about my "lack of attention to detail."  To quote him, "You're a bright young woman and you can contribute a lot to this company, but you're going to need someone to pick up the pieces after you."  And I'm thinking he was being kind.

Now, tell the truth, how many times have you seen that very quality -- has great attention to detail -- highlighted as a characteristic every employer wants.

No one had ever said that about me before, at least, not to my face.  How did I survive -- even thrive -- and reach the ripe old age of 28 without someone telling me that before.

Perhaps I should have known. I suppose there were clues.  But this is just a mini-confession, not the full-blown deal.  I lose things.  I make piles. I rearrange the piles.  I find things, but don't put them back in the same place every time.  It takes me a lot longer to get something done because of this "lack of attention to detail."

Mr. Rosemary has a name for it:  calls it "lazy brain."

I think he's right.  That explains why I'm a much better cook than a baker.  Why I make a shopping list, even look at it while at the store, then still forget something that was on it.  Lazy brain.

That's why these date bars are a great way for me to practice my baking skills.  If I do forget something, this is very forgiving.  But . . . believe me, I didn't forget a thing.  I was not intimidated at all by these.

"Are these from a box?" asks Mr. Rosemary.

"No siree, " I answer.

"That explains why they're so good.," says he.

Yep. Down to every last stinking detail.

Date Bars
from Bon Appetit
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups pitted dates
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup shredded coconut
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sicks) unsalted butter, diced, room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter and 8X8 inch metal baking pan.  Bring 1 1/2 cups water to simmer in a medium saucepan.  Add the dates and continue to simmer until the mixture is very soft and thick, sitting occasionally.  It will take about 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature, then stir in the vanilla.

Combine flour, sugar, oats, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and stir to blend.  Add butter.  Using fingertips, rub the butter in until moist clumps form.  Press half of the oat mixture into the prepared pan.  Spread the date mixture over.  Sprinkle with the remaining oat mixture and press down lightly to make sure it adheres.  Bake until brown at the edges and golden brown and set in the  center, about 40 minutes.  Cool completely in pan on rack.  Cut into bars -- as big as you want.  Detail doesn't matter here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

St. Joseph Day Redux

I first shared this a year ago -- to celebrate St. Joseph Day.  I had fully intended to 
post a new recipe, a variation on this same theme, but . . . .
* * * * * 
Poor St. Joseph! His feast day gets totally eclipsed by St. Patrick. Two days after green beer and corned beef and people still must need to recover!

St. Joseph’s feast day is March 19 and I have such fond childhood memories of commemorating the day that this year I was inspired to make the traditionally symbolic treat that marks the Italian Feast of San Guiseppe – zeppole, the St. Joseph Day doughnut. The way my family made them they’re not really doughnuts, more like doughnut holes. They look like deep fried fritters -- pretty much dough balls! -- coated with confectioner’s sugar and served warm.

What are called zeppoles seems to differ depending on what part of Italy your version originates. In certain parts of Italy, more southern regions, the doughnuts are pretty fancy pastries, piped circles of dough, deep fried filled with cream and decorated with candied fruits and jimmies. Some are more like what I remember but they’re rolled in cinnamon sugar or take a quick dip in honey. It seems the only common denominator in the recipes I explored was deep frying!

I just remember the way my father made them.

But try as I might, I couldn’t find the original recipe and my internet search provided too many options. Some recipes called for ricotta, some included lemon or orange zest, and none of my sisters remembered those ingredients. We all do remember the final step of zeppole-making: shaking the warm little dough balls in paper bags of confectioner’s sugar. And we all remember how my mother would wince when my father announced he was going to make something in the kitchen. She would mildly complain that he knew how to dirty every *%^($# dish and utensil in the kitchen when he wanted to cook! It was quite the event!

The first recipe I tried was cooked on the stove for a little bit and had ricotta in the zeppole. The dough was like thick pancake batter. They tasted pretty good, but they weren’t too pretty. Picture gnarled ginger root rolled in powdered sugar.

The second recipe didn’t have ricotta but had lemon zest and juice. Its pastry was more like pie dough and I needed to use my hands to form balls of dough to fry. They looked good, but instead of being light and fluffy as I imagined – and recalled – they should be, they were pretty dense and too lemony.

And Goldilocks pronounced the third batch just right. The last recipe I tried came from Giada De Laurnetiis. And they were pretty good. The dough was batter-like, like my first batch. but I smartened up (actually, it was Mr. Rosemary’s suggestion) and this time used my small ice-cream scoop I use for cookies to form the dough balls and drop them into the hot oil. These zeppole were just right, although one of my sisters said that she remembered they were bigger.

I first found this recipe from Giada but then I found a blogger who also used it and described great success, so I followed Spoonful’s as well, but included the confectioner's sugar dusting after frying instead of cinnamon sugar.
There was one more reason I liked St. Joseph Day when I was a child: Since we had St. Joseph nuns as teachers, we had the day off from school!

adapted from Giada De Laurentiis and Spoonful
(yield: 4-6 servings)

1 stick butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs
Optional: 3/4 tablespoon vanilla extract
Optional: 1/2+ teaspoon grated lemon zest
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
Olive oil, for frying
In a medium saucepan combine the butter, salt, 3 tablespoons of sugar, and water over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Take pan off the heat and stir in the flour. Return pan to the heat and stir continuously until mixture forms a ball, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the flour mixture to a medium bowl. Add vanilla extract and / or lemon zest if using. Using an electric hand mixer on low speed, add eggs, 1 at a time, incorporating each egg completely before adding the next. Beat until smooth. If not frying immediately, cover with plastic wrap and reserve in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, pour enough oil into a large frying pan to reach a depth of two inches. (I used my cast iron Dutch oven.) Heat the oil over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 375 degrees Fahrenheit. (Watch the temperature as you fry and adjust heat accordingly to maintain 375 degrees Fahrenheit).

Using a small ice-cream scooper or 2 small spoons, carefully drop about a tablespoon of the dough into the hot olive oil, frying in batches.  Be careful not to make the zepploe too big or the insides will be doughy. The zeppole will immediately float to the top and puff up. Turn the zeppole once or twice with the side of a slotted spoon, cooking until golden and puffed up, about 5 minutes. (Watch carefully as cooking time might also be quite a bit shorter). Drain on paper towels or paper bags. Then transfer a few at a time while still warm to paper bags with about ½ confectioner’s sugar. Replenish the sugar once in a while.  Eat them while they’re warm – and they don’t keep well!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Not So Ordinary: Orange and Onion Salad with Coriander

A salad is a salad is a salad, right?  Wrong.  There are so many possibilities beyond the ubiquitous mixture of greens and veggies topped too often with a bland dressing of some sort!   Salads really deserve more of a chance at center stage or at least a great supporting role, instead of a mere walk-on part.

I nominate this orange and onion salad for an award for best supporting role.  This orange and onion salad comes from The Splendid Table's "How to Eat Weekends" cookbook. (A great follow up to "How to Eat Weeknights" by the way;  since my teaching gig is stealing my more leisurely week nights, it's weekend cooking for me now!)

I've said here before how much I enjoy the weekly newsletter I get from The Splendid Table.  I'm never disappointed with the suggestions from Lynette Rosetto Kasper and Sally Swift for meals that are definitely not run-of-the-mill, but very doable for everyday.

Lately, I've been collecting spices and herbs the same way I've always collected cookbooks, as in, close to hoarding them.  I was delighted that my hoarding of coriander seeds was not for naught.  I had a ball crushing them the good old fashioned way, with a mortar and pestle.I altered the recipe only slightly -- because my onion rings collapsed, I rough chopped them.

Soaking the onions in ice water does indeed cut down on the sharpness of them, letting the pure crispness and flavor come through.  I've also heard that soaking in milk does the same thing -- maybe even better.  Anyone tried that?

Orange and Onion Salad with Warm Coriander Oil
from The Splendid Table How to Eat Weekends
3/4 small to medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 cup good tasting extra virgin olive oil
2 generous tablespoons coriander seed, freshly ground
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
10 to 12 navel oranges, (4-5 pounds), peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch thin rounds
1/2 cup good tasting black olives
coarse salt
Generous amount of freshly ground black pepper
4 to 6 teaspoons sugar

Fill a medium bowl halfway with ice cubes, add the sliced onions and top with more ice cubes.  Add cold water to cover and refrigerate for a couple hours or overnight.  Drain the onions and pat dry  with a towel before assembling the salad.

In a microwave safe bowl, combine the oil, coriander and orange zest.  Microwave on high power for 1 minute or warn in a saucepan over medium heat for 2 minutes.  Let cool.

To serve, arrange the orange slices with the onion rings on a platter.  Scatter the olives and the oil.  Finish with salt, pepper and sugar to taste.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Orange-Glazed Salmon, Routines and Teaching

What do you get when you let brown sugar and orange marmalade mingle with Cajun spices and cuddle up to salmon? A perfect blend of sweet and spicy. And a perfect weeknight meal after a full day, a full week, I should say.

I "survived" my first week of teaching full-time. I have to admit, I'm a bit out of practice, both the full-time thing and the teaching thing. But by the end of the week, I was finding a new rhythm.

I miss my morning walks with Mr. Rosemary and I miss -- I can't believe I'm really saying this -- cleaning out the horse stalls every morning.  I guess I just miss my regular routine.

And I really miss cooking . . . . and blogging.  I just haven't cooked as much this past week.  All I could manage were quick hurry-up-and-get-it-on-the-table kind of meals.

After just one week, I have a new respect for bloggers who have full-time jobs and children and volunteer work and social lives and still manage to not only cook and bake but write about it and photograph it -- a couple times a week or more!

I think I may need to do some serious time management retooling.

I did make one delicious salmon dinner, though, and I got it from the Cuisine at Home.  It was very simple, very fast, and very good.  Enough said.

While I was cooking this, though, I got the thought that cooking was a lot like teaching.  Before I lose you completely, let me explain:  I have four classes of high school sophomores and even though we're all reading the same book, even though I'm using the same study guide information, I have very different experiences with these kids each day.

Doesn't that happen often with cooking?  Same ingredients, same method of cooking, and sometimes, very different results.  A different brand of pasta or canned tomatoes can make a dish taste just a bit different than the last time you made it with another brand.  Or the veggies weren't quite as fresh, or you had to use dried herbs instead of fresh.  Get what I'm saying here?  Same information, different group of kids, different discussion, different results.

The kids are great.  And when you see that something you've said really did sink in, when you see understanding in what were confused eyes, when they greet your homework assignment with a blank stare but then produce some insightful analysis, well, that makes the sometimes boring dinners tolerable. At least for now.

Off to make a lesson plan for better cooking this week.

Orange-Glazed Salmon
only slightly adapted from Cuisine at Home
Makes 4 fillets

3 tablespoons Cajun seasoning blend
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup orange marmalade
2 tablespoons lime juice

Combine Cajun seasoning, sugar and salt. Rub over all surfaces of fillets.
Saute fillets in oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat for 3--4 minutes.  Turn and saute an additional 2--3 minutes.
Blend marmalade and lime juice.  Swirl in skillet until melted. Carefully turn fish to glaze on all sides.  Salmon is done when it begins to flake when tested with a fork.  Serve with  lime wedges.