Friday, January 28, 2011

Last Remnants of the Garden

Last week I pulled up the last bits of my winter garden to prepare for cover crop planting. Incredibly I found a treasure trove of radishes that had flourished through the cold. Some were HUGE!

It was a true garden mystery though because I had thought, according to my little garden chart, that these were turnips the entire season. I am still baffled, even though I know it must have just been my mistake.

So what does one do with pounds and pounds of radishes? I will offer some suggestions.

Now that's a lot of radishes
My whole life, I never thought of cooking radishes. To me, they were simply a delicious snack to eat raw, perhaps in a salad. Then one day I roasted a radish (just tossed whole in olive oil, salt and pepper; cooking a 400 degree oven until fork tender), and my world changed. It started when I purchased a "Turbo radish" at the farmer's market - which is I tell you a strange beast. The woman who grew it suggested roasting. In my opinion, regular radishes are less bitter when roasted, but these crazy black radishes are worth a try.

Anyways, the point is, cooked radishes are delish. And one day in the shower I imagined how yummy caramelized radishes would be, ala caramelized onions. I had purchased some farro the week prior at the local co-op, so I planned a caramelized radish and farro dish. Farro is a pretty cool grain with a unique light crunch about it.

1. Prepare the farro according to package directions. Use stock if you want more flavor.
2. Carmelize slices of radish, half a red onion or a few boiler onions, and garlic in olive oil at medium-low heat with a little salt and pepper and maybe a touch of brown sugar. Feel free to add any vegetables you have on hand and season to your pleasure. This is very much a "contents of your fridge" kind of meal.
3. Stir together and serve. 

Has anyone ever caramelized radishes or other vegetables besides onions before? I am very interested in perfecting this sweetening art.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ode to Butternut Squash

Butternut squash is truly a revelation. It's practically candy but a vegetable nonetheless, and although practically nothing need be added to make this squash delicious, there are so many various techniques and spices that can take this humble winter veggie into other worlds of flavor.

Another great thing about winter squash in general is that it's one of those few items you can buy at the grocery store and leave in your fridge for a while. When the time is right, this off-the-cuff purchase will be waiting happily in the crisper to save your dinnertime cravings.

On a night like this, I suggest the following simple roasted recipe.

Roasted Butternut Squash 

Butternut squash, cubed
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1/2 Tbsp. Curry Powder
1/2 Tbsp. Oregano
1 Tbsp. Muscavado/Natural Brown Sugar

1. Set oven to 400.
2. Toss squash cubes in olive oil and the spices.
3. Roast for about 20-30 minutes, or until soft to the fork. Always watch check often after about 15 minutes because based on the size of the cubes and your desired tenderness, the time will vary. Serve by itself, as a side or on top of rice or lentils.

Saffron gatherers on a Minoan fresco
Now if you have time to prepare, go to the store, etc., I whole-heartedly suggest this butternut squash risotto recipe which literally knocked my socks off the first time I tried it. The depth of flavor in this risotto is incredible. With the exception of the saffron, which has throughout history remained among the world's costliest substances, this recipe feature fairly simple ingredients at a low cost to produce a large bulk i.e. delicious leftovers for days! P.S. I don't recommend leaving out the saffron. It's lovely, aromatic and has no true flavor substitute among other spices. Also, this recipe can be made vegetarian by using vegetable stock and no pancetta. I have made it this way many many times, and it is still so great, but if you are a meat-eater I recommend using the pancetta because it really does add a great base to the flavor of the whole dish. 

Butternut Squash Risotto

1 butternut squash (2 lbs)
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups chicken stock (Vegetable Stock if vegetarian)
6 Tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 ounces pancetta, diced (Can be eliminated if vegetarian)
1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 oz.)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
2. Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes. (I find cutting the squash into cubes first and then cutting off the hard skin to be easiest.)
3. Place the squash on a baking pan and toss it with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
4. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.

5. Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock (or veggie stock) in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer. (If you are lacking stove space, just heat it up in the microwave. It's important to add warm stock to the warm risotto instead of cold into warm.)
6. In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the pancetta and shallots (or just shallots) on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the shallots are translucent but not browned.
7. Add the rice and stir to fully coat the grains with butter. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes.
8. Add 2 full ladles of stock to the rice plus the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes.
9. Continue to add the stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. This is a recipe that take patience, so be prepared to give it time and attention to stir. When the mixture seems dry, add another ladle of stock, and repeat until the rice is cooked. This can take from 30 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending on luck is all I can gather. I don't know why, but this particular risotto recipe always takes longer to cook through than other risottos. But it's well worth the wait.
10. Remove from heat, add the roasted squash cubes and Parmesan. Mix well and serve with a glass of the white wine you used in the recipe.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Winter Warmer

Cozy up on a chillly, rainy night with a winter warmer and a game of Scrabble. Winter warmers, according to Beeradvocate, feature "Big malt presence, both in flavor and body. The color ranges from brownish reds to nearly pitch black. Hop bitterness is generally low, leveled and balanced, but hop character can be pronounced. Alcohol warmth is not uncommon." I became interested in sampling a warmer after reading this New Year's (Alcoholic) Resolution article on Page 18 of the latest Athens Food and Culture. Sam Smith features gorgeous label art in a 550mL bottle with gold foil atop. We tried both the Winter Welcome (delish) and the Taddy Porter. The porter is very dark with a great yet subtle chocolate flavor. I suggest both warmly.

Fiesta en Diciembre! Aye! Aye! Aye!

If there's one thing South American cultures understand and one thing I miss terribly during winter, it's color. Vibrant, sun-soaked, primary colors that take your breath away. Such passion for color and rhythm and margaritas can only mean an incredible zest for life that shows through their food. I hope to one day achieve this culmination of taste and passion. But for now, my attempts are at least muy delicioso!

 To use up Christmas dinner leftovers this year, I wanted to try out a Turkey Chilaquiles recipe I had seen last year in ReadyMade. So of course I decided to turn it into an all out Mexican feast. Chilaquiles are a traditional Mexican dish and also one of the vocab words from high school Spanish class that always sticks in my memory along with Bacalao and Guachinango for their nice rhythmic sounds.

Margaritas are a must for a Mexican feast in my opinion. And with that comes the need for a bit of kosher salt and limes. I like to dip the rim of the glass in a shallow bowl of lime juice and then dip it again in a plate of kosher salt. Don't be embarrassed to lick the glass.

However, if you want to go a little simpler, La Playa Cerveza at Trader Joe's is only about $3.50 for a 6 pack. Not bad for some cheap ice cold cervezas.

If you're really serving a crowd, cook up some beans or ground beef, maybe some fresh guacamole, and spread out some taco fixings to go along with the chilaquiles. For bean tacos, chop up an onion and a few hot peppers and garlic, and combine in a fry pan with your favorite taco seasonings and a dash of sherry or Madeira if you have it. Let cook on medium in heated oil until onions are translucent. Add the beans and let go, shuffling often, until the onions are slightly caramelized/browned. You can add cooked meat instead if you prefer.

Turkey Chilaquiles
3-4 hot peppers of your choice, minced
1 c turkey stock
1 lb roasted turkey, shredded (about 4 cups)
1 c gravy (If I made this again I would go for 1 1/2 cup gravy and 1/2 cup stock for added thickness)
1 t ground cumin
8 oz tortilla chips (about 8 cups)
2 T olive oil
6 eggs
Homemade salsa



1. Combine turkey stock and peppers in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Place mixture in a blender or food processor and process until nearly smooth. 
2. Transfer mixture back to the saucepan. Stir in shredded turkey, gravy and cumin, and cook over medium heat until heated through.
3. Cook eggs until over-medium. In a large mixing bowl, toss together the tortilla chips, turkey mixture, cilantro and homemade salsa. Serve immediately on a platter with the eggs presented on top.

Keep your eyes on Trailbraising for an upcoming guest post by Michael Boland, resident 30605 salsa specialist.