Monday, May 30, 2011

Eat your greens -- ice cold!

I'm still obsessed with my Breville and found a great source of smoothie recipes on the Cusinart website. I was especially curious about the Avocado-Orange Smoothie, which I tweaked to make deliciously creamy popsicles.

I love the idea of a healthy, satisfying dessert. The recipe fills a dozen standard popsicle molds -- I got mine last year at Target -- and yields a luscious green pop. Despite its signature color, I feel sure that if you served it to someone who didn't know what was in it, they'd have a tough time guessing.

Run mold under warm water to loosen before trying to remove. This blend would be terrific spiked with a shot of good tequila, and a sprinkle of chile-lime seasoning inside the mold before filling.

2 ripe avocados
3 cups orange juice
3 tbsp. agave syrup
1 tsp. vanilla

Put all ingredients in blender bowl and  buzz until smooth. Transfer to popsicle molds, filling to the brim. Freeze at least four hours or overnight.

(Weight Watcher PointsPlus: 3 points each)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Matzo brei with blueberries

Given the choice between French toast and matzo brei, my son will choose the latter every time. And now, with a quick pre-brunch lesson, he can make it himself whenever he pleases.

While some insist it should be savory, and others only make it during Passover, we like it a little on the sweet side and any time of year. In fact, we like it best when summer fruit is sweet and abundant.

Start with a standard ratio of two sheets of matzo to 1 egg and a glug of milk, then add whatever is at its peak. Top with a dusting of cinnamon sugar, maple syrup, fruit compote or whatever you like.

6 sheets matzo
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
1 pint fresh blueberries
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. cinnamon sugar

Break matzo into chunks and place in a colander. Rinse well with warm water to soften; drain well.

Beat eggs, milk and vanilla in a large bowl. Add matzo and stir to coat. Let sit a few minutes to absorb.

Pour oil into nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When oil becomes shimmery, pour in egg-matzo mix and sprinkle with salt. Resist the temptation to stir until underside is golden. Use spatula to flip in sections. While still moist, add bluerries and stir through.

Continue cooking until nicely browned but still tender and berries are warm and bursting. Dot with butter and give it one more stir before serving.

Top with cinnamon sugar and serve immediately, with optional toppings on the side.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The smoothie king

A few weeks ago, my trusty KitchenAid blender bit the dust. It was in the honorable service of making a smoothie when a puff of stinky smoke rose from the base. This weekend, after considerable research and consultation, I became the proud owner of a Breville BBL600.

Despite its price and advance praise, and even after seeing it featured in Giada's TV kitchen, I didn't expect it to be much more than a power blender. But for smoothie lovers, this thing is the bomb. A dedicated smoothie function whips and pulses frozen fruit and yogurt into submission, yielding a sublime blend that looks like something you'd pay too much for at a specialty shop.

My first effort produced a drinkable mix of frozen strawberries and fresh peaches. Tonight's concoction was thicker, more the texture of ice cream, featuring frosty local blueberries and frozen peaches. Substitute any mix of fresh fruit or frozen you've got on hand.

2 containers plain non-fat yogurt
2 cups frozen peach slices
1 pint fresh blueberries
1 tbsp agave syrup
1/4 cup juice, such as Tropical Splash

Set both cups of yogurt and rinsed blueberries in the freezer for about 45 minutes, until firm but not frozen solid. Transfer with all other ingredients to blender jar. Blend to desired consistency and pour into three dessert glasses. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Quick nut oils, a la Patricia Wells

It doesn’t happen nearly as often as I’d like, but my family has grown accustomed to me returning home giddy after a close encounter with a culinary legend. Tonight it was Patricia Wells, who was in town for a reading at Quail Ridge Books to promote her new collection, Salad as a Meal.

“So charming,” I enthused, as Tim – who has given me several of her books as gifts – asked if she’s the one who wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley.

“She showed slides of her place in Provence, with its garden full of lettuces and 40 different kinds of heirloom tomatoes,” I added, still swooning from the sight of curious, colorful varietals clinging to drops of morning dew. “Plus, she wore seriously cute shoes.”

Wells, whose sister lives in Raleigh, has become something of a regular at Quail Ridge Books, where she likely will return in November to promote her 13th cookbook, “Simply Truffles.” It was clear that the room was full of regulars, including one woman who has travelled to France three times to take her weeklong cooking classes and another who impressively name-dropped having worked with MFK Fisher.

For someone who has enjoyed an extraordinary career – her first job out of college was as art critic for the Washington Post, then she worked alongside Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey as a food writer at the New York Times before becoming très apprécié in France – she is engaging low-key about her success, making it all sound as organic and natural as the olives and grapes that thrive on her estate.

“I was always surrounded by good and healthy food,” Wells said, crediting her mother for always serving fresh and delicious meals. “She never got flustered in the kitchen, which I found inspiring.”

Wells said that “beginning with the freshest ingredients you can find” is the best way to approach any kind of cooking. The salads in her book, she said, typically blend seasonal ingredients with crunch for textural satisfaction.

“Sometimes I make polenta croutons or add a sprinkling of curried pumpkin seeds,” she said. “I love crispiness and crunch.”

Noting that her new book includes sides and soups as well as salads, Wells listed some of her personal favorites: Tomato and Mustard Tart with Artichokes, Salmon and Halibut Tartare, Frisee au Lardons, Ham and Cheese Bread (“One of my Top 10; I make it all the time”); and Provence on a Plate, an elegant stack of eggplant, tomato, tapenade and goat cheese.

Since her remarks focused on salads, I asked Wells about her favorite oils during the Q&A. She and her husband produce a small batch of oil from their own olives, she said, but she is keen on nut oils – especially pistachio oil.

“It’s actually quite easy to make your own nut oils,” she said, describing a technique recently discovered when she demonstrated a recipe at Google headquarters, whose kitchen lacked needed pistachio oil.

“The chef toasted the nuts, ground them and marinated them in warm oil for a few hours,” she said. “It worked there and I’ve since made oil with almonds at home, where I drizzled it on asparagus. I didn’t even strain it; the bits looked pretty on the spears.”

Wells said to use whatever nut you like best to make a specialty oil. Use a 1-to-1 ratio of toasted nuts to mild canola oil – not olive oil, which may be too strong. Try about 1/3 cup nuts to 1/3 cup canola. You can refrigerate any unused oil, but Wells suggests making small portions as needed.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Beet the clock

Spatial reasoning has never been my forte. I was reminded of this today after asking Tim to peel a few beets for a surprisingly delicious cake that was making a return appearance for dessert. I needed two cups of shredded beets but my guesstimation yielded something closer to four.

Confronted with this unexpected abundance, I decided to add the last three beets I had planned on roasting. Turned out to be one of my better mistakes. In less than 10 minutes, I had a terrific beet dish on the table.

1 bunch beets, trimmed and peeled
2-3 tbsp. walnut oil
¼ cup walnuts, chopped

Using a vegetable peeler, clean beets and coarsely shred in processor or by hand.

Warm 2 tbsp. walnut oil in skillet over medium heat. Add shredded beets and salt lightly. Cook for about 5 minutes or until tender. Add chopped walnuts and stir though. Add salt, if needed, and drizzle of walnut oil to garnish before serving.