Monday, February 28, 2011

Specialty oil and vinegar inspires spontaneous Meatless Monday

Dinner tonight was supposed to be ridiculously simple. A nice thick steak had marinated overnight in a light sesame-ginger bath. Bok choy fresh from the farmer's market was ready to be stir fried. Then the sky grew dark and the TV started beeping.

Call me chicken, but I don't grill during a severe storm warning. I've never mastered the broiler, so it was time for Plan B:  a spontaneous Meatless Monday.

Fortunately, before the rain started, I stopped in Midtown Olive Press at North Hills to cash in a Groupon coupon. This is my kind of shop: dark wood tables topped with great, spigoted tins of goodness, each bearing an eye-level label boasting of fragrant infused olive oils, nut and seed oils, and a giddy array of vinegars. After using bread cubes to soak up some samples -- and tossing back others from tiny white cups -- I settled on wild mushroom-sage oil, Sicilian lemon white balsamc vinegar, and decadent black cherry balsamic. I used the first two to make a simple vinaigrette; the latter smells so good, I'm tempted to dab some on my wrists.

1 16-oz package short pasta
1 24-oz pkg, frozen florets (or large bunch fresh, cut into florets)
8 oz mushrooms, trimmed and halved or quartered
1/2 cup diced onion
1 tbsp olive oil
salt, pepper
3 tbsp. wild mushroom-sage oil
2 tbsp. Sicilian lemon white balsamic vinegar
Parmesean Romano, freshly grated

Cook pasta in salted water according the package directions.

Meanwhile, sautee onion in 1 tbsp. plain olive oil under medium-low heat about 3 minutes or until just softened. Add mushrooms, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and continue cooking until lightly browned and tender, about 6-8 minutes.

At the same time, cook broccoli. Drain if necessary then add to mushroom mix; stir to combine. Reserve 1 cup pasta water. When just al dente, transfer drained pasta to pan with mushroom-broccoli mix; add pasta water and simmer 2-3 minutes.

When fluid is reduced and pasta is tender, pour mushroom oil and lemon balsamic into small lidded container and shake well. Pour over pasta and stir to combine; check for salt and pepper. If delicious, and it should be, transfer to serving bowl and top with freshly grated parmesean.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pineapple-orange smoothie

I have a terrific problem: I have a huge box of luscious Honeybell oranges in my kitchen. I ordered them weeks ago, long before the frost that zapped much of Florida's prized crop. They are practically bursting with juice and could be consumed, like fresh-steamed lobster, while wearing a bib. Or at least leaning over the sink.

I've been taking sliced oranges to work for days, slurping them surreptiously to avoid having to share. I am thinking about stuffing them in a chicken before roasting, using them to glaze grilled scallops, and maybe baking a cake and dousing it with fragrant, sticky syrup.

Tonight, however, I opted for the quickest path to turn them into a not-so-decadent dessert. It was unseasonably mild here today so I went for a pre-summer smoothie.

1 16-ounce bag frozen pineapple chunks
juice of three Honeybell oranges
three scoops low-fat vanilla frozen yogurt
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla

Dump everything into a heavy-duty blender and let it rip. Pause to poke with a spatula several times and whirl until mostly smooth. Pour into three glasses and serve immediately.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Raleigh Downtowner Magazine

I have a new food column in the Raleigh Downtowner Magazine! I'm not in the monthly print version yet, but here is a link to the online edition, which is updated frequently. To find me, click on Food & Dining, then select Cooking & Recipes.

Please support the magazine by joining the Raleigh Downtowner on Facebook. Let me know if you have story ideas, especially those involving downtown eateries, chefs or shops.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

PB&B Muffins

Between trying my best to reduce my carbon footprint at the market, and being appalled at their price, I don't often buy bananas. But when I find them shrink-wrapped and balanced lightly in the markdown bin, I grab them.

Last week I picked up a big, barely freckled bunch for just 52 cents. I enjoyed them sliced in cereal and straight up for days. I awoke thinking about melty peanut butter on toast topped with banana, but alas we are a toast-free household today.

So this morning, a full week after snagging my bargain, the remaining bananas are finally brown enough to consider baking. I checked several cookbooks without success to find a peanut butter and banana variation. So this is what I tried:

1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup applesauce
3/4 cup sugar
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup peanut butter, such as Jif Reduced Fat Creamy
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts, chopped and divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 12 cup muffin pan with vegetable oil spray or use paper liners.

Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup or sift with baking soda and salt. Transfer to small bowl and set aside.
In large mixing bowl, add eggs, oil, applesauce, sugar, mashed bananas and peanut butter; stir until well blended. Add flour mixture and half the chopped nuts, stirring to blend (but do not over mix).
Divide evenly among 12 muffin cups, about 2/3 full. Sprinkle with remaining nuts and bake 20 minutes, until golden and a toothpick tester comes out clean.

Cool 10 minutes in pan on rack. Lightly slip a teaspoon under muffins and gently remove; cool another 5 minutes on rack.

As I'm writing this, Tim and Graham have both had at least three muffins each, which I consider a good measure of success. Terrific as is or with a smear of cream cheese or jelly.

(PS: Enjoy slowly. Just realized these are 6 Weight Watchers points each.)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Slow-baked beans with kale

Until fairly recently, it was my considered opinion that lima beans were little more than unwelcome lumps that lurked in otherwise innocent vegetable soup or, worse, besmirched a nice bowl of sweet corn. I decided this early in life, long before I moved south and became obsessed with butter beans -- the petite, pale green and obviously better-born cousin of the bloated, starchy blobs I routinely refused.

On those nights when my manners earned me a seat at the table by myself, long after dinner was cleared and everyone else was excused to watch the Wonderful World of Disney, I never imagined I'd not only tolerate limas but even seek them out. Their annual return to summer farmer's market tables truly is a thing of joy.

I've surprised myself by contentedly nibbling frozen limas, too -- they've come a long way since Peg Bracken conviced harried housewives of the late '60s that Bird's Eye brand had eliminated the drudgery of preparing fresh vegetables in a modern kitchen.

While I'm now an admitted fan of fresh and frozen limas, it wasn't until this week that I finally cooked a batch of dried beans -- this time under the tutelage of Martha Rose Shulman, who featured them in her engaging New York Times Recipes for Health column. Easy to fix and easy to enjoy, Slow-baked beans with kale lived up to Shulman's luxurious praise.

Unlike my mother, though, I did not make Graham sit alone at the table when he declined to eat them. Who says some things never change?