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Archive for the ‘Dinner’ Category

P&P and Greg & I are now on our fourth straight year of celebrating annual squash fests! These fests are a celebration of all things fall and is easily one of our favorite autumnal traditions. They started the year that we began dating our now-husbands — that first year involved transporting an assortment of colorful varieties from the farmers’ market in Morningside Heights across state borders to our long-distance boyfriends in Connecticut. The second year involved a novice attempt at spaghetti squash; the third year was a bit forgettable but we think it was in Willington; and now, the fourth year.

This fourth year of squash celebration has been truly spectacular. Now that I’m done with school and life has calmed down a bit, we’ve prioritized seeing P&P every fortnight or so, and every gathering has yielded a thrilling outdoor activity and some exciting inclusion of squash. Today we saluted the last of the apples at Lyman’s and finished the evening off with some roasted barley-stuffed pumpkins.

I imagine these pumpkins can be stuffed with just about anything and can be made savory or sweet. For a savory version, we used barley, which can easily be replaced with rice or wheat berries or millet or any other variety of grain. Instead of red swiss chard, one could substitute in cooked beans or zucchini or other cooked vegetables. For a sweet version, some coconut flakes and cubed apples could be a delicious alternative.

Roasted Barley-Stuffed Pumpkins

2 sugar pumpkins
1 c pearled barley, pre-cooked
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1/2 bunch of leafy greens
1 can diced tomatoes
8 oz cheddar, cubed
Cayenne pepper, cinnamon, crushed red pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Slice off the top 1 1/2 inches of the pumpkins and discard. Scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp.

Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is slightly tender and translucent. Stir in the greens and salt and cook, stirring until the greens are slightly tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cooked barley, about 2 minutes. Add cheese. Put the pumpkins in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and fill evenly with the barley mixture.

Add 1 inch of boiling water to the baking dish. Cover loosely with foil and bake until the pumpkins are tender, about 1 hour, 15 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes, then serve.

Original recipe here.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Two Ways

Pumpkin seeds and olive oil

Cayenne pepper
Habanero salt
Oregano
Cracked black pepper

Cardamom, freshly ground
Holiday black tea leaves, crushed
Sea salt

Preheat oven to 375 F. Rinse pumpkin seeds and combine in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and desired seasonings. Mix well. Spread in one flat surface on a baking sheet. Roast for 10-12 minutes, stirring at least once. All seasonings are to taste.  Careful not to burn!

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Recent research shows that psychological well-being peaks at 7 portions of vegetables per day. This relationship is documented in three datasets, covering approximately 80,000 randomly selected British people,  for seven measures of well-being (life satisfaction, WEMWBS mental well-being, GHQ mental disorders, self-reported health, happiness, nervousness, and feeling low). Original paper here.

In honor of this new finding, we’re sharing here a broccoli rabe recipe created by the one, the fabulous Megan. This is a girl who wants her wedding bouquet to comprise a stalk of brussel sprouts and some cruciferous florets, and I’m sure she’ll be tickled to know that a plate of broccoli rabe she made for us back in August is now finally featured here.

Be forewarned, broccoli rabe has a very strong flavor. Few greens are as hearty and bitter, but like any other sturdy green, these are extremely healthy. It comes packed with Vitamins K, A, and C and has a high percentage of folate, iron, and calcium as well.

Sautéed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic 
1-1.5 lbs broccoli rabe
several cloves garlic
olive oil
shaved parmesan or romano
salt and pepper, and red pepper optional

In large sauté pan heat a few tablespoons olive oil, then add chopped garlic.  Add sprigs of broccoli rabe enough to fill the pan but not to over crowd.  Add a little water and salt and cooked covered for about 3-5 minutes, turning part way.  (Adding some lemon juice may also be desirable as a way to cut the bitterness.) Broccoli will still be crisp when done, but the flowers will have wilted.  Add pepper, remove from pan, and repeat with remaining broccoli rabe.  Top with shaved cheese at the end.

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Lentils have always been a staple for us. During Greg’s first year of graduate school, before we were married, his work week sustenance consisted almost entirely of brown rice and lentils. High in fiber and magnesium, and easy on the wallet, this was a quintessential “poor man’s food”, and delicious to top it all off.

Since then, our lentil repertoire has evolved quite a bit. We add red lentils to soups or stews for extra depth, creaminess, and nutrition without interfering with flavor. (Fun fact, red lentils somehow complement the flavor of roasted tomato soup!) Brown lentils, the cheapest option, are slightly meatier and, unlike their red cousins, hold their shape much better when cooked.  We often cook them up in soups and stews with a melange of vegetables — carrots, eggplant, kale.

Recently we saw French lentils on sale for roughly the price of standard brown lentils.  They are earthier and have a beautiful, delicate black and green color.  Technically, these lentils are called “green lentils” because true French lentils, or puy lentils, come from the region of Le Puy.  This below cooking method seemed most appropriate, whether the lentils were actually from France or not.

Red Wine Braised Lentils
4-6 large carrots
4-6 stalks celery
1 large onion
2-4 garlic cloves
1 quart chicken stock
~1 cup red wine
2 cups dry lentils (brown or green)
salt to taste

Soak lentils in advance.  They will plump to about 4 cups.  Dice vegetables.  In large pot or dutch oven, saute onion with salt over medium heat.  When translucent and beginning to brown, add garlic, celery, and carrot, salt again, and continue to cook (covered is fine) until soft.  Add wine and let alcohol burn away.  Add stock and lentils and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender. Season with salt and pepper.

You could add other sturdy vegetables as well, like fennel or potatoes.  Tomatoes would be another good addition.  We served ours topped with greek yogurt and paprika.  The yogurt was for creaminess and to cool it down.  The paprika was just for vanity.

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Artichokes Redeemed

When Greg and I were dating in New York, we used to have a number of ingredient-themed dinner parties for select guests and roommates. New York was great for this, where dinner parties weren’t just dinner parties but adventures into exquisite new foods, and Fairway (the mecca of foodies) was just a few blocks away. There was a squash night, a duck night, and an ill-fated artichoke night.

The artichoke-themed dinner party was a disaster, and the only edible dish was a soy-based artichoke dip which used jarred artichokes. The roasted artichoke hearts were prickly with an uninspired dipping sauce, the steamed artichokes were bland, and the artichoke pasta was only acceptable because we used artichokes from a jar. I distinctly remember FDS (a former roommate and unlucky guest) cautiously nibbling away at the outer peels, uncertain of which pieces were to be discarded and which pieces to be consumed. We swore off fresh artichokes that night. (That said, FDS seemed to enjoy everything we made.)

Three years later, perched atop the reduced-price produce rack at Stop and Shop, was a box full of baby artichokes. There were easily 20 of them, for only $1.99, and our inner adventurers just couldn’t resist.  This time fresh artichokes delivered.

Sauteed Baby Artichokes and Tomatoes

~20 baby artichokes
12-15 cherry or grape tomatoes
grated hard cheese to taste

Prepare the artichokes by peeling off all of the outer layers until you reach the soft pale yellow inside. Be liberal in your discarding, as any ambiguous pieces will likely be too tough to eat. Save the outer peels for broth (see below).Quarter the artichoke hearts, and immediately place in a large bowl of water with lemon juice. This will keep the artichoke hearts from browning before cooking–this happens fast.

When all of the artichoke hearts have been prepared, heat a large skillet with 2 T of butter and some oil. When the butter has melted and the pan is hot, drain the artichokes, and toss them and the tomatoes into the skillet. Season liberally with salt, cover and let simmer.  Check often, stir often, and taste often (for doneness, of course!).  When the artichokes look/taste mostly done (you’ll know because they are soft), add crushed red pepper, and lemon juice. When the tomatoes are blistered, they are done.

Serve with freshly ground black pepper and a sprinkle of hard cheese (e.g. pecorino romano, parmesan, etc.) This can also be served with pasta or garnished with basil or oregano.

Artichoke Broth

Discarded outer artichoke peels
6 c water
2 bay leaves

Homemade vegetable broth is one of the easiest things to make, significantly cheaper than store-bought varieties, and contain all known ingredients and nothing processed. We regularly make a big stock pot full, store in 1-qt containers, and freeze until ready for use. It can be used as a base for other soups and curries or as a special addition to quinoa or rice.

We made artichoke broth the same way we make regular broth — bring all ingredients to a boil, salt liberally, and let simmer for some time. The longer it cooks, the more flavorful it is. We were in a rush to make some quinoa with dinner so we cooked it for only 20 minutes or so, but even that was enough to lend a nice artichoke-y flavor to the quinoa.

If you don’t have artichokes, you can use an onion, a few carrots, and a few stalks of celery instead. Typically, we store the outer onion layers, carrot peels, and the inner parts of celery in the freezer until we are ready to make stock. We typically use the carcass of a rotisserie chicken as well, which does add extra flavor, but vegetable stock is just as good. The key thing to remember is, pre-packaged broth is never as good as homemade!

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Happy August, everyone! We’ve had a very full and good weekend so far here in “the Hav”, with a few friends visiting from out-of-town to partake in some lechon. The unfortunate things about lechon are: 1) it’s so enormous it really takes a full party to eat, and 2) it’s time-consuming and therefore requires a real occasion to make it worth making. 7 hours on the grill means we can’t make this baby on a normal weeknight!

The occasion for celebration this time around is that three of our favorite former roommates (MT, AT, and LL) were in town visiting. Perhaps the next time you come to visit, we’ll make that an excuse to fire up the grill for some lechon again!

Lechon

As far as the pork goes, this time around we tried something a little different.  First, just because it was easier to get, we used a bone-in, skin-on shoulder (instead of the boneless, skinless shoulders sold at Costco).  Perhaps the bone added flavor, but not that we could tell.  It did, however, add difficulty to carving.  The second change was that the first three hours we cooked the shoulder directly on the grill and finished the last four hours wrapped in foil.  This created a smokey, crunchy crust without drying it out.  This is a change we definitely recommend.

One additional recommendation — do overestimate the amount of meat you’ll need. We bought a 7.5 lb. bone-in shoulder for a party of 8 adults and 1 baby with a healthy appetite for meat, and ended up with barely an ounce of leftover lechon. A big part of the reason we had no leftovers is that the bone really took up a lot of the 7 lb. We spent too much time cooking for us to not end up with leftovers, so we are definitely going to overestimate in the future.

Cheese Plate

This bit is pretty exciting. Greg and I have taken to eating cheese plates pretty regularly as a pre-dinner snack, usually just a small sliver of 3-year Vermont cheddar with a few slices of peach. Cheese plates are a great way to start a party, since they’re a very low-maintenance, prep-ahead appetizer that keeps guests entertained until the main meal is served.

This cheese plate pictured above has the following: 1) toasted almonds dusted in salt, sugar, and cinnamon; 2) a small wedge of pecorino romano with a drizzle of agave; 3) hand-picked peaches from Lyman’s; 4) 3-year old Vermont cheddar.

Cabbage-Fennel-Celery Slaw

1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 head fennel, thinly sliced
1/2 bunch celery, thinly sliced
sesame oil, agave, salt to taste

This is a pretty different slaw from the type we usually make. This includes cabbage, fennel, and celery, and very minimal dressings to allow the vegetable flavors really stand out on their own. (Also, I’m suffering from a bad case of strep throat so am a bit timid about extra seasonings these days, especially anything acidic or spicy. Under normal circumstances, we would have added some apple cider vinegar or habanero salt in a heart beat!)

Slice all vegetables extremely thin, ~1/8″ thick. We used a fabulous mandoline that we had received from our two good friends on the other side of the pond (we know you’re reading this, M&A!). Salt the vegetables, and let sit, refrigerated, for at least two hours. This step helps to tenderize the cabbage.

Gently whisk together agave and sesame oil, and drizzle over the slaw. Toss all vegetables until well-combined, and taste. Add additional seasoning, if needed.

Peas-Feta-Avocado Salad (not pictured)

3 c frozen shelled peas
6 oz. feta, cubed
1 avocado, cubed
olive oil, salt, pepper to taste

Defrost frozen peas in microwave or by running under hot water for 30 seconds. Toss with cubed feta and cubed avocado. Add olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.

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One of the highlights of our trip to China this summer was a 4 hr river cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo with our friends Paige and Paul and Melissa and Matt. The river cruise winded through layers upon layers of karst cliffs (Photos 1-3 above), and ended in an adorable town called Yangshuo. Here we rented bikes and biked through farmlands sitting amidst mountains and attended a cooking class also nestled within the mountains.

Photo 4 is a a shot of a fruit peddler approaching our boat on a small bamboo raft to sell fruit to the passengers through our windows. Photo 5 above shows the kitchen on the back of every boat where the kitchen staff prepared lunch for the passengers.

The cooking class was a 4-hr event, including a trip to the local market where we encountered a winter melon wider in circumference than Paige’s face (Photo 6). Photo 7 shows the en plein air set-up of the school, Photo 8 shows us happily enjoying our meal, and Photo 9 is the food we made.

Steamed Chicken with Mushrooms

150 gm chicken breast, sliced
2 dried Chinese mushrooms (soaked in hot water for 10 minutes), sliced
2 red Chinese dates
1 t goji berries
salt, pepper
1/2 t peanut oil
1 t rice wine

Slice chicken breast. Mix chicken with salt, pepper, oil, wine and place on a plate. Scatter mushrooms, dates, goji berries over the chicken. Put the plate in a Chinese bamboo steamer basket with lid and steam for 15 minutes. Drizzle sesame oil and serve.

Egg Wrapped Dumplings

100 gm minced pork
half bunch of mint, chopped (chives or garlic scapes can also be used)
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1 t oyster sauce
1 egg, beaten
1 T peanut oil
3 T water

Beat eggs, set aside. Mix minced pork, mint, salt, black pepper, and oyster sauce together.

Heat wok, then add oil. Pour in tablespoon of egg, and when set, place a teaspoon of pork mixture on half the egg, as in an omelet. Fold the egg over so that the dumpling is in a crescent shape, then move to the side of the wok.

Repeat until all the mixture is used. Turn over and place all dumplings in the middle of the wok. Pour the water over the dumplings and cover the wok with lid. Cook for 3 minutes, remove lid, and serve dumplings when all the water has evaporated.

Eggplant in Yangshuo Style

250 gm eggplant, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
25 gm ginger, crushed and minced
2 scallions, sliced
2 T peanut oil
1 t black bean and chili paste (available at most Chinese grocery stores)
2 t oyster sauce
4 T water

Heat wok and add oil. Then add eggplant and fry until browned and cooked, smashing the eggplant to release moisture. Reduce heat and add garlic, ginger, chili paste and cook until fragrant. Add water, turn to high heat. Add oyster sauce and spring onions, and mix. Serve immediately.

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Pillow-y potatoes

We have a favorite gnocchi place in New York — Max Soha in Harlem. This is quite an exceptional restaurant overall with extremely good pasta at very affordable prices (and not just for Manhattan). They have an excellent black linguine with seafood, and the lamb ragu also comes highly recommended. But the gnocchi at this place is truly phenomenal, beautiful puffy pillows of potato, dressed simply with tomato, basil, and some homemade mozzarella. Delicious. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, do stop by. But take note, it’s cash only.

The first time we made gnocchi was one step short of a smashing success.  That step, of course, was to stop while we were ahead.  This was one of our more ambitious evenings, in which we decided to make regular potato gnocchi, sweet potato gnocchi, and ricotta gnocchi.  The first item was easy to make, quick, and delicious.  Sweet potatoes, however, are much wetter than their less-sweet cousin, and so our gnocchi recipe ended up requiring about four times as much flour–which is about four times as much as the recipe called for!  So after spending an hour kneading spoonful after spoonful of flour into sweet potato mush, all the while terrified that we would still need more flour, we finally quit when our dough had formed into a dense, chewy hockey puck.  Worth mentioning now that the key to good gnocchi is to go easy on the flour.  So, dejected, we postponed the ricotta for another time–which ended up being another spectacular failure.  This time, not enough flour, and our cute little ricotta balls instantly dissolved in the boiling water.

Two years later, revisiting potato gnocchi proved yet again successful.  So until we get a better sweet potato or ricotta gnocchi recipe, we’re sticking to this one.

Gnocchi with Herb-Infused Olive Oil

1 lb Idaho potatoes
1 egg, lightly beaten
up to 1 cup flour
drizzle of herb-infused olive oil*

Peel the potatoes before cooking. Pierce potatoes several times with a fork or knife to release steam as they cook. Microwave the potatoes on high for 15 minutes. Let cool. (It’s possible that microwaving is not the best way to cook potatoes for gnocchi. We found they were a bit dry and very potato-ey. Boiling may be a better choice.)

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, grate them using the coarse side of a box grater. (Alternatively, a food mill will also work.) The goal is to flake the potatoes so there is enough air between potato flakes for a fluffier gnocchi.

Stir the egg into the potatoes. Add the flour a spoonful at a time, kneading in between each addition until the dough is dry enough to handle. Roll the dough out into one-inch diameter dowels, ensuring even thickness throughout. Cut dowels into half-inch pieces, dimpling/rolling with a fork.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook gnocchi in batches for two-three minutes at a time, until gnocchi float to the top. Remove and set aside. Drizzle with herb-infused olive oil and serve. And enjoy.

*Heidi calls this “magic sauce“, “as versatile as a little black dress”. It is a garlic-herb infused olive oil, delicious drizzled on top of a plate full of fresh gnocchi.

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