26 February 2015

Simple ravioli soup with handfuls of herbs

Simple ravioli soup with handfuls of herbs

Because you can't just make one thing with a big bunch of dill.

And since egg salad is not exactly the optimal thing to eat in winter (not to say that stopped us), I went on the lookout for more ways to use up my bountiful dill. The answer? Well, besides some very dilly schmears and a few simple salads, a soup seemed like a really good idea.

This soup takes very little time to make and produces a seriously warming and delicious meal. It's an excellent reason to keep ravioli (or any fresh filled pasta you like) in the freezer.

I happened to have a ravioli filled with havarti and dill on hand, so fresh dill was a perfect addition. However, it would be hard to go wrong using any filled pasta you like. Ravioli or tortellini with ricotta, spinach, chicken, beef, or even a delicate shrimp could all be delicious. So could pierogi or pelmeny filled with hearty potato, cottage cheese, or cabbage.

All you'd need to do is adjust the type of herb and the broth for optimal flavor combinations. Shrimp ravioli? Use chives and tarragon, plus fish stock. Beef? Use parsley and beef stock, with a splash of tomato juice for good measure. Tomato would be a great addition for nearly any pierogi as well -- and I'd wilt in some shredded cabbage right before turning off the heat. And a little dry vermouth or white wine would be an excellent addition to nearly any of these.

Simple ravioli soup with handfuls of herbs

Simple ravioli soup with handfuls of herbs
Serves 2.

olive oil/butter
3-4 scallions
1-2 carrots
3+ cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 servings frozen ravioli or other filled pasta of your choice
salt, pepper
plenty of dill, parsley, or another fresh leafy herb

Start by heating your oil or butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Trim and chop a handful of scallions, separating the whites from the greens. Add the whites to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes. Set the greens aside.

Scrub or peel one big carrot or a couple of smaller ones. Slice into the bite-sized pieces of your choice. I made thin quarter-moons. Add your carrots to the pan, season with a little salt, and cook for another few minutes to soften. If you want to add any more chopped vegetables, like celery or mushrooms, now is the time to do so.

Add a good three cups of broth to your pan. You can make up the difference with water if you don't have quite enough broth. Season with salt and pepper and bring the pan to a boil.

Add your ravioli, stir, and bring the pan to a boil again. Reduce the heat to simmer; a full rolling boil will tend to split your ravioli.

Simmer for five to eight minutes, or until your ravioli are completely cooked through. They will float to the surface of the pan when they're ready. Your timing will depend on the size of your pasta.

While you're waiting, chop up a large handful or two of the herbs of your choice. I used dill, because we had lots of it and my ravioli were filled with havarti and dill anyway, but parsley, chervil, chives, tarragon, or a mix of whatever leafy green herbs you like can all work well. Think about your ravioli filling and decide accordingly.

When your ravioli are done, correct the seasonings and turn off the heat. Stir your chopped herbs and green onion greens into your finished soup. Serve with a few extra sprigs of herbs for garnish.

Eat and feel better.

Which hot and hearty soups are you cooking this winter?

20 February 2015

Roasted beet and fennel salad with orange and dill

Roasted beet and fennel salad with orange and dill

I've been meaning to make this salad for weeks, but life kept getting in the way. Well, both life and my own innate laziness, not to mention my desire to eat other things, such as big dishes of curry, that would not go very well with such a thing. But now I have made it and eaten it and it was delicious.

This is such a great salad for the middle of winter: full of bright and tangy flavors, but also the warmth and comfort of roasted vegetables. Adding some chickpeas or white beans would make it a full lunch with very little effort. And any leftover beets and fennel can just chill in the refrigerator for future salad endeavors. It's definitely a win all around.

It has been far too long since I've put citrus pieces in a salad. These orange segments were possibly the best contrast ever to the earthiness of beet and the gentle bite of roasted fennel. I know what I'll be doing with the next few oranges that fall off our tree.

Roasted beet and fennel salad with orange and dill

This is also an excellent way to get random beets out of your crisper! Mine were these exciting torpedo-shaped monsters. I still have another bunch of beets hanging around. Maybe those will become salad mark II.

Roasted beet and fennel salad with orange and dill

1 large or 2-3 small beets per serving
1/2 large head fennel per serving
olive oil, salt, pepper
up to 1 orange per serving
1 handful chopped dill per serving (or sub fennel fronds)
Orange and shallot dressing

Start by preheating the oven to 350F to roast your vegetables. For the beets: trim off any beet greens, scrub well, and put in a casserole dish with 1/2 cup water. Cover tightly with foil. For the fennel: core, remove stems and fronds, and cut into bite-sized chunks. Toss with a glug of olive oil and a few shakes apiece of salt and pepper. Put them in a different baking dish, so they can caramelize a bit and not turn magenta while cooking.

Put your beets and fennel into the oven and roast for approximately one hour, or until they are tender to the point of a knife. Let your beets cool enough to touch before rubbing off the skins with your hands. Be careful, because there will be beet juice everywhere! Cut the peeled beets into bite-sized pieces.

Supreme your oranges. Start by cutting off the skins, removing the white pith as you go. Then, using a small paring knife, cut directly next to the membrane on one side of a segment, and then the other. This should let you remove the segment, completely free of membranes. Repeat until you've removed all the orange flesh. Save the core of the orange and any juice on the cutting board to make the dressing.

To assemble your salad, arrange your fennel, beets, and orange segments on a plate. Scatter a handful or two of chopped dill over the vegetables and fruit. Dress with orange and shallot dressing, add some extra pepper if you desire, and serve.

Roasted beet and fennel salad with orange and dill

Orange and shallot dressing
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

1 clove garlic
2 large pinches salt
1 large or 2 small shallots
1/8 cup orange juice (squeezed from the carcass of the orange)
2 tbsp lemon juice
several good grinds of pepper
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil

Mince your garlic, sprinkle it with salt, and crush it to a puree by scraping it with the flat of your knife. Finely mince your shallot.

Put all your ingredients into a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Close the jar and shake vigorously until the oil is well emulsified. Taste and correct seasonings before serving. Refrigerate extra dressing for future salads. Makes approximately 3/4 cup.

What salads are you eating this winter?

09 February 2015

Soft pumpkin cookies

Soft pumpkin cookies

It's still winter, and there are still plenty of winter squash from the last few CSA boxes hanging around on our kitchen counter. So last weekend I roasted a pie pumpkin and a butternut squash, mashed up the flesh, and made a big batch of cookies. What better way to eat as much squash as possible?

These cookies are super soft and fluffy, to the point that they almost seem like little bite-sized pieces of pumpkin bread. Of course, they don't bake as long as a pumpkin bread, and they don't need to be cut like a pumpkin bread, and they're generally more cookielike as a rule, but otherwise, the taste and texture is pretty spot-on. So: pumpkin bread in cookie form.

Note that it is 100% possible to make these cookies with no mixer. I just used a big bowl and a wooden spoon, and everything worked out perfectly.

Soft pumpkin cookies

Soft pumpkin cookies
based on Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cup pumpkin or winter squash puree
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 tbsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp ginger
3/8 tsp cloves
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups flour

Preheat your oven to 375F. Melt your butter, either in the microwave or in an oven-safe dish in the actual oven.

In a large mixing bowl, combine your sugar, pumpkin, butter, and vanilla. Add the eggs and beat well.

Mix together your spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to the wet mixture and stir to combine.

Add the flour gradually, in 1-cup increments, stirring well after each addition. If you would like to add chunks of delightful things to your cookies, you can fold in 1 cup chocolate chips, dried cranberries, or chopped nuts. We prefer totally plain cookies, however.

Use two spoons to drop 1-tbsp pieces of dough 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until set on top (14 min for me). Let cool on cookie sheet for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes approximately 30 cookies.

Soft pumpkin cookies

Since they're so soft and moist, these guys are a bit more perishable than standard cookies. I recommend eating them within about three or four days. Fortunately they're delicious enough that this won't really pose much of a problem.

If you happen to be in the cream cheese frosting camp -- or even just the spreads-cream-cheese-on-things camp -- these are an excellent candidate. But they're also really good by themselves, with a cup of coffee or tea.

How are you eating your winter squash post-holidays?

04 February 2015

How to cook beans from scratch & classic refried beans

How to cook beans from scratch & classic refried beans

Beans! They're the perfect food: cheap, delicious, versatile, easy, abundant, suitable for both vegetarian and vegan diets, and healthy. There is literally nothing not to love. So let's talk about how to cook a pan of dried beans from scratch and create a lovely pot of deliciousness.

How to cook beans from scratch

Dried beans should generally be soaked overnight. It's possible to do a quick soak using hot water, but that may require a longer cooking time later. I prefer the overnight soak.

Measure out the amount of beans you plan to cook, keeping in mind that they'll swell to twice their size after soaking and cooking. For this demonstration, I used a 1-lb bag of pinto beans.

Sort your beans before soaking them. Just pour a handful of dry beans onto a plate or other surface and quickly look through them. If you see any chunks of dirt, rocks, or beans that look really past their prime, pick them out and throw them away. Repeat this until you've looked through all the beans. It may seem ridiculous to look through all your beans, but it is 100% possible to find rocks! Get them out of there and avoid cracking a tooth, okay?

How to cook beans from scratch & classic refried beans

Put your sorted beans into a mixing bowl and cover them with twice their depth in tap water. Cover loosely and leave on the counter overnight, or for at least six hours. The beans will absorb the water and get bigger.

When you're ready to cook, pour out the soaking water and replace it with new water, covering your beans by at least an inch. Pour the whole shebang into a large saucepan with a lid. Add a bay leaf (optional, but nice) and bring the pot to a boil.

Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until your beans are tender. Your beans are done if their skins split when you blow on them. The taste test is also reliable.

How to cook beans from scratch & classic refried beans

Now you are the proud owner of a pan of lovely cooked beans in their own broth. What will you do with them?

I decided to make classic refried beans with my beans, and to freeze the leftover bean broth for future soup purposes. If you want, you can also freeze your beans in their broth. It works beautifully.

How to cook beans from scratch & classic refried beans

Classic refried beans

olive oil or butter
jalapeño or other hot pepper
salt, red pepper flake or dried chile of choice, cumin, oregano
cooked pinto beans
bean broth or water

In a wide skillet or saute pan, warm your oil or butter on medium heat. (For ultra-classic refried beans, I hear lard is the fat of choice.) Add a diced onion or two and saute until softened. Finely mince your jalapeño and add it to the pan. You can use as many jalapeños as you desire, depending on your spice tolerance.

Season with salt, red pepper flake, cumin, and oregano to taste. You'll want to be a little heavy-handed with all the spices because the beans are otherwise a big bland neutral palette.

How to cook beans from scratch & classic refried beans

When your onions and jalapeños are both softened, add your beans and enough broth or water to make everything a bit sloshy. Reserve a little liquid to add if needed. Cook your beans together with your onions and jalapenos, stirring frequently.

After everything is hot through, start crushing your beans with the back of a large spoon or with a potato masher. Mix and mash until your beans are the texture you desire; add more liquid if necessary. Taste and correct the seasonings, and you are done.

How to cook beans from scratch & classic refried beans

Classic refried beans are good in tacos, burritos, enchiladas, tostadas, or quesadillas, among other things. I used mine to make 16 bean and rice burritos (flour tortillas, beans, rice, salsa, scallion, cheese), which I put in the freezer for future dinner endeavours. The rest got eaten in quesadilla form almost immediately. So good.

What would you make with a big pan of freshly cooked beans?