Friday, February 29, 2008

Ditto What Ruhlman Said!

Writer and occasional Iron Chef judge, Michael Ruhlman, recently blogged about why Americans are so fat and I have to agree with him wholeheartedly. In short, he says that processed foods (not fat or salt in naturally prepared foods) are to blame for our obesity epidemic. Now, I'll admit that I used to fall into the trap that processed "low fat" and "light" presented, but I've since seen the light and cook with cream, salt and fat (especially olive oil) with abandon. Here's his well-put rant.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Polenta with Creamed Sausage and Mushrooms

This recipe definitely doesn't fit any definition of the word light, but that wasn't the point. Between the sausage and cream, it didn't matter that I was piling it on top of corn laced with extra corn. (Corn's been on my mind lately since I've started reading Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma." The book's first section is about how processed foods are basically built from different corn-derived ingredients.)

I like to store any leftover polenta separate from the sausage and mushroom mixture in case I feel like topping it with something different the next day. Also, this recipe might seem daunting at first because it calls for sauteeing the mushrooms and sausage while constantly stirring the polenta. With good planning and what chef's call mise en place, this is manageable, but if you wish to prepare the two parts in sequence rather than simultaneously, do the sausage and mushroom portion first and keep it warm over low heat while preparing the polenta, which will thicken as it stands.

Polenta with Creamed Sausage and Mushrooms
(Serves 2-3)

For polenta:
1/2 cup polenta
2+ cups milk (I used skim and added extra because I like my polenta loose)
1 cup corn nibblets
2 Tbsp. butter

For creamed sausage and mushrooms:
2 links sweet Italian sausage (casing removed and sausage crumbled)
4 cups trimmed and sliced mushrooms (I used shitake and oyster)
Extra Light Olive Oil for sauteeing
1/3 cup heavy cream
4 fresh sage leaves (minced)
salt and pepper

1. Bring the milk to a boil over medium heat, stirring occassionally to prevent burning. While this is coming up to temperature, gather and prep all other ingredients, because you will need to stir the polenta constantly once it is added to the milk.

2. Saute the sausage in a pan with a small amount of olive oil. When browned, add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt.

3. When the milk reaches a boil, slowly stream in the polenta while whisking constantly. Once incorporated, turn down the heat to avoid burning the milk. At first, it will seem like there is too much milk for the polenta, but after 6-8 minutes the mixture will begin to resemble hot cereal.

4. Once the mushrooms have cooked down to about a third of their original volume, add the sage. A minute later add the cream and cook down over medium-high heat to reduce.

5. When polenta is thickened but still loose, add in the loose corn pieces and butter. Continue stirring. If the mixture is too dense, add a touch more milk or any leftover cream to reach the desired consistency, which is simply a matter of preference.

6. Adjust the seasoning for both dishes and immediately serve the sausage and mushroom mixture on top of the polenta. Ganish with extra sage leaves and parmesan shavings if desired.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Quinoa Salad (two ways)

This is a super-healthy grain salad that I recycled for breakfast the next morning by baking it in a ramekin topped a couple eggs at 375°F for 15 minutes. But you need the the base recipe, which could be served as a side dish or a one-dish vegetarian meal, before you can do that.

Quinoa Salad
(Serves 4-8 depending on serving size)

1.5 cups raw quinoa (I used half traditional and half red)
6 cups water
1 packet Italian salad dressing seasoning mix
1 bell pepper (any color but green, chopped)
1 zucchini (chopped)
2 shallots (minced)
3 cloves garlic (minced)
2 lemons (juice from one, zest from both)
1 block feta cheese
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley (leaves only, rough chopped)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or to taste)
salt and pepper

1. Rinse the quinoa several times in a fine-mesh strainer. Change the water at least three times and agitate the grains with your hand to remove as much of the outer coating as posisble. Raw quinoa is coated with saponin; if the final product tastes at all bitter or unpleasant, you'll know you didn't wash it throughly enough before cooking.

2. Add the washed quinoa, seasoning packet and water to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 10-15 minutes until the water is absorbed and the quinoa has turned translucent and released the spiraled germ.

3. While the quinoa is cooking, wash chop the vegetables, crumble the feta cheese, and zest and juice the lemons. This can all be combined and set aside.

4. Ater cooking the quinoa, spread it out in a large metal bowl and stir occassionally to release most of the heat.

5. When the quinoa is cool enough that it won't melt the feta, add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Adjust the seasoning and add olive oil if desired. Serve at room temp for the most flavor. Store leftovers in the fridge.

Some notes:
- Quinoa is a unique grain because it contains a lot of protein. And not only that, but it is an unusually complete protein, making it perfect for vegetarian meals. If you can't find it in your regular grocery store, try a health-food store for this very reason.

- Parsley is more than a garnish in this dish because it prevents water-retention and has a lot of vitamin C. Oh, and it tastes good too... Ever had tabbouleh? Just be aware that large amounts aren't reccommended during pregnancy because it "stimulates the womb."

- Omit the olive oil at the end for a lighter version. The dish doesn't need it for flavor, but for a one-dish meal, I like to include it because it's a healthy fat (monounsaturated) that makes the meal more satisfying. You can also adjust the amount of feta for similar reasons, but its fat (saturated) isn't near as healthy.

- Raw garlic... Garlic has a plethora of nutritive properties—it's anti-microbial and anti-bacterial, prevents cancer, lowers blood sugar and cholesterol, and does several other great things for the body. The catch? You have to eat it raw and some people can't stand its harsh taste. So adjust the amount if you must, but try to acclimate yourself to its taste because it's a simple way to keep your body healthy. Onions have a lot of the same properties too, particularly shallots and red and yellow onions.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Fruity French Toast

OK, I know, I know... It's been a ridiculously long time since I've posted and I'm not going to even try to make up an excuse. Instead, here's a pretty picture of a brunch I didn't have to pay $15 for:

The beauty of this meal was that I was able to use up leftovers and create something decadent without much work. The bread? Slices from a loaf of Challah that would have otherwise been too stale for PB&J. The orange? It was tossed in the bag with my last "Chinese" delivery order. The blueberries were on sale and I always prefer to swap out at least some of the syrup for fresh fruit. The dipping batter? Well, I only had one egg left (not enough for an omelette) and I had some stray milk (but no cereal to pour it over). If there's one thing culinary school has been good for, it's the greater ease I have in using up stray ingredients to create something that doesn't resemble leftovers.

The "recipe" is simple. In a shallow soup bowl I combined the egg, about a half cup of milk, some orange zest and a splash of orange juice, a healthy sprinkle of cinnamon, a palmful of sugar and a quick grate of nutmeg. I "whisked" it together with a fork and was ready to go. I used my largest frying pan (so I could do all three slices at once) and melted some butter over medium heat so it wouldn't burn. The bread went into the batter and then straight into the pan after a quick drip. The butter browned for some added flavor depth and the healthy amount sugar I added to the batter gave the finished product a crunchy, caramelly goodness. The blueberries and orange slices were tasty garnishes and I did add some real maple syrup (not that chain grocery stuff that's mostly corn syrup and flavoring agents) since I was going for decadence and not diet food.

Bonus: I was eating about 10 minutes after I first decided to make the french toast and that's only because I was trying to keep from waking my roommate.