Sunday, February 24, 2013

Tortellini Salad

I am always trying to find more ways to get my husband to eat more vegetables.  It isn't that he doesn't like them, but it is easier to eat crackers or just a hamburger without any sides than to go to the troubles of adding vegetables to the mix.  I was reading through super natural every day by Heidi Swanson.  (Her 101cookbooks blog is excellent.)  I tried to pick out a couple of recipes which I could try out and even have my husband request again.  This recipe for Tortellini Salad was one of the recipes I made, and which he requested to eat again.  Fortunately, both broccoli and asparagus were fresh in the grocery store and so I happily got both.  I had been thinking about what to do with them both when I read this recipe again which contained both of the chosen ingredients.

This is a super simple recipe to prepare, and particularly when I am being a little lazy or don't have much time during the week.  I even went through some of the steps with my husband as I am always trying to find recipes which he will take up cooking so I can continue to experiment with more.

Tortellini Salad: adapted from super natural every day
about 16 oz fresh tortellini filled with cheese
12 thin asparagus spears (cut into 1.5-2 inch pieces)
1 small crown of broccoli (more if you really like broccoli)
1-2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoon lemon juice (fresh squeezed is best)
1/4 cup good quality olive oil
fresh parsley (equivalent to about 1/4-1/2 cup finely chopped)
1/3 cup pine nuts - roasted
1 medium avocado

Bring a pot of salted water to boil and cook tortellini according to package directions.  About a minute before the tortellini is done, add the broccoli and asparagus to quick cook them.  Drain everything and place under cold water to stop the cooking.  Make the dressing: press the garlic and mix with a little salt,  add lemon juice and olive oil.  Whisk together.

When ready to serve, toss the tortellini, broccoli, asparagus, and parsley with the dressing.  Add the pine nuts and avocado.  Toss gently to mix ingredients.

Serves: about 4

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Pear Pastry Cream Tart

I came across a bunch of pears which weren't going to be eaten.  It is my nature to use up everything and let as little go to waste as I can.  When I came into these Comice pears which were starting to die a slow rotting death, I had to take them and turn them into something wonderful.  I couldn't find a recipe which I wanted to make.  I read through cookbooks and decided to piece meal them into something else...a pear pastry cream tart.  I made a basic tart crust and baked it.  Then I made a creamy pastry cream to coat the beautifully baked crust.  Then, I topped it with lovely slices of pears to cover the pastry cream.  Finally, I added a light glaze as a final touch.

Short Crust Pastry:
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix the flour, sugar and salt.  Cut the butter into 1/2 inch slices and work into the flour until the pieces are small and it is beginning to hold together.  Combine water and vanilla and work it into the flour mixture.  Put it into a ball and refrigerate.  Let rest for 30 minutes.  Press into a 9 inch tart pan.  Place the shell into the freezer for 30 minutes prior to baking (wrapped in foil).  Preheat oven to 375 F.  Bake for 25 minutes or until light brown and baked through.

Pastry Cream:
2 cups milk
1/3 cup flour
6 tablespoons vanilla sugar
6 egg yolks
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Heat milk to just under boiling.  Mix the flour and sugar in a heat saucepan.  Beat egg yolks until thick and light colored.  Whisk the hot milk until the flour and sugar mixture and cook over medium heat until the mixture has boiled for 1-2 minutes, stirring continuously.

Whisk a little of the mixture into the eggs to heat them a little and stir into the flour mixture.  Mix well and cook over medium heat until the pastry begins to hold shape, stirring continuously.   The temperature should reach 170 F.  Do not let it boil.  Remove from heat and stir in butter.  Strain through a fine strainer.  Cool and whisk occasionally to keep a crust from forming or cover with plastic and refrigerate until cool.  Whisk before pouring into the baked shell to smooth, but do not over whisk or it will thin out. 

Poached Pears:
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups water
2 inch piece of vanilla bean
1 1/2 pound pears
2 tablespoon apricot jam

Bring the sugar, water and vanilla bean to a boil in a sauce pan.  Quarter, core and peel the pears and add them to the hot syrup.  Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until pears are cooked through.  Remove from syrup and place on a plate to chill them..

To assemble:  Spread the pastry cream in the bottom of the baked shell.  Drain the pears and cut into 1/4 inch slices.  Beginning from the outside place the pears in a circle, over lapping the edges. Continue until the pears cover the pastry cream.  Heat the jam until it bubbles and brush lightly over the pears.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chinese - Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken
I am not a big fan of Chinese food...well not the traditional American Chinese take-away which seems to take 30 seconds to make and doesn't capture the flavors which you can experience in Hong Kong (as Hong Kong food is closer than other traditional Chinese flavors to American Chinese take-away).  However, my husband is a BIG fan of Chinese food and would eat it every week.  So the compromise was for me to find some traditional Chinese food which I could make at home relatively easily and which we would both like to eat.

I found both of these things in Easy Chinese Recipes by Bee Yinn Low.  This recipe for Kung Pao Chicken is adapted from the recipe in this book, which also contains wonderful recipes for dim sum of which I need to try out.  If you have never eaten dim sum, I encourage you to try it out for a brunch some Saturday or Sunday morning as it is quick and delicious bite sized food in a variety of flavors.

Kung Pao Chicken comes from the Sichuan area of China.  It is known for food which is spicy which can be tempered by rice if you so desire.  I didn't eat Kung Pao Chicken when I was in China, but I had some other Sichuan food which was spicy and filling.  This recipe serves two with only 8oz of chicken.  I like to double the chicken as it is so tender I don't want to stop eating it.  However, this does not reheat very well as the peanuts become chewy and the onions wilted.  Note: I use an electric wok to cook with as the temperature is much higher than using the stove regardless of whether it is electric or gas.  The wok heats up quickly and efficiently and everything cooks much better than on the stove top.

Kung Pao Chicken
16 oz. Chicken, boneless chicken breast cut into bite sized pieces
2 teaspoons sherry
3 tablespoons cornstarch (really I make sure that the chicken has been covered lightly)
4 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons sichuan peppercorn oil (made from soaking sichuan peppercorns in oil)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
About 2 inches of ginger, peeled and sliced thin
30 dried chiles
peanuts (raw or slightly baked to make more crunchy)
2-3 green onions, cut into 1-2 inch pieces

3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons Chinese black vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
pepper (white is better, but I use black when I don't have white on hand)
4 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons cornstarch

(Be sure you have put the rice on before beginning to stir fry the chicken.)  Tenderize chicken before beginning, if you desire.  Marinate the chicken with sherry (or rice wine) and cornstarch for about 10 minutes.  Mix all the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.  Heat 1 tablespoon of peanut oil in a wok and stir fry the chicken until they are half-cooked.  Remove from wok and set aside.  Heat remaining peanut oil and peppercorn oil.  Add garlic and ginger, stirring quickly.  Add the chiles until you smell the spicy aroma of the chile peppers (don't breathe in too much!)  Return chicken to the wok and stir with spatula.  Add the sauce and stir until chicken is well coated.  Stir in peanuts and green onions until everything is well combined.  Serve immediately with rice.  Serves 2-4 large portions.

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Oranges with Red Chile

Oranges with Red Chile

I have been neglecting my more consistent posting since I started my new job last year.  With a 75 mile one way commute, all of my time has now been taken up by spending much more time than I was used to in my car.  Fortunately, I am up on the news, have "read" to many new books on tape, and renewed my interest in listening to new and old musicians and bands alike.  What has suffered though is my time to enjoy my cooking.  However, I have made some more simplistic things including this delicious, yet simple oranges with red chile.

This recipe is adapted from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark.  This is an easy preparation using a variety of oranges is best, but I only had on had navel oranges.  I do love blood oranges, but at the time I couldn't find any.  They have a delicious sweet, yet tartness to them which would have complimented the flavors well.  Since oranges are still in season, I encourage you to try your hand at this variation to eating plain, sweet oranges.

Oranges with Red Chile
2-3 large oranges (I used navel, but blood orange or a combination would be excecellent)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Flaky salt
Chile powder (I used Aleppo pepper)
Fresh herbs (which I did not have on hand so didn't use)

Cut off peal of the oranges.  If you cut top and bottom off first, you can stand the orange on end and slice off the peel from the sides and create the geometric shape you see here.  You want all the pith to be removed from the outside of the orange.  Slice into about 1/4 inch slices.

Spread orange slices onto a plate, and then drizzle them with olive oil (make sure it is of good quality).  Sprinkle with flaky salt.  (I used a flaky sea salt.)  Dust with chile powder and serve.

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