Saturday, October 1, 2011

Lamb Tagine with Chickpeas and Apricots

Featured Ingredients: Diced Tomatoes, Chickpeas AKA Garbanzo Beans.

AAH-ctober!  crisper air, lower humidity and the perfect backdrop for Uncanny Goodness.  I took quite a hiatus since summer.  Mostly busy because of my job which takes me away from home for at least 12 hours a day. 

Today was a great day, so I wanted to share it with you and celebrate with a long overdue blogpost. My family and I went to the Greenwich Audobon Society Hawk Watch event.  For those of you not from the Fairfield County CT area, Greenwich is an EXTREMELY affluent area, with some homes ranging in the 10's of millions!  Greenwich boasts residents like Ron Howard, Mel Gibson (at one time), Kathie Lee Gifford, among other less notable figures with similarly deep pockets.  Unfortunately, no celebrity bird enthusiasts were to be found.  I live in nice town, but not nearly of that caliber. My son and I believed there were bluebloods looking down on us saying "This is what shows up when you open up these events to the public."  With that kind of financial backing it was a great event.  They had live raptor bird shows featuring Falcons, Hawks, petting zoos, eco-friendly vendors and all sorts of activities.  

This Great Horned Owl was awesome.  You could walk pretty much right next to it, and it could care less that you were there.  Beautiful bird with talons that can exert 100 lbs of pressure.  I was amazed by how quiet there wings are when they flap them, so they can really take their prey by surprise.

Here I am with a burmese python:

Oh well, unlike most Greenwich residents, I had to rush home as it is a 45 minute drive and rely on my own personal chef self to make dinner. Recently I saw this dish in the October issue of Bon Appetit.  I adapted the recipe a little for 1.5 lbs of lamb and to save time.

Lamb Tagine with Chickpeas and Apricots (About 5 servings depending on how hungry you are)

1 19 oz. Can of Garbanzo Beans, drained and rinsed - I used about 1/2 a can
3 garlic cloves minced
1 large cinnamon stick
2 tbsp olive oil
1.5 lbs leg of lamb or leg, lamb shoulder or leg of lamb steaks cut into 1/2" cubes*  If you use steaks save the bones and braise them with the rest of the meat for additional flavor. Then scrape off any meat at the end remove bones.
1 medium onion diced
3 tsps Spice Mixture (recipe follows)
1/2 tbsp peeled chopped fresh ginger
1 cup canned diced tomato with juices
1 3/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup dried apricots quartered
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
1/2 tbsp cornstarch
Salt and Pepper as needed

Spice Mixture (This makes more than you need for the recipe, so save the extra)
3/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp turmeric
Heat oil in a shallow dutch oven or "tagine" over medium high heat.  Season lamb with salt and pepper and brown lamb on all sides working in 2 batches about 4 minutes per batch.   Transfer lamb to a bowl.  This is the before picture:

Big Pile O Lamb

Add onion to pot, season with salt, reduce heat to medium and saute until softened and beginning to turn golden about 5 minutes. If the fond on the bottom of your pot starts to get too brown add stock now to deglaze.  Add minced garlic, spice mixture and ginger, stir one minute. Add tomatoes and return lamb to pot with any juices.  Bring to a boil reduce to a simmer. Add a cinnamon stick. Partially cover and simmer for 1 hour or until lamb is tender.

Bubble Bubble
Stir in chickpeas and apricots, simmer until heated through about 10 minutes.

Remove cinnamon stick.  Ladle out about 1/4 cup of cooking liquid from the pot and add about 1/2 tbsp cornstarch, to create a slurry.  "A pourable thickener".  Add back to pot and let simmer another 5 minutes until more thickened like a stew. Add cilantro and serve over couscous.

The mixture of warm spices like cinnamon and ginger mingle so well with savory tomatoes and sweet plump apricots.  Comfort food at its best.

Lamb Tagine with Chickpeas and Apricots

Couscous. (Follow the package directions, but simply:

1 cup chicken stock
1 cup couscous
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp butter
Tiny pinch of saffron

Heat stock, salt, butter and saffron to a boil.  Add couscous.  Cover and remove from heat for 4 to 5 minutes.  Fluff with fork.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer Zucchini Carrot Bread

Featured Ingredient: Walnuts (Optional)

Time to enjoy Summer's Fresh Bounty of produce.  We all are probably less apt to use canned goods this time of year, especially with the bevy of fruits and vegetables that the summer months bring at reduced prices.  I don't know about you, but  this year I'm not seeing as much of a difference in the cost of  the local fare than the produce that came from Chile in the winter time. Probably has a lot to do with the freight cost of $4+ dollars a gallon.  Fortunately, my area has one beacon of hope.  If I am looking to make a pie or something that requires several pounds of something, I tend to take a trip over to Food Bazaar a limitless international market, with prices that are more in line with what you would expect in Summer. Last week I got beautiful, just ripe peaches for 99 cents a pound. They were transformed into a Peach Pie, topped with Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream and Whipped Cream.  That's a recipe for another time.  Or the next time they go on sale.

Summer Zucchini Carrot Bread

This is one of the my favorite summer quick breads.
It's filed under Walnuts. If you don't want the additional texture, just omit them. (I had to put this entry somewhere). As all us foodies know, people eat with their eyes.  The beauty of this bread is when it's sliced, it's also very pretty with its little emerald and topaz flecks.  Let's be honest, quick breads are really loaf-shaped muffins in disguise and muffins are really heartier cupcakes.  However, the ingredients in this quick bread are rather healthy and could justify an additional piece or two.  There's beta carotene from the carrots, low cholesterol canola oil, antioxidants from the cinnamon and of course fiber from the unpeeled zucchini.  It's a great mid morning snack or accompaniment to your afternoon coffee or tea. Instead of big loaf make small little loaves to help with your denial. You can also freeze the loaves for up to a month, so none of this scrumptiousness goes to waste.  If you don't have one of these, I seriously recommend you buy one.  I got this one at Home Goods a while back.  It makes the perfect size little loaves, that are also great for gifting around the holidays.

I love this thing!
Zucchini-Carrot Bread

2 medium zucchini - washed but not peeled (about 1 lb)
2 large carrots (about 1/4 lb)
2 large eggs
1 3/4 granulated sugar
3/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease and lightly flour the bottom of a 9" x 5" loaf pan or multipe mini loaf pan.

2. In a food processor fitted with a shredding disk, process zucchini and carrots until shredded.  (You should have about 4 cups of shredded vegetables.

Shredded Carrot and Zucchini

3. In a large bowl, combine eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla untl blended.  In another bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon.  Gently fold dry ingredients into egg mixture, stirring until combined (batter will be thick).  Add zucchini-carrot mixture; stir until combined.

4. Turn batter into prepared pan (s). If using the 9" X 5" pan.  Bake 1 hour and 5 minutes and check with a toothpick.  If if does not come out dry, continuing baking. Baking time vary by oven.  You are better off, checking before it's overdone.  For smaller loaves bake about 45 minutes.

5. Transfer pans(s) to wire racks.  Let cool 15 minutes.  Remove bread from pan and let cool completely before slicing.

Moist heavenly-ness!

Zucchini Carrot Bread

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Jam-Asian Fusion Paella

Featured Ingredients: Kidney Beans & Coconut Milk

Hope everyone had an enjoyable 4th of July weekend.  Aside from the extra day off, which should be standard, it was a typical weekend. My favorite part was that I got to listen to fireworks for 4 straight days. The neighboring towns each had their turn.  The fact that my town is bordered by 5 others, makes me that much more fortunate in this regard.  Last year, I was lucky as it poured rain on the 4th of July.  Ahh peace.

My kids don't care anymore, so now fireworks are nothing more than noise.  At least with a commercial show you can guarantee things will get quiet by 10:30 p.m.  Then there are the (insert descriptive expletive noun here) that just can't get enough and stock up so they can shoot them off around 11 p.m. or later.  I'm also fortunate enough that firework purchases are legal in my state. I used to have a neighbor that lived behind me, who would shoot of bottle rockets and all sorts of very loud fireworks, close enough for me to find pieces of ash in my yard.  Probably to impress his kids, or so he thought. He and his wife got divorced a couple of years ago. I guess she got sick of the fireworks too.  The neighborhood has been far quieter ever since.

Well, aside from the fireworks, nothing is more synonymous with July 4th than a picnic.  We laid low this year, but we did do some outdoor dining. Here is one of the Uncanny Goodness dishes I made.

I started with Chorizo Sausage with Mango from Whole Foods. 

Chorizo Sausage with Mango

I thought the best way to incorporate this would be to take flavors from cultures that dominantly use these ingredients in their cooking.  I ended up with a fusion dish borrowing tastes from India, Thailand, Latin America and Jamaica, creating somewhat of a deconstructed Paella.

Starting with fragrant Basmati rice I did a variation on Caribbean Rice & Peas which is really Kidney Beans, using Coconut Milk and a bit of Curry Powder.  I topped that with Sausage and Chicken Vegetable mixture with Mango Chutney to bring out the sweet mango flavor. (I found their weren't enough pieces of mango in the sausage - but the idea was there.)  In retrospect I would have sliced the sausage vs. cooking it outside of its casings and had larger pieces of chicken.  But the flavors did come together and was a nice switch from our predominantly Mexican, Italian, or American Bistro repetoire.

Jam-Asian Fusion Paella - Serves 4

Rice Recipe:
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
2/3 cup Coconut Milk
1 3/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 14.5 oz can kidney beans 

Rinse Rice until water runs nearly clear.  Let drain.  I have been reading about this method and it really works.  Other sites say to soak it, but I was very happy with the results with just the rinsing.  Another great tip is to let the rice cook about 10 minutes on low heat until the water is absorbed (it seems to absorb way faster than it is supposed to - then take off the heat and let the rice expand and soften for another 10 minutes).  You should end up with separate tender grains - not a sticky mess.

Heat chicken broth to boil.  Stir in coconut mik, curry and rice.  Stir. Reduce heat and let cook on low to simmering heat for about 10.  Check rice after 10 minutes to make sure it is not sticking to the bottom. Stir in kidney beans.  When rice is al dente.  Take off the heat and let it sit for another 10 minutes or so until tender.  Fluff rice with fork

Meat Mixture
Olive Oil as needed
1 cup chopped vidalia onion
1 large clove garlic minced
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/2 cup diced red pepper
3 links chorizo sausage
2 cups cooked chicken
1 tbsp mango chutney
1/2 tsp coriander

Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat olive in a heavy 12-in skillet.  Add onion, pepper celery and saute until vegetables are shiny and the celery and red pepper are crisp tender (about 3 minutes).  Add garlic and saute for 1 minute.  Add sausage and cook until cooked through (the idea is to make sure your vegetables are not overdone by the time your sausage is done (about 10 minutes).  If you find you are getting a lot of brown bits add a little chicken broth to deglaze the pan.  Add mango chutney, coriander and cooked chicken and saute until heated through.
Use 1 tbsp cilantro as garnish.

Serve over rice.

Jam-Asian Fusion Paella

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summertime Treats - Ice Cream and Strawberries

As summer rolled in a few hours ago, it seems appropriate to celebrate some of its pleasures. 

The other evening as I was walking my dog with my husband asv as Good Humor truck chimed its way down a quiet street.  It's comforting with all the changes and technological advancements since I was a child in the 70's and 80's that there are a few lingering details that still hold true today.  Unfortunately, instead of kids creatively playing on that quiet street, they are more than likely chained to their XBox or texting their next door neighbor, which leaves little hope for the Good Humor lady. Our street is the only one where she may have a prayer. We happen to live across the street from a rather heavy set and lazy family.  (We live walking distance from a Stop & Shop and they constantly order from their Pea Pod delivery service, among other things).  My husband said, when the Good Humor truck comes, he has never seen them move so fast.

I've traded in my Good Humor days for something more sophisticated.  Recently, I found the above carton/jar of gelato.  I was immediately drawn to it, because of its unique clear packaging.  I think it's brilliant. This way the consumer has an idea of what he or she is getting. Sometimes you buy ice cream on sheer description alone and hope that the flavor meets your expectations.  For this brand you can also taste with your eyes as well.  The textures and swirls of flavors like White Chocolate Raspberry, Black Cherry and Caramel Cookie Crunch and the bold bright color of a Blood Orange Sorbet come through a simple transparent container and naturally add color to the packaging.  I'm glad to say that indeed the gelato is as delicious as it looks.  It has a homemade taste vs. an overly sweet manufactured product.
So what pairs better with ice cream than strawberries.  Last weekend my husband and younger son headed to a local farm in Shelton, CT as strawberry season was officially on.  It's a great place where you can pick strawberries and blueberries when in season and Christmas Trees in the winter time.  They have a sort of a flat bed covered truck called the "Berry Ferry" that takes you out the field where you go with basket in hand and collect your fill.  The squatting is also great for your thighs. Usually the cost per pound is more expensive than what you would get in the store (and you're doing the labor), but they are organic and you are mostly paying for the experience. 

Frozen Strawberry Jewels from the Farm
We loaded up 8 lbs, so what I we didn't eat fresh, we frozen and stored for later use.  I have a recipe for an incredible strawberry tea bread, which I will share with you shortly. This day job is really cutting into my blogging time.  We also planted some of our own strawberry plants this year, so we'll see how that goes.

Enjoy these pleasures of summer... individually or together.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Guest Contributor - My husband Paul's Pastitsio

Featured Ingredient:  Diced Tomatoes

Now that I've gone back full time into the workforce, I don't have as much time to devote to my blog. My cooking is pretty much reserved for the weekends and my husband takes over during the week.  This basically means manly meals, that are usually calorie-laden and full of fat (which usually also means good). Most are not the best choice for my figure, but beat the hell out of having to start from scratch at 7:30 p.m. (after walking the dog).  Otherwise I have to go my repetoire of under 5 minute meals - because I'm starving. One can only have so many egg and cheese sandwiches and soup.

Now that my husband is the weekday chef, it seems he has blogging aspirations. Recently I found pictures of my husband's Pastitsio recipe on the camera, and figured that is a perfect example of Uncanny Goodness.  To me it's the Greek offspring of beefaroni and moussaka. Aside from finding entry ideas for my blog, I've also been treated to random photos of me filling my bird feeder in pajamas, my butt, and other candid beauties. (Please don't mind that I don't share these).

Pastitsio is a great Sunday dinner. I like to reserve Sunday's for something that will deliver multiple servings.  Then I know when I come on Monday and maybe even Tuesday, I just have to nuke my way to quick and satisfying meal. Making hamburgers for example is a not a good use of time, as they don't reheat well the next day and after everyone finished there are no leftovers.  Stews fit this bill perfectly.  But as the weather has gotten a little warmer, I've moved on to casseroles which are also a perfect candidate.  A delicious dining experience can be derived from a simple mish mosh of ingredients.

For the macaroni
1 1/2 cups of elbow macaroni
1 egg

For the beef mix
1.3 pounds of 85/15 ground beef
1 onion diced
2 cloves of garlic
1 – 8 oz can of tomato sauce
1 – 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes undrained
1 TB red wine vinegar
1TB chili powder
½ tsp allspice
¼ tsp cinnamon

For the white sauce
3 TB butter
3 TB flour
¼ tsp black pepper
1 1/2 cups milk
1 egg beaten
½ cup Italian blend shredded cheese

Salt & Pepper as needed

Preheat oven to 350F

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook macaroni until al dente. Drain. Combine pasta and 1 beaten egg.

Meat Sauce: Cook ground beef, onion and garlic together in a skillet until meat is brown and onion is tender. Drain off fat.  Stir in diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, vinegar, chili powder, allspice, cinnamon.  Bring to boil and simmer for about 10 minutes.

White Sauce: Melt butter in a saucepan over medium and stir in flour and pepper.  Add the milk all at once. Whisk and stir until smooth thick and bubbly.  Beat an egg in a 2 cup pyrex measuring cup.  Slowly add hot liquid to temper the mixture - to ensure not scrambling the egg. Return egg mixture to the saucepan, stir in 1/2 cup shredded cheese.

In a square baking dish, add 1/2 the pasta mixture.  Next add all the meat sauce.  Then add the remainder of the pasta and top with the white sauce.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.  Let stand about 5 minutes before serving.  The white sauce will firm when cooked.