Monday, February 25, 2013

Snow...Glorious Snow

There is no doubt that my bulbs and fruit trees have had more than enough 'chill hours' this winter.  There is also no doubt that we haven't had enough moisture this season.  But yesterday, we happily received 12" of new snow. 
Of course that means there won't be any fireside chats for a couple of days, but I can live with that.
The outhouse compost hole is only a little harder to get to, but not impossible.
There is not enough sunshine on the hammock for my liking anyway.
There will be plenty of time this summer to fire up the grill.
The snow is so pretty the way that it sparkles in the sunlight, and it's only three weeks until Spring.  We just take a deep breath and appreciate the beauty.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Fresh Spaghetti with Mussels

Making pasta again, this time with a High Gluten flour.  Gluten is a combination of the natural proteins found in wheat.  High gluten flours are also called strong flours and are used in making bread, bagels, pasta and pizza dough, while weak flours are used for cakes and pastries.  The more a dough is kneaded or mixed, the more the gluten is stretched and forms little pockets, that are inflated by the gases from a leavening agent. This is why occasionally you will read a recipe that cautions in over mixing, so you don't stretch the gluten too much, resulting in say, an airy type muffin, when in fact it should be dense.
The February issue of Bon Appetit has a great article on pasta.  After reading through the recipe for Spaghetti with Mussels and White Beans, I knew it was time to make fresh pasta.  
Pasta Dough Ingredients:
1 2/3 C high gluten flour
2 large eggs
1 Tb olive oil
a pinch of salt 
The basics of making pasta is always the same, only some of the ingredients change.  Put your pasta in a mound on a clean work surface, make a well in the center to place your eggs, oil and salt.  Slowly start working the mixture with your hands from the outside in, until it's cohesive.  You may need to add water if it's too dry, or a little more flour if it's too wet or sticky. 
Knead it for 5-10 minutes until smooth, then cover and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.  Proceed to make the particular type of pasta you want, with either a rolling pin and a knife or a rolling machine.
While the spaghetti is drying, begin the sauce. 
2 Tb unsalted butter
4 Tb olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
1 lb of spaghetti
kosher salt
1 15-oz can cannellini beans, rinsed
1 C dry white wine
2 lb mussels, scrubbed, debearded
1/4 C chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat butter and 2 Tb oil in a large heavy pot over medium-low heat.  Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes.  Add tomatoes with juices, crushing tomatoes lightly with your hands.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Cook, stirring often, until sauce thickens, 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. For fresh pasta, add about 2 Tb of salt to 4 quarts of water and bring to a boil.  Stir only once or twice after adding the pasta, it should not stick, do not cover the pot, and bring it back to a boil.  This should take only a couple of minutes to cook until al dente.  Taste often to check for doneness.  Drain, reserving 1 cup of liquid.
Add beans and wine to sauce.  Cook, stirring often, until wine has almost evaporated, about 4 minutes. 
Add mussels and 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid.  Cover; cook, stirring occasionally, until mussels open, about 4 minutes.  Add pasta and 1/4 cup liquid to mussels and stir to coat.  Reduce heat to medium and continue stirring, adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta. 

Divide among bowls.  Drizzle with oil; garnish with parsley.  I served a wedge of Parmesan on the side for grating
 This was so delicious!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Smokey Black Bean & Sweet Potato Chili

I tend to think of food as it relates to the weather, and it continues to be soup and chili weather here in the Denver area.  It just feels warm and cozy inside when the house is filled with wonderful aromas.  I've made this Vegan Smokey Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili, found on Food52, several times and it's always a hit.
Smokey Black Bean And Sweet Potato Chili
Serves 6
    1 1/2 cup dried black beans
    4 Cups sweet potato, diced into 3/4 inch cubes
    1 Tb olive oil
    2 Cups chopped white or yellow onion
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1 chipotle pepper en adobo, chopped finely
    2 tsp cumin powder
    1 tsp smoked paprika
    1/2 Tb ground chili powder
    1 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes
    2 Cups vegetable broth (and more as needed)
    sea salt to taste
    1/4 cup chives, snipped into small pieces
    1 large avocado

Soak the black beans in water for 8 hours, or overnight.  Drain and place in a large pot, add water to cover them by a few inches.  Bring beans to a boil and lower to a simmer.  Cook till beans are tender, about 1 hour.  Drain and set them aside.
Heat the tablespoon of oil in a dutch oven or a large pot.  Saute the onion for a few minutes, then add the sweet potato and garlic.  Keep cooking until the onions are translucent, about 8-10 minutes.
Add the chili en adobo, the cumin, the chili powder, and the smoked paprika.  Heat until the spices are very fragrant.  Add the can of tomatoes and 1 cup of vegetable broth.
When broth is bubbling, reduce to a simmer and cook for 30-35 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are totally tender.  Add the black beans after 10 minutes of cooking.  As you go along, you can continue to add the remaining cup of vegetable broth as is needed.  Season to taste with salt.  Turn off the heat and let it sit for 15 minutes.  If you are so inclined, top each bowl with some fresh avocado slices and chives.
This awesome Pesto-Spinach Muffin recipe is from Jonathan Melendez at  Loaded with some of my favorite ingredients: pesto, spinach and mozzarella, these muffins are still satisfying days later.  I strayed a little from the recipe, since I was also working on the afore mentioned pot of chili, I opted for a cup of ready made pesto.  You can find the original recipe on Jonathan's site.

Pesto-Spinach Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

1 1/2 C all purpose flour
1 1/2 C spelt flour
1 Tb baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 large eggs, beaten
2/3 C olive oil
1 C milk
1 10-12 oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 C shredded mozzarella 
1 C pesto  
    Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a standard 12 muffin pan with melted butter or cooking spray and set aside.
    To make the batter: in a large bowl, stir or sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, olive oil, and milk.  Stir in the thawed and squeezed-dried spinach into the wet ingredients.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour the spinach mixture into the center.  Fold the batter until evenly moistened. 
    The batter will be slightly lumpy.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in the pesto and mozzarella just until evenly distributed.  Some streaks of pesto may remain, that will give the muffins color.  Fill the muffin cups level with the rim.  Bake until golden brown, dry, and springy to the touch, about 20-25 minutes.  Rotate the pan halfway through baking to ensure evening browning.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. 

    Tuesday, February 12, 2013

    Here's your fresh pasta

    I've been making fresh pasta once a week for the past month, using different flours.  There are so many pasta dough recipes in the cyber-world, that I believe it is possible to try a new recipe every day for a month and still not have tried them all.  Some recipes call for all-purpose flour or high gluten, while others list semolina or whole wheat flour, and there are just as many combinations of these.
    All this pasta making was instigated by an Italian friend who was longing to eat the authentic Lasagna Verdi Alla Bolognese, from the Ristorante Diana, that he had many years ago in Bologna, Italy.  Along with memories of that long ago dinner, came amusing stories of his mother working the dough on the kitchen table.  My friend decided an authentic Italian roller-type pasta machine was necessary, rather than the American machine I have made many pounds of pasta with over the years.
    Lasagne Verdi
    3 1/2 C all purpose flour
    1/4 C water
    2 Tb oil
    2 eggs
    1/2 C fresh spinach, cooked, drained and chopped
    Combine all the ingredients and knead until smooth.  Roll out on lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 1/8", then either cut into 5-6" squares, or use a pasta machine and roll it quite thin.  Bring a large quantity of salted water to a boil.  Add 1/2 the pasta and cook quickly just until al dente, 1-2 minutes.  Drain well, and lay on dish towels to dry.  Repeat with remaining pasta. 
    Bechamel Sauce
    6 Tb butter
    1 C(scant) all purpose flour
    1 quart milk, heated to boiling
    pinch of  salt
    dash freshly grated nutmeg
    lightly salted water 
    1 C freshly grated Parmesan cheese (I used more)
    Additional Parmesan for garnish
    Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in flour, blending well.  Let cook several minutes, whisking constantly.  Slowly whisk in boiling milk, blending until smooth.  Add salt and nutmeg.  Reduce heat to low and cook about 10 minutes, stirring constantly.  Set aside. 
    Ragu alla Bolognese 
    2 Tb oil
    1/2 C minced pancetta
    1/2 C minced onion
    2 Tb minced celery
    2 Tb minced carrot
    2 lbs lean ground beef
    Salt and freshly ground pepper
    freshly grated nutmeg
    3/4 C dry white wine
    3 Tb tomato paste
    Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat.  Add pancetta and cook until browned.  Add onion, celery and carrot; continue cooking, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft.  Add beef, salt and pepper to taste and dust lightly with nutmeg.  Continue cooking, stirring often, about 30 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium.  Add wine and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until wine has evaporated.  Blend in tomato paste.  Add water to cover all ingredients (about 2 1/2 Cups).  Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered about 45 minutes.  
    To assemble:  Generously butter a 9"X13" baking dish and arrange a layer of pasta on the bottom.  Spread with about 1/3 of the bechamel, then some ragu.  Sprinkle with about 1/3 of the cheese.  Repeat.  Add  another layer of pasta, then remaining bechamel and cheese; dot with butter.  Bake until hot and bubbly, about 50 minutes.  Let it rest for 10 minutes and serve with the remaining ragu and additional Parmesan.
    The layers of fresh pasta melt in your mouth while the bechamel sauce adds another dimension.  Though not your traditional combination of ricotta, mozzerella and tomato sauce, this lasagna is a concert of flavors.   Supposedly, this is the original Lasagne Verdi Alla Bolognese recipe from the Ristorante Diana in Bologna, Italy which serves 12.  Bon Appetite.


    Sunday, February 10, 2013

    Creamy Farro Potato Salad

    I recently stumbled on a new twist for America's favorite picnic dish, the potato salad.  The older I get, the more I try to incorporate good-for-you grains into everyday meals.  Grain Mains, written by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, has many creative ideas to do just that.  Their Wheatberry Spread is another favorite of mine, rolled in a large leaf of romaine lettuce, served like a wrap or used as hummus with crackers and veggies for scooping.  

    Potatoes and Farro pair beautifully together in this great tasting salad.  It has all the flavors you recognize, with the extra benefit of this whole grain.

    Creamy Farro Potato Salad
    1 C whole grain farro
    1 lb very small red potatoes, halved
    2/3 C mayonnaise ( I used cilantro mayo)
    2 Tb Dijon or coarse grained mustard
    1 Tb brine from the dill pickle jar
    1 tsp ground black pepper
    3 celery stalks, thinly sliced
    1/2 C minced onion, red or white
    3 scallions, thinly sliced 
    1 large dill pickle, diced
    chopped fresh parsley (optional)
    Soak the farro in a big bowl of cool water for at least 8 and up to 16 hours, then drain completely.  Pour the grains into a large saucepan, fill two thirds of the way with water, and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat and simmer until tender, about 1 hour.  Drain; run under cool water to stop the cooking and drain thoroughly.
    Steam the potatoes in a vegetable steamer until tender when pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes.  Cool the potatoes by running water over them in the steamer basket, and drain thoroughly.  
    Whisk the mayonnaise, mustard, pickle brine, and pepper in a large serving bowl.  Stir in the celery, scallions, and diced pickle.  Add the cooked farro and potatoes.  Toss well and sprinkle with parsley.

    Friday, February 1, 2013

    Energy Bites

    It's February and the days are getting noticeably longer, which is one of the things I love about this time of year.  Here is a great little no bake pick-me-up that will help power you through those extra daylight tasks.  I found this at www.gimmesomeoven.comThese little energy balls are filled with some of my favorite things.
    Pumpkin No Bake Energy Bites
    Yield: About 25 1-inch balls
        1 C (packed) chopped dates
        1/4 cup honey
        1/4 cup pumpkin puree
        1 Tb chia seeds
        1 tsp ground cinnamon
        1/2 tsp ground ginger
        1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
        pinch of salt
        1 C old-fashioned oats
        1 C toasted coconut flakes
        1 C toasted pumpkin seeds
    Whenever I use dates, I cut them in to small pieces with my kitchen shears.  That way my food processor doesn't have to work as hard to chop and incorporate them. 
    Place the dates, honey, pumpkin puree, chia seeds, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt in a food processor, and pulse until smooth and combined.  Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the oats, coconut flakes and pumpkin seeds until evenly distributed.
    Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  Once the mixture has hardened a little, use a spoon or cookie scoop to shape into 1" balls.  

    You can store these flavor packed energy balls, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.