Sunday, April 24, 2016

Two Avocado Recipes with Honey

Open-faced toasted avocado sandwich with honey and Parmesan
Two for one recipe day!  In the first, an open-faced toasted avocado sandwich with honey and Parmesan cheese, the honey serves as a garnish.  It offers a little bit sweetness to the salty Parmesan.  It couldn't be simpler.  In the second, the avocado is the garnish for a delicious lentil salad. It takes a bit more time to make than the sandwich, but is worth it!

Open-faced Toasted Avocado Sandwich
1 slice of good quality bread
1/2 avocado, cut into slices to fit the bread
1-2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon honey
salt and pepper to taste
Arrange the avocado slices on the bread.  If you have a large avocado, you might use less than one half.  Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese to cover the avocado and drizzle the honey all over.  Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on top.  Toast in a toaster oven for about a minute (maybe two) until the cheese is nicely browned.  Voila!  Serves one.

French Lentil Salad with Rhubarb & Honey
French Lentil Salad with Rhubarb and Honey
In this recipe, I used black "beluga" lentils.  French (Puy) lentils would also be good.  Both are smaller than brown lentils and hold their shape well for a salad.  Brown lentils will still work.  If you use them, watch them carefully while boiling to be sure they don't get too mushy.  Rhubarb is now ready in the garden and I tossed a few stalks into this salad.  I hope to post some other rhubarb recipes soon.

2 cups lentils
5 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil 
1 large onion, cut in 1/4 inch dice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 stalks celery, cut in 1/4 inch dice
3 medium carrots, cut in 1/4 inch coins
3 rhubarb stalks, minced
1 head of garlic (about 4 or 5 cloves), each clove thinly sliced
another pinch of salt
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1-2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup olive oil
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (if you have it)
1-2 avocados, sliced (for garnish)
salt and pepper to taste

Place the lentils in a large sauce pan, add the water and bay leaf and bring to a boil over high heat.  Once the water starts boiling, turn the heat down a bit to keep a steady simmer going.  Boil the lentils until they are just done--about 15-20 minutes, checking regularly after about 10 minutes.  The lentils should be soft yet firm--no crunchy bite, but still holding together (kind of like "al dente").

While the lentils are boiling, heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute or frying pan over medium high heat and add the onions. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.  As the onions begin to soften, add the celery, carrots and rhubarb, stirring well to coat with oil.  At this point, you might need to turn the heat to medium to keep the vegetables from burning.  When the celery, carrots, and rhubarb begin to soften and give off some juices (about 5 minutes or so), add the garlic and another sprinkling of salt.  Stir to distribute and continue cooking for another five minutes or so until the juices evaporate, the vegetables are tender (but still a bit crisp).  Remove from heat and set aside.

Make the dressing:  Combine the vinegar and honey. Drizzle in the olive oil while whisking to emulsify.

When the lentils are done, drain them well and place in a large bowl.  Add the cooked vegetables and toss.  Pour the dressing over all, gently tossing to distribute it well.  Taste the salad to see if it needs more salt and add if needed along with about 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper.  If serving right away, sprinkle parsley on top--but hold off if you're waiting for the lentils to cool to room temperature (or to be chilled in the fridge).

To serve, cut an avocado into thin slices.  Place one serving of the salad in a bowl and garnish with avocado slices.  Sprinkle a little more salt and pepper on top.  

Can be served hot, room temperature, or chilled.  Makes about 8 servings.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Spinach Sauteed with Garlic, Dried Figs, and Honey

Here's a delicious side dish recipe for sauteed spinach, straight from Emril Lagasse and the Food Network website. Bam! I didn't do much fiddling with it, other than to add a sprinkling of hot pepper flakes to give it a little heat and a handful of chopped almonds for some crunch.  It is both sweet and savory. Besides being delicious, it's also fast and nutritious.  Makes a nice side dish.  This recipe serves four as a side dish, maybe two if this is the main dinner feature.

Spinach Sauteed with Garlic, Dried Figs, and Honey
2-3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely sliced dried figs
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1 pound baby spinach (or grown up spinach, chopped)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
pinch of red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 cup almonds, toasted and chopped

Add the olive oil and garlic to a large saute pan (one that can hold the pound of spinach). Place on medium heat, stirring as the pan starts to heat up and the garlic begins to cook.  Cook for about 2-3 minutes, stirring often and taking care that the garlic doesn't burn.  Add the figs and the broth and continue to cook, stirring, until the broth reduces considerably.  This will soften the figs and create a sweet, thickened broth.  Add the spinach, salt, black pepper, and hot pepper flakes and cook, tossing the spinach to wilt it. You may have to add spinach in batches as it wilts so that there's room in the pan.  Continue cooking until all of the spinach is wilted.  Remove from heat, taste seasonings and add more salt, pepper or hot pepper flakes if desired. Place in a serving bowl and drizzle with honey.  Just before serving, sprinkle the chopped almonds on top. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese & Sauerkraut Sandwiches

Although it's well past the vernal equinox here, it hasn't really felt like spring.  I mean: SNOW! Chilly days call for comfort food and that's what these recipes offer.  The tomato soup is adapted from Jennifer Steinhauer and appears on Cooking New York Times.  That recipe calls for a whopping 1/2 pound of butter and 3/4ths cup half-and-half.  I cut the recipe down a bit and used 2% milk instead.  We also added some chopped marjoram, which despite the chilly temps, is burgeoning in the garden right now.  This is a very comforting soup that is not unlike the kind you might have had from a can--only better (and likely better for you, too!).

What better to go with tomato soup than grilled cheese sandwiches?  We glammed these up a bit by adding sauerkraut that we made from cabbages last year. We followed Sandor Katz's directions for making sauerkraut with great results.  So these are basically Rubens without the "ru."  Don't know why I haven't thought to add sauerkraut to grilled cheese before: it's amazing!  

Tomato Soup
makes about 4 1-cup servings

4 tablespoons (1/8 pound) butter
1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons flour
1 quart tomatoes--whole or crushed (or 1 28-ounce can)
1/2 to 3/4ths cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons honey, plus a bit more to drizzle on top if you'd like
1 teaspoon salt (more or less, depending on how salty your broth is)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup milk (1%, 2% or whole--coconut milk might also be nice!)
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram (or oregano), minced, plus a bit more sprinkling on top if you'd like.

In a large sauce pan, melt butter over medium low heat.  Add diced onions and cook, stirring often until they are very soft (and sweet).  Do not let the onions brown. When onions are very soft, sprinkle the flour over them and cook for a few minutes (2 or 3 at most)--stirring and, again, not letting the onions or the flour brown.  Crush the tomatoes if you're using whole ones. Add tomatoes, broth, honey, salt and pepper to the pot and stir well  Raise the heat and bring just to a bubble, then turn on very low and simmer for about 20-30 minutes, stirring very regularly so the bottom doesn't burn.

Remove from heat.  Stir in the minced marjoram and let cool a bit. Puree all in a blender. Return the pureed soup back in the pot and reheat if needed.  Stir in milk. 

Grilled Cheese and Sauerkraut Sandwiches
Makes 2 sandwiches

4 slices rye bread
1-2 ounces Swiss cheese, sliced about 1/4 inch thick (cheddar or other cheeses would also be good!)
1/2 cup sauerkraut, rinsed
1/2 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon ketchup
1/2 teaspoon capers, diced
1 teaspoon dill pickle relish or diced dill pickle.  (You could use sweet relish instead, but if you do, skip the honey!)
1 teaspoon honey

Lightly butter two slices of bread and place in a frying pan or griddle on medium low heat.  Divide the cheese slices between the two slices of bread.  Top with the sauerkraut--about 1/4 cup for each sandwich.

Stir all of the ingredients for the sauce together, mixing well.  Spread about one teaspoon of sauce on each of the remaining slices of bread and place them sauce-side down on the sandwiches in the pan. Butter the outside of those bread slices.  Check to see if first slices are well-browned on the bottom (and the cheese is melted) and if so, flip over and cook for a few minutes more.  Slice the sandwiches in half and serve with the tomato soup.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Addictive Almond Honey Phyllo Pastry

I made the mistake of making this delicious and addictive confection when we had no plans for company.  Then Robert left for a two-day trip. What can I say?  I like a culinary challenge and this pastry was very appealing in that regard.  I didn't plan for overwhelmingly tempting it would be to have just lying around.  I'm proud to say that there was still some left when Robert got back, but we (okay, mostly I) gnawed our way through all of it, just the two of us.  Not a wise move as the weather warms and bathing suit season beckons!  The recipe comes from the Food 52 website and is called "M'hanncha-Moroccan Almond and Orange Blossom Phyllo Pastry." Mine is a bit more rustic than the lovely photo on the Food 52 website.  That recipe calls for orange flower water, which I did not have.  I did have some rose water, though, which I used, even though I didn't really taste the rose water in the finished version.  I think either one makes a nice addition, but isn't essential.  The cinnamon-almond-honey combination wrapped in buttery phyllo is what makes this pastry impossible to resist.  The pastry is supposed to be sliced in thin wedges like a pie, but Robert and I (okay, mostly I) just pulled at the ropes and ate 2-inch pieces until we got to the center.  Consider yourself warned: make this when you'll have plenty of help to eat it!

1 tablespoon butter (NOTE:  the whole recipe requires about 12 tablespoons butter)
1 cup almonds
7 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 3/4 cup almond meal (see note below)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 whole egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon rose water (optional, but nice)
8-10 sheets phyllo dough, thawed
about 2 tablespoons melted butter for brushing on phyllo
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon rose water
NOTE: If you can't find almond meal, then ground two cups of almond with one or two tablespoons of the granulated sugar in a blender (better than a food processor) until it is a fine meal, being careful not to turn it into almond butter. 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the 1 tablespoon of butter in a pan over low heat and melt.  Stir in the whole almonds and toast until nicely browned and fragrant, being careful not to burn--about five minutes.  Remove from heat and cool.  Place the cooled almonds in a food processor and blend with the granulated sugar until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Add the almond meal, powdered sugar, the 7 tablespoons of melted butter, the whole egg, cinnamon and 1 tablespoon rose water (if using).  Process until it is a well-combined paste.

Open the phyllo package, unroll, cover with plastic wrap and then lightly damp kitchen towel to keep it from drying out.  Take one sheet and place on the work surface with the long side facing you.  Lightly brush with butter.  Take pieces of the almond paste and roll into a log about 1/2 inch thick and line up along the long edge of the phyllo. You'll have to do this in fairly small pieces and press them together to extend across the phyllo sheet.  Roll the phyllo round the filling and brush with butter to keep it flexible.  Coil the roll and place in the center of a parchment-lined cookie sheet.  Continue filling the phyllo sheets with the almond paste and rolling up, then linking up the filled rolls with the previous ones to form a tight coil.  This will take about 8 to 10 phyllo sheets.  Brush the finished coil with the egg yolk/water mixture and bake in the center of the oven for about 30 minutes, until crisp and brown.

While the pastry is baking, heat the honey in a small sauce pan just to make very runny and add the rose water if using.  Pour the honey over the warm pastry.  Cool a bit before slicing into small wedges.  This will serve about 10--or, over the course of five days, two adults with sweet teeth who know they should know better but ate it all anyway!