Sunday, December 14, 2008

If by "sexy" you mean "soupy."

I need to just post this recipe, once and for all, before I forget and before it loses seasonableness. All I have to say about it: it's delicious; it's cheap; it's sophisticated; it's great for cold weather, football, and loneliness; you should make it.

Oh, and I believe it's called a bisque because the original recipe calls for a significant amount of whipping cream. Well, I can't afford no whipping cream, nor does this soup need it. I have made it about a dozen times and never once thought to myself, "Man, if only I had some whipping cream." (That thought does pop into my head a lot, but not this time.) Sadly, I think that, without the cream, this creation no longer qualifies as a sexy bisque, but as a soup. Not sexy. Just call it a bisque, and call it a night.

Recipe: Butternut Squash and Roasted Garlic Bisque

Adapted significantly from Epicurious. Serves 8. Reheats well in microwave and lasts about 5 days.

2 large butternut squash
2 heads of garlic
4 T olive oil, divided
2 C chopped onions
5 C chicken or vegetable stock (or, preferably, the turkey stock you made over Thanksgiving!)
3 T chopped fresh sage

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut both butternut squash in half, lengthwise. Wrap each half in aluminum foil and bake for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cut each garlic head crosswise. Brush exposed garlic cloves with olive oil, wrap heads in foil, and bake about 20 minutes. Remove butternut squash from oven, unwrap, and let cool. Heat remaining olive oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add onions. Meanwhile, peel squash and chop into 1-inch chunks. After onions have cooked about 10 minuts, add squash, stock and sage to pot. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer uncovered until squash is tender, 20-25 min. Meanwhile, "unwrap" garlic by squeezing pulp out of cloves (and unpeeling if necessary). Squeeze all garlic pulp into a bowl and mash with a fork until smooth. Stir into soup. Puree half of soup in blender, or using an immersion blender. Return pureed soup to pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Taste of Winter..., for me, I've recently discovered, not a soup or stew. It is a raw, crunchy, delicious salad composed of some of the only produce whose star turn occurs during this frigid time of year.

It started with what I thought was an overabundance of grapefruit. Thinking I'd come across a great deal, I bought a bag of seven ruby reds for $3 at Safeway. It turns out Shopper's is selling three for a dollar, which, I realize, after much pitiful brain-wracking, is a better deal. I'll just have to buy more, anyway, because this salad is my new obsession. Actually, slaw might be a better name for it, but I've always hated that word (and the mayonnaise-saturated connotations that go along with it). In my quest to not gain 10 lbs this winter (the snowbirding of my bicycle, which I can't seem to get over, has not helped this cause), this salad may be just the answer: it's so crunchy that, thanks to all the chewing involved, you end up eating less than you expect -- not that it matters since the thing is practically fat-free and chock full of fiber and vitamins, e.g. A, B, C, K, and B6. A sprinkling of sunflower seeds adds a crucial nuttiness -- for a lack of a better word -- as well as some much-needed salt.

I believe that in the last post I said something about a cornbread-crusted chili. I might postpone it till January/Super Bowl season. I'm saving my calories for Christmas.

Recipe: Grapefruit, Fennel, and Red Cabbage Salad

Like a lot of things I create, it tasted strange to me at first, but, after a few more bites, I couldn't stop shoving it into my mouth.

Serves 8 as side dish (4 as light main course). Keeps well for a few days.

2 grapefruit
1 head of red cabbage
2 fennel bulbs
1/2 C roasted, salted sunflower seeds (may substitute cashews, pistachios, peanuts, or probably any salty nut)
1/4 C rice or white wine vinegar
1 T sugar
1 t salt
1/4 t red pepper flakes
1/4 t ground pepper
1/4 C olive oil
fennel fronds, for garnish

Peel the grapefruit and chop flesh into bite-size pieces. Chop cabbage into thin strips. Chop off root of fennel and separate the pieces (it's similar to a celery stalk, but with fennel you want to use only the bulbous white parts near the root). Chop off the celery-like stems, which are too tough to eat, and save for stock, reserving some of the fronds. Take the bulb pieces (the large, white-ish parts) and chop into bite-size pieces. In a large bowl, mix together the grapefruit, cabbage, fennel, and sunflower seeds. For the dressing, which can be made a few hours in advance, whisk together the vinegar with sugar, salt, red pepper flakes, and ground pepper. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking, to create an emulsion. Drizzle it over the grapefruit, cabbage, and fennel, and garnish with the fennel fronds.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Kaling Me Softly

Kale is an underappreciated vegetable, and I know this for two reasons. One, Trader Joe's doesn't sell it and, at least here in Bethesda, Trader Joe's decides what everyone eats at home. Two, a pound of it costs only a buck-twenty at Safeway. Do you know how much kale it takes to get to a pound? Considering that its weight is comparable to looseleaf paper, the answer is quite a lot.

BUT! Kale is great, and everyone should eat more of it, especially when you are feeling as zaftig as I feel now. Thanksgiving came and went, and all I got was this lousy back flab. Until recently, though, I did not take full advantage of kale's health benefits. I would cook it for a very long time, usually in bacon fat. I'm no scientist, but I surmise that whatever vitamins (K, C, A, and B6) and other nutrients (fiber and potassium come to mind) kale offers somehow disappear when cooked this way, leaving you with little more than a discolored, if quite tasty, slop to pair with your boiled ham.

The kale in the following recipe is cooked for a much shorter period, which I hope makes it healthier and I know makes it better for reheating as leftovers. Also, thanks to the addition of beans, it rises among the side dish ranks and is possibly up for promotion to main course. Certainly, it makes an ideal light main course for those of us who fear we might soon develop cankles. Oh, who am I kidding? Next post will feature cornbread-crusted chili.

Recipe: Add-a-few-years-to-your-life Kale and Beans
This recipe is inspired by, but loosely based on, Deborah Madison's kale with cannellini beans from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I omitted rosemary, which probably would've been good, but I didn't feel like buying it. I added some sugar as well as lemon, since I happened to have one and since I thought it would somehow make the kale taste fresher. Her recipe calls for white wine, which I don't usually buy -- but I had some red on hand. I plan to continue to use red, as the reduction sauce looks much more dramatic this way. You could also use vinegar, if you or your budget prefers. But you definitely need some kind of acid here to temper the bitterness of the kale. Assuming you already have the majority of the ingredients, this recipe need not cost much more than $2, or about 33 cents per serving.
Serves 6 as light main course.

1 lb kale, ribs removed
1.5 T olive oil
1 shallot or small onion, minced
1/2 t sugar
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 C red wine (preferred) or white wine or vinegar
1.5 C white beans (may use any other bean, too)
juice of one lemon quarter (optional, but highly recommended)

Place all of the kale in a large pot and fill it with water so about half the kale is covered. Bring to a slow simmer on medium heat. Reduce heat to low-medium and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Drain and return to pot. This technique is sort of a lazy man's braise. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in another relatively large pot over medium heat. Add the minced shallot or onion and sugar, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, cooking an additional minute. Add the wine or vinegar, and increase heat to medium-high. Cook until wine or vinegar is reduced to a syrupy consistency, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add beans, kale, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to your taste.