Thursday, January 29, 2015

Small Batch Hot Sauce for Super Bowl

If you have ever thought about making your own hot sauce, Super Bowl Sunday gives you the perfect occasion.  Serve it alongside your best chili or hot wings or bring it solo to your neighborhood party.  It will go with almost everything on the buffet spread.

I've been trying to buy a bottle of the habanero-grapefruit hot sauce I had at a Mexican restaurant in SoHo, famous for its wall of bottled hot sauces for diners to choose from.  Without success finding that little bottle of citrus-sy heat in any store, I decided it was time to make my own.

There were no habanero peppers at the market on hot sauce making day so I experimented with Scotch Bonnet peppers.  The result is not quite as hot as the original but in its way, more versatile. The citrus (grapefruit and orange juice) provide acid to the sauce and serve as a great match to morning eggs.  The savory base of carrot and tomato cook down with the hot peppers to give body and substance to the sauce.  Once you have made one hot sauce, use this recipe as a guide to create your own variation. 

Scotch Bonnet Grapefruit Hot Sauce
Makes about 10 ounces

1 carrot
3 plum tomatoes
4-5 Scotch Bonnet peppers, seeded & de-veined
½ to 1 cup water
zest and juice of one grapefruit
juice of one orange
Not hot enough? You can add cayenne pepper to taste.

  1. In a cast iron pan, cook carrots, tomatoes, hot peppers and water until carrot is very soft (about 15 minutes. Start with 1/2 cup water and add more as it cooks down.
  2. Cool and puree to very smooth.  This is a key step so take the time to get a nice puree with no lumps.
  3. Add half of the citrus juices and salt.  Puree again until very smooth.  Taste and add more citrus juice to get a pourable consistency.  More grapefruit juice will bring up hot pepper flavor.  Salt will also seek heat out. If you need more heat, add a little cayenne pepper.  
  4. Store refrigerated in a sealed, non-corrosive container and serve over everything!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Beet Salads

Winter salads are refreshing.  But without summer tomatoes, they can seem bland and pale.  Enter the roasted beet, a nutrient packed solution to bring color and intense flavor to winter salads.

Beets are good companions to several salad ingredient favorites.  Thinly sliced beets and carrots create a nest of color with sliced apples over chopped greens.  Roasted salted pepitas add a little crunch and replace croutons.

Beets love goat cheese, whether the standard rolled and sliceable variety or an elegant goat brie (pictured above). Sprinkle in the zest of an orange to layer in a bright note that brings vinaigrettes alive in your salad.  Try a honey based salad dressing for this one.  Magic.

Finally, toss roasted beets with dill, salt and pepper.  Pile the mixture over torn lettuce like romaine.  Pour on any sour cream- or mustard-based dressing (think homemade ranch or dijon mustard vinarigrette) for a salad that plays up beets' affinity with herbs.  In addition to dill, try chives, coriander or even the often forgotten fresh parsley. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Snow-Capped Stuffed Mushrooms for Ski Weekends

Make-aheads meals are the skiing cook's best friend.  These hearty sausage-stuffed mushrooms satisfy big appetites after a day on the slopes and can be made using smaller mushrooms for excellent apres ski hors d'ourvres.  The "snow" cap is a sour cream-roux that creates a lush sauce for each mushroom.  Diced jalepeño or freshly chopped herbs contribute a touch of greenery. 

Serve 2-3 medium large mushroom to each diner as a main course with a side of pasta or pair the mushrooms with green beans and mashed turnips.  Make smaller ones to put out a bountiful platterful to sample with a limited edition, specialty winter beer shared with friends.

You can make Snow-Capped Stuffed Mushrooms ahead and store them uncooked or cooked for 2-3 days. Either way, the sausage filling is cooked before it is goes into the mushroom so you have a safe, easily transported dish.  Keep the dish cold if traveling (to a ski house, for example) and refrigerate until ready to bake and serve piping hot.

Snow Capped Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms
Serves 4 (or 12 as hot hors d'ouvres)

12 medium mushroom (1 1/2 to 2 inch diameter) or 1 pound small Bella mushrooms
1 pound breakfast sausage
4 ounces cheddar cheese
4 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon marjoram or oregano

Sour Cream 'Snow' Topping
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup sour cream
1 jalepeño, seeded and diced or fresh herbs (marjoram, chives, parsley)

  1. If baking mushrooms now, preheat oven to 400˚F. 
  2. Saute breakfast sausage in a wide skillet over medium heat.  Drain any fat.  Place drained, cooked sausage meat in a medium sized bowl and allow to cool slightly.
  3. While sausage cooks, prepare mushroom caps.  Wipe away any dirt on the mushrooms.  remove stem and if using larger mushrooms, use a spoon to scrape out the gills.  Place mushroom caps in a lightly oiled foil-covered baking pan and set aside.
  4. Grate cheddar cheese.  When meat is cool enough to touch it without burning yourself but it is still warm, add cheeses and oregano.  Stir with a wide spoon or spatula to mix thoroughly. 
  5. Fill mushrooms caps generously using a spoon and/or your hands to form round tops. Place on prepared baking pan.  If making ahead, stop at this point and cover dish with aluminum foil.  refrigerate until ready to bake, up to 2 days.
  6. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400˚F.
  7. Bake mushrooms for 10-15 minutes, longer if mushrooms have been refrigerated.  
  8. While mushrooms bake, make sour cream 'snow' topping.  Mix sour cream and flour.  Add jalepeños or herbs.  Top each mushroom with a dollop of 'snow' and return to oven for another 6-8 minutes.  Let cool a minute before removing from baking dish to serve.

Monday, January 5, 2015

How to Make Three Real Foods This Week

It only takes cooking three foods this week to kick-start eating real foods all year.  They say habits take a few weeks to take hold and this is an easy one to incorporate into your routine.  Here is how to have more home cooked, real food ready when you need it. Pictured above, Potato-Corn Chowder with pre-cooked chicken breasts and bacon.

The key is to use passive cooking methods and to cook these pure, real extras while you are already in the kitchen doing something else.  Measuring coffee and bringing water to a boil or waiting for the coffee maker to do its thing?  Measure out some rice or a whole grain and slip it into boiling water to simmer on low.  Most grains cook within 30 minutes and can be stored in the refrigerator for tonight's healthier dinner.  Reheat in the microwave while you steam or stir fry some veggies.

Is the oven being used for dinner tonight?  Use the energy and space wisely-- add some chicken breasts or a fruit crisp to the oven and enjoy real food for dinner tomorrow night too.

Pick easy recipes that require a minimum number of ingredients and a passive cooking technique like steaming, roasting or baking.  Match the recipe's cooking temperature or cooking time to what you are already making, eg use the same oven temperature for several items.   Avoid recipes that ask you to stir, add ingredients midway through the cooking process or transfer from one cooking method to another (steaming then stir-frying). 

Make a big batch, one that can be used in different ways during the whole week.  Make eight half-cup servings of grains, four 6- to 8-ounce portions of protein or one pork tenderloin, even a whole chicken can be roasted alongside tonight's dinner and used in any recipe calling for rotisserie chicken (for half the price!). 

I. Cook a Grain
Rice, whole wheat pasta, barley, bulgur (cracked wheat), buckwheat, oats and more can be made ahead and served at dinner or form the basis of whole grain lunch bowls with steamed spinach, leftover veggies, beans and pre-cooked proteins. 
Hint: if you own a rice cooker it will also cook other grains, even oatmeal.

II. Cook a Protein
Chicken, pork tenderloin and fish can bake alongside tonight's meal in a low or medium oven.  If you are not sure how to prepare, place the protein in a shallow lightly oiled dish, season with salt, pepper and herbs and spices you like and cover with aluminum foil.  Check on fish after 8-12 minutes, chicken and pork 20-30 minutes.  Use a thermometer to make sure the food is thoroughly cooked.
Cooked proteins can be reheated gently by steaming or microwave on low power.  Or make paninis, main dish salads and quick pastas using these pre-cooked proteins.  

III. Cook a Fruit-based Dessert
Fresh or frozen berries, plums, peaches and cherries or fresh apples and pears can each be baked up in a buttered pie plate with a little honey or cinnamon sugar and topped with a combination of quick cooking oats and almond flour that's been tossed with equal parts vegetable oil and maple syrup.  Eat this for dessert or in a breakfast yogurt parfait.

Bonus Round:
Make a pot of soup the way cooks in past centuries did-- on the back burner while you are doing something else.  Simmer broth, vegetables, grains and beans into a pure, homemade soup flavored with herbs, salt and pepper.   The soup pictured above was made with extra boiled potatoes mixed with chicken broth and last summer's frozen corn.  Some chicken added protein and chopped avocado, jalepeño, cilantro and precooked bacon made it a meal.