Sunday, November 27, 2011

Leftover Roasted Chicken Panini with Peppers and Caramelized Onion

Thanksgiving always raises a multitude of deep and important questions. Should the turkey be stuffed or unstuffed? Six side dishes or seven? Pumpkin pie or pecan? Why are the neighbors putting up Christmas lights before Thursday, and if they're planning that far ahead, where are their Valentine's day decorations? And is there any way to gracefully uninvite your cousin's sister's nephew's socially awkward girlfriend from coming to dinner, or at least to misdirect her GPS so she ends up at someone else's house?

But perhaps the most pressing question tends to emerge unexpectedly the day after Thanksgiving, just when we have been lulled into a false sense of tryptophan-imbued security. It's the question of leftovers. In particular, it is the question of what on earth to DO with all the leftovers. Especially after the fourth helping of leftovers shows no sign of diminishing the vast store left in the fridge.

Obviously, the best answer is the Thanksgiving leftover sandwich. Until you consider that this sandwich could be grilled, and then you realize the Thanksgiving leftover PANINI is the best answer. (Paninis, incidentally, are the answer to 83.4% of the world's leftover problems, according to recent numbers I made up in my head while eating one.)* The other answer is not to make a turkey in the first place, but this is considered weird and unpatriotic if you're not a vegetarian and you might not want to admit to it outright on, for example, a blog. Despite the fact that a discerning reader might notice the lack of turkey in the recipe that follows. But you could totally make this with a turkey. If you had one. Which many people do.

Ingredients (per sandwich)
2 slices good-quality whole grain bread
Olive oil
Leftover roasted chicken, sliced or pulled into pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
A little pepper jack or Monterey jack cheese, grated (optional)
1/4 red onion and 1/4 red bell pepper, sliced into thin half rings and sauteed in olive oil until very sweet
A few baby mustard greens (or sub mustard frisee, arugula, or spinach)

Preheat your panini grill to medium-high. Lightly brush one side of the each bread slice with olive oil (these will become the outside of your panini). Layer your ingredients on the dry side of one of the bread slices: A light scattering of jack cheese first against the bread, then chicken seasoned with black pepper to taste, then sauteed onion and peppers, then a few greens, then the second piece of bread (olive oil side up).

Sandwich your sandwich inside your panini grill and press down lightly until the grill is fully against the bread. Grill until golden brown on both sides. Serve hot.

*You might reply: "Oh, but I don't have a panini grill." To which I would helpfully suggest: "You should totally get a panini grill." To which you might respond: "Oh, but I don't know if I would use it." Which is when I would say: "You know, I think I read somewhere recently that you could solve 83.4% of your leftover problems if you invested in a panini grill, and paninis are just regular old sandwiches that you would make anyway thrown on a grill for a couple minutes, which transmogrifies them into an infinitely more delicious, warm, grilled, succulent, wonderful, amazing, fantastically ambrosial meal." To which you would respond: "Oh, really? I'm completely convinced! What panini grill do you have?" And I would say "I'm thrilled that you're convinced! Our panini grill is a De'Longhi, which is hard to spell and I'm not sure if I have done so correctly, but it makes good paninis regardless." And then we would probably stop conversing because we'd notice that we were only hypothetical and get distracted by whether a panini imagined by imaginary people would taste the same as a real panini, which is one of those Buddhist koans you don't hear as frequently as the hand-clapping thing.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Leeks, Smoked Bacon, and Sage

After experiencing a deeply inspired pumpkin pizza at Tuli Bistro a few weeks ago, we vowed to recreate it ourselves as a grilled flatbread. Which we haven't done yet, mostly because it's cold and dark and Novembery in the evenings outside in our grilling area, and warm and cozy and light inside in our non-grilling area, which creates a distinct bias toward non-grilling activities. Maybe next summer. In the meantime, we decided to reincarnate the pizza (or at least, its revelationary triumvirate of winter squash, cured pork, and goat cheese) in risotto form.

I don't care if you think bacon and goat cheese couldn't possibly coexist peaceably in the same dish. Neither did we. Make this anyway. Your taste buds will eventually emerge from their deliciousness-induced coma long enough to thank you.

One smallish butternut squash (about 2 lbs), halved lengthwise and seeds scooped out
Olive oil
4 cups veggie and/or chicken broth
1 + 1/2 strips applewood smoked bacon, divided, sliced crosswise (or sub pancetta)
1 large or two smaller leeks, white and light green parts, chopped
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 cup Arborio rice
White wine
8-10 leaves fresh sage, thinly sliced crosswise
2 handfuls arugula
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
1-1.5 oz good-quality goat cheese
Garlic chives, for garnish (or sub regular chives)

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Cut each squash half crosswise into half-inch strips. Arrange in a single layer without crowding on a large, nonstick or foil-lined baking sheet lightly brushed with olive oil. Roast in the oven for 25-40 minutes or until lightly golden on both sides, turning the slices about halfway through. When the squash are tender, remove from oven and let cool. Peel the slices and cut into bite-sized rectangles.

Heat the broth in an uncovered pot over medium heat. When it simmers, turn the heat down slightly and let simmer, uncovered, as you make the risotto so that it reduces slightly.

Meanwhile, heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the half strip's worth of bacon and cook, stirring from time to time, until it starts to turn golden. Turn the heat down just a bit, add the leeks, and continue to saute until they soften. Stir in the garlic and saute for another 20-30 seconds, then add the rice and stir to coat evenly with the bacon-leek-garlic mixture.

Saute the rice for about a minute, then pour in a ladleful of white wine. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed, then add a ladleful of broth. Continue to add broth by the ladleful, stirring and allowing the liquid to absorb before adding more.

Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and fry until golden, then drain off the excess fat and add just a light drizzle of olive oil in its place. Turn off the heat, throw in the sage, and stir a couple times to combine.

When you have just one or two ladlefuls of broth left and the risotto is just tender, fold in the arugula and pour a ladleful of broth over the top to help it start to wilt. Continue to cook, stirring, for another minute or two until the arugula is just wilted. Add in the squash and allow to heat through, then gently stir in the bacon-sage mixture. If the risotto seems dry, add a little more broth. Turn off the heat, and add salt and white pepper to taste.

Serve on preheated soup plates, with goat cheese crumbled over the top. Garnish with snipped garlic chives.

Serves 2, and pairs well with Pinot Noir like Talbott's 2009 Kali-Hart from Monterey County, available at our co-op.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tales of a Noodle Extruder

I'm not going to say for certain one way or the other, but it's a distinct possibility that one sunny day in mid-October, I asked Santa if I could have a noodle extruder for my husband's birthday.

I realize that at this juncture—despite your best intentions to hear me out—certain pressing questions may occur to you, including but not limited to:

(a) Don't people usually ask Santa for presents for Christmas, not birthdays? and
(b) Aren't these people usually under the age of 10? and
(c) Aren't you not under the age of 10? and
(d) Don't we usually focus on gifts for the person actually having the birthday rather than associated household members? and
(e) What on earth is a noodle extruder?


Fortunately for you, Santa proceeded to actually get me a noodle extruder for my husband's birthday, which means I can answer (e) with pictures. It doesn't really shed light on (a) through (d), except to point out that my request wasn't nearly as futile as you (and, frankly, I) originally assumed. I'm thinking Santa might be a closet foodie.

According to various online dictionary sources, a noodle extruder is: "Not Found," which is in direct contrast to my own personal experience and suggests that the authors of said dictionaries may not be in particularly good North Pole standing.

Which leaves defining a noodle extruder to me. And, technically, Google. Which would probably do a much better job. But you're here now, so why not stay?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a noodle extruder's main business is to extrude noodles. You put the pasta dough in the top, turn a crank, bounce up and down once or twice before noticing that you're right in front of the kitchen window and several neighbors are passing by looking in curiously, rearrange your facial features into a solemn and nonchalant "whatever, I'm just here extruding some noodles" expression, and then forget yourself in the next instant as you catch a glimpse of the first homemade fusilli you've ever made just starting to peek out (see bounce-inspiring photo above).

Then you cut the noodles, turn the crank some more, stop suddenly as if struck by a brilliant idea, pull down the shade so you can bounce in peace, and continue on your merry way accumulating an entire cutting board full of endearingly misshapen fusilli. Or macaroni. Or bucatini. Or whatever your favorite shaped pasta happens to be.

Of course, there are still a few tricks to iron out. The multigrain pasta dough recipe we use for our pasta machine ended up a little too tacky to make perfect noodles, which need a bit more structure to stand up without folding in on themselves. And perhaps each noodle shape needs its own tailored dough recipe. We clearly won't know until we've tried every one. And because we are selfless, generous cooks who care first and foremost for the welfare of our readers, we are going to do this. For you. And for Santa. Because we care. Also because the kitchen shade is still down, so no one can see if we're bouncing.

Bucatini, anyone?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mixed Greens with Garlic and Toasted Walnuts

This turns out to be a perfect side dish for pumpkin soup. Or just about anything else, for that matter. Make it when you have an assortment of dark leafy greens on hand and want something fall-like and delicious and quick to dress up the side of your plate.

Olive oil
1 garlic clove, smashed
Mixed braising greens (e.g., baby mustard, baby kale, chard, beet greens, amaranth greens, etc...chop larger greens or cut crosswise into ribbons)
Splash veggie or chicken broth
Coarsely chopped walnuts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a glug of olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the smashed garlic and saute for 2-3 minutes until it softens, then add the greens and toss to coat. Saute, tossing occasionally, until the greens start to wilt. Add a splash of broth, cover, and let simmer and steam for a couple minutes (if using baby greens) or 4-6 minutes (if using big greens). If the pan gets too dry, add a little more broth. Stir every couple of minutes or so.

Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a pan over medium heat, shaking from time to time, until lightly browned. Remove from heat.

When the greens are tender, uncover the pan, steam off any excess liquid, and then serve on a warmed plate. Drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with walnuts, salt, and pepper to taste, and serve hot.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Curried Pumpkin Soup with Ginger

This soup is straightforward and fairly quick as homemade soups go, and involves (are you ready?) both pumpkin and curry leaves. Needless to say, I adore it. It's good on its own, and downright heavenly if you pair it with toasted strips of whole wheat lavash bread—just take a sheet of lavash, slice it crosswise into 1-inch strips with a pizza wheel, and lay the strips on a baking pan that you've lightly coated with olive oil. Toast in a 400°F oven for 4-6 minutes or until golden brown and crispy, then use the strips to dip in the soup as a sort of edible spoon.

Which brings me to a point that's been bothering me for seven to ten seconds now: Why aren't all spoons edible?

Olive oil
10-12 fresh curry leaves
1 large sweet onion, chopped
Medium-hot, good-quality curry powder
Fresh ginger, sliced thinly and julienned (about 1 tsp or a bit more)
15 oz canned pumpkin (one can)
1/2 bay leaf
3 cups chicken and/or veggie broth
Ground cumin
Freshly ground white pepper
Pastured cream
Fresh cilantro for garnish

Heat a soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add a glug of olive oil. Add the curry leaves and let sizzle, stirring occasionally, for about 30 seconds, then add the onion and saute until golden around the edges, turning the heat down slightly if necessary.

Push the onion to the side of the pot, and add about a tbsp of olive oil to the empty side. Add a spoonful of curry powder and the ginger, and toast in the oil for 10-20 seconds, then stir to combine with the onion.

Stir in the pumpkin, broth, and half bay leaf (the half is so you can figure out which is the bay leaf rather than the curry leaves later on, to fish it back out). Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Turn off the heat, remove the half bay leaf, and blend with a hand blender until smooth or desired consistency. Add additional ginger, a dash or four of cumin, and freshly ground pepper to taste. Stir in a slosh of cream.

Garnish with the chopped cilantro, and serve warm (rather than piping hot, which actually obscures some of the flavor) with strips of toasted lavash or pita bread.

Serves 3-4.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Polenta Pancakes

I could go on and on about polenta pancakes. The slight crunch of golden toasted cornmeal on the outside. The creamy sweetness of yellow polenta on the inside. The all-consuming desire to track them down at a local breakfast place. The slightly deranged look on my face when I announced, after getting home from a disheartening encounter with an inexcusably dry and mealy "corn pancake" at a restaurant whose name I have blocked out of my memory due to the trauma of unmet expectations, that FINE then, fine, you know what? We'll just learn how to make them ourselves. What do you say to THAT? (The restaurant, by now severely out of earshot, did not in fact reply. But we showed it. Oh yes.)

Admittedly, our first attempt was dry and mealy. So I can commiserate, I suppose, with the forgotten restaurant's corn-based difficulties (but seriously, shouldn't they have tried more than once before putting it on their menu?). Our second attempt, adapted from this recipe in the New York Times, yielded a true polenta pancake in all its glorious perfection.

1 cup coarse-ground corn meal
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/3 cups boiling water
1/2 tbsp chickpea flour
1 1/2 tbsp whole wheat flour (plus extra if needed)
Olive oil (yes, extra virgin as always)
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
a scant 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Mix the cornmeal and salt in a medium bowl and add the boiling water. Whisk immediately to combine and let sit for 10 minutes to allow the cornmeal to soften and absorb most of the water. Stir in the flours halfway through.

Slowly stir in the milk with a wooden spoon until the batter is "spreadable but still thick," as it says in the original recipe. (You can add another 1/2 tbsp whole wheat flour if needed to keep it from getting too thin.) Stir in 2 tbsp olive oil, the vanilla, and the toasted pine nuts.

Heat a nonstick skillet or frying pan over medium heat. When very hot, brush quickly with olive oil (you want a thin layer along the bottom) and then pour in the batter in 1/4 or 1/3 cup scoops. The scoops should spread out slowly in the pan -- if they don't spread, add a tbsp more milk to the remaining batter, and if they spread out quickly and get too thin, add a little more flour.

Cook for 2-3 minutes until the edges look dry and the bottoms have turned a lovely medium golden brown. Flip carefully, and cook another couple minutes until both sides are golden. Keep the pancakes warm as you cook the next batch (either on a plate on the stove under foil or in the oven). Try not to stack the pancakes too high on the plate, since they'll start to stick together.

Serve with a little butter and maple syrup, or raspberry jam, or blackberries, or whatever else strikes your fancy over the top.

Serves 2-3.