Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween's inspiration...balsamic roasted pumpkin

As I mentioned earlier today on Martha Stewart Living radio, I LOVE me some Halloween (yes, including a few nibbles of candy corn here and there -- see last year's post on Halloween treats). I also love pumpkin and generally have a mild obsession with it from September through November. Pumpkin's packed with good nutrients, antioxidants, fiber, vitamins A and C and for a mere 49 calories a cup, you can't really go wrong.
Instead of the standard pumpkin breads, cookies and muffins, I decided to tackle pumpkin in it's entirety a few weeks back (it's not easy chopping up a whole pumpkin no matter how good your knife is). What came out of my chopping session was a recipe so delicious, I can't stop thinking about it. Taste-test it for yourself...
Balsamic Roasted Pumpkin with Lentils, Goat Cheese & Crispy Fried Shallots
Makes 4-6 servings

1 small to medium pumpkin, chopped and peeled *if it's too difficult to peel prior to roasting, allow pumpkin to cool and remove skin afterwards
1 cup dried French lentils
4 oz goat cheese (1 small log)
1 shallot, peeled and cut into thin rounds or half-moon shapes
olive oil for "frying" the shallots
1-2 Tbsp olive oil for drizzling, extra for roasting
6 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 4oo degrees. Soak lentils for 10 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, toss pumpkin with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and season lightly with salt.
Spread on a cookie sheet or in a roasting pan and roast until soft, about 30-40 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook lentils in salted, boiling water until soft, about 30 minutes.
Heat balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan on medium-low and reduce to about half, about 10-15 minutes.
Pour about 1 inch worth of olive oil into a small-medium heavy pan or skillet (enough oil to cover shallots). Heat oil over medium-high and fry shallots for 3 to 5 minutes until crispy, golden brown. Remove and drain excess oil on a paper towel.
Toss pumpkin with balsamic reduction and mix with lentils and goat cheese. Drizzle with remaining tablespoon of olive oil and garnish with crispy shallots.

On tap for tomorrow is the food-filled recap of my weekend in Madison, WI and the ridiculously awesome Dane Co. farmers market!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The best of fall...from zucchini bread to roasted pumpkin

With the chilly weather of the past few weeks, I've taken to turning up the oven and keeping things warm with some great fall comfort foods (my apartment building has yet to turn the heat on so I figured I'd rather cook than freeze to death). Cold weather comfort food obviously has a different meaning for everyone - whether we're talking mac n' cheese or a plate full warm brownies. For me, it's memories of my mom's pumpkin bread, steaming bowls of split pea soup and my dad's infamous spaghetti sauce. Here's the first post in a mini round-up of recent recipes from my own kitchen that take advantage of fall's seasonal produce and the cool weather.
Zucchini Bread with Walnuts
I tend to get overly excited at the farmers market and buy a little too much on occasion, so when I found two lonely zucchinis sitting in the fridge, I couldn't bare to let them go to waste. Zucchini bread seemed like the perfect use--I'm a sucker for a warm, toasty slice with a tiny dab of butter. I adapted the recipe below from Smitten Kitchen and swapped half the flour for whole wheat, half the oil for applesauce and tossed in walnuts and a nutty-cinnamon topping. The result is a killer bread that's a tad lighter, packed with fiber and vitamins A and C from the zucchini and heart-healthy fats from the walnuts.
*Makes 2 loaves, about 10-12 servings per loaf

3 eggs
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups grated zucchini (about 2 small zucchini)
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3 tsp cinnamon
1/8-1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts + extra (about 1/4 cup) for topping
1/4 cup brown sugar for topping
1/4 tsp extra cinnamon for topping

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease 2 loaf pans.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs and add in oil, sugar, zucchini and vanilla. Mix well.
3. Combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda and powder, salt and nuts in a separate bowl. Stir into the egg mixture and blend.
4. Pour batter evenly into two pans. Mix extra walnuts, brown sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle atop each loaf.
5. Bake loaves for 60-70 minutes until golden brown and a tester or toothpick comes out clean if inserted into the center of each loaf.

Up next tomorrow, just in time for Halloween...Balsamic Glazed Pumpkin with Lentils, Goat Cheese and Crispy Fried Shallots.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fall at the Farmers Market...Plain old pretty

I walked through Union Square's greenmarket earlier this week and couldn't help but snap a few pics of all the amazing colors and mountains of fall produce that have come into season. Wondering what's in season at the moment? A few options for your autumn grocery list include: apples (a zillion different varieties, winesap's my favorite currently), squashes like butternut, spaghetti and acorn, pumpkin, beans, potatoes, eggplant and pears among others. Take a look for yourself. Here's a mini visual feast for your eyes...just in time for lunch!

Monday, October 12, 2009

What you can learn from Tom Colicchio in 45 minutes...

It's a little hard to miss Tom Colicchio -- his notorious bald head, his honest (sometimes brutally honest) commentary as head judge on Top Chef and his amazing command of the kitchen and focus on seasonal ingredients. Yes, I've written about Tom before, clearly I'm a fan, but this post comes fresh off of
a) meeting the acclaimed chef in person yesterday (my entire week i
s made!) and b) watching him move swiftly through not one but four different types of confit dishes (lemon, tomato, tuna and pork butt) in under 45 minutes...and still have time for humorous banter with the audience. FYI, confit is virtually anything, meat, fruit or vegetable, slowly cooked and preserved in fat, often its own fat like duck confit.
I was lucky enough to catch Tom's culinary demo in conjunction with Food Network's annual NYC Wine & Food Festival that occurred over the weekend bringing chefs, members of the food industry and food-lovers together for demonstrations, tastings, educational seminars, book signings and more.
But back to the bald chef. Before I give you a sneak tasting of his tomato confit dish, here's what I loved most about Tom's discussion (and why he's one chef in particular I'll continue to chatter about)...

1. He could care less about recipes. He consistently speaks about learning how to work with your food, rather than follow a recipe. It's not about the exact amounts or ensuring you have each and every ingredient on hand. It's about mastering techniques and methods, experimenting and creating, so that you're able to feel at ease in the kitchen. You're mastering cooking, not the ability to follow a single recipe to the tee. Take a flip through his cookbook, Think Like a Chef and you'll understand what I'm talking about.
2. He likes things in moderation. Sure, confits traditionally are made with A LOT of fat (whether it's duck fat, pork fat or olive oil like Tom used yesterday). But he made the point to emphasize balance at mealtimes and small portions, and to call out that processed junk is the primary problem our overweight society is faced with (THANK YOU, Tom!). Real food, good food in smaller portions and leading a balanced lifestyle, exercise and all. When you're focused on that, a little confit in your diet isn't a big deal -- the majority of the fat stays behind in the pot and you come away with major flavor and taste in a few bites.

3. He's big on seasonality and he's prepared. I'm always writing about making an effort to shop and cook seasonally on this blog and Tom is just hammering it home for me (and you). Better flavor, better taste, better nutrients, means you're a happy eater. Creating items and having things prepped and stored away ahead of time allows you to whip up a speedy, healthy meal in no time. No more excuses for the delivery guy.

With all that said, here's Tom's recipe...wait, let's say 'method' instead, for tomato confit.

Tomato Confit
*This is great for end of season or out of season tomatoes that don't have a ton of flavor left in t
Cut tomatoes in half, place them face down on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a healthy amount of olive oil (we're talking a good half-inch or more). Toss on top some sliced garlic and sprigs of thyme. Cook slowly at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.
Peel off the skin, add additional olive oil and place back in the oven at 300 degrees until the tomatoes cook down, shrink in size, about half, and are completely soft. Remove from oven and pack those babies in...more oil! Jar them or store in them in an air-tight container.
Use the confit to top braised lamb shoulder or grilled fish or chicken, or toss in with some pasta for a quick meal or flavorful side dish. Any confit will last for a good 6 or 7 months in the refrigerator, just be sure not to touch it with your fingers, otherwise it'll spoil.

Here's Tom in action...and just a final note, he mentioned that he's in the process of filming a documentary on obesity and the connection between hunger, type-II diabetes and obesity. Good stuff, Tom.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Gourmet

There's a lot of mourning going on in the food world this week. Conde Nast announced on Monday that it will be closing it's long-standing culinary magazine, Gourmet, at the ripe age of 68. Under editor Ruth Reichl's helm for the past decade, Gourmet explored and presented food, culinary trends, culture and travel in such a wonderful, inspiring, delectable way...it will surely be missed. What's an avid reader and subscriber to do? Get cooking! Flip through your last few issues or jump onto gourmet.com to snag a few tasty recipes and celebrate all that the magazine brought to its readers.
And if you're looking for what's up next for Ms. Reichl, keep an eye out for her new cookbook, Gourmet Today. Sure to be a good one.