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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dinner with Juliah

Only a feast is fitting when long-lost friends come to visit.
My dear friend Juliah recently returned from a year-long journey around the world and to celebrate her return, we cooked up quite a dinner.

We found fresh mussels at my local fish market and built the meal around them. Some dishes simply needed to be assembled, none were complicated, and I made the dessert in advance, so it was an easy meal to throw together while we caught up.

  • Heirloom Tomato Salad  Green zebra tomatoes, orange heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, home-made hemp nut pesto
  • Mussels in Vermouth Cream Sauce  Blue mussels, shallot, garlic, vermouth, Santa Julia Chardonnay, organic cream  (Recipe below)
  • Broccoli with Red Wine Vinaigrette  Steamed broccoli, red wine vinegar, garlic, Dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt
  • Coconut Chocolate Ice Cream  Coconut milk, cocoa powder, honey, vanilla  (Recipe below)
  • Fresh Fruit Plate  Concord grapes and white figs
  • Jasmine Pearl Green Tea

Mussels with
Vermouth Cream

It’s best to cook mussels as soon as you buy them, but if you get them in advance, keep them on ice in the fridge. (Place a sheet of aluminum foil between the bivalves and the ice to prevent them from being submerged in water as the ice melts.) Always cook the mussels just before you serve them.

The fresh herb we used in this dish is savory. A member of the square-stemmed mint family, it's related to sage, rosemary and thyme. It has a surprising peppery flavor that works wonders with savory dishes.

If you don’t have savory, substitute another fresh herb, like dill, basil, thyme, rosemary or bay.

2 two-pound bags of live mussels
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
2 tbsp grass-fed butter
¼ cup finely chopped shallot
3 cloves garlic, or more, grated or crushed
Several sprigs savory
½ cup dry white vermouth
1 cup dry Chardonnay or other dry white wine
2 to 4 tbsp grass-fed cream

Scrub the mussels, remove the beards, and discard any that are open and do not close when tapped. Set them aside in a strainer.

In a large pot with a tight-fitting cover, preferably one that is more tall than wide, warm the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and saute until soft. Add the garlic, stir, and continue cooking until it becomes aromatic (less than a minute). Do not burn the garlic. Add the savory and vermouth. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in the white wine and add the mussels.

Cover the pot and allow them to steam until just cooked through, checking after 15 minutes. Cooking time will depend on the size of the mussels. Do not overcook them.

Remove the mussels from the pot and discard any mussels that did not open. Cover to keep warm.

Strain the sauce and stir in 2 tbsp cream Taste and adjust as necessary, adding a bit more more cream or a pinch of sea salt (most likely it will be salty enough).

Fill individual bowls with mussels and pour some sauce over the top. Serve with soup spoons and an extra empty bowl to collect the shells.

If you' re not serving a separate green vegetable or salad, place 1/2 cup steamed chopped beet greens (or chard or spinach) at the bottom of each individual bowl before you fill it with mussels and add the sauce.

Ice Cream

This delicious dairy-free dessert has only 4 ingredients and really is more than the sum of its parts. If you don't have a vanilla bean, you can substitute a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract.

Because the coconut milk will solidify in the fridge and may separate, I blend the mixture again briefly before I put it in the ice cream maker to ensure it will be smooth and well-mixed. I find it most convenient to chill the mixture in the glass pitcher from my blender.

2 cans unsweetened coconut milk (not low-fat)
½ cup plus 2 tbsp natural cocoa powder (non-alkalized)
¼ cup honey
1 vanilla bean, halved and scraped to collect the seeds

Place the freezer bowl of an ice cream maker in the freezer overnight.

Place the coconut milk, cocoa powder and vanilla in a blender. While mixing, drizzle the honey into the blender until completely incorporated. Transfer the mixture to the fridge and chill overnight. 

Once the coconut milk mixture is thoroughly chilled, blend it again briefly and then pour it into the frozen ice cream bowl of an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Initially, the frozen mixture may be soft. Transfer it to a glass container (a 7-cup Pyrex dish is perfect and comes with a cover) and place it in the freezer to harden.

This ice cream is best served after it's been in the freezer for an hour or two. If you freeze it overnight, it can become quite hard, so take it out in advance and allow it to sit at room temperature until it becomes easy to scoop.

Serve as is or garnish with unsweetened coconut flakes.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mizuna with Tomatoes and Garlic


As temperatures drop and fall settles in, salad greens give way to dark green leafy vegetables, at the farmer's market and also in my kitchen.

Mizuna is a green leafy vegetable native to Japan and a member of the Brassicaceae family, well known for its antioxidant and anti-cancer benefits. Sometimes referred to as Spider Mustard, it has long and feathery leaves, tender and juicy stems, and a peppery flavor that is reminiscent of mustard greens.

Smaller leaves can be added to salads and larger leaves stand up well to cooking. Mizuna can be prepared like any other green leafy vegetable: added to stir fry or soup, or simply steamed and drizzled with vinaigrette.

Mizuna was abundant at my farmer's market last Friday so I bought plenty and cooked it up with garlic, onion and orange heirloom tomatoes. I started the dish with anchovies, which gave the sauce a nutty, savory and complex flavor.

If you don't have mizuna, you can substitute another dark green leafy vegetable, like beet greens, Swiss chard or kale.

If you're not a fan of anchovies, I encourage you to try them anyway. They are full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and, surprisingly, they don't make this dish taste fishy. Alternatively, you can start the dish with finely diced pancetta from pasture-raised pigs or add olives and/or capers at the end.

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
3 anchovies
1 small onion, chopped
Pinch crushed red pepper
2 cloves garlic or more, grated, crushed or minced
2 large tomatoes, diced
Ground peppercorn
2 bunches mizuna (or other leafy green)
Sea salt (optional)

Warm the olive oil over medium heat and add the anchovies. Cook until they break down, a couple of minutes. Add the onion and sauté until soft. Stir in the crushed red pepper and garlic. Continue cooking until the garlic becomes aromatic (less than a minute). Do not burn the garlic.

Add the tomatoes and ground peppercorn. Cook until the tomatoes start to break down and form a sauce, about 5 minutes. Add the mizuna, working in batches if necessary, and toss them with the sauce. Cover and cook until tender, stirring occasionally. Do not overcook.

Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary (it may not even need sea salt). Serve immediately.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tat Soi with Tangerine Ginger Sauce

Tat Soi is a dark green leafy vegetable in the Brassicaceae family. Like other crucifers, it contains phytochemicals that can act as powerful antioxidants, detoxify carcinogenic substances, induce cancer cell death, and block the formation of new blood vessels necessary for the proliferation and metastasis of malignant tumors.

Boiling cruciferous vegetables like tat soi can destroy the beneficial compounds, so always eat it raw (unless you have thyroid problems) or cook it quickly (lightly steam or sauté).

With a texture similar to bok choy and a cabbage-like flavor, tat soi is a healthy addition to salads, soups and stir fry. Here I sauté it with a simple sauce that you could toss with any leafy green vegetable. If you love fresh ginger, add the full teaspoon. To make a more mild sauce, use half that amount.

If you don't have tat soi, you can substitute another dark green leafy vegetable, like spinach, chard or beet greens.

Zest and juice of 2 large organic tangerines, or substitute oranges
1/2 to 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 tsp tamari
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
1 bunch tat soi, cleaned, stems and leaves separated
2 cloves garlic

Warm the tangerine juice, zest and ginger in a small saucepan over medium heat until bubbles begin to appear. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the mixture thickens and reduces by half, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the tamari. Taste for seasoning, adjust if necessary, and set aside.

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, stir and cook until it becomes aromatic (less than a minute). Do not burn the garlic. Add the tat soi stems, toss to coat them in the oil and cook until they start to become tender, just a few minutes. Add the green leaves and continue cooking until they have wilted. Remove the skillet from the heat.

Pour the tangerine-ginger sauce mixture over the tat soi and toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Oven-Dried Tomatoes


There is nothing like a great tomato.

Of all the things I buy from local farmers in season, tomatoes are at the top of my list. Vine-ripened and picked fresh, their distinct flavor and juicy texture are strikingly different from bland, watery supermarket varieties.

So, as fall settles in, I snap them up while I can, anticipating the colder temperatures that will bring an end to the now plentiful supply. I eat tomatoes raw with fresh mozzarella, chop them into salsas, toss them into salads, soups, omelets and stir fry, and turn them into sauces that I can freeze to enjoy over the winter. I also dry them in the oven.

Drying tomatoes in the oven not only concentrates their flavor, it also concentrates their nutrients. Tomatoes contain vitamins and fiber, and they are also a rare source of lycopene, a carotenoid with antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. Cooking tomatoes makes lycopene more bioavailable, so oven-dried tomatoes are a better source of this antioxidant than fresh tomatoes.

Studies show that lycopene can be helpful in the prevention and treatment of cancer through its influence on cell-signaling pathways, inducing cancer cell death and preventing the formation of new blood vessels that fuel the growth and spread of tumors. Lycopene has also been shown to increase the activity of natural killer white blood cells that destroy cancerous cells in the body.

Oven drying can be used as a method of preservation and it's a great space saver for people with small kitchens and limited storage space, a common problem in Manhattan. Unlike dehydrated tomatoes, oven-dried tomatoes still have a small amount of moisture (which lends them a wonderfully soft texture) so they need to be stored in the freezer if you don't eat them within a week. But because most of the water has been removed, they will not take up much space.

In my kitchen, oven-dried tomatoes usually don't last long enough to make it to the freezer. Savory and sweet, they are just like candy. Eat them as a healthy snack or add them to dishes in place of fresh or canned tomatoes.

There is only 1 ingredient here: thinly sliced tomatoes. Any good tomatoes will work: red, yellow, orange, green, purple. If they taste delicious when they're fresh, they'll taste even better once they are dried in the oven. I like heirloom varieties, but I use whatever looks good at the market.

If you slice them too thin, they will burn easily.  If you slice them too thick, they will take a long time to dry. I cut slices approximately 3/4 of a centimeter thick. Whatever size you slice, make sure to be consistent so they will all be done at approximately the same time.

Preheat the oven to 225F. Arrange the tomato slices in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with a non-stick silicone baking mat (Silpat or other). Bake until the tomatoes have lost most of their water and are starting to turn brown. This will take an hour or more, depending on the size and thickness of your slices. Be patient and check on them as needed until they are perfectly done. Do not burn the tomatoes.

Cool completely and store in an airtight container in the fridge up to one week or in the freezer for several months.