Tuesday, January 27, 2009

HERBED BUTTERMILK & BLUE CHEESE DRESSING

The other day I was on the phone to my mom and I don't know how it came up but we started talking about buttermilk. For me, the focus quickly turned to dressings, because I love making dressings with buttermilk. It's rich and creamy and low in fat. 

I was on a diet once (well, I tried anyway) and I used to fill my days -- and stomach -- with a lot of fresh vegetables. I love fresh vegetables of course, but sometimes I just craved something naughty too, so I made a buttermilk blue cheese dressing that was only about 50 calories for 1/4 cup! And it was great. I put it on my veggies, but also my grilled meats and I even dipped those nasty baked potato chips in it.  Those baked chips are so not worth it by the way. Just get the regular chips and eat less.  I live, and I learn.

When I toss together a batch of buttermilk dressing, I don't add mayonnaise and I don't add cornstarch. I thicken mine with IMO, that imitation sour cream often used by the lactose intolerant. I use it because it's more stiff than regular sour cream, and I like that you can keep a tub in the fridge for 6 months and it never goes bad! Great for those of us who don't use it very often. Anyway, I have seen some recipes that call for thickening the buttermilk on the stove with a little cornstarch. I have never tried that method. Here is how I do it:

1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup IMO imitation sour cream (or regular sour cream will work too)
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
1 teaspoon coarse ground pepper, more to taste

I put it all in a stainless bowl and grab my wire whisk and twirl and twirl and twirl. Whisk until ingredients are combined and smooth. The blue cheese will still remain somewhat chunky, but the sour cream and buttermilk should be combined. Adjust seasonings to taste - I like a lot of pepper and this does need a fair amount of salt to balance the flavors. I use dried thyme because I make a batch large enough for the whole week, and fresh herbs will turn black after about 24 hours. If you make a small batch or will eat it all immediately, be my guest and use fresh. Dressing will thicken over the next few hours in the refrigerator. 


Saturday, January 24, 2009

TURNIPS WITH BUTTERY CHANTERELLE MUSHROOM STUFFING

Who eats turnips? We never did when I was a kid, and as far as I know, none of my friends mom's made them either.  I never even tasted a turnip -- that I know of -- until I was in my 30's.  They're not bad. Nothing special in my opinion, but not bad. I guess most people just mash them? Personally, I'd rather have mashed potatoes. 

There is a very nice restaurant in Los Angeles called Providence. It is the first, and so far only, place I have ever had a delicious turnip. They took baby turnips and stuffed them with mushroom stuffing. It was so unique tasting, and so fantastic that every time I see a turnip now I think of Providence. 


Here is a similar preparation...

Get the smallest turnips you can find. 

I use an apple core tool and carve out the center. If they don't stand up well, which most won't, cut a small slice off the bottom so they have a flat surface to stand on and don't roll around spilling the stuffing. 
 
The stuffing will be done before the turnips, so I suggest steaming them for about 5-10 minutes until they are about 1/2 cooked. Be careful not to overcook them, we just need a little head start so they are cooked through when done. I find they overcook easily. You can go from hard to mush in very little time, so just keep checking them with a fork and you want them to be softened a bit, but definitely still firm.  

I took one large Chanterelle mushroom and cut it into a very small dice, along with 2 large cloves of garlic. Then I melted about 4 tablespoons of butter and sauteed them until the garlic was cooked and fragrant. 

Once the garlic and mushrooms were brown, I added some salt, pepper and enough bread crumbs to bring the stuffing together. 

I stuffed the turnips......

And baked at 350 for about 30 minutes until the stuffing was brown and crispy.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

I'VE NEVER LIKED GROUND TURKEY MUCH, BUT THIS WAS EXCELLENT.

Ground chicken is so much better than ground turkey, in my opinion. But the other night I didn't have any ground chicken, all I had was ground turkey -- And why do I even buy it when I don't care for it? You got me. -- so I had to make it work.

At first I was thinking something along the lines of a Lebanese kibbeh styled thing, but what I ended up with was just a unique meat & vegetable cigar shaped meatballthingamajig. 

1 package ground turkey (usually between 1-1.5 lb.)
1 bunch swiss chard, cooked & chopped
1/4 large onion, cooked with the chard and also chopped
2-3 large cloved garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 eggs, scrambled
salt & pepper

Obviously the biggest problem with ground turkey is that it's often tough and sorta flavorless. So you need to infuse it with as much moisture as possible (vegetables work well) as well as fat for flavor (the butter). And a lot of egg will also lighten the texture, and make it more tender. 



So it goes together like this:

Boil the chard and onion in lightly salted water until tender. Drain and squeeze as much water out as you can. Then chop it up small and drop it into a mixing bowl. 

Add the turkey to the mixing bowl, the 2 scrambled eggs and your salt and pepper.  

Then take the 2 tablespoons of butter and the 1 tablespoon of oil and the chopped garlic and saute on med-low heat until garlic is fragrant and golden brown, cooked through. I like lots of garlic :)  Add garlic, butter and all, to the meat mixture and mix all ingredients together. 

In a sauce pan (I use the same one I cooked the garlic in) cover the bottom with oil and heat.  The meat mixture is quite wet so it's hard to form into meatballs but you can do patties or cigar shapes. Carefully place them in the pan, and brown on all sides. Try not to overcook; leave them in there for just long enough to cook through and brown the sides and they will be tender and will almost melt in your mouth. 

Great for lunch or a snack. Slice it and serve over a salad. It's also a good way to trick the kids into eating swiss chard!  We had them for dinner with some fluffy basmati rice.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

BITTER MELON WITH CRISPY BACON AND FRIED EGG

If you've never had it, bitter melon can best be described as probably the most bitter food you've ever had. It is actually a fruit, and it grows in tropical climates. It's season is April to September, but these days you can find it year round in some Asian stores, and places like Whole Foods.  It is considered the most bitter vegetable. The texture is similar to a bell pepper. 

If you can tolerate bitter food, the nutritional benefits of this ugly little thing are definitely impressive. Bitter Melons are rich in iron. They have twice the beta carotene of broccoli, twice the calcium of spinach, twice the potassium of bananas, and contain Vitamins A, C, B1 to B3, Phosphorus and good dietary fiber. Like most bitter-tasting foods, bitter melon stimulates digestion. It also has been shown to lower blood sugar levels and is widely used to control diabetes. 

There is a very authentic Japanese Restaurant here, Kappo Honda, that we go to often. The first time I ever had bitter melon was there. They saute it with thinly sliced tofu, fried egg and bacon. It is delicious, and I never considered myself to be a fan of bitter food, but this I just LOVE! I often get a second order of it just because I love it that much. The extreme bitter of the melon is perfectly balanced by the egg and tofu and the fat, salt and smokiness from the bacon somehow makes an absolutely perfect neutralizer. It doesn't remove the bitter element, but it just makes it so GOOD!

Although I do not make it as good as they do, I am still going to share my interim recipe for the dish, which is certainly excellent in my opinion. :)  This makes lunch for 2 people, or this could be a side dish for 4 if added to a dinner. 

The melon is long like a bumpy cucumber. Wash it, and there is no need to peel it. The skin is tender and edible. Cut it in half, and core out the seeds and membrane - it is very easily removed with a spoon. 



For this recipe, use 1/2 of the melon. The whole thing could be too overwhelming for a bitter melon newbie. Chop into bite sized pieces, and to eliminate some of the bitterness, blanch in lightly salted boiling water for 1-2 minutes and then drain and drop into ice water to keep the vibrant green color and stop the cooking. Drain and set aside. 


Cut 6 pieces of bacon into bite sized pieces, and cook in a pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil. When the bacon is crispy, remove it from the pan and set aside and add 4 eggs to the remaining oil and bacon fat. Lightly scramble the eggs, letting them get as crispy at the edges as possible. You could also add tofu chunks if you wish, up to 4 ounces.  

When the egg is done, add the melon and bacon back into the pan (and more olive oil if needed) and saute until the melon is heated and lightly browned.  Add salt and pepper to taste. 


I really think the salty smoky flavor of the bacon is what makes the perfect pairing for the bitter component -- so I bet this would also be good with Chipotle & Adobo sauce if you don't want to use bacon? 

Saturday, January 3, 2009

CROQUE-MONSIEUR w/GRUYERE & CROQUE-MADAME

I picked up some Gruyere cheese the other day, so naturally the first thing I thought of was a Croque-Monsieur! And since this was going to be our dinner, I added a fried egg, which then made it a Croque-Madame - A little heartier version. 


HOW TO MAKE A CROQUE-MONSIEUR

It's so simple - basically take white bread, add a dollup of mustard.....

I also like to add some B├ęchamel sauce inside - I swirl it around with the mustard. If you didn't have Bechamel you could probably use a little real mayonnaise and it wouldn't hurt anything. Or, just use mustard only. Your choice.

Add a slice or 2 of thin sliced ham. It's not traditional to pile up a big stack of ham. Just a thin layer is all you need. On top of the ham, add a thin slice of Gruyere or some shredded Gruyere, and top with the other piece of bread.

Now, you can do this 2 ways. Assemble the sandwich and cook it in the oven, turning as it browns, but I just find it so much easier to grill it in a pan with a little butter, and then finish under the broiler.

Once browned, I remove it from the pan and spread on a little more Bechamel. 

Then a good amount of shredded Gruyere.

Finish under the broiler until cheese is bubbly and brown.

For a Croque-Madame, follow the steps above, then add a fried egg on top. 


Because it was dinner, I served it with a salad dressed with olive oil and lemon, and made some tomato soup. 


Thursday, January 1, 2009

HAPPY NEW YEAR!


The first breakfast, first meal, of 2009.