Fennel, Apple, Mushrooms, Raisins, Arugula (aka the “Pretty Near Perfect Fall Salad” post)

Three rules I live by: 1.) Frequent trips to the greenmarket. 2.) Keep your kitchen basics stocked. 3.) Let whatever you have on hand inspire your cooking.

Rule no. 1 sets you up for success: If you always have some variation of locally grown, seasonal produce on hand, you’ve got a great basis for inspiration.

Rule no. 2 helps with time management: You won’t have to drop everything to run to the store for one or two items, wasting 30 minutes or more.

Rule no. 3 is easy — when you follow no. 1 and no. 2. Hence this gorgeous salad, which I pulled together based on what I had on hand.

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The Pretty Near Perfect Fall Salad
Serves 2

1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, some fronds reserved
1 apple, sliced
4 cloves garlic, whole
1/2 c. golden raisins

8 oz. button mushrooms (or baby bellas), thinly sliced
2 sprigs rosemary
Sherry vinegar

Approx. 8 oz. arugula or greens of your choice
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), white balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Add-ons: Protein of your choice — we have wild caught single serve portions of Mahi Mahi from Costco in our freezer. Slivered almonds or cheese would also be delicious additions in the absence of fish. Also, I threw in some leftover pickled onion that I had in the fridge.

Directions: Toss the fennel, apple and garlic cloves in EVOO, salt and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, turning once or twice, until lightly browned. Add the raisins for the last 5 minutes. Separate the fennel and raisins; set aside. Chop the roasted apple slices and slice the garlic thinly; reserve.

Separately, heat 1T EVOO and 1T butter (optional — but recommended) in a large saute pan. Add mushrooms and rosemary and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the reserved apple and garlic. Once the mushrooms are cooked and the liquid has evaporated, add 1T sherry vinegar around the edge of the pan (red wine vinegar or even apple cider vinegar would also work) and stir to incorporate. Continue cooking another five minutes or so, until all of the liquid has evaporated.

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Toss greens in drizzle of EVOO and white balsamic vinegar (regular balsamic vinegar would work as well — white balsamic has a lighter, lightly sweet taste). Salt and pepper lightly.

To plate: Divide salad onto two plates and top with some of the reserved fennel fronds — just a few pieces here and there. Spoon mushroom mixture over salad and gently mix. Add a few more fennel fronds if desired. Top with roasted fennel and raisins.

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Bon Appetit!

Beer-Roasted Chicken & Veggies (aka the “Finally, We’re Cooking With Gas!” Post)

New apartment =s new kitchen =s gas range =s GAME. CHANGING.

Now that we’re cooking with gas… ::pausing to rub palms together in a furtive motion::… drawing a blank except for bad cooking puns…

Eh, eff it. Let’s just cook.

Beer-Roasted Chicken & Veggies
Serves 4

roasting vegetables:
4 ribs celery, chopped
3 parsnips,
peeled & chopped
3 carrots,
peeled & chopped
3 small potatoes, chopped
1 head garlic, cloves peeled
1/2 onion, chopped
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 Tlbs. olive oil (a healthy pour)
salt & pepper to taste


chicken:

1 large broiling chicken — (We purchased one of these fat boys (3.75 lbs.!) from The Meat Hook, a fantastic local butcher shop focusing on local and sustainable products.)
1 lemon, sliced
fresh rosemary
sea salt & pepper to taste

(1) 12 oz. beer … says the chef. One for the clucker, the rest for the homies

1.) Prep celery, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, onion and garlic. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.) Place roasting pan across two stovetop burners set to medium heat; add olive oil and all roasting vegetables, including leaves from rosemary sprigs.

3.) Roast vegetables until they begin to soften and start browning, or about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to evenly distribute heat. Salt and pepper to taste.

4.) Fun alert: As the olive oil dissipates, pour beer over the vegetables.

5.) To prep the chicken, tuck several slices of lemon underneath the skin and line chicken cavity with sprigs of rosemary. Salt and pepper generously.

6.) Once the vegetables have begun to soften — but are still mostly firm — turn off heat. Stuff chicken cavity with vegetable mixture and sliced lemon.

7.) Nest chicken in the center of the vegetables in the roasting pan and bake at 350 degrees for roughly 1 1/2 hours. (Smaller chickens will likely cook quicker.)

9.) At least twice during the cooking time, baste chicken with the broth utilizing a deep spoon or a baster.

10.) For the final 10 minutes, flip the chicken over so the reverse side has a chance to brown.

Let the chicken rest a few minutes, then dive in! We suggest plating the chicken and vegetables with a small side salad, and paring with the same beer you used to cook.

Enjoy!

Baby, It’s Cold Outside? (aka the “Make This Hot-Hot Salad” Post)

Yes, temps are below freezing. And yes, I’m making a salad — no, not iceberg…

… I want all the nutritional value of something dark and green, plus some nice, nutty grains, plus the (possibly) one of the most perfect pork products I’ve yet to discover, loose sausage filling — fresh ground, seasoned, just minus the casing — $3.99/lb at Agata & Valentina, a favorite grocer.

Now THIS is a salad fit for the season:

Winter Sausage Salad
Serves 2

1 c. cooked brown/wild rice blend of your choice, (I had on hand a package of Lundberg’s Wild Blend, wild and whole grain brown rice)
1/3 lb. loose, uncooked sausage meat (you can always just remove the casing)
1/2 medium red onion, roughly diced
2 ribs celery, chopped
1c. – 1 1/2 c. chopped red cabbage (depending on your preferences)
3c. loose mixed greens
slivered almonds or other whole nuts (optional)
olive oil, salt and pepper to taste

1. First, get the rice going because it’s probably going to take an hour to cook. Follow instructions on the package to make the rice, which will yield 2 cups.

2. Start up the rest of the cooking about 20 minutes before the rice is done. Sautée the cabbage, onion and celery on medium-low heat in a tablespoon or two of olive oil for about 5 minutes, or until the onion and celery are translucent and the cabbage has softened somewhat. Set aside.

3. In same frying pan, cook the loose sausage meat until browned thoroughly (7-10 minutes).

4. Mix the cabbage, onion, celery mixture into the sausage; add 1 c. of the cooked rice. Mix thoroughly.

5. Now, here’s the trick: While hot, pack the rice and sausage mixture on top of the salad greens and let rest for 60 seconds — the heat from the warm mixture will slightly wilt the greens.

6. Toss evenly and sprinkle with nuts, then serve into bowls.

Monday: 110% Vindicated by Stuffed Bell Peppers Success (aka the “When a Market Offers You Three Types of Ground Meat in One Package — Buy It” Post)

Just ask anyone who’s been within 100 feet (okay, maybe 10 feet is more reasonable) of these stuffed peppers.

“Oh my god, it smells amazing,”

“I was going to ask you, where can I get some of that,”

“Something smells sooo good. Did you make that?!”

Why yes, yes I did.

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Started with an itch for chili rellenos (an entirely different beast) that I caught watching part of a dumb episode of Bobby Flay’s Throwdown show. I had peppers on my mind.

Then I found these really bulbous ones on sale for cheap at my local fruit-veggie stand on York Street in the Upper East Side. Inner monologue: “Really, two for $1? Shit that’s cheap.” “Alright, they may not be pobleno, but they’ve got potential.” (I bought four.)

I also had a box of Reese’s wild rice that I’ve been wanting to use. Call it the Minnesotan in me, but I adore wild rice —  it’s everything good about rice, only better: Granular, nutty, earthy, each grain fiercely independent and boasting actual nutritional value.

Bell peppers, rice, check, check. At this point I turned to the Internet. Hands down, the most influential recipe that I came across was this one, which opened my eyes to three great ideas:

No. 1: Slice the bell peppers in half. Who needs a whole stuffed thing, anyhow?

No. 2: Stuff the pepper halves with a ground meat-based mix (plus onion, egg, fresh herbs, etc.), not purely veggie-on-veggie, which can sometimes end up being watery, bland and … sad.

No. 3: Start off the peppers in a frying pan, a good few minutes on each side, before lining up on a baking tray in the oven. Dang, pan start and oven finish? You mean exactly the same method as so many other proteins? Must be on the right track.

photo-10I couldn’t find any single recipe to try, so this was me winging it. Truly, a BLD Project original recipe:

Banging Stuffed Bell Peppers

Serves 8

4 bulbous bell peppers, color of your choosing
2/3 of one small, white onion (to your liking)
2/3 of one stalk of celery, rinsed and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
5-6 crimini mushrooms, cleaned and diced
¼ c. fresh flat-leaf parsley, loosely chopped (to your liking)
1 lb. ground meat of your choice — get creative
1 egg
1 c. cooked wild rice

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1. Get the water for the rice boiling because it’s going to take nearly an hour to cook.

2. Wash and core the bell peppers, meaning, make the smallest hole possible on top so you can extract the seed chamber inside. Cut each bell pepper in half, vertically. Trim off any membrane inside that annoys you (although it really doesn’t matter). This is not unlike cleaning a pumpkin.

3. Prep onion, celery, garlic and mushrooms. In a saute pan, low heat, olive oil, saute onion and celery. Set aside. In the same pan, no rinse necessary, saute the garlic and the mushrooms. Set aside.

4. While the rice is still finishing, boil another pot of water and gently blanch each of the bell pepper halves. Two or three minutes mostly submerged in boiling water — softens them up. No need to run under cold water. Just throw them back into the strainer.

5. Once the rice is done, fold the egg, the onion/celery mix, the garlic/mushroom mix, 1 c. wild rice, the fresh parsley, salt and pepper into the ground meat (I stumbled upon a veal/beef/pork combo at my local Food Emporium that was selling for $3.99/lb — that ended up being amazing).

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6. Mix thoroughly with your hands. Put your back into it.

7. Stuff each of the pepper halves so that they are ever-so-slightly mounding with stuffing.

8. Pan fry on both sides until you start getting some serious browning, or about 5-7 minutes on each side. (Really, don’t be gentle, these things are hard to overcook in a frying pan.)

9. Finish off in the oven at 350 degrees, another 10-12 minutes, depending your preference of done-ness and the intensity of your oven … but, let the record note, in my opinion it’s always better to have underdone meat than overdone meat — a microwave can finish off underdone meat in 30 seconds, whereas there is no going back once it has gone too far.

KP: So Yeah, I Know How To Make Really Good Quiche (Here’s How)

Quiche and I, we just get each other. It’s a natural evolution from one of my earliest cooking comfort zones, eggs, which are one of my Dad’s specialties — and so they’re one of mine, too.

But it goes deeper than that: Quiche is not just about eggs. This dish as I’ve interpreted it (and probably bastardized it) lies at the nexus of eggs, the utilitarian meal (could be breakfast/lunch/dinner or all of the above) (I have a tough time with the strictly breakfast-for-breakfast-only foods), and the kitchen sink dish — really, so long as your mix-ins are not rotten and play nicely together, and you chop them up small enough, you can probably stick them in a quiche and it’ll turn out just fine.

In this case, I had a ton of meat from a lovely rotisserie chicken that needed a home. I had plenty of orphaned eggs, left over from different six-count or 12-count packages. I had a fat zucchini that was asking to be utilized, and a pair of red bell peppers that were about to give their death gasp. (I ended up using about half of one. The remainder was too far gone.)

Quiche doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s why:

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Fail -Safe Kitchen Sink Quiche

4 eggs
1. c. milk (of your choice)
1c 1/2 meat of your choice, diced small (if you use something really salty, like bacon or smoked salmon, adjust significantly)
1c 1/2 shredded cheese (your choice)
1c minimum, preferably 1c 1/2 fresh vegetables, diced or thinly sliced. Can be anything: baby broccoli florets, zucchini, bell peppers, onion, … get creative, but keep it basic.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Key no. 1: Prep all vegetables and protein first. This is the longest bit. Mix eggs and milk in a bowl, set aside. Layer dry quiche ingredients into the frozen (slightly thawed is better) pie crust. Pour egg mixture evenly over ingredients.

Key no. 2: Gently, ever so gently, stir/mix ingredients and egg mixture within pie crust so you get a little bit of everything spread out — if you chose a good combination, it might start to look festive, little dots of color, like sprinkled confetti.

Manage to slide liquidy quiche into the oven — whew. You’re almost there. Now all it has to do is bake for 45-60 minutes.

Key no. 3: Do not, absolutely resist, taking the quiche out just because it’s puffed up in the center, it looks like it’s baked, it’s been in the oven for more than 45 minutes and it smells damn good. You’re so wrong.

Let it be … The quiche will continue to puff and continue to brown a deep, golden color around the edges and the whole apartment will continue to smell tantalizing — deal with it.

The point at which the quiche should be taken out and left to rest/cool for at least 10-15 minutes before cutting into it is when it starts to look so golden brown you’re on the verge of worrying it’s going to burn/be overdone. (And, the toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.)

Sprinkle with salt and pepper to your liking, and that’s Fail-Safe Kitchen Sink Quiche.

Friday: Milk, Banana, Peanut Butter Smoothie (The “Make This at Home!” Post)

What do I remember about my first peanut butter in a smoothie?

Scene: UCLA food court, Arthur Ashe building, central campus. Small, non-Jamba Juice smoothie franchise. Have no idea what it was called, but “rise and shine” or “breakfast boost” (or something like that) was in there somewhere. As was frozen yogurt, fruit, granola, honey and peanut butter, and who knows what else.

All I know is sucking that thing down, from its giant, styrofoam cup with with dancing fruit pieces on it, on my way to my Friday morning class … it was bliss.

photo-1photo-2…Fast-forward to where I rediscover my love of peanut butter in smoothies, while standing in my tiny kitchen in the Upper East Side and trying to make the most of a ripe banana. Staring into my tiny fridge for inspiration, I remembered the peanut butter-enhanced smoothie of college years.

Here’s my go at my own, simpler version:

photo-36-10 ice cubes (depending on size and desired iciness)
1 banana, broken into chunks
2 Tlbs. (hearty scoop) of crunchy peanut butter, Whole Foods’ 365 brand
3/4 c. (just more than a hearty splash) of milk (I found this organic, grass-fed, nonfat milk at a nearby natural foods store for just $3.99 / half-gallon!)

Into blender … and blend. So icy-cool, so frothy, so sweetly banana-y, with that underlying peanut butter reassurance that this smoothie also packs some serious sustenance.

TIP: Jamba Juice’s Peanut Butter Moo’d smoothie, which is more milkshake than smoothie, in both ingredients and calories, is a poser. If you go for it, go in eyes wide open.