Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Review Series: #1.2 – More from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking

I have to admit it: I gravitate towards Heidi Swanson’s cheesiest recipes. In my last post, I brought you her warm quinoa with oozing Tallegio. Now I bring you a crunchy crostini with chive speckled goat cheese and pearly lentils.

Before I move on to the recipe, a word about the book, now that I’ve spent a little more time with it.

Yep, it’s health food. It’s a nice place to find wholesome, fresh ideas, and to experiment with whole ingredients—let’s be honest: ingredients you’re likely to find in the health food store (teff flour, wild rice flour and amaranth, to name a few).

And that’s just fine. Swanson isn’t preachy, just earnest. And frankly, when she told me to use whole grain baguette (as she did for the crostini recipe), I opted for white baguette because that’s what I found on my way home. No biggie. But the spirit is to use as many whole, natural and interesting ingredients as possible, and I respect that. It’s just that I tend to gravitate towards cheese…

For these crostini, Swanson recommends beluga lentils. Beluga lentils are deep black and firm, which makes them look like the glossy onyx caviar. I suspect that’s the point. I used French lentils, which also hold their shape nicely.

Lentil Crostini with Chive Speckled Goat Cheese
Adapted from a recipe in Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking
Makes enough to pass around at a small party

For the lentils:
1 ¼ cups dry beluga or French lentils, picked over for small stones, and rinsed
4 cups of water
1 or 2 teaspoons sea salt

For the crostini:
1/3 cup cold-pressed olive oil
1 whole-wheat baguette, cut on a bias into ¼ inch-thick slices
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, halved

For the goat cheese spread:
8 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, at room temperature
A splash of milk
A large bunch of fresh chives, washed and finely chopped (with a few longer snips reserved for garnish)
Fine-grained sea salt, to taste

First, make the lentils. In a large saucepan, bring the lentils and water to a boil. Bring down to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, or until tender but still whole.  Add the salt and stir. Drain the lentil and set them aside.

For your crostini: Set the oven to 350 F. With a pastry brush, lightly coat both sides of each slice with the olive oil. Set on a rack, in a single layer, and place in the oven for about ten minutes. They should come out lightly golden.  When they are just cool enough to handle, use the cut sides of your garlic to gently rub one face of each toast.

Now, make the goat cheese spread. In a medium sized bowl, use a fork to mash up the cheese. Add just enough milk to give it a nice, spreadable consistency. Incorporate the chives, and add salt to taste.

To assemble each crostini, spread a spoonful of chive cheese on the garlicky face of the toast, and top with a small spoonful of lentils. Garnish with chives, pile onto a plate, and serve.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Review Series: #1.1: Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking

Cryptic title, right? That’s because I’m embarking on an adventure. Let me explain:

I have a lot of cookbooks. An embarrassing amount of cookbooks. To give you an image: On Saturday, we had some friends over for drinks and some chickpea stew. At one point in the evening, some beers in, one of our guests was sitting with his back to my vertical tower of cookbooks—my nearly seven foot tall tower of books, the shelf strapped to the wall with a heavy leather strap. The tower started to teeter dangerously. I nearly didn’t mention it, because there’s something mortifying about saying it out loud: “Hey buddy, you see that ludicrous tower of books? The one that makes me seem insane? I think it might crash to the floor if you lean back any more.”

Now, there were no bloody accidents, but it got me thinking: that’s a lot of books. There’s no reason to be embarrassed about having books, except that if I continue to collect beautiful cookbooks, I need to make sure I cook from all of them.

So, here’s the project: I have about ninety cookbooks, I counted them. I’m going to cook from all of them.

Most of these books I love. Some of them I like. And a few gather dust because they are, frankly, terrible. 

I’m going to try to review them all. Naturally, it makes sense to do this on La Cuisinette. I’ll spend about a week with each book. I’ll post two recipes from every book on this blog.

I don’t know exactly what this will mean: will I only post recipes from my new “Review Series?” Probably not. I still want to post simple photos from time to time, or a family recipe, for example. But, for the most part, I’ll be cooking through a very, very giant pile of books.

#1.1: Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking

It makes sense to start with Heidi Swanson. Her blog, 101 Cookbooks, was inspired with a similar great-many-cookbooks dilemma.

Super Natural Cooking is, as you might guess, a bit of a health cookbook. She proposes five ways to approach cooking: keeping a pantry full of natural foods, using a range of whole grains, using colourful, nutrient-rich ingredients, having a “superfoods” repertoire and incorporating a variety of natural sweeteners in lieu of processed sugar. 

Phew. I know that seems like a lot. But her approach isn’t preachy, it’s just earnest. Besides, she advocates for cheese, it seems, which pretty much guarantees my vote.

Here’s what I’ve made recently, in an effort to “Explore a Wide Range of Grains”: Quinoa and Tallegio.

Quinoa is packed with protein. This recipe meal makes for a savory, textured and wholesome meal, with a very satisfying melty-cheesy bit now and then. Ms. Swanson’s recipe calls for Crescenza cheese, which I couldn’t get. But she also recommended Tallegio or Brie. And the addition of green beans is mine; it adds an extra crunch to textured grain.

Another quick note: The original recipe calls for you to cover the quinoa while it cooks. I forgot to do so until the last five minutes. It turned out perfectly that way.

Quinoa and Tallegio
Adapted from a recipe by Heidi Swanson, in Super Natural Foods
Serves 4 as a hefty lunch

6 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
2 cups quinoa, well-rinsed
1 cup white wine
A generous pinch of coarse salt
2 cups water
2 generous pinches of hot red pepper flakes (or to taste)
½ pound to 1 pound of mushrooms, cleaned with a paper towel and sliced
A handful of green beans, tails removed and chopped
A crank or two of pepper from the mill
4 oz Tellegio or Brie cheese, torn into bite-sized pieces

In a large saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the garlic and onions until translucent and fragrant.  Now add the quinoa, the wine, and the salt. Bring to a good boil, stirring. When the liquid has reduced somewhat (a matter of a few minutes), add the water and lower the heat right down to a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring from time to time, for about twenty-five minutes, or until the grain is tender, but with a satisfying crunch still left in it. Towards the end of the cooking process, or if the water seems to evaporate too fast, put the lid on until it is cooked.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the pepper flakes and sauté for a few seconds, and then add the mushrooms and green beans. Sauté until the mushrooms are just tender and glistening, and the beans still have a little bite.

To serve, stir the cheese into the hot quinoa, along with some pepper. Pile into bowls, and top with the mushroom mixture. Serve while piping hot.

This would be great with a lunchtime beer to offset the health effects of the quinoa.  

Just as an aside...

The season's first picnic:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Meet the Other Artichoke

Jerusalem artichokes—or sunchokes—are new to me.  I’m new to them, too. But now I know that we get along fabulously, and I plan to have them over very, very often.

They came in a recent vegetable delivery, golden and nubby.  They’re not exactly artichokes, in case you’re wondering. They’re the “nonfibrous, plump tuber” of the North American sunflower, as my reference book, On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, would have it. And I’m sure McGee is right about that, because he was certainly right when he declared the Jerusalem artichoke “pleasantly moist, crunchy, and sweet when raw” and “soft and sweet after brief cooking.” I would also add that it’s vaguely sour, and definitely nutty.

At any rate, they’re lovely the Yotam Ottolenghi way. (Incidentally, Ottolenghi was born in Jerusalem, while the Jerusalem artichoke was not.) The following recipe is inspired by a recipe in his book, Plenty. To his olive oil drizzle, he adds basil. He also tosses fried manouri (or halloumi) cheese at the end, neither of which I had. But I encourage you to try. Like McGee, Ottolenghi knows what he’s talking about.

Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes with Flash Charred Tomatoes
Adapted from a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty

Serves four as a side dish

1 lb Jerusalem artichokes
The juice of two lemons
A few sprigs of thyme
2 cups plus 3 tbsp water
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb cherry tomatoes, halved
salt and pepper

For the parsley oil:

A very large handful of parley leaves, washed and picked from the stems
1 garlic clove
140 ml olive oil
A good pinch of coarse salt

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Combine the first 2 cups of water with the juice of one of the lemons in a medium sized bowl. Peel and slice the Jerusalem artichokes into 1 cm slices, dropping them into the lemon water as you do so (this will keep them from browning).

Drain the artichokes, and place them in an ovenproof dish. Toss with the thyme, the rest of the lemon juice, the last 3 tablespoons of water, one tablespoon of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Cover the dish with tin foil, and roast for 40 to 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the other tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan.  You want it to be quite hot, just on the verge of smoking (but don’t quite let it smoke—that would mean your oil is burning). Flash fry the tomatoes, tossing them occasionally. This might take 3 or 4 minutes. You want them charred, but only just so.

Next, make the parsley oil. Simply whizz the ingredients in a food processor: the parsley, oil, garlic and salt. You want to end up with a consistency you can drizzle.

When your artichokes are ready, they will be tender with a bit of bite left in them. Toss with the tomatoes. Serve hot out of the oven, or at room temperature. Drizzle the parley oil directly onto the plate with the artichokes and tomatoes. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Riverdale Farm

I’ve been posting a lot of photos lately, and not all that many recipes.  La Cuisinette is still about food, of course, but I’m enjoying incorporating bits from my life otherwise.

Last month, we went to Riverdale Farm, near downtown Toronto.  It reminds me of the illustrations in a book from my childhood, with its sloped, old-world farmyard.

 Coming up later in the week: Jerusalem artichokes, roasted with tomatoes.