Thursday, October 16, 2008

Scrumptious Health Bomb

Once upon a time in Montpelier, Vermont we spent many a lazy morning leafing through our friend Sandra's cookbooks over coffee.  There was something magical about that kitchen space with its long wooden table, windows to the endlessly green world of Vermont, dogs underfoot and John's impeccable music selections piped in from mysterious locations.  

We learned things there like how to cook tofu in such a way that anyone, really anyone would love it.  We also discovered these black bean and oat cakes. They jumped off the page of Mollie Katzen's Moosewood low-fat favorites book, which is a dream for any one interested in internationally inspired, healthy, light food that is not weak on the flavor front.  

On this particular day we had a craving for something clean for dinner after eating only focaccia and chocolate croissants all day in the city and that craving led us right back to this well tested favorite. So in this picture we have the cakes made up mostly of black beans and raw rolled oats--no kidding, it works-- with carrot, onion, garlic and some mexican seasonings.  They are seated atop a pile of spicy green chard, onion, garlic and some of those gorgeous red carrots.  Normally we cook and puree golden beets for the sauce on this dish...but in this case we had some Mole Amarillo from the Red Iguana restaurant in Salt Lake City.  You just can't say no when you have mole looking you in the eyes. We seared some asparagus and rested them on top, then enjoyed the whole healthy experience....which was exactly what we were in the mood for!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Study of Corn

Sometimes there's nothing as intriguing for a cook as taking one ingredient and riffing on it several ways in the same dish.  Corn opens itself to this task maybe more than any other staple.  Crunchy, juicy, unctuous, smooth - all its textures.   Sweet, toasty, flinty, buttery-without-butter - all its flavors.  Corn is an entity.  Cooked into a porridge of polenta, grilled on the cob and buttered, popped into a little white explosion of movie theater joy. It is limitless and yet it is all corn.

In this dish we have a polenta souffle over a puree of sweet corn and poblano rajas topped with a salad of arugula, hot smoked salmon, and avocado all dressed with a pumpkinseed/chili yogurt.  We cooked polenta as we always do with lots of garlic, herbs, milk and chicken stock and then turned it into a souffle base with egg yolks and parmesan.  Then we folded in some beaten egg whites, popped it in the oven and in twenty minutes: a pillowy but cornmeal-coarse souffle.

Corn shows us its silky side when pureed and the marriage of sweet corn and roasted poblano peppers is one of the truly great combos in the vegetable kingdom.  The raspy but deep poblano plays high and low over the sweet, sweet corn creating this spicy/roasty flavor profile.   We often toss in a pinch of turmeric when we work with pureed corn, which allows its luminous yellow color to reassert itself.

And the yogurt dressing allows for the arrival of one corn's other great friends: pumpkin seeds.  We actually took the leftover dressing from the Rick Bayless-inspired salad from a few posts ago and mixed it with equal parts plain whole milk yogurt.  The result is not bashful as it brightens the rich avocado and king salmon, and then rains down on the corn below like contrails of flavor.

As I look back I can't help but think a little chili-spiced popcorn speckled about the plate.... 

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Happy Fall, Happy Lamb Chops

Last night in the San Francisco area we had our first bona fide "storm" of the season.  What does this mean?  Wind blowing-oh my- and for the first time since March (outside of a few drops one night in April) It RAINED in Marin county!  I know a lot of people around here are sad to see the endless days of sunshine interrupted by some clouds and showers, eventually giving way in December to some full on weeks of nearly constant rain....but we are quite happy to feel the cool breeze ruffling the papers on our desk.  AAahhh.  I was listening closely at just the right time and I heard the whistling wind whisper "lamb chops" very quietly in my ear.  

We have a not so secret love affair with health foods, hanging out with the bulk bins, always having a "grain drawer" stuffed with millet, quinoa, various nuts and seeds and finding it unacceptable to be without kale in our refrigerator.  We also love to make our all natural kashi bars and peanut butter apple oat cookies, handsome enough that our friend Matt Frank renamed them "Lookies".   We adore the wide world of veggies and treat them like neglected children, lavishing attention on them as they realize their full potential.  But we work (as cooks) for a woman who really loves the classics and needs her dose of meat, giving us the perfect opportunity to make some really yummy comfort food.

Now on to the dish in the picture.  Rack of Lamb.  So simple to make and what a delivery.  We liberally seasoned this beauty with salt, pepper and a mix of dried green herbs--probably Napa Style's Herbes de Napa.  We seared it on all sides and popped it into the oven.  On the side is a sweet potato puree and a warm salad of greens and multi colored carrots.  The icing on the cake is that gorgeous red sauce under the lamb....a red wine pan sauce made just after searing the lamb so it is rich with meaty flavor and maybe just a small pat of butter swirled in at the end.  Seriously good stuff.  I didn't realize what a fan I would become of making and eating lamb chops, but it has happened.  So easy to make and flavor that never fails to impress me every time!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Mouth full of Excitement

Even though it is somewhat rare for us to repeat dishes, we have enjoyed this salad so many times.  It is actually a Rick Bayless recipe from his cookbook "Mexican Everyday".  We love Rick's style and Mexican food consistently ranks as a favorite of ours.  This salad really packs a flavor punch making it hard to resist.  

The elements that make this up in combination with each other really can't be beat.  Along with greens of your choosing, mango and avocado are key players, and smoked salmon makes it a perfect light dinner that is good any time of year.  Rick suggests bacon instead of the salmon, but since we LOVE smoked salmon, we always use it...but sometimes yield to the temptation to crumble a piece or two of bacon over the top!  

The real show stopper here is the bright and lively dressing.  The first step is pan toasting pepitas, or green raw pumpkin seeds.   This is not only the lovely base of this punchy dressing, but a good time all by itself!  You put these little devils in the hot pan and if you are into this sort of thing, you can stand with your face in pretty close and watch them go from flat to almost round.  Cheap thrills for the easily entertained.....we love it!

After the pepitas are puffed and toasty we remove them and add olive oil to the pan, along with whole garlic cloves and a jalepeno.  Once the garlic and jalepeno are softened, they are added along with the oil to a blender with lime juice, salt, honey.....and some of the pepitas.  This is whizzed up and the resulting dressing is creamy, spicy and delicious.  It is a great idea to make a little more of this than you will need for the salad because you can immediately see that it would be good on or in anything!  The salad is topped with more of the pepitas for a little crunch and cheese (queso fresco or feta) is optional, but it really doesn't need it.  This one is a keeper and we find ourselves craving it like clockwork about once a month.....maybe dinner tomorrow night......?