Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pasting supper together

Recently my husband and I made two dishes that required paste.
    Not glue, of course, but spice pastes: Harissa in one dish, and green curry paste in the other.
    Both recipes, from the pages of Martha Stewart Living, are intensely delicious and very easy to make, making them ideal for weeknights. Both are terrific vegetarian dishes, too.

My husband and I were absolutely in love with Green Vegetable Curry (click for the recipe).
    I take the recipe’s title to have a double meaning – there are various green vegetables in the dish and the curry paste used in it is green too.
    Green curry paste is a type of Thai curry, and is easily found in the Asian foods section of many large supermarkets.
    It is spicy, so my husband and I used just one tablespoon of paste instead of the three listed in the recipe. This made it tame enough that even children could give this recipe a try.
    The dish’s secret ingredient is coconut milk. It mixes beautifully with the curry, shiitake mushrooms, green beans, baby bok choy (we substituted bok choy), bell pepper and basil leaves.
    Be sure to serve this lovely curry over jasmine rice.

Moroccan Vegetable Soup (click for the recipe) was both exotic and comforting at the same time – not an easy feat! It is a nice twist on everyday vegetable soup.
    The dish is flavoured with harissa, a type of North African hot-chile paste. Like curry paste, it is hot and spicy, so we used one tablespoon instead of the two listed in the recipe. Harissa can be found in the Asian foods section of large supermarkets.
    We found Israeli couscous, which is slightly larger than regular couscous, at a bulk/speciality foods store.
    The recipe calls for the main vegetables, carrots and rutabaga, to be cut quite large – three inch- and two inch-long pieces. This was correct, as the vegetables are cooked so as to be tender enough to break up with a spoon while eating them if desired.
    If you have leftovers of the soup, which warm up beautifully in the microwave, be sure to store it separately from the couscous. Then put the two together in a bowl, microwave them, and you’ve got a delicious lunch!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Get some Italian sausage in your stew

My husband and I have always been fans of Italian sausage, the sweet or mild variety. (No hot stuff for us!)
    Italian sausage delivers a hit of awesome to the three things to which it is most commonly added: Pasta, soups and stews (except when it is eaten on its own as a breakfast sausage or grilled and served on a hot dog bun – also delicious, by the way).
    Italian sausage is pork sausage seasoned with fennel and/or anise. It is easily found in supermarkets, most often in the breakfast sausage section. It is packaged in two ways: In links, or in bulk, which does not have casings, similar to ground beef.
    If you know someone who has never eaten sweet or mild Italian sausage, you’re in luck: You’ll really wow them if you make a dish with it in it. They will wonder about the wonderous sweet meat they are eating. How did they go through life without it so long?
    Here is a stew and a soup that use Italian sausage to its delicious utmost. Both are fantastic to make on a chilly weeknight. Add some crusty bread on the side and you’ve got supper.

Chorizo and White Bean Stew (click for the recipe): Ignore the title of the recipe. The recipe calls for Mexican chorizo, a type of pork sausage seasoned with chili peppers, OR Italian sausage, which is what I used. And I used the mild kind.
    This recipe calls for the Italian sausage to be in link form. The recipe says to cook the links on medium heat for 15-20 minutes until browned and cooked through. I found medium to be too hot – the links started burning slightly about 10 minutes in, so I turned the heat down to medium-low and finished off the cooking time.
    The recipe says to crush a few of the cannellini or white kidney beans with the back of a spoon while the stew is cooking, but I found that entirely unnecessary. It is a bit frustrating to do, in fact, so skip this step if you want.

Sausage, Potato and Fennel Chowder (Click for the recipe): The recipe calls for sweet Italian sausage in links, casings removed. If you can find Italian sausage in bulk or ground form without casings in the supermarket, you won’t have to do this step. However, if you can only find it in links, no worries – the casings are easily peeled off in just a matter of minutes.
    This recipe calls for mashing the potatoes in the stew after it has cooked, but as with the white beans in the stew recipe above, I found this to be a useless step which just wastes time. Skip it if you want!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Three coffee-style cakes to warm up your winter

With winter still in full swing, there is still lots of time to hunker down and enjoy the coziness of home with a cup of coffee or tea and a slice of delicious coffee-style cake.
   Although I’m personally not a tea or coffee drinker, I know that there are many of you that are, and that you’ll probably love a piece of one of the three cakes I’m going to tell you about with your favorite hot beverage.

Apple-Walnut Cake (click for the recipe) is a bit of a miracle. It’s exceptionally easy to make, with just one bowl and no mixers required to prepare it, but it yields fantastically-delicious results. It is very family-friendly, and pieces can easily be packed with school and work lunches as much as they can be enjoyed with coffee.
    On epicurious.com, where this recipe is found, the recipe received several rave reviews and no wonder – this simple cake is simply a winner.

Brown Butter-Sour Cream Crumb Cake (click for the recipe) contains the flavor secret of brown butter. This is a technique in which unsalted butter is melted over low to moderate heat and allowed to separate into butterfat and milk solids. The milk solids naturally sink to the bottom of the pan. When the milk solids reach a toasty hazelnut color, the pan is removed from the heat.
    If this sounds a little scary to do, let me assure you it is not, especially if you follow the direct and confident instructions of this recipe. The butter is browned when the tiny solids that sink to the bottom turn brown, which I found to be about five minutes after the butter had melted completely.
    Making brown butter is worth doing, as the resulting flavor and texture of the cake is made deeper and more exceptional than if regular melted butter is used.
    The recipe directs to put the brown butter into a shallow bowl and freeze it until its firm but not hard, about 15 minutes. The shallow bowl is the key here –  the shallower it is, the more quickly and properly the butter will harden. I used a shallow plastic container.
    The crumb topping of this cake is also an exceptional treat – I want to make cookies made just of the crumb topping!

Orange- and Vanilla-Scented Bundt Cake (click for the recipe) is a moist, flavorful dessert that uses essential oils from orange peel to flavor it. It’s an ideal time to make this cake, as citrus season is in full swing.
    The orange peel’s oils are added simply by beating finely-grated orange peel with sugar using an electric mixer.
    My husband took all but two small pieces of this cake to his workplace, and all of it was eaten by the end of the day! I’m sure yours will disappear in similar fashion.