Thursday, April 22, 2010

Recipe: Garden Wraps

I'm on a vegetable kick because it's springtime. Everything is blooming and green and fresh and wonderful.

I prepared these Garden wraps for a dinner party last Friday night, and they were the biggest hit on the table. They were also the most simple to prepare. Did I mention they are really healthy?

Garden Wraps, from Sunset Magazine, April 2009

Servings: 4
Time: 30 minutes

1 cup Greek yogurt (I went for 2% fat and I was happy with the creaminess.)
1 tbsp of each: chopped fresh Italian parsley and chives (The original recipe calls for chives, mint and cilantro, I just didn't have all of them. All of these mentioned fresh herbs will work.)
1 tbsp lime juice (about the juice of one whole lime)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots (I bought two big carrots, the loose ones in piles at the grocery store. You can use baby carrots we all have in the fridge, but watch your fingers on the grater!)
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced cucumbers
1/2 cup sliced red onions
1/2 cup cooked peas (You know you have at least one bag kickin' around in your freezer!)
1 package medium size tortillas (Just don't go corn tortillas, and don't go for the taco size, which is too small. I used green spinach wraps for a visual freshness as well.)
2 tomatoes, sliced and chopped into chunks (as if for salsa)


1. Mix chopped herbs, lime and salt into the Greek yogurt.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine carrots, cucumbers, red onion and peas.
3. Spoon Greek yogurt mixture onto flat tortilla. Spoon some chopped tomatoes over the yogurt, and then add about a handful of the vegetable mixture.
4. Roll up like a burrito, making sure to fold ends in first before rolling up.
5. Secure the tortilla wrap in place with two toothpicks. Slice down the middle.
6. Enjoy your fast, fresh and healthy meal.

The reduced fat Greek yogurt, the fresh herbs and the red onion give these wraps all the flavor you could ask for, while the carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes provide crunch and moisture. It's a simple but satisfying combination.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tip of the Day: Blanch your Vegetables

A couple months ago, I wrote a short Tip of the Day on whole leaf spinach. While we all know vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet, we don't eat hardly enough of them. Like the whole leaf spinach tip, today's suggestion aims to improve our vegetable cooking techniques and thereby up our veggie intake.

Blanch your vegetables in salted water that's up to a roiling boil, for just a few minutes. Get a large amount of water boiling, enough to circulate freely around the quantity of vegetables you're going to cook (if you're cooking lots, consider tossing the vegetables in batches). Add a little salt to the water for seasoning, and then cook your vegetables quickly.

Asparagus, green beans, and broccoli- all delicious when cooked properly, but all too often overcooked to gross levels- will turn a vibrant, almost kelly green color after only 3 minutes- that's all you need. Spinach should take just 60 to 90 seconds. Strain from the cooking water with a slotted spoon, and sprinkle with a wee bit of salt, no butter necessary.

Cooked properly, these vegetables are a delicious way to get your five servings a day.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Recipe: Easy Scones with Home-Churned Butter

Is there anything better than the smell of fresh baked goodies on a Sunday morning?

I baked scones for Sunday breakfast the past two weekends, one in Colorado with my girl Christie and another brunch in Palo Alto with my parents. These scones are similar to biscuits; however, you can add ham and cheese or currants or any dried fruit if you like. The home-churned butter is very simple; you can also add vanilla and a little sugar during the whipping process for a sweet spread on a simple scone.

This recipe comes from my CIA classmate Roxanne Rosensteel, and I thank her for sharing these with me.

Roxanne's Scones

3 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
4 ½ teaspoons cream of tartar
½ cup unsalted butter, diced
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening (you can omit the shortening and add a little more butter if you don't have it. I tried both ways with minimal difference in the finished scone.)
1 cup milk
1 egg (for egg wash)

1 quart heavy cream

2 ½ in. round cookie cutter
Baking pan

Preheat oven to 425˚F.

1. Sift flour, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar into a large bowl.

2. Rub in the fats until the mixture goes damp like sand. Add the milk all at once; mix briefly and turn out onto lightly floured surface. Knead lightly to form a dough.

3. Roll out to 1 ½ in. thickness. Cut out rounds and place on baking sheet.

4. Brush with beaten egg (if you don't have a pastry brush, use the rounded back of a spoon to smooth the egg over the scone). Sprinkle with sugar.

5. Bake for 10 minutes, until tops are golden brown.

Serve with home-churned butter.

How to Make Cream into Butter
1. Take a quart of heavy whipping cream and pour in an upright mixer with the whisk attachment. If you don’t have a counter-top mixer, you can use an electric egg beater with two whisks, but this will take a little longer; it’s still easily do-able though.
2. Whip the cream well past whipping cream texture, about 12-15 minutes. The butter fat will separate from the water, which will start to splash around the bottom of the mixing bowl while the yellowish butter clumps on the whisk.
3. Pour water from bowl. Spread on hot scones. Revel in delight.

Here's a photo of this morning's spread: fresh-churned butter, poached eggs on tomato-gouda toast, fruit and these scones. Nice little Sunday...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Recipe: Spaghetti alla Carbonara

I am appalled to see that I haven't written since March 28th. I was on such a roll for a while!

My absence from the blogosphere is due to my recent trips to New York and Colorado, and to our current class block, Skills Development 1. My weekend in New York was another epic chapter in my love affair with the city. Steamboat Springs gave me skiing, sunshine, and smiles.

On the other hand, Skills Development 1 is kicking my ass all over town. Rulers don't lie when I'm trying to dice onions into perfect quarter-inch squares.

But these are excuses. Thank you to my loved ones who have gently chided me to write more often. You keep me focused on my food writing.

To honor that food writing focus, today's post features a recipe for Spaghetti Carbonara from Saveur Magazine. I traveled to New York to interview and try out in Saveur's test kitchen. My visit went well, and starting in September, I'll work a five month externship at Saveur. On the top floor of the magazine's editorial offices in Midtown Manhattan, this test kitchen is my dream workplace. I'll be testing recipes and exploring exotic ingredients all day long. YESSSSSSSSSS!

This Carbonara sauce is easy to make at home, much more so than pesto or a quality tomato sauce. If you can cook bacon and you can stir, then you can make this delicious Italian classic.

Spaghetti Carbonara
For this recipe in particular, it is very helpful to have all the ingredients portioned out into little bowls beforehand. For example, once your pancetta is cooked, it's really helpful to have your egg yolks and Parmesan cheese ready to add.

4 TBSP olive oil
4 oz pancetta (quarter pound if you're asking the butcher)- you can use thick cut, un-smoked bacon, cut into half-inch pieces
2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 3/4 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg plus 3 egg yolks (crack the three eggs in half and pour the yolk back and forth between them until the whites have slipped away)
1 pound spaghetti

1. Start large pot of salted water to boil for spaghetti.

2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet; add pancetta and cook until slightly browned, 6-8 minutes. Add pepper and cook until the pepper aroma is noticeable, 2ish minutes.

3. Transfer the cooked, peppered pancetta to a large bowl (you'll add the cooked spaghetti to this bowl later) and let cool a little.

4. Add egg plus 3 egg yolks and 1 1/2 cups of Parmesan cheese to the pancetta bowl. Save the rest of the Parmesan to top the finished dish. Mix eggs, cheese and pancetta until just combined.

5. Cook spaghetti in boiling water for 8-10 minutes; try a strand to test doneness. It should be just bite-able, not soft or gluey.

6. Before straining the pasta, pull out 3/4 cup of the cooking water. It will look slightly milky, but this liquid will give the Carbonara sauce more body than regular water would without the heaviness of cream sauce.

7. Strain the spaghetti and add to the large bowl of pancetta, eggs and cheese. Toss the pasta while adding the reserved cooking liquid a little at a time until the sauce reaches your desired consistency. I found that 1/2 cup was enough coat the spaghetti without being watery.

8. Salt and pepper as you like. Top with the remaining Parmesan cheese.

Don't be intimidated by the number of steps I've described here. This recipe is really just pasta tossed in a bacon, egg and cheese mixture.

With a pound of spaghetti, this recipe is enough food for a dinner party or several lunch and quick dinner leftover options as well.

Come September, I will be cooking Saveur's recipes, just like this one, multiple times before they are published and shared. I've already started the countdown.

In the meantime, back to knife drills for Skills 1. I have to pass this class first!