The Mind of a Chef

Call me a creature of habit, but it seems that about once a month I make a frittata of some sort.  It’s usually on the weekend, but more important, it is the reassurance of knowing I’ve got my buddy in the fridge for back up during the week.

One of the most versatile of dishes ever, the frittata is equally welcome hot, warm, room temperature, and even cold.  Designed for portability, a wedge makes a convenient hand-held lunch on the run, or a simple dinner with salad.  Little mouth-sized portions make flavorful bites with drinks.

So, it’s no surprise that my mind tends to wander in terms of would that work in a frittata?  With a little manipulation, the answer is usually yes.  Here’s my latest frittata creation, and the answer is yes, absolutely, to all of the above mentioned applications.

This all began when a friend brought over beautiful sprigs of soft sage from their garden. I set them aside to dry, knowing they would come in handy very soon. When I spotted a small pristine head of cauliflower at the farmers’ market, I paused over it quizzically. My mind slipped into frittata mode.  With sage and what else?

Let’s face it, much like a white canvas, cauliflower needs help. My mind kept going… there were a couple types of blue cheese rumbling in the cheese bin and I probably had a little ham in the freezer.

Back at home I sliced the cauliflower and broke it into smaller pieces.  The idea here is to give the cauliflower more flat surfaces to brown and intensify flavor. The cauliflower was briefly blanched in boiling water,   quickly cooled to stop the cooking, and well drained—to avoid any mushy/sogginess later.

When I was ready to prepare the frittata it was a mere matter of browning onion and cauliflower, then adding the sage and ham. A combination of bleu cheese and creamy gorgonzola was scattered over the cauliflower and ham for a brief melt into the action below.

The eggs, milk, and seasoning were poured over the cauliflower mixture and allowed to set up in the pan and lock everything in place.  A quick run under the broiler puffs the frittata and browns the top. This is one serious frittata, she grins.

Cauliflower-Ham Frittata with Sage-Gorgonzola Cheese

Ingredients
1 small head cauliflower, ½” slices, broken in florets and blanched @ 3 minutes, drained
1 tablespoon combination evoo and butter
½ onion, chop
¾ teaspoon dried sage, crumble
½ Anaheim pepper, seed and chop
¼ lb. smoked ham, ¾ cup cubes
½ cup combo gorgonzola and bleu cheese, in pieces
6 eggs
¼ cup milk
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Directions

  1. Heat 9” or 10” oven-proof skillet over medium heat with olive oil and butter. Sauté the onion until soft, add the sage and continue until onion begins to color.
  2. Add the cauliflower and continue cooking, gently tossing until it begins to brown.  Add the Anaheim pepper and the ham, and cook a couple of minutes.
  3. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, add the milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg and pour over the eggs.
  5. Tilt the pan, loosen the eggs from the bottom with a spatula and let eggs run into the bottom of the pan.  Continue to turn the pan and allow the eggs to flow to bottom of the pan and the egg mixture begins to set.
  6. Run the frittata under the broiler until it begins to puff and the top begins to brown in places. Release frittata with from pan with a spatula and slide onto a plate. Cut into portions and serve hot or room temperature.  Serves 6.

The Next Generation Potato Salad

While prowling the farmers’ market recently, one glance at a startling yellow cauliflower told me  I must have one. Its dappled pale buttercup color was so surreal it looked hand painted, and I instantly knew what would become of it.

For some time now, I have been tinkering with the idea of a cauliflower salad reminiscent of a Danish-style potato salad I used to make for picnics and barbecues. It was particularly popular for catering because it also included a few green peas, a little red pepper for color, and small cubes of cheese.

Later in the day, I ended up steaming the cauliflower florets for 3 minutes in my  Instant Pot pressure cooker, and then used the quick release to avoid overcooking. Out of the pot, I drizzled the hot cauliflower with a small amount of Dijon vinaigrette/marinade; just enough for the flavors to absorb as it cooled down.

Meanwhile, additional vegetables and a hard cooked egg were quickly prepped. When all ingredients were combined with the vinaigrette flavored mayonnaise I was glad to note that it required far less binder than a typical potato salad. 
A quick taste test revealed a light, well-flavored, refreshing salad. It was not a dreary, heavy, non-descript mound lacking any food value. This was most definitely worthy of becoming the next generation potato salad.

In no time, the gorgeous salad was in the fridge getting a good chill on—ready and waiting for grilled burgers later.

Cauliflower Picnic Salad

Ingredients
1 small head yellow cauliflower, broken in large bite sized florets

Vinaigrette/Marinade
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons chive or other light vinegar
Salt and lots of freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
2 ½ tablespoon olive oil

½ cup frozen peas, partially defrosted
1 stalk celery, chop
2 green onions, mince
¼ cup red pepper, mince
2 tablespoon parsley, chop
¼ cup smoked Gouda cheese, small cubes
1 hard cooked egg, coarsely mashed
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Directions

  1. Steam the florets using your favorite method. Or, using the Instant Pot pressure cooker, line bamboo steamer baskets with cauliflower leaves and divide the cauliflower evenly. Stack them, cover top with foil, and place on trivet. Add 1 cup water to the cooker and steam for 3 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile prepare vinaigrette.  Whisk the mustard and vinegar with salt, pepper and thyme to combine.  Slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified and thick.
  3. When steaming is complete, use quick release.  Remove cauliflower from steamer, place in salad bowl add peas, and toss with 1-2 tablespoons of vinaigrette, just enough to absorb into cauliflower.  Let cool, about 20 minutes.
  4. When cauliflower is cool, add celery, onions, red pepper, parsley, Gouda, and egg.
  5. Add 2-3 teaspoons marinade to mayonnaise to thin slightly and pour over the cauliflower mixture. Toss to coat well and chill 1 to 2 hours.  Serves 4 or more.

Light of my Life

It’s always a party when I pull out my kitchen torch.

Today’s occasion:  French onion soup.  Earlier at the farmers’ market, pearly white sweet onions—still kissed with morning dew—looked almost too gorgeous to touch.

A sudden vision of the well-picked-over roast chicken carcass in the fridge at home was a wake-up nudge that a tasty chicken stock was  waiting in the wings.

A hearty beef stock really makes onion soup sing, but a chicken stock simmered in the remains of a flavorful roast is a beautiful thing, too.  In my slow cooker, stock is an effortless commodity.  For the onion soup stock, I’d add onion cuttings, a carrot for a touch of sweetness, and fresh herbs, then cover it all with boiling water and check back later in the day.

My go to Onion Soup follows, but I tend to change it up it depending on what I have on hand.  Sweet onions with a high sugar content are key; sauté them over moderately low heat until they begin to turn color and caramelize. If necessary, add a teaspoon of sugar while sautéing the onions to encourage the full caramelization process. Once the stock is added, the soup is ready within a half hour—or it can be set aside and reheated when ready.

BonJour Torch

 

To finish it all, I carved and toasted thick slices of a multi-grained artisan bread and sprinkled them with a combination of shaved Parmesan and Havarti cheese. No need to crank up the broiler on this warm summer day.

My trusty torch was on hand for the artful transformation of simple ingredients into a glorious soup crowned with essential rafts of toasted cheesy goodness.

 Onion Soup

Ingredients
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoon brandy
6 cups rich beef or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
½ teaspoon each fresh savory and rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup white wine or dry sherry
Accompaniments:  6 croutons (1/2” thick slices toasted baguette)
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. In a soup pot, sauté onions with butter and olive oil over medium heat until aromatic. Reduce heat and stir occasionally, cook until onions are deep golden and caramelized, 30 minutes or longer.
  2. Deglaze pan by carefully pouring in brandy and stir well. Add stock, seasonings, wine, and simmer partially covered for 30 minutes.
  3. In individual bowls, place a crouton in center and sprinkle with cheese, pour a generous amount of onion soup over each. If using oven proof bowls, broil 3” from heat source, watching carefully until tops bubble and brown. Serve with more cheese.   Serves 4 – 6.

Cabbage Rolls Made Easy

My thoughts automatically turn to my new Instant Pot these days.  Often it is to re-visit old favorites like stuffed cabbage rolls, and tinker with how to best incorporate them into my new cooking repertoire.

This stuffed cabbage recipe was shared many years ago by a good Polish friend, who received it from his mother.  Since he was not a cook, he was so appreciative when I would prepare his beloved Goblaki, it was always reason for a party.

Golabki

When the mood strikes, I still make stuffed cabbage rolls for their homey, sweet/sour qualities. They are even better reheated the next day.  There are a few steps, but none are complicated.  I actually find the repetition of filling and shaping the rolls very relaxing—I like to think of it as a form of meditation.

Here, the slow cooker steps in to deliver all the classic aromas and flavors and cooks in about the same oven time.  There is little mess. The blanching of the leaves is done in the same cooking pot. My current version cuts back on the ground beef and contains part turkey, which doesn’t seem to make a difference in overall taste.

Enjoy the rolls with Barley-Mushroom Risotto, a perfect companion.  Here’s to you, Joe!

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, aka Golabki

Ingredients
1        large head cabbage
Filling
3/4     pound ground beef
3/4     pound ground turkey
1/3     cup raw converted rice
1/2     cup onion, dice
1/2     cup celery, dice
1         clove garlic, crush
1         teaspoon salt, to taste
1/2     teaspoon pepper, to taste
Sauce
1       28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/2    teaspoon dried dill, plus more for the pot
salt and red pepper flakes, to taste
1        tablespoons brown sugar, approximate
2        tablespoons cider vinegar
1/3    cup raisins (optional)

Directions

  1. To blanch the cabbage leaves:  gently separate the cabbage leaves and rinse well.  Layer leaves in pressure cooker. Set pressure element to Low, and steam the leaves for 1 minute with fast release.  Carefully remove and place in an ice water bath to stop the cooking.  Drain on toweling and set aside.
  2. Place a few unusable leaves in the bottom of the pot, add a bit of available sliced onion, add a light sprinkling of dill, salt and pepper.
  3. To make cabbage rolls:  combine filling items.  Place a heaping tablespoonful of stuffing at largest end of leaf, roll and fold sides in.  Repeat.
  4. For assembly:  combine sauce ingredients and spoon 1/3 of the sauce into bottom of pot.  Place a layer of rolls close together, seam side down, into the pot. Top with another 1/3 of sauce.  Add another layer of rolls and finish with remaining sauce.
  5. Set slow cooker to Medium setting for approximately 2-1/2 hours.  Note: begin on medium setting, cook for 1-1/2 hours. and check.  If not simmering at this point, increase to High for the additional hour.  Can also be cooked on Low setting for 6 hours or longer.  Yield: about 12 rolls.

Bowled Over

Grain bowls. Lately I’ve been inspired by the idea of stacking food delicately into a small, fetching bowl. At its heart, a healthy grain or rice forms the base, then a good dose of well-flavored vegetables are arranged atop, with a smaller amount of protein tucked in for a balance meal in a bowl.

The concept hits all the right notes, it’s quick and easy. A bowl holds less food than a plate, and it’s a great way to round up a flavorful meal with odds and ends—or leftovers, in some circles. Of course the creative license to mix and match at will is powerful. There are no rules. Better than that, break the rules!

The key to the grain bowl’s success is to have a supply of pre-cooked rice or a grain such as farro, barley, or quinoa ready to go. For example, spoon a healthy amount of your grain or rice into a small, tall bowl, top with a generous handful of a pre-mixed blend such as spinach, pak choi, and mustard greens, fill in with a poached or fried egg to break up, much in the manner of a sauce.  Finish with some fresh herbs and a big punch of flavor, the likes of harissa or gochujang.

This past weekend I was on fire, filled with the anticipation of throwing together my own grain bowl.  A little low on supplies, I had only millet, but it was a fine start when simmered with a dash of turmeric and a bay leaf. Mostly, I was excited to take advantage of my latest rhubarb chutney, waiting for its own 15-minutes of fame.

At the farmers market I picked up a couple of beautiful zucchini and a few gorgeous carrots, a nice combo for a quick veggie add-on. In the fridge I had a small pork tenderloin. This was coming together more like a banquet that a small meal in a bowl. But, it’s the weekend!

When dinnertime rolled around I was running late, getting very hungry, and certainly glad this was going to be a fast, easy meal.  The pork was quickly rubbed with olive oil, Moroccan spice, salt and pepper.  I gave it fast sear and popped it in a 400° oven for about 25 minutes. While that was happening I deglazed the pan and made a quick sauce flavored with harissa.

The zucchini and carrots were quickly sliced into ribbons, tossed with a few drops of sesame oil and garam masala. Opa! We’ve got big flavors everywhere!  About 5 to 7 minutes before the pork was done, I added the veggies to the roasting pan and tossed them lightly with a little of the pan juices.  Once out of the oven, the tenderloin was tented for a few minutes to rest before slicing.Pork grain bowl

I had just enough time to pull it all together. It was then, that I was faced with the truth. A charming, small bowl would not do justice to the fine collection now waiting to be plated—or bowled, if that is a word.

This was worthy of a pasta bowl, of the first order.  Facing reality, I spread the thinnest possible layer of millet into the bottom of the bowl.  One of the grain bowl rules is to use more vegetables than protein. I smartly swirled a portion of the zucchini and carrots across the millet, allowing for three lovely medallions to arc around the corner, and finished the pork with a drizzle of the harissa sauce.  Rounding out the bowl, a small handful of spicy Asian greens became a mere place holder for the honored rhubarb chutney—and of course, a sprig of cilantro.

Good news!  No heartburn, or negative reaction to the epic grain bowl.  Delicious, all of it!

Epic Grain Bowl with Pork Medallions and Harissa Sauce

Ingredients
For the Pork
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 pork medallion
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Moroccan spice
salt and pepper
For the Harissa Sauce
1 cup beef stock, divided
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon harissa paste
salt and pepper to taste
For the Vegetables
1 zucchini
1 carrot
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon garam masala
For the Millet
1 cup millet
3 cups water
salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 bay leaf
To Finish
1 cup Spicy Asian Greens (spinach, pak choi, mustard greens)
½ cup rhubarb chutney
few sprigs cilantro

Directions

  1. For the millet, combine the millet, the turmeric, bay leaf, salt and water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for approximately 35 minutes, until water is absorbed.  Set aside to cool.
  2. For the pork, rub the pork with olive oil, then with Moroccan spice, salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet with coconut oil over high heat and sear pork on all side, about 5 minutes. Remove to baking pan and roast at 400° for approximately 25 minutes.
  3. For the harissa sauce: deglaze saute pan with ½ cup of the beef stock, let it cook down briefly while scraping the bottom of pan. Add the remaining ½ cup stock combined with 1 teaspoon cornstarch.  Add the harissa sauce and let reduce. Taste for seasoning add salt and pepper as need.  Keep warm.
  4. For the vegetables:  using peeler or spiralizer thinly slice zucchini and carrot into long strands.  Toss with sesame oil and garam masala.  About 5-7 minutes before pork is done, add veggies to the roasting pan. Toss with the pan juices and heat.
  5. Remove the pork and veggies, tent with foil and allow to rest briefly while preparing grain bowl.
  6. To finish: re-heat the millet and spoon into the bottom of bowl. Spread vegetables over half of the top. Slice the pork into ½” or thicker medallions.  Nestle in the pork and drizzle with a little of the harissa sauce.  Add a small handful of greens and top with a dollop of Rhubarb Chutney.  Add a sprig of cilantro and enjoy. Yield: 2 or more servings.

Entertaining Rhubarb

For years we had a rhubarb plant tucked in an obscure corner of the back yard.  We gave it little thought other than to acknowledge its intended purpose. The rhubarb stood heel-to-heel with a huge holly bush, our sentries assigned to guard a tiny crawl space under the house.

No one ever fell into the well, thanks to the prickly holly and its partner the rhubarb, whose large wide leaves served as great visual cover. When winter arrived, the rhubarb would fade away and return the following spring to rise up and do its job all over again.

At one point early on, I got to wondering about the rhubarb long enough to learn that its leaves are poisonous due to high levels of oxalyic acid.  After that, I viewed it with caution and never entertained the idea of bringing it into the house. When rhubarb was listed on menus I would pass. I was not interested—besides, there were plenty of other good things to eat.

All of that changed recently when a friend dropped off a few stalks of rhubarb, proudly sharing the latest in spring offerings from his garden.  We got to talking about rhubarb in chutney, which he claimed delicious.

Chutney! The magic word.  Before I knew it, I was firing up my Instant Pot pressure cooker ready to see how fast I could whip up my own batch. These rhubarb stalks were small and tender, unike the big thick hummers that I recall. I could have used one of my many chutney recipes, but rhubarb’s sour bent makes it quirky.

I opted for a Bon Appetit recipe from April 1994 from Epicurious.  Still, I tweaked it, cut it in half (the reluctant one here), and added a Gala apple for a touch of natural sweetness to counteract the astringency of the rhubarb.

Thanks to my glorious pressure cooker, chutney which normally takes 40 minutes or longer to cook down was out of the pot and stored in its own container in under 30 minutes. As with other chutneys, an overnight rest will blend and further improve flavors.

This rose colored chutney is complex and nuanced—I am certainly a believer now, and I will return to the well! All channels are open for rhubarb.

 Rhubarb-Apple Chutney, 15-Minute Pressure Cooker

Inspired by a Bon Apétit recipe from 1994, via Epicurious.

Ingredients
1/3 cup white or brown sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peel and grate
2 teaspoons garlic, peel and mince
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 cups fresh rhubarb, about 1 pound in cut into small cubes
1 gala apple, peel, seed, chop into small cubes
1/2 cup red onion, small chop
2 tablespoons dried cranberries

Directions

  1. Heat the brown sugar, cider vinegar and flavorings through the dried red pepper flakes until the brown sugar has dissolved.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer.  Set pressure cooker for 5 minutes, allow the pressure to reduce naturally for about 5 minutes and use the quick release.
  3. It will be slightly separated. Mash or press with a spoon to break up chunks and forms a cohesive sauce.  Allow to cool and chill overnight if time allows.  Yield: about 2 cups.

The Ultimate in Slow Cooking:  Meet the Instant Pot

I received a new gadget for my birthday.  Actually, this unit is beyond any gadget previously known to man. For some, the latest Instant Pot could represent a state-of-the-art crockpot. To others it’s a digital pressure cooker, or a reliable rice cooker, a steamer, or a sauté pan.  In fact, it does all of that and much more—with precision and ease.

No, I’m not being paid to review or promote the Instant Pot, I am just another huge advocate of its approach to sustainable and healthy cooking.  My 5-quart pot uses only 900 watts of electricity.  In comparison, if you’ve analyze other appliances in your kitchen, you know that a toaster can easily burn up 1800 watts.

In the Instant Pot’s many digital cooking applications the real turning point for me was the realization that I could brown or sauté vegetables or meats before launching into slow cook or other modes.  I have shared a number of wonderful slow cook recipes here, and my sole reservation to crockpot cooking has been that without the browning of meats and vegetables dishes can become one-dimensional.  The luxury of combining the browning step into the slow cook method opens up all sorts of possibilities previously unavailable in most models.

On the pressure cooking side, I was relieved at the fail-safe measures built into the system.  Following simple directions, even the quick method of releasing steam is safe and near foolproof.  Now, I often use the very fast pressure cooking method as a highly convenient option, without angst or intimidation.

For the tiny kitchen, the Instant Pot is paramount to having an entire stove top and a fleet of pots and pans available for daily cooking needs. It can be used to simply simmer or boil as you would on the stove.  The heavy duty stainless steel liner is easy to clean, and it is of course dishwasher safe.

One of my first attempts at tackling the Instant Pot was to prepare a lovely barley risotto of sorts. In this case the barley was pre-cooked, allowing for an easy 1 hour slow cook. Delicious on its own, it became the backdrop for Stuffed Cabbage Rolls.

Barley Risotto with Bacon, Mushrooms, and Spring Garlic Scapes

Ingredients
2 slices bacon, chop
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 shallot, peel and mince
6 oz. cremini mushrooms, clean, slice
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fresh sage
1-1/2 cups cooked pearl barley
½ cup tender green garlic scapes/shoots, or green onion, chop
2 cups beef broth, approximate
½ cup baby tomatoes, slice in half
salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup fresh parsley, chop
Accompaniment:  ⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese, optional

Directions

  1. Heat the pot to sauté medium, brown the bacon in a drizzle of olive oil and remove.
  2. Add the shallot and cook to soften, then add the herbs and stir until aromatic. Add a portion of the beef broth, stir to deglaze the bottom the pan and loosen any surface bits.
  3. Add the barley and the remaining broth, stir to combine.  Bring to a simmer. Reduce to slow cook medium and cook covered for an hour, until the barley is creamy and thick.
  4. Add the garlic scapes or green onion, baby tomatoes, cook an additional 15 minutes to heat.  Stir in fresh parsley, the reserved bacon, and serve.  Pass the parmesan cheese.  Serves 4

Note: to pre-cook barley, allow 1:3 ratio barley to liquid. Bring to a boil, cover and cook 35 minutes.