Sunday, January 19, 2014

Roasted Tomatillo and Garlic Salsa

I enjoy planning and cooking a meal for guests, but my attention is always on the meal itself, not the appetizers or snacks it would be nice to have before we sit at the table.  If I'm going to do something other than crackers with cheese or a tub of hummus, it's got to be something pretty simple, and that I can make well ahead of time, preferably the day before, so it won't interfere with cooking the dinner itself.  Here's a great recipe that fits the bill--quite simple to make, fine to prepare a day ahead, and--of course--it's delicious!  Don't worry about how much garlic is in the recipe--the roasting sweetens it up, so the finished salsa does not taste heavily of garlic.

When I served this recently, I did take the time to make baked tortilla chips from corn tortillas--they're so much better than what you get in a bag.

Roasted Tomatillo & Garlic Salsa
adapted from a recipe from Vintages Tasting Room
  • 1 pound fresh tomatillos, husks removed and halved (green tomatoes also work well; use up to about 1-1/2 lbs)
  • 1 head garlic cloves, separated and peeled
  • 2 large jalapeno peppers, halved and de-seeded
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the broiler. Put the cloves of garlic, tomatillos, and jalapenos on a baking sheet. Place under the broiler, and cook for a few minutes. Remove garlic cloves first, as soon as they are toasted (otherwise they get bitter). Continue to roast jalapenos and tomatillos until evenly charred, turning occasionally. Set aside to cool a bit; do not remove the charred parts of the tomatillos or the peppers.

Process the peppers and tomatillos in a food processor, along with the garlic and cilantro.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until serving.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Salad with fennel, blue cheese, and toasted walnuts

We often have a green salad with our meals, and it's usually my regular:  a bag of mixed greens, chopped red pepper and scallions, and maybe a sprinkle of currants, with cruets of oil and vinegar on the table for a dressing.  This is a very good salad, but we do get tired of it sometimes.  My usual option is a carrot salad, which I can usually make from what we have on hand.  But last week we were having guests over, and the main course was soup.  The rest of the meal would be just a salad and fresh bread, so I decided to look around for something more special for the salad.  I found this recipe in my much-used Simply Delicious Weightwatchers book, and it is truly wonderful!  Certainly more work than I would usually do for an every-day salad, but so good that I will not wait for guests to make it again.  I used my mandolin to get the very thin slices of fennel and red onion, but a sharp knife would do fine.

adapted from WeightWatchers Simply Delicious
6 servings

2 t. grated lemon zest (zest from one lemon)
1/3 c. fresh lemon juice (or part fresh, part frozen)
1/3 c. chicken or vegetable broth
2 T. canola or walnut oil
1 T. honey
1/2 t. freshly ground pepper

2 heads Boston or Bibb lettuce (or substitute other lettuce if you prefer)
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and very thinly sliced
1/4 c. walnut pieces, toasted (pecans would also be nice)
1/2 c. finely sliced and cut-in-strips red onion
3 oz. blue cheese, either a block or a tub of crumbles (frozen, for easier crumbling)

1.     Toast the walnut pieces.  (I put in a 350F toaster oven for about 10 minutes.)
2.     Cut out the central core of the head of lettuce.  Separate the lettuce leaves, cutting out in a V-shape any remaining white part of stem end. Wash each leaf and let dry. 
3.     Make the dressing: combine the lemon zest, juice broth, oil, honey, and pepper in a small bowl.
4.     Gently press the lettuce leaves to flatten slightly and stack about 5 leaves on each of 6 plates.  Top with the fennel, walnuts, and red onion.
5.     Take the blue cheese out of the freezer, and chop into a small crumble.

6.     Just before serving, spoon the dressing over the salads and put the blue cheese on top.

Monday, January 6, 2014


The night after we had the humble turkey-stuffing casserole, my husband made a much more complicated recipe, one of his favorites--Pistou, which is a soup from Provençal, akin to minestrone.  David usually makes it once a year, and I really look forward to it.  I've never made it myself, as the recipe is more complicated than I enjoy doing, but I'm so glad David likes making it!  Not all recipes for Pistou would have you cook each of the vegetables separately, but doing this way makes for a lovely complexity of flavor and texture in the soup.

adapted from Stella Standard, Soups for All Season; makes 3 quarts soup; serves 10-12

1/2 cup dried lima or white beans (frozen lima beans are fine—use a 10-oz package)
5 c. chicken or vegetable broth
1 lb. frozen peas
2 t. basil
salt and pepper
butter (for vegan version, substitute canola oil)
1/2 lb. fresh green beans, cut into 1" lengths
1/2 t. rosemary
1 or 2 small zucchini, sliced (about 1/4" thick)
1 small green pepper, seeded and cut into fine strips
3 large white onions, cut in half and sliced
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped, or 1/2 c. canned tomatoes
1 12-oz can white shoe-peg corn
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 c. pasta shells

Pistou sauce
6 large cloves garlic
large handful parsley
1/2 c. olive oil
1/3 c. soup broth

small bowl of grated parmesan cheese

1.     If doing beans from scratch:  Soak the dried beans overnight.  Next day, cook in a small amount of water until tender; do not discard cooking liquid.  If using frozen beans:  Cook according to package instructions; do not discard cooking liquid.
2.     Put broth in a large soup kettle.  As the vegetables are cooked, add them with their cooking liquid.
3.     Add the cooked beans and their cooking liquid to the broth.
4.     Cook the peas in a pat of butter, 1/3 cup water, and with the basil, some salt, and pepper, until tender.  Add peas and liquid to the soup kettle.
5.     Cook the cut green beans with rosemary, salt, pepper, a pat of butter, and 1/2 cup of water, until tender, about 10 minutes.  Add beans and liquid to soup kettle.
6.     Cook the sliced zucchini and green pepper with 1/3 cup water, tightly covered for 5 minutes.  Add to the soup.
7.     Sauté the onions in butter until tender without browning them; add salt and pepper.  Add to the soup.
8.     Add the chopped tomato, corn, and garlic to the soup.
9.     Cook the pasta in salted water until tender, drain, and add to the soup.  Soup may be made ahead, and warmed up at serving time.  Pass the pistou sauce; each bowl gets a spoonful.  Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.
Making the Pistou sauce:
Using a food processor:  Mince the garlic, then add the parsley, processing until finely chopped.  Keep processor running, and drizzle in the oil, and then the broth.

Very Easy Chicken (or Turkey) Casserole with Stuffing

I noticed this comfort-food dish on the blog of another quilter, and I had to try it.  My husband is the one who roasts the turkeys in our house, and he likes to make fancy stuffings.  They're nice, but my heart is still with packaged Pepperidge Farm stuffing, which is what my mother used.  (She did doctor it up some by adding sautéed onions and celery.)  I had never tried stove-top stuffing--that seems really low!  But I couldn't help myself--had to make this recipe.  I'm happy to report that it is extremely simple to make, and quite satisfying as comfort food.  It won't replace the chicken-rice casserole that is standard in our house, but I will definitely make it again.  Whenever we do have a turkey, I always cut up the leftovers and freeze in packets of 2-cups, so I can readily make up a casserole when I'm in the mood.

adapted from

2 to 3 cups cooked chicken or turkey, cut into bite-size pieces
1 to 2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
1 can cream of mushroom soup (or cream of chicken)
1/4 c. milk (skim is fine)
a box of stovetop stuffing mix (corn bread or other types) [I used a version with cranberries, and thought it was nice]

Preheat oven to 325F.

In 8x8" (or round, of comparable size) casserole dish, put chicken/turkey chunks.  Layer peas on top.

Combine can of soup with about 1/4 cup milk and spread on top of chicken.

Prepare box of stove top stuffing mix as directed on package.  Spoon onto chicken/soup mixture.

Bake for about 35 minutes, until "bubbly."

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sesame-crusted Salmon

adapted from Diane Morgan, Salmon (Chronicle Books, 2005)

Cooking the salmon with two colors of sesame seeds results in a very beautiful piece of fish!  You can see photos of various preparations here.  A few notes: 

·      The recipe calls for baking the salmon at a low temperature, 250F—this is not a typo.  It takes a little longer, but it does work, and since there's no liquid with the fish, perhaps the low temperature helps to keep it from getting dried out. 
·      I recently got an instant read thermometer, and am finding it very helpful to cook fish to the right temperature (125F for salmon)—this way you don’t have to poke into the middle of the piece of fish to check for doneness.
·      About the bean thread noodles:  I followed the directions on the package I had, which said to boil for 2-4 minutes and also said that rinsing in cold water was optional.  I boiled for 3 minutes and didn't rinse.  After they had sat for a bit (as I was finishing chopping vegetables), they got somewhat gummy.  Everything still all tasted good, but the texture wasn't great.  Next time, I'll follow the directions in the recipe below.
·      As I finished the cooking, I tasted the fish and the noodles separately, and wasn't hugely impressed.  But when combined, the taste was great!!

6 ounces rice vermicelli (bean threads)
about 20 ounces of salmon, cut into 4 fillets
1 T. olive oil
kosher or sea salt
4 t. white sesame seeds
4 t. black sesame seeds
1/4 c. soy sauce
1 T. rice vinegar
3 T. sesame oil
2 t. sugar
2 t. peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
1 large stalk celery, julienned
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 c. packed fresh cilantro leaves.

Preheat oven to 250F.  Line a rimmed baking pan with parchment paper.

Soak the rice vermicelli in a large bowl of warm water until softened, about 20 minutes.  Drain well in a colander, shaking the colander to be sure all the water is removed.

Brush each salmon fillet with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt.  On a small plate, combine the white and black sesame seeds.  Dip the top side of each fillet in the seeds and place on the prepared baking sheet, seed side up.  Bake the salmon until done, about 20 minutes, until the fish flakes slightly (125F on an instant read thermometer).

While the salmon is baking, make the noodle salad.  In a large bowl, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, and ginger.  Add the rice vermicelli and toss until the noodles are well coated.  Add the carrot, celery, green onions, and cilantro.  Toss to combine.

When the salmon is done, divide the noodle mixture among 4 dinner plates.  Place a salmon fillet on top of the noodles, and serve.