22 November 2009

Avocado Enchiladas

There is something I love about when it starts to really get cold. When you wake up in the morning and the heat is keeping the house toasty warm but you know, looking out the window at the crisp sharp sunlight and the bare branches, that it's cold out there. When your barefeet hit the cold kitchen floor as you go to make that cup of coffee. It's how I know that coats and boots and turkey and stuffing and carols will be fast arriving.

And while I'm sure every cook out there is already pre-cooking for the big feast day, we also still have to make something for dinner. This year, my only holiday duties will involve getting on an airplane and perhaps a bit of sous-chefing at my destination. I'm looking forward to it.

But in the meantime, I wanted something quick and satisfying and green for dinner. Enchiladas come in a million variations, with green and red and all-kinds of bean sauces, and a myriad of fillings, but this one is one of my favorites. This does involve dirtying a few pans, but it's not terribly complicated and a great dish for brunch, lunch or dinner. The filling contains avocados, cheese, and cilantro, wrapped in salsa verde and corn tortillas and covered in more cheese. Of course, you can always doctor up the filling as you like, adding shredded chicken or white beans or some roasted green chile peppers.

So what about you, what do you cook on the eve of a holiday? Do you have a pre-holiday tradition? Give up and order pizza? Relay on pantry staples like pasta? Let me know in the comments.

Avocado Enchiladas

grapeseed, peanut, or canola oil
12 corn tortillas
1 1/2 cups salsa verde (store-bought or homemade)
2 avocados
splash of lemon juice
optional additions: white beans, shredded cooked chicken, roasted poblano peppers
1 lb of monetery jack or mozzarella cheese, grated (you probably won't need all of it)
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

1. Lightly oil a casserole dish. Preaheat oven to 350 F.
2. Slice avocados and splash lemon juice over them along with a pinch of salt. Have ready the grated cheese and chopped cilantro and any other filling you want.
3. Place the salsa in a saucepan and bring to a low simmer. Heat about 1/4 inch of oil in a saucepan and heat until hot.
4. Place 1 tortilla in oil and cook on both sides until warm and supple, do not brown. Using tongs, transfer tortilla and dip in salsa to lightly coat.
5. Transfer tortilla to workspace and place some avocado, cheese, and cilantro in the middle. Roll up and place seam side down in the prepared pan. Repeat the process with remaining tortillas, until the casserole is completely full.
6. Spread some of the remaining salsa verde over top of the enchiladas. Top with a thcik sprinkling of grated cheese.
7. Bake until heated through and cheese is melted, about 10-15 minutes.
8. Sprinkle with some cilantro and serve. Sour cream is nice accompaniment.

16 November 2009

Chocolate Cranberry Rolls

I've been a bit on a yeast bread kick lately. Maybe it's the fall weather, or maybe it's simply my desire to not go to the store when I need bread. Hey, I've got flour and yeast and such, I'll see what I can make.

Often when I'm in this mood I turn to one of my many bread cookbooks, and one that I love is Homebaking by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. If you aren't familiar with their cookbooks, I recommend them immensely. I want to be these people. They travel all over the world, collect recipes and stories, and publish them in these gorgeous coffee table-size books full of pictures and inspiring recipes. They are, in many ways, anthropologists first and cookbook authors second.

The recipe I made this time was cranberry chocolate rolls. I may not big the world's biggest fan of chocolate, but these are excellent. They remind my a bit of babka, only without the labor intensive egg rich dough. And while chocolate has a sweet role, I think the dark chocolate here also shows its savory side, deeply flavorful and warm as you might find chocolate in a mole sauce.

While these rolls can be a bit firm when cool, they are perfect when sliced and toasted with a dab of butter, or simply quickly warmed in the oven.

Chocolate Cranberry Rolls
Though the original recipe called for chilled chocolate chips, I prefer using chopped chocolate, which gives nice swirls of chocolate throughout the dough. The recipe also cuts in half nicely if you want only one small pan of rolls.

2 cups milk, heated until lukewarm
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
About 5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into very small pieces, plus a little butter for shaping the buns
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups roughly chopped semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup dried cranberries, plumped in hot water for about 5 minutes
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For egg wash/topping:
1 egg, whisked with 2 tablespoons warm water, for egg wash
About 3 tablespoons granulated or pearl sugar

1. Place the milk in a medium bowl and stir in the yeast. Let stand for several minutes, then stir in 1 cup of the flour. Add the butter, sugar, cinnamon, egg and salt and stir to incorporate. Add 2 more cups flour and stir, always in the same direction, until smooth. Add the chocolate and cranberries, together with 1/2 cup more flour, and stir to incorporate.

2. Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead gently, folding the dough over on itself and incorporating flour as needed until the dough is only slightly sticky, about 4 minutes.

3. Place the dough in a clean greased bowl, cover with a plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut in half, then cut each half into 8 pieces, and lightly cover them. Lightly butter two 9-by-5 inch bread pans or two 8-inch round cake pans.

5. Place rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

6. Grease your palm with a little butter, then roll one piece of dough lightly under your hand to shape it into a rough ball. Place the ball in one of the pans and continue with the remaining dough. Cover with cloth or plastic and let rise for 30 minutes.

7. Just before baking, brush each loaf with the egg wash. Sprinkle the sugar over them and bake for 30 to 40 minutes (the timing will vary with the shape of the pans; they usually bake more quickly in cake pans), until puffed and golden brown. Immediately remove from the pans; let cool on a rack. These are best after they’ve cooled almost to room temperature. Tear off rolls, or slice like a loaf if you prefer.

11 November 2009

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Cranberries and Pecans

A few weeks ago we put on a "practice Thanksgiving." After all, who says roast turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and gravy should be made once a year? I think not. And what if you want to test out a new dish without the pressure of the big day, or celebrate with someone who won't be around for the actual holiday.

So practice Thanksgiving it was, only on a Thursday where I actually had to work all day and come home and host 8 for dinner. Daunting to some, but somewhat thrilling to my inner-entertainer. I put pumpkins and squash all around the house and decorated the table with kale and sorghum and sparkleberry.

A few weeks later, and I decided those acorn squash should go from decoration to dinner. I hollowed them out and roasted them filled with what I had on hand- bulgur, cranberries, pecans, and cinnamon. A friend commented that my recipe sounded Lebanese, after all they were vegetables stuffed with bulgur. And though I pointed out that cranberries and pecans are about as American as you get, perhaps she's right in that I've cooked so much Middle Eastern food now, it's sort of stuck in my bloodstream, no matter what ingredients you use.

These are lovely single-serving one meal deals, and as you eat them you scoop the squash flesh into the bulgur mixture, mixing it all together. If you don't have bulgur, I imagine cooked wild rice would be excellent as well.

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Cranberries and Pecans
Obviously you can increase this number to however many you'd like to serve. Be sure to use small acorn squash so that it's a true one serving size.

2 small acorn squash, tops removed and centers hollowed out
best quality olive oil
2/3 cup bulgur
1 1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
salt to taste

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Place bulgur and cranberries in a bowl and pour boiling water over top. Let sit 15 minutes, or until fluffed.
2. Meanwhile, toast the pecans.
3. Rub the insides of the squash with olive oil and rub in some salt.
4. Combine the bulgur, cinnamon, pecans, parsley, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and season with salt to taste.
5. Stuff the squash and place the lids back on top. Place on a baking sheet and bake for about 50 minutes, or until the squash or completely soft when tested with a knife and they appear slightly collapsed. Let cool slightly before serving.

03 November 2009

Jordanian Seven-Spice Veal

There's someone up there I'd like you to meet. No, not that tender meat, but the hand stirring the meat. That there is the boy who spends a lot of time in my kitchen, who gives me encouraging hugs when I'm sad, who happily eats seconds of the bread pudding I thought was just ok, and who makes one mean pear-walnut pie.

It is always a little awkward introducing boyfriends in the blogosphere. What if they disappear, what if you have to write about it online, what if, what if. But all relationships are gambles, and I'm not saying I know how this one is going to turn out. I do know that this one is worth betting on, that he makes me immensely happy, and that I want him to be my regular recipe tester, kiss-giver, and pie-maker for some time.

Paul was in Jordan over the summer, and in between drinking delicious mint lemonade and asking me how to order a mixed grill, he became enamoured of a dish at a local restaurant. The dish involves veal or lamb sauteed with onions and tomatoes and with a traditional Middle Eastern 7-Spice mixture. It's a very simple dish but it really shows off the magic of seven spices- allspice, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, nutmeg.

Paul talked about this so much he decided to replicate it at home. We used veal, though lamb would be good also (and before you start yelling about veal, you can check this out). The only step I changed was to saute the tomatoes and onions separately, so that you can cook the tomato juices down and the dish won't end up too runny.

So here's to discovering new dishes, and traveling, and to having people you love in your kitchen. May they stick around for a while.

Jordanian Seven-Spice Veal
You can find seven-spice mixture at your local Middle Eastern grocery, or make your own per the recipe below.

1 onion, diced
2 medium, or 1 1/2 large tomatoes, seeded and diced
3 veal cutlets, cut into small pieces, or 12 oz lamb
olive oil
about 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons seven spice mixture
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

1. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a wide skillet. Season the veal with salt and pepper and add the skillet, cook until lightly browned, a few minutes. Remove veal to a plate.
2. If the pan is dry, add a bit more olive oil. Add the diced onion and saute until translucent. Add the tomato, season with salt, and cook over medium heat until the tomato reduces and is thick and no longer runny. Return the veal to the pan and sprinkle the seven spice mixture over top. taste for seasoning. Cook until the veal is heated through and tender.
3. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle pine nuts over top. Serve, preferably with rice and some good plain yogurt and diced parsley to go alongside.

Seven Spice Mixture

2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground allspice
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom