Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Savory Apples: a Fish and Apple Curry

I love Autumn and I love apples in Autumn. I grew up in New York State, a state with a lot of apple orchards - it's number #2 for apple-growing states (Washington is far and away the leader). Where I grew up, ancient orchards are interspersed with many a subdivision and the smell of ripe apples is everywhere. We would head to the local orchard for freshly pressed cider which was another treat of Fall.

After reading this article in The Atlantic, I started to wonder if my love affair with apples was shared widely. If you spent your life eating Red Delicious apples, probably not. I have shared your disillusionment with the apple - so many awful apples in box lunches, convenience stores, cafeterias. Please seek out some better apple varieties; I posted a list of common apple varieties and their seasons which can help you out. It's not complete. Apple breeders keep coming up with new varieties - thank goodness - because it would be a sad world with just the lame Red Delicious.

Most of us eat our apples in desserts. Here, it provides sweetness and texture to a fish curry. A tip when using curry powder: some of the spices in there have a bitter and raw undertone. To tone this down, it's important to cook the curry in fat for a minute.

Fish and Apple Curry
(serves 6)

2 Tablespoon oil or butter or a combination
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons mild curry powder
¼ cup raisins
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 Tablespoons chutney
salt and pepper
2 medium apples
2 zucchini, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 ½ pounds mild whitefish such as Pacific cod or catfish, cut into bite-sized pieces

Heat up the oil and/or butter in a dutch oven over medium-low heat. Cook the onions and garlic for 10 minutes until the onions are soft and turning golden. While the onions are cooking, peel, core, and dice the apples. Add the curry powder and cook for a minute. Add the raisins, crushed tomatoes, chutney, ½ teaspoon salt, and apples. Cook for 20 minutes on medium-low (to keep the tomatoes from scorching to the pan). Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper to season. Add the zucchini and fish. Cook for about 10 minutes until the zucchini is tender and the fish is cooked. Check for salt and pepper before serving.

This gets even better if you refrigerate it and reheat it. The sweetness of the apples mellows the curry making it even more delicious.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Turkish (or maybe Greek?) Stuffed Peppers

Turkish cooks are experts at stuffing all sorts of vegetables. This recipe is a mash-up of a classic Turkish vegetable stuffing and some Greek flavors. It's not so crazy; they are neighbors.

The filling itself is easy. Stuffing peppers isn't that hard either. But, it all takes a while, particularly the cooking of the peppers. You need to braise them a long time until they are tender. The great thing is they reheat well so you can make a panful and have a quick meal by throwing a pepper in the microwave.

The filling contains short-grain rice (such as sushi rice) which is stickier. It holds together as a stuffing better than long-grain rice.

Stuffed Peppers
(serves 6)

6 large bell peppers, whatever color you like
4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons raisins or dried currants, soaked for 5 minutes in hot water
1 10-12 oz. package frozen chopped spinach
1 ¼ cups short grain rice
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh dill
4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
juice of 1 lemon
stock or water

Cut off the top of the peppers as high as you can to leave a large cavity. Remove the core and seeds. If the peppers won't stand up straight, you can take a very thin slice off the bottom to make them flat. Then they won't tip over in the pan. Set aside the peppers.

Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a large covered skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add onions and garlic. Cook for 10 minutes until onions are soft but do not brown them. Drain the raisins. Add raisins and spinach and raise the heat to medium. Cook until spinach has thawed. Add the rice, ¾ teaspoon salt, pepper, and 1 ½ cups of water or stock. Stir to mix, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat. Mix in herbs and cheese. Taste the filling and add more salt if needed. If the filling is bland, it will be even blander after steaming for nearly an hour so season well.

Season the insides of the peppers with salt. Fill each pepper with stuffing. When you have used up all the stuffing, wipe out the pan and place the peppers in the same pan (you don't want to have to do more dishes, do you?). Pour enough stock or water into the pan to cover the bottom of the pan. If you are using water or unsalted stock, add ½ teaspoon of salt to season it. Drizzle the lemon juice and the remaining olive oil over the peppers. Put on their tops. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, just enough to maintain a simmer. Cover the pan and steam the peppers for about 50 minutes until quite tender. If you pierce one with a knife, it won't resist at all.

Serve hot or at room temperature. A little bit of extra virgin olive oil, chopped fresh parsley and/or dill, or crumbled cheese are all nice garnishes. I also like it for breakfast, topped with a fried egg.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Jamie Oliver's Blushing Spaghetti Vongole

A pointer over to my other blog, World on a Platter (a link to it always appears in the right-hand margin on this blog). I'm a volunteer ambassador for Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution because I believe in real food. You can read a bit about how I, with my friend Ronnie, started up School of Eating Good on the Food Revolution site. I think Jamie and his organization do great things and I also think Jamie is a masterful chef. He just released a new book: Jamie's Comfort Food filled with comfort food recipes from around the world. There are some fun and exciting things in it, though it's not a beginner cookbook. The Blushing Spaghetti Vongole is one of the simpler recipes, but it does require getting a hold of live clams. Which aren't cheap or easy to find, particularly in landlocked Colorado*. A special meal - when you want to spoil yourself, your loved ones, celebrate something wonderful. That's what the book is about: recipes to treat the ones you love. The ones we love deserve great food and anyone can make it.

*If you live near Boulder, I recommend Pacific Ocean Marketplace on 120th Ave. in Broomfield for live clams and lots of other fishy and Asian things. You will find lots of interesting things there and some of the best deals on produce, anywhere.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Greek Salad

One of the few salads that did have some lettuce - but not much!
The final recipe from my class on Greek food...this one is very easy, full of delicious and healthy things, and very Greek. Rather than consult my extensive cookbook collection on Greek Salad, I talked to my friend Lynn who spent her spring vacation hiking around Greece and exploring ancient ruins. Of course, she had to eat too! She told me that she ate many Greek Salads during her stay and didn't see any lettuce in most of them. OK, skip the lettuce! This makes sense because lettuce is not in season when tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers are in season. The dressing is also simple: a lemon vinaigrette made with olive oil. Because what else would you use in Greece, birthplace of olive culture? As far back as 3,000 years ago, olives were a commercial product in Greece, specifically Crete.

Greek Salad
(serves 4)

1 cucumber, peeled and cut into thick slices
1 large red pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1" chunks
1 large green pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1" chunks
2 ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks
½ medium red onion, sliced thinly
4 oz. feta cheese, preferably sheep milk
tasty black olives such as Kalamata
dried oregano crushed between your fingers

1 - 2 cloves garlic, smashed
a healthy pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, the best you can afford

Toss together the cucumber, peppers, tomatoes, and red onion in a large bowl. Mash the garlic cloves with the salt until you have a paste of garlic. Press your knife blade while pulling it across the garlic-salt to make the paste. At first, it will be chunky but the abrasive nature of the salt will help to break down the garlic. Place the garlic paste in a medium bowl. Add in the lemon juice and olive oil. Whisk to combine. Drizzle over the vegetables and toss again. Taste for salt, adding more if needed. The feta and olives are quite salty, so don't over-season the veggies.

To serve, arrange ¼ of the vegetables on a plate. Garnish with slices or chunks of feta cheese and olives. Sprinkle lightly with a pinch of dried oregano.

Vegetarian Pastitsio

Here's a great tip for the vegetarians out there for adapting the traditional Pastitsio recipe I posted earlier this week. Instead of using 1 pound of ground meat, substitute 1 ½ pounds chopped mushrooms. Mushrooms have a savory flavor and substantial texture, making them a great meat substitute. You won't need to pour off any fat because mushrooms have next to none. In fact, I would increase the olive oil to 4 Tablespoons to make them a bit richer. The rest of the recipe stays the same.

Photo credit: By wikioticsIan (Mushrooms (cremini)) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, September 29, 2014

Spinach and Rice Casserole

Another recipe for my Greek class. It draws from the very popular Spanakopita which is a Greek spinach pie. Spanakopita is made with phyllo dough but that's not the easiest thing to deal with for beginning cooks. Here, we make it easier by mixing the spinach filling with some brown rice. This is a stick-to-your-ribs vegetarian entree.

Frozen spinach comes in packages ranging from 10 oz to 16 oz. Use whatever you can find. You do need to thaw it and drain it, but no need to squeeze out the water, as is usually done with spinach filling recipes.

Spinach and Rice Casserole
(serves 6-8)

about 5 cups cooked brown rice*

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

4 eggs
1 cup low fat or whole milk
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, about 4 oz.
1 cup crumbled feta cheese, about 4 oz.
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
2 Tablespoons chopped dill
1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
½ teaspoon black pepper

non-stick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and spinach. Cook for a few minutes until heated through. Remove from the heat, transfer to a large bowl, and allow to cool for a few minutes, so you don't scramble the eggs when you mix them into the spinach. Spray a 9" x 13" baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Beat the milk into the eggs. Add this and the remaining ingredients into the spinach and stir to combine. Spread into the baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 10 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature; refrigerate any leftovers.

*Cook 1 ¾ cups raw brown rice in 3 ¼ cups water to yield 5 cups of rice. Depending on the rice, they take 40-50 minutes to cook. If you cooked the rice ahead and it is cold, zap it for a minute to warm it up. Precooked brown rice cooks up in less time than white rice and is a good option if you want this dish in under an hour. Check the box for how much rice you need to cook because the yield is different than for raw brown rice.