Archive for July, 2009

From Dish Jess:

Whole Wheat Pasta Salad

I have two words for you, readers: Tomato Season!! Here in California it starts way earlier than on the East Coast, and we’re in the height of it right now.  There are gorgeous heirloom varieties everywhere, and I can’t get enough  – sungold, early girls, cherry charm – even their names are irresistible. Tomatoes are one of my favorite foods – their versatility and richness of flavor makes them indispensable in sauces, salads and sandwiches, and they lend themselves equally beautifully to grilled, roasted or sautéed dishes.

This saucy salad was part of a light summer meal that I threw together on a weeknight. I’d been eating a LOT of meat, and knew I needed a healthy vegetarian dinner. I’ve never been a fan of mayo-based salads (though a great potato salad easily breaks me down), but I wanted to make something fresh and healthy that would satisfy my craving for chewy pasta and veggies drenched in something super-tasty.  I’ve been on a condiments kick recently, so I decided to make a dressing with a little more depth than your average vinaigrette.

Dressing ingredients

For the dressing:
2 tbsp water
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove
2 small strawberries, trimmed
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp diced red onion
small handful of fresh basil leaves
salt and coarse black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender or mixing bowl. I used an immersion (hand) blender to blend; a stand-alone blender would be fine as well.  Puree until all ingredients are mixed and no chunks remain. The dressing should be a little thicker than chocolate milk (whole milk please!); if  it’s too thick, add a teaspoon or two of water and blend again. Let the dressing sit while you assemble the salad; this can even be made a day in advance since the flavors mix well as they steep together.

For the salad:
½ lb whole wheat penne
2 ½ cups fresh baby spinach
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 cup chickpeas
8 oz fresh mozzarella, diced ¼”
½ cup chopped fresh basil
3 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted

Boil and drain the pasta, toss lightly to cool. When still warm but not hot, mix the spinach in.  Add tomatoes, chickpeas, cheese, basil and pine nuts.  Add your Strawberry Balsamic Dressing, toss to coat evenly, garnish wish a sprig of basil.

Whole Wheat Pasta Salad

I served this with a personalized take on garlic bread – a baguette that I cut, brushed with a garlic & herb marinade leftover from the weekend, and toasted in foil until perfectly crusty and hot. Serves 4, with bread.

Jess with Pasta Salad

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From Dish Jodi:

Blueberry brown butter Tart

On Saturday Night, the man and I, exhausted from a day of printing and assembling our wedding invitations (81 days to go, yipes!), went to one of my favorite LA Italian restaurants, Angeli Caffe. Run by the satin-voiced Evan Kleinman, host of KCRW’s “Good Food” radio show (which I jog to on my iPod in the mornings — so dorky) Angeli is also the future site of our upcoming Rehearsal Dinner (80 days to go, yipes!).

Though I’ve eaten there a bagillion times, Neal and I spent the dinner trying stuff that could be served that we hadn’t tasted. Rosemary roasted chicken so tender it flopped from the bone on to the plate, crispy croquettes of eggplant and risotto, and best of all, the dessert – which we’re usually WAY too full to order.

We shared an amazing blueberry tart with shortbread crust. Neal loves “bloobs” more than any fruit and I love anything baked with flakes of butter, so this was heaven. Today at the market, blueberries were so freakin’ cheap, I had to attempt a re-creation. Here goes:

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar, plus one tbsp
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp lemon zest
1 stick butter – cold, cut into cubes
½ stick butter – melted and browned
1 egg yolk
1 ½ pints blueberries (or two, or however many will fit!)
1 ½ tbsp cornstarch

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a food processor (key to any crust making if you ask me), pulse the flour, salt, sugar and lemon zest for a few seconds to mix. Pulse with the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add egg yolk and pulse until dough begins to form a ball – or at least sticks together when you squeeze it.

mixing dough

Press dough evenly into a 10” tart pan with removable bottom. Pierce bottom with a fork about 20 times and bake for about 15 minutes until it starts to look golden brown.

Pie crust

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine blueberries, remaining sugar, and cornstarch. Fill pre-baked tart with berries, disperse evenly and drizzle warm browned butter (made by swirling butter in a pan on a burner til it starts to look and smell roasty…mmm.) over. Place back in oven and bake for another 45-60 minutes, or until berries cook and ooze their juices.

Let cool, cut and serve!

Jodi with tart

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From Dish Rachelle:

Vegetable dumplings

I work from home two days a week and it was one of those days – shh, don’t tell – when I really had nothing to do. Usually, when I’m between projects or waiting on feedback from someone, I’ll take care of unglamorous life stuff: doing laundry, cleaning the bathroom. Aware that my SLD recipe was nearly due, however, I decided to make myself an ambitious, website-worthy lunch. Two hours later and amidst a battalion of dirty dishes, I sunk my teeth into the freshest Asian dumplings I’d ever tasted.

But let me rewind for a minute. I settled on dumplings because I had picked up a container of beet kimchi from the farmer’s market in Ft. Greene, which is delicious – salty, spicy, pickled – but not exactly versatile. I wanted to use it as a condiment for an Asian dish, and I’d heard wonton wrappers are easy enough to find at the supermarket (especially if one of your neighborhood markets is a 24-hour Korean organic superstore). I planned to stick with vegetarian cooking since my main meals the day before had been a bagel, and chicken tenders with french fries at the Long Beach snack-shack, and I was heading to a backyard BBQ at Dish Gwen’s for dinner that evening where the food is always wonderful, but I find it difficult to resist the grilled sausage. I walked to Sunac Natural feeling confident. It was just a few minutes later, when I’d already filled my basket with ingredients, that I learned no, they did not have wonton wrappers in stock, and the panic began to set in.

But I’m a badass cook with nothing to do, right? I would make my own dough. Behold my first go at homemade dumplings: a bona fide roller coaster of emotion that ended on a surprisingly high note.

Ingredients (makes about 12 large dumplings):

For filling:
6 oz. (just shy of half the package) extra firm tofu, diced small
1 lg. scallion, greens and whites chopped finely
¼ cup red bell pepper, diced small
1 tsp. freshly minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 lg. cabbage leaves (roughly ½ cup), parboiled and chopped finely
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
red pepper flakes, to taste

Set a pot of water on the stove, and chop the tofu and vegetables. When the water boils, add cabbage leaves and boil for 1-3 minutes, until wilted but not mushy. Run the leaves under cold water and chop. Combine finely diced vegetables, including garlic and ginger, in a bowl, and set aside, reserving a pinch of scallion for plating. Wet ingredients – egg, soy sauce, sesame oil – will be added after the dough is finished.

Diced vegetables for filling

For dough:
1 ¼ cup flour
¾ tsp. salt
½ cup COLD water

Combine ingredients in a large bowl and knead into a ball with your hands. When dough is smooth, move onto a floured surface. Roll dough into small balls, roughly 1-inch in diameter. Flatten and roll out with a rolling pin (hand in the picture below to show scale). Keep a bag of flour nearby to re-dust surface, your hands, and the rolling pin, because the dough is sticky; remember, these ingredients are also used to make paste. (NOTE: for this reason, I’d recommend washing the rolling pin immediately after use, unless you want to be peeling off tiny paper mache samples of the wood grain). Do not rest freshly rolled wrappers one on top of the other for longer than a few minutes. They will stick together, and the only way to rectify the situation will be to mash them into a ball and roll them out again (this was the moment in my cooking experiment when I was sure that lunch was ruined, and I wondered if I could sauté the filling by itself and eat it).

Fresh dumpling skinFilling with wet ingredients

Add wet ingredients to your filling and mix. Spoon ½ to ¾ tsp. mixture onto rolled-out wrapper, and fold over into a half-moon, closing the edges with the tines of a fork (if you find the wrapper won’t stick to itself – shockingly – run a wet finger around the edge).

When dumplings are assembled, heat 1 tbsp. vegetable oil in a non-stick pan over high heat. Place dumplings in the pan and fry until golden brown, roughly 3 minutes per side. Remove from pan, and let rest on a plate with a dry paper towel to remove excess oil. The resulting texture will be somewhere in between a delicate gourmet dumpling, and a down-and-dirty doughy one from the average corner takeout.

For dipping sauce:
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
2 tsp. honey or brown sugar

Whisk ingredients together and serve in a small bowl alongside dumplings. Track down beet kimchi, if so inclined.

Oh dumpling, how you’ve challenged me…

Rachelle with dumpling

Recipe inspiration from Alton Brown, About.com, and Epicurious.

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