Monday, November 23, 2009

Two Bean Butternut Squash Chili

I'm a sucker for a good chili ... spicy, warm, comforting. And for some very strange reason, I never make the same chili twice. I'm always tweaking: always adding a little extra this or subtracting a little of that. Sausage, ground meat, bell peppers, beans; regardless the ingredients, there is always a soul-satisfying, heartwarming bowl of chili to enjoy.

This time around, chunks of butternut squash replaced meat and provided for the perfect counterpart to cannelini and black beans. Chipotle chilies added a smoky, spicy dimension of flavor every bowl of chili should boast.

Once done, just add a dollop of Greek yogurt and some fresh cilantro over top for the perfect chili everyone will enjoy.

Two Bean Butternut Squash Chili
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 small to medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 chipotle chilies, seeds removed and chilies finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups black beans, either canned or dried beans boiled until just tender
2 cups cannelini beans, either canned or dried beans boiled until just tender
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water (use more as needed)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat and saute onions and garlic about 10 minutes until quite soft. Add the butternut squash and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in tomatoes, paste, broth, chipotle chilies, cumin and oregano. Add the broth and water and bring to a boil. If using dried beans that have been boiled until just tender, add now and simmer chili for about 25 minutes; if using canned, let mixture simmer for about 15 minutes before adding rinsed beans to pot and then simmering for 10 minutes more.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve chili in bowls topped with Greek yogurt and chopped cilantro.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pumpkin Rizogalo

Pumpkin pie is certainly an important part of an American Thanksgiving ... it's the day's quintessential dessert and frankly, Thanksgiving just doesn't feel right without this sweet, spice-laced pie gracing our humble table.

But for those that aren't so enthusiastic about traditional pumpkin pie, there are some great alternatives. Pumpkin and Coconut Milk Panna Cotta anyone? Or how about this Pumpkin Rizogalo (that's Greek for rice pudding)?

For me, rizogalo is one of those food items that brings back a flood of memories and emotions. One of my late Giagia's dessert specialties was her rizogalo and it was quite often that we would return home from school to the smell of rice simmered in milk, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg wafting up the stairs from her apartment to our own. It was a smell that made me feel warm and simply secure inside. Giagia would use a whole gallon of milk to make enough of her rizogalo to satisfy us all and we all adored it.

She gave me her recipe some time ago once her cooking came to a halt and she could no longer move around her kitchen the way she always had. It's a simple recipe of just rice, milk, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. To this day, it is my favorite rice pudding recipe and I neither need nor want any other to replace it. But in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I tried my hand at this festive version last weekend with the hope of honoring the holiday, the season and, more importantly, the memory of my Giagia all in one sweet bite.

So, if you enjoy rice pudding and you are looking to add some more pumpkin to your holiday table, look no further ... here is my recipe for Pumpkin Rizogalo.

Pumpkin Rizogalo (Rice Pudding)
Makes about 10 ramekins

6 to 7 cups milk
1 1/4 cups rice
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree, either fresh or canned
pinch of salt
dash of grated nutmeg
dash of ground cinnamon
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large saucepan, bring the 6 cups of milk, rice, sugar and salt to a simmer. Stir in 1 1/4 cups of the pumpkin, the nutmeg and cinnamon and cook mixture until the rice is quite soft and cooked through, stirring often.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the vanilla and remaining pumpkin in a medium bowl. Remove the saucepan from the burner and slowly whisk some of the rice mixture into the egg yolk mixture so as to temper it. Pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat for a few minutes more. (Add additional cup of milk as necessary during cooking.)

Spoon into ramekins or serving dishes and place plastic wrap directly on surface of pudding (so as to prevent it from forming a "skin"). Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cranberry Apple Chutney

Thanksgiving is just a week away so I thought I'd share some recipes that will be gracing our table this year. There are, of course, a few dishes that remain virtually unchanged year after year: the turkey is roasted simply with fresh vegetables and herbs; the sweet potatoes are baked with brown sugar and marshmallows; and the rice is made in our family's traditional way ... and there are no ifs, ands or buts about it.

But some dishes I like to tweak and experiment with include appetizers, the essential cranberry sauce and all the fall inspired desserts. So I thought I'd start with this cranberry chutney which I began making last year in place of plain cranberry sauce (which I still adore but sometimes a girl needs a little extra oomph). This is a great make-ahead recipe that's full of flavor and can have some texture depending on how thick you like to dice your apples.

Use apples that can withstand cooking a little better and not turn to mush: I'd say Gala, Rome, Jonagold or Winesap are your best bets. Also, freshly grated orange zest and juice as well as freshly grated ginger are key ... and if you're feeling adventurous, add some ground clove for a truly flavorful chutney that can not only serve as a worthy accompaniment to your turkey, but pair well with roasted pork loin, grilled pork chops and make an amazing addition to any sandwich.

Cranberry Apple Chutney
Makes 6 to 8 accompaniment servings

2 pounds of apples (about 4 large)
2 medium onions, thickly sliced
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
2 cups fresh cranberries (I purchase fresh cranberries and freeze them for future use, then thaw before using)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Halve, and core apples (and if you prefer, peel them as well although I leave them unpeeled) then cut into 1-inch cubes. In a bowl combine the apples with the orange zest, orange juice, sugar, ginger, mustard and butter and stir lightly to coat. Place the mixture in a baking dish and bake for about 45 minutes. Stir the apple mixture a few times during baking.

Stir in the cranberries and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer until the cranberries are soft and the chutney thick. You can make the chutney a couple of days in advance; just bring it to room temperature or warm it ever so slightly before serving with your roast turkey. Try it with roasted chicken or pork; better yet add it to a sandwich or wrap using leftover chicken or turkey breast ... trust me, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Short Rib Terrine

Short ribs are easily my favorite cut of beef. I adore them. They need minimal TLC (barely any hands on cooking, just a bit more time in the oven or on a burner) and yet yield so much flavor -- a simple braise with fresh vegetables and herbs is all they need in my book; deglaze the braising liquid with some red wine and you've got sheer perfection.

To change things up a bit, this past weekend I tried my hand at this Short Rib Terrine and I am pleased to say it's now one of my favorite tapas and a really great way to use my beloved short ribs. Served with fresh homemade bread dotted with leeks and garlic the terrine was full of flavor. Just be sure to add some briny capers to your serving tray when offering up this tapa as they pair beautifully with it.

What's even better though, is that the cooking process yields a fragrant beef broth that can be used to enhance the flavor of other dishes. (I stored a couple of cupfuls in separate glass storage containers and placed them in the freezer for future use.)

Do try this Short Rib Terrine, you won't be disappointed.

Short Rib Terrine

(Adapted from a recipe on

6 pounds short ribs
2 onions, quartered
2 celery ribs, quartered
2 carrots, cut into large chunks
1 large leek, cleaned and quartered
4 fresh parsley stems
2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
6 to 8 whole black peppercorns
12 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

To finish terrine:
8 large garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons Spanish paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Season short ribs with some coarse sea salt and spread in a roasting pan along with the onions, celery, leek and carrot. Roast, turning occasionally, for about an hour.

Make a bouquet garni with the parsley, thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns. Transfer meat (with bones) and roasted vegetables to a large pot and add 12 cups water, salt and bouquet garni. Add a bit of water to the roasting pan and scrape all the brown bits up then pour the liquid into the pot. Bring to a boil and skim froth as necessary. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer, uncovered for anywhere from 3 to 4 hours, until meat is extremely tender and broth is reduced.

Transfer mixture to a bowl and cool completely, uncovered, then cover and chill overnight.

Remove fat from chilled mixture. Reheat mixture over moderate heat until warm. remove from heat and transfer short ribs to a platter; once slightly cooled, discard bones and fat. Finely chop short rib meat and set aside. Pour broth through a cheesecloth-lined sieve and store as desired.

To complete the terrine: Heat oil in a saucepan and cook garlic over low heat, turning occasionally, until golden, about 15 minutes. Remove garlic with a slotted spoon and reserve the oil. Mash the garlic to a paste with a fork.

Add paprika, salt and pepper to the oil remaining in the saucepan and cook over low heat until fragrant, a couple of minutes. In a large bowl, stir together the paprika oil, garlic paste and short rib meat. Pack the mixture into a terrine or crock, cover tightly and chill overnight. Bring the terrine to room temperature before serving with slices of fresh bread, crackers or pita triangles and capers.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Roast Chicken, Cranberry and Honey Mustard Pita Sandwich

I love roasting a whole chicken and then using leftovers in a variety of ways. My favorite as of late is this pita sandwich with roast chicken, homemade cranberry sauce, sweet and tangy honey mustard and fresh watercress. It's a satisfying little sandwich and it's pretty healthy. I used Greek pita bread that I placed under the broiler for a couple of minutes to get some color but you can obviously use any bread you wish. Layer some roast chicken breast over one half of the pita and top with honey mustard, cranberry sauce and a handful of watercress. Top with the remaining pita half and enjoy!

Now don't be fooled by the roast chicken being listed here first: the star of this sandwich is the fresh cranberry sauce. Sweet and tart with a hint of ginger, the cranberries take this sandwich to a whole new level. And considering shelves are stocked with tons of fresh cranberries, sauces and chutneys such as this will be creeping into our dishes pretty regularly over the next month or so.

Below, I'll just share my recipe for a simple cranberry sauce but in the coming weeks will also write up the recipe for my favorite cranberry chutney ... so stay tuned!

Cranberry Sauce

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
12-oz fresh cranberries (3 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
Juice of small orange
Splash of Mavrodaphne (or Port)
Pinch of grated ginger

As I was already using my oven to roast the chicken, I simply combined all the ingredients in a baking dish, covered with foil and baked it until reduced to a thick, chunky sauce. Alternatively, just combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until the cranberries are soft and the sauce is thick.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Olive Oil Poached Cod, Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Pine Nuts

We eat fish quite a bit: I pan fry whole porgies or cook them in a foil "pouch" with oregano, garlic and olive oil on a weekly basis. But more supple fillets of fish inherently prone to overcooking, usually pose a problem as they demand a bit more attention than I can offer on a weeknight.

It was only just recently I figured out a solution to this problem; it was only just recently I figured out that poaching fish in olive oil is an unbelievably forgiving method of cooking delicate fish that yields such amazingly tender, moist results. I cannot sing this method's praises enough: it's so simple and so easy, more importantly poaching really lets the fish shine and using good olive oil means it's healthy.

In this dish, I used some fresh cod, which is thick and meaty, but I'm certain halibut would work just as well here. I served the olive oil poached cod over mashed sweet potatoes flavored with grated ginger and a touch of cream as well as some sauteed broccoli rabe with pine nuts toasted with a dash of cayenne pepper. The kids gobbled it all up and even asked for seconds. Need I say more?

Olive Oil Poached Cod, Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Pine Nuts

1 to 1 1/2 lbs. fresh cod
2 large sweet potatoes
Ground ginger, to taste
Dash of ground nutmeg
Tablespooon of butter or a splash of heavy cream
1 bunch broccoli rabe, bottom 2 inches of stems removed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup pine nuts
Dash of cayenne pepper
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

To start with, clean and peel the potatoes and cook them in boiling water until fork tender (alternatively, clean the potatoes but don't peel; wrap them in foil and roast until tender; cool and then peel). Mash them either with a potato masher or in a food processor, then stir in the ground ginger, ground nutmeg, butter or heavy cream, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside and rewarm when ready to serve.

For the broccoli rabe, rinse the stems and remove any thick or damaged leaves. Bring a pot of water to boil and add the broccoli rabe for just a couple of minutes. Remove the broccoli rabe to a colander and drain well. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add the pine nuts and a dash of cayenne. Shake the skillet frequently until the pine nuts are toasted and golden. Remove the pine nuts from the skillet and set aside. Add a couple of tablespoons olive oil to the skillet along with the minced garlic and cook until fragrant. Toss in the broccoli rabe and the pine nuts and combine well with the olive oil until heated through. Remove skillet from heat and set aside.

For the cod, heat some olive oil (enough to just cover the cod) in a dutch oven or deep skillet over very low heat. Cut the cod into individual portions, season with salt and pepper and carefully add it to the oil. Let the cod poach in the olive oil (keep the heat at low) until opaque and just cooked through, about 12 to 15 minutes depending on the size of the fillets.

Place the mashed sweet potatoes and broccoli rabe on the plate and carefully remove cod with a spatula and place over the potatoes to serve.

Try adding some fresh herbs or sliced garlic to the poaching oil so as to infuse the fish with those flavors as well.