Friday, April 9, 2010

Date Almond Balls

On to dessert ..........

Once again, I've been inspired by my favorite local health food store, the Whole Earth Center in Princeton, NJ. If I'm honest, I've basically stolen this one, since I adapted this from the list of ingredients on their date almond balls, minus sesame seeds. The dates are so sweet that there is no need for any additional sweetener, although the chocolate chips are certainly sweetened. For those wishing to cut out even more sugar, you could swap the chocolate chips for unsweetened carob chips, cacao nibs, or chopped nuts. You do need something in there for texture/crunch, though.

My 7-year-old nephew called these balls "awesome". Ditch the cookies and candy and try these out on your own kids (or yourself).

Date Almond Balls
3 cups dates, pitted
1 16 oz. jar almond butter
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 cup reduced-fat shredded coconut

In a food processor, puree dates until they make a smooth paste. In a large bowl, combine date paste with almond butter, mixing together well with a wooden spoon. Kneed with your hands a few times to disperse the almond butter evenly. Add chocolate chips (or other mix-ins) and kneed until combined.

Form mixture into balls about 1 1/2-2" in diameter. Roll balls in shredded coconut. Enjoy!

Store in the refrigerator. Makes about 3 dozen balls.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sesame Kale

I'm not sure how to count this dish. Every scrap that I made for the seder was eaten, but several people did not try it, and I had bags full of prepped kale (uncooked) waiting in the fridge to be cooked for a second round, which never came. Oh well. That not withstanding, I got lots of compliments on the kale. Most noteworthy was a friend, who does not cook and says she does not like leafy greens, asking for my recipe. "What recipe?" I thought. After all, I had come up with this on the spot (yes, I planned it in some vague form in advance, but it didn't come together in its specifics until I was doing it, five minutes before it was served).

This dish is very easy and very quick, but it needs to be made at the last minute, or it will get quite bitter. That's good news for those who will use this to feed their family of four on a weeknight, and bad news for those who will serve it at a big dinner party. I try to keep my dinner parties limited to almost all foods that can be made in advance, just so I don't need to be pulling my hair out at the last minute. This dish is a minor hair-puller because, even though it needs to be done at the last minute, it is not complicated or time-consuming. Just prep the kale leaves in advance so you're not busy washing and tearing leaves when you should be playing host.

Sesame Kale
2 bunches dinosaur kale, washed, dried, and torn into pieces
2 Tbsps. unrefined coconut oil
1 1/2 Tbsps. red wine vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsps. tahini
1 1/2 tsps. sesame oil
1/2 tsp. sesame seeds
salt & pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, combine coconut oil, vinegar, tahini, and sesame oil, blending thoroughly with a fork. In a large stainless steel skillet, add a large dollop of the mixture and melt over medium heat. Add the torn kale leaves, stirring frequently, until wilted. Once wilted, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve warm.

Serves 12-15.

Roasted Carrots with Pistachios and Mint

This may be the only dish that disappeared entirely at my seder. It was clearly well-liked, and I knew it would be the kid favorite, but I think I also didn't make enough. I had assumed that it would be mostly for the kids, but all of the adults wanted it, too, so most people only got a small amount to sample, including me.

Roasting makes everything taste better because it helps to caramelize and concentrate the naturally occurring sugars in foods. Of course, in the case of carrots, which are quite sweet to begin with, roasting practically turns them into candy. Hence, their popularity among kids. The mint and pistachios lend a more sophisticated, adult twist to the dish, but didn't seem to disturb the kids. I guess that's ultimately why this dish was so much in demand. Make lots of it!

Roasted Carrots with Pistachios and Mint
10 large carrots, peeled and cut into thick rounds
1/3 cup shelled pistachios
2 Tbsps. olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste
1/3 oz. fresh mint, chopped well

Pre-heat oven to 425F.

Combine carrots, pistachios, olive oil, salt & pepper in a mixing bowl. Toss well. Transfer to a covered baking dish/casserole, and roast for 55 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with mint, toss and serve warm.

Serves 10-12.

Quinoa, Asparagus & Hazelnut Salad

This was one of my favorite dishes from the seder, although I'm not sure my guests would agree. The dishes that received the most compliments were the matzah ball soup, the fish fritters, the brisket, the duck, the kale, and the date almond balls. In comparison to all of these, the quinoa was very light and fresh tasting, and for a meat-loving crowd, it might not have been exactly what they were expecting. Nonetheless, I thought it went well with the meal, as a counterpoint, and I have relished the leftovers!

What I like most about this salad is that it is well balanced in so many ways. Nutritionally, it's a complete meal, containing proteins, carbs, vegetables, and even fruit. The taste is well balanced in terms of acidity and brightness, which come from the lemon juice, lemon zest and parsley, and fattiness (which is not a strong point, since it's a light dish) from the hazelnuts and olive oil, and sweetness from the currants. The texture is also well-balanced because it has the airiness of the quinoa, the crunch of the hazelnuts, and the bite of the asparagus. All together, this dish is much more than a side dish. It could be (and has been for me) lunch, all by itself. Make it for as long as the asparagus keep springing up!

Quinoa, Asparagus & Hazelnut Salad
2 cups quinoa (mix of red and white varieties adds color interest)
3 3/4 cups water
1 1/2 tsps. salt
2 bunches asparagus (thinner is better), trimmed of woody ends and cut into 1" pieces
1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil (for brushing)
1/2 cup hazelnuts, chopped
1/2 cup currants
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped

In a covered saucepan, combine quinoa, water and 1 1/2 tsps salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed.

Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Brush with grapeseed oil. When hot, add asparagus and "grill" for 5-10 minutes (until you get some color), stirring occasionally. Season the asparagus lightly with salt and pepper. Transfer the asparagus to a large mixing bowl.

In the same cast iron skillet, toast the hazelnuts over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.

Toss the cooked quinoa, cooked asparagus, toasted hazelnuts, currants, lemon zest, lemon juice, and olive oil in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper, and toss to incorporate. Just before serving, add the parsley and toss.

May be served warm or at room temperature. Serves 15-20.

Roasted Rosemary Fingerling Potatoes

If there is one dish that I was embarrassed by at my seder, it was this one. It's a good recipe, I think really good, but I goofed it up. So, please don't do what I did! I tried to make the potatoes in a casserole dish which was too deep for all the potatoes to cook evenly, and they were packed so tight that I couldn't stir them up well, even when I did try. I wanted something in which I could cook, refrigerate, re-heat, and serve the potatoes, and the casserole met those conditions, but at what price? Too many of the potatoes were undercooked in the end. Everyone at the table was very gracious and didn't complain a bit, but I can't imagine that they didn't notice a problem.

If you follow the recipe (the way I knew it needed to be done to begin with), you won't suffer such embarrassment, and you may even get a compliment or two.

Roasted Rosemary Fingerling Potatoes
4 lbs. fingerling potatoes, washed well and trimmed of blemishes
2 Tbsps. olive oil
2 Tbsps. grapeseed oil
3/4 oz. fresh rosemary, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, tossing to evenly coat the potatoes with oils and seasonings. Transfer to a half sheet pan (jelly roll pan), spreading evenly. Cover the pan in foil, and bake for 1-1.5 hours, redistributing the potatoes every half hour and checking for doneness with a fork (if the fork goes easily into the potatoes, they're done). Serve hot.

Serves 15-20 people.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cod Fritters with Bitter Greens Salad

The traditional fish dish for Passover is gefilte fish, but that's not an option for me right now since it's very difficult to make without eggs. Gefilte fish is also very much an acquired taste, and my husband has never managed to acquire it. So, as an alternative, I decided to make a fish fritter from one of my favorite Jewish cookbooks, The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden, with a couple of minor adjustments. The fritter is packed full of parsley, another traditional ceremonial Passover food. This, and the accompanying salad, got rave reviews from my diners. Here is the fish recipe as it appears in the book, with my own tweaks noted in parentheses (salad and dressing recipes follow below):

Calcutta Fish Cakes
1/2 green chili pepper, seeded
A bunch of scallions (about 9 thin ones)
A large bunch of flat-leafed parsley (1 cup)
1 teaspoon curry powder or to taste
A good pinch of cayenne pepper or to taste
3 tablespoons flour (I used oat matzah meal)
1 lb. (500 g) raw ground fish or skinned fish fillet (I used cod)
About 1/2 teaspoon salt
Oil for frying (I used grapeseed oil)

Finely chop the chili pepper, scallions, and flat-leafed parsley in a food processor. Add the curry powder, cayenne, and flour (matzah meal), and blend. Add the fish fillets and a little salt, and process very briefly (a few seconds only) with the rest of the ingredients. If using store-bought ground fish, turn into a bowl with the rest of the ingredients, mix with a fork, and work to a paste that holds together with your hand.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan (I used cast iron) and drop the mixture in by the tablespoon, pushing it off with another spoon. Flatten the fritters a little in the pan and fry on both sides till lightly browned but still soft inside (I cooked for 5 minutes of each side, then finished for 20 minutes in a 350F oven).

Serves 4 (I think this serves 6-7 as a meal, and 8-10 as an appetizer).

Bitter Greens Salad with Horseradish Dressing
Bitter greens are another traditional Passover food, intended to remind us of the bitterness of slavery. Unfortunately, horseradish, which is sharp and not bitter, has come to replace bitter greens on many a seder plate, so I'm bringing them back with this salad. This salad also featured one of the most beautiful vegetable I know: the chiogga beet (pictured below). Thanks to my brother and sister-in-law for their incredible help in making this salad possible!

1 bunch dandelion greens, torn into pieces, ribs removed
1 bunch daikon (roots and greens), greens torn into pieces, tough stalks removed
1-2 heads of frisee, cored
2 packages dried mushrooms (whatever kinds you prefer ... I had an assortment)
1 cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
salt to taste
1 chiogga beet, peeled and trimmed of ends
Horseradish dressing (below)

Toss dandelion greens, daikon greens, and frisee in a large bowl. Set aside.

Mix dried mushrooms and wine in a bowl, and set aside to reconstitute for 20 minutes. Then drain wine (reserve mushroom-steeped wine for future use ... think risotto, poached eggs or chicken, rice pilaf, etc.). In a small skillet, saute the mushrooms in grapeseed oil, seasoning with a pinch of salt.

Make shavings of the beet and daikon root with either a vegetable peeler or a mandolin.

Toss the greens with the salad dressing. Divide greens onto salad plates. Scatter a few mushrooms, beet shavings, and daikon shavings on each plate. Top with a fish fritter, and garnish the fish with a bit of the dressing.

Serves 12

Horseradish Dressing
4 1/2 Tbsps. finely grated horseradish
1 1/2 cups olive oil
3/4 cup champagne vinegar
6 Tbsps. dijon mustard
2 tsps. celery seed
1 1/2 tsps. ground white pepper
1 Tbsp. salt

Combine all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Makes about 3 cups.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Roast Duckling with Apricot Balsamic Glaze

I was incredibly lucky to find free-range kosher duckling to serve at my Passover seder. Believe it or not, I found it at a nearby supermarket that specializes in kosher foods. I jumped at the chance to cook duck, and ditched my much more basic chicken plan. If you are looking to buy duck, rest assured that as long as you don't need it to be kosher, you should be able to find it quite readily. And due to some helpful USDA restrictions, ducks cannot be raised using antibiotics or hormones, so you're safe from those regardless.

I bought four duckings, each about 4.5 lbs., for a crowd of 18 people, and we were left with a couple of scraps too small to use for a single leftover dinner. So, the perfect amount (except that I wouldn't have minded some leftovers).

Although it was a great hit, I would have liked the fat to render a bit more. So, that's something to work on next time. Nevertheless, the meat was delicious, tender, and flavorful, and the accompanying glaze was quite tasty.

Roasting duck is certainly not as easy as roasting chicken, but it's also not as hard as most people think. The trick is to score or pierce the skin all over and rotate the duck every so often so that the thick fat layer under the skin renders. If I had cooked the duck at a lower temperature for a longer time, I think I could have achieved that completely and had crispier skin to boot.

So, although this recipe is not perfect, it will still make everyone at the table happy:

Roast Duckling with Apricot Balsamic Glaze
4-6 lb. free-range duckling
salt and pepper
Apricot Balsamic Glaze (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350F (perhaps next time I'd try 300F). Cut away any excess hanging skin around the neck and back side. Rinse the duck in cold water, inside and out, and then pat dry with towels.

Pierce or score the skin all over. Season the duck with salt and pepper, inside and out. Place the duck, breast-side up, on a rack in a roasting pan, and then put in the oven.

Turn the duck every 30-45 minutes. When the internal temperature of the duck (at the deepest part of the breast) reaches 165F on a meat thermometer, the duck in done (roughly 3 hours). If you like your duck a little more cooked through, you can roast it to 180F.

Increase the oven temperature to 400F. Glaze the duck and return to the oven for up to five minutes. Remove from the oven, and allow the duck to rest for 15 minutes before carving and serving. Make sure to reserve the fat in the bottom of the pan - it's a chef's gold!

One duck serves 4-5 people.

Apricot Balsamic Glaze
3 9 oz. jars apricot jam
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup orange juice
2 Tbsps. honey

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan (if the jam is very chunky, first puree all ingredients together in a blender). Bring the mixture to a simmer, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook down (if necessary) until thick and syrupy.

This recipe makes enough to glaze several ducks and pass as a condiment, as well. Goes well with chicken, turkey or pork also.