28 November 2009

Ruby Red Pecan Pie

Try this: A perfectly flaky pie crust filled with a soft and sweet, vibrant red pie filling fragrant of cloves and topped with crunchy, caramelized pecans. This is Ruby Red Pecan Pie, an innovative twist on the traditional pecan pie. The secret to the color comes from roasted fresh beets--yes, beets--grated into the filling. With spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, plus the addition of dried cranberries, this pie has a variety of fun flavors and textures. I came across the recipe for this pie filling at a blog called Edible/Usable a week ago, and I was really excited to try it. I made a few changes: light corn syrup instead of maple syrup and pecans instead of walnuts. I also used my own pastry crust recipe and bumped up the spice measurements a notch. (And then I avoided using my food processor, because I didn't want the plastic fittings of my food processor to be permanently stained with red beet juice!) The pie came out great, and while I served it on its own, I think a scoop of vanilla ice cream would make it really pop as a dessert.

Many of the ingredients are what you'd see in a pecan pie recipe, but I like to think that the addition of beets makes this a healthier pie. It's not overly sweet, so leftovers are great for breakfast too. My breakfast this morning? A dollop of creamy, tangy plain yogurt over a slice of ruby red pecan pie. I think I want seconds on breakfast today!

Ruby Red Pecan Pie
1 single unbaked pie shell (9 inches)
2 medium beets, leafy tops removed (for 1 cup grated beets)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. white vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
3/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup roughly chopped pecans

Cover beets with water in a saucepan and boil for 30-45 minutes until tender. Cool and peel. Grate beets on the coarse holes of a box grater, set aside. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Add all other ingredients except cranberries and pecans to a large metal bowl and blend well. Add 1 cup of the grated beets (you may have some beets left over), the dried cranberries, and the pecans. Mix well to combine, then pour into the unbaked pie shell. (I tried to arrange the pecan pieces to be floating on top.)

Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Reduce temperature to 375 degrees and bake for 25-30 minutes or until pie is firm. Let pie cool a little and serve either warm or at room temperature.

25 November 2009

Cranberry Tangerine Sauce

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, everyone! Like many of you, I have been getting a few things together for the big feast tomorrow. One of my make-ahead dishes is fresh cranberry sauce, and for as long as I can remember, we've always made it with a hint of citrus. When I was younger, we used oranges from our trees, lining a glass serving bowl with glowing slices and then mounding a cranberry sauce inside. I loved eating those orange slices, with sweet-and-tart cranberries clinging to them.

A few years ago, I came across a delicious cranberry-kumquat sauce. I had planned on making this sauce again today, but unfortunately the kumquats around here are not quite ripe yet. However, tangerines are in season, so I decided to experiment with them. It turned out great! Get yourself some seedless tangerines (such as Satsumas) and fresh cranberries, a little sugar, a little water, and you will have a delicious, citrusy sauce in no time!

What I love about this recipe is that the tangerines are mixed in with the cranberries, so you can enjoy the citrus in each bite. I also love the candied peels that get chopped and stirred in; they add another layer of sweet which balances the sometimes-overpowering tartness of the cranberries.

If you've already made your sauce for tomorrow, you might want to try this over the weekend to eat with your turkey leftovers! This goes great in sandwiches, too, or even as a dessert over vanilla ice cream!
Cranberry Tangerine Sauce
Makes about 5 cups

6 seedless tangerines (such as Satsuma)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/4 tsp. salt
6 cups fresh cranberries

Peel tangerines in large strips, removing any loose membrane from peel and fruit. Place peel in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring water to a boil, then drain. Cover with water, boil, and drain 2 more times. (This removes any bitterness from the peels.)

Add 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water to drained peels. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes. Let cool. Using a slotted spoon, transfer candied peel to a small bowl, leaving syrup in the saucepan.

While peel is cooking, separate tangerine fruit sections and cut each section in half. Add salt, cranberries, and tangerine sections to the syrup and stir to combine. Cover saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and continue to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cranberries burst. While cranberries are cooking, chop the candied tangerine peel. Stir peel into cranberry sauce. Let sauce cool to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator. Sauce keeps up to one week, refrigerated.

08 November 2009

Home-cooked and gourmet

Image from Food & Home Magazine

This weekend I cooked a delicious dinner of parmesan-crusted swordfish steaks served over a bed of sautéed fresh spinach and bacon and topped with a chunky tomato-vegetable ragout and a watercress salad tossed in lemon-shallot vinaigrette. I was inspired by the beautiful photographs and mouth-watering descriptions in a Food & Home article that featured various local restaurants and their seafood-starring entrees. The pictures were gorgeous, and while some of them seemed fairly labor intensive (like smoked mussels jarred in olive oil with garlic, onions and herbs from Julienne or stuffed Louisiana soft-shelled crab from The Palace Grill) or simply mundane (like cioppino or grilled salmon with veggies…things I’ve had plenty of experience with already), this dish (which you can find at Enterprise Fish Co. with halibut instead of swordfish) was both approachable and unique enough to capture my imagination and get me into the kitchen.

With just the photo and a brief description, I went ahead and made up my own recipe for this great dish, and I am excited to share it with you! Composed of four different units, the colors, flavors, and textures come together to create a beautiful and fantastic experience. You’ll be thrilled with the cost ($30/plate at the restaurant versus $8/plate if made at home) and you’ll have a lot of fun making it and serving it to your appreciative guests!
If you plan to serve this when entertaining, here are some game-plan tips: make the ragout and vinaigrette a day or two ahead of time. Then, in the hour or so before your guests arrive, start reheating the ragout, wash the watercress, cook the bacon, and pat your swordfish steaks dry with a paper towel. Your final prep, which is best done right before serving, could take as little as 10 minutes, and will be to dredge the fish in parmesan and pan-fry it (4 minutes per side), sauté the spinach, toss the watercress in the vinaigrette, and then plate up the dishes. I served this with some crunchy ciabatta bread, and I think this would be paired well with a nice chardonnay.

But, don’t wait to have guests over to try this out! Go ahead and make this fun dish for your own enjoyment! The smoky, salty bacon with earthy spinach, the creamy swordfish in a crispy parmesan crust, the hearty ragout of tangy tomatoes, veggies, and jalapeño, and the cool and refreshing cress salad are just so delicious together!

Santa Barbara Swordfish
Serves 4

Tomato-Vegetable Ragout
½ large onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 small rib of celery, diced
1 jalapeño, seeds removed, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely torn

In a medium-sized pot, sauté onion, carrot, and celery until onion is soft and translucent. Add the jalapeño and garlic and continue to cook for a few minutes more. Add diced tomatoes and juices and cook on at high simmer for about one hour, covered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened. Stir in basil leaves and continue to cook, uncovered, until juices have evaporated and ragout is very thick.

Bacon and Spinach Sauté
4 oz. lean bacon, diced
12 oz. pre-washed fresh spinach

In a large pot, render the fat from the bacon by cooking over medium-low heat. Drain fat from pot. Just before serving, toss spinach in bacon until warm and wilted.

Parmesan-crusted Swordfish
4 (1/3 lb.) swordfish steaks, patted dry with a paper towel
Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
4 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese

Sprinkle steaks with salt and pepper on both sides, and dredge evenly in parmesan. In a skillet over medium-high heat, pre-heat 3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil. Cook swordfish 4 minutes on each side. The parmesan crust will become golden brown, but be careful to avoid overcooking the fish.

Watercress Salad
1 ½ tablespoons finely grated shallot (with juices)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons lemon juice
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
1 bunch watercress

Combine vinaigrette ingredients together in a small glass jar. Cover tightly and shake to emulsify the dressing. Place the watercress in a large bowl and drizzle with a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette, being careful to keep stems aligned together (to make it easier for pretty plating). You will have extra vinaigrette; save for another salad!

To plate:
Divide bacon and spinach sauté among four large dinner plates. Place a swordfish steak on each mound of spinach. Spoon the ragout over one side of the fish, and then arrange the watercress over top.

07 November 2009

Soup from the garden

When my family moved to Santa Barbara back in the 1980's, we had a lot of fun trying all the different types of fruit that grew locally. We had been living in New York, Germany, and Illinois prior to our move out here, and many of the fruits we saw here in the produce stores and farmers markets seemed quite exotic at the time! Our garden was an exciting Eden in itself, with about a dozen established fruit trees including pomegranate, avocado, grapefruit, persimmon, and guava. We bought a citrus juicer and enjoyed fresh-squeezed orange juice for the first time. Snacks became walking out onto the back patio and grabbing a tangerine off the tree, throwing the peels down the hillside, and eating the sections one by one in the outdoors. Or getting a guava, cutting it in half, and scooping out the soft flesh with a spoon.

One of the really interesting fruits in our garden was the persimmon. We had never seen anything like it before: lightly sweet, seedless fruits about the size of an apple with a hint of cinnamon flavor. And did you know, they're actually considered a berry? We'd eat them crisp early in the season and bake the softer ones into puddings and cookies later in the season. Recently, I started experimenting with other uses of persimmon, and came up with this persimmon soup, spicy with fresh ginger. You'll have to try it out and let me know what you think!
Now, there are two types of persimmons commonly found in California, introduced in the 1800's from China and Japan. The persimmons I know and love are the fuyu variety; they are shaped like squat tomatoes (wider than they are tall) and can be eaten raw even when firm. The hachiya variety, on the other hand, with a very high tannin content, must be ripened until the fruit is essentially liquified inside its skin. Try eating it any sooner, and you'll be unpleasantly surprised by its astringency. The hachiya persimmons would lend themselves best for baking. But if you're out shopping for persimmons, or have the opportunity of planting a persimmon tree, go for the fuyu type. They are the most versatile and delicious!

Persimmon Soup

2-inch piece fresh ginger, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup white wine
6 fuyu persimmons, peeled and chopped
2 cups chicken stock

In a large pot, saute the ginger, garlic, onion, and bay leaf with a little olive oil, until onion is soft and translucent. Deglaze bottom of pot with white wine and continue cooking, until wine is reduced by half. Add persimmons and chicken stock, and simmer until soft. Remove the bay leaf and then blend the soup with an immersion stick blender until smooth. Season with salt to taste and thin with more stock, as desired.