Friday, January 23, 2015

Fennel, Apple and Celery Salad with Cilantro and Lemon

Generally, I have never been a big fan of salads.  I consider myself an alpha carnivore, preferring to eat meat over leafy greens.  If I have to have a side, it is usually a starch, such as potatoes or rice.  To be sure, I eat salads and cook vegetable side dishes, but  not as much as I should.

My beautiful Angel has made tremendous strides in opening me and my diet to salads.  This recipe is an example of that.  Before I met my Angel, I would not have thought of making a salad of fennel, apple and celery.   However, a few weeks back, we had dinner with Clare's parents and her father made a salad that included fennel.  The salad was very delicious.  It also got me to thinking about different salads that I could make for Clare which feature fennel.

Fennel is a very interesting ingredient.  The white bulbs with straight, green branches and feathery leaves sets this vegetable apart from others on a grocery shelf.   One would think it was related to any number of vegetables that sprout from bulbs.  However, fennel is from the Umbellifereae family, which means it is closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander.  Yet, the taste of fennel -- with its strong notes of anise -- is completely different than parsley, coriander and the like.  

The anise flavor of fennel pairs well with a variety of ingredients, most notably apples.  This basic pairing is what makes the salad work.  The use of celery, cilantro and lemons add levels of flavor to the salad.  The result is a delicious salad that has helped to further focus my attention to vegetables.

Recipe from Food Network
Serves 8

1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 large apples, julienned
1 medium head of fennel, cored and thinly sliced
3 large ribs of celery, sliced (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

In a large non-reactive bowl, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Add the apples, fennel, celery and cilantro.  Toss until well combined.  Taste and adjust the seasonings. 


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sweet Pepper and White Bean Soup

Mario Batali introduces a recipe for sweet pepper and white bean soup in words that are seemingly quintessential Mario: "The creamy bass notes of white beans play perfectly against the high-hat brightness of the peppers' sweet acidity, extending the spectrum of flavor to the perimeter of yum."

The thing about Mario Batali is that he is exactly on point when it comes to this recipe.  The white beans have a creamy note that fulfills the base of this dish.  I expected the beans to do this, so it is not a great surprise.  What shocked me is the range of those red bell peppers.  I have always known that bell peppers are sometimes called "sweet peppers," because, quite frankly, most other peppers are considered "hot peppers."  However, the red peppers provided an unexpected, yet completely welcomed, sweetness that did, in fact, elevate the soup to levels that I did not expect.

The one thing that Mario left out about the recipe is its versatility.  I made this recipe for my beautiful Angel, who is no fan of pancetta and does not eat chicken.  I substituted turkey bacon for the pancetta and vegetable stock for the chicken stock.  The only difference was the color, which became a more deep red (due to the vegetable stock).  I am sure that other substitutions could be made, such as different beans or even the use of chickpeas in the place of the beans.

In the end, my soup differed from Mario's recipe.  The vegetable stock and turkey bacon provide different flavors than chicken stock and pancetta.  However, Mario's description is still appropriate because the main stars of this soup -- the sweet pepper and white beans -- still perform flawlessly, providing the sweetness and creamy bass notes as Mario suggests.

Recipe adapted from America Farm to Table by Mario Batali at pg. 73
Serves 6 to 8

4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock (homemade or low sodium-store bought)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/4 inch dice
4 fresh sage leaves
1/4 pound pancetta or bacon, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
3 red bell peppers, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 (15 ounce) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1.  Saute the pancetta, onions and peppers.   In a medium pot, bring the chicken stock to a boil.  In a Dutch oven, heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until almost smoking.  Add the onion, sage and pancetta.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until the onion is slightly browned.  Mix in the tomato paste and the bell peppers and continue to cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes more.  

2.  Make the soup.  Add the boiling chicken stock to the Dutch oven and return to a boil.  Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  In small batches, transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth, then pour into the pot in which you heated the stock.  Add the white beans and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  

3.  Serve the soup.  Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and freshly cracked pepper.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

A New Year

People say that the New Year is a time of reflection and resolution.  When it comes to this blog, I can look back and see how my love of cooking has developed over the years.  I can read how I have challenged myself, as well as the results.  There have been many failures and many successes, which is to be expected from someone who does not cook professionally and does not have any culinary training.

As much as I love to cook, I cannot help but notice that, looking back over the couple of years, there have been fewer and fewer posts.  There are many reasons for this trend.   My beautiful Angel and I have an amazing little guy, and I spend a lot of my free time with him and my wife, leaving less time for experimenting and cooking.  My work has also gotten much busier, and, the free time that I had (such as before my day or during my lunchtime) has largely been taken up with more work.  As a result, the number of posts has declined month to month and year to year.  

I have been cooking.  I just have not been blogging as much about what I cook.  

Turning to the resolutions, I am not one for making New Year's resolutions.  My track record of keeping such resolutions is rather poor.  It is abysmal.

As the door to 2015 opens, I can see a lot of opportunities for my adventures through food and drink. For example, there are many more cuisines to explore as part of my culinary challenge, Around the World in 80 Dishes. As with that challenge, there is much more to learn, not only about cooking, but also about the ingredients that are used to create the dishes.

Rather than write "it is my resolution," I will write that it is my hope that I will be able to continue with this blog over the course of the coming year. I am also working on some changes to the blog, including this update to its appearance.

I am not exactly sure how many people actually read this blog or my posts, but, if you are one of them, I hope you will come back and see what has been cooking!

I hope everyone has a safe and happy new year!

Until next time ...