Millet Fritters with Cojita and Spicy Lime Crema

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While I teach others how to make dinner, I rarely sit down for the meal myself. See, when you are in the business of food, you’re usually working during most usual mealtimes. I grew up sitting down to a square, hot meal at 6pm each night, but nowadays, it’s leftovers from the fridge at 9. This is real life.

Last week I found myself home at dinnertime, hungry and with a bit of time to tinker around in the kitchen. Going back out into the world to food shop was just not going to happen. A pantry meal it was.

I recently taught an Ancient Grains class at SLT and everyone was obsessed with the Quinoa Fritters, a recipe riffed from the wonderful Ancient Grains for Modern Mealsl by Maria Speck. Topped with tangy lime mayo and smoked salmon, they were altogether satisfying, the perfect balance of crispy/gooey/cheesy/salty/creamy. I swapped the quinoa for millet, a couscous-like whole grain popular in parts of Asia. You cook it the same way, with a 1:2 ratio of grain to water. It has a mild flavor and a pleasant softness that’s unusual for whole grains. It’s also gluten-free, a nice bonus in this day and age. I’m kind of obsessed.

A plate of these millet fritters with a bowl of spicy, creamy dip was just the thing for my night-in supper. The new square meal.

Millet Fritters with Cojita and Spicy Lime Crema

Inspired by Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck

Fritters:

1 cup millet*
2 cups water, vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup crumbled cojita cheese (or feta)
1/2 cup flour*
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
2 green onions, minced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Olive or grapeseed oil, for cooking

In a medium saucepan, combine the millet and water or stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for about 5 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

In a large bowl, combined the cooled millet, cheese, flour, chile powder, paprika, green onions and eggs. Fold to combine. Season with a big pinch of salt and pepper. Chill for 30 minutes or up to 3 days.

Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add a few swirls of olive or grapeseed oil.  Form the millet mixture into patties (I used an ice cream scoop). If the mixture is not sticking together, chill for a bit longer or press the mixture into a ball with your hands. They will be delicate, but will firm up when cooked.

Fry the fritters in the skillet for a few minutes on each side or until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towel. Serve with a dollop (or three) of Spicy Lime Crema.

Spicy Lime Crema

1/2 cup Mexican crema, sour cream, plain yogurt or mayo
Zest and juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
Chipotle hot sauce, to taste

Combine all ingredients, adding more of everything to taste.

Notes:

*Where do you buy millet? Check the bulk area or ethnic section. Bob’s Red Mill is another brand worth seeking out.

*I’ve made these with white all-purpose flour and also millet flour (I had some lying around, definitely not necessary to go out and buy it). I suspect almond flour may work, but the mixture may be a little more crumbly. Stick to a somewhat neutral, light flour here – this is not the place for nutty buckwheat or whole wheat flour.

Baked 4-Cheese Macaroni

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I interrupt this regularly scheduled (healthy) programming.

Let’s take a break from vegetables for a moment, shall we? Everyone needs a killer mac ‘n cheese recipe up their sleeves. It’s one of those dishes that works all year, whether for a wintery Sunday dinner or summer backyard BBQ.

The catch? Ask anyone what their idea of the BEST macaroni and cheese is, and you’ll get many, many different responses. If you grew up on blue box variety, you’re partial to stove top versions. From the South? Yours is probably super-creamy and may include Velveeta. I recently had a version at Yardbird in Miami with 5 (count ’em – five!) types of cheese, curly torchio pasta and herbed breadcrumbs. Uh, yeah. It was the perfect first course for the fried chicken, shrimp and grits and Mississippi mud pie that ensued. Proof that I don’t live in kale and quinoa, as my Instagram may lead you to believe…

Growing up, I enjoyed many a mac at family gatherings. They were always casserole-style and topped with crispy breakcrumbs. My version uses 4 types of cheese: Pecorino-Romano, Gruyere and 2 types of cheddar, an sharp Irish variety and a super-aged crackly English one. I’ve been known to mix it up, but I like this combo. Afterall, it’s called macaroni and CHEESE, so do your guests a favor and use the best you can afford. The bonus? Sharper cheese means more flavor, which translates into a more satisfying (re: smaller) plate to satisfy.

I like the rustic look of a bubbling, volcanic casserole dish, but you can also bake it in a rustic cast-iron skillet or oven-safe ramekins for individual portions.

Baked 4-Cheese Macaroni
Makes one 3-quart casserole (about 8-12 servings)

Inspired by Martha Stewart’s Perfect Macaroni and Cheese

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
5 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons dry mustard
8 ounces extra sharp chedder, grated (about 2 cups)
8 ounces sharp cheddar, grated (about 2 cups)
4 ounces grated Gruyère
4 ounces grated Pecorino Romano
1 lb. small shape pasta (use your favorite – I like classic shells)

  1. Heat oven to 375F. Remove the stick of butter from the wrapper and set aside. Rub the inside of a 3-quart casserole dish with the butter wrapper. Set aside. Have all your cheese grated and placed in a large bowl before you start cooking.
  2. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Add panko and stir, coating with the butter until just lightly brown. Remove from heat, allow to cool and transfer breadcrumbs to a bowl. Wipe out the skillet.
  3. Warm the milk in a saucepan over low heat. Meanwhile, melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in the skillet. When the butter starts to bubble up, sprinkle in the flour. You’re looking for a mixture that resembles wet sand. Cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute.
  4. While constantly whisking, ladle in the hot milk a little at a time. Cook, continuing to whisk, until the mixture bubbles and thickens, about 10 minutes.
  5. Remove the skillet from the heat. Stir in the salt, nutmeg, pepper, cayenne, dry mustard and about 3/4 of the cheese. Stir until smooth.
  6. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta underdone, about 3 minutes. Drain and rinse well. Stir into the cheese sauce and combine well.
  7. Pour the mixture into the buttered casserole dish. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and panko.
  8. Bake about 30-40 minutes until golden. To really crisp up the top, place the dish under the broiler for a few minutes. Allow to rest for a few minutes before digging in.

Smokey Tomato Soup with Manchego Grilled Cheese

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Grilled cheese and tomato soup is one of a handful of meals I have eaten my entire life, on a regular basis. It never disappoints. In fact, it has a way of always making things better. As a kid, Campbell’s (make with milk, of course) and a cheddar (or Kraft single) grilled cheese was one of my favorite wintertime lunches after coming in from the cold. One of my first meals in Astoria was a ‘fancy’ soup & sandwich at The Queens Kickshaw, a local restaurant that specializes in 3 of my favorite things: grilled cheese, craft beer and coffee.

To my delight, a new shop, Astoria Bier & Cheese, just opened down the street. Despite the dozens of specialty food stores in the neighborhood, it’s the first cheese shop. After trying a few different types, I chose a young Manchego. I wanted a Spanish cheese to play up the Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton) in the soup. It also needed to melt well, an essential for any grilled cheese sandwich.

While it’s not necessarily traditional, it’s decidedly familiar. True comfort food after coming in from the city cold.

Smokey Tomato Soup

This is a slightly spicy, smokey version of tomato soup. It’s not super-smooth, but has a bit of texture. If you prefer, you can strain the finished soup through a fine-mesh sieve. A bit of cream at the end helps, too.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 sprigs of fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika or pimenton* (I used a combo of sweet and hot smoked paprika)
1 (14-ounce) can of San Marzano tomatoes (in juice)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon white granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock, veggie stock or water
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Cayenne, optional
Heavy cream, optional

  1. In a large, heavy pot, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add onions and saute until transluscent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for about a minute, being careful not to burn. Add thyme and paprika. Stir to coat the onions.
  2. Add tomato paste and stir to coat the onions, increasing the heat a bit until some of the moisture has cooked off.  Stir in the the tomatoes, sugar and stock/water. Simmer for about 20 minutes, using a spoon to break up tomatoes. Remove the thyme. Let cool slightly before pureeing in a blender (you will probably have to do this in 2 batches). Be careful: take the plastic cap off the top and cover with a towel, allowing the steam to escape a bit. I prefer this method to a stick/immersion blender because it makes everything smoother.
  3. Transfer back to the soup pot and season with salt, pepper, cayenne and more smoked paprika, to taste. If you’d like a richer soup, you can add a couple tablespoons of cream.

-Recipe loosely adapted from A Cozy Kitchen

Manchego Grilled Cheese

Peasant-style bread (I used Bread Alone Whole-Wheat Sourdough)

Young manchego cheese, grated or thinly sliced

Butter

While this hardly needs explanation, here’s how I make grilled cheese:

Melt the butter in a skillet over low heat. Assemble your sandwich and place it in the pan.  Place a heavy skillet over the sandwich to weigh it down. Cook low and slow until sandwich is golden brown and crisp. Add a bit more butter to the pan when you flip the sandwich and cook the other side. Allow to ‘rest’ a bit before cutting.

*Smoked paprika is made with smoked peppers. The Spanish version is called pimenton. There is also a Hungarian version. It adds incredible depth and a subtle smokiness, reminiscent of the role bacon plays in a dish. You can find a couple different brands at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and specialty shops like EuroMarket in Astoria or Sahadi’s in Brooklyn.

Purple Potato and Kale Fritatta

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In early 2008, I spent a semester abroad in Florence, Italy. I had never left North America, and there I was, living with 6 other girls in a real Italian apartment on Via della Scala. We had a tiny, European kitchen with a tiny, European refrigerator. We shopped at the corner grocery or the Mercato Centrale, an indoor farmer’s market of sorts, buying only as much as we could carry. We lit our stove with a a match. I bought a lot of leather accessories. I stayed in hostels. I also took my very first cooking class. Each Wednesday, we prepared a 3-course meal (plus wine, certo).  For a cash-strapped student, this was one of the best meals I would eat all week. I still credit the class for my decision to attend culinary school 4 years later.

In Florence, I learned about Tuscan cucina povera cuisine – literally translated as ‘poor kitchen’. Tuscan cooks are like alchemists, transforming kitchen odds and ends into something delicious. Classics like pappa al pomodoro, ribolitta and crostini toscani are all based on what would otherwise be trash (stale bread, random bits of vegetables, livers).

A fritatta is a humble dish, an amped-up omelet with no right or wrong way about it. This is a version I dreamed up in a mad dash to clean out my fridge before the storm.

Purple Potato and Kale Fritatta

1 small shallot, thinly sliced

2 cups Tuscan/Lacinato kale (cavolo nero), thick stems removed, thinly sliced

2 small purple potatoes, diced into 1/2″ pieces

1 tsp. fresh oregano, minced

Pinch Spanish smoked paprika (‘pimenton’)

4 eggs, preferably organic

Freshly grated Parmesan, manchego or pecorino cheese

Salt, pepper and olive oil

Preheat oven to 375F.

Place potatoes in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until potatoes are fork-tender. Drain and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in an 8″ oven-proof skillet or cast-iron pan, heat a couple teaspoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and a pinch of salt and sweat for a few minutes. Add the kale and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the smoked paprika and oregano. Transfer kale mixture to a bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs. Add cooled kale mixture and potatoes. Season with a bit more salt and pepper. Heat a bit more olive oil in the same 8″ skillet you used for the kale. Add the egg mixture. Using a heat-proof spatula, nudge the egg mixture toward the center, tipping the pan slightly (like you would an omelet). When fritatta is set around the edges, transfer to heated oven. Bake until egg mixture is cooked in the center, about 8 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle on grated cheese. Turn your oven to broil (or place in your broiler…that’s the drawer underneath your oven where you may keep pots and pans, for those with old-school stoves). Broil until just browned. Slide fritatta onto cutting board before slicing into wedges.

Zucchini & Feta Pizza with Caramelized Balsamic Onions and Garlic Oil

One of my favorite parts about living in Brooklyn is the Saturday farmer’s market at Grand Army Plaza. I’m a pretty faithful marketer, so to speak, trekking down Prospect Park West even in the winter! But there is nothing like the market in summer. Huge heirloom tomatoes, juicy peaches and curly mounds of herbs entice even the most die-hard Trader Joe’s fan. On this particular Saturday, I picked up a couple nice looking zucchini, a massive bunch of basil, a few eggplant, green tomatoes and the perfect peach (which I ate on the way home, natch). Talk about recipe inspiration!

This flatbread-style pizza is right on. Yes, there are quite a few components, but as always, adapt to suit your tastes and whatever’s in your market basket. The farmer’s market: it’s what’s for dinner.

Zucchini & Feta Pizza with Caramelized Balsamic Onions and Garlic Oil

Yield: 1 12-14 inch pie

  • 1-2 zucchini, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 T. balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Cornmeal for dusting
  • 1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup basil, chopped
  • 1/2 recipe Whole Wheat Pizza Dough (see below)
  • 2 T. Garlic Oil (see below)
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2.  Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add diced zucchini. Saute until zucchini are light golden brown. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Saute until garlic is fragrant. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool slightly, remove from pan and set aside.
  3.  Heat olive oil in the same skillet over medium-low heat. Add sliced onion and a pinch of salt. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden brown and soft (caramelized). Increase heat, add balsamic and reduce until slightly thickened. Let cool slightly, remove from pan and set aside.
  4.  To assemble pizza, roll out dough until desired thickness and place on a baking sheet lightly dusted with cornmeal. I like to free-form it! Drizzle Chili Garlic Oil over pizza and sprinkle with zucchini, onions and Feta cheese. Bake for about 10-12 minutes until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with chopped basil and a drizzle of Chili Garlic oil.

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

Yield: 2 12-14 inch crusts (Freeze one!)

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 T. olive oil
  •  3 cups white whole wheat flour (I used Trader Joe’s), plus more for kneading
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  1. Combine warm water, yeast and sugar. Let side 2-3 minutes until yeast is dissolved and water is cloudy. Add olive oil.
  2.  In a food processor, pulse flour and salt. While processor is running, stream in water/yeast mixture until a ball of dough forms (may have to add a little more flour).
  3.  Scrape dough from processor and knead on a floured surface for a few minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours.
  4.  Place desired amount of dough on a sheet pan and cover with a damp towel. Let rest 15-20 minutes while you prep your toppings. You can freeze extra dough in a plastic bag.

Garlic Oil

Yield: 1/2 cup

  •  1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  1. Gently heat oil, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Be careful not to boil; you are simply warming the oil. Remove from heat and let steep 10 minutes. Strain and set aside until ready to use.

Cheesy Pepper Jack Wafers

Cheese + crackers are a classic  combo. Now put cheese IN crackers and that my friends, is a game changer. These buttery little wafers pair well alongside a glass of wine or beer, but are equally tasty with chili or black bean soup. Think of them as dressed-up Cheez-Its!

You may also top them with slices of cheese. I may or may not have tried this and it may or may not have been ridiculously delicious. Maybe.

Cheesy Pepper Jack Wafers

Ingredients

1 stick butter, melted

2 eggs

few dashes garlic powder

few dashes cayenne pepper

few dashes ground pepper

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 to 3/4 cup grated Pepper Jack cheese

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

2 cups all purpose flour

Directions

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large bowl, beat together melted butter and eggs until creamy. Stir in the cheese and mix until combined. In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Stir the flour mixture into the cheese mixture until thoroughly combined.

Transfer dough onto a floured surface and roll out until it’s about 1/4 inch thick (pretty thin!) Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter and place onto a parchment paper lined sheet tray.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Harvest Moon Pasta

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This comforting dish is a grown-up take on mac ‘n cheese. Using my favorite ingredient of the month, butternut squash, the sauce is creamy without the addition of too much cheese or butter. Frozen butternut squash puree is the secret, a grocery store find that tastes great and cuts prep time. Whole wheat pasta not only adds nutrition, but nutty flavor and hearty texture. I like the addition of thyme, but feel free to use any herbs you like – rosemary or sage would be a nice substitution.

 

Ingredients:

1 lb whole wheat pasta (macaroni, ziti or penne   hollow, ribbed pasta)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion

1-2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 tablespoons thyme (fresh preferred, dried is fine, too)

1-2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 cup vegetable stock

1 1/2 cups milk

salt and pepper

1 dash nutmeg

1 (12 ounce) package frozen butternut squash, thawed

hot sauce

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese

1 dash paprika

 

Directions:

Bring water to a boil, season with salt and cook macaroni to al dente.

Preheat broiler and place rack in middle of the oven.

Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a sauce pot over medium heat, saute onions and garlic until soft, 6 to 7 minutes and stir in the thyme.

Scoot onions off to side of pan and melt butter, whisk flour into butter and combine whisk 1 minute then whisk in stock and milk, season sauce with salt, pepper and nutmeg, and cook until thickened, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Stir in butternut squash and a few dashes hot sauce. Reduce heat. When sauce comes to a bubble, stir in Parmigiano. Combine the sauce and macaroni, transfer to a casserole dish and top with shredded yellow Cheddar, chopped parsley and paprika. Brown the macaroni under broiler, 4 to 5 minutes until brown and bubbly.

-Recipe adapted from Rachael Ray

Vegetable Burritos

After a few too many squash and kale recipes, I thought it was time to go south of the border -in the form of a burrito, that is. Since I discovered the Poughkeepsie wonder that is Mole Mole, I have had a thing for vegetarian Mexican cuisine. Inspired by my quest to find the best vegetarian burrito in NYC (so far, my vote goes to the Calexico cart on Wooster and Prince), I set out to make my version. What makes a good vegetable burrito, you ask? To make up for the lack of meat, you need quite a substantial filling. I used no less than 6 vegetables, along with ample amounts refried beans, spicy salsa and cheese to amp things up. Don’t be scared by the long ingredient list- feel free to use any combination of vegetables that suits your taste.

 

Behold, The Burrito.

 

Ingredients:

2 T. olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, finely chopped

1 medium zucchini, diced

1/2 head broccoli, chopped into bite size pieces

1/2 bunch spinach, stems removed and chopped

1 cup white button mushrooms, chopped

8 medium whole wheat tortillas

2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1-2 cups vegetarian refried beans (I used Trader Joe’s)

1 cup salsa (I used Green Mountain Gringo)

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1 wedge lime

Pinch oregano

Salt and Pepper

Optional: Sour cream, guacamole

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over low heat; add garlic and onion, a pinch of salt and black pepper and saute until onion is translucent. Increase the heat to medium and add zucchini, red bell peppers, broccoli and mushrooms. Saute until veggies are soft, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, spray a 8×12 glass casserole dish with cooking spray. Depending on the size of your burritos, you may need an additional 8×8 pan.

When vegetables are tender, add the spinach and cover. When the spinach is wilted (about 5 minutes), add about 2 tablespoons salsa, a squeeze of lime, oregano and cilantro. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble burritos, lay a tortilla flat and spoon approximately 2 tablespoons refried beans onto one end. Top with about 1/4 cup vegetable mixture, a little salsa and a sprinkle of cheese. Roll up, making sure to tuck in the ends to prevent spillage. Transfer to the greased pan. Cover the burritos with salsa and a sprinkle of cheese.

Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil, making a tent to prevent cheese from sticking. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and tortillas are slightly golden.

Optional:

Serve with sour cream, guacamole and additional salsa.