Friday, January 28, 2011

Roasted Red Peppers

Roasted red peppers make everything better. Seriously. Salads, sandwiches, pasta, hummus: all better with roasted red peppers. And as good as roasted peppers are plain, they're even better soaked in some olive oil and vinegar. 

My dad makes these red peppers all the time and when I started cooking for myself, this was one of the first recipes I asked for. It's great because it requires very little hands-on time and once prepared, the peppers can sit in the fridge for quite a while. In my opinion, they are actually better after a few days marinating in the oil and vinegar mixture.

Roasted red peppers also make a delicious dip that goes well with pita chips, goat cheese and bacon-wrapped dates, among other things. Just throw them into a blender with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and blend until smooth (for an even richer taste, add some cream).

Bon appetit!

Roasted Red Peppers
Makes 4 peppers
4 large red bell peppers, rinsed
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp good olive oil
1-2 tbsp red wine vinegar (balsamic vinegar also works)
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Crushed red pepper flakes
Brown paper bag

Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Chop off the bottoms of the peppers so that they sit upright when placed on the baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour, until the skins are wrinkled and browned, but not burned or charred.

Immediately place the peppers in a brown paper bag and seal. Allow them to sit for 10 minutes. Remove peppers from the bag one at a time and run under cold water. Peel off the skins and remove the seeds and white/translucent portions.

Heat the oil in a large skillet until hot, but not smoking. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add peppers and vinegar. Cook over low heat until peppers have absorbed the oil and vinegar flavors, no longer than 5 minutes. Remember, the peppers are already cooked. The purpose of cooking them on the stove top is to reheat them and add flavor. You don't want to cook them for too long or cook them on a burner that is too hot.

Add salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. To store, cool completely and place in Tupperware with oil and vinegar mixture. Refrigerate.

Roasted red peppers make a great addition to sandwiches, salads and pastas

Source: adapted from Larry North

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lemon-and-Prosciutto-Stuffed Pork Loin Roast with Broccolini

From the moment I saw this dish in the December issue of Bon Appetit, I couldn't wait to make it, probably because it's so different than the things I usually make. I don't get the opportunity to cook big meat dishes very often. My dad is a grill master, so when I'm at home he cooks all of our meat and at school, I usually only cook for myself. But, over the holidays, an opportunity presented itself in the form of a family dinner with my aunt, uncle and cousins, so I volunteered my services with this dish in mind.

When I began the meal, I had no clue what I was doing. The task seemed daunting, to say the least, but by the end of the night (with a significant amount of help from my dad, thanks dad!), I realized that cooking big meat dishes is not as hard as it seems. I would say the trickiest part of the process was cutting the raw meat. The instructions in the recipe are hard to follow if you have never used the roll-cutting method or at least seen someone else do it, but I found a great video showing how it's done. Skip to about 1 minute in for a demonstration of the roll cut.

Overall, I was pleased with the way the meal turned out, but I do have several things that I would do differently if I made this dish again.

First of all, I would definitely cut down on the amount of lemon the recipe calls for. I used a 4 1/2 lb. roast, instead of a 4 lb. one and didn't increase the amount of lemon I used, and the lemon flavor was still overpowering. I would recommend slicing the lemon extremely thin and either removing the rind or using half of a lemon instead of a whole one.

For a milder lemon flavor, remove the rind before adding the lemon

Secondly, I would double the amount of sauce. The sauce was really yummy, but there was definitely not enough to go around. To double the sauce recipe, use 2 cups of dry white wine, 2 cups low-salt chicken broth, 4 tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp of cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp of water, instead of the quantities suggested in the recipe.

Third, I suggest you watch your butcher while he is cutting your meat. I know this may sound silly, but my butcher did the cutting in the back and when I got home I discovered he had cut the roast in half, so I ended up with two roasts, instead of one.

Finally, I recommend checking the temperature of the meat beginning after about 30 minutes, just to be safe. The last thing you want to do is overcook your roast.

With more sauce and less lemon, I would definitely give this recipe two thumbs up. The broccoli is a great accompaniment. Throw in some mashed potatoes and you've got yourself a delicious meal.

Bon appetit!

Lemon-and-Prosciutto-Stuffed Pork Loin Roast with Broccolini
Serves 8-10
1 4-lb. boneless pork loin roast, trimmed
12 thin prosciutto slices (about 6 oz.)
2/3-3/4 large lemon, thinly sliced 
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped
1 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt, divided
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 1/2 lb. broccolini, trimmed
3 tbsp olive oil
1 cup low-salt chicken broth
1 cup Pinot Grigio or other dry white wine
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp water
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Kitchen string
Meat thermometer

Place pork, fat side down, on work surface with one short end facing you. Using a long, thin, sharp knife and starting 1/2 inch above the underside of the roast, cut 1/2 inch in along the right side. Continue cutting 1/2 inch above the underside, unrolling roast like a carpet. When you are done, you should be left with a long strip of meat 1/2 an inch thick. 

My butcher cut my roast in half. Normally, you should end up with one long piece of meat.

Arrange prosciutto slices evenly over pork, overlapping if necessary. Arrange lemon slices over prosciutto. Cover with panko, then chives. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Turn pork so one short end faces you. Beginning at one short end, roll up pork. Arrange seam side down on work surface (fat side will be facing up). Using kitchen string, tie at 1- to 1 1/2-inch intervals. Transfer pork to roasting pan. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Cook broccolini in pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and cool. Both the pork and the broccolini can be prepped one day ahead of time. To store, cover pork and wrap broccolini in paper towels inside a Ziploc bag. Refrigerate.

Position one rack in the top third and one rack in the bottom third of the oven. Preheat to 450° F. Place pork on lower rack and roast for 15 minutes. Then, reduce oven temperature to 325° F and roast pork until instant-read thermometer registers 145°F when inserted into center of pork, 45 to 60 minutes, depending on thickness of roast. Transfer to cutting board. Increase oven temperature to 375°F.

Arrange broccolini on two baking sheets covered with aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Place racks in the oven and roast until tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Switch racks' positions in the oven half way through cooking.

Meanwhile, place roasting pan over 2 burners on medium high heat. Add the broth and wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Boil until mixture has reduced to 1 cup, about 8 minutes. Stir in butter. Add cornstarch mixture and stir until sauce thickens, about 1 to 2 minutes. Strain sauce into a gravy boat and season with salt and pepper.

Using kitchen scissors, cut string along the top of the roast. Cut pork into 1/2 inch slices and arrange on a platter. Drizzle broccolini with fresh lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Roasted Eggplant Spread

This recipe comes from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I have been making this dish for years and it never gets old. The eggplant, red pepper and red onion complement one another perfectly.

The best thing about this dish is its versatility. It is great served on crackers as an appetizer for a party or cocktail hour, but it is also amazing in sandwiches and on pasta. It's a nice spread to keep in the fridge for whenever you want to spice up a boring sandwich or have a light mid afternoon snack.

Not only is this spread tasty, it's super simple and healthy. It also keeps well in the fridge. What more could you ask for?

Bon appetit!

Roasted Eggplant Spread
Serves 6-8
1 medium eggplant
2 red bell peppers, seeded
1 red onion, peeled
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp good olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp tomato paste

Preheat oven to 400° F. Cut eggplant, red peppers and onion into 1-inch cubes. Toss in a large bowl with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet lined with foil. Roast the vegetables for 45 minutes, until they are lightly browned and soft, tossing once during cooking.

Chopping the veggies uniformly ensures they cook evenly

Cool vegetables slightly. Pulse in a food processor fitted with a steel blade until vegetables reach your desired size (I like my spread a little chunky, but some prefer a smoother consistency). Add the tomato paste and pulse 3-4 times to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste.

This spread is great on crackers, sandwiches and pasta

Source: The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Pumpkin Muffins

Let me just say, I love Paula Deen. When it comes to baking, she does not play around. Sure, she adds at least a stick of butter to almost everything, but her recipes are just so good! When I found out her pumpkin bread recipe contained no butter, I was shocked, intrigued and excited to try it out.

Second time's a charm with this recipe. I initially used it to make bread, which didn't turn out so well. The bread tasted great, but refused to bake all the way through, even after an extra 30 minutes in the oven. Eventually, I just gave up and took it out of the oven. I ended up with several good pieces, but I had to remove the uncooked portions and certain pieces had to be thrown away altogether.

But, since the bread was so delicious, I decided to try the recipe again for our Christmas brunch. This time I made muffins instead of bread to avoid my prior baking problem. Luckily, the muffins turned out great and I had no problems with baking time.

Part of what makes these muffins so delicious is their moist consistency. They stay moist for several days after they are baked, but, because they are so moist, make sure to let them sit out for a while after removing them from the oven. If you transfer them to a container too quickly, they will stick together and get soggy.

I threw some semisweet chocolate chips in half of the muffins and I thought they were even better than the plain ones, although my brother claims it ruined them. So, if you're a fan of chocolate, I would definitely recommend adding some.

These muffins are great with any combo of pecans, walnuts and chocolate chips

Bon appetit!

Pumpkin Muffins
Makes 30 muffins
3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (healthier option: substitute 1/2 cup of unsweetened apple sauce for 1/2 cup of oil)
4 eggs
2 cups canned pumpkin
2/3 cup water
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
2/3 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (I used a mixture)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Fill muffin cups with liners and spray with Pam.

Mix sugar and oil using an electric mixer. Add eggs and blend. Add pumpkin and blend. Add water and blend. Combine the remaining ingredients and add slowly, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go. (If you want to add chocolate chips, add them with the nuts).

Fill muffin cups equally and bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle of muffins comes out clean.

Source: adapted from Paula Deen's Kitchen Classics