Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Oh My Darlin’ Clementine Salad

Clementine Spinach Salad

Tomorrow we head out of town, driving to, and then all around, New York State.  First to see Ben’s family in Syracuse, for a late Christmas celebration.  Then off to the Catskills, where I’ll drop off my mountain-man husband for a few days of hiking.  While Ben’s adding to his collection of winter-time summits, I’ll be bumming around the Hudson Valley, staying with friends, popping into some favorite restaurants, and visiting my old stomping grounds. Then it’s off to Binghamton together for a few nights of delicious revelry with Ralph & Bill, before we make the trek back home again.  It’s sure to be a whirl wind tour, as it is every year.  I can’t wait!

Salad Fixin's

Like happens before any trip, I’ve been trying to use up everything in the fridge, over the last few days.  This afternoon, hungry for a quick lunch, and knowing it was my last chance to rescue a particularly pristine bunch of baby spinach from a wilting, neglectful death, I salvaged it from the back corner of the fridge and dropped it into a big salad bowl.  I found half a dozen cherry-like radishes in the vegetable drawer, so gave them a rinse, sliced them thin, and tossed them in too.  Pushing aside the butter and a big block of Parmesan, I was delighted to discover a small bit of left-over goat cheese hiding in the dairy drawer, from where or when exactly, I have no clue.  No matter, it was still perfectly fine.  What a find!  I crumbled it into small, fluffy dollops, and into the bowl they went.  From the cupboards, a few handfuls of pecans, and a generous scoop of chewy raisins.  An extra round of searching through the fridge yielded half a red onion, wrapped up tight in plastic.  A few thin, pink slices of this too, were tossed into the salad bowl.  On top I drizzled the last few drops of the poppy seed vinaigrette we had left-over from a dinnertime salad a few nights ago.  A quick toss with a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper, and I was ready to sit down and dig in!

Salad Bowl

But then I suddenly spied the big bowl of Clementines on the kitchen countertop, waiting to be packed up tomorrow as a car-ride treat.  Not content to wait patiently, they were just begging to be included today.  And I couldn’t resist them either.  It was a big bowl, after all.  A couple or three wouldn’t be missed on the trip.  So quick as a wink, I popped the Clementines out of their easy-peeling skins, and scattered their half-moon segments into my giant salad of growing goodness. 

And wow, what a final touch those Clementines turned out to be.  Bright, juicy bursts of fresh orange flavor.  Just the thing to really round out this mix-and-match lunch.  And who would have thought that all those last and lost tidbits just floating around could come together into such a fantastic salad!  A perfect salad, really.  With a touch or two of sweetness , a nice hint of tartness, and rounded out by subtle doses of spice and earthiness.  And the textures too, were as well-rounded as the flavors.  Crunchy here, creamy there, crisp and juicy and tender and chewy – all of these in every bite.  I was so delighted with the surprising end results, I just had to share it with you.  And who knows, maybe you all have most of these ingredients just hanging around your kitchen too!  

Oh My Darlin’ Clementine Salad
Serves 4
Spinach Salad with Clementines, Radishes, Pecans, Onions, Raisins, Goat Cheese & Poppy Seed Vinaigrette
For the vinaigrette:
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
1/4 cup vegetable oil
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the rest of the salad:
about 5 to 6 oz baby spinach
4 Clementines, peeled, segments separated
about 8 to 10 radishes, thinly sliced
about 1/2 cup pecan halves
about 1/4 cup raisins
about 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
about 2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To make the vinaigrette:
In a small mixing bowl, combine the mustard, vinegar, honey, poppy seeds, a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Whisk together, and slowly pour in the olive oil, then the vegetable oil, both in a thin stream and whisking as you pour.  The dressing can be made ahead and stored about five days, refrigerated in an airtight container. 
To assemble the salad:
Place the spinach, Clementine segments, sliced radishes, pecans, raisins and sliced red onion in a large mixing bowl.  Drizzle the vinaigrette over the top, enough to evenly coat the spinach and other fixin’s.  (You definitely won’t need to use it all.  Save what’s left, then you’ll have vinaigrette already on hand next time a salad strikes your fancy.)  Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.  Add small dollops of goat cheese, tucked in here and there among the spinach leaves.  Serve immediately.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Buttermilk Scones with Golden Raisins & Candied Orange Peel

Buttermilk Scones with Golden Raisins & Candied Orange Peel

Scones.  That quintessential British teatime treat.  I’ve been itching to whip up a batch for a while now.  Actually, I’ve been in the mood to play with all sorts of English cookery, as of late.   All thanks to Downton Abbey, I’m sure.  Are you in the loop?  Do you know yet about this awesome show?  I hope so, because I’d hate to think of any of you missing out on such a joy of a good time.  For those of you not yet in the know, let me fill you in.  Downton Abbey is a Masterpiece Classics miniseries on PBS, a turn of the century drama centered around the sensationally entertaining lives of an aristocratic English family and their household staff.  I am thoroughly addicted, absolutely hooked.  So is Ben.  So are my parents, and my sisters, and their husbands too.  So is, I’m sure, just about everyone who’s ever watched even two minute’s worth.  I think maybe, it’s officially the best television show ever made. Officially. 

Golden Raisins & Candied Orange Peel

Now, don’t fret if you’re only just finding out about Downton.  Season one can be streamed on Netflix, or you can download it from Amazon too.   But you’ll want to get up to speed, and pretty quickly, because season two just started.  (It airs on Sunday nights.)  By the way, second season episodes are also available for streaming, on the show’s home page.  And it won’t take all that long, relatively speaking, to catch yourself up – Season one is about eight hours total.  Eight hours, that if you ask me, couldn’t be better spent.   Honestly everybody, if you haven’t been watching already, get to it!  You’re in for a real treat! (I am so excited for you!!) 

Mixing the dough

Fresh out of the oven

Now, where were we again?  Oh yes, scones!  Nearly as delicious as the show that inspired me to make them, these English-style biscuits are a real treat, no matter on what side of the big pond you happen to live.  A far cry from the dense, dry triangles so many of of us have come to expect from stateside scones,  this recipe yields pure scone perfection.  Crackly, golden brown, sugar-speckled tops.  And moist, tender, crumbly insides.  Heavily studded with sweet, chewy specks of golden raisin and candied orange.  The basic scone formula comes from the Tartine Cookbook, and it’s the recipe I always turn to for scones.  It’s just perfect, and I wouldn’t change a thing.  At least not when it comes to the actual dough.  One thing I do like to change is the bits and pieces of goodness that go in them.  This time:  Candied orange and golden raisins.  Next time, who knows… Raspberries?  Figs?  Chocolate chips?  They all sound good to me.  No matter what you choose to tuck inside, I guarantee these scones will be the perfect thing to nibble on, perhaps alongside a cup of tea, as you settle into a comfy chair and tune in to what will hopefully be your new favorite TV show too.  Enjoy! 

Scone Perfection

Buttermilk Scones
Adapted from Tartine Cookbook by Elisabeth M. Prueitt & Chad Robertson
Makes 12 scones
Buttermilk Scone with Golden Raisins & Candied Orange Peel 
This recipe will give you some lovely scones speckled with sweet golden bits of raisin and candied orange peel.  If you’d like to make you’re own candied orange peel, you’ll find the recipe here.  If you’re not in the mood for this rather extensive extra step (and who could blame you for that?), there are all sorts of filling substitutions you could make, limited only by your imagination.  Any sort of dried fruit – currents, blueberries, cherries, apples, figs, dates, prunes - chopped up a bit, would fit in easily.  Just sub in 3/4-cup of whatever strikes your fancy, and leave out the raisins & orange.  Fresh berries too, can be wonderful.  To accomplish this, start with about 1 cup of berries.  Leave small berries like blueberries or raspberries whole, but coarsely chop larger fruits like strawberries.  Then freeze the whole or chopped berries in a single layer on a small baking sheet.  You can add them to the dough after adding the buttermilk.   Be careful all the while, not to mash the berries , or you’ll dye the dough with their juices. 
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup candied orange peel, chopped
4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 sticks plus 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, very cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon lemon zest, grated
For the topping:
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
large crystal sugar or granulated sugar, for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle position.  Generously butter a baking sheet, and set aside. 
In a small mixing bowl, cover the raisins with hot water, and set aside for about 15 minutes, until they are plump and tender.  Then drain well. 
Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda into a large mixing bowl (if mixing by hand), or the bowl of an electric stand mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment).  Add the sugar ad salt and stir well to combine with a wooden spoon.  Scatter the cold cubes of butter over the flour mixture.  If mixing by hand, use a pastry blender or 2 table knives to cut the butter into the flour mixture. Otherwise, pulse the electric mixer on and off a few times, until you have a coarse mixture with pea-sized lumps of butter still visible.  You don’t want to break down the butter too much. 
Add the buttermilk, lemon zest, drained raisins and candied orange peel.  Mix gently with a wooden spoon, or with the mixer set to low, mixing just until the dough holds together.  You still want to see bits and pieces of butter here and there, which will add to the flakiness. 
Lightly dust a work surface with flour, and turn the dough onto it.  Pat the dough into a rectangle about 18-inches long, 5-inches wide and 1 1/2-inches thick.  Brush the top with melted butter, then sprinkle with the sugar.  Slice the dough into 12 triangles.  Transfer the triangles to the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1-inch apart. 
Bake the scones until the tops are lightly browned, about 30 to 35 minutes.  These are sensational right out of the oven, but can be served warm or at room temperature. 

Crumbs & Clementine

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Grapes

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Grapes

Happy Two-Thousand & Twelve, everyone!  I hope you all had an immensely fun and beautifully  festive time during the holidays, and are now enjoying this new year to its very
fullest.  I am such a huge fan of New Years.  I love that fresh optimism that never fails to follow along with the resetting of the calendar.  I love how enthusiastic and invigorated I always feel, waking up to that very first morning.  I love making a long, detailed list of resolutions.  I love the excitement that comes from believing, for at least a while, and no matter how impossible certain goals may be, that I’ll follow through on every last one.  And I love those impossible resolutions most of all.  At least, of course, until I actually prove their impossibility.

Sprouts & Grapes

Prepping the Brussels Sprouts

One of my goals for 2012: Write blog post every single week.  Well, take a quick look at today’s date at the top of this post.  January 12.  Yep.  Already, I’ve not quite followed through with this one.  And oh geeze!  That wasn’t even one of the more impossible-sounding resolutions this year!  Shoot!  :)  Oh well, lucky for me, I tacked one last goal to the very end of my list:  Don’t be too disappointed if/when (but more likely when, of course, because come on face it, Kate, this is, as always, a wicked crazy list) you don’t actually cross-off every item on here.  And on this point, my friends, I’m happy to report that I’ve followed through completely! 

I had to, you see.  I just wouldn’t have been able to face the horrible shame and disgrace of utterly failing at not one but two resolutions, and so pathetically early in the year!  I tease of course, I do hope you’re picking up on that. :)

Brussels Sprouts & Grapes, with Garlic, Thyme, Olive Oil, Salt & Pepper

Set for the Oven

Honestly, friends, I’m not being hard on myself at all for falling behind on this one.  Actually, I could hardly care in the least.  Because, you know what, I’ve got a really, really good excuse.  Just about the cutest, cuddliest little excuse ever – a brand new nephew, Elliot Anders Smigelski!  My sister Molly and her husband David welcomed this adorable little bundle of sweetness into the world last weekend, and he is oh so amazing.  Being there for the very start of his brand new life, well, something like that is worth more than a million silly resolutions marking the start of a measly year!  And so, at the earliest hint of Elliot’s eminent arrival, I tossed this first week’s deadline into the wind, and we packed right up and drove straight to Toledo.  I told you.  Really, really good excuse! 

Freshly Roasted, Oh So Tempting!

And now, days later, having given Elliot’s forehead one last good bye kiss, then making the trip back home, I’ve finally settled into my desk chair, set my fingers to home row on my lap top keyboard, and am diligently typing out this post.  But of course, I’m distracted now and again by the blustery blur of white that’s whipping past my office window.  Because finally too, it's started snowing here in Chicago.  Really snowing!  The first legitimate snow all season, I do believe.  And somehow, this first total blanketing of white – pure, absolute freshness resting on all the sidewalks and trees and windowsills – it makes it seem like new year’s day all over again.  It kind of makes me feel like this post made it just in the nick of time, after all.


So let’s get to it!  Let me tell you about this first recipe of 2012!  Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Grapes.  A wonderful, wintery side dish.  A side dish so wintery and wonderful, it doesn’t need to stand aside anything at all, which I illustrated last week, as I gobbled up a pound’s worth of sprouts and their sweet, wrinkly pink side kicks, fresh out of the oven, before Ben even arrived home from work.  My belly full and appetite spoiled, I contentedly kept my husband company through dinner, a plate-less placemat in front of me, hardly missing my pork chop at all.  (Or, I should say, Ben’s bonus pork chop.) Really, it’s a rare vegetable dish that gets me so greedy.  Something about this though, was just beckoning me to keep eating.  A bite of buttery Brussels sprouts made my want the sweet juiciness of a roasted grape, which made me need another taste of golden cruciferous goodness, which begged to be followed with a shot of bright fruitiness.  And on and on it went.  Quite the tasty cycle. 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Grapes

I hope you’ll give this one a try.  It’s quick and easy to throw together,  nearly as healthful as it is tasty, and if I do say so myself, it really is quite a looker!  So pretty, I think, don’t you?  Ben reports that it’s a great pairing for pork chops.  And while I’m sure he’s right, I just may have to go through the motions of proving him so, and sometime soon.  This time though, I’ll make a new resolution, and won’t have a single taste, ‘til my husband is home, the table is set and the pork chops are done!  (No excuses for this one, no matter how cute and cuddly they may be!)

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Grapes
Serves 6
Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Grapes
2 pounds Brussels sprouts
1 1/2 pounds red table grapes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pre-heat the oven to 375°F and arrange an oven rack in the middle position.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set aside. 
To prepare the Brussels sprouts, peel off any discolored or blemished outer leaves, slice off the stem at the base of the sprout, then slice in half.  Pluck the grapes from their stems, then rinse under cool water and drain well. 
In a large mixing bowl, toss to combine the Brussels sprouts, grapes, olive oil, garlic, thyme and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Spread this mixture evenly over the prepared baking sheet, then place in the oven. 
Set for the Oven
Roast for about 15 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and give the ingredients a good mix with a metal spatula.  Return the pan to the oven and roast for an another 15 minutes. 
Meanwhile, combine the vinegar and sugar in a small bowl or pot. Using either the microwave or stove, heat the mixture just a bit, only until the sugar dissolves.  Stir it a bit, to help it dissolve.  Set aside. 
After 3o minutes cooking time, remove the pan from the oven again, and sprinkle the Brussels sprout mixture with the balsamic-sugar mixture.  Toss to combine with the metal spatula, then return to the oven for a final 15 minutes of roasting.  When done, the grapes will be wrinkly and juicy, and the Brussels sprouts will be golden brown, crisp on the outside and tender on the insides.  Serve warm. 
Fresh out of the oven