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Feb 28, 2015
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Intelligent Content For The Food Fascinated
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SERVING SAINT LOUIS SINCE 1999
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Just Five: Sweet Potato Soup with Ham

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

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This soup satisfies winter comfort food cravings without resorting to cheesy, heavy fare. Lighten things up with sweet potatoes, which marry well with salty ham and hot sauce. I’m a fan of Pickapeppa Hot Mango Sauce, available at Global Foods and Jay’s International, for its balance of sweet fruit and spicy kick. If you don’t have a sauce like this, mixing a little maple syrup or agave with a traditional hot sauce is a great substitute.

Most deli ham has just a little fat on it. Don’t trim it; the fat will render as it cooks to add flavor and salt to the soup. Not a meat-eater? Make the soup vegan with vegetable stock and swap the ham for a cup of frozen corn kernels to bulk up the soup.

 
Sweet Potato Soup with Ham
3 to 5 servings

3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 cup diced thick-sliced ham
1 leek, white parts only, finely chopped
Pinch kosher salt
4 cups chicken broth
3 to 4 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp. Pickapeppa Hot Mango Sauce

● In a large pot over medium-low heat, saute the ham until just brown, about 5 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate. Set aside.
● Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, the leeks and the salt to the pot and raise the heat to medium. Saute 3 to 5 minutes.
● Add the broth to the pot and scrape up any of the browned bits from the bottom. Add the sweet potatoes and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 20 to 25 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender.
● Remove the pot from the heat. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth, or carefully puree in a blender, working in batches. Thin the soup with water as needed to achieve desired consistency. Stir in the hot sauce and the reserved ham. Serve with crusty bread.

 

 

Make This: Chocolate Meringue Cups

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

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Float on cloud nine this Valentine’s Day with light, airy meringues. In a blender, beat 4 egg whites with 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar and a pinch of salt on high speed 1 minute, until soft peaks form. Mix in 1 cup superfine sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Stop the mixer and sift ¼ cup natural cocoa* over the meringue, then beat on low-medium speed until combined. Add 1 teaspoon each white vinegar and vanilla extract, and beat on high speed 1 minute, until the meringue is glossy. Drop the meringue by the heaping tablespoonful onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using a spoon, make an indent in the center of each meringue. Bake 2 hours at 225 degrees. Let cool completely on the baking sheet. Blend 1 cup heavy whipping cream on high, 2 to 3 minutes, until soft peaks form. Add ½ cup mascarpone cheese, 2 tablespoons superfine sugar and ½ cup whole raspberries and mix 30 seconds on high speed. Spoon 2 tablespoons whipped cream in each meringue cup and top with diced kiwi.

*Only use natural, non-alkalized cocoa (such as Hershey’s, Nestle or Scharffen Berger) for the meringue. The alkali in Dutch-processed cocoa will turn the meringue to liquid.

Just Five: Tender Kale Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

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2014 was The Year of Kale, and everyone is over it  – except me. This beautiful dark green leaf is delicious when sauteed, braised, added to soups and stews or blitzed into juices. I never got the whole kale chip phenomenon, but I love that it brought so much attention to this misunderstood vegetable.

Many people balk at kale in its raw form: too tough and stringy. Instead of gnawing on it for five minutes, try a little tenderness beforehand. Massage that kale. You heard me. Get in there and really work it over. Roll it between your hands; squeeze it like a stress ball; beat it up. Massaging kale breaks down its tough cellulose; you will actually see and feel the change in the texture. The kale will feel softer than before and will taste much less bitter. Doesn’t a good massage have that effect on us all?

 
Tender Kale Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing
3 to 5 servings

1 avocado, pit removed and peeled
3 Tbsp. lemon juice, divided
1 Tbsp. vinegar-based hot sauce (like Tabasco or Cholula)
¼ cup olive oil
¼ tsp. kosher salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
5 cups chopped lacinato kale, stems removed (about 1 bunch)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

• In the bowl of a food processor or blender, puree the avocado, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and the hot sauce until combined. Add 1/8 teaspoon salt and with the machine running, pour in the olive oil until smooth, adding a few tablespoons of water as needed to reach a thick but pourable consistency. Set aside.
• Place the kale in a large serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt, a few grinds of black pepper and the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Use clean hands to massage the leaves 2 to 3 minutes, until the kale is slightly darker green and feels softer.
• Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Add the cherry tomatoes and serve.

Just Five: Carrot-Orange Salad with Harissa

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

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I was introduced to harissa, a spicy North African chili paste, when I first devoured Ben Poremba’s Moroccan Shredded Carrot Salad at Olio. Since then, this spicy aromatic salad has been on my list of inspirational Just Five dishes for a long time.

Harissa is made from ground chilis, garlic and aromatic spices that is as versatile as it is pungent and nuanced. It’s great on anything from eggs and meat to flavoring soups and stews and is available at most international grocery stores or specialty food shops (or try making your own harissa with this recipe).

The original salad uses cilantro and mint, but I opted to cut the cilantro since a number of people have a scientifically proven aversion to the stuff. I also bulked it up a bit with a handful of arugula and used multicolored carrots for a fun pop of color.

 

Carrot-Orange Salad with Harissa
Inspired by a recipe from Olio’s Ben Poremba
4 servings

2 oranges
2 cups shredded carrots (about 4 carrots)
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
2 Tbsp. harissa
Pinch kosher salt
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups arugula or mixed greens

• Supreme 1 orange by peeling and removing the pith with a sharp knife and then slicing between the membranes. Add the orange sections to a large bowl. Slice the other orange in half and supreme 1 half in the same manner as before, adding the segments to the bowl.
• Toss the shredded carrots and mint in the bowl with the oranges. Set aside.
• Juice the remaining orange half in a small bowl and whisk together with the harissa and a pinch of salt. Continue whisking and drizzle the olive oil into the dressing until emulsified. Pour the dressing over the carrot and orange mixture and toss to coat.
• Place a handful of arugula into 4 plates and divide the carrot salad evenly between the plates. Drizzle any remaining dressing over the salads and serve.

 

 

Just Five: Chicken Thighs with Butternut Squash and Sage

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that chicken thighs are always better than chicken breasts. They don’t dry out like breasts can, and dark meat has more flavor. This dish celebrates the thigh in all its glory – in less than 30 minutes.

Since this column limits me to just a few ingredients, I get creative to get the most out of each. Fried sage leaves are a perfect example. They provide a fun garnish and crunch to the finished dish, and they also infuse the cooking oil with wonderful herbaceous flavor. Instead of deglazing the pan with wine or chicken stock, I added acid and a hint of sweetness with apple cider vinegar to complement the butternut squash.

Chicken Thighs with Butternut Squash and Sage
4 to 6 servings

3 Tbsp. olive oil
10 whole fresh sage leaves, divided
6 skin-on bone-in chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup thinly sliced shallots
2 cups butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
½ cup apple cider vinegar

• Add the olive oil to a large skillet and place over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add 6 sage leaves and fry until crisp, about 1 minute. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Set aside.
• Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and place skin-side down in the pan. Cook 8 minutes, then flip and cook another 3 minutes. Remove and set aside.
• Add the butternut squash and stir to coat, cooking about 4 minutes. Lower the heat to medium if the squash browns too quickly.
• Chop the remaining 4 sage leaves and add to the skillet, along with the shallots. Saute 1 minute, then deglaze the pan with the apple cider vinegar, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the skillet.
• Push the squash to the side and return the thighs skin-side up and any collected juices to the pan. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer 10 to 15 minutes, until a thermometer inserted in the thigh reads 165 degrees. Plate and garnish with 1 fried sage leaf on each thigh. Serve immediately.

Make This: Miso Soup

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

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And Zen there was soup. This healthy miso soup is so quick and easy to make, you’ll barely have time to do a sun salutation and chant “om” before it’s time to eat. Soak 2 tablespoons wakame* seaweed in 1 cup cold water. Meanwhile, whisk ¼ cup red or white miso paste with 1 cup hot (not boiling) water and set aside. In a medium saucepan, boil 4 cups water. Steep 3 bags instant dashi 3 minutes, then remove and discard dashi bags. Add ½ cup frozen, shelled edamame and cook over medium-high 3 minutes. Stir in 8 medium, raw peeled and deveined shrimp and ½ cup firm tofu cut into ½-inch cubes. Drain the wakame, squeezing to remove excess water, and add to the pot. Remove the pot from heat and stir in the miso mixture. Divide among 4 bowls and garnish with sliced scallions and toasted sesame seeds.

*Wakame, miso paste and instant dashi bags available at Global Foods Market.
-photo by Greg Rannells

Just Five: Carrot Juice-Poached Halibut

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

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Poaching is a simple, forgiving way to prepare fish. The poaching liquid infuses the fillet with flavor and prevents it from drying out. Although water or wine is traditional, I decided have some fun and play with carrot juice.

This dish was either going to be way too weird for my family or gobbled up in a flash. As I served plates of bright orange fish, I was not overly confident. I gave them the usual Just Five speech: “I don’t know if this is going to be awesome or just weird, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be bad.”

Surprisingly, it was delicious! The carrot juice is sweet without cloying, the ginger adds a bit of heat and the shallots provide the savory note. I love combining ginger and cilantro, but if that controversial herb fills you with dread, try mixing together three parts chopped arugula and one part chopped fresh mint.

 

Carrot Juice-Poached Halibut
4 servings

2 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup thinly sliced shallots
2 Tbsp. fresh grated ginger
3 cups carrot juice*
4 6-oz. skinless halibut fillets
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

• In a large skillet with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute 3 minutes, until softened. Add the ginger and cook until aromatic, about 2 minutes.
• Pour in the carrot juice and bring to a simmer. Add the halibut fillets to the pan and cover. Reduce the heat to low and poach until 4 to 5 minutes, until cooked through.
• Uncover and carefully remove the fish to the serving platter. Bring the carrot broth to a boil over medium-high heat, reducing the liquid slightly, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon some of the broth over the fish and garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve immediately.

*Bolthouse Farms carrot juice is available at most supermarkets.

Make This: Fruit and Nut Clusters

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

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A last-minute invite to a holiday party shouldn’t stop you in your tracks. You can whip together two dozen heavenly, chocolaty nuggets in less time than it takes Santa to get from New York to California. In a medium bowl, mix together 1/3 cup toasted pecans, 1/3 cup macadamia nuts, 1/3 cup dried cranberries and 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest. Place 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips in a glass bowl and microwave on high 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds. Pour the melted chocolate over the fruit and nut mixture and stir until coated. Drop by the tablespoonful onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Place 1/2 cup white chocolate chips in a separate glass bowl and microwave on high 1 minute, stirring after 30 seconds. Use a fork to drizzle the melted white chocolate over the clusters. Refrigerate 30 minutes or freeze 10 minutes, until chocolate is set.

 

-photo by Greg Rannells

Guide to the Holidays: Boozy Ginger Balls

Sunday, December 21st, 2014

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The hostess has received more than enough bottles of wine and plates of cookies, and she’d likely throw another mixed nut assortment at the wall. But you can’t come to the party empty-handed, so deck the halls with boozy balls. These citrus and ginger treats come together in a flash and, as a bonus, the leftover ginger liqueur will have you making cocktails for the rest of the season.

 

Boozy Ginger Balls
Makes 3 dozen

1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. orange zest
2 cups crushed vanilla wafers
1 cup ground toasted hazelnuts
¾ cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup ginger liqueur
2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract

• Place the granulated sugar and orange zest in a small, lidded container and shake well. Pour the orange sugar onto a paper plate or pie pan. Set aside.
• In a large bowl using an electric mixer, mix the crushed vanilla wafers, hazelnuts and powdered sugar until combined. Add the ginger liqueur, corn syrup, orange juice and vanilla, and mix until a dough forms.
• Shape the dough into 1- to 1½-inch balls and roll in the sugar. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate. Balls will keep, refrigerated, up to 3 weeks, or frozen up to 2 months.

 

-photo by Elizabeth Maxson

Just Five: Pork Medallions with Pears

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

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Garam masala  tastes like winter to me. This heady spice blend includes cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, cumin and brings immediate, comforting warmth to a dish. Here, I spiced pork tenderloin medallions with this aromatic blend, then turned my attention to the accompanying sauce. While pork and apples are a long-standing culinary marriage (What ‘70s kid doesn’t remember Peter Brady’s Bogart-inflected “Pork chops… and applesauce!”),  pears are delicious seasonal alternative – especially when paired with marsala.

Pork Medallions with Pears
4 servings

1 1.75- to 2-lbs. pork tenderloin
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. garam masala
2 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup thinly sliced shallots
2 pears, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup marsala wine

• Slice the pork tenderloin into 8 even medallions and season generously with salt, pepper and garam masala.
• Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the medallions 2 minutes, then flip and sear 2 minutes more. Remove and set aside.
• Add the shallots to the skillet and saute 2 to 3 minutes, then add the pears and saute another 2 minutes. Return the pork to the skillet, along with any juices that accumulated on the plate. Add the marsala wine and cover, reducing the heat to medium-low, and simmer 3 minutes. Flip and simmer, covered, another 2 minutes. Divide evenly among 4 plates and serve.

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