Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Oven Roasted Tomatoes

You're not going to find good fresh tomatoes in the Midwest this time of year.  However, you can give those flavorless off-season tomatoes an added kick by roasting them in the oven.  Once you've got them roasted, you can add a blast of tomato-y flavor to anything (they're also delicious for snacking).  I've used them in roasted veggie pasta and lasagna, but they'd also be a great addition to a veggie side dish or tomato sauce.  Oooh!  What about crostini with ricotta, olive oil and roasted tomatoes?!  I might have to make that for my New Years party. (Update: I made it and shared the recipe here.)

Whether we're in the heart of tomato season or the depths of winter, roasted tomatoes will always have great flavor.  They are so easy and can brighten up any dish.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Cherry, grape or small Roma tomatoes
Whole gloves of garlic, unpeeled
Olive oil
Herbs such as thyme or rosemary (optional)

Preheat oven to 225. Halve each tomato lengthwise (the Romas I used were a little larger so I quartered them) and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet along with the cloves of garlic. Drizzle with olive oil, just enough to make the tomatoes glisten. Sprinkle herbs on, if you are using them, and salt and pepper, though go easily on these because the finished product will be so flavorful you’ll need very little to help it along.

Bake the tomatoes in the oven for about three hours. You want the tomatoes to be shriveled and dry, but with a little juice left inside–this could take more or less time depending on the size of your tomatoes.

Either use them right away or let them cool.  Cover them (and the peeled roasted garlic) with some extra olive oil and keep them in the fridge.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tomato Soup

Grilled cheese and tomato soup is total comfort food for me.  Who doesn't love it?  When I was little I would only eat tomato soup if I was dipping grilled cheese into it.  Luckily I grew out of this, and I'm on a mission to find a homemade tomato soup worthy of becoming a replacement for canned soup.

Grilled cheese and tomato soup is a meal that we eat frequently once the weather cools down.  I keep cheese and a can of tomato soup in the house at all times.  Now that I see how easy tomato soup is, I'll just keep a few cans of tomatoes reserved specifically for soup instead.  However, this particular recipe will not be my go to for tomato soup.  It had a nice flavor, but it wasn't tomato-y enough to be a standard tomato soup.

Tomato Soup
Adapted from Michael Chiarello

1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup and 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small carrot, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup heavy cream, optional

Preheat oven to 450.

Strain the chopped canned tomatoes, reserving the juices, and spread onto a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, to taste, drizzle with 1/4 cup of the olive oil and roast until caramelized, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat 1/3 cup olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the celery, carrot, onion and garlic, cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the roasted chopped canned tomatoes, reserved tomato juices, chicken broth, bay leaf and butter. Simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf, and add basil and cream, if using. Puree with a hand held immersion blender until smooth.  Alternatively, you can puree in a regular blender.  Be careful though, you don't want hot soup flying all over your kitchen (especially not tomato soup).

Tips for Blending Hot Soup:
Don't fill the blender more than 1/3 to 1/2 full.
Remove the cap from the hole in the blender lid.
Put the blender lid on tight and cover the hole with a towel.

Full disclosure:  Red Gold sent me a variety pack of canned tomatoes to try.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cranberry Vinaigrette and Harvest Salad

I had some cranberries that needed to be used and decided to make a fun salad dressing.  I am really happy with how this cranberry vinaigrette turned out, a little tart and full of flavor.  It would be delicious over any type of green salad, but I especially like it over this Harvest Salad.  The salad has a great crunch from the apples and toasted nuts and I love how the bleu cheese starts to mix in with the vinaigrette.  The dried cranberries add a touch of sweetness to the mix.  The salad and vinaigrette make a great lunch if you add chicken or turkey.

Harvest Salad

Salad greens (I used a mix of romaine, spinach and arugula, but use whatever you like)
Apples, chopped
Toasted walnuts or pecans, chopped
Bleu cheese crumbles (I used gorgonzola)
Dried cranberries (optional)

Cranberry Vinaigrette
Original Recipe
Yield: 1 1/2 cups

1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup fresh cranberries
2 Tbsp red onion, minced
Zest from 1 orange
Juice from 1 orange
2-3 Tbsp sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a blender or food processor, combine all of the ingredients.  Continue to process until the cranberries are chopped up and everything is blended.  Taste to see if it needs anymore sugar, salt or pepper, and adjust if needed.

Make a couple hours ahead so the flavors have a chance to meld.

Store the vinaigrette in a mason jar in the fridge.  About 15 minutes before using, take it out of the fridge and remove the lid to let the oil soften.  Right before serving, replace the lid, shake the jar and dress the salad or pour it into a container so everyone can serve themselves.

The cranberry vinaigrette seems to do okay sitting in the fridge for a couple weeks so don't be afraid by the quantity this recipe makes.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Chewy Ginger Cookies

When it comes to cookies, I prefer soft and chewy over crunchy. So when I saw ginger cookies (not crunchy ginger snaps) at a bake sale, I had to try them. It was love at first bite: gingery, spicy, chewy, moist, and I love the pieces of candied ginger in them.  I asked around to see who brought them so I could get the recipe, and luckily they sent it to me. I've been making these cookies every Christmas season since I first tasted them.

I recently baked the Chewy Ginger cookies for the 1st Annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap (set up by Julie of The Little Kitchen and Lindsay of Love and Olive Oil).  Everyone was assigned three food bloggers to send one dozen cookies, and they would receive cookies from three different bloggers.  With over 22,000 cookies sent around the world, this is quite possibly the largest cookie swap ever!

I received Mostaccioli (Italian Chocolate Spice Cookies) from Justine at A Half Baked Life, Lavender Shortbread Cookies from Ellie at White and Dorky Chef and Cardamom and Sesame Cookies from Joanna at Meatless Most Days.   I loved that all of these cookies were different than anything I've tried before.  Ellie suggested pairing the Lavender Shortbread with tea and it was a great combo.  It was a fun coincidence that Justine sent me a traditional Italian cookie without knowing that I had just been to Italy.  The Cardamom Sesame Cookies tasted like they could be Chinese.  All of the cookies were delicious, and I definitely see myself making them at some point.


Over 620 bloggers participated so it took two roundup posts to showcase them all:  Part 1 and Part 2.  There is also a Facebook page devoted to the cookie swap.

If you're a food blogger (or will be by next fall) and want to participate in the 2nd annual cookie swap, you can sign up here for notifications about next year's swap.

Chewy Ginger Cookies
Adapted from The Ginger People via a coworker
Yield: 4 dozen cookies

3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
2 cups (+ 1/4 cup flour to stir into the chopped crystallized ginger)
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 oz crystallized (or candied) ginger, chopped
Turbinado Sugar, for rolling (~ 1 cup)

Preheat the oven to 375F. In a mixing bowl, combine the butter, sugar, molasses and egg. Beat well.  In a separate bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together. Then gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and mix until combined. Stir in the floured crystallized ginger. Cover the mixing bowl tightly with foil or plastic wrap, and chill the dough for at least 1 hour. Form the dough into 1-inch balls and roll in sugar. Place on a greased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes. If you prefer crunchier cookies, just bake them a little longer.

Recipe Notes:
- Crystallized/candied ginger can usually be found in the bulk section or wherever the dried fruit and nuts are in your grocery store.
- Turbinado sugar is similar to sugar in the raw
- Regular sugar can be substituted for the turbinado sugar
- The ginger can be difficult to chop if your knife isn't sharp.  Pull out that sharpening steel that came with your knife block.  If you're not sure how to use it, check this out.
- Sometimes the candied ginger will stick to the knife. If this happens, just clean off the knife, and grease it with a little butter.
- Try to keep the dough as cool as possible.  I usually stick the filled cookie sheets in the fridge until that batch is ready to go into the oven.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Baked Spinach

I made this baked spinach recipe for a dinner party and it got rave reviews.  In fact, everyone thought it tasted so good that you could serve it as an appetizer and scoop it up with tortilla or pita chips.  It really is that good!  I had to share it with more people so I brought it to Thanksgiving.

Prepping and cooking the spinach was really quick because I didn't have to stem the leaves.  The stems on baby spinach are soft when they're cooked.  If you use regular spinach, the stems won't softened as much, so you should remove them.  Since spinach is the main flavor, I recommend using fresh leaves, but in a pinch, you could probably use frozen spinach that's been thawed and squeezed of excess water.

You can definitely make this ahead too.  You can stop after the spinach is cooked and finish the rest closer to dinner.  You could also prep everything up to adding the cheese and seasoning the spinach.  Then just before you're ready to put it in the hot oven, add the remaining cheese and breadcrumbs.

Baked Spinach
Adapted from Annie's Eats
Yield: 6 servings

3 lb fresh spinach I used baby spinach.
3½ Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
Salt and pepper
1½ Tbsp flour
1 cup stock (milk, broth, or cream)  I used cream both times.
3/4 cup grated cheese, divided (Parmesan, Romano, Asiago, Gruyere, etc.) I used parmesan and romano.
2 Tbsp dry breadcrumbs

Stem and wash the spinach, draining it but letting drops of water still cling to the leaves. Place the spinach in a large pot covered with a lid over high heat. (Since spinach takes up some much space, I had to cook it in my largest stockpot in 2 batches.)  Cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted (2-4 minutes for baby spinach, 4-6 for regular spinach). Transfer the spinach to a colander, fill the pot with cold water, and immediately return the spinach to the pot with the cold water to stop the cooking. Drain again. Working with a handful at a time, squeeze the spinach to extract as much excess water as possible. Coarsely chop the spinach. (You should have about 3 cups of chopped spinach.)

Wipe out the pot and then melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the chopped spinach. Cook, stirring frequently, until all of the moisture has been boiled off (when the spinach starts to stick to the pan).

Reduce the heat to medium and sprinkle the flour over the spinach. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes. Stir in about 2/3 of the cooking liquid a small amount at a time, scraping the bottom of the pan as you go. When the liquid has been added, stir for another minute or two. If needed, add in the remaining liquid. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 375. Mix ½ cup of the shredded cheese into the spinach mixture and then spread the mixture into a lightly greased baking dish. Toss the remaining ¼ cup of cheese with the bread crumbs and sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top. Melt the remaining 1½ tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the top. Bake until lightly browned and heated through, about 30 minutes.