KarmaCucina Is Relocating

KarmaCucina is relocating to it’s new permanent home.  Please update your bookmarks and check out the new site at KarmaCucina.com.  While it does not look much different than it’s predecessor, this new site offers me far more functionality and opportunity for growth in the future.  Also, I was able to drop that clunky .wordpress.com from my domain name… phew!

If you are a current subscriber, I have taken the liberty of transferring your e-mail address to my new Feedburner subsciption management system.  You should receive an e-mail shortly that will require you to click a link to confirm this new subscription.  You will not receive any further updates from KarmaCucina if you do not verify your subscription by clicking that link.  If you do not receive one of these e-mails or would prefer to subscribe again on your own, click here.  Also, please add karmacucina@gmail.com to your address book to keep the latest recipes out of your spam filter.

Lastly, thank you in advance for your readership, commentary, and support.  KarmaCucina is growing every day and has already surpassed my greatest expectations at such a young stage.  I welcome your feedback and appreciate any opportunity to interact with you.  Thank you so much for taking this journey with me… a tasty one, albeit!

Fresh post at my new digs coming your way tomorrow!

- KC

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Cilantro-Honey Roasted Butternut Squash

Butternut squash is one of winter’s greatest bounties.  Its nutrition laden insides hide beneath a drab, tough, creamy-beige skin.  But don’t judge a book by its cover.  Once peeled back, the less than enticing outer shell reveals a low fat mellow orange flesh brimming with carotenoids, dietary fiber, and antioxidants.  Upon cooking, the apricot hue dramatically intensifies and you instantly become a believer in the nutritional benefits.  With color like that, this gourd must be good for you!  It thrives late summer through the winter and is extremely versatile.  Mashing, baking, steaming –  you name it, you can do it.  However, it works especially well roasted or pureed in soups.  Roasting at high temperatures brings the sweetness from this fruit to the forefront. Using as a puree in soups showcases the squash’s inherent velvety smooth texture without the presence of any cream at all.

Today’s post is a simple case of happenstance and using up whatever’s in the fridge.  Waste not want not, right?  On my last grocery shopping expedition, I realized that I had an expiring coupon for precut butternut squash, so I threw it in my cart, not knowing exactly what I was going to do with it..  [And, no, this is not your grandmother guest posting on my blog.  I am a 20-something that clips coupons; something that I think is pretty rare nowadays.]    95% of the time I buy my produce whole in its untainted original state.  However, pumpkin and butternut squash are two species I don’t mind cutting corners with.  If you decide to purchase the squash whole, look for a nice hourglass-shaped gourd that is firm to the touch and has an unblemished surface.  Use a vegetable peeler to pare the skin and then carefully cut lengthwise and remove the ooey-gooey seeds.

Anyhow, the squash was taking up some real estate in the produce drawer and I wanted to cook it while it was still relatively fresh.  I also had a bunch of cilantro and a few limes leftover from the Tasting Table’s curry braised short ribs recipe that I made this past weekend (divine) and I decided to marry the three along with some honey and chili powder.  I have prepared sweet potato before in this manner and I felt that the flavors would work equally well with butternut squash since they have a similar essence and texture.

After roasting for 40 minutes, the squash was tender, the color had deepened, and the aroma was enticing.  I bit into caramelized flesh and basked in the synthesis of unique flavors.  The subtle heat of the chili powder, the natural sweetness of the honey and squash, the lemony floral nuance of the cilantro, and the brightness of the lime:  a marriage made in heaven and an utterly satisfying side dish.  It’s the perfect time of year to enjoy this hearty squash, so head to your local supermarket and roast away…

Cilantro-Honey Roasted Butternut Squash
Serves 4

1 1/4 lb. cleaned and cut butternut squash
1/4 cup honey
Juice of 1 lime (about 1 Tbsp.)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1/3 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut squash into 2-inch chunks.  Whisk honey, lime, and olive oil in a large bowl until well combined.  Stir in chili powder, salt, and pepper.  Add squash and cilantro leaves and toss until well coated.  Pour mixture onto a foil-lined baking sheet.  Roast in oven 30 – 40 minutes, tossing occasionally, until squash is caramelized and fork tender.

Posted in Side, Vegetables | 11 Comments

Get Your Gaucho On!

In celebration of the recent booking of our upcoming holiday in Argentina, I have prepared a mouthwatering skirt steak topped with a super fresh and tasty chimchurri sauce.  I suspect that upon our return, I might have a few pointers from the locals to share with you and a more authentic recipe.  For now, I’m sticking with a tried and true favorite from Weber’s Real Grilling cookbook.  We’ve made this recipe oodles of time over the past couple years and it’s a surefire hit when we have company over.  Just be prepared for the garlicky aftermath lingering on your breathe and certain to loom for hours after consumption.  Don’t fret, my friends, this concoction is certainly worth it.   And, hey, if everyone’s eating the same thing, who’s really going to care about a little garlic breath?

This aromatic sauce does not come any fresher or more versatile and pairs extraordinarily well with the skirt steak.  The trifecta of herbs creates a sauce so green and so fragrant, you’re left wanting more and more.  Marinating this steak for several hours before grilling tenderizes this categorically tough piece of meat to the point where it simply melts in your mouth.  As I take a bite, sip on some malbec, and click my heels together, I’m transported to la París de Sudamérica

By the way, we’re neck deep in Argentina research and getting super excited for our vacation.  If you have been there before and have any suggestions for our 11-day trip, shoot me a comment or e-mail.  Gracias!

Skirt Steak With Chimichurri Sauce
Chimichurri Sauce from Weber’s Real Grilling Cookbook
Serves 4

2 pounds of skirt steak
4 large garlic cloves , peeled
1 cup loosely packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce

Mince the garlic in a food processor by pulsing several times.  Add the herbs and process until the mixture is finely chopped.  With the machine running, pour the olive oil through the feed tube.  Add vinegar, salt, pepper, and Tabasco and process for an additional 30 seconds.

Reserve half of the chimichurri sauce in the refrigerator.  Pour the other half into a large resealable bag  along with the skirt steak.  Press out the air and seal tightly.  Refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours.

Preheat the grill on high and allow the meat to stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.  Remove the steak from the bag and transfer to the grill.  Cook 4 minutes before turning over.  Grill an additional 3 minutes for rare (see photo) or until desired doneness.

Let meat sit for a couple minutes, so the juices can settle. Cut steak across the grain into 1/2-inch thick slices.  Transfer to a platter and drizzle with chimichurri sauce.  Serve remaining sauce on the side.

Note:

  • If you’re not a steak fan, this sauce would work equally well with shrimp or salmon.  Just shorten the marination time to 30 minutes.
Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Mediterranean Grilled Caesar Salad

Regardless of what kind of restaurant I’m dining in, I love to enjoy Caesar salad for my second course.  I’ve sampled many varieties, but the one that has struck me the most in recent years is the Black Trumpet‘s Grilled Caesar.  The Trumpet nailed the dressing with it’s creamy texture and ideal balance of cheese and lemony tang.  However, they also managed to successfully execute a twist on this salad favorite without losing the classic integrity of the dish.  A romaine heart is presented slightly charred with a drizzling of dressing and a side of kalamata olives, toasted pine nuts, and red pepper relish.  The texture and savory notes of these additions boost the salad from a simple side to a main dish that can hold its own.

I’ve experimented with countless Caesar dressings over the past year, including recipes from Commander’s Palace, Bobby Flay,  Giada DeLaurentis and Ina Garten.  Ultimately, Ina’s came the closest to my desired attributes, but I needed to make few adjustments before I was satisfied.  So, I fiddled around with the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe and created a dressing with just a hint of lemon and a subtler anchovy undertone than in the original recipe.  The result:  I finally struck Caesar salad gold with these modifications and am so excited to share them with you.  This dressing will obviously work for your standard Caesar presentation, but I’m always up for a challenge and took it one step further by attempting to recreate the Trumpet’s version.  I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labor and are just as pleased with this green time gem as I was.

Caesar Dressing
Yields 1 1/4 cup

1 large egg yolk
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
3 anchovy filets
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra light olive oil (see notes)
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Put everything except the cheese and olive oil in the food processor.  Puree until smooth. With food processor running, pour the olive oil in through the feed tube.  If you don’t have/use the feed tube, pour the oil very slowly.  This technique emulsifies the dressing and creates the creamy consistency.  Add cheese and pulse three times.  Voila.

Additional Notes:

  • Do NOT use extra virgin olive oil.  Be sure to use mild olive oil.  I’ve come to the conclusion that this error was responsible for throwing off all of the Caesar dressings I made in the past.  Extra virgin olive oil overpowers the overall flavor and, while olive oil is one of the main ingredients, you don’t want it to be the dominant taste.
  • Extra dressing can be kept refrigerated in a tightly covered container for up to 5 days.

Mediterranean Grilled Caesar Salad
Serves 1 (main dish) or 2 (sides)

1 Romaine Heart, cleaned and halved lengthwise
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, halved lengthwise
1/3 cup roasted red peppers, fresh or jarred
Olive oil for basting
1/4 cup Caesar dressing
Pecorino Romano cheese for garnish


Heat a skillet over a medium low flame.  Add pine nuts and toss very frequently until nuts are golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes.  Remove and set aside.  Dice roasted red peppers into 1″ bite size squares and set aside.

Preheat grill or grill pan on high.  Brush both sides of Romaine lightly with olive oil.  When grill is hot, place hearts on top and cook for about 4 minutes on each side until lightly charred.  Plate each Romaine half.  Drizzle with dressing, a sprinkle of cheese, and top with pine nuts.  Serve with olives and pepper relish.

Posted in Salad, Vegetables | 3 Comments

Om Nom Bombs: Goodness Gracious, Great Balls…

So many cookbooks, so little time…  I’m a self-admitted cookbook enthusiast with an insatiable appetite for both the classics and avant-garde. I collect volume upon volume and liken each book to a piece of art:  the author, the artist; the book, a masterpiece composed of different photos and recipes.  Each of them:  inspiring.

This holiday season, I was fortunate enough to add three new books to my collection and I look especially forward to sharing some of the recipes on KarmaCucina in coming months.  Today’s post was inspired by a recipe in one of these books, Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook:  500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living.  I find myself genuinely identifying with Bittman, in that he, too, had a food enlightenment.  His diet is extraordinarily practical, honing in on fruits, veggies, and whole grains.  He even includes animal products.  However, meat is never the main event in his creations.  As a result, the book includes many vegetarian recipes, but also plenty for the omnivore.  While the latter is a nice perk for a reader like myself, we could all benefit from Bittman’s nutritious and innovative plant-based recipes even if we have little interest in forgoing the meat on our plate.  Another plus to this book is most of the recipes have reasonably accessible ingredients, if not pantry staples.  And, many of the recipes offer a snippet at the end with variation suggestions from the author, which I think is a wonderful added bonus.

My Om Nom Bombs were inspired by Bittman’s recipe, Crispy Rice Treats.  I was assigned dessert for my monthly girls night dinner, but wanted to steer away from refined sugar and anything too decadent.  After manipulating his mostly savory recipe into a sweet one, I ended up with my little balls of goodness and I must admit, they were a pretty big hit.  This recipe is extraordinarily easy and takes no more than 30 minutes from start to finish.  Give it a shot, pop one in your mouth, and let me know what you think…

Om Nom Bombs
Yields 3 dozen balls

2 cups brown rice puff cereal
1 cup all natural peanut butter
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
4 Tbsp. ground flax seed
1/2 cup dried cherries
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place almonds on a foil-lined baking sheet and toast in oven until light brown and fragrant, approximately 10 minutes.  Remove sheet from oven, transfer almonds to a small bowl, and set aside.  Keep the foil on the baking sheet and scatter the shredded coconut evenly on top.  Return the tray to the oven until coconut is lightly toasted, about 2-3 minutes.  Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

Combine cereal, peanut butter, honey, almonds, pumpkin seeds, flax, cherries, and salt in a large bowl.  Mix until well-combined with a spoon or your hands, if necessary.  Wet your hands and roll walnut-sized balls of mixture between them.  Toss around in the shredded coconut until coated evenly.  Serve immediately or store at room temperature for several days.

A few notes:

  • The majority of these ingredients can be purchased loose in the bulk section at your local supermarket.  I do most of my grocery shopping at Wegmans and they have a fantastically fresh and varied bulk organic section.
  • I made half of these without toasting the coconut and rolled a dozen that way.  Conclusion:  The coconut’s not the star of this recipe and the toasting makes little flavor impact.  This step is a matter of personal preference and can be skipped.
  • The ground flaxseed is not integral, but gives this treat a little more nutritional bang for your buck.  I always try to sneak it in wherever I can.   Chia seeds might be another interesting option…
  • I served these in paper mini muffin liners.  Perfect fit.
  • I have a feeling adults and little ones alike will enjoy this one.  Little do the kiddies know, everything in there is good for them!  Can we say after school treat?
Posted in Dessert, Snack | 15 Comments

Spinach Pasta Fagioli

2011 is here and after week upon week of holiday festivities and overindulging in chowtime cheer, I am ready to return to my prior life of lighter, nutrition-laden fare.    As a matter of fact, I am sprinting back with open arms.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this month-long stint while it lasted, but my system has definitely been working overtime processing refined carbs and red meat, something it’s not accustomed to the majority of the year.  I sensed my body’s mayday signal when I woke up on New Years suffering from a sore throat, headache and bloated belly.  After spending the majority of the day grazing, hydrating and finally squeezing in a dusk workout, I knew it was resuscitation time and I began to think about my next blog post…

I scoured through our fridge and pantry and after looking past the potato pie, box of Rocky Mountain chocolate, and mom’s Christmas cookies, I found my less glamorous, but reliable friends patiently waiting from me:  spinach, tomatoes, beans, garlic, onions, celery, and carrots.  I decided to put together a pot of pasta fagioli, a traditional Italian pauper’s stew, and throw in some spinach, fresh herbs, and extra beans to ramp up my detox.  Also, instead of using dried pasta, I opted to make fresh spinach pasta with the press my husband gave me for Christmas.  This last step is in no way, shape, or form integral to realizing the wholesome benefits of this one pot dish.  I simply I felt like playing with my new toy and wanted everything to be from scratch.

I hope this soup revitalizes you as much as it has me.  Here’s wishing you health, happiness, and success in the new year.

- KC

Spinach Pasta Fagioli
Serves 6

3/4 cup dried red kidney beans
3/4 cup dried cannellini beans
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped carrots
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
1 Parmesan rind
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes in juice
1 1/2 cups fresh spinach pasta (small noodles)
1/3 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
1/3 loosely packed basil leaves, sliced
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 cups fresh spinach


Combine beans in a large bowl with 6 cups of cold water.  Cover loosely with a towel and soak 8 hours or overnight.  Drain beans and set aside.

Melt butter and olive oil in a large cast iron pot over medium heat.  Add garlic, onion, celery, carrots, sea salt, and pepper flakes.  Sauté 3 minutes until the veggies have softened slightly.  Add beans, stock, bay leaf, Parmesan rind, and tomatoes in juice.  Raise heat to high and bring pot to a rapid boil.  Cover and reduce heat to a low simmer.  Cook for 1 hour until beans are tender, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, prepare pasta al dente according to directions, drain, and set aside.  When the veggie-bean mixture has finished cooking, discard the Parmesan rind and bay leaf.  Ladle out approximately  1 1/2 cups of veggies and beans with a minimal amount of broth.  Process well with a small hand blender, return to pot, and mix well.  Stir in the cooked pasta, grated Pecorino Romano cheese, basil, parsley, and spinach leaves.  Simmer soup for an additional 5 minutes until spinach is bright green and well wilted.  Season to taste with fresh ground pepper and sea salt if necessary.  Ladle into individual bowls, sprinkle with more Pecorino Romano cheese, and serve immediately.

Notes:

  • Canned beans work fine, but as is the nature of anything canned, they’re higher in sodium .  When I have the foresight to know I will be cooking beans and the time to soak them, I prefer the dried variety.  They are firmer and hold up nicely.  If you choose to use canned, substitute 1 can of red kidney and 1 can of cannellini in place of the dried beans.  Rinse and drain them well and only simmer soup for 30 minutes.
  • In a pinch, feel free to substitute one of Pasta Fagioli’s more traditional dry pasta shapes, ditalini or elbow macaroni, in place of the fresh pasta.
  • For a heartier appetite, serve with a toasted slice of whole grain bread and soak up every last drop.
  • If preparing for children or the “heat-averse”, feel free to reduce or completely leave out the red pepper flakes.  No harm, no foul.
  • Beyond the 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt added in the beginning of this recipe, I did not use any more, nor did I miss it (surprising for my palate).  There are other sodium contributors in this dish including the cheese and broth.  If you choose to add more at the end, use a light hand.
  • Shoot me a comment or e-mail if you’d like the spinach pasta recipe.

 

Posted in Soup, Vegetables | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

White Truffle Grilled Cheese

One of my favorite coworkers and food-minded friends gave me an incredible gift this Christmas season and I was absolutely over the moon when I received it:  a bottle of white truffle oil.  Countless times I have watched Mario Batali finish a dish with a few shavings of these highly esteemed funghi and send whatever plate of goodness he has created completely over the top.  However, with truffles ringing in at well over $1,000/pound and being a chef with a moderate budget, I had little intention (or hope) of ever working with them myself…. until now.  As soon as I unscrewed the cap, my nose was on sensory overload with the pungency of the aroma.  I inhaled and instantly knew I was dealing with some serious sophisticated mushroom flavor.  Furthermore, I realized that just a little drop would go a very long way.  If I couldn’t work with truffles themselves, this had to be the next best thing.

Yesterday, the northeast was hit with quite the blizzard and I couldn’t help but think this called for some good old fashioned comfort food with a twist.  Truffle oil grilled cheese anyone?  After getting tangled in the world wide web of food and recipes, I noticed that Fontina cheese and mushrooms were quite the popular combination for this sandwich.  So, I decided to stick with what works, but also add some fresh grated Parmesan, since I happened to have a wedge in the fridge.  And to make this meal complete and balance out the richness of the cheese, I added a peppery arugula salad simply dressed in a lemon and extra virgin olive oil vinaigrette.

Creamy melted Fontina and Parmesan cheese + crunchy whole grain bread + woody mushroom flesh + white truffle essence = snowy day indulgent perfection.

We have a winner here, people!

White Truffle Grilled Cheese
Serves 2

6 ounces baby bella mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 ounces oyster mushrooms, chopped into bite size pieces
1 Tbsp.  butter
1 cup fresh coarsely shredded Fontina cheese
1/3 cup fresh coarsely shredded Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley
4 slices crusty whole grain bread
1 Tbsp. white truffle oil
Sea salt

Preheat panini press.  Melt butter in skillet over medium high heat.  Add mushrooms and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.  Transfer mushrooms to a medium bowl and let cool slightly, about 2 minutes.  Drain any accumulated juices from the bowl and discard.  Use your hands to toss mushrooms with parsley, Fontina, and Parmesan cheese.  Mixture should bind together and form a paste-like consistency.  Brush one side of each slice of bread with truffle oil and sprinkle with sea salt.  Top dry side of two of the slices of bread with the mushroom and cheese paste.  Place dry side of remaining bread down upon this mixture.  Press sandwiches on panini grill approximately 5 minutes or until golden brown and all the cheese has melted.  Serve immediately.

A couple notes:

  • Any mushrooms would work well.  I grabbed what looked fresh.  Use your favorite!
  • If you don’t have a panini press, a good old fashioned fry pan will do just fine!

Simple Arugula Salad
Serves 2

Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper
2 large handfuls of arugula

Combine all ingredients except arugula in a small bowl.  Whisk until emulsified.   Place arugula in a medium bowl and toss with desired amount of dressing.

Note:  This dressing will keep in the fridge for up to 1 week.

Posted in Sandwiches | Tagged , , | 22 Comments