Thursday, December 25, 2008

Smoked salmon and clementines with toast, etc.

This is a quick supper or quick hors d'oeuvre made out of things that I usually have around the house anyway (except for the clementines, which I am STILL trying to use up, but I would always have some form of fruit to substitute). For that reason, it would be a good quick thing to make if people just dropped by, if you are snowed in, or if you have just plain had it with the leftover turkey/ham/prime rib/turducken or whatever was for Christmas dinner and want a break.

What I used:

Smoked salmon
2 clementines (from the endless crate), sectioned
arugula, a handful, rinsed
2 pieces of bread, toasted and cut into triangles (we'll talk about this later)
Greek yogurt (ditto)
shallot (about half of one, or a teensy one, chopped fine)
butter (or olive oil)
some fresh basil leaves

In Italy, we were blown away by an appetizer of smoked salmon and oranges. Of course they are good together. I think I was blown away because the Italians didn't care that it was an orange fish with an orange -- well, orange. We have been taught so carefully to mix colors. But the fairly fatty (and salty) fish and the citrus go together really well. I just added whole-wheat toast, Greek yogurt, some chopped shallot, and arugula and a basil garnish (OK, I had to add something green.). If I had it to do over: More toast! It's a scoop and eat thing.

About Greek yogurt: I know most people think of cream cheese with salmon, but good, thick Greek yogurt is tooo good to pass up. It is a dip, a spread -- it is rich without being too rich, plus has a tang that I happen to like. If you don't like any cultured milk product, such as yogurt and sour cream, well, besides feeling sorry for you, I will say you could probably use cream cheese. Yawn. Shallots and Greek yogurt really go together well. This yogurt is also great instead of sour cream on baked potatoes and is wonderful with fruit for breakfast. So I always have some Greek yogurt on hand. Cream cheese, not so much.

Toast: Italians would use, duh, Italian bread. What you see on this plate is Trader Joe's Sprouted Wheat Bread. I love the way it toasts. Makes eating whole grains so easy. If I were having a party, I might buy or bake a loaf of Italian bread or, blasphemy aside, a French baguette. For one or two people, that's just too much bread, because it doesn't keep well. In fact, the next day you either have to make bread crumbs to stash in the freezer or use the leftover piece of the loaf as a hammer to hang pictures. The wheat bread actually doesn't last terribly long, either, because it doesn't have preservatives, but it's easier to stash in the freezer. As for the triangles, well, just prettier.

Butter: I like to put just a scrape of butter the hot toast. You could use olive oil, or skip it, and just rely on the yogurt (or cream cheese) to moisten the toast.

Smoked salmon: OK, I don't always have it in the fridge, but most of the time I have a small package of it because I like it and it keeps pretty well. There are big debates about wild caught vs. farm-raised. I like wild caught. There are big debates about Atlantic vs. Pacific, Scottish vs. Nova Scotia vs. Alaska. I like wild caught, from wherever. I carefully separate the layers and make little curls. Because they are pretty, but also they fit better on the toast corners.

Clementines: If I ever run out of them, I would use oranges or grape tomatoes or even regular tomatoes if they were ripe and tasty. I would be willing to try any kind of fruit, even something as wacky sounding as dried cranberries. Probably would be yummy.

It is very classic to also use capers. Not something I keep around, or if I do, they're in a jar that I don't want to open for just a teaspoon full. And I'm not crazy about them, anyway. If you are, knock yourself out. For that matter, some people might also add caviar. I'm fresh out.

For a party hors d'oeuvre, I would go ahead and stack the various ingredients on the toast corners, partly to discourage the dreaded "double-dipping" and partly to make it easier for guests.

A Spinach Salad idea: Pears!

Merry Christmas!
One highlight of the holiday meal served at work today, for those of us who were working on Christmas Day, was a wonderful spinach salad. I've had lots of spinach salads, but this had one big difference: Instead of apples, which are good in such a salad, they used slices of fresh, ripe pears! Other than that it was the usual: baby spinach leaves, red onion (I would have cut these into even finer slivers than they did), plenty of blue cheese, some grated carrot. There was a salad dressing available, looked like a basic vinaigrette with maybe some honey-mustard mixed in, but I didn't use any -- the juicy pears and the blue cheese did the trick. So if you are looking for something light and quick, consider this.

I could make a meal of this by adding some slivers of ham, bacon, prosciutto or smoked salmon, or/and a hard-cooked egg or two. And if you like nuts or sunflower seeds, those would taste great, too.

Ah, pears -- reminded me, too, of that wonderful pear-pecorino ravioli we had in Italy! I'm still planning to try making that myself.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Spaghetti with prosciutto and veggies

Didn't feel like stopping at the store on the way home from work, so I thought about what to cook from what I had on hand. And as a departure from the skillet suppers, I made a one-saucepan supper.

what I need to use up:
--baby spinach
--clementines (only need one, maybe two for this; about a dozen to go! Somebody's gonna get them in a Christmas stocking at this rate)

what I have leftover from previous recipes:
--pecorino and/or parmesan

what I also have on hand
--whole-wheat spaghetti
--frozen veggie mix: I know, fresh is supposedly "better," but I have found that cooking for one means it doesn't work to buy a head of broccoli, a head of cauliflower, etc. Too much waste. Too much slime in the fridge. I buy the frozen veggies that come in bags so I can take out as little as I want. For this recipe, I used about half to 2/3 of a cup. The rest went back in the freezer.
--olive oil
--garlic (optional -- and you know who you are)

equipment I used:
--1 medium or large saucepan (this is for one serving of pasta; if you are making more, go big)
--1 colander or sieve
--vegetable parer
--pasta bowl, 6 inches or more across. Yours doesn't have to have chili peppers painted on it. Or you could just use a plate.
--cutting board
--a fork
--a Pyrex measuring cup
--paring knife or utility knife
--microwave oven (optional)

The pasta: Put the water on to boil, adding a generous amount of salt. I don't measure, guess it was two teaspoons or so. When it boils, add the spaghetti. I find that the right amount for one is a bundle about as big around as my index finger. I break it in half so it fits in the pan and is easier to eat later.
The veggies, a sneaky tip: If your colander is all metal (no plastic) and fits inside or over your saucepan, you can do something really sneaky here. Put the frozen veggies in the colander/sieve and set it over the pan so they will steam. Otherwise, put them in the Pyrex cup with about 1/4 cup of water and put them in the microwave for a minute or so. I can't tell you how long because it depends on the microwave and on how you like your veggies. I like mine hot but still a little crunchy. Don't put the spinach leaves in yet, by the way. We'll get to that.

Multitasking: While the water is boiling and the pasta/veggies are cooking,
--Make shavings of the parmesan or pecorino using the vegetable peeler.
--Slice or tear the proscuitto into smaller pieces
--Use the vegetable peeler to zest one clementine, then peel it and break the sections apart. Chop up the zest into fairly small pieces.
--Open a bottle of wine. You don't need any wine in this recipe, I'm just saying...
-- If you have steamed the veggies, put them in the bowl or plate. If they are in the microwave, they can rest there.
--Put the a handful or two of the baby spinach leaves in the colander/sieve and give them a good rinse. I know the bag says they are already washed. Yeah.
--Peel and press or mince a clove of garlic.

Sneaky tip No. 2: Note: This will not work with big, tough spinach leaves, only with baby spinach: When the pasta is done -- you've been checking it with the fork, right? -- grab the saucepan, using a potholder if you need one, take it to the sink and grab the colander with the spinach leaves in it. Pour the pasta and boiling water over the spinach leaves. (My sieve has a long handle on it, so this is easy. If you have a more traditional colander, pour carefully so you don't get scalded. Or you could set the colander in the sink, assuming your sink is clean. It is, isn't it?) The spinach will get just a teensy bit cooked but will stay "fresh." (Techically, this is "blanching.")

Assembly: Put the pasta, spinach, veggies into the bowl/plate. Add a dash of olive oil. Toss in the garlic, cheese, prosciutto and clementine zest and sections.

The cheese and prosciutto are salty enough, in my opinion, but if you don't agree, you can add salt and even pepper.

Grab a fork. Oh, and a glass of wine.

Possible substitutions: As Sherlock Holmes said, You know my methods, Watson. If I had tomatoes, I might slice them and put them in, either raw or maybe with the spinach to get heated by the hot water. (I do think an acid element is nice here, so tomato, orange or at least some lemon zest seems like a good idea.) If I didn't have prosciutto, any leftover chicken or turkey would probably work, or maybe smoked salmon. If I didn't have baby spinach (or arugula), I would probably just use more of the frozen veggie mix. If I did happen to have fresh or leftover green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, sugar snap peas or anything like that, I'd use them instead of the frozen veggies. You could certainly add ingredients if you wanted: olives, nuts, basil. Zucchini? Not for me, thanks, but you could.

To summarize: Pasta, a protein, an acidic fruit or vegetable, a green leafy veg if available, some other colorful veggies, olive oil and cheese. Ad lib. A mixture of textures is good.

Note that I did not cook the clementine pieces this time. They were room temp by the time I made the dish, and they heated up a bit with the hot ingredients. They did not get bitter and they stayed sweet and juicy.

I can't say "Delish" because Rachel Ray has that tag line, along with "Yummo." But as my friends Star and Steve know, I have my own tag line: "Yum, yum! Good, good!"

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Easy P-zy puff pastry appetizers

Why P-zy? Because it's Puff Pastry, Prosciutto, Pecorino cheese, and Please Pass the Prosecco!

It's party time, and everyone needs some quick and easy appetizers.

Puff pastry is one of the things I try to always keep in my freezer. I like the kind from Trader Joe's, partly because the package isn't too big -- two sheets, just enough for a quick batch of goodies. In fact, you can use just one at a time.

In front are the Prosciutto-Pecorino tarts.
Behind on the left, some mini "pockets" filled with, of all things, leftover skillet salad. In fact, that's what I started with.

If you didn't have leftover skillet salad (see below), you could make about the same filling just by sauteeing up some onions, mushrooms and spinach in olive oil and adding a dash of balsamic vinegar. You could also break some sausage out of the casings, but it wouldn't be essential. And I'll bet you could use any number of other leftovers.

Follow the directions on the frozen puff pastry. Mine needed to thaw on the counter for 10 minutes -- no more, you want it to be really cold still, just not frozen. This is a good time to preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel off one sheet of puff pastry; you can refreeze the rest or make more stuff! I rolled it out just a little, gently, on a lightly floured board with a lightly floured rolling pin. Then I cut it into squares about 3-4 inches square and put a spoonful of my now-chilled spinach mixture in the middle, making sure not to get any extra liquid; enough will cling to the salad to give it the flavor. (Also, there were a few pieces of sausage and asparagus that needed to be cut smaller so they'd fit.) Then I just rolled up each square and pinched the ends to seal, put them on a baking pan, then pricked each one on top with a fork. Into the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Let cool and "set" at room temperature for at least 10 minutes. No dipping sauce needed, which is good for parties -- the vinaigrette that's "built in" provides enough flavor and moisture.

Then I slapped myself on the head and asked, "Why didn't I add some cheese?" That got me thinking. You could easily sneak a sliver of parmesan or pecorino (or any other cheese) in before rolling up the mini-pockets. Or you could do something completely different with Sheet No. 2. Which I did.

I rolled out the second sheet and using a wine glass, cut out circles. I probably have a round biscuit/cookie cutter somewhere but didn't feel like hunting for it. I tore three thin slices of proscuitto into smaller pieces and put a curl of it on each circle, then a "shaving" of pecorino on top. (Oxo vegetable parer still the best tool for shaving firm cheese!) I put these on a second baking sheet. When my other batch was done, I popped these into the oven, again for 10-15 minutes.

Note: Do NOT think you can take one batch out of the oven and put a new batch on the same pan before it has cooled off. The heat of the pan will melt the butter that's inside the puff pastry before it has a chance to "puff." Or so I'm told.

I did not poke holes in the center of the dough circles because I was just using a little topping, but if you were trying to make tarts with more filling, you have to poke holes or the center will puff up too much and literally eject the topping/filling.

The scraps left over from cutting circles? Cook's treat: push them together and make another tart or pocket or two. Won't be as pretty because it won't puff as well as the original dough, but still tasty. Or you could sprinkle with grated Parmesan, roll a "snake," using your Play-Doh skills, and make cheese sticks. Since I didn't do that, I don't know how long to bake them, but I would start at 10 minutes and watch 'em.

Yes, these are a little rich. But from the minute the dough comes out of the freezer, they take less than half an hour. And, hey, the mini-pockets are full of veggies! You can fill the rest of the table with lighter fare, vegetable sticks and fruit and all that.

Warning: Prosciutto and pecorino are both pretty salty, but you knew that. If you need to cut down on salt, well, this is not a good idea for you. Stick with the spinach ones.

If you were assembling these ahead to bake at the last minute, you'd have to put them back in at least the refrigerator. It's that butter-melting thing.

Happy holidays!

Skillet "Salad"

Sweet Italian Sausage Skillet Salad

So, I have all these fresh ingredients kicking around that I need to use up.

Baby spinach
Baby arugula
Clementines (I can never resist those cute little crates of clementines that show up in the stores this time of year, and I can never manage to eat them all before nasty things start happening to them. But I always try. You don't need them for this recipe, as I found out. More later.)
MacIntosh apples
Two of the fresh, mild Italian sausages (they came five to a package). I know I could freeze them, but this will be more fun.
Cremini Mushrooms
some skinny asparagus stalks that I bought over a week ago and nearly forgot about. Still good, but their time is running short
some leftover white wine (how did THAT happen?)

I also have a skinny loaf, called a ficelle, of "bake at home" bread

If this were summer, I would just grill the sausages, cut them up, make a salad with the rest of the stuff and whip up a honey-Dijon dressing, put the sausage chunks on the salad, slice up the bread (or even make croutons) and call it a day.

But it's cold outside and I want a hot meal. So why not a hot salad? If I also had potatoes on hand, I would probably make a hot German potato salad with the sausage and toss in some of the veggies for good measure. Sadly, although they are something I usually do keep on hand, I have no potatoes, because I'm trying to clear out the pantry ahead of a Christmas trip.

I do have eggs, and could try making a quiche, but I'm getting pretty hungry and I don't feel like fooling with a quiche right now. Maybe next time.

So: Hot skillet salad.

Bake the bread according to the directions. Mine takes 10 minutes at 350. I start it first and turn the oven off when it is done, leaving it in the warm oven until the rest of the meal is ready. If I didn't have it, I would put a couple of pieces of bread in the toaster a bit later on in the process..

In the skillet, with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, sweat on medium heat for a couple of minutes:

1 small onion, chopped (those of you who don't like onion, and you know who you are, can either leave it out or leave it in bigger chunks that are easier to pick out later)

3 Cremini mushrooms, washed and sliced.

Turn the heat up to medium high, scoot the mushroom/onion mix to one side and put in the sausages. I left them whole this time, just to see. Let them brown well on one side (at least four minutes) before turning the first time. Keep an eye on them but don't be fussing with them all the time. While you are waiting, it's time to rinse and dry the greens, chop up an apple, and wash and snap off the tough ends of the asparagus. Those could be saved for soup, or put in the compost. If you don't happen to have asparagus, no big deal. If you happen to have some green beans or sugar snap peas, a handful of those would be good.

I also disassembled a couple of clementines, but to be honest they got bitter tasting and I will leave them out next time, or add them cold at the end for a temperature contrast and their sweetness.

If you didn't have a nice loaf of fresh bread, this might be when you'd stick some slices in the toaster.

When the sausages are brown all around, and in the case of mine, starting to pop out of the casing at the end,. start adding the chopped up ingredients, starting with things that take longest. For me, that was asparagus (or whatever) first, then apple (you don't want it to turn into applesauce), with spinach and arugula last. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Pour in about a half cup of white wine. Add another tablespoon or two of olive oil and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar (or any flavored vinegar you like). Yes, you have just made a hot salad dressing/sauce with the wine, oil and vinegar, plus the juices from the sausage and veggies. It might seem like too much liquid. It isn't.

Let it bubble for a minute or two while the leafy greens wilt. Taste a bit to see if you want to add salt/pepper/nothing.

Good time to shave off a few bits of Parmesan. I used my Oxo vegetable peeler -- I think my friend Star showed me that trick.

Tear off a couple of hunks of bread , or tear up the toast, and put in the bottom of the bowl.
Fish out the sausages and slice into "coins" or hunks or whatever you like.
Spoon or pour the hot salad into the bowl on top of the bread, which will soak up some of that lovely dressing, and arrange the sausage on top. Add the Parmesan shavings. Grab a fork.

Yes, because of all the ingredients, this makes more than one serving. At least two. I am not sure the leftovers will reheat well. On the other hand, they might turn into a decent hot and sour soup, especially if I pluck out the clementine bitter bits. (See above for another way to use leftovers by turning them into filling for puff pastry appetizers.)

When eating this, be sure to try different combinations of the ingredients in different bites. And dig down and nab some of the dressing-soaked bread!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sweet Italian sausage skillet supper

This is sweet Italian sausage with mushrooms, shallots, baby spinach, baby arugula, grape tomatoes and clementine, with cous-cous. It takes half an hour or less. I do wish the photo were better, and I will work on that.

You could use any pasta, or you could use rice. I used cous-cous because I like it, I always have it on hand, and it is practically an instant food. And whole-grain cous-cous tastes better, in my opinion, than most of the whole-grain pastas I have tried.

And if that weren't enough, I made this with cous-cous that was left over from the day before! Because, trust me, one cup of cous-cous goes a long way. That's fine, because it is so versatile.
If you haven't tried cous-cous, give yourself a treat. It has a mild, kind of nutty flavor, and you can add ANYTHING you like to it.

Here's how to make it:

One cup of liquid: I generally use either water or chicken stock, but you could use vegetable stock or even fruit juice if you wanted. Hmm, I think I will try making it with orange juice some time!

--2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil or any oil or you can skip this

--1/2 teaspoon of salt (omit if you are cutting back on salt or if you are using a salted broth)

Bring this to a good, rolling boil in a medium size saucepan. Don't use too small a pan; you will regret it. Measure out a cup of cous-cous. Turn heat off once the liquid boils, then pour in the cous-cous and give it a good stir and smack a lid on it. (If you don't have a lid for your pan, aluminum foil or even a plate will do.) Wait 5 minutes, open it up and fluff the cous-cous with a fork.

That's the basic recipe. You can add all kinds of things, including dried fruits or an array of seasonings, but since this is going to be served as part of the sausage supper, I won't go into that here.

Obviously, since I did it, you can refrigerate any leftovers, and reheat either in the microwave (add a little liquid) or by tossing right into the pan with your other ingredients. Speaking of which:

Quick and easy Sweet Italian Sausage skillet supper:
This is for 1-2 servings

Get out your large skillet (I use my cast-iron chicken fryer, because it is nice and deep, so I don't spill things when I am stirring later on; any large skillet will do, I guess). Over medium heat:

Put in about

--2 tablespoons of olive oil, butter or whatever, enough to generously coat the botoom, and add

--2 shallots, diced -- or you could use about half of a small onion. I like shallots when cooking a small quantity of food, because I like the flavor and they're the right size for one or two portions. If I chopped an onion, I'd go ahead and dice it all and put it in the fridge (well-sealed in plastic and/or glass) for another meal.

--3 Cremini mushrooms, sliced -- well, of course, whatever mushrooms you have or like. Creminis are the small version of Portobellos, by the way; or, rather, Portobellos are the giant version of creminis. Whatever.

Season those with a little salt and pepper, but keep in mind that the next thing going in is the sausage, which has lots of flavor, so don't over-season at this point.

--2-3 links of sweet Italian sausage. I used 3 because I wasn't having a "starter" course or dessert. I like mild, but if you like hot, go for it. I also like to squeeze the sausage out of the "links" into little meatballs about the size of radishes, partly because I don't like the casings and partly because the more surface area, the more yummy brown carmelized crust. Drop those into the pan. Saute over medium high heat, stirring only occasionally, until they are yummy and brown on all sides. I use a sturdy metal "turner" to scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure the shallots and mushrooms aren't burning and to make sure the sausage is getting evenly browned.

While that's going on, wash and pat dry

--a handful of baby spinach leaves. 12-20 leaves is my guess, but if I catch you standing there counting, I will suggest you get help.

--a handful of baby arugula, which is optional but nice, and it's my nephew Mike's favorite thing. Put this decoratively on a plate. You can sprinkle with a little olive oil, if you'd like. I did.

Wash and slice in half
-- a handful of grape tomatoes. What did I tell you about counting? OK, six or so.
-- zest (grate the colorful part of the peel), peel and dismember one clementine. You could use about half an orange. I would cut the sections in half and make sure there aren't any annoying pits.

--Get ready with about 1/2 cup of liquid: Open a bottle of white wine if you haven't already. If you don't have or don't use wine, get out some chicken broth. If you have homemade, good for you. The rest of us use the kind that comes in a box. I like low or no-salt varieties made from free-range chickens. I would NOT use chicken bouillion for this, as it is very salty. It would be better to use water.

--Grate a couple of teaspoons or tablespoons of Parmesan. Your call.

Is the sausage brown yet? Then

add the spinach, clementine sections, zest, tomatoes and about 1/2 cup of wine or other liquid. Hear the sizzle. Use that turner again to scrape up all the yummy bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook for about two more minutes until the tomatoes pucker a little, the spinach wilts just a tad, and everything is hot. This is a good time to taste and decide if it needs more seasoning; be sure you get a bit of the sausage in your tasting sample before you make that decision. I added

-- a dash of an Italian spice blend that is mostly oregano.

If you are using leftover (cold) cous-cous, fluff it again with a fork to make sure it isn't lumpy, then just stir it right into the pan. It may absorb even more liquid than it already has, so stand ready to add a little more liquid, but you don't want it soupy. Give it a minute or two to heat up.

If you are using freshly made cous-cous, put it on the plate on top of the arugula and pour the sausage mixture over.

Add the Parmesan on top.

Pour a glass of wine if you haven't already.


This turns out to be more than one portion; might feed two, especially with a "starter" course. Definitely enough left over for tomorrow's lunch or a freezer meal.

Welcome to Just One Cook, the blog


First, thanks to my niece Lisa for suggesting that I start a blog to share my recipe experiments. It should be easier for more of my friends to look at and share with their friends.

I called it Just One Cook because that's what I am. I'm certainly not a trained chef; the last cooking class I took was in junior high. And the "One" part is a signal that most of the time, I'm cooking for one person. That can be hard to do, and there are almost always some leftovers; I try to be creative with leftovers, but I certainly don't like making a recipe that serves eight people and having to deal with that. I do like taking some meals to work and am not opposed to putting some meals in the freezer to reheat later, although really I prefer freshly cooked food every day. Who doesn't?

My idea here is to simply to share recipes that work for me. That means for the most part that they are not terribly complicated, don't take a lot of time, don't take a lot of equipment and don't require a trip to an exotic food store. Most of the recipes I come up with will be based on ingredients that I always keep on hand (i.e., staples), augmented with whatever I happen to have on hand (i.e., things I need to use up before they turn to compost), augmented with a couple of things I just bought (usually the protein part and some fresh produce).

I won't be copying any out of books or the Internet, but rather what I've come up with on my own. Of course, some of the things I prepare are inspired by meals I've eaten or recipes I've read or even seen on TV, but as I am genetically incapable of following a recipe exactly, these are my own "riffs" and definitely my commentary!

Instead of starting with a list of ingredients, I'm including them in the narrative but trying to make it easy to pick them out if you are doing a quick scan to see what is involved. I'm also trying to mention what I would substitute if I didn't happen to have a particular thing on hand. You will notice that I'm big on substitutions. I like to play with my food!

As I get into this, I plan to add elements such as basic equipment needs, what I mean by "ingredients I always keep on hand," and even "things I've learned the hard way."


About Me

My photo
This is me enjoying a limoncello in Rome on the last night of our trip to Italy. Funny thing is, I don't really like limoncello that much, but thought it would be great in a dessert. And wouldn't you know, The Barefoot Contessa just did a great fruit salad with limoncello. So now I can't. Oh, well.