Monday, February 28, 2011

Experiments With New Foods: Dandelion Greens

Dandelion greens are something that I've been aware of, but never encountered myself (aside from the ones messing up the back yard!) From Ray Bradbury's "Dandelion Wine" to settler's stories read as a kid, I'd always known you could eat them, but not the methods of preparation.

Now that spring is here, there are many kinds of greens and veggies to be found at the farmer's market, and some of them may be new to you. I decided to take the plunge and buy some dandelion greens, since neither my husband or I had ever tasted them. I searched my cookbooks, to no avail, and then turned to the internet for ideas. I found a recipe from Emeril Lagasse, and they turned out pretty good!

Dandelion greens are very bitter. I mean, kale and mustard greens are bitter, and dandelion greens go way beyond that! I liked this recipe because the white beans gave a mellowing balance to the greens, and the bacon (I subbed for pancetta) contributed a smoky, Southern feel. It came together quickly and (aside from the bacon fat) was quite healthy.

I highly recommend experimenting with new ingredients. You might be surprised and find a new favorite flavor. Worst case scenario, you don't like it - it's just one dish. In our case, we liked them, but won't be planting our own soon ... or trying to graze on the ones in the backyard.

Garlic-Braised Dandelion Greens with White Bean Puree and Crispy Pancetta
(recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse, via

  • 3 cups cooked white beans, drained
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 pound fresh young dandelion greens, tough ends trimmed, well washed
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • chopped parsley and thyme, for serving
  • kosher salt, for serving
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving
  1. In a food processor, combine the beans, 1/4 cup of the chicken broth and 6 tablespoons of the olive oil and process until mostly smooth, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside, covered at room temperature, until ready to serve.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the pancetta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until crispy and all of the fat has been rendered, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a paper lined plate to drain and set aside. Reduce the heat to low and allow rendered fat to cool slightly. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until garlic is lightly golden around the edges, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the greens and remaining chicken broth and cover the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook 1 to 2 minutes, until greens are wilted. Uncover the pan and add the sugar and salt to taste. Stir to thoroughly combine. Cover the pan and continue to cook until the greens are tender, 5 to 10 minutes longer. The greens may be served warm or at room temperature.
  3. When ready to serve, divide the bean puree evenly among 6 appetizer plates. Divide the greens among the plates, arranging them around the bean puree. Drizzle each plate with 1 tablespoon of the remaining olive oil and a pinch of chopped parsley and thyme, and a pinch of the kosher salt. Divide the reserved crispy pancetta evenly among the plates and serve each plate with a lemon wedge.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Oven-Roasted Pork Chops with Lemon-Caper Sauce

Where others have a sweet tooth, I have a sour tooth. I've been known to use only vinegar, and skip the oil, when dressing my salad. I eat cornichons like other people eat bon bons. So when I saw this recipe for pork chops in a lemon caper sauce, I knew I was going to like it.

Using a recipe from my "Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook", I skipped the step of brining my pork chops, mostly because I didn't read the recipe far enough in advance to do it before dinner. They came out fine without it, and were very juicy. These were easy, quick, and nearly fool-proof. They were tart and tangy (but not puckery, so if you are not a sour-lover like me, you won't be put off.)

Oven-Roasted Pork Chops with Lemon-Caper Sauce
(adapted from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook)

  • 4 pork chops, about 1 1/2 inches thick, trimmed of excess fat
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup juice from 2 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat, and brown the pork chops on one side, for about 2 minutes. Flip and brown the other side, another 2 minutes.
  2. Transfer the chops to a foil-lined baking sheet, or large, wide baking dish (so they aren't crowded or touching each other.) Roast in the oven until the internal temperature reaches 140 to 145 degrees on a thermometer, about 15 minutes, turning them over halfway through the cooking time. Remove from the oven, place on a platter, and cover with aluminum foil. Let them rest for about 5 minutes, and check to make sure the internal temperature has reached 150 degrees.
  3. While the chops are in the oven, add the shallot to the skillet you cooked the pork chops in, and cook over medium heat until softened, about 30 seconds.
  4. Increase the heat and add the broth, stirring to scrape up any bits stuck to the pan. Add the lemon juice and capers and cook until the sauce reduces to about 1/3 cup, about 4 minutes.
  5. Off the heat, whisk in the butter, and pour over the pork chops.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad

My husband and I were young and in love, eating miraculous food and drinking amazing wine. It was our first trip to Napa Valley. We stopped for lunch at Bistro Jeanty, and I ordered this salad. It was my first time eating roasted beets in a salad, and I never forgot how delicious it was. This is the perfect starter salad, or make it a light lunch with some crusty bread.

Beets are a winter veggie, so find them now, in the store or at the farmer's market, while they are in season and the price is right. Any salad greens mix will work: from delicate baby spring greens or butter lettuce to hearty spinach or the more bitter frisee or arugula. Goat cheese is available almost everywhere - pick some up next time you're at Trader Joe's! As for the dressing, I like the most basic combination of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. You can experiment with citrus or fruit vinegars too.

Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad

  • 1 pound of beets, red or golden
  • 1 package of soft goat cheese
  • 1 bag salad mix
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  1. Wash the beets and remove the green stems. I also like to nip off the little root tail, so the beet is pretty spherical. On a large piece of aluminum foil, nestle the beets together and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap the foil over and around the beets so they are sealed in. Bake at 375 for about an hour. To test for doneness, squeeze the foil package - the beets should feel tender under pressure.
  2. Open the foil and let the beets cool so you can handle them. You might want to wear plastic gloves for this: with a paring knife, remove the skin from the beets. It should peel right off, and you may not even need the knife, you can just grab and pull. The beets will stain your hands shocking red for a while if you don't wear gloves, but it will come off before work in the morning!
  3. Cut the beets into your preferred shape: julienne, slices, whatever you like for bite-sized eating. Set aside to finish cooling.
  4. Wash your greens, plate them, and dress with oil and vinegar. Sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of crumbled goat cheese and a handful of beets. I like to add a little more vinegar at this point. Add salt and pepper to taste.
If there are any beets left over, I like to eat them the next day ... with oil, vinegar and goat cheese. Sometimes lettuce just gets in the way.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lunar New Year Dumplings

Happy Lunar New Year! Some might call it Chinese New Year, but other Asian countries celebrate it as well. Good luck food traditions abound and apply to Chinese, Korean, and other cultures: oranges and tangerines for sweetness and good fortune, long noodles for a long and healthy life, and dumplings, which look like silver ingots and are said to bring wealth and luck. I've always loved dumplings (or "gyoza" in Japanese, and "mandu" in Korean), so I decided to make some to celebrate the new year!

I had no trouble finding recipes online. They all varied infinitesimally, so I cobbled together a generic recipe for pork mandu. A few of the recipes called for the pork to be cooked before stuffing into the mandu skins, but most did not. I, however, was a little freaked out by stuffing raw meat into the skins, so I did cook the pork a little - not to doneness, but just so it wasn't pink anymore. Yes, the filling will be more cohesive and less crumbly if you leave it raw, and please feel free to do so, but it just creeped me out!

Everything should be pretty easy to find in your regular grocery store. You can use won ton wrappers, which are square, instead of mandu or gyoza wrappers, which are round. I used Napa cabbage, but you can easily substitute green cabbage - just be sure it's diced very small since it's pretty stiff.

May you have good luck in the Year of the Rabbit, and may your dumplings be delicious!

Pork Mandu

  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1 large carrot, shredded or chopped in a food processor
  • about 1/2 cup cabbage, shredded finely
  • 4 green onions, chopped small
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped small
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for the cabbage
  • 1 package gyoza skins (mine had 25 skins in the package)
  1. After you've shredded your veggies or chopped them in the food processor, sprinkle with a good teaspoon of salt, focusing on the cabbage. Let sit for 15 minutes or so, and then squeeze out the water. You can do this by hand, or put them in a strainer and press with your hands or the back of a spoon. You don't want watery filling.
  2. You can skip this if you like, but I browned the pork in a little sesame oil, just until it wasn't pink anymore. Take the meat off the heat and into the strainer and press out any water and fat.
  3. Add pork and veggies to a mixing bowl, then add the ginger, garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce and salt. Stir to combine.
  4. To fill dumplings, hold a gyoza skin in your left hand, and spoon a teaspoonful (don't be tempted to over-fill!) of filling into the middle. Dip your finger into a bowl of water and wet one half of the edge of the skin, making a C. Fold the other half over and press to seal. I gave mine two little pleats, just to be pretty, but a straight fold is fine too.

To cook: you can add these to soup, or just boil them in chicken broth and add some green onions and a little soy sauce for a really fast dumpling soup. I like mine fried. Heat a teaspoon of sesame oil in a skillet and add your dumplings. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes on medium-low heat until they get golden and crispy (watch carefully, they burn quickly!) Flip the dumplings, add 3 tablespoons of water to the pan, and cover. This steams them and cooks the filling evenly. After 3 or 4 minutes, remove lid and cook until golden and crispy. Serve with a dipping sauce of 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar, and 1 tablespoon sugar.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rice Krispies Trail Mix Treats

Yes, that sorry little rectangle you see is all that remained of this recipe before I took a photo. My husband and I demolished an 8x8 pan of these babies in record time!

I was craving Rice Krispies treats, but felt a little guilty about it - not a whole lot of nutritional value in all those marshmallows! Then, I turned the cereal box over, and low and behold, a much healthier alternative! Rice Krispies Trail Mix Treats!

I made a few substitutions when I made the recipe. First off, instead of using a muffin tin, I just pressed them into an 8x8 metal pan - worked just fine. Also, I used sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter - just as tasty! This recipe seems like it could take on a whole lot of added flavors - M&Ms or chocolate chips instead of raisins, dry-roasted peanuts in addition to the sunflower seeds, or even adding coconut into the mix. Try them - I think you (and maybe even your kids) will like them!

Rice Krispies Trail Mix Treats
(recipe courtesy of Melissa d'Arabian, on the back of the cereal box)

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups miniature marshmallows, or 20 regular marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups Rice Krispies cereal
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup raisins or dried tart cherries
  • 1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds
  1. In large saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat. Stir in peanut butter and vanilla until peanut butter melts.
  2. Add Rice Krispies cereal, oats, raisins and sunflower seeds. Stir until well coated.
  3. Portion evenly into twenty 2 1/2" muffin pan cups coated with cooking spray. Firmly press cereal mixture down into cups. Refrigerate about 30 minutes or until firm. Use fork to lift treats out of cups.