Weekly Winner: Treading Ever So Cautiously Into Spring

Broccoli Grape Pasta SaladWalking outside, you’d never know that it is officially Spring here in Chicago.  The heat is still on and the snow still occasionally falls.  However regardless of what the weatherman predicts, my body and my tastes always seem ready for the change in seasons long before it actually happens.

During the winter, I almost always have soup for lunch, and although it certainly is still chilly enough to warrant a nice bowl of soup, my cravings have been for salads.  Problem is, the produce available is certainly not salad-worthy.  That’s why I love this week’s Weekly Winner.  It’s technically a salad, but hearty enough for chilly days.  And it has pasta ….. and bacon, so you know… there you go!  Need I say more?

The recipe comes from Southern Living Magazine and I did make one very important change (for me, at least).  The original recipe calls for pecans as the nut of choice.  Since I abhor them (and no, that is not too strong of a word here), I’ve changed it to pistachios because I had them on hand.  It could have been walnuts, cashews… really anything but pecans.  I know, I’d never make it as a Southern girl.

Broccoli, Grape and Pasta Salad

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 cup chopped pistachios

8 oz farfalle (bow-tie) pasta

1 pound fresh broccoli

1 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup diced red onion

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups seedless red grapes, halved

8 cooked bacon slices, crumbled

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Bake nuts in a single layer in a shallow pan 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through.
  2. Prepare pasta according to package directions.
  3. Meanwhile, cut broccoli florets from stems, and separate florets into small pieces using tip of a paring knife. Peel away tough outer layer of stems, and finely chop stems.
  4. Whisk together mayonnaise and next 4 ingredients in a large bowl; add broccoli, hot cooked pasta, and grapes, and stir to coat. Cover and chill 3 hours. Stir bacon and nuts into salad just before serving.

 

Weekly Winner – A Simple Stir-Fried Supper

Beef Brussels Stir FrySometimes I forget that simple can be delicious.  A Weekly Winner recipe doesn’t have to take all day to make.  A few ingredients, simply treated and prepared correctly can turn into an amazing meal.  Case in point: Brussels Sprouts and Steak Stir Fry.

I have had mixed emotions and results with my past forays into the world of stir frys.  Most of the time the results don’t seem as good as if I had just prepared the ingredients separately.  The flavors were muddled and some part always seems either under or over cooked.  But this recipe went perfectly.  The combination of flavors and textures epitomized what stir fry can, and should be.  The recipe comes from Bon Appetit magazine.   It’s not just a winner, it’s a Weekly Winner.

Brussels Sprouts and Steak Stir Fry

Ingredients

3 tablespoons oyster sauce

3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

1 pound brussels sprouts, halved

8 ounces flank or skirt steak, thinly sliced against the grain

Kosher salt

4 scallions, whites chopped, greens sliced

3 garlic cloves, sliced

2 tablespoons chopped peeled ginger

2 medium carrots, peeled, thinly sliced on a diagonal

1 Fresno chile or jalapeño, sliced into rings

Steamed rice (for serving)

Preparation

Whisk oyster sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, and 1/4 cup water in a small bowl; set sauce aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add brussels sprouts and cook, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Cover and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate; wipe out skillet.

Season steak with salt. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in same skillet over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add steak in a single layer; cook until browned, about 3 minutes. Turn and cook until nearly cooked through, about 30 seconds. Add to brussels sprouts.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in same skillet. Add scallion whites, garlic, and ginger and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute, adjusting heat as needed. Add carrots and chile and cook, tossing occasionally, until carrots are slightly softened, about 2 minutes.

Return brussels sprouts and steak to skillet and add reserved sauce. Cook, tossing occasionally, until sauce is thickened, about 3 minutes. Serve with steamed rice and garnish with scallion greens.

 

Weekly Winner: The Marriage of Two Recent Obsessions

Saag PaneerLately, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with Indian food.  I crave it.  It is a fairly new discovery with me as far as home cooking is concerned.  I’ve always enjoyed going to Indian restaurants and I do make a fairly awesome Chicken Tikka Masala (if I do say so myself), but that has pretty much been it.  Until now.  I’m now collecting recipes like mad and experimenting with Indian spices in everyday cooking.

At the same time, hubby has become obsessed with making his own cheese.  I know, I’m a lucky woman.  Mozzarella, ricotta, you name it, he’s been tinkering with it with great success.  Which brings us to a recent, cold, Sunday evening and this week’s Weekly Winner — Saag Paneer.  Indian food and homemade cheese… ding, ding!!  We have a winner!

The recipe comes from Food Network Magazine and while a bit time-consuming is actually quite easy … and most delicious.

Saag Paneer

Ingredients

For the cheese:

  • 6 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup plain 2 percent Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

For the spinach:

  • Kosher salt
  • 2 pounds baby spinach
  • 1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper (seeded for less heat)
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3/4 cup plain 2 percent Greek yogurt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped

Directions

Make the cheese: Line a colander with a double layer of damp cheesecloth; put in the sink. Bring the milk to a simmer in a wide nonreactive pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and stir in the yogurt, lemon juice and 2 teaspoons salt. Continue to stir gently until large curds form and separate from the whey, 1 to 2 minutes. Strain through the cheesecloth-lined colander, discarding the whey. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth and twist to squeeze out any excess whey (run the sides of the bundle under cool water if it’s too hot to handle). Tie the ends of the cheesecloth around a wooden spoon handle and lay the spoon over the colander, letting the bundle dangle; let drain, 10 minutes.

Untie the bundle and twist the cheesecloth again, squeezing out any more whey. Lay the bundle on its side on a plate. Top with another plate and weigh it down with a large can. Refrigerate until a firm cake forms, about 1 hour; unwrap and refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use, or up to 2 days.

Fry the cheese: Cut the cheese into 3/4-inch cubes. Toss in the flour until well coated, shaking off any excess. Heat about 1/2 inch vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Carefully add the cheese and fry, turning occasionally, until golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Season lightly with salt and set aside.

Make the spinach: Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Working in batches, cook the spinach until just tender, about 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl of salted ice water. Drain and squeeze dry, then chop and set aside.

Pulse the ginger, garlic, jalapeno, coriander, cumin, turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a food processor until finely chopped. Whisk the yogurt, 1/4 cup water and 1 teaspoon salt in a small bowl.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter and the vegetable oil in a wide pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until deep golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the ginger mixture and cook, stirring, until toasted, about 5 minutes (add a splash of water if the mixture is sticking). Reduce the heat to medium low; add 1/2 cup water and scrape up any browned bits, then add the cooked spinach and stir until heated through, about 4 minutes. Stir in the yogurt mixture and simmer gently until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the fried cheese and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 1 minute. Season with salt.