Grilled Cheese and Chutney Sandwich

grilled-cheese-chutney-tastefood

I like to call this grilled cheese sandwich a grilled ploughman. I lived in England for a few years, and one of my favorite food memories is the ploughman’s lunch which is standard pub fare. Essentially a cheese platter or cheese board, it’s a rustic and hearty arrangement of slabs of sharp, aged cheese (often cheddar), a dollop of sweet and spicy chutney or pickle, smears of piquant mustard, and wedges of fresh fruit, such as apple, heaped on a platter with thick slices of country-style bread. The best part is that it’s DIY, ready to assemble and devour to your taste.

I used the ploughman’s lunch as inspiration for this grilled cheese sandwich, essentially layering all of the traditional ingredients into a double-fisted melty sandwich, oozing cheese and balanced with fresh greens, crisp fruit, and a homemade apple-chile chutney, similar to piccalli, which is the English version of Indian spiced pickles. Happy New Year!

apple chutney tastefood

Ploughman’s Grilled Cheese with Apple Chile Chutney

Makes one hefty sandwich

2 slices sourdough or ciabatta bread, cut 1/2-inch thick
Salted butter, softened
2 ounces coarsely grated aged hard cheese, such as sharp Cheddar or Gruyere
Red onion slices
Thinly sliced apple, such as Granny Smith or Fuji
Baby kale leaves or arugula
2 tablespoons Apple Chile Chutney (recipe below)

Butter one side of each bread slice. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add one bread slice to the skillet, butter-side down. Mound the cheese evenly over the bread. Cover the pan and cook until the cheese is mostly melted, 2 to 3 minutes. Place a layer of onion over the cheese, then top with apple slices and kale leaves. Spread 1 to 2 spoonfuls of chutney over the kale, but not entirely to the edges. Place the second bread slice over the chutney, butter side up. Using a spatula, carefully flip the sandwich and gently press down. Cover the skillet and cook until the cheese is thoroughly melted and the bread is golden brown, 2 to 3 more minutes. Transfer to a plate and cut in half. Eat immediately.

Apple Chile Chutney

Add a mix of mild and hot chile peppers for flavor and heat. I used a red jalapeño and sweet Hungarian and Gypsy peppers in this batch. Makes about 2 cups.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion chopped
2 to 3 red chile peppers, depending on size and heat, stemmed and seeded, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons grated peeled ginger, with juices
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the chutney thickens, about 20 minutes. Cool completely, then transfer to a jar and refrigerate. The chutney will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Warm Wild Rice Salad with Dried Fruit and Nuts

Rice Stuffing

I am just going to come out and say it: I am not a fan of turkey stuffing (or dressing), and neither is my family. Whenever I make stuffing, it sits uneaten at the Thanksgiving table, before banishment to the refrigerator, labeled “leftover,” where it continues to sit for days, forlorn, neglected, and, frankly, wasteful. So, now I don’t make a stuffing for our turkey. Instead, I jam bunches of fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, and sage, as well as wedges of lemon or orange in the cavity to provide aroma and moisture while the turkey roasts. For serving, I provide potatoes and a grain dish to balance and fill out the feast. This rice salad is always a hit. It’s a great gluten-free starch substitute for stuffing, and the dried fruit and nuts stud the rice like festive jewelry, providing a pretty addition to the holiday table. Feel free to mix up the fruit and nuts, substituting raisins, chopped prunes, dried figs, walnuts or hazelnuts. For a vegetarian option, substitute vegetable stock or water for the chicken stock.

Wild Rice with Dried Fruit and Pecans

Serves 6.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 ½ cups wild rice or wild rice blend
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup chopped dried apricots
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
½ cup chopped Italian parsley leaves

Heat the oil in a medium pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots and saute until they begin to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rice and garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, thyme, salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer until the rice is tender but not mushy, about 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the  dried fruit and pecans while fluffing the rice with a fork. Let stand, partially covered,  for 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve warm.

Easy Homemade Granola

Basic Granola TasteFood

Why spend money on boxed granola when you can easily make it in less than 30 minutes? Now that school is in session, try making this recipe to keep on hand for healthy breakfasts and snacks. This recipe follows a basic ratio of 2 cups oats to 1 cup coconut to 1 cup nuts to 1 cup dried fruit. To that I embellish, adding different grains and seeds such as flax, sunflower, or even wheat germ, depending on what I have in the cupboard. Use this recipe as a template and mix and match your favorite nuts, fruit, and seeds to your taste – and consider doubling the batch, because it’s guaranteed to be gobbled up.

Easy Homemade Granola

Be sure to add any of the fruit after the granola has cooked to prevent the fruit from burning. Makes about 5 cups.

2 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup unsweetened grated coconut
1 cup coarsely chopped raw almonds
1/4 cup pepitas or sunflower seeds (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup raisins, or more to your taste

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Combine the oats, coconut, almonds, pepitas, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk the syrup, sugar, oil, vanilla, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Pour over the oats and stir to thoroughly coat.

Spread the mixture on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat. Bake until light golden, about 25 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove from the oven and add the raisins, stirring to blend. Cool completely. Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to one week.

Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup – Easy Pho

Chicken Pho TasteFood

Are you a fan of Pho? If you’ve never had it, Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup. It consists of a mountain of slurp-worthy rice noodles swimming in a rich and aromatic broth fortified with proteins such as chicken, beef, or tofu. The bonus is the garnishes – a cornucopia of fresh herbs, chiles, lime, and sprouts to scatter over the top, with squirts of hot sauce and hoisin for good measure. Pho is intoxicatingly good, highly addictive, and a perfect remedy to fight a cold or simply satisfy a craving for Asian spice and heat. Once you taste it, you’re likely hooked.

The key to an authentic pho lies in its broth, a time consuming affair best left to the weekend when you have the freedom to fill your home with exotic aromas, while a whole chicken or beef bones slowly cook, and the stock reduces to a flavorful soul-satisfying intensity. The challenge – as cravings go – is that sometimes you just want pho – now – when it’s not a weekend, when it’s an hour before dinner on a busy weeknight, when you’ve just arrived home, only leftovers are in the fridge – and the nearest Vietnamese takeaway is in the next county.

Here is a solution – an inauthentic version I call easy pho, or, more cutely, faux pho. Instead of making the stock from scratch, I use a good quality store-bought stock and embellish it with aromatics. It saves a lot of time, and is a perfect quick fix for a simple, healthy, and crave-satiating weeknight dinner.

Easy Pho – Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

This recipe is especially easy to make when you have  leftover chicken in the fridge, otherwise you can pick up a rotisserie chicken from the store, or quickly poach a couple of chicken breasts. Serves 4>

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 (2-inch) knob of fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
6 cloves
2 star anise
1 (2-inch) stick cinnamon
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
6 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces vermicelli rice noodles
1 pound cooked chicken meat, shredded
4 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

Garnishes:
Sliced red or green jalapeño chiles
Mung bean sprouts
Fresh mint or Thai basil sprigs
Lime wedges
Sriracha and Hoisin sauce

1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and ginger and sauté until fragrant and the onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the cloves, star anise, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, and peppercorns and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the stock, fish sauce, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes.
2. While the soup is simmering, cook and drain the noodles according to package directions.
3. Strain the soup through a fine mesh strainer into a clean pot. Add the chicken to the soup and simmer over medium-low until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more fish sauce, sugar or salt to taste.
4. Divide the noodles between large serving bowls. Sprinkle an even amount of scallions and cilantro over the noodles. Ladle the soup into the bowls.  Serve with the garnishes.

Winter Citrus Quinoa Salad

quinoa salad tastefood

There is no better time to have a salad than the winter. Yep, that’s right: Salads aren’t only summer fare. When the cold weather settles in, it’s even more important to get your daily dose of vitamins and nutrients, and, luckily, winter provides it’s own produce stars – from glistening citrus to sturdy greens and hardy crucifers and roots. Shredded, chopped, and juiced, these ingredients can be layered into hefty salads laden with dried fruit, grains, seeds and nuts that fill and nourish.

Winter Citrus Quinoa Salad
This salad is very flexible and forgiving. The key is to get a balance of heat and sweet to offset the earthy quinoa. Poblano peppers can vary in heat, so taste a small piece before adding. If desired you can increase or decrease the amount of spices to your taste.

Serves 6

1 1/2 cups red quinoa
Extra virgin olive oil
3 cups water
Salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 small (or 1 large) poblano chile peppers, finely diced
1 large yellow or red sweet bell pepper, finely diced
1 bunch scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1 cup finely shredded red cabbage
1/2 cup dried cranberries or golden raisins
1 garlic clove, minced
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, leaves chopped
1 bunch cilantro, leaves chopped

1. Rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve and thoroughly drain.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the quinoa and cook for 1 minute to lightly toast the seeds, stirring frequently. Carefully add the water (it will sizzle) and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium-low heat until the quinoa is tender and releases its germ, 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Drain the quinoa and transfer to a large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon salt, the cumin, paprika, coriander, and cayenne. Stir to combine then cool to lukewarm or room temperature.
4. Add all of the remaining ingredients except the parsley and cilantro. Stir to blend and taste for seasoning. (At this point the salad may be prepared up to 6 hours in advance of serving. Cover and refrigerate.)
5. Before serving, mix in the parsley and cilantro and taste again for seasoning. Serve at room temperature.

In Praise of Lentils and a recipe for Soup

Lentil Soups tastefood

Why do I overlook lentils? These humble legumes resembling tiny pancaked pebbles are often bypassed in my pantry, as I reach for rice, farro, couscous. When I finally do cook with lentils, I remember how good they taste, how satisfying they are to eat, and how easy they are to prepare. Imminently flexible, they can stand in for a grain, starch, even a protein. They are healthy too – rich in nutrients, high in protein, iron, and fiber, arguably placing them neck and neck with other lauded superstar foods in the nutrition department. They cook quickly and without any fuss, gamely absorbing the flavors and seasoning from their fellow ingredients and braising liquids, adding a hearty, earthy, and rich base to soups, stews, side dishes, even salads. Really, I must eat more lentils – and you should too.

Lentil Soup

This soup is simple, to the point, and deservedly all about the lentil.

Serves 4.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 1/2 cups brown lentils, rinsed and sorted through
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon Madeira or Port wine
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves for garnish

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots and garlic and sauté until the carrots begin to soften and brighten in color, about 2 minutes. Add the stock, lentils, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until the lentils are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. (The soup should be somewhat thick. If desired, thin the soup to your preferred consistency by adding additional chicken stock 1/4 cup at a time.) Stir in the sugar, wine, vinegar, salt, and pepper and taste for seasoning. Simmer the soup, partially covered, over low heat to thoroughly heat through and meld the flavors, 8 to 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Ladle into serving bowls and garnish with the parsley.  Serve hot.

Gemelli Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes, Arugula, and Olive Oil Breadcrumbs

Tomato Pasta Plate x

Are you looking for an easy and healthy weeknight meal? Here is a light and fresh pasta dinner that is guaranteed to please everyone. I make this recipe when I have gads of cherry tomatoes on hand. Slow roasting coaxes out their natural juices and sugars and intensifies the tomato flavor. Fresh arugula is tossed into the mix, slightly wilting from the heat of the cooked pasta. The final touch is a shower of toasted olive oil breadcrumbs, which adds comfort and a rich crunchy texture to the dish.

Gemelli Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes, Arugula, and Olive Oil Breadcrumbs
Serves 4

Roasted Tomatoes:
1 pound grape or cherry tomatoes
3 unpeeled garlic cloves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 thyme sprigs

Olive Oil Breadcrumbs:
1/2 cup fine breadcrumbs (or panko)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Pasta:
1 pound gemelli or fusilli pasta
2 large handfuls of arugula, about 3 cups
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

Roast the tomatoes:
Heat the oven to 400°F. Scatter the tomatoes and garlic cloves on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Stir to coat. Scatter the thyme sprigs over the tomatoes and transfer to the oven. Roast until the tomatoes are softened and begin to release their juices, about 25 minutes. Remove the tomatoes and discard the thyme sprigs. Peel the skin away from the garlic and finely chop the cloves. Transfer the tomatoes, garlic, and any pan juices to a large serving bowl.

Toast the breadcrumbs:
Reduce the oven heat to 350°F. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on the same baking sheet. Add the oil and stir to coat. Return the baking sheet to the oven and toast the breadcrumbs until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. (They will brown quickly so watch them carefully.) Remove and immediately transfer the breadcrumbs to a small bowl to prevent further cooking. Cool 5 minutes, then stir in the cheese.

Make the pasta:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente; drain. Add the pasta to the tomatoes. Add the arugula, cheese, and oil. Toss to combine and slightly wilt the arugula. Add half of the breadcrumbs and stir once or twice to blend. Divide the pasta between serving plates. Garnish with the remaining breadcrumbs and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.