Saturday, February 15, 2014

Valentine's Day menu recap

Just a little post to share the super easy appetizer we made for Valentine's last night, and provide links for the other food we enjoyed.

The main course was a recipe from The First Mess: a beautiful dish of grapefruit roasted beets over canellini beans and wilted beet greens, topped with pistachio butter (and we added some chopped prosciutto to use up a few slices we had that needed to be eaten up). The grapefruit really lightened up the beets, making them taste more like a summer/spring dish than a winter food, perfect for our current season here in Sydney. We love beets (a staple in Aussie burgers: yum), but if you're not yet convinced, I recommend Laura's method of roasting them in a citrus juice to balance out their naturally earthy flavor. Our local grocer didn't have shelled pistachios, so it was a labor of love to prep them for the pistachio butter, but well worth it. The full and creamy flavor-texture was a perfect accompaniment to the beans/greens/beets.
shelled pistachios @ Southern Spoon Blog
labor of love: pistachio shelling for the Valentine's Day main dish
(retro countertops for the win)
For dessert I adapted Deb's recipe for linzer heart cookies over at Smitten Kitchen. I used ground almonds that I already had on hand rather than hazelnuts, reduced the sugar a bit, replaced some of the AP flour with wholewheat, and we filled half of them with Nutella and half with strawberry jam. The dough was a little finicky to work with in the heat, but they turned out crisp, buttery, and delicious. They are the hubs' favorite cookie, though I don't make them often since they require a heck of a lot of butter, and eating just two cookies is equivalent to eating four (self-restraint is difficult in the face of Nutella). But they were a delightful treat for Valentine's Day. Will have to try Oh Ladycakes' raw version when we next get a craving for them.
linzer heart cookies with nutella & jam @ Southern Spoon Blog
linzer heart cookies with nutella and jam
And back to the starter: watermelon rounds (cut with a small biscuit cutter) topped with sliced shallots, a little crumbled blue cheese, and drizzled with a balsamic reduction (made like this one on Camille Styles). This was a simple, refreshing way to begin the meal. The watermelon felt lighter than a traditional cheese board of bread, crackers, nuts, olives, etc, and the little bites paired beautifully with a crisp white wine.
watermelon rounds topped with shallots, blue cheese, balsamic reduction @ Southern Spoon Blog
watermelon topped with shallots, blue cheese, balsamic reduction. 
Hope you had an enjoyable day, and were reminded of those you love and those who love you! 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Twice-Baked Potatoes (and a little chat about hearts)

Potatoes are your post for Valentine's Day, really? Let me explain.

Twice-baked potatoes were one of my favorite side dishes growing up. I loved coming home after school and seeing my mom prep them on a baking tray, ready to be popped into the oven with dinner. They are easy to make and take everyone's love for mashed potatoes to the next level (who doesn't love mashed potatoes?). I started making them as soon as I moved away from Texas to England nine years ago because I could easily source the ingredients and they tasted like home. They've become a regular rotation at our house, with various herbs, spices, and mustards to liven up the filling. If you don't have herbs or mustard on hand, these will still taste great with just a pinch of salt and pepper.

twice baked potatoes, flavored with herbs, pepper, and mustard, round out a heart-healthy dinner
Speaking of salt, the hubs came back from a regular check-up yesterday with a pamphlet about blood pressure and maintaining a healthy heart... now that we're (just) past 30 both of us are taking strides to make sure we eat healthy and stay active. We follow a pretty healthy day-to-day diet, eating whole food, almost all of it cooked from scratch (because of food intolerances to preservatives and some natural food chemicals), and limiting our intake of fats and sugar. We're getting better at eating vegetarian dinners a few nights of the week, which isn't too hard when there are such beautiful veg and vegan blogs and cookbooks available! However, salt is something we need to try harder to limit. (More about salt and blood pressure over at the American Heart Association. 97% of Americans eat too much salt. It's a big issue, y'all).
twice baked potatoes, broccolini, pesto-roasted eggplant, and sumac-dusted salmon
Though we have drastically reduced the amount of salt we use at the table, sodium and salt are still prevalent in many of the foods we enjoy-- from southeast Asian dishes to Tex-Mex. So in 2014 we're going to make some big changes to the amount of sodium we consume. Citrus, herbs and spices, vinegar, and other strong flavors will take over where we often use salt. If we need a fix, we'll take a ten-minute walk down the street to our beautiful local Sydney beach and soak up some of the Pacific spray.
Valentine's Day roses from the hubs!
So these twice-baked potatoes are made with your heart's health in mind. The recipe relies on herbs and pepper for flavor, with a little mustard and a tiny bit of cheddar if you want it. We served them last night with sumac-dusted grilled salmon, steamed broccolini, and thinly sliced eggplant that I'd brushed with the lightest amount of pesto and baked in the oven for 20 minutes. Filling and delicious, and they didn't need any added salt.

Don't worry, we'll be indulging in watermelon, shallot, and blue cheese salad appetizers, this beautiful grapefruit roasted beet dish over beet greens and white beans with pistachio butter, and linzer heart cookies two ways (with nutella and jam) tonight. But in the mean time, hope you enjoy these flavorful, low-sodium twice-baked potatoes, and wishing you a heart-healthy Valentine's Day : )

Twice-Baked Potatoes (with herbs and mustard)
serves 4

2 medium-sized potatoes
1/4 cup milk (I used skim)
1 to 2 tablespoons natural or greek yogurt (low-fat)
1/4 teaspoon each dried parsley, dried oregano, dried basil
pinch of freshly ground pepper
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
4 thin slices cheddar cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 200C/ 400F.

Wash the potatoes and pierce them all over with a fork or knife. Place potatoes in the microwave, and microwave on full power for 7-10 minutes, until potatoes are tender to the touch and cooked through. (Alternatively, bake the potatoes in a pre-heated 200C/ 400F oven for 30-40 minutes, until tender and cooked through).

Carefully slice the potatoes in half lengthwise, and leave for a few minutes to cool. When cool enough to handle, use a metal spoon to scrape the flesh out of each potato half into a medium sized bowl, coming as close as you can to the skin of the potato without cutting through it. Reserve the potato skins.

Mash the potato up a bit with a fork, then add the milk and 1 tablespoon yogurt. Mix thoroughly until you achieve a smooth consistency, you may need to add another tablespoon of yogurt at this stage. Stir in the dried parsley, oregano, basil, pepper, and mustard (to taste), and blend thoroughly into the mashed potato.

Spoon the mashed potato into the four potato half skins, and, if desired, top each with a thin slice of cheddar cheese. Place potato halves on a baking tray and bake in the oven at 200C/ 400F for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are piping hot and cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

Twice-baked potatoes will keep, covered in the fridge, for up to 2 days.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Cherry Miso Glaze (for roasted eggplant, asparagus, & more)

While I was in the US for Christmas I wanted to introduce my parents to the incredible Japanese Oatmeal that has become a staple on the breakfast rotation at our house. We had such trouble finding miso in any of the nearby grocery stores that we gave up. I'm sure that I could have found it if we'd searched further afield, but we had better things to do with the precious little time we get with family and friends on our visits to Texas. With all the miso recipes appearing on American food blogs, I'm guessing it's not too hard to find if you know where to look for it. Sounds like Whole Foods is a good bet for sourcing miso, and any larger grocery store that has a good international foods section. So while you're there purchasing Vegemite or Marmite for your cheesymite scrolls, stock up on miso, too. The salty, slightly fermented taste adds such a rich depth to whatever food you pair it with.

I've seen some recipes for miso-glazed eggplant around the web, and have been hankering to try it out. Tonight we thought it would complement the crispy-skin salmon we had in mind, and the entire meal turned out perfectly. Instead of the typical mirin-miso blend for this glaze, I used some local Australian cherry juice, mixed with a bit of miso and raw sugar. Cooked over low heat for a few minutes, it reduced down into a beautiful, dark burgundy glaze. We used it to baste some small eggplant halves and some whole asparagus, and the result was delicious.
cherry miso glaze over roasted eggplant and asparagus @ Southern Spoon blog
Apologies for possibly the worst photo on this blog-- we were hungry after a long day at work.
But I promise this cherry miso glaze over  roasted eggplant and asparagus tastes amazing.
You could easily use this glaze on other vegetables that do well in roast: halved brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, baby squash, zucchini, etc. When spread over the surface of the vegetable, the glaze imparts a more subtle flavor, while a sliced or scored vegetable will soak up more of the sweet-salty flavor. This glaze would also work well on baked meat dishes such as a mild fish, pork tenderloin, and chicken breasts or thighs.

If you can't find cherry juice, try substituting pomegranate or even apple juice. Just make sure that you're buying 100% juice, no sugar or preservatives added. The miso is a necessary ingredient--  I promise you'll be glad you invested in it and will find it a flexible, long-lasting ingredient in the kitchen. Go out on a limb experimenting with these ingredients if you never have before, and enjoy the perfectly sweet-salty balance of this delicious glaze.

Cherry Miso Glaze (and how to use it on roasted eggplant & asparagus)
makes just over 1/4 cup of glaze

1/4 cup cherry juice (100% juice, no preservatives added)
2 tablespoons miso (either yellow or white miso is fine)
2 tablespoons raw sugar

Place all ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir with a whisk or fork while the mixture heats up to blend the miso into the sauce. When it begins to bubble, turn the heat down to low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-5 more minutes, until the sauce has thickened and the miso is completely incorporated.  Remove from heat.

Use glaze immediately, or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week.

Cherry Miso Glazed Eggplant and Asparagus
serves 3-4 people as a side dish

1/4 cup Cherry Miso Glaze
4 small eggplants (mine were about 6 inches long and 2 inches wide)
1 medium bunch of asparagus

Preheat oven to 190C.

Wash the eggplant and asparagus. Remove and discard the leafy tops from the eggplants, and snap off and discard the tough ends of the asparagus spears.

Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, and score each half of flesh into a cross-hatch pattern, cutting all the way to (but not through) the eggplant skin.

Lightly brush or spray the eggplant and asparagus with olive oil, and place on a baking sheet or roasting tray. Place the tray in the pre-heated oven, and bake for 6 minutes.

Remove tray from oven, and carefully baste the eggplant flesh and the asparagus spears with the cherry miso glaze. You may have a bit of glaze leftover-- store for another use. Return the basted vegetables to the oven and bake at 190C for another 10-15 minutes, until the eggplant is soft and beginning to brown and the asparagus spears are tender when a fork is stuck through them. Serve immediately.