I love to cook and I love to eat good food.  Alas, the fact that I work 9-5 means that I can't do either as much as I would like, and like many I am often stuck at my desk during my lunch "hour".  My solution is to try to bring my lunch to work as much as I can.  This is my collection of recipes, all made quickly the night before (either as lunch or as dinner with leftovers that can be taken in).  Happy eating.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Butternut squash, roast beets and grilled halloumi salad

In winter, my salad consumption drops dramatically. This is partly because I think winter is for hot cocoa, soups, casseroles, and other foods that warm you from the inside out. Partly, I think it's because we all know that animals couldn't hibernate based on a salad diet, so it seems to go slightly against nature. However, I don't actually want to put on 30 pounds and sleep for 4 months, so sometimes a salad is what's called for.

The secret to winter salads is to base them around heartier, more substantial vegetables, and to make the flavors zing. In my vegetable box this week, I got a butternut squash and a few beets. Roasted, the sugars in the squash become toasty and caramel flavored while the texture goes wonderfully soft, and the beets retain a wonderful density. Both vegetables are on the sweet side, so I dressed the salad with a very lemony dressing to add acidity for balance. To make the salad more of a meal, and to add some needed saltiness, I bought some halloumi to grill.

For those of you who have never had grilled halloumi, you are in for a treat. Everyone loves a grilled cheese sandwich. But halloumi is cheese that can go straight on the grill. It looks like a hard mozzarella right out of the package, but add some fire and it softens, then crisps up and browns. It is indeed something magical.

All in all, this is a great salad for the cool evenings. Also, I might add, it makes a great lunch that does not induce post-prandial hibernation. Sleepiness might be good for bears, not so much for the working stiff.

Butternut squash, roast beets and grilled halloumi salad

Cubed butternut squash, roasted
Wedges of beets, roasted or boiled and peeled
Slices of halloumi, grilled in a nonstick pan until browned on both sides
Watercress, arugula, or other peppery leaf
Dressing made with 1 part lemon juice, 2 parts olive oil, dash of Dijon mustard whisked together

Mix dressing in a bowl. Toss all ingredients except beets with the dressing in the bowl and plate. Toss beets in the bowl to coat with remaining dressing, then add to salad. (Or, if you don't mind them bleeding onto the rest of the salad, toss all together at the same time.)

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Roast figs with goat's cheese and balsamic-honey glaze

As I'm sure you can all guess, since figs are well and truly out of season by now, this picture is from a dinner more than a few Saturday nights ago. However, I had sort of forgotten that I had taken the photo, so it's now getting its moment of glory (or its second moment, after the original making when -- yes, I will brag -- it elicited great acclaim) until now.

Figs -- I love figs. I couldn't give a fig because when I get a fig I keep a fig. I am a figgy piggy. I love them fresh in salads, baked in cakes, dried and chopped into granola bars. I love how they can be super sweet, oozing with syrup, or just mildly fresh, used as a counterpoint in savory dishes. Figs have a little bit of the diva about them; they are extremely sensitive and prone to sudden changes of mood. Your firm fig will turn to jelly on the inside overnight if you're not careful, and the slightest bruising in the bag on the way back from the market can ruin your fruit for anything but fig jam.

It must have been in September sometime, when I picked up the last handful of figs from Borough Market to have with dinner. I had done one of my classic over-shops so cooked up a frenzy of dishes for our meal, and by the time I got to dessert I really didn't feel like doing anything that required more than 5 minutes. I decided to roast the figs to concentrate their flavors, stuffed with goat's cheese because hey -- everything's better with goat's cheese -- and finished with a little sweet and piquant glaze to tie it all together.

Roast figs with goat's cheese

Figs (3 x person)
Goat's cheese
1 tsp honey plus 1/4 tsp. balsamic vinegar per person

Cut off top stem of each fig. Make two cuts at right angles 1/3 way down figs so you can stuff about a teaspoon of cheese into each fig. Whisk honey and vinegar and drizzle over the top. Bake in 325 oven for about 10 minutes, or until figs are hot and softened. Drizzle more glaze over the top to serve.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Cauliflower with paprika, tomatoes and chickpeas

I saw this recipe for cauliflower with tomatoes and pimenton in the New York Times earlier this year and it has become one of my go-to recipes whenever I have any cauliflower on hand. The sweetness of the cauliflower, which melts into the rest of the dish as it softens, is perfectly complemented by the sweetness in the pimenton. The tomatoes lend some acidity to the dish and provide a base for the paprika. I love the smokiness of the paprika, so mix hot and sweet so I can up the flavor ante without burning my mouth.

The original recipe was pure vegetable, but I have taken to adding some chickpeas to make it a one-dish meal in and of itself. Below is my slightly amended, but filling and extremely satisfying version.

Cauliflower with paprika and chickpeas

1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed
1 T. olive oil
1 mild dried chile, optional
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 can chopped tomatoes plus juice
1 T. sweet paprika (or hot paprika, or a mix)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish, optional.

Chop cauliflower into florets, then place in a covered bowl with a spoonful of water and microwave until soft, about 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large pan and add onion and chile, if using. Cook until onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and let soften, about 2 minutes, then add paprika.

Add tomato, chickpeas and cauliflower and cook, mashing cauliflower a bit, until cauliflower is coated with sauce and chickpeas are hot. Garnish.

Serves 2 as main dish.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Roast duck legs with red wine and dried plums, roast potatoes and cabbage

I had a pair of duck legs in the freezer, a souvenir of a trip to the Blackheath farmer's market where I slightly over-shopped and came back with more food than possible to consume before it all went bad. Luckily, the cooler nights and longer evenings call for something rich and comforting, something a little bit special. A Saturday night in was the perfect opportunity to cook up a duck feast.

I can't give an exact recipe because I improvised as I went along and forgot to write down my exact measurements. However, nothing was so complicated that it can't be figured out or approximated.

I wanted to cook the duck slowly in the oven, making a sauce in the roasting pan as everything cooked together. Though I would be roasting the bird, I wanted to make sure the skin got crisp and some of the fat drained out (I had other uses for it). I cooked the legs, skin side down, in a medium hot non-stick pan for about 5-10 minutes, until the skin was cooked and I had several tablespoons of fat in the pan.

I then transferred the duck to my baking dish and thought about what I would cook with it. I had some red wine from Friday night, some red onions, and decided I would add in some dried plums (yep, prunes), as they do in France. I poured in about a cup of wine and a cup of water, thinly sliced the red onions, and chopped the handful of prunes in half. I popped the dish into a 350 oven and forgot about it for half an hour.

What to make to go with the duck? With the extra duck fat, roast potatoes would clearly be on the menu. I poured off most of the duck fat in the saute pan and mixed it with some cut up potatoes, and in they went to the oven with the duck. All they needed was to be stirred around once or twice during roasting.

And, of course, we needed some greens. I had a head of savoy/Napa cabbage. This I cooked in the same saute pan as the duck, with the last remaining drops of the duck fat, and 1/4 cup of vegetable stock. I put the lid on the pan and steamed the cabbage for 5 minutes until it turned bright green, then took off the lid and let the little bit of liquid in the bottom evaporate.

Finally, when the duck and potatoes were ready, I took out the duck from the oven, removed it to a covered plate to rest for a few minutes. I poured the liquid from the pan into a fat separator, straining out the onions and prunes, then poured the pure liquid back into the pan with the vegetables and fruit.

A little plating up and we were ready to feast.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Pattypan squash stuffed with sausage and white beans

Last of the summer squash, those fresh, thin-skinned varieties that (sometimes) grow to massive proportions, forgotten under a large leaf in the garden. I have no garden, but I do have a vegetable box that brings me such treats, often revealing a surprise. Such as the giant pattypan squash that arrived recently.

What to do with two large pattypans? These are the squash that look like they came from space, giant flying-saucer-like vegetables. Being such a fun shape, I wanted to cook something that showed it off or at least made use of it.

I have always loved stuffed squash. (A great example I made last winter: delicata squash stuffed with barley and quinoa) The pattypan variety is great for this because you can get a lot of filling squashed (sorry) into these puppies, and the flavor of the filling transfers to the container. With their soft skin, you can eat everything. Very efficient.

But it's the beginning of November (where did the year go?), so goodbye summer squash, hello butternut, acorn, delicata and other heartier, more wintry varieties. Wrap up warm and enjoy the change.

Pattypan squash stuffed with sausage and white beans

2 pattypan squash, boiled or roasted until tender.
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 sausages, casings removed
1/2 C. small white beans (cannellini, haricot, etc.)
1/4 C. breadcrumbs

Roast at 350 or boil the squash until tender.

Cut off top and scoop out seeds. Any extra flesh, reserve and mix with the stuffing. Cut a small, thin slice off the very bottom just to flatten the squash so it stays upright in the baking dish.

In a skillet on the stove, cook sausage in a little olive oil, breaking up the meat into little crumbles. Add onion and carrot and cook until soft, then add garlic and saute for a few minutes. Add beans and stir through breadcrumbs.

Stuff the sausage mixture into the squash and place into an oiled roasting dish, with any leftover stuffing scattered around the squash.

Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, until everything heats through and the breadcrumbs crisp.

Serves 2.
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