Citrus fruits shine in foods fresh and preserved

Like rays of sunlight, citrus brightens just about any food it touches, observed a local chef quoted in this week’s A la Carte.

Once the weather is reliably warm and sunny, it’s easy to forget that the citrus season is waning. So with citrus at its best, now is the time for capturing its essence in curds, marmalades, chutneys, vinegars and more, as explained in this week’s story.

At least a dozen recipes await participants in Tuesday’s class at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center. And a rainbow of citrus fruits will be represented, promised Master Food Preservers teaching the class.

Harboring no fewer than a half-dozen types of citrus for the past week in my refrigerator, I immediately ponder uses for the zest before peeling the fruit. Clementine zest acidified a salad of white beans and fennel, along with the fruit’s sections, that I recently prepared. And since I’ve found a reliable source for Meyer lemons at Food 4 Less, their juice and zest are no-brainers in everything from beverages to desserts.

Common oranges are cited for this recipe, perfect for Chinese New Year, when citrus fruits often are bestowed and consumed for good fortune. But tangerines, tangelos, mandarins and the like could be substituted.

Slightly freezing the meat strips, according to recipe testers for Tribune News Service, makes them fry up crisp and crunchy, while still staying tender inside.

Crispy Orange Beef

Tribune News Service photo

1 1/2 pounds sirloin steak tips, trimmed

3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided

6 tablespoons cornstarch

10 (3-inch) strips orange peel, sliced thin lengthwise (1/4 cup), plus 1/2 cup juice (2 oranges)

3 tablespoons molasses

2 tablespoons dry sherry

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons roasted sesame oil

3 cups vegetable oil

1 jalapeno chili, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced lengthwise

2 tablespoons peeled and grated, fresh ginger

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

2 scallions, thinly sliced on bias

Cut the beef with grain into 2- to 3-inch-wide pieces. Slice each piece against grain into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Cut each slice lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide strips. In a bowl, toss beef with 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce. Add the cornstarch and toss until evenly coated. Spread beef in a single layer on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Put sheet in freezer until meat is very firm but not completely frozen, for about 45 minutes.

In a bowl, whisk together the orange juice, molasses, sherry, vinegar, sesame oil and remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce.

Line a second, rimmed baking sheet with a triple layer of paper towels. Heat the oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until oil registers 375 F. Carefully add 1/3 of beef and fry, stirring occasionally to keep beef from sticking, until golden-brown, for about 1 1/2 minutes. Using a wire-mesh skimmer, transfer meat to paper towel-lined sheet. Return oil to 375 F and repeat with remaining beef. After frying, reserve 2 tablespoons frying oil.

Heat reserved oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the orange peel and jalapeno and cook, stirring occasionally, until about half of orange peel is golden-brown, for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic and pepper flakes; cook, stirring frequently, until garlic begins to brown, for about 45 seconds. Add soy sauce mixture and cook, scraping up any brown bits, until slightly thickened, for about 45 seconds. Add beef and the scallions; toss. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

— Recipe from “Cook’s Illustrated Meat Book” (America’s Test Kitchen, 2014, $40).

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It’s time to lavish love on heart-healthy lentils

Lentils will anchor a cooking demonstration I’m putting on this evening as an ACCESS volunteer.

Participants in an Asante employee wellness program will get a taste of these little legumes in tortillas topped with common taco fillings. The idea, of course, is that lentils are a protein-packed yet fiber-rich alternative to meat or even more commonplace beans that show up in tacos and burritos and other Latin fare.

Ideal fare for American Heart Month, lentils prevent cardiovascular disease, as explained in a 2013 story for A la Carte. They’re also the richest plant-based source of folate, an often elusive but vital nutrient.

And because I happen to love lentils, I plan to offer plenty of suggestions beyond tacos. My personal favorite is the warm or room-temperature salad with French lentils, which hold their shape and texture better than other types. It can incorporate any seasonal vegetables: the typical, summertime mélange for ratatouille or the braised fennel of which I’m so fond this time of year. See a photo of the former on my Facebook page.

The following recipe from a recent Washington Post article is an ideal example of this comfort-food concept. I prefer mine with a poached egg, rather than sunny-side-up, because the oozing yolk doubles as a salad dressing.

Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey

Braised Lentils With Mushrooms and Kale

1 cup dried French green lentils

3 cups homemade or low-sodium, store-bought vegetable broth

12 ounces assorted mushrooms (such as cremini, shiitake and oyster), cleaned

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small onion, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1/2 cup)

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste

6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine (may substitute sake or sherry)

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (may substitute half-and-half)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (optional)

4 large eggs (optional)

8 ounces kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped

Rinse the lentils thoroughly. Combine them with the broth in a medium pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat until liquid is barely bubbling and cook, uncovered, until lentils have swelled and absorbed most liquid and are barely tender but intact and not mushy, for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat.

Remove and discard stems from any of the mushrooms of the tough-stem variety, such as shiitakes. (For oysters, remove and discard just thickest part of stem’s bottom, and leave creminis and button mushrooms intact.) Coarsely chop mushrooms.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; cook for a few minutes, until it is lightly browned. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for another minute, until onion just starts to get tender. Add mushrooms and salt in an even layer. Cook undisturbed for 2 minutes or until bottom layer is deeply browned. Stir a few times, pack mushrooms into an even layer again and cook undisturbed for another 2 minutes or until bottom layer is browned. Repeat another time or two, until all mushrooms are deeply caramelized and have shrunk, for 7 to 9 minutes total.

Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute, then pour in the wine. Deglaze pan by scraping up all flavorful brown bits from bottom. Cook to reduce wine until no liquid remains.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add the cream. Let it bubble gently for 2 minutes, until slightly reduced and thickened, then add cooked lentils and their liquid. Stir to combine, taste, and add more salt if needed. Cover pan and let it cook, barely bubbling, for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, if using the eggs, pour the oil into a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Crack in eggs and sprinkle lightly with salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until whites are just set but yolks are still runny. Use a spatula to transfer eggs to a clean plate while you finish lentils.

Add the kale to lentils. Cover and cook until kale is tender but still bright-green, 2 to 3 minutes.

Taste, and add more salt, if desired. Divide lentils among serving bowls and top each with an egg, if using. Serve hot.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe adapted by the Washington Post from “Date Night In,” by Ashley Rodriguez (Running Press, 2014).

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Custard mashup omits scary step for amateurs

Given the choice between custard and cake, I’d take the former any day.

So the only decision left for someone of my ilk is which creamy, sweet iteration: pot de crème, crème brulee, crème caramel or maybe panna cotta. If only there was a dessert that combined them.

And actually, there is. The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Va., has been serving a sweet called chocolate custard cream — a mashup of crème caramel and chocolate pot de crème — since it opened in 1978. A recent article in the Washington Post declares it an easy dessert still worthy of a romantic meal.

That’s partly because chef Patrick O’Connell eliminated the scary part for amateurs: creating and cleaning up a pot of scalding sugar syrup. The classic French custard’s caramel, too sweet in his opinion, has been replaced here with cooked honey.

The following recipe produces a dessert that’s luscious, yet not too rich. It can be refrigerated for a few days in advance of serving.

Photo for The Washington Post by Renee Comet

Chocolate Custard Creams

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine 2 1/2 cups whole milk, 1/2 cup sugar and the scrapings of 1/2 vanilla bean. Bring to just below a boil (scald) and turn off heat. Stir in 3 ounces coarsely chopped, bittersweet chocolate (at least 64-percent cacao) until melted.

2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together 3 large, fresh eggs and 3 large, fresh egg yolks. Gradually add milk-chocolate mixture, whisking continuously.

3. In a saucepan over medium heat, cook 1 cup mildly flavored honey for 3 minutes, or until it bubbles, darkens and becomes slightly thicker. Turn off heat.

4. Grease eight 6-ounce ramekins with cooking spray. Spoon about 1 tablespoon cooked honey into each one; swirl to coat bottoms. Invert ramekins over a bowl or sink to let any excess honey drip out, then arrange them in a 4-inch-deep baking pan. Ladle about 1/2 cup chocolate custard mixture into each ramekin. Fill pan with enough boiling water to come one-quarter of the way up sides of ramekins. Cover pan loosely with foil. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until custards are barely set.

5. Carefully transfer ramekins to a platter; cool, then refrigerate until well-chilled.

6. To serve, dip bottom of each ramekin into hot water, then run a hot knife around inside edge. Invert custards onto individual plates. Top with fresh raspberries, a dollop or piped rosette of lightly sweetened whipped cream and a chocolate curl. Serve at a cool room temperature.

Makes 8 servings.

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Braise chicken with fennel for one-pot feast

Biweekly deliveries of fresh, organic vegetables from a local farm go far toward filling my family’s produce needs.

The highly seasonal nature of community-supported agriculture, however, requires me to use carrots, turnips, potatoes, kale and spinach week in and week out. I can think of worse fates for a cook who prides herself on preparing what’s in season. But my less-frequent grocery store trips do offer the chance to branch out a bit.

Frisee, Belgian endive, avocados and lots of citrus were on my list for this week. In lieu of the greens, the produce section offered the heftiest fennel bulbs I’ve probably ever run across. And the price, $1.59 apiece, couldn’t be beat.

“Thank goodness someone else knows what that is!” a fellow customer exclaimed in the checkout line.

Thinly sliced fennel is one of my favorite foundations for salads, particularly with citrus. This recipe from a previous post is a prime example.

But these fat fennel specimens were just begging to be braised. My other preferred preparation method, braising yields a silky, soft, subtly sweet vegetable that I typically serve as a side dish.

One-pot meals, though, can go a long way toward convincing cooks to try unfamiliar produce like fennel. This recipe from the Los Angeles Times calls for braising fennel with chicken thighs. I might leave the fennel in larger chunks here to highlight its succulence.

Food writer Russ Parsons says the dish is more about technique than an actual recipe. “About as basic as cooking can get,” it can be adapted to other meats and veggies. But the fennel here is the perfect foil for briny olives, earthy mushrooms and zesty lemon.

Tribune News Service photo

Chicken Braised With Fennel, Mushrooms and Olives

1 cup flour

Salt and pepper

3 pounds chicken legs (thighs, drumsticks or a combination)

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 bulbs fennel, quartered and sliced 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick, fronds reserved

1/4 cup minced shallots

1 cup white wine

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 pound mushrooms, trimmed and halved

1/2 cup green olives, pitted and chopped

1 teaspoon lemon zest

Lemon juice, if necessary

Place the flour on a plate and stir in 1 teaspoon of the salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pat the chicken thoroughly dry and dredge it in flour, shaking off any excess.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. When it’s hot enough that a piece of chicken dipped in oil sizzles, add chicken, skin-side down. Cook until chicken has browned, for 5 to 6 minutes, and then turn and cook on other side, for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate and keep it warm.

Pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the fennel and cook until it starts to become tender, for about 3 minutes. Add the shallots and cook until fragrant, for about 2 minutes. Add the white wine and reduce by one-third, for about 5 minutes. Stir in the mustard and add the mushrooms and green olives.

Add chicken thighs back to pan skin-side up, resting them on top of fennel. Cover pan, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until chicken is done through, for about 10 minutes.

While chicken is finishing, chop together the lemon zest and 2 tablespoons of the reserved fennel fronds.

Taste sauce for chicken and correct seasoning, adding lemon juice if necessary to sharpen flavor. Divide fennel and mushrooms among 4 warmed pasta bowls. Place chicken on top and sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds and lemon zest.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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Cupcakes can be good for sweetheart’s heart

More than a decade since “Sex and the City” made cupcakes chic, the frenzy has faded around these cutesy desserts.

The essential character of a good cupcake, however, hasn’t changed, according to local bakers. And the decades-old concept has only improved with innovations spawned from cupcakes’ status as sweet-treat sensation.

Among the cupcake’s attributes is automatic portion control. The temptation to take a hearty helping of a larger dessert doesn’t exist with a cupcake. And polishing off a whole one just doesn’t come with as much guilt, so say bakers interviewed for this week’s story in A la Carte.

And given the right ingredients, a cupcake doesn’t have to be all empty calories and fat. A recipe previously posted to this blog touts the anti-inflammatory properties of bittersweet chocolate, unsweetened cocoa powder and tart cherries. At least one scientific study showed that heart-attack survivors who ate dark chocolate had lower mortality rates than those who went without.

So during American Heart Month, you could do worse for your sweetie than a homemade cupcake. Because recipes accompanying this week’s story pretty much covered chocolate, here’s a cocktail-inspired cupcake developed with heart health in mind by dietetic staff at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Egg whites lighten the recipe, which also forgoes a dairy-based frosting for processed whipped topping. While it’s not my favorite move, I do give the recipe developers credit for including some actual coconut, touted as a superfood in some circles for several years although its saturated fat content still doesn’t sit well with the American Heart Association.

Note that a 20-ounce can of crushed pineapple, well-drained, will yield about 1 1/4 cups of pineapple juice, the amount called for in this recipe.

Piña Colada Cupcakes

1 package (18.25-ounce) trans-fat-free white cake mix

1 1/4 cups pineapple juice or water

3 egg whites

1/4 cup canola oil

2 tablespoons dark rum or 1 teaspoon rum extract

3 teaspoons coconut extract, divided

1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple packed in juice, drained, juice reserved and divided

1 (8-ounce) container fat-free whipped topping

1/4 cup toasted coconut (see note)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 24-cup medium muffin pan with 2 1/2-inch foil liners or spray with floured baking spray; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, pineapple juice, egg whites, canola oil, rum and 2 teaspoons of the coconut extract; beat according to package directions. Fold 1/2 cup drained crushed pineapple into cake batter.

Fill each baking cup 3/4 full with batter and bake in preheated oven for 16 to 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Allow muffins to cool completely on a wire rack.

In a small bowl, combine the whipped topping, remaining drained, crushed pineapple and 1 teaspoon coconut extract. When ready to serve, top each cupcake with 2 tablespoons whipped topping and sprinkle with some of the toasted coconut.

Makes 24 cupcakes.

NOTE: To toast coconut, spread out shaved or shredded coconut on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place in 350-degree oven for about 6 to 8 minutes. Stir it once it starts to lightly brown. Watch carefully because it burns easily.

Created by Ashlee Carnahan, Henry Ford Hospital dietetic intern for Heart Smart, and tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.

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Bone broth on hand makes for effortless flavor

Apart from health, the reward for making bone broth is rich, deep flavor.

Because just about every culture and culinary tradition has its version, bone broth broadens a cook’s menu options far beyond soups and stews. Add it to pan sauces. Cook whole grains, beans or pasta in broth. Braise meats and vegetables in it for lighter dishes without the fat of sautéing or even roasting.

Read the current edition of A la Carte for a story detailing the distillation of this vital liquid and see this blog’s previous post for another recipe.

Once bone broth is in hand, the time that went into its manufacture can dramatically cut the time it takes to get dinner on the table. Soups with homemade bone broth taste like they’ve simmered for hours although their assembly required just mere minutes.

The same could be said of caramelizing onions in advance of combining them with other ingredients. Properly caramelizing onions is a process that takes about an hour, maybe longer. But the super-sweet results are worth keeping one eye on the stove and occasionally stirring the contents of a pot.

With homemade bone broth, the following soup, courtesy of Tribune News Service, would taste like an all-day endeavor, although hands-on time is mere minutes. Any stock could be used in place of chicken or vegetable, which also was the subject of a recent story in A la Carte.

Tribune News Service photo

Onion-Mushroom Soup

4 tablespoons butter

2 large white onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 large red onions, peeled and thinly sliced

Salt and pepper, to taste

8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced

8 ounces cremini mushrooms (baby portobellos), sliced

4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried

8 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1/4 cup dry sherry or white wine

Apple cider vinegar, if needed

In a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the white and red onion; season with the salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to turn brown. This could take from 1 to 2 hours, depending on stove’s temperature.

Remove onions with a slotted spoon and add the mushroom slices and thyme. Cook until mushrooms are tender.

Return onions to pot, along with the stock and sherry. Raise heat and bring to a simmer. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. If soup is too sweet for your taste, add some of the vinegar, 2 tablespoons at a time, until broth is as sweet and sour as you like.

Makes 12 cups.

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Raise a cup of bone broth to better health

Sipping a hot cup of bone broth is no bizarre-foods experience for me.

Anyone who’s made homemade stock should have felt the urge to ladle up a bowl before squirreling the lion’s share away for other uses. Likewise, when I was casting about my kitchen for some fast but wholesome sustenance earlier this week, homemade lamb stock left over from a root-vegetable stew provided near-instant gratification devoid of my default: refined carbohydrates.

Before reporting on an increased demand among health-conscious eaters for bone broth, I sung its praises in a previous post that also offered tips for its manufacture and use. The recipes that ran with the piece in A la Carte can be adapted to advice from nutritional therapist Summer Waters for including acid, which helps to distill as much nutrition as possible into the brew.

If the article didn’t provide enough inspiration for boiling up a batch of bones, the buzz around broth-as-beverage counters in big cities, now including Portland, lends a must-have mystique to a food that’s actually as old as humankind. So it’s strange that bone broth should require additional spices, herbs and vegetables, such as scallions, to present it as worthwhile food.

But in the interest of providing yet one more reason to love bone broth, here’s a fairly classic recipe for miso soup that could use any type of rich stock in place of chicken. It almost goes without saying that any leafy greens could substitute here for spinach. Using a microwave per instructions from the Chicago Tribune isn’t my preference, but the process does illustrate how speedy this soup can be assembled, even in dorm rooms or similarly sparse accommodations for cooking.

The fast dish does get a nutritional boost from the fermented soybean paste miso, just another probiotic food that gets high marks from many of the same folks so enamored with bone broth.

Cheers to your health!

Chicago Tribune photo

Instant Soup

1 teaspoon peeled and freshly grated ginger

2 teaspoons red miso (shelved near tofu)

2 ounces firm tofu, cut into small, neat cubes

1 big handful (1 ounce) fresh baby spinach leaves

1 scallions, trimmed and sliced into long, thin slivers

1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 cup chicken broth

Soy or tamari sauce, to taste

In a large soup bowl, pile up, in order: the ginger, miso, tofu, spinach and green onion. Drizzle with the sesame oil. Douse with the broth.

Slide bowl into microwave and zap until hot, for 2 minutes. Stir. If you like, drizzle on a little soy. Dig in.

Alternatively, combine all the ingredients in a pot on stovetop and heat over medium until steaming.

Makes 1 serving.

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For light, lacy tempura, minimize mixing batter

I’ve never considered vegetarian dishes a form of dietary deprivation. Still, a little fat goes a long way in recasting vegetables as comfort food.

Tempura is a meal that my husband and I periodically crave. When the garden is a riot of eggplant, green beans and summer squash that we’ve prepared in almost every conceivable way, we resort to battering and frying. Absent home-grown veggies, I’ve been known to tempura-fry an abundance of wild mushrooms.

But in the cold season, our community-supported agriculture share can provide plenty of tempura fodder: winter squash, onions, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower to name a few. I haven’t tried them, but I’d be willing to bet that Runnymede Farm beets, parsnips and celery root would make toothsome tempura.

Of course, we have never pulled off tempura well. Many restaurants don’t exactly, either. That’s why I was so interested in a recent Washington Post article on the topic.

Writer Joe Yonan recalled an unforgettable dinner at a tiny Tokyo spot, where the crust on the tempura was “shatteringly crisp and light … not heavy or greasy in the slightest.” Second most impressive was how the breading “seemed to accentuate, not overpower, the food.

A decade later, when Yonan delved into the new “Japanese Soul Cooking,” he was just as surprised to read that one should barely mix tempura batter, leaving lots of lumps and unblended flour in it, along with mixing it up immediately before coating and frying. The goal is to keep the gluten from forming, just as one shouldn’t overwork biscuits or pie crust.

The batter’s uneven consistency also adds to its laciness upon frying. Keeping it cold with ice cubes makes it more viscous — and therefore more likely to adhere to the vegetables.

Other key points: Maintain the right oil temperature, monitoring it with a thermometer. Drain the just-fried vegetables thoroughly. They can be any favorite combination, such as broccolini, winter squash or pumpkin, eggplant, sweet potato, shiitake mushroom caps or other mushrooms, carrots.

In addition to this recipe, Yonan shared one for dashi at http://www.washingtonpost.com/pb/recipes

Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey

Vegetable Tempura

For tempura:

1 pound assorted vegetables, cleaned, trimmed as needed and cut into bite-size pieces

1/2 cup cake flour

Dashi, or other sauce of choice, for dipping

8 ounces daikon radish, peeled, coarsely grated and squeezed to remove excess liquid

1/2-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and finely grated

2 quarts vegetable oil, for frying

1/4 cup toasted sesame oil, for frying

For batter:

2 large egg yolks

2 cups cold water

1/4 cup ice cubes

2 cups cake flour

For tempura: Prepare a cooking station next to stove-top burner. Have ready the vegetables, a plate with the 1/2 cup of cake flour, and the ingredients for wet and dry parts of batter. Set a cooling rack over a paper towel-lined baking sheet, and line up your tools: chopsticks, a metal strainer and a candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer.

Pour the vegetable and sesame oils into a large, deep, cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven set over high heat. Bring oil mixture to 360 F (slightly lower than standard 375 F for frying, because tempura cooks quickly).

Meanwhile, prepare separate wet and dry parts of batter: In a bowl, combine the egg yolks and water, mixing until well incorporated, then add the ice cubes. Place the 2 cups cake flour in another bowl.

When you’re ready to fry, finish batter: Quickly add 2 cups cake flour to liquid, all at once.

Hold 4 chopsticks together, tips pointed down, like you’re grabbing a bottle. Stab at batter with chopsticks, mashing down repeatedly to combine dry and wet parts. Do not stir; you barely want to mix batter. (Chopsticks are much less efficient than a spoon or spatula — which is exactly the point.) Mix for only about 30 seconds or until batter becomes loose and liquid, with consistency of heavy cream. It should be lumpy, with visible globs of dry flour floating in it and with unmixed flour sticking to sides of bowl. That’s preferred; you don’t want to overmix.

Lightly coat vegetables in flour on plate, then dip them into batter 1 at a time. Immediately and carefully lay each vegetable in hot oil, working in batches. (Use, at most, half of surface area of oil to cook.)

Deep-fry denser vegetables like sweet potato or carrot first, for about 3 minutes, until they turn golden-brown. Transfer them to cooling rack to drain. Repeat with other vegetables. Cook softer vegetables like asparagus, broccoli and pumpkin for about 2 minutes.

Serve tempura immediately, with a dish of the dipping sauce and a small mound of the daikon topped with the ginger on the side, for each portion. (To eat, add daikon and ginger to dipping sauce right before dunking in first piece of tempura.)

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe adapted by the Washington Post from “Japanese Soul Cooking,” by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat (Ten Speed Press, 2014).

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Trends aside, butternut squash a seasonal darling

Exclusion from this year’s lists of trendiest vegetables doesn’t take anything away from butternut squash.

A food darling for several years, the squash’s appeal isn’t exactly news. It’s a good source of fiber, potassium and magnesium, as well as an excellent source of vitamins A and D. It’s a naturally sweet substitute it for any recipe calling for pumpkin.

With its balance of sugar and starch, it’s supremely satisfying on wintertime menus. This month and next, at least, it holds sway as a staple of dishes from restaurants and the home kitchen.

I fully expected to find locally grown squash, stored to extend their season, in my community-supported agriculture share, explained in a previous post. As with the majority of its crops, Rogue River’s Runnymede Farm did not disappoint.

Sizeable squash, like the cauliflower from my CSA box, often get halved for a recipe and then hang out in my fridge for a while. I like leaving the squash raw, so I have more preparation options beyond an initial method.

But roasting off some small squash for risotto recently left me with roasted cubes that suggested stirring into pasta carbonara. I’ve incorporated roasted winter squash into cheesy pastas for years —macaroni and cheese being an obvious favorite — so I was surprised that searching this blog’s nearly 800 posts didn’t yet turn up a recipe similar to the following, courtesy of Tribune News Service.

Pasta With Herbs and Butternut Squash

Kansas City Star photo

1 medium butternut squash, about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Salt and pepper, to taste

8 ounces whole-grain medium shells or penne

1/2 onion, peeled and chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 1/2 cups unsalted vegetable stock, divided

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons minced, fresh basil

2 tablespoons minced, fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray with cooking spray.

Using a large, heavy knife, cut off ends of the squash. Peel using a vegetable peeler. Cut squash in half, remove seeds and cut squash into 3/4-inch cubes. Place squash cubes in a zip-close bag. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Seal and toss to coat evenly. Spread in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. Bake uncovered in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until tender and edges are lightly browned, stirring midway through cooking.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling water, according to package directions; drain.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes or until onion is just tender. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently for 30 seconds. Add 1 1/4 cups of the stock and the Italian seasoning. Heat until boiling. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

Stir together remaining 1/4 cup stock and the cornstarch. Stir cornstarch mixture into simmering stock. Cook, stirring continuously, until bubbly and thickened.

In a large serving bowl, stir together cooked squash, pasta and sauce. Sprinkle with the fresh, minced herbs and toss to combine.

Makes 4 servings.

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Cauliflower cuts calories in faux pasta Alfredo

Every year, food-trend forecasts renew interest in preparing and eating some overlooked, even obscure, vegetables. Move over kale; watercress is the new super-green for 2015.

I don’t need a top-10 list to justify eating more veggies, not when a local farm makes biweekly deliveries of fresh produce to my house. It also comes as no surprise that some of the year’s “hot” veggies (yes, even watercress) have composed my Runnymede Farm CSA share, explained in a previous post. Celery root, parsnips, beets and other “ugly” root vegetables included in the box have been recast as “cheffy” ingredients for lack of appeal to the average consumer, according to a recent story by Tribune News Service.

Also getting a lot of play on restaurant menus is cauliflower, specifically the less familiar purple and white varieties. I’ve blogged for years about my love for “cheddar” cauliflower and incorporating the roasted florets into salads and pasta dishes.

But the variety I received from Runnymede was a more mainstream, white cauliflower, not as visually inspiring, although plenty tasty. I blanched half the head and dressed it with a cheese sauce, but the other half has been cooling its heels for a couple of weeks in the fridge while I busied myself with more perishable veggies.

Of course, now the previously pristine canvas has a few brown spots, and the florets will lose some of their shapeliness to trimming. Simmering and then blending into a cream soup would be a fine compromise, as would mashing into boiled potatoes or celery root.

Less predictable is this faux Alfredo pasta sauce. Turns out cauliflower is still being touted in new cookbooks as a dairy substitute that cuts fat and calories. This one is from “Women’s Day Easy Everyday Lighter Dinners” (Hearst Books, $16.95).

I’m usually not a fan of such food-swapping strategies, finding them disingenuous and, ultimately, unsatisfying. Yet I am starting to welcome recipes that put a more kid-friendly face on some vegetables.  I can see my 21-month-old digging into this pasta whereas cauliflower would get the cold shoulder — with or without cheese sauce.

Fettuccine “Alfredo”

1/2 head cauliflower (about 1 pound), chopped

12 ounces fettuccine

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon pepper, plus more to taste

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 cup 1-percent milk

1/2 cup grated Romano cheese

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Place the cauliflower with 2 1/2 cups water in a pot and simmer until cauliflower falls apart when squeezed, for 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer cauliflower and any remaining water in pot to a blender and puree until smooth, adding extra water if necessary.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions, omitting salt. Reserve 1 cup pasta-cooking liquid, drain pasta and return it to pot.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion, salt and pepper; cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until very tender, for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle with the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Stir in the milk and simmer until slightly thickened, for about 3 minutes. Stir in the cheese.

Add milk mixture and the cayenne to blender; puree until smooth. Toss cauliflower mixture with pasta, adding some reserved cooking liquid if mixture seems dry. Top with pepper and parsley before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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