Zucchini Stuffed with Wild Rice, Cheddar, and Dill

Here’s another one for that tried and true 5-ingredients-or-less category.

In my opinion, the clinchers here are threefold: the zucchini flesh is scooped out and added to the stuffing; the cheddar I used was sharp, tangy, and heavenly (and from Ithaca!); and the zucchini base is cooked in a skillet before going in the oven, which adds immensely to its flavor.

If you’re of a generally hungry disposition, eating both stuffed zucchini halves will be an optimal choice.  Others of you may find that eating only one half will suffice.  I have the pleasure of telling you that when you’re in the confines of your own home, cooking for yourself, you can pretty much do and eat whatever you would like.  If you’re of the latter category, this dish stores well in the fridge and can be reheated for lunch or dinner the following day.

A note on rice: how do you usually cook it?  Everyone has their method, and this is the one my mother taught me: soak the rice ten minutes, then rinse.  Add enough water to the pot of rice so that when you stick your index finger into the pot to touch the top of the rice, the water will reach the first crease in your index finger.  This method has yet to fail me (if I find that halfway through cooking rice there is too much water, I remove the lid to let some water evaporate). If you find this idea too unstable or risky, then I suggest following the cooking instructions on the package the rice came in.

To my wonderful internet friends, I wish you a beautiful weekend.  Here is a nice quote and photo I saw from Rumi the other day:

“Lovely days don’t come to you, you should walk to them”.

 

Zucchini Stuffed with Wild Rice- serves 1

  • 1 cup wild rice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil/veg oil, plus more for brushing
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (depending on how dill-y you like things)
  • 1/3-cup grated sharp cheddar
  • 1 lemon (optional)

1. Soak rice 10 minutes in water. Rinse, then cover with enough water to reach the first crease of your finger when touching top of the rice.
2. Add a pinch of salt and the tablespoon olive oil to pot. Bring to boil, cover, and simmer until done, about 35-40 minutes.
3. Preheat broiler. Meanwhile, cut zucchini in half lengthwise. Scoop out flesh and seeds to create a stuffable base and save flesh and seeds. Brush zucchini halves all over with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
4. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add zucchini halves and cook until lightly browned on both sides, about 2 minutes per side.
5. Roughly chop zucchini flesh, and add to rice mixture along with fresh dill and half of grated cheddar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stuff both zucchini halves with rice mixture, and top with remaining grated cheese. Broil until cheese is bubbly, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately with lemon juice, if desired.

Only 4 Awesome Ingredients: Arctic Char, Scallions, Chives & Mayo

Lemon wedges optional; used here only for garnish. Side salad shown as accompaniment.

I wish I came up with this fantastic recipe on my own, but all credit goes to an October 2008 recipe from the now retired Gourmet magazine.  It’s another dish to file under the 5 ingredients or less category, and while I’m always eager and happy to add any recipe to this blog, I am especially satisfied when I post a recipe that is both tasty and practically effortless. I get this great feeling like I’m cheating the system without having done anything wrong.

Although it would be nice to have all the time in the world to cook, the reality is that making dinner is a luxury for many people during the week.  For this reason I sincerely hope you give this recipe a try, because you will be impressed not only by how fast and easy it is but also by how good of a cook you are.

The fish store where I bought my fillet was selling arctic char from Iceland.  If you would prefer to buy something local, or at least more local than Iceland, you can easily substitute wild salmon or trout for the arctic char.  If you do use one of these two options, please make sure to leave the skin on, and to adjust the broiling time accordingly, as you will probably have to cook a thick salmon fillet for a few minutes longer.

I won’t take up any more of your time, except to say that if you find yourself with leftover scallions and chives, you can store them in an airtight container lined with a moist paper towel, which will keep them fresh for up to one week.  You can use them in anything, from stir fry recipes, salads, stews, soups, and rice dishes, to quickly sautéed meats and fish.

Happy cooking!

Arctic Char with Scallions, Chives, and Mayo – serves 1
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 arctic char fillet, 6-8 ounces
Preheat the broiler.
1. Mix the mayonnaise, scallions, and chives in a small bowl.
2. Wash and pat dry the arctic char fillet. Place the fish skin side down on a baking dish. Sprinkle top of fillet generously with salt and pepper, then rub scallion mixture evenly over the fillet’s surface.
3. Place several inches from the broiler and cook until scallions are slightly charred and fillet is cooked through, about 8 minutes (depending on thickness of the fillet). Serve with roast potatoes, a salad, steamed greens or veggies, rice, or anything else you think would make you happy.

Oil- and Honey-Filled Avocado with Mint

If you like avocados you will surely like this recipe; it is simple and straightforward, and the beauty of each ingredient (keep in mind there are only five!) really comes out.  Because of the simplicity of the dish, it is a good idea to round-up the best quality of everything you can find – ripe avocados, local honey, and good quality olive oil.  In my case, I used a fruity olive oil from Provence, that I gave to my sister Yasmin as a gift.  I haven’t asked if she agrees with me, but I think the complexity of the oil, combined with the sea salt, honey, and mint, helps to turn this appetizer from something good to something noteworthy.  However, I invite you to try this recipe with whatever you have on hand, a ripe and creamy avocado will never taste bad, especially when filled with honey, oil, and fresh mint!

I think this dish proves what a lot of people, including myself, are constantly discovering: that the best food is always the most simple, optimally made with local and seasonal ingredients.  If you’re like me, and you live nowhere near mint bushes or avocado trees right now, hopefully you are somewhere near a town or country that does grow them!  This is great as an appetizer, served before pasta or fish. 

Boooon appétit!

Oil-and Honey-Filled Avocado with Mint – Serves 1
1 ripe avocado
1 tablespoon of your favorite honey
1 heaping tablespoon fresh chopped mint
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Optional: 1 lemon (for to squeeze the juice out of)
1.  Cut the avocado in half lengthwise.  Remove the pit, and place each half, cut side up, on a plate.
2.  In a small bowl, combine the honey, mint, and salt.  Whisk in the olive oil one tablespoon at a time.  Adjust seasoning to taste, add more olive oil or honey if desired, and some lemon juice if using.
3.  Pour into each avocado cavity; serve immediately.

>Beet Cups Filled with Pistachios, Goat Cheese, and Prunes

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Ingredients:  beets, pistachios, prunes, goat cheese
These beet cups came to fruition on a more creative day, and I must confess that it was also during a night when I felt the need to dispose of some of the ingredients that had accumulated in my fridge and pantry over the past few months.  Thus was born the beet cups stuffed with this interesting combination you see here, which fortunately came out to my satisfaction.
Please feel free to get creative with this dish and fill beets with whatever you’d like or whatever you have available in your kitchen.  Some other ideas I had were to stuff the beets with avocado, crabmeat, and lime juice, or with feta and avocado and some kind of nut, like walnuts or pine nuts.  I believe that many things would complement the sweet and almost tangy flavor of beets, and if you pair a nut, a fruit (dried or fresh), a cheese, and even some herbs like basil or mint you usually won’t go wrong. 

Beet Cups Filled with Pistachios, Goat Cheese, and Prunes – serves 1
1 large beet
1 fistful pistachios (about 10-12), chopped
2 tbsp crumbled goat cheese
2 prunes, pitted and chopped
optional: balsamic vinegar and olive oil to drizzle on top
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
1.  If your beet is already cooked, move ahead to step 2.  If using a raw beet, wrap it in foil and roast it in the oven until soft and the skin easily peels off, about 1 1/4-hours.  Once cool enough to handle, peel of the skin.
2.  Cut off the stem and root, and cut the beet in half cross-wise.  Use a serrated knife or one of those handy grapefruit spoons cut a well in each beet half, making sure not to cut through to the bottom. 
3.  In a small bowl, combine the pistachios, prunes and goat cheese.  Chop up the scooped-out beet sections and add them as well.  Sprinkle with a pinch each of salt and pepper.
4.  Spoon the mixture into each beet cup, and place on a baking tray.  Bake until goat cheese is slightly melted, about 5-7 minutes.
5.  Remove and drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil if desired.

>Steak and Wild Mushrooms in a Cognac Cream Sauce

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This is another recipe that falls under both categories of taking less than 20 minutes to prepare, and requiring only 5 ingredients.  As I believe I firmly expressed already, I really like me a good pepper steak.  And although when it comes to steak I generally believe less is more, I have no problem experimenting with mushrooms and a bit of liquor.  For me, mushrooms are like wine and olives, in that I’ve learned to appreciate them as I’ve grown older (not to say I’m old, but you know what I mean). 

Wild mushrooms are fantastic, because they provide such a deep, earthy flavor, and they are relatively easy to work with (they let off a bit of liquid while cooking, which is good for creating sauces).  Today at the outdoor market near my apartment, I had the luxury of choosing between several variations of mushrooms.

There were more mushroom choices than I could fit in this photo, but the ones above seemed the best-looking.  I chose the dark mushrooms in the back center, which are dauntingly enough called trompettes de la mort (trumpets of death – hmmm).  I’ve had them a few times before and they are fantastic, although I’m sure any other type of wild mushroom will provide an equally great flavor.

In any case, I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did - as soon as I took the first bite, I closed my eyes and thanked whoever’s listening for creating ingredients that can make food like this.  I mentioned it in my recipe for steak au poivre, but I think it’s worth mentioning again: the quality of this dish depends largely on the quality of the steak – please buy the nicest looking strip steak you can find!  Enjoy with a nice glass of cabernet sauvignon or merlot, and this makes for a high-class meal (at a pretty low cost!)
May your next meal be filled with happiness and fullfilment. 
Steak and Wild Mushrooms in a Cognac Cream Sauce – serves 1

1 6-8 oz top-loin strip steak
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4-cup cognac
1 cup wild mushrooms
2 tbsp heavy cream

1.  Wash and pat dry the steak.  Cover completely with fresh ground pepper, and sprinkle with salt.
2.  Heat oil in a small skillet over high heat.  Once the oil is hot, add the steak and cook until desired doneness, about 8 minutes for medium-rare, turning once halfway through.
3.  Once steak is cooked, remove from heat, and cover to keep warm.  Add cognac to the same skillet (remove skillet from heat while doing this, to avoid any possible accidents).  Return to heat, and cook until cognac reduces slightly, about 2 minutes.
4.  Add mushrooms, a large pinch of salt a touch of pepper, and sautee until mushrooms are softened, about 3 minutes.
5.  Add cream, and stir to combine; once cream starts to simmer, remove from heat and pour over steak.

Quick Saute of Zucchini

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I wish I could take the credit for this brilliant dish, which, in all its simplicity, still manages to provide strong flavors of salty, nutty, sweet, and tangy.  With only four ingredients, it is a simple and remarkably fast meal which can constitute either a lunch, light dinner, or starter.  I really do wish I came up with it, as it’s pure genius.  However, I owe the creation of this recipe to Jimmy Bradley and Danny Abrams, the chefs/co-owners of Red Cat Restaurant in the chelsea area of New York.  The first time I tried this at the restaurant I knew I would have to go back and try it again soon.  I nearly bowled over when I found out how easy it is to make!

I’d also like to add that I decided to make this recipe to start a new series of recipes, which all can be made in 20 minutes or less.  However, this lucky dish happens to qualify for both the 5-ingredients-or-less category and the one just mentioned above.  And I imagine this overlapping will happen often, as these categories are more mutually inclusive than exclusive.  Nevertheless, please enjoy, eat well, and live happily!

Fresh Zucchini with Sliced Almonds and Parmesan – serves 1

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 fresh zucchini, peeled, ends chopped off, and cut into 1/2-inch long matchsticks
3 tablespoons blanched, slivered almonds
1/4-cup (or about 10 pieces) of parmesan slices (can be made with a vegetable peeler)

1.  Heat olive oil in a large skillet over high heat.  Once hot, add the zucchini, sprinkle with a good dash of salt and a sprinkle of pepper, and sautee until zucchini is just starting to color, about 3 minutes.
2.  Add the slivered almonds; sautee until almonds just begin to color and zucchini is slightly golden, about 2 minutes more.
3.  Transfer to a plate; sprinkle with additional salt and pepper to taste; top with parmesan and serve.

>Walnut-Pomegranate Spread with Feta

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My inspiration for this spread comes from a Persian dish I grew up eating (khoresht fesenjan) that features a stew of walnuts, pomegranate, and braised chicken which is traditionally served with steaming white rice, and which is, in my humble opinion, finger-licking good.  This recipe calls for pomegranate paste, which is a syrup made from the seeds of a tart member of the pomegranate family. 
I’m not completely sure if you can find pomegranate syrup at a gourmet grocer; you should ask in any case.  However, you can definitely find it in middle eastern/persian spice markets in your town.  You may want to look here if you live in:
Los Angeles – Walk out your door, you will likely find a Persian grocery store within a 200-foot radius.
As for the taste:  rich, nutty, sweet, slightly tart, and very delicious.  As you see in the top photo, I enjoy eating this spread with feta and crusty sourdough bread, but how you eat it is up to you.  I imagine it could go very well with goat cheese – if you have any other suggestions please let me know!
Walnut-Pomegranate Spread w/ Feta – makes about 2 cups spread
This spread can be stored in the fridge in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.
2 cups walnuts
1 tablespoon flour
1/4-cup pomegranate Molasses
2 tablespoons sugar
crumbled feta cheese
1.  Toast the walnuts in your oven or on the stove; 350 degrees for ten minutes in the oven, medium heat for 10 minutes on the stove.
2.  Once they have cooled to room temperature, chop them up roughly, then transfer to a food processor and grind to a powder, about 10 seconds in the processor.
3.  Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat; add the flour, and toast lightly, 2-3 minutes.
4.  Add 1 cup water, and stir until flour and water are just combined.
5.  Add walnuts, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens and oil rises to the top, about 20 minutes.
6.  Add pomegranate paste and sugar, sprinkle with a dash of salt and pepper, and cook until mixture thickens to a spread-like consistency, about 5 minutes longer.  Serve as is or add more pomegranate paste, salt, and pepper to taste.
7.  Let cool to room temperature; spread on a slice of bread and top with crumbled feta.

>Honey and Hazelnut-Crusted Salmon

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Ingredients: Salmon, Honey, Dijon Mustard, Hazelnuts

I got the idea for this either last night, or at some point today while I was daydreaming, of course, about food.  The dish is so simple (there are four ingredients), but because each component has such a distinct flavor, the end result is very tasty. 

I ate this with some steamed artichokes, but I think this would also go great with some lentilsbrussel sprouts, steamed broccoli, or roasted potatoes.  The choices are endless, and of course depend on your tastes.   Additionally, I had a package of hazelnuts which I have been itching to use for the past two weeks, which I why I chose this particular nut.  However, I think many other variations, such as almonds, pistachios, pecans, or walnuts, would also complement the salmon.

Enjoy!

Honey and Hazelnut-Crusted Salmon – serves 1

1 6-oz. (170 g) salmon fillet
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/4-cup (80 g) crushed hazelnuts, roughly chopped.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
1. Line a baking dish with aluminum foil; place salmon on foil, skin-side down.
2. In a small bowl, mix together the honey, dijon mustard, a dash of salt, and a dash of pepper.
3.  Rub mixture all over the salmon (bottom too); press the hazelnuts into the top and sides of the fish, and bake until cooked through, about 12-14 minutes.
4.  When removing the salmon from the tray, gently detach the salmon from its skin (if it’s cooked through it should detach easily).  Serve.

>Moelleux au Chocolat (Molten Chocolate Cake)

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Ingredients: Chocolate, Butter, Eggs, Sugar, Flour
I knew it was over the first time I took a bite of a molten chocolate cake.  I was somewhere in Paris, unfortunately I can’t remember exactly where, but as soon as I got a spoonful on my tongue it was decided: this is the best dessert I’ve ever eaten, and it might just be the best dessert in the world.
It’s not a very difficult concept to grasp:  cook the liquid mixture made up of sugar, chocolate, butter, flour, and eggs, until the outside is firm and the inside is still liquidy.  However simple this chemical process may be, I don’t think I will ever get over the fascination of breaking the top of a moelleux au chocolat, and finding melted, oozing, delicious chocolate goo in the middle.  It’s just heavenly, and relatively straightforward to make.
However, I had a slight setback.  I brought my electric mixer over from the states, only to discover that if one uses an american mixer in Europe, the speed increases about ten-fold.  Needless to say, my darling mixer couldn’t handle this pressure, and it broke down, never to be heard from again.  In order to get the cake to rise (like a soufflé), the eggs need to be whipped, so that the air pockets inside them can expand in the oven.  Long story short, I had to whip the eggs by hand – it is totally doable, but you may get a severe hand cramp afterward.  If you have an electric mixer, I advise using it. 
Molten Chocolate Cake - serves 1

Moelleux au chocolat can be made up to 1 day in advance: prepare the recipe through step 3, and cover batter with plastic wrap and store in the fridge.  When ready to eat, bring to room temperature before proceeding with the remaining steps. 

1 ounce bittersweet chocolate (25g) - try to find 65% chocolate
1 tablespoon (20 g) butter
1/2 of an egg (I’ll tell you how to easily divide it in the recipe)
1 tablespoon  (20 g) sugar
1 teaspoon (4g) flour
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
1.  Bring a small saucepean of water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Place the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl (and one that is bigger than the rim of the saucepan), and place over the saucepan.  Gently stir until the butter and chocolate are combined.  Remove from heat.
4.  In a small bowl, beat the egg with a fork until the yolk and white are fully combined.  Pour half of the mixture into another bowl.
3.  Add the sugar to one of the eggs bowls – discard the egg in the other bowl. Beat until a light, canary-yellow color has formed, and the mixture has tiny bubbles on the surface. (If using an electric hand-held mixer, this should take about 3-4 minutes on medium speed).

3.  Add the flour to the eggs and gently stir to combine.  Pour in the chocolate mixture and gently fold into the eggs and flour, until just combined.
4.  Butter a 6-oz. ramekin, using an upward vertical motion when greasing, to help the soufflé rise.  Pour in the mixture, and bake in the oven until the outside is firm and the center is still wobbly, about 12 minutes.
5.  Dig in!  This can be served with a dollop of whipped cream, creme fraiche, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. 

>Egg Fettuccine with Creme Fraiche and Anchovies

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Ingredients: Fettucine, Butter, Anchovies, Garlic, Creme Fraiche
I personally love cream, and I think pasta and cream complement each other like milk and cookies: it’s just right when they’re together.  So I had been reading up a bit on making pasta with cream, anchovies, and garlic – I have been interested in trying this for the past couple of weeks.  I think anchovies have a slight stigma around them, and that doesn’t surprise me, considering their distinct salty and fishy flavor. 
Anchovies are usually preserved by being salted in brine, matured, then packed in oil or salt – bref, they pack a punch.  However, what I read about this recipe was so surprising to me: moms talking about how their kids asked for this dish repeatedly, so-called haters of anchovies finding a tasty surprise in this combo – and it’s true, the anchovy taste is completely hidden, and all that’s left is a perfectly salted, perfectly easy cream sauce.
As promised, this dish contains five ingredients, and takes about 10 minutes total to put together.  It was delicious, and I have slight shame to say that I scarfed it down within perhaps a minute a two.  I sincerely hope you like it.
Egg Fettuccine with Anchovies and Creme Fraiche – serves 1
4 anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon butter
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/4-cup creme fraiche or heavy cream

5 oz. fresh egg fettuccine (if you can’t find fresh egg, any kind of fettuccine will work)

1.  Bring a pot of salted water to a boil in a small saucepan.  Add pasta and cook until al dente; time depends on type of pasta, check package for cooking instructions.
2.  Meanwhile, melt butter over medium-low heat in a medium skillet.
3.  Add anchovies and cook until anchovies are softened and break apart easily when prodded with a wooden spoon, about 3 minutes
4.  Add garlic, and cook until garlic becomes fragrant, about 2 minutes.
5.  Stir in creme fraiche, sprinkle with a touch of salt and a very generous pinch of freshly ground black pepper, and simmer until a thick creamy sauce has formed, about 3 minutes (you may have to simmer 2-3 minutes longer if using heavy cream).
6.  Once pasta is al dente, drain it, saving some of the pasta cooking water, and stir it into the cream sauce.  If you want to thin the sauce out a bit, add some of the pasta cooking water.  Serve on a plate or bowl, and season with more fresh-ground black pepper.