Thursday, October 15, 2009

In the Kitchen Again: Making A Delicious Fall Dinner!

Beautiful tomatoes from our plants in Washington on our kitchen windowsill in California!

The neighborhood kitties seem to be quite happy we are back :)

After several weeks of traveling (Alaska and the West Coast), it feels good to be back in the kitchen. Woodley and I have developed a new schedule that is working out quite well. When I am following it property, I plan menus and shop for groceries twice a week (Monday and Thursday mornings) which allows me the chance to work leftovers into the menu and to use up extra ingredients before they go bad. Also, it keeps my trips to the grocery store short and menu planning is more fun when I only have to worry about 3 dinners at a time. I've been following this schedule for a couple of weeks (both here and in Bellingham) and I love it!

Also, each day I have allotted myself 3 hours for cooking dinner, from 5pm to 8pm (although I might start some recipes earlier if they need to cook for a long time or marinate. So far, I've found that 3 hours is often enough and I have been much less frantic than when I only start dinner 2 hours before we want to sit down. And, if it's just the two of us, I can always bump dinner up to an earlier time if it doesn't take the full three hours.

For the past couple of weeks I've been having fun testing out new recipes from cookbooks I received as wedding presents. This past Monday, I picked up Williams-Sonoma's Essentials of Breakfast and Brunch which I was given at a bridal shower. I have used it a few times in the past year but I thought it was only breakfast foods I didn't ever realize there would be recipes that I could use for lunches and dinners as well. On Monday I was pleasantly surprised to discover several dishes I wanted to try out immediately and decided to use them as the backbone for Tuesday's dinner menu:

Tuesday's Dinner Menu:
French Bread with Brie
Crab Salad with Tarragon Vinaigrette (Essentials of Breakfast and Brunch)
Carrot Soup with Crème Fraîche Toasts (Essentials of Breakfast and Brunch)
Crepes with Ice Cream, Bananas, and Chocolate Sauce (the crepes were left over from lunch)

~The Carrot Soup~

The Carrot Soup was delicious and very simple to make. I actually added a little bit of extra seasoning because I was worried it might be too plain. I think it would have been excellent as written though also. I made the toasts and floated them on the soup before serving it but I left out the Crème Fraîche because I didn't want to spend $4 for a container of it when we would only be using 4 teaspoons. We didn't miss it at all but it might be nice if you have some on hand.  

Carrot Soup with Crème Fraîche Toasts 
Serves 4

4 slices brioche or other firm, slightly sweet bread, about 1/4 inch thick, crusts trimmed {I used whole wheat french bread}
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 large shallots, minced
{I also used 1 small bay leaf and a small pinch of dried thyme and sage}
1 1/2 lb carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 cups chicken stock 
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 teaspoons Crème Fraîche

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat to 350 degrees F

2. Cut each bread slice on the diagonal to make 8 triangles. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 12 - 15 minutes, turning halfway through baking. Remove and set aside. 

3. In a large saucepan, over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the shallots {as well as the bay leaf, thyme, and sage, if you are using them} and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 2 minutes. 

4. Stir in the carrots, pour in the stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes. {While the soup was cooking, I went ahead and got the salad ready}

5. Remove from heat, uncover, and let the soup stand for 15 minutes to cool slightly. 

6. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup in the pan until smooth. Alternatively, working in batches, puree the soup in a standing blender or food processor until smooth. 

7. Reheat the soup over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper. 

8. Spoon crème fraîche on each toast triangle, dividing it evenly. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and float 2 toasts on each serving. Serve at once. Yum!!

~The Crab Salad~

The crab salad was simply amazing! It tasted so sophisticated and complex and not at all too crabby, which is what I had been worried about while I was preparing it. It is the perfect salad for early fall and is a good main dish if you want something simple and fairly healthy that is also quite impressive. (Just don't make it for anyone with an aversion to crab or tarragon.) I thought about buying freshly picked dungeness crab from the seafood section of the grocery but I discovered that it was very expensive. Instead, I decided to go with the canned crab which was a lot cheaper. I was a bit worried that I wouldn't like the way it tasted in the salad, but I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was! I didn't even notice a difference when I was eating it. 

Crab Salad with Tarragon Vinaigrette
Serves 4

2 bunches watercress {I used just one bunch, because I forgot to buy 2, and it tasted just fine without it}
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon {our lovely friend Becca brought us the tarragon when she came over to join us for dinner, I think it completely made the salad! Thanks Becca!}
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 Granny Smith apple, peeled and cored {I used 1 whole small Granny Smith apple}
3/4 lb. cooked lump crabmeat, picked over for small shell fragments
2 1/2 Tablespoons snipped fresh chives
4 large red-leaf lettuce leaves {I used more like 8}

1. Remove the tough stems from the watercress, reserving the leaves and tender stem clusters. Set aside several sprigs to use as a garnish. {I let my watercress soak in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes to get the dirt off}

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, tarragon, salt, and pepper until blended. Set aside.

3. Fill a bowl with water and add the lemon juice. Cut the apple into strips 1/2 inch thick and 2 inches long. Place the strips in lemon water.

4. Place the crabmeat in a bowl and, using a fork or your fingers, separate it into pieces a little smaller than bite-size. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and add the chives.

5. Drain the apple strips and pat dry. Add them to the crab mixture and toss gently to combine.

6. Add the watercress and toss again.

7. Place 1 lettuce leaf on each individual plate. {I used 2-3 leaves per plate} Top with the crab mixture, dividing it evenly. Garnish with the watercress sprigs and serve at once.

I'm hoping I can put together a little binder with the different menus I develop that I think work well together. That way I can use them again in the future. I just need to get a binder and then I'll be able to start on that project.

And now, with 1 1/2 hours until I need to start dinner, I'm off to work on a baby quilt!


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