Monday, December 27, 2010

Moo-less Chocolate Pie



'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through my head, recipes were stirring, filling me with dread. We were hosting the festivities on Christmas Day, and I wanted to make two desserts. I'd already decided on an apple pie, thanks in part to my husband bringing home a huge box of apples, each one the size of a small child's head. Scrambling for another recipe, I racked my brain for something easy that wouldn't need much (or any) time in the oven, since we were already planning on roasting some vegetables that morning.

Randomly I cruised around the Food Network website, thinking maybe something chocolate would pop up. And there it was: Alton Brown's "Moo-less Chocolate Pie." I scanned it - quick, no-bake, and no trips to the grocery store needed. Bingo!

I used a block of tofu I had stashed in the fridge (soft, not silken, but close enough) and a bag of chocolate chips purchased in last week's cookie-baking frenzy. The recipe calls for coffee liqueur, which I didn't have, so I used an equivalent amount of coffee. Since my pie plate was already occupied, I made a quick graham cracker crumb crust in my tart pan. Two hours later, and with the addition of a little whipped cream, I had a rich, decadent, relatively healthy dessert that walloped you with chocolate. Easy as pie, indeed!

Moo-less Chocolate Pie
(Recipe courtesy of Alton Brown at foodtv.com)

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)
  • 1/3 cup coffee liqueur (I'm assuming Kahlua would be great)
  • 1 block silken tofu
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 prepared chocolate wafer crust (though any pie crust would be delicious)
Directions:
  1. Place a small metal bowl over a saucepan with simmering water. Melt the chocolate chips and coffee liqueur in the bowl. Stir in vanilla.
  2. Combine the tofu, chocolate mixture and honey in the jar of a blender. Liquefy until smooth.
  3. Pour the filling into the crust and refrigerate for two hours, or until the filling is set.
(Note: I tried making this in my blender. Maybe my motor isn't strong enough, but it didn't mix well. I poured it out of the blender and into my food processor - much better! You want this really smooth so you don't see the white of the tofu, with a uniform, creamy texture.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Carrot Raisin Salad, All Grown Up


My friend hates mayonnaise. No biggie. But in June, she emailed me asking for help. She needed a recipe for a summer salad to bring to a teacher appreciation luncheon for her son's school. She didn't want to do a green salad, but couldn't think of anything else. "Hmm," I thought to myself, "Potato salad ... out. Macaroni salad ... no go. Waldorf salad ... nope." And for whatever reason, I literally couldn't think of one side salad dish that didn't have any white and creamy components. I felt like a failure!

The one recipe that didn't come to mind was this one, a different spin on one of my childhood favorites, carrot and raisin salad. The one my Mom used to make was simply shredded carrots and raisins in a little mayonnaise. I loved it then and still do. But if you have mayo haters in your life, or are bringing something to a potluck (and want to avoid food poisoning fears of leaving a mayo-based salad out too long) this one is for you. The mint and lemon dress up this old favorite, and the raisins add just enough sweetness and balance. Tie it together with olive oil and a shake of salt and pepper, and you're good to go. (Better late than never, right Sena?)

Carrot, Mint and Golden Raisin Salad
(from Martha Stewart's Living Cookbook)

Ingredients:
  • 1 pound large carrots
  • 3 tablespoons golden raisins (I used some mixed variety raisins from the farmer's market, and probably used more than than what Martha calls for)
  • 2/3 cup fresh mint leaves, cut into 1/4 inch strips (I used less mint, probably a 1/2 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Directions:
  1. Grate the carrots on the large holes of a box grater or with a food processor using the grater blade. In a medium bowl, combine the grated carrots with the golden raisins, mint, lemon juice, and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine well. Serve.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Avgolemono


It's that most wonderful time of the year -- Soup Season! When it gets cold, nothing is better than a giant bowl of soup. Avgolemono (coming from the Greek, "avgo" means egg, and "lemono", well, you can probably guess that one!) is a quick, easy chicken soup spiked with lemon, thickened with egg, colored with spinach, and chock full of bright, cheery flavors!

If you are looking for more recipes to use up chicken carcasses, here is one of the best. I'm sure a turkey carcass would work just as well. Use two breasts with bones if you don't have a carcass handy. The starch component offers a little leeway: I like orzo best, but you can try rice (be sure to add the rice about 20 minutes before the spinach and other ingredients so it has time to cook through) or another small pasta or grain.

Avgolemono

Ingredients:
  • 1 chicken carcass, or 2 chicken breasts with bones and skin included
  • 1 10-ounce box of frozen chopped spinach
  • 3/4 cup orzo
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • salt and pepper

Directions:
  1. Put the chicken carcass in a large pot with enough water to cover. Boil until chicken is cooked through and falling off the bone. Remove carcass to a large bowl to cool. Strain broth and return to pot.
  2. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove from bones and chop into small pieces. You should have 2 - 3 cups of chicken.
  3. Return broth to the stove and heat on medium. Add the box of spinach (it's fine it it's still frozen, just drop that green block in there!) to the broth, along with the bay leaves and the chicken. Now look at the consistency of your soup. Do you like it really brothy? Add more water. Do you like your soup thicker? Now is the time to raise the heat and reduce your broth.
  4. When you have your preferred consistency, add the orzo to the soup. Cook on medium heat for about 8 minutes.
  5. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs with the lemon juice. Slowly add a ladle-full of your broth to the eggs, to temper them, so they don't seize up when you introduce them to the soup. When the eggs have been warmed by the broth, turn the heat off the stove. Slowly stir the egg and lemon mixture into the soup. Keep stirring to make sure you don't get any eggy clumps. Season with salt and pepper.
I like this soup with a big salad and some bread. Enjoy!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Indian Comfort Food: Lamb Kofta Curry


For Middle America, it's Meat and Potatoes. For Asians, it's Meat and Rice! Any way you slice it, protein and carbs go together to comfort and satisfy. This dish is one I've made several times now, and I think I like it more and more each time we have it! It's rich and spicy but not hot, and the ginger adds a bright and cheery note to a dish that could conceivably seem heavy. It's like the Indian version of Spaghetti and Meatballs!

That said, I've never made it exactly according to the recipe. The recipe (as the name implies) calls for ground lamb, and instead, I've used ground turkey, ground beef, and a combination of the two. Ground lamb is not something I see often in my grocery store, and when I do, it's usually a dollar more expensive than the beef. (Remember, folks, Frugal is the name of the blog!) Also, the recipe calls for a "fresh green chilli [sic - maybe an Indianized Britishism?], roughly chopped" and I've never added one, mostly because I'm afraid it would add more heat than my preschooler would eat (and she does like these), but also because I'm not sure what kind of chile I'd use. I'd probably play it safe and use a jalapeno, if you wanted to add it in at your house.

I serve this with Basmati rice with plenty of cilantro (what the book calls coriander) mixed in.

Lamb Kofta Curry
(Recipe courtesy of Best-Ever Curry Cookbook, by Mridula Baljekar)

Ingredients:
For the Kofta (aka Meatballs)
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
  • 1 fresh green chilli, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1-inch piece of fresh root ginger, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
For the Sauce:
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1-inch piece of fresh root ginger, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 can (14 oz.) chopped tomatoes
  • fresh coriander (cilantro) to garnish
Directions:
1.) To make the meatballs, put the lamb, chilli, garlic, ginger, garam masala, salt and cilantro into a food processor and process until the mixture binds together.
2.) Shape the mixture into 16 balls, using your hands. Cover with clear film (plastic wrap) and chill for 10 minutes.
3.) To make the sauce, heat the oil and fry the cumin seeds until they splutter. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and fry for 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining sauce ingredients and simmer for 5 minutes.
4.) Add the meatballs. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked though. Garnish with sprigs of fresh cilantro and serve with basmati rice.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Easy Mexican Vegetables



I pretty much guarantee you can make this, tonight, for under $5. This dish is so easy it's nearly criminal, and can be the jumping-off point for many other recipes.

I made this dish, sort of a South-of-the-Border Succotash, last night to go with some soft tacos. Not only does it look beautiful, it's incredibly healthy and a great way to get your anti-veggie kids to eat up.

As far as what to do with the leftovers (since it does make a big batch, and would serve 6 as a side dish), I sandwiched a big scoop of it, right out of the Tupperware container in the fridge, between two corn tortillas, with some goat cheese. That was my lunch today and it was delicious!

The succotash is also a tasty filling for omelets or breakfast burritos (just add scrambled eggs and cheese). For dinner, boil a chicken carcass, take the meat off the bones, and add the rest of the succotash and a can of chopped tomatoes for a Mexican chicken soup. It really doesn't get easier, healthier, or tastier than this.

Easy Mexican Vegetables

Ingredients:
  • 2 bell peppers, red, yellow, or orange, sliced thin
  • 2 zucchini or summer squash (I used one yellow and one green), cut in half lengthwise and then sliced into very thin slices
  • 1 large onion, sliced thin
  • 2 ears of corn, kernels cut from the cob
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
Directions:
1.) Prepare all your veggies - slice everything thinly, but remember, the thinner your veggies the faster they cook, so timing is everything.
2.) Heat the butter over medium heat in a very large skillet. Add the onions first and salt them, then the corn, and then, a minute or two later, the squash and the peppers. Season with the pepper and oregano, and keep everything moving in the pan so nothing sticks.
3.) Cook for two or three minutes, then add the cilantro and stir, just to heat through. You don't want your veggies mushy, so take them off the heat while they're still firm but tender. Taste again for salt and serve.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mocha Brownie Torte

Mocha brownie torte: the Holy Grail of desserts for my family when we were growing up. This appeared at least once a year with candles in it, as someone chose it for a birthday cake. Don't let its simplicity fool you - this stuff rules.

You can, of course, omit the nuts if you have an allergic family member, but I really recommend you leave them in - the walnuts add crunch amidst the dense and chewy brownie. And the frosting? Heck, I'd happily mix up a batch right now to eat with a spoon. I dare say I like the frosting more than ice cream. Yes, it's that good!

Mocha Brownie Torte
(recipe is courtesy of my Mom's battered and splattered 1970's Betty Crocker Cookbook)

Ingredients:
  • 1 package (15 oz.) fudge brownie mix
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (pecans would be nice too)
  • 1 1/2 cups chilled whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon powdered instant coffee or espresso
  • Shaved chocolate for garnish
Directions:
1.) Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix brownie mix, water and eggs. Stir in the nuts. Grease and flour 2 8-inch cake pans. Divide the brownie mix evenly in the pans.
2.) Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and let them cool completely on a baking rack.
3.) Chill a big metal bowl and your beaters in the freezer for a while. Pour the whipping cream into the cold bowl and beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes. Gradually add the brown sugar and powdered coffee. Continue beating until stiff peaks form.
4.) Put one cake down on a serving tray, flattest side down. Top with one cup of the whipped cream frosting. Put the other cake on top of the frosting, so the flattest side is up, and use the rest of the frosting to cover the top and sides of the torte. Grate or shave some dark chocolate over the torte and chill for at least an hour before serving.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Soba Noodles with Salmon and Miso


I love fish. It's my favorite protein, and I am always looking for new ways to cook it. I found this recipe in another maddeningly-generically-titled cookbook, "Homestyle Asian." Aside from the salmon itself, all the other ingredients are cheap and will keep for a while, so you don't have to rush to use them before they spoil. Miso paste can live in your fridge for a decent amount of time, and can be used to make soups or add umami flavor to everything from pan sauces and gravies to salad dressings. Soba noodles are another fun thing to keep in your pantry. It's a dried pasta, so, like spaghetti, it will be fine on your shelf until you're ready to use it again. I love its chewy texture and nutty flavor.

The recipe in my cookbook served six, so my version has been pared down to serve two (plus a toddler, if you have one that likes fish and noodles, like I do!) Also, the original recipe called for 1 cup of bean sprouts, which I didn't have, so I substituted 4 heads of baby bok choi (that I picked up at the farmer's market for a dollar.) This recipe was delicious and elegant, with subtle flavors and a clean finish. Definitely a keeper.

Soba Noodles with Salmon and Miso

Ingredients:
  • approximately 2 oz. of dried soba noodles (mine came conveniently packaged in five single-serving bundles - gotta love Japanese ingenuity!)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon miso paste
  • 1 ounce honey
  • 4 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
  • 1 pound salmon filet
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 large carrot, cut into matchsticks
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 heads of baby bok choi, cut into individual leaves
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Directions:

  1. Cook the soba noodles according to the package directions. Drain, add back to the pot you cooked them in, and toss with a teaspoon of the sesame oil, just so they won't stick together. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 350*F.  Whisk together the miso, honey, one teaspoon sesame oil, and one teaspoon water to form a paste. Brush over the salmon , then sear on a hot grill or frying pan for 30 seconds on each side. Brush the salmon with the remaining paste and place on a baking tray. Bake for 6 minutes, then cover and leave to rest in a warm place.
  3. Heat one teaspoon of sesame oil in a wok or frying pan. Add the garlic, ginger, carrot, green onion and bok choi and stir-fry for 1 minute -- the vegetables should not brown, but remain crisp and bright. Add the noodles, rice vinegar, soy sauce and one teaspoon sesame oil and stir-fry quickly to heat through.
  4. Divide the noodles among two plates, top with half the salmon and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Peach Spoon Sweet (A Delicious FAIL)


Usually, when I make a recipe for the first time, I try to follow it to the letter. I use the ingredients listed, measure appropriately, and obey instructions. That way I know what the recipe author intended, and I can decide if I like it the way it is, or if I want to make changes to it next time I make the dish.

I didn't do that this time ... and I failed.

To be fair, the "recipe" I was following was in an article in the Food section of last week's Los Angeles Times, and was more a theory than a proper recipe. It said:

Here's how the technique goes: Cut up the fruit and weigh it. Add an equal weight of sugar. Bring it to a boil on top of the stove and then let it sit overnight to macerate. The next day, finish the jam a couple of cups at a time in a nonstick skillet. Cooked over medium-high heat, it'll set in less than five minutes. That's all there is to it.

Unfortunately, I misplaced the newspaper but decided I'd go ahead without it. Whoops.

What was supposed to be peach jam came out like preserved peaches, or as the article put it, "more like an old-fashioned 'spoon sweet.'" What I made didn't set like a jelly, because I didn't use enough sugar (and I didn't add any extra pectin, which would have made for a traditional set.) But what it lacked in jiggle, it more than made up for in flavor. It tastes like summer distilled, and I've already eaten almost half of it! Click here to read a proper recipe for summer fruit jam from the article, or keep reading (if you dare! Mwah hah hah!) for my stunted but still stunning version.

Peach 'Spoon Sweet'

Ingredients:
  • 3 very large, ripe peaches
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup sugar (depending on the sweetness of your peaches, and how sweet you want the final product to be - mine has a little tart to it, but is still plenty sweet)
Directions:

  1.  Set a large pot of water to boil on the stove. When it is fully rolling, cut a shallow X into the bottom of each peach. Put the peaches in the water for 30 to 60 seconds, or until you see the skin loosening at the X.
  2. Scoop the peaches out of the water and run them under cold water, until they are cool enough to handle. Peel off the skin - it should just slip right off with your fingers. Remove the stone and mash with a potato masher or fork. I like mine chunky.
  3. Cook the sugar and peaches in a saute pan over low heat. It will probably bubble up - I used a splatter guard to keep the mess to a minimum. Reduce the peaches and stir every few minutes to make sure it doesn't stick or burn. Cook for about 15 minutes, taste for sugar (or add some honey if you want, that would be good too), and, when cool, put in a screw-top jar or glass container.

This will keep for a week in your fridge, but it probably won't last that long because there are so many great ways to enjoy it! Here are some I've already tried and loved:
  • On toast
  • Stirred into plain or Greek yogurt for breakfast (add granola or nuts too)
  • On top of vanilla ice cream
  • In the blender with some strawberries, 6 oz. of soft tofu and ice for an after-gym smoothie
  • With oven-baked pork chops - this was awesome!
And now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to add some to champagne for a Bellini. Ciao!


Monday, August 9, 2010

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Horseradish


Easy, cheap, and tasty: these are my three criteria for a perfect recipe. This one hits those nails right on the head!

At the farmer's market last week, I found Brussels sprouts for sale in those little plastic baskets they usually sell berries in. $1 a basket - such a deal! I bought two baskets and then came home and looked for recipes for them.

I stumbled on this recipe on one of my favorite food sites, Eating Well. The recipe calls for just four ingredients: Brussels sprouts, sour cream, horseradish, and bacon. Yes, bacon! I adjusted the recipe for what I had on hand: I didn't have sour cream, but I did have plain low-fat yogurt, which is a sure-fire sour cream substitute in every possible recipe. Also, I only had two pieces of bacon left. (I know, the injustice of it all!) The sprouts cooked up quickly, the assembly was a snap, and they were delicious! Don't be afraid of the horseradish - there is just enough to have a surprise and welcome bite, and cut through the fat of the bacon and the creaminess of the yogurt, but it is certainly not hot. Easy? Check. Cheap? Yup. Tasty? Oh yes, we hit the trifecta!

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Horseradish

Ingredients:
  • 2 slices of bacon
  • about one pound of Brussels sprouts
  • 1/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
Directions:

  1.  Fry the bacon. You want it pretty crispy. When it's done, put the bacon on some paper towels to soak up the grease. Do NOT drain the fat from the pan.
  2. While the bacon is cooking, prepare the sprouts: wash them, cut off the stem ends, and slice in half lengthwise. You can keep any leaves that come off in the slicing process, as long as they are healthy and green. Remove any that are yellow or spotty.
  3. Add the sprouts to the pan with the bacon grease. Saute for 5 minutes until they start to get a little golden. Add a tablespoon or two of water to the pan and cover with a lid, so you are now steaming them. Let them steam for about 5 minutes, then remove the lid and brown them a little again, maybe two or three minutes.
  4. While the sprouts are steaming, combine yogurt and horseradish in a large bowl. When the sprouts are cooked through (you want them tender but not too soft; keep a little toothsomeness) add them to the yogurt mixture. Stir well to combine. Chop the bacon roughly and either sprinkle on top or mix into yogurt mixture. Taste for salt (depending on your bacon, you may not need any, but mine needed just a little.)

To make this vegetarian, either don't add the bacon (duh), or use veggie bacon or veggie chorizo.




Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Korean Tacos


I'm not a follower of trends; never have been. (Skinny jeans? Ugh, no thank you.) I prefer the tried-and-true basics, the classics that will never go out of style. Food is also subject to trends. 10 years ago you'd have been hard-pressed to find a cupcake outside of a kindergarden birthday party. Fast-forward to today, where gourmet cupcake shops can be found in every city, charging $3 and up for the kiddie confections! What's the newest culinary must-have? According to newspapers and food blogs nationwide, it's the Korean taco.

Korean tacos, a mash-up of Korean and Mexican fare, usually involve marinated "kogi" (Korean for meat) that's been grilled and served in a tortilla, although pork is gaining a following too. Restaurants and food trucks serve them with their own spin; some stay traditional and add only onion or cilantro, while others make cabbage slaws, mango relishes or kimchee purees to top them off.

As luck would have it, my mother-in-law dropped off a package of beef earlier this week. In typical Korean-grocery-store cryptic fashion, it only said "Sliced Chuck." Good enough, I thought - I don't need fancy short ribs for Korean tacos. Any old thinly-sliced (and therefore easily marinating) beef would do. It was pretty, though - nicely marbled, perfectly sliced ... this could be a tasty experiment!

I decided for the first run of Korean tacos, we'd go rustic: just kogi, onions, and cilantro in corn tortillas. I thought maybe it could use a tiny bump in both color and spice, so I threw together a quick Korean taco sauce. The result: delicious, simple, satisfying, and a natural melding of two food cultures. This is one trend I'm glad I followed!

Korean Tacos

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 1/8 cup soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced very fine
  • 1 small onion, finely sliced
  • 1/2 pound finely sliced chuck (you can use another cut of beef and slice as thin as possible at home)
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced very thin
  • small corn tortillas
Directions:

  1. Place the first six ingredients in a Ziplock bag, squish around to combine, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but 24 hours is preferable.
  2.  Grill or fry the beef (discarding the marinade, but feel free to cook up any onion slices or garlic chunks you can fish out.) Depending on the thickness of your meat, this could take anywhere from 2 minutes per side to longer, like if you marinated a flank steak.
  3. Warm the tortillas quickly in a dry saute pan over low heat, and top with meat, cilantro and onions. You can give it a squirt of regular hot sauce, or you can try my Korean version:
  • 1/2 teaspoon Korean hot pepper paste (gochujang) or more, if you're brave
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
Whisk the ingredients together and enjoy on your trendy kogi tacos!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Spinach Salad With Sun-dried Tomato Vinaigrette



This recipe came from one of those happy accidents we all sometimes have. Serendipity! (Does anyone remember those books?) I was making a Caesar salad for dinner one night, and I realized I was out of both eggs and anchovy paste! See, I meant it when I said I'm really bad at planning ahead! Anyway, I had half of a vinaigrette made, so I looked in the refrigerator for something to make it pop, worthy of a dinner salad. There, far, far back on the shelf, was a nearly empty jar of sun-dried tomatoes. Hmmm....

I put the ingredients for the dressing I'd already mixed in my food processor and emptied the jar of sun-dried tomatoes. I had about 2 tablespoons of sun-dried tomatoes, and almost a quarter cup of sun-dried tomato-flavored oil. Whiz, whiz, taste - amazing! Tart and tangy, it needed something a little creamy and fatty to offset it. Aha! Avocado and goat cheese! Dinner is done! Et tu Caesar? Who needs ya'?!

Spinach Salad With Sun-dried Tomato Vinaigrette

Ingredients:
  • 1 bag of baby spinach leaves (wash again, no matter what the bag says!)
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 2 oz. soft goat cheese, crumbled
  • cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Vinaigrette:
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves (I use the flowers from my plants too)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • splash of balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, plus as much of the oil as you can get out of the jar
  • olive oil
Directions:

  1. Place the mustard, garlic, herbs and vinegars in your food processor, and process to combine. You want the garlic to be very finely minced and the herbs well broken-down as well. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add the oil from the tomato jar to the food processor. If you need to, supplement with olive oil. Buzz to combine again.
  3. Assemble your salad and dress, or toss well before serving.

To make it a meal, you can add black olives and leftover cooked chicken (come to think of it, grilled shrimp might be good on this too!) Serve with crusty bread and a white or rose wine.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Project: Save the Kales!

The Patient: A large bunch of kale
Status: Critical
Last Ditch Effort: Soup

It was a dark and stormy night .... Just kidding. It was a lovely morning, just before noon. I had my 2 year-old's lunch ready to go, but had nothing for myself. I opened the veggie drawer in the fridge and - eeeeek! That kale was on its last legs. Wilted, shriveled, looking like something that I might not feel too bad throwing out. Except I still saw a little glimmer of hope there, in the form of soup. But what kind?

I rummaged around for something else to go in the soup. Aha! A package of tofu that was 3 days away from hitting its expiration date. This was shaping up into an Asian sort of soup. I found a bottle of Korean soup base in the pantry (a gift from my mother-in-law, which I hadn't tried, so I knew not what it wrought.) This would work. It just needed one more thing, something magical, but I didn't know what it was.

I opened the freezer, fingers crossed for some hidden yummy I'd forgotten about. I opened a plastic grocery bag to find ... dumplings! Hooray! They were Korean mandu (gyoza, in Japanese) and I remembered my mother-in-law giving them to me a month ago. They were filled with ground pork, green onion and ginger - simple, and the perfect companion to my kale and tofu.

This soup was so easy and so tasty! It was also packed full of vitamins (kale is beyond good for you) and protein. The variations on this theme are endless: replace the Korean soup base with miso paste for a Japanese flavor, or switch out the gyoza for frozen ravioli or tortellini and use chicken broth for an Italian soup. Either way, you're eating kale - and that has to be good!

Korean Kale Soup

Ingredients:
  • 1 bunch kale (yours doesn't have to be on death's door like mine was - fresh is fine!)
  • 1 package firm tofu (19 oz. or 10 oz., whatever you have - I used the big size)
  • 1/2 cup Korean soup base (see note)
  • 6 - 8 mandu / gyoza, or more, depending on the size, any flavor (Trader Joe's makes pretty good frozen ones, if you don't have an Asian grocery store, or mother-in-law, nearby)
  • a sprinkle of furikake for garnish
Directions:

  1. Wash the kale, and remove the tough stems. Chop the leaves into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Heat a little oil (I used sesame oil) in a large pot. When hot, add the kale and saute for a few minutes. Add the tofu and saute for another few minutes.
  3. Add approximately 4 cups of water and the liquid soup base. Cover the pot and let cook for 4 minutes at high heat.
  4. Add the mandu, and make sure not too much of your broth has evaporated (add more if you like; I prefer mine a little more stew-y) and put the lid back on. Let cook about 10 minutes, until the mandu are cooked, but not falling apart.
  5. Ladle into a bowl, sprinkle with furikake, and enjoy your kale!

(Note: I would tell you what kind of soup base it is, but it's all in Korean. Like, everything except the ingredients and the words "Korean Soup Base". It seems to consist of soy sauce, sugar, and "seafood extracts", whatever that is. I bet, if you were adventurous, you could recreate the flavor using fish sauce (nam pla), some soy sauce and some sugar.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Randomly French Chicken


One of the best money-saving kitchen skills to learn is how to cut up a whole chicken. Up until 3 months ago, I had never done it. It seemed like too difficult a task, with too little reward. Then I saw an episode of "America's Test Kitchen" on PBS that featured a skillet-roasted chicken recipe (which is delicious, and which will probably end up here later on.) I've posted the link to that video
here because the first four minutes are an excellent tutorial on how to part a chicken. Go ahead and watch it, I'll wait.

... Done? Okay, now you can buy whole chickens, which are always cheaper than those already cut up in the grocery store. What's more, you get what's left of the chicken once you take off the legs and breasts. It may not look like much, but it can be the basis for an entirely new meal! (See the recipe below for "Enchilasagna", and others, to be posted in the future.)

This recipe, which I'm calling "Randomly French Chicken", is an amalgam of a few different recipes. The technique is French, and calls for tomatoes, onions, and olives, as well as either white or red wine for braising the chicken and veggies. There is a lot of wiggle room as far as what else you want to add in. 8 oz. of sliced mushrooms would be great, making for more of a cacciatore approach, while the red peppers I used in this incarnation is more of a Basque presentation. You can add either chopped parsley or basil (like I did) to punch up the flavor a little more. Bon appetit!

Randomly French Chicken

Ingredients:
  • Vegetable oil or butter, or a combination of the two, about 2 tablespoons
  • 1 whole chicken, cut into 2 leg pieces and 2 breast pieces (so you have 4 pieces total)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 - 2 cups red or white wine (I prefer white)
  • 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 14 oz. can of black olives, or about a cup of Kalamata olives, if you have them
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley or basil
Directions:
1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat butter / oil combo over medium heat, and when very hot, add the chicken pieces, skin-side down. This WILL splatter - I suggest a metal splatter guard. Cook for approximately 8 minutes, until browned. Remove from pot to a plate, cover with foil, and set aside.
2. To the pot, add the onion and garlic. Keep them moving so nothing burns. When the garlic starts taking on color, add the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the stuck-on bits of chicken.
3. Add the tomatoes, olives and peppers to the pan, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for a few minutes. Now take the chicken pieces and nestle them in among the veggies, skin-side up. Cover and turn the heat down to medium-low, keeping it at a high simmer.
4. Depending on how hot and conductive your pan is, check on the chicken every 10 minutes, stirring and adjusting the heat as necessary so nothing burns. If it looks too dry, add more wine. After about 30 minutes, using a meat thermometer, check for doneness. The thigh of the chicken should be at least 170F.
5. When your chicken is done, stir in the chopped parsley or basil, check again for seasoning, and serve.

The chicken would do well with rice or noodles to soak up the yummy sauce. This is one of those great recipes that is actually better the next day, so try not to eat it all at once!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer Dinner Salad, Part I

After a big pot of soup, the dinner salad is the easiest way to use up leftovers. Let's say it's Monday and you just got home from work. You open the fridge and see the chunk of flank steak and one ear of grilled corn from your weekend BBQ. You could either take it to work tomorrow and eat it for lunch -- a perfectly acceptable solution, saving you time and money and not wasting any food. But that's kinda boring - it's the exact same thing you ate when you made it the first time. Leftovers DO NOT have to mean repeats!

So what do you do? You make a dinner salad! You're using a fraction of the meat you'd normally need to feed the family (stretching the budget, and let's face it, saving wear and tear on your colon. We could all stand to eat less flesh.) Salads are a great way to use up cooked veggies, meat, eggs, cheese - almost anything can ride a salad and be the better for it.

The keys to making exciting (yes, I said exciting) salads are add-ins and dressing. The add-ins are your leftovers, nuts, raisins, croutons, cheese, herbs, etc. - anything that sits on top of your bed of lettuce. The dressing is what ties your creation all together thematically. The salad pictured above had some Mexican flavors going for it - the flank steak, the grilled corn - so I made a southwestern vinaigrette.

And that's all you need! Summer salads don't get better than this! Serve with whatever bread you have lying around (or mmmmm, cornbread!) or for a heartier meal, fry up some quesadillas. Que sabor!

Southwestern Dinner Salad

Ingredients:
  • 1 bag of salad greens (I like Trader Joe's varieties)
  • 1 piece of leftover beef - flank, steak, whatever, sliced thin, or even a crumbled-up burger
  • 1 ear of grilled corn, kernels cut from the cob
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced very thin
  • 1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, sliced very thin
  • 1/2 can black beans, rinsed well
  • handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Vinaigrette:
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, or 1 teaspoon fresh oregano
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange, lemon or lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
Directions:

  1. Put the cumin seeds in a small pan and toast over medium-low heat. This will take 3 - 5 minutes - just make sure they don't burn. You want them darker and smelling wonderfully and just starting to smoke. Remove from heat. Ideally, grind finely in a mortar and pestle, or if you don't have one, put the cumin in your food processor and buzz until they are as finely ground as you can get them.
  2. Transfer the ground cumin to your food processor and add the oregano and garlic, and buzz again. Add the sugar, salt, juices and vinegars and process again.
  3. Add the olive oil to the food processor and buzz again. Taste for seasoning (more acid? More sugar?) and serve.

Serves two. You can make fancy platings for your salad, but I just lay the lettuce down and throw everything else on top. Other options for add-ins that go well with this dressing are avocado, chopped cilantro, and cotija cheese.

Masala Channa

I love Indian food, but was always too scared to cook it. So complicated! So exotic! So far beyond the skills and ken of this humble white girl! Then for Christmas I received a big Indian cookbook, broadly titled, "The Best-Ever Curry Cookbook." Most of the recipes seemed uncomplicated, but filled with spices I knew were not available to me at my local American grocery concern.

I left the book alone for a few months, but my curiosity grew. I picked the book back up and read through the recipes in earnest, earmarking a few for trial runs. The huge library of spices I'd thought I needed to amass actually wasn't so big. I chose the 10 or so most common ingredients and went shopping ... at India Sweets and Spices, in Los Feliz.

That place was awesome! I have the most fun going to ethnic grocery stores: it's like a field trip, with so many sights, smells and sounds to take in. (Yes, sounds: my two year-old daughter danced to the Bollywood songs in the aisles, cracking up the girl at the cash register.) I purchased enough spices (whole cumin, coriander, mustard, star anise, and cardamom) and basics (canned coconut milk, garam masala curry paste, and tamarind paste) to last for a while, and got out for around $40. Not too shabby!

This recipe does have quite a few ingredients, but once you make that one trip to the spice market, you're set and can make all the rest of the recipes in the book. The recipe for Masala Channa required a lot of spices ... but the rest of the ingredients were not only readily available at the regular grocery store, they were cheap! This was my kind of food!

Masala Channa (tart and spicy chickpeas) are a street food, according to my book. They are served with flat breads like chapatis and parathas. I made them as a side dish, and they went very well with rice. They are nutty and bold, and are nicely offset by a cool raita. The leftovers? They landed on my plate next to fried eggs and toast and made a delicious, different (and distinctly colonial) breakfast!

I made some changes to the recipe for ease of use - I substituted canned chickpeas for dried, since I didn't want to soak overnight and then cook for another 2 hours before I could even start the recipe; and I replaced tamarind concentrate (in a convenient 4 oz. tub) for the tamarind pulp. The recipe below is from my cookbook, but reflects these changes.



Masala Channa
(Recipe courtesy The Best-Ever Curry Cookbook by Mridula Baljekar)

Ingredients:
  • two 14 oz. cans of chickpeas, rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons tamarind concentrate, diluted with 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, grated or minced
  • 1 fresh green chili, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground tumeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped (I used canned)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • chopped chilies and chopped onion, to garnish
Directions:
1. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok, karahi (an Indian-style wok) or large pan and fry the cumin seeds for 2 minutes until they begin to splutter. Add the chopped onion, garlic, ginger and chili and fry for 5 minutes
2. Add the ground cumin, coriander, turmeric and salt and fry for another 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and tamarind paste. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Add the chickpeas and garam masala, cover, and simmer for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on how firm you want the chickpeas. Garnish with chilies and onions.

Note: I didn't have any chilies, so my chickpeas were tart and nicely spiced, but not hot. I'm not really a heat-spicy person anyway, but I'm sure you could crank the Scovilles up on this one if you choose.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Enchilada Casserole or Mexican Lasagna ... Enchilasagna?























I really admire people who plan out their menus for days or even weeks ahead of time. I just can't seem to get that organized. So while others know how many zucchini they'll need for the week, I fly by the seat of my pants, and buy whatever looks good at the farmer's market and grocery store. This is great fun, but of course, it inevitably leads to me looking at single veggies in the crisper drawer, wondering how to make use of everything before it can go bad.

This recipe for an enchilada casserole came from a "perfect storm" in my fridge. I had a chicken carcass that needed attention (I'd used the legs and most of the breasts two days earlier, in my "French Chicken" (recipe to follow later)), some leftover brown rice, four zucchinis, and three ears of corn that were all about to outstay their welcome in the refrigerator. What to do?

Thankfully, ripe summer produce means Mexican food. Tomatoes, zucchini, corn, beans, squash, peppers and herbs are all looking great (and cheap!) at the farmer's market, so I'm sure you can re-create this, or something like it, very easily, where ever you are, this summer. If you want to make it vegetarian, leave out the chicken and add another can of beans - maybe pinto.

Enchilada Casserole / Mexican Lasagna ... Enchilasagna?

Ingredients:
  • 1 red onion, sliced approximately 1/8" thin
  • 3 ears of corn, sliced from the cob (you could use canned, but it won't be as tasty)
  • 4 smallish zucchini, sliced approximately 1/8" thin
  • 1 1/2 or 2 cups cooked rice (I used brown)
  • 3 cups cooked chicken, shredded, from one chicken carcass
  • 1 14-oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 oz. tomato paste
  • 2 cups enchilada sauce (recipe below)
  • 1 36-count bag small corn tortillas
  • 2 or 3 cups shredded cheese (I used mozzarella and jack)

Directions:
1. Cook the carcass in enough salted water to cover. Boil until chicken is cooked through and easy to remove from the bone. Take the chicken out of the pot and place in a bowl to cool. If you are making your own enchilada sauce, reserve two cups of the water for that recipe.
2. While the chicken is cooling, slice your zucchinis and onion thinly. Cut the corn kernels from the cobs, and saute the corn, onion and zukes in a little butter in a very large pan. Salt, and stir occasionally to prevent sticking. You just want the onions to color a little, and the zucchini to give up some moisture.
3. Pour the vegetables from the saute pan into a large bowl. Add the rice, and the can of black beans.
4. Take all the meat off the chicken carcass, shred or chop, and add to the veggies and rice. Add in the tomato paste. Give it all a good stir.
5. Preheat your oven to 350 F. Spray a 9" x 13" baking dish with Pam, then smear a thin layer of enchilada sauce on the bottom of the pan. Cover this layer with tortillas, overlapping as needed. I used seven tortillas per layer - two rows of three, and one cut into quarters, pointy ends in the corners. On top of the tortillas, spread another layer of enchilada sauce, then half the chicken veggie mix, pressing down to cover the tortillas and sauce evenly. Sprinkle with 1/3 of your cheese. Follow with more tortillas, sauce, the rest of the chicken, another 1/3 of your cheese, and finish with tortillas, sauce and the rest of the cheese.
6. Cover with foil and bake for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is melty and everything is hot inside. Remove the foil and bake another 5 minutes.

Makes 6 servings. Goes well with salad and a beer. Garnish with cilantro or sour cream, if you are fancy.

Enchilada Sauce
(Courtesy of Emeril Lagasse)

Ingredients:
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 2 cups chicken stock (I used the water I boiled my chicken in: multi-purposing!)
  • 10 ounces tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
(I also added 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon)

Directions:
1. In a medium saucepan, heat oil, add flour, smoothing and stirring with a wooden spoon. Cook for 1 minute. Add chili powder and cook for 30 seconds.
2. Add stock, tomato paste, oregano, and cumin. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken and smooth out.

This sauce turned out GREAT! Here's the trick: Tomato paste comes in little 6 oz. cans. Use 10 ounces for the enchilada sauce, and you'll have two ounces left over to stir into the chicken and veggies in Step 4 of the Enchilasagna. Cool, right?