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

  • 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
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)

  • 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
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

  • 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

  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'

  • 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)

  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

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

  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

  • 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

  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

  • 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
  • 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

  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.