Friday, December 19, 2008

As The World Turnips

Spicy Braised Turnips with Leeks

Until today, I would have thought of "leftover turnips" as something Harry Potter's relatives would make him eat while he was still living under the stairs, but that's what I have for lunch and, frankly, I'm quite excited by this.

Mom once said that if not for the Irish side of the family, I might never have tasted a turnip. I think this is true for turnips in general; unless you grow up eating them, they will likely remain one of the enigmatic root vegetables you see at the supermarket, but never buy. Indeed, when I brough a turnip up to the register once, the cashier asked "What is this thing?"

As of recently, I had only eaten turnips once a year at Thanksgiving, and they were prepared essentially the same way as mashed potatoes. In cooking, a turnip behaves something like a juicy potato. They're usually pretty mild, but have a unique flavor that holds up under the well-spiced treatment here. While this simple dish was entirely improvised, I got the idea for it from a local Afghani restaurant, to date the only restaurant where I've seen turnips on the menu. It seems that turnips are most often eaten where things in general are pretty rough, but the Irish could have learned a thing or two from the Afghanis. You might have heard more people nowadays saying "Mmm, turnips!"

Spicy Turnips

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp ginger, minced
2 tsp garlic, minced
2-3 leeks, sliced to 1/4"
2-3 turnips, in 1" cubes
1-2 tbsp spice mix*
1 cup vegetable bouillon
2 small pickled lemons, chopped (see post titled "Morocco Love")
2 tsp sugar

Sautee the garlic and ginger in oil briefly, then add the leeks and cook until lightly browned. Add the turnips and cook for 3-5 minutes, until they begin to brown, then add the spices and stir. Add enough bouillion so that the turnips are not quite immersed, and lower the heat. Let cook until the turnips are tender and sauce thickens, probably about 20 minutes. Add sugar to taste if the turnips seem bitter. Serve over rice, preferably basmati or some other nutty, flavorful rice.

*I used something called suya seasoning, which is an African spice mix made with powdered peanuts, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper and salt. You probably have most of these spices in your kitchen even if you can't find an African or Afghani spice mix. You could also use any number of Indian curries, but of course the flavors will be entirely different depending what you use.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Saucy Squash with a Kick

Beef and Peppers with Spaghetti Squash

I often grab lunch at a food co-op manned by my university's most militant vegetarians. Sometimes they come up with something really tasty, but as I ate their variation of this dish, I couldn't help but think "You know what would make this even better? Meat!"

Different recipes will advise you to roast the spaghetti squash for anywhere from 30minutes to an hour. I think 30-40 minutes should be fine for a small squash. Cut it in half, remove the seeds, rub it in oil and turn the halves open-end down on a cookie sheet for roasting. Then scrape out the long, spaghetti-like fibers with a fork. I crumbled some queso fresco, a mild farmer's cheese, over the squash before topping it with the beef and peppers in their rich, spicy tomato sauce.

It would be easy enough to omit the beef and keep things vegetarian. And I also suppose this dish is quite low-carb, though I can't abide by low-carb diets. It's healthy, colorful, and made quite a nice presentation. If you don't count the cookie sheet, it's also a one pot meal, and was ready to eat in under 45 minutes. With all these points to recommend it, I suggest you try making some yourself. Mine didn't even last long enough for me to take a picture once it hit the table.

Beef and Peppers with Spaghetti Squash

1 spaghetti squash (allow 1/2 squash per person)
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, sliced thin
1 lb stir-fry beef, in slices
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp basil
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp sugar (optional)
1 tsp aleppo pepper (or 1/4 tsp cayenne)
1/4 cup queso fresco (or ricotta cheese)

Roast squash for 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees. While the squash is cooking, sautee the garlic in oil until golden brown. Add the peppers and onions and sautee until lightly browned, then add the beef. Let the beef get only slightly brown so as not to overcook it, then add the tomatoes, paste, red wine and other seasonings. Add sugar to taste if needed. Fresh basil will also improve this dish if you have it. Cook the beef until just pink at the center, or until the red wine has cooked into the dish. Once the squash is cooked, it will yield to a fork- the flesh will break into fibers resembling spaghetti. Arrange the flesh on a plate and sprinkle with the cheese, then pour over a generous helping of beef, peppers and sauce.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Guys and Dals

Veggie Garam Masala and Red Lentil Dal

Ok, when I went to look for an image of "garam masala", I came across a Bollywood movie of that name starring these guys:
Hilarious as "Mr. Hot" and "Mr. Cool" might be, the garam masala I was looking for more closely resembles this:

You can get your curry fix at pretty much any South Asian grocer. I mean, if you find an Indian store that doesn't sell curry, I'd wonder what kind of numbers game they were running in the back. While you're at the Indian store, grab some red lentils. These will be very small and orange in the package, and will turn yellow when cooked. I made a "Stoplight Curry" a few months back with these.

I have 3-4 kinds of curry powder in my cabinet, and some are better for certain things. There's one for channa masala (chick pea curry), a "Korma" blend (great in yogurt-based curry), a "Meat" blend I use for lamb, and one called "Brain Masala", which I have never sprinkled on actual brains but really like for all other purposes. Garam masala is a classic Indian curry flavor that is warm and satisfying without being hot, though you can make it so if you wish. I've bought curry mixes powdered and in jars, and both are pretty good, though you'll want to check how concentrated and spicy either one is before using.

Veggie Garam Masala

1/4 cup oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1/2 sweet onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow squash, sliced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup red kidney beans
1 tbsp garam masala curry powder or paste
1/2 cup lowfat plain yogurt
1 fistful shredded basil
Salt (to taste)
Black pepper (to taste)

Sautee your garlic and ginger in the oil briefly, then add the onions and cook until lightly browned. Add the peppers and cook togther until lightly browned. Add the squash, kidney beans tomatoes and curry powder, then stir to incorporate flavors. Cook together until squash is tender, then add the yogurt, and throw in the basil at the very end. Adjust flavorings with salt and pepper as desired. You might also like to add a splash of lime juice just before serving.

Red Lentil Dal

2 tbsp oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1 cup red lentils
1 tbsp curry powder (I used my "brain masala" here)
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp amchur powder (made from powdered green mangoes)

In a small pot, sautee the garlic and ginger in oil briefly, then add the dry lentils and stir together in the pan for a minute. Then add the stock and curry powder and bring to a boil. Lower heat to lowest setting and let lentils cook, stirring occasionally. If more liquid is required to cook the lentils, add it. Red lentils turn yellow and become very soft the longer they cook, and are great served over rice.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Korean for Barbarians

Jap Chae

I first encountered Jap Chae at a little hippie food joint near my college. This is a Korean noodle dish made with beef, mushrooms and vegetables in a light but flavorful sauce, often served over rice. It was delicious. Unfortunately, most of the other stuff on the menu tasted like wood, and before too long the place went out of business. So I had to learn to make Jap Chae myself.

The noodles used in Jap Chae are made from sweet potatoes. They're translucent green when uncooked, and transparent when done, so they are often called "glass noodles" in English. The texture is similar to rice noodles, but their greater elasticity gives them a nice bounciness and lets them hold up better in this dish. As for the mushrooms, I like this best using a combination of "tree ears" (which need to be rehydrated by boiling) and shiitake mushrooms sliced very, very thin. I've also used canned straw mushrooms and regular button mushrooms.

You can add carrots, snap peas, or other vegetables if you like- it will still be delicious. The recipe I've posted actually isn't based on any traditional Korean preparation at all, but it does make something that tastes pretty much exactly like the Jap Chae I remember. Authentic or not, Korean food as prepared by Western barbarian hippies can still be damn tasty.

Ingredient of the Day: Tree Ears
Tree ears are a type of mushroom used in many Asian countries. They have a mild smoky flavor and a slightly snappy texture. You have almost certainly seen them before if you've ever eaten hot & sour soup in a Chinese restaurant. It's easiest to find them dehydrated, and you'll need to boil them for a few minutes before use. I also recommend examining them once cooked; sometimes the centers are slightly woody and should be cut out, but overall they are easy to use and add visual and textural interest to your dishes.

Jap Chae

2 tbsp cooking oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1 onion, sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, sliced thin
1/4 cup mushrooms of your choice (see above)
1 lb stir-fry beef, cut into thin strips
1/4 cup Soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp kecap manis (thick, sweet soy sauce- *optional)
2 tsp black pepper
*1 tbsp gochujang (spicy Korean pepper paste- *optional)
3-4 scallions, cut to 1" lengths
1/4 cup basil, shredded
2 'bundles Sweet potato noodles, cooked

Start your water boiling- this dish cooks fast once all your ingredients are lined up. In a deep skillet, sautee garlic and ginger in oil to release flavors, then add onions and stir-fry until lightly brown. Add the pepper and sautee until lightly browned, then add the beef and mushrooms and stir together briefly. Add seasonings and stir until incorporated; there should be enough liquid in the pan to make a light sauce. Put the basil and scallions in last, just before the noodles. The noodles should cook in about 5-8 minutes, but sample a noodle to test that they're cooked all the way through. Remove noodles and drain, then add them to the skillet and stir together until the brown sauce covers everything. Depending on how saucy and veggie-intensive you made this dish, you may want to serve it over rice.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Accidental Vegan; Squash, Squash and More Squash

Butternut Squash Soup, Roasted Acorn Squash with Miso Glaze, and Tofu Zucchini Stir-Fry with Edamame

I have a boyfriend who, bless his heart, eats his vegetables. Thankfully, he does not suffer from the all-too-common affliction of "Bachelorexia", caused by existing on a diet of hot dogs, Easy Mac and Mountain Dew and characterized by a persistent pallor and distracted, vacant expression. My fine fellow eats his veggies and likes them! He likes them even better when they're handed to him, on a plate and tastily prepared.

So with an autumn chill creeping into the air, we both found ourselves with a hankering for squash. I recently developed a scrumptious (and unbelievably easy) butternut squash soup, which goes fantastically well with toasted sourdough. I also roasted some acorn squash in a miso glaze, and sliced up a zucchini (also a squash) for tofu stir fry with edamame.

When my beau arrived, he was astounded at the preponderance of squash. I thought briefly about it, and realized that I had cooked a three-course meal that was inadvertantly completely vegan. I am not a vegan, but I have to admit I learned a lot the summer in college when I lived and cooked with a bunch of them. Little tricks, like adding toasted nuts to pilaf, make things so much tastier, even if you serve them alongside some prime rib. Oh, and I'll need to remember to post a recipe for the Indian squash curry (also, as luck would have it, suitable for vegans) I made last night. Yum...

Butternut Squash Soup

1 package frozen pureed squash
2 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup cooking sherry
2-3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper

Heat the vegetable stock in a pot, then add the frozen squash and let it defrost. Once it has thawed completely, add the sherry, brown sugar (depending on how sweet you'd like it), and the seasonings. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer and let cook for 5-10 minutes. Turn the heat off for 5 minutes before serving. If soup is too thick, add a little extra stock as necessary.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Miso Glaze

1 acorn squash, cut into 1" slices
2 tsp miso paste
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oil

Mix the seasonings together and rub all over the slices of acorn squash. Place them on an oiled cookie sheet and roast in the oven at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure they are not burning. Squash is cooked if it yields easily when poked with a fork. You can add sugar or other seasonings to the glaze, but I find the natural sweetness of the squash to be enough. *Actually, I just learned that what I used was called a "Carnival Squash". Whatever- you could do this with just about anything you can roast.

Tofu Zucchini Stir-Fry with Edamame

2 tbsp oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1/2 onion, sliced thin
1 zucchini, sliced in half-circles
1 cup frozen edamame (steamed soy beans)
1 block tofu, cubed
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 tbsp brown sugar
Rice vinegar (to taste)
Sesame oil (to taste)
Black pepper
2-3 scallions, chopped

In a skillet, sautee the garlic and ginger briefly in the oil, then add the onions. Cook until lightly browned, then add the zucchini. Add the tofu and seasonings, and mix well. Add the frozen edamame, and cook until thawed and heated through. Adjust seasonings to taste, adding vinegar, sugar or pepper as you prefer. Top with the scallions and serve over rice.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Beef AND Bacon?? Oh Frabjous Day!

Beef Carbonade
There were some things my mom would cook when I was growing up that were special. The day would seem a little warmer, a little brighter. The smells wafting from the kitchen would carry you up the stairs. Steak Pizzaiola and Eggplant Patties would make you go farther and work harder.

But Beef Carbonade would make you its slave.

This is a rich, hearty stew that starts and ends with bacon. In between, you have lots and lots of onions cooked into a bottle of dark beer (the darker and sweeter the better) until they practically melt. The delicious juice makes this dish best served over rice. You can cook this in a standard pot for about 2 hours, or do what mom did: use a pressure cooker. Under pressure, the beef will be fall-apart tender in about 25 minutes. You can add carrots, as one roommate suggested, but remember they will change the sweet/savory balance.

I've used dark beers from Eastern Europe like Baltika 6 and Okocim. The Eastern European beers also come in larger bottles, so "1 bottle" here might mean 1.5 standard American 12 oz. bottles. There's no need to hunt down a specific brew, but a quality porter that's a little sweet and not bitter can improve this stew 100%. However, I would not recommend using Guinness, which I thought overwhelmed the other flavors.

Beef Carbonade

2 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 slices bacon
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb. stew beef, cubed
3 large sweet onions, sliced thin
1 bottle dark beer
1-2 cups beef broth
1 bay leaf
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
Black pepper to taste
Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a deep pot and cook the bacon until crisp, then remove the bacon and set it aside. Add your garlic and meat, and cook until slightly browned (this makes what the French call "fond", the rich meaty flavor you get from browning meat). Add the onions and cook together until lightly browned. Add the beer, beef broth, and seasonings except salt and bring to a boil while stirring. Lower heat, cover the pot and let it simmer for at least half an hour. Cook for 1-2 hours or until beef is fall-apart tender. When cooking is almost done, taste the stew to determine whether or not it needs more salt or other seasonings adjusted. Black pepper is also best added at the end. Just before serving, crumble the bacon and stir it back into the stew. Serve over Jasmine or brown rice.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Curry Fever

Thai Yellow Curry with Chicken

This is a can of Maesri curry paste:

This is a can of coconut milk:

Mix them together with chicken and vegetables, and you have a curry as good as you will get in most Thai restaurants. You may also consider adding some lime juice, cilantro and lemongrass, but even if you just stick with the cans, it's a quick and satisfying meal. Maesri curry paste comes in several flavors, including yellow, green, red, panang, masaman, karee, etc...take your pick. It typically costs less than a dollar, and is strong enough to get two or three meals out of a can. Pack the leftover paste in a piece of plastic wrap and freeze for a later date.

When you buy coconut milk, shake the can- you should be able to tell how thick it is by the sound. Of course, you can be a pansy and buy the reduced-fat version, but only if you like watery curry. I prefer to cut corners elsewhere, thank you very much. And do not use the coconut stuff that goes into a pina colada, since it is heavily sweetened and not the same thing as regular coconut milk.

Chicken Curry With Vegetables

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 clove garlic
1 small onion, sliced
1 red pepper
1 zucchini, sliced in half-circles
1 6 oz. can bamboo shoots
1 12 oz. can straw mushrooms
1-2 tbsp. curry paste
1 12 oz. can coconut milk
splash of lime juice
fresh cilantro (if desired)
Salt (if desired)

Sautee the garlic and onions in oil on medium high heat until brown. Add the zucchini and brown lightly. Add the chicken and allow it to get a little brown if possible. Then add your bamboo shoots, mushrooms and curry paste, and pour in the coconut milk. Stir well to distribute curry paste, adding a little water if the consistency is too thick. Cook ingredients together until chicken is just about done, then add the red peppers and stir. Add the lime juice and cilantro at the end if you like. Personally, I didn't think this needed salt, but you may respectfully disagree. Serve with jasmine rice to soak up all the lovely curry liquid.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Roast Beast (Beast = Chicken)

Oven-Roasted Chicken

I have passed another culinary milestone this weekend by roasting my first chicken. There is something uniquely satisfying in having successfully roasted a whole animal. I'll be moving up to roasting camels shortly.

This basic recipe, which I adapted from various versions, worked extremely well with a 3 1/2 lb chicken. That's pretty small, enough for 2-3 people. If you use a bigger chicken, add 20 minutes of cooking time for each pound of meat. This was a standard, pre-packed Perdue bird, with the gizzards and whatnot cleaned out and packed inside. You can use those bits to make a nice gravy, but I didn't have time. I felt slightly bad wasting them. I swear I'll use every part of the buffalo if I ever roast one.

I seasoned my dainty little capon with a combination of Turkish seasonings, though the next time I roast a chicken, I'll experiment with different flavorings. I have some Jamaican jerk seasoning that seems promising. *Note to healthy chefs: if you must remove the skin, do it after the chicken is roasted. The skin keeps the rest from drying out. You can even season under the skin by making a few little cuts and sticking in some slices of garlic, so that you're not stripping the flavor away when you peel your poultry.

Oven-Roasted Chicken

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour 20 minutes

1 chicken (3.5 lbs)
2 tbsp lemon juice
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp seasoning of choice
1 small onion, quartered

Clear the bag with the innards out of the chicken and rinse inside and out, then pat dry all over. Rub the lemon juice and olive oil all over the bird, inside and out, making sure all surfaces are covered. Sprinkle your seasoning on and rub in evenly. Stuff the body cavity with the quartered onions and close over the opening. Tie the chicken's legs together tightly with cotton twine. You can wrap and leave the chicken for a few hours at this point, but try not to leave it for more than six (remember- acids like lemon juice "cook" things and change their texture).

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees, and place your chicken in a roasting dish, on a rack if you like. Cook the chicken at 450 degrees for 20 minutes (this will seal in the juices), then lower the heat to 350 degrees and let it cook for one hour. Mine was juicy and tender, but definitely cooked all the way after this treatment. The skin had a nice crispness to it, and was extra-yummy from the seasonings. I'm looking forward to trying this again when I can cook at a leisurely pace.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tom Turkey Goes to Thailand

Thai Turkey Burgers with Peanut Sauce

The first time I had a barbecue at my own place, I knew that our guests would run the gamut from true carnivores to virtual vegans. Hamburgers and Gardenburgers cover the extreme ends of that spectrum, but in the middle you typically find that most maligned of patties: the turkey burger.

Subject a lean meat like turkey to your average grill and you get a nearly inedible disk of dessicated poultry. The solution for turkey burgers is similar to the one with meatloaf; you need to put other things in it to keep the moisture in and lighten it up. I came up with this Thai-inspired mix of Asian vegetables to add to your ground turkey, which hold up quite well. I no longer have a grill, but these are also excellent when pan-cooked. The peanut sauce also gives it a nice kick. Apparently, someone agreed- at the end of that barbecue, there were plenty of hamburgers left over, but every single turkey burger had been devoured.

Thai Turkey Burgers

1 lb ground turkey
1 8 oz can bamboo shoots, minced
1 8 oz can water chestnuts, minced
3-4 shiitake mushrooms, minced
2 eggs (minus 1 yolk)
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp kecap manis
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp Thai seasoning (try Penzey's Satay Seasoning)
1 tsp black sesame seeds (optional)

Whirl the bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and shiitake mushrooms in a food processor (or mince very small), then add to the turkey. Add the eggs, bread crumbs and seasonings. Mix well with your hands until everything is thoroughly incorporated. If the mix seems too wet, add more bread crumbs until it reaches a consistency where you can form it into patties. Throw them on the grill or into a pan and cook just until firm.

Thai Peanut Sauce

2 tbsp peanut butter
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp lime juice
1 tsp sesame paste (optional)
1 tsp Thai seasoning (try Penzey's Bangkok Blend)
Water to achieve proper consistency

Mix all of these ingredients in a small microwave-safe bowl and heat for 20 seconds. Stir ingredients together vigorously. Too thin? Add peanut butter. Too thick? Add a little water at a time to create a thick (but not paste-like) sauce for your burgers.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mama Mia!

Unexpectedly Delicious Tomato Sauce

I've been meaning to post a tomato sauce recipe for some time. According to commercials for Ragu, Italian families hand down a time-honored recipe from mother to daughter for generations, the methods and flavors of the past preserved and enriched with loving care. This is soooo not the case with my family. My grandmother made a tangy, relatively thin sauce, while my mother prefers hers to be thick and sweet. Since it's clear I am not going to break my poor mother's heart by experimenting saucewise, I like diced tomatoes in mine.

A while back, there was a commercial on TV where this Italian family was so excited about Kraft Italian dressing, they got up and danced the tarantella around the dining room table. For some reason, that never happened at our house...

While roasting some sausage a few weeks ago, I discovered just how incredible broiled tomatoes can be. These were farm-fresh sweeties from (where else?) the farmer's market. Roasting brought out their sugars and mellowed them wonderfully. I had a few this week that were a bit past their prime as a salad ingredient, so I roasted them up and made a sauce. I put it over store-bought, shelf-stable gnocchi and, God, was it good.

Ingredient of the Day: Vidalia Onions
These onions are grown in Georgia, and are significantly sweeter than your standard white or yellow onion, and have a milder flavor than even most sweet onions. Use a sweet onion here, especially if you like a sweeter sauce.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

2-3 tomatoes, in wedges
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 Vidalia onion, diced
1 small can tomato puree
1/3 cup white wine
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp dry parsely
lots of fresh basil, shredded
salt (to taste)
pepper (as desired)
sugar (if your tomatoes suck)

Spread some olive oil in the bottom of a metal roasting pan, arrange the tomato wedges skin side down, and broil for 5 minutes, or just until you see brown at their edges. While that's going on, sautee your garlic and onions in a little olive oil until browned. Once that happens, add the roasted tomatoes, the small can of sauce, and the white wine. Simmer and stir, adding the balsamic vinegar, parsely, salt and pepper as desired. Throw in the basil last, and stir in well. Only add the sugar if the tomatoes and onion aren't sufficiently sweet, unless you plan on using this sauce as a dessert topping.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cool Beets, Tasty Bud

Quail Eggs, Golden Beet Bruschetta and Fried Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

Hey- it's been a while. But I'm back, and the farmer's markets are in full swing, bringing things to my fridge the likes of which I have never seen. Today, I'm posting three appetizers I've discovered in the past few weeks. They involve some interesting specialty ingredients: quail eggs, golden beets and zucchini blossoms. If you are lucky enough to come across these things, here's what you can do with them...

Quail Eggs

"I don't even know what a quail is!"
-The Wedding Crashers

You may get your guests to say "Ooh, how dainty!" by serving these. Honestly, they're just little tiny eggs- nothing special except that they're kind of cute in a bite-sized way. They also make a simple but impressive appetizer, and cook up like any other egg, just faster. Place the itty bitty eggs in a good, solid pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and boil for two minutes. Turn the heat off and leave them there for another 3-4 minutes, then rinse in cold water. Peeling quail eggs is a fairly delicate operation, but the thin shells are more likely to come off in one piece than a chicken eggshell. I served mine with a tiny dish of seasoned salt and some toothpicks.

Golden Beet Bruschetta

A golden beet is just a variety of beet that isn't red inside. This eliminates one of the main hassels of preparing beets- dealing with the juice that stains everything it touches. I roasted my beets for 20 minutes, chopped, marinated and chilled them for a refreshing and colorful treat on crusty bread.

3-4 golden beets, roasted and diced
1 tomato, diced
1 tbsp. scallion, sliced into thin rings
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
salt (to taste)
black pepper
fresh basil, shredded

Prepare beets and marinate in dressing and seasonings, adding tomato and scallion just before serving. Mix well, and heap onto thin slices of crusty bread.

Fried Zucchini Blossoms Stuffed with Fontina Cheese

Now here's a fancy little dish. Notice how I hardly fry anything, and how I'm making an exception here. Really, there is no other way to appreciate the delicate zucchini blossom.

6 zucchini blossoms
1/4 cup shredded Fontina cheese
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup water
2 cups vegetable oil (for frying)

These orange, trumpet-like flowers should be gently washed and patted dry. Then you can stuff them (not too much) with a little cheese and twist the ends closed. Dip them in a mix of the flour and water, and fry them till golden. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and serve quickly.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Turkish Delights

Beef Kofta, Veggie Couscous and Salad with Strawberry Vinaigrette

It is hottt. Hot with, like, nine "t"s. I wanted some tasty summer food. Conveniently, my roommate went berry picking and I returned home to find her sorting through a huge pile of strawberries. I also visited the Persian store recently, and picked up a new ingredient...

Ingredient of the Day: Sumac

Sumac is a popular seasoning in Middle Eastern cuisine. It's made from the crushed dried berries of a tree, and has a pleasant tanginess with a hint of fruitiness that works especially well with ground meats. If you eat at a kebab restaurant, you might find a jar of it on the table. I like it on my couscous, too. Do try to find it at an ethnic grocer, where I got 3 oz for $1.79, as opposed to the fancy herb catalogue that sold a .5 oz jar for nearly four bucks.

Broiled Beef Kofta

1 lb ground beef
2 egg whites
3 shallots, chopped
1 tbsp sumac
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp paprika
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper

Mix meat and seasonings, then roll into cylinders about the size of a sausage and place on a rack inside a metal pan. Broil for 10-12 minutes, turning at intervals to get all sides browned.

Veggie Couscous

1 tsp garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
1 carrot, chopped
1 yellow squash, chopped
1 cup couscous
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
Pepper (black, or Aleppo pepper)
2 tbsp lemon juice

Sautee garlic and chopped veggies in oil until lightly browned. Add couscous, broth and seasonings, lower heat to lowest setting and cover, cooking for 5 minutes. Add black pepper and lemon juice at the end when couscous is cooked. Stir and fluff before serving.

Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette

3-4 strawberries, chopped
2-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp fresh black pepper

I poured this over my salad, and then found I liked it on the meat even better. It's best if you can use a sweet, thick brand of balsamic. If yours does not fit that description, add a teaspoon of sugar to the mix.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Steak? Is It My Birthday?

How To Broil A Steak

Steak! For me? You shouldn't have! A good steak is the perfect treat for all carnivores, both boys and girls. I don't eat a ton of steak in real life, but it's remarkably easy to broil one at home and save on nights at the Outback. Even better, a steak is many peoples' idea of the perfect reward, a meal for celebration. As a food, it is a form of foreplay in and of itself. Now put on your sexy underpants and go find your broiler...

Examine your oven for a moment. The broiler is most likely in a drawer at the bottom. You might have been using it to store things, but today you will use it for steak. Steak always comes first. If there is no drawer, you may have the type of oven where you need to shift the oven rack to the topmost notch to broil food. Some ovens do not have a "broil" setting. In that case, go find a flame thrower. Just kidding. Don't do that. If your oven can't broil, I'll post a "pan-seared" steak recipe for you soon.

I won't go into extensive descriptions of cuts of beef. Personally, I like a good boneless sirloin, which is particularly flavorful. Porterhouse steaks are extremely popular, too. I'm sure some obsessive steakaholic will read this and say "oooh! you can't cook a (insert cut) like that!" But I have, and it came out at least as well as the steak I ordered at the fancy steak place, so you can take a walk, Mr. Fancy Steak Man.

First you should marinate your steak for at least an hour. All marinades should contain an oil, an acid (lemon, vinegar) and a sugar (sugar, molasses, kecap manis). They actually "cook" your meat a little, so in my opinion there is little to be gained by marinating things forever unless a recipe calls for it.
Here's a yummy marinade for your steak:
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp coarse mustard
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
Let your steak soak for a bit, turning it over to make sure the marinade covers all surfaces. It's a good idea to marinate in the fridge, but let the meat reach room temperature before cooking. Get out a solid metal pan (make sure it fits in the broiler!!), and a rack. Your broiler may have come with a special broiler pan with a slotted surface over a base. Once your steak is ready for cooking, set the oven to "broil". Cook the steak for 5 minutes on one side, then get your meat fork and flip it over, cooking the other side for 5 minutes. This will get your steak somewhere between rare and medium-rare. If you're looking to become an obsessive fancy steak man, get yourself a meat thermometer. If you like a well-done steak, cook it for 2-3 minutes more, but don't overdo it. The broiler is powerful. Respect.

If the steak is cooked to your satisfaction, I recommend mashed potatoes and steamed green beans. Enjoy the rest of your evening...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ecclectic and Organic

Eggs with Pickled Tomatoes and Beet Greens

First of all- check it! I have photos of my own food today! This is partly because this is one dish I was neeeever going to find an image of elsewhere. Also, I ususally neglect to take pictures of anything I cook before I bolt it down like something on "Animal Planet".

I have just turned in my last paper this semester, and discovered another farmers' market. Thus I have had a most satisfying day and a most interesting dinner. Among the things I picked up at the market were some beets and some pickled tomatoes. The guys who sold the pickles said "try them with scrambled eggs". And so I did.

Beets are a favorite of mine, but today instead of making more borscht, I decided to concentrate on the upper half of the plant. Beet greens are difficult to come by fresh, and these looked great. They're fairly mild and quite attractive as vegetables go, and you can prepare them much as you would kale or collards. If you're not in the habit of preparing kale or collards, the recipe below should help.

I realize how foreign the idea of a pickled green tomato may seem at first, but if you're fond of pickled anything, you'll probably like them. And if you like eggs with salsa, you'll probably like this recipe. Pickled tomatoes are also popular in Eastern Europe. If they're a bit too tart, slice them and rinse them off before scrambling them in.

Beet Greens
1 strip bacon
1/2 onion
1 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch beet greens
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar
Black pepper
Red pepper, if you like

Cook the bacon in the olive oil until crisp, then remove. Sautee the onion until it begins to brown, then toss in the beet greens and the water. Add the brown sugar, vinegar and other seasonings and stir. Cover and let cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until greens are tender.

Eggs with Pickled Tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
2-3 eggs (or however many you want)
2 tbsp milk
2 pickled tomatoes, sliced into thin rounds
1 tbsp fresh cilantro

Mix the eggs together well with the seasonings and milk. In a pan on medium heat, scramble in the in the cilantro and the tomatoes as the eggs cook. Serve with your beets.

Monday, May 19, 2008

In Soviet Russia, Food Eats You!

Pelmini and Borscht

Yes, comrades, I was a Russian major. I spent a semester abroad in St. Petersburg, and highly recommend you visit sometime. Unfortunately, it seems one has to be especially motivated and well-heeled to get there (damn visa fees and airfare!) In the meantime, you can cook Russian food, put on Swan Lake, and drink vodka until that Kandinsky poster no longer seems abstract.

Russian food is wonderfully fortifying, as it should be in any country where the temperature dips to -40 on a regular basis. Among classic Russian fare are dumplings called pelmini. Pelmini are traditionally filled with veal ("Siberian pelmini"), cooked in broth and served with sour cream, vinegar and fresh dill. They often look a lot like tortellini; I made mine with wonton skins from Safeway. Yes, Pavel, I know it's not totally authentic. Neither is the goulash seasoning.

Another staple of Russian cuisine is borscht. Russians begin most meals with soup, which is thought to be good digestive practice. The wimpy borscht you see in supermarkets bears no resemblance to the incredibly hearty and wildly diverse soups that call themselves borscht in Russia. Sometimes borscht was a rich, tomato-based stew, sometimes it had beans, sometimes meat, sometimes cabbage, and often a little bit of everything. Borscht strikes me as the best reflection of Russian cuisine and history; it pays to be flexible, because when it hits -40, everything goes into the pot.

Siberski Pelmini
1 lb ground veal
1 package wonton skins
1-2 egg whites, for sealing skins
1 chopped shallot
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
1 tbsp Russian seasoning/goulash seasoning
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
Mix the veal, seasonings, shallot and dill together thoroughly. Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the middle of a wonton skin, rub the edges with egg white, and fold it into a triangle, sealing it all the way around and pressing out as much of the air as possible without squishing the filling out. Pull the corners of the triangle back and press them together, using a little egg white to make them stick. Mine weren't gorgeous, but they'll be edible. You can freeze them on a cookie sheet, then wrap them well and use them later, or toss them straight into boiling water. Boil them for about 10 minutes; when they float to the surface, they should be done.

1 lb cubed beef
1 onion, sliced
1 beet, chopped
1 potato, diced
4-5 cups beef broth
1 can tomato sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
Splash apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
Sour cream to garnish

Brown your beef in a deep pot, then add the onions, potatoes and beets. Cook together for 2-3 minutes, then add the broth, tomato sauce, lemon juice and other seasonings. You can also add beans, cabbage, carrots or any other vegetables you like. Borscht can simmer for several hours and will only get better, but sometimes I rush it and just eat it when the beef is cooked. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and some more fresh dill.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Lovely Eggs

Organically Delicious/Japanese Bachelor Food

I'm not rich, but I'm willing to shell out my dough at the farmer's market whenever I get a chance. Why? Because for an extra dollar or two, eating locally-grown food makes me feel like a million bucks. Not just because I'm doing something socially responsible. (If only all responsibility tasted so delicious.) These foods taste better, stay fresh longer and are actually healthier than conventional varieties.

Case in point: I bought my first dozen pasture-raised eggs this weekend. I've been paying for organic or cage-free eggs for a while, but these came fresh from a farm only a few miles from where I live in Maryland. The shells are different colors because the chickens don't eat some homogenous paste all their lives. The yolks are an intense, deep yellow. And just as I suspected, they are damn tasty. The lady farmer who sold them even had a lab analysis posted showing that these eggs had more vitamins and less cholesterol than supermarket eggs. When I asked her if that was for real, the farmer's answer was interrupted by the badge-toting NIH food scientist standing behind me who assured us that it is absolutely true.
I was so anxious to try my fancy new eggs I ran home and made katsu don.
Katsu don was introduced to me by my friends John and Alex, who were sharing a weird, boxcar-like bachelor apartment near campus for the summer and fending for themselves foodwise. It's real Japanese college kid food, and it's as easy as pie. Er, actually it's a lot easier than pie. Maybe I should start saying "easy as katsu don".
Katsu Don
1 serving of rice
2-3 eggs (depending how hungry you are)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
few drops sesame oil
shredded dried seaweed to garnish

Start cooking your rice in a pot or rice cooker. When it has 5 minutes or so left to cook, sprinkle the rice with vinegar, crack your eggs over the top and close the lid again. When the rice and eggs are cooked, add the soy sauce, sesame oil and seaweed (if you're into seaweed- I know I am.) Eat it with your feet up on the coffee table while watching sports.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Rhapsody on a Meatloaf

Asian Mini Meatloaves

Ahh, meatloaf- that most indefinable of foods. You can put damn near anything in a meatloaf. Sadly, for most of us, meatloaf brings to mind public school mystery meat, frozen Salisburg steak TV dinners, and the unfortunate slab of greyish animal product you ordered at the Cracker Barrel on last year's vacation. All too often it leaves you feeling as though you just ate an anvil. Alas, poor doesn't have to be this way.

How does one keep a meatloaf from turning into an inedible brick'o'meat? The trick, as I learned from my mother, is to put things besides meat in your loaf. She mixes in a healthy dose of bread crumbs for hers, which are not only edible but quite tasty. Adjusting the seasonings, she makes an Amercian-style meatloaf with Worcestershire sauce and beef gravy, or an Italian variation topped with tomato sauce, like an enormous oblong meatball. Mmm...oblong meatball...

Being that I'm all young and rebellious and whatnot, I said "Why not put other things- craaazy things- in the meatloaf?" Crazy things like water chestnuts, shiitake mushrooms and bamboo shoots. And why not instead of one big loaf make smaller, personal sized loaves? Woo! You can't stop me, mom! I'm outta control!!!

Asian Mini Meatloaves

1 lb ground beef

1 small can water chestnuts, chopped

1 small can bamboo shoots, chopped

2 eggs (take out yolks if you're health-conscious)

1/3 cup shiitake mushrooms, chopped

1 tbsp shallot

2 tbsp scallion

1 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp kecap manis

1 tbsp rice vinegar

2 tsp sesame oil

2 tsp black sesame seeds

2 tsp black pepper

1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns

Preheat oven to 375. Whirl the vegetables in a food processor, or chop very fine. Mix together with seasonings, add meat and egg and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Roll into softball-sized loaves and arrange on a cookie sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until done. Serve with steamed vegetables and rice.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Pasta with Stuff

Mom's Emergency Pasta

When I was a kid, my mom prided herself on getting a good, fast meal on the table, even when there was little to nothing fresh in the house. This pasta dish was an invention of hers, though I'm sure it has some "official" counterpart in the culinary lexica. We could always count on having an onion, some pasta, a chicken cutlet and a jar of artichoke hearts around, but it was greatly improved with the addition of sun-dried or fresh tomatoes and red bell peppers. As I ate this with some frequency growing up, it is definitely my idea of comfort food. And for comfort food, it's pretty damn healthy. To be even more virtuous, and to add a touch of green on the side, I served this with steamed asparagus doused in a simple vinaigrette .

Ingredient of the Day: Artichoke Hearts

Man, I love me some artichoke hearts. They can make a boring dish interesting with zero effort. Mom usually bought the small glass jars of them marinated in seasonings, but the plain canned variety might be best for making dip. Some people don't like artichoke hearts because the ends are occasionally woody. If the pieces look smaller in the jar, they're less likely to have tough bits. If you're really obsessive, you can of course check them before you dump them in your food.

Mom's Emergency Pasta
1/2 lb pasta
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp. garlic, chopped
1/2 onion, sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 chicken breasts, sliced into strips
2 fresh medium tomatoes, diced
1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts, with marinade
1/2 cup white wine
Splash of lemon juice
Dash of sugar
Salt, pepper, basil, parsely

While water for pasta heats up, sautee the garlic until brown, then add onions and sautee until browned. Add red pepper and sautee until slightly browned, then add chicken. Let the chicken get a little brown, then add the tomatoes and artichoke hearts, and the white wine. Season with lemon juice, and seasonings to taste. Add the sugar if your tomatoes weren't very sweet, or if you'd like to soften the overall tanginess. You can also add a little balsamic vinegar, if you like. Once your pasta is cooked (but not overcooked) strain it and mix it into the pan over low heat, and let the flavors incorporate a bit. I like mine sprinkled with grated parmesean cheese. Mmm...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dok Bok Something

Dok Bok Ki

Or dok bokki. Or duk bok ki. Or toppoki. This Korean dish eludes my ability to spell or pronounce it, as do most things in Korean. Given that I've gotten complements on my Russian pronunciation, I feel like Korean should be within my verbal grasp. But whenever I asked a Korean friend in college about the proper way to say something, I would inevitably butcher it over and over. I was eventually given a look of disgust that translated as "Your thick barbarian tongue will never speak Korean!"

Well, fine. But I can still make dok bok ki.

If you can find a Korean grocery store, you can probably find all the things you need to make dok bok ki. The dok (or was it the bok?) are thick rice noodles, more like rice cakes, which have a nice bouncy, chewy consistency when cooked. Some dok are shaped like little cylinders, and another variety is a disk cut on a bias. Occasionally, you may find tricolor dok, in which the pink and green cakes traditionally are flavored with beet juice and mugwort respectively. The cooked noodles are mixed with spicy red pepper sauce called gochujang. Depending on what variety you get, the spiciness may range from fairly mild to tearjerkingly hot. Mix the sauce up with some veggies and you're good to go(chujang). Steam some baby bok choy and you can have Dok and Bok!! [Insert paleface barbarian laughter here.]

Dok Bok Ki
2 cups dok
Enough chicken broth to cook dok
2 tbsp oil
2 tsp garlic
1/4 cup gochujang
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 onion, sliced
1 cup tofu, cubed
1/2 cup bamboo shoots
1 cup baby corn
1 cup spinach
Handful of chopped basil
Chopped fresh scallion

Boil the noodles in broth until soft enough to chew- don't overdo it, and make sure to save some of the broth. Sautee garlic in oil until brown, add the onions and cook till golden, then add the tofu, vegetables and the gochujang, and dilute it with some soy sauce, vinegar and a little of the broth from the noodles. Then add the noodles and stir together, letting the dok soak up some of the sauce. The consistency should be light and saucy enough to avoid being clumpy. Sprinkle in some fresh basil and stir, then top with the chopped scallion. Bok appetit.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Morocco Love

Lemon Olive Chicken Tagine

This is a tagine:
"Tagine" also refers to the wonderful aromatic stews one typically makes in it. I do not own such a clay pot, and am not sure how I would use it if I did. Fortunately, you can make tagine the stew about as well in a lidded skillet. I'm not inclined to believe a piece of cookware has any mysterious powers, especially since I saw that the All-Clad company makes a non-stick tagine. I'm sure non-stick tagines are all the rage among housewives in Fez.
Anyway, I made this recipe last night and it is phenomenal. It isn't often that I impress myself, but I can't really take credit since it was incredibly simple to make. The only effort was in acquiring one important ingredient:

Ingredient of the day: Preserved Lemons

We're lucky enough to have a large Iranian population nearby, which meant I knew where to buy lemons preserved in brine. It's fairly easy to make your own, but it takes three weeks, and I was already hungry. Pickling lemons makes them milder and brings out their other subtle flavors. Once you taste them, you might recognize their exotic flavor from certain Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.

Lemon Olive Chicken Tagine
2 lbs chicken thighs
1/4 cup olive oil
2-3 tsp. garlic
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 onion, chopped fine
2 cups chicken broth
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. black pepper
2-3 preserved lemons, sliced thin
1 cup green olives (not the ones with pimento!)

Rub the chicken with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and pepper and let marinate for at least an hour. Heat the oil and brown the chicken on both sides, then add onions, dry seasonings and broth. Stir well to incorporate flavors, lower heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the slices of preserved lemon and the olives and simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Remove the chicken from the liquid, raise the heat and stir the sauce until it thickens (about 5-10 minutes). Pour the sauce over the chicken in a deep dish. We ate this with some nice Afghani bread, similar to Moroccan bread, but it would also be lovely over rice. I steamed some green veggies with a lemon-caper vinaigrette on the side.
If last night's dinner was any indication, Morocco is a seriously tasty place.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Relatively Healthy Lasagna

I made a lasagna. And a LoLsagna:Lasagna is a new addition to my repetoire. I've always liked the idea of lasagna, but most lasagnas (both commerical and homemade) seem to resemble blocks of cheese with a few noodles interspersed. I like cheese as a compliment to other things, not as the main attraction. The best solution to this problem is, of course, to make your own lasagna. Here's a recipe with some meat and veggies in it- I made this last night, and it's damn tasty. That's a good thing, because given how much of it there is, I'm going to be eating it all week.

And why did I create a LoLsagna? I must have been thinking of LoLcats again. But why would I connect cats with lasagna? Ahh, yes...

(Whoever "owns" Garfield, please don't sue me.)

Relatively Healthy Lasagna
I'll break this recipe down into its individual components:
1 box of lasagna noodles
1 quart of tomato sauce*
Mozzarella cheese for topping
*I'll do a tomato sauce recipe soon

Meat layer:

2 tbsp oil
2 tsp garlic
1/2 onion, chopped
1 lb ground beef
Frozen peas, if you like
Season with basil, parsely,
oregano, white wine, salt
and pepper.

Sautee the garlic in oil till brown, then add the onions and sautee till browned. Add the beef and cook until brown. Pour excess liquid off into the tomato sauce. Throw in some frozen peas and cook until just thawed. Set beef mixture aside.

Cheese and Veggie layer:

1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup baby carrots, sliced into thin circles
1 cup frozen spinach, thawed and drained
chopped basil
salt, pepper
Mix the cheese, spinach and carrots in a bowl, add seasonings to taste.

Cook the noodles until just slightly undercooked (I haven't tried the "no-boil" variety of lasagna yet), and rub them with olive oil to prevent sticking. In a 13 x 9 baking dish, spread a layer of sauce on the bottom, then add a layer of noodles, arranging them so the edges overlap slightly. Add a thin layer of sauce and evenly distribute half of the meat mixture in a layer. Top with more sauce and another layer of noodles. Spread all of the cheese and veggie mixture over this layer. Add some more sauce and another layer of noodles and sauce. Repeat with last of meat mix, add last layer of noodles and top with sauce. Cover pan with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Remove foil and top with mozzarella cheese, then bake for another 10 minutes uncovered. Let the lasagna sit for a few minutes before you cut it. Consume with Garfieldesque abandon.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Noodles of Deception

Pad Thai- Not as Hard as it Looks

Now, I know it looks like this dish has 7 million ingredients, but putting them together doesn't require a lot of thinking. Pad thai is one of those dishes that can be deceptively easy to make, but impresses the hell out of people. Here's a simple recipe that can be on the table in a half hour. Adjust the noodle::stuff ratio depending how noodly you want it. And if you're picky you could probably eliminate 1/3 of these ingredients and still have it taste pretty damn good.

Ingredient of the Day: Spiced Extra-Firm Tofu
You can find this in Asian markets and specialty stores. You've probably had it in pad thai before. It's very firm tofu with a little bit of spice, and adds a nice touch to your pad thai. And, of course, it's full of protein.

Pad Thai

2 tbsp oil
2 tsp garlic, chopped
1/2 onion
1 carrot, shredded
1 small can bamboo shoots
1 block spiced firm tofu, in small cubes.
1 block regular firm tofu, cubed
8-10 frozen, pre-cooked shrimp
1 egg
Rice stick noodles, cooked
Thai seasoning blend (try Bankok Blend from Penzeys)
Fresh basil, if you have it
Soy sauce
Rice vinegar
Kecap manis
Lime juice
Fresh cilantro (if desired)
Crushed peanuts, if desired

Get the water started for the noodles, which cook fast. In a large saucepan, sautee the garlic in oil till golden, then sautee onions until lightly browned. Add both kinds of tofu and cook for a minute, then add bamboo shoots and carrots. Add liquid and dry seasonings and stir, then add the egg and mix it in well. Just before adding the noodles, throw in the cooked shrimp. Add water if more liquid is needed, but don't go overboard. When noodles are cooked, stir them into the sauce until flavors are incorporated. Garnish with peanuts and cilantro, if you like. Amaze your friends with cooking prowess.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Kill Your TV Dinner

Fast Lentils

People say they don't have time to cook. How about a healthy, tasty and chhhheeeap one-pot meal in under 20 minutes? This one is damn near impossible to screw up. If you're a beginner, get yourself some good seasoning blends (like the Turkish one used here) at Penzeys and you're halfway there. While slumming it with a can of Hormel is OK once in a while, if you consider yourself an adult you have no excuse for eating crap all the time.

This recipe is also endlessly adaptable. Got a pepper in the fridge? Throw it in! I chucked in some fresh parsley and a splash of white wine last night and it was great. Like balsamic vinegar? Give it a whirl! Want fajita-flavored lentils instead? Try it and tell me if it works. The world is your oyster. Or in this case, your lentil.

Turkish Lentils

2 tbsp oil
1 tsp garlic
1 onion, chopped
1 cup brown lentils
4 cups chicken stock
Turkish seasoning
Lemon juice

Sautee garlic in oil until golden, add onion and cook till slightly browned. Add lentils, chicken stock and seasoning and bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover. Stir occasionally- if more liquid is needed, add a little water at a time. When lentils are tender, it's done. Season to taste with lemon juice and whatever else you think would taste good. Probably not sprinkles.

Monday, March 31, 2008

What I'm Making for Dinner - 3.31.08

More Asian Food!
Beef and Broccoli with Soba Noodles, Shrimp Egg-drop Soup

"Chinese again? Who eats Chinese food three nights in a row?"
"Um, how about one billion Chinese people?"
-Some old sitcom. The quote was better than the show.

As you might have guessed, I like Asian food. A lot. There are many ways to make Asian food quick, healthy and delicious, so it ends up on my table a few nights a week. This beef and broccoli isn't fried and bathed in sauce like the variety you get in restaurants, but eliminating the frying and the sticky sauce saves a lot of time and effort. The result is (I imagine) healthier and (in my opinion) no less delicious. I'm serving it with soba noodles, which are quicker and more interesting than rice, and an easy and flavorful soup.

Ingredient of the Day: Kecap Manis

I was in an Asian market once and overheard a woman confusedly asking the girl at the counter if she knew where to find "ketchup mayonaise". A Filipino friend had said it was the secret ingredient in her barbecue sauce, but this wasn't helpful with the cashier's limited English. I directed the woman to a tall bottle of thick, dark sauce. Kecap manis is a sweet, heavy soy sauce, about the consistency of molasses, with a slight toasty flavor. It is indeed very good in barbecue sauce, as well as in stir-fry, soups and sauces. Just a drizzle packs a lot of flavor.

Beef and Broccoli

2 tbsp. oil
2 tsp. garlic, chopped
2 tsp. ginger, chopped
1 lb. beef, cut in 2" strips
1 red bell pepper, in strips
1 head of broccoli, in small pieces
Rice wine
Soy sauce
Rice vinegar
1 tbsp. Kecap manis
Dash Chinese 5-spice powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Sautee garlic until golden and add ginger. Add beef and brown slightly, then add vegetables and cook for one minute. Add wine, soy sauce, vinegar, kecap manis and spices. Cook until veggies are tender. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve with buckwheat soba noodles.

Shrimp and Egg-drop Soup

1 tbsp oil
1 tsp ginger, chopped
5 cups chicken stock
1 can baby corn, drained and chopped
1 cup of shrimp
1 egg
2 tbsp. Rice vinegar
Splash of lime juice
2 tsp. brown sugar
Dash of powdered lemon grass (can be found at Asian market)
Sprinkle of fresh cilantro

Sautee ginger in oil briefly, then add baby corn and stock. Bring to a boil, then add seasonings and shrimp. As shrimp are cooking, crack the egg into the soup and swirl it around as it cooks- this will create those thin 'ribbons' of egg. Bring to a boil and adjust your seasonings as desired. I like a more sour soup. If you prefer it sweet, add more sugar and ease up on the vinegar. Sprinkle with cilantro before serving.

Friday, March 28, 2008

What I'm Making for Dinner - 3.28.08

Fast Chinese

I have some leftover ground pork from last week's Ma Po Tofu that I froze. Sometimes when I have little bits of filling or ingredients, I pack and freeze them. So long as you use them within a few weeks, they're still fine. There's also some chopped turkey, cubed ham and a roasted beet in my 'ingredients' area of the freezer, awaiting next week's transformation into turkey croquettes, ham hash and borscht. Mmm...borscht...

For tonight, though, I'm making something fast and simple to tide us over until we get to a party later in the evening. Lots of greens and tofu will help us make sure we get our daily allowances of, uh, healthy things. And absorb all the vino we'll be drinking.

*Cook's hint: rinse Chinese vegetables and douse with rice wine to get rid of that "canned" taste.

Tofu and Asparagus Stir-Fry

2 tbsp. oil
2 tsp. garlic
1 block firm tofu, cubed
(I'm adding my ground pork here, but it's not required)
1 bunch of asparagus, cut in 2-inch pieces
1 can of bamboo shoots, drained
2 tablespoons Chinese spicy bean paste
Splash Chinese rice wine
Splash Soy sauce
Splash Rice vinegar

Sautee garlic in oil until golden brown. (Add ground pork here- cook until browned.) Add the tofu and stir, then add the asparagus. Add bamboo shoots, rice wine, soy sauce, rice vinegar and spicy bean paste. Stir all ingredients together until flavors are incorporated and vegetables are cooked, maybe 10 minutes. Serve with rice, if you like. I know I do.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What I'm Making for Dinner - 3.26.08

Fake Paella

Ok, I'll admit it: I totally made up this dish based on what's in my fridge. Yes, I know it's not real paella- but that's what it resembles most. I could have called it Ad Hoc Arroz Con Pollo, but I didn't feel like it. I imagine many of you invent things to use up the stuff in your fridge. The ingredients that gave birth to this one were leeks, shrimp and chicken thighs.

Leeks are a relatively new discovery for me. They have a mild oniony
flavor and a very nice sweetness. Leeks also make good friends.

Ad Hoc Paella with Leeks

2 cups rice, cooked in broth
1/4 cup oil
2 tsp garlic
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced into thin rings
2-3 chicken thighs, cubed
10-15 shrimp, cleaned
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup fish bouillon
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
Splash of lemon juice
Dash of cayenne pepper (if desired)
Salt and pepper to taste

Set the rice cooking and chop up your meats and veggies. In a large skillet, sautee the garlic until browned, then add the leeks and cook until soft and beginning to brown. Add the chicken, wine and bouillon and stir until chicken it begins to turn white. Then add your shrimp and the fish stock. Just before the shrimp and chicken are done, add the rice and stir together until all flavors are incorporated. Season to taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper, and any other seasonings you prefer.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Mmm, Nutraloaf!

Just Like Grandma Used to Jail.

I was just reading this article about a food product prisons have been using to discipline inmates who commit food-related infractions. You've got to give the prison system points for coming up with its name: Nutraloaf. I love it. Why didn't Pepperidge Farm think of that?

I have to admit, while it looks sufficiently nasty, in all honesty Nutraloaf doesn't sound unreasonably disgusting. According to the article, the ingredients are "a mixture of cubed whole wheat bread, nondairy cheese, raw carrots, spinach, seedless raisins, beans, vegetable oil, tomato paste, powdered milk and dehydrated potato flakes." Well, shoot, that describes most of what I eat on a given day. Some vegetarian restaurant in L.A. is probably charging $16 a plate for it. And this is what they feed people who fling poo in jail. It's interesting to note that in the attached poll asking whether or not readers thought this was cruel, 100% of those polled said no. Heck, I think those sentenced to Nutraloaf are getting off easy. If I were the warden, there would definitely be some anchovies, head cheese and Oreo cookie filling in there. Take that, criminals- I am the law!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Summer Rollin'

Vietnamese Summer Rolls

Happy first day of spring!

In keeping with the vernal greening of the land (and after last night's spicy, saucy dinner) I could go for something fresh and cool. Vietnamese summer rolls are one of my favorite things to make; they look a lot fancier than they are, and they're so light and healthy-tasting I could totally pig out on them and still keep my dignity.

The skins can be found at most Asian markets and some fancy grocery stores. They're very easy to use- just fill a wide, shallow pan with warm water, and soak each skin until it's soft and flexible. Lay it flat, place a scoop of your ingredients a little off-center, and roll it up like a burrito.

I serve these with a simple sauce of chili paste and rice vinegar with a little sugar. Like, literally- just mix those three things.

Vietnamese Summer Rolls

2 cups cooked bean thread noodles, cooled
2 tsp sesame oil
1 cup shredded carrots
2 tbs rice vinegar
2 cups spinach
1-2 shrimp for each roll, sliced in half
1-2 sprigs of cilantro for each roll

Cook noodles and run under cold water till cooled. Work through a little sesame oil to keep them from sticking. Marinate shredded carrots briefly in rice vinegar. Soften summer roll skin in warm water, remove and lay flat on a damp cutting board. Arrange the ingredients in the following order: cilantro, shrimp, carrot, spinach, noodles- try not to overstuff. Fold up the short ends first, then roll the rest of the way so that you have a tight, neat little bundle. Try not to eat it before it gets to the plate.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What I'm Making for Dinner - 3.19.08

Ma Po Tofu, Sesame Noodles, Veggie Stir-Fry

All the Chinese restaurants in my neighborhood are horribly American. One even has a neon sign reading "Chinese-American Food" in the window. If you're in the mood for some General Tso's, this isn't necessarily bad. However, I am lusting after lighter and spicier fare just now, and one of my favorite dishes is Ma Po Tofu. I'd ordered the sesame noodles in town before, and was seriously disappointed. Both of these dishes are easy enough to make, especially if you take the cheapskate way out and use a boxed sauce mix. It also pays to get acquainted with your Chinese market...

Do yourself a favor and try to buy Asian stuff at an Asian store. Not only is it more likely to be the real thing, but your supermarket probably charges double and triple for the basics. Mine sells a can of bamboo shoots for $3.99 that goes for $0.69 at the Chinese place next door.

Another case in point: Szechuan peppercorns. Tough to find. Available at Williams-Sonoma for $10.99 a jar. Available at your oriental market for $1.39.

Now, going into an Asian grocery store can be a daunting experience for the uninitiated. Here, with pictures, are what I consider the most essential Asian ingredients:

Soy Sauce

This is Kimlan Dark soy sauce. Try it and you'll find it has a ton more flavor than whatever you usually get, along with less salt.

Chinese Cooking Wine

Usually made from rice, this wine lends a distinctly Chinese flavor. If you try to make Asian food with Pinot Grigio, you may get weird results.

Rice Vinegar

Depending on the brand, rice vinegar may have more or less kick. I like the brand pictured- the popular Maruchan brand is milder, but also good.

Sesame Oil

Use this as a flavoring- it has a wonderful aroma. But don't try to fry things in it! Sesame oil burns easily and is best added last.

And now without further ado...

Ma Po Tofu
1 tbsp oil
2 tsp garlic
2 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
1/2 lbs ground pork or beef
Splash of Chinese cooking wine
1 box firm tofu
1 packet of Ma Po Tofu mix (Lee Kum Kee brand is great)
1/2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns (if you want extra spice)
1 tbsp scallions, chopped

Sautee garlic and ginger in oil, then add ground meat and cook until brown. Add a splash of wine, the tofu, sauce and seasonings. I usually tinker with the flavoring, adding soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil as needed. You can also add peas to this dish for a touch of green. Cook everything together on low heat until the tofu has absorbed some of the flavors. Garnish with scallions.

Sesame Noodles - can be served hot or cold

1/2 lb cooked Chinese wheat noodles
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp garlic
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
Splash of Chinese Cooking Wine
2 tbsp sesame paste (available at Chinese markets)
2 tbsp peanut butter
1/2 cup water
1 shredded carrot
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
2 tsp sesame oil
sesame seeds and/or toasted peanuts

Sautee garlic in oil and add sesame paste and peanut butter, wine, soy sauce and vinegar. Sesame paste may thicken, so add water as needed to keep a smooth, saucy consistency. Once the sauce is smooth and the wine has cooked off, add freshly boiled noodles, carrot and cucumber. Toss together and garnish with sesame seeds or peanuts. Add chopped scallions if you like.

California Cooking

And now for something completely different...

I just came back from a lovely weekend in California. Having grown up in New York, there is definitely something different about the West Coast, and among the best things to recommend it is the food. California takes a different approach to cooking, and I wish I had been in a situation to experiment. Things that make the Golden State a taste sensation:

  • Fresh (and local!) produce rules the day.

  • A cleaner environment makes for yummier food.

  • More daring use of delicious nuts.

  • Wine and wine tasting in scenic vinyards.

  • In-And-Out Burger. I love it.

I hope to return to Cali one day, but with a skillet in tow.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What I'm Making for Dinner - 3.12.08

Curry Trifecta

I was going to make a lasagna, but need to stay late at work. So instead I'm making a trio of quick and easy Indian curries. Now, I don't make any claims as to the authenticity of these dishes, as they are wholly invented. But they are made with ingredients purchased at an Indian grocer, so it is plausible that people of South Asian descent are, in fact, eating them right now.

Before we start, I should mention some of these ingredients. They include pre-packaged curry mixes. These are commonly used in India and require none of the effort of buying, crushing and mixing individual spices. You can find them at any Indian store. Amchur powder is made from unripe mangoes, and adds a nice tang without the acidic qualities of lemon juice or vinegar. If you can't find it, lemon juice is fine. The ginger referred to here comes crushed in a jar and has a distinctly Indian flavor. The red lentils are small and orange when raw- they turn yellow as they absorb liquid and basically become a paste, making for a thick, satisfying soup. I like to garnish my Indian food with chutneys, including coriander, coconut and mango chutney, available at Indian supermarkets or large grocery stores. I'm also fond of achar (mango pickle) and lemon pickle, both very strong condiments, and delicious if you can handle the kick.
You can add coconut milk or plain yogurt to any of these recipes for a creamier variation.

Channa Masala- basically translates as "chick peas in spices".
2 tbsp. oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tsp. crushed ginger
1 can of chick peas, drained
1 tbsp. Channa curry powder
1 tsp. amchur powder
1 cup chicken stock

Sautee the onion in oil until golden brown, then add ginger.
Add chick peas, sprinkle with curry powder and add in
the stock. Season with amchur powder to taste. Cook on
low heat until all ingredients are incorporated.

Eggplant Curry -'Jalafrezi' and 'Garam Masala' curry
powders and pastes work well here. Always feel free to
add more if you want a stronger flavor.
2 tbsp. oil
1 tsp. garlic
1 eggplant, diced
1/2 onion, chopped
1 med. can diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato sauce
1-2 tbsp. curry powder/paste
salt & pepper
lemon juice
fresh cilantro

Sautee the garlic in oil and add in the onion, cooking until
golden brown. Add in the eggplant and sautee until browned.
Add in tomatoes, tomato sauce and curry mix. Stir, turn heat
to low, and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20-30
minutes. Season with salt, pepper, lemon juice and sugar to
taste. Toss in fresh cilantro before serving.

Traffic Light Lentil Soup - I totally invented this, but I like it.
And it's red, green and yellow, like a traffic light! See? Ha ha? Ok,
fine, I'm corny...
1 tbsp. oil
1 tsp. garlic
1 tsp. ginger
1 red pepper, diced
1/2 cup frozen green peas
1 cup red lentils
curry powder- your choice
5 cups chicken stock
amchur powder
salt & pepper

Sautee garlic in oil until lightly browned. Add in ginger
and red pepper and sautee for 2 minutes on medium
heat. Add in lentils, curry powder, and chicken stock.
Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer, stirring
occasionally, until lentils are cooked- odds are they will
mostly dissolve as they cook. Add in green peas and
cook just until done- stop before they begin to lose their
color. Season to taste with salt, pepper and amchur
powder or lemon juice.

Monday, March 10, 2008

What I'm Making for Dinner- 3.10.08

Stuffed Portobella Mushrooms, Hearty Vegetable Barley Soup, Spinach Salad

Since I only have two portobella caps, the remainders of
these vegetables will go into the soup and the salad. The
recipes for the mushrooms and soup are below. As for
the salad, hey, it's a salad- throw some dressing on it.

Sausage-Stuffed Portobella Mushrooms
2 portobella mushrooms
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp garlic
1/4 onion, chopped
1/4 red pepper, chopped
1/4 zucchini, chopped
1/4 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup dry sausage, chopped
1/2 can tomato paste
1 egg
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt, pepper, Italian seasoning (if desired)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Chop up all vegetables. Whirl sausage in a food
processor if possible, or chop very fine. Mix
everything together in a bowl. Rub some oil on
the portobella mushroom caps and stuff them
with the mixture. Bake for 20 minutes. Eat.

Hearty Vegetable Barley Soup
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp garlic
the rest of the onion, pepper, zucchini and carrot
1/4 cup hulled barley
6 cups chicken stock
Seasoning to taste

Heat oil and sautee garlic over medium heat until
lightly browned. Sautee onion until brown, then
add other vegetables and cook for 2 minutes. Add
barley and mix in, then add chicken stock. Bring
to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes, or until the
barley is fully cooked. Season with salt, pepper,
lemon juice or whatever herbs you prefer.