Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Arugula and egg panzanella

Panzanella is just a fancy name for a salad with about equal volumes of bread, tomatoes, and greens, with some other great stuff. This is the best salad I have made in a while. I don't often make it (a nice loaf of bread rarely makes it to "day-old" around here). But for some reason I really wanted some yesterday, so I bought a fresh loaf of bread and made the croutons in the oven. This combination has really strong flavors - sourdough, herbs, vinegar - with a little creaminess from the eggs and cheese - I think it's just about right. We had this on its own for dinner, but it would also be a good side dish for some grilled chicken, steak, or fish. See below for my favorite method of hard-boiling eggs.

Ingredients - serves 4

A third to a half a loaf of day old sourdough bread - sliced and left out to dry overnight, or dried in the oven.
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
3 T. olive oil
1 t. spicy mustard
Salt and pepper
2-3 c. arugula (1/2 a package), coarsely chopped or ripped
2-3 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 c. basil, sliced in a chiffonade (one small package from store)
1/4 c. mint, sliced in a chiffonade or just chopped
1 small shallot, diced
***2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
About 10 thin slices of parmesan cheese, sliced with a carrot peeler

1. Make the croutons. If the bread is not very stale/dry, dry slices in a 300 degree oven for about 15 minutes right on the rack. Then break the slices up into bite sized pieces.
2. Whisk together oil, vinegar and mustard. Season with some salt and pepper.
3. Prepare and combine arugula, tomatoes, basil, mint, and shallot in a serving bowl.
4. Toss with the vinegrette.
5. Add the bread and toss again.
6. Put the egg slices on top. Peel the parmesan cheese right over the bowl.
7. Serve immediately. If there are leftovers, the bread while not be crisp anymore, but it will still be good!

***To hard boil eggs
Way too often, people really overcook their hard-boiled eggs. You might think you can't overcook a hard boiled egg, but that's not true. A properly cooked hard-boiled egg has a solid, but fragile white (not rubbery or chewy), and a soft yolk that is creamy, crumbly, but cohesive, and has little to no gray tint. An overcooked hard-boiled egg has a rubbery white, a chalky yolk, and a lot of gray tint on the yolk. I actually like my hard boiled eggs even a little less cooked that what I described - with a yolk that is a little gelatinous (sorry, that sounds gross, but I can't think of a better description). Here's how to achieve a good hard boiled egg.

1. Put eggs in saucepan.
2. Cover eggs by 1 inch with warm water.
3. Bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 seconds.
4. Turn off the heat and cover the saucepan with a lid that fits. Let the eggs sit for:
12-15 minutes for a traditional hard boiled egg (depending on the size)
10 minutes for a gelatinous yolk (seriously, it's good)
5. Immediately remove from the hot water and play in cold water with ice cubes. If the ice melts, add more.
6. Once they're completely cool you can peel them or refrigerate for later use. To peel them, slide a spoon between the eggs and the shell while immersing the eggs under cool water.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Butternut and bean mole

Well this recipe is sort of cheating, but it is good and original. One gripe I have with Mexican restaurants is that there is a rarely a vegetarian dish featuring mole sauce. If you're unfamiliar with mole (pronounced mo-lay) it is a thick sauce that usually has a mixture of chiles, cocoa powder, and cumin. It's delicious, but traditionally served with chicken which I generally don't order at restaurants. It also is pretty labor intensive and takes a while to cook. But not with a spice blend from Savory Spice shop. I tried their Mexican mole blend and improvised a vegetarian dish that was sort of based on the recipe card I picked up in the store for a chicken mole. It turned out really good.

1 large butternut squash
3 tomatillos, leaves removed and rinsed
4 ozs. Savory Spice Shop's Mexican Mole Blend
1.25 c. vegetable bouillon, or 1.25 c. water and 1.25 t. Better than Bouillion
2 T. raisins
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1-2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
2 c. cooked beans (I used some pintos I had cooked a while ago and froze, I think a can or two of pintos, blacks, or kidney would all work)
corn tortillas for serving
brown or white rice for serving

1. Slice squash in half and remove seeds and skin. Cut up into 1/3 - 1/2 inch chunks. Heat a small amount of oil in a cast iron skillet over medium. Add squash chunks and cover, cover 5 min. Remove cover and crank up heat, stir frequently until cooked through, and crispy on the outside.
2. Roast tomatillos under broiler until blistered and slightly blackened, about 10 minutes, flip halfway through. Set aside to cool.
3. In small bowl, mix Savory Spice Shop’s Mexican Molé seasoning, 1/2 cup warm veggie bouillon into a smooth paste. In food processor or blender, pulse molé paste, raisins and tomatillos until thoroughly blended. Set aside.
4. Heat olive oil in a Dutch over or pot over medium high heat. Add in onion, cook and stir for 3 min. Add in green pepper and jalapeno, cook and stir for 3-5 minutes, till the veggies are mostly cooked through.
5. Reduce heat to medium, add mole paste, and sauté and stir for no more than 1-2 minutes. Add squash and rest of veggie bouillon. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 12 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
6. Serve over brown rice and with corn tortillas. It's even better leftover the next day.

Scallion-herb omelet

Omelets are so delicious. This is a pretty simple, self-evident recipe, but I figured I'd post it anyway. I had one for dinner last night with a salad on the side. The volume measurements on the cheeses are little weird, but I think is the easiest way to describe it. Of course, you can use more or less based on your preference. I like putting the herbs in the egg because they get a little wilted, and so are not as grassy as they would be if they were in one mass in the middle of the omelet. This is also probably a bit more herbage than would be called for in any recipe, but I love all the freshness that comes from them. I think almost any combo of fresh herbs would be awesome!

There are a number of definitive writings and excellent explanations on omelet making. This is not one of them - it's just the way I like to make them. The two best sources I know of are Julia Child's explanation in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volume 1, and Alton Brown's demonstration in the Good Eats episode.

Serves 1.

3 scallions, white and green parts chopped
1-2 t. butter
approximately 3 T. chopped fresh herbs (I used half parsley, half oregano)
a pinch of freshly ground pepper and salt
2 or 3 eggs
1 cubic inch cream cheese
1 cubic inch goat cheese
another pinch of fancy salt**

1. Heat a sautee pan (a 10" one with angled - not straight - sides should be good) over medium heat. Coat the bottom of a sautee pan with butter - you can just peel half the paper off of a stick and "paint" the bottom to make sure you've got full coverage.
2. Sautee the scallions for about 3-5 minutes till they're soft and fragrant, stirring occasionally. When they're done, set aside.
3. Meanwhile, wash and chop the herbs. Scramble the eggs in a separate bowl, and then whisk in the herbs and some salt and pepper.
4. Ready the cheeses - use your fingers to crumble them into pea sized pieces on a little plate.
5. If there is any detritus from the scallions on the sautee pan, wipe off with a paper towel. Replace the pan over medium heat and recoat with butter. Let warm for 2-3 minutes.
6. When it's hot, add the egg mixture. Stir a little bit to scrape up the egg that cooked immediately upon contact with the pan. Then, let it cook undisturbed for about a minute. Then, use a spatula to gently lift up the edges, and tilt the pan to let uncooked egg run underneath the cooked egg. Do this a few times at a few angles till the egg is no longer runny enough to move down the omelet.
7. Cover the pan and cook for another 30 seconds (this is to reduce the runniness of the egg in the middle. I like mine just barely cooked. Err on the side of underdone because there will be some remnant heat that will cook it a little more once it's on the plate.)
8. Remove the lid and place the scallions and cheese on one half of the omelet. Use the spatula to loosen the omelet from the pan, and transfer to your plate - cheesy half first - using a gentle wrist flick to flip the non-cheesy side over, folding the omelet in half.
9. Throw a little more salt on top, and serve.

** I finally went to Savory Spice Shop on Sunday, and got this amazing salt. It's pretty and delicious. Watch out for more recipes using wonderful things from Savory.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sphaghetti with fennel, sardines, and parsley

Sorry Matt, it's another sardine recipe.

I can't help it though, sardines are just really good, really healthy, and easy to keep on hand. For this recipe, I experimented with some less expensive larger sardines. They taste good but I did remove the backbone. You can eat the backbone (yay calcium, Andy said "hmm, it tastes like healthy"), in fact it would probably break up into unrecognizable pieces as you are stirring the sauce, but it's a little unappetizing to me so I skipped it. In general, when buying sardines, look for ones that are packed in oil and are not flavored. The "cheapo" ones were packed in vegetable oil of some kind, the more expensive ones in extra virgin olive oil. And really, they are not expensive, I think under $3; it is a relative term.

This recipe is based off of a classic Sicilian pasta that can be found in the Gourmet Cookbook or on Epicurious. The original recipe called for fennel seeds, but I was out so I substituted anise seeds instead. If you chop everything in a food processor this will be a very quick meal!

1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 medium to large fennel bulb, chopped. Also chop fronds and reserve separate from the bulb. Discard stalks.
1 medium to large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon anise seeds, crushed
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 can oil packed, unflavored "cheapo" sardines - these are the larger ones that should be cheaper and look like this
1 can oil packed, unflavored "expensive" sardines - Brisling two-row
1/3 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1 pound whole wheat spaghetti

1. Bring water to a boil for the pasta.
2. Combine raisins and wine in a bowl.
3. Cook onion, fennel bulb, and anise seeds in oil with salt to taste in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until fennel is tender, about 15 minutes.
4. While the veggies are cooking, toast the pine nuts, then the bread crumbs, in a hot, preferably cast iron, skillet. Be sure to stir frequently lest they burn. Set aside. If desired, a bit more olive oil and salt can be added to the bread crumbs as they toast.
5. Also while the veggies are cooking, cook the pasta, following directions on the package.
6. Drain the "cheapo" sardines. If desired, split the fish pieces in half along the plane of the backbone to access and remove the backbone.
7. Add wine mixture and the "cheapo" sardines, breaking sardines up with a fork, and simmer 1 minute.
8. Drain the "expensive" sardines.
9. When everything is ready (and it's fine if the sauce has to hang out while everything else is being finished), toss the pasta in a large bowl with sauce, remaining "expensive" sardines, fennel fronds, parsley, pine nuts, bread crumbs, and salt and pepper to taste.

Prepared in this way, there was virtually no "fishiness." If you wanted a stronger tasting dish, you could use some of the oil from the sardines in place of the olive oil. Sorry there's no picture of this one!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fried plantains, shrimp, beans, and mango salsa

I made this dinner a while ago but am just getting to posting. The problem with posting way after you make something is that you forget the details. But for this combo, it's okay cause there's not a lot of details. This is just the thing for when you want something kinda different, but that is still really quick. The plantains are the only challenging thing - and they're easier than you think. Here's a few more details on the meal than you can gather from the title, along with a recipe for the fried plantains.

[disclaimer, I think Andy took this picture after we ate]

Dish 1: Fried plantains.
Deep frying at home can be a little intimidating, but I think it is really worthwhile every once in a while. And once you do it once, it's not intimidating. Pros to deep frying: super quick cooking method, delicious, a way better way to eat unhealthy things than drive thru fries. Cons: not so good for you, uses a lot of oil (but you can reuse it), a little tricky to get the temperature right. The only point I'll expand upon is the temperature thing - for my stove (and yours will probably be different) setting the dial right in the middle produces oil that's just about right for most applications. Fried plantains is a perfect dish to start with if you haven't fried before. Here's the recipe, it's super easy.

heavy, sturdy saucepan, or better yet, cast iron dutch oven
about 3 inches of vegetable or canola oil
2 green plantains - at the store you'll often have a choice of green, yellow, or brown. The only different is degree of ripeness. Green plantains are required for this recipe - they yield a starchy, not sweet, crispy side dish a little like french fries.
Kosher or sea salt

1. Heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat (about 350 degrees if you have a thermometer). Try to find the right setting so that the temperature is maintained for a while and isn't fluctuating.
2. Peel the plantains (may require a peeler, it's harder to do than a banana).
3. Slice plantains into 1.5" slices.
4. Carefully lower into hot oil and fry for 2-3 minutes, until they appear golden yellow in color.
5. Carefully remove plantains with a slotted spoon to a few paper towels to soak up some grease.
6. When cool enough to handle, use a frying pan or clean soup can to apply pressure along the axis of the plantain and smash the piece into a disc (see picture below).
7. Now, fry again! Place the smashed plantains back in the hot oil and fry for another 2 minutes or so, till they look a deeper golden (not quite brown).
8. Remove, blot, serve immediately.

Dish 2: Quick sauteed garlicky shrimp.
I don't think I have a picture of this one, and I don't really remember the exact recipe, but the idea is quite simple. Clean some shrimp - tails on or off, your preference - blot them dry with paper towel. Heat up a skillet on high heat. Add a VERY small amount of oil - I like a kind of caramelized crust on the shrimp, which you get by adherence to the pan - so dry cooking is a good thing. Toss in the shrimp, minced garlic, salt and pepper. Stir a few times, cook till opaque. It'll take just a few minutes.

Dish 3: Leftover refried bean.
I had made a batch of refried beans according to my recipe (but had different spices and stuff on hand - so instead of roasted garlic and chipotles this one had sun dried tomatoes and some other stuff, and was made with a mix of black beans and pintos) a few days earlier.

Dish 4: Mango salsa.
Again I forget the details of this one - but the idea is simple - combine some fruit (mango) with some spicy and savory stuff. The photo is jogging my memory, I think this one had some mango, green onion, jalapeno, avocado, and cilantro. And probably a squirt of lime.

Serve everything together, along with some warm corn tortillas, hot sauce, ketchup (Andy really like ketchup with the plantains. I'm not gonna lie, I do too. Especially with a little Sriracha mixed in).