Saturday, March 28, 2009

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

The farmer's market is in full bloom, and I absolutely love it. I look forward to waking up early on Saturday morning, walking down to the end of Fidelity Street, and entering the green, green, Carrboro greenmarket with its tents and hippies and kids on the playground and plants and baked goods and glorious veggies.

My bounty from this week: a bunch of hardy spinach and a cute little basil plant for the kitchen window.

And from last week: kale, radishes, tomatoes, basil, and paneer cheese.

I'll make my first batch of pesto this season (exciting!) from the basil later today -- I ran out of garlic this week and need to get some more from the co-op today.

I made an easy little salad from that first spring tomato, with olive oil and balsamic and whatever dried Italian herbs I had in the spice cabinet. They sure taste a million times better than any grocery store tomato ever sold.

I followed a Deborah Madison recipe for radishes that turned out fine, but not sure that I'd make it again. Radishes always look so unbelievably beautiful that I buy them, but sometimes am not sure how to prepare them best. I don't think this recipe was the answer. I think I should stick to sauteeing them until crispy, then roasting them a bit. Or maybe its the reverse? Clarification to come.

Deborah Madison's Braised Red Radishes, from "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone"

20 plump radishes, red or multicolored
1 to 2 tablespoons of butter
1 shallot, diced
1 teaspoon chopped thyme or several pinches dried
Salt and pepper

Trim the leaves from the radishes, leaving a bit of the green stems, and scrub them. If the leaves are tender, wash them and set aside. Leave smaller radishes whole and halve or quarter larger ones.

Melt 2 to 3 teaspoons butter in a small saute pan. Add the shallot and thyme and cook for 1 minute over medium heat. Add the radishes, a little salt and pepper, and water just to cover. Simmer until the radishes are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the leaves if using and cook one minute more. Remove the radishes to a serving dish. Boil the liquid, adding a teaspoon or more butter if you like, until only 1/4 cup remains. Pour it over radishes and serve.

To me this recipe called out for a grain, so I cooked some quinoa and served the radishes on top.

I'm very much looking forward to next week when the Wednesday afternoon market opens as well; getting to go to the market twice in one week is my idea of foodie heaven.

Red Beans and Rice

I'd promised this recipe for Hilary several weeks ago, and finally got around to making it last week. I used veggie sausage instead of the ham hocks and used simple canola oil instead of bacon grease, but it all was flavorful and spicy and good. It takes forever to cook; I actually started simmering around 3:30pm at my house and then transported the pot to Hilary's so it could keep cooking while we watched basketball. It was ready by halftime.

Red Beans and Rice from Homesick Texan

16 oz. red beans, soaked
1 tablespoon of bacon grease (can substitute canola or olive oil if you prefer)
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, diced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 pound of andouille sausage, cubed
1/2 cup of parsley, minced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon of dried thyme or 1 sprig fresh
1 teaspoon dried leaf oregano
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
Cayenne, salt and black pepper to taste
2 smoked ham hocks
8 cups of chicken broth or water
4 green onions, green part chopped (save the white for another use)
6 cups of cooked rice

After cleaning and sorting, soak your beans in water overnight.

In a large pot on medium heat, sauté in bacon grease the onion, celery and bell pepper for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sausage to the pot and cook for two minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot except for the green onions.

Turn up the heat to high and bring to a boil. Let it boil for 20 minutes and then turn the heat to low, cover the pot, and let it simmer for 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes, take off the lid, stir the pot and continue to let it simmer for two hours. You might check back on it every once in a while to make sure there’s still enough liquid in the pot.

At this time, test your beans—they should be soft, but if not, continue to cook on low until they are.

When the beans are ready, with a wooden spoon smash a few of them against the side of the pot—this will make your beans extra creamy.

Pour the beans over rice, and garnish with the green onions. A few shakes of some Louisiana hot sauce such as Tabasco or Crystal is a good addition as well.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Craig's Dal, care of Nicole, featuring Hilary

I promised Hilary that I would make her red beans and rice last night. I even soaked the beans in advance and made sure I had all the ingredients I needed.

But. I forgot to look at the recipe in detail beforehand, and at 6pm I realized the beans need to cook for 3 hours. Shucks.

I had to make a quick rebound! I went immediately for a go-to quick and easy recipe that Nicole sent to me a while back: Craig's Dal. It's a delicious and fast way to make a lentil dal, the trick being that you cook the lentils in the microwave. Wonderful! A great plan!

I invited Hilary to come on over. I made some jasmine rice. I prepped the onions and garlic. When she arrived, I told her the plan for the meal...

...And she told me she is allergic to coconut.

Another crisis! What to do? Dal is just not a dal without coconut milk!

I pondered, I thought, I contemplated. And, aha! I created a solution. I mixed one part Greek yogurt to one part milk. I combined it thoroughly with a fork, and, amazingly, it resembled the exact texture of coconut milk! A miracle! I was very pleased.

Craig's Dal

(I made half a recipe -- it was more than plenty for the two of us plus leftovers for me for lunch.)

375g (13.2 oz) red lentils (about 2 cups)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon chopped chilli
2-3 tablespoons vindaloo curry paste
400g (14-15 oz) can tomatoes
400ml (14-15 oz) can coconut milk
Rice, roti etc to serve

Place lentils in microwave-safe bowl and cover with water (about 1cm or 1/2 an inch over top). Cover and microwave 10-15 minutes or until cooked.

Meanwhile heat olive oil in pan and fry onion, garlic and chilli until onion is softened. Add vindaloo curry paste and cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes (with liquid) and cooked lentils to onions.

Add coconut milk and stir until heated through.

Serve with rice and roti.

The coconut milk substitution was perfect! Still very flavorful, ideal texture, a very satisfactory substitute.

Hilary thinks this picture looks like a manatee is going to eat her.

Hilary loves this dinner.

For dessert we had sliced mango with more jasmine rice, honey, and a splash of chili powder. It was wonderful.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mom's Birthday Present: Part 1

For my mom's birthday last month, I gave her a gift certificate: five nights where I will come to her house and purchase, prepare, and clean up dinner. We made the first date for earlier this week. When I asked what she might want to have, she picked out the peanut sesame noodles from this blog, and I added a salad and dressing to the menu.

You may remember the peanut sesame noodles I recently posted about. I won't bore you with recipe details again, but here's some photos from the cooking process. I made the sauce at home in my amazing food processor, and did the pasta and veggies and putting it all together at my parent's house.

I've wanted to try making this salad dressing forever. You know the amazing, tangy, orange dressing that Japanese restaurants put on their salads? Well here it is.

Miso Carrot Ginger Dressing

¼ cup peanut or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
¼ cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons white miso, sold at Asian markets and specialty stores
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into big pieces
1 inch-long piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into coins
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.

1. Put all ingredients except salt and pepper into food processor and pulse a few times to mince carrots. Then let machine run for a minute or so until mixture is chunky-smooth.

2. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or cover tightly and refrigerate for up to several days.

Yield: About 1¼ cup.

My mom brought me this adorable vinaigrette maker/spinner/storer from France. Isn't it a nice way to display the dressing? It'll definitely be better for thinner dressings, as this one is a bit chunky and didn't pour out of the container very well, but it sure is cute. And it has recipe ideas on the side!

I threw together an Asian-style salad: romaine, sliced almonds, corn, mandarin oranges, water chestnuts, spicy pumpkin seeds. Served up with the miso-carrot-ginger dressing and the peanut sesame noodles.

Happy Birthday Dinner number 1 of 5, Mom!

Caramelized Onion Dip

I was in New York last week for Karen's senior sermon. The night before her parents left town, we went to eat dinner at Community Food and Juice, one of me and Karen's absolute favorite restaurants. It's a pretty new place on 113th and Broadway, my old 'hood of Morningside Heights, and they serve delicious, natural, sometimes local food. The four of us started with an appetizer sampler that included an incredible caramelized onion and fig jam with little raisin toasts. The jam was almost creamy, delicious, tart. The next morning I tried with earnest to find a recipe online that replicated the jam, but to no avail. Instead, I settled for this dip, which uses caramelized onions as the major flavor component, as a way to at least practice slow-cooking the onions (which, as it turns out, is not very hard).

Caramelized Onion Dip

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions (about 1 1/2 pounds), finely chopped
3/4 cup sour cream (low-fat is fine if you like)
3/4 cup Greek yogurt (low-fat is fine if you like)
3 teaspoons dehydrated onion powder/granulates (salt-free, natural)
very scant 1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large thick-bottomed skillet over medium heat saute the chopped onions in the olive oil along with a couple pinches of salt. Stir occasionally with a wood or metal spatula and cook until the onions are deeply golden, brown, and caramelized - roughly 40 or 50 minutes. Set aside and let cool.

About 20 minutes into the caramelization process.

And at the end of caramelizing.

In the meantime, whisk together the sour cream, yogurt, onion powder, and salt. The important thing is to add whatever onion powder you are using to taste. Add a bit at a time until it tastes really good. Set aside until the caramelized onions have cooled to room temperature. Stir in 2/3 of the caramelized onions, scoop into a serving bowl, and top with the remaining onions. Makes about 2 cups.

This dip was great! We brought it over to Win's house to watch the UNC-Dook game. Delish!

I'm still on the lookout for caramelized onion and fig jam recipes. Keep me in the loop if you spot one.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Veggie Dinner Party in New York

Nicole and I held a dinner party last night for our buddies from Wesleyan. We love to cook together and had all these recipes we wanted to try out, and realized we needed a group of folks to eat all the yummies we wanted to make! Luckily our delightful friends in New York could join us for Saturday night dinner.

As soon as I walked into Nicole's apartment, we made a delicious Mango Maple Lassi. We added some sugar and lemon juice, and it came out pretty good.

1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup milk (any kind you like)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 mango, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon maple syrup, or more to taste

Chuck it all into a blender and, well, blend. Drink. Smile.

Our menu for the evening started out with White Bean Roasted Red Pepper Dip. I wanted to make this bcause I don't really like hummus, but there's a hummus-style dip at Trader Joe's that I really like, and it's made with white beans instead of chickpeas. The dip came out okay, but I added a second can of white beans because it seemed pretty liquidy at first. Next time I would use many more beans, less lemon juice, and rinse the peppers really well to reduce all the extra liquid content. This might have been better with carrots and veggies rather than crackers.

1 15-ounce can of white cannelini or navy beans
1 small jar roasted red peppers, or about 1 cup, drained
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice from half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Puree everything in a food processor until smooth.

For dinner we had a trio of salads and a delicious lentil soup, made by Nicole before I arrived. During dinner we realized that all our salads were vegan! Amazing! Our friend Chris, Tom's wonderful and cute boyfriend, told me that though he's quite the carnivore, he felt totally satisfied by the veggie cuisine. Score!

Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad

This looked and tasted beautiful. Despite a mini-debaucle involving the pan of roasting butternut squash almost ending up on the floor of the oven, Nicole saved the day and rescued the little squashies, leading us to a recipe success. This tahini dressing was delicious and easy, also -- the only sauce of the day that did not require a food processor. And a great way for us to use the last few butternuts of the season!

For salad:
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoons ground allspice (I skip this)
2 tablespoons olive oil
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (1 1/2 cups)
1/4 of a medium red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

For tahini dressing:
1 medium garlic clove, finely minced with a pinch of salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons well-stirred tahini
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to taste

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

In a large bowl, combine the butternut squash, garlic, allspice, olive oil, and a few pinches of salt. Toss the squash pieces until evenly coated. Roast them on a baking sheet for 25 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the oven and cool.

Meanwhile, make the tahini dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic and lemon juice. Add the tahini, and whisk to blend. Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and taste for seasoning. The sauce should have plenty of nutty tahini flavor, but also a little kick of lemon. You will probably need to add more water to thin it out.

To assemble the salad, combine the squash, chickpeas, onion, and cilantro or parsley in a mixing bowl. Either add the tahini dressing to taste, and toss carefully, or you could serve the salad with the dressing on the side. Serve immediately.

Beets with Walnut-Garlic Sauce

2 pounds red beets, about 4 large, trimmed of greens

1/4 cup olive oil

6 cloves garlic, peeled

1/2 cup walnuts

2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Salt and black pepper to taste

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves, for garnish.

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash beets well. While still wet, wrap them individually in foil and place on a cookie sheet or roasting pan. Bake beets, undisturbed, for 60 to 90 minutes, until a thin-bladed knife pierces each with little resistance. (They may cook at different rates; remove each one when it is done.)

2. Meanwhile, put oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. When it is warm, add garlic and cook until fragrant and beginning to soften, about 6 minutes. Add walnuts and continue to cook until they begin to color, about another 4 minutes. Let mixture cool slightly and then put it in a small food processor; process until you have a relatively smooth paste. Add orange juice to taste and sprinkle with salt and lots of pepper.

3. After beets have cooled, peel off skins. Slice beets into wedges or cubes and toss with dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning, garnish with parsley and serve.

Peanut Sesame Noodles

For peanut dressing
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup warm water
1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 medium garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Asian toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes or a splash of the hot sauce or chili paste of your choice

For noodles
3/4 lb dried soba nooodles (dried linguine fini or spaghetti will work in a pinch)
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/8-inch-thick strips
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/8-inch-thick strips
Half a seedless cucumber, thinly sliced
1 cup firm or extra-firm tofu, cubed
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Puree dressing ingredients in a blender until smooth, about 2 minutes, then transfer to a large bowl.

Cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until tender. Drain in a colander, then rinse well under cold water.

Add pasta, scallions, bell peppers, cucumber and tofu to dressing, tossing to combine. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.

Thanks to our wonderful friends for eating this food, giving us compliments, and bringing blueberry pie, cupcakes, and three-buck chuck!