Sunday, December 30, 2012

Yellow Squash Cornbread Dressing w/ Mushrooms and Fresh Herbs



As the song goes, "I'm just a Mississippi boy.  Still got Mississippi mud on my boots.  I'm just a Mississippi boy.  Well, I wanna go back to my roots.  Tired of the fast food.  Raised on cornbread and collard greens.  Chitlins and hog maws!  A big old pots of beans... "  Uhh, now what y'all know 'bout that?



It's that time, again!  The winter holidays are here.  While the holidays are largely a time of year to celebrate cultural traditions and enjoy our families, it's also important to maintain the utmost regard for cultural competence during the holiday season.  We can all do so simply by respecting the different faith traditions and cultures in our communities and country at large.  For a case in point, consider an acquaintance whom I witnessed wishing someone Merry Christmas and the person turned out to be Jewish.  Awkward.  As another example, I was recently at a legislative breakfast for work and one of the attendees decided to pray in the middle of his introduction.  It was not ecumenical.  Then, on two separate occasions, the absolute worst thing imaginable happened: I had to eat stuffing.

I am obviously joking about the stuffing, but cultural competence does, in fact, extend to the traditional foods that we eat.  About once a year, I tell one of my friends (from the Northeast) that I'm making cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving or Christmas and without fail, I'm met with a puzzled look.  Then, I explain to them exactly what I mean, and we get a good laugh out of the ordeal because they usually think I'm talking about salad dressing.  Bizarre!  So, I figured it's as good a time as any to revisit the stuffing vs dressing debate.  While the terms have technical meaning: stuffing the bird as opposed to dressing the bird, they are also regionalized descriptive terms: dressing (in the South) is traditionally made with cornbread and stuffing (in the North) is traditionally made with dry bread or croutons. According to Clinton Kelly from ABC's The Chew about "83% of northerners say stuffing and about half the people in the South say dressing". Over on the Food Network Blog, they state that "many southerners are die-hard dressing fans" and I fall squarely in that category.

Cornbread dressing has more of a cohesive, casserole-like consistency and there are a variety of techniques for making it.  Some cooks use only cornbread, while others use leftover biscuits, sandwich bread, crackers, or other breads that are leftover and/or frozen for later use.  I, personally, like the casserole-like consistency of dressing and the added textured of toasted bread in my dressing so that's what I use.  Then, for some protein, I usually add oysters; however, I was out of luck this year.  I went to two different grocery stores and they were both out of oysters.  So, I improvised.  Considering I've made yellow squash dressing in the past with great results, I decided to use yellow squash and a gourmet mushroom blend of baby bella, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms.  After tasting the dressing, I must say that I'm officially sold.  The dressing was absolutely scrumptious and considering that yellow squash and the gourmet mushroom blend cost about half as much as the oysters would have, I might call it a bargain.

Yellow Squash Cornbread Dressing w/ Mushrooms and Fresh Herbs 


Ingredients:


  • 1/2 lb cornbread
  • 1 loaf Italian bread (1/2 lb total), cut into 3/4-inch cubes (6 cups)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 lb gourmet mushrooms (baby bella, shiitake, and oyster)
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped (2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped celery
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tbsp dried thyme, crumbled)
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh sage (or 2 tsp dried sage, crumbled)
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 4 yellow squash, washed and sliced into 1/4" rounds
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 1/4 cups vegetable stock 

Directions:


Prepare cornbread batter and bake until fully cooked and golden brown.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Spread bread cubes in two shallow baking pans and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of pans halfway through baking, until golden, 25 to 30 minutes total. Cool bread in pans on racks, then transfer to a large bowl. 

Heat olive oil in a 12-in heavy skillet over moderate heat.  Cook mushrooms, celery, onions, thyme, sage, garlic, salt, and pepper, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. While the vegetables are cooking, steam or blanch the yellow squash rounds until just soft, about 4 to 6 minutes.  Set aside.

Transfer cornbread and bread cubes to a large bowl and crumble to the desired texture.  I prefer to crumble the cornbread and some of the bread cubes (about 1/3) into small pieces and leave the remaining bread cubes intact.  Add the vegetable mixture and yellow squash to the bowl, then stir in parsley and butter.  Drizzle with stock, then season with salt and pepper and toss well. 

Transfer stuffing to a buttered casserole baking dish.  Bake, covered, in middle of oven for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake until browned, about 30 minutes more.  


Friday, December 21, 2012

Garlic Lo Mein Noodles w/ Black Beans & Sweet Potato Ribbons


This is a recipe of convenience.  I got home late one night with few groceries in the house and no leftovers.  I didn't feel like making a grocery store run.  So, I went in the kitchen seeking inspiration and suddenly the black void was filled with light.  I decided to pull together a dish with lo mein noodles, garlic, and black beans.  I just happened to have some leftover sweet potato rounds (thinly sliced with a mandoline) on hand that I used for a trial run of making homemade potato chips, and the sweet potato lover in me decided to add those to the mix.  I used this recipe for Homemade Noodles with Black Beans and Tamari as a guide.

Garlic Lo Mein Noodles w/Black Beans & Sweet Potato Ribbons


Ingredients:

  • 1 package Lo Mein Noodles
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp cilantro
  • 1/3 cup scallions, chopped into 1/4 pieces
  • 1/4 cup Low Sodium Tamari
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp tamarind paste
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup sweet potato rounds, thinly sliced with a mandoline

Directions:


Heat the sesame and canola oils in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the next four ingredients and cook until the garlic begins to brown.  Add the scallions, tamari, brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, oyster sauce, and tamarind paste and cook until the sauce has reduced and is syrupy.  Add the black beans and sweet potato rounds.  Stir to combine.  Cook for a few additional minutes.  Add about 1 cup of water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer the sauce until it reaches the desired consistency.  

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Toss with the garlic sauce and enjoy.  Garnish with chopped cilantro, green onions, or roasted sesame seeds.  



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sweet Sesame Seaweed Salad w/ Mandarin Oranges


For the past few days, I've been hosting a friend from Brown (my alma mater).  We spent our time together catching up on life, sharing meals, lounging around, and reminiscing about the good old college days.  Yeah, she was, by far, the most low maintenance guest ever!   She left on yesterday, with a newfound appreciation for Charm City I might add.  That means I'll have about two seconds to catch my breath before welcoming another friend--from Mississippi--to the city later tonight.

On days like this, when time is of the essence, I like to pull together a quick entree salad, instead of cooking, to save time and calories (budgeting for those cocktails, you know).  In this case, I used the ingredients I had on hand and built the salad around the sweet sesame seaweed that I bought at Trader Joe's over the weekend.  I added ingredients that I thought would complement the seaweed and provide a nice flavor contrast. The resulting salad was juicy, sweet, crunchy, and slightly pungent--a win all around for me.  This recipe is definitely a keeper!


Sweet Sesame Seaweed Salad w/ Mandarin Oranges



Ingredients:


  • 1 serving of Escarole Lettuce Blend (escarole, endive & radicchio), roughly 2 cups
  • 2 tbsp green onions
  • 1 handful matchstick carrots
  • 2 tbsp whole water chestnuts, thinly sliced with a mandoline
  • 3 tbsp cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup julienned smoked sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup mandarin oranges
  • 2 tbsp Blue Stilton Cheese, cut into small cubes
  • 1 tbsp Seasoned Rice Vinegar, Balsamic Blend
  • 2 tbsp Sweet Sesame Seaweed

Direction:


In a large bowl, combine first 10 ingredients and mix well.  Plate the salad on a large dinner plate and garnish with sweet sesame seasweed.  Enjoy!


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pasta con Le Cozze


Shortly after moving to Hampden, I stumbled upon Daniela Pasta & Pastries.  It's a relatively small family-owned Sardinian storefront on "The Avenue" with the appeal of Italy sandwiched between its four walls. There are two small tables inside the restaurant with additional outdoor seating available as the weather permits.  Everything from the pasta and raviolis to the pastries are all handmade and the selection seems to change quite regularly.  Every time I drop by, I'm completely blown away.

On my first visit, right after moving to the neighborhood, I had the most pleasant conversation with the counter attendant and a group of restaurant patrons (who seemed to be closely connected to the restaurant) about my move down from Philly and my domestic travels.  I had my first Arancini Di Riso (crispy fried risotto balls) here, an Italian street food.  I've also had divine pastries and a memorable lasagna here, and I recently had a crab ravioli (with butternut squash if I remember correctly) that was out of this world.  I've even had a low tea with a friend here.  So, I've made quite a few memories at Daniela.

On my last visit, I was intrigued by one of their pasta dishes, Pasta Fagioli.  Unfortunately, I couldn't have any because it had ham in it, and that was all the reason I needed to buy my very first box of ditalini pasta at my local grocer.   Pasta Fagioli is a cross between pasta and soup and so is this pasta.  I started out by making a huge stockpot of vegetable broth with leftover vegetables that I froze to reuse/recycle (e.g., broccoli stalks, cauliflower leaves, sweet peppers, and mushroom stems) along with cilantro, garlic, quartered onions, two lemongrass stalks, carrots, celery, and salt and pepper.  I covered the vegetables in water and let them simmer for about three hours over low heat.  The stock had a great depth of flavor and I highly recommend a homemade vegetable broth if you have the time.  Try putting it on, first thing in the morning, when you wake up and it's ready by lunchtime.


Pasta con Le Cozze


Ingredients:

  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh rosemary, thyme, parsley (about a handful)
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • 2 lb bag of mussels, washed and cleaned
  • 1 cup Ditalini pasta
  • 7 quarts vegetable broth, preferably homemade
  • 28 oz can Kitchen Cut Roma Tomatoes with Basil
  • 2 small carrots, diced
  • 1/2 cup celery, diced
  • 4 fingerling potatoes, diced
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups Pecorino Romano, shredded

Directions:


Bundle the fresh rosemary, thyme, parsley, and bay leaves together in a cheesecloth.  Set aside.

In a large stockpot, cook garlic and onion in olive oil over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until beginning to soften.  Add vegetable broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil.  

Add mussels and bundle of herbs and cook until they have all opened, stirring constantly.  Using tongs, remove the mussels from the pot as they open (so they don't overcook) and set aside.

Add pasta, carrots, celery, and potatoes.  Season with salt and pepper and cook for 6 to 8 minutes or until pasta is al dente and vegetables are soft to the bite.  

Remove from heat.  Recombine the mussels with the soup, and let the soup rest for about 20 minutes.  Remove cheesecloth containing the fresh herbs and discard. 

Before serving, drizzle pasta with olive oil and cheese.   For a really indulgent meal, enjoy with crusty bread dipped in extra virgin olive oil sprinkled with fresh ground black pepper, sea salt, and cheese.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Lace Edge Corn Cakes


What's the best breakfast or brunch you've ever had?   As I lie in bed pondering that very question this morning, I had an epiphany: I absolutely love a Creole/Cajun breakfast.  I effortlessly recalled the amazing brunch I enjoyed with friends, in our Sunday best, at Pappadeaux Seafood in Houston, TX.  I thought about the beignets from Cafe Du Monde that I ate on the banks of the Mississippi River.  I remembered the frequent trips to Dixie Kitchen (a favorite of the POTUS, btw) for their eggs sardou.  I smiled thinking of all the incredible food I've had from my friends' homes in South Mississippi and mom-and-pop restaurants, roadside stands, and corner stores in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

Given my love for breakfast, I realized the dearth of breakfast recipes on my blog didn't accurately capture my relationship with breakfast food.  So, I decided to comb through several of my favorite cookbooks for some inspiration.  Interestingly enough, I encountered the very same problem.  There were the obligatory biscuit and shrimp and grits recipes, but breakfast was mostly an afterthought. The cookbook B. Smith Cooks Southern Style was a godsend.  The cookbook is divided into twelve chapters and each chapter is dedicated to a food category.  I beelined for the brunch chapter and discovered an intriguing recipe for Lacy-Edged Batty Cakes.  Smith notes that a headline from John Thorne's book Simple Recipes reads:
"There are various recipes for this corn cake, made famous by the once-annual 'Batty Cake Brekfus' on the morning of the Kentucky Derby, where they were served along with 'sawsidges, 'lasses, sputterin' coffee and fried apples.'"
These corn cakes seemed like an interesting choice for breakfast, but as a cornbread/tamale/corn cake lover, I had to try them.  The corn cakes turned out incredibly light, crispy, buttery, and were best eaten right out of the skillet (trust me on this).  Forget Lay's, I betcha can't eat just one Lace Edge Corn Cake.  These corn cakes are in the same family as hot water cornbread and are great with apple butter, eggs, salmon, cheese, and tomatoes.  They also make a great base for an eggs benedict.


Lace Edge Corn Cakes*


Ingredients:


  • 3/4 cup white cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powdeer
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 4 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • Vegetable oil, for cooking as needed

Directions:


In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk and egg.  Fold in the cornmeal mixture, stirring until the liquid has been absorbed.  Add the melted butter.  

Heat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat and lightly oil the surface.  Using 1 tablespoon of batter for each cake, fry about 4 at a time for 2 to 3 minutes, until cakes begin to bubble and bottoms are golden.  Flip with a spatula and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until golden.  Serve immediately.


* recipe adapted from B. Smith Cooks Southern Style

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Fig, Hoch Ybrig Cheese, and Balsamic Caramelized Onion Sandwich



Some people look at a mud puddle and see an ocean with ships.  -Zora Neale Hurston


I've been conditioned to think of Tallahassee, Florida every time I see or eat figs, and today was no different.  It all began in the summer of 1990.  My two aunts had convinced my grandmother to allow my two brothers and me to come back to Tallahassee, Florida with them after we had begged and pleaded to no end.  We loaded up my aunt's infamous Chevrolet Spectrum, that she had driven anywhere the wind blew her, and made the long drive to Monday Court, Tallahassee.  It was a peculiar place reminiscent of Zora Neale Hurston's Florida.  One of our neighbors was an elderly black lady with snow white hair who would disappear into the woods collecting spanish moss for her home-brewed tea.  The neighborhood kids were a rowdy bunch who cursed their elders, threw fireworks at cars driving by, and once, they literally stirred up a hornet's nest.  There was also a fig tree behind our house, and I wish I had known the joys of this sandwich back then, but we neglected them, leaving them to ripen and fall off the tree.  The overly ripe figs then became play objects for the neighborhood kids as they ran around the neighborhood smashing figs on people's backs.  Before returning to Mississippi that fall, we would experience the joys of city life, the glory of the beach, and the magic of Walt Disney World.

It's funny how things change.  I was at a conference in Annapolis, Maryland two weeks ago and the vegetarian option for lunch one day was a fig, caramelized onion, and goat cheese sandwich on ciabatta bread.  To be quite honest, I didn't exactly jump for joy and I was disappointed that there wasn't a more substantial option.  I sulked for all of three seconds and got over it.  And, I'm so glad I did.  Who would have thunk it, but this combination is fiyahhhhh!!!  I couldn't wait to come home and recreate the sandwich.

I went to the Wine Source for a bottle of wine and ended up buying everything I needed for the sandwich right there.  The cheesemonger recommended Hoch Ybrig as a great cheese for sandwiches and grilled cheeses, and I grabbed a container of Dalmatia Fig Spread and a mini baguette from their specialty foods section.  I then came home and used the leftover pearl onions I bought for the Three-Mushroom Bourguignon to make balsamic caramalized onions, and--voila!--dinner is served.



Fig, Hoch Ybrig Cheese, and Balsamic Caramelized Onion Sandwich


Ingredients:


  • 1 mini-baguette or ciabatta bread
  • 1 pat of softened butter
  • 1 piece of Hoch Ybrig cheese
  • 2 tablespoons Dalmatic fig spread
  • 1/4 cup balsamic caramelized onions

Directions:


Adjust oven to low broiler setting.  Slice the baguette in half, and if preferred, pinch out a portion of the inside bread.  Butter the bread and place the cheese on one half of the baguette.  Place on a baking sheet and insert in the oven, about 5" below the broiler.  Broil until the cheese is melted, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add fig spread and balsamic caramelized onions.  Carefully fold over to seal.  Enjoy!


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Three-Mushroom Bourguignon


I recently attended the 28th Annual Mushroom Festival in Kennett Square, PA.  The town and festival were both a real treat.  The town center is charming and quaint with several interesting restaurants and boutiques in the immediate vicinity of the main strip.  Talula's Table is worth mentioning considering the notoriety the restaurant has achieved.  As explained in this Saveur article, reservations for the restaurant have to be made a year in advance for the sole table of the night to enjoy their solitary prix fixe BYOB dinner.  Kennett Square is known as the mushroom capital of the world because the surrounding region produces over a million mushrooms a week.  If you ever drive through this area during mushroom season, as I have, your olfactory senses will be assaulted with one of the most unpleasant odors imaginable.  For the sake of comparison, it's much worst than anything you might encounter on the New Jersey Turnpike.  The odor is caused by the composting of mushrooms, which releases moisture and ammonia.  This is a point of contention for many PA suburbanites in mushroom farming communities.

So, take a wild guess at the foods available at the Mushroom Festival.  Mushroom Ice Cream.  Check. Mushroom Soup.  Check.  Fried Mushrooms.  Check.  Mushroom Chili.  Check.  Grilled Mushrooms.  Check.  I even had a mushroom ice cream bar w/frozen slices of button mushrooms that was surprisingly good.  It was truly a mushroom lover's dream.  When I made mushroom bourguignon with portabello, cremini, and shiitake mushrooms, I was transformed back to the festival.  It's the perfect rich, comforting dish to highlight mushrooms.  The recipe below is adapted from Smitten Kitchen by way of The Taste Space.



Three-Mushroom Bourguignon


Ingredients:


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1 pound portobello mushrooms, cut into 1/4-in slices
  • 1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, cut into 1/4-in slices
  • 1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, cut into 1/4-in slices
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 carrot, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves 
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup full-bodied red wine
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 cups vegetable broth (I prefer Rapunzel Vegetable Bouillon Cubes)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup pearl onions, washed and peeled
  • Sour cream and chopped chives or parsley, for garnish
  • Buttered eggs noodles, potatoes, or crusty bread, for serving

Directions:

Heat one tablespoon of the olive oil and one tablespoon of butter in a medium Dutch oven or heavy sauce pan over high heat.  Add all mushrooms to the pot and sear until they begin to darken, but not yet releasing any liquid--about three to four minutes.  Remove them from pan and set aside.  

Lower the flame to medium and add the second tablespoon of olive oil.  Toss the onion, carrots, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste into the pan and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  

Add the wine to the pot, scraping any stuck bits off the bottom, then turn the heat all the way up to reduce it by half.  Stir in the tomato paste and the broth.  Add the reserved mushrooms, with any juices that have collected, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the temperature so it simmers for 20 minutes, or until the mushrooms are fork tender.  Add the pearl onions and simmer for an another five minutes.

Combine remaining butter and the flour with a fork until combined; stir it into the stew.  Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  If the sauce is too thin, boil it down to reduce to the right consistency.  Season to taste.

Serve the stew with buttered egg noodles, potatoes, or crusty bread.  Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with chives or parsley.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tipsy Apple Fruit Roll-Ups


Homemade applesauce is a comfort food.  It reignites those childhood memories when I would go crazy over a pot of hot, chunky applesauce.  Quite naturally, one of my favorite things to make with a batch of apples is homemade applesauce.  A huge perk to making applesauce is it's healthier than almost any other apple recipe (contingent on the fact that you keep the sugar additions to a minimum) and you have the versatility to eat the applesauce plain or incorporate it into other dishes.

The apples used in this recipe mostly came from a tasting of local Maryland apples at work.  Unfortunately, I don't remember all the varieties.  There was certainly a few Golden Delicious, a MacIntosh or two, a sweet variety, a tart variety, and one variety that turned out to be quite mealy.  Mealy apples are ideal for cooking and baking since most people do not enjoy eating them and the cooking process helps to break them down and release their natural juices.

Drunken Applesauce


When I make something like applesauce, I don't follow an exact process so I don't have an exact recipe.     So, here's a guide to my Drunken Applesauce:

  1. Wash, peel, core, and chop 6-8 medium apples
  2. In a large pot, combine apples, 1 cup water, a pat of butter, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp Allspice, 1 tbsp vanilla extract, 3 tbsp cinnamon, 1/3 cup brown sugar,  1/4 cup regular sugar, 1/2 cup brandy, 1/4 cup Triple Sec
  3. Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Cover and reduce heat to medium low.  Cook for 25 to 30 minutes.  
Cook's Notes:  1.) If you use sweet apples, you can reduce or eliminate the sugar.  2.) While it's fine to use regular brandy (like I did), apple brandy is ideal.  3.) I usually add orange juice and orange zest to my applesauce.  I didn't have any on hand the day I made this, but I highly recommend including about 3/4 cup of orange juice and 1 tbsp orange zest.  

Tipsy Apple Fruit Roll-Ups


So, here's my 30-second elevator speech on the utility of applesauce.  Applesauce is often used as a substitute for oil in baking, a meal pairing with pork, and it is easily incorporated into a variety of sweet and savory dishes.  In the past, I've baked apple bread using applesauce.  I recently made one of my favorite smoothies--Pineapple and Apple Smoothie--with sliced pineapples, applesauce, pineapple and apple juices, and shaved ice.  However, I think one of the most distinct uses of applesauce is fruit leather.  

While I am calling these Tipsy Apple Fruit Roll-Ups due to the brandy and Triple Sec in the applesauce, all of the alcohol cooks off during the cooking process so they are actually kid friendly.  This is also a super easy, kid-friendly recipe.  The most difficult thing about fruit leather is preparing the baking sheet and cutting/rolling up the fruit leather afterwards.  



Tipsy Apple Fruit Roll-Ups


Ingredients:
  • 2 cups applesauce
  • 2 tbsp key lime marmalade
Directions:

Preheat the oven to the lowest temperature setting (170º for me).  Heat the key lime marmalade in the microwave for about 20 seconds or until melted.  Combine with the applesauce and set aside.  

Line a large baking sheet with a silicone mat, nonstick aluminum foil, or plastic wrap.  I used plastic wrap with great results.  Use a spatula to spread the applesauce mixture in the baking pan into a thin layer.  Bake for 4 to 5 hours or until dehydrated and the mixture remains firm to a finger's touch.  

Transfer to a rack and let the fruit leather cool completely.  Peel off the mat/foil/plastic wrap.  Lay the leather on a sheet of wax paper with the smooth side facing down.  Use a pizza cutter, kitchen shears, or a sharp knife to cut the leather into strips.  Roll up the strips and store in a mason jar.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Mexican Fiesta Tempeh Salad w/Queso Blanco


I tend to cook with music in the background or I'm jamming away with a headset.  My kitchen is lively and energetic.  In fact, every meal has its own soundtrack.  I become one with the music and the energy feeds my creative process.  Cooking is definitely not a chore for me, and I try to make it as fun as possible.

Here lately, I've become a total NPR junkie and I'd be lying if I said I was listening to anything else on the day I created this salad.   However, I must say that this salad has the spirit and soul of Ozomatli--the crafty Latin band that blends funk, salsa, hip hop, cumbia, merengue, and the soul of L.A.


Mexican Fiesta Tempeh Salad w/Queso Blanco

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cooked black beans
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2-3/4 teaspoon salt
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 package of tempeh
  • garlic powder
  • cumin
  • onion powder
  • 1 block queso blanco
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 bag romaine lettuce
  • 2 tablespoons pico de gallo
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, minced
  • 1 bottle Southwest Chipotle Dressing*
  • 1 bag Sante Fe Style tortilla strips
  • 1 avocado
* I used this salad dressing as a base and enhanced the flavor by blending it with tamarind paste, olive oil, cilantro, pico de gallo, vinegar, and lime juice in the blender.


Directions:

Preheat oven to 400ºF.  In a large frying pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium low heat.  Add the garlic and chili powder.  Saute, stirring occasionally, until the garlic just begins to turn golden.  Add the black beans and stir to coat with the garlic and curry powder.  Add the salt and pepper.  Stir to combine and turn out the black beans into a large, shallow baking pan.  Bake 15-20 minutes, or until crunchy.  Set aside and allow to cool.

Then, cut the tempeh into thin strips or cubes.  Season to taste with garlic powder, cumin, and onion powder, about 2 to 3 shakes per seasoning.  Heat 1 tbsp olive in the frying pan used for the beans.  Cook the the tempeh over medium heat until golden brown.  Set aside.  

Cut a strip of 1" thick queso blanco from the cheese block.  Cut into half.  In a frying pan, heat 1 tsp olive oil over medium low heat.  Cook queso blanco on both sides until brown and crust forms.  Cut into smaller pieces and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine 2 handfuls of romaine lettuce (or enough for one salad), pico de gallo, cilantro, 3 to 4 pieces of tempeh, 1/4 cup black beans, and salad dressing (about 2 tablespoons).  Mix well.  Transfer to a serving plate.  Top with tortilla strips, fried queso blanco pieces, and avocado slices.  Enjoy!


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Peanut Butter and Key Lime Marmalade Sandwich w/ Cream Cheese and Apples

I recently got back into peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I remix them with different fruit and cheese combinations.  This key lime marmalade and cheese cream combo is definitely a winner for anyone who enjoys the pleasing tartness of key limes.



Key Lime Marmalade, where have you been my whole life?


Peanut Butter and Key Lime Marmalade Sandwich w/ Cream Cheese and Apples

Ingredients:

  • 1 MacIntosh Apple
  • 1 pat butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon reduced fat peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon key lime marmalade
  • 1/2 teaspoon low fat cream cheese
  • 2 slices Oatnut Bread
Directions:

Rinse apple and thinly slice three vertical rings from the apple.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine peanut butter, key lime marmalade, and cream cheese.  Mix until smooth.  Set aside

Melt butter in a nonstick skillet over low heat.  Add apple rings and balsamic vinegar and saute until soft, about 2 to 3 minutes. 

Assemble sandwich by layering apple rings on one slice of bread and spreading the peanut butter mixture on the other slice of bread.   Enjoy!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Matzo Ball Soup


You play like you ain’t had no food in ‘bout four or five days.
Chuckle. 
Yep…  Gotta be hungry to play a Jew’s harp.  Gotta eat it up.
Have mercy.
Then, what happened?
No, he didn’t?
Yep.
He got a lot of gravy on them chitlins.
Like it greasy, Christian.  Give me some grease…
I can hear that. 

-Christian McBride feat. Gina Gershon, "Chitlins and Gifltefish," Conversations with Christian McBride, 2011.


It all started with a box of Whole Wheat Matzo Meal on clearance at my neighborhood grocery store.  That got me thinking.  I thought back to all the times I've been denied and excluded from the matzo ball soup experience.  I suddenly got this throbbing ache in my stomach.  I cried.  I was overwhelmed with emotion.  I could barely even stand up.  The mass discrimination against vegetarians and pescetarians was just too much to handle on that somber Saturday morning.  Lol.   I figured that $2.97 was a low risk investment for my own little foray into matzo ball soup.  

A couple months later, I came down with an awful cold and my mom was nowhere to be found.  Can you believe the nerve of her to think that Mississippi is too far away (from Baltimore) to come and tend to her youngest child during my feeble moments of sickness?  I pushed on.  I took lots of drugs to no avail, and finally decided that a warming, comforting broth would be the perfect antidote.  Aha!  The perfect opportunity for my random, obsessive experiment with matzo ball soup.  I did a little preliminary research and discovered numerous matzo ball soup aficionados who insisted on things like seltzer water in the matzo dough, schmaltz over oil,  floaters vs sinkers,  and a large singular matzo ball vs several small matzo balls.  The purists also agreed, no egg noodles.

I decided to do my own thing since I wasn't vying for a gold ribbon in authenticity.  I simply wanted a delicious, filling matzo ball soup that could cast away my cold virus.  To that end, I made a homemade broth using leftover vegetables and the leftover smoked turkey necks I had in the freezer from this recipe for Spicy Southern Collard Greens w/Aunt Fadrie's Chow Chow.  For the matzo balls, I simply used the recipe on the back of the matzo meal box.   Then, I decided to beef up the final product with carrots, celery, no yolk egg noodles, and fresh dill.

Final Verdict:  OMG, this soup is absolutely delicious.  Somehow, I ended up with both light and fluffy matzo balls and the heavier, more dense variety.  I much prefer the light and fluffy ones.

On another note, matzo ball soup just might be the most suitable substitute to satiate my never ending chicken and dumplings cravings.  My mom made the flat noodle type.  She would combine them with fresh pepper, seasonings, and the leftover bony chicken parts such as the back, neck, and wings in a medium saucepan.  There were no broth or vegetables.   The final result was an explosion of flavor that doesn't lend itself very well to vegetarian & pescetarian cooking. 




Friday, October 19, 2012

Banana Nut Trail Mix


Trick or treat!  Halloween is less than two weeks ago.  By now, you've probably carved the jack-o-lanterns.  You might have decided on a scary, funny, or ironically epic costume.  Maybe, you're drafting a menu for a dinner party or community event.  No matter what your Halloween plans are, there's likely to be food involved.  This year, I challenge you to avoid the common pitfalls in our diet by replacing the candy and sugary sweets (which are nothing more than empty calories) with a healthier and more nutritious snack such as this trail mix.

Note: This trail mix should only be enjoyed as an occasional snack since it's high in fat.  However, trail mix does provide nourishment to the body in the form of fiber and protein making it a much better choice than candy and sugary sweets.

Banana Nut Trail Mix

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup honey roasted cashews
  • 1/2 cup honey roasted peanuts
  • 1/2 cup honey roasted sesame sticks
  • 1/2 cup dried sour/tart cherries
  • 1/2 cup banana chips
Directions:

Add ingredients to a one gallon Ziploc bag.  Toss to mix well.  Transfer to a serving container or individual bags (for trick-or-treaters).   Makes about 6 to 8 servings of 1/3 cup.





Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tuna Italiano


Here are the facts:

  1. As a pescetarian, I've eaten a lot of tuna sandwiches.  
  2. Of the tuna sandwiches I've eaten, the best ones have all been Italian-style.  
  3. Of the Italian-style tuna sandwiches I've eaten, the best ones have all been in Philly.  
  4. Of the Italian-style tuna sandwiches I've eaten in Philly, the best ones are the Tuna Diablo at Primo Hoagies (#1), Ave Maria at Sarcone's Hoagie's (#2), and the Tuna Italiana at Paesano's (#3).  

So, yeah folks, Philly is a solid town that packs a mighty punch in the hoagie department!  Check out this guide from the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation http://www.visitphilly.com/philadelphia-hoagie-finder/

Every good sandwich starts with good bread.  Since Baltimore isn't particularly known for its sandwiches, my options were somewhat limited in that department.  Stone Mill Bakery would have been my preferred option, but they were closed on Sunday when I made this sandwich.  After a little searching around, I ultimately ended up getting a baguette from Bonaparte Breads to create this masterpiece.  This sandwich is probably most similar to Paesano's Tuna Italiana.



Tuna Italiano

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon capers
  • 3 cans chunk light tuna packed in water, drained
  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe
  • 1-12 oz jar hot cherry peppers
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1-8 oz jar roasted red bell peppers, drained
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic
  • 1/3 baguette
  • olive oil, to taste
  • 2 slices of sharp provolone cheese
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, thinly sliced with an egg slicer
Directions:

Tuna Salad

In a bowl, combine first four ingredients.  Set aside.  Add drained tuna to a mesh strainer and press out any remaining water.  Combine with oil mixture.  Refrigerate and allow to marinate overnight if possible.   Note: Recipe will yield enough tuna salad for multiple sandwiches.   

Sauteed Broccoli Rabe & Hot Cherry Peppers

Thoroughly wash broccoli rabe and remove stems.  Set aside.  Chop about half of the hot cherry peppers.  Heat one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a medium pan.  Combine broccoli rabe and hot cherry peppers in the pan and sauteed until just soft, about 5-7 minutes.  Add one teaspoon of minced garlic during the last two minutes of cooking.  

Marinated Roasted Red Bell Peppers

In a bowl, combine roasted red bell peppers, 1/4 cup olive oil, and 1 teaspoon of garlic.  Allow to marinate overnight.

Sandwich - The Good Stuff

Preheat oven broiler.  Using a sharp knife, cut the baguette down the middle, leaving one end intact.  Carefully press both sides of the bread flat so that the intact end doesn't break.  Brush both sides of the bread with olive oil.  Add one slice of cheese to each side of the bread, cutting if necessary.  Add tuna salad and marinated roasted red bell peppers to the bottom side and the sauteed broccoli rabe & hot cherry peppers to the top side.  Place on a roasting pan and broil in the oven for 2 or 3 minutes.  Remove from the oven.  Top with hard boiled egg slices.  Fold over to seal.  Enjoy!




Friday, October 12, 2012

Barbecue Baked Beans w/ Crushed Pineapple & Quorn Grounds

Have you noticed the earthy hues of leaves slowly and meticulously painting the landscape like the delicate brushstrokes of a painter's brush?  Have you been unexpectedly hit in the face by a cold north wind?  Are you rearranging your schedule to accommodate Sunday night football?  Maybe so, maybe not.  Regardless, these are all telltale signs of autumn unfolding here in Maryland.  I am feeling mixed emotions as I long for the dog days of summer and crave for the warming comfort of fall foods.  Thankfully, baked beans are the perfect antidote for my momentary blues, perfectly marrying summer cookouts and fall bashes.  

I have a kind of special relationship with baked beans.  It was my first signature dish and, growing up, I was the Chief Engineer of Baked Beans in my house.  I can vividly recall my intrigue with mom's process as she sauteed onions and bell peppers and cooked them in a cast-iron skillet with ground beef on the stovetop.  The ground beef mixture was then transferred to a pot with canned baked beans, brown sugar, barbecue, honey, and yellow mustard and slowly simmered into a sticky, sweet reduction of beans. Hmmm, delish!  I always knew if I could cook these delicious baked beans, I'd never have to worry about going hungry.

This version is a vegetarian homage to the baked beans that my mother taught me to cook many years ago.

Barbecue Baked Beans w/ Crushed Pineapple & Quorn Grounds

Ingredients:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1-12 oz bag Quorn Meatless & Soy-Free Grounds
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1-14.5 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1-8 oz can crushed pineapple in pineapple juice, partially drained
  • 1-28 oz can good quality Vegetarian Baked Beans
  • 3/4 cup hickory smoke barbecue sauce 
Directions:

Preheat oven to 275º.  In a large dutch oven or pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauteed the red onions, red bell peppers, and garlic until soft, about 4-5 minutes.  Add the Quorn meatless grounds and cook an additional 4-5 minutes.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.  If using a pot, transfer the mixture to a large ovenproof dish.  Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the liquid has reduced. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Amazing Apple Pancake


Brunch

I have a confession to make.  Cue drumroll... I am not much of a breakfast person.  *Gasp*

It's not that I dislike breakfast.  I just am not willing to put in the extra effort to cook anything, during the week, when I have to wake up at 6 a.m.  So, for the past few years, my breakfast has consisted of oatmeal and whole grain cereals.   While I ate a good amount of oatmeal in graduate school, I've inadvertently embraced whole grain cereals as my breakfast of choice over the past year.  It's quicker. There are four that I eat rather consistently--Kashi Golean Crunch Honey Almond Flax, Quaker Oatmeal Squares,  Giant (store brand) Fiber Select Bran Cereal, and Trader Joe's Toasted Oatmeal Flakes.   These cereals are flavorful and full of complex carbohydrates, making them a great source of energy.  When eaten with reduced or low fat milk or a soy or almond milk, in my case, whole grain cereal is an excellent breakfast choice that provides nutrients from two food groups.  It's also pretty low in calories, which gives me a little more leeway to enjoy healthy snacks during the day and have a satisfying lunch and dinner without going over my calorie recommendations.

Enter weekend brunch.  Brunch is altogether a different beast than breakfast.  Brunch can go as late as 4 p.m. and combines traditional breakfast foods with the savory foods that are more often associated with lunch and dinner.  With work obligations out of sight and out of mind, brunch is a time to finally relax, indulge, and savor your food.

Apples Galore

I spent the past week promoting local food, farmers markets, and Maryland apples on my job.  After so many apple tastings, I thought I would have to take a break from eating apples.   But, how could I not take advantage of having an apple corer (used for my job) on hand?   This amazing device peels, cores, and slices apples in about 30 seconds, resulting in a slinky apple. I kid you not...



I also bought apples at the market this past week since they were on sale, and I hate to waste food.  So, quite naturally, I woke up yesterday morning wondering what could I make with apples.  I considered applesauce and fried apple pies when I suddenly remembered this awe-inspiring recipe from The Kitchn for The Apple Pancake.  Honestly, it had me salivating for days after I first saw it.  The rest is history, folks.

My apple pancake turned out quite different from theirs.  Apparently, I didn't chop my apple finely enough so they didn't condense and caramelize as much as they should have.  Instead, my apple were stacked and layered (a technique I've been trying to figure out for quite a while).  I also substituted one ingredient and added walnuts.  This pancake was quite delicious for brunch and an excellent dessert for dinner (with a side of fat free frozen vanilla yogurt).


Here's the recipe for my final product...

The Amazing Apple Pancake

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium Gala apples, peeled, cored, and sliced into half moons
  • 4 tablespoons white sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 5 eggs
Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  

In a small bowl, mix 3 tablespoons of sugar with the cinnamon and ginger and set aside.

Cut the butter into chucks and place them in a deep cast iron skillet.  Put the skillet in the oven for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the butter is melted.  Remove pan from the oven and carefully sprinkle the brown sugar over the melted butter.  Add the apples on top of the brown sugar and sprinkle the cinnamon mixture over the top.  Put the skillet back in the oven to caramelize the apples and sugar.  

Whisk the flour with the remaining sugar, salt, and nutmeg.  Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly with a large wire whisk to beat out any lumps.  When the flour is smoothly incorporated into the milk, beat in the vanilla and the eggs one at a time.  Beat the mixture by hand for 2 minutes, or until foamy.  Allow the batter to rest for 5 minutes.  By now the sugar should be bubbling around the apples.  

Remove the skillet from the oven and pour the batter over the apples.  Bake for 20 minutes or until the center is set and sides are lighted browned.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes.  Slice and transfer to a serving plate to enjoy.  

Recipe adapted from thekitchn.com -- Weekend Breakfast Recipe: The Apple Pancake



Friday, October 5, 2012

Spicy Southern Collard Greens w/ Aunt Fadrie's Chow Chow


It's the end of another busy week and I'm beaming because I have something special in the refrigerator--collard greens.  I mean, honestly, there is no greater comfort than a bowl of spicy collard greens with my Aunt Fadrie's homemade chow chow.  I make it my business to pick up a jar of this delicious sweet, spicy goodness every time I go home.  I make several versions of collard greens, but today's recipe is most traditional and my personal favorite.

This recipe is one of the few times I commit pesceterian heresy and cook with meat.  I've tried smoked paprika, imitation smoked bacon bits, and liquid smoke several times for smoke flavor, but there just is no replacement for the smokiness of smoked meat in a pot of greens.  Since I wasn't cooking for anyone else in particular, I had plenty of leeway so I took the leap and grabbed some smoked turkey necks while shopping at the market.  

Right after cooking these, I came across this Commercial Appeal article on the most "southern" of all foods.  I was just as surprised with the foods mentioned on the list as I was with the ones omitted.  When their extensive panel weighed in, there seemed to be an overwhelming consensus that greens, potlikker, fried green tomatoes, okra, cornbread, barbecue, pork, chicken and dumplings, biscuits, and grits were the most southern of all foods.  I was very surprised that more people mentioned greens than any other food.  While I love greens and tend to associate them with southern food, I always thought they were eaten all over the country.  I was also quite surprised that there was no mention of catfish considering the South's dominance in catfish farming.  My list would also include chitlins, chow chow, sweet potato pie, sweet tea, pecans, muscadines, and fried chicken.  

Spicy Southern Collard Greens

Ingredients:
  • 2 tablespoons canola or olive oil 
  • 1 lb smoked turkey (any cut)
  • 1 red onion, halved
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
  • 2 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 lbs fresh collard greens, washed, stews removed, rolled, and chopped
  • 3 teaspoons minced garlic
Directions:

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the smoked turkey and brown on both sides, about 6 minutes.  Add the onion havles, cut sides down, and brown, about 5 to 6 minutes.  Stir in the vegetable broth.  Season with chili flakes, salt, vinegar, and garlic powder.  Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer.  Adjust seasoning, if desired.  Add the collard greens and minced garlic.   Stir to combine and cover.  Cook until greens are tender for about 45 minutes.  Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with a teaspoon of chow chow.  Enjoy! 

Cook's Note: The longer your greens cook, the more nutritious the potlikker/broth/liquid becomes (assuming you haven't loaded it up with salt).  It's best to sop it up with cornbread or lap it up with a soup spoon.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Balsamic Caramelized Onions & How to Make Food Less Spicy


Did you get heavy handed with the pepper?  Is your favorite ethnic take out food unusually spicy this week?  Did that jalapeno pepper turn out to be a lot hotter than you originally thought?  Well, fret not! Cooking is an art and you can fix just about anything that isn't burnt.

After having quite a bit of Mexican Pesto leftover from the Hominy and Corn Chowder with Mexican Pesto, I thought I'd remix it by throwing it in the blender with some chipotle peppers and sun dried tomatoes.  I then used the pesto as a sauce for a box of whole wheat spaghetti.  When I tasted the final product, it was hot!  Like, so hot that my nostrils were tingling and I had to add cheese, drink milk, and take breaks to finish eating it.

That night, I went back to the drawing board and thought about how I would salvage this dish. As mentioned in this article, How to Make Hot Peppers Stop Burning, I knew I had the following options:


  • Add dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or sour cream: The casein in dairy products breaks down the capsaicin in spicy food.
  • Dilute:  Adding more food will change the ratio of spice to food and reduce the spiciness of the dish.  
  • Acid: Acids such as citrus fruits, vinegar, and tomatoes will help to neutralize the alkaline activity in capsaicinoid.
  • Carbohydrates: This includes bread, rice, pasta, crackers, tortillas, beer (it's made from grains), potatoes, corn, and sugar.  According to Dr. Helmenstine, "Carbs provide a barrier between your mouth and some of the capsaicin so less of it contacts your tongue, lips, etc. The sugars in the carbohydrates may also help to lessen the activity of the capsaicinoids" (2012, How to Make Peppers Stop Burning).

For my pasta, I decided to add balsamic caramelized onions for sweetness and acid.  I added about 3/4 cup of grated carrots glazed in a tablespoon of vanilla Greek yogurt for my dairy component and to dilute the dish with vegetables.  I added another box of whole wheat spaghetti to dilute the dish with more pasta (carbohydrates).  I added a large can of crushed tomatoes for more acid.  I also added sauteed spinach, diced olives, diced artichokes, and julienned red bell peppers to further dilute the dish.  The final dish was hearty, flavorful, and it wasn't even the least bit spicy.  I offered some to a friend who dropped by my house.  She added hot sauce to hers and raved about how good the spaghetti was.  Oh, the irony...

The methods applied here have universal application for making food less spicy. 

Balsamic Caramelized Onions

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, chopped
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Directions:

In a large skillet, melt the butter and olive oil.  Add the onion and oregano, cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add 2 tablespoons of water to the skillet and cook over moderate heat until the onion is caramelized, about 10 minutes (add a few extra tablespoons of water to the skillet if necessary).  Add the balsamic vinegar and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until has evaporated, about 10 minutes.  Season the onion with salt and pepper.


Note: Balsamic caramelized onions are great in sandwiches and pasta, on pizza, mixed in with vegetables, or as a side dish.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hominy and Corn Chowder with Mexican Pesto


Have you ever had food so good that you hide it to keep ravenous scavengers others in your household from devouring it?  You nibble at it like a Lilliputian to savor the eating experience.  You curse the person who dares to ask for your last bite of food.  If so, you will understand exactly how I feel about this chowder.

This hominy and corn chowder has an incredible depth of flavor that's perfect for jumpstarting comfort food season.  The soyrizo (soy chorizo) lends a nice spiciness.  The chipotle peppers in adobo sauce gives it a pleasant smokiness.  The hominy and corn provide that luscious, sweet corn goodness and they are also a nice contrast in texture.  The cream gives it the rich taste associated with chowders.  Finally, the queso fresco, scallions, jalapeno peppers, and Mexican pesto that rounds out the chowder prove that garnishes can provide a big bang in the flavor department.  Buen Provecho!

This recipe served as a guide for this dish: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Double-Corn-Chowder-with-Chipotle-and-Bacon-239697

Hominy and Corn Chowder with Mexican Pesto

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 pound maiz trillado (dried cracked yellow hominy corn; 1 1/3 cups), picked over and rinsed
  • 11 cups of vegetable stock made with 3 Rapunzel Vegan Vegetable Bouillon with Sea Salt & Herbs
  • 1-12 oz pack Soyrizo
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 Tbsp. jalapeno chile, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. garlic, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen corn
  • 1 can chipotle chile in adobo sauce
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 2 cups packed fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1/4 cup toasted pepita seeds
  • 1/2 Tsp jalapeno chile, minced
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1-12 oz block queso fresco (1/2 cup freshly grated queso for pesto.  Remaining cheese can be used as a garnish for the soup)
  • 1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
Directions:

Soaking dried cracked yellow hominy corn: 

Cover maiz trillado with 4 cups of water and let stand overnight.  Drain and rinse, discarding water.  

Make chowder:

Add soaked corn to pot with 8 cups of vegetable stock and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Simmer, partially covered, until tender, about 1 hour. (Do not drain.)

While corn is cooking, brown soyrizo and onion in a large skillet on low heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 10 minutes.  Add bell pepper, jalapeno, garlic, and cumin and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until pepper is softened, about 8 minutes.  

Transfer the soyrizo mixture to pot with corn and its reserved cooking liquid.  Add 3 remaining cups of vegetable stock and simmer for about 15 minutes.  Stir in fresh (or frozen) corn and simmer for another 6 minutes.

Transfer 2 cups of chowder to blender along with 5 - 6 small chipotle peppers and puree.  (Use caution and hold blender top with a clean dish towel to avoid being splashed with the hot liquid).  Stir the pure into chowder along with cream and bring just to a simmer (do not let boil).  Serve with garnish of chopped scallions, minced, fresh jalapeno peppers, queso fresco, and Mexican pesto.  

Make Mexican Pesto:

Combine the cilantro, garlic, pepitas, and jalapeno chile in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.  Add olive oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.  Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.    

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sauteed Okra

For you to understand my love for okra, I must go back to the beginning.  All the way back to my childhood in Mississippi where okra was a standard crop in my family's vegetable garden and a staple in our diet.  Well, at least for my mom and me. I've never been much of a picky eater and my mom and I indulged in okra as a companion food for greens, purple hull & black-eyed peas, and cornbread.  I rounded out those meals with a little chow chow relish and a few slices of raw onions added to the mix.  To this very day, okra is my favorite vegetable.  Eating it, I can't help but feel nostalgic for the days of old.

A few years ago, I created this recipe for okra.  It's quite different from the lightly steamed okra I grew up on.  It's quick and easy.  The okra is slightly crunchy and the seasoning provides a surprising pop of flavor.  I once made this okra dish for a carb-loving friend who struggled to eat vegetables and she had two helpings of it.  The following week, she called me three times to let me know that she had made my okra recipe.

Sauteed Okra

Ingredients:

  • 1 pat of butter
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 small jalapeno chile, thinly sliced
  • I mess of okra (roughly 15 pods)
  • Creole seasoning, to taste
  • Garlic powder, to taste
  • Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
Directions:

Wash, gently scrub, rinse, and clean the okra thoroughly.  Shake off excess water and set aside in a container.

Heat butter and olive in a large skillet over low heat.  Add jalapenos and okra pods to the skillet and cook about 2 minutes, thoroughly tossing the okra in the oil mixture.  Sprinkle the Creole seasoning, garlic powder, and cracked black pepper over the okra and continue cooking for another two to three minutes.  Then, added the minced garlic and cook another minute or two, being sure not to overcook the okra and garlic.  Garlic burns easily and when overcooked or cooked at too high a temperature, it will turn bitter.  

The final product should be coated in garlic and spice with a slight crunch.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Vegetable Confetti Fried Rice


Frittatas are my tried-and-true answer to leftover vegetables, a quick and easy way to elevate simple ingredients.  It's a food that knows no bound and tastes just as good with potatoes and cheese as it does with bok choy and mushrooms.  While frittatas are a favorite of mine,  I was craving something entirely different this past Friday.  I needed something more celebratory that was appropriate for the occasion: 1.) Ending a long work week filled with teachings, trainings, and meetings, and  2.)  Commencing a Labor Day Staycation in Baltimore and the DMV - DC/Maryland/Virginia.

I happened to have beaucoup brown rice on hand and fried rice seemed like the perfect thing to make with cauliflower, red cabbage, carrots, yellow squash, and spinach.  No?  Why, of course.  This vibrant dish is relatively healthy, delicious, and filled with a variety of shredded vegetables that bears a resemblance to confetti.  More reason to celebrate!

Vegetable Confetti Fried Rice

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/4 cup cauliflower, broken into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup shredded red cabbage
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/4 cup shredded spinach
  • 1/2 small yellow squash, chopped
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1 teaspoon oyster sauce (or fish sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
Directions:

Prepare cook station with mise en place (i.e., put everything in place needed for cooking). In a wok or large skillet, heat the canola oil over medium heat.  Add the vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes until slightly tender.  Add the eggs and scramble.  

Add the cooked brown rice to skillet and stir to combine well.  Drizzle with oyster sauce and stir to incorporate into the dish.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Drizzle with sesame oil and stir to incorporate into the dish.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Enjoy.

Cook's Note - Feel free to include any of the following ingredients: chopped onions, shrimp, chicken, or soy sauce to taste before eating

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

GoLean Crunch Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies


As a fledgling child, my first signature dish was peanut butter cookies.  They were nothing fancy.  In fact, I used the recipe on the back of a Peter Pan peanut butter jar.  The fact that I made food that was edible and other people liked it meant the world to me back then.  Years later, I still yearn for compliments from honest critics so I guess not much has changed, eh?  Not exactly.

These peanut butter cookies are nothing like the sugary, fatty cookies from my youth.  These cookies are filled with fiber and protein.  They're reduced fat and quite delicious.  WhoNu?

These cookies are inspired by this recipe for Chocolate Peanut Granola Cookies from Food and Wine, but they are very much my own.

GoLean Crunch Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Kashi GoLean Crunch! Honey Almond Flax Cereal
  • 1 cup reduced fat peanut butter
  • 1 large egg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Transfer 1 cup of granola to a food processor and pulse until finely ground; transfer to a medium bowl.  Add the peanut butter, egg, salt, and chocolate chips.  Stir the mixture until smooth.  Add remaining granola.

Form cookie dough into balls and arrange on the prepared baking sheet.  Flatten the ball with the tines of a fork or hand press to about 3-inch rounds.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 12 minutes, until the cookies are lightly browned around the edges.  Cool the cookies on the baking sheet.

In a small saucepan, heat chocolate and almond milk over low heat, stirring continuously, until smooth and melted.  Remove from heat and immediately dip the cookies in the melted chocolate.  Allow chocolate to harden.  Refrigerate if necessary.  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Gulf Coast Faux BLT Salad with Mussels


I bring it back to the bottom of the map (Ooowee)
I bring it back to the bottom of the map (Ooowee)
I bring it back to the bottom of the map (Ooowee)
I bring it back to the bottom of the...
- Lil' Wayne

This salad is a homage to the U.S. Gulf Coast, the mysterious and quirky region at the bottom of the map.  While the Gulf is admittedly still reeling under the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and the recent oil spill, tourist and locals in many parts of the region continue to "laissez les bons temps rouler," otherwise known as, let the good times roll.  This is most evident in the food and passion for cooking throughout the Gulf.  After all, the Gulf is a region with an abundant food supply that also loves to eat.  Chef Mario Batali once exclaimed, "The Gulf Coast has the potential to create a culinary raw ingredient paradise that smart cooks can capitalize on."  I would most definitely agree and that's exactly why I thought back to the Gulf Coast as I created this salad.

Pork, fish, and shellfish were the first three ingredients that came to mind as I began to think of regional foods from the Gulf Coast, and I thought how much fun it would be to create a faux BLT salad with shellfish.  And viola... This salad is an explosion of flavor with smoky, garlicky charbroiled tofu, juicy green roma tomatoes, citrusy mussels, and crisp frisee and arugula lettuce tossed in a lemon and pecorino dressing.

Gulf Coast Faux BLT Salad with Mussels

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 dozen fresh shucked mussels
  • 3 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon liquid smoke
  • 1 tablespoon garlic
  • 1 package smoked tofu
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely grated aged Pecorino
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 green roma tomato, cubed
  • 3/4 cup frisee lettuce, loosely packed
  • 3/4 cup arugula lettuce, loosely packed
Directions:

Toss mussels in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.  Set aside.  

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to broil on high temperature setting.  In a small bowl combine liquid smoke and garlic.  Set aside.  Cut tofu in 1" thick rectangular strips.  Toss tofu in liquid smoke mixture and broil on a baking sheet for 4-6 minutes on each side until lightly charred.  Allow to cool and cut tofu strips into smaller pieces, about the size of bacon crumbles.  Remove from oven and set aside.  

In a mixing bowl, combine 1/4 cup water with lemon zest, lemon juice, and black pepper to taste.  Stir while slowly incorporating grated cheese to create a slurry-like consistency.  Finish with olive oil.  Add salt to taste.  

In a large bowl, combine salad, tomatoes, 1/4 cup of tofu, mussels and 2 - 3 tablespoons of salad dressing.  Mix to combine and transfer to a dinner plate.  

Servings: 1 with leftover salad dressing and tofu 

Salad dressing recipe from Lupa in Manhattan by way of GQ Magazine: http://www.gq.com/how-to/rest-of-your-life/201206/dinner-party-guide#slide=8

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mango Watercress Salad with Jerk Shrimp


This salad is the second recipe in my "Summer of Salads" series.  It developed out of a strong yearning for a tropical fruit salad that was low-glycemic and well-balanced.  This salad delivers on both accounts and provides a fresh and exciting alternative to the ubiquitous garden salad.

Recipe development for this salad was a bit of a process.  I love mangoes so I knew that would be my key ingredient.  Then, I did a little research and found this recipe from Caribbean Pot that provided me with an excellent base for the salad.  I made a few modifications and ultimately decided that I prefer a 3:1 salad mixture of arugula and watercress.  Otherwise, the watercress is too strong for my personal liking.  To make the salad a little more complex, I added roasted cashew nuts, jerk shrimp, and raw green beans and tossed it in a homemade Allspice and Nutritional Yeast Salad Dressing.

Mango Watercress Salad with Jerk Shrimp


Ingredients:

  • 5-8 shrimp
  • 1 container Grace Hot Jerk Seasoning
  • 1 cup arugula
  • 1/3 cup watercress
  • 1/8 medium red onion, julienned
  • 1/8 medium red bell pepper, julienned
  • 1/4 cup raw green beans, snapped
  • 1/4 ripe mango, cubed
  • 1 tablespoon roasted cashew nuts

Directions:

Peel and devein shrimp.  Rub generously with jerk seasoning and allow to marinate for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator.  Remove shrimp from refrigerator and cook using your preferred method -- grill, broiler, or stovetop.  Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the flesh turns pink.  Remove from heat and set aside.  

In a large salad bowl, toss the remaining ingredients with 2 tablespoons of Allspice and Nutritional Yeast Salad Dressing (recipe below).  Transfer salad to a serving plate and top with cooked jerk shrimp.  Enjoy!


Allspice and Nutritional Yeast Salad Dressing

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup tamari
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 cup safflower oil

Directions:

Place first nine ingredients in a blender and combine.  With blender running, slowly pour in oil to reach desired consistency.  

Note: This recipe yields about 2 cups of salad dressing, which will last approximately 2 weeks in the refrigerator.


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