Thursday, November 28, 2013

Black Friday: The Foodie Edition

I'm kind of obsessed with bargain hunting, so this holiday weekend is perfect for my expensive pastime. I've come across many things I think fellow chefs and foodies would enjoy on my Amazon hunt this morning, so I've compiled a random list of deals here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mexican Polenta Pizza with Tomatillo Salsa (gluten-free)

Hello everyone! Rosh Hashana is upon us, and so I thought I would post...something entirely unrelated to apples, honey or brisket! But tonight's recipe is in part motivated by the upcoming holiday. Specifically, we got a really great haul from our CSA this week and we have been scrambling (figuratively and literally as well, we made scrambled eggs this weekend with some of it) to use up the delicious produce we get from Windflower Farm - with the abbreviated week, we needed to make sure we cooked up some good stuff before heading to family for the holiday.

Among our haul: tomatoes, bell peppers, chili peppers, arugula, red onions and tomatillos. The last one being, I think, the most interesting of the bunch. I've heard professional TV chefs like Bobby Flay talk about how amazing tomatillos are, and I've heard of them used in lots of Mexican dishes. I've seen them in the supermarket too, but I've always been a little afraid to buy them, being unsure what they taste like or how to use them. So naturally when we got them in our CSA it was my job to use them up.

The trouble with tomatillos is: no one else really seems to know how to use them either! That's an exaggeration of course, but in my research it seemed like all people really used tomatillos for sauces - the most popular being salsa verde, along with some other tasty-sounding sauces for enchiladas, or as mix-ins for guacamole. I recently even saw a tomatillo ketchup from Saveur recently. But in all these recipes the tomatillos were just playing second fiddle as a condiment. I nearly gave up and planned on just buying some avocadoes and dicing them into guacamole...

When I asked Faigy what proteins we had on hand, she mentioned chicken. I figured I'd be stuffed with chicken for the next three days over the holiday, so I wanted to go for something else. The only other things she mentioned we had were pasta and polenta. Hmm...polenta sounds good, but we always have it sliced into rounds, how could I come up with a new presentation...?

A few more minutes mulling it over and it hit me! Being a sauce didn't mean the tomatillo couldn't play a starring role. What if I just treated it like a tomato and made a sauce out of it for pizza? But the better answer was to let the tomato inspire it, but not treat it like one.

I went back to the tomatillo salsa idea. I could bake a pizza "crust" from polenta, spread a tomatillo salsa doctored up as a pizza sauce on it, sprinkle cheese and bake! The result was a recipe with a number of different variations to fit all sorts of different tastes and requirements.

Some notes: I tried the salsa raw and cooked. The raw had much more of a spicy kick, but way more vibrant flavor and a beautiful color. If you're looking for something punchy with a great bright green color, keep the salsa raw before spreading onto the crust (you may need to strain it a bit). On the other had, the cooked version has a much deeper, more caramelized flavor, with a taste that vaguely resembles a tomato but not quite.

This can also be made vegan by using vegan cheese (or omitting it entirely). It is also entirely gluten-free naturally!

Finally: if you want a quick version: skip the tomatillo sauce entirely and just use regular tomato sauce. The polenta crust is way healthier than dough (350 calories for the whole thing) and it takes 5 minutes active time to prep.

Mexican Polenta Pizza with Tomatillo Salsa and fresh CSA veggie salad

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Cheeseless Mushroom Quiche

Going through the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, I came across a  recipe I knew I had to try: the wild mushroom tart. However, as I needed to take the dairy out of the recipe to serve it as a side with our meat meal, this tart actually became a new recipe entirely! 

Much of the binding in the filling comes from milk and cheese, so I decided to use silken tofu and miso as a replacement. The former replaces the creaminess and the latter replaces the cheesiness. Yes, you read that right - miso can imitate a cheesy flavor. It's a trick I learned from the meatball recipe on the blog Supper for Two

Another big change I made to this recipe is the cooking time, as the tofu takes much longer to set than cheese. While cooking, I was getting nervous about leaving in the tart for nearly double the original cooking time, but it turned out perfectly. 

In the end, this tart came out so delicious, meaty from the mushrooms and savory from the miso. We had absolutely no leftovers, which is always the best sign of all. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

BBQ-Style Stuffed Peppers

A few years ago, I made a dish of onions stuffed with a ground beef mixture from Joyce Goldstein's Cucina Ebraica. It was quite delicious, and I'd resolved to make it again (in fact, in my cooking notebook I'd written down a variant which I have yet to make, but perhaps will appear here one day), but sadly that resolution was lost between the pages of numerous cookbooks I've acquired since.

Fast forward to last week. I had ten people coming for dinner and only a package of ground beef in the freezer. I thought to myself, "how can I make one pound of ground beef stretch for ten people?" My first thought was to fall back to my reliable sweet & sour meatloaf. But then in the back of my mind I recalled the deliciousness of those stuffed onions, and thought of another iconic form of stuffed produce: stuffed peppers.

As it happened, I recently had some stuffed peppers at Abigael's - but they were stuffed with barbecued brisket. I liked the idea of barbecued beef inside the pepper - instead of the classic tomato sauce-drenched dish. But my one complaint about that dish was that the brisket felt a little dry. I knew I had to get the barbecue flavor and ensure a moist, juicy texture to the meat.

The key to that was to cook the meat almost like a stew, with plenty of liquid in a heavy-lidded pot which retains heat well. I created my own savory-sweet barbecue sauce to be cooked in with the beef, and when combined with soft basmati rice, the mixture retained moisture and flavor excellently. Most stuffed pepper recipes call for pouring tomato sauce on top. I debated this for a while but Faigy advised that doing so would drown out the flavor of the meat and the pepper too much.

The rice and meat mixture can be made ahead of time. Just stash them in the fridge for up to a day or two. Reheat the meat in a dutch oven (add a little extra water or broth if it seems dry), then add the rice and warm together (the rice should absorb the remainder of the liquid).

Also, you can make this dish pareve/vegetarian/vegan by using a good ground beef substitute (we like Trader Joe's Beef-less Beef) and vegetable broth.

Red and green peppers will lend different flavors - experiment with both!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Creamy Cheesy Grits

Faigy and I just got back from our two week trip to Southeast Asia. And in honor of that we've decided to bring you...the furthest thing from Asian cuisine we could think of! Well, not really. But I did make this for breakfast to give us a taste of being back home.

Because of the 12-hour time difference, we are extremely jetlagged, to the point that we were up and about at 4am. Faigy managed to get back to sleep but I was up for quite a while more, so I decided I would surprise her with breakfast in bed. The problem with that, I realized, is that before leaving we had completely emptied our fridge. This left us with no eggs, which are quite a staple of breakfast foods. I was originally thinking of making an omelette or pancakes but that obviously wasn't possible. So I did a quick search to get some ideas for egg-less breakfast ideas.

The first thing that I saw was oatmeal, which we had. I went to grab it from above our fridge and saw behind it that we also had a container of quick-cooking grits, which also doesn't require eggs. My first inclination was to make a sweet version with some jams we had in the fridge, but a recipe on the side of the box gave me the idea to do a more savory version.

I applied a few technique tricks to amp up the flavor of the grits (since they can tend to be bland) including browning the butter and toasting the grits; these steps can be skipped if you're in a hurry though. The box calls for water for cooking the grits but I used milk (yes, it was still good after 3 weeks! Ah, the joys of ultra-pasteurization) for added creaminess, and some garlic and paprika for enhanced flavor and color. I topped the cooked grits with additional cheese and wheat germ (we had some in the fridge; if you don't, it's not a big deal) and broiled it.

Since I took the savory route, I complemented it with some jam on toast to fill in the sweetness. Here's what it looked like (on our new serving tray from Vietnam).

Breakfast in bed

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tangy Tempeh in a Red Wine Balsamic Reduction

I'm a much bigger fan of eating more meat substitutes during the week than Ari is, so I've been trying to find ways to make them tastier. Though I'm not a vegetarian, I do believe that it is better for us and for the treatment of animals to eat meat less often. Therefore, I've been looking for ways to incorporate  tofu, tempeh, seitan, and more into our food in ways that taste good and is still healthy for us

One of the healthy and protein-filled options, tempeh, has been particularly challenging to get right, but I believe I finally did it with this recipe. Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and can be particularly tough in texture. The trick is to steam it first so that other flavors can permeate it, turning it from a tough and flavorless substance into a hearty and delicious dish. Then, the tempeh marinates so that it fully absorbs the flavor, followed by quickly pan-frying to make it crispy on the outside.

As Ari is a meat lover, I also wanted to incorporate some of the flavors typically found in meat rubs and marinades to imitate some of that meaty, savory flavor. I had some red wine leftover from the weekend, which was still ok to drink, but not as great as it had been before, so I decided I had to use it here. Turns out this is a great recipe to use up some red wine you have on hand that is going but is not quite gone yet. Then, using this sauce recipe for inspiration, I composed an easy marinade that would compliment the heartiness of the tempeh well.

It came out really delicious - savory and sweet, soft with a bit of crispiness. After tasting it, Ari declared that using this recipe will actually make him crave tempeh for dinner! Knowing my husband, that is quite an endorsement.