Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pantry chili

We just hit spring, but we're a long way from having any fresh local veggies. I'm getting to the end of my winter storage, so it's time to get creative with what's left in my pantry. I canned a bunch of tomatoes last summer, so that's one staple that I've still got in my pantry. I've also got a lot of red kidney beans from a local producer, Baer's Beans.

Not surprisingly, my mind goes to chili.

Now one of my foodie co-workers told me how she wasted some of her canned tomatoes on chili earlier in the winter. I can see where she's coming from. Typical chili recipes call for tomatoes as the conduit, not the star of the dish - chili aficionados discuss the nuances of bass notes from dark chocolate or the melding power of a stout beer base, but rarely do they discuss the quality of the tomatoes. Since home canned tomatoes are so flavorful on their own, I hate to put them in recipes that drowned out their natural flavor with all sorts of other seasonings.

So I decided to make a very simple chili with fresh and whole flavors that punctuate, but don't overpower my canned tomatoes. Whole seed cumin and coriander are a must. The coriander provides the high notes and the cumin the low, and since they stay contained in their seeds, they're like flavor crystals that explode in your mouth when you bite them.

Ingredients (serves 2-3):
  • 1-2 C soaked and cooked red kidney beans (or one can)
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 jalapenos peppers, minced
  • 1 T cumin seeds
  • 1 T coriander seeds
  • 1 qt canned tomatoes and juice
  • 1 t salt (more or less, to taste)
To get the beans ready for the chili, soak for about 8 hours. Rinse and then cook with water and 1 clove minced garlic, covered for between 1-2 hours. Strain and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium high heat. Add the rest of the garlic, jalapenoes, coriander, and cumin to the oil. Saute till the peppers start to soften.

Add the canned tomatoes and their juices all at once. Cook uncovered over medium heat until the sauce thickens (if you're in a hurry, reserve the juice from the can and just add the tomatoes).

When the sauce has reduced by about 1/3, add the beans and salt to taste. Serve over rice or without. With a nice cheddar cheese or perhaps with a dollop of sour cream.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vegetarian potstickers

So I'm away on a business trip for a week. Eating out a lot. But I'm prepared for when I get home because I've made some my own frozen treats to keep me satisfied while I get over jet lag - 30 homemade vegetarian potstickers! That's the key to traveling and a frantic lifestyle - when I have the time, I stock up. This is also a great winter treat. I used the end of my winter storage (cabbage, carrots, parsnips, and even potatoes) along with more traditional stuff from the store. As long as you have some of the key ingredients, you can add whatever else suits your fancy (or happens to be in your make-shift root cellar).

Ingredients (substitute one or all of the veggies below with whatever you have or like):

  • 1/2 head red cabbage
  • 2 medium carrots (or parsnips or both)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves garlic (or more if you're so inclined)
  • 1 medium potato, boiled and mashed
  • 1 bag frozen, cooked edamame (or fresh if you have it)
  • Mandatory: 1 inch fresh ginger
  • 1 T corn starch
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1 T sesame seed oil
  • scant 2 C flour (use some of this for kneading and rolling out)
  • 1/2 C warm water
  • 2 T sesame seed oil
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 2 T rice vinegar
  • 3 T cooking oil
This recipe is adapted from my favorite dumpling recipe with awesome step-by-step, mouth watering pictures.

Mince all the veggies you gathered. Don't grate. Don't use the food processor. Well, unless you're really busy/lazy. I put everything in lovely piles for this picture, but don't be afraid to mix it all up.

Put all the minced veggies in a large bowl. Add the corn starch, soy sauce and sesame seed oil. Mix well and put aside.

Mix the flour and warm water till it starts to form a ball. Turn out onto your work surface and knead for about 20 strokes. Roll into a ball and cover for 15 minutes.

Cut the ball into 1 1/2 inch strips. Take one and cover the rest with a kitchen towel. Make a cylinder out of the strip and cut into 3/4 inch pieces. Roll a piece and fill with about a tablespoon of the filling.

This is the hard part, the pleating. Don't worry, even if you mess it up, they still turn out looking pretty good. Start by folding in half and pinching the midpoint together, Then start pleating one side toward the middle, about 3 - 4 times. The pleat the other side toward the middle the same amount, making sure all the pleats are on the same side of the dumpling. Squish it all together till you're sure it's sealed. Rub the bottom of the dumpling through flour and place on a floured plate or cookie sheet (whichever will fit in your freezer).

As you fill up the plate/sheet, make sure that the dumplings don't touch. When it's full, put in the freezer for a few hours. When they start to firm up, pull them all off and put into a freezer-safe storage container (I use Ziplock).

When you're ready to eat these suckers, heat cooking oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Layer on the potstickers and cook till the bottoms are brown. Then add about a half cup of water to the pan and quickly cover. Allow to cook for about 15 minutes, making sure that they don't actually stick to the pan. Then allow to cook uncovered until the water evaporates.

Serve with a mixture of soy sauce, sesame seed oil, and rice vinegar.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Winter salad?

It's the middle of March and the snow has transitioned to rain interspersed with days sunny enough to cause some people to break out their T-shirts. Yet, even as I can see the first signs of green emerging from the ground, it's going to be a while before typical salad greens will make their way to my mouth. I started some arugula and spinach in my window box some time in December, but it's far from being ready for anything more than decorative micro greens.

In the middle of summer, I was eating almost a head of lettuce a day from my CSA share. At that time, I thought I could go without salads for the rest of my life. I was wrong. I'm jonesin' for some fresh, green goodness!!!

I'm not going to have greens right now, but that's okay, because what I really want is the cool, crisp, tang that I get from eating salads. There's no reason I can't do that with the winter vegetables in my fridge and root cellar.

Inspired by the Indian dish, kosambari, I made my own version using no moong beans (although that was just that I didn't have them in my pantry) and carrots. I've also made this with a combination of carrots and parsnips. And I think it would also be lovely if I threw in some celeriac.

Ingredients (4 servings):
  • Two large carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 2 T fresh ginger, peeled and minced 
  • 2 T fresh coconut, grated (I used a coconut chutney given to me by a friend)
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 1 T mustard seeds
  • Dash asafoetida 
  • Salt to taste
Put all the vegetables in a medium bowl and mix with lime juice.

Heat the oil in a shallow pan over medium-high heat. When a drop of water will dance across the top of the oil, add the mustard seeds. Cover and saute until the popping of the seeds subsides. Remember to cover or you'll get mustard seeds all over your kitchen. When done, take off the heat and add a touch of asafoetida.

Asafoetida is a classic Indian spice that will really push a good dish over the top to plate-licking great. HOWEVER, it's a stinky devil and will infuse your entire kitchen with its smell. I keep my container in a second container in the very tip-top of my cabinet. I got mine from a local Indian store, but have also seen it in Whole Foods. If you can't find it, this dish will work just fine without it.

Pour the oil and spice mixture over the salad. Mix, taste, and salt to taste. Eat right away or refrigerate and eat when chilled. Unlike lettuce salads that wilt over time, this just gets better every day. It will last for about a week.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Bucking the root rut with a tasty ragout

It's March. It's no longer bitter cold and farmers have started their seeds for their summer crops. But it's still a long ways away from the first farmers' market. I was smart and was a part of a wonderful winter CSA through Shared Harvest in Arlington, MA. In my distributions in November and December I got a dizzying array of winter storage vegetables, garlic, beans, popcorn, last of the season greens, and cheeses. I've slowly been picking off the storage veggies from my fridge and make-shift root cellar for the last few months. But now, I'm really getting to my wits end with tubers, roots, and winter squash.

How do you cook this assortment of winter vegetables? Roast 'em. And roast 'em. And, well, you guessed it.

Honestly, cut up and toss a carrot, parsnip, butternut squash in the oven with a little olive oil and salt and the flavors all start to taste the same. Getting through winter vegetables is, what we like to say in consulting, "an exciting challenge".

I'm up for the challenge!

I've found that to get through the flavor rut, it's critical to take the traditional flavors in a new direction. What better to offset the sweet, earthy flavor of root vegetables than a rich, tangy, slightly spicy sauce. Enter my French twist on carrots and parsnips. For a small, but decadent meal, I created a ragout of carrot and parsnip "pasta" smothered in a spicy hollandaise and topped with a poached egg.

Ingredients (for two):
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 medium parsnips
  • 1 T vinegar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 lemon
  • 6 T butter
  • 1 t fresh tarragon, finely chopped
  • dash (or 2, or 3) cayenne pepper
  • salt, to taste
To create the carrot and parsnip pasta, simply use a vegetable peeler to create ribbons of both vegetables. If you'd like them a bit thinner, cut a bunch of quarter inch deep lines along the length of the carrot or parsnip and then use the peeler. Don't worry about making it perfect, just have fun with it.

Bring a small pot of water to boil and blanche the pasta for about a minute or two. Meanwhile melt the butter in a shallow sauce pan. In a blender, squeeze the lemon and add the tarragon. Separate two eggs.

Now here's where things get fun, because when dealing with eggs, it's really all about the timing. No one wants a cold or overcooked egg. My method requires a tab bit of multi-tasking, but using the blender for the sauce makes the whole process pretty simple.

Remove the pasta from the pot to drain and add the vinegar to the water. Reduce the heat slightly so that it's just simmering. Pour the melted butter into the blender with a dash or two of salt. Add the two egg yolks and blend on low for about 30 seconds.

Return to your pot of water and crack in a whole egg. Quickly use a wooden spoon to coax the egg white to gently hug the yolk. Add the second egg and do the same.

Add the egg whites to the blender and blend on low for another 30 seconds. Pour the contents back into the sauce pan in which you melted the butter. Place this over the pot with the poaching eggs to create a little double-boiler action. Quickly whisk the sauce and add the pepper. You just want to slightly thicken the sauce, so when the whisk starts to reveal the bottom of the pan, you're done. Take the pan off the heat and continue to whisk for another 30 seconds.

The eggs only need about 4 minutes to poach in order to maintain the yummy yolkiness. So quickly turn off the burner, plate the pasta, pour sauce over the top, and then top each with a poached egg.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

In defense of pasta

I love pasta in what might be described as an inappropriate manner. There are some things that people never get sick of - for me, that's pasta. However, pasta has been getting a bum deal ever since that Atkins guy came along.

Even if you can get past the effect on your glycemic index, THEN there's the carbon footprint. Most pasta is made from semolina flour which comes from durum wheat. In the US durum wheat is grown mostly in North Dakota and to a lesser extent in Arizona, California, Minnesota, Montana, and South Dakota. So unless you're in North Dakota, which most of us are not, that wheat has to travel a ways to get to the pasta production facilities, it has to be turned into pasta, then packaged, and then transported again to get to your grocer's shelf. Granted, the trip pasta has to make is not refrigerated, so it's not as bad as produce, but it's still a journey from which you can cut out a few unnecessary layovers on the way to your mouth.

So what's a carb loving chick to do? About 6 months ago I think I must have been inspired by Michael Pollan's rule "Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself." (Check out his new book Food Rules for this and more great, simple rules for eating better for yourself and the planet.) Well, that and I just read Heat and started openly dreaming about quitting my job and moving to Italy to learn how to make pasta by an old, Italian grandmother. Regardless of why I started doing this, the result was that I decided that to reduce the amount of pasta I eat, I would only eat it when I made it myself.

Phew. No more pasta, right?

Not so fast. I actually became quite proficient and can now make a basic wide pasta, similar to tagliatelle in about 45 minutes, total. Most of the prep time is the 30 minutes that the dough needs to rest before it is rolled out, cut, and cooked. That's just enough time to prepare a sauce, make a salad, or if you really want to earn those carbs, go for a quick jog. Here's my basic recipe that produces enough pasta for 2-4 servings, depending on your love of the noodle.

  • 3/4 C semolina flour (more regular flour for dusting during kneading and rolling)
  • Few dashes salt
  • 1 large egg
  • Few drizzles of olive oil
  • Drizzle of water
Note: drizzles are approximately a teaspoon, but you're gonna have to eyeball it based on the relative humidity of where you live. Just realize that I've been making pasta in cold and dry New England in the winter.

Put the flour in a medium bowl (I use Pyrex that has a top). Sprinkle salt on top and create a well. In the well, crack the egg, add one drizzle of olive oil, and the drizzle of water. Beat the egg with a fork and gradually incorporate the flour into the liquids. Once they're all incorporated and start forming a ball, turn out onto a floured cutting board. Knead for about 10 minutes sprinkling flour to the board if it's too sticky.

Sidebar: I felt completely inadequate the first time I tried to make pasta. Semolina flour is hard to work. Give yourself a break and start with regular flour. Every time you make it, start adding a little more semolina each time, until one day you can make it with full on semolina. Trust me, your arms will thank you for this.

Form the dough into a ball. Then put another drizzle of olive oil on your hand and rub it on the surface of the ball. Place it in the bowl with a lid (as opposed to covering in plastic wrap) and wait 30 minutes (this is where the jog/preparing a salad/sipping a cocktail option comes in).

Cut the dough in quarters, take one piece and recover the rest. Roll the dough out on a floured cutting board. If you're married and for some ungodly reason asked for a pasta machine in your registry, then go ahead and use that. But if you're like me, single with a small kitchen, you don't have a lot of unitaskers like pasta machines and must roll out the pasta with a rolling pin. Don't worry, you can do it. Plus, as an added bonus, you'll end up with gorgeous sculpted arms without the embarrassment of using the Shake Weight.

When the dough is thin enough that you can see the grain of the cutting board, it's ready. Sprinkle it liberally with flour and then basically roll it up, starting by folding it over one inch, and keep folding till it's one long roll. Once it's all rolled up, you can then cut it to the desired width. If you're a perfectionist, you can make them really thin and all the same size. If you're hungry, you'll just make sure that you don't slice your finger while you're at it.

When they're all cut, toss them around with a little more flour to separate them. Repeat the rolling, cutting, and tossing with the remaining three pieces of dough. When you're done, boil them for a few minutes and enjoy. Alternatively, you can hang them to dry and use at a later time (I've used clothes hangers for a drying rack).

Remember, this will be relatively difficult the first few times you do it. But like anything else, it gets easier with repetition. Fortunately, it always tastes good, so practice makes perfect, and it also makes for a happy belly.