Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mediterranean Calabacita

Tonight's dinner came together as the result of a happy accident:  I pulled a pound of ground lamb out of the freezer thinking I had ground beef.  Once I discovered my error, I altered my plans for the meal.  We ended up, rather than the traditional Hispanic calabacita dish, having a lamb-version with a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern flair.

1 pound ground lamb, browned in a tablespoon of olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2-3 mild roasted green chilies (or one can mild green chilies) chopped
pinch saffron, optional
1-2 Tablespoons curry spice mix
1 tsp freshly ground allspice (or purchased ground allspice)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 to 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
2 squash, sliced crosswise (I used 1 zuchini and 1 pattypan squash)

Heat olive oil in pan, then toss in the chopped garlic.  Saute until aromatic, then add the ground lamb.
Once the lamb is mostly browned, add chopped onions and cook until onion is translucent.  Grate allspice over mixture with a zester, or add previously milled allspice, along with mixed curry spices and saffron threads, if using.  Salt and pepper.  Add squash and cook until tender.  Add chilies and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes on low.
zesting the allspice using a carpenter's rasp (a wonderful kitchen tool!) over the browning lamb

chopping the two types squash

chopped green chilies

add the onion

add spices, including saffron threads (pictured between my fingers)

squash and tomatoes are added

The meal included reheated corn tortillas leftover from last night's meal,
goat cheese (served in the tortilla with the lamb mixture, eaten like a soft taco)
Italian cucumbers seasoned with rice vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, 
and Natalie's kale, sauteed with chopped garlic and fresh lemon juice.

This meal got a big thumbs-up from the family.  Super easy to prepare, and the leftovers will be oh-so-good tomorrow for my lunch!  Enjoy!  Try it and let me know what you think!

Note:  I may have mentioned this before, but if not, now is a good time to talk about the freshness of spices in your pantry.  How long has it been since you changed out your spices?  Huh?  If you don't know the answer, it is time to get rid of all your spices and purchase small amounts of fresh spice.
My advice is to stop buying spice in bottles in the spice section of the store and find someplace that carries spice in bulk containers. Places with bulk spices turn over their merchandise rapidly.  Therefore, the spices are much fresher, and you are able to purchase smaller quantities more frequently.  I was reminded of this while cooking dinner because my cardamom had practically no aromatic quality when I opened the container.  Time to get fresher spice!  It makes SO MUCH difference in the outcome of your food.
You can buy a small packet of spice for pennies.  Find a merchant with bulk spice, and your food will taste so much better.

Ode to the Food Processor

I do adore my Cuisinart.  I use it all the time, so much so that, with great sadness, I was forced to replace my 29 year-old one that I received as a wedding shower gift late last year with a shiny new, slightly larger version of the same basic food processor.

Mark Bittman wrote a nice article in the NY Times today about the food processor, and I think it is worth sharing.
DINING & WINE   | September 15, 2010 
The Minimalist:  The Food Processor: A Virtuoso One-Man Band 
The darling of the mid- to late '70s, the food processor is an appliance that can change the way you cook. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

FIsh Tacos with Mediterranean slaw and corn tortillas

This meal is super simple to construct, and it is VERY satisfying!
I'm not a "coleslaw" person.  At all.  I shiver every time I think about that old midwest-style slaw, drowning in that runny white "dressing".  Yech.  This is not your grandma's coleslaw.

First I want to put in a little pitch for my dry curry recipe.  It was previously published, but it is so good I'm going to post it again.  It is what makes this coleslaw recipe so darn delicious.

Make your own Curry spice mixture

Add caption
here is the mixture before grinding in a mini food-processor

Curry Powder:
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon cardamom seeds
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
2 dried red chiles, broken in pieces, seeds discarded
1 tablespoon turmeric

Toast the whole spices (coriander, cumin, fennel, cloves, mustard, cardamom and peppercorns) and the chiles in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat, shaking the pan often to prevent them from burning. Toast for a couple of minutes until the spices smell fragrant. In a clean coffee grinder, grind the toasted spices together to a fine powder. Add the turmeric and give it another quick buzz to combine. Use the spice blend immediately, or store in a sealed jar for as long as 1 month.
Yield: about 1/2 cup
* I made this about 6 months ago and it is still really good.

Fish Tacos
I bought a box of tortilla crusted tilapia filets at Costco.  They are delicious!  If you don't want to use these you can certainly sautee fresh fish, or use whatever else you have on hand.  I like to keep these fish filets in the freezer for times when I forget to thaw anything for dinner.  Cook as directed.

I live in San Antonio where the possibility of acquiring freshly prepared corn tortillas is very easy.  I have been told by a friend that Costco is now carrying corn tortillas that simply need to be pan-heated to finish, and they are quite delicious.  Wherever you get your tortillas, corn or flour, please PLEASE heat them in a pan, flipping at least once, to cook them.  DO NOT microwave them as this turns them into rubber discs.  Pan heating on high takes very little time, and they are 100% better this way.  If you can't get fresh tortillas, this is the next best option.  After heating, place them in a warm oven until ready to serve.

Coleslaw, or as my husband says, "Curslaw":
one package of presliced slaw, found in any grocer case in the veggie aisle (don't use the liquid stuff!) Just get it for the veggies
5-6 thinly sliced radishes
curry mix
1/2 tsp turmeric (in addition to what is in the curry mix)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
handful craisins
approx 1/4 cup mayo
salt and pepper to taste

I'm guessing on the amounts of these ingredients because I almost never measure.  I "eyeball" it.  You can do the same.

dump the vegetables into a bowl

thinly slice radishes, then cut the slices in half
scatter in the veggie mix.  
You might be wondering why I'm putting radishes in the mixture.  Trust me!
Even if you aren't a radish fan, you will love them in this recipe!  They don't significantly spice up the mixture, but they add color and a lovely crunchy texture.  Just do it!

add mayo and curry mix, paprika, and turmeric

toss in craisins (raisins would work, too)

here's what is left of my curry mix.
I guess it is time to make more!

Place the fish filet on the tortilla, then top with the "curslaw".
Serve.  Delicious!

I hope you try this slaw recipe with fish tacos.  It is so deliciously satisfying.  Let me know what you think of them!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Vegetable & Hatch Chili Frittata, Lemon Tilapia Almondine served on a bed of wilted spinach

bag of freshly roasted mild Hatch chilis-yum!
It started with a quick coffee bean run into the local grocer (HEB).  As I approached the door I smelled the heavenly aroma of roasting chili peppers.  To me, this is one of the most wonderful smells on earth.  
Of course I had to buy some!  
Once home, I skinned and seeded several peppers (with plastic gloves on!) and chopped them.
I sauteed a combo of 2 types of squash, chopped garlic, & mushrooms and let them cool.  In the meantime, I mixed 4 eggs with a small amount of half&half, and folded the chilis into the eggs.  Once the veggies were cooled to just slightly warm, I mixed them into the eggs, and added about a half cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese.  

chilies folded into egg mixture

veggies folded into the mixture

cheese added, reserving a bit for the top of the dish

bake at 350 for 25 minutes, finish by broiling for approximately 5 minutes to slightly brown the cheese.

Lemon Tilapia Almondine served on a bed of wilted spinach:
4 tilapia filets
one lemon, zest removed and chopped slightly, several thin cross-slices set aside
4-6 cups of baby spinach leaves, washed thoroughly and stemmed
small amount olive or grapeseed oil
1 pat butter
1/4 cup sliced almonds, pan toasted to bring out the flavor, cooled

Place spinach in a nonstick pan with a bit of water.
Cook until it "wilts".  Remove to a strainer and allow moisture to drain.
Place in a bowl in a warm oven until ready to serve.
zest the lemon

chop the zest.  Slice cross-sections of the lemon so there are at least 4-6 very thin slices.

After spinach has been wilted, return pan to the stove on a medium temperature setting.  Allow pan to warm, then add about 1-2 Tablespoons olive or grapeseed oil.  Add one pat butter for flavor.  As the butter melts, add the lemon zest.  

Once the zest warms and begins to sautee, place the fish filets in the pan.  Season by squeezing a small amount of lemon juice from the unsliced lemon, salt and pepper the filets, then place a lemon slice on each filet. 

 Allow to sautee for several minutes until the underside of the filets begins to turn opaque.  
Carefully turn the filets by using two spatulas:  one slid under the filet, the other over the top to hold the lemon slice in place and to prevent the filet from falling apart.  Carefully turn.  Once turned, season the other side of the fish with a bit of salt and pepper, and another lemon slice if you have enough. 

 Cook for several minutes until the underside appears opaque.  Now, gently turn the filet again using the same technique.  Lower heat.  
Bring plates to the stove-area.  Bring spinach out of the warmer.  Use tongs to arrange equal portions of the spinach on each plate.  

Now, gently transfer a fish filet, with the lemon slices, onto the bed of spinach.  

Garnish with a scattering of the sliced almonds.  Serve immediately. 
Note:  this dish would be excellent if a splash of a nice crisp white wine were added to the butter and lemon zest just prior to adding the fish filets!  Also:  any mild, flaky fish will work very well in this dish.
I eat a lot of tilapia because I know a local purveyor who raises the fish. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A simple "comfort food" dinner

My daughter's former college roommate is visiting from New York.  He requested some homemade macaroni and cheese.  Since we are watching carbs (usually) I don't prepare much pasta, but I made an exception this evening.
The menu:
Roast Chicken stuffed with garlic, lemon and onion wedges
Baked Macaroni and 4-cheeses
Roasted Vegetables

My favorite strategy for perfectly roasted chicken:
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  Bring chicken to room temp before roasting.  To prepare chicken,
rinse bird with tap water and pat dry.  Be sure to remove any giblets from cavity!  Rub grapeseed or olive oil over skin.  I like to put some Herbs de Provence over the skin.  You can make your own dry rub with anything on hand.  Don't salt the bird, as it pulls juice from the meat.  
I thinly sliced a garlic clove, and zested one lemon, then thinly sliced for cross-sections of the lemon.  I like to insert these under the skin of the breast.  It adds flavor and moisture to the meat of the breast.
I coarsely chopped the remainder of the lemon into wedges, and about 1/3 of an onion, and placed these in the cavity.  It adds flavor and aroma to the roasting bird.
Once that has been accomplished place the bird in a good roasting pan.  My favorite is my LeCrueset roasting pan, which is an enameled iron pan.  I like it because it retains heat while minimizing the splatter in the oven.  
Put the bird in the oven and roast for 30 minutes at 500 degrees.  I titer the timing and temperature according to size.  For example, I cook the bird 20 minutes per pound.  The first 20-30 are at 500 degrees, which sears in the juices, then I turn the temp down to 350 for the next 40 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 300-325 for the remainder of the roasting time.  Check internal temperature of the bird toward the end of the 350 degree roasting period.  You should be close to finished.  I like to let the bird remain in the oven at a lower temp for that last period.  I have been getting much better results with my birds this way:  perfectly cooked, juicy, and tender!  Yum!

Reduction of pan juices
I take the roast chicken out of the large roasting pan and plate it on a platter, putting it back in the oven on warm.  In the meantime, I use the pan drippings, and sometimes I will add a bit of white wine or extra chicken stock, and do a nice pan reduction to serve over the roast chicken.  Nothing else is needed.  Do not add salt.  Salting should be reserved for the table.  The salt will intensify as the moisture evaporates.
This is easy and wonderful.  

My mac and cheese and roasted veggies, in progress

Baked 4-cheese macaroni casserole

I used Jerusalem Artichoke pasta, which is gluten-free, high in fiber, and has a probiotic that is really good for the digestion.  It supposedly has a much lower glycemic impact than traditional pasta.  This was an experiment, and fortunately for everyone, it turned out very well!
Ingredients for a large casserole:
-box elbow macaroni (I cooked it but only used about 2/3 the cooked pasta).  Cook until just al dente, then drain.  By leaving some of the cooking time the pasta will absorb some of the moisture from the other ingredients during the baking.
-4-5 eggs, room temperature, beaten
-1/4 cup cream
-spice mixture to taste (I used a bit of my dry curry mix, a tsp of salt, white pepper, and about 1/2 tsp chili powder), but you could season to your own taste.  I really like a hint of allspice in this dish:  it is subtle but adds some interesting depth.  Maybe I have weird taste!
-approximately 1 cup of 4 types of cheese.  I used chevre (melted into the drained pasta while still hot),
cheddar, manchego, and parmesan.  Any combination of cheeses will add a lot of depth to the taste of the dish.  Trust me.
-Panko crumbs for topping, optional

Drain cooked pasta, mix soft goat cheese to allow melting.  Let the pasta cool.  Temper the egg mixture gradually with some of the warm ingredients.  Once the ingredients are approximately the same temperature, mix together the egg mixture and the pasta.  Add the grated cheeses, reserving a bit of the parmesan for the topping.
Pour into a greased casserole dish.  Top with remaining parmesan cheese and panko bread crumbs.
Bake at approximately 375 for 30 minutes.  If the dish isn't browning on the top, turn the broiler on and watch carefully.  Finish it to a light golden brown on top.  Serve immediately.
This was sooooo good!  

Roasted onions, asparagus, and okra

A note about okra:  I never liked okra until I prepared it this way.  The only experience I had with okra was the nasty (sorry) slimy stuff my best friend's father (who was from the deep South) served us in the summer.  Maybe I was horrified by the stuff because I was a kid, and I thought it was a bit too close to, well, uh, other slimy stuff.  I tried roasting it for the first time last summer because I was getting a lot of it in my farm box.  I actually like it!  Try it and let me know if you like it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Arugula Salad with Warm Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onions, & Blackberries

I love to combine unexpected ingredients in salads.  My produce box this week included a butternut squash.  Usually, I halve and roast it, then mash it up like potatoes with butter, salt, and pepper.

Last night I skinned the squash, cubed it and tossed it in a baggie with olive oil to coat, then spread it in a baking pan and sprinkled my homemade curry on it.  The cubes roasted for approximately 30 minutes at 350 degrees, then I transferred them to a 200 degree oven until I was ready to plate the salad.  I roasted the sliced onions for approximately the same timeframe.
cubed squash is nicely coated with olive oil in a baggie

dry curry mix is sprinkled over the cubes prior to roasting.

I apologize for forgetting to photograph the plated salad!  See what extensive travel does to me?  I forget to photograph my food while cooking!  I promise:  I AM cooking.