Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Indian Eggplant and Yam Stew

I am super enchanted with Bal's Spice Kitchen.  The book has a good mix of healthy Indian meals and Western dishes given a twist with Indian spices.  This veggie-filled dish is of the former variety, and is really tasty.  Bal suggested serving it for lunch, and I've been trying to make a dish ahead to pack in lunches, so I figured I would give this one a try.  Combining eggplant, yam, and tomatoes with lots of warm spices, this dish is the perfect way to perk me up in my overly air-conditioned office.  I packed it in a container with coconut rice, but if you have access to a toaster oven, it would also be awesome with Trader Joe's frozen naan (one of my all-time favorite convenience foods).  As you're making the dish, it seems like you're adding way too many spices, but have faith that you'll be adding lots of veggies to soak those spices up...the finished dish was very well balanced.  The main change I made to this dish was a longer cooking time -- I wanted to get my onions a little browned, and I like my eggplant very tender.  I also added a little plain yogurt on top before serving.

Indian Eggplant and Yam Stew (adapted from Bal's Spice Kitchen)
Serves 4 as a main dish, or more alongside other dishes

Olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 T grated or minced ginger
1 T garam masala
1-1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1 T cumin seeds
1 tsp ground tumeric
1 tsp Aleppo chili flakes (or regular chili flakes for a spicier dish)
14.5-ounce can petite diced tomatoes, well drained
1 large eggplant, cubed (no need to peel)
1 medium-large yam (or sweet potato), peeled and cut into small dice
1 tsp chicken Better than Bouillon (optional)
Salt and pepper

1. Heat a good glug of oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and ginger and cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and starting to brown, about 10 minutes.
2. Move the onions to the sides of the pot and add the spices in the middle.  Let toast, stirring, for about 20 seconds.
3. Add the tomatoes, eggplant, yam, and Better than Bouillon and stir well to combine.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring often, until the eggplant is almost falling apart and the yam is tender, about 25 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Summer Minestrone

I saw this soup in last month's Fine Cooking and it really jumped out to both Tim and me.  The colors in the photo were super vibrant, and it seemed like a great way to enjoy summer vegetables.  This soup was definitely tasty, but it was also a lot of work.  It starts off with making your own vegetable stock, which is lots of chopping and simmering over a hot stove.  The stock was definitely tastier than store-bought by far, but using so many fresh vegetables also made it a lot more expensive.  Then, add more veggies and noodles to make the soup. I did really like the variety of veggies've got small amounts of lots of vegetables, so each bite is a little different.  I would cook all the vegetables except the eggplant and potato for less time, though -- the parsley, zucchini, summer squash, and corn in particular ended up feeling a little overcooked and they lost their vibrant color.  If I made this again, I would add these vegetables later in the cooking.  Still, the soup was very tasty, especially with a sprinkle of Parmesan on top.  Final verdict: very yummy, but probably not worth the effort unless you are a minestrone afficionado.

Summer Minstrone (adapted from Fine Cooking)
Serves 6

Olive oil
3 celery ribs, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 small onion, diced
2 T minced fresh parsley
1 tsp garlic powder
1 small eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium red potato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Salt and pepper
Kernels from one ear of corn
1 batch Roasted Vegetable Broth (or 6-8 cups store-bought broth)
1 cup small pasta 
Parmesan cheese (or another hard, nutty cheese), to serve

1. Add a generous pour of oil to a large soup pot.  Turn the heat to medium-low, and when the oil is warm, add the celergy, carrots, onion, parsley, and garlic powder.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and the vegetables have begun to soften, about 10 minutes.
2. Stir in the eggplant, potato, yellow squash, and zucchini.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Cook until the vegetables are just tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes.
3. Add the corn and 6 cups of the broth, and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 10 minutes, then return to a boil and add the pasta.  Simmer until the pasta is al dente, and then taste and add more broth if you like.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Serve with Parmesan sprinkled on top.  If you have leftovers, add a bit more broth before packing away as the soup will thicken as it sits.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Peanut Noodles with Ground Pork

This quick noodle dish is great for weeknights. I like that carrots are added to the sauce and cucumbers are used as a garnish, so this works as a one-dish meal. Steamed broccoli would also be a good addition if you want to add more veggies. The peanut sauce is creamy and gets a little bite from jalapenos, and it combines well with crispy browned pork. I recommend purchasing your noodles at an Asian market -- we got ours at the regular grocery store, and they were definitely the most expensive component of the dish. I do think it was worth getting the special noodles, as they were pretty different than spaghetti or another Italian noodle, but it would be worth seeking them out somewhere with better prices. This dish makes lots, and leftovers keep well, so it's a nice one to enjoy for dinner and then pack up for lunch the next day.

Peanut Noodles with Ground Pork (adapted from Food Network Magazine)
Serves 4-5

Kosher salt
1/3 cup peanut butter (creamy or crunchy)
3 T rice wine vinegar, divided
1/4 cup soy sauce, divided
3 T toasted sesame oil, divided
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
1 jalapeno pepper, minced (remove the seeds and ribs for a less spicy dish)
1/2 large cucumber, peelend and thinly sliced
2 T olive oil
3 large scallions, chopped (white and green parts separated)
1 T minced ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
12 ounces ground pork
12 ounces Chinese chow mein noodles

1. Put on a large pot of water to boil, and once it boils, add a generous spoonful of salt.

2. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Whisk together the peanut butter, 2 T of the vinegar, 2 T of the soy sauce, 1 T of the sesame oil, the carrots, half the jalapeno, and 2 T water. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, combine the cucumber, olive oil, and remaining 1 T vinegar. Season with salt, taste, and adjust seasoning. Set aside.

4. Heat the remaining 2 T sesame oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the scallion whites, ginger, garlic, and remaining minced jalapenos and stir for about 2 minutes. Add the pork, and cook for 5 minutes or so, breaking it up with a spatula or spoon and stirring often until nicely browned. Stir in the remaining 2 T soy sauce.

5. When the pork is almost done, add the noodles and cook for about 3 minutes (or according to package directions). Scoop out about half a cup of the pasta water, and then drain the noodles.

6. Add the pork and noodles to the sauce, and toss to combine -- tongs are great for this as they grip the noodles well. Add some of the reserved pasta water if needed to thin the sauce.

7. Serve topped with the scallion greens and cucumbers.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Moroccan Chicken Burgers

Chicken and turkey burgers have to have some sort of special element to be really tasty, in my opinion. I have had some truely awesome versions, but also some that are dry as a bone and flavorless. These chicken burgers fall into the former category, luckily. Minced onions, fresh ginger and mint, and harissa seasoning keep the burger moist and flavorful, and I'm totally crazy about the toppings. You guys know I love my shredded carrot salad, and here it's spiced up with mint and cumin and provides a crunchy topping that's unusual but delicious. A sprinkle of feta adds salt, and a mini pita holds everything together. Well, sort of...this is definitely a knife and fork burger. At least with the mini pitas we bought, these were way too messy to pick up and eat. The only thing I might change is adding a sauce -- although the burgers are far from dry, I always like some sort of sauce on mine. A smear of garlic-spiked yogurt would be divine.

Moroccan Chicken Burgers with Feta and Carrot Slaw
Serves 4

1 small onion, peeled and quartered
1 bunch fresh mint, divided
1-1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger
1-1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dry harissa spice mix
1 pound ground chicken (preferably not 100% breast meat)
3 medium carrots
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 mini pitas
Crumbled feta, to serve

1. Place the onion in a mini chopper (you can also use a food processor or do your chopping by hand -- the mini chopper just speeds things up and has the least cleanup).  Pulse several times until the onion is finely chopped.
2. Pick off a small handful of mint leaves, and rinse under cold water.  Add to the mini chopper with the fresh ginger and pulse until the mint is chopped.
3. Put the onion mixture in a large bowl and add the cumin, harissa spice mix, and 3/4 tsp salt.  Stir to combine.  Add the chicken, and mix well with your hands.  Form into 4 patties and set aside on a plate.
4. Trim, peel, and grate the carrots into a medium bowl.  Set aside.
5. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat.  When it's hot, add the chicken patties.  There's no need for oil unless you're not using a non-stick skillet (in that case, add a little before adding the chicken).  
6. Cook the chicken patties on both sides until nicely browned and cooked all the way through, about 4-5 minutes per side.
7. While the chicken is cooking, make the carrot slaw.  To the grated carrots, add the lemon juice, sugar, and cumin seeds.  Chop up about 2-4 more tablespoons of the fresh mint (depending on how much you have and how much you like fresh mint -- I added a lot!), and add that to the carrots as well.  Stir to combine.
8. When the chicken patties are cooked through, assemble your burgers.  Split open the pitas, and fill each one with a chicken burger, a generous scoop of carrot slaw, and a sprinkle of crumbled feta.  Unless you are extraordinarily coordinated, these are knife-and-fork sandwiches (or extremely messy sandwiches)!

Note: Although there are a lot of steps here, this is actually a pretty quick weeknight dinner.  I would guesstimate it took me no more than half an hour to put together.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

No-Bake Chocolate Mousse Pie

When I saw this pie on the cover of Fine Cooking magazine this month, I knew I needed to make it! This is the perfect summer recipe because it doesn't involve turning on the oven and the only heat involved at all is heating up a few tablespoons of cream, which you can do either on the stovetop or in the microwave. Each of the steps is quick and simple, and you can spread them out over a weekend day so it doesn't feel like a chore. (Warning: just don't knock an entire container of flour over onto the floor like I did! That made this recipe less fun, but is probably avoidable for others.) The finished pie is total indulgence -- a crispy cookie crust; a smooth, super-rich and not-too-sugary layer of chocolate mousse; and a lightly sweetened whipped cream cloud to top everything off. Adding a bit of powdered sugar to the cream stabilizes it so the pie won't get all watery in the fridge, meaning leftovers are just as good the second night. The original recipe makes a 9-inch pie with twice as many ingredients, and will definitely serve a crowd. This 8-inch version is much more managable for a more normal-sized dinner party or family. Although it's a less common size, you can pick up a cheap 8-inch springform pan for under $10, and it's great for making smaller portions of rich desserts like this one.

No-Bake Chocolate Mousse Pie (adapted from Fine Cooking)
Serves 6

4 ounces dark chocolate wafer sandwich cookies (I used Quadratini brand)
1 T melted butter
4-1/2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 cups heavy cream, divided
2-4 T powdered sugar (to taste)

1. Pulse the wafer cookies in a food processor until they are completely crushed and resemble wet sand.  Add the butter and pulse until fully combined.  Press the mixture into the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan.  Chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.
2. Combine the chocolate, vanilla, and salt in a medium, heat-proof bowl.
3. Heat 6 T of the cream over medium heat until it just gets hot and begins to steam.  Immediately pour over the chocolate.  Wait a minute or so, and then stir until the chocolate is fully melted and the mixture is smooth.  Cover and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.
4. Pour 3/4 cup of the heavy cream into a medium bowl.  Beat until stiff peaks form.  Remove the chocolate mixture from the fridge and stir vigorously to loosen it up.  Then add to the cream and fold together until no streaks remain.
5. Scrape the chocolate-cream mixture into the springform pan, and smooth the top.  Cover and chill at least 6 hours (or up to 2 days ahead).
6. To serve, whip the remaining cream until medium peaks form.  Starting with 1 tablespoon, fold in enough powdered sugar so the cream tastes lightly sweet to you.  Continue beating until medium-stiff peaks form.
7. Run a knife around the edge of the pie and remove the sides, and then transfer to a serving plate.  Top with the whipped cream.
8. To slice, dip a knife into hot water and dry before slicing.
9. Leftovers keep well for a day or two tightly wrapped in the fridge.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

SRC: Blueberry-Sour Cream Muffins

My partner for this month's Secret Recipe Club was Nicole of Daily Dish Recipes.  We recently went blueberry picking with friends, and so I knew I wanted to make blueberry muffins.  Nicole's sour cream muffin recipe is the perfect way to feature big, juicy berries.  Sour cream makes the muffins tender and moist, and I added a little coconut oil for a subtle coconut flavor (you can also use all butter if you prefer).  These muffins made for an awesome breakfast with eggs and hash browns.  And, the leftovers kept nicely so I got breakfast later in the week, too!  Thanks for helping me make blueberries the star of the plate, Nicole!

Blueberry-Sour Cream Muffins (adapted from Daily Dish Recipes, original recipe here)
Makes 9 muffins

2 T butter, softened
2 T coconut oil
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup + 2 T sour cream
1-1/4 cup + 2 T flour
3/4 cup blueberries

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a muffin tin with papers, and spray with oil.
2. Beat together the butter, coconut oil, and sugar.  Beat in the  eggs, baking soda, vanilla, and salt.
3. Fold in the sour cream, and then fold in the flour.  Very gently fold in the berries.
4. Scoop into prepared muffin cups and bake 15-20 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Northern Mexico Beef Tacos

These tacos are one of those recipes that I would place in the semi-complicated category.  Each step is very simple, and the actual hands-on time is minimal, but you do need to spread the work over two days.  On the first day, you boil the beef with onion and garlic, and then pop in the fridge.  I was worried that boiling the beef would make it dry and flavorless, but I trust Rick Bayless and my trust was definitely not misplaced!  By the time the tacos are ready, the beef is moist and really delicious.  On Day #2, shred or chop the meat, and then crisp it up in a skillet with onions, garlic, jalapenos, and tomatoes.  So yummy -- I loved the flavor and the meat really looked and tasted like something you could get at a good taco truck.  Plus, it was super tender.  As a bonus, leftovers reheated well and made for an awesome lunch at work the next day.  You can adjust the spice level here by adding more (or spicier) chiles, or by adding a spicy salsa.  We kept things at a more mild level with one jalapeno and medium salsa, plus sour cream to cool things off and provide a little tang.

Northern Mexico Beef Tacos
(adapted from Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless)
Serves 3-4

1 pound lean, boneless beef chuck, flank, or brisket, cut into cubes (I bought "lean beef stew meat" and it was excellent)
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 T oil
15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
2 green onion, root ends removed, coarsely chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (more to taste)
Warmed tortillas, to serve
Taco fixings, to serve (we used sour cream and salsa)

1. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan.  Add the meat and 1 tsp salt, and skim off the grayish foam that rises to the top.  Slice half the onion and halve one clove of garlic and add to the meat.  Reduce heat, and simmer until the meat is very tender, about 1 hour (or up to 90 minutes depending on the cut).  Let cool, and chill in the fridge overnight.
2. The next day, spoon off the fat that has risen to the top.  Transfer the meat to a cutting board, and strain the broth.
3. Shred or chop the beef into small pieces.  
4. Mince the remaining half onion and 2 garlic cloves.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add the onion and garlic.  Saute for about 5 minutes, and then add the beef.  Cook until well browned and starting to get a bit crispy in places, about 8-10 minutes.  Watch things carefully and make sure to stir every so often.  (You don't want to stir constantly or a crust will not be able to form on the meat.)  
5. Turn the heat down to medium, and add the tomatoes, green onions, and jalapenos.  Cook for about 4 minutes.  Stir in 2/3 cup of the reserved broth, and simmer until the liquid has evaporated but the meat still looks nice and juicy (about 8-10 minutes).  Season with salt to taste, and serve wrapped in warmed tortillas.