Sunday, August 31, 2014

Secret Recipe Club: Arroz con Leche

My partner for this month's Secret Recipe Club was Leslie of La Cocina de Leslie.  Leslie's blog is full of Mexican recipes that look absolutely amazing -- I wanted to try everything! I decided on her arroz con leche, or rice pudding, because I have a bit of a history with rice pudding.  I really like it, but the one time I tried to make it (years ago), it was a total fail. I'm not sure if it was a bad recipe or just user error, but it just turned out weird and unappetizing.  I think my roommates and I each took just a couple of bites before tossing it.  Leslie's recipe looked super tempting, so I wanted to give this dish another shot!  I'm glad I did, because Leslie's arroz con leche is amazing--it's super creamy and sweet with just the right amount of spicy cinnamon. Everything rice pudding should be...I'm in love!

Arroz con Leche (adapted from La Cocina de Leslie, original recipe here)

1 cup rice (I used Arborio)
1 cinnamon stick or 1 heaping tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
3 cups water
4 cups milk (I used 2 percent)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup raisins
Ground cinnamon, to serve

1. In a large saucepan, bring the rice, cinnamon stick or ground cinnamon, salt, and water to a boil over medium high heat.  Cover and reduce to a simmer.  Let simmer until the rice is cooked, about 15 minutes.
2.  Add the milk and raisins, and fish out the cinnamon stick and discard.  Cover and cook until the milk starts to bubble, stirring occasionally.  The stir in the sugar and simmer, uncovered, for another 10-15 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover, and let sit for at least 15 minutes.  Serve warm, or chill for at least 2 hours to serve cold.  Sprinkle with ground cinnamon before serving.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mexican Mac

I've written about Homeroom in Oakland before, and it remains one of my all-time favorite restaurants.  Sadly, now that we're in Boston it's a little further away these days! Luckily I have their cookbook, and the recipes totally do the restaurant justice.  Last week, we made Homeroom's Mexican Mac.  This is one we had in Oakland, and it was way too spicy for us even though the flavors were great. So, it was fun to recreate it with a little less spice.  Super creamy Monterey Jack cheese makes an awesome sauce that's spiced up with chipotles in adobo and crispy chorizo.  You can find both raw and smoked chorizo at the grocery, and either will be delicious here.  Make sure to get it really crispy to provide a little texture.  If you prefer a spicier mac and cheese, of course you can always add extra chipotles.  Serve fresh fruit and veggies on the side since this is a very rich dish.

Mexican Mac (adapted from the Mac + Cheese Cookbook)
Serves 4

12 ounces dried pasta
1/2 pound chorizo
2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2-1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
1 chipotle in adobo, minced finely

1. Put on a big pot of water to boil. When the water boils, add some salt along with the dried pasta, and cook until the pasta is al dente. Drain and keep ready until the cheese sauce is done. (You can cook the pasta while you prepare the sauce to save time)
2. Either uncooked or cooked chorizo will work here.  If you have the smoked links, cut them into small cubes.  If you have bulk or uncooked chorizo links, remove the casing (if it's there) and crumble.  Either way, add to a non-stick skillet set over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the choizo is cooked through, browned on the outside, and sizzling.  Drain off any fat that is rendered out.
3. Heat the milk in the microwave until it is hot but not boiling.
4. Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter in the skillet, and then add the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown, about 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk, using a silicone-coated whisk to protect the coating on the pan.  When the milk is incorporated and the mixture is smooth, cook for another 30 seconds or so.  The sauce should be thick and just bubbling.  Remove from the heat.
5. Whisk in salt, grated cheese, and minced chipotle.  You can add more chipotle (and/or a spoonful of the sauce) if you like a spicier dish.  When the cheese is fully melted, add the browned chorizo and fold to combine.  Finally, add the pasta and sitr to combine everything.  If any of the components have cooled off too much and the dish isn't hot, you can put it back over the heat for a few minutes (this will depend on how the timing went with the chorizo, sauce, and pasta).

Our last visit to Homeroom in May!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pesto-Scallion Mayo

I came up with this recipe somewhat by chance. I had recently been thinking about my all-time favorite slider spot in Berkeley, Slider Bar -- I was kind of obsessed with their pesto aioli.  I was making burgers, and realized that we had both pesto and mayo in the fridge, so I figured I would try making a cheater version at home (cheater because this is definitely not made with homemade mayonnaise or aioli, like I'm sure theirs is -- although, you could definitely go that route and I'm sure it would be even better!).  Then I noticed that we had some scallions about to go bad, and figured I would use them up as well.  The amounts listed below are very flexible -- you can go heavier or lighter on any of them based on taste and/or what you have on hand.  In any case, this recipe is insanely good.  We've had it on both regular cheeseburgers and turkey burgers, and it's also great as a dip for fries.  I kind of want to put it on everything now!

On the side: cantaloupe, oven fries, and roasted zucchini and peppers with Penzey's Tsardust Memories.

Pesto-Scallion Mayo
Makes enough for 4 burgers

Olive oil
1 bunch scallions, white and green parts chopped
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 T pesto

1. Heat a good glug of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the scallions and cool, stirring occasionally, until the scallions are a little charred in places.
2. Let the scallions cool slightly and scoop them out into a small bowl with a slotted spoon, draining off as much oil as possible.
3. Add the mayo and pesto to the scallions, and stir to combine.  Add more mayo or pesto as you like to get the consistency and taste you like.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Panko-Crusted Cod with Fennel Raita

This dish jumped out at me in a recent issue of Cooking Light, and it did not disappoint.  Although the plate looks like it has a lot of elements, each one comes together quickly and the combination of each of them is amazing.  I was totally in love with the fennel raita -- I've always used cucumbers in raita before, and the fennel contributes a different (and delicious) flavor profile as well as extra crunch.  Be sure to dice the fennel finely so you don't get big chunks.  A shredded carrot salad is a great fresh element, and I loved the crispy topping on the fish.  It sort of reminded me of fish sticks, but in a much fancier presentation!  Couscous on the side rounds out the plate with a little starch.

To get this on the table as quickly as possible, start by prepping the fennel raita and the shredded carrot salad (no recipe below, but I've linked to a couple in the photo caption if you need one -- my general formula is 3 carrots for 2 people, peeled and grated, olive oil, some type of acid (vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice, etc.), and then something fun like fresh herbs, nuts, cheese, toasted spices, and/or dried fruit).  Then stash the veggies in the fridge and start water boiling for the couscous.  Of course you can make it from scratch if you like, but I find the boxed version is really tasty and super easy, so I went that route.  Prep the fish toppings, and then add the couscous to the water and set it aside to steam.  The fish cooks really quickly, so it should be done around the same time as the couscous.  Word of warning: the fish goes under the broiler for under 2 minutes, so don't be an idoit like me and decide to use that time for washing dishes!  My panko topping got a little too dark -- luckily it was still yummy, but a few more seconds and we really would have had the bad kind of blackened fish.  Keep an eye on the fish under the broiler and it will be perfectly cooked.

Bonus tip: If you end up with leftovers, break up the fish into bite-sized pieces and toss everything together in a tupperware.  Sounds weird (and looks sort of gross), but it tasted amazing the next day for lunch!

On the side: shredded carrot salad (this one is just olive oil, parsley, and rice wine vinegar, but if you want a recipe, some options are here and here), fennel raita (recipe below), and couscous.

Panko-Crusted Cod with Fennel Raita (adapted from Cooking Light)
Serves 3-4

1/2 fennel bulb, trimmed and finely diced
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (I like 2%, but you can use any you like)
1 T minced fennel fronds
1-1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp honey
1/2 cup panko
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
Generous pinch Aleppo chili flakes
1 pound white fish (such as cod or tilapia)

1. Combine the fennel, yogurt, fennel fronds, vinegar, and honey in a bowl.  Season generously with salt, and stir to combine.  Cover and stash in the fridge until ready to use.
2. Preheat the broiler to high.
3. In a small bowl, combine the panko and garlic powder, and season with salt and pepper.  Add a glug of olive oil (enough to just moisten the panko), and combine with your fingers until the mixture is uniform.
4. In another small bowl, combine the coriander, cumin, and Aleppo chili flakes.  Season with salt and pepper, and mix until combined.
5. Heat a large, oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat.  Pour in a little olive oil and let it get hot while you prepare the fish.
6. Pat the fish fillets dry, and rub the spice mixture on one side of the fish.  When the skillet is hot, place the fish in the pan spice-side-down.  Cook for 3 minutes, then flip the fish.
7. Top the fish with the panko mixture, as evenly as possible.  Then pop the fish under the broiler for 60-90 seconds, until the panko is nicely browned.  Keep an eye on the fish the entire time so that it does not burn!
8. Check that the fish is cooked through, and if not, give it a little more time on the stovetop (mine was good, but I also got my topping too dark!)  Serve with the yogurt sauce.

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.