Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nopales in Chipotle Sauce

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We were off to Cabo del San Jose last week for a quick getaway. We stayed at a wonderful all-inclusive resort, sipped a lot of Pina Colada and stuffed ourselves silly. A week of poolside sun and delicious Mexican food later, neither of us wanted the vacation to end. So we re-created a small piece of Mexico at home with this nopales dish.

Nopales is a type of edible catcus. It's certainly something that I've never worked with. This recipe also calls for tomatillos, another ingredient that I've never used before. Thankfully, living in California gives me access to ingredients that may be hard to find elsewhere. I'm a novice when it comes to Mexican food, so I found and followed this recipe.

Even though I don't have an original recipe to share, here are a couple of things that I learned from preparing this meal:

Cleaning nopales is thorny business. I remove the spines and the nodes by running the flat side of my knife along the pod from different directions, sort of like scaling a fish. Nopales can be slimy, so the pods have to be rinsed frequently during the cleaning process. Finally, the edges are also removed. Clean nopales are then cut into 1/4 inch slices.

To roast tomatillos, first, remove the husks and clean the fruit. Then, place the tomatillos in an oven-proof skillet. I use my trusty cast iron skillet. Broil tomatillos for about 7 to 10 minutes until the skin turns slightly brown. Remove and allow them to cool.

To round off the meal, we wrap nopales in flour tortillas and add some vegetarian refried beans, salsa and rice. The nopales are crunchy, slightly bitter and tart from the tomatillo chipotle sauce. The chipotle adobe sauce adds smoky spice to the dish. Overall, this meal is a wonderful end to our Mexican vacation.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Prince's Pesto Pasta Salad

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It's the dog days of summer. For us, that usually means all the fans are circulating hot and humid air around, Tangerine passed out in the corner, baseball is on the tube, and we're not cooking. I can't even stand in the kitchen, let alone turn on the oven. So we end up eating salads a lot more than I'd like. But after attending East Bay's least vegetarian friendly barbecue on Saturday (vegetables = portabella mushrooms wrapped in bacon), I can't wait to have this salad.
  • 1/2 cup of pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 2 cups of basil leaves, lightly packed
  • 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more if needed
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 pound of pasta (I used fusilli)
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, cubed (or 1 1/2 cups of grape or cherry tomatoes)
  • 1 bag of mixed greens
  • grated Pecorino cheese (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Place peeled garlic cloves into 2 tablespoon of hot olive oil and lightly fry over low heat until just golden brown. Remove from heat and allow oil to cool. Meanwhile, bring a big pot of water to boil and cook pasta until just al dente. Drain pasta in a colander and rinse with cold water. Return pasta into the emptied pot. Any water on the pasta will evaporate from the residual heat of the pot.

Using a food processer, puree basil leaves, garlic cloves, garlic oil, and pine nuts. Drizzling in the remaining olive oil and process until the mixture has a paste-like consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss together mixed greens, tomatoes, pasta and pesto. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Add grated Pecorino cheese if desired.

This is different from a traditional pesto sauce because roasted garlic is used instead of raw garlic. If you like raw garlic, by all means use it. I tend to like the milder and nutty flavor of roasted garlic. Also, cheese is not incorporated into the pesto, making this a vegan optional dish. Finally, this pesto pasta salad is named in honor of the home run derby champion this year, Prince Fielder. It was well publicized when he became a vegetarian in 2008 and one of his favorite vegetarian dishes is pesto salad. In my opinion, it's a dish worthy of a home run king.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Indian Mixed Grill

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We have been bitten by the grilling bug ever since we bought a tiny grill and found an outdoor space for grilling. Eager to improve upon the lemon garlic marinate from last time, we bought a jar of Indian tandoori sauce at the local farmer's market and used it to marinate a rainbow of vegetables - cherry tomato, seitan, onion, red bell pepper, firm tofu, zucchini, eggplant, mushroom, and potato. Everything was delicious, except the potato. We didn't cook it far enough so that it could finish cooking on the grill at the same time as the other vegetables. So it turned out a little raw in the center. Live and learn, right? The best surprise from the experience was how good seitan tastes when grilled. It gets crunchy and crispy from the grilling, which makes it taste even more hearty.

We took home couple of skewers left over and paired them with some naan and spiced brown basmati rice. I got the idea for the rice from our local Indian buffet joint, Passage to India. Yes, it is the very same one that we visit at least once a week. At Passage to India, they serve a big pot of basmati rice that is cooked with spices like Bay leaf, cinnamon stick, cardamom pod, whole cloves and star anise. The rice is fragrant and delicious even though not much else is added to it. The only problem is I have to constantly pick out spices from my rice and inevitably end up biting into a cardamom pod nevertheless. To fix this problem, I put those spices in a tea bag and cooked the tea bag with the rice. At the last minute, I stirred in some frozen peas. When the rice became ready, I fished out the tea bag. The rice was still fragrant and delicious and I didn't have to floss cloves out of my teeth later.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Chickpeas and Lentils Tomato Soup

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Chickpeas are so versatile. In fact, yesterday we ate at Chick-O-Pea's, a Berkeley restaurant devoted to this great ingredient. Is there anything chickpeas can't do? They are great in salads, soups and as falafels and hummus. I find myself stocking up on cans of chickpeas all the time. Today, VB made this great middle eastern flavored chickpeas and lentils tomato soup. The cumin seeds make it warm and smoky and the other spices contribute to the complex flavors. We also had a side of grilled cheese sandwiches again. I can't get enough of grilled cheese sandwiches. Maybe we should start having them everyday.

The recipe for the soup can be found here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Creamy Asparagus Soup

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There's something about the basic potato leek soup that makes me happy. Maybe it's the smell of leeks sauteing in butter. Maybe it's the creamy heartiness. I don't know. I've certainly made many versions of it before. This is a creamy asparagus soup that adds just two ingredients to the classic potato leek soup.
  • 2 medium leeks (pale green and white parts only), finely chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes
  • 2 bunches of asparagus, trimmed
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and mashed
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 6 cups of vegetable stock
  • salt to taste
  • Pecorino cheese (optional)
Remove the green tips of the asparagus. Blanch and then soak in ice water. Set aside.

Saute leeks in butter until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add asparagus stalks, potatoes, and stock. Bring mixture to boil then reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Puree mixture. Add asparagus tips and grated Pecorino cheese, if desired. Serve hot or chilled.

As a side dish, we had some cold pasta salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, black olives, green bell peppers, onions, basil and parsley tossed together in a simple vinaigrette. Nothing special, just an easy and refreshing summer dinner.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day Picnic

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For Independence Day, we head out to Stevens Creek County Park for an afternoon picnic. We grilled some corn on the cob and veggie kabobs (with onions, Brussels sprouts, green bell peppers, and tofu marinated in a lemon garlic marinate). Grilled corn always tastes great even without any butter or oil. The veggie kabobs were good, but next time we'll probably opt for some sort of barbecue sauce instead of the lemon garlic marinate.

Our personal favorite was the grilled portabella mushroom and red bell pepper sandwich. The portabella mushrooms were marinated with a little bit of Balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The mushrooms were topped with some arugula and blue cheese.

For dessert, grilled peaches and pineapple slices. I don't know what the fuss is about with grilled fruit. Ripe fruit is so delicious as is, grilling doesn't substantially improve it. I think the key is to use fruit that is slightly under ripen. Otherwise, the fruit becomes too mushy after grilling.

Overall, it was an excellent Independence Day. I certainly feel more patriotic on a full stomach. And now that we have a (small) grill and a place to go, we may head outdoors more often.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


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All that cooking yesterday pooped me out. Thankfully, VB stepped in and made dinner so we don't end up at the neighborhood Indian buffet for the third time in five days. He made an earthy and flavorful minestrone with a side of classic grilled cheese sandwich. The minestrone recipe is courtesy of Sara Moulton of Gourmet magazine. The grilled cheese is a classic VB original with perfectly melted sharp white cheddar and thick slices of tomato. It's such a hearty and delicious dinner. I think I have to relinquish cooking duties more often from now on.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Eggplant Torte

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New York Times is one of my favorite sources for recipes and inspirations. This eggplant torte recipe came straight from the Recipes for Health feature. The only thing that I didn't do was the top crust for the torte. It's too pretty to be covered up.

Making this torte is a lot of work, but it's worth it. The crust is nice and light while the filling is cheesy, hearty and tasty. I can't wait to try the other vegetable pie recipes.

Nutella Swirl Toast

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One of my favorite fast, no-cooking breakfast is Nutella on toast. It's simple but so delicious. The creamy and chocolaty Nutella melting over fluffy warm toast is so good that I sometimes have it for lunch and dessert as well. Just the thought of it makes my mouth water.

What could possibly be better than that? Unless.... the Nutella is baked into the bread! It's so genius I wish that I had been the one who thought of it first. Unfortunately, I can't claim any credit for it. Happy Home Baker made a Nutella milk loaf using her breadmaker and posted tips for other bakers, like myself, who do not own a breadmaker. I followed those tips and made this wonderful Nutella swirl toast. I modified the instructions so that bakers who have a stand mixer can easily follow along.
  • 250 grams (or 2 1/3 cups) of bread flour or all-purpose flour
  • 25 grams (or 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons) of fine granulated sugar
  • 5 grams (or 1 teaspoon) of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of dry yeast
  • 143 grams (or 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) of milk
  • 35 grams (or 1 large) egg, beaten
  • 38 grams (or 2 1/2 tablespoons) of butter at room temperature, cut into small cubes
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and dry yeast. Mix well and set aside. Combine milk and egg. Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, combine mixture with dry ingredients until barely mixed. Add butter. Process until the dough becomes tacky and elastic. Scrape down the side of the bowl. Using the hook attachment on medium speed, knead the dough until it becomes smooth and not sticky, about 10 to 15 minutes. Cover the dough and allow it to rest for an hour.

On a floured surface, roll out the rested dough into a large rectangle. Spread Nutella onto the middle of the rectangle. Be sure to spread Nutrella all the way to two side edges. Starting at the edge closest to you, roll up the dough into a log and seal the seams. Cut the dough into sections equal to the width of your loaf pan. Place each section, seam down, into the loaf pan with the cut sides against the lengths of the pan. Let dough rest for another 45 minutes to an hour.

Bake in 360 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes until the top is browned and the Nutella caramelizes. Remove bread from the pan and allow it to cool on a wire rack.

The best part is the crunchy caramelized Nutella bits. It's like a warm cinnamon sticky bun but made with Nutella. Next time, I may add some chopped hazelnuts for some crunch and even more flavor.