Friday, January 29, 2010

The Super Peel and the Lonely Pizza

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This slice of pizza is so sad looking, probably because we ate all of its brothers and sisters. We are not to blame for this tragedy. It's the pizza's fault for having a crispy crust, melted mozzarella, chunky tomato sauce, and refreshing basil leaves. No, the real culprit here is the Super Peel (cue dramatic music!).

I got a lot of food-related presents for Christmas. The list includes: 2 bottles of hot sauce, a bucket of chocolate shaped like chicken wings and blue cheese dressing (already on my butt and thighs), a giant box of Toblerone (ditto), an onion saver (used with great success), a vegetable peeler and the Super Peel. VB gave me the Super Peel after we struggled with moving pizza from the counter onto the pizza stone. It was always a two person job -- each armed with 2 extra large spatulas with a variety of oven mitts and tongs standing by.

Well, everything changed after the Super Peel ("A.S.P."). Now pizza pies get transported easily without warped dough or scattered toppings. The entire pie gets direct contact with the pizza stone, creating a nice crispy bottom. In this new A.S.P. era, I will be able to easily move pie crusts, breads and other doughy-goodness. It's the new culinary frontier.

As for the lonely pizza, well, I'm sad to report that it joined its family in my tummy shortly after the photo was taken. Can you blame me?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Broccoli and Edamame Soup

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I was searching for a broccoli soup recipe online that doesn't contain a ton of butter, cheese or cream. I came upon this recipe by Gordon Ramsay. Like him or not, the man can cook. At first, I thought it was a joke. Really? So many Michelin stars and you're going to boil broccoli in water and puree it?

This soup is incredible! It came as a shock just how delicious it turned out, even though it was nothing but water, broccoli and edamame. The recipe is extremely simple, takes no more than 10 minutes but the soup tastes complex yet clean. This proves that simple ingredients and easy preparation can have delicious results.

My only contribution to this recipe is to add 2 cups of frozen edamame to the boiling water about 2 minutes before I add the broccoli. My soup is thicker and, more importantly, has a lot more protein. Gordon Ramsay may have made a vegetarian soup, but he hasn't considered vegetarians' protein intake. I served it simply with a piece of cheesy garlic toast. The soup tasted great even without any goat cheese.

This carnivore thinks it's an awesome soup. Tangerine agrees with me. She lapped up the soup and even pawed at it a couple of times. Finally, a soup we can all enjoy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Vegetable Paella

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Recently, I've been testing recipes with mixed results. Some, like this vegetable paella, came out great. Others...well, not so much. One "not so much" recipe was Ina Garten's butternut squash and apple soup recipe. I know, it came as a shock to me too. Ina has never failed me before. But this recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of curry powder, which is way too much. I only added 1 tablespoon and it tasted like mushy curry soup with no butternut squash or apple flavors. I think the cause of the problem is the curry powder itself. Different brands of curry powder have different proportions and mixes. I'm sure I used a different curry powder as Ina, that's why the recipe didn't work for me. For now, I'm sticking to my butternut squash soup recipe with turmeric and ginger.

Now, onto the good news. This vegetable paella is delicious and has so many vegetables and pretty colors. The saffron and paprika really add fragrance and color to this dish. It does take some time and patience to prep the vegetables and to cook the rice thoroughly, but it's well worth it. One note about this recipe, I cut back the amount of rice to 1 1/2 cups for practical reasons -- I am out of rice and my pan isn't big enough. But the amount turned out just right and it was properly cooked. It's a decent and flavorful substitute for seafood paella. You can find the vegetable paella recipe here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Potato Poppers

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These little potato poppers are so delicious. They are like baked mashed potato balls -- slightly crunchy on the outside but soft and fluffy on the inside. I think this would be a very kid-friendly dish, which probably explains why it's such a big hit with us two adults who watch too much cartoons. The original recipe is from the New Laurel's Kitchen, a classic vegetarian cookbook. I have modified it so that the texture is even more fluffy and soft.

You'll need:
  • 1/2 an onion, diced small
  • 1 celery stalk, diced small
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil
  • 2 cups of mashed potatoes
  • 1 cup of bread crumbs (I use Panko)
  • 1 cup of grated Parmesano Reggiano
  • salt to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1 cup of cooked short-grain white rice (you can use Basmati or brown rice for this, but the texture may be a little more gritty)
  • 1/4 cup of tomato paste
One note about mashed potatoes -- I clean some baby Yukon potatoes, put them (skin and all) in a large pot filled with cold water. Cover the pot and turn the heat up high. Once the water boils, I set a timer for 15 minutes. Check the potatoes when the timer goes off. If a knife can easily pierce through with little resistance, potatoes are done. Otherwise, return potatoes back in the pot and boil for another 5 minutes. If you use small or medium potatoes, it shouldn't take more than 15 to 20 minutes to fully cook the potatoes. While they're hot, I press them through a potato ricer. The potato skin will not pass through the ricer, so you'll have mashed potatoes without ever peeling the potatoes. Yay for that!

Sweat diced onion and celery in olive oil using a non-stick pan until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. In a large bowl, stir to combine all of the ingredients. Form 1 to 1 1/2-inch balls and place them on a greased baking sheet. You'll make about 16 balls. You can make this recipe ahead up to this point.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown on the outside. Serve with some ketchup or barbecue sauce for dipping. Yum.

We also had some grilled veggie orzo salad. It's just grilled zucchini, mushroom and eggplant mixed with some arugula and white navy beans, drizzled with some lemon juice and olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. Pretty simple.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tofu Lentils Taco

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This recipe is a variation of the spicy lentils taco recipe, which was delicious but suffered from poor execution. The lentils were slightly undercooked last time. I'm not blaming the recipe for my failure, but it's tough to cook lentils properly. So to avoid the pitfall, this recipe calls for a combination of cooked components. I added tofu and brown rice for more substance and texture. This recipe is also less spicy.
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1/2 an onion, diced small
  • 1 celery stalk, diced small
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeds and ribs removed, diced small
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups of cooked lentils
  • 1 cup of cooked brown rice
  • 1 block of unflavored bean curd (or firm tofu), drained and diced small
  • 1 teaspoon of chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of flour
  • 2 teaspoons of soy sauce
  • 2 cups of vegetable stock
  • 10 flour tortillas
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • guacamole (optional)
  • salsa (optional)
  • shredded cabbage (optional)
  • grated Mexican cheese (optional)
One note about prep -- it's important to dice all the components to a size similar to the lentils. It will look pretty and provide a good texture.

Combine chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, oregano, cayenne pepper and flour. Set aside. Sweat celery, onion and jalapeno peppers in olive oil over medium-low heat until soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add vegetable stock, lentils, rice and tofu. Simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the flour and spices mix and soy sauce. Stir to combine.

Simmer over low heat until sauce thickens, about another 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning. Serve wrapped in tortillas and topped with salsa, guacamole, shredded cabbage and grated cheese.

This would also be good as filling for burritos on days that rice and beans are not enough. This taco is filling and has a good meaty taste. It tastes especially delicious when paired with all the different trimmings.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lemon Champagne Sorbet

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I picked a large bag of lemons off my aunt's dwarf lemon tree. They are truly amazing -- sweet, juicy, and fragrant. I feel obligated to make something awesome from those lemons. I thought about making lemon curd. I may still do that, but I certainly don't want to end up as the person eating all them butter and eggs. I made some orange lemon marmalade last year. It was very good, but I want to do something else -- something light, refreshing and guilt-free. Lemon sorbet seems like a good idea, but why not jazz it up with that bottle of bubbly in the fridge?

The result certainly lives up to the premise. Very rarely does a whimsical idea in my head turn out so well in reality. Most of my truly oddball ideas end up in the garbage bin (ahem, lavender earl grey cupcakes, anyone?) To make this festive and refreshing little dessert, you need:
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • juice from 5 to 6 small or medium lemons
  • zest from 5 to 6 small or medium lemons
  • 1 1/2 cups of champagne or sparkling wine
Start by boiling water and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and add juice and zest. Make sure you taste the mixture to see how tart it is. I happen to have some really sweet lemons. If you have lemons that are more sour, feel free to cut back on the lemon juice. Unless you like it tart, in which case, add as much lemon juice as you want. Chill mixture in the refrigerator. After the mixture is chilled, add champagne or sparkling wine. I wouldn't use something super fancy in this, but make sure you like the taste.

At this point, you can use an ice cream machine to finish the process. Or, you can pour the mixture into a large pan and move the pan into the freezer. Check on it about every 30 minutes to an hour. Scrap with fork to make little ice crystals. Yes, I know that's more like granita. No matter what you call it, it will be delicious.

Note that because the mixture has alcohol in it, it will take a little bit longer to set up in the freezer. Also, it will set up soft, not frozen solid. If you like a firmer texture, replace half a cup of champagne with water.

The sorbet is a gorgeous canary yellow. It's sweet and fragrant with a hint of effervescence. Pretty awesome, if you ask me.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mock Monk Chili

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Several months ago, we went to Monk's Kettle, a San Francisco bar and eatery. One memorable dish was their vegan chili, which had a smooth soup base and full of mushrooms and carrots. We both loved it so much. Since then, I've thought about creating my version of the same chili.

My attempt at the Monk's Kettle vegan chili was good, but not perfect. It was certainly savory and delicious, but sort of different from what we had. Nevertheless, I thought it's a good enough dish to make it blog-worthy.

You'll need:
  • 2 tablespoons of canola oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, diced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon of ground oregano
  • 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups of vegetable stock or water
  • 6 medium or large carrots, peeled and chopped into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 pint of oyster mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 pint of cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped cilantro for garnish
In a large pot, sweat onion and jalapeno pepper in canola oil over medium low heat until vegetables are soft, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. Add cumin, coriander, chili powder, and oregano. Cook for another minute, or until the spices are fragrant. Add black beans, tomatoes, vegetable stock/water. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer, then cover and cook for 30 minutes.

Using a stand blender or immersion blender and process the mixture until it is smooth. Add carrots. Cover and cook for another 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add mushrooms. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

I think the secret ingredient here is the ground coriander. I don't think you can taste it in the final product, but it gives the chili a nice, well-rounded flavor. I tend to find chili recipes that consist mostly of chili powder to taste too harsh. The mushrooms really make this dish meaty and substantial. It's such a fun and warm recipe for cold wet days.