Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sometimes Too Much of a Good Thing is Just Too Much

Pin It So. Anyone noticed that I haven't posted in awhile? No?

VB's parents were in town and treated us to some of the finest dining that San Francisco offers. We ate an unseemly lot. And everything was so delicious. I ate goat and seafood and duck and... VB ate vegetables with some tofu here and there. All this gluttony even before Thanksgiving! Towards the end, I was craving a square homecooked meal -- just an easy, simple, healthy and flavorful meal. I did manage to cook a couple of times during this span and here are some of those recipes.

Here we have roasted Brussel's sprouts with caraway seeds, Dijon mustard and red wine vinegar. This dish is vaguely inspired by sauerkraut on a caraway seed buns with mustard, but all in one bite. Totally delicious and simple. Just saute Brussel's sprouts in some butter, toss in some caraway seeds, a big heaping tablespoon of spicy Dijon mustard and couple dashes of red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper then roast in 425 degree oven for 25 minutes.

Here is a simple potato dish, provided that you have a mandoline slicer and someone who's willing to hand wash it. VB is in charge of dishes around here, and he always bemoans the use of mandoline and food processor, especially when I accidentally leave in the attachments in the mandoline and he has to wash every single sharp and pointy attachment by hand. But at least he likes this dish! Thinly slice big Russet potatoes to 1/8 inch slices and arrange them up in a pie pan. Slice some shallots and stick shallot slices in between potato slices in 2 inch intervals or so. Drizzle with about 1 to 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Bake in 425 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour. Add a few sprigs of thyme with about 20 minutes left in baking time. This is a Martha Stewart recipe, by the way, but I can't seem to find a link for it. But you get the gist of it.

Here is maple roast winter squash soup with pinto beans, although it's hard to tell because soup always photographs poorly and ends up looking like vomit. It's not vomit, it's soup. Take my word for it. I roasted butternut squash and acorn squash coated with olive oil and maple syrup along with whole cloves of garlic until tender. Then I added the flesh and peeled garlic into a pot with sweet onions, vegetable stock, paprika, turmeric, ginger and pinto beans and boiled until the soup came together. I decided against pureeing it into a smooth soup (mostly due to laziness), but that's always a good option.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Caramelized Brussel's Sprouts with Wild Rice

Pin It A lot of food blogs out there are offering advice on how to prepare a delicious Thanksgiving meal. I only have one piece of advice, but I'm sure you'll find it very valuable -- GO TO SOMEONE ELSE'S HOUSE FOR THANKSGIVING. I've never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner, but I've had fond Thanksgiving memories. That's probably because I didn't do any of the cooking.

Seriously, it looks stressful and awfully difficult. I'm doing a good job at Thanksgiving dinner stress avoidance again this year by going away for the weekend. But I will have lots of turkey, so it's all good.

Back to easy cooking -- this is a simple dish that happens to be very healthy and easy to make. So easy, in fact, I'm not going to write a recipe. That and also I may have ripped this off Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I can't remember and I'm not going to bother checking the book. Sorry, Mark.

In any event, prep Brussel's spouts by slicing them in half. Place them cut side down into a hot oven proof skillet that has been liberally lubed with olive oil. Once the Brussel's sprouts caramelize, turn them over and stick them (pan and all) into a 400 degree oven and roast for 20 minutes. While still hot, drizzle with some Balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Serve over a bed of wild rice.

Ta-da! Easy, huh? So delicious and wonderfully seasonal. And! It's nutty and sweet (like me!) and very healthy (not like me...).

Monday, November 8, 2010

Goat Cheese, Roasted Piquillo Peppers and Tomato Focaccia

Pin It You know how sometimes for weeks, you wake up looking like crap and there's nothing you can do about it? Well, the same thing happens to me when it comes to cooking. There are weeks when I can't make an edible meal to save my life. I burned two pots recently -- first, I melted a silicone steamer right into a pot that I've had since college. Then I burned the replacement pot after reducing poaching liquid for way too long. The enamel at the bottom of the pot came up with the black burned on mess. I'm still having trouble saying goodbye to my almost brand new but now toxic and useless pot.

After professional athletes get out of a slump, they always look back and define the turning point of the season -- the one key event that brought their groove back. I think I've hit my proverbial turning point. I made some easy mac-n-cheese plus corn muffins for a friend's early Thanksgiving dinner. Both items came out pretty good. Then, the very next day, I made this --

Hellllllloo, Good Looking! I'm really pleased with how this turned out. And it was pretty easy to do with a bit of planning ahead.

You'll need:
  • 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cup of warm water (80 - 100 degrees)
  • 2 teaspoons (one envelope) of instant yeast
  • 2 teaspoon of salt, divided
  • 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
  • 1 jar of roasted piquillo peppers (or roasted red bell peppers would be fine too), drained and rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 medium/large beef steak tomato, sliced thin
  • 2 ounces of goat cheese
  • 5 to 6 sprigs of thyme
Add yeast and olive oil to warm water and set aside until yeast dissolves. Mix together whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon of salt using stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. While the mixer is on low, slowly pour in the warm water mixture until dough comes together. Replace paddle attachment with hook attachment and knead for 4 minutes on medium-low.

Spray large prep bowl with olive oil and then transfer dough into the prep bowl. Turn the dough once over to ensure it is well covered with olive oil. Cover the dough with wet paper towels and set aside for 1 hour, or until the dough doubles in size. Punch down the dough and then spread it flat into a baking pan greased with olive oil. Cover with wet paper towels and set side for another 1 1/2 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

While the dough is rising, combine piquillo peppers, garlic, red wine vinegar and 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Process the mixture until it becomes a smooth sauce using either stand blender or immersion blender.

Once the dough has risen, dimple the dough in two inch intervals. Season with salt. Spread enough of the piquillo pepper sauce to cover most of the focaccia dough, leaving about one inch all the way around. You may have leftover piquillo pepper sauce, which can be served as dipping sauce. Add tomato slices on top. Add nubs of goat cheese and sprigs of thyme on top. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle about a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil on top. Bake for 25 minutes until the bottom of the focaccia is crispy and the edges are golden brown. Serve with extra piquillo pepper sauce on the side.

The piquillo peppers really add a nice balance to the tart tomatoes and the creamy goat cheese. (Yes, that tomato was from our "harvest".) Watch out, I may have gotten my cooking groove back.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

(Expensive) Mystery Produce of the Week: Hami Melon

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The title of this blogpost is riddled with misinformation. First of all, this is not a weekly feature as the title would suggest. It's more of a whenever-I-feel-like-it feature, pretty much like everything else in this blog. Secondly, hami melon is not a complete mystery to me. Chinese people (that I know) generically call cantaloupe "hami melon," which are in fact a type of melon from a specific region of China. So I've had "hami melon" many times in its generic sense, but I'm not sure that I've actually specifically had hami melon. But try and fit that story into the blogpost title.

The only accurate information contained in the blogpost title is that this is one heck of an expensive melon. As you know, I am fond of a good mystery produce. As soon as I spotted this melon, I thought, screw you, orange! In my haste, I thought it was $1.48 per fruit, when it was in fact $1.48 per pound. The total cost of this 7-pound fruit is about $10+. Yikes! Good thing I saved money by getting Carmex for 87 cents at Target's clearance section. And then I found out I'm allergic to Carmex. Sigh.

This melon has a weird football shape. And sort of looks like a boob in the above picture (admit it). Inside, the pinky orange part tastes like cantaloupe and the green part tastes like honey drew. Maybe that's why it's so expensive -- you're getting two fruits in one! I wish this was sweeter though.

Another mystery produce -- solved!

Roasted Butternut Squash and Orange Ravioli

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I'm testing a little theory of mine that like colored foods taste good together. Like all oddball theories of mine, this one has very little basis and dubious origins. It sort of worked... with a bit of tweaking.

I roasted some apples, butternut squash, carrots and garlic until softened and then pureed them with some orange juice and orange peel (VB: "Are we having fruit salad for dinner?"). Then I filled them into some store-bought potsticker wrappers. I tried two sauces with them -- first, a traditional sage butter sauce, except with butter substitute. It shouldn't be surprising to anyone that butter substitute is not a good choice here. I don't know what I was thinking (palm to face)! The sauce was greasy and not very flavorful (I think I forgot to bruise the sage). And it also wasn't surprising that the raviolis were too sweet and smelled too much like orange Pledge.

Second sauce attempt was much better. I made some pesto with parsley, scallion, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil. It paired well with the raviolis because they were less sweet with only a hint of orange. And the fresh herbs enhanced the earthiness of the squash, carrots and apples. But the pesto merely elevated the raviolis to "edible," an upgrade from "gross."

Call me stubborn, but I think there's something to my little theory despite what happened here.  This is probably a failure in execution. But I learned:
  • Fruit salad is not a good idea for dinner.
  • Ingredients that belong in potpourri shouldn't be stuffed into raviolis.
  • Respect the butter.
  • But punish your herbs.
  • When in doubt, add more garlic.