Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cheddar oat crackers

From weeks past: cheddar, eggs, oat flour, milk, rolled oats

Staples: butter, AP flour, salt, baking powder

Yesterday, I won an m&m counting contest during an office baby shower. There were 253 m&ms in the baby bottle, and I guessed 242. CHAMPEEN! Although I didn't actually shed any tears as I promised my work bestie I would if I won, I was nearly that excited about it.

Alas, turns out a bag of 253 m&ms is not such a great thing to have in my office; especially after my baby shower meal of 1/2 a bagel, a doughnut, a blueberry chocolate chip muffin, a scoop of of pasta salad, a scoop of broccoli salad, some shrimp, 2 mini ham biscuits, and a chocolate chip cookie. No joke.

Today started off pretty much the same. Bowl of cereal, banana, leftover 1/2 of a cranberry bagel, chocolate chip cookie, 10 handfuls of m&ms . . . the usual. At around 10:30am I started feeling a little ill from all the sweets. Good thing I had these.

Because rather than cease eating altogether, I switched to cheese crackers. Obviously.

These are really good, like uber classy cheez-its. The perfect salty m&m companion. One warning: cook them a lot. Until they're really brown. Closer to the ones on the right of the above pics than the blondies on the left. If you don't, they'll be really delicious until they cool, when they'll become more like stale (but still uber classy) cheez-its.

Needless to say, I haven't exactly needed "dinner" the past two nights. I made up a batch of this last week so that I can eat light salads for dinner on the five few days a week that I have work binges.

Delicious, yes, but not great blog material; I'm thinking the last thing the internets needs is a blog post about a recipe from a blog post about a recipe from a blog post. Motivation to get my s together and start a'cookin? Maybe.

But then what would I do with all my trophy m&ms?

Cheddar oat crackers
Adapted from Food & Wine

1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup AP flour
1/4 cup oat flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt plus more for sprinkling
1 1/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten
egg wash: 1 egg yolk lightly beaten with 1 tbsp milk

Combine oats and milk and set aside for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine flours, baking powder, salt, cheese, and butter in a food processor and pulse to form a coarse meal. Add beaten egg to oat/milk mixture. Add mixture to food processor, and pulse until a dough ball forms. Turn ball out onto a piece of plastic wrap, and press into a 1 inch thick disk. Wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375. Remove 1/2 of dough disk from the fridge, and roll into a 1/8 inch thick round on a lightly flour surface. Cut into desired shapes (I did 1/2 cracker-sized pieces) using a sharp knife or pizza cutter. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with salt. Cook until dark golden brown, about 15-18 minutes. Remove to racks and let cool.

This week (1/31)

- 2 avocados
- 2 green bell peppers
- baby bok choi
- 2 pears
- ginger
- milk
- almonds
- cashews
- dried blueberries
- dried cranberries
- cheddar cheese
- feta cheese
- quattro formaggio shredded cheese blend (Trader Joe's brand)
- kalamata olives
- langostino tails

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Butternut squash gratin

From this week: butternut squash

From weeks past: milk, shallot, fontina, goat cheese

Staples: salt, pepper, garlic

I'm a little bit of a food know-it-all. Okay, not just a little, a lot; I'm a lot of a food know-it-all. I am threatened by others in my life that cook, I hate it when I'm not the go-to person for people's food-related questions, I boss others (mainly Alex) when they have the audacity to try to cook for or with me, and I'm constantly waiting for new Food Network personalities to falter. "You didn't go to culinary school, did you?" I say as I change the channel.

But, duh, I didn't go to culinary school! And, the truth is, I really don't know much of anything. Yes, I am a sponge for anything food-related. I listen, watch, read, and (unfortunately) eat anything I can get my hands on. But my world is pretty small. I've never roasted a chicken; I don't know how to make French sauces; my knife skills are limited to chop, dice, and mince. And yet, I maintain that I am the queen of all home cooks.

An unhappy consequence of my dichotomously expansive confidence and paltry experience is that I sometimes come home from the grocery store with an ingredient I have no idea how to tackle. I'll have read about it, tasted it in a restaurant, and/or watched my Food Network faves cook it, and I'm certain that I love it and will make magic with it, but then I get home and I have no idea what to do with it.

That's what happened with this.

A stinkin' butternut squash. That's how much of a culinary simpleton I am; I've never even cooked a butternut squash. The recipe was actually the least of my worries. With all the reading/watching/eating I do, I'm familiar with the taste of butternut squash and flavors it goes well with. It was (obvi) the peeling that was a problem. I did some googling and tried various suggestions (hence the 4 peeling implements), but I can't say I'd recommend any of them. In the end, I got the thing peeled, and I have bloody knuckles to show for it.

But let me tell you, it really was worth the pain. Butternut squash is as awesome as I'd convinced myself it was, and its sweetness paired SO WELL with the rich shallot, the salty, melty, crusty fontina, and the tangy, creamy goat cheese. Thus, I'm as awesome as I'd convinced myself I was.

And so, in conclusion, I am a know-it-all... but only because I actually know it all.

Butternut squash gratin
Serves 4 as a side, 2-3 as a main

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1 thimble-sized shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 cup shredded fontina cheese
3/4 cup 1% milk
2 oz goat cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Toss together squash, shallot, garlic, salt, pepper, and half of fontina cheese, and place in an even layer in an 8x8" casserole dish. Pour milk over squash mixture and press squash down with the back of a spoon. Bake for an hour, pressing squash down every 20 minutes. After an hour, top with remaining fontina and crumble goat cheese over it. Return to oven and bake for 20 more minutes, or until brown and bubbly. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

This week (1/24)

Sorry for the delay! I'm not feeling super into cooking this week (huh?) and still have leftovers from last week in the freezer, so it was a light grocery trip.

- broccoli
- butternut squash
- cucumber
- clementines
- whole wheat fettucine
- rice krispies
- chocolate chips

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chickpea burgers

From this week: bell pepper, carrots, oat flour, cheddar cheese, avocado, eggs, light wheat hamburger buns

From weeks past: chickpeas

Staples: onion, garlic, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, cayenne, salt, ketchup

A passion for veggie burgers was one of my greatest vegetarian-era discoveries. I've never really liked hamburgers. At fast food restaurants, it was always chicken nugs or a chicken sandwich (I'm certain they serve Roy Rogers' gold rush chicken sandwiches in heaven). Maybe I've never had a really good hamburger, but I always think the burgers themselves are pretty flavorless, and the texture of the meat doesn't really do anything me.

Veggie burgers, on the other hand, are tender and spice-packed patties of deliciousness. Combining one with burger accoutrement only enhances the burger-eating experience for me. (It is for this reason that I'm more than slightly obsessed with Red Robin; they let you sub a Boca burger on any of their bajillions of burger combos. Awesome.)

I'd never made veggie burgers before this, and I pretty much did it blind. Not really thinking, I let the food processor rip until I'd pureed them into a veritable mush. Not appetizing. When I formed the sticky, gooshy patties, I was sure I was bound for disaster. But then I let them sit in the fridge for a while, and the oat flour (yeah, oat flour!) seemed to work its magic. They were already firmer and smoother when I took them out of the fridge, and, when cooked, they were totally veggie burger-like.

I didn't go all out with the burger I ate last night; just cheese and ketchup. At lunch today, I topped one with avocado -- a great addition. Because of the sort of Mediterranean feel of the chickpeas, I think these would be great topped with tzatziki, maybe in a pita pocket. Hey, I've got 4 of these puppies left in the freezer, and they're super easy to make (and freeze and reheat). The possibilities are endless.

Chickpea burgers
Makes 6 patties

2 cups canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 egg
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup oat flour

Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add carrot, onion, and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Set aside and let cool. Process cooled veggie mixture, 1.5 cups chickpeas, egg, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, cayenne, and salt in food processor until smooth. Remove mixture to a bowl. Pulse remaining chickpeas in the processor just until coarsely chopped. Stir the chopped chickpeas and oat flour into the pureed mixture. Form 3 inch patties (they will be sticky), place on silpat- or wax paper-covered baking sheet, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight. When ready to cook, heat remaining oil in a skillet over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, place patties in the skillet and cook until bottom side is brown, about 5 minutes. Flip and cook until other side is brown, about 3 minutes. Patties can be frozen and reheated in the microwave.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gnocchi with red pepper cream sauce

Staples: AP flour, salt

I first went to Italy when I was 16 on a family vacation. We spent three or four nights in Rome, and we went to the same restaurant for every dinner. Stupid Americans, I'm sure, but it didn't matter; the service was great, we got tons of free food, and it was all delicious. Most importantly, it was there that I had my first encounter with gnocchi. Little potato pillows of heaven, they were, and it was love at first bite. I ordered them every night.

When I decided to do a summer study abroad in Italy, I'm 99% positive it was that dish alone that made me choose Rome over the more popular Florence trip. Oh, I said it was that I wanted to be in a big city and loved the ancient history and blah blah blah, but really, I'm pretty sure it was the gnocchi.

I ate like a queen for 6 weeks. Youngest child that I am, I proclaimed a dish "mine" at each restaurant we frequented (and frequent, we did. I don't think we went anywhere just once): the arugula salad with bresaola, honey, and parmigiano-reggiano at the pretty, five-table ristorante a block away from our market; the pizza bianca at the little shop around the corner from the American University of Rome; the bread with ricotta salata and fig jam at the deli near the Spanish steps; the pizza diavola at the train-themed (?) trattoria across the street from our apartment (which I incessantly referred to as "the neighborhood joint" and forced my roommates to enjoy at least weekly); etc.

That's me at the deli with ricotta salata!

Then, all of a sudden, it was time to go home, and I hadn't been back to the restaurant from my family trip. I walked by just to make sure it was still there, but I could never convince my friends to go. (I'm going to blame it on the high prices, but more likely it was because I had exhausted them with my pleas for dinner at the neighborhood joint.)

Fortunately, I was still able to get my fill of gnocchi. I thought I didn't like pesto; then I had it fresh. . . on gnocchi. . . in Riomaggiore - one of the five towns in Cinque Terre, in the Liguria region, which is famous for its pesto. . . sigh. Provoked by my oohs and aahs, one of my Italian professors proclaimed that she knew how to MAKE gnocchi and would teach us in our tiny European kitchen. Aside from the homemade gnocchi's deliciousness, all I really remember from that experience was how easy it was.

Well, let me tell you, it's not.

It is really labor-intensive and kind of stressful, especially when you study recipes beforehand that all scream "potato ricer needed!" and warn against overworking and gumminess. I knew that my teensy tiny Italian kitchen did NOT come complete with a potato ricer, so I forged ahead with a fork, mashing the potatoes as little as possible and being careful to add only enough flour to bring the dough together.

But as I felt the lumps in my gnocchi ropes, it all came flooding back. I tried to make these bitches for my family when I got back that summer, and it was a disaster. In fact, I remembered that after rolling and cutting all the individual gnocchi, I put one in the pot and it disintegrated, and I was forced to throw all the gnocchi back into a bowl and add more flour. Oy.

Lumps aside, though, they came out pretty good. I don't think they'd win any awards, but they're pretty light and soft, and I liked their chew (I'm not going to go as far as to say that they weren't gummy, but it didn't bother me). With the sauce and the cheese, they were a pretty satisfying meal.

At the very least, they were a good catalyst for some fun reminiscing. . . only now, all I want is dinner at the neighborhood joint.

Gnocchi with red pepper cream sauce
Serves 3

1 lb russet potatoes
2/3-1 cup AP flour
1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup milk

Prepare gnocchi: Wash potatoes and prick all over. Microwave for about 10 minute or until a knife goes through with no resistance. While still hot, peel the potatoes (be careful not to burn your fingers) and mash them with a fork, fluffing as you go along. Add salt and 2/3 cup flour. Continue adding flour, a little at a time until the dough can be formed into a ball. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes. Pinch off a handful and roll into a 1/2 in diameter rope. Cut 1/2 inch long pieces. Roll pieces over the back of the tines of a fork to make ridges (optional). Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and set aside.* Put about a quart of salted water on to boil.

Make sauce: Mix roasted red pepper and sundried tomato sauce and milk together in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until gnocchi are ready.

Cook gnocchi: When water boils, add 5-10 gnocchi. One minute after gnocchi rise to the top of the water, remove and place in the sauce. Continue in batches until all gnocchi is cooked and sauced. Divide into three serving dishes and top with cheese (I used fontina but parmesan would be great).

* At this point, the gnocchi can be frozen for later. Place gnocchi in a single layer on a plate or cookie sheet and freeze, then move to a Ziploc bag. Cook from frozen.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Light wheat hamburger buns

From this week: eggs

From weeks past: milk, goat cheese

Staples: whole wheat flour, AP flour, butter, salt, yeast, honey, oil

My aunt baked homemade graham crackers 15 years ago, and my dad (her big brother) still teases her about it. To him - a non-cooker of anything but rare steak - making something that you can easily buy in a box is nuts. And for most of my childhood, I agreed.

Then, in college, I started really getting into cooking. And then, in law school, I started really getting into eating healthy and local and whole food-y. Suddenly, it didn't seem so crazy to make basics from scratch. It's fun, things come out tastier, and you have total control (a concept I enthusiastically appreciate) over what goes into your food.

Only in the past year have I really embraced this philosophy and started baking my own bread. Mostly, I haven't been very successful. My sorry attempts at whole wheat bread have been dense and rock-like. These hamburger buns are a different story, entirely. Light, soft, moist, and sweet, they are SERIOUSLY the best rolls I've ever had. Maybe the best things I've ever made. Certainly better than anything store bought. And they're the perfect canvas for sandwiches and the excitement I have planned for later in the week (stay tuned!).

Tonight I had one (after I'd already "tried" two or three) with scrambled eggs and goat cheese inside.

I don't think I ever got to try my aunt's graham crackers, but maybe if I had, I would've come around sooner. My mom certainly did. She makes her own preserves, pickles, crackers, granola, and yogurt (this one I still find slightly crazy), amongst other things. And, you know what? I don't hear my dad doing a whole lot of teasing over his daily bowl of homemade granola- and preserve-topped yogurt.

Light wheat hamburger buns
Makes 26-30 buns

- 1 cup milk
- 3/4 cup water
- 2 packages (4.5 tsp) active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled, plus 2 tbsp, melted and cooled
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
- 2 2/3 cups AP flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 tbsp oil

Heat milk and water together in the microwave until warm, about one minute (technically I think it's to 110 degrees, but I think of it as the temperature of a warm bath). Mix with yeast in a large bowl and let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in honey, 1/4 cup butter, salt, and whole wheat flour. Stir in AP flour a little at a time, stopping when the dough pulls away from the sides and wants to form a ball. Dump onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes.

Pour oil into a clean large bowl. Turn dough ball in the oil and place in the bowl. Cover with a damp towel and leave in a warmish place until double in size, about 1 hour. Punch (literally) dough down, re-cover, and leave in warm place until doubled again, about 30 minutes.

Roll dough out into 1/2 inch thick round on a lightly flowered surface. Brush two cookie sheets with some of the 2 tbsp melted butter. Using a floured 3 inch cookie cutter (or the mouth of a glass), cut rounds and place on buttered cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. Brush the tops of the buns with remaining butter. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and place in a warmish place until puffed, about 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, put an oven rack in the top 1/3 of the oven and another in the bottom 1/3 and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake with one cookie sheet on each rack for 5 minutes, then switch and bake for 3 more minutes. The buns should sound hollow when tapped. Immediately remove to a cooling rack.

The buns can be frozen in a large ziploc bag. When ready to eat, bake from frozen for 8-10 minutes, or until buns sound hollow again, in a 400 degree oven.

This week (1/17)

- lettuce
- eggs
- 2 avocados
- ginger
- 1 green bell pepper
- extra sharp cheddar cheese
- 3 carrots
- 2 shallots
- white miso
- mini country baguette
- frozen berry medley
- vanilla greek yogurt
- oat flour*
- oat groats (???)*
- spelt*

- butter
- toasted sesame oil (I just realized that the oil I had in the pantry was over 2 years expired... and meant to be stored in the fridge. Woops)
- brown sugar
- peanut butter

* from my mom's CSA box

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Potato and goat cheese frittata with roasted red pepper and sundried tomato sauce

From this week: eggs, red peppers, potatoes, goat cheese

From weeks past: frozen spinach, sundried tomatoes, roasted garlic, mushroom broth, milk

Staples: oil, salt, onion

I loathe forced social events. Words like "mingle" and "meet and greet" and "network" make me want to vom. So you can only imagine how terrible the law firm summer associate dance was for me. The 9 to 5 (or 7 to 9, whichever the case may be) was no prob, even semi-enjoyable; but the lunches with partners, baseball games in the firm suite, and wine tasting casino night (yes, that's real) were hell. I know, right? Free food, wine, and entertainment - poor me.

But for serious, I hated it all. Except for maybe I sort of had a teensy tiny bit of fun at one event: the cooking class! Not only did I get to show off my cooking skillz, but everyone was so occupied that they no longer wanted to mingle or meet or greet me. AWESOME!

I also learned how to make a Spanish tortilla de patatas with a roasted red pepper sauce. Of course, although I still have things like the instructions to access the office's supply closet (???) almost two years later, I failed to save a copy of that recipe. I wanted to replicate the deliciously egg-y and sweetly sauced dish, but I didn't want to go to the trouble of flipping the big mass like tortilla recipes seem to require. And I wanted cheese. And I felt like I should add something green. And I didn't have enough red peppers to make a sufficient amount of sauce (because, obvi, I have other plans for it).

So really, I didn't replicate that recipe at all.

And to think, this whole time I've been blaming the recession for the firm's refusal to make me a permanent offer...

Potato and goat cheese frittata
Serves 6-8

2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 lb yukon gold potatoes, diced into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach
1/2 tsp kosher salt
6 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 oz goat cheese

Whisk eggs and milk together and set aside. Heat 1 tbsp oil over medium heat in a 10 inch oven-proof skillet. Add onion and cook until soft and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside. Add second tablespoon of olive oil and potatoes. Cook until just tender, about 10-12 minutes. Add frozen spinach and stir until defrosted.

Put oven rack in top 1/3 of oven. Preheat broiler. Add onion and salt to skillet and stir. Pour in egg/milk mixture and cook, lifting up edges with a rubber spatula and letting raw egg run underneath, for 5 minutes (the center will still be runny). Break up goat cheese with your hands and drop onto the frittata. Place under broiler and cook until just solid, about 8 minutes. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes, then loosen edges with a rubber spatula and flip onto a plate. Serve topped with roasted red pepper and sundried tomato sauce (below)

Roasted red pepper and sundried tomato sauce
Makes about 1.5 cups

2 red bell peppers
1/2 onion, sliced
1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
4 cloves roasted garlic (you can buy pre-roasted garlic or roast it yourself and freeze)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable broth (I used mushroom broth)
4 tbsp olive oil, divided

Roast peppers: place oven rack in the top 1/3 of the oven (with just enough room so the red peppers don't touch the heating element) and preheat broiler. Place red peppers on a dry cookie sheet and then put under the broiler. Broil until the skin is black (really, black), then turn and do the same all the way around the pepper. Place peppers in a paper bag while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. When peppers seems cool enough to handle, peel them with your hands (the peel should come right off). Remove seeds and stems.

Make sauce: heat one tbsp oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft and lightly browned, about 15 minutes (you can do this at the same time as the onions for the potatoes and kill two birds with one stone). Process (or blend) cooked onions, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, garlic, and salt. While food processor is running, pour in broth and remaining oil and process until smooth and saucy. Store in the fridge and heat in the microwave or a small saucepan on the stove before serving.

Black bean and corn dip

From weeks past: corn, sour cream, habanero jack cheese, black beans

Staples: red onion, garlic, spices, hot sauce, oil

I wasn't really planning to blog about anything I did with my leftover enchilada ingredients. My knowledge of Mexican cuisine is limited to your basic taco, fajita, quesadilla... that's pretty much it. So I made a quesadilla, which was essentially the same as my enchilada recipe but without the sauce and not rolled up. A taco or veggie fajita would just be the same, minus the melted cheese.

But then I made this weird little dish with my leftover 1/2 a red onion, 1/2 a can of black beans, some corn, and 15 minutes.

And it was heavenly. Like refried beans, but sweeter and chunkier and more substantial. I'm calling it a dip because that's probably how it makes the most sense, but I'm not gonna lie: I felt totally comfortable eating it with a fork.

Black bean and corn dip
Serves 4 as a dip, 1 as a dish

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 can black beans
1 tbsp cumin
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
1/4 cup shredded cheese (I used habanero jack)
1 tbsp sour cream
hot sauce to taste

Heat vegetable oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add red onion and saute until soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Add cumin, red pepper flakes, beans, and water. Stir and mash beans with the back of a wooden spoon so that some chunks remain. Let simmer until slightly thickened (the texture of refried beans). Stir in corn and cook until thawed. Pour mixture into a bowl and top with shredded cheese, sour cream, and hot sauce. Serve with tortilla chips.

Monday, January 10, 2011

This week (1/10)

- 2 red bell peppers
- bag of potatoes
- bag of reddish apples
- salsa
- goat cheese
- fontina cheese
- almonds
- can of chickpeas
- can of black beans
- eggs

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Vietnamese tofu with cucumber slaw

From this week: tofu, green bell pepper, cucumber

From weeks past: anchovy paste, brown rice, jalapeno

Staples: soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, hot sauce, honey, brown sugar, vegetable oil, Saigon cinnamon

Have you ever been haunted by a word or a phrase or a name? You hear it spoken or see it written for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, and then you can't get away from it. An hour later you hear someone on TV say it; the next day, you read it in the newspaper; a week goes by, and your friend drops it in casual conversation.

It happens to me all the time. And often it's creepy and unpleasant. Unless it's food-related, and then it feels like a gift from the gods.

Case in point: banh mi; a funny little name for a delicious concept. I think I heard about it for the first time on the food channel's "The Great Food Truck Race." Nom Nom Truck (another funny little name) served up the Vietnamese sandwiches, and I was fascinated - first, by the way the cute name rolled off the tongues of the even cuter gals who own the truck, and then, by how awesome the sandwiches looked. Baguette: good; mayonnaise: good; pickled veggies: good; Vietnamese food: good. Good + good + good + good = good, I say.

Those sweet words followed me everywhere. I saw recipes for the sandwich on blogs, I heard it mentioned on other tv shows, I stumbled across an NY Times feature on it. And then, I got really lucky. While trying out a nearby Richmond restaurant, I spied it on the menu. With cucumbers. And a spicy sauce. And a tofu option. It was meant to be.

And it was stupendous. We went back a second time, and I got it again (okay so that doesn't say SO much about how it tasted since I'm sort of a creature of habit, but I'll just tell you I was right about all the goodness). But it's pretty messy, and I don't make a lot of sandwiches at home. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure why. I was about to say something about avoiding big hunks of bread in attempt to eat healthy at home but then I remembered this and this and this.

Regardless, I got just as much satisfaction by replicating the spicy sauce and the pickled cucumbers and replacing the french baguette and mayo with brown rice and green peppers. The sauce is spicy and salty and sweet, the cucumbers are bright and tangy, and the tofu is tender and meaty.

Sidenote: I bought tofu labelled "local" at Whole Foods, and it's bangin'. Not sure its deliciousness has anything to do with its geography, but if you can find tofu that looks dryer and vacuum-sealed with plastic all around it (rather than sitting in a box of water), buy that. Also, freezing and thawing really does make a difference. If you have two or three hour's foresight, prep the tofu that way instead of by pressing.

Vietnamese tofu with cucumber slaw
Serves 3-4

1 block extra firm tofu
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp warm water
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp hot/chili sauce
1 tsp anchovy paste
1 tsp honey
2 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon (optional)
1/2 green bell pepper, diced

Cucumber slaw
1/2 cucumber
1 tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 pickled or fresh jalapeno, finely minced

Prepare cucumber slaw: peel every other 1/2 inch of cucumber (see picture above), then grate using food processor or a box grater, and squeeze to remove excess liquid. Mix with rice vinegar and jalapeno and set aside or refrigerate until ready to assemble the dish.

Prepare tofu: pat tofu dry, then cut into about 2x2x1/4 inch pieces (see picture above). Lay flat on a cookie sheet and freeze for at least 1 hour, then remove and thaw (about 30 minutes).

Marinate: while tofu is thawing, whisk together soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, water, garlic, chili sauce, anchovy paste, honey, 1 tbsp vegetable oil, and cinnamon. Place thawed tofu and marinade in a ziploc bag and move around so all the tofu is covered. Let sit for at least 20 minutes.

Cook: while tofu is marinating, heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil over medium high heat in a large skillet. Add green pepper and cook until just beginning to soften. Remove from skillet. Using tongs, lay 1/2-1/3 of tofu pieces in one layer in the skillet, reserving marinade. Cook for about 5 minutes, until downside is brown and caramelized. Flip and cook until brown, about 3 more minutes. Remove and repeat until all the tofu is cooked. Turn heat down to low, then add cooked tofu and green peppers and reserved marinade. Cook over low heat until sauce is slightly thickened. Serve over brown rice and top with about 1-2 tbsp of cucumber slaw.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Black bean and veggie enchiladas

From this week: bell pepper, corn, cheese, tortillas

From weeks past: spinach, tomato paste, black beans

Staples: oil, onion, tomato sauce, spices, salt

I got a stomach bug for Christmas, and it ruined my New Year's. Not because I'm a wild party animal and I had to stay in for the night, or because I'm a night owl and I didn't get to ring in the New Year and then some, but because I'm a glutton and I couldn't stuff my face.

Being sick is about the only thing that keeps me from eating to excess. On New Year's Eve, Alex actually expressed sorrow at my uncharacteristic inability to consume my share of our menu - frozen appetizers, ice cream sundaes, and candy. You and me both, man.

As I recovered from my illness, all I wanted was junk food. I'm not sure why (and I'm certain there's a sophisticated medical explanation), but when I don't really feel hungry - whether it's because I've just been sick and have to force myself to eat (rare) or because I'm stuffed and want to force myself to eat (less rare) - I can't imagine eating anything healthy. Fruits and vegetables? No. French fries and milkshakes and Cheesecake Factory strawberry lemonade? Yes, please.

Now that I'm better, I'm easing whole foods back into my diet. I don't want to shock my system, you know. I'm starting by coating my vegetables in cheese.

My stomach is never too queasy for cheese (lactose-intolerant, I'm not). Sharp cheese is like my chicken soup; spicy cheese, my Pepto-Bismol. So I combined the two in this. But you could use any cheese. And any combination of vegetables. I chose these because I had some and the others were easy and I'll use them in other recipes. Whatever you have lying around would be delicious, even starchy vegetables like potatoes (pre-cooked).

Making these is also a pretty fun Sunday-night activity: mixing up all the components and setting up an assembly line...

...rolling up the little enchiladas.

Exciting! Who says I'm not a wild party animal?

Black bean and veggie enchiladas
Serves 3

Enchilada sauce:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
8oz can tomato sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Heat vegetable oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until very lightly browned. Add cumin, chili powder, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, for about 1-2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and sauce. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes. Add salt. Set aside.

1 recipe enchilada sauce (above)
6 small corn tortillas
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
3 oz fresh spinach leaves, torn, tough stems discarded
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pickled jalapeno, minced (about 1 tbsp)
1 tsp cumin
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
1/2 15oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and bell pepper, and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes. Add garlic, jalapeno, and cumin, and cook, stirring, until garlic is very lightly browned. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Take off heat, add corn and stir until corn is defrosted. Pour mixture into a medium sized bowl. Stir 1/2 cup of each of the cheese into the mixture. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400. Grease an 8x8 baking dish. Wrap stack of corn tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave for 30 seconds, until just soft. Make sure you have all of the ingredients set out near the baking dish. Remove one tortilla from the pile at a time, fill with veggie mixture, roll up, and place seam-side down in the baking dish. Continue until all of the rolled tortillas are in the baking dish (you'll probably have to put one perpendicular to the others). Spread enchilada sauce over the rolls in an even layer. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until cheese is bubbling.

This week (1/3)

- sour cream
- bag of clementines
- pink lady apples
- 1 green bell pepper
- 1 English cucumber
- extra sharp cheddar cheese
- habanero jack cheese
- corn tortillas
- frozen chopped spinach
- frozen yellow corn
- tofu
- dried papaya spears
- dried cranberries

- tomato sauce
- crushed red pepper
- rolled oats
- soy sauce