February 27, 2011 § 4 Comments
I’m frugal. I can’t help it; my parents grew up in the Depression. When I see a deal, a quality deal, I take it.
For instance, several weeks ago Jennifer and I did one of our super grocery shops. Two or three grocery stores, big carts full of everything from toilet paper to hummus to chicken sausage. We drove our cart by the Island of Misfit Produce—the rack of old artichokes, spotty potatoes, soft pears—in our local Stop & Shop. We don’t normally shop from this spot, but for some reason that day we did. Four artichokes, somewhat soft = $1.88 – and they are usually $2 each. Four humongous pablano peppers = $1.88. $1.88? Amazing.
Okay, so … the peppers. Normally what we do with peppers is we stuff them. We picked up the idea a couple of years ago from an episode of Guy’s Big Bite. He stuffed them with an arborio-style rice, chorizo and maybe some bell peppers. Instead of chorizo we use shrimp; we’ve also used rice, bulgur and quinoa.
The Misfit peppers had a few spots. Whatever. Spots can be removed. Peel it away, cut it out, chop it up—that’s the Great Depression way. And that’s exactly what I did. I removed anything on the pepper that was soft or wimpy. Some looked pretty good – some looked like they were really mangled in the end. But since they were pretty large peppers to begin with, all four turned out to be a good size, regardless of the chunks I removed. In they went into a Ziploc freezer bag and into the freezer.
Remember a few days ago we made a side dish of quinoa with carmelized onions and mushrooms? That’s what we stuffed into the pablanos. The quinoa is easy—here it is:
- 2 3/4 cups chicken stock
- 1 1/2 cups quinoa
Heat chicken stock to boiling. Add quinoa and a pinch or two of salt. Stir. Turn OFF the heat and cover. Let sit for 15 minutes. Yes, it’s that easy. So, listen to this – quinoa has a protein content of about 12% AND it’s a complete protein source. It’s good for you – no need to add hamburger to this, dude.
Okay, so … to this you add caramelized onions and sauteed shitake mushrooms. What we did – actually, what Jennifer did – was caramelized the sweet onions in a pan with fresh thyme. She then removed the onions and put the sliced shitakes right in all that thyme-y, oniony goodness. Mmm, mmmm, mmm.
We combined the onions and mushrooms with the quinoa. Served as bunch as a side dish with fish tacos.
So, with all that leftover quinoa, we stuffed it into those pablanos. We thawed the pablanos several hours beforehand; and stuck them into a 425F oven for about 10 min. That loosened up the skins a bit – just enough to make them not too tough. While that was happening, I warmed up some of the quinoa in a glug of chicken stock AND I added about 6-7 chopped shrimp (cut shrimp in half lengthwise, the crosswise in thirds). Just tuck those shrimpies into the quinoa and turn heat to looooooow. Cover. Let it sit there for just 5 minutes. Turn heat off – you don’t want to overcook the shrimp!
Pablanos out of the oven. Quinoa warm. Stuff them together. Mmmm…. If you have any quinoa left, layer that into the bottom of a cast-iron pan. Put the pablanos on top. Sprinkle with a bit of freshly grated parmasean.Put into a 425F oven for 10 minutes. Dinner is done. And, it’s yummy.
February 25, 2011 § 2 Comments
Without a doubt, the best fish tacos in Boston can be found at La Verdad on Landsdowne. I am right, people. If you beg to differ, please speak up. But I’ve had my share of fish tacos from coast to coast (actually, only on the coasts), and Ken Oringer’s are tops.
Now, I’d love to head on down to La Verdad every single day and have a plateful of those delicacies, but that’s not possible. And we’re still trying to nail down ingredients and technique to replicate those at home. Meanwhile, to satisfy the fish taco craving, we’ve taken a turn at a Boston Globe fish taco recipe. It’s tasty and pretty darn easy.
- 1/4 head red cabbage, shredded
- 1 large carrot, julienned
- 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 small lime, juiced
- handful of cilantro leaves, chopped
Combine all ingredients in a large shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Let it sit for about an hour.
- 1/4-1/3 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
- zest and juice from half a lime
- hot sauce of your choice
Whisk together yogurt, zest and juice. If it’s too thin/watery, add a touch more yogurt. Add in a few dashes of hot sauce to taste.
- 1+ lb. firm white fish. We use tilapia for our fish tacos. We’ve used cod and that’s fine, too. Tilapia is less expensive. So sue me.
Cut fish into 1/2-in. pieces and place into a small bowl. Add a swig of evoo – about 1 TBS – and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and toss. If you want to add another level of flavor, go ahead. The original Boston Globe recipe suggests about 1 tsp of cumin. We tried that. It’s fine. Although it gives the fish an off-putting grey-brown color when prepared.
To cook the fish, we take about half of the fish, place it on the tray that comes with your toaster oven, and just broil it in the toaster oven for about 5 minutes. And that’s it – done!
Heat a whole-wheat fajita wrap (the 8-in. size) in a dry pan of medium heat. Fill with about a third of the broiled fish. Top with the cream sauce and slaw. The first batch of broiled fish will make about three tacos. For a dinner for two, have one each, share the other (no, there’s nothing gross about that), and have a side of something like caramelized onion and mushroom quinoa.
While you’re cleaning up the dinner dishes, pop the other half of the fish in the toaster oven for 5 min. It heats up well for a lunchtime fish taco the next day.
February 22, 2011 § 1 Comment
Sometimes dinner is just a bowl of gussied-up bulgur. Not that bulgur is meaningless or anything. Not in the least. It’s a whole grain, high in fiber, packed with good nutrition—it’s awesome just for that. Throw in its great taste and texture, it’s a real winner.
But when I say “sometimes dinner is just a bowl of gussied-up bulgur,” I mean some days you just don’t want to put a lot of effort into the evening meal. Aside from pulling a box of frozen somethin’ out of the freezer, fancified bulgur is an easy solution.
Two weekends ago at the Somerville Winter Farmers Market, one of the vendors—she sells Middle Eastern prepared foods—shared a quick-and-easy bulgur recipe with Jennifer and I. Having just come home from a long weekend in Vermont, we decided to take mealtime easy and whip up the bulgur. Jennifer prepped the dish, I stood by and watched. Full credit goes to my favorite chef.
- 1 sweet onion
- 1 TBS evoo
- 1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
- salt & pepper
- 1 small bunch kale, washed and roughly torn
- 1 cup bulgur
- feta cheese
-Chop onion. In a medium pot, saute onion in olive oil over medium until somewhat translucent. Add tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Heat until bubbling, then turn down to a simmer. Let simmer gently while you prep the kale.
-Add kale to tomato onion mixture, and try to combine with tomatoes, but don’t try too hard. Cover. Let simmer away for 15 minutes.
-After 15 minutes, kale should be mostly cooked. Stir in a cup of bulgur. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes. The bulgur should soften and expand during that time.
-Dish up in bowls as a light meal or spoon alongside an entree. Top with a sprinkling of feta cheese if you wish (and I wish).
February 17, 2011 § 1 Comment
I’m a HUGE fan of Snickers from back in the day. Hungry? Grab a Snickers. The original power bar. Chocolate, nougat, caramel, peanuts—it’s all right there and in great proportion. And, it gives your molars and jaw something to really get workin’ on. They aren’t kidding when they say Snickers really satisfies.
So, I’m thinking a peanut butter version of Snickers, let me have it, right? This is gonna be awesome. I LOVE peanut butter.
It’s a dollar I’ll never get back.
Thumbs down, and here’s why:
- The nougat was too … too … what’s the word … whipped. More like a Musketeer than a Snickers. It didn’t have that Snickers nougat density.
- And was that nougat supposed to taste like peanut butter? Because that flavor hit me like bad cooking oil.
- Hello? Peanuts? Did you forget to jump in?
- Something had a crystalline texture to it. Was it the chocolate? The “caramel”? Whatever it was, I had a mouthful of tiny crystals. Like when you bit into some bad candy. Was that texture there on purpose? Who’d want that?
- There was no satisfying chew. My jaw was disappointed.
- It left me feeling heavy. Like I had just too much oil. Not a good feeling.
As a life-long Snickers fan, I was looking for and expecting a Snickers with peanut butter. What I found was nothing like a Snickers. Take the name off it and call it something else, folks, and save your brand.
Dainty Rates: 0 Dots
February 16, 2011 § 2 Comments
I’m taking this time while getting an oil change to tell you about this AMAZING soup. This soup is so friggin’ easy and so friggin’ good, you’re gonna scream with the pain of realizing how dumb you’ve been for not making it before. That’s exactly what we did. Actually, we slapped ourselves.
Before I move on, I’m gonna give credit where credit is due. What’s that Mexican show on the Food Network? Mexican Made Easy or something? With the cute bubbly Mexican gal. She cooked up something similar one Saturday morning. In her case, it had a chipotle cream somethin’ somethin’ added at the end. Not needed, especially if you’re hoping to limit unnecessary calories.
- 1 medium-large butternut squash (2-3 lbs)
- olive oil
- 2 medium-large carrots
- 1 large stalk celery
- 1 small-medium sweet onion
- 4+ cups vegetable or chicken stock
-Heat oven to 400F.
-Cut squash in half lengthwise. Leave seeds and such in for now. Sprinkle a bit of olive oil over each half and rub in. Season each half with a pinch of kosher salt and a twist of fresh cracked pepper. Bake in oven for 30 minutes or until knife inserts into squash easily. Remove from oven. Let sit until it’s cool enough to handle.
-Meanwhile, chop onion, carrot and celery into 1/2-inch pieces. In a 4-quart pot, season vegetables and saute in about 1 tbs olive oil until they start to loosen up a bit – 5 minutes or so.
-When squash is cool enough to handle, scrape the squash from the skin and add to the vegetables. Add enough veggie stock or chicken stock to cover everything. It usually takes about 4-5 cups. Bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer for about 30 minutes.
-When time’s up, get our your trusty immersion blender and whir away until it ‘s nice and smooth.
Taste that? Good, uh? It’s sweet and savory. Rich and deep. And all that flavor from just those few ingredients. Yup, you and we have been missing out on some serious goodness. Don’t worry, we all feel really stupid about now.
February 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
The Somerville Winter Farmers Market has been up and active since January 8th, and why haven’t we been before this weekend?? Maybe because we’re South Enders, and making it all the way over the river and through traffic can be rough-going. Or, maybe it’s been the weather. Or … maybe we just didn’t know what we were going to find. With “farmers markets” you just never know what you’re going to get—sometimes it’s not even food-related, you know? Screen-print shirts, artwork—come on, dude.
We’re happy to say we found lots of food-related stuff in the Armory Building, which is a great place to hold an event like this. Not too big that the vendors get lost. Just large enough to encourage a good traffic flow on the floor. And an upstairs space for overflow vendors and chillin’ and listening to the musicians (Rodriguez someoneorother? Good choice).
Considering the heavens have dumped loads of snow upon us all winter, and spring harvests just seem so far off, it was really refreshing to see farmers and their produce. One farm looks like they have a connection with an organic farm down in Florida—they were selling fresh greens and even squashes that were shipped up from there. Do I have a problem with that? Not really. One cannot live by turnips alone all winter.
The Winter Farmers Market is also way more than veggies. Our first purchases, in fact, were unpasteurized apple cider and maple syrup. And there were seafood vendors, pork/beef producers, wineries, cheese makers, bakeries, orchards and prepared foods chefs in the house, as well. Lots to choose from.
All in all, we were happy with the hour we spent shuttling from booth to booth.
Our loot: scallops, two varieties of apples, maple syrup, unpasteurized apple cider, kale, baby spinach, Rainbow Lights Swiss chard, mussels, two kinds of soft cheese (burrata and fresh mozzarella) two kinds of semi-soft cheese (swiss and hardwick stone), and a watermelon radish. I told Jennifer there had to be at least one thing we purchased that we didn’t have experience with—that would be the watermelon radish. Spicy sweet with a gorgeous dark pink coloring inside (the “watermelon” part), we julienned it and put it on a spinach salad with apple slices and goat cheese with a shallot balsamic vinaigrette. That salad accompanied our mussels last night. Yum. Yum. Yum.
We’ve also already used the rainbow chard, which accompanied Saturday night’s sea bass and mango cous cous.
The scallops are our Valentine’s Day meal. Can’t wait for that.
February 11, 2011 § 3 Comments
Where have you been all my life, steel-cut oats?
Ten years ago, I don’t believe I had ever eaten oatmeal. Maybe I had had one of those wimpy packet of instant oatmeal, if you want to call that oatmeal. Mom had a container of Quaker Oast around the house, but it was for cookies only, not breakfast. So, my uneducated and untested opinion of oatmeal was that its gloppiness reflected its taste and I wanted nothing to do with it.
Then Jennifer came along and made me the world’s best oatmeal. It wasn’t the instant stuff, and it wasn’t the quick oats, I don’t think. It was rolled oats, for sure, with that familiar flattened, flake-like appearance. Boil, stir, simmer, toss in some raisins for a minute and Whammo! Five minutes later there’s a tasty breakfast. With a pour of maple syrup and a smattering of slivered almonds on top, of course. Mmmm … nice and hearty. For the most part, I leave the oatmeal making to Jennifer. She’s good at it. It’s her job.
One day on a visit to New York, our friend Bernadett raved about the flavor of steel-cut oats. Now that’s a whole other animal, for sure, steel-cut oats. That familiar flaky oat appearance? Not happenin’ with steel-cut oats. When you look at rolled oats, you can’t really get a good idea of what that flake was previously. Not really. It is a smushed something. But when you look at steel-cut oats, its “grain-ness” just jumps right out at you. It looks like the oats we used to grow back on the farm—just chopped crosswise into smaller pieces. Cooking time—well, let’s say it’s not a breakfast food appropriate for a gotta-get-out-the-door morning.
Thanks to my baking of Flour’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookies and the depletion of our rolled oats, we found ourselves in front of the bulk bins at Whole Foods. Steel-cut oats in a bin to the left. Rolled oats in a bin to the right. We had experience with rolled. We knew we liked rolled. But we heard great things about steel cut. Plus, they were on sale. Steel-cut, it is.
Recipe (for 2)
- Put a scant 2 cups water in a small 2-qt. pot. Add a pinch of kosher salt. Heat on high until boiling.
- Stir in a generous 1 cup of steel-cut oats. IMMEDIATELY turn heat down as low as it can go. Cover.
- Set timer for 15 minutes. And go write your morning blog post.
- When timer goes off, stir in a handful of raisins. Cover. Set timer for 5 minutes.
- Divide into two bowls. Top with your favorite stuff. Enjoy.
*IMPORTANT NOTE! Jennifer just told me to leave the lid slightly ajar. This way we don’t get those flair-ups that result in oatmeal goo dripping down the pot and onto the stovetop that she just cleaned.
Don’t expect your typical oatmeal experience. Like I said before, this is a whole other animal. It’s more grainy. More chewy. More nutty. Less gooey. Maybe there’s less of a viscous texture because the oat hasn’t been smushed and there is less surface area. I dunno. But I do know that I prefer it.
Nutrition? Is it better for you? More nutritious? Maybe. Or maybe it’s the same. Honestly, I don’t really care about the details so much. I do know it’s oats, and it’s a whole grain, and it’s good for you. And, it’s filling.
Now I can be like my mom and keep that container of rolled oats exclusively for the cookies.
February 11, 2011 § Leave a comment
No, I’m not obsessing over this apple-based sourdough. Not in the least.
But … I did keep an eye on it throughout the day on Tuesday. Good stuff was going on inside that quart container. Liquid pockets continued to build up around the apple chunks. I could see bubbling going on in there – they’d form lines from the base of the pocket going upward. Occasionally some bubbles would burst forth from that area, not unlike some undersea activity where bottom feeders send up the intermittent belch. The surface of the starter was covered with tiny bubbles, too. And, it smelled nicely fermenty. All good signs.
Wednesday, 5:57 a.m.: The layers have separated completely. No bubbles. Flour looks settled. Hmm … this happened to the grape starter, too. So, I move on to the next step, which calls for me to remove the apple chunks and add 36 grams flour. Stir well.
8:06 a.m.: I took a peek—bubbles seem to be appearing again. Bigger bubbles on the surface this time. But fewer. So far. A quick temperature reading says it is 75F. The starter pulls a bit as I bring up the thermometer. Fingers crossed.
Friday, 6:30 a.m. So, I just poured the starter down the drain. Again. Calling it starter is not correct—it was a mass of watery flour, that’s all. No bubbles. No yeasty activity. Nothing.
I don’t understand where I’m going wrong. I look online and I see all sorts of success with wild sourdough starters. Lots of bubbling! Lots of yeasty stuff going on! And me? The starters just … stops.
I will try again! I will. I just won’t blog about it—I’m getting sick of it.
BUT, if anyone out there (is anyone out there? anyone?) has some advice or a wild sourdough recipe or some suggestions of where to look for success, please let me know. Help a girl out, yo.
February 8, 2011 § Leave a comment
There’s a fine line between baker and mad scientist. And I’m walkin’ that line.
I hate to fail. Hate it. And when the sourdough starter recipe from the Amy’s Bread cookbook failed miserably—TWICE—I was a volcano inside. Watch out, sourdough … I’ll get you yet.
The Amy’s Bread sourdough is, as I envision it, the sourdough the pioneers relied upon. They didn’t have a packet of Fleischmann’s Active Dry tucked into their bonnets. They used yeast, baby … real yeast just floating around in the air or found on … things. Like grapes. This is where I stop envisioning – I don’t want to know what else they used as yeast sources.
The Amy’s Bread sourdough used grapes as the yeast source. Organic grapes. Well … Okay. This is where I admit I went wrong with the recipe. I used conventionally grown grapes, not organic. I went to two or three different Whole Foods! Even the HUGE one in Legacy Place – nada! According to one produce manager, organic grapes are sparse this time of year. Conventional grapes didn’t have that yeasty bloom. What else could explain my lack of bubbling?
What to do …
This is where Dainty the Mad Scientist makes her appearance. Jennifer had related to me a scene from one of Anthony Bourdain’s books. Apparently he had a mad scientist of a baker who worked under him at one point. He was a drug-addled guy, but a baking genius. All sorts of funky smells emerged from his underground yeast lab. He had to be using all sorts of … things … to source his yeast. So, in the middle of the Whole Foods produce department I thought, “What would a drug-addled baker use?”
I didn’t go too crazy in my problem solving. I just looked around and picked what I thought would harbor the most yeast. I chose an organic apple. I figured that, while the smooth part of the apple would have been wiped or polished in some way, the indentations on both ends of the apple would have something native still hangin’ out in there. Now that I think about it, I bet an organic fig would be a good bet, too.
I added 113 grams of 75F-78F water, 72 grams all-purpose flour to a quart container. I chopped the apple into about a 16 pieces and added mostly the end sections to the other ingredients. Stirred vigorously. Put the cover on. Heated some water in the microwave to create a warm environment. Put the container inside at around 3pm on Sunday.
Monday: I checked on the dough periodically throughout the day. Small bubbles started to appear around the apple chunks. Pockets of liquid appeared later on. Lines of bubbles and flour appeared through those pockets. I heated the water about three times during the day to maintain a warmish environment. Hmm … could this possibly be working?
Tuesday, 5:57 a.m. 39 hours later, there’s definitely yeast activity in the container. The bubbles are bigger with the mixture. And there’s small bubbles – like someone took a straw and blew bubbles – on the surface. And, it smells like fermenting apples. Good sign! I stick an instant-read thermometer into the mix and it reads 70.7F. Not bad. Plus, when I pull it out, the substance is a bit gooey and pulls up with it. Yay!!
I move on to the next step – my first refreshment. I add 113 grams of 76F water and 72 grams of flour. Stir vigorously. Close container. Stick in a warmed microwave. Cross fingers.