Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Rustler Pizza

It's time for another episode of Ali's Favorite Restaurant Dishes Made At Home! Today's challenge is my favorite vegetarian pizza from Pizza Luce, The Rustler.

The Rustler has BBQ sauce and mock duck on it, which I just so happen to have on hand leftover from yesterday's sandwich. Also on this pizza: pineapple, banana peppers, red onion, and cheese.

I used a Boboli crust (yeah, I's one of my 2010 goals to conquer my fear of dough and start making my own), layered everything on top and baked it for awhile.

Before baking:

Before eating:

I'm not a bit shy to admit that this was better than the Pizza Luce version. It's a salty/sweet combination that is highly addictive. And, from start to finish it took less than 20 minutes to get this meal ready to eat. See? You don't have to call Domino's or make a nasty cardboard frozen version if you want pizza at home!

ONE YEAR AGO: Spicy Asian Dressing

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Vegetarian BBQ Pulled "Pork" Sandwich

I hate to brag, but I just returned from the most rejuvenating week in Mexico. I did nothing more challenging than take beach walks, read books, drink, and eat.

Speaking of eating, I ate the most wonderful food! I began each day with a big bowl of perfectly ripe papaya, house made granola with cashews and coconut, and yogurt. If possible, I would have eaten this for every meal. I have a mad obsession for ripe papaya.

Lunches were usually a big beet and jicama salad on greens with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and a piece of fish. Except for the one day I made a Chipotle-style burrito bowl with rice, beans, fresh pico de gallo, and guacamole.

Dinners were all over the place - but I had fish or shrimp every night with vino blanco. Every day also saw enough freshly fried tortilla chips and the freshest and spiciest pico de gallo and guacamole to keep me full the whole week.

Did I mention the coconut ice cream? It is to die for.

Coconut farms are prevalent around Zihuatanejo and thus coconut is everywhere. I had a Coco Loco on Playa la Ropa - it's a giant hollowed out coconut filled with a massive quantity of tequila, rum, vodka, and who knows what else...I can't seem to recall but I'm quite sure I enjoyed it!

Anyways, here I am back in sunny and beautiful Minneapolis. As much as I love it here, it's admittedly a tiny bit difficult to re-enter the real world after the fabulousness of last week.

One thing that makes it easier is my kitchen. I have missed cooking! Tonight I was inspired by this miso slaw recipe on Sprouted Kitchen and wanted to pair it with an asian-style barbecue sauced sandwich.

Remember when I made a homemade barbecue sauce? I mocked the recipe for yielding six cups. Well, let me tell you...there have been several occasions since then that I have wished to have some barbecue sauce on hand. So I made another batch (a full one this time) and froze several jars of it for future use.

Then I made a trip to United Noodles to pick up a big can of vegetarian mock duck (also called seitan, or wheat gluten).

I shredded up the mock duck and heated it in a little pot on the stove with some of the barbecue sauce and scooped it on top of a toasted wheat bun, and topped with some of the miso slaw. It's really just a sloppy joe.

Of course, you can do the same type of sandwich with real pork or ground beef or tempeh or chicken, or whatever you can come up with in your crazy little brains!

It was rich from the barbecue sauce and seitan and light and crunchy from the slaw. A very satisfying sandwich (if not very photogenic or elegant - but not every meal can be fancy). I love eating seemingly "bad" foods that I've made from scratch. It removes all the guilt and tastes better than I ever imagined it could.

ONE YEAR AGO: Yogurt Parfait

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chocolate Lava Cakes

If you don't happen to have Guinness or sour cream or even cream on hand to make the amazing Guinness Cake, don't panic!!!

There is a delicious fail-safe chocolate dessert that you can make with ingredients you probably already have in your house.

I have been making this recipe for Chocolate Lava Cakes for years. Unfortunately, I can't credit where I found the recipe, it was somewhere on the web a long time ago. I've baked the batter in muffin tins and coffee cups, but then finally broke down and bought ramekins (about $1 each at Crate and Barrel) to appear a little more grown up.

The only thing that's difficult in this recipe is determining when the cakes are at the perfect level of doneness - baked on the outside, and molten and runny on the inside. I have over-baked and under-baked them many times. The good news is...even over or under baked, this chocolatey concoction will taste really, really good.

Chocolate Lava Cakes
1 stick unsalted butter
8 oz good quality dark chocolate (this is about 3/4 of a bag if you are using choc chips)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tbsp flour
1/4 tsp salt
4 eggs, room temperature

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Melt butter and chocolate chips in microwave or in bowl over a pot of simmering water. Add vanilla. Let cool slightly.

Mix together sugar, flour, and salt. Use stand or hand mixer to blend dry ingredients with melted chocolate and butter.

Add eggs, one at a time and beat entire mixture for 4 full minutes and until light in color. (NOTE: make sure your chocolate isn't too hot anymore or you'll have scrambled eggs).

Chill mixture (this will keep in fridge for a few days so you can make lava cakes after dinner all week!).

Grease muffin tins, oven-proof coffee mugs, or ramekins and dust with cocoa powder (optional). Add a couple scoops of the batter until baking vessel is about half-full.

Bake until cake looks done and crackles on top (doneness depends on size of baking vessel - about 10 minutes for muffin tins, up to 15-17 minutes for ramekins or coffee mugs).

Serve directly from the baking vessel or try to invert onto a plate with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, freshly whipped cream, or a dusting of powdered sugar.

ONE YEAR AGO: Frittata

Sunday, February 14, 2010

La Salade De Legumes

On Orchard Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, there is a teeny tiny French restaurant. When my best friend Cassandra moved to that neighborhood almost two years ago, this little magical spot became her new Barbette (i.e. go-to restaurant for great food, wine, and ambiance). The restaurant is called Zucco: Le French Diner.

Over the course of the next eighteen months, Cass shared this miniscule gem with all her friends and family who came to NYC. I have been fortunate enough to go there twice.

The owner of the restaurant is the infamous Zucco himself. He is the epitome of French-ness. Thin and scraggly bearded, mysterious but charismatic, a thick French accent, and constant cigarettes. I couldn't keep my eyes off him.

(image from this link)

Cassandra's favorite menu item at Zucco's is La Salade De Legumes, which is just mixed vegetables with tofu and parmesan cheese. It looks very delicious but I have never ordered it (I usually try to order something different than everyone at the table). So I have really no idea what it tastes like or what ingredients are even in it.

But I needed to eat an approximation of this salad in the worst way because Zucco died unexpectedly yesterday. I need to do something to honor this guy who got to see my best friend more often than I do. And Cass is so upset by his passing - which makes me upset. I assume that as a Frenchman who opened a diner in New York City, Zucco would understand that my way of honoring him is through food.

La Salade De Legumes, inspired by Zucco: Le French Diner
Assorted vegetables, cut small (I used mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, and green beans)
Extra-firm tofu, liquid pressed out and cut into small cubes
Parmesan cheese, coarsely grated

French Vinaigrette
1 small shallot, minced fine
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Coat the veggies and tofu in extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until all ingredients are crisp-tender.

Meanwhile mix ingredients for vinaigrette in a bowl with a whisk or shake in a mason jar.

Toss roasted veggies and tofu with vinaigrette and shredded parmesan.

Serve with LOTS of champagne or rose wine and give a big CHEERS to Zucco.

ONE YEAR AGO: Halibut en Papillote

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fish Sandwich

Fish sandwiches totally kick hamburgers' butts. I love fish sandwiches!

One day several years ago when I was fresh out of college, my friend Lindsey and I were feeling the effects of an overindulgent Friday night and had a mad craving for a fish sandwich. The craving was so intense, we drove to McDonald's and ordered 2 fish sandwiches in the drive thru, and pulled up to pay - only to be told they don't take debit cards. So we drove home and got a checkbook and drove back to McDonald's and went ordered in the drive thru a second time. This time we were informed that they don't accept checks either. So we drove to an ATM to get cash. The third time was the charm. That's serious love for fish sandwiches.

Then I found out that fish sandwiches are about the most unhealthy thing on any restaurant's menu since they often have cheese, tartar sauce, and that tasty deep-fried breading served on a white bun. So that ended my restaurant fish sandwich adventures.

Luckily, I'm able to make fish sandwiches at home and they are guilt-free and very healthy. They are especially delicious if you splurge on great fish (like I did from Coastal Seafoods) but you can also use canned tuna or salmon without any regrets. The other funny thing is that most people think leftover fish is gross to eat (I used to be one of those people) but these fish cakes usually taste BETTER than the original meal and are a great way to use any leftover fish you have.

I also enjoy tartar sauce so I made my own healthier version - just a tiny scoop of real mayo, thinned out with fresh lemon juice, and flavored with chopped capers and parsley. Sure it adds a little fat, but the amount of flavor that's added is worth it.

Fish Sandwiches
cooked leftover white fish or salmon, flaked (or canned tuna or salmon, drained)
1 handful breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon Old Bay seafood seasoning
1 handful chopped parsley
1 egg, beaten

Mix all ingredients together and form into patties. Pan fry in a drizzle of olive oil over medium-high heat in a nonstick skillet. Cook until browned on one side, flip and cook the other side.

Serve on a toasted whole wheat bun with homemade tartar sauce and lettuce, and some roasted veggies on the side.

If you eat this fish sandwich instead of fast food, you won't feel at all bad for having yet another slice of Guinness cake.

ONE YEAR AGO: Ribbon Salad

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Guinness Cake

There are times in a girl's life when she needs chocolate cake.

For me, one of those times was a cold February evening in Minnesota, with gray skies and dirty snow on the roads. The only thing I could think of that would lift my winter blahs was a super dense chocolate cake with a shiny chocolate frosting. I don't know why, it just had to be.

I read dozens of recipes but turned to my fave, the Smitten Kitchen (she's never let me down) for a Guinness cake recipe. It was the best decision I've made all week. This cake rules.

I didn't have a bundt pan so I used two 10-inch round pans and it worked great. The cake gets a complex and deep chocolate flavor from the Guinness and cocoa powder - not artificially sweet like those box mixes. It tastes like good dark chocolate, not sugar! And it has sour cream to give it tang and keep it super moist.

The ganache frosting is very simple - cream, chocolate chips, and instant coffee. I love coffee and chocolate together! The frosting is super shiny and beautiful. I put some in between the two layers and all over the top and sides.

I'll quit prattling now so you can drool over the photos of this gorgeous cake. Then you can go to the liquor store to get some Guinness and make it for yourself!

ONE YEAR AGO: Turkey Lasagna

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sweet Potato Gnocchi and Brussels Sprouts

I'm pretty sure I've been crystal clear about my feelings towards Brussels sprouts (love, Love, LOVE). And even though they're not really in season right now, I've been eating them like crazy lately.

I made this recipe for caramelized tofu, pecans, and Brussels sprouts. It was pretty good, but maybe sweeter than I would like.

Then I made more of the same sprout "hash" but topped with a poached egg instead of the tofu. Yum. THEN, I made the orange glazed tempeh again. YUM. It's been a good food week.

And today I finally made the recipe I've had on my list for MONTHS. Why it's been on my list is a mystery to me, because I've never really had gnocchi that I've enjoyed. People usually describe it as "fluffy pillows of pasta" but I have found it to be gummy or tough or tasteless or all three. But the thought of sweet potato gnocchi was intriguing...and I really liked the end result!

I'm not gonna lie, these gnocchi are a little time consuming and messy, but overall really not difficult. First you pierce your sweet potatoes with a fork or knife and bake until done. Let cool slightly and peel. Use a ricer or fork or grater to mash the potatoes and let them cool completely. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg, and then add flour until you get a nice dough consistency.

I wasn't able to get the beautiful ridges on my gnocchi like the experts do, but I used a fork to put a few dents in them. This recipe made 2 baking sheets full of gnocchi that I flash froze - they are now ready for boiling straight from the freezer for future gnocchi needs.

I boiled the gnocchi in salted water until they floated, then pan fried them in a little butter. Wow! Tasty!

I served my gnocchi with sauteed Brussels sprouts, toasted pine nuts, and freshly grated parmesan cheese. It was beyond fabulous.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi
2 large sweet potatoes, baked
salt and pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
all purpose flour - up to 3 cups as needed

Mash the potatoes while warm, then cool completely. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and egg. Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time until you get a dough consistency.

Add a scoop of dough to a well floured surface and roll out into a rope. Cut into 1 inch pieces. Freeze or cook immediately.

To cook: add to salted boiling water. Count to 30 after gnocchi are floating. Then remove from water and eat! OR - saute in a bit of butter and serve with Brussels sprouts, toasted pine nuts, and parmesan cheese.