Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stir-Fried Kale and Carrots with Tofu

My mom is decidedly NOT a vegetarian, but she's still pretty cool and she bought a subscription to Vegetarian Times and has been sharing them with me. To be clear, I'm not a vegetarian either, as I consume a hefty amount of fish, seafood, and some occasional poultry. But I sure do love me some vegetarian foods, so I enjoy this magazine.

The January/February 2011 issue had a whole section on kale!! Can you imagine how happy I was to see this? Kale is awesome. I blog about it way too often. I often want to eat a whole bowl of kale for a meal because it tastes so good, is filling, and makes me feel so virtuous for eating it. Yay kale!

A Kale Haiku
Emerald jewel.
Nutrient rich, taste delight.
Eating you is joy.

Instead of my usual sauteed kale with onion and balsamic vinegar, I had to step out of my comfort zone and try one of the recipes in the VT magazine. This one called for stir-frying the kale with carrots at high heat and seasoning it with soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and ginger. It was a breeze to make, and so flavorful that I'll definitely be making it again.

I had some firm tofu that I simply coated in a light dusting of cornstarch, salt, and pepper, and pan fried in a bit of canola oil. The crispy tofu paired quite perfectly with the kale.

Stir-Fried Kale and Carrots with Tofu, adapted from Vegetarian Times
1 package firm tofu, drained, liquid pressed out, and patted dry
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp canola oil, divided (or other light colored oil - NOT olive oil)
1 bundle dinosaur kale, stems removed and leaves chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned
1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
1 clove garlic, grated
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp soy sauce or tamari
1/2 cup chopped toasted nuts (I used cashews, but peanuts or almonds would work)

Notes: I wrapped my tofu in a kitchen towel and pressed it under my heavy Le Creuset pot for an hour to get all the moisture out. The key to getting a good crust on your tofu is having it very dry, at room temperature, using a non-stick or cast iron skillet, neutral super hot oil, and a thin coating of cornstarch.

Slice your dry tofu into desired-sized pieces. Add a light coating of cornstarch and salt and pepper. Set aside for now.

In a wok or large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp neutral oil over high heat until it shimmers. Add kale an carrot and stir for 3 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and cook 15 seconds. Add tamari and sugar and cook another 15 seconds. Remove from heat and add chopped toasted nuts.

In a non-stick or cast iron skillet, heat 1 Tbsp neutral oil over high heat until it shimmers. Add cornstarch coated tofu and cook until you can see a golden crust creeping up the sides, about 6-7 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side about 4 minutes, or until golden.

Serve tofu over stir-fried kale and carrots.

TWO YEARS AGO: Spicy Asian Dressing

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wild Mushroom Soup

This is where my budget friendly meals temporarily end.

I felt the need to splurge on this recipe because a) I love the Naked Chef Jamie Oliver, b) I love mushrooms, and c) soup and bread make a perfect winter supper.

How much of a splurge was this dish? Well, I think I paid close to $20 just for the mushrooms alone ($4 each for the wild mushrooms $2.50 each for the button and criminis, and $6 for the dried porcini). Worth it!

Wild Mushroom Soup, from Jamie Oliver
2 packages wild mushrooms, chopped
2 packages button and/or crimini mushrooms (aka "baby bellas"), chopped
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
7-8 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked from stems
4 cups vegetable stock
1 handful flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp mascarpone cheese (or greek yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, etc)
juice and zest of 1 lemon
French baguette or other bread

In a bowl, add 2 cups boiling water to dried porcinis and let sit for 30 minutes to reconstitute. Reserve liquid and strain it through a coffee filter if it's gritty.

In a large soup pot, heat 2-3 Tbsp olive oil and same amount of butter over medium high heat.

Reserve a handful of wild mushrooms for garnish and put all the rest (wild, button, crimini, and reconstituted porcinis) in the pot to cook for 5 minutes. Add garlic, onion, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook over medium heat for 15 minutes or until mushrooms are cooked and onion is soft.

Add stock and porcini liquid and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes to let the flavors mix together. In batches, puree soup in food processor or blender (or use an immersion blender).

For your garnish, quickly fry reserved handful of wild mushrooms in a tiny splash of olive oil. Mix with a little bit lemon zest, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a bit of parsley.

Add the mascarpone to your soup with the rest of the lemon zest, juice, and parsley and remove the soup from the heat.

Serve soup with grilled bread, fried mushroom garnish, a bit more mascarpone cheese, and more salt and pepper if needed.

ONE YEAR AGO: The Rustler Pizza

Monday, February 21, 2011

Whole Lemon Tart

There's really only one important thing you must do when trapped in your house for a snow day. That important thing is not shoveling 13 inches of snow, nor is it doing laundry, cleaning your bathroom, painting your toenails, or watching Purple Rain. Although I did do all of those things yesterday, the one thing I'm talking about that's the most important is to bake something sweet and tasty.

Continuing my budget-friendly theme, this dessert costs next to nothing to make. And if you have a lemon on hand, I'm pretty sure you'll already have the rest of the ingredients in your pantry.

The recipe comes from David Lebovitz, who calls these "bars" (I thought only Minnesotans used that term!). Since I didn't have an 8 inch pan, I made it into a tart and adjusted the baking times accordingly.

You really do use the whole entire lemon (except the seeds). It makes this tart super tart (ha!), but also makes it not overly sweet.

Whole Lemon Tart, adapted only slightly from David Lebovitz
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 lemon, organic or washed, sliced thinly and seeds removed
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp lemon or lime juice
3 large eggs
4 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp butter, melted
powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, mix the first 5 ingredients together and press into a tart pan. Bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown.

Reduce oven temp to 300 degrees.

In a food processor, add lemon slices, sugar, lime or lemon juice, eggs, cornstarch, salt, and butter and blend until smooth. Add to baked crust and return to oven and bake for 20 minutes or until it's set in the middle and no longer jiggly.

Let cool and dust with powdered sugar. Store leftovers at room temperature.

TWO YEARS AGO: Dirty Martini

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Roasted Carrot and Garlic Puree

A couple of posts ago after my expensive trip to Las Vegas, I promised you some budget friendly meals. Well, I think I delivered on that promise with a 3-ingredient tomato sauce, a beet pasta, and a fish and potato croquette. Here's another one that crazy packed with flavor, but only costs pennies to make.

I have mentioned on the blog many times my love of roasting. It's such an easy way to completely transform and deepen the flavor of any vegetable. My roasted tomato sauce served as the inspiration for this sauce, because I started to wonder if I could use a winter vegetable as the main ingredient instead of fresh late summer tomatoes.

I used some super sweet organic carrots, roasted with a whole bulb of garlic and a yellow onion. After roasting, I pureed these together with some vegetable stock and added a little goat cheese for creaminess. The resulting paste was rich and sweet and super delicious and can be used in a whole bunch of different ways. Next time I make this, I'm going to try broccoli or cauliflower!

As is, it's a great spread for sandwiches or dip for crackers or veggies (I ate a whole bag of snap peas dipped in the roasted carrot garlic spread!). Or, you can make it saucier by adding more stock and you have a beautiful deep orange sauce for pasta or rice. Add even more stock or water and you have roasted carrot soup! I added the puree to some brown rice medley from Trader Joe's that I cooked into a risotto.

Look, I realize this is a wholly unappetizing photograph. In fact, I have debated even posting this recipe due to that. But, some foods just fall into the "ugly, but good" category and this is one of them!

Roasted Carrot and Garlic Puree
6 large carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch coins
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 whole bulb garlic, cloves separated but skins left on
olive oil, salt, and pepper
1-2 cups (or maybe more) vegetable stock
1-2 oz creamy goat cheese (or greek yogurt, cream cheese, creme fraiche, sour cream, etc)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Put your carrots, onion, and garlic on a sheet pan, coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper. You should keep your garlic separate so you can remove it easily.

Roast for approximately 25 minutes and check your garlic. If it's soft, remove it now and let it cool. Continue to roast the carrots and onion for another 15-20 minutes until soft and starting to char slightly on the edges.

Squeeze the roasted garlic out of each clove's peel into a food processor. Add hot roasted carrots and onion. Pulse to puree and add stock as much as needed to get the consistency you want (less for a thick spread or dip, more for a pasta or risotto sauce, lots for soup). Add goat cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, or whatever you choose to add creaminess to the carrots and pulse one final time to mix it all together.

Brown Rice Medley Risotto
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 cup brown rice medley
1 cup white wine
5-6 cups vegetable stock

Heat stock in a pot over medium heat.

In large skillet, cook onion in olive oil with salt and pepper over medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes or until it begins to soften. Add rice medley and toast for 3-5 more minutes. Add wine and stir regularly until liquid is absorbed. Add 2 ladles of hot vegetable stock and stir regularly until liquid is absorbed. Repeat until all stock is gone and rice is tender and creamy (about 30 minutes).

Mix risotto together with roasted carrot and garlic puree.

ONE YEAR AGO: Chocolate Lava Cakes
TWO YEARS AGO: Halibut en Papillote

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fish and Mashed Potato Croquette

For the past three years, cooking has been my favorite hobby. It's been what I look forward to on the way home from work, it's why I love weekend grocery shopping, and why I spend too much time reading cookbooks, food magazines, and blogs looking for recipe ideas.

But then January and February of 2011 descended upon Minnesota with the fury and vengeance of massive snow and bitter cold. And in the past few weeks I lost my joy for food. I haven't been cooking many dinners, have had to buy lunch once or twice, and have been considering cottage cheese or yogurt a meal for too many nights in a row. Nothing sounds delicious or exciting right now and I place full blame for this travesty on our harsh winter.

I'm sure this lack of food enthusiasm has been apparent on the blog. Fewer posts, and one of them was for a smoothie, for crying out loud! But readers, I'm feeling the tides turning!!! Fifty-four beautiful degrees today convinced me to shake myself out of this food rut.

My mom had baked up a whole bunch of tilapia filets at Christmas and there was so much leftover, she stuffed it all in a ziploc, froze it, and gave it to me. Reheated fish is scary and gross to me on its own, but it is awesome when made into fish sandwiches or fish cakes. I do it often, and have even substituted canned tuna or salmon when I don't have any filets available.

I defrosted the fish, mixed it with some simple boiled and smashed baby gold potatoes, added herbs and spices, and coated the patties in some panko bread crumbs. After quickly pan frying, the croquettes were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. It paired perfectly with some sauteed onion, peas, and spinach.

Even when the weather takes another nosedive (which we all know it will), I'm determined to not follow the temps into negative territory. I can tell the food funk is over because I already have my next recipe on deck for this weekend. Thanks for sticking with me!

Fish and Mashed Potato Croquettes
2 cups cooked skinless boneless white fish filets, flaked (cod, halibut, tilapia, sole, etc)
2 cups boiled mashed potatoes, cooled (I used baby gold potatoes)
2 eggs, beaten
3 Tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 Tbsp Old Bay seasoning
panko breadcrumbs, for coating

Gently mix all ingredients together with a fork. Form into patties and coat with panko breadcrumbs. Line on a baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes, then transfer to a large ziploc bag. I got 8 croquettes out of this batch.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a small amount of olive oil over medium-high heat in a skillet. Add frozen croquette and pan fry for 3-5 minutes or until nicely browned. Flip and cook on the other side for 3-5 minutes to brown the other side. If your croquette was really frozen and still cool in the center, transfer to a hot oven to finish cooking through, 5 more minutes.

To make the pea mixture, chop 1/4 of a red onion and add to a skillet with a splash of olive oil, a pat of butter, a pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Cook over medium heat until soft. Add 1/2 cup frozen peas and cook until hot. Add 1 cup chopped fresh spinach and cook until it wilts.
Serve hot croquette on top of hot pea and spinach mixture. Garnish with freshly grated parmesan cheese if desired.

ONE YEAR AGO: La Salade de Legumes
TWO YEARS AGO: Ribbon Salad

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Beet Red Pasta

If you are one of those people who care about Valentine's Day, this would be a lovely thing to cook for your sweetheart tomorrow!

And if you don't care about Valentine's Day, well this would be a lovely thing to make anyways. Because, LOOK AT IT! It's just plain lovely!

It's basically a salad I really enjoy (beets and goat cheese) incorporated into a pasta dish, with the addition of the beet greens for extra nutrition. The best part is that those beautiful beets dye the pasta HOT PINK and it looks so pretty!

Beet Red Pasta
1 bunch beets (greens removed and washed and chopped, beets peeled and quartered)
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (the cheap stuff is OK here)
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
fresh goat cheese, crumbled
1 box pasta (I used whole wheat linguine)

In a large stock pot, add peeled and quartered beets to about 6 cups water and bring to a boil, then add a handful of salt. Boil for about 10-15 minutes or until beets are tender when poked with a fork. Remove beets from water but don't dump out the pink water. When beets have cooled, slice or julienne them into fine little matchsticks.

Bring the reserved pink water back to a boil and cook pasta according to package instructions. When pasta is done, you still shouldn't dump out all the pink water! You'll use it again!

In a large skillet, heat about 2 Tbsp olive oil with 1 Tbsp butter and add red onion. Add salt and pepper. Cook 5-7 minutes over medium heat until softened. Add beets, beet greens, and balsamic vinegar. Cook until vinegar has made a nice glaze. Add a ladle or two of pink pasta water to make it saucier. Now you can dump out the leftover pink water.

Toss saucy beet mixture with cooked pasta and toasted walnuts. Serve hot topped with fresh crumbled goat cheese. And champagne.

ONE YEAR AGO: Fish Sandwiches

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Simple Winter Tomato Sauce

Luck did not be a lady in Vegas last weekend. Luck be a greedy bitch, actually! Now I must challenge myself to make some budget friendly meals but they must be healthier and more delicious than Ramen noodles and Kraft mac 'n cheese.

When I think of budget food, I think of pasta first. But I like to make my own pasta sauce and fresh tomatoes are a million years away from being in season (ok, not really that long - but it feels like it). Can you make good tomato sauce without good fresh tomatoes? Yes, you can!

This is a great winter tomato sauce that contains only three (3!!!) ingredients, takes only 45 (mostly unsupervised) minutes of your precious time, and requires no (zero!) chopping or prepping. Really! Seriously! No lie!

The recipe is legendary, and has been blogged about all over the internet a thousand times. My favorite bloggers (here, here, and here) have all tried it. Now, it's my turn. Originally, a recipe from Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan, the recipe is foolproof. I thought it tasted delicious, and I'm pretty sure it's one of those things that gets better the longer it sits. Alicia said it tasted like Ragu, which I am going to consider a compliment, considering it contains NONE of the sodium, artificial chemicals, or preservatives that are in store bought sauce.

Simple Winter Tomato Sauce, from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
1 can (28 oz) San Marzano style whole peeled Italian plum tomatoes
5 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced in half

In a large pot, add tomatoes with liquid, butter, and onion (cut side down). Simmer over medium heat for 45 minutes, occasionally stirring and crushing tomatoes. Discard onion. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over pasta, gnocchi, bread, or vegetables with or without parmesan cheese.

ONE YEAR AGO: Guinness Cake

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pesto Potato Salmon Salad

I was forced into buying 2 bags of teeny tiny "honey gold" potatoes. Well, OK, not really forced because I tried to buy just one bag and the cashier told me they were "buy one, get one free" and she ran off to get me another one.

I'm glad she did, these potatoes are extra delicious and they cook up in no time. So what does one cook when one has oodles of potatoes? My favorite salad ever, of course - the Nicoise Salad!

Except that - other than the spuds and a hard boiled egg - I didn't have any of the traditional ingredients on hand. I can't go grocery shopping because I'm heading out to Vegas for a little weekend getaway so I had to do some crafty substitutions using stuff I already had in the house.

  • Instead of tuna, I used leftover flaked salmon cakes.
  • Instead of green beans, I used boiled kale.
  • Instead of fresh tomatoes, I used sundried tomatoes.
  • Instead of Nicoise olives, I used kalamata olives.
  • Instead of tarragon vinaigrette, I used some frozen basil pesto thinned out with a little white wine vinegar.

Even with all the crazy substitutions, it tasted very similar to a Nicoise Salad, just maybe more of a winterized version. It was awesome.

Pesto Potato Salmon Salad
1 handful baby potatoes, quartered
1/2 bunch tuscan kale, stems removed and chopped
1 egg, hard boiled
canned or cooked salmon, flaked
2 Tbsp pitted kalamata olives, chopped
2 Tbsp sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped
2 Tbsp prepared basil pesto
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar

Start with 3 cups cold water in a medium saucepan. Add potatoes and bring to a boil. Boil about 7 minutes or until fork inserted comes out easily. Add kale to the same pot, cover and boil for another minute or two until wilted.

Drain potatoes and kale and mix when hot with pesto and vinegar. Add olives, sundried tomatoes, flaked salmon, and peeled and sliced egg. Enjoy warm with red wine.

TWO YEARS AGO: Salmon Cakes