Sunday, January 30, 2011

Football Party Food; part 1

Some of my favorite things are hors d'oeuvres or heavy appetizers because you get to taste a lot of different things. With the Super Bowl coming up next Sunday, a lot of people will be planning a menu to feed a crowd.  Heavy appetizers are perfect for an occasion like this.  All week, I'll be sharing some of my favorite "football party foods" with you to help you plan your menus or at least what you'll be taking to the party! The one I'm going to share with you today is a good one to prepare in advance and then pop under the broiler at halftime.

Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Bruschetta

1 French Baguette, sliced on the diagonal to 1" thickness
2 cups diced roma tomatoes
1 cup packed fresh basil
1 8-ounce package fresh mozzarella, sliced to 1/4" thickness
3 cloves garlic, whole, peeled
1 t. olive oil

Pre-heat your broiler on high.

Put tomatoes, basil, 2 cloves garlic and 1 t. olive oil in a food processor.  Pulse until mostly smooth.  A few chunks are good.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Line up baguette slices on a baking sheet and put under the broiler until lightly toasted.  Do not walk away at this point, as this could only talk a matter of seconds.  Take the little toasts out of the oven.  Rub the remaining garlic clove over each slice of toast, only about 3 times.  Top each toast with a slice of mozzarella cheese  and place back under the broiler until melted and bubbly.

Remove from oven and top each slice with 1 tablespoon of the tomato topping.

To make ahead: Make the tomato topping, slice the mozzarella, and make the toasts up until you top them with the cheese.  Refrigerate until ready to assemble.

Friday, January 28, 2011

This Guac Rocks!

Avocados are a really nutritious food to incorporate into any diet.  They have about 60% more potassium than bananas and have a high fiber content (1/2 of a  medium haas avocado has 6 grams of fiber!!!) They are low in carbohydrates and while they have a higher fat content, it is primarily monounsaturated fat which has been shown to lower the bad cholesterol and raise the good cholesterol.  They are also a good source of folate and vitamins K, B6, and C.  So, if you can handle the calories (1/2 a medium is 150 calories), try to fit in some avocado!

A great way to do this is with Guacamole.  I make the best, if I do say so myself...  I not only eat it with tortilla chips, it's also good on sandwiches instead of mayo, with crudites (carrots, celery, peppers...), or on a spoon....

A word about ripeness: you know when an avocado is ripe when it's soft to the touch.  You can also gently try to flick the dark, bumpy nub off the end.  If it comes off too easily, it's overripe and should be eaten immediately.  If the nub won't come off for anything, and the avocado is hard, it's under ripe but can be ripened in a small paper bag on the kitchen counter.  If I'm using the avocados on the day I am buying them, I try to find something ripe, otherwise I like to buy them a little under ripe.  You can slow the ripening by putting them in the fridge.

4 medium haas avocados, ripe            juice from 1-2 limes
1 roma tomato, diced                          1 t salt
1/4 white onion, diced                        2 t ground cumin
1 jalepeno pepper, minced

Cut each avocado in half.  Carefully tap the blade of a large, sharp knife into the pit so it wedges in.  Give the knife a quarter turn and the pit should come out of the meat of the avocado.  It will be stuck on the knife.  Do NOT try to remove the pit with your bare hands, it will be very slippery and you could cut yourself.  Use a kitchen towel or tap the pit against the side of the sink or trash can to get it to fall off.  Slice the meat of the avocado in the skin lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop it out.  Add the rest of the ingredients to the avocado and using a fork, mash until desired consistency.  I like mine a little chunky.
I like mine super smoky so I add more cumin than it says, and you'll have to play around with the lime juice.  Some limes are juicier than others, and it also depends on your taste.

Some people think that by putting the pit in the guacamole, it will keep it from turning a dark brown color.  This is a myth.  The reason it turns colors if from the oxidation that happens when exposed to air.  The only way I've found to keep it from turning brown is to put a layer of plastic wrap on the guacamole and press it down so that there are no pockets of air.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Most Comforting Comfort Food

I have always been a pasta lover.  I could eat pasta with every meal, serious!  Spaghetti is my most comforting comfort meal.  After a really long day, or if I'm getting home from traveling, all I want to do is boil up some noodles and pour some delicious tomato sauce over the top.  While jarred pasta sauce is fine and dandy, a home-made sauce is always better.

This recipe is my absolute fave!  It's super easy to make, even easier to eat.  All of you Weight Watchers fans... 1 serving is only 2 points!  You'll be absolutely amazed at the deep, rich flavor of this sauce, achieved by using only 3 simple ingredients: tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil.  Don't be intimidated by the large amount of garlic in this recipe.  It really mellows out and gets deliciously sweet after simmering with the tomatoes for an hour. Just make sure your dinner-mates eat it too and no one will notice the garlic breath.  (FYI, if you didn't know: a bulb of garlic is the whole thing, a clove is just one piece off the the bulb.)

      Garlic Tomato Sauce (makes 3 cups, enough for 1 lb pasta, 4 servings)

     - 2 lbs Fresh Roma Tomatoes (about 16)
     - 2 Bulbs of Garlic
     - 3/4 Tablespoon Olive Oil

  1. Peel each clove of garlic.  This is made super easy by laying the flat side of the blade of a chef's knife over the top of the garlic clove and hitting it with the heel of your hand.  You should end up with 24-30 cloves of garlic.  Don't bother chopping up the garlic at this point.  
  2. To peel the tomatoes easily, bring a large stock pot of water to a boil.  Slit an X in the bottom of each tomato and carefully put them into the boiling water.  After about 30 seconds, you should notice the skins starting to peel up where the X was cut.  Take the tomatoes out of the water as soon as you notice this.  Quickly put them into a large bowl of ice water to keep them from continuing to cook.  Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, the skins should easily slide off.
  3. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium-sized stock pot and saute the garlic just long enough until you start to smell it.  Add the tomatoes and adjust the heat so the whole pot starts to simmer.  Cover and simmer for 1 hour.  Stirring every now and then to help the tomatoes break up.  Once the sauce has cooked for 1 hour, remove from heat and let sit for 20 minutes or until the sauce is cooled a little.  
  4. If you have an immersion blender, use it to completely puree the sauce.  If you don't have an immersion blender, transfer the sauce a little a time to a standing blender and puree.  Remember to take the plastic center out of the lid of the blender to make sure the heat of the sauce doesn't blow the lid off.  Cover the whole with a dish towel to keep the sauce from splattering everywhere.
  5. Serve hot!
This sauce freezes really, really well.  I usually make a double batch and freeze most of it, so I can pull it out on a night I don't feel like cooking and toss it with some pasta.  You can find fresh roma tomatoes in the grocery store pretty much all year long, but if you're feeling lazy and don't want to take the time to peel all those tomatoes, you could use 1 28-oz of whole tomatoes in juice.   It'll make a little less sauce so feel free to use a little less garlic if you want.  If you're feeling extra lazy, you can buy packaged peeled garlic at stores like Trader Joe's or Whole Foods.  It's obviously not as fresh-tasting, but much easier.

I like to serve this sauce on top of whole wheat spaghetti.  Some people are scared of wheat pasta because it has a stronger, nuttier flavor than regular white pasta.  Something to think about is that wheat pasta has more protein and is more filling, so you tend to eat less of it.  If you want to try to ease wheat pasta into your diet, try a blend of wheat and regular pasta, upping the wheat pasta portion each time until you are used to the flavor.  Also, the smaller the noodle, the less intense the flavor; so your angel-hair or thin spaghetti noodles are going to be less wheat-y than penne or rigatoni.  And, if your sauce is flavorful enough, you won't even notice the taste of the noodles.

If you like tomato sauce, I guarantee you'll love this recipe!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An Old Standby

I love vegetables.  I have eaten an entire can of green beans for a meal before.  True story.  But I can't bring myself to serve a can of green beans to Brandon for dinner, so I went to an old stand by: vegetarian stir-fry.  I've been making stir-fry for years and I'm sure it's not a totally foreign dish to anyone, but we love it at our house.  No matter how much you try, it always makes a ton of food, which is ok because Brandon loves the leftovers. Sometimes I cook chicken with it, often I leave it out, because it's so damn tasty you don't need the chicken.  Another great thing about my vegetarian stir fry is that it's soooo low in calories and fat that I can eat till I'm stuffed and not feel too guilty about it. 

I have two types of woks, electric and non-electric.  The electric wok is a really nice piece of equipment to have because it comes with a temperature dial so you can control how how the pan gets.  It also came with some other tools such as grates that hang on the side and sit in the bottom which are great for steaming.  I don't use this (I haven't even moved it from my parents' house yet) because it's really big and bulky.  My non-electric or standard wok I do use more frequently, but mostly I just use my 7 1/2 quart saute pan.  It has tall sides which is essential for keeping all of that food in the pan.  It's easier to clean than my wok, and I can reach it (my wok is on top of the refrigerator... don't joke).

The key to cooking stir fry evenly, and getting all of the veggies done at about the same time, is to try to get all the veggies cut to about the same size.  Carrots will take longer than the broccoli, so if they're cut thin enough, they should take about the same amount of time.  If you've never thought about it, I suggest opening your can of water chestnuts and aiming to cut the veggies no thicker than the circumference of a sliced water chestnut.  

Here's what generally goes into mine:

1 green bell pepper, julienned (cut into matchstick size pieces)
1 red bell pepper, julienned
3 carrots, julienned
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
1 white onion, julienned
1 5-oz can sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 5-oz can bamboo shoots, drained
1 8-oz can baby corn, drained and cut into bite-sized pieces

Heat a little bit of vegetable oil in a wok (or large saute pan) until very hot.  Toss the fresh veggies in.  If their is any water on the vegetables, the oil will spatter so be very careful of this. Try to stir the veggies as little as possible.  This will allow them to get the "fry" part down.   It will take between 8-12 minutes to cook the veggies to a nice crisp-tender.  The best way to see if they're done is to taste.  About 2 minutes before they're perfect, add the canned veggies and cook until heated through.  As for sauce, our go-to is House of Tsang Classic Stir Fry Sauce, but Brandon just told me that he wanted to try some different kinds of sauces so we'll be venturing outside of our comfort zone, which is always exciting in the kitchen.  I don't add any sauce to the whole thing, I add a little on my own plate.  That way I can control how much is on my serving.  I serve this dish with white jasmine rice.

If anyone has any recommendations for a different stir-fry sauce, let me know.  I especially like spicy black bean sauces.

Monday, January 24, 2011

National Hot and Spicy Food Day

I bought myself a Food Network daily calendar for my kitchen counter and it has recipes, tips and fun food facts for each day.  Yesterday was National Hot and Spicy Food Day!  How fitting because I was literally in the process of cooking up some eggs for some huevos rancheros (well, more like egg and bean burritos, but it's what we had in the fridge).

Along with the hot and spicy theme, I made Chicken Tikka Masala for dinner.  My brother, Casey, introduced me to this dish this past summer.  He was in town over his birthday, visiting from Chicago.  He was a little sad because his (then-fiance) wife wasn't able to come with him, and so I told him I'd cook him whatever he wanted for his birthday dinner and he picked this.

I've done some reading online about chicken tikka masala and it's a little foggy where it's origins lie.  Some say it started in Punjab, the region between India and Pakistan, however it's known as "Britain's true national dish" and that it started in Soho, London.  Some attempt to clear up this confusing by claiming it was first created in a British Pakistani or Bangladeshi restaurant.  So it's either British or Indian... Either way, it's amazing!

Chicken tikka are chunks of chicken that have been marinated in yogurt and spices.  The great thing about using yogurt (I use fat-free plain greek) as a marinade is that it's super thick and allows all of the spices and seasonings to stick to the meat better than if using a water-based marinade.  It also helps keep the chicken super moist!  The chicken chunks are either baked or grilled, or broiled, depending on your preference, and served with a beautiful, orange-colored, creamy, spicy, tomato sauce.

I like to serve chicken tikka masala over jasmine rice with some curried cauliflower.  This cauliflower dish has a very different flavor, but is really, really good!

Chicken Tikka Masala
     1 cup plain yogurt                       1 t butter
     1 T lemon juice                           1 clove garlic, minced
     2 t ground cumin                         1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
     1 t ground cinnamon                   2 t ground cumin
     2 t cayenne pepper                      2 t paprika
     2 t ground pepper                        1 t salt, or to taste
     1 T minced fresh ginger              1 8-oz can tomato sauce
     1 t salt, or to taste                        1 cup heavy cream (I use fat free half and half)
     3 boneless skinless chicken         1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
         breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

- In a large bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, pepper, ginger, salt and chicken.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Thread chicken onto skewers and grill.  Discard leftover marinade.
- Melt butter and saute garlic and jalapeno 1 minute.  Season with 2 T cumin, paprika and salt.
- Stir in tomato sauce and cream and let simmer 20 minutes or until slightly thickened.
- Add chicken and simmer 10 minutes more.
- Serve with rice and top with chopped cilantro.

Curried Cauliflower
Chicken Tikka Masala

Curried Cauliflower

12 cups cauliflower florets                             3 1/2 t curry powder
1 large onion, peeled and quartered               1 t cumin
3/4 c olive oil                                                 1 T Hungarian hot paprika                                           
1/2 cup red wine vinegar                               1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place the cauliflower florets in a large roasting pan.
- Pull apart the onion quarters into separate layers; add to cauliflower.
- Whisk together oil, vinegar and dry spices to make a vinaigrette.
- Pour dressing over the vegetables and toss to coat. Spread in a single layer.  Roast until tender, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes.
- Mound vegetables in a large bowl, sprinkle with fresh cilantro.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.


(photos have been borrowed from other websites, and are not my own pictures.  I hope to have some good pictures of my own food soon.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What's for dinner?

I often ask Brandon this seemingly simple question, "Brandon, what do you want to eat for dinner?"  He always laughs at me and reminds me that this is a hard question for him to answer.  Hard because I usually have something in mind, and it almost always becomes more of a guessing game for him to pick the meal I'm thinking of instead of him suggesting something new.  So, he just smiles at me, throws a few random ideas into the air and let's it go.  He knows that whatever he gets for dinner will come from the heart, even if it involves frozen chicken nuggets.

What am I going to use this blog for?  It will evolve on it's own, probably into something involving recipes, pictures (hopefully), and thoughts and insight about food.  I hope my readers will enjoy it!

Last night, we gorged ourselves on delicious meat of the bovine variety...

NY Strip with a Red Wine Shallot Reduction Sauce.
Here's what you do:

- Heat the oven to 450 degrees.  Let the steak come to room temp and season it with salt and pepper, and rub it with a good amount of olive oil.
- Heat an oven-proof skillet over high heat for a few minutes.  Put the steak into the dry pan.  It will sizzle, but don't move it because it's forming a nice crust.
- Check the steak after about three minutes.  It should be golden to dark brown.  Once the steak is the right color, flip it over and stick the whole thing in the oven. (If you aren't using an oven-safe skillet, transfer it to a baking dish.)
- Using a meat thermometer, check the temp of the steak after about 2 minutes.  For medium-rare, it should be at 120-125 degrees.  Once steak is cooked to your desired doneness, take it out of the skillet and put it on a plate to rest.  Tent it with foil to keep it from getting cold.
- Return skillet to the stove on medium-high heat.  Toss some chopped up shallots or white onion into the pan and let saute in the juices from the steak until tender, about 2-3 minutes.  Once shallots are tender, pour in about a cup of your favorite red wine (the wine you would be drinking with the steak is perfect and makes the steak mesh with the wine really well).  Simmer the wine, while scraping up the bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.  This is where the really deep flavor comes from.
- Once the reduction sauce has thickened, serve it on top of the steak.

It will be delicious, guaranteed!!!