28 November 2011

Cookbook Review: Bittman's Vegetarian Cooking

Not sure what to buy your loved ones for Christmas/ Hannukah/ Kwanzaa/ Winter Solistice/ Early President's Day this year?  How about a great cookbook?  I'm not talking about one of those crappy cookbooks with poorly written recipes or boring dishes (so, no Easy Livin' Microwave Cooking, please).  Cookbooks can open a new world of flavor profiles (I learned that smug phrase from watching Top Chef), teach you better technique, and generally change your life when they're good.

This is not an acceptable holiday gift. 
So in the spirit of giving (my opinion, for free), I am adding a new feature in December: every Monday, I'm publishing a review of one of my favorite cookbooks, along with a representative recipe so you can see how genius these authors really are.  Let's start with the obvious...

Mark Bittman: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  Double B Publihsing, 2007.

There is a carnivorous version of this book, too, but as you already know, I often find meat boring, even when I am eating it.  This book has recipes to convince any meat-lover to go meatless once in a while (Bittman himself says in the forward that, although he cooks a whole lot of meat, he often eats like a vegetarian at home).  Chapters are divided into logical categories: salads, soups, eggs/dairy/cheese, fruits and vegetables, pasta, grains, etc.  Many recipes are inspired by other national cuisines (Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Italian all feature prominently) but all but the most authentic-sounding Asian fare can be made with basic American grocery store items.  He also includes a short essay on planning a vegetarian menu and gives sound advice on stocking the pantry and purchasing quality equipment.

I have tried most of the recipes in this over-900 page book, and they all work perfectly.  I am not even tempted to adjust and experiment as I follow along, like I am with so many other cookbooks; I have learned that if I trust Mark Bittman, he will take care of me.  Flavor combinations are not generally very surprising, and there is nothing avant garde in this book.  Directions are thorough and very intelligently written with occasional sketches to help guide technique.  And what I like best about this book is Bittman’s indefatigable practicality; most recipes have an “add-ins” or “variations” section immediately following, and he recycles leftovers in some ingenious ways.  The result is a cookbook that really teaches you the basic techniques of many stock dishes (omelets, stir fries, homemade pastas…) and then gives you tons of variations on those dishes for an incredible amount of variety.  This is a great book for novice and experienced cooks alike, and can serve as a guide for any vegetarian or omnivorous diner trying to cut down on meat without sacrificing great flavors and variety.  For a professional food writer and chef, it is laudable that Bittman gives such respect to his meatless cuisine, and this book can really serve as a bible for vegetarian cooking.

A recipe from the book:

Huevos Rancheros

Serves 2

¼ cup neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, plus more as needed
4 5-inch corn tortillas
¼ cup refried beans (recipe in book) or any soft, well-seasoned beans
4 eggs
Sat and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup Salsa Roja or Cooked Tomatillo Salsa (recipe sin book) or store-bought salsa
¼ cup queso fresco or grated Monterey Jack of cheddar cheese
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley for garnish

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  When hot but not smoking, fry the tortillas one at a time until softened and heated through, about 3 seconds per side.  Make sure they do not crisp.  Drain on paper towels.

2. Spread 1 tablespoon beans in the center of each tortilla and set aside.  (You can prepare the dish to this point up to an hour or so in advance.)

3.  Use a little more oil to fry eggs sunny side up, sprinkling with salt and pepper as they cook and following the directions for Fried Eggs on p. 168.  Put an egg in the center of each tortilla, then top with 2 tablespoons salsa and 1 tablespoon cheese.

4.  Carefully transfer the tortillas to a baking dish that holds them snugly.  Bake until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes, and serve immediately.

Simplest Huevos Rancheros.  Omit the tortillas and beans.  Scramble the eggs in oil; as they are beginning to set in the pan, stir in the salsa and cheese.  Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper to serve.

Huevos Rancheros with Red Mole.  A luxury, but a mist if you have leftover sauce: Instead of salsa, use the Red Mole sauce from the Cheese Enchiladas recipe on page 223.  Garnish with chopped tomatoes and scallions if you like.”

25 November 2011

Salmon Patties like me old great-grandmammy used to make

OK, that title is totally confused; my great-grandmother was Swedish-American, and she made salmon patties for special occasions. (Leave it to Midwesterners to haul out the canned fish for "special occasions".)  What can I say, I get sappy around the holidays.  I have revamped them ever-so-slightly (added some flavoring) to fulfill those nostalgic cravings from which I sometimes suffer, but if I am careful to present them just right, these are also acceptable for guests at cocktail hour. What really dresses them up is a simple salad and sauce to top the cakes.

PS--I like these best with a dirty martini or gin and tonic.  Anything with gin, really.

Salmon Cakes Deluxe

Serves 6

2 cans salmon, flaked

1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Vegetable oil, for frying

Heat oil in over medium high heat in a large skillet. Combine canned salmon, egg, 1/4 cup bread crumbs, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Form into patties about 4 inches in diameter. Fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels, place on serving platter, and top with cucumber salad and dill sauce.  

Cucumber salad:

1/2 cucumber, peeled and diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1 tablespoons chopped fresh parley
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and top each salmon cake with equal amounts of salad.  

Dill Sauce:

2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 tablespoon dill, minced
1 teaspoon wasabi paste (less for milder sauce)
1 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients thoroughly in a small bowl.  Add one dollop to each cake which has already been topped with cucumber salad.  

18 November 2011

Cocktail Time: Bourbon-orange Smash

I have been slower to catch on to bourbon because it tastes so much like...well, bourbon.  But I'm starting to figure out that fruit juices make almost anything better.  And with the relatives coming over next week, you might as well whip up a batch of something strong to greet them.  Case in point:

Bourbon-Orange Smash

Serves 8
Zest of 1 orange, peeled into strips and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon bitters
3 cups orange juice
3 cups club soda
1 ½ cups bourbon (12 oz.)
In a large pitcher using a wooden spoon, mash the orange zest and sugar with the bitters.  Add the orange juice, club soda, and bourbon, stirring to combine.  Serve over ice.

16 November 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving: showstopping sides!

Insert jazz hands here!  Alright, I took that cutesy title from an article I got paid to write, so don't judge.  But here's the thing: vegetables really get screwed over at Thanksgiving.  At best they are ignored--steamed and tossed with a pat of butter and some salt; at worst, they are abused beyond all recognition (if you're from the Midwest, you know what I'm talking about).  If we spent half the amount of time caring about the way we seasoned and prepared our vegetables as we do our meats, those side dishes would be the most interesting items on the table.  So this Thanksgiving, I am on a quiet campaign to make people care about their veggies.  No more cheese sauce!  No boiling the stuff until it no longer needs to be chewed!  Try some of these on for size...

Herbed Roasted Green Beans

Serves 6 as a side

2 lbs. green beans, trimmed
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon chopped dried rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped dried thyme
½ teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a bowl; stir to coat thoroughly.  Spread out on a rimmed, parchment-lined baking sheet and roast on the middle rack of the oven at 475°F for 20 minutes or until beans are tender and starting to brown.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Steamed Carrots with Citrus-Dill Butter

Serves 6 as a side

5 cups carrots, peeled and sliced into ½-inch thick coins
4 teaspoons orange juice
1 tablespoon butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons fresh lemon and/ or lime zest
1 teaspoon fresh dill
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Steam carrots to crisp-tender, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Drain and place carrots in serving bowl; toss with all remaining ingredients and season to taste with salt and pepper.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Zesty Brussels Sprouts

Serves 6 as a side

1½ lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut into quarters
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
salt to taste

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil and then add the Brussels sprouts, cooking until they begin to brown all over, about 10 minutes.  Lower the heat to medium-low and add the lime juice plus ¼  cup water.  Toss in a pinch of salt, stir, and cover the pan.  Cook until Brussels sprouts are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the crushed red pepper flakes and season with salt and more lime juice to taste.

11 November 2011

A bread recipe for the impatient

I love bread (all carbs, really), and I love beer.  I do not love sitting around near the kitchen for three hours while my bread dough rises, then gets knocked down, then rises again, then...hmpf.  I'm already bored talking about it.  Are you with me?  This stuff is delish and you'll be done in an hour.  

Quick Beer Bread

3 cups al-purpose flour
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning (optional)
12 ounces beer
1 tablespoon olive oil

Heat oven to 375°F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 

In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients thoroughly with a fork.  Create a well in the center and pour the beer slowly (it will foam considerably).  Add olive oil and combine with your hands.  When it all pulls together, you should have a somewhat sticky blob of dough.  Arrange into a ball and place in the center of the parchment paper.  Slit a deep X on the top of the loaf and bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes.  For best results, cool on a wire rack for one hour before cutting

09 November 2011

Countdown to Thanksgiving: turkey shmurkey

I have never really liked turkey--when it's freshly cooked, it tastes like nothing, and the next day, it tastes gamey.  It's stringy, it easily gets dry, and it takes forever to thaw the damn thing out (unless your last name is Trump and you buy one that hasn't been frozen, but who does that?! Occupy Wall Street!)  I don't think I'm alone here, as evidenced by the turkey deep fryer, flavor injection kits, and various other Martha Stewartisms devised in recent years to cover up the taste of this nasty, weird-looking bird.  Can we quit with the turkey, already?  If the pilgrims could have eaten good food before slowly making enemies of themselves in the New World and destroying its beautiful indigenous cultures, they would have.  I'm sure they would have dressed a little better if they had known how, too.  I know, I know, I'm getting controversial here.  I don't want to go all Anthony Bourdain on you, I'm just saying it's not 1492.  So stop eating like it is (that goes double for you, all of central Illinois!)  Try some of these main dishes instead:

Mushroom and Potato Pie (V)

Serves 6-8

1 pre-made pie crust
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 lb. mixed mushrooms, sliced
1 large Russet potato, peeled and chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar (or other) cheese

Prebake the crust: place in the oven and turn temperature to 425°F  (no need to preheat); poke the crust around the edges with a fork and place in the oven for 10 minutes, or until it starts to look dry on the surface.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and potato and cook, stirring often, until potatoes begin to soften, about 10 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and cook another 10 minutes, or until liquid has evaporated.  Remove from heat and stir in the garlic, salt, and thyme.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, and mustard.  Season with black pepper if desired.

Sprinkle half the cheese in the bottom of the pie crust.  Top with mushroom mixture, pour egg mustard over that, and sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese.  Lower the oven temperature to 350°F and bake one hour, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Beer Braised Pork Roast (not V)

Serves 6-8

1 3-lb. pork sirloin roast
1 teaspoon ground chipotle
1 teaspoon New Mexico chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons salt
2-3 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
12 oz. beer (light or medium dark)
1 cup water

Combine chipotle powder, chili powder, cumin, and salt in a small bowl  Rinse the pork roast in cold water and pat dry.  Rub the spice mixture all over the pork on all sides, working it in to the flesh a bit.

In a Dutch oven over medium high heat, warm the oil.  When you see wisps of smoke, place the roast in the pan and sear on all sides (about 4 minutes per side).  Pour in the beer and water, lower heat to medium low, cover, and allow to cook on the stove 1 hour and 45 minutes.  Remove pork from the pan and allow to rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes before slicing.  Can be served with au jus from the pan on the side.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Spaghetti Squash Smothered in Indian Flavored Vegetables (V)

Serves 6

1 medium spaghetti squash
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
1 tablespoon minced ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, minced
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 cups chopped Swiss chard or other cooking greens (if using spinach, increase to 4 cups)
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon lime juice

Slice squash in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, salt the insides, and lay skin side up in a casserole dish.  Pour one cup of water into the dish, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and bake at 425°F for 20 minutes or until the squash halves are soft.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  When it shimmers, add the onion and carrot and sauté until onion is soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes.  Add the mustard and cumin seeds, garlic, jalapeno, and ginger, and sauté until seeds begin to pop, about another 5 minutes.  Stir in the greens, remaining spices (including salt), tomatoes, tomato paste, lime juice, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf, reduce heat to medium low, and cover.  Allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 20 minutes (the longer, the better).

When squash is done and your sauce is ready, scrape out the insides with a fork and place in a large serving bowl or on a platter. Dress with a splash of olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Smother with tomato sauce and serve with sour cream or plain Greek yogurt on the side.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Perfect Roast Chicken (not V)

Serves 8

Olive  oil 
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary, plus sprigs for garnish
8 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 roasting chicken (6-7 pounds)
kitchen twine
1 lemon, sliced 

Heat oven to 400°F. Lightly coat a roasting pan and rack with cooking spray. Combine rosemary, garlic and salt in a bowl. Remove giblets and neck from chicken and trim off all visible fat. Starting at the neck cavity, gently loosen skin from breasts and drumsticks; spread rosemary mixture evenly under skin. Tuck wing tips under back of chicken; tie ends of drumsticks together with twine. Season with additional salt and black pepper to taste; place breast side up in pan. Roast, basting twice with pan juices, until a meat thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh (and not touching bone) reads 175°F, about 1 3/4 hours. Let stand 10 minutes before carving. Garnish with rosemary sprigs and lemon slices, if desired, and serve

04 November 2011

Ramen deserves some repec'

I love the hyperlink in this blog post's title; I have always loved ramen, and now I can hold my head high when I say that (or at least at medium height).  It's fast and cheap, yes, but ramen also has a light, airy texture when cooked, and there is a distinct wheat-y flavor you just don't quite get in other pastas.  I often turn to ramen when I am impatient and have the munchies late at night, but I dress them up just a bit...

Chamomile Poached Noodles

Oh yeah, those noodles I’m talkin’ ‘bout are ramen!  You can use soba or udon, but the delicacy and prominent wheat flavor of ramen really compliment and carry the chamomile, which is not really that strong to begin with.  Not a fan of chamomile?  Try the same amount of jasmine tea; it’s a bit subtler, but also nice.

Serves 2 as a side

1 package ramen noodles
3 tea bags or 1 heaping tablespoon loose chamomile flowers/ tea
1 teaspoon lime juice
Salt and black pepper to taste

Fill a small saucepan 2/3 full with water and the tea bags or loose chamomile flowers.  Cover and bring to a boil.

When water is at a rolling boil, remove chamomile flowers with a skimmer (tea bags can stay) and replace with ramen noodles.  Cook until tender, drain all but about 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid, stir in lime juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

To make this a heartier snack or side, place frozen, shelled edamame in the water for about the last 45 seconds of the noodles’ cooking time.  OR, stir in fresh chopped scallions to the finished product.

Psst...Ramen is also what I use in my Hot and Sour Sickie Soup!