29 November 2013

...and Thanksgiving leftovers!

If you made mass quantities of your Thanksgiving feast (or had a small group over), you may have leftovers.  Honestly, you don't need to do anything creative with the recipes I gave you--no meat, no gamy, grayish crap to deal with.  But, if you want to work a few little magic tricks on some of those containers cluttering your refrigerator, you can certainly get out of making dinner for a couple of days...

Mashed Potato Biscuits: These work well as English muffin-type breakfast food, slathered with cranberry sauce. If you really want a window into my dark soul, I like to split one apart, melt thin slices of sharp white cheddar on each half in the toaster oven, and then slather with cranberry sauce.  Delicious.

Mixed Roasted Potatoes: You know how I love breakfast, right?  Warm these back up in the oven or toaster oven (never the microwave--they are sad and soggy beyond words when you do that) and serve underneath eggs cooked to your liking with cooked greens and a little curry ketchup on the side.

Braised Radishes with Orange: You're not going to have any leftovers of this.  Have you tried them?  They're insane.  But if you do, sprinkle with red chili flakes and toss with pasta and steamed broccoli.  Throw some pine nuts on top if you want to get all fancy about it.

Wasabi Green Beans: These work in any kind of stir fry or Thai curry; just throw them in to any Asian-inspired recipe that calls for green beans. In fact, throw in the leftovers from the stuffed squash and you've got the meal in minutes!

Vegetable Shepherd's Pie: Make a soup!  Stir whatever's left into your favorite vegetable or mushroom broth (I've also used vegetarian pho broth with good results) and heat gently.  The potato will melt into the broth and give it a thicker, creamier texture, so what you basically have is a vegetable soup with what seems like a cream-based broth.

25 November 2013

Thanksgiving treats...

Everyone's posting Thanksgiving-appropriate recipes on their blogs right now, and I just cannot imagine you need any more advice on what to do with your turkey.  Or chicken, or Cornish game hen, if you're going alterna-poultry.  I don't even like those things.  I never liked turkey, even as a kid, so I'm not really a good authority on how to make it delicious.  That, in my opinion, would be chasing a phantom you can never catch, like Tinkerbell or a government run by rational adults.

But you know what I do like?  Vegetables.  And there are so many that are in season this time of year.  You could easily fill your plate up with those traditionally considered "side dishes" and still have room for pie (that is one Thanksgiving tradition I will never fight).  Here are some of my favorites; most of these are repeats from earlier blogs, so please allow me to quote myself:


Mashed Potato Biscuits (use sweet potato if you want)


Mixed Roasted Potatoes (I like to use Russet, red, sweet, and some purple if I can find them.  They'll all roast at the same time).--Sprinkle salt and cumin on them before roasting.

Braised Radishes with Orange

Wasabi Green Beans

Serves 4 as a side

1 pound green beans
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon prepared wasabi paste (adjust to taste)
½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Drizzle toasted sesame oil

Toast almonds in a dry, hot  pan until golden, about 1 minute.

Clean and trim green beans. Place in well-salted water and bring to a boil; cook until bright green and crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, wasabi paste, ginger, and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and whisk to incorporate.  Pour over hot green beans, stir in almonds, and serve.


Vegetable Shepherd's Pie
or, make it a Pot Pie by pouring the filling into a pie plate and cover with a roll-out refrigerated crust and bake until golden.

There are many recipes for this, but I think Vegetarian Times hits the nail on the head, and the photo is beautiful: Ultimate Stuffed Squash


OK, here's my one new recipe for the year:

Coconut-Chai Pumpkin Pie

1 oz. can pumpkin puree
1 cup coconut milk
2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 black tea bag, torn open and the leaves pulverized into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle
1 pre-made pie crust

Pre-bake the pie crust at 425°F ( no need to preheat the oven) until it starts to firm up, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine all other ingredients thoroughly in a mixing bowl.  When pie crust is ready, remove from oven, pour in filling, and replace to bake for another 15 minutes.  Reduce to 350°F and bake 5 minutes or until set in the middle.

I don't know about you, but this is when I like to eat my cranberry sauce, as a relish with the pie.

22 November 2013

Restaurant Review: Two for Evanston

While performing at a conference at the Hilton in downtown Evanston, IL, I of course decided to spend as much of my free time eating as possible. Evanston is just north of Chicago and right on Lake Michigan's shore (and yes, that made for a rather nippy November weekend), but the downtown area is culturally a world apartfrom the historically blue-collar northern neighborhoods of the city.  With Ivy League-ish Northwestern University within walking distance and crisply ironed chinos all 'round, you can bet there are some overpriced restaurants on every corner. Here's what I found:

Farmhouse.  Housed in the Hilton Orrington at the corner of Church and Orrington Streets, this farm-to-table, locally sourced bit of adorableness sports rough-hewn wood tables and a milky, white-washed interior.  This is the place to go for local beers: there are 36 beers total on tap, and over a dozen come from within 25 miles of the restaurant.  I loved my glass of Virtue Cider from Roscoe Village, which was crisp and dry enough to be champagne. We decided not to get too carried away with healthiness at this place, so our lunch consisted of a shockingly generous bowl of fluffy fried cheese curds (amazingly grease-free on the fingers) with homemade garlic aioli and homemade ketchup for dipping, the pork schnitzel sandwich (fine, but a bit dry) with delicious homemade potato chips, and the roasted root vegetable salad, featuring roasted local mixed beets, spring onions, and radishes, on top of baby arugula and dressed with an incredibly soft, tangy goat cheese and a heavenly mustard seed vinaigrette. Fantastic, and so was the extremely warm service.

*                                       *                                      *                                       *                                  *

The Cellar.  Run by the very upscale folks at The Stained Glass, The Cellar is their hipper and more casual younger sibling.  Well-crafted cocktails and long, long wine and beer lists compliment smaller portions meant to be shared, a sort of tapas menu with Midwestern roots. From the cocktail menu, we tried All That Jasmine (Effen Cucumber Vodka, Koval Jasmine liquor, Chamomile infusion) and Pure Cucumber (Hendrick’s Gin, crushed mint, shaved cucumber), which were both delicious.  Pure Cucumber was quite dry, so All That Jasmine might be more suitable for frou-frou fans.  The Spanish ALBARIÑO had a complex, almost nutty finish, and Metropolitan Flywheel was a crisp lager with a bready finish.  

To share, we had haricots verts with mint pesto and almonds, tomato and mozzarella salad with huge chunks of homemade mozzarella, the savory-sweet acorn squash ravioli made with homemade pasta, juicy Black Angus micro burgers with delicate, crispy shoestring potatoes, and one of our party ordered the full-sized lamb burger on a dark, glossy pretzel bun. The table fell silent as we devoured everything in sight, and the lively atmosphere in the restaurant added to our sense of celebration as we said good bye to our formerly clean, clear arteries.  

15 November 2013

Bar Review: Northern Colorado's version of Havana has a lot of booze

Oh dear, oh dear--I have fallen in love with yet another bar in Fort Collins. Here goes nothing, old liver of mine...

The Astoria is a charmingly dilapidated space at 146 N. College Ave. that attempts to recreate the dilapidated charm of Havana.  Having never been there, I imagine The Astoria is heavier on the charm than Havana might be, but the tall ceilings, cracked plaster, heavy red velvet curtains, and slightly run-down (though comfy) furniture sells well enough to me. Like so many bars in Fort Collins, The Astoria boasts a long line of local taps, a good wine list, and over a dozen clever, retro-sounding cocktails.  But these guys also do food: simple, small(ish) plates of starches and protein to satisfy your drunken cravings and provide a little nourishment. The offerings and portion sizes are just right, and the cooking is skilled.  Here's what we got:

The shrimp ceviche had a nice bite thanks to generous squirts of lime juice and just a sprinkling of serrano peppers.  I could have eaten a large vat of this, but it was large enough for two to share, eating about  bites each.

Patatas Bravas were basically potatoes smothered in a smoky adobo sauce with three grilled shrimp on top.  The potatoes could have been crisper (maybe less sauce would have done the trick), but the sauce had a great earthy, and very smoky, flavor with a little heat at the end.

Lechon (roasted, marinated, and shredded pork butt) and Ropa Vieja (marinated, shredded flank steak) both came with white rice and seasoned black beans on the side. About the equivalent of lunch portions (I'm guessing 4 - 5 oz. of meat), this was fantastic comfort food while sitting by the fire.  The beans were seasoned well and cooked tender but not mushy, the rice was fluffy, and the meat was tender and juicy.  The pork marinade didn't come through as well as the one used for the flank steak, so the flank steak was a little more tangy and flavorful, but both were executed well.

We also got flan and rice pudding.  The rice pudding had a pleasant, mild flavor with a pinch of cinnamon, and the flan was intensely caramel-flavored--perhaps the best I've had in a restaurant.

I wish I had written down what I drank, because by the end of it, my mind was a blur.  I started with an El Presidente (vodka, gin, rum, and tequila with orange and pineapple juice in  sugar-rimmed glass with a cherry) and then had a cucumber-y gin thing.  Both were delicious and not too sweet.  The taps included seasonal and standard beers from New Belgium (of course), Equinox, and Odell, as well as some other popular Rocky Mountain regional names.   The service was relaxed but friendly (read: no hovering at the table), dishes were well-timed to arrive when we were ready for them without feeling rushed, and the vibe on a Thursday night was chill and more for the over-30 set.  There is frequently a live music offering later at night, however, so check in advance before you go. 

The Astoria Bar
                                                146 N College Ave, Fort Collins, CO, 80524
  T: 970-484-0995 /E: theastoriainc@gmail.com
     Bar Open Monday - Saturday 4pm - 2am, Sunday 7pm - 2am  
            Kitchen open Tuesday - Saturday 5pm - 10pm

12 November 2013

Spaghetti Squash with Thai flavors

Ever wonder what to do with spaghetti squash besides use it as a pasta substitute?  Well, this recipe won't help you there, but it is a new take on the usual spaghetti squash with spaghetti sauce.  This time, it's topped with a cheap, easy copy of Pad Thai (go ahead and add scrambled egg if you want; I just didn't have any laying around when I whipped this up).

Pad Thai sauce is totally worth the purchase, by the way, and adds a sweet-sour tang to all kinds of things, even fries.

Spaghetti Squash with Thai flavors

Serves 4

1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 medium spaghetti squash
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 red bell pepper, cut into bite-size pieces
2 cups chopped red cabbage
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, cut into thin rounds
1 small bunch broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons Pad Thai sauce
1 tablespoon Sriracha
1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Garnishes for serving:
4 scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
1 tablespoons diced cucumber
2 tablespoons chopped peanuts
Lime wedges

Split spaghetti squash in half lengthwise.  Place cut sides down in a shallow pan of water, cover the pan in foil, and bake in the oven at 425°F (no need to preheat) until soft, about 20 minutes.

Steam broccoli and carrot slices until crisp-tender.

In a large pan, heat the oil over medium.  Sauté the onion until soft, about 8 minutes.  Add the red pepper, ginger, and cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, until all vegetables are soft., about 10 minutes.  Stir in the steamed broccoli and carrots, cilantro, Pad Thai sauce, Sriracha, and rice vinegar.  Lower heat to low and cover, allowing flavors to incorporate (about 5 minutes, or however long it takes for the squash to finish).

To assemble, scrape the cooked spaghetti squash into a serving dish and season with salt and black pepper to taste.  Pour vegetables on top and garnish individual dishes with scallions, cucumber, peanuts, and lime to taste.

08 November 2013

Make it at Home: Chicken Osso Buco

Osso Buco is traditionally a dish made with veal shanks and dribbling with marrow, but I like the lighter version made with chicken.  It's a great way to use cheaper dark meat and keep it super tender, and osso buco, after all, is country Italian food, so I think this is a respectable way to honor the most likely purpose of the dish (namely, feeding people on the cheap).

Altitude Chophouse in Laramie, WY has a great chicken osso buco, and so does Trapper's in Parker, CO. But this is an easy dish to set up and allow to stew at home, and it makes great leftovers, so it's crazy to not just do it yourself.  Here's my version.

Chicken Osso Buco

Serves 8

8 medium (about 2 1/2 pounds) chicken thighs
2 tablespoon(s) canola oil
1/2 bag(s) (8 ounces) carrots
1 large onion
1 large celery stalk
1 can(s) (4 1/2- to 16-ounce) Italian-style stewed tomatoes
Chopped parsley and grated lemon peel, for garnish

Remove skin and fat from chicken thighs. In 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, heat canola oil and cook chicken thighs and 1 teaspoon salt until chicken is golden on all sides. Remove to plate. Meanwhile, dice carrots, onion, and celery.

Using the chicken drippings remaining in skillet, cook carrots, onion, and celery over medium heat until lightly browned. Return chicken to skillet; stir in stewed tomatoes. Over high heat, heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 25 minutes or until chicken is fork-tender and juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a knife. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and grated lemon peel.

Serve with cooked pasta or rice.

05 November 2013

Pasta with earthy, autumnal flavors

This quick meal is pure fall to me, particularly because of the sage, I suppose.  If you can't find decent-looking asparagus (it sometimes gives an encore presentation in the fall), use whatever green vegetable you like: broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, or even frozen peas would be good here.

There are multiple bitter elements in this dish (walnuts, radicchio, gorgonzola), so the lemon juice and honey are meant to balance that.  If it still seems too bitter to you, you could cut down on (or eliminate) one of the bitter components, add more honey to taste, or add a spicy element, like crushed red pepper flakes.

Farfalle with Radicchio and Asparagus

Serves 4

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small head radicchio, sliced
1 small yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
6 sage leaves, chiffonaded
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch asparagus, cut into ½-inch pieces
¼ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cups farfalle or other medium pasta shape
1/8 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons crumbled gorgonzola
1 tablespoon honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bring a medium pot of well-salted water to boil.  Cook pasta according to package directions.

Steam the asparagus pieces until bright green.  If you have a steamer insert, this can be done directly over the pasta water; check to make sure they don’t get mushy.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Sauté the onion until soft and fragrant, about 8 minutes.  Lower to heat to medium low and add the radicchio, garlic, and walnuts, stirring occasionally, until garlic becomes fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the steamed asparagus, sage leaves, and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

When the pasta is done, drain and add to vegetables.  Add honey and cheeses and stir well to thoroughly coat.  Taste for seasoning, add more salt and pepper if necessary, and serve.

01 November 2013

Make it at Home: Lentil Loaf

I appreciate a great restaurant, but I'm cheap and like eating in my pajamas, so I always want to steal my favorite recipes and make them at home. This Grinch-like spirit has inspired a series of "Make it at Home" posts, starting with this one, in which I attempt to copy some of my favorite restaurant dishes so that I won't have to change into respectable clothes.

A good lentil loaf used to be hard to find, but vegetarian cafes like Chicago Diner and Sweet Melissa's in Laramie, WY have figured it out. This is a simple, lightened up version of the old 1970s brick that turned so many of us off of vegetarian eating in the first place, and it's just as homey and comforting as a greasy meatloaf made with low-grade meat and filler, without having to ingest cartilage.

Hearty Lentil Loaf

Serves 6

1 1/2 cups lentils
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water
2 onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups cooked rice (I like jasmine)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup barbecue sauce or ketchup
1/2 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large soup or stock pot, simmer the lentils in water or vegetable broth until cooked, about 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly then mash the lentils until they are half mashed.

Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until soft. Combine the onions, garlic and olive oil with the mashed lentils and add the rice, salt, ketchup or barbecue sauce, sage, and Italian seasoning.

Gently press the mixture into a lightly greased loaf pan. Drizzle a bit of extra ketchup on top if desired.  Bake for 1 hour. Allow to cool 5 minutes before serving.

Goes great with horseradish mashed potatoes (just mash some potatoes with garlic, olive oil, and horseradish.).