Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Going Veggie (at least for the night!)

Tonight, I'm making a nice soup & bread meal for a chilly night. J sounds skeptical of it, so we shall see how it goes. I think it will be delightful. I have a pot of lentil chili simmering on the stovetop and will be making cheddar scallion biscuits if my scallions are still any good. I adapted the chili from a recipe in the February 2003 issue of Gourmet and the biscuits are in the Gourmet Cookbook and on Epicurious at http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Cheddar-Scallion-Drop-Biscuits-106062.

Lentil Chili
1/2 red onion, ch.
1/2 red pepper, ch.
1/4 jalapeno, seeds removed & ch.
1 celery stalk, ch.
1 carrot, ch.
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
A good heavy grinding of pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 c. lentils
1 bay leaf
32 oz. chicken broth
Cook the veggies in the oil, with salt & pepper, in a soup pot until softened, 6-8 minutes. Mix brown sugar with herbs & spices. Add to veggies & cook, stirring constantly, until very fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add lentils, bay leaf and broth. Simmer, uncovered, 1 hour while you catch up with your auntie on the phone. Serves 3. I plan to dollop mine with sour cream and chopped scallions, as well as throwing a dash or two of hot sauce in.

I just tried the chili and it's superb, with just enough heat to make it interesting! Yay!

Sweethearts Cooking

Valentine's weekend didn't start out with much of a culinary bang in terms of creating, just some steaming hot bowls of fabulous bean soup from J's plant, along with cornbread and biscuits. It's some of the best bean soup I've had, even beating out my grandmom's recipe. J used up the rest of the biscuits in the morning when she made herself, Pie and me bacon, egg and cheese biscuits for breakfast. Lunch both Saturday and Sunday were homemade pizza for our pizza-insatiable boys. J had wanted to take over for Saturday dinner, too, switching the dinner I'd planned to today. However, she relented when she heard the recipe for Alice B. Toklas' gypsy goulash. This is my revised version:

1 1/2 lb. filet of beef, cut in thin, bite-sized pieces
2 tbsp. bacon fat (you could also use lard or Crisco, but that was on hand & sounded good)
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. paprika
1 tbsp. flour
4 lg. onions, sliced
3 potatoes, sliced fairly thinly
2 c. red wine
1 c. + 1/2 c. sour cream
Beef broth (Alice B. advises enough "to cover" the casserole...I'd use less, unless you want soup...it took 32 oz. to cover for me and that was way too much, even when I added extra sour cream and some cornstarch mixed with water...maybe 16 oz would do well?)
Egg noodles, cooked & drained

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brown the beef in the bacon fat with the salt, paprika & flour and set aside (it might work better to toss the beef with the salt, paprika & flour, then cook). Cook the onions & potatoes in the same pan until softened. Put in casserole with beef, wine and 1 c. sour cream. Mix well, cover tightly and bake 1 hour. Add 1/2 c. sour cream before serving over noodles. I served corn with this.

Incidentally, there is a rather amusing story to go along with this section of recipes in the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. Indeed, the whole cookbook is also a fascinating look at the life of Gertrude Stein through the eyes of her lover, Alice.

Sunday, the boys slept through brunch. Their loss, since J made delicious grilled chocolate sandwiches that resembled stuffed French toast. Actually, they subsisted most of the weekend on J's pepperoni pizza, Little Debbie Cosmic Brownies (Pie) and generic honey buns (Boot, who loves those crazy things. They give me the willies, especially the fact that you can peel the icing, intact, from the top and wave it around. SHUDDER!). One of J's co-workers gave her a recipe Friday & this is J's adaptation:

1 egg
1 tbsp. milk
2 slices challah
2 oz. thin 70% dark chocolate bar (J used Nestle's Chocolatier line)
1 tbsp. butter
Powdered sugar

Whisk eggs & milk together in a shallow dish. Make sandwich with challah & chocolate. Dip in egg mixture to coat both sides. Melt butter in skillet and cook sandwich, pressing occasionally with a spatula, until golden brown on each side. Cut in half and dust with powdered sugar before serving. Easily serves 2 and you will want milk. Or at least a big glass of ice water!

Since I like grilled cheese better than French toast and since I was curious as to how chocolate sandwiches would taste with cherry bread, I made more grilled chocolate sandwiches on Monday. This time, I cut 4 slices of the little loaf of cherry bread J picked up from the Toledo chapter of Rainbow Families. I buttered one side of each slice and then made 2 little sandwiches with another few squares of the same chocolate. I then browned it on either side in a dry skillet. It was yum, too. We had good, strong coffee with it. Next time I make banana nut bread, I am trying it with that.

Sunday night, once we were dining a deux again, I made our real Valentine's dinner. I went for a French bistro feel with croques monsieurs, pommes frites and steamed artichokes with lemon butter (1/2 stick better melted with 1/2 lemon) and garlic dijon aioli (Trader Joe's) for dipping. I left the skin on two potatoes and cut them into nice finger-sized pieces, then shallow-fried them until they were going golden before draining on paper towels and salting properly. For the artichokes, I simply trimmed them, popped them in my steamer, added a lemon slice and a garlic clove (smashed) to the flavor tray and steamed them for 50 minutes. The croques monsieurs were a tad more complicated. I used the recipe in the Gourmet Magazine cookbook, which can be found here: http://books.google.com/books?id=PwJgZhXZVNkC&pg=PA190&lpg=PA190&dq=Gourmet+cookbook+croque-monsieur&source=bl&ots=i_aQJqWcrH&sig=O7QJ25Zu3RpQkXxDeNc5M0v6vMQ&hl=en&ei=ZeaaSfC1Ht-BtwfguPGvCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result if, for some insane reason, you haven't yet got the cookbook. But, I use recipes from it all the time & love it. It's well worth the investment.

Last night, J made really tasty lasagna for us, but I do not have the recipe, nor am I even certain she used one. If she did, it is probably the recipe from the box of no-precooking-necessary lasagna noodles.

Oh, one last sweetheart tip. For a perfectly romantic accompaniment to a special dinner (or just to pamper yourself, chill a bottle of Lindeman's Framboise Lambic. It's superb.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pasta Night Done Better

Around here, we are almost guaranteed (as I have mentioned before) to have a weekly pasta night and a weekly steak night. These are my darling wife's two favorite foods, meals she never tires of making or eating. I, on the other hand, often perform a silent eye roll behind her back at the thought of yet another pasta or steak meal. She knows this. She cooks it anyway. And I want her to keep doing it for two reasons. The first is that when it is her night to choose and cook dinner, it is her night. Not my night to dictate what she cooks or guilt her into choosing something more to my taste. My taste is for my night. The second is that sometimes, she comes up with something different and astoundingly good in the pasta or steak genre. Last night was a good example. She'd been assured by at least two people at work that the premium alfredo sauce they make blends beautifully with the pesto sauce they make, into a gorgeously rich pesto cream sauce. They were right, by my account. She tried it out and put it over plates of bucatini. I was truly wowed. I made a salad of crisp romaine accentuated by garlic croutons, parmesan cheese and good quality bottled Caesar and J laid out some olive oil bread with a dish of butter to go alongside. The funny thing here is that J didn't like the meal. At all. While I sat oohing and aahing and slurping up my portion, she was disappointed. Sigh. She did, however, like dessert, squares of an Equal Exchange (organic & fairly traded) Orange Dark Chocolate bar.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Jazzed-Up Salmon Cakes

Tonight, despite J's nose wrinkling when I mentioned them at lunch, I made salmon cakes for dinner, with tater tots, lima beans and fresh pineapple on the side. I adapted a recipe from WW magazine to suit my taste for a little more spice, my abhorrence of soap-leaf (AKA cilantro) and the laziness regarding egg separation that beset me tonight. Although she was less than thrilled that I made the salmon cakes despite her subtle protest, J ended up really liking them and I think you will, too.

Salmon Corn Cakes
7.5 oz. salmon
1/2 c. corn (if you use frozen, warm it up first)
1/4 c. breadcrumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 tbsp. ch. onion
A good grinding of black pepper
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. oil, for cooking
Mix everything but the oil and chill 10 minutes. Shape into patties (I think I might do mini patties next time for ease of flipping, but I did 4 tonight). Heat oil in skillet. Add patties & brown on both sides. Serves 2.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

It's Mahi Mahi Time

We found some very nice mahi mahi at Trader Joe's Saturday for a great price, so I decided to adapt a Bon Appetit recipe to go with it. I served it with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. It was fantastic!

Baked Mahi Mahi with Paprika Lemon Butter
3 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp. paprika
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper (I am thinking a tsp. of Paula Deen's House Seasoning would make a nice sub for the salt & pepper)
4 mahi mahi fillets, about 5 oz. each and 3/4" thick
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9 baking pan. Mix everything but the fish together. Pat fish dry with paper towels and spread both sides with butter mixture. Add a little extra salt & pepper. Put in baking dish and bake 10 minutes or so, until it is cooked through & flakes easily. Serves 4.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Super Bowl Food?

Well, not the Ro-Tel and Velveeta dip or hot wings we usually have when Football Boy is with us, that's for sure! As a concession to the national holiday, we did heat up some Trader Joe's spinach & artichoke dip to munch on with some sourdough. J got out the Boursin cheese & crackers, too. But dinner was an Asian-style beef noodle soup and a dish of mandarin oranges, simple but good & not leaving us with a food hangover today!

Asian-Style Beef Noodle Soup
4 oz. rice noodles
6 c. cold water
8 oz. beef top round
5 c. beef broth
4 thinly-sliced scallions
Hot sauce and soy sauce
Soak the noodles for 30 minutes in cold water. Drain, reserving the water. Bring 6 c. water to a boil. and add noodles. Cook 4-6 minutes, making sure not to overcook. Drain. Slice beef into paper-thin slices or into bite-sized pieces. Put noodles in 4 bowls. Bring broth to a boil and add meat, cooking through, which should take just a minute or three. Ladle soup over noodles and garnish with scallions. Serve with hot sauce & soy sauce.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Cream of Peanut Soup, George Washington Style

I found it rather bland, but it grew on J and might well appeal to other folks, too:

1 qt. chicken stock
2 carrots, peeled & chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 c. smooth peanut butter
1 c. half & half (or heavy cream, but J used half & half)
1/2 c. dry roasted peanuts
Salt & pepper, to taste
Tabasco, to taste (J omitted this, which could explain the blandness! She didn't even notice it was an ingredient, so we are just now discovering this! LOL)

Bring stock to boil with carrots & onion. Cover & simmer until veggies are very tender. Puree in batches & return to pot. Add the rest, bring to a boil and serve.