Archive for Main Course

Pasta alla Norma (review)

A little ways east of town, there’s a “dented can” grocery called Central Discount. It’s always an adventure going there because it involves getting up really early to fight the crowds, and because you never know what sorts of things you’ll find. Last time I was there, I bought a can of anchovies packed in olive oil for 25 cents. At that price, I told myself I could work up the courage to use them in something. And then I got my summer issue of Cooks Illustrated.

I should pause here to say that while I grew up by the gulf coast, I’m not much of a fish fan. I had an allergic reaction to some sort of large fish, probably shark or swordfish, when I was a little girl, and had a great excuse not to eat it thereafter. There were some kinds of fish I’d eat. Tuna (mostly in salad form), salmon (mostly in croquette form), and fish sticks (with mac and cheese on the side). It really wasn’t until I got into college around the time the sushi craze was sweeping the country that I decided I’d try tasting a little more fish. I’m still not a huge fan, but there are some types I’ll eat (and watch out if there’s unagi around–I know, it’s not a fish, but still, it’s adventurous). but anchovies. Those have a certain reputation in the general public which makes them sound repulsive, but a general cache amongst foodies as a worthwhile canned food.

One of the recipes in my CI was for an eggplant and tomato pasta sauce known as Pasta alla Norma, a traditional Sicilian dish. I love eggplant and I enjoy looking for new ways to eat it. But as I read the recipe’s creation and looked over the ingredients, there it was. Anchovies. I decided to go for it–and I was rewarded.

The recipe only calls for a tablespoon worth, finely minced, which when cooked into a sauce of at least five servings is barely noticable amongst the other rich flavors. In fact, even upon opening the can, the anchovies has very little fishy smell. The recipe creation says they were added to give the recipe some “backbone.” Well it worked. This dish was amazing and I’m really looking forward to eating the leftovers.

One of the great things about this dish was how easily it went together. The only prep I had to do before I started cooking was to chop the eggplant. I was able to mince and measure everything else while the eggplant was in various stages of cooking. I even had time to go out to my porch to pick herbs without a delay in the cooking process.

A couple other notes: I didn’t have 6 tablespoons worth of basil on my plant, so I substituted with some fresh oregano and a little dried basil. I thought it was great. The only thing I didn’t really like about this dish was the kind of cheese it called for, ricotta salata. Unlike ricotta, ricotta salata holds it shape so that it can be grated on top. I splurged an bought a small chunk at my local co-op. The cheese has a slightly ammonia undertone that I don’t care for, especially with this dish. There are already so many other flavors, it doesn’t really fit in. This is coming from a person who loves brie, so it’s not that ammonia note itself that I dislike. In the future, I think I’ll try one of CI’s other recommendations for this recipe, pecorino romano or cotija, both cheeses I already know I like.

Overall, I think this recipe is definitely worth picking up a copy of the July/August CI on your local newstand. I still haven’t figured out if it’s a copyright infringement to post the recipe up here.

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Leftover Turkey Salad

Have you ever had one of those sandwiches with leftover roasted turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce? It’s very tasty but also a lot of bread in one meal. In this turkey salad recipe, I combined the flavors of the dressing with the turkey. I still recommend a few slices of jellied cranberry sauce. It adds delightful sweetness and tang. This salad would also work well stuffed inside a ripe tomato.

Servings: about 3

Cooking time: less than 25 minutes, depending on how quickly you chop vegetables.

  • 1 cup turkey pieces
  • 1 rib celery (about 1/2 cup chopped)
  • a few sprigs of parsley (about 1/4 cup chopped)
  • 1 small apple (about 1/3 cup chopped)
  • 3/4 tsp rubbed sage
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp pepper (less or more to taste)
  • tiny pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4-1/3 cup light mayonnaise (to taste)
  • slices of jellied cranberry sauce (optional)
  1. Chop the celery, parsley and apple into small pieces and place in a medium bowl. Combine with turkey pieces.
  2. In a small bowl, combine spices, oil and 1/4 cup mayo. Add this mixture to the turkey mixture. Add a little more mayo if necessary.
  3. Spread onto toasted slices of bread with a layer of cranberry sauce. Mmmm…

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Baked Chile Rellenos

I tried doing something like this a while back, and it didn’t work as well as it did this time. That time, I battered the peppers first and then stuffed them. This time, I reversed the process. The peppers were crisp, as was the crust, and the cheese was flavorful and gooey. I served this with refried beans, corn tortillas and tomato slices. You can either make a little wrap with a slice of pepper and the other ingredients, or eat them separately.

Servings: 2

Cooking time: 25-30 minutes prep, then baking

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe poblano chiles
  • 3 oz Monterrey Jack cheese, grated (low fat is fine)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3 oz milk
  1. Wash the peppers. Cut them horizontally about an inch from the stem end. Carefully, remove the veins and seeds from the inside of the peppers (for a spicier dish, leave some of the veins). Again carefully, cut around the stem and the top of the pepper and remove it. Discard the seeds and veins. Wash your hands well.
  2. Heat the oven to 350. Mince the garlic. In a small bowl, mix the cheese, cumin and garlic. In another small bowl, scramble the egg with the milk. On a plate with a bit of an edge, mix the cornmeal and flour. Spray a small baking dish (one or two quarts) with non-stick spray.
  3. Carefully stuff the cheese mixture into the peppers. Be sure to get some down in the tip of the pepper, but don’t just cram it in or you’ll break the pepper. (Use the handle of a spoon or fork if you’re having trouble.) If there are pockets in your pepper tops, you can put some cheese in there as well.
  4. Again carefully, dip one of the pepper bottoms into the egg mixture, trying to keep it somewhat upright so the cheese doesn’t fall out. Once it’s coated, dip the same pepper into the cornmeal/flour mix and coat well. You might just want to use your fingers to spread the cornmeal mix onto the pepper. If you’d like a thicker crust, repeat dipping in the egg mixture then the cornmeal. Place in the baking dish. Repeat with the other pepper bottom and the tops, matching the tops to the peppers once in the baking dish.
  5. Bake uncovered in the center of the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the crust is starting to brown.

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Rainbow Chard Crustless Quiche

I typed up the ingredients for this post a while back but never finished the post. I’m glad I typed up those, or I never would have remembered! This dish was fairly quick, aside from the baking, very tasty and colorful.

Servings: 4-6

Cooking time: 30 minutes prep plus 40-50 minutes baking time

Ingredients:

  • 1 large bunch rainbow chard
  • 1 small onion (yellow or white)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup eggs substitute (3 eggs worth)
  • 1/2 cup light sour cream
  • 1/2 cup low fat milk
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • black pepper
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 c shredded cheese (I used part Swiss cheese, part vegetable Jack cheese)
  1. Rinse the chard well and shake off the excess water. Separate any ribs of the chard thicker than 1/4 inch from the leaves by cutting along the edge of each side of the rib. Set the leaves aside for now. Slice the ribs into 1/3 inch thick pieces. Dice the onion.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Saute the onion a few minutes until starting to get tender. Add the chard ribs, stirring occasionally. While that cooks, lay a few leaves on top of each other, roll them up, and cut into 1/2 inch wide pieces (chiffonade). If any of the leaves are particularly wide, you can also cut them in half lengthwise to make slightly smaller pieces.
  3. When the chard ribs are tender, add the leaves to the pan and stir. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the rest of the ingredients. Spray a 9 inch pie plate with non-stick spray.
  4. After the leaves have cooked for a few minutes and are wilted, turn off the heat. Continue to stir and cook one minute more. Then add the chard mixture to the egg mixture. Mix thoroughly. Pour into prepared dish.
  5. Bake in the middle of the oven until set in the middle on the top and golden on the edges, about 40-50 minutes. You may need to rotate the pan once during baking depending on how your oven distributes heat. The quiche will continue to cook for a few minutes outside the oven, so it doesn’t need to be completely set in the middle before removing it from the oven. Excellent with a tomato salad.

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    Soutzoukakia

    Soutzoukakia are tasty Greek, oblong-shaped meatballs that reveal a bit of the influence Turkey had on the country in previous eras. They’re served with a tomato sauce usually over rice or sometimes mashed potatoes.

    The organization through which I did my studies in Greece sends newsletters every quarter or so. Each one has a recipe, supposedly ones that were tried out by students studying in Greece. Unfortunately, these recipes often have the same problems of my Greek cookbook. Said cookbook was only marginally better on this recipe. So for our Greek feast, I did a combination of the two recipes, and it turned out pretty well.

    It will seem as though there’s an excessive amount of parsley in this recipe. Don’t worry: it cooks down, and it takes a lot to get a real parsley flavor. And speaking of, a brief note on herbs in Greek cooking. In the whole meal I made, there was absolutely no dill. I don’t know where this idea came from that Greek food is full of dill, but I hardly tasted any of it when I was there. The most commonly used herb is definitely parsley, followed by mint and oregano. At least according to my taste buds.

    Servings: 5-6 as a main course, more as appetizers (it should make about 32 large meatballs)

    Cooking time: about 2 hours

    Ingredients:

    Meatballs:

    • 2 lbs ground meat (I used 1 lb pork and 1 lb turkey. Lamb or beef would be more traditional.)
    • 1 large or 2 medium yellow or white onions
    • 3 cloves garlic
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 large bunch of fresh parsley (this should make 2-3 cups when chopped)
    • fresh mint, enough to make 1/3 cup when chopped
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 2 cups dry breadcrumbs
    • 1/4-1/2 tsp salt
    • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
    • 1 tsp paprika
    • 2 tsp ground cumin
    • 2 tsp dried oregano

    Sauce:

    • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (look for ones that don’t have any additives)
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
    • 1 small onion, or half a large one (about 1/2 cup chopped)
    • 1 clove garlic
    • 1 1/2 cups water
    • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1 1/2 tsp ground allspice
    • 1 tsp dried oregano
    • 1 scant tsp sugar (Most tomato-based sauces should have sugar to cut the acidity. Chili is the one major exception.)
    • salt and pepper to taste
    1. Dice the onions for the meatballs and put in a large bowl. Mince the garlic for the meatballs and add it to the onions. Chop the parsley and mint, being careful to remove any large stems from them. Toss these with the onions and garlic and the other herbs and spices (salt-oregano).
    2. In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with about 1/2 cup water and let stand a few minutes. If it’s not moist all the way through, add more water a tablespoon at a time. Mix with the items in the large bowl.
    3. Prep a very large, oven-safe pan (I used one 11×7 and one 8×8). Preheat the oven to 425. Wash your hands. Add the ground meat to the large bowl. Add the eggs and olive oil. Use your hands to mix everything thoroughly. This is fun! It’s a great way to take out stress, and it’s the best way to get everything thoroughly mixed. You should use this same technique for meatloaf.
    4. Once it’s thoroughly mixed, shape the meatballs into football-like shapes about 2-3 inches long and 1 1/2 inches thick at the thickest part. Try to make your meatballs evenly-sized so they cook evenly. Place each one in the pan, each one lightly touching another. I did three rows in each pan. When all the meatballs are shaped, place the pan(s) in the oven. Bake uncovered 20-25 minutes, until browned on the outside.
    5. Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a medium sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium low heat. Dice the onion and garlic, and add them to the hot oil. When the onion is translucent, but not caramelized, add the cinnamon and allspice. Cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add the tomatoes, water, oregano, sugar and pepper. Let simmer at least five minutes or until the meatballs are browned on the outside. Adjust seasonings, adding salt if necessary (be sure to taste-you don’t know how salty your canned tomatoes might be).
    6. Remove the meatballs from the oven and reduce the heat to 375. Pour the sauce over the meatballs. Cover the pan(s) with foil. Return the pans to the oven and bake 15-25 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through and sauce is bubbly. Serve over rice.

    Note: I went all the way through step 6 the night before our dinner, then reheated the meatballs for serving. The sauce will be a bit thick when reheated, so I’d recommend adding about 1/2 cup water to the pan before reheating. There’s no need to mix it; it will mix naturally as the sauce heats.

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    Vegetable Chili

    I probably should not call this chili. I have a “vegetarian chili” recipe, and this is not it, though it does happen to be vegan. This is more of vegetable stew that happens to use chili powder. I created it to make use of all my wonderful farmer’s market vegetables, and it turned out quite well. The only things in it that didn’t come from the market were the spices, onion, beans, mustard and beer.

    You can substitute anything you like in this recipe. It is mostly an exercise in timing. Things like sugar snap peas hardly need any time, while my farm-fresh carrots needed a while. One of the best things in this stew was the earthy, floral quality of the fresh oregano. Fresh herbs need very little heat to release their essence.

    Vegetable Chili

    Vegetable Chili

    Servings: 4 large

    Cooking time: 40 minutes or so

    Ingredients:

    • 1 large garlic clove
    • 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
    • 1 small onion (white or yellow)
    • 2-3 carrots
    • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
    • 1 tbsp+ chili powder
    • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
    • 1 cup water
    • 2-3 tomatoes (I used yellow)
    • 1 large or 2 small heads of broccoli
    • 1 15 oz can of beans (I used kidney)
    • 3-4 oz good beer
    • 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
    • 1 ear of fresh corn
    • 1/2 cup+ sugar snap peas
    • 2 sprigs fresh oregano
    • cheddar cheese (optional)
    1. Mince the garlic and chop the onion and carrots (if the carrots are fresh, they only need to be scrubbed well, not peeled). Begin heating the oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Chop the broccoli, keeping the stems separate from the florets. Try to make the pieces as evenly sized as possible.
    2. When the oil sizzles when you put a drop of water in it, add the onions. Saute for 5 minutes or so, until almost clear. Add the carrots and garlic. Saute 4 minutes or so, until the carrots begin to soften. Add the cumin and chili powder and saute one minute. Add the water.
    3. Meanwhile, use a sharp knife to cut the kernels off of the corn. Snap the peas and cut them in half if they’re longer than 2 inches. Rinse the beans. Dice the tomatoes (do not seed them).
    4. When the water begins to simmer, add the beans and dried oregano. When the water returns to a simmer, add the tomatoes with juices, broccoli stems, mustard and the beer. Simmer about three minutes. Add the broccoli florets and corn. Simmer two minutes. Stir in half of the fresh oregano leaves and the sugar snap peas. Simmer one minute. Serve immediately, topped with grated cheese and the rest of the fresh oregano.

    Note: When reheating leftovers, do so on medium heat, or you’ll overcook the vegetables.

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    Spring Stir-fry

    It’s farmer’s market season!! I love this time of year because I get to eat really healthy food for very reasonable prices. I can buy almost all my groceries there, except milk (and I usually don’t buy cheese there just cause it’s so expensive), including bread and pasta and eggs, even hummus! This week I bought asparagus, four bunches of baby bok choy, spring garlic, red and yellow tomatoes, hummus and a cinnamon roll, all for $14.50. (I have to admit that while I could by all my groceries there, I inevitably supplement with other items, such as the red pepper in the following recipe. It is definitely not bell pepper season yet.) I will buy asparagus almost every Saturday and Wednesday until the season ends. Mmmm…asparagus…

    To use my delectable produce, I decided to make a light stir-fry so I could still taste the freshness of everything in it. Spring garlic is like a green onion with mild garlic taste (so mild, in fact, that a friend who planted some couldn’t really tell the difference between it and green onions, which he had also planted). You can definitely smell the garlic in the aroma, but it is not a strong flavor. Which is just fine for this dish where the mild bok choy and asparagus are really the stand-outs.

    The key to stir-fries is to have everything chopped in advance and arranged into groups depending on how long it takes things to cook. The actual time in the wok for this dish is only 5-7 minutes.

    Spring Stir-fry

    Servings: 2 main course servings, 3-4 side dish

    Cooking time: half an hour or less

    Ingredients:

    • 2 stalks/heads baby bok choy (large is fine, but you’ll have to chop it up more)
    • 1/2 a bunch asparagus-should make about 1 1/2 cups once chopped
    • 1 med. red bell pepper
    • 4 stalks spring garlic
    • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
    • red pepper flakes to taste
    • 1 tbsp honey
    • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
    • 1/4 tsp dried basil
    • 1-2 tbsp lime juice (sorry, I didn’t measure)
    • 1 tsp soy sauce
    • 1 tsp sesame oil
    • two servings of cooked rice if serving as a main course
    1. Chop the bell pepper into 1 inch pieces. Break off the asparagus at the root end (it will snap naturally-discard the root end or save it for asparagus soup). Break or cut off the tip of the asparagus, about 2-3 inches depending on the size of the asparagus. Cut the remaining asparagus stalks into 1 inch pieces. Cut off the root end of the spring garlic and discard. Like you would a green onion, chop the white part of the garlic, then make a separate pile of the thinner, greener parts. You can add the white parts into your red pepper pile and the green parts into your pile of asparagus tops. Chop off the root end of the bok choy (look for sand on the leaves you’re keeping-you may need to rinse again). For any large leaves, chop the white ends into 1 inch pieces and add to the pile with the asparagus stalks (not tops). Depending on the size of the leaves, you may want to chop them once or twice.
    2. Heat a wok or other skillet over medium high heat. When it is hot add the oil and give it a swirl. Throw in the red bell pepper and garlic ends. Cook for about a minute before adding the asparagus stalks, white parts of the bok choy, and red pepper flakes if using. While that cooks for about three minutes, mix together the remaining ingredients in a small dish. Toss or stir the stir-fry every minute or so. When the asparagus is starting to brighten (about 3 min.), add the asparagus tops and the bok choy leaves. Toss. Add the garlic greens. Toss. Cook about two more minutes, until the asparagus is tender and the bok choy wilted.
    3. Give the sauce a quick stir, then pour it over the stir-fry. Turn off heat. Toss the stir-fry to coat everything with sauce. Serve over rice if it’s a main course, or on the side of a meal.

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