Saturday, March 28, 2009

Calamari, Sausages & Tacos - 3/28/2009

One of my old roommates used to make tomato sauce and then freeze it for later use. I decided to give this a try to see how my own tomato sauce would come out.

San Marzano Tomatoes

These are San Marzano tomatoes. They are recommended by many different chefs and websites as some of the best canned tomatoes available. I found this recipe to use from the internet.
Garlicky Tomato Sauce

It involves using an entire head of garlic for what turns out to be about 3 cups of tomato sauce. It sounds like a lot (and it is), but the sauce turns out nicely balanced with garlicky tomato-ness. It is very easy to add whatever spices you want to it to alter this sauce to your own needs, which is exactly what I ended up doing a week later.

Frozen Squid

At the Cary Asian market, you can find all sorts of rare and wonderful ingredients. I found these frozen squid tubes and bought them immediately. These tubes are only available on occasion from normal grocery stores, so it would be great if I could find them at the Asian store year round.

Linguine Marinara con Calamari

I simply cut the tubes into medium-sized rings, cooked them slightly in some olive oil, lemon juice and thyme, then mixed them into the sauce and some cooked linguine. It has been quite some time since I last had pasta, and I forgot how filling it can be. This dish came out great. It's been a long time since my mom and I used to get calamari marinara from a restaurant called Angelo's around New Port Richey. The only thing missing is to find some tentacle pieces to go in there too.

I needed a new idea for my lunches this past week. Men's Health gave me a starting idea, but it took me some more thought and random inspiration to be able to bring it together.

Root Veggie Chips

Men's Health this past month gave a homemade alternative to potato chips: root vegetable chips. You simply take any root vegetable, slice it thinly, toss it with olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake it at 400 degrees until they are crispy. I used beet, sweet potato, daikon, parsnip, and carrots. Admittedly, I should have baked everything separately as the smaller chips got over-done and the bigger chips got under-done, but the baking process eliminated many of the bitter flavors in the chips and gave them a slightly sweet flavor.

Chicken Sausage & Peppers

My step-mom makes sausage and peppers in a large pot of tomato broth and serves them with hoagie buns. I thought, what better accompaniment to chips than some sausage and peppers. Harris Teeter last week had store-made sweet Italian chicken sausage, perfect because it is healthier and not spicy. I braised the sausages by cooking them in a pot until they were browned, then added some chicken stock and tomato paste to allow them to finish cooking. Meanwhile, I started cooking three sliced onions and three sliced bell peppers (one orange, one red and one green) in a large saucepan over medium heat. My goal was not to brown them, but to caramelize them all together. Once they had started cooking down, I added some salt, pepper, garlic, and tomato paste. Slowly, the onions and peppers cooked down to an aromatic mixture, at which point I figured they were done. I half-sliced a French roll (softer than an Italian one, apparently), added a sausage to it and topped it with all of the onions and peppers. I'm not normally a bell pepper person. I've been trying to get used to their flavor for a while, but this dish is nearly devoid of their overt flavors. The onions and peppers meld in flavor that is enhanced by the garlic to form a warm oniony sweetness that lifts up the flavors of the chicken sausage. This all heated up very nicely for lunch all this week.

Crispy Black Bean Tacos

Last and certainly not least are these atypical tacos. The recipe for these tacos came from Bon Appetit magazine. They are easy to make, relatively quick and vegetarian. I am by no means vegetarian (see previous posts for evidence), but every once in a while, it's nice to break out of the mold. After allowing a flour tortilla (the recipe calls for corn but I prefer flour) to brown slightly in olive oil, you add a black bean-cumin mash. Then you fold the taco in half. With some coaxing it will stay closed of its own accord. Then brown each side in the saucepan. Once it is cooked, remove it from the skillet, then sprinkle in some feta cheese and a slaw made from cabbage, cilantro, green onion, lime juice, and olive oil. The flavors of this taco explode with tanginess, sharp saltiness and warmth(ness). Who knows, maybe you could use these to spice up your next taco night.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Magic Pie & Salmon Salad - 3/19/2009

I've been mostly eating last week's leftovers, but I did do some culinary work this week (I swear!). To continue my push to avoid eating sandwiches, I made this miso salmon salad.

Miso Salmon Salad

I may have said this before, but I'm not a huge fan of salads. For me, while a pile of lettuce may relieve your hunger pangs, it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, satisfying. For instance, I only ever get the salad bar if I know it will have meat and/or hefty, dense add-ons (broccoli, chickpeas, olives, potato salad, avocado, boiled eggs, etc.). That's why Cobb salad is probably one of my favorites. Anyhow, this salad has some nice non-traditional add-ons along with lots of protein. After marinating salmon fillets in a combination of rice wine, soy sauce, grated ginger, white miso paste, sugar, and lemon juice, it is baked for about 15-ish minutes in a 400 degree oven until they are cooked to your liking. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. While cooling, make the rest of the salad by tossing fresh spinach, blanched and halved snow peas, cucumber chunks, and chopped scallion. Make salmon into chunks and put on top of salad. For the dressing, combine equal parts soy sauce, rice vinegar, rice wine, and sugar with 4 parts white miso paste. Drizzle on top of salad and enjoy. The salmon itself was moist and dense but not fishy in any respect, and there was a vast array of other flavors: salty/tangy from the dressing, aromatic from the green onion, and sweet from the snow peas. Nicely Asian but appropriately light for a lunch course.

Funny Cake Pie

Yes, yes, another baked good. I made it in honor of National Pi Day (3/14), celebrating the wondrous glory that is the transcendental number pi. This one is called "funny cake pie." It's claim to fame is two-fold: 1) it is part cake, part pie, and 2) it performs a bit of a magic trick while baking. While I'm sure everyone would love me explaining the magic of pi, I will have to save that for another day and settle for the magic of pie. The recipe is very simple and is split into two parts:
1.5 cups sugar
0.5 cups vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat the first three ingredients until well blended. Then add the remaining ingredients and beat on medium for 2 minutes. Pour into pie crusts (I used store-bought graham cracker crusts). Don't worry too much about overmixing the batter because it comes out a bit like pancake batter.

Funny Cake Pie Batter

Pretty basic so far. Next, mix together 1 cup sugar with 0.5 cups cocoa powder and 1 cup of hot water. If presentation is important, be sure to mix this together well. I was a little lazy and didn't fully mix the cocoa powder into the water (It is hard to mix chocolate into water with all of the oils in the chocolate, another reason I like to make hot chocolate with milk.). Top the pie(s) with the chocolate mixture. As you can see from the picture, the watery chocolate mixture sinks right through the cake batter. My theory is the batter has been aerated from the mixing, so it allows the thin chocolate mixture to fall right through it's pores, invisible as they may be to the naked eye. As you can see, some chocolate residue was left on the top of my pies.

Funny Cake Pie - Oven Ready

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour for a full pie, about 30-40 minutes for minis (check with a toothpick or you can just eyeball it.

Funny Cake Pie - Inside

The inside of the pies turned out very good. The cakey portion had a nice vanilla sweetness, paired with a thinner layer of fudgey goodness on the bottom. A basic dessert, but very fun to make.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Atypical Side Items, et al - 3/9/2009

There are a couple of side items I've wanted to make for a while. I wanted to get away from using potatoes, rice or pasta as a source of carbohydrates, so I gave these next two recipes a shot.

Steak with Rosemary-Cannellini Puree

I'd heard of making a puree of cannellini beans, which sounded quite good, so I gave it a shot with this Gourmet magazine recipe. Briefly, you puree the beans with garlic, chicken stock, olive oil, salt and pepper. Then you cook the steaks and, after removing them from the pan, you cook rosemary, tomato paste and white wine in the pan to deglaze. You then mix in the bean puree with some chopped kalamata olives. The beans turned out smooth with enough stock and oil to prevent grittiness, and the subtle flavors of the rosemary, tomatoes and white wine gave it an extra boost to pair well with the steak.

For the next dish, I had to roast some veggies, including some tomato confit:

Tomato Confit Tomato Shadows

You may remember tomato confit from my cooking class outside of Cannes this summer. Here is what I made at home, using herbes de Provence on top. The second picture is what was left after I removed the tomatoes. These shadows looked a little like hearts - both the idealized heart shape and an actual heart (though only with two chambers).

Polenta Polenta with Roasted Vegetables

I also roasted some zucchini, mushrooms and red onion, but the main feature of this dish that I was making was the polenta. Polenta is made from cornmeal in a fashion similar to grits, but with some definite differences, mostly in that it is made with milk or cream and Italian spices.
1 clove garlic, minced
1T olive oil
2 cups milk
2 cups water
1 cup cornmeal
0.5 cup Parmesan
1T basil, chopped
1T thyme, chopped
Cook garlic in olive oil in a saucepan. Stir in milk and 1 cup of water and bring to boiling. In a small bowl, combine cornmeal with remaining water. Slowly add cornmeal mixture to the hot milk mixture and return to boiling. Reduce heat to low and cook uncovered for 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until polenta has thickened. Stir in cheese, spices and salt to taste. The polenta comes out creamy, slightly cheesy and an excellent substitute for other carbohydrates. It does solidify markedly once it has been refrigerated, just to be warned. I topped the polenta with the roasted vegetables and topped it with some more cheese.

Jell-o Flan Box Jell-o Flan

I totally phoned it in on this dessert. I was looking at various Jell-o puddings when I saw they had their version of flan, a Spanish custard and caramel dessert. At 80 calories a serving, I thought I would give it a shot. The process is very easy and it only took about 5 minutes to put it all together (plus refrigeration time). The flan comes out of the mold easily, though the one in the picture had a few chips out of it. While it did not set up like a real flan and was not quite as creamy, it was still a good low-cal substitute nonetheless.


Lastly, near Raleigh is a huge Asian market. While there, we found some frozen durian. For those who haven't heard, durian is most famous for its pungent odor. Most of what I had heard was that it smelled atrocious, but tasted great. My Malaysian friend who was with me said as much as well. This one had been deseeded, so it was a bit soft. I had wondered how something could smell like one thing and taste totally different (your senses of taste and smell are connected), and it turns out that this fruit both smelled and tasted like feet smothered in cheese and onions. I could not bring myself to eat more than one bite of the fruit as it was so powerful. My Malaysian friend, however, picked up the slack and ate the rest with great relish. I wonder if this has anything to do with a socialization of taste/smell...darn, science always surfaces in my mind. I would recommend everyone to try durian if they have the chance, just beware and have something ready to help eradicate the taste from your mouth.

No. 1 Panda Chinese Restaurant - 3/6/2009

I don't remember if I've said this before, but I want to start posting food I get at restaurants in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area in addition to what I make myself. This will probably take some time to get off the ground, but it's worth a shot. This week, some friends and I went to Number 1 Panda Chinese Restaurant.

No. 1 Panda

Sorry these pictures aren't the best since I only had my phone with me. The word on the street (which street, I'm not sure, but I got word from there anyways) is that this restaurant is more authentic than most other Chinese restaurants, which was definitely true. The menu is quite lengthy. We took about 10 minutes making up our minds because there were so many choices. They had some typical stir fries, but they had dishes you don't find at your local Takee Outee, pork liver stir fry and frogs legs being the most notables. They also had some interesting translations. "Sizzling cowboy bone" and "shelled shrimp (crab)" were my favorites.

Juicy Pork Dumplings

We started with some dim sum (some dim sum dat), which is pretty much like an appetizer or tapas, though I hear they are often eaten for breakfast. This first item is a set of dumplings that are filled with "juicy pork," meaning the dumpling not only contains some good pork, but there is also some soup sealed within the dumpling. So when you bite into it, the juices release into your mouth. These were very delicate and also very delicious.

Red Bean Sesame Balls

Our next dim sum was red bean sesame balls. They are balls of dough filled with a sweet red bean paste, then fried and covered with sesame seeds. A nice indulgence.

Shrimp with Walnuts

My meal was shrimp with walnuts. The shrimp had some thin batter on them, then they were mixed in a sweet sauce with the walnuts. You don't often think of walnuts when someone mentions shrimp, but this dish worked very nicely, though the sauce was a little on the sweet side. Our meal at No. 1 Panda was very good and I would recommend it to anyone in the area who wants some more traditional Chinese food.

Moroccan Seafood & Macadamania - 3/2/2009

This is last week's update that got put off until now because of some school work. Don't worry, though. There's another post brewing for this evening.

Moroccan Scallops with Curried Cauliflower

I will admit, my aversion to spicy foods often means I have to go through great pains in Thai and Indian restaurants to ensure my tongue enjoys the flavors and instead of suffering from them. Moroccan and Indian food, though, does not revolve around spiciness (few foods do...maybe some Texas 5-alarm chili...). What I enjoy about the flavors of Morocco, is that it uses flavors that are more often seen in desserts and incorporates them with some popular Hispanic seasonings in ways that will surprise your tongue without scorching it. I found this recipe for Moroccan-spiced scallops and lentils from Bon Appetit magazine. As a side dish, I made some simple, pan-steamed cauliflower seasoned with salt and curry powder (enough to give the dish some flavor). The scallops turned out tender with a good amount of flavor. The lentils provided a filling side dish that tasted good (I cooked them correctly this time, unlike the last time when they were a little slimy and tasted of mud). I did tread too carefully on the curry powder in the cauliflower, but it tasted fine. All in all, I did manage to preserve the flavors of North Africa without having to breathe fire.

Macadamias are a delicious nut, probably because of the high fat content. While I do not partake of them often, they are part of one of my favorite cookies: white chocolate macadamia cookies. They can also make a good crust for meats (including fish, as you can often find in Hawai'i where some of the nuts are harvested) as well as a good crust for a cheesecake (a dessert recipe from Dr. Atkins). Anyways, enough blather. The gist is, I bought macadamias for a dessert I wanted to make and had some left over to try a different take on an Italian classic.

Steak with Macadamia Pesto and Smashed Potatoes & Peas

Pesto is usually made with pine nuts. But my mountain of macadamias made me make a substitute:
1.5 cups basil
0.5 cup macadamia nuts, salted
4 cloves garlic, minced
0.75 cup olive oil
0.75 cup Parmesan
0.5 tsp salt
0.25 tsp pepper
Food process the first 3 ingredients until smooth. Keep the processor running and stream in the olive oil. Add the remaining ingredients and finish mixing. I grilled up some steaks to top with this pesto. Many people love to mix peas into their mashed potatoes. I made a side dish where you mash the peas right into the potatoes. After boiling some potatoes until tender, mash in thawed peas, butter, milk, salt, pepper, and chopped scallions. This is technically a meat and potatoes type of meal, just with some interesting innovations.

Macadamia Brownie Bars

More interviewees this weekend, so more desserts. The reason I had the macadamias in the first place was to make these double-decker macadamia brownie bars (Fine Cooking magazine). The brownie layer is actually made in a saucepan. Butter is melted, to which sugar, cocoa powder and salt is added. Then eggs, vanilla and flour are stirred in. This is baked slightly while the macadamia layer is made. The top layer is made from brown sugar, flour, light corn syrup, butter, egg, macadamias, and coconut. This is added to the top of the brownie layer, then cooked until golden brown. The brownie layer turned out nicely fudgy and the macadamia-coconut layer added a deliciously nutty-coconutty flavor.