Sunday, May 23, 2010

Chickpea and Zucchini Moussaka

Seemed like as good a way as any to use some of the tiny yellow squash I received from Pinckney's this week. I also had a few tomatoes from Steve's most recent produce purchase, canned chickpeas and tomato sauce in the cupboard and fresh mint growing in the backyard.

This recipe came from a 2004 issue of Food and Wine* in which they profiled a Turkish chef and provided this and several other recipes. My variation is totally vegan, although I've used a small amount of ground turkey on occasion when I had some already thawed (the magazine version calls for ground lamb). It's not really a moussaka, since it's not layered, but it does involve squash and a yummy tomato base for the rest.

2 tbsp olive oil
3 small zucchini, split lengthwise and sliced about 1/2 inch thick
3 very small yellow squash, split lengthwise and sliced about 1/2 inch thick
2 gloves garlic, chopped
2 bunches scallions, chopped about 1/2 inch thick
3 medium tomatoes, peeled and diced
4 oz tomato sauce
1 tsp crushed red pepper
salt to taste
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint

Heat the oil in a saute pan. Add zucchini, squash and garlic and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add scallions and tomatoes and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce, crushed red pepper, salt and chickpeas. Stir well, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, another 5-7 minutes. Remove cover, raise heat back to medium and cook until thickened, stirring often, another 3-5 minutes. Turn off heat, stir in parsley and mint and serve over couscous or rice.

The mint sounds weird, but this flavor combination (with the crushed red pepper and tomato sauce) comes out great every time. I actually have a Greek recipe book that calls for simmering diced potatoes and green beans in a similar tomato-mint base - "Peloponnesos style" - also very good! This recipe is also great as leftovers.

*Wolfert, Paula. "Master Chef of Turkey." Food and Wine July 2004, p. 179.

Home-Away-from-Home Crab Soup

Inspired by (canned) Blue Crab Norfolk. I actually came up with the recipe after reading the ingredients on a can of soup, named after my home town, that I found in some frou-frou kitchen store. Here's what I used for the soup pictured here, which I made for lunch this past Friday (gotta love Fridays off from work):

2 tbsp olive oil
4 oz. pancetta, diced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper,chopped
2 spring onions, chopped
2 Russet potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups salted water
6 oz lump crab meat
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup milk
1 tsp paprika
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a 4 qt saucepan and saute pancetta about 5 minutes on medium heat. Add green and red bell pepper and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add chopped onion and cook until softened, about 3-5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in another 4 qt saucepan, cover the diced potatoes with about 4 cups of water, add 1.5 tsp salt and bring to a boil. Boil covered for about 5-7 minutes or until fork tender.

Add potatoes and salted water to the other saucepan and stir. Add crab meat, wine, paprika, more salt (only if needed) and pepper. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add milk and turn off heat. After 2 minutes, stir and serve.

I realized when I took the picture that I also would have done well to stir it one more time after it had been sitting on the table for a few minutes. And I was somewhat ambivalent about the flavor when I ate it fresh. It improved after a day or two in the fridge, but if you don't want to take a chance on it coming out funky, use less wine or skip it. I usually make it with chicken broth and no wine, and it's good both ways.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Veggie Blue Plate Special

Tonight's challenge: use up the last 5 ounces of baby spinach, 2 of the 4 bell peppers in the fridge, the last ear of corn left over from last week, 1 tomato and 1 bunch of scallions. The obvious thing to do was to pretend we don't have any turkey smoked sausage, chicken or fish in the freezer and prepare a 3-veggie plate - tonight's blue plate special. This consisted of an encore presentation of the corn and feta salad plus the following two dishes:

Black-eyed peas, Italian-styleI'm not sure such a thing actually exists, but I pretended it did with my seasoning blend. These are great cooked in chicken broth, bu since I haven't gotten around to buying any yet, a little extra salt worked out just as well.

8 oz. frozen black-eyed peas, thawed
Salt to taste
1 bunch scallions (mostly the white part), thinly sliced
1 vine-ripened tomato, peeled and diced
2 tsp dried Italian herbs
1 tsp crushed red pepper or to taste

Place thawed black-eyed peas in a small (1 qt) saucepan, cover with water and add salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer covered. Peas will take about 20 minutes to cook, but check on them and add water if needed. During the last 5 minutes, add chopped tomato and onion along with Italian herbs and crushed red pepper.

Bell peppers stuffed with spinach risottoDon't really remember where this recipe came from; I'm thinking either Giada De Laurentiis or Emeril. Anyway, I also like to cook some chicken broth into the risotto when I have some, but extra salt was tonight's substitute here as well. I also like to saute some chopped onion in the olive oil before adding the rice, but since tonight's veggie plate featured onions in the other two dishes, I left them out of the risotto.

2 large bell peppers (red, orange or yellow look best with the risotto)
2 tsp olive oil
1 cup arborio rice
3 cups salted water
5 oz baby spinach (can also use 1/2 pkg frozen, thawed), chopped small
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/3 to 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Cut two bell peppers in half, remove hats, scoop out seeds and set aside on a shallow baking pan.

In a 1 or 2 qt saucepan, bring salted water to a boil, then reduce heat to medium.

In a separate 2-qt saucepan, eat the oil over medium heat. (Add the onion now, if using; saute for 2-3 minutes or until translucent.) Add rice and stir. Reduce heat to medium-low.

Begin adding salted water (or broth, if using) to the rice 1/2 cup at a time, stirring often. Once all water has been added to the rice and rice has taken on a creamy consistency (should take about 15-20 minutes), stir in the chopped spinach and let it cook for about 3-4 minutes in the hot rice. Add nutmeg and pepper and stir. Add Parmesan cheese and stir until it melts into the rice.

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Use a soup spoon to fill the peppers with the risotto, pressing down in order to stuff the peppers. Sprinkle some more Parmesan over the tops.

Bake peppers in the oven for 20 minutes or until the Parmesan on top of the peppers turns golden brown.

To my credit (I guess), an entire hour has passed since we finished dinner, and Steve hasn't started snacking on boiled peanuts yet! I think I've figured out how we can both have enough to eat without meat being involved!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuna, bacon and spinach pasta

The feeling of relief I experienced after using 9 veggies in a single soup-and-salad combo must have moved Steve to go shopping for more, because when I got home late Monday night, guess what new things I found in the fridge?

4 bell peppers (red, orange, yellow, green)
4 vine tomatoes
1 package baby spinach leaves

Which wouldn’t have been such a big deal, except that we already had most of a bag of spinach, an ear of corn, a bunch of scallions and a cucumber that have been in the fridge since before our camping trip.

I was most antsy to get rid of the spinach, since there have been so many instances where we opened the bag of spinach purchased the day before, found that the date on which we were opening it was also the expiration date, and...pew. Or we were able to enjoy it for a day or two after opening it before the cycle of life took another turn. To prevent a recurrence from happening this week, I made the following recipe Tuesday night, based on one from the February 2004 issue of Food and Wine:

Midnight Pasta with Tuna, Pancetta and SpinachWe ate around 8:00, not midnight. The recipe name and ingredients listed in the magazine were based on a theme of arriving late on Friday night for a nice weekend at your vacation home in the Adirondacks (because we all have one of those) and getting by on pantry and freezer staples. I generally find this a handy recipe for when I don't have anything fresh to use up; you just thaw half a package of frozen spinach, dice the pancetta (which can also be frozen) and find the other ingredients in the cupboard. My fresh spinach adaptation involved using about 7-8 ounces of fresh baby spinach, chopped in flat dice and given a few minutes longer to cook than the microwave-thawed spinach would have needed.

8 oz. pasta (linguine is my preference, but I used wheat rotini tonight)
2 tbsp olive oil
4 oz. pancetta, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper, or to taste
6 oz. can of chunk light tuna, drained
7-8 oz. fresh baby spinach, chopped small
1/3 cup dry white wine

Boil enough water to cook the pasta and add the pasta with a little salt. Drain and stir in a tbsp of olive oil if desired.

In a separate saucepan, heat the 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook over medium heat until translucent (don't let it get crispy).

Add the garlic and crushed red papper and cook for 2 more minutes.

Add the tuna and cook another 3-4 minutes.

Add spinach, stir well and cook for 4-5 minutes or until it has wilted.

Add white wine, bring to a boil and cook on high heat for about 3 minutes or until liquid has reduced by more than half.

Spoon the pasta onto individual plates and top with the sauce. If there is extra liquid, spoon some of it directly onto the pasta.

Wagner, Steven. "Recipes for a perfect country weekend." Food and Wine, February 2004, p. 105.

Monday, May 17, 2010

9 Veggies, 1 Soup, 1 Salad

After returning from a weekend camping trip, on which our food stores typically consist of pre-cooked chicken or turkey sausage, buns, Goldfish, Pop-tarts and pistachios, I noticed that I still had a ton of produce that might have been fun to bring along had our cold storage space not been mostly taken up by beer.

So…on hand I had a few beets, a trimmed bunch of mustard greens, one small head each of broccoli and cauliflower, spring onions, a few tomatoes, one cooked, husked and chilled ear of corn and a couple of carrots. Since I’m not able to cook every night of the week and didn’t want to spend all Sunday afternoon in the kitchen making several things to be consumed during the week, I took the easy way out and threw everything into a soup pot with a few cups of water and some partially cooked chana dal (dried split chick peas, available at Indian grocery stores). Here's what it looked like.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed in how much sweetness the beets added to the mix. Given the chance to do it all over, I think I would have nuked and then chilled the diced beets and then used them in a spinach, corn and feta salad served as part of a soup-and-salad combo. I might have also added a can of tomato paste or sauce for additional thickness and flavor. That said, here’s the soup-and-salad that I did end up making and what I used:

Corn and feta salad

This recipe is based on a cold side dish I used to enjoy at the now-defunct Birds on a Wire restaurant, located on Devine St. in Columbia until 2008 or 2009. Since the food was generally mediocre and the service worse, the only reason I really have for missing them is that I never learned how to make their black bean cake. Here’s a take on their corn and feta salad:

One ear fresh corn, baked with husk on and chilled
3-4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
green onions from one bulb of spring onions or one small bunch, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp lime juice
pepper to taste

Once the ear of corn has chilled, peel off the husk and cut off the kernels with a serrated knife and discard the cob and husk.

Place the corn kernels in a mixing bowl. Add all other ingredients and stir until blended. Spoon onto small plates and serve. (Serves 2-3)

Indian Sambhar-style mixed vegetable soup
For most of my Indian cooking, credit needs to be given to Alamelu Vairavan, whose Healthy South Indian Cooking** book I found in the book shop of the United Nations headquarters in New York in 2006. None of her sambhars, not even her Mixed Vegetable Sambhar (p. 175), actually call for this many veggies. However, given the consistent list of spices, I figured the basic configuration would allow for additions and substitutions.

4 cups water
1 cup (dry) chana dal*, pre-soaked for one hour
salt to taste
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons urad dal*
2 tablespoons black mustard seeds*
2 large carrots, peeled and diced into ¼ inch cubes
4 small beets, peeled and diced into ¼ inch cubes
4 spring onion bulbs, chopped
1 head of broccoli (stems removed), chopped
1 head of cauliflower (stems removed), chopped
1 bunch mustard greens (12-15 large leaves), chopped into bite-size pieces and washed in several changes of cold water
3 medium tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 tbsp sambhar powder* (like a mild curry powder)
Cayenne pepper to taste
*Can be purchased in Indian grocery stores.

Drain and rinse pre-soaked chana dal. Boil 4 cups of water in a 2-quart saucepan and add chana dal plus 1 tsp salt and turmeric. Cook covered for 20-30 minutes or until soft.

Heat the canola oil in an 8 qt pot over medium heat. When hot, but not smoking, add mustard seeds and urad dal. Cover pot and cook until mustard seeds pop and urad dal turns golden brown.

Add carrots and beets, stir and cook for 5 minutes. Add spring onions, stir and cook another 2-3 minutes.

Add broccoli and cauliflower, stir and cover for another 2-3 minutes.

Add cooked chana dal with their water and about 4 cups more water. Add tomatoes and mustard greens, pushing the greens down into the water with a large spoon. Stir in sambhar powder and cayenne (and more salt if needed), lower heat and simmer, covered, for 15 more minutes or until mustard greens have wilted.

Unsolicited testimonial: Steve was polite. To my pleasant surprise, given how seldom he eats corn by choice, he actually seemed to like the corn and feta salad. This ear of corn wasn’t especially sweet, so the kernels provided texture and just enough sweetness to complement the scallions and feta. Comments for the soup included “it’s pretty good” and something about each bite bursting with vitamins. Again, I found the beets to be a bit out of place in this soup because of the sweetness they added. Thankfully, they did not (at least not until the leftovers sat in the fridge overnight) discolor every other ingredient as I’d feared – just a few of the onions and carrots they cooked with in the beginning. Had I left out the beets, Indian spices and about half the greens and added tomato sauce and some Italian herbs, this actually would have made a great vegetarian minestrone. Will definitely make this again – just not the exact same way.

**Vairavan, A. and Marquardt, P. Healthy South Indian Cooking. New York: Hippocrene, 2001. ISBN 0-7818-0867-7


I’ve never done the blog thing before and seldom read blogs other than those that show up in my daily briefs from The Huffington Post. And I should probably go ahead and give credit to the soon-to-be-obvious inspiration for this semi-regular missive – the movie Julie and Julia. While I’m actually fonder of my 75th anniversary edition Joy of Cooking than the Julia Child et al. cookbook whose development is chronicled within the movie, I thought it might be fun to share with others my experiences with random recipes that I’ve sought out in my anxiety to use up perishables before they perish. Descended as I am from a long line of Scots-Irish cheapskates, I can’t leave food on my plate (unless it’s that bad or I’m allergic to any of the ingredients; for the latter reason, don’t expect to find recipes here that use eggs, mayonnaise or salmon) or let perfectly good ingredients hang out in my fridge until they turn into science projects.

My hyper-awareness of the produce clock is partly due to the fact that every Thursday I receive about one grocery bag’s worth of fresh veggies from Pinckney’s Produce in Manning, SC as a member of their community-supported agriculture program. It’s a little more expensive than buying the typical weekly stash at the supermarket, but for locavores like myself, it’s well worth the extra cost. In a previous experience with a veggie co-op, I discovered my love of the challenge that comes with regularly (bi-weekly in this case) receiving culinary art supplies and finding ways to create with them in ways that were both enjoyable and healthful.

Said challenge is intensified every time Steve, my boyfriend and perpetual culinary guinea pig whose Buddha nature I will never come close to sharing, brings home surprises from the produce section so we can both derive that much more enjoyment from my love of cooking. I therefore find myself on a never-ending quest to use up everything on hand. Cook and/or freeze it before it turns into something else on its own. I recently purchased two pints of ricotta so that the next time we end up with a quorum of veggie lasagna-friendly veggies, I’ll be ready.

To the extent possible, I plan to reference the source of each and every recipe so that any readers of this humble blog can go there and try it out for themselves. For online recipes, I will copy/paste a direct link. For books and other printed materials, I’ll provide an MLA- or APA-style reference with the ISBN or ISSN. The only likely exceptions will be for recipes inspired by personal dining experiences in restaurants past and present, in which case I will give props to the venue and mention any notable differences between their version and mine.

Be warned – I’m a very freestyle cook and don’t usually follow the exact recipe that I found. Therefore, along with a reference to the inspiration, I’ll be doing my best to document whatever substitutions I’ve made for the sake of using stuff up. Hope you enjoy it and find it useful!