Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Eggplant kootu, or deliverance from meat

Suffice it to say that, by lunch today, I was considerably less thrilled about eating chicken than I was on Friday night when Steve brought home a $1.99 rotisserie chicken from the Pig.  That was one dead bird that would not go away.  Plus I was too zonked to cook over the weekend, which meant that yesterday and today I had to grab whatever leftovers were in the fridge (chicken, chicken and more chicken) and head off to work.  I vowed that, if I could help it, tonight's dinner would be totally vegan - and even though Steve brought home another $1.99 chicken (still in the fridge uncarved), it was. 

I still had an eggplant left over from my last Pinckney's stash of the summer but didn't feel like making anything as labor intensive as moussaka or eggplant parm, so I made this instead.  BTW, I LOVE my Indian cookbook - there's a side dish recipe for every veggie I've ever bought and then some, which saves me having to think too much about what to make when I'm already hungry.

The book (reference below) defines "kootu" as "a thick, creamy textured and mildly flavored vegetable dish prepared with dal, ginger and cumin."*  This recipe didn't mention ginger, which I'm not sure I would have liked with eggplant anyway.  If any of the ingredients below sound unfamiliar, well...they're all available at your friendly neighborhood Indian grocery store.

1/2 cup toor dal
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp canola oil
4 to 6 curry leaves
3 cayenne peppers, chopped
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 cup chopped onion
1 eggplant (3-4 cups), cubed
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin powder

Boil 2 cups water in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add toor dal and 1/2 teaspoon turmeric.  Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, about 30 minutes or until dal has a creamy consistency, adding water as needed.

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add curry leaves, cayennes, mustard seeds, ural dal and cumin seeds.  Fry until mustard seeds pop and urad dal turns golden brown.  Add onion and eggplant, stir well to coat the veggies and cook until eggplant has softened, about 10 minutes.

Stir the cooked toor dal plus 1 cup of warm water into the eggplant mixture.  Add salt and cumin powder and stir well.  Cook, covered, over medium heat until veggies are tender and most liquid has evaporated, about 5-7 minutes.  Serve over jasmine rice.

Thankfully, Steve had eaten very light during the day, so I didn't feel like I was cramming food down his throat just a couple of hours after his 3:30 "lunch."  And now I have leftovers that I'll be looking forward to around 11:00 tomorrow morning!

*Vaivaran, A. and Marquardt, P.  Healthy South Indian Cooking.  New York: Hippocrene, 2001, p. 38.  (Recipe p. 234)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Whiting au poivre with herbed lentils

So, last week I saw where some website had posted French recipes in celebration of Bastille Day.  One of them was "Tuna au poivre with lemon-caper lentils," with tuna being chosen as a healthy substitute for pepper steak.  Well, I almost never have either in the house, but we did have whiting in the freezer.  Also, Steve doesn't like capers because of their unsavory provenance ("they're a garbage vegetable"?), which was just as well because I had carrots and some zucchini from the backyard that needed to be used up.  The link to the recipe this is based on is here, and here's what I actually made (Tuesday night):

2 6-oz. whiting filets and one flounder filet, thawed
salt and fresh-ground pepper
1 cup lentils, rinsed and sorted
1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced about 1/3 inch thick
1 tbsp lemon juice

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  Salt and pepper both sides of each fish filet, pressing in the pepper.  Place the fish filets in a greased shallow baking pan and bake until fish flakes with a fork, about 15-20 minutes.  Halfway through the cooking, sprinkle lemon juice on the fish filets and put them back in the oven.

Meanwhile, bring 2 1/2 cups of water to boil.  Add lentils, carrots, rosemary and salt.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, add zucchini, put the lid back on and simmer until lentils are done, another 15-20 minutes.

Easy, huh?  Steve and I both had the whiting on Tuesday night, and I had the flounder for lunch at work the next day.  The flavors of whiting and flounder are different, but I thought it worked either way.

As hungry as I am, I can't believe I'm still typing.  Thank God Steve brought home another rotisserie chicken; now all I have to do is cook up some of the broccoli he brought home a few days ago and we'll be set!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Five Recipes, One Busy Week

As much as I hate doing this - it's been a busier week than usual for cooking, but also in other areas of my life - here's a summary of the five or six things I've made since I picked up my last Pinckney's stash for the summer:

Top left: I made this chunky garden pasta recipe with about five tomatoes (one big one from Pinckney's and four small ones from the backyard!), two green bell peppers, the last three banana peppers (I've been chopping these small and pretending they're onions; I still don't know what people even want these for besides pickling), one largish zucchini from the backyard, herbs (fresh thyme and dried oregano), chopped garlic, salt and pepper.  Basically, saute everything but the tomatoes for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes (after dunking in boiling water and peeling) and simmer until you have a sauce.  Then I ladled it over wheat linguini and topped it with shredded parm.

Friday was a day at home doing chores, but I did find time to throw this salad together using a couple of small tomatoes and a generous helping of the green leaf salad that Steve bought on Thursday.  Friday night he went out and bought a whole roasted chicken from Piggly Wiggly, so that's what we ended up having for dinner, plus a similar salad on the side.

For lunch on Saturday, we still had half the roasted chicken in the fridge, so I warmed that up, pulled back the skin and sprinkled on some Cavender's Greek seasoning.  For sides, I made Greek-style vegetable sides: zucchini and tomatoes (zucchini from the garden plus about half a cup of tomato juice; the latter saved me some peeling and chopping) and carrots with ground cloves, fresh parsley and thyme.

Sunday I made a couple of things I haven't photographed yet because when I was done cooking, neither of us wanted to eat hot food.  (We went out for lunch on Sunday and ran a couple of errands while it was hot as blazes, and my car has a black interior and no a/c.)  Of the two items that were packed up as leftovers, one was Thiaka, a recipe from my Haitian cookbook that basically calls for frying up a small quantity of finely chopped pickled veggies and cubed salt pork (I made it vegetarian but would have used pancetta had I been so inspired) and then mixing in polenta and kidney beans.  The other was Fassolia Plaki, which is basically a Greek bean casserole (I used the butter beans that came in my stash) plus a chopped carrot, a peeled tomato, chopped parsley and fresh thyme, plus salt, pepper and oregano.  Both are pretty simple, although the polenta part took a while because I used the fresh corn to make the polenta and, once again, had to add water to my three ears' worth in the blender and then cook it on the stove until most of the water evaporated out.  Next time I guess I'll just buy a fourth ear or corn to make life easier.

I wasn't quite sure where to go with the blog once my Pinckney's subscription ran out for the summer, since the fall season doesn't start until September.  As it turns out, the peppers in the backyard are doing nicely, as are the zucchini and all the herbs.  To supplement what I already have, I might see what City Roots has to offer and, to the extent possible, buy more in between Steve's trips to the store.

Hope the summer's treating you well and that you're enjoying good food and weather (by which I mean the first sort-of rainy summer in South Carolina in over a decade) and all the other things that make it special!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lima Beans and Turkey Smoked Sausage with Fresh Corn Polenta

This is about as country as my cooking gets.  I still had a bunch of veggies left from Thursday, and I'll get getting more in a couple of days.  I had no idea what I'd do with the lima beans at first; succotash came to mind, but for some reason I only ever want that in winter.  So, I hunted for a recipe and found this one, which called for chicken.  Since I just made chicken the other night, I figured I'd slightly alter the recipe to something just as flavorful (turkey smoked sausage) that wouldn't require so much effort.  Because of all the veggies I still had on hand, I almost made this without the smoked sausage so as to sneak in another veggie or two, but hey - make what you're in the mood for, right?

Lima beans with turkey smoked sausage:
2 cups fresh lima beans, rinsed and sorted
3 cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp canola oil
8 oz. turkey smoked sausage, cut in half lengthwise and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 tbsp canola oil
3 mild banana peppers, finely chopped
2 tbsp flour
pepper to taste

Bring 3 cups of vegetable broth to a boil.  Add lima beans, cover and simmer on medium for 20 minutes.

In a wide, shallow pan, heat 2 tbsp canola oil over medium heat.  Add turkey smoked sausage and saute until warmed, about 3-5 minutes.  Add green bell pepper and continue cooking until smoked sausage begins to brown, another 5 minutes.  Transfer smoked sausage and bell pepper mixture to a plate, keeping as much of the pan drippings in the pan as possible, and set aside.

Add another tbsp canola oil to the pan.  Once heated, add banana peppers and saute on medium heat until they begin to brown, about 5 minutes.  Stir in 2 tbsp flour and continue cooking until flour-oil mixture begins to brown (stir often to keep it from burning).  Pour in cooked lima beans and all remaining broth and stir well.  Stir in reserved smoked sausage and bell peppers.  Continue to cook, uncovered, until sauce has thickened to desired consistency.  Check seasoning and add pepper to taste.

Fresh corn polenta:
3 ears fresh corn, baked with husks on
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Remove all husks and threads from corn after baking.  Cut corn off the cob using a serrated knife.  Place corn kernels in a blender with water and puree until smooth.  Pour polenta into a saucepan and heat to medium.  Stir constantly when it starts to bubble, and continue cooking, stirring often, until desired thickness is reached.  Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese.

The end result was okay, although my original plan had been to make the polenta thick enough to form wells on the plate and spoon the smoked sausage and lima beans into that, making it a somewhat more sophisticated take on Southern cooking.  Turns out that if you want to put corn in a blender, you need at least four ears' worth if you don't want to have to add liquid.  Oh, well.  On the bright side, I learned as we were finishing up that Steve was still pretty full from the chicken l'orange he had for lunch!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Chicken l'orange

I got this idea from the episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry fails to enjoy himself at the dinner party at home and then learns that their caterer took home some of the Chicken l'orange and apple turnovers that they had paid for.   Since I was expecting eggplant in my Pinckney's stash but got a couple of small yellow squash instead, along with a surprise bag of spinach from Steve, I figured this would be an easy and somewhat unusual way to dispense with those items plus a package of boneless skinless chicken in the freezer.  I did buy some slivered almonds for this purpose as indicated in the recipe I used, but it would have been just as good without.  I also left out the sugar and pineapple juice this recipe called for and skipped the dredging in flour.  OK, here goes:

Chicken l'orange:
4 tbsp Smart Balance
1 package boneless skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
1 cup orange juice
1 cup white wine
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup slivered almonds

In a wide, shallow pan, melt the Smart Balance over medium-high (one notch above medium).  Salt and pepper chicken well on both sides.  Add chicken to pan and cook until browned, about 5 minutes on each side. 

Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl and pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. When chicken is ready, add to a 1.5 inch or deeper baking ban and pour juice/wine mixture over the chicken.  Bake on 325 for 30 minutes, basting occasionally, then raise heat to 350 degrees and bake another 15 minutes.

(Here's where I did something really different from the recipe...)

Remove chicken from baking pan, transfer to a plate, cover with foil and set aside.

Melt 2 tbsp Smart Balance in a small saucepan over medium heat, stir in 2 tbsp of flour and stir will until combined with no lumps.  Pour in pan juices and stir well and often for about 10 minutes or until mixture has a syrup-like consistency.  Put chicken breast pieces on individual plates and spoon over with thickened orange-wine sauce.

Had to do it...it seemed like a needless waste of the pan juices to pour a little bit over the chicken after cooking and call it a night.

Also pictured:

Yellow squash risotto:
2 tbsp olive oil
2 small yellow squash, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 cups vegetable broth diluted by 1 cup water
1 cup uncooked arborio rice
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
fresh ground pepper

In a 2-quart saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add squash and saute gently until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add arborio rice, stir and saute another two minutes.  Lower heat and begin adding diluted broth, about one cup at a time, to the rice/squash pan and stir often, adding another cup at a time as the liquid is absorbed by the rice.  Once the rice has absorbed all the liquid, remove from heat.  Stir in Parmesan and fresh ground pepper and serve.

And last, but not least:

Sauteed spinach
Pan drippings from chicken l'orange
4 oz. fresh spinach, washed and torn
fresh ground pepper to taste

Once the chicken is in the oven and the risotto is either finished or well on its way, bring the temperature of the chicken juices back up to medium.  Add spinach and sautee until warm, no more than 5 minutes.  Add pepper and serve.

And I cannot tell a lie: I didn't get much sleep Saturday night because of some noisy neighbors at the campground (and the thunderstorm, from which Steve and I were protected by a thin layer of waterproof tent canvas; the neighbors' chatter had something to do with their tent leaking, and they also seemed unaware that tents aren't soundproof).  So, by the time I finished cooking, I was through being hungry and already thinking about going to bed - at 7:30!  So I ended up packing all the chicken and risotto in leftover containers with the amount of sauce that I thought was just enough for the chicken.  Since this left me with some extra sauce, I put that and some of the spinach on a plate (after taking the picture) and mopped up the sauce with a piece of bread.  Based on that limited encounter, I can attest that the chicken and spinach went well together.  The spinach cooked in the pan juices took up a lot of the salt that had been sprinkled on the chicken, and the pungent, slightly sweet sauce provided a nice contrast.  And about a tablespoon of the slivered almonds made it onto my plate as well, so I didn't feel like I was suffering a protein deficit.  Looking forward to the leftovers!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Yummy Potato-Stuffed Peppers

So, guess who wasn't hungry again Tuesday night?

I'd originally come up with these as a complement to a TBA chicken or fish dish that would also use up the last of my red potatoes and two of the peppers from the garden, but it's been so hot this week that Steve and I decided that we could snack on pistachios later if we were still hungry - and that's exactly what we did, after eating two of these apiece.

But the pistachios required no effort on my part, and everyone knows what they look like, so...here's how I made the stuffed peppers:

8 small- or medium-sized red potatoes (larger ones cut in half or quarters)
2 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne
3 tsp chopped cilantro
2 green bell peppers, cut in half and seeds removed

Peel the potatoes, place in a pot and cover with water. Add salt. Bring to a boil and cook, covered, until fork tender (about 15-20 minutes). Drain water and mash potatoes in pot with hand masher. Add cumin, cayenne and cilantro and stir until blended.

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Place the peppers on a shallow baking pan lined with foil. Stuff each pepper using a soup spoon, mashing potatoes down and filling over the top. Texture the top with spoon (instead of smoothing out the potato filling) so that they will brown in the oven more visibly.

Bake for 20 minutes or until tops of potato filling have started to brown. Remove from oven and serve.

Doesn't sound like much of a dinner, but I do feel better about my feeding habits when I read articles like this as well as this one, which both suggest that a plant-based diet can prevent and/or cure more ills than previously known. To your health!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tabbouleh, semi-homemade

I don't usually do pre-packaged food, but Steve bought a box of Near East tabbouleh mix at the store after I casually mentioned needing bulghur wheat (which I picked up myself at Earth Fare) for tabbouleh. When we got back from our 4th of July camping trip, it occurred to us that we had a party invitation that afternoon and nothing to bring. Hmm...what to bring that would be easy to whip up and a nice alternative (at least for those of us who are allergic to eggs) to the usual potato salad and cole slaw side dishes? That's right...semi-homemade tabbouleh.

I basically just followed the package instructions, which were to boil a cup of water and stir that into the bulghur wheat and spice mix (dried parsley, perhaps mint, garlic and onion powder, etc.), cover and let it soak for half an hour, then add chopped tomato, lemon juice and olive oil and chill for an hour. I think I added a little more pepper, but otherwise, the box recipe turned out to be fine.

When we got to the party, I realized I'd left it in the fridge. Darn. Not that they needed it; when we got there around 1:30 on Sunday, the host had prepared at least enough food for half the Red Chinese army and worked on feeding the other half for most of the time we were there. On the bright side, it saved me having to figure out what to do about lunch (or having to even think about eating hot food) on Monday after two hours of watering plants and weeding the butterfly garden in direct sun. Tasty and cool! I guess I'll take tabbouleh any way I can get it in the summer!

By the way, the mileage widget on the right is something I added after I started back to running this past week. It'll be short runs at least through July, but the numbers will eventually be in the double- and triple-digits, which will show off what these recipes have been fueling!

Corn Soup

Just when I thought I couldn't eat another bite of corn, no matter how good, I came across Martha Stewart's recipe in Food Everyday for Creamy Corn Soup in my quest for a basic corn chowder recipe.  Martha's recipe only has three ingredients besides water (corn, salt, butter), which was fine.  However, I had more than just fresh corn to dispense with this week: from Pinckney's I got four ears of corn, a pound of pink-eyed peas (which are like black-eyed peas, only different), two tomatoes, a couple of bell peppers and some beets (still undecided as to what I'll do with them). 

I also discovered, when I went out to water my herb and vegetable garden for the first time in at least a week (we got enough rainfall in between that I didn't have to), that I had one tomato, four peppers (including the one pictured below) and one oversized zucchini that were all ready for harvest. 

The tomato I used in the soup last night, and the fate of the other items will be decided tonight after work.

Here's how I made the soup:
4 cups water
2 tsp salt
1 lb pink-eyed peas, rinsed well and sorted
4 ears fresh corn, baked and husked
1 small tomato, peeled and diced
2 tsp frozen chopped cilantro  (use 2 tbsp if fresh)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil (at this point I dunked the tomato long enough to loosen the skin), add salt and pink-eyed peas.  Lower heat to medium and simmer, covered, about 25 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, cut the corn off the cob with a serrated knife.  Add corn and diced tomato to blender and puree until smooth.

Once beans have cooked, skim off any starch (bubbly white stuff) on the surface and add corn/tomato puree, cilantro and cayenne pepper.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until bubbly (another 5-10 minutes).

This turned out a little thinner than I'd hoped.  Next time, I may add another chopped veggie or only use two cups of water with the beans and add more as needed.  But it tasted good, and the fresh corn provided the dominant flavor despite all the other stuff I added that Martha never mentioned in her recipe.  Perhaps if I get more corn this week, I'll make "polenta"-stuffed peppers using pureed corn?...