Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Whiting escabeche

One of my favorite things to order when we dine at Old San Juan is their menu item called "La Garita," which is tilapia in escabeche sauce over rice. I was inspired to look up the escabeche recipe a while back, and Monday night I finally decided to give it a whirl.

I had half a cup of the chimichurri left over from the shrimp 'n grits, so I cheated by adding that to the diced peppers and olives along with the half-cup of tomato juice that the recipe calls for. I thawed the fish and put it all in a big Ziploc bag Sunday afternoon and left it in the fridge until I got home on Monday, then emptied the contents onto a shallow baking pan lined with foil and put it all in the oven on 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. While it was baking, I made the rice. Easy!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chimichurri shrimp 'n grits

Saturday's lunch. Steve did a bunch of yardwork while I stayed inside, so I figured I'd make something since I wasn't tired or hot. I made the chimichurri ahead of time, so all I really had to do on Saturday was chop the bell pepper, thaw and cook the shrimp and make the grits.

1 cup packed fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
salt and crushed red pepper to taste
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp Smart Balance
1 red bell pepper, diced
12 oz. frozen shrimp, thawed in cold water
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup yellow grits
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a blender and set aside. (Can be used as a condiment in other dishes.)

Heat Smart Balance in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add bell pepper and cook until softened, about 3-5 minutes. Add thawed shrimp and cook until heated through, another 3-5 minutes. (Cook less if using pre-cooked shrimp.)

Meanwhile, bring 2 cups of chicken broth to a boil and slowly stir in grits, stirring constantly to avoid clumping. Cook according to package directions (should be ready in about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in grated Parmesan. If grits are very thick, drain and stir any juices from the shrimp and pepper mixture into the pot containing the grits.

Spoon the grits onto a plate in either a shallow layer or with a well at the center. Add the chimichurri sauce next, then top with shrimp and peppers.

I made Steve a slightly smaller portion, since he tends not to be hungry for lunch until 2 p.m. or later (this was ready at 1:00) and he also had a very shaky hand from using the weed trimmer. This was a rare dish that turned out to be just the right amount for the two of us with no leftovers. If I make the chimichurri sauce again, I may substitute lemon for the vinegar, because I used slightly less than what the recipe called for but still found it a bit much. Maybe by substituting lemon the result will be more like shrimp scampi 'n grits?

Stay tuned for my next experiment!

Monday, August 16, 2010

BBQ chicken and cilantro-lime broccoli

Sounds pretty random, but I had a head of broccoli and two bunches of cilantro to use up.  Steve and I like to prep simple meals before we go camping: I typically marinate some veggies that can easily be transferred from a plastic container to a foil wrapper that sits on our portable grill, and Steve will either pick up some chicken/turkey dogs or figure out something else.  This weekend it was boneless, skinless chicken breasts with Bull's Eye barbeque sauce.  The exact preparation was:

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 8 oz. each)
1/2 cup Bull's Eye barbeque sauce
1 head of broccoli
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lime juice
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Poke holes in the chicken with a fork or a very sharp knife.  Brush on the barbeque sauce and store in plastic containers in the fridge (or cooler) for at least two hours.

Cut the broccoli florets away from the stems.  Peel the stems using a vegetable peeler and then cut into 1/2 inch dice.  Place all broccoli pieces in plastic storage container, add next four ingredients and stir well to combine.  Chill for at least two hours.

...and here we interrupt this recipe to report that it didn't get cooked on the grill as planned.  See, when we got to the campground, it turned out that someone was having a birthday party and grilled hot dogs for everyone who had taken a gamble on the 40 percent chance of rain to be there.  So, we filled up on hot dogs and kept our food in the cooler until we got home.  When we got home, we stopped into Yesterday's for lunch, and then it rained all afternoon.  Since I haven't yet gotten around to building the covered deck I've always wanted, Steve reconsidered the grilling-at-home option we had discussed and threw everything in the oven during the last 45 minutes of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Great movie to watch on a stormy day! the actual cooking went something like this:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a shallow baking pan with foil.  Wrap broccoli pieces in foil.

Bake chicken for 15 minutes at 350 degrees (put broccoli in the oven at the same time).  Remove broccoli (leave wrapped at room temperature), raise oven temperature to 375.  Bake chicken at 375 for another 7-8 minutes.  Put the broccoli back in the oven and lower the temperature back to 350.  Bake chicken until done at 350 degrees (about 10 more minutes).

Steve and I also had a brief discussion about how, uh, anemic this photo looked with all the empty space on the plate.  (It really wasn't a problem at the time, since Yesterday's doesn't serve up a dainty helping of anything.)  Maybe, with his guidance, future plates will be photographed with little radish flowers on them?

I'm not usually a fan of the sweeter BBQ sauces, but this plate was better off for it since the broccoli was more tart and would have been overkill with a vinegar-based sauce.  I'm thinking that one of these days I'll use the remaining Bull's Eye sauce to make baked beans.  Labor Day weekend, perhaps?...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Leek and fennel pie with gazpacho

Last night I had a lot of stuff to get rid of (story of my life), so I made this pie to dispense with the last of the green leeks as well as the fennel bulb that I didn't use in the pigeon pea soup.  I made the gazpacho first so that it would have time to chill, and then I got started on the pie.  This recipe was the basis for the gazpacho that I made, but I did change it up a little.  Steve said he didn't care for a gazpacho that wasn't completely smooth.  I nearly left some chopped veggies out of the blender for myself but then decided that putting all of it in the blender would at least keep me from taking a bite and thinking, "Holy onion, Batman!"  So in the blender it all went and then chilled for two hours.

3 ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 small cucumbers, seeded and diced
2 red-and-green bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 red onion, chopped
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
2 tbsp lime juice
2 cups tomato juice
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp fresh ground pepper

While that was in the fridge I made the pie.  I don't usually do savory pies, so I really didn't know what I was getting into, but I figured that my limited experience with casseroles and fruit pies would get me through.  Plus I knew what I wanted the result to be, so I did my best to pull it off:

Leek and fennel pie:
1 store-bought deep-dish pie crust
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
3 tbsp Smart Balance
3 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp Smart Balance
1 fennel bulb (about 1.5 cups), diced
1-2 leeks (dark green parts only), halved lengthwise and chopped 1/4 inch

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Melt 3 tbsp of Smart Balance in a small, non-stick saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add flour and stir well to avoid clumping.  Gradually stir in milk, stirring well to avoid clumping of the sauce.  Stir often once the sauce begins to bubble.  A few minutes after the milk has all been added, add 1/4 cup parmesan.  Continue to stir often (skim the bottom well to avoid burning) until the sauce is thick enough to start coming away from the non-stick surface when stirred (could be 20-30 minutes). 

Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp Smart Balance in a separate pan over medium heat.  Add fennel, salt and pepper and saute until fennel has softened, about 10 minutes.  Add diced leeks and continue to cook until all vegetables are tender, another 5-7 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Once the sauce is ready for the fennel and leeks to be mixed in, remove the pie crust from the refrigerator and sprinkle 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese over the bottom.  Add the filling to the pie crust, sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese over the top.

Bake for approximately 45 minutes.  If the crust is browning too fast, brush with water after about 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool for 45 minutes.

I actually didn't do the last part; I only let it cool for 15, which made the cutting somewhat messy.  I had a feeling that might happen, which is why I snapped the picture before cutting.  It seemed to thicken up on our plates, though, and still tasted pretty good.  Steve pointed out that eggs (listed in some of the leek tart recipes I looked at) might have shortened the cooking time, but, well, some of us can't do eggs.  So I guess the lesson learned here is patience - and maybe also that some recipes should be started 3+ hours ahead of time?

In any case, the gazpacho provided a nice, cool, zippy counterbalance to the pie.  There's still plenty of both leftover, so I may take the night off before cooking again...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Pasta salad with mustard vinaigrette

This is really dorky, but I was amazed to Google "Clock-Racing Gourmet" today and see the blog come right up!  And in other happy news, short runs with no IT band trouble are starting to be the norm again!

Nearly every pasta salad I've made from scratch is loosely based on the one they served at the last restaurant I worked at - the City CafĂ© inside the Bank of America building at Calhoun and Main.  Whereas theirs always had diced red bell pepper, scallions and black olives tossed in their house (balsamic) dressing, mine usually has the scallions and olives with tomatoes substituted for the peppers, and my usual dressing is Ken's Steakhouse Northern Italian dressing with some additional shredded parmesan to make it more filling.  Well, I was fresh out of the dressing and scallions on Sunday but still had dark green leeks and other condiments out the proverbial wazoo, so I opted to make the dressing as well as the pasta salad. 

8 oz. Barilla wheat spiral pasta
1-2 leeks (green tops only), sliced 1/4 inch
2 small tomatoes, diced
1 can large black olives, drained
1 tbsp spicy mustard
1.5 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
salt to taste

Cook the pasta according to package directions, then drain and rinse with cold water.  Combine the next 3 ingredients in a large bowl.  When the pasta is ready, add it to the bowl. 

In a smaller bowl, combine the mustard and winegar and then whisk in the olive oil and continue whisking until blended.  Stir the dressing into the pasta salad, cover and chill for at least two hours.  Check seasoning and add salt to taste before serving.

I found this last part especially important, because it tasted a little sour at room temperature.  Chilling it seemed to temper the dressing and also took the edge off the leeks, which can be as strong as yellow onions when they've just been chopped.  After checking the flavor after a couple of hours later, I had a better sense of how much salt (not as much as I expected) would be needed to deal with the flat acidic taste of the mustard vinaigrette.  It probably could have been added while I was making the dressing, but I try to err on the side of caution so as not to oversalt my food. 

Finally - something that takes next to no cooking that I can enjoy on a hot day!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Pigeon Pea Soup

I've been feelin' kinda tropical over the past couple of weeks - must be the weather.  Or maybe it's because I happened across a bag of dry pigeon peas that I bought a while back at E.M. Emporium on Two Notch Road that have sat around for months doing nothing.  Pigeon peas and rice is one of my favorite things to eat at Caribbean restaurants, but I've been out of regular long-grain rice for a couple of weeks and keep forgetting to pick up more.  So, I went on a recipe hunt and found this one for pigeon pea soup.  I had to go out and buy the squash, plantain and cilantro, but the rest of the ingredients I pretty much always have on hand.  Unlike with the cassoulet recipe, I did change this up enough to warrant a full report.  True to my disinclination toward meat in hot weather, the end result was achieved as follows:

1 cup dry pigeon peas, soaked overnight (yield: about 2.5 - 3 cups)
5 cups chicken broth
2 lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced

3 green-and-red bell peppers, diced
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 shakes (1/2 tbsp?) El Yucateco green habanero sauce
salt to taste

1/2 plantain, peeled

Bring broth to a boil in a 4 qt. pot and simmer pigeon peas, covered, over medium heat until noticeably softer, about 10-15 minutes.  Add diced squash and continue to simmer, covered, another 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium heat in a separate pan.  Saute peppers, onion and garlic with hot sauce until vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes.  Add cilantro, stir well and cook another 4-5 minutes.  Add salt.

Stir sofrito into pigeon peas and squash and cook, uncovered, until some of the liquid has evaporated, another 5 minutes.  Grate plantain over mixture, stir well and simmer another 3-5 minutes or until starch from plantains has further thickened the soup.  Remove from heat and serve.

Post-production review:
The way mine turned out, it should really be called a stew.  I nearly doubled the amount of liquid that it called for at the beginning, but I still had very little in the end and wasn't able to come up with a spoonful of just liquid.  Which was fine, because otherwise I might have needed seconds.  I added the squash sooner than the recipe says to because, having baked butternut squash before, I had a hard time believing that 30 minutes on medium heat without sauteing would be enough.  Turns out that if the squash is ripe enough (and leave it to the Pig to carry them out of season, unlike Earth Fare), you really don't need to cook it as much.  The end result was still okay, but next time I'll assess the condition of the squash before proceeding.

It also turns out that the aji dulce peppers in the original recipe are hard to find outside of Mexican grocery stores.  We have a few here in town, but I also have some very hot habanero sauce and a corner of my backyard overflowing with ripe bell peppers, and it just made sense to work with what I already had.  Don't ever dump the green Yucateco right on your fried chicken like it's Texas Pete.  Really - a little dab'll do ya.  The amount that I used in this soup made for a pretty good approximation of some of the flavors we've enjoyed at places like Old San Juan (behind the Dunkin' Donuts on Two Notch). 

I skipped the final parsley and garlic bit because it somehow seemed redundant - except for the parsley, which was likely to go unnoticed among everything else in this dish.  The recipe doesn't say to cook the shredded plantains at all, but I thought it might make a difference if the plantains could cook just long enough to thicken it up some more and sweeten it a little.  And indeed it did!  Overall, this dish defied my dislike of sweet-and-savory combinations.  Either element would have been great by itself, and the pigeon peas, squash, sofrito, etc. all have potential to be reconfigured as a Spanish-style multi-course meal.  But that's for another day.

The weekend is finally here - hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Vegetarian Cassoulet

Now that I'm feeling better and ready to eat something relatively mild, I decided on a vegetarian cassoulet recipe that I found on Epicurious. Mine didn't vary a whole lot from the recipe at the link, except that I was interested in trying fennel instead of the celery that it called for. (My typical thought process when reading a recipe with celery in it: "Celery...nah.") I was worried that the anise flavor of the raw fennel might overwhelm the dish if I added the ground cloves too, so I left those out. Also, I used 2 cups of chicken broth and 2 cups of veggie broth instead of a quart of water, and near the end I stirred in about a quarter cup of flour because the mixture wasn't thickening as quickly as I'd hoped (definitely not the 30-minute timeframe the recipe suggests). Lastly, I skipped the breadcrumbs in favor of a light sprinkling of Parmesan and parsley garnish - Steve's preference. Plus I didn't have any baguettes to grate, didn't feel like making a trip to the store, and the Italian breadcrumbs of indeterminate age in my cupboard seemed like they could be a key ingredient in another food poisoning mishap.

That's the rundown of tweaks. And if I do say so myself, the result was delish!

Chicken cacciatore-style pasta

I was going to make this for lunch on Friday but met a friend for lunch at Pho-Viet instead.  One of the upsides of ordering their #31 (noodles, cabbage and tofu in broth) and always leaving hungry is that it left me more inclined to cook something substantial that evening.  Since I still had a carrot, a red bell pepper and some of the $1.99 rotisserie chicken (Steve's lightning-fast lunch breaks during the week had apparently consisted of big chunks of chicken breast ripped off the carcass and gobbled down between calls), I thought it would be easy enough to chop and drop those ingredients, plus some canned mushrooms and black olives, in a saucepan with some crushed tomatoes and herbs and let it do its thing.  And so it went:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp dried Italian herbs
1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 8-oz can of sliced black olives
1 8-oz can of diced portabella mushrooms
2 chicken thigh quarters, cooked, deboned and coarsely chopped

random pieces of chicken breast, cooked, deboned and coarsely chopped
8 oz. Barilla wheat spiral pasta
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add carrot and saute until slightly softened, about 3 minutes.  Add bell pepper and garlic and cook another 3-5 minutes.  Add crushed tomatoes, herbs, olives, mushrooms and chicken and cook until sauce has thickened and all ingredients are warm, another 5-7 minutes.  Check seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, bring some salted water to boil in another pot.  Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 9 minutes.  Drain and serve with a generous helping of the sauce over the top on each plate.

Humble confession and word to the wise: this was great the night I made it, but I had the leftovers for lunch on Monday and gave myself a mild case of food poisoning:(  If you use leftover chicken in a casserole or sauce or whatever, immediately freeze any leftovers from that meal.  Oh, well - now we know why I only got a B in microbiology.  Now that I'm feeling well enough to cook again, I'll probably resume my meatless ways so as not to have a repeat occurrence.  More new recipes are on their way!