Thursday, August 18, 2011

Stacks of fun

I'm still at it with the stacks because I had another eggplant to get rid of.  (The one I used last week was one of two that Steve had bought.)  Steve also brought home some yellow squash because they were on sale, so now I've met my squash quota for the summer plus one.  I threw this together rather hastily because I was just that eager to use up all the squash at one time:

It's based on this recipe from the July 2004 issue of Food and Wine, but I used the squash instead of zucchini and skipped the onion, red pepper and tomato because I had a lot of squash (3 of them chopped took up a lot of space in my biggest saucepan) and none of the other things in the fridge.  No biggie - it's the flavor that matters.  I happened to have a ton of mint leaves in the freezer from when I snipped a bunch from my mint patch in early summer, so I chopped about 20 of them and added them to the pan with about half a cup of tomato sauce, 4 cloves of garlic, salt and crushed red pepper to taste.  Mix that all together, then throw in the chickpeas and leave it on the stove until the chickpeas are warm.  Easy!

For the stacking, I sliced the eggplant lengthwise into four pieces and sauteed it like before, in olive oil with ample salt, pepper and dried Italian herbs sprinkled on each side.  When the slices were cooked through, I removed them from the stove and plated up two of them, covered them with a helping of couscous that was soaking up some boiling water while the eggplant cooked and then topped that with the squash and chickpea sauce.  Yum!  I've saved myself from hospital cafeteria Armageddon once again!

Speaking of which, I'm off to work in a few minutes.  Enjoy your Thursday night for me if you have it off!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Something like the Marty

Last night's dinner was intended mainly to dispense with the leftover lemon balm pesto from the pasta dish I made on Thursday.  I had a couple of disks of pizza dough in the freezer and toppings already on hand, so after picking up a block of mozzarella I was ready to go.

This pizza is something like one they had at Hunter-Gatherer for a while that was called the "Marty" after a red-headed waitress of theirs named Marty.  Basically, it was a red sauce and all the (veggie) toppings were red in color.  Last time we went there, Marty was still working there but the pizza was no longer on the menu.  Guess it wasn't a big hit?

Anyhoo, here's my variation.  Maybe I should call it the Christmas pizza because of the green and red?

Nah, don't want to leave anyone out...

Interfaith Holiday Pizza (in August):
1/2 recipe pizza dough
1/2 recipe lemon balm pesto (2-2.5 cups lemon balm leaves, 1/4 cup olive oil, 4 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup pine nuts, 2 tbsp lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste)
8 oz. low-moisture part-skim mozzarella, shredded (not to cheap out, but because the dryness helps keep the crust from getting soggy compared to the "real" mozzarella that's packed in water)
1/2 medium tomato, diced
1 small jar diced pimientos

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Smooth out pizza dough evenly on a non-stick 12" pizza pan (or a well-greased regular pizza pan), being careful not to tear holes in it as you work the dough to the edge of the pan.  Spread the pesto evenly across the dough with a spoon, bringing it closer to the edge for less crust (or not, depending on your crust preference).  Scatter the mozzarella evenly over the sauce and then add the toppings.

Bake for 20 minutes, remove from oven and allow about 3-5 minutes to cool.  Slide the pizza off the non-stick pan (if using) and then cut into slices.
I'm a pretty spicy girl, so I enjoyed this with crushed red pepper.  Steve liked it pretty well without the added heat.

I was afraid that the amount of fat I ingested from 3 of the 8 slices last night would trip me up on this morning's speed workout, but it actually went pretty well!  Just a couple of mile repeats with a half-mile jog in between, but my times on the miles were actually pretty close to my old race times.  Hooray for pizza - and in a few minutes I'll be enjoying the leftovers for lunch!

I never thought 90 degrees could feel so much like spring, but it really does after the heat we've had to endure most of this summer.  Make time to enjoy this lovely weather while it lasts!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Lemon balm pesto orzo with carmelized mushrooms, green olives and eggplant

Wow, that's a mouthful.  I hadn't planned on serving all of this together, but since Steve brought home two medium-sized eggplants earlier this week, I figured I could skip the usual ratatouille/moussaka thing and just saute some thick slices as a side dish.  When it occurred to me that the eggplant would take up a lot of space on the plate, I decided on a more visually appealing presentation with the pasta served on a bed of eggplant and garnished with the mushrooms and stuffed olives.

The recipe was pretty much the same as here except that I used orzo, figuring that short pasta would be less awkward on a bed of something that needs cutting.  I also substituted lemon balm for the basil called for in traditional pesto because my lemon balm plant was in a greater need of thinning.  I thought at first that I had burned the mushrooms, but they still tasted good and were simply a little crispier than caramelized.  It was a fine line, heatwise, with the eggplant; on one hand I wanted it to cook through without it being too mushy, but on the other hand I didn't want to burn it.  Well, at first I thought I was burning it (and that it was just as well to hide it under all that pasta), but it really came out more like it would have on the grill.  All I used for it was a little olive oil in a nonstick pan and generous amounts of salt, pepper and Italian herb mix on each side.

It hit the spot: this morning I did my first track workout in ages - 800 meter repeats at the RNE track - and was able to meet or beat my goal time on all of them!  Hooray for pasta and hooray for eggplant!

Since my long weekend of work begins tonight, I probably won't post again before sometime next week.  Enjoy your weekend off, and I look forward to getting back in the kitchen (and telling you all about it) soon!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Polenta with Red Beans and Coconut

Today was a day off, I'm working all weekend, and a quick look at the cafeteria menu on the hospital's Intranet told me that this would be a bad weekend for a vegetarian to be at their mercy during her 30-minute lunch break.  Since the next best thing I could think of that doesn't involve cooking would be to venture out into the 100-degree weather to pick something up from the Chinese restaurant half a block away, I figured it would be best to cook enough today to last until Tuesday (my next day off).

I wish I could claim this as my own recipe, but alas...I used to make this a few times a year using the recipe from my Haitian cookbook, A Taste of Haiti (reference below).  I kinda got away from using this cookbook because meat recipes figure more prominently in it than veggies, and most of the veggie side dish recipes are for plantains and sweet potatoes.  I love both, mind you, but I can't eat them all the time.  However, I recently replayed the spinach praram sans sweet potatoes and found myself with half a can of coconut milk left over.  What to do, what to do?  Ah yes, the old coconut polenta with kidney beans recipe...

Before I give you the polenta recipe, I'm going to first provide the recipe for the Haitian ground "spice" mix that's needed at the very beginning.  I had hoped to be able to multi-task and save time by making the Zepis while everything else was getting started, but really do need it first.  Here's that recipe along with some other suggestions (since this recipe makes a lot more than you'll need for the polenta):

Zepis (Haitian ground spice mix):
1 garlic head, peeled (or use 20-25 cloves of chopped garlic from a jar if you're too impatient to peel garlic)
2 green bell peppers
2 onions (or one big onion)
3-5 scallions
3 cilantro sprigs
10 parsley sprigs
1 cup of white vinegar (my preference; book says you can also use 1/2 cup oil or 1/2 cup water)

Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor and place in a jar (or two if they're small).  Keep refrigerated. 

Suggestions: this is very similar to the sofrito sauce that I made for the pigeon pea soup last summer; just add some chopped tomatoes and a few shakes of hot sauce (I like the Yucateco green habanero sauce because it adds more heat and less vinegar).  Zepis also has some potential as a marinade for meats and veggies, and the addition of some hot peppers (or that green habanero sauce) would make it into a delicious Mexican restaurant-style salsa verde.

The recipe book offers up a traditional, time-consuming version, involving dry beans and a whole coconut that you shred yourself, as well as a quick version using coconut milk and canned kidney beans.  Since their recipe calls for a whole can of coconut milk and two cans of kidney beans, I bought one can of kidney beans at the Pig this morning and made a half-batch for lunch:

Polenta with Red Beans and Coconut:
1 tbsp canola oil
1/4 cup Zepis (Haitian ground "spice" mix; see recipe below)
1 can red kidney beans, drained
1/2 can of coconut milk
2 whole cloves
1/2 cup plain yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

Heat the oil, add the zepis and saute for 5 minutes on medium heat.  Stir in the beans and cook for another 5 minutes.  Add the coconut milk and cloves and cook for another 5 minutes.  Add 1.5 cups of water and bring mixture to a boil.  Add cornmeal slowly, stirring carefully to avoid clumps (or mash them out if they start forming) and then add salt.  Reduce heat to low and cover.  Cook for 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

I served this up with a simple, Caribbean-inspired take on a familiar side dish here in the South:

Okra and tomatoes:
1 tbsp canola oil
1 pound of frozen okra, thawed
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste
4 oz tomato sauce

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add okra and spices and cook until okra seems less sticky and/or is starting to brown.  Add tomato sauce and cook until mixture is heated through.

As you can see in the picture, the polenta doesn't hold its shape very well.  If you're concerned about space on the plate and/or don't want to have the huge quantity that I was ready for by the time it was done, consider serving it in a ramekin or a small side dish bowl.  Despite the mushy presentation, it turned out as well as the last time I made it a couple of years ago!  Try it - dishes from spicy regions like the Caribbean are a wonderful change from the ordinary in the summertime.

Stay tuned to find out what I made for dinner (and other weekend leftovers)...

Recipes from:
Yurnet-Thomas, Mirta.  A Taste of Haiti.  New York: Hippocrene, 2002.  ISBN 0-7818-0998-3

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Black Bean and Squash Casserole with Cilantro Rice

As promised, I did dispense with the large amount of spinach mentioned in my last post by replaying the spinach kootu from a couple of weeks ago.  It came out great, as always, but my plan to make it into a vegetarian alternative to the tuna/bacon/spinach pasta went up in smoke when I realized that I was all pasta'd out after my last big batch of pasta salad.  So, I just made some brown rice to go with it and that was just as good.

Tuesday was a day off, so I addressed my anxiety about the three yellow squashes that had been in the fridge for at least a week by making this casserole. 

Black Bean and Squash Casserole with Cilantro Rice:
2 cups water
2 Knorr cilantro cubes
1.5 cups basmati rice (jasmine or another long-grain works too), rinsed
3 yellow squash, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
2 tbsp canola or olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 cans black beans, drained
cayenne pepper to taste
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
2 cloves garlic
8 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring the water to a boil and add the cilantro cubes. 

Toss the squash and jalapenos in a mixing bowl with the oil, salt and pepper.

In a separate bowl, combine the black beans with the next four ingredients.

In a 10 x 13" baking dish, spread the uncooked rice evenly across the bottom of the pan.  Layer the squash and jalapenos evenly across the rice, then pour the cilantro broth over both.  Layer the black beans evenly over the squash.

Bake, covered, for 45 minutes or until rice has absorbed all liquid.  Remove from oven (heat may be turned off at this point), cover evenly with cheddar cheese and put the dish back in the oven uncovered until the cheese has melted, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Serve warm.

I don't normally experiment with casserole dishes without having a recipe to tweak, but this came out okay all things considered.  My only regret is that the rice didn't really make itself a part of the casserole because of the barrier formed by the squash.  It would have been nice for some of the cheese to reach down and mix with the rice, but alas...maybe someday I'll try it again. 

Here's what it looked like on Steve's plate:

As for the squash, it neither helped nor hindered, but it was nice to have a veggie figure prominently in the mix, unlike the standard rice-and-beans plate you can get at any of the Mexican restaurants around here.  And I normally use a 1.5 to 1 ratio of water to uncooked rice, but I made it 4:3 this time figuring that any liquid coming out of the squash would make up the difference.  I was right, and the rice came out perfectly!  So the moral of the story is...maybe don't bother making this as a casserole, and just cook everything, put it on a heatproof plate and put that in the oven just long enough for the cheese to melt over the rice?...
Except for some tomatoes that Steve picked from the plant yesterday, we really don't have anything that needs to be used up right now.  If I had to guess, my next recipe will involve pesto made from parsley, basil and/or lemon balm.  Another pizza?  Stay tuned...