Monday, September 27, 2010

Curried Eggplant and Potatoes

I received some nice curry powder as a gift some time ago, and I've been meaning to use it. Recently, I got some nice potatoes from my CSA, and a nice eggplant from a friend's garden, and I thought that this recipe might be just the thing. Then it turned out that there isn't actually any curry powder in this recipe. I made it anyway.

I often invite people over for dinner, but just as often, I cook for myself. I halve most recipes (you've probably noticed that on here), and then I usually have leftovers for at least one lunch, and sometimes I freeze leftovers for another time. I really enjoy cooking, and it's nice to make dinner decisions based on what I feel like eating, and what I have around the kitchen. But every once in a while, and this was one of those times, I wonder midway into the effort just why I'm trying so hard. Let me explain.

When I was peeling the potatoes for this recipe, I clipped my finger tip slightly - nothing serious, not even any blood, but it stung quite a bit, and it certainly slowed down my momentum. I wrapped up my finger with a bandage to protect it from the food (and the food from it, for that matter), and forged ahead. I measured all the spices, and peeled and minced the ginger, and peeled and sliced the garlic, and salted the eggplant and cubed the potatoes. I began to cook the spices, took a picture (for this very blog post), turned around, and the pan of spices had burned right into a solid, smoking, black disk.

I turned off the heat, nursed my finger, scooped out the burned disk of spices, and washed the pan - burning my hand slightly when some hot oil spattered. At this point, my momentum pretty much halted. I looked around at the sliced and salted eggplant, which had been resting for two hours, at the potatoes that I had hurt myself preparing, and at the can of tomatoes I had already opened. I tipped up my chin, put the pan back on the stove, and began measuring out the spices again, peeling and slicing more garlic, and peeling and mincing more ginger. I proceeded carefully, monitored temperatures closely, and everything came together as it was meant to. At 10:30, I sat down with a bowl of curried eggplant and potatoes and thought, "It's really a shame that there's nobody else to enjoy this." The next day I invited a friend over for dinner, told her the story, and served the leftovers on rice. She confirmed my findings - this recipe is delicious.

Lest you be scared off - it's actually quite simple, too. Keep your fingertips in while you peel, and monitor those temperatures when you initially heat the spices in the oil. It's smooth sailing from there! I halved this recipe, but wish that I hadn't - it would freeze nicely, and I could eat it many times before tiring of it! Here's the recipe in full.

Curried Eggplant and Potatoes
from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
Serves 6

2 medium-to-large eggplants
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp peeled and minced fresh ginger
2 Tbsp sliced garlic
4 Tbsp butter
3 large tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded, and chopped (canned are fine, don't bother to drain)
3 large potatoes, any kind, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
freshly ground black pepper to taste
about 1 cup water, or more if needed
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
minced cilantro leaves for garnish

Peel the eggplant if the skin is thick or the eggplant is less than perfectly firm. Cut it into 1/2 inch cubes and salt if it you like. (I did - just sprinkle salt generously over each side of the eggplant and let it sit in a colander for at least half an hour. Rinse and squeeze dry between paper towels before using.)

Combine the oil and mustard seeds in a large deep skillet. Turn the heat to medium and cook until the seeds begin to pop, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining spices, the ginger, the garlic, and the butter and cook, stirring occasionally, until the ginger and garlic soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, salt, and pepper, and about a cup of water. Turn the heat to medium-low and cover; cook, stirring once or twice, for about 30 minutes.

Remove the cover and turn the heat to medium; add more water if the mixture is dry. Cook, stirring occasionally, until both the eggplant and potatoes are very tender, about 15 minutes longer. Stir in the lime juice and adjust the seasoning to your taste. Garnish and serve.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Homemade Refried Beans

The beautiful thing about refried beans is that they are healthy and delicious and easy to make. This recipe results in much better tasting (and more nicely textured) beans than when you buy a can of refried beans at the store. Better yet, they are multipurpose: I made this recipe because I wanted to make quesadillas, but the next day I mixed the leftovers with chicken broth, and had a delicious black bean soup. In the past, I've eaten them as a nacho topping, or served them as a dip for chips, alongside guacamole.

This recipe, from the Moosewood cookbook that I've referenced before, is quite straightforward and quick. I use canned beans, and I can almost always make this recipe without planning ahead at all. Most recently, I made it with black beans and included the optional bell peppers. I heartily recommend it.

Easy Refritos

2/3 cup chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cup diced green or red bell pepper (optional)
2 cups cooked black beans or pinto beans (16 oz can)
ground black pepper to taste

In a heavy skillet, saute the onions and garlic in the oil on medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until the onions begin to soften. Add the cumin and the optional bell pepper, and continue to saute for 5 minutes, until the onions begin to brown. While the vegetables saute, drain the beans, reserving their liquid. Add the drained beans to the skillet and continue to cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the beans are hot. Remove the skillet from the heat. Using a potato masher, thoroughly mash the beans while adding as much of the reserved bean liquid as necessary to reach a soft, spreadable consistency. Add black pepper to taste. Serve hot.

To make quesadillas: spread the refried beans to your preferred thickness on a tortilla. Top with shredded cheese, and sliced jalapenos, too, if you like, before putting the second tortilla on top of the fillings. Bake in the oven until the cheese melts, or cook in a little bit of olive oil on the stove top. Delicious!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Acorn Squash

Last year, we had temperatures in the 90s well into September. I remember swimming in late September and making note of the fact that it was highly unusual. And so, this year, we are having a more usual fall. Which is to say that right about Labor Day, temperatures dropped considerably, and it feels wildly appropriate to wear sweaters, drink hot cider, and... eat squash!

The trickiest thing about squash, hands down, is cutting it in half. Sometimes the store sells them already split, which is kind of nice. But when I got the above squash from my friend's garden, it was whole. Which turned out okay in the end, as I managed (with a bit of strength, a sharp knife, and the powers of leverage) to get it cut into two pieces. From then, it's easy enough - but I do always forget what temperature to roast it at, and for how long. For that, I turned to the trusty How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. I took the above picture just before the squash went into the oven - lining your pan in tin foil is a good idea, as things can get a little sticky.

Here are the details:

Roasting Hard-to-Peel Winter Squash

1 acorn or other winter squash, washed
2 Tbsp butter or olive oil, more or less
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
maple syrup or brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 400. Cut the squash in half and scrape out the strings and seeds. In each half, put some butter, salt, pepper and sweetener (I used maple syrup). Place in a baking dish, (I used my 8x8 pyrex, lined with tin foil) cut side up, and bake until tender, about 1 hour. Serve.

(You can scoop the squash and it's flavorings into a serving bowl and mash it all together, or simply serve each individual half a squash, for scooping out at the table.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sweet Pepper Soup

I made this soup last summer, truly enjoyed it, and then I totally forgot about it. When my CSA box recently arrived with a generous number of sweet peppers, the bright colors set off some kind of bell in my head, and I felt an urgent need to locate this recipe and make the soup again! I found it, happily, in my Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home cookbook, which is one of my favorites. This soup is delicious and can be made very quickly. It's not terribly filling, so I recommend serving it for dinner with a cheese quesadilla and salad, or eating it with a sandwich for lunch, or something along those lines.

Sweet Peppers Soup
Serves 4 (However, I halve this recipe and it works fine, and fed me for three meals)

2 cups chopped onion
1 Tbsp butter or vegetable oil
6 cups chopped red and green bell peppers (about 6 peppers)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne
2 cups water or vegetable stock (I used chicken stock)
1 cup sour cream (plain yogurt works, too)
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
fresh chopped cilantro

In a covered soup pot, saute the onions on medium heat in the butter or oil for about 3 minutes, until barely softened. Add the bell peppers and spices and cook, covered, until just soft, stirring occasionally. In a blender or food processor (I use my immersion blender), whirl the cooked onions and peppers with the the water or stock and sour cream. Don't over process - small pieces of pepper should remain. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with cilantro and crumbled tortilla chips, if you wish.

Variation: omit the cumin, coriander, and cayenne. Add 1/3 cup chopped fresh dill when you are blending the ingredients together. Serve with croutons, if you wish.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bread Pudding

I love bread pudding. What can I say? It's just old bread, soggy with milk and butter and eggs - but goodness gracious, is it delicious. Sometimes it pops up on restaurant menus, and they usually add chocolate or liquor or fruit or caramel or some combination thereof. I've tried some of those versions, and I've enjoyed them tremendously, but so far, I've always made mine plain (nothing flashier than some vanilla extract in the recipe), and sometimes I serve it with maple syrup. Especially if I'm eating the leftovers for breakfast.

In case you are wondering what kind of bread to use, here's my approach: as I'm consuming bread loaves (and in my case, they happen to be delicious bread loaves from a local bakery, but any bread loaves will do), I don't eat the end pieces. Instead, I throw them in the freezer. Once I have about eight loaves worth of bread loaf heels, it's bread pudding time. The especially nice thing about this is that I go through bread loaves pretty slowly (I actually store them in the freezer as I eat them, since the nice local bakery opts not to add preservatives), and apparently after every eight loaves or so, I'm in the mood for bread pudding! I say this because I've never had too many bread bits accumulate, and any time I've wanted bread pudding, there's been a good stock stored away in the corner of the freezer, waiting to magically mix with the milk and eggs and butter and vanilla.

Bread pudding is best straight out of the oven, so I usually take the bread out of the freezer before making dinner, and then make the bread pudding right after dinner, once the bread has thawed. That way, once people are feeling ready for dessert, it is freshly baked! Here's the recipe that I use, which is more straightforward than any I've found in my various cookbooks. It's the recipe my mom uses, which is probably why I like it so much:

Bread Pudding
Makes 4 servings

Preheat your oven to 325, and butter a baking dish (I use an 8x8 Pyrex).

On low heat, warm up 2 cups of milk and melt 1/4 cup of butter. Remove from the heat and let this cool off a bit.

Tear up your bread into pieces roughly the size of dice, until you've got 2 generous cups of bread hunks. (If you are using frozen bread as I suggested, be sure to thaw it first - an hour or so on the counter works fine).

Toss the bread into the baking dish - it should be about an inch deep, but this isn't a fine science. Pour the now somewhat cooled off milk and butter mixture over the top. Let that sit while you mix together:

1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Stir this mixture into the bread and milk combination. Bake for an hour. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Fresh Corn Pesto!

I am the very lucky recipient of a gift subscription to bon appetit, courtesy of my generous and lovely sister! The August issue featured lots of recipes for creative uses of corn, tomatoes, and zucchini. Some seemed a little too creative (Tomato Tarte Tatin, for example, which involves sugar, vanilla, and puff pastry)... and some a little too labor intensive (like the Shaved Zucchini Salad, which requires turning two pounds of zucchini into ribbons with a vegetable peeler)... but the Fresh Corn Pesto looked reasonably straightforward, I had fresh corn on hand from the CSA box, bacon was on the ingredient list, and the recommended vehicle for the recipe was pasta. I figured I couldn't really go wrong. Besides, my immersion blender (also courtesy of Elspeth) has an attachment that is just perfect for any pesto-like creations.

Happily, my bowl of Fresh Corn Pesto, served on pasta, looked nearly identical to what is pictured in the magazine - and tasted delicious, too! I took the leftovers for lunch the next day and they heated up in the microwave just fine.

Tagliatelle with Fresh Corn Pesto (serves 6)
* I cut the recipe in half, and served it on fettucine.

4 bacon slices, cut lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
4 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about 6 large ears)
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 1/4 tsp coarse kosher salt
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus extra for serving
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces tagliatelle or fettucine
3/4 cup coarsely torn fresh basil leaves, divided

Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat until crisp and brown, stirring often. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 Tbsp drippings from skillet. Add corn, garlic, salt and pepper to drippings in skillet. Saute over medium high heat until corn is tender but not brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer 1 1/2 cups corn kernels to small bowl and reserve. Scrape remaining corn mixture into processor. Add 1/2 cup Parmesan and pine nuts. With machine running, add olive oil through feed tube and blend until pesto is almost smooth. Set pesto aside.

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot. Add corn pesto, reserved corn kernels, and 1/2 cup basil leaves. Toss pasta mixture over medium heat until warmed through, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls to thin to desired consistency, 2 to 3 miutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer pasta to large shallow bowl. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup basil leaves and reserved bacon. Serve pasta, passing additional grated Parmesan alongside.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Garlic Scape Pesto

I must start with an apology. This recipe is out of season, and you will not be able to find even one garlic scape again until June, which is nearly a year from now. But when you do - when you see them, in all their twisty, curly, fabulous glory, perhaps you'll remember that you DO know what to do with them, and that a quick visit back to this blog post will remind you. Or, if you are tremendously well organized, you could print this all out now, and save it in your "recipes to try in June 2011" folder. In the case that you have such a system in place.

Last year, there were garlic scapes in my CSA box. I must admit that I found them later in the summer (maybe around now, even, late August or so), all sad and dead and smushy on the bottom of my vegetable drawer. This year, when the garlic scapes arrived, I benefited from (believe it or not) my somewhat recent affiliation with the world of twitter. That's a separate topic entirely, but for our purposes let's just say that twitter is an online service that allows people to quickly and easily share information with one another. And in this case, it allowed the bloggers over at Serious Eats to share this brilliant blog post with me, in very timely fashion:The Crisper Whisperer: Seven Things to do with Garlic Scapes.

I was intrigued by the concept of garlic scape pesto, particularly when it was presented with such enthusiasm: Far and away my favorite use for garlic scapes is pesto, either straight-up or mixed with herbs like basil and dill. Pesto showcases raw scapes in all their glory.

I stuck to the recipe very precisely, and I followed her suggestion to freeze it in small batches, to enjoy through the winter... but it's so delicious that I have already used one of the frozen rations.So far, I've been eating it on cheese tortellini, and that has worked out quite well.

Garlic Scape Pesto

Blend together:
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
3/4 cups coarsely chopped garlic scapes (or 1/2 and 1/2 with basil or dill)
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper

Blend into that mixture:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Mix with a generous amount of freshly grated parmesan and stir directly into hot pasta. I divided this batch into four smaller batches, and froze three of them. Keep in mind that the parmesan should be added as you stir it into the hot pasta - which is to say that it shouldn't be mixed into the pesto before freezing.