Category: Quick and Easy

For the Cilantro Lovers

November 30, 2011

How do you feel about cilantro?  If you think about it, it’s a fascinating herb.  You will find it in many culture’s food that is quite different from one another.  Indian, Mexican, and Southeast Asian cooking, for example.  Being a huge fan of Indian, Mexican, and Southeast Asian food, I can’t imagine my life without cilantro.  It is probably the herb I use most in my cooking, with the possible exception of thyme, and that is because I have thyme growing at the bottom of the stairs to my house.

I understand that some people don’t like cilantro.  And by not liking it, I mean they have a true aversion to it.  I had a doctor in one of my Thai cooking classes and she said that is indeed true that some people carry a gene that makes cilantro taste like soap.  So if you carry that gene, my apologies and seeing as this recipe has an entire bunch of cilantro in it, this dish is not for you.  Sorry.

This is a favorite dish from Jack Bishop’s A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen.  It is one of those recipes that takes next to no time and yet produces a seriously tasty result.  You start an onion sautéing on the stove, whir together some tomatillos, jalapeños, oregano, and a lot of cilantro in a blender, mix it all together with some hominy, and let it cook for about 15 minutes.  While it cooks, you thinly slice some romaine lettuce, radishes, quarter some cherry tomatoes, and cube some avocado.  Ladle the hominy mixture in a bowl, top it with the fresh stuff, and dinner is served.  Randy and I like heat so I seeded one of the jalapeños and left the seeds and membranes in the other one.  It was perfect for us but if you are unsure – go ahead and seed both of them.

Finally, just to answer some questions about hominy.  Hominy is a type of corn but it is much starchier and larger than the corn kernels that we know and love.  Its texture and size is necessary here – regular corn would make this a rather anemic stew.  I found mine in canned vegetable aisle near the corn.  White or yellow works.

One Year Ago:  Brown Rice Bowl with Soy Sauce Marinated Tofu and a Fried Egg
Three Years Ago:  Potato Fennel Gratin

Posole Verde
Adapted from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen
Serves 4

My only word of warning is that the cilantro mixture, which is vibrantly green in the blender, will turn a mossy shade of green as it cooks.  Do not be alarmed, the vegetable mixture on top is nice and colorful.

1 bunch coarsely chopped cilantro stems and leaves (about 2½ cups)
¼ cup fresh oregano leaves
6 ounces tomatillos, husked, washed, and halved
2 medium jalapeños, stemmed and seeded
2½ cups water
Canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 15-ounce cans white or yellow hominy, rinsed and drained
Sea salt

1 medium head romaine lettuce, thinly sliced crosswise
Handful cherry tomatoes, quartered
4 medium radishes, thinly sliced
1 small avocado, diced
Flour or corn tortillas, warmed

Place the cilantro, oregano, tomatillos, chiles, and 1 cup of the water in a blender and purée, scraping down the sides of the jar as necessary, until smooth, about 1 minute.

Place a sauté pan over medium heat.  Drizzle in just enough canola oil to coat the bottom then add the onion along with a large pinch of salt.  Cook until golden, about 6 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, another minute or so.  Add the cilantro mixture, hominy, remaining 1½ cups water, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer to blend the flavors, about 15 minutes.  Adjust the seasoning, adding salt to taste.

Ladle the posole into bowls and serve immediately, passing the lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, avocado, and tortillas at the table.

Weeknight Curry

November 27, 2011

So, how was it?  Thanksgiving, I mean.  And if you are in a country other than the U.S., how was your Thursday?  Our feast was lovely.  We had a much smaller group than in years past – just our core group and both Randy and I decided that we like smaller better.  (With no offense to those out there who have joined us in years past.)  Aside from the turkey, the food at Thanksgiving doesn’t stress me out.  The dishes are all fairly simple and when you do a lot of dinner parties, as we do, you get good at making lots of food for lots of people.  It is the all-the-food-coming-out-of-the-oven and every-sitting-down-at-once part that is stressful.  But when you only have one table full of people, as opposed to the two we had last year, it all comes together quite nicely.

If I was a turkey eater, I would most likely still be posting some kind of turkey soup or, who know, turkey lasagne during this weekend after Thanksgiving.  Can I say a word about turkey?  If I were ever to go back to eating meat, turkey is probably the last thing that I would add in to my diet.  I would eat a hamburger before I would eat turkey – I’d probably eat a geoduck before I ate turkey.  The guys in our group smoke cigars after the big meal, a tradition that goes way back, and I prefer the lingering smell of stale cigar smoke in my house to the smell of turkey.  So, suffice it to say, this is not turkey soup.  It actually has nothing to do with Thanksgiving and, if you read a lot of food blogs and have been inundated with Thanksgiving posts, you are probably glad to know that.

This is a simple weeknight curry.  I have been craving curry lately and I thought about doing an Indian feast using my Rasa books, but just a stroll through the table of contents made my eyes flutter in exhaustion.  The recipes in my books are not difficult but decisions and pairings had to be made and some days, that is too much to ask of me.  So I went a simpler route.

Weeknight curry can cure a lot of dinner ills in this world.  It is easy, it is adaptable, it is inexpensive, and it can feed many.  It is also satisfying and tasty and filling and doesn’t need much else beyond rice to make a full meal.  I have made this recipe many times and while I still buy the main ingredients (potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage), I now tailor it more to what I have in the house and the amount and type of spice that I am accustomed to.  I never make it the same way twice and I encourage you to add and subtract based on what you have already and what you like.

One Year Ago:  Burnt Sugar Bundt Cake
Three Years AgoBreton Apple Pie

Potato and Vegetable Curry
Adapted from Simple Vegetarian Pleasures
Serves 4

Olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
1 cinnamon stick
Pinch of cayenne
1 15-0unce can diced tomatoes, drained
4 medium red-skinned potatoes, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 large sweet potato, cut into ½-inch pieces
½ a head green cabbage, cored, cut in half lengthwise, and thinly sliced
1 15-ounce can “lite” coconut milk
1 cup frozen peas
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cilantro leaves, for garnish (optional)

Place a large skillet over medium heat.  Drizzle in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, then add the onions and a large pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another two minutes.  Add the spices and cook for another minute, stirring constantly.

Stir in the tomatoes, followed by the potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cabbage.  Allow to cook for several minutes, then pour in the coconut milk.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the curry simmers, then cover the pan.  Cook about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.  Stir in the peas and cook for another few minutes, or until the peas are hot throughout.  Remove the cinnamnon stick and serve with basmati rice.

Mellow Yellow

October 4, 2011

I’m going to keep this short because, you know, it’s October and I’m still talking about corn.  On Saturday, my little family went apple picking and we passed farm stand after farm stand advertising corn.  It occurred to me, after the fifth one or so, that I had yet to make corn chowder.  And even though what I really wanted to make is butternut squash soup, I can’t deny corn when there is corn to be had.

Chances are, if there are still a few ears to be bought where you live, you might want to get right on making this soup and not read a rambling post from me.  But a few notes.  I love this version.  I don’t like super creamy soups so this has just a hint and it comes from puréed corn kernels and coconut milk.  Big chunks of potatoes are key, I used some with a lovely pink skin and a while flesh and I kept fishing them out of the pot long after I was full.  And I think tarragon is really important here.  Basil would be good too if you want to defy me.

One Year Ago:  Savory Rugelach
Two Years Ago:  Smoky Chard Over Grilled Bread
Three Years Ago:  Fruit and Spice Granola

Corn Chowder with Coconut Milk
Dana Treat Original
Serves 4-6

4 ears of corn
1 cup of coconut milk, divided
Olive oil
1 large leek, washed well, trimmed, cut into quarters, and thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 tsp. dried thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound red skinned potatoes, scrubbed well, cut into 1-inch chunks
4 cups vegetable stock
2 tbsp. fresh tarragon leaves, coarsely chopped

Shuck the ears of corn and set aside two ears.  Cut the kernels off the other two and place the kernels in a blender along with ¾ of a cup of the coconut milk.  Add a pinch of salt and purée until smooth.  Set aside.

Set a soup pot over medium heat.  Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot and then add the leeks, carrots, celery, and a large pinch of salt.  Stir well, then add the dried thyme.  Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are fragrant and starting to soften, about 8 minutes.  Stir in the potatoes and cook for another 3 minutes.  Pour in the corn/coconut milk mixture and stir to coat the vegetables well.  Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot.  Cook until the potatoes are tender, about another 10 minutes.

Cut the kernels off the other two ears of corn.  Add to the soup pot and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the corn is just cooked through.  Stir in the remaining ¼ cup of coconut milk.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve in soup bowls garnished with tarragon.

Eggplants in the Summer

August 29, 2011

Occasionally, someone will still introduce me as a personal chef.  It surprises me because I hung that hat up years ago.  It was my job for three years and was a big reason I started this blog, but it really has been two years since I regularly cooked for anyone other than my family.  I loved that job.  The only reason I stopped doing it is that I found it too solitary.  I cooked alone in my kitchen, drove alone in my car, and let myself into empty houses.  After three years, I was ready to have more direct contact with people.  Adult people.  I started doing more catering and now I teach regular classes.

One of the things I do miss about the personal chef gig is the incredible creativity that the job required.  Or, I should say, that I decided it required.  None of my clients ever told me that I had to make something different for every meal, but I thought I should give them tremendous variety.  This necessitated me using my many cookbooks well.  Within my own insular cooking world, I tend to reach for the same books over and over, or make up recipes based on restaurant dishes I have enjoyed, or just let the gorgeous produce at the farmers’ market guide me.  But when I was cooking for several families three times a week, I couldn’t be that willy nilly – I had to be very organized.  I sat down each Friday with a big stack of books and decided on the week’s menu.  Saturday I would shop.  Sunday I would prep.  And Monday I would start to cook in earnest.

I don’t miss the pressure of those days but I do miss the forced creativity.  I miss my books.  Most weeks I am either catering an event or teaching at least one class and I find myself turning to easy old favorites to fill in.  Coming back from our week in Sun Valley, and with a relatively quiet week before the insanity of September begins, I indulged in my books.

First up was this delicious (if a bit ugly) stew from what is probably my real true favorite cookbook – Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen.  (If you don’t own any of her books, I would buy Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone first, then buy this one.)  This is a relatively slim volume but I’ve made about half the recipes and they are all winners times ten.  It is my only cookbook where most of the pages have separated from the binding.  Her recipes are tested to perfection, written clearly, appropriately portioned, and, well, just plain tasty.  Everything.

Eggplant and I are not BFF’s.  It wants to be my friend because I have been a vegetarian for 25 years and vegetarians are supposed to love eggplant.  I have never been one to rock the boat too much but I have not been able to fully embrace eggplant as the meat substitute of the vegetarian diet that people claim it to be.  Let’s face it.  Much of the year, eggplants are giant, bruised, and bitter.  In late August/early September, they are small, perky, firm, and sweet.  It is then that I start to understand why some people love them.

Like many that highlight the glories of late summer, this recipe is really a guideline.  I found everything at the farmers’ market because my pantry/refrigerator/fruit basket was empty after a week away.  You probably have some late summer produce on hand and you should use what you have to make this delicious.  I changed the recipe by slicing things differently, adding more herbs and a dose of white wine.  This is a great dish for a warm night because it is delicious served at room temperature.  I intended to make a quinoa studded with fresh corn kernels and scallions to serve alongside but decided at the last minute to keep it simple.  I wish I had made the quinoa – this dish needs a grain of some kind.

Summer Potatoes Stewed with Eggplant, Peppers, and Olives
Adapted from Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen
Serves 3-4

I used oil-cured black olives in this dish and they were sublime.  They are my favorite olive to cook with – you can find them in the olive bar of your grocery store.  They tend to have wrinkled skin and are jet black.  Kalamata can be used instead.  I usually reserve my non-stick frying pan for eggs, but it’s a terrific tool to cook eggplant.  You can get it nice and brown with a minimum of oil. 

This is a great place for “second” tomatoes – your tomato farmers’ cheaper, slightly ugly, but still delicious offerings.  Finally, Madison gives instructions for salting the eggplant, allowing it to stand, then continuing with the recipe.  If you use super fresh eggplant, you don’t need to do this.

About 2 tbsp. olive oil
1½ pounds super fresh eggplant, cut into thin rounds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
1½ pounds fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and sliced lengthwise
2 large bell peppers, cut into ½-inch strips
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 large garlic clove chopped with a handful of parsley leaves
2 tbsp. chopped oregano
1/3 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted and halved
¼ cup (or more) dry white wine

Place a non-stick pan over medium heat.  Add about a tablespoon of olive oil, then add the eggplant along with a large pinch of salt and a couple grinds of pepper.  Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the eggplant starts to turn golden brown.  It doesn’t need to cook through, just take on some color.

While the eggplant is browning, heat another tablespoon of oil in a Dutch oven.  Add the onion, potatoes, and peppers along with a large pinch of salt.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned here and there, 6 to 8 minutes.  Lower the heat, season with another pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Stir in the tomatoes, garlic/parsley mixture, and the oregano.  Pour in the wine and stir to combine.

Add the eggplant and olives and gently mix everything together.  Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook slowly until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes, or longer if time allows to concentrate flavor.  Add more wine if things are sticky or the stew seems to dry.  Serve garnished with additional parsley.

Cleaning out the Fridge

August 23, 2011

By the time you read this post, I will be long gone.  It’s the end of August and that means, every other year, that we are in Sun Valley with my parents.  This is a sweet trip for me.  I have been going to that lovely mountain town since I was 11 years old.  When I was younger, it was hot days and cold nights, hours spent at the pool, horse back riding, river rafting, time spent with camp friends, and teenage boys who were my crushes.  Nowadays it is hot days and cold nights, hours spent at the pool, going on slides at the playground, splashing in the town fountain, time spent with my family, and very young boys who are my children.  My life has changed plenty, Sun Valley is mostly the same.

Leaving town means leaving a refrigerator and that means doing your very best to make sure that refrigerator is next to empty.  I had some goodies to use up and I came up with a truly delicious pasta to do so.  I see posts like this frequently and I wonder, why on earth would I make your dish?  I am never going to have those same odds and ends on hand.  But this is a dish worth shopping for.  As Spencer, my four-year-old, is fond of saying, “For reals life.”

Orecchiette with Roasted Tomatoes and Corn

Dana Treat Original
Serves 3-4

The inspiration for this dish was ingredients on hand, plus a long-ago cut out recipe for a pasta with Brie cheese to make it creamy.  It is best to remove the rind in this dish.  If you Brie is super soft, just pop it in the freezer for about 10 minutes and it will slice right off.  I also had a blue cheese in the refrigerator and I contemplated using that in the pasta instead of the Brie.  Finally, the “stuff” to pasta ratio is high here – you could bulk up the pasta to feed more people and leave the “stuff” the same.

2 cups cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large shallot, finely diced
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1½ cups fresh corn kernels (from 1 large cob)
2 ounces Brie cheese, rind removed, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ cup fresh basil leaves, torn
8 ounces orecchiette

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Place the cherry tomatoes on a small baking sheet and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.  Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper and, using your hands, mix well.  Pop in the oven and roast for 20 minutes.  Remove and scrape into a large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over medium heat.  Pour in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add the shallots along with a large pinch of salt.  Sauté, stirring frequently, until soft, about 4 minutes.  Stir in the thyme, followed by the corn.  Continue to cook until fragrant and the corn is soft, about another 3 minutes.  Remove and scrape the corn mixture into the same bowl with the tomatoes.  Put the cheese and the basil in there as well.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Pour in the orecchiette and cook until al dente, according to the package directions.  Taste to make sure.  Using a slotted spoon, scoop the pasta into the bowl with the other ingredients.  Stir gently, adding some of the pasta water if it seems to dry.


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