Thursday, January 25, 2007

Beef stroganoff

This is one of those dishes that I had never made before, partly because of its status as a clichéd-come-to-a-dinner-party-in-1961-paprika-reliant-high-goo-factor sort of food. Also, we never had it when I was a kid (go figure). But then I went to Watershed restaurant and had their truly excellent beef stroganoff and became a convert. It was just a matter of time before I tried my hand at it. Screw the snobs--this is delicious comfort food in one of its best incarnations.

Mixed about 1/3 cup of flour with salt and lots of pepper. I had some top round stir fry beef all ready for stir frying before I got the idea for this in my head, so I cut up a little less than a pound into 1" chunks. Sprinkled most of my flour mixture over the beef and covered it well. Set aside the rest of flour mixture for later. Melted some butter over medium-high heat and put the dredged beef chunks in to brown on all sides--probably about 8-10 minutes. Removed beef to plate and added about 2 tablespoons of butter, ½ chopped onion and sliced cremini mushrooms (I think they are usually in 8 ounce packages? Not sure--anyway it was all of one package). When the onions were soft and the mushrooms were starting to give up liquid, added 2 minced garlic cloves. When things were getting a bit browned and well-cooked (maybe about 5-6 minutes), sprinkled over the reserved flour and stirred it to absorb the butter & liquid for about 1 minute. Added 1 ¾ cups of chicken stock (it would have been better with beef stock, but sadly I had none on hand), brought to a boil and stirred until thickened. Added about ¼ cup white wine (probably a little bit more actually), the beef and any accumulated juices, and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley. Stirred well and removed from heat. Before serving, stirred in 1 ½ tablespoons sour cream.

Boiled up ¾ package of cavatappi and put stroganoff over it. Sprinkled with smoked paprika, because that's what you do with stroganoff when you're living in 1961.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tilapia with coconut rice

The funniest part about tonight's dinner was afterwards when we went downstairs to Melanie & Jeremy's and Brian was talking about how he could probably eat an entire loaf of pumpkin-chocolate chip tea bread in one sitting (he also gave a detailed description of what kind of cake-icing combinations he would or would not be capable of eating and how many rows of brownies). He explained that his entire dinner of "fish, rice and broccoli" was nowhere near a cake-like caloric intake and he had no difficulty polishing it off. I'm not sure what the point was, but I pointed out that he sounded like a spartan health hero when he said dinner was fish, rice & broccoli--he left out the part where I covered everything in coconut milk and butter. Anyway:

Rinsed about 1 ½ cups rice, added it to rice cooker and covered with most of a 16 ounce can of coconut milk, added 2 bouillon cubes and enough water to make 3 cups of liquid. Put it to steam in rice cooker. Before it was done, added chopped broccoli to the veggie steaming rack on top to eat alongside dinner. Rice cookers are great. They are a low-energy way of cooking both rice and vegetables (or shrimp or whatever) at the same time and also ensure that your rice will be perfectly cooked and kept warm at a safe holding temperature until you are ready for it (thereby minimizing risk of Bacillus cereus and accompanying sudden onset of nausea and vomiting). Anyway. Rice cookers. Nifty.

Sautéed 1 clove minced garlic in a couple chunks of butter until golden. Added 2 filets of tilapia, let cook about 2 minutes over medium-high heat, flipped to other side for 2 minutes, then sprinkled a pinch of red pepper flakes in the pan. Added rest of can of coconut milk (maybe ¼ cup) and ¼ cup of white wine. Let the mixture cook down around the fish for a minute or so, then sprinkled the top of the filets with 2 teaspoons chopped parsley, a pinch each of paprika & turmeric, salt & pepper. Let liquid boil down about 2 more minutes, then took off heat, slid the fish onto the coconut rice and poured the sauce over the top, with broccoli alongside. A better way to do this if you have a lot of liquid but don't want to overcook your fish is to remove just fish from heat, then aggressively cook down the sauce.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Stir fry with pineapple & pepper

I had a chunk of flank steak waiting in reserve from grilling to stir fry this week. The pineapple is due to Brian who cut one up the other night and suggested it be included. I don't think I would have thought of it on my own but from now on it will be included in the roster of protein and produce that get considered for stir fry nights.

Halved 1 orange bell pepper, sliced it into very thin strips and set aside. Minced 4 cloves garlic and 1 inch of ginger, set aside. Took the chunk of raw flank steak (not sure how much, maybe it was 1/2 pound?) and sliced it against the grain into thin strips (1/4"-1/2" wide). Chopped up about 1/4 cup of the pineapple that Brian had previously sliced up. Cut a small head of broccoli (including stems, as always) into slightly more bite-size pieces than usual and set them to steam over the rice. Removed when they were just barely cooked and set aside. Heated 2 tablespoons sesame oil in the wok and added the orange pepper strips , stirring them over high heat until they had some brown marks and were a bit wilted. Removed and set aside. Allowed the wok to cool somewhat, then added the garlic, ginger and a tablespoon red pepper flakes and stirred those about 2 minutes, then added a drizzle more sesame oil and the steak. Cooked until browned, then removed and set aside. Added 2 tablespoons soy-ginger sauce, 1 tablespoon tamari, a tiny splash each of rice wine vinegar and apple juice and brought to a simmer. Then added 1 cup chicken broth, stirred well and sprinkled the sauce with 1 teaspoon cornstarch, stirring very well after adding it. When the sauce was slightly thickened, added the steak, peppers, pineapple and lightly steamed broccoli, mixed together well in the sauce and made sure everything got heated through. Put over white rice and sprinkled with sliced almonds to finish.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Grilled flank steak & vegetables

Again with the winter grilling! It was pouring rain but very warm out so we grilled on our porch. It's on the second floor, covered & screened in so it's an ideal all-seasons grilling perch. The only trick is to not burn down the apartment building...

I bought a little more than 2 pounds of flank steak at the venerable DeKalb market. I sawed off a piece to use in stir-fry later in the week (undoubtedly, the next post will cover that adventure) and covered the rest of it in a marinade of salt, pepper, minced garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, olive oil, worcestershire and a little red wine. It hung out in the fridge until about a half hour before grill time, during which I let it rest at room temperature. Sliced 2 red peppers and covered with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cut 2 sweet potatoes into 1/2" slices and steamed them for about 7 minutes, until a little more than halfway cooked through, then added to the red peppers, with a little more olive oil, tossed gently. Brian started the grill for me, which was kind of him, and it burned very hot. Melanie kept me company on the porch as first the flank steak went on, flipped about every 3 minutes or so, then red pepper, then sweet potato, as room became available. The flank steak probably took about 10-15 minutes total, but the veggies just got pulled off as they developed nice char marks. Put the sweet potatoes in their own bowl, tossed with the juice of half a Meyer lemon, and surrounded the flank steak with the red peppers.

I accidentally also made what Jeremy kept calling "croutons" and he said he liked them, even though he doesn't normally enjoy crunchy bread (?). Melted a lot of butter and a little olive oil in a pan with 4-5 cloves minced garlic. Added small rounds of a baguette (sidenote! the DeKalb market appears to have stopped making my usual double ficelle loaves and in the place that I used to find those, there are now bags of misshapen, long, squishy things marked "country baguettes." they still come 2 to a package, so I guess they are the new hotness. They are actually pretty good and I have no qualms, I just think it's weird that I can't find the bread I used to get there), and tossed them in the butter-oil-garlic mixture until well-coated. Spread them on a baking sheet, made sure the garlic was well distributed, sprinkled a little parmesan on top, put them in the oven at 350 degrees...and promptly forgot about them while grilling. Brian eventually pulled them out of the oven and they were a very crunchy, tasty counterpart to our grilled foods.

We had this insane peachy pound cake with a caramel-bourbon sauce for dessert. It was leftover from a party that Melanie went to earlier where all the girls were on some no-pound cake diet, so we destroyed the ample leftovers. It was incredible. Also for dessert: my new Lava Lite that Brian got me for Christmas. It warmed up and started looking pretty groovy by the end of the evening.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Pinto bean stew with avocado and tortillas

This was long known as the famous "Cheesy Beany" dish, as baptized by Jocelyn. Its history began when we lived together in a garret (really? sort of) in Milwaukee and often needed a cheap, easy, tasty vegetarian dinner. Over time it has morphed into what Brian refers to as our version of that family classic, Taco Night. It's hard to describe all the components as it undoubtedly changes depending on what's in the fridge or pantry at any given moment. I used to occasionally top it with cornbread and make a yogurt-lime sauce on the side which was delicious (just mix natural plain yogurt to taste with juice & zest of 1 lime, salt and pepper), but the version I made last night is how it tends to look these days:

Sautéed 1 small, diced onion in olive oil until soft, then added 1 small, diced red pepper. Let cook down over fairly high heat until soft and browned, then added 4 minced cloves garlic. Sprinkled 1 tablespoon chile powder into the hot oiled pan to allow flavor to bloom, then added 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Stirred well, then added 2 tablespoons mole paste, mashed it up and added about 1/2 cup of water to reconstitute it into a thick sauce. Stirred everything together then added maybe 1/4 cup of minced pickled jalapenos, 1 16 ounce can of diced tomatoes, 1 16 ounce well-rinsed and drained can of pinto beans and a drizzle of wine vinegar. Covered and let simmer together, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Then stirred in 1/2 cup of crumbled queso fresco, thought it still seemed a bit too liquidy, so mashed up some of the beans and removed the lid to let it reduce to a scoopable consistency.

Meanwhile, sliced 2 avocados and tossed them with juice of 1/2 lime, salt and pepper and warmed a stack of tortillas in the oven. When the beans were ready, we ate them rolled up in tortillas with the avocado. Simple and delicious.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Black-eyed peas

There is a new year's tradition that calls for eating black-eyed peas on the first day of the year to bring good luck, so that's what we had. They are a really great legume (is there a way to say that without sounding hopelessly dorky?), especially if you are committed to using dried beans rather than canned. Chickpeas take about a million years to cook, even if you soak them. Pinto beans, black beans, great northerns--most dried beans just don't really lend themselves to spontaneous production, hence, of course, the popularity of canned beans. But black-eyed peas? They cook very quickly, sometimes in just 25 minutes or so, without any soaking at all. They are nature's lentils and they are delicious.

Covered at least one cup of black-eyed peas in water and brought to a healthy boil with 2 crumbled bay leaves, 4 cloves sliced garlic, 2 teaspoons each of red pepper flakes and epazote, and a teeny pinch of cumin. Let boil hard for about 25 minutes and tested to see if they were approaching doneness, was pleasantly surprised to find that they were and drained them off. Salted and peppered them, then added butter and about 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar. In another pot I was cooking pearl couscous in way too much chicken broth (don't know how that happened, it was weird) and so drained the excess couscous liquid into the bean pot. Turned the heat back on and let the beans absorb most of the liquid, so they became sort of soupy, full-flavored and fabulously chickeny.

These were excellent along with cornbread, steamed kohlrabi and the aforementioned couscous. Happy New Year!