Monday, January 26, 2009

Double pig lentil chili

I made lentils stewed with pork sausage and bacon, thus it became known as double pig chili. What would a triple pig chili be like? Maybe with prosciutto also? The mind boggles. Anyway, it was yummy. I happened to be making chicken stock that day so I had some ready to go but you can use whatever floats your boat for the liquid.

First diced up one medium onion, 2 large carrots and about 4 celery stalks. These got sauteed in about 1 tablespoon olive oil--I didn't want to add too much oil because I knew that there would be some sausage and bacon getting in there as well to grease things up.The pork sausage was from the pretty blue-eyed meat guy at Morningside Farmer's Market. I feel really lucky to have this great local source for meat because a.) he's cute and b.) I think it's even more important (although often more difficult) to buy locally for meat than it is for vegetables/fruit.I had half a package of bacon in the freezer so I cut it into chunks while it was mostly still frozen.I started the onion, followed with carrot and celery, then in goes the pig. After it had all had a chance to brown, I cleared a space in the center to add in 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1/2 tablespoon cumin, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes. I usually use tiny green french lentils because I like the way they keep their shape. These are from my beloved Your DeKalb Farmer's Market. I added a can of crushed tomatoes, 3 cups of chicken stock and let it come to boil, then added in 1 1/2 cups of the lentils. After about 10 minutes, I added 1/2 cup of diced sweet potato--I wanted it to stay sort of firm and keep its texture so I added it later than I usually would for hard vegetables. Continued to cook over medium high heat until the lentils were soft and it was totally delicious--about 30 minutes. Right before serving, I removed from heat then stirred in 1 tablespoon cider vinegar.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Vegetarian shepherd's pie

I have now tried making this twice--the first time was for new vegetarian Ali and the filling was a mixture of standard shepherd's pie filling plus tempeh. I tried it again while in Philadelphia at Jocelyn & Nick's house and got a little nutty with the mixed veggie filling. The other big difference between the recipes is that Ali is doing the healthy eating thing right now so her potato topping was mashed with skim milk and olive oil...while the one I made for Jocelyn was full of cheese, butter and cream. Actually, I realized after the fact that I could have easily made a vegan shepherd's pie for Ali just by not using dairy. Well, if you are so inclined, keep that in mind.I had a ton of help making this by the way. I think Ali might be learning to cook. The vegetables featured in her shepherd's pie were leeks, fennel, carrot, parsnip and onion.We sauteed the diced veggies over medium heat in a little olive oil until softened and lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes.Neighbor Matt helped too, keeping an eye on the meaty version of the shepherd's pie while I worked on the veggie one for Ali.Like I said before, for the potato topping on the healthy pie, I just added a little skim milk for fluidity and a drizzle of olive oil along with salt and pepper. Then Ryan mashed them up.When the veggies were soft and browned in the pan, I added in half a block of tempeh, cut into small cubes and continued to saute for another 3-5 minutes, along with some parsley.I pushed the vegetables and tempeh to the side, turned the heat up and browned about 1 tablespoon tomato paste in the center of the pan for 1 minute or so. Then I added in about 1/4 cup of white wine and mixed until a nice sauce formed which I then blended with the vegetables. I also added a handful of green peas at this point, because I feel green peas are traditional with shepherd's pie. Then I packed everything into a little ramekin and topped with the mashed potatoes, to be baked at 350 for about 20 minutes. By the way, this is the meaty version, in the middle of receiving the potato topping.It turned out OK...I think I need to work on it still.The vegetarian one worked really well though!Like I said, I did something sort of similar while at Jocelyn's, but featured different vegetables, like shittake mushrooms and brussels sprouts.This time I conscripted Jocelyn into helping me. Apparently I am getting very lazy about prep work.I used rutabega, celery, carrot and onion for the harder root vegetables to be sauteed first.Fennel went in at the same time as the chopped brussels sprouts.Jocelyn adding cheese and cream to the mashed potatoes......while the veggie filling sautes nicely.After all the vegetables were browned--add them beginning with the onions, then other hard vegetables (rutabega, carrot, etc), then in goes fennel and brussels sprouts, followed finally by the mushrooms--I added these false meat steak strips. I totally regretted it because I thought they smelled weird and fake and because the vegetable filling was bountiful enough on its own, but Jocelyn and Nick said it was tasty, so I guess it's OK. I probably would recommend omitting or using tempeh instead, personally. Then I cleared a space in the middle of the pan and made a quick bind for the vegetables, with 1 tablespoon flour browned in 1 tablespoon butter until pasty, then mixing in vegetable stock until a thick sauce formed. Mixed all together then spooned it all into a baking dish.Potatoes on top......which you should sample because they are vehicles for cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes at 350, until browned on top, then watch as it is devoured by hungry vegetarians.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Crab night

Ryan decided to spend his winter break working for The Man, so he came down from Wisconsin and has been staying at my house for the last couple of weeks which has been really fun. He says crab legs are one of the things he misses most about living here--apparently they are wicked expensive up north and Ryan is a cheap bastard. So he was really looking forward to wandering up to our neighborhood Publix and getting some for a serious crab throwdown. Fortunately Betsy was in town for work as well, so she got to share in the bounty.

Ryan bakes his in the oven rather than steaming. It defies logic, but they retain all the sweet juices and do not dry out, probably because it is rather low heat. He wraps them in tinfoil and bakes them at about 250 for at least 30 minutes. Then they can just sit in there, waiting for certain parties to get back from shopping the thrift stores, visiting Mel and getting eyebrows waxed...probably they'd be fine for at least 2 hours. Ryan says "all day," but I'm not so sure about that. The point is--they can be ready when you are.He made snow crabs, which were smaller, and Alaskan King, which were covered in deadly spikes. Ryan says the Alaskans are normally more delicious but the snow crabs were actually the better of the two this time around. I made a couple butters--one was garlicy and way too strong, but the other was a winner. It was 1 tablespoon capers, 1 tablespoon mustard, and the juice from 2 lemons, mixed into a ton of melted butter along with salt and pepper. We pretty much would have drank it straight.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

No need to knead! Just make sure you have 20 spare hours.

My dad is the kind of person who bakes bread. In truth, his hobbies do sort of tend to revolve around yeast because it's a professional interest for him, but still. He has really got the bread thing all figured out. I don't bake bread, not at all, although I have always meant to learn how. It's sort of intimidating. The other day I finally (like, 2 years later, but whatever) got around to making the no-knead bread that Mark Bittman sounded so stoked about in the NY Times. And it is indeed absolutely easy and almost foolproof, so maybe it will be my gateway drug for bread baking. It is not immediate gratification though--you won't see your finished bread until 20 hours after you started the process. But the hands-on time is very minimal and it is worth the wait for fresh bread. Plus it is really fun, especially for a baking novice like me. Mixed 3 cups of bread flour with 1 1/4 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon yeast. The recipe actually calls for 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast, but I only had regular on hand so I increased the amount to improve the reaction time. I think it worked fine, so don't let your yeast type deter you from trying it. But get instant if you are going specially to the grocery store.After the dry ingredients are mixed together, add 1 5/8 cups of water (umm, that is the Bittman recipe talking there. I actually used 1 1/2 cups. I can't measure 1 5/8, can you?) and stir briefly into a messy lump.Covered up my bowl of water, flour, yeast and salt with plastic wrap......and let it sit. For 18 hours.It definitely gets bigger! It's alive!After this long wait, the top should be sort of bubbly looking. Plop it out onto a clean, floured countertop and turn the dough over on itself a couple times. Cover it with the plastic wrap again and let it rest for 15 minutes.Shape the dough into a ball, coat a clean dishtowel with cornmeal, and put the dough ball on your cornmeal towel. Then sprinkle more cornmeal over the top of the dough and cover with another towel and leave it alone for 2 more hours. Bittman says bran or more flour are fine to use instead of the cornmeal, by the way. 30 minutes before the 2 hours are up (so, after 1 1/2 hours of final rise time), stick a lidded cast iron pot (or Pyrex, enamel, ceramic--anything that is heavy, incredibly oven-safe and has a lid will do) into your oven at 450 degrees. When 30 minutes of hot time have passed, pull out the pot and dump in your ball of dough as well as you can. You can give the pot a shake to redistribute the goods. Cover it again and let it bake for 30 minutes, then take off the (very hot) lid and let it go another 15-20 minutes to get brown and gorgeous.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Black eyed pea hummus with sweet potato chips

Happy new year! On New Years Day you need to make black eyed peas for good luck, so I made black eyed pea hummus, modeled after the one at Wisteria restaurant. Melanie and I share a huge affection for this stuff and we can clean a plate of it out with our faces pretty easily, especially because it comes with gorgeous, crispy sweet potato chips. I tried to make those too--they were not as universally crispy as they could have been but I think I'm on the right track so maybe next time they'll be better. They were still delicious though. If you feel lazy, you can always just make the hummus. It is awesome.

I soaked my black eyed peas overnight because even though they cook pretty quick without a soak, I figured (and correctly, as it turned out) that I'd somehow be short on time by the time people were coming over even though I didn't have shit to do all day long. I used about 2 cups raw peas, soaked them overnight, drained them, covered in fresh water and let them cook over medium heat for about 35 minutes. I drained them and picked out a handful of pretty ones to use as garnish on top and set aside.I minced 3 cloves garlic and dumped them in a big bowl with the cooked black eyed peas. I then used my immersion blender to purée the peas together with the juice from 2 lemons, 1/2 cup olive oil, and one teaspoon each salt and black pepper. After it was all mixed up, I added in 1/2 cup tahini and continued blending until it was all smooth. Taste it at this point and see if it needs more salt or lemon juice--mine did. Get 4 sweet potatoes, peel them, cut in half cross-wise and use a mandoline or a really sharp knife to cut them into thin, chip-like slices.You should have a pretty good pile when all done, even allowing for inevitable dog theft along the way. Heat up a heavy pot with 2 cups of oil until it is scarringly hot. Add your sweet potato slices in small batches, keeping a good eye on them.They only take a couple minutes. Lift them out when they get a nice golden brown.Let them drain on crumpled paper towels and salt them lightly.They mostly turned out really well but some didn't get as crunchy as I would have liked so I ended up crisping some of the more floppy ones in the oven. That worked well but definitely adds another step. Either way, it is delicious, and if you have people like Brian around who like their sweet potato chips on the chewy side, then maybe it isn't such a bad thing anyway.