Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mango black bean salsa

This is super yummy and works equally well as a salsa (especially with salty blue corn chips) or as a topping for grilled fish, chicken or pork--kind of the perfect summertime relish. Katie had just given me some tomatoes and mystery peppers from her bountiful garden, I had dried black beans in the pantry and a mango that was about to tip over into too-ripeness. Phil had been talking about this stacked black bean+tropical fruit+chicken dish that his mom makes, and it sounded like a good flavor combo, so I was like OK, gonna steal that idea and make it in salsa form right this second because for once I have everything I need on hand already. Who knows when it might happen again?I covered about 1 cup of black beans in water and brought to boil, then simmered until tender for about an hour and a half. Obviously you can use canned black beans instead if you prefer (drain and rinse them well beforehand) but this was all about me making this entirely from ingredients on hand so I just cooked up the dried beans that were collecting dust on my pantry shelf. When they were cooked through, I drained them and let them sit in about 1/2 cup of orange juice while I prepped the rest of my ingredients. Black beans and citrus are like a match made in heaven. Meanwhile I chopped up two beautiful roma tomatoes from Katie's garden and one reddish funky pepper (she thinks two pepper types--sweet and hot--cross-pollinated in her garden resulting in this tasty lovechild). You can use a serrano pepper if you like the heat plus a small red bell for sweetness. Actually, any kind of pepper from the farmer's market will be good here--this is a flexible, improvisational kind of salsa after all. I also diced up 1 small sweet onion and 1 small cucumber for extra crunch. Add in 1 diced ripe mango.I added all these veggies to my black beans in orange juice, plus 2 tablespoons minced cilantro, the juice from 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt and mixed it all up. If your fruit is very soft, you can add in the diced mango at the very last minute instead. Just be sure to combine once gently to avoid pulverizing any super ripe mango chunks.The first night, I put it over grilled pork but like I said, it's great for fish or chicken too. It actually mostly got eaten as a salsa at a picnic the next day and for lunch throughout the week, so as you can see, this is a good thing to make in a big batch.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Peanut picnic noodles

This has been an unusually cool summer, with really pleasant evenings and occasional days that hover merely in the 80s--some days it has really felt more like October or early spring around here. Good summer weather has facilitated a couple of dinnertime picnics which are a nice change from the usual retreat into air conditioning that normally goes with July in Georgia. These peanut noodles are perfect picnic fare--they make a delicious vegetarian dinner but are easily modified for carnivores with slices of grilled chicken on top.Mince up 2 cloves garlic and a chunk of fresh ginger (however much you like--I think I used about a 2" piece).Combine the garlic and ginger with 3/4 cup of peanut butter, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon minced cilantro, 1/3 cup tamari, a teaspoon red pepper flakes and 1/2 cup hot water. Purée this all together with an immersion blender, or a regular blender or a food processor or whatever. You can probably do it by hand too, although I have never tried that. Add a little more hot water if the mixture is too thick to blend into a smooth paste. Taste it and see if it needs tweaking--I think I ended up adding a little more peanut butter and tamari to mine, and probably a dash more red pepper because I like it hot. So feel free to play with the amounts of ingredients in the sauce, is what I'm saying. After you like the balance, squeeze in some lime juice and/or a splash of rice wine vinegar, blend and then taste again until it is perfect.Get some noodles ready to meet this fine peanut sauce--I used these dried udon but linguine or any other flat, thicker pasta will work fine. Boil them up al dente and when they're ready, drain and toss with a little sesame oil so they don't get sticky. Then toss together while still hot with your peanut sauce mixture. Meanwhile, make a quick, tangy vegetable topping for your noodles. It's a great contrast to the super unctous peanut sauce. Slice up 2-3 carrots on a mandoline into thin ribbons(if you lack a mandoline just use a sharp knife and your skills of precision).Do the same with a cucumber...Toss these veggies together with 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon sugar, a pinch of salt and minced cilantro or parsley. Let them chill out and marinate while you finish other things but not for longer than about 30 minutes or so--you want them to stay crunchy.If you're making this salad for non-vegetarians, go ahead and grill some chicken breasts to slice up and top the noodles (I marinated mine in lime juice beforehand). Tofu would be good too--chunks of the teriyaki flavored, pressed tofu from Trader Joes tossed together in this would be AWESOME.To assemble your salad, lay the strips of chicken (if using) on top of a tangle of peanut sauce dressed noodles, plus a healthy toppping of the carrots and cucumber. Reserve some minced cilantro and sesame seeds to sprinkle over everything at the very last minute.Sadly, I actually i don't have a great picture of the final product, but here it is all packed up to take along on a picnic:

Pizza vera

I have made pizza before and it was decent but the crust was totally faking it. And honestly, it was tasty, but not really good pizza, you know? More like glorified takeout. Recently, I finally made my own crust and dignified it with good ingredients, and the results were awesome. It's incredibly easy to make your own pizza dough--I don't know why I wasn't sold on it earlier in life.For your pizza dough, mix 1 teaspoon instant yeast with 2 ½ cups bread flour (or regular flour if that's what you have on hand), plus ½ cup of cornmeal and 2 teaspoons salt. Add in 1 cup water and 2 generous tablespoons olive oil. Mix it all up well... It should very quickly coalesce into a raggedy lump. Turn out the dough on floured surface and knead it once or twice, shaping it into a ball:knead, knead...and...ball!Set the dough in an oiled bowl, cover it with a dishtowel and let rise for about 1 hour somewhere warm, such as your summertime in georgia porch. You can slow it down by putting it in the fridge if need be. After an hour or so (it can sit for up to two hours and be fine, probably) divide the dough in two and form a couple of tidy little balls. Now let them take a second, shorter rise, covered on your countertop for another 10-20 minutes. At this point, you have enough for two nice pizzas. Stretch and shape the dough to fit on an oiled pan (I always lay it out on the back side of a cookie sheet) and layer a thin coat of sauce over the surface. And then the toppings are up to you! The only rule is to use a light hand so you don't get a soggy pie. I made a rucola e prosciutto pizza: thin slices of fresh mozzarella plus prosciutto and arugula.By the way, real quick, here's what I usually make for a pizza sauce: sauté 1 small, minced yellow onion in olive oil until lightly golden and soft (about 10 - 15 minues), then add 2 minced cloves of garlic. Stir all together for another minute, then sauté the contents of one small can of tomato paste for 1-2 additional minutes before adding red pepper flakes, a half-can of whole, peeled roma tomatoes (they come in a big, jumbo 48 ounce can of which I use half), 2 teaspoons sugar and about 1/3 cup of red wine. Simmer it all together, stirring frequently, and allow it to get somewhat reduced and thick. After about 30 minutes, take off heat and put it through a food mill to get a nice, smooth thick puree. You can do it while your dough is rising. After the pizza bakes for about 20 minutes, I use this crazy mezzaluna tool to cut it into squares:Another great combination is thinly sliced chorizo and pineapple together.It has that irresistible salty-sweet thing going on.

Basil vodka martini

What do you do with a bumper crop of basil? Maybe you go get some really good vodka and make this excellent drink for the rest of the lazy days of summer.Get a couple good, big handfuls of basil off your porch or out of your yard or your neighbor's yard. Crush it up until it is bruised and fragrant.Combine the basil with 3 teaspoons sugar and 3 shots of great vodka in a martini shaker with ice. Shake the hell out of it until the dogs bark at you and chase you around the room. Get it good and icey. Strain it into two glasses (with sugared rims if you're feeling fancy) and be amazed by the cool green color.As is, this drink will knock you on your ass and is best suited for slow sipping on weekend nights or as anesthesia. You can mix it with seltzer or something for a lighter mixed drink.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Fried chickpeas with rosemary

Here is the perfect crunchy/salty/aromatic snack--fried ceci with rosemary and sea salt! Chickpeas go through an amazing transformation when rolled around in hot oil--they develop a lovely crispy shell enveloping a nutty, creamy bite inside. Add some coarse salt and pungent rosemary and you have the perfect cocktail nibble for before dinner. And you can totally use canned chickpeas, I don't judge.Drain one can and rinse them well. Be sure to dry them off thoroughly because you'll be popping them in hot oil and want to minimize your splattering.Heat up 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy pan until it makes that crispy sound when you drop a chickpea into it. Add your dried off chickpeas and stir them around gently until they develop nice brown bits all over (you're not making hot hummus here, so don't mash them!). This takes about 5 minutes, but keep an eye on them so they don't burn up over the high heat.After they're nice and crispy, add in about 2 healthy sprigs worth of chopped fresh rosemary and keep frying.Toss them once with a liberal tablespoon of coarse salt (kosher or sea salt in big flakes), then set out for your guests while still a little bit warm.Make sure everyone has a glass of wine or a cocktail. That's just good advice in general though.

Red sauce for new parents

There is a trend in my life right now...lots of pregnant friends and family and brand-new babies turning up left and right. Melanie and Jeremy just had a lovely little guy themselves and so I made some seriously meaty red sauce for them to keep in their freezer for emergency dinnertime. If you have the same baby epidemic going on, try making your poor friends something delicious. They will thank you in an adorable, sleep-deprived way.I chopped up 2 big onions into dice......and about 6 cloves of garlic as well as a good 1/2 cup of parsley. I want this little baby to appreciate strong southern Italian flavors! The onions and garlic cooked in about 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat until soft, then I added in 3 pounds of ground meat to brown (one pound each of beef, veal and pork). After the onion was softened and the meats were browned, I put most of two big cans of peeled tomatoes through my food mill for a smoother sauce texture.I saved about a cup's worth to chop up so there would be some nice tomatoey bites in there too.The sauce bubbled away for about 2 hours so it got nice and full-flavored.Because I am a cheese monster, I made labels for the freezer bags that I froze the sauce in. This made just enough for 4 1-quart bags. It's a good size to be able to pull out of the freezer for dinner for 2.Lay them flat to freeze so they will store better. Here they are the next day, ready to be packed up for Mel.I ended up making a gift basket with some pasta, a wedge of parmesan and a much-needed bottle of wine.