Monday, July 25, 2011

Artichoke Mania Part 3: Pasta

Whew! Now I had cleaned and braised my artichokes. It seems like a lot of work, but one batch of braised hearts can make at least 2 main courses (or you can make more at a time). I've had the jarred hearts, and I feel the homemade ones were much tastier. Uses? Let me count the ways. You can work it into a salad (use the braising liquid for the base of a vinaigrette), I made artichoke risotto with grilled fish, you can chop them up and make dip, or you can even make a pasta sauce.

The wonderful bit about artichokes is how earthy they make a dish taste. This recipe, from Tom Colicchio's "Think Like a Chef", was instantly a hit in my house. It's a comforting dish and easy to make (as long as you have the artichokes on hand). I love the beans in it, don't leave them out!

Pasta with Artichokes, Cabbage, and White Beans
Adapted from Tom Colicchio

4 braised artichokes (or 1 medium jar of marinated artichoke hearts, drained), sliced
1/2 head Savoy cabbage, cut into large pieces
5 green onions, trimmed and sliced into 3 inch pieces
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed
1 cup chicken stock
1 pound pasta (I prefer rotini)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan or Romano cheese

Heat a large pot with water until boiling.  Salt, add cabbage and cook until just barely tender, 3 minutes.  Drain and rinse under cold water.  Return pot to high heat with fresh water (and salt) and boil pasta until al dente, 8 minutes.  Drain.

In a large pot over medium heat, add artichoke hearts, cabbage, green onions, beans, chicken stock and bring to a simmer.  Season with thyme, salt, and pepper.  Add pasta and butter and stir, adjust seasonings to desired level.  Serve topped with Parmesan cheese.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Zucchini Lasagna

A few months back I was watching Bobby Flay get his butt kicked over vegetable lasagna on Throwdown when my wife uttered the phrase "I would eat squash if you cooked it like that". I've probably mentioned before my wife loathes all things "squish".  I wasn't going to grow any in the garden this year because I feared divorce her wrath over it. But now I had the go ahead, so there was no way I was passing it up.

One main philosophy I'm trying to stick with in my blog is what's in season, and therefore usually inexpensive (or on sale). Now that it's summer zucchini is plentiful at both the market and in my garden. I retrieved the recipe from the episode as a starting point and got to work. The great difference about this recipe is the lack of noodles. The zucchini, lightly fried, are the noodles. Modified as such, it works as mostly as a traditional lasagna does. When I get tomatoes from my garden to make my own sauce, watch out.
My wife insisted this was "the best thing I have made in a long time".  For a squashaphobe I consider that a big win.  A few health benefits to throw in at the end. This is vegetarian and if you use potato flour you can also make it gluten free. It's also 660 calories for ¼ of the pan (I even measured total volume of oil absorbed from frying), which is a large portion. Beat that, Olive Garden.  And Bobby Flay.

Zucchini Lasagna

Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
6 fresh basil leaves, chopped fine
salt and pepper

3/4 cup flour
3 eggs + 6 egg whites
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
2 cups Canola oil for frying
2 large zucchini, sliced lengthwise about 1/4-thick (use a mandolin if you have it)
salt and pepper

1 pounds light ricotta cheese
6 basil leaves, chopped fine
1 egg
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
salt and pepper

8 ounces shredded mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

For the tomato sauce: Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the onion, cook until softened.  Add garlic and cook additional 30 seconds.  Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, and basil and bring to a simmer. Lower heat to maintain simmer, partially cover, and cook for 30-40 minutes or until thickened.

For the ricotta: in a bowl mix the ricotta, egg, garlic, Romano, salt, and pepper.

For the zucchini: While sauce is simmering, heat oil in large pot or skillet over medium high heat to 350-375°F. Place the flour on a plate. In a glass baking dish (long enough to hold one long slice of zucchini), mix the eggs, egg whites, Romano cheese, salt, and pepper, and Romano cheese with a fork.  Coat the zucchini slices in flour, then dip in the egg mixture, fry on each side until golden brown.  Remove and place on tray lined with paper towels.  Repeat with remaining zucchini, keeping oil temperature around 350°F.

To assemble: In a 9x13  baking dish, spread a small amount of tomato sauce on bottom.  Layer 1/3 of the fried zucchini to cover the bottom of the dish, slightly overlapping the pieces.  Using a spatula, spread 1/3 of the tomato sauce over the zucchini followed by 1/3 of the ricotta mixture and 1 ounce mozzarella. Repeat layering the zucchini, sauce, ricotta, and mozzarella, ending with remaining mozzarella.

Cover the dish in foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue to cook until the top is slightly brown, about 15 minutes more. Cool the lasagna for 15 minutes before serving.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Indian Fry Bread

I'm going to get throttled for writing about Indian fry bread and not cooking it soon for my wife. It's a risk I'm willing to take. These pop up at festivals and are covered in sugar or honey, but if you live in the Southwest you can find the savory version with beans, lettuce, and salsa. That's what I'm focusing on here.
This dish revolves around the beans. Without great refried beans, you will not have great fry bread. Thankfully making great beans is a 10 minute process, so fear not. Em makes the best beans (my mom makes her cook them whenever we have this as a family), which started as my dad's recipe years ago. I insist, buy the fat free beans. Add your own fat into them in the form of bacon grease. THIS makes the beans. If you don’t have a container of bacon drippings in your refrigerator, I have to ask why not?
I love to top mine with lettuce, tomato, cheese, salsa, and even some guacamole. Creamy beans and sour cream, the crunch of the fry bread and lettuce, and the tang of guacamole. Close your eyes and imagine how delicious that sounds. Corn, chiles, onions, whatever you want. Have a party!

Indian Fry Bread

Dough (makes ~ 10-12)
2 cups flour plus extra for rolling
2 teaspoon salt
8 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ cups warm water
Canola oil for frying

1 can fat-free refried beans (I prefer Rosarita)
1 tablespoon bacon drippings
2 tablespoons milk
¼ cup shredded Colby-jack cheese

Chopped iceberg lettuce or cabbage
Sour cream
Diced green onions
Shredded cheese
Diced tomatoes

To make the beans, heat the bacon drippings in a small pot over medium heat until melted. Add beans and combine. Add milk and cheese and stir to combine. When beans start to bubble reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes.

Heat oil (enough for at least 1 inch deep) to 350-375°C in a wide skillet. To make dough, combine dry ingredients in medium bowl. Slowly add warm water, mixing until a moist dough forms. Break off ~1/2 cup of dough and place on a floured surface. Sprinkle a bit of flour on top and roll to ~1/8 inch thickness. Using your finger poke a hole in the center (this prevents it from inflating too much in the oil). Gently place in oil and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Adjust oil temperature as needed. Flip and cook other side. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to remove excess oil. Repeat with remaining dough (depending on size of skillet, you can cook 1-2 at the same time).

To build, spread beans on fry bread followed by sour cream and guacamole (if using). Top with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, green onions, and salsa.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Artichoke Mania Part 2- The Braise

You can see Cleaning Instructions Here.

After cleaning, I now had artichoke hearts to cook, but what's the best approach? My favorite prep is a braise, which gives the hearts a deep flavor and provides you with other components to add with the hearts. If you cannot find fresh you can use frozen hearts from the market.

To put this into perspective here, I decided on a whim to do all of this on a Tuesday night. Yes, my planning stages should be more thought out. Oh well, that's the life I lead.

You can also, for vegetarian or pork hating reasons, leave out the bacon. But that's like leaving your child outside at night. Just saying.

Braised Artichokes
adapted from Tom Colicchio

8 cleaned artichoke hearts or 1 bag frozen hearts
2 slices bacon, sliced (optional)
1 onion, sliced thin
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 cup cup dry white wine

In a large pot over medium heat, render bacon for 3-5 minutes (if using) and 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Add onion, carrots, and celery to the pot along with some salt.  Lower heat to medium-low and cook until tender, 10-15 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for another minute.

Place artichokes in pot and season with salt and pepper.  Add 2 more tablespoons olive oil (if desired), bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary.  Mix and arrange hearts in a single layer and white wine.  Add water to cover artichokes and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Partially cover the pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer until artichokes are tender and have little resistance when pierced with a knife (about 25-30 minutes).  Cool and store in refrigerator for up to a week.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Taco Salad

My family's taco salad is something I have to explain to people each time I bring it to a picnic. Mostly to convince them that, in fact, it is a real thing. It's always eaten, always loved, but people approach it with...well, skepticism. Maybe it's the Catalina dressing, maybe it's the Frito's, I don't know. All I know is that it's delicious and if you need a really quick side to take to an event, boom, here it is (sorry no pictures, can't find them).

I don't know where this recipe started, but I did a quick Google search and can find only a similar version that Paula Deen makes with meat and salsa. Pretty sure my great-grandmother was not influenced by the Food Network, so I'm going to call it a wash.

What about you, dear readers, do you have some off-kilter dish in your family that may seem bananas but is delicious?

Taco Salad

1 large head iceberg lettuce, chopped into about 1-inch pieces
1 onion, diced
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 can ranch style beans
8 ounces cheddar or Colby-jack cheese, shredded
1 7-8 ounce bag Frito's, crushed
1 16-ounce bottle Catalina dressing

Quick tip: If you would prefer a milder onion flavor, rinse the chopped onions under water for a few seconds and let drain.

Combine lettuce, onion, tomatoes, beans, and cheese in a large bowl (this can be done ahead of time). Immediately before serving add Frito's and 3/4 of the bottle of dressing. Mix well, if salad seems dry add remaining dressing. Enjoy immediately.


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"Poooooo-len-ta." If you ever read "Heat" by Bill Buford, those words ring true and somewhat intimidating. Polenta is, like a lot of Italian dishes, easy to do mediocre but difficult to do great (that's just my opinion).

I have made polenta four times. Two times it was a disaster. The first I made was a soft polenta, which was good but pretty bland. The second time I tried I made a pan seared polenta from Anne Burrell. Honestly, I was not a fan, it was a little herby for me and WAY to salty (that was my own fault). Third times a charm, right? Considering polenta was getting ready to make the banned list in my house, I certainly hoped so. I went down to the store and bought some more (I buy it from the grain sections in a health food store, you can buy it by weight and it's generally fresher and higher quality) and gave it one more go.

The polenta I made was different, slightly Spanish in style, and grilled. I used smoked paprika, some mascarpone cheese (carryover from the previous polenta), parsley, herbs, and a combination of milk and water. One thing I immediately discovered. Mascarpone, while a favorite of many chefs, doesn't really do anything for me here in polenta. I would actually save myself the money and use cream cheese or some other really soft cheese. Just a preference, but I'm on a budget here.

The key with polenta is the stirring. You have to stir it, not all the time, but enough so it absorbs all of the liquid and develops a nice, silky texture. You also have to let it cook for a while, even if that means adding a bit more liquid again and again. Your patience will be rewarded.

This is the recipe for "hard" polenta, I will post my recent success for "soft" polenta later this week.

Grilled Polenta

1 cup milk
2 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup polenta
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup cream cheese
olive oil

In a medium saucepan over medium high heat combine the the milk, water, paprika, chile powder, and cayenne. Bring to a boil (be careful to stir and not scald the milk) and season with salt, a bit generously.

Slowly pour in polenta while whisking.  Once incorporated, use a heat proof spatula or wooden spoon to stir polenta constantly until thick.  If it becomes very thick add a bit more water to loosen it up.  You will probably need to do this multiple times.  Cook until polenta is smooth, about 25-30 minutes.  It should not be grainy when you taste it.  Stir in parsley and cream cheese. Season with salt to taste and remove from heat. Line a 9x9 baking pan with plastic wrap or parchment paper and pour polenta into pan.  Cover top with plastic wrap and press into a smoothed, even surface.  Place in refrigerator for 2-24 hours.

To Grill: Preheat grill to high heat, scrape down grates and oil well.  Remove polenta from pan and pat dry with paper towels.  Cut into squares and brush with olive oil liberally.  Once grill is hot grill polenta for about 3 minutes on each side or until nicely crisp on the outside.

To Pan Fry: Preheat a non-stick skillet over medium high heat and add olive oil to coat.  Cut polenta into squares, pat dry with paper towels and add to pan, cook until golden brown on each side.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Grilled Pork Chops and Soft Polenta

Oops.  I promised a recipe for soft polenta weeks ago, and then got sidetracked by artichokes.  More on that next week.  Not much writing for this, but polenta now!

I've made both hard and soft polenta, and soft is my favorite.  It's creamy, nutty, chewy, and it pairs well with many grilled meats or roasts.  This time I tried out an interpretation of Mario Bataili's grilled pork chops with spicy peppers.  It was a home run in my eyes.  Enjoy!
Grilled Pork Chops with Spicy Peppers  

4 thick cut pork chops (~8oz), bone in
1/4 cup salt and 1 tablespoon sugar dissolved in 6 cups water
1 red onion, chopped 
2 red or yellow bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 teaspoon sugar
pinch cayenne
1/2 cup sliced spicy cherry peppers from a jar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

Soft Polenta
1 cup dry polenta or coarse ground cornmeal
1 1/2 cups milk
2 cups water
salt and pepper
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese

For the chops:  Add chops to salted water and brine in refrigerator for at least 4 hours to overnight.  

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add red onion and bell pepper to pan and cook until soft, about 5-7 minutes.  Add sugar, cayenne, and season with salt and pepper.  Reduce heat to medium low and cook vegetables tender, stirring often for 8-10 minutes.  Stir in sliced cherry peppers, keep warm.

Meanwhile, remove pork from brine and pat dry.  Season with pepper and a slight pinch of salt.  Heat a grill to high heat and grill pork chops directly on heat until they reach 140°C, about 5 minutes per side.  Serve pork chops with pepper mixture and drizzle each chop with 1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar.

For the polenta: In a medium pot bring milk and water to a boil, season well with salt.  Gradually whisk in polenta and reduce heat to medium.  Stir with wooden spoon often and cook for 30-40 minutes or until polenta is smooth and soft, adding additional water to keep polenta loose as needed.  Once cooked, add Parmesan and season with salt and pepper.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Beer Suggestions for the 4th of July

Happy Fourth of July! And to include the northern neighbors, Happy Canada Day!  For me, it's the start of my "true" summer, the time when I can get a large group of people together, grill a bunch of meat and veggies, and drink ice cold beer.

With so many choices (and distribution limits), what can you do if you live in Indiana (or thereabouts) and are looking for good brew this weekend?  Alas, I give you a few suggestions that will either a) pair well with food or b) are good beers for the hot weather approaching.  Follow the links to use the nifty Beer Spy

Any other suggestions?  Feel free to sound off in the comments

Sierra Nevada Best of Beer Camp- I'm enjoying this for many reasons.  Sierra Nevada put out some unique and newer beers with this mix pack, and they are all fantastic.  It contains a California steam, a double IPA, a juniper black ale, and a weizenbock.  Perfect for a crowd

Bells Oberon- My go-to beer for summer, it's got a citrusy punch and a nice fruit flavor.  Good with burgers.  And you can get Bells in counter top kegs too.

Sun King Osiris Pale Ale- Yes, I'm biased, this is my favorite brewery at the moment.  Their beers are delicious. If you happen to live in Indy, go to the brewery and pick up one of their seasonals.  If not, Osiris is a dry hopped pale ale that is full of flavor, and it comes canned for aquatic events.

Victory Prima Pils- A surprisingly hoppy pilsner from a brewery that also has an extremely solid lineup of beers. A light beer that's both refreshing and slightly dry, this is a beer to enjoy after some street hockey (if celebrating Canda day).  Also try their new Headwaters Pale Ale (seen above)

Three Floyds Gumballhead- Another summer wheat beer, this one has a lemon hit at the end and is nice and yeasty.

There are many other great breweries from Indiana as well, including Flat 12, Upland, and People's (in Lafayette).  Enjo