Monday, January 16, 2017

A Flavor Trip to Peru

First up in my quest to try a new country's food every month this year: Peru!

I'd had Peruvian food only once before that I can recall: in a restaurant in Washington D.C. while on vacation a couple of years ago. I absolutely loved it, so was delighted to find multiple Peruvian recipes in Global Kitchen: The World's Most Delicious Food Made Easy, which my parents gave me for Christmas.

This meal introduced me to a new ingredient--aji amarillo paste--which I thankfully found on Amazon. It's made from a medium-hot yellow chili pepper which is very common in Peru. When I tasted the paste on its own, I worried that the dishes using it would be too hot for my taste, but that wasn't the case at all. It brought a nice flavor and a bit of heat, but nothing on my plate felt too spicy. Here's a rundown of our menu!

Peruvian Beef Kebabs (Anticuchos with Roasted Yellow Pepper Sauce) - These beef kebabs are marinated in red wine vinegar, aji amarillo, cumin, and turmeric. Then you dust them with parsley and more of the same spices, grill them (or cook in a cast iron skillet like I did), and dip them in this beautiful sauce made from roasted yellow bell pepper, green onions, white vinegar, oil, lemon, cumin, aji amarillo, turmeric, and garlic. This recipe actually calls for ground aji amarillo; since I bought paste instead of powder, I simply used the aji amarillo paste in the marinade and sauce. For the spice rub, I subbed equal parts regular paprika and smoked paprika. This was my favorite dish of the night.

Potatoes with Huancaina Sauce (Papa a la Huancaina) - This dish was the most unlike anything I've ever had before. To serve, you cover a platter with a bed of shredded lettuce, then top with boiled, peeled potatoes (gold or blue), and drizzle with a sauce made from roasted red bell pepper, sauteed onion and garlic, evaporated milk, aji amarillo paste, queso fresco (cheese), olive oil, and salt. But wait--there's more. On top of that you arrange wedges of hard-boiled eggs and a sprinkling of black olives. Potatoes are big in Peruvian cuisine, and this particular dish comes from the Peruvian highlands (Huancayo). I couldn't find the exact recipe I used online, but this one is fairly close to what I cooked from Global Kitchen.

Peruvian Sarsa Salad - My guests and I couldn't decide whether this was supposed to be a side dish eaten separately, or a relish eaten with a meaty main dish. Fortunately, it seemed to work both ways. It added a bright, fresh, crisp element to our plates. It was made from red onions, radishes, lima beans, queso fresco, roasted red bell pepper, and fresh cilantro and mint, all tossed in a light dressing of fresh lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. I was worried that it would be overpoweringly oniony, but it actually was really nicely balanced and lovely. I used extra lima beans in place of hominy, queso fresco instead of feta or farmer's cheese, and some red bell pepper I roasted myself instead of using bottled.

Crema Volteada - For dessert, I made this Peruvian flan. I found several variations online (surprise, surprise), including one that incorporated pureed cooked quinoa, which sounded intriguing. I landed on this one which seemed more basic. For me, it was the weakest link in the menu--the texture was a little off (probably my doing), and it was the least adventurous element since I've had flan plenty of times before. However, in terms of work and time management, it was perfect--it could be made the day before, which was especially nice since there were so many different elements to prepare in the other dishes.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Pomegranate Molasses Chicken + Bulgar Wheat Salad with Currants and Mint

One of the things I love most about food is that it's communal. Sure, we need it for sustenance. And it's a fun creative outlet. But more than that, I love how it connects people.

When our friends have babies, we eagerly bring them food and share their joy. When someone dies, we bring food to their loved ones, sharing their pain. When we want our coworkers to like us, we take baked goods to the office. When there's cause for celebration--a graduation, a wedding, a birthday--we throw a party with snacks at the very least and quite possibly a full banquet. When we want to get to know someone better, we find a time to eat together.

Food connects us.

This week I've been thinking about Laura. She entered my life as my brothers' friend and my close friend's cousin, and she remained in my life as my friend. Laura died this week. She'd been battling cancer for some time now, and on Sunday I woke up to the news of her death. Though we rarely saw each other after I moved away for college, whenever I did get to spend time with Laura, she always had this peaceful, comforting, welcoming, nurturing presence about her. She always made me feel like I belonged in whatever group we were in (often a struggle for me). She loved people well. She brought so much beauty to this world.

I wish I could take her family a meal.

On the day Laura died, I made this meal which felt exotic and beautiful. Perhaps because cooking is comforting, and I needed that on a day dampened with death. Perhaps because the act of preparing and eating food made me feel somehow connected to the people all over the world who grieve Laura's passing. Perhaps because it was a small way to bring a little beauty back into the world.


Pomegranate Molasses Chicken and Bulgar Wheat Salad with Currants and Mint
Adapted from Honey & Co.: The Cookbook by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer
Yield: 2-4 servings depending on the size of your appetite and your chicken thighs

Chicken ingredients
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/4 to 1/2 green chili, sliced (I used 1/3 of a jalapeno, seeded)
Scant 2 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses (see notes)
1/2 Tbsp. canola oil
1/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Canola oil, for pan frying
Salt and pepper, to taste

Bulgar salad ingredients
3/4 cup bulgar wheat
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses
1/4 cup shelled pistachios, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup dried currants (see notes)
2-4 Tbsp. fresh pomegranate arils
Generous 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 to 3/8 cup chopped fresh parsley (a couple handfuls)
Additional pistachios (roasted and chopped), pomegranate arils, and mint to sprinkle on top

Directions
Marinate the chicken: In a gallon sized zip-top bag, combine garlic, chili, pomegranate molasses, canola oil, and black pepper. Add chicken thighs, then squoosh everything around so the marinade coats the chicken well and the garlic and chili slices are pretty evenly dispersed. Seal the bag and chill in your fridge for 2 hours, or up to 2 days.

Cook the chicken: Preheat oven to 400. In an oven-proof skillet (cast iron works great), heat a glug of canola oil over medium heat (on the stove). When the skillet is hot, add the marinated chicken thighs, smooth side down. Season with salt and pepper (to taste) then don't touch them for 2-3 minutes. Let them get nice and golden! Turn the chicken, let that side brown for a couple of minutes, then transfer the skillet into the preheated oven. Cook for 12 minutes or until chicken thighs are fully cooked.

Prepare the bulgar salad: Cook bulgar according to package directions, adding the 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. olive oil. (I tried the more traditional method of pouring boiling water over my bulgar and covering it for 5 minutes, but mine was still crunchy after 10 minutes, so I resorted to zapping it in the microwave. Always before I've used the stovetop method which worked much better for me.) Fluff with a fork, then add the pomegranate molasses and continue tossing with a fork. Add all the rest of the salad ingredients--pistachios, currants, pomegranate arils, mint, and parsley--and toss to combine. Taste; add salt and pepper if needed.

I followed Itamar and Sarit's recommendation for serving: scoop some bulgar wheat salad onto your plate, top with a chicken thigh or two, and sprinkle with some extra pistachios, pomegranate arils, and fresh mint.

Notes

  • In theory, you can buy pomegranate molasses. But I couldn't find any, so I improvised and made my own! Basically you just simmer pomegranate juice, sugar, and fresh lemon juice until it thickens and reduces. I used Alton Brown's ingredient ratios and looked to Tori Avey's extra detail in the instructions.
  • If you're a fellow Abilenian and know where to get pomegranate molasses locally, please share your wisdom! I looked at Market Street and HEB, Drug Emporium and Cordell's were closed, and Natural Grocer's didn't answer when I tried calling to see if they carried it. Also orange blossom water for future recipes from this cookbook.
  • Currants can also be tricky to find here, but I found some in the bulk bins at Market Street. One of my friends has found them at Natural Grocers as well.
  • I cheat and buy the pomegranate arils that come in a little cup in the produce section.
  • As long as you plan ahead on marinating the chicken (and making the pomegranate molasses if needed), this could easily be a weeknight meal. It felt really fancy, but it doesn't involve any fancy techniques, and it came together pretty quickly once the pom molasses was made. Also, leftovers reheated well.


Monday, January 2, 2017

2017 Food Goals: Global Edition

If you've followed my blog for a while, you may recall that for several years I've set food goals for myself at the beginning of each year (but skipped 2016). The goals usually involved trying a new ingredient (like tomatillos or lavender) or dish (like panna cotta or stovetop popcorn). This year I'm challenging myself to cook more foods from other countries and cultures.

I want to be neither too restrictive nor too loosey-goosey with myself, so here are some basic parameters:

  • Try a new country/cuisine at least once a month.
  • Aim for countries whose cuisines I'm less familiar with. This means Italian, Mexican, Greek, and Chinese are out. Probably French, German, and Irish as well. 
  • Try to hop around from continent to continent. For instance, try something from Belize one month, Tunisia the next, Cambodia the next, Ukraine next, and so on. 
  • Invite friends over to share at least some of the meals with me, but don't get stuck on that. Sometimes it's more feasible to make pomegranate molasses chicken for myself on a random weeknight than to spend a weekend cooking up a feast and roping some friends into helping me eat it.
Speaking of pomegranate molasses chicken with bulgar wheat salad ... that happened last night.

pomegranate molasses chicken with bulgar wheat salad

Finally, let me leave you with some resources I'm sure I'll be using throughout the year.
  • Honey and Co. by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer - This cookbook is chock full of Middle Eastern recipes, personal anecdotes, and good humor. (For instance, the recipe for Mushroom and Cumin Sfiha ends with "Do not offer your guests seconds--squirrel away any that is left over for the next day; it'll still be delicious.") The book was entertaining to read, and I could easily spend the year cooking through this cookbook alone.
  • Global Kitchen by Cooking Light and David Joachim - This one covers a smattering of dishes from regions throughout the world, so it'll be a good launching point for my little challenge to myself. Most recipes include a few sentences about the dish, the culture from which it hails, and/or a word about traditional techniques or modern tweaks.
  • Wild Spice by Arun Kapil - This book may be a little harder to use exclusively for my 12 countries in 12 months challenge because many of the recipes don't include information about the country or region that birthed it. Nevertheless, his recipes draw on spices and ingredients from around the world, so I'm still optimistic it has a place in my cooking repertoire this year, even if not specifically as part of my 12 in 12 challenge.
  • globaltableadventure.com by Sasha Martin - She challenged herself to cook something from every country in the world, and her site now holds over 650 recipes resulting from that challenge. Check out her Map Room page; click on a country and find all her posts and recipes from that country. She also has a page with a roundup of holidays from around the world, with recipes to go with them. Impressive! I'm trying to keep myself from exploring this site too much lest I paralyze myself with the sheer magnitude of options available. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

In Praise of Salad

This time of year we're surrounded by rich, decadent meals and sweet, indulgent treats. They fill our tables, our Facebook feeds, and our favorite food blogs and magazines. So I'm here to offer some fresh veggie goodness that is no less flavorful than those scalloped potatoes and gingerbread cookies.

Now, I almost never make salad for just myself. But lately it has become my staple for potlucks, and I love when there's a bit left over so I can take it home and enjoy it again. And it's nice to have something fresh and light to balance the heavy casseroles and rich desserts. So I'm here to try to convince you to make sure salads are in your rotation for potlucks and dinner spreads this season. My top 5 reasons:
  1. Salad is easy. Throw a bunch of stuff in a bowl and call it a day. There may be some chopping, but maybe not a ton.
  2. Salad doesn't have to be kept warm. At my office potlucks, it's not uncommon for about ten different women to need access to the one oven/stove in our building to heat up their dish or keep it warm.
  3. Most of it can be prepped ahead. Whether you're hosting a dinner or attending a potluck, it's nice to be able to prep things ahead of time. You may need to keep some of the salad components separate until shortly before serving, or wait to cut that apple until you're ready to dress the salad, but you don't have to set a timer or babysit something on the stove.
  4. You can make your own dressing, and people will think you're a food goddess (or god). It sounds fancy to say you made your own dressing, but dressing is so simple and uses mostly pantry ingredients, and you can make just as much as you need for the one salad, rather than buying a bottle, using a tiny bit, and letting the rest sit in your fridge until it goes bad. 
  5. Salad ingredients are easily interchangeable. Don't like kale? Use spinach instead. Need some more protein? Add some beans, grilled chicken, or whole grains. Don't have red wine vinegar? Use white wine vinegar. Are grapes in season? Toss some in. Can't eat onions? Leave them out.
Okay, so I've convinced you (yay!). Now what? Here are several dressing recipes, along with suggestions for what to include with them.

Greens: Almost always I tend toward darker greens (kale, baby spinach, spring mix, etc.). They're chock full of nutrients and they tend to stand up well to flavorful dressings.

Instructions for all dressings: Put all ingredients in a jar and give it a good shake. Be sure to use a 3- or 4-cup jar so there's plenty of room for the ingredients to bounce around in there and get nice and emulsified (so the dressing won't separate as quickly).

Yield: Most of the time I use my 4-quart Pyrex bowl for salads, and I'm 98% sure that all the dressing recipes below will make enough dressing to moderately dress that much salad, probably with some dressing left over.


Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette
I can't remember where I found this one. It's now on an index card stuck to my fridge.

6 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
~1/4 tsp. dried basil

The rest of the salad:
Pretty much whatever you want. This dressing goes with just about anything.


Italian Summer Salad
from The Faux Martha. This is my absolute favorite for an Italian meal. Move aside, Caesar salad!

2 Tbsp. grated parmesan
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 clover garlic
Generous squirt of honey
6 cracks black pepper

For this one it's best to use an immersion blender or small food processor to blend the dressing and fully blend in the cheese and garlic.

The rest of the salad:
Greens of choice (I like Romaine for this one)
Cucumber, chopped
Cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
Green onion, thinly sliced
Pepperoncinis, lightly chopped (don't leave these out! they make the salad!)
Salted sunflower seeds
Feta or parmesan


Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette
a combination of a few different recipes I found on various sites

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil (or decrease by 1/2 to 1 Tbsp. and add in that amount of bacon grease)
1 Tbsp. maple syrup (the real stuff)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbsp. apple cider (optional)

The rest of the salad: 
Spinach, kale, or spring mix
Butternut squash or sweet potato, cubed and roasted
Bacon, cooked and crumbled
Pear or apple
Dried cranberries
Almond slivers
Goat cheese or feta crumbles


Shallot and Red Wine Vinaigrette 
adapted slightly from Food Network

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. minced shallot or red onion
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
Black pepper, to taste
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Squirt of honey or agave

The rest of the salad:
Spinach
Walnuts, toasted
Goat cheese crumbles


Lemon Parsley Vinaigrette
adapted from All Recipes

1/4 cup lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
Squirt of honey

The rest of the salad:
Greens of choice
Onion of choice
Tomatoes, cucumbers, or other veggies of choice
Black olives and/or pepperoncini peppers
Feta or parmesan


Kale Citrus Salad
from Minimalist Baker

3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Pinch of kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 Tbsp. honey
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. orange juice (optional)

The rest of the salad:
Kale, chopped and massaged
Canned mandarin oranges (or fresh grapefruit or orange)
Tart apple, chopped (I actually left this out)
Pomegranate arils and/or dried cranberries
Toasted nuts of choice
Quick pickled red onion (it's easy, I promise. Instructions are in the recipe linked above)



Thursday, September 29, 2016

Autumn Recipe Roundup

It's no secret that autumn is my favorite season. And fall foods are my favorite of all the seasonal foods. So with October 1 just around the corner, here are some yummies to enjoy this season!

Pumpkin Apple Cider - Take the classic spiced hot apple cider and inject some pumpkin into the mix.

Pumpkin Coconut Pancakes - Coconut and pumpkin may not be obvious friends, but their flavors go together so beautifully.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Maple Bourbon Glaze - A labor of love, but oh is it lovely to eat these!

Harvest Galette with Gruyere, Acorn Squash, and Caramelized Onions - Don't let the poor quality of my photo scare you off. (Seriously, what is happening with that onion situation?) This galette is one of my favorite dinners I've ever made.

Pumpquinoa - Pumpkin stuffed with quinoa, sausage, cheese, herbs, and veggies . . . what's not to love? See also version 2.0.

Sausage- and Apple-Stuffed Acorn Squash - Again, not a great photo, but these squash boats are super tasty and not very hard to make. And although I make a big deal about pumpkin, acorn squash is secretly my favorite.

Balsamic Roasted Pumpkin and Friends - A simple roasted side dish. Chopping everything does take some time, but the end result is worth it!

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cinnamon Chip Cookies - Easy and delicious!

Pumpkin Monkey Bread - Need I say more? Really?

And a few from around the interwebs:
What are you looking forward to making this season?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Prickly Pear Lemon Bars


Today I bring you prickly pear lemon bars. They're a great way to use up a bit of prickly pear juice, and they're a fun twist on classic lemon bars. I've made these a few times and have received many compliments from people who normally find lemon bars to be too sweet and puckery, but like the milder sweetness and balance of flavor found in these bars.

Initially, I was suspicious of how well pecans would go with prickly pear, but I trusted the recipe and went for it, and I must say these flavors play together exceedingly well. The pecans add a lovely richness and...well...nuttiness that helps balance the tartness and sweetness of the dessert.

Prickly Pear Lemon Bars
Yield: one 9 x 13 pan (halve the recipe for an 8 x 8 pan)
Adapted slightly from Cupcake Project

Crust Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 cup butter, slightly softened

Filling Ingredients
1-1/3 cups sugar
4 egg whites
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 to 1-1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. prickly pear juice
1 tsp. baking powder
2-4 Tbsp. powdered sugar (for dusting)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 9 x 13-inch pan with cooking spray.

Use a pastry blender, forks, or a food processor to combine all the crust ingredients until crumbly. Press into your baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes.

Mix together all filling ingredients except powdered sugar (I use an electric hand mixture). The mixture will be really runny. This is good.

Pour filling mixture on top of the pre-baked crust. It's perfectly fine if the crust is still hot. Bake for 20 minutes, until filling is set. Let cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar, then cut into squares and serve.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Shrimp Jambalaya


What's a girl to do when she has 10 jars of crawfish stock in her freezer? Seriously, I'd love some ideas.

But to get things going, I gave jambalaya a shot, and was super pleased with how it turned out. The shrimp was perfectly cooked without going all rubbery. The flavors were complex and balanced, with the perfect amount of heat for me (which means it was pretty mild. Apologies to any New Orleans natives out there who are shunning me for this.)

The recipe and techniques weren't difficult unless you struggle with cooking rice. And if rice is your enemy, check out the original recipe for an oven cooking method that the writer claims is much more fool-proof than the standard stove top method.

Pro tip: before you start cooking everything, check to make sure you have the right kind of rice. I didn't bother to check since that's such a basic pantry ingredient, and it wasn't until things were already sauteeing merrily on the stove before I realized that, while I had plenty of brown rice, wild rice, a five-rice blend, brown arborio rice, and white arborio rice (and a whole slew of other grains), there was no plain old ordinary long-grain white rice on my shelf. Fortunately, the white arborio rice worked quite nicely in this recipe! Brown rice could be really yummy, too, but it's not as easy a sub since cooking time is so much longer for brown rice.


Shrimp Jambalaya
Adapted from REMCooks
Yield: 2-3 servings as a main dish

Ingredients
1-2 lbs. peeled and deveined shrimp (see notes)
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup diced onion
1 cup thinly sliced green onion
1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
1 cup seafood stock (store bought or homemade)
1/2 cup uncooked white rice
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Directions
Pour the shrimp into a colander or strainer and rinse under cold running water to start thawing it. Drain well. Set the colandar inside a bowl. Combine cayenne, 3/4 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper and sprinkle over the shrimp. Toss to coat, then cover the bowl and colander with plastic wrap and put in the fridge to continue draining and thawing gently while you do everything else.

Chop all the veggies and herbs.

In a medium pot, melt butter over high heat. Add tomato sauce. Continue cooking the butter and tomato sauce over high heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches a rich, dark color and the butter separates out (here's a photo from REMCooks). This took me about 6 minutes with this small batch, but would probably take a bit longer with a larger batch.

Add the onion, green onion, bell pepper, garlic, thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. Continue cooking on high heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the seafood stock, rice, and remaining salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring once or twice.

Reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Now retrieve your shrimp from the fridge and stir it into the hot rice mixture. Re-cover the pot and let it sit for 10 minutes. If your shrimp is fully thawed, you can remove the pot from the burner, and the heat from the rice mixture will cook the shrimp perfectly. Mine was still a bit frozen when I pulled it out of the fridge, so I left my burner on the lowest possible setting for these 10 minutes.

Remove the lid, remove the bay leaf, stir, and serve.

Notes
  • I used 1 lb. shrimp, and it was fine, but definitely heavy on the rice. The next time I make this, I plan to use half shrimp, half andouille sausage. The original recipe called for half shrimp, half crawfish tails. So mix and match your proteins to your preference.
  • If you like your food spicy, use more cayenne (up to 3/4 tsp.) and more black or white pepper (an additional 1/4 tsp. or so)