Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Caldo Verde Minus the Caldo

Vegetarian caldo verde is one one of my favorite dishes, and is surprisingly a hit among my hard core meat eating family. Along with the warmer weather, however, comes a desire for lighter dishes that don't require a long time at the stove. Think of this as caldo verde lite. It's every bit as satisfying and healthy but comes together quickly with few ingredients. And yes, I used real sausage this time. (It was on sale so it doesn't count.)

Ingredients

A few big handfuls kale, washed and chopped with the stems removed
Half a white or yellow onion, diced
2 links of mexican chorizo or hot italian sausage (or the veg version)
1/2 cup of frozen corn
1/2 can of white, black or kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup white wine or chicken stock
Drizzle olive oil

If you're using sausage (real or veg) that comes in a casing, remove from the casing and crumble into a large skillet heated over medium heat. Add just a touch of olive oil along with the diced onion and the beans. Stir and watch carefully. Most chorizo is highly seasoned but if yours is bland add some salt and pepper now.

When the sausage and onions start to brown add the rest of the ingredients except for the corn and turn the heat up to medium high.

Stir and wait for the liquid to evaporate. When the liquid has completely evaporated turn the heat back down to medium and add the corn. Keep cooking for another few minutes until the corn is heated through. Serve plain or over rice or polenta.



To really knock your socks off, heat up the leftovers the next morning and serve over toast with a poached egg.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New Mexican Chile

Mexican food is just about my favorite cuisine if you can't tell from the picture above. I adore its rich history and connection to culture, and its complex, bold flavors. I think Rick Bayless makes some of the most beautiful and inspired food around. But I can also readily admit that the only Mexican food I've eaten bears little resemblance to the real thing. Without my favorite food and travel shows, and Anthony Bourdain to describe it, I could easily go through life thinking that Mexican cuisine equals greasy tacos and mountains of cheese covered enchiladas. Even when I try to cook "Mexican" all I'm really doing is adding some red stuff to my rice, and putting some food in a tortilla. If I'm feeling really fancy I might mix up some trusty guacamole and call it a day.

Ok so New Mexican cuisine isn't exactly the same thing. (If anything it's a little bit more interesting with the influence of the Native Americans.) But when my dad came back from a recent trip to New Mexico with a stash of dried New Mexican chiles, I jumped at the chance to try something truly authentic. And they're just so pretty. Naturally pretty food almost always tastes good in my experience.


If you ever have the opportunity to get your hands on some (I'm sure you can get them at specialty stores or online) they are fun to experiment with. If you need a crash course in how to use them, here's a good link. I would add a few things though. Before soaking them in water, toast them in a dry pan over medium heat for 3-5 minutes watching carefully. They should smell toasted and become slightly darker but shouldn't turn black at all. You can turn them occasionally too. Let cool. Break them apart and set the seeds aside. Store the seeds in a jar and use just like regular hot pepper flakes. Then soak the peppers in hot water for at least an hour. Spoon the peppers out of the water and put in the food processor. As you process them, add a little bit of the liquid as needed along with any number of other ingredients. Here's a sample recipe that I used to make a sort of all purpose hot sauce. It can be adjusted to taste:

8-10 rehydrated chiles
A few tablespoons olive oil
A few tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Half of a large can of plain crushed, diced, or whole tomatoes
A few (or more) cloves roasted garlic
Salt
Honey (optional)
Chile soaking liquid if you prefer a thinner sauce

Process everything except for the last few ingredients and taste. The last three ingredients are used to adjust to your liking. If you're an amateur and can't handle the heat, that's what the honey is for.

Store in a clean glass jar in the fridge. Add to anything that needs some zip. We used it in a paella. I highly recommend mixing it into some mayo, or greek yogurt if you're a health nut, and dipping some french fries in it. I cut some sweet potatoes into wedges, roasted them, and used them as vehicles to scoop up the wonderfully spicy mayo. I'm pretty sure when the potatoes were gone I just used my finger. I can also attest to its deliciousness as a sandwich spread and as a dressing for coleslaw. Add a spoonful to some eggs. Or to make that aforementioned "Mexican" rice, just add it into some plain white rice to make your next taco night a little more interesting. If you're going this last route, I also recommend adding some chopped fresh cilantro and maybe some beans to make a really substantial side dish. You get the picture.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Book Review: Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook

Occasionally I go through periods where I just can't motivate myself to go to the gym. I just don't see the point. When this happens and I get stuck in a rut, I like to pick up a glossy fitness magazine and fawn over beautiful people and read their magic workout tips. I don't realistically aspire to look like them, nor are most of their exercise tips accessible to me. But the point is that I understand again why I workout. A little bit of glamour and excitement makes my workouts more enjoyable.

Believe it or not I get in food ruts as well. I go through the every day grind of making three meals a day with limited time and budget and pretty soon I'm eating plain slices of bread for lunch. Each trip to the fridge brings dread as I think about the uninspired shelf of bland vegetables that awaits me. All I need is to be reminded of why I eat. Not just to sustain me but because it can be glamorous and exciting.

Who better than my hero Anthony Bourdain to provide this reminder along with some much needed humor? Enter the Les Halles Cookbook, a highly entertaining read that will impress any Bourdain fan and many others. I keep returning to him in my time of need, mostly because I just need to be assured that food is about pleasure, and that there is joy in the (quest for the) perfect meal. I know they say that emotional eating is bad, but when done right I think combining emotions and food is something that we all should aspire to.

I also appreciate his brazen honesty. Many of his recipes require more time, money and equipment than the average home cook has access to. But he's not writing some Sandra Lee guide to home cooking on a budget, nor do his recipes have any redeeming healthful qualities. This is hearty, classic, french fare. Like the glossy fitness magazines, sometimes it's just the inspiration that counts. The thought of the perfectly cooked pot-au-feu or cassoulet is enough to get me back in the kitchen with renewed vigor.

As a practical guide, this is also a wonderful introduction to some terminology that every respectable foodie should know. If you don't already have a solid basic french cookbook, or if you just really appreciate Bourdain's cynical and humorous writing as much as I do, put this one on your wishlist.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Virginia is for eaters!

Virginia might be well known for it's wineries, and perhaps a few specialty items like peanuts or ham, but like most small towns (I use that term loosely) Charlottesville is probably not well known as a foodie mecca. I'm here to make the case that large metropolises are not the only places with great food cultures. As an aspiring food scholar, I could not have picked a better setting. Here are the reasons why:

1. Southerners know a thing or two about comfort food.

I live a block from a humble roadside stand with some truly legendary fried chicken. Philly might have scrapple but we've got pimento cheese. Oh and how did I not know about collard greens? I've also fulfilled my lifelong  dream of  tasting the glorious monstrosity that is the Kentucky Hot Brown, see below. (Ok, that last one is native to Kentucky, but I don't see them serving it up north.)  I'm not saying I'm a regular Paula Deen or anything. But when the mood strikes, an open faced ham, turkey and bacon sandwich soaked in cheese gravy really hits the spot...


2. It's locavore's paradise.

Local Polyface Farm  attracted national attention in the movie Food, Inc. but it seems like local food isn't just a trend but a part of everyday life around here. One local upscale restaurant features produce from a different local family's farm each week. There are community gardens almost everywhere. They grow apples here like it's nobody's business. The tofu made by the local co-op Twin Oaks is the best I've ever had. All the tofu and apples I've been eating cancel out the fried chicken right?

3. They don't lack in variety.

Besides the aforementioned fried chicken joint, I also happen to live on the same block as an awesome dive bar (that serves up some great BBQ), a fancy pizza place, a thai restaurant, and a mexican restaurant. Don't worry, we have our fair share of fancy french places, sushi bars, and trendy fusion places too.

Ok, there is one thing that this place lacks. C'Ville could use a few good food trucks. Yeah there's a local donut truck that drives around sometimes. But in a college town like this, a few strategically placed lunch trucks would make a killing. There's nothing like a breakfast sandwich hot off the griddle. I'm pretty sure that was one of my basic food groups when I lived in Philly. I've tried mightily to recreate it. It can't be done.

So there you have it folks. All of you big city snobs should consider that small town life isn't as bad as you might think. You can have your locally raised organic sausage and eat it too.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

In Case You Were Wondering...

Avocado and grapefruit do not taste good together, I don't care what Ina Garten says.

So here's the story. (Because there's always a story...) Inspired by a recent shipment of those heavenly grapefruits I told you about a while back, I decided to get creative. There's only so many grapefruits a girl can eat for breakfast you know.


So there I was at the local market with grapefruit and avocado on the brain when I spotted some jicama. Don't ask me what I was thinking. It had been a long week.

What is jicama you ask? If you've never watched Food Network before it's basically like eating a raw potato with a hint of apple. Yum.

Surprisingly the jicama wasn't the problem here. It was my first time eating it, and I have to say I kind of like it. Which is good since I now have half a jicama sitting in my fridge. The jicama and the grapefruit are a welcome combo. Together they make a salad that is fresh, not too sweet, with a bit of crunch. Perfect after the winter doldrums of potatoes and greens.

You'd think the creamy mild avocado might lend something here. I'm still trying to pinpoint what that is, but it wasn't good. But I'll include some pics and the recipe anyways because it's just so darn pretty and healthy! I tried really hard to like it, and maybe the avocado I used was a little bland and overripe. (Also, I think people should share more of their failed experiments so that we could all learn from them and have a good laugh while we're at it. I'd love to see a blog devoted to that. In fact I already have more than a few good entries in mind.)

Ingredients

1 large grapefruit, peeled and segmented, with its juice
Half a jicama, peeled and diced (save the rest for slaw)
1 avocado, diced
Coarsely ground sea salt to taste
Splash of lime juice

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl.Oooh and aah for a bit. Taste. Order some pizza instead.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

On Food and Cooking

Hardcore foodies will recognize the title as the book by Harold McGee (I recently acquired a practically free copy that was to be discarded by a public library), but it is a pretty accurate description of what the past couple of weeks have been like for me.

Let's take this morning for instance. I woke up, starving as usual, and excitedly ran out to get the paper. It is Wednesday after all, the day that the Washington Post publishes its food section. Next I made my usual hearty breakfast - eggs, hashbrowns etc and ate while reading about the latest local food news and watched the Cooking Channel.

As I cleaned up, the phone rang and it was a family friend who had invited us over for dinner. As we discussed the menu, it transpired that she would very much like us to bring dessert. My brain had to quickly switch gears from the roasted vegetable cous cous I had been planning to bring. Maybe the panna cotta that I had been wanting to try? On second there are kids in attendance and a cheesecake might be more kid-friendly. Of course I'll make a blueberry coulis to go on top.

Next on the agenda was watering the garden on our deck, a modest selection of flowers, herbs, and tomatoes. My mind wandered to my recurring day dream of converting my grandparents' estate in Newport into a bed and breakfast. I have already planned the vegetable garden and chicken run for fresh veggies and eggs, and today I add a wood burning cob oven made of recycled material where I'll turn out fresh bread and pizza.

So here I am currently, putting off going to the grocery store because writing is much more fun. Maybe I'll make something easier and more fool proof than a cheesecake. A cobbler perhaps? I'll have to do a little research before I go to the store.

The memory of last night's dinner is still lingering in my head. I grilled some beautiful spice rubbed heritage pork chops from a local farm that tasted more like a juicy steak than the porkchops I'm used to, alongside some local zucchini and corn. Oh and local potatoes roasted with some rosemary and thyme.



 Maybe I'll have the leftovers for lunch? Now my thoughts are turning to lunch and I'm hungry again. These days the phrase "I'll go get lunch" often means going around the side of our house to pick some gorgeous tomatoes lovingly grown by my young neighbors, and supplementing with fresh basil picked off our deck.



Suddenly I am reminded of the crab cookout that we will be having on Saturday. I can't forget to call the crab company today.

What a life. I move seamlessly from one meal to the next. I know that it won't last, but I am enjoying every minute of it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Guess the Plant (Day 9)


Notice the different shapes of the leaves.