Monday, March 22, 2010

Cauliflower & Potato Curry

Aaah, living with a boy. It's like one neverending Wendy's commercial: "Where's the beef?" My good friend and informed vegetarian Kara took note of the fact that, ever since Ross moved back from DC, all my blog posts have featured meat.

It's true; in an ongoing effort to help Ross meet (ahem, exceed) his protein needs, I include meat in most dinners, and in a sheer effort on my part to use as few dishes as possible while cooking, I end up just submitting to the meat as well. Not that I don't enjoy it - I do. But while I was not so long ago eating meat more conscientiously, I have of late been eating meat, well, Tyrannosaurus-Rexily.

So, in the name of the planet, my heart, and my personal nutrition goals, I enjoyed this meat-free meal this evening. And Ross? Far be it from me to deny his carnivorous demands - he got a (free-range, organic) chicken breast simply pan-cooked in lime juice, honey, and a pre-bought Moroccan spice blend. And I took a big spoon to my potato curry - the potatoes were so rich that it didn't even need rice.

So, Kara, all my veggie peeps, and anyone who enjoys the occasional animal-free meal, enjoy! Oh, and check out my "vegetarian"-labeled posts to the right.


2 T. oil (I used grapeseed oil, you could use any neutral oil)
1 white onion, chunked
2 red bell peppers, chunked
salt and pepper
1 can light coconut milk
2 heaping tablespoons natural (unsweetened) peanut butter
juice of one lime
big squeeze Sriracha hot sauce
several spoonfuls brown sugar
1 cup chicken broth (obviously true vegetarians would use vegetable broth)
1 head cauliflower, in florets
3 smallish russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
fresh cilantro leaves, torn or chopped
more salt if needed


Heat a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat. Heat the oil. Add the onion and bell pepper and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes, until browned at the edges and beginning to soften.


Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, peanut butter, Sriracha, brown sugar, and lime juice. Pour into the pot. Add the chicken broth, cauliflower, and potatoes. Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add the cilantro leaves. Cook, partially covered, until potatoes are tender. Serve in a bowl with more fresh cilantro on top. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pacifico Pulled Pork Tacos

This is Carolina barbeque meets Mexico City street food. In short, me gusta!

The ingredient list looks long, and it is. If you're not a compulsive spice hoarder like me, you can certainly feel free to leave a few of these out, unless you feel like stocking your spice cabinet. This would also be just fine if you don't happen to have Pacifico lying around - any other beer (or chicken stock, or beef broth, or water) would work just fine. And if you can't find the curious cut of meat called a "pork picnic?" You guessed it - not to worry. Any old cheap cut of pork (or beef) would work beautifully.

In fact, even after eating about a quarter of our pork picnic, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you exactly what it is - but at $4 for 2-3 lbs., you can bet it was a part of the pig you would not want to eat unless you'd cooked it all day. All I know is, I fished out what was unmistakably a ball joint bone from the Crockpot, so I'm guessing it was either a shoulder cut or a hind-quarters cut. Regardless of where on the little porky guy it came from, it was downright delicious after a juicy all-night bath and about 10 hours in the slow cooker.

Despite its formidable ingredient list, this dish is definitely worth making! It was inspired by a post on Smitten Kitchen which originally used beef brisket. I've made a similar dish with beef before, and it was great. At this point in the post, I sound like a broken record, so I'll wrap it up and take you to the directions. I hope you like this as much as Ross and I did!

Wait, wait, one more thing! Sorry about the grainy photos - none of our cameras had charged batteries, so I resorted to snapping pics of this on my iPhone - it was too good not to document! Better photos next time, promise :-)


1 large pork...piece (mine was called, as mentioned earlier, a "pork picnic" - basically a big hunk of cheap meat; mine was about 3 lbs. before being cooked - a lot of it cooks off, and you'll need to discard some fat both before and after cooking)
3 T. olive oil
1 bottle Pacifico beer
1 14.5-oz. can "Mexican" diced tomatoes and all juices
1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 T. cumin
1-2 T. hot Mexican chili powder
1 T. paprika
1 cinnamon stick
juice of 2 limes
2 bay leaves
several heaping spoonfuls brown sugar
a few dashes cayenne pepper
1/2 T. ground coriander
salt and black pepper

corn tortillas
1 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
1 onion, julienned
2 poblano peppers, julienned
fresh cilantro, chopped
juice of one lime
sour cream (I used light)

one 28-oz can Mexican-spiced black beans, drained
one can Mxican-spiced tomatoes and all juices
fresh chopped cilantro

MORE NOTES ON SWAPS: If you want to skip the poblano/onion topping and sour cream-lime sauce, be my guest. This would ve fine topped with any taco fixin's you like...and under tons of melty, gooey cheese...? [CUT TO EXTREME CLOSE UP OF ME DROOLING.] If you like flour tortillas, use those. If you want to skip the taco building altogether and stand over the crockpot and eat the damn pork with a spoon, I wouldn't blame you.


The night before you want to eat this (or the morning of), trim the pork of any big pieces of obvious fat, and heat the oil in a pan and brown the pork on both sides, seasoning liberally with salt and pepper, until browned.


Meanwhile, in your Crockpot's interior pot (the one that can be removed, not the electrical part), add the beer, tomatoes, lime juice, all spices, onion, garlic, and brown sugar. When the pork is browned, transfer it to the liquid. Turn off the heat in the browning pan and pour in the vinegar, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze it. Pour this into the Crockpot too. Cover and refrigerate until the morning.


Place the inner pot into the Crockpot and turn on low. Cook for 8-10 hours. Remove the pork from the pot and place on a plate or cutting board. With two forks, shred the meat, discarding any too-fatty bits. Meanwhile, strain the cooking liquid over a pot. Boil until reduced by half. Return the shredded pork and about 1 cup of the reduced liquid to the pot and mix together (you can also skip this step entirely - or, you can use an immersion blender to puree the wilted veggies and juices together - whatever you prefer).


In a pan, heat the other 1 T. oil. Cook the poblano peppers and onions until softened, seasoning with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, mix together the fresh chopped cilantro, juice of one lime, and a few big spoonfuls of sour cream. Set aside, refigerated.


Place the beans and tomatoes in a pot. Boil until much of the tomato juices have steamed off and the mixture has thickened. Stir in the fresh cilantro. Serve in individual cups or small bowls. Serve the shredded pork in the tortillas, top with the poblano/onion mixture and sour cream-lime sauce. Serve with the beans & tomato. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Lesson in Simplicity. And Cleanliness.

Have you ever heard the term "cooking clean"? I'm not sure exactly what it means, but I assume it means cooking with whole, pure, healthful ingredients. And it might even mean wiping the counter down when tomato sauce gets an attitude and splatters your white cooktop.

While I like to "cook clean," in at least one sense of the phrase, no one has every accused me of being a clean freak when it comes to, say, my apartment. I consider myself more of a binge cleaner; I throw things on the floor between Monday and Friday (the pile of clothes and towels that accumulates Ross and I have lovingly dubbed the "Traveling Tumbleweed of Textiles," due to our habit of shifting it from the bed to the couch and back to the bed, depending on where we're parked at the time).

Normally, this works out just fine. I wake up on Saturday mornings, grab a coffee and some bagels, and commence the 2-hour cleaning spree that leaves our tiny abode sparkling and pleasant - for a couple of days. When it doesn't work out, however, is when our maintenance man makes an unannounced drop-in. I came home from work today to find my trash can, cat litter box, and granny grocery cart moved to my "dining room" from their usual place in the useless nook blocking the door to the creepy back staircase that we never use (you following?). That nook is also where the previous tenant stored her unused window screens, which I had never bothered to put back in the windows (I know, I know, I'm ridiculously lazy). The screen had been moved from the nook to the window. Alrighty then.

What I didn't notice until a random stop into the bathroom is that the maintenance guy (apparently) had come by not to replace our screens, but to deliver a shiny new bathroom sink console! Behold:

I was really excited to have a little something new for this old house, until I took a look around the place (now with fresh eyes) and realized that it was totally trashed. I could just see it: Tony the Maintenance Guy comes in the back, moves the stinky garbage and cat litter out of the way, and is greeted by the sight of dishes and bits of parsley in the kitchen, half-drunk bottles of wine in the dining room, and - the horror - underwear on the bathroom floor. Needless to say, I was mortified. I'm tempted to invent a leaky pipe or faulty lock just so I can bring Tony back and show him what the place looks like when it's nice and tidy!

Anyway that was a very, very long way of introducing a sauce so simple, so pure, and so delicious that - I can't believe I'm about to say this - you just have to taste to believe. I could not make myself believe that a sauce with only three ingredients could be so delicious. I'm having an existential crisis about everything else I've ever cooked! Have I been over-ingredient-ing this whole time?!?

Without any more chatter, I'll let you in on The Sauce That Set The Blogosphere Ablaze. I urge you to set aside your doubts and commence making this sauce as soon as humanly possible. It's truly marvelous.


1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes (you could also use whole) and all juices
1 medium yellow onion
5 T. butter (I used salted butter)
you can add salt to taste, but mine didn't need any
whole wheat spaghetti (or any pasta you like)

1 tilapia filet, fresh
juice of one lemon
1 T. olive oil
red pepper flakes
fresh chopped parsley

fresh chopped Romaine lettuce
1/4 of the onion you stewed in the tomato sauce, sliced
some cooking juice and capers from the cooked fish
grated parmesan cheese
a little more olive oil


Place the tomatoes, onion, and butter in a pot and simmer for about 45 minutes, until the tomatoes have broken down. At this point, strain out the onion. (I left a little of the onion in, then pureed it all with an immersion blender - you can skip this, but it made it super creamy and smooth.)


Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350. Put the raw fish in a baking dish. Top it with the lemon juice, oil, salt, red pepper flakes, and capers. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, until opaque and flaky. Boil some pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside.


Place the lettuce in a bowl. When you fish out the onion from the sauce, chop a little bit of it into pieces and put it on the salad. When the fish is done, spoon a little of the lemon/oil/caper cooking juices from the pan on top of the salad. Top with a little drizzle of olive oil and some fresh parmesan cheese. Serve the sauce and pasta by the fish and enjoy with the salad!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Russian Pot Roast with Sour Cream-Dill Sauce

Here we are again with another dish of questionable national origins (remember my "Spanish" dish from last night?). I deemed this "Russian" pot roast because the combination of red meat, egg noodles, cabbage, and sour cream says Russian to me.

Regardless of its origins, this was a simple, satisfying dish. I don't do a lot of things on this blog that I would describe as "family friendly" (enjoying strange, spicy, and ethnic foods on a daily basis is one of the many perks of being child-free), but I think this is something kids would like - provided you leave the "green stuff" (dill) out of the sour cream topping. In fact, the cabbage is so unrecognizable after cooking with meat all day, no child of average intelligence would be able to pinpoint a single vegetable in this meal!

This meal really stoked my frugal side - the side of me that hates to throw anything away. I had an almost-completely-full jar of red cabbage kraut in the fridge from my reuben tartines a few days ago, and frankly, what was I going to do with that? Then came the sherry wine from my foray into Spanish cuisine, and - being the only wine I've ever not wanted to drink - it needed to be used for cooking. And then there was the sour cream, which, if not integrated into a specific meal, would surely get inhaled by me in a tortilla-chip-wielding, late-night attack.

So you see that I had no choice but to make this exact dish, and it all - miraculously - worked. It was really good! Savory, tangy, subtly sweet, and ridiculously low-maintenance. All I did was throw everything into the crockpot, boil some noodles, and mix up a quick sour cream sauce. If you don't have an overage of sherry (and why would you?), you could substitute regular white wine, or red wine, or just beef stock with a few dashes of vinegar. Hell, you could even use water, although you'd have to do a little more work to punch up the flavor. But if you're at all a fan of sauerkraut (sauerkraut people are, truly, my kind of people), make this dish ASAP! NOTE: red-meat-loving boyfriends will also swoon.


1 very lean top round roast, about 1 and 1/4 lbs.
vegetable oil
salt and pepper
about a cup (or more) jarred pickled red cabbage (this is like sauerkraut, only purple, found on the same shelf)
3/4 bottle sherry wine (not cooking sherry)
1 medium onion, cut into chunks
juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt and pepper
cooked egg noodles
1/2-3/4 c. lowfat sour cream
juice of 1/2 a lemon
handful fresh dill, chopped


Get a pan screaming hot. Drizzle in some vegetable oil. Brown the meat, seasoning with salt and pepper, on both sides. The browner the better.


In your slow cooker, put the sherry, onion, red cabbage, and lemon juice. Add a little salt and pepper. When the meat is done browning, nestle it in the crockpot. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.


Uncover the meat. Set a strainer over a pot and strain the meat and cabbage over the pot, catching the liquid in the pot. Return the meat and cabbage to the Crockpot and turn off the heat. Cover it. Bring the cooking liquid to a boil and cook until reduced by half. Taste and adjust seasoning. Meanwhile, boil the egg noodles.


Return the cooking liquid to the Crockpot with the meat and cabbage. With two forks, tear the meat apart and mix together with the cabbage (mine was actually so tender that I just took a spoon to it, and it came apart very easily).


Mix the sour cream, dill, and lemon juice with a little salt and pepper. Serve the meat, cabbage, and cooking liquid over hot buttered egg noodles. Top with the sour cream sauce. Enjoy!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Spanish (?) Fried Chickpeas & Roasted Beets

There are a few ingredients that even I have been afraid to use. Well, not afraid, exactly, but...there are just some things that don't stay at the top of my overcrowded mind. I pretty much used all of those ingredients in this dish.

One of those ingredients is sherry. Now, there is cooking sherry, and there is drinking sherry. I used Spanish sherry wine, which I'd never even tasted until popping the cork on the bottle I used tonight. Frankly, it's not something I'd ever drink. I find that amber-colored alcohols are not to my liking. But for cooking, it's divine. Cooking sherry, however, is something else entirely - nothing you'd ever want to drink, to be sure. I had also been hesitant - for no logical reason at all - to cook with beet greens. Having never met a green I didn't like (I used to gnaw on grass as a child), I have no idea why I was so dubious. Turns out, beet greens are delicious! And the best part? They come attached to beets (also delicious!).

Everyone has a moment when they, well, get over the hump with a certain food. Most often, getting over the hump just happens over time, and goes largely unnoticed until one day, you find yourself "mmm"-ing over something you used to shun (cilantro, sushi, and rye bread are all things I used to dislike, and now regularly enjoy). Occasionally, the transition happens in one unforgettable moment - like it did when I realized I liked beets. Not the cloyingly sweet jarred beets of my childhood, but real, actual, beets.

This moment happened at Deleece, a great restaurant on the north side of the city. I ordered a beet and goat cheese salad (cheese is the ship that has delivered many a hesitant food pilgrim to the New World of ingredient love). The beets were roasted, the moment was perfect - and that was it for me. Beets and I have been inseparable ever since - at restaurants, that is. At home, nary a beet crossed my doorstep. Till tonight. Simply roasting them with olive oil and salt and pepper (the most basic root-vegetable-roasting method) made them absolute perfection.

Truth be told, I can't take credit for this recipe. It's a Mark Bittman recipe, from the New York Times. His was a bit different - he used Spanish chorizo, which I find nearly impossible to obtain in Chicago (the fattier, uncased, raw Mexican version of chorizo is all the rage here, but I don't like it, so whenever a recipe calls for chorizo I sub in andouille sausage). After watching an episode of No Reservations about Spain, a friend telling me I'd love Barcelona, and stumbling upon this recipe, I decided it was fate that I create this Spanish-inspired dish. Bittman also used only chickpeas, and did not include garlic, red pepper, flakes, or paprika. He also used spinach rather than beet greens. Despite my capricious swaps, the dish turned out nicely. I like that it's cheap, easy, and balanced. The perfect mealtime storm!


3-4 medium fresh beets, cubed
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
1 medium onion, cut into chunks
olive oil
salt and pepper

1/4 cup olive oil
1 can chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and patted very dry
1 can white beans, drained, rinsed, and patted very dry
2 links turkey andouille sausage (or Spanish chorizo, or pork andouille, or get the idea)
a few slices salami*
salt and pepper to taste
red pepper flakes
dash of paprika
1 bunch fresh beet greens, washed, tough stems trimmed off, and cut into smallish pieces
1/4 c. - 1/2 c. sherry (I used a Spanish sherry found at Whole Foods for a reasonable $11; I also used the remainder of the bottle in a recipe you'll see here very soon - waste not, want not!)
2 cloves garlic
1 cup freshly made (or store-bought) bread crumbs**
more olive oil

*This is not necessary, but I had some salami I wanted to use up. It was good in there, though. You could use any deli sausage.

**Not having a food processor, I have never been able to make my own breadcrumbs. Until my epiphany: I can simply use my spice/coffee grinder as a mini-food processor! I toasted some stale-ish Italian bread, tore it into pieces, and placed it in the spice grinder, with incredible success. Voila! Fresh breadcrumbs. If you have neither processing equipment nor the inclination to make your own breadcrumbs, use store-bought Panko breadcrumbs. The world will continue turning.


Preheat the oven to 375. Toss the beet cubes, carrots, and onion in olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast for about an hour, turning a few times, until tender but not mushy.


Meanwhile, in a large oven-safe pan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the chickpeas, beans and sausage, stirring until it's all in more or less a single layer in the pan. Add some salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and paprika. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring infrequently, until the sausage has released some fat and the chickpeas are lightly browned and crisp. Remove sausage and bean mixture from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving any remaining oil in the pan, still over medium-high heat.


Add the beet greens and sherry to the pan, and cook until wilted, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until cooked to your liking (cook longer for softer greens, less for crisper greens). Add the chickpeas/beans/sausage back to the pan and stir to combine. Top with the bread crumbs, a little salt and pepper, and drizzle with a little more olive oil. Heat under the broiler until lightly browned. Serve alongside the roasted veggies. Enjoy!
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