Archive | December, 2010

Dinosaur Ratatouille: Add a Little Heat

20 Dec

Growing up, there was a definitive point in the year when my mom’s cooking would switch from light summer fair to warmer, more substantial late fall dishes — a trend that would carry into the coldest days of New York winters. November, December, and January were met with large pots of beefy stews, steamy oxtail soup, aromatic chili, roasted root vegetables, and hearty cassoulet all served piping hot in the comfort of our small city home. It was the quintessence of winter, warm and robust meals, meaty, saucy, and spicy all to take the chill out of the air with snow falling as early as October.

My countertop, the garden. All my vegetables, laid out and ready to be prepped for my favorite winter-dish.

Of all the foods my mom prepared, one vegetable dish — made popular by the Disney movie whose name it shares — was my favorite. Ratatouille, made traditionally in the vegetarian paradigm of the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, is the perfect marriage of spices and vegetables that never comes off as bland or uninteresting. While ratatouille runs in the same vein as chili, with its fragrant seasoning and twang of spicy heat, this dish is both meatless and beanless.

My tower of eggplant.

I don’t typically cook all-vegetarian meals, at least not entrees themselves. I reserve my veggies for side dishes or light snacks and let the noble meats pull the weight in my cooking. What makes ratatouille so special though is that there are so many different types of vegetables involved that this dish is interesting enough to stand on its own. Eggplant, a vegetable favorite of mine with its meaty texture and ability to take on just about any flavor, is the ingredient that really helps pull this dish into the realm of hearty and filling.

While my Moosewood Cookbook recipe for ratatouille has served me well for a number of years, I really wanted to spice this dish up for Tre’s inaugural tasting. Naturally gluten-free  and free of corn, rice, and soy I knew that ratatouille would be good for a few dinners and lunches. But I wanted a taste that was unique from the recipe I’d grown to love. Looking to my culinary inspiration, the Dinosaur BBQ, and their smoky, tangy arsenal of sauces, I decided to create a little twist on this old favorite.

Dinosaur Ratatouille

  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium size onions, chopped
  • 1 medium eggplant peeled and cubed
  • 1 large zucchini, cubed
  • 1 green bell pepper, cubed
  • 1 red bell pepper, cubed
  • 3 small vine tomatoes, diced (or one 14oz can diced tomatoes, drained)
  • 1/3 cup Dinosaur Sensual Slathering Sauce
  • 1 tbsp Dinosaur Garlic Chipotle Pepper Sauce

This calls for a LARGE pot!

 

Directions

  1. In a a large stockpot heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, and bay leaf and cook until onion begins to go transparent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add eggplant. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until eggplant begins to soften.
  3. Add zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes, and both sauces. Stir to combine well. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until bell peppers and zucchini have softened.
  4. Remove from heat and serve.
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Been A While!

20 Dec

Hey everyone! I wholeheartedly apologize for the delay in posts and look forward to getting back into my blogging. As for the flood of excuses, I went into December knowing it would be a hectic, expensive, and tiring among other things. We started off with a prompt December 1st blanketing of snow which dethrones the rules of the road making for an overall stressful experience getting anywhere, especially the grocery store. Tre and I had our final exams which is a nightmarish experience at best, with almost 3 weeks dedicated to studying and a relapse into what I’d consider an “undergrad” diet. Then, we enter right into the holiday — the perfect storm of craziness between end-of-year responsibilities at work, braving the retail storm in an attempt to get everyone on my Christmas list hooked up with sweet presents, dealing with an inevitable stress-induced emotional breakdown, and making an effort to accept snow as a regular installment for the next few months of my life. To say the least, it’s a lot.

The Kitchen Essentials Series: #2 Sharp Knives and a Decent Cutting Board

3 Dec

I’ll admit that at the moment, I don’t have either of these things…

My knife collection consists of a hodgepodge of randomly acquired cutting tools that do not match, are not sharp, and are overall poor quality. I think anyone in those interim years between mid-college and a “grownup” living situation suffers the same lack of commitment to cooking paraphernalia that has resulted in my poor knife inventory. For an assortment of reasons, including the magical disappearance of my kitchenware when roommates move, to the cost of high quality sets, to an inherent and respectful fear of all blades, I’ve foregone the dive into investing in a quality set.

Despite my willingness to settle with my garage sale-caliber spread, I thoroughly believe that the most dangerous thing you can have in your home is a dull knife. With the extra pressure you need to apply for cuts and their overall clunky precision, you’re more likely to bury a dull knife in your hand and do serious damage to yourself than with a sharp knife.

Emotional cost of stitches > cost of a nice knife set

Just tonight, Tre nearly took off an entire finger slicing champaign cheddar with a butter knife… not that that’s ever an appropriate tool choice for cutting anything harder than butter, but it’s an excellent point-prover. That’s not to say you can’t hurt yourself with a sharp knife either: just ask my mom about the cutco incident where she and I both inflicted surgery-precise wounds on ourselves within 10 minutes of each other. But given a choice and weighing the risk, I’d opt for a sharp, high quality set any day. Christmas is coming….

In addition a large cutting board gives you more room to maneuver said knives and to work with multiple or large portions of ingredients. My cutting board is clunky and has been mistaken for a drink coaster and I attribute its continued existence in my kitchen to plain forgetfulness. Perhaps writing this post may go so far as to help me remember to grab one next time I’m on my semi-annual trip to Walmart. Thankfully, my food processor helps reduce some of the knife-to-cutting board type prep with less bodily risk, but nonetheless, a larger board would work wonders in my kitchen.

Despite the fact that I own neither a nice set of knives nor a decent cutting board, these rank high on my list of kitchen essentials that everyone should have. If you spend any amount of time prepping ingredients, having both to simplify and safen the process is worth the investment.

Guacamole: A New Kind of Condiment

2 Dec

One thing that Tre and I have made consistently every week since his diagnosis is, you guessed it, guacamole. We’re lucky to have a local grocery store with an almost constant stock of fresh avocados all year round and it makes me sad that so many people pass up this wonderful fruit. Guacamole has made appearances here on this blog in my beef and turkey swiss burger recipes. But behind the scenes, it goes on everything from cold cut sandwiches (with almond flour bread) to carrot sticks for a quick snack. Since I intend to keep guacamole as a regular part of our diet and will surely have it make cameos on the blog going forward, I figured it was time to post the official recipe.

Here is a batch of guac all packaged and ready for storage. Tre and I will make guac every Monday or Tuesday and eat it throughout the week. We enjoy it most as a dip for carrot sticks but have been known just spoon it out of the bowl from time to time.

 

Between the two of us, Tre and I go through about 2 avocados a week worth of guac. Instead of buying pre-made guacs laden with preservatives and salt, or envelopes of powdered ingredients that I can’t even pronounce, Tre and I take the 15 minutes required for preparation to make our own guacamole from fresh, ripe avocados.

Avocados are praised for their health benefits and are often cited as not only being a great snack, salad topper, and dip ingredient, but also a healthier alternative to run-of-the-mill condiments like mayonnaise. Avocados are loaded with vitamin K, fiber, folic acid, potassium, protein, and healthy calories among other things and have been linked to weight loss, cardiovascular health, and lower cholesterol. While some people simply substitute avocado slices in for typical condiments on their sandwiches, I like to take it a step further and create a thick, spicy guacamole for a topper. I could literally go on and on about how much I love guacamole, but by all means, here is the recipe

Guacamole — Yields about 1 cup. We double the recipe for a week’s supply

  • 1 large ripe avocado, pitted and skinned
  • 1 tbsp lemon or lime juice
  • 1 tbsp red onion, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • Dash crushed red pepper
  • Dash cayenne pepper to taste (very hot so add in small increments)

Directions

  1. In a medium sized bowl begin to mash pitted and skinned avocado with a fork or potato smasher. Add lemon juice and onion and mix until well combined.
  2. Add salt, garlic powder, and onion powder and combine with a fork. Begin to add crushed red pepper and cayenne pepper to taste to build up heat. I recommend about 1 tsp crushed red pepper and a very small dash of cayenne. Combine all ingredients and let the guacamole sit for about an hour to combine flavors. Mix again with a fork and serve.
  3. To refrigerate, plate the guacamole in a smaller bowl. Stretch plastic wrap over the top and pat it down until it is in contact with all the contents of the bowl. This will help prevent browning (oxidation) of the guacamole and drying.

Note: Guacamole will almost always brown slightly when stored for any period of time. This is due to oxidation of the avocado when it is exposed to air. The lemon juice in the recipe not only adds to the flavor, but also slows the oxidation. The color does not mean that the guacamole has gone bad but you do want to keep track of how many days it is stored. This recipe has an approximate refrigerated shelf life of about 6 days when stored properly with plastic wrap.

Skewer-less Sirloin Kebabs

1 Dec

In a pleasant turn of evens last night, Tre insisted on cooking for me when we got home from the grocery store. I’ll admit it was nice to have pre-dinner time off, not that I was any less domestic. I took the time to work on a scarf I’ve been knitting for Tre and to tidy up the kitchen. I know how that sounds and I swear I’m not undermining the last 50 years of feminist advancement. By day I’m an office worker in Information Technology at the local University. By night, I’m a Business School grad student. That leaves me a total of maybe 2 hours an evening to accomplish anything else I might have to do. With all the hectic running around, problem solving, and teamwork, I consider cooking, cleaning, light hobbies, even the gym to be a welcome mental break.

Having taken an adequate hiatus from red meat, plus celebrating a holiday that is centered around poultry, we decided to pick up some steak for a quick meal. Generally, I think that people perceive steak as being difficult to cook since it’s usually a top dollar menu item in restaurants. Having perfected my own brand of steak preparation, I’ve found that steak is not only quick and easy to prepare, it’s also very filling in smaller portions and, depending on the cut, still budget friendly. I will do a dedicated steak post to get into all that though. Stay tuned.

I admire Tre’s cooking in the sense that he keeps the dishes very simple, but he’s not afraid to try new things and experiment with spices and sauces. He also pays particular attention to pairing meats with veggies and entrees with sides. With three ingredients and a sauce, he was able to pull together a quick and delicious entree paired with a potato side that couldn’t have been easier for a Tuesday night. It reminded me fondly of summery beef kebabs, with a tangy marinade and chunks of pepper and onion cooked al-dente, minus the skewer and the grill. At some point I acquired one of those lean-cooking counter top grills that both robs you of flavor and is a pain in the ass to clean. Not to mention, it leaves anything you possibly cook on it with a distinct rubbery texture. Rather than bust out my only kitchen electric that I’m ashamed to own, we opted to cook over the stove for an autumn twist on kebabs. This recipe would also work well with boneless chicken.

Vinaigrette Marinade — Yields 1-1/2 cup

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1-1/2 tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Directions

  1. Whisk ingredients together until combined. Store in a large jar and keep refrigerated.

Skewer-less Sirloin Kebabs — Serves 4

  • 2lb sirloin steak, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped into 1 inch squares
  • 1 medium green pepper, chopped into 1 inch squares
  • 1 large red onion, chopped into large chunks
  • 1 12-ounce package whole white or small portabella mushrooms, cleaned
  • 1 cup vinaigrette marinade (see above)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Cooking up our skewer-less kebabs. I popped into the kitchen long enough to snap a photo. Disclaimer: We used yellow onion instead of red and only one pepper. They also were not cut into squares as recommended in the recipe... but still the same general concept.

 

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, combine sirloin cubes with peppers, onion, and mushrooms. Toss with vinaigrette marinade and transfer to two large ziplock bags. On plates, flatten the bags to allow the ingredients to all sit in the marinade. Refrigerate the bags for no less than 2 hours and as long as over night.
  2. After the ingredients have finished marinading, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Transfer the meat and vegetables to the skillet by spooning them out of the bags. Do not dump the entire contents of the bag into the skillet. Save 1/3 cup of marinade from the bags and pour over the cooking vegetables and meat.
  3. Allow the meat and vegetables to cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables have softened and the meat is cooked through to desired doneness, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and serve.

If you’re feeling particularly Mediterranean, you could crumble some feta cheese on top and serve over greens (or over a pita if you are not gluten-intolerent).