Monday, February 23, 2009

Mediterranean Meditation - Greek Salad

In the middle of winter when the temperatures are hovering near 0 °F a little bit of Mediterranean can make a salad appetizing. Hence the inspiration for my Greek salad with tuna. Glistening with a lemon/olive oil dressing, this salad really hit the spot tonight.

On the bottom is a bed of chopped romaine lettuce. This was seasoned with the dressing and some dried oregano. I also mixed some carrots, cucumber and tuna together and dressed that. An onion was sliced into rings and the bite was taken down by soaking for a few minutes in ice water. This also does a great job of crisping up the onions. These were tossed in the dressing and placed on the lettuce. The carrot/tuna mixture was added on top of that. Finally I added feta cheese and kalamata olives. The whole dish was seasoned with some salt, pepper and more dried oregano.

It matched perfectly with a crisp, citrusy New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Rustic lemon chicken with peppers and butter beans

We used to have a local Italian restaurant many years ago that would serve a rustic country dish made with sausage and peppers. I remember the wonderful tangy lemony broth that the dish was cooked in and how it mingled with the Italian herbs and the sweetness of peppers. This isn't quite the same but I was inspired by that dish when I made this for dinner the other evening.

My dish was composed of two boneless skinless chicken breast cut into slices; one each of red, yellow and orange sweet bell peppers, sliced; one onion, sliced; six cloves of garlic, chopped; one can of butter beans, drained; dried Italian mixed herbs; juice and zest of two lemons; salt, pepper and a bit of water.

I started by sautéing the seasoned chicken breast in a hot pan with a bit of olive oil.

The onions and peppers were added followed by the garlic and lemon zest a few minutes later. These were cooked until they just started to soften.

I then added the beans along with about a half cup of water. You could add chicken broth or even wine at this point. I put in about half of the lemon juice. The cover was placed on the pan and everything was simmered together for about 5-8 minutes.
After the vegetables were tender I uncovered the pan, added the rest of the lemon juice and cooked it down for a few more minutes to concentrate the liquid to a flavorful broth.

This rustic stew-like chicken was served with a big slice of 5 minute wheat bread to sop up the juices.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pappardelle with mushroom and eggplant ragu

I know ragu is traditionally a meat-based sauce but I think these mushrooms are 'meaty' enough to consider this sauce a ragu. Combined with homemade semolina pappardelle, this was a home run hit for dinner. My sauce started with a combination of baby portobello and button mushrooms.

They were halved and sliced.

I also cubed up a whole eggplant for this dish.

Of course you can't have a pasta sauce without garlic and onions!

First the onions and the mushrooms were cooked down until softened and tender. Then the garlic was added to the pan.

The eggplant was combined with the cooked onions and mushrooms.

Everything was sautéed until the eggplant began to soften.

A bit of red wine was added to the pan.

And a can of tomato paste was stirred into the sauce.

The ragu was covered and cooked down until the eggplant dissolved and the sauce was rich and delicious. A little water was added during the cooking to keep the sauce from getting to dry.

Meanwhile, a pasta dough made from all purpose flour, semolina flour and eggs was prepared and rolled out into sheets using my pasta roller.

The pappardelle was cut by hand into wide noodles.

The noodles were boiled until al dente and tossed with the ragu. Finally I topped it off with some parmigiano reggiano. 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Soba stir fry

Can you stand more soba noodles? I can. This time I put them into a stir fry dish. I cooked up some carrots, cauliflower and red, yellow and orange peppers with some garlic and ginger. I quickly boiled the noodles and added it to the stir fry pan. The whole dish was seasoned with soy sauce, a bit of garlic chili sauce and sesame oil.

Broccoli Soup

Ok, I know it doesn't look like much but it did taste pretty darn good. I started with a hot pan and sautéed an onion and some garlic. Once the onions started to soften but not brown I added a ton of broccoli and covered it with water. All the while I was seasoning with salt and pepper. The broccoli was simmered until tender and then puréed with a little milk using my hand blender until smooth. I added a pat of butter to the soup for some extra creamyness and flavor. Nothing special but a pretty good way to get your veggies.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cold Soba Noodles

Soba - そば - Japanese buckwheat noodles

I love cold noodle salads. It doesn't matter what kind of pasta for me. All that matters is that it is flavorful. Japanese cuisine is so amazing in it's complicated simplicity. The Japanese like attention to detail and have a knack for combining just a few flavors with textures so that everything is clean and harmonious. Soba noodles have a subtle earthy buckwheat flavor that you really don't want to completely cover up. So, this noodle salad I made combines a few Asian influences that highlights the buckwheat rather than snuffs it out. It is so easy to prepare and so satisfyingly flavorful.

I boiled the soba just until tender but still slightly al dente. You don't want them soft and soggy. I rinsed them with cold water to chill and let them drain. I mashed up one large clove of garlic finely. I thinly sliced a few green onions. These were mixed with the noodles along with a splash of toasted sesame oil, a splash of soy sauce, a splash of rice vinegar and a few drops of nuoc mam Vietnamese fish sauce. No, I didn't measure anything. I just added what I thought would be enough. You don't want the noodles swimming in dressing. You just want to coat the lightly with these flavorful ingredients. That's it! Plate it up and enjoy. I think the garlic flavors are better if you let the salad chill for a few hours before eating.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ancho chili chili

I like chili. I like any kind of chili. I like the Texas chili that is just chilis and beef. I like New Mexico green chilis with pork. I like the midwestern hamburger, beans and tomato soup like substance that we call chili here. Everyone has their favorite. I don't have one. I make it different every time depending on what I am feeling on that day.

So, here I was on a cold day last week looking in my cupboards for some dinner inspiration when I spied a bag of dried ancho chilis. I thought, why not make a midwestern/Texas/whatever chili fusion with ancho?

So, I started with about 10 chilis that were seeded and crumbled up.

I poured some boiling water onto the chilis and left them to soak for a while. For a bit more heat I also added a couple tablespoons of Korean red pepper flakes along with the anchos.

When everything was well hydrated I added about 5 cloves of garlic, salt, pepper and a chopped onion and whirred it up in my blender to make a smooth paste. I added some lemon juice and more water until it was the right sauce like consistency. My blender was almost full to the top.

To season the dish even more I toasted some spices. Here is my favorite mix of cumin seeds, corriander and a few cardamom pods. These were ground up in a coffee grinder.

For the beef I used a round roast and cubed it up into about 3/4 inch cubes.

To make my chili, I started by searing the beef in a hot pan with some salt and pepper for a few minutes, just until it started to get brown on the bottom of the pan. Next went in the ground spices. I then added the chili sauce to the pan and covered it. This was simmered for about three hours until the beef was drop dead tender. To finish the chili I added chopped carrots and a can of kidney beans and cooked it until the carrots were tender.

My chili was served over white steamed rice with a side of 5-minute artisan wheat bread. The ancho flavor was wonderful.

Shabu Shabu at home

It has been almost a year since I've made shabu shabu at home. Although I did report about a wonderful shabu shabu dinner I had in Japan in December. I actually made this meal a few weeks ago but am just getting around to blogging about it now. Please forgive me for being so late with my offering.

Shabu shabu is traditionally made with beef that is sliced paper thin. The name comes from the sound the beef makes as you swish it back and forth with your chopsticks in a pot of boiling broth. This is a wonderful family meal where everyone gets to share in cooking the meal at the table. My sirloin is not as marbled with fat as is usual for shabu shabu. I have some lean grass fed local beef that is still flavorful but also much healthier for you. Since the beef is only barely cooked, the texture still comes out tender even without the fat.

Shabu shabu also requires that you cook vegetables in the broth after you eat the beef. Here are bean sprouts, enoki mushrooms, shitake mushrooms, carrots, baby bok choy and napa cabbage ready to be cooked.

The table is all set with my nabe pot on the burner.

Before we sat down to eat the shabu shabu I fried up some frozen gyoza and served them with a spicy chili vinegar sauce.

The pot is heating up.

I have been soaking this kombu in the pot of water for a few hours to flavor the broth. This was removed once the pot came up to boiling.

I served two dipping sauces for my shabu shabu tonight. The first has soy, vinegar, green onions and grated daikon radish.

The second sauce is made from sesame paste, soy and vinegar.

We've eaten the meat and now it's time for the veggies.

After you have had your fill of meat and vegetables, the broth that has been flavored even more intensely by all the food being cooked in it is used to prepare noodles. These udon noodles were made from scratch and cut just before cooking.

The udon is cooking nicely.

Yum! Comfort food all the way. Perfect on a cold winter's evening.