November 25, 2009

Stir Fry Chard with Egg Noodles and Beech Mushrooms

I went to the supermarket yesterday praying for inspiration, since I had no idea what I wanted to make for dinner. Something hearty, to combat the chill that is starting to creep in. Something vegetarian. Something I could stir fry with the fresh ramen egg noodles I'd bought a couple weeks ago.

So, I started out in the produce aisle (as I always do), and wound up staring at some beautiful red chard. I've never actually cooked with chard before, but I love bok choi and spinach, both also leafy greens prepared in a similar manner. I bought a bunch of red chard, and a bunch of kale for the sake of variety. Chard has a very nice flavor for autumn, but I still wanted some more meaty flavors, so on to mushrooms. The market sells these adorable beech mushrooms that I had not yet had a reason to try, so into the basket they went, 1 package of white beech mushrooms, and 1 of brown. Seriously, they are beyond cute.

From spending days at a time watching the food network, I know most people discard the chard stems. Screw that! Why waste the most colorful part? Plus I was loathe to get rid of all that substance (remember, we're aiming for "hearty"). So I googled about chard stems and found corroboration on the internet that you can use the stems as long as you saute them longer than the leafy parts. Go internet.

From there I had a good idea of what I wanted to do. Without further rambling, here's the recipe:

1 bunch Red chard
1 bunch Kale
1 package each Brown and White Beech Mushrooms
1/2 large yellow onion
4-5 cloves garlic
Soy sauce
Mustard (grey poupon)
Nutmeg, freshly grated
1 package (4-5 servings) Fresh ramen (egg) noodles
Sour cream

Wash Chard and Kale, pat dry. Remove stems from leaves of Chard and Kale by pulling on the stem while gripping the base of the leaf. (It's easier than it sounds, and fairly intuitive.) Set the leaves aside and chop the stems. Chop the half-onion. Heat 1-2 Tbsp olive oil in a wok or large skillet, add chopped onion and stems. Mince garlic, add. Season with 1ish teaspoon salt. Saute until onion and stems are just about tender, 5-10 minutes, but before onions start to brown. While these vegetables are sauteing, remove the ends of the beech mushrooms, and add once the vegetables are tender. Roughly chop the chard leaves, and add. Season with a few teaspoons of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of mustard diluted in 1-2 Tbsp water, nutmeg and paprika to taste. Continue over med-high heat until the leaves have wilted. Add the noodles and cook until heated through and plumped (add water if necessary), another 5-10 minutes.

Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream on top.

I know at first blush this may seem like a really weird dish. I'm not going to argue, but I think it came out really well, and is a fun fusion dish that met the "hearty" bill. If you're especially skeptical about the sour cream, take note: chard is directly related to beets. Borscht, aka beet soup, is usually served with a dollop of sour cream. So really, it's kind of like eating stir fry borscht.

November 14, 2009

Coucous Salad

This post is a salute to Rachel, who claims Coucous Salad as her signature dish. No arguments here, I'm grateful for the introduction. Besides being fast and easy to make, you can add just about anything you can think of.

I made this particular version with the things I had in the fridge at the time.
Artichoke hearts, marinated
Onions (in this case yellow, but red is awesome too)
Chick peas
Lemon juice
Olive oil

Prepare coucous according to the package. I recommend salting the water in order to bump up the flavor of the couscous itself, or even using chicken or vegetable stock, but this is certainly up to personal preference.
Chop all of the vegetables and herbs. Once the coucous is done, fluff it and add the other ingredients. Dress with lemon juice and olive oil, and salt and pepper to taster.

Other ingredients that work really well in this dish include, but are not limited to:
Kalamata olives
Really I could go on for days coming up with new things to try. Right now I really want to try it with cubed chicken breast, peas and carrots for a Chicken Soup inspired salad.

I'd love to hear your suggestions!

November 11, 2009

Scrambled Egg Sandwich and Arugula Salad

I bought these adorable single-serving baguettes at Costco the other day, and was trying to come up with exciting ways to use them. Then I broke a couple eggs while prepping to make deviled eggs, and eureka: Scrambled Egg Sandwiches! Who could argue?

I'm also a little obsessed with arugula, and since I had to make a trip to Bi Rite to pick up some ingredients for Rachel, I decided to get some. Arugula! If you've never had it, try it asap. It's a slightly bitter, slightly spicy leafy green that will change the way you think about salad. It pairs fantastically with all kinds of fruits and is best with a vinaigrette, in this case lemon.

Bonus: both of these dishes are so easy to make, you'll feel like you're cheating.

Scrambled Egg Sandwiches
2 Mini-baguettes
4 Eggs
1 Tbsp Milk
Cheddar Cheese, sliced
Parmesan Cheese (optional), grated
2 tsp Chives, chopped

Slice the baguettes and put into the oven to toast (~400° F) for 5-10 mins, while you cook the eggs. I almost ALWAYS burn things when I try to toast them in the oven, so just make sure you don't forget they're there.
Heat 1 Tbsp butter in a skillet. Scramble the eggs with the milk, pour into skillet when it's hot. As the eggs begin to set, sprinkle in the chives, and add salt and freshly ground pepper as you see fit. If you're not feeding a vegetarian, add a bit of parmesan cheese (a couple tablespoons I guess, I've never measured). If you are adding parmesan, I'd avoid salting the eggs as well.
Let the eggs cook. Growing up I always thought you had to keep the eggs moving the whole time, but this is not true. You can leave them for 30 secs to a minute or more before turning. Just don't let them burn.
As soon as you pull your toasted bread out of the oven, lay out a slice or two of cheddar on the bottom slice of bread. Once the eggs are cooked, pile them on top of the cheese, and then top with the other piece of bread. And you're done! It's so easy.

Arugula Salad with Pecans and Dried Cranberries
Dried Cranberries

I toasted my pecans for this salad, but it's not a requirement. Easy enough to do, just pour out some pecans into a skillet over medium-high heat and heat the pecans until they look/smell toasty - 5ish minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.
Spread out some arugula on a serving dish (depending on how many people you're serving, eyeball how much you think it will take to feed everyone). Pour the toasted pecans over the arugula, and add some dried cranberries as well.

Lemon Vinaigrette
Olive Oil
Lemon Juice

In a jar with a lid, add equal parts olive oil and lemon juice. Grind in some pepper, and a little salt. Shake to combine.

November 7, 2009

Thai Green Curry with Tofu and Eggplant

I love Thai curry (and indian curry. and japanese curry.... well, I've yet to meet a curry I don't like). Recently, I set out to learn how to make Thai curry. Turns out it's not all that hard - I'd say it's about as complicated as making a stew. This was the second attempt, the first having been successful enough to repeat.

I picked up some Mae Ploy green curry paste at the local market, which I erroneously thought would be vegetarian. Turns out it contains shrimp paste! Who knew? (Sorry Niv!) I also got Thai eggplant, which is an adorably tiny, round, (sometimes) green variety of eggplant that is a bit seedier than the large, purple, bulbous version I've grown up knowing. Trying out new types of eggplant was fun, so for this second attempt, I also picked up Chinese eggplant, which is more cylindrical than bulbous, and significantly softer than the Thai eggplant. Before I ramble too much longer, here is the list full list of ingredients*:
For the curry base:
3-4 Tbsp Green curry paste
1 can Coconut milk + same can's worth of water
1 can Vegetable broth
1 Tbsp Tomato paste
1 Tbsp Butter
1 large yellow Onion, chopped
1ish lb Thai eggplant, cut into approximately equal sized chunks
2 medium Chinese eggplants, as above
2 cans Straw Mushrooms, drained
1 can Bamboo Shoots, drained
2 Red Bell Peppers, sliced
1 box Firm Tofu, pressed** and cut into .5x1x2 in rectangular prisms

Combine the ingredients for the base in a saucepan over medium heat. The butter and tomato paste are to augment the flavor and hopefully deepen it a little. I think it was successful, but next time I'll probably try something different.
Saute the onions in about 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a wok (or large skillet) until tender, ~4-5 mins. Add them to the curry base. In the same wok, heat the eggplant until it becomes fragrant, ~4-5 mins. Pour the curry base with onions into the skillet over the eggplant. Add the mushrooms and bamboo shoots.
In a smaller saute pan, pan fry the tofu in about 2 Tbsp olive oil until lightly golden on both sides. Add to the curry. Finally, add the bell peppers.
Let simmer for at least 5 minutes, longer is better, to let the flavors meld and the eggplant to continue to soften.

As you can see, this makes a LOT of curry. Woo! leftovers.

Oh, and I guess I should mention - serve with rice.

*All measurements are EXTREMELY rough. If you're replicating this, assume everything is "to taste."

**Pressing tofu is done to remove the excess water, and really helps in the cooking process. My method comes from the Cafe Flora cookbook. Basically put the tofu blocks on a plate, cover with saran wrap, stack another plate loaded with a few cans to add weight. Leave for about an hour (don't be surprised if the stack falls at some point, it can be precarious). When you come back, the water from the tofu will have been released. YAY

Pecan Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies with Chocolate Drizzle

This week I finally caved to my shortbread craving and made some delicious cookies! I decided to incorporate the pecans from Costco and super awesome baker's chocolate from Bi Rite Market we have in our pantry. The dough comes from an episode of Barefoot Contessa in which Ina made these shortbread finger cookies. This is her recipe for the dough, with the slight revision of using salted butter* instead of unsalted, and so leaving out the salt that was called for:

3/4 pound salted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix together the butter and sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. Add flour. Mix until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

I ended up refrigerating the dough overnight (in order to go drinking!), and so the next day the dough was a bit harder to work than I would have liked. I rolled it into 1 inch balls and pressed them down into 1/2 inch thick disks with a pecan half in the center of each. Due to the temperature of the dough, the outsides of the balls warmed much more quickly than the insides, and led to some (very minor) issues during baking. If/when I do this again, I will roll and press the balls before refrigeration, then refrigerate at least 30 mins before baking.

I baked the cookies at 350° for (I think) 12 minutes. (Sorry for the inexact time, I pulled them out when they smelled done and forgot to note the timer). Then cooled them for what ended up being about 4 hours - I got distracted. Probably the minimum cooling time would be 30 mins.

After cooling, I melted a few ounces of baker's chocolate in the oven and drizzled it over the cooled cookies.

Final result? "F**king amazing!" (A direct quote from Sondra, my good friend and taste tester).

*I am actually anti-salted butter, but this is what we have in the house. Until we've used up the Costo quantity that we bought (in error) months ago, this is what we have to work with.