Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Noodles with Tofu, Broccoli and Mushrooms

I love highly flavored, exotic dishes but sometimes I need "boring" food.  When planning tonight's dinner all I could think of was broccoli and tofu.  A large part of that was provably due to the fact that we didn't have much in the fridge other than broccoli and tofu, but that's beside the point.  This isn't the first time that I have had a broccoli and tofu craving.  Back in January I demanded a broccoli-tofu stir-fry in homemade black bean sauce over brown rice.  The recipe never made it onto the blog because (1) the dish sounded far too healthy to be good (although I thought it was quite good) and (2) it was one of those dishes where I just kept throwing a little bit of this, a little bit of that into the wok until it tasted good.  So I had no real idea what quantities of each ingredient I had used or any way to backtrack and figure it out.  Oops.  Oh well.  But it seems that broccoli and tofu have become my go-to healthy food craving in 2013.  We will see how long it lasts, but I'm thinking right now that it is going to last until spring rolls around and I start craving asparagus and salad.  I didn't feel 100% virtuous while eating these noodles, but I felt a lot more virtuous than I would have if we had made dan dan mian or another spicy, meaty noodle dish.  I briefly considered abandoning my noodle idea and making something else with the broccoli and tofu, but since we had fresh Chinese noodles in the fridge I decided to stick with it.  Once again we threw a little bit of this, a little bit of that into the wok but I tried to keep up with it this time.  And if we're being 100% honest, I was too hungry and lazy to fuss around trying to make dinner perfect so I didn't really even taste it before we plated it to see if it needed more seasoning.  The dish could have used a little something more to make it pop, but such is life.

Recipe after the jump!

Oops... I missed Chinese New Year!

So it literally just hit me five minutes ago while I was sitting at my desk that we missed Chinese New Year this year!  We have been traveling so much (we were in Tahoe for Chinese New Year) that the month of February flew by without my noticing that we skipped our annual series of dishes in honor of Chinese New Year.  As Alex would say, "nuts to that."  I promise to get back on track and start up some Chinese New Year meals in March.  I guess that means it is time to start busting out my cookbooks again!  Off the top of my head I am thinking a beef stir-fry, some tofu, some chicken, some noodles...  I know we ought to make some dumplings from scratch too but we'll see how ambitious I get.  I guess I will have to sit down and figure it out.  And then I have to hit Chinatown for ingredients.  Hurry for fun cooking experiments!  Boo for completely missing Chinese New Year.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Twice-Cooked Swiss Chard (Hui Gua Niu Pi Cai)

As much as I loved visiting Austin, my body is dying for a reboot.  I need some veggies stat!  Luckily, I saw this recipe for Swiss chard on Serious Eats a few weeks ago.  I had no idea that Fuchsia Dunlop had published a new cookbook, but once I saw that they were doing Cook the Book with her new cookbook on Serious Eats we went ahead and ordered it.  Unfortunately it hasn't come in yet, but I wasn't going to let that stop me.  I had this grand plan to add some tofu to the recipe to make it into a main dish, but Alex shot me down.  If you haven't figured it out yet, Alex usually likes to stick with the simplest possible alternative.  I'm the one who likes to complicate things.  I am the first to admit that sometimes it's for the best; sometimes I need to be reined in.  Then again, it's my humble opinion that sometimes Alex needs to live a little.

As far as reboot dishes go, this wasn't a bad one.  I thought the flavors were good and it was hearty enough that I ate it with a bowl of brown rice and found it to be pretty satisfying.  It wasn't my favorite Fuchsia Dunlop recipe ever but it was a very interesting vegetarian take on a traditional Sichuan dish (see my take on twice-cooked pork (hui guo rouhere).  I have never used Swiss chard in an Asian dish before, but due to the cooking method I think it works.  If you tried to use a more delicate green it would just fall apart but the chard (particularly the stems) stands up to the blanching and the sauteing quite well.

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Things I love about Austin, Texas - Take 2...

Alex and I just got back from another trip to Austin, Texas and I have to admit - I really like Austin.  I'm not sure if I would want to live there, but the city has a great food scene (you can eat everything from BBQ to fine dining), nice weather, etc.  It's just a really fun city.  We happened to be in Texas for a wedding, but I planned out our free time (particularly the meals) weeks in advance.  There was one restaurant that I knew we had to hit.  The last time we were in Austin we tried the Salt Lick and went on a BBQ pilgrimage to Lockhart, Texas.  You can read more about our last visit here.  But we didn't make it to Franklin Barbeque.  And it is probably for the best because I was already just about barbeque-d out.  Franklin has been getting a lot of hype since it opened in 2009 and I was really curious to see if it lived up to its reputation.  Coincidentally, I picked up the current issue of Bon Appetit at the airport and flipped it open and not only did it have a short article on Austin, it also named Franklin Barbeque as one of The 20 Most Important Restaurants in America.  So I knew we had to go.  And I knew we were going to to go Paul Qui's East Side Kings at Hole in the Wall for lunch on Friday.  Our plan was to get off the plane, pick up our rental car and go straight to Hole in the Wall.  I even knew exactly what dishes I was planning on ordering.  That's how prepared I was.  

I had a few other restaurants that I was tempted to try for dinner on Friday.  I wanted to go to Uchi because we tried Uchiko during our last visit and were blown away by how tasty it was.  And I thought sushi would be a nice counterpoint to the BBQ we were already planning on eating.  Another coincidence - Bon Appetit also included Uchi/Uchiko as one of the 20 most important restaurants in America.  But Uchi didn't have any reservations available for Friday night.  I also wanted to try Barley Swine because I saw it on No Reservations and it looked and sounded amazing.  But I was worried that Barley Swine wouldn't fit into our weekend.  They don't take reservations and we weren't sure that waiting 2 hours for dinner on Friday night really fit into our agenda.  And to be honest, I have a limited amount of patience for waiting in lines.  We already knew we would be waiting 2-3 hours for Franklin Barbeque so waiting another 2 hours for Barley Swine just seemed excessive.  Alex came up with a counter proposal - Second Kitchen and Bar, which sounded good, but I was worried the food would be too heavy.  I didn't make reservations anywhere for Friday night and figured that we would play it by ear.  We didn't end up eating lunch on Friday until about 2:30 pm (and we totally overate so we were still pretty stuffed around 6:00 pm), so we gave up on the idea of trying to get int Uchi or Barley Swine.  So we had to come up with a back up plan.  Luckily, the Bon Appetit magazine came to the rescue.  I remembered that when I flipped through the magazine during the flight there was a blurb about a Thai restaurant called Sway and Mexican restaurant called La Condesa with the same owners.  It turned out that La Condesa was close to our hotel so we decided to go with that. 

More after the jump!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Roast Cauliflower and Arugula Salad with Bacon

What do you do when you know you are going to be traveling constantlyfor the next 2-3 weeks and (1) your fridge is full of random vegetables and (2) you know that due to traveling you will be eating burgers and chili on the mountain in California/Nevada, BBQ in Texas and other heavy meals, rather than salads and seafood?  If you're anything like me, you make random salads and/or random roast vegetables.  Or you get lazy and combine the two and top a bed of baby arugula with roast cauliflower.  And when you discover that you have some bacon left over from the Bacon Braised Cabbage you throw that in there too.  Sometimes my randomness works out and sometimes it just doesn't.  Luckily, this salad ended up working out really well.  There were a lot of textures and flavors that came together beautifully to make a nice salad.  Roasting the cauliflower in a 425 degree oven for 45 minutes made it nice and nutty and sweet and the sweetness was further augmented by the shallots and a scant teaspoon of honey.  The crispy bacon added a hit of wonderful smoky, porky flavor, which made the salad feel warm and rich.  Then there was the hit of acidity from the red wine vinegar, the peppery flavor of the arugula and the butteriness of lightly toasted pine nuts.  It was a winner for me - fulfilling the dual goals of clearing out the fridge and providing me with a moderately healthy (it would have been much healthier had we omitted the bacon, but bacon makes everything better) meal.

Recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hake with Hazelnuts and Capers

It's not often that I get to experiment with new varieties of fish.  But when I picked up the trout fillets the other day I asked the fishmonger for suggestions on what was particularly fresh and he suggested either the lemon sole or the hake.  I decided that we had never made hake (and we have made sole before), so why not go with the hake.  I was originally planning on using the hake instead of cod in this Roasted Cod on Large Garlic Croutons recipe, but decided to stick with this recipe instead because we had everything we needed at the apartment.  Plus we had a ton of hazelnuts that I picked up for another recipe and never used, so it just made sense.  So it seemed like the perfect fit.  But the recipe was just kinda... ok.  The fish was beautifully cooked and I liked the texture of the toasted hazelnuts, but I thought the red wine vinegar and the capers would give it more pizzazz.  And they just kind of got lost.  After the brightness of the trout, it couldn't quite compare.  Overall I thought it was a nicely-cooked piece of fish that needed some acidity and also needed something else to really make it shine.  I'm not sure what I would add to the recipe to make it stand out more (maybe some lemon zest in the hazelnut mixture?) but I would definitely need to make some serious changes before making it again. 

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pan-fried Trout with Lemon and Herb Stuffing

Few things strike me as being as light as trout.  For some reason, a nice trout fillet is the epitome of light to me.  And once you add in lemons and herbs it just... gets lighter.  I'm not saying it makes any sense, but that's how I think.  So when I was trying to think of a light, fresh dish to kick off a few nights of home-cooked meals, this recipe seemed perfect.  It looked easy, it didn't require a lot of ingredients and it sounded tasty.  I was so set on this particular recipe that I didn't come up with a contingency plan; luckily the grocery store had some nice rainbow trout fillets so I didn't have to figure one out.  

Some recipes are exactly what they sound like and no more - this was one of them.  The "lemon and herb stuffing" provided the fish with a nice, bright flavor that is nicely offset by the flavor of rich browned butter.  I wish we had toasted the bread a little more, but if we had it would have been hard to cut the bread into a fine enough dice.  In the future I would probably toast the bread lightly, cube it, and then toast the cubes again to get them nice and crunchy.  In order for it to retain some texture you should get it pretty crunchy before tossing with the lemon segments and the herbs.  Otherwise it all gets a little mushy.  Even though our bread wasn't toasted enough and the skin didn't get as crispy as I would have liked, I would still call this dish one of the most successful trout recipes we have prepared.  It was also exactly what we needed tonight after a week of dining out at restaurants.

Recipe after the jump!

Lake Tahoe

Hey look, we're back!  Skiing in Tahoe with the family was wonderful, but it's really nice to be home.  I'm looking forward to some home-cooked meals and my own bed for a few nights before we are off to Austin, Texas next weekend.  Don't get me wrong - I love traveling, but this much traveling is exhausting.  We did have a few nice meals in Tahoe, but after eating lunch on the mountain every day and dinner at a restaurant, all I want are simple, homemade meals.  But if any of you find yourself in South Lake Tahoe anytime in the near future, definitely try Artemis Mediterranean Grill.  The food is great and relatively inexpensive.  We ate dinner there twice because after our first meal there my father (whose typical review of any meal is that it was "fine") declared that if Artemis existed in Maryland it would be on his regular rotation.  That is HUGE praise for my father.  And I can't say that I disagreed - the shrimp souvlaki platter was really nice (with nicely cooked shrimp, tasty homemade tabbouleh and garlicky, creamy skordalia), the lamb gyro pita was fabulously lamby, the Artemis fries were crispy and tasty, the chocolate galaktoboureko was delicious....  I would go on but I think you get the point.  It was a really nice dinner option.  Another option for cheap, tasty Mexican is Jalisco Grill.  But beware - it is closed on Sundays.  On that note, I think it is time to hit the grocery store and re-stock our kitchen.  The fridge is pretty much empty right now and if we are planning on cooking dinner tonight and tomorrow it's time for some groceries.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Egg Salad with Pickled Celery and Coarse Dijon

I know it's a little déclassé, but I have a real soft spot for egg salad.  I picked up my love of egg salad at sleep away camp in elementary school and it has been one of my guilty pleasures ever since then.  My only problem is that I am a little picky when it comes to egg salad due to my pesky aversion to mayonnaise.  I take one look at most egg salads and run for the hills.  I think I can count on one hand the number of places whose egg salad I have been brave enough to taste.  First there was a bagel place near my first apartment in NYC whose egg salad I cautiously ordered after my first 6 months of staring at it skeptically - it was pretty good, but not amazing.  And then there was the egg salad sandwich I ordered at an airport in Canada on my way to Whistler (I can't remember if it was Montreal or Toronto, but I think it was Montreal) that was full of herbs (I remember tarragon, chives and chervil) and absolutely delicious.  I have tried to recreate it at home but my version has never lived up to the original (partially because I have a really tough time finding chervil at the grocery store).  Last week I was really close to ordering a simit (a Turkish bagel) with sumac egg salad from Simit and Smith, but I chickened out and ordered the simit with salmon, red onion and cream cheese instead.  The funny thing is that I haven't been able to get that sumac egg salad out of my mind ever since.  And then I was poking around the various food blogs I like yesterday and stumbled across a recipe for Egg Salad with Pickled Celery and Coarse Dijon on Smitten Kitchen and I decided that it was fate - I had to make egg salad.  I briefly considered adding some sumac to the Smitten Kitchen Recipe and then decided to save the sumac for another day.  I always add coarse dijon mustard and minced shallot to my egg salad (and often to tuna salad as well) because I love the flavor and texture of both, but the addition of pickled celery really intrigued me.  I often use finely chopped celery in tuna salad, but pickling it first had never occurred to me. 

So there I was, in the midst of cooking Tuesday night's dinner, while hard-boiling eggs and also assembling ingredients for the marinade for last night's dinner.  The kitchen was a disaster area.  Alex took one look and told me I was getting a little elaborate and/or crazy.  But thus far, everything has turned out wonderfully and I'm hopeful that tonight's dinner will be equally wonderful.  I ate a couple spoonfuls of the egg salad last night because I couldn't resist (both before and after the addition of the pickled celery and I thought the pickled celery really made a difference), and served the rest of it today over a bed of mixed greens with some whole wheat sourdough that I toasted until warm and crunchy.  It was absolutely lovely - the perfect light meal that was both nostalgic and delicious.  The pickled celery added a nice crunch and some brightness and acidity, while the minced shallots added a little sweetness and more crunch.  It was reminiscent of my own egg salad, but better.  And I am not too proud to admit it.  I think I am in love.

Recipe after the jump!

Red Curry Chicken Kebobs with Minty Yogurt Sauce

Alex and I are going out of town next week so I am currently fighting a battle to use up everything in our fridge.  I happened to buy some chicken breasts and labneh at the grocery store last week and some mint and other herbs this week that I wanted to use.  This recipe was great because it helped me use some of the chicken (the rest we froze), along with some of the herbs and the labneh.  It was also really easy to prepare (which was key because I was throwing the marinade together and chopping the chicken while making Mediterranean Salad with Prosciutto and Pomegranate and Spicy Chickpea Soup for dinner Tuesday night, as well as egg salad for lunch).  I read the reviews on the Food & Wine website and knew that I probably wasn't going to be blown away by the flavor of the recipe as written, but I figured we could make a few variations and bump up the flavor a little bit.  Sadly, I still wasn't blown away with the flavor.  I doubled the amount of red curry paste in the marinade and the chicken kebabs still weren't very spicy.  And the minty yogurt sauce just tasted like yogurt and mayonnaise to me.  So we added more lime juice and threw in a few other ingredients and it still mostly tasted like yogurt and mayonnaise.  But at a certain point, we came to the realization that nothing we did was going to create a really killer sauce with the base we had.  So we declared it good enough for government work and sat down to dinner.  Don't get me wrong - it wasn't bad.  Nothing about dinner was bad.  Even with all of our modifications we still weren't blown away by the flavor.  We ended up serving our kebabs with warm naan and an Asian kale salad (which I will post later) and it made a pretty decent, reasonably easy midweek meal.  It wasn't amazing, but it was ok.  And sometimes ok is... ok.

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mediterranean Salad with Prosciutto and Pomegranate

I have to be honest - sometimes I make food because it is just too darn pretty to resist.  Look at this salad for one.  My picture doesn't do it justice, but if you check out the original recipe at Bon Appetit and the version from Smitten Kitchen, it's just gorgeous and so very festive - I love the colors of the white bowl or platter, the greens, the proscuitto and the pomegranate.  And I love the combination of proscuitto and fruit, whether it's pomegranate or melon.  The fennel made me a little nervous because neither Alex nor I is particularly enamored of the licorice/anise flavor of fennel, but sometimes you have to live a little.  When I was thinking of a salad to go with the Spicy Chickpea Soup I was making for dinner I jumped at the opportunity to make this one and then didn't bother to tell Alex what I was making, except to say that he would like it because it includes one of his favorite ingredients.  I believe Alex said something along the lines of "sure" and then went back to fighting the good fight with Turbotax.  When I put the salad out on the dinner table I was hoping that it was every bit as tasty as it looked and it absolutely was.  The pomegranate seeds gave the salad a wonderfully sweet and tart flavor that balanced nicely against the salty porky flavor of the prosciutto and the anise flavor of the fennel.  For those of you who might worry about the inclusion of the fennel, I think that tossing it in evoo and salt prior to adding it into the salad mellowed out the intense flavor of the fennel.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well it worked in the salad. 

And given how much we both liked the salad, I think it definitely made the cut for recipes that we will making again in the future.  I would definitely serve this salad for company (or for the holidays) because it looks and tastes fancy, even though it is supremely easy to throw together.  I know this is completely superficial but it would look so perfect on the table for Christmas dinner or any dinner party, and sometimes, you just want to look perfect.

Recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Spicy Chickpea Soup

I love soup.  It makes me incredibly happy.  I'm not sure what it is about soup that makes me so happy, but what isn't to love about a hot bowl of soup on a cold night?  Soup is warm, comforting and delicious.  And it is a wonderful way to try new flavors and new ingredients (or to see old ingredients in a new light).  For instance, we eat a lot of chickpeas in our apartment but I have never tried a chickpea soup before.  And I don't think I have ever added yogurt to soup before.  But the chickpeas work really nicely to thicken the soup and give it a creamy texture.  And the yogurt was the perfect finishing touch because it gave the soup a wonderfully tangy flavor and a smooth, creamy texture.  If you ask me, the dollop of yogurt really made the soup.  I was a little weirded out by adding apple juice to a soup, but if you really think about it, adding apple juice isn't all that different from adding diced up apple.  So we went ahead and did it (or really I did it because the deal was that I would cook dinner if Alex got the ball rolling on our taxes - I like to file early).  The best thing about this chickpea soup was that the ingredients were really easy to find ingredients (and there weren't all that many of them) and the soup came together really quickly.  Once you threw everything into the blender and pureed it, it really took no time at all to bring to a simmer and serve.  And even though the ingredients only simmered together briefly, the soup tasted like a composed dish that took much longer to make.  I served the soup with salad and some whole wheat sourdough bread and it made a really tasty (which was the adjective that Alex kept using to describe the soup), easy and hearty winter meal. 
Recipe after the jump!

Bacon Braised Cabbage

I will be the first to admit that I have been in something of a blogging and cooking funk recently.  We have made several recipes lately (including a lackluster kale salad on Sunday and a few other things that aren't immediately coming to mind) that just haven't been worth posting.  And that makes me sad.  I almost didn't post this recipe either, but what the heck.  I know that cabbage isn't exactly groundbreaking, earthshattering stuff but I wanted to eat the cabbage in the fridge and was feeling a little lazy.  So we braised the cabbage very simply with some bacon, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, butter and chicken stock.  Et voila - dinner is served.  Before I go any further I must admit that this was not my favorite cabbage recipe we have ever prepared.  If we are sticking with braised or sauteed cabbage, I thought Thomas Keller's Sauteed Savoy Cabbage with Speck and Lemon was richer (without feeling heavy) and much more flavorful.  And if we are branching out to recipes that included cabbage, I would say I preferred this Pasta with Caramelized Cabbage, Anchovies and Bread Crumbs and this Vietnamese Cabbage and Egg Stir-Fry.  We also make a number of variations on Asian chicken salads that include cabbage and are quite delicious but I am going to ignore them for now because cabbage plays far less of a role in those preparations.  This cabbage was good, but we had to add hot sauce to give it a little extra flavor.  Otherwise it was just kind of... blah.  The Worcestershire sauce was an interesting touch and I do enjoy the combination of cabbage, chicken stock and bacon, but it didn't really seem to come together here.  And it just felt really heavy, which, if you ask me, defeats the purpose of eating cabbage for dinner. 

Recipe after the jump!