Peanut Butter and Purple Onions

Sounds crazy until you try it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Portobello Panache

It's vegetarian time here at PBPO. Three-quarters of my meals are vegetarian anyway, but every couple of months I like to take a total break from meat. Since this last weekend I encountered a genuine Philly cheesesteak, I felt more than ready to embrace the vegetables going forward.

Here's a great recipe to serve to vegetarians and carnivores alike -- the rich, hearty mushrooms more than make up for the usual chicken. If you keep marinara sauce and cheese on hand -- and I think it's pretty obvious that I'm never without either -- you can pick up the mushrooms on your way home from work and be ready to go.

Dimples doesn't care for mushrooms -- alas -- so I normally make this recipe one portobello cap at a time. Just multiply by the number of servings you want.

Mushroom Parmesan
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

a portobello mushroom cap (cut off any chunk of stem)
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2-1/3 c. marinara sauce
1/4-1/2 c. shredded mozzarella
2 T. shredded Parmesan

Heat the oven to 450 and put your grill pan over medium-high heat. Look at all the use that pan's getting lately!

Brush the cap with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill topside down about five minutes, then turn and grill another 4-5 minutes. Remove from the grill.

Spread a little sauce onto the bottom of a small baking dish. Place the mushroom topside down onto the sauce, then cover with remaining sauce. Shake on a little oregano, then sprinkle with the cheeses.

Bake 10 minutes or so or until the cheese is melted and the mushroom is heated through.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

One Potato, Two Potato

It is a peculiar quirk of mine that, as much as I abhor raw tomatoes, I absolutely cannot live without cooked ones. Marinara sauce and salsa are absolute necessities in life (and yes, I know salsa is most often not cooked -- do not quibble with the neurosis).

And so is ketchup. I have always been addicted to ketchup. I will even go so far as to admit that in elementary school, a friend and I created a club we called the Ketchup Lovers of America. (Not really sure where the surge of patriotism came from.) We gave each other bottles of Heinz on birthdays.

Yep. I'm admitting to that right here on the internet.

The perfect foil for ketchup is, of course, the french fry. The crisp exterior contrasts with the smooth condiment; the mild starch sets off the sweet vinegary goodness of the red stuff. But although McDonald's does deliver -- all night -- in Manhattan, why order when baking is so much more fun?

You could have a batch of these ready for ketchup action in 45 minutes from right now. Go!

Oven-Baked Fries

Serves one greedy Heinz fanatic.

2 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed
olive oil
kosher salt
coarsely-ground black pepper
other spices of choice -- I tend to use some combination of Penzeys Toasted Onion powder, cayenne, chipotle, and/or oregano

Heat the oven to 450.

Slice your potatoes into wedges, batons, or a mixture. I'm not particularly good at making them come out consistent. Dribble about 1 tsp. olive oil over the wedges and toss to coat. Add about 1/2 tsp. salt and as much pepper and other spices as you like -- I tend to use 1/4 tsp. black pepper, 1/4 tsp. cayenne or chipotle, and 1/2 tsp. of something else. Toss to coat evenly.

Arrange the slices on a greased baking sheet, like this.

Bake 15 minutes, then flip the wedges over and bake 10-15 minutes more, to the degree of crispness that you prefer. They will hiss and pop in the oven, which is sort of fun.

You know what to serve them with.

* These are also good with sweet potatoes.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Fear of Frying

I'm a clumsy person. Oh, not spectacularly, but there's a reason that Dimples refers to our bathroom cabinet as the Bermuda Triangle of the apartment -- I can't get through an evening's ablutions without dropping at least one bottle of this or jar of that. I'm just not particularly well-coordinated. (And luckily I can buy most of my beauty regimen in plastic containers.)

Which means that dropping bits of food into inches of hot oil is really not a good idea. I don't even like to fry bacon -- too much opportunity for grease mischief. And for a long time, I was also frightened of my grill pan. Even though the bubblebubbletoilandtrouble thing wasn't an issue, something about all that heat and heavy cast iron seemed ominous.

But it's spring, and asparagus is everywhere -- and my absolute favorite way to prepare asparagus is on the grill. So last night, after some deep breaths, I reached for the grill pan.

I'm pleased to report total success! The asparagus, zucchini, and mushrooms soaked up tons of flavor from my on-the-fly marinade, which gets an extra savory-sweet kick from Chinese five-spice powder. And the tofu, which I marinated in a dark sesame marinade, grilled gorgeously.

And yeah, well, I did burn my wrist a little. On each side. But hey, what did I expect.

Spicy Grilled Vegetables

one medium bunch asparagus (thicker spears will be easier to manipulate)
two small zucchini
a handful of crimini mushrooms
soy sauce, preferably low-sodium
extra-virgin olive oil
white pepper
Chinese five-spice powder
honey, if you like

Clean and trim your vegetables. Slice the mushrooms in half and the zucchini in to 1/3" planks. Add all the veggies to a large Ziploc bag.

Shake in about a tsp. white pepper, half a tsp. five-spice powder, and more or less a T. of honey if you're using it. Add anywhere from half a cup to three-quarters of a cup of soy sauce, then shake in a quarter cup of olive oil. Seal the bag, squishing out the air, and wiggle everything around. Toss the bag into the refrigerator for at least two hours and preferably overnight, turning it periodically.

To grill, heat your pan (or your actual grill) to medium-high heat. Make sure the grill is hot before adding the vegetables. Add the asparagus first; they will take longest to cook, about 3 minutes per side. Add the mushrooms and zucchini after you turn the asparagus for the first time. Everything should finish more or less at the same time.

Eat hot off the grill, or, if you must be more civilized, serve on toasted buns, with or without cheese. They're also excellent alongside grilled chicken.

* This is an intense marinade, and it's only fair to point out that I have a salty tooth. You may want to marinate the vegetables for a shorter time to see if you agree with me.
* Other veggies to try -- eggplant, sweet onions, red peppers, baby bok choy...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I Know They Look Charred...

...but those little black bits are actually minced shallots from the marinade. Honest!

Now, if I were fortunate enough to be a magazine editor, and it was my task to name this recipe, I'd have called it Orange Balsamic Chicken, because the citrus flavor is much more prominent than the vanilla. (Maybe I'd have tried for a more interesting name, come to think of it.) The vanilla comes in as an afternote with each bite, present but in no way dominant. I was a little worried that the marinade would turn out too syrupy, with so many sweet ingredients, but the volume of vinegar helped with that, I think.

I made this recipe with eight chicken pieces, not sixteen, and Dimples ate six of them without batting an eye. I think that means this counts as a winner.

Vanilla Balsamic Chicken
Adapted from Cooking Light

Serves 8.

0.5 c. chicken broth
0.5 c. balsamic vinegar (I used my bottle from the Ferry Building)
0.25 c. finely chopped shalllots
0.25 c. packed brown sugar
0.25 tsp. grated orange rind
0.25 c. fresh orange juice (from about half an orange)
1 2-inch piece vanilla bean, split lengthwise
0.5 tsp. salt, divided
16 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (preferably natural or organic)

Heat the oven to 450.

Combine broth, vinegar, shallots, sugar, rind, and juice in a small saucepan. (Go for shallow over deep, as you will be reducing.) Using the tip of a knife, scrap the tiny black seeds from the vanilla vean into the broth mixture. Save the bean.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and reduce to 0.5 c. Stir in 0.25 tsp. salt.

Arrange the chicken in a single layer in a baking dish. Sprinkle with the rest of the salt and freshly ground pepper.

Bake for ten minutes. Then brush half the broth mixture over the chicken and bake five minutes. Add the remaining mixture and bake for another 15 minutes.

* I forgot to add the salt to the marinade and didn't notice a difference at all.
* Next time I will use my white balsamic vinegar -- I bet it will bring an interesting, lighter flavor.
* And of course you should take the vanilla bean and toss it into a jar with some plain white sugar. Instant vanilla sugar!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Citrus Ceviche

I'm not sure whether my memory is failing or my camera is feeling recalcitrant, but when I hooked the device up to my computer to download pictures from my wine party two weekends ago, it seemed that certain shots were missing. In particular, I pretty clearly remember snapping a picture of my citrus ceviche in its cheerful yellow tomato dish. (I don't like to eat tomatoes, but I am quite fond of my yellow tomato dish. I try not to not think about this too much.)

Maybe my camera is punishing me for my carelessness in misplacing it; maybe I deleted the pictures later. Sadly, this is all I have for you:

Despite my lack of visual aids to tempt you, please do give this ceviche a try. If you're not familiar with the dish, the acidic citrus juices "cook" the fish over a couple of hours, so the end result is not raw, but sort of a fish salsa, if you will. I usually serve it with tortilla chips as an appetizer, but it also makes a great light meal for one or two, served over mixed greens.

Citrus Ceviche
Serves 6 as an appetizer, 1-2 as a meal.

0.5 lb fresh halibut filet (do not use frozen)
juice of two limes
juice of one lemon
4 T. fresh orange juice
2 red chiles, seeded and finely diced
2 scallions, white part only, finely chopped
1 Roma tomato, seeded and finely diced
1-2 small Haas avocados, diced
4 T. fresh cilantro, minced
0.5-0.75 tsp. kosher salt

Cut the fish into a fine dice, then mix with the citrus juices in a non-reactive (ceramic or glass) dish. Cover tightly and refrigerate for three hours, giving it a good stir every half hour or so.

Drain the fish, reserving 1-2 T. marinade. Toss the fish with the remaining ingredients except for the salt. Taste and add the salt gradually until you like the mixture. If it seems dry, add the reserved marinade.

* I like this ceviche with any firm white fish. It's pretty good with salmon, too, but sometimes that has turned out too strong for me.
* I usually use red jalapenos, but I have substituted a green serrano for more heat.