Peanut Butter and Purple Onions

Sounds crazy until you try it.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature

...anyone remember that old Dr. Demento song? I only remember bits and pieces, although I will say that it makes far more sense now than it did when I was seven.

Anyway. I'm not normally a big fan of meat substitutes. Oh, I make exceptions -- I think there are several excellent bulk veggie sausages, for example -- that's a texture that lends itself well to meatless imitation. And I love the original Gardenburgers. But fake bacon, tofu turkey, chi'ken cutlets...I can take or leave 'em.

However, I have found a great and glorious thing, and it is Morningstar Farm's Meal Starters. In particular, the steak ones are rocking my world. What's amusing about this, at least to me, is that even when I'm off the vegetarian track, I never cook beef. I've probably bought beef fewer than ten times in my adult life, actually, and I almost never order it out. And steak? Not so much.

But these fake steak strips are awesome. Juicy, intensely flavorful, with a great chewy meaty texture. I can't stop using them.

Here I added them to Rick Bayless's excellent enchildada recipe. Half the batch with fake steak, and half with shredded chicken for Dimples. Enchiladas, for me, are all about having a good sauce, and Bayless delivers without even much elbow grease.

Red Chile Enchiladas
Adapted from Rick Bayless's Mexican Everyday

Serves 4ish.

2-3 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, plus 1 T. of the sauce
2 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
1 28-oz can Muir Glen fire-roasted whole tomatoes, undrained
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 T. olive oil, plus a little extra for the tortillas
2 c. veggie broth
12 corn tortillas
1/2 tsp. sugar
2 generous cups Morningstar Farms steak strips
1 c. shredded cheese -- Chihuahua if you can find it, Monterey Jack if you can't

Heat the oven to 350.

In a blender, puree the chiles, adobo, garlic, tomatoes and their juice, cumin, and pepper until it's as fine as you can get it.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, then add the sauce (strain it first if the consistency is not smooth). Cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce cooks down to a tomato-pasteish consistency, about ten minutes. Pour in the broth, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for ten minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the fake steak strips. I do this by heating about a tsp. of olive oil in a small frying pan, then adding the strips and stirring them around for a few minutes. Then I shake over some spices -- oregano, cumin, ground ancho chile. Not too much.

Also meanwhile, prepare the tortillas by brushing them with a tiny bit of olive oil (a mister works perfectly), then stacking them two deep on a baking sheet. Heat them in the oven for 2-3 minutes until they're pliable. Stack them together on a plate and cover to keep warm.

Take the sauce off the heat and taste it -- Bayless says it usually needs 1 1/2 tsp. salt, and he's right. The consistency should be that of a light cream soup; if it's a little thick, stir in some extra broth.

Begin the enchilada assembly line by spreading 1/2 c. sauce on the bottom of a baking dish (13x9 if you've got it; I don't, so I use two 9x9 pans and divide the recipe accordingly). Stir 1/2 c. sauce into the steak strips. Spread a warm tortilla out in your hand, then spoon a portion of the steak strips down the center. Roll the tortilla up, the place it seam-side down in the dish. Continue until all the tortillas are filled. If you run out of filling, which always happens to me, you can use cheese.

Ladle the remaining sauce over the tortillas and sprinkle with the shredded cheese. Bake 10-12 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the enchilads are heated through.

And don't worry if they fall apart when you take them out of the dish -- it's practically inevitable.

* Chicken can be substituted (indeed, that is what's in Bayless's recipe, so I guess it's not a substitution, is it) -- I used shredded rotisserie chicken for Dimples.
* Chipotle chiles are fairly hot, so start with two if you don't have an asbestos tongue.
* I like to use pepper jack if I can't find Chihuahua.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Greens and Beans

Once again I come to you with a dish that you probably already have in your bag of tricks. But this is such a quick, virtuous sort of recipe that it bears repeating.

Soups that combine greens and beans are common in Italy, I'm told. Maybe I'll find out firsthand this summer.

Have I mentioned that here? We're going to Italy this summer! Two weeks! Milan! Rome! Pisa! Cinque Terre! I'm reduced to shouting the names of the cities, because I honestly am far too excited to get past that stage.

Anyway. More on that later.

For now: soup. This is healthful and soothing even in summer, when hot soup is perhaps not the first thing on your mind. It also can be on the table in no more than twenty minutes from the minute you open the refrigerator, which is pleasing.

Escarole and Bean Soup
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

Serves 4ish.

2 T. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 pinches red pepper flakes, optional
1 large head escarole, chopped
4 c. vegetable broth
1 15-oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 2-inch piece of Parmesan rind
2 Italian-style veggie sausage, sliced, optional

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, then add the garlic and saute about half a minute. Sometimes I let it get a little more color, but don't let it burn.

Add the escarole and cook until wilted, 3-5 minutes. Halfway through the wilting, add the red pepper flakes, if you're using them. Now is also the time to add the veggie sausage, if you're going that route.

Add the broth, beans, and Parmesan rind. Simmer 5-7 minutes, until everything's heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

* You can, of course, use chicken broth and chicken or pork sausage.
* You can also drizzle a little extra-virgin olive oil over each bowl, if you like. To be honest, I usually forget, and I never miss it.
* I keep a Ziploc full of Parmesan rinds in the freezer -- they add wonderful body and savoriness to soups like these.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Oops, I Grilled It Again

...of course I'm not above a bad Britney Spears reference.

Also of course, I don't claim that this is remotely an original idea. In fact you've probably done this sandwich this summer already. Maybe even this weekend. But on the off chance that you need persuading -- observe the grilled portobello mushroom sandwich.

This could not be easier to make. To begin, take a pinch or two of your favorite dried herbs and pour over a tablespoon or so of extra virgin olive oil. I used Penzeys Italian Blend, but oregano, marjoram, tarragon, or basil would work nicely too.

Next, heat your grill pan over medium-high heat (or do whatever magical thing gets a real grill into the same state). Brush a mushroom cap with the herb oil. Grill, topside down, for 4-5 minutes, then flip and repeat. Brush with more oil if it seems to be getting dry on the outside.

Remove the cap to a plate and prepare your bun. I used a smear of fierce and searing mustard, a pile of salad greens, and that's it. But don't be ruled by me -- check out your crisper drawer for likely partners.

Place the cap on the bottem bum, then drizzle with good-quality balsamic vinegar. Grate over some fresh pepper. Adorn with top bun.

Be sure to eat this over a plate, as it will be one juicy sucker. Warning: after trying these out, you too will find yourself humming pop music when it's time for dinner.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

WCB #54

What's a weekend without a good stretch?

Max takes a full-body approach.

Head over to Clare's to visit poor Kiri, who had to endure canine intrusions last weekend! And all his friends, too, of course.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Using My Noodle

Work's been entirely too busy lately. Hasn't been much time for other pursuits -- certainly not a lot of time to spend in the kitchen. I especially haven't wanted to buy too many fresh groceries when I can never be sure when I'll have time to open the crisper drawer.

So, here's a quick recipe that doesn't need a lot of fresh ingredients, hits a good handful of major BNA tastiness requirements (salty, spicy, chewy), and is vegan to boot. Better yet, it's equally slurpable hot or cold.

Spicy Peanut Noodles
Adapted from Vegetarian Times

Serves 4ish.

8 oz. linguine or other long, thin pasta
1/2 c. reduced-fat smooth peanut butter
1/4 c. water
2 T. low-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 T rice wine vinegar
2 tsp. chile paste with garlic or roasted chile paste or red curry paste
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
half a cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
2 T. coarsely chopped cilantro

Cook the linguine.

While it's cooking, whisk together the peanut butter, water, soy sauce, vinegar, paste, and sugar. Add a little more water if it seems too thick -- you're looking for a consistency like half and half.

Toss together pasta, sauce, and vegetables. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

WCB #53 -- Terror of the Apartment Complex

Did you hear about that tabby cat in New Jersey that treed a bear?

When Dimples told me that story, I knew that cat had to be an orange tabby. (It was.) In my experience, there's just something about orange tabbies -- not evil cats, necessarily, but fierce. Feisty. A little demonic at times.

And, in our household, prone to attack the TV screen.

Now you can understand why I am loathe to introduce Widget to a backyard anytime soon. Pity the wildlife.

Visit Kiri and his friends at Clare's!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Blueberry Buckle

...sounds like Strawberry Shortcake's cousin from Maine, doesn't it? As I recall, Strawberry's friend was actually called Blueberry Muffin -- and she had a blue rubber hat with a scalloped edge secured to her head with those little plastic ties, which Devorit refused to allow to be snipped off lest we (I) lose the hat -- but I prefer to think that Blueberry Buckle would have been a friendlier kind of person.

A buckle is sort of like a pan-sized muffin -- a layer of cake, a layer of fruit, and a struesel topping. Blueberries work best, in my opinion, since they keep their shape atop the cake.

This is a forgiving recipe, easy to mix together on a Sunday morning and nibble on all day long.

Blueberry Buckle
Adapted from Better Homese & Gardens New Baking Book

2 c. all-purpose flour, preferably King Arthur
2.5 tsp. baking powder
0.25 tsp. salt
0.5 c. shortening, preferably a non-trans fat brand
0.75 c. sugar
1 egg
0.5 c. milk (I use skim)
2 c. frozen blueberries, preferably Wyman's or other wild blueberries

0.5 c. all-purpose flour, preferably King Arthur
0.5 c. sugar
0.75 tsp. cinnamon
0.25 butter, softened

Heat oven to 350.

Grease an 8x8 pan. Take 2 c. of the flour and combine it with the baking powder and the salt. Mix with a whisk, for fun and lightness.

Using an electric mixer, beat the shortening for thirty seconds on medium speed to loosen it up and aerate it a little. Add 0.75 c. sugar and beat on medium-high spead until fluffy. Add the egg and beat well. Add the flour mixture and the milk in alternating portions, incorporating well. Spoon the batter into the pan; it will be a fairly stiff batter.

Cover the batter with a blanket of berries. Combine the streusel flour, sugar, and cinnamon, then rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle evenly over the berries.

Bake 50-60 minutes or until golden and gorgeous. Best warm.

* This is a forgiving recipe. I accidentally added a half-cup too much flour and it worked fine. I also substituted butter for half the shortening and, again, just fine.
* I like to add 0.25 tsp. of Penzeys baking spice to the dry flour mixture to bring a little more spice into the cake itself.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

WCB # 52 -- Return of Yoga Cat

Because the prices for local yoga classes are definitely not conducive to inner calm, I've been practicing at home (thank you, Netflix). As I've mentioned here before, our cat Max enjoys "helping" me with poses.

But now that my gym finally has started holding yoga classes, I've been heading over there -- and Max does not approve.

If Max doesn't get do to yoga, nobody gets to do yoga.

Head over to Clare's to check out Kiri and his pals at WCB's first anniversary!