Archive | February 2014

Mexican Polenta (aka fusion)

As an American, I have few qualms bastardizing other countries’ cuisines or mashing separate ones together. We call it fusion. As a Californian (where much the food is some kind of fusion – its a side effect of diversity) I try to make that food as tasty as possible.  This past weekend it was actually warm – legitimately above 60 degrees warm – so naturally I wanted warm weather food, aka Californian food. Actually, I wanted Mexican food, but I’d tried most of the recipes in my various cookbooks already. Naturally, the combination of flipping through the Greens cookbook and talking to my dad ended with a solution: mexican-style veggies on polenta.

mexican polenta

2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup polenta/cornmeal

Take the vegetable broth and bring it to a boil. Add the polenta. Boil until the cornmeal is all soft and cooked, and no longer grainy. Then pour it into an 8X8 pan and let it cool.

1/3 red bell pepper, chopped
1/3 onion, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin
Shredded cheese (cheddar, Monterey jack, any Mexican cheese)

Saute the garlic in some olive oil. Add the onion and red pepper. After a couple minutes, add the zucchini. I’ve been told that adding zucchini to Mexican dishes is super Californian, but hey, California was a part of Mexico and zucchinis (and yellow squash) are native to Mexico. So I refuse to think of it as inauthentic. If you want to go further, corn is also native to the Americas, but I feel that’s stretching it a bit. Add salt, pepper, and cumin to taste and saute until the veggies are tender.

Once the veggies are done, pour them over the now-cooled polenta. On top of the veggies, scatter about 2 -3 ounces of grated cheese. I used cheddar, but monterey jack or a Mexican cheese such as queso fresco would also work. Bake the whole thing at 350 for 20-30 minutes, or until the cheese is all melted and bubbly. Top with salsa and serve.

The result was totally delicious. Simple and yummy and (this sounds silly) tastes like summer. Of course the corn works with the mex-veggies, and the time in the oven prevents anything from getting soggy. Zucchini often makes things soggy, so this is important. It is also a very complete meal in it of itself – although if you want to serve it with chips and salsa I completely support that. I served this with white wine, but generally Mexican  food is best with a solid beer or tequila. My favorite is Bell’s Oberon Summer Wheat beer, but that doesn’t come out for another month sadly. Finally, the songs of the week are “Criminal” by Fiona Apple and “Smile” by Lily Allen. Awesome songs by female artists. Fiona Apple owns herself and her sexuality without being all “male-gaze” based – which is seriously impressive to pull off, especially in the music industry. Lily Allen has the most positive sounding songs with “holy shit, seriously?” lyrics. Honorable mention: “So What” by P!nk.

Turkish Pide – an attempt to recreate a restaurant recipe

My favorite restaurant in DC is a Middle Eastern mezze place called Zaytinya, and they have this sort of pizza thing called a pide. Apparently its a Turkish in origin. So naturally, when I was casting about for something to cook, this came to mind. I did an internet search, but nothing really struck me as a good recipe to try, and they all had too much dill in them. I hate dill. So I went on the restaurant’s website and found the description: Turkish tomato sauce with cinnamon and oregano, covered in halloumi cheese. That’s enough to qualify as a recipe, right? Absolutely!

kinda squogy looking but still yummy

kinda squogy looking but still yummy

1/3 cup warm water
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 package yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4-1 cup flour

Take the warm water (warm mind you, cool and the yeast won’t multiple, hot and the yeast die) and add the sugar and yeast. Mix and let sit until its all bubbly, about 10 minutes. Add the olive oil, and then about 3/4 cup of flour. Mix in the flour, and keep adding more, a little at a time, until you have a soft, non-sticky dough to form. Make sure to knead the dough, so that is reasonably elastic. Then let it sit in a warm spot to rise, for about an hour.

1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 tsp cinnamon
2 pinches dried oregano
4-6 kalamata olives, cut in half
strong sheep cheese, grated

So I was not about to make my own tomato sauce from scratch. That is far more work than this project was worth. So instead, I took my normal garlic tomato sauce, and added the cinnamon and dried oregano, and mixed it all together. Then I took 4 kalamata olives and chopped them in half, and grated some strong Greek sheep cheese I found at Whole Foods (I couldn’t find halloumi).

Assembly: Take about 1/2 the dough, and roll it out into the shape of an oval. Place the rolled-out dough on a baking sheet/tray. Spoon as much of the sauce as you want on the dough. Place the cheese and olives on top if the sauce, then fold over the edges of the dough, so the whole thing looks more like a canoe. Bake at 400 for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crust is brown and the cheese is all bubbly.

Result: so yummy. Completely delicious. Also completely simple since you don’t need to make the sauce from scratch. The cinnamon makes all the difference. It isn’t overpowering at all, but it is aromatic and definitely there. It’s so little extra work compared to normal pizza and so yummy and different. And it doesn’t require any odd ingredients except the cheese (and worse case scenario you could just use feta). Serve this dish with wine, I used a Greek white that I fell in love with. I also served it with Carrottes d’Afrique du Nord, which are amazingly amazing and can be found in the works of Mollie Katzen. Song of the week: Sweet Child O Mine by Guns N’ Roses. I had a very crappy day this week, and listened to this song on repeat for about 2 hours. Seriously, it can be that cathartic.

This time, Ethiopia

At this point in my life, I can’t just travel around the world at a whim. It’s sad, but the reality of being 25 and broke. However, I can travel the world via food. So this week I decided to attempt Ethiopian. I don’t go out to eat Ethiopian food as often as I’d like, so this seemed like a reasonable opportunity. I actually found this dish originally while I was searching for recipes to use up the rest of my cabbage, which needed to be consumed in something other than salad or cabbage roll form.

1 clove garlic, minced
2 carrots, chopped
1/3 onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups cabbage, chopped
1 large yellow potato, chopped
3/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin

Saute the garlic, onion, and carrots in olive oil for a few minutes in a saucepan. Add the cabbage and season the mix with a pinch of salt, turmeric, and cumin. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add the potatoes to the saucepan. Cover, lower heat a bit, a let cook until the potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes.

they call me mellow yellow...

they call me mellow yellow…

The dish was good. Also filling and fairly straight-forward to put together. The problem is that when something gets so many good reviews, you kind of expect it to be mind-blowing. My mind was not blown. It was not “omg I need to make this again.” This was more along the lines of a solid meal that you enjoy eating and then forget about. Like an omlette. Also, it wasn’t overly flavorful. It wasn’t bland, but it wasn’t spicy either. Which is a little sad because I doubled the cumin and tripled the turmeric over the original recipe. Like I said, it was good, it just wasn’t exciting or anything. On another note, my musical obsessions of the week: All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix. One of my all time favorite songs, ever. Seriously, its the musical equivalent of an orgasm. So if the dish didn’t blow your mind either, this song will make up for it, I promise.

Gung Hai Fat Choi! A Vegetarian Chinese New Year

Literally the only Chinese I knew for the first 20 years of my life was “Gung hai fat choi,”  which is essentially Happy New Years! It’s a phrase everyone learns and is obsessed with in 1st grade where I grew up. One of the many side effects of growing up in California is that I have celebrated Chinese New Year almost as long as I’ve celebrated Hanukkah (keep in mind I am white and was raised a Christian). This year, that means making Chinese food for new years. With one thing and another I didn’t actually get around to it until today, but I figure its all good regardless. I decided to make two recipes – Chinese Marbled Eggs, because all new year celebrations require eggs of some sort as a symbol for new life, and stir-fry noodles because why not?

Stir-fry Noodles: The sir-fry noodles were based off this recipe, because a solid chunk of my life is based on the assumption that BBC knows what its talking about.

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small knob fresh ginger, minced
1 carrot, cut into thin strips
½ bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 ½ cups cabbage, cut into thin strips
Shitake mushrooms, sliced
Egg or chow mein noodles
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ tablespoon rice vinegar
½ tablespoon stir-fry sauce

Prep all the veggies and spices first. Cook noodles, and then drain and set aside. In theory you should use fresh egg noodles, but I used chow mein noodles. Saute the veggies, ginger, and garlic for about five minutes at medium high heat, then add the noodles. Saute a few more minutes and then add some soy sauce, rice vinegar, and stir-fry sauce. I use Kikkoman’s Vegetarian Stir-Fry Sauce (When in doubt buying Asian foods, Kikkoman is a safe bet for quality and authenticity). Saute a couple more minutes and done!

Marbled Eggs: Unlike the noodles, this recipe takes forever.

3 eggs
1 bag black tea
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tsp sugar

First step: hard boil three eggs. Once they are done and cooled, you crack the shells, gently, with the back of a spoon, but you leave the cracked eggshell on the eggs. Then, you put the eggs back in the pot, cover with water, and add the cinnamon, soy sauce, sugar, and teabag. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 40 minutes. Once it is done simmering, cover the pot and let it continue to soak for at least 5 hours, preferably overnight. Once, they are done soaking, peel and serve.

Chinese food

The Results: Yummy! More on the lightly flavored side, which is good for Chinese food in my opinion, and often more authentic I’ve discovered. The marbled eggs were pretty, and tasty, but I think in the future I’ll need to soak them for somewhat longer to get a stronger flavor – it was more of a hint of a flavor than anything else. I will say that cooking them made my entire apartment smell amazing for a few hours. The noodles were particularly good, not to mention fast and easy to throw together. They weren’t oily at all (a hallmark of bad American-Chinese food) or overly salty or anything and the vinegar was a good addition. It was actually a reasonably light, healthy meal while being yummy and fun! Serve with green tea, preferably Jasmine green tea.

Olive and Leek Quiche

It’s always nice when someone volunteers to be your permanent food guinea pig. I usually get nervous cooking for people, but one of my friends, has no problems trying out my new recipes (he was the one who tried the experimental trifle) The only condition is no eggplant. So since I owed him a dinner anyways, it seemed logical to do both in one meal. Rather than do something completely new, I decided to err on the side of caution and make a variation on a recipe I’m fairly comfortable with – quiche.

olive quiche

Not enough filling for a deep pie dish…. oh well

Pastry Dough
1 cup flour
1/3 cup salted butter
some cold water

Put flour in a bowl and cut in the butter with a pastry cutter (or a fork if you don’t have one) until it is all incorporated, and the dough can almost clump together. Add the water, a little at a time, stirring it in with a knife and your hands until a nice dough has formed. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until the topping is done. Always make dough from scratch. My friend actually asked me if I was using store-bought dough or not … I was very nearly offended that he would even ask. Let the dough sit for a while (it lets the butter get all streaky and incorporated better). Then roll it out into a circle and line a pie plate with it.

The Filling:
2 medium leeks
3 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup frozen chopped spinach
2-3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
2 pinches dried thyme
8-10 kalamata olives, quartered
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
lemon zest (1/2 lemon)

Take the leeks and thinly slice the white parts. Saute the leeks and garlic for  a bit. Once soft, put them in a bowl and toss with some chopped spinach (I usually use the frozen stuff that I’v thawed in the microwave), the parsley, thyme, and olives. Let the mixture cool. In another bowl, beat the eggs, then add the milk and lemon zest.

Assembly: Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese on the bottom of the pie crust. Place the leek filling as an even layer on top of that. Pour the egg-milk mixture over the filling. Bake at 375 for about 40 minutes, or until cooked through and set. It should not wiggle at all when you move it.

The result was extremely good – a solid 8 1/2. I was surprised at just how lemon-zesty it was, since there was less than one lemon’s worth of zest in there.  It was, I think, the right level of olive-y though. Enough that it is a dominant flavor, but not so much that it qualifies as overpowering. The leeks really weren’t that flavorful. I’m not sure if its just cause leeks are fairly delicately flavored, or if it was just a function of the recipe. I think maybe caramelized onions might be a good substitution in the future. I had this with a Belgian IPA (my friend’s contribution to the meal) but I think it would pair best with white wine.