Fancy Schmancy Post-Valentine’s Day Celebration Dinner

Sometimes, when you live with a bear, that bear has to work late.  One such occurrence happened on Valentine’s Day, so our Valentine’s Day feast was postponed a week.  But then we went all out.  Oh yes we did.

For the first course, I made the Caesar Salad for Two.

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Now, if you are like me, you have probably never made Caesar dressing at home.  Maybe the anchovies scared you off.  Maybe it was the raw egg.  Either way, it’s a daunting proposition.  I decided to give it a try anyhow (because someone had to) and let me just say, you should ignore all of your fears and hesitations regarding this and just make it for heaven’s sake!  It’s so good!!  The bear was so thrilled with it that he literally made me make it three more times in the following week.  It tastes neither fishy, nor eggy.  It tastes like what comes out of a bottle only 100 times more flavorful and delicious.  Do it!  The good thing about this recipe is that it is a small batch too, just enough to make a decent size bowl of salad for two maybe three people.  I’m not sure how well homemade caesar would store in the fridge so this recipe is ideal.

We followed our salad with Steak and Shrimp with Parsley Potatoes.

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Well really, the steak was for the Bear, and the shrimp were for me.  I did try the steak (the first steak I ever cooked) and I thought it was quite tasty.  It wasn’t too beefy just tasted nice and seared and salty.  (I tried to replicate it with a different cut of meat and again it was too beefy).  The shrimp were cooked perfectly.  They were sweet and buttery.  I think scallops would also be good in this recipe.  The potatoes were also quite tasty.  They were buttery and the perfect little side for the decadent shrimp and steak.

And finally… oh yes, the Fresh Orange and Yogurt Tart.

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Navel oranges are for chumps so I used blood oranges.  This was an awesome desert folks.  Just spectacular.  After such a decadent meal this wasn’t so over the top sweet that we would instantly fall into a food coma.  Nope it was light and satisfying.  It was an amazing texture and I will absolutely make some variation of this again.  I think it might be pretty awesome to make the yogurt part and then top it with a curd, maybe like that incredible orange curd I made for the pavlova.

So there you have it, a feast to end all feasts.  A feast to end the Jan/Feb 2010 issue.  Next up, March 2009!!

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Stir fry for days

Shrimp and Scallion Stir Fry

over those pesky rice noodles

over those pesky rice noodles

Stir-fried noodles with eggplant and basil

eggplant and basil in the dead of winter.  decadent!

eggplant and basil in the dead of winter. decadent!

Stir-fried turkey in lettuce wraps

It has kind of a birth of Venus thing going on, doesn't it?

It has kind of a birth of Venus thing going on, doesn’t it?

So many stir fries in this issue.  If you add up the stir fry feature with the winter green sautees, that’s a whole lot of warm veggie glop on top of rice, pasta, or something.  These three are quite representative of all of the stir frying going on in issue #69 in that they are all ok, but not great, and all low calorie (until you start adding noodles and such…).

The Shrimp and Scallion Stir Fry can literally be summed up just by reading the name of the recipe.  See, there’s some shrimp and some scallions and you stir fry them.  Still with me?  Oh, and there’s garlic.  I served it over rice noodles because I’m still trying to get rid of those suckers.

The Stir-fried noodles with eggplant and basil was very good, if somewhat impractical.  I like to try and cook seasonally and Everyday Food usually supports that.  They’ve got a whole “in season” section and everything.  But then they have a chicken sandwich with zucchini on it and a stir fry with eggplant and basil in this issue.  Oh, and the chicken salad with basil too.  On one hand, I can’t complain.  It is definitely awesome to taste basil in the dead of winter.  It almost makes me believe that summer is coming, which it obviously isn’t.  It’s currently 28 degrees outside and it’s March 23rd.  There just won’t be an end to winter.  So buy some basil!

The Stir-fried turkey in lettuce wraps was good, but I still don’t care for lettuce wraps as a concept for the same reason that I don’t like hard shell tacos, too messy.  I know.  I know.  Polly Prissy Pants over here.  Also, when you make lettuce wraps, you have to spend so much time delicately removing each lettuce leaf carefully, carefully, so carefully….dang it!  It tore!  Then what do you do?  Make a very tiny lettuce wrap?  Give up and start over?  These are serious questions folks.  So the flavor of this recipe is quite good, but it’s not good enough to make me like lettuce wraps.  Oh, and yeah, that’s iceberg lettuce.  I know I’d get better results with a fancier lettuce, but I’d be angrier when the leaves tear because of the extra money.  So…kind of a catch 22.

In conclusion, if you need a stir fry, go to your EF collection and grab #69.  Whew!

Superb owl (hat tip to Stephen Colbert, MFA)

This meal was a loosely structured attempt to make a vegetarian version of a traditional Super Bowl feast.  The centerpiece was supposed to be the beet chips from this issue of Everyday Food.  As it turned out, those were the weakest part of the meal.  I’ll get the usual formalities out of the way, so we can move on to talking about much tastier things.  If you stick with me, there’s an awesome recipe for slow-cooker BBQ tofu at the end of this post.  We just have to talk about these loser chips from the magazine real quick…

Beet chips

"Barbeque chips"

“Barbeque chips”

This turned out to be a ton of work for very little return.  I need to find another recipe.  I have faith that beet chips can be made at home.  I used to love the beet chips at a bar in Urbana, IL, Crane Alley.  They served them with a goat cheese dip that was just unreal.  I’ll be honest, though.  I think those were fried.  That might really be the secret here.  Don’t send the oven to do a deep fryer’s job.  I busted on the mandoline for this one.  I followed the instructions where you stack cookie sheets on top of each other in the oven!  I tried to follow the instructions about taking them out when they “changed color” and believed them when they said they would be crispier as they cooled.  They didn’t.  These were, for the most part, soggy little discs of beet that took forever and created a ton of dishes.  Sad trombone…  But I’m keeping the faith because those handful of chips that actually were crisp were really tasty.  I sprinkled them with smoked sea salt to approximate the taste of barbeque chips.

Buffalo-wing style cauliflower

"wings"

“wings”

Ok, let’s move on to the real stars!  I made a recipe that I’ve been dying to make since I first got on Pinterest.  The buffalo cauliflower.  Yes, Pinterest fans!  That one!  What a cool recipe.  You basically batter some cauliflower florets with a buttermilk batter, bake them in the oven (while wishing they were deep fried…), then toss them with buffalo sauce and serve them with blue cheese dressing.  Is it good?  My word, yes.  Does it taste like buffalo wings?  Don’t be silly.  Of course not.  It tastes roughly like roasted cauliflower with a tangy buttermilk pancake wrapped around it, all doused in buffalo sauce.  If that sounds good to you, you’ll like this.  If not, just make wings and move on with your life.

Slow cooker BBQ Tofu

"barbeque sandwiches"

“barbeque sandwiches”

Here’s the real winner, and I feel very awkward saying this because I’m not really one for self-promotion.  This is my recipe for slow-cooker BBQ tofu.  It is a modification, adjustment, and reimagining of two recipes.  One is a BBQ tofu recipe from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Family Favorites.  I made that recipe straight-up one time and found it lacking.  I thought the tofu itself was really good.  The slow-cooking gave it a kind of roasty edge.  The sauce tasted too ketchuppy, and it tasted like it wasn’t done yet.  At the same time, the tofu definitely couldn’t have been cooked any longer without ruining it.  The other recipe is the smokey onion tofu marinade from Bean by Bean by the impossibly-named and impossibly wonderful Crescent Dragonwagon.  By marinating the tofu pieces overnight in her marinade, slow-cooking the sauce for some extra time on its own before adding the tofu chunks, then finishing them all together, this winds up being, quite honestly, my favorite BBQ sandwich.  I crave this stuff.

I feel I have to say a little more about my changes to the sauce recipe.  As I said before, when I made it the first time, it was ketchuppy.  What it was really missing was smoke.  Well, that’s a difficult one for a tofu slow-cooker recipe, right?  I added in smoke wherever I thought I could find it.  The Dragonwagon marinade uses liquid smoke.  I added liquid smoke to the BBQ sauce.  I also added a couple chopped chipotles in adobo, aka smoked jalapenos.  Those adjustments finally brought the smokey flavor.

It is with much trepidation that I release my baby out into the wild, but here it is.  The recipe that I’ve given the most work and the one of which I am the most proud.  Serve it at a Super Bowl party and make the veggies/non-veggies fall in love with you.  Or keep it all to yourself.

Slow-cooker barbeque tofu (adapted and adjusted from Not your Mother’s Slow Cooker Family Favorites by Beth Hensperger (Harvard Common Press: 2009))

The first step is to marinate the tofu pieces.

Smokey onion marinade (adapted from Bean by Bean: A Cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon (Workman Publishing: 2012))

  • 1/4 c soy sauce
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 1 large white onion, peeled and quartered
  • cloves from one head of garlic
  • 2 T cider vinegar
  • 2 drops liquid smoke
  • 3 16-oz blocks of extra firm tofu (no need to drain), cut into 1-inch cubes
  1. Combine all ingredients except for the tofu in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment.  Pulse to break it up then process until it’s ground as fine as you can get it.  This is a sloppy, liquid marinade with little bits of onion in it.  It’s going to leak out of the food processor on to the counter.  Just a heads up.  If you have a very intense blender (I don’t) like maybe a vitamix, you could maybe do this in the blender and prevent that mess, but a normal blender will not break up an onion.  You don’t lose enough marinade to make this a big deal.
  2. Place the tofu in a nonreactive dish or large ziploc bag and pour the marinade over it.  Cover and refrigerate, trying to remember to turn the chunks every once in a while, overnight.  Crescent says you can let this marinate for up to 6 days(!)

Now that you have the tofu marinated, I’ll give you the rest of the recipe

  • 2 c ketchup
  • 1/4 firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 T soy sauce
  • 3 chipotle peppers in adobe, chopped fine
  • 2 T cider or red wine vinegar
  • 1 T spiciest brown mustard you can find
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • 1/4 t citrus herb seasoning salt from the December 2011 Everyday Food, see this post (actually recipe calls for lemon pepper seasoning, which I’m sure is fine)
  • 1/4 t Angostura bitters
  • 1 t liquid smoke
  1. While the tofu is still marinating, get a jump start on the sauce.  In a medium bowl, combine ketchup, brown sugar, soy sauce, chipotles, vinegar, mustard, paprika, garlic powder, citrus seasoning salt, bitters, and liquid smoke.  Stir to combine.
  2. Coat the inside of the crock with nonstick cooking spray.  Pour sauce into crock.  Cover and cook on low for 1 1/2 hours.  Stir the sauce well.
  3. Brush excess marinade off of the tofu and add it to the crock.  Just the excess.  Some bits will cling to the tofu pieces and that’s absolutely fine.  Cover and cook on low for another 4-6 hours, until very hot and fragrant.
  4. Serve on rolls.  I like this with raw onions and pickles.  I think it needs a little sharpness and snap.

Well, now I’m starving.

 

Needs a little protein

Brown-rice salad with spinach and tomatoes

Green vegetable stir fry

Thanks, feta!

Thanks, feta!

Kudos, tofu!

Kudos, tofu!

Here are two recipes that just need a little something to save them from themselves.  The first is the brown rice salad.  It’s not some great elements: cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, dill, a nice dressing, and some nutty brown rice.  Know what it’s missing?  Some kind of protein, preferably of the dairy variety.  It’s got cucumbers and dill, so it’s already vaguely Greek.  In steps feta, and it’s perfect.

Then there’s the green vegetable stir fry.  So so good.  So so so little going on besides vegetables.  Leeks, snow peas, bok choy, celery, ginger.  I served it on brown rice, and that helped.  Again, it needed protein.  Delicious cheese didn’t really seem right (not that it ever seems wrong), but tofu was perfect.  Please take a second look at those cubes.  I have a slightly (read: extremely) anal trick for stir frying tofu.  Cut the tofu into cubes.  True cubes with nearly equal sized sides.  Heat up some vegetable oil.  Place the cubes into the hot oil and turn them every 3-4 minutes.  I turn them by knocking them over on to another side and paying attention to which sides are brown and which are white.  This way, it all gets evenly fried.  You have to be willing to sit with a pair of tongs and gently bob tofu cubes on to their sides by a quarter turn.  If that sounds like madness, just stir them…like the lout that you are!  Either way, the tofu adds the protein and makes this a satisfying meal.

Something has happened with this green veggie stir fry that hasn’t happened with this blog in a very long time.  The recipe is not online.  Sonofa!  So I’m going to do you a solid and give you the recipe, adapted for to add the protein and brown rice that it needs.

Green vegetable stir fry (adapted from Everyday Food issue # 69 January/February 2010 p. 91)

  • 2 medium leeks (white and green parts only), halved lengthwise and rinsed well
  • 3 T vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 T minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 head bok choy (3/4 pound), cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 c snow peas, trimmed
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • coarse salt (omit if using normal broth or substitute a little soy sauce when you serve it)
  • 1/4 low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
  • cooked brown rice for serving
  • block of extra firm tofu, drained and cut into perfect 1-inch cubes
  1. In a non-stick skillet, heat 1 T of the vegetable oil on medium-high heat.  Place the cubes into the hot oil and turn them a quarter turn onto a new side every 3-4 minutes, browning them evenly.  Pay attention to the first turn, you may find you need more or less cooking time to brown the cubes.
  2. In the meantime, cut leeks into 2-inch pieces; separate layers.  Heat another large skillet (your biggest, widest saucepan is a good choice here) or wok over medium-high heat until hot.  Add another 1 T oil, swirl to coat skillet.  Add half the ginger, half the garlic, and half the leeks.  You’re doing the veggies in two batches because they are going to lose a lot of liquid.  Stir until the leeks begin to soften, 1 to 2 minutes.  Increase heat to high; add half the bok choy, half the snow peas, and half the celery.  Season with salt or soy sauce, if using low-sodium broth.  Stir until vegetables begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add half the borth; toss until snow peas are bright green, 1 minute. Transfer veggies to a platter or big bowl.
  3. Repeat all of that stir frying with the remaining ingredients.  Remember that’s: ginger, garlic, and leeks, then bok choy, snow peas, and celery.
  4. Serve over brown rice with pan-fried tofu cubes on top.  Season with soy sauce, as desired (as they say in cookbooks)

Worth the fuss

Beef rolls with Spring Salad

Oh, no.  Those red peppers look like tongues.  Oops.

Oh, no. Those red peppers look like tongues. Oops.

Ok, I know that I previously railed against making a beef roll-up thingy as being way too much dang work.  In that case, rolling up scallions and red pepper in thin pieces of beef just seemed to me a very fussy way to make a simple stir fry.  This recipe is different.  Why?  Cheese.  It has a slice of pepper jack cheese in each roll.  Believe it or not, that actually makes the rolling, toothpicking, and related fussing all worthwhile.  You cut into these little packages and get beef, red pepper, onion, and pepper jack cheese all in one delicious bite.

Also, if you can’t find bracciola beef or aren’t somewhere with a proper butcher counter that can slice beef for you, you can do what I did.  I bought a chunk of top round, froze it for maybe 15 minutes, then sliced it and pounded it to get it thinner.  It worked just fine.  Oh, and don’t forget that this recipe uses the leftover peppers and onions from the delicious sausage sandwiches.  I love those Everyday Food combos.

Pot o’ Gold? No.

One-pot chicken and brown rice

If that doesn't look bland, adjust your monitor settings.

If that doesn’t look bland, adjust your monitor settings.

This is my attempt at making a St. Patrick’s Day post two days too late.  There’s green from the celery, and it’s a pot, but not a pot of gold.  Sigh.  I tried.  I also give a great big sigh to this recipe.  So boring.  It’s chicken and rice.  I guess it’s not supposed to blow my mind.  Yes, it only takes one pot.  Whee.  Sorry.  Maybe I’m not more enthusiastic because my mom went through a three year phase of making chicken and rice for almost every dinner, and I’ve been scarred.  Also, the rice wasn’t cooked.  That’s probably just a brown rice thing.  I think asking brown rice, vegetables, and chicken to all show up at the right temperature and consistency at the right time is too much to ask.  I’ve got an Arroz con Pollo recipe from a Williams Sonoma cookbook that is one pot, cooked in the oven, and utterly flawless.  The difference?  White rice.

Happy belated St. Patrick’s Day dear readers.  Maybe next year we will have corned beef and cabbage or something.

Escarole Beats Radicchio Anyday!

Escarole with Onion and Lemon

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I hope you all remember the travesty that was the “Have you tried Radicchio?” adventure.  I know I can’t forget it.  So, when faced with yet another new lettuce-type substance, I was nervous.  As far as I know, I had never tried escarole and I knew I couldn’t trust EF for saying it was delightful.  I’d fallen for that one before.

It looked ok, it smelled ok, but I took my first bite with great trepidation.  But guess what!  EF didn’t lie to me!! Escarole is delightful.  It was green and yummy and something about it vaguely reminded me of artichoke (and let’s face it, that’s never a bad thing!).  The recipe was super simple and took approximately 5 minutes to cook.  I suggest you keep this on the back burner for any night you need a quick and healthy side dish.

Lemon Icebox Cookies

Lemon Icebox Cookies 

All packed up to go to Book Club.

All packed up to go to Book Club.

This recipe is super simple. I just tossed everything into the food processor and I had my dough within seconds.  Literally.  However, this recipe made me realize two things.  Number one, I need to upgrade to a new zester, rasp, whatever you want to call it.  The one I have was sent to me as a gift for renewing my Everyday Food subscription many years ago.  It probably wasn’t great to begin with.  Now, it just needs to go.  Time to upgrade to a microplane.  Second, I need to upgrade my baking sheets.  I’ve had them for close to a decade and used them continually.  It’s time.  It’s also time because for some reason one of the pans I was using made the bottom of these cookies super dark, despite rotating the pans in the oven.

The cookies themselves were delicious.  They were like a lightly lemony shortbread. Yum!  They went over well with my new book club (I took them to the first ever meeting I attended.) and I’m sure they aided my acceptance into the group.  And so, I’ve decided to rename them Lemon IceBreaker Cookies!

 

 

 

 

 

Salute to sides

Minted pea mash

Perhaps the green plate wasn't the best choice for photographing peas.

Perhaps the green plate wasn’t the best choice for photographing peas.

Apple-parsnip mash

This photo was taken in our living room while watching the Olympics.  USA!

This photo was taken in our living room while watching the Olympics. USA!

I feel like a latecomer to side dishes.  I always kind of thought of them as something for a special occasion.  Perhaps not necessarily Thanksgiving, but probably at least dinner with company.  When I cook for just me and D, it’s usually just an entree.  Oftentimes, we’ll eat the kind of entrees that kind of have a built in side dish like something served on noodles.  But side dishes in the sense of a supporting player for an entree really aren’t part of my regular repertoire.  If the most difficult thing about this project is getting the writing done on time, then the second most difficult thing has to be making all of the sides.  So this project has forced me to consider side dishes as a part of a normal meal.  Sometimes I wish I hadn’t bothered.  These are two side dishes where I was glad that I bothered.  They added a lot to the meal.  They also showed me how side dishes can add more veggies to an otherwise carb and/or protein heavy meal.  This probably should have been obvious.  I’m learning, OK!!

The minted pea mash tastes lovely and couldn’t be easier.  You thaw some frozen peas, sautee them with butter, buzz them in the food processor with some mint leaves.  Hey, if you’re looking for a side for your Easter lamb, this has got to be it.  The recipe said it was good with roasted chicken, and we took that very literally.  D and I made a dish that has been a classic of our relationship since before we were married: Jamie Oliver’s Perfect Roast Chicken.  I cannot find an officially sanctioned recipe online, but some Epicurious user put this out there.  It’s an excellent recipe.  I will add that you can substitute a teaspoon of dried thyme for the fresh thyme and bacon for the prosciutto.  The minted pea mash was a nice burst of green and freshness on a plate that was otherwise full of chicken fat and potatoes.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The apple-parsnip mash played a similar supporting role.  I needed to make side from the January/February issue, but was all out of entrees in that issue.  That happens to us…a lot.  I made the Mexican Cod and Potato Stew from the April 2006 issue of Everyday Food.  Yes, even when faced with the possibility to make anything I like, I still make something from Everyday Food.  That was pretty tasty.  It had a good amount of spice to it.  So the apple-parsnip mash served to settle all that down.  It did a good job of that.  The stew already had potatoes in it, so maybe it was a bit of a starch fest, but I enjoyed it.  The mash itself is interesting.  It is almost eerily balanced between apples and parsnips.  Just when you’re getting ready to say “this just tastes like apples!” the parsnip flavor sneaks in.  It’s quite tasty.  I recommend it as a good side dish for when the entree is bold and doesn’t need anything that will compete.

Side dishes are good on the side.  Who knew?!

Citrus desserts: better together

Mint-grapefruit granita

Candied Citrus peel

BFF's

BFF’s

This was a truly inspired, but possibly obvious pairing.  The granita calls for juice from three grapefruits.  The candied peel calls for two grapefruits.  Well, heck, might as well take the peel from a couple of the grapefruits, right?  Why would you buy two more grapefruits just to candy the peel or buy more grapefruits just for the juice? The two recipes are also quite tasty together.  The candied peel adds a little more sweetness to the sour granita.  I had a few servings of the granita, and I always liked it better with the candied peel as a topping.

How are they on their own?  Ok.  I thought the candied peel was tasty, but a whole lot of work for very few pieces of actual candy.  B is nodding her head vigorously right now.  She and her bear usually make fruitcakes every Christmas.  That sends them spiraling down into the depths of citrus peel candy madness.  She has told me tales of sore fingernails from peeling citrus for hours.  It does not sound glamorous.  The end product is tasty.  The recipe said you could save it in an air-tight container, but that didn’t quite work for me.  The little bit of humidity in the February air got to the peel and it got kind of gloppy.  It was never quite so chewy after the first day.  The sugar also soaked into the actual peel.  It was still tasty on the granita, though.

How was the granita?  Again, ok.  Needs peel.  I did not follow the directions on this one.  I make another granita recipe that has you stir the mixture with a fork periodically while it freezes.  I thought that sounded easier than taking a frozen hunk of juice out of a glass container, chipping it into a food processor, and having to clean all the food processor parts.  I would guess that the texture is better if you use a food processor, but I wasn’t feeling it.  The taste is nice.  It’s bright, citrussy, a little minty.  There’s nothing offensive about it.  D and I tried adding tequila to it.  It didn’t really help.  The peel seemed the best way to have this.  We would up throwing out a lot of granita.  I don’t think it helps that a dessert like this is not at all appealing in the middle of a cold snap.  C’mon Everyday Food!  Where’s the salute to warm brownies?

In the end, honestly, I’m not sure why the editors of Everyday Food didn’t suggest making these together.  Maybe they did in some introductory essay that I didn’t read.  Oh well.