Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Royal Tacos

In ancient Rome, the color purple was associated with royalty. Purple dye was made from crushed sea shells that were only found on the shores of Phoenicia. Because the shells were rare, the dye was very expensive, so only royals or high-ranking aristocrats could afford it.

Lucky for you, you don't have to be royalty to enjoy these tacos. But they are purple nonetheless!

Notes: Scott said these were the best tacos he's ever had. That's a ringing endorsement! I loved them as well.

I'm a huge fan of the blue taco shells. To me, they have more flavor and they're just more fun.

Here's a fun trick: make these tacos for people and don't tell them what's in the mixture. I bet you they'll never guess that pumpkin is one of the ingredients. The pumpkin adds a creamy texture like refried beans, but you up the vitamin content and lower the fat content of the dish. But it doesn't taste like pumpkin.

Cooking the rice is the thing that takes the longest, so if you used minute rice, this could easily be Q.E.D..

I decided to make a little dressing for the cabbage, but you could leave it plain if you're not into mayo.

2 ears fresh corn
1/2 small red cabbage
1 15 oz. can black beans
1 cup pumpkin puree
4-6 oz. Spanish cheese or white cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon mayo
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon dried dill
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon brown or raw sugar
1 tablespoon chipotle power
1 teaspoon oregano
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 box blue taco shells

Directions: Start with the rice. Add the rice, 1 tablespoon butter, and 2 cups water to sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to medium and let it cook for 35-40 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350. Rinse and drain the beans. In a large bowl, strip the kernels off the corn cobs and set aside. In another bowl, add mayo, milk, and dill and whisk together. Thinly slice the cabbage and add it to the bowl in with the dressing and toss to combine. Season with salt and put the bowl in the fridge to chill.

When the rice has about 15 minutes of cook time left, heat a skillet on medium. Add the rest of the butter to the pan. When it melts, add the cumin, sugar, oregano, and chipotle and stir. Add in the beans, corn, and pumpkin. Stir everything together and turn the heat to low. If the mixture starts to look too dry or stick to the pan, add a little water.

When the rice is done, add it to the beans and pumpkin. Heat the taco shells according to the box directions (mine said bake for 5 minutes). While the shells are in the oven, grate the cheese.

When the shells are done, assemble the tacos and enjoy (royally)!

Farmer's Market Creation: Heirloom Eggplant Lasagna

Check out these babies! You're used to seeing the big dark purple eggplants, no doubt, but eggplants can come in a lot of varieties. I saw these at the farmer's market and I simply had to have them.

Notes: Oh sweet lasagna. Is there anything better than that layered, cheesy goodness? No way. I much prefer veggie lasagna to the meat variety. You don't have to cook the veggies beforehand, so it saves time and dishes. Lasagna takes enough time as it is.

Heirloom eggplants don't have the same bitterness that their large purple cousins have, so there's no need to salt these beforehand. Even more time saved!

1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
3 small eggplants
1 26 oz jar of marinara sauce
15 oz. of ricotta cheese
1 large or 2 small balls of fresh mozzarella
1 tablespoon dried oregano

Directions: Heat oven to 375.

Thinly slice your eggplants. Put the ricotta cheese in a bowl, season with salt, pepper, and oregano, and mix well. Set aside.

Grab your 9x13 baking dish and pour 1 cup of sauce in the bottom. Layer the lasagna as follows:
4 pasta sheets
slices of eggplants
1/3 ricotta mixture
more sauce

Repeat until you get to the last four sheets of pasta. Pour over the remaining sauce (you might need to add a little water to the jar to get out every drop -- you need the liquid to cook the pasta). Slice the fresh mozzarella and lay the slices on top.

Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 35 minutes. After the time is up, take the foil off and bake for another 5-7 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Q.E.D.: White Bean, Mushroom, and Kale Crostini

No one ever said that a Q.E.D. meal can't look and sound impressive. Quick need not equal boring!

Notes: I loved everything about this dish. It's fast, it's delicious, it's hearty, and it's pleasing to the eye. I allotted 3 pieces of bread per person, so if you need to feed more people, just keep that in mind.

This could easily be made into an appetizer if you used a small baguette. If you end up with leftover kale and mushrooms, you could mix them with rice or pasta and have a different meal the next day.

If you don't have an immersion blender or a food processor, you could just mash the beans with a fork or leave them whole and add them to the mushroom kale mixture.

6-8 slices of sourdough bread
1/2 lb mushrooms
1/2 bunch kale leaves, de-stemmed
1 15 oz. can white beans
1 tablespoon cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons dried dill
Olive Oil

Directions: Heat the oven to 350.

Thinly slice the mushrooms and kale. Drain and rinse the beans.

Put the beans in a pot with just a small amount of water and heat on medium. Season them with the dill.

Heat a skillet on medium-high and add a tablespoon or so of olive oil. When it's hot, add in the mushrooms and saute until they start to brown. Season them with the cumin and stir. Add the kale to the mushrooms and stir to combine. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and turn the heat to low.

Put the slices of bread on a baking sheet. Brush them with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and bake for 5 minutes.

While the bread is toasting, use an immersion blender or food processor to puree the beans into a smooth mixture.

When the toasts are done, spread on a layer of beans and top with mushrooms and kale.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Rosemary Apple Roasted Chicken with Kale Cauliflower Mash

Julia Child once said that the test of a great cook is a good roasted chicken. I have never roasted a whole chicken before. If I am to be a good cook in the eyes of Julia, then I suppose it is time to pass that test.

Notes: I have never understood why people insist on stuffing the cavity of a chicken with onions or lemons. I honestly have never been able to taste them. Since people pair pork and apples together, why not apples and chicken? I thought it was good, though I wouldn't claim to be able to taste the apples.

There's no big secret to roasting a chicken. People think you have to tie it up with twine and brine it and such. I mean, if you did brine it, I'm sure it would be delicious, but there's no need to fuss. If you ask me, only four things are essential: salt, pepper, butter, and a rack. And by "rack" I mean something with holes in it that you can set down inside a roasting pan. I use one of my stainless steel cookie cooling racks. Again, think about how long people have been roasting meat -- long before Crate and Barrel was telling you that you needed a special pan. My biggest fear about whole chickens are the innards, but nowadays the giblets are all packaged together in an envelope and stuffed in the cavity. You just pull out the envelope and either toss it or use the giblets however you please.

For me the hardest part is carving the chicken. In my kitchen, the butchering starts after the cooking is over. Carving a bird just takes practice.

So I finally made a dish with cauliflower. There are very few foods I dislike and until tonite cauliflower was one of them. But mashed cauliflower was quite good. I did not originally puree the cauliflower and kale together, but I did it later. I forgot that cauliflower does not have the starch that potatoes do and so a mere whirl around the Kitchen Aid bowl wasn't going to cut it.


For chicken:
1 4-5 lb chicken, giblets removed
1 tablespoon butter
3-4 whole sprigs of rosemary
1 apple quartered with the seeds removed

For the mash:
1/2 bunch kale leaves, destemmed
1 head of cauliflower
4-5 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4-1/2 cup of milk
2 tablespoons butter

Directions: Heat the oven to 400.

Allow the chicken to come to room temperature (approximately 30 minutes). Line a baking pan with foil (just for easier clean up) and set a rack down inside the pan. Set the chicken on the rack. Season with salt and pepper and rub the outside of the skin with the butter. Put the apples and rosemary in the cavity. Roast for 15 minutes per pound. The chicken will done when (a) a thermometer reads 165-170 in the breast, (b) the juices of the chicken come out clear, and (c) when the leg wiggles easily away from the body of the chicken. When it's done, let it rest for 15 minutes.

When the chicken has about 30 minutes of cooking time left, start the mash. Add a small amount of water to a skillet with a lid and bring it to a high simmer. Break the cauliflower up into florets and place them in the skillet. Put the lid on and steam them until fork tender (about 20-25 minutes). While the cauliflower is steaming, thinly slice the kale leaves and chop the rosemary. When the cauliflower is done, transfer it and the kale to a large bowl. Add in milk, butter, salt, and rosemary and puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Serve just like mashed potatoes.

Enjoy a roast chicken dinner any night of the week!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Farmer's Market Creation: Okra and Corn Summer Stew

The days of summer are waning. Our local blueberries and strawberries have already exited the farmer's market. I am sad to see them go. While I still have the vegetables of summer, I'm trying to enjoy them.

Notes: Is there anything better than fresh okra and fresh corn? Nay. I've heard a lot of people claim that they don't like fresh okra because it's slimy. I've never understood that. Oysters are slimy. Okra is merely sticky. If you stew it with tomatoes, the stickiness goes away. So if you're trying to learn to like okra, by all means, try this dish.

Ever seen purple okra? Neither had I.

Purple and green okra with fresh corn
 I couldn't resist. Funny thing is, the purple color was gone after I cooked it. Who knows? It's just fun to experiment!

1 bunch carrots
1 bunch celery
4-5 pieces of fresh okra
2 ears of corn
1 small onion
4 garlic cloves
1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes + half a can of water
1 1/2 tablespoons dried herbs de provence
10-12 drops Tabasco sauce
Olive oil


Dice carrots, celery, and onion. Mince garlic. Slice okra and remove kernels from the ears of corn. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a large pot. Saute all the veggies for about 4 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and herbs de provence.

Pour in the tomatoes and water. Add hot sauce and stir. Simmer for 30 minutes. Taste the broth and adjust the seasonings accordingly. Serve hot and enjoy!

Pictured with a homemade parmesan crouton