Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Green Giant

There's a lot of this going around lately. Or maybe it's already passe, who knows, but I went quick-and-dirty-fusion tonight.

But let me share a little back story...

Somebody, I don't know who, brought some garden vegetables to work with a 'free to the world' post it attached. I didn't find out about this until midday though. I was in the breakroom early for my cup of coffee (or three, hey, it was a cold commute in) but they appeared only after that. There was a couple green bell peppers and some little zucchini that I saw other people took. When I got there there was a single item left, but it was impressive. There was a two foot long, 4-5 inch diameter grey zucchini. I took it. I felt weird, I don't like to be that guy that takes the last piece of birthday cake, and this was way more conspicuous. Nobody else was taking it, I hear it had been there for about 4 hours. So it was mine now. Hmm... had to figure out how to lash it my bicycle's cargo rack for the journey home. But that was a few hours away yet. In the meantime, it sat there on my desk gathering more innuendo than I expected, but such is cubicle culture.

I still never found out who brought it to work. When I do, I'll have to thank them.

I decided pretty early in the day what to do with it. So I emailed Wife and asked her to steam a batch of brown rice by the time I got home. Upon my arrival (soggy bottomed, it was wet out!) I set the oven to 350, sliced my squash lengthwise and scooped out the seeds, I was making baked boats! I opened a can of tomatoes and dumped them in a mixing bowl with about 1.5 cups of brown rice, some green onion, some garlic, a bunch of caper berries, a little rosemary and a little olive oil. Not working from a recipe I just steered myself in a somewhat Italian direction, it seemed to work out. After mixing the bunch together I packed it into the hulls as best I could. Into the oven with it for 40 minutes while I changed my focus to some pasta.

Butterfly pasta! The girls always like the butterflies. Michaela, my oldest, loves pasta in general, but Maeve, her younger sister, not so much. She doesn't hate pasta, she just doesn't ever eat much of it. Fun shapes definitely help things along though. While the pasta water was boiling though I got to work on something to put in it.

I pulled out two little zucchini from the fridge. Yes, yes, I realize I have the zuc motherload already in the oven, but Wife bought a bunch of it at the grocer several days ago and I have plenty to use up. I sliced those into 'knuckles.' At least that's what I call them? After chopping the top off I slice the squash diagonally, rotate 1/4 turn so the cut surface is facing up and cut at the same diagonal angle starting at the widest part of the previous cut. You wind up with these great triangular cut chunks that are fun to work with and even better to eat. If you don't know what I'm talking about my desciption probably isn't helping, if you do know what I mean let me know what the cut is really called and link us all to a youtube instructional.

While going to town on my 'knuckles' I also thawed some edamame in the microwave. I used about a 1/3 lb. Once those were no longer frozen (2 minutes, 22 seconds in this case) I pushed out the beans and set them aside. I also chopped a fistful of cilantro, two large cloves of garlic very then, chiffonaded (?) two leafy stalks of thai basil, and more-than-a-cup of romano cheese. I sauteed my knuckles in olive oil over quite high heat for a few minutes, until they were starting to brown a little. To that I added the soy beans and sautted them for just a couple minutes. Removing my skillet from the heat then, I added the garlic and tossed together with salt and pepper. I wanted the garlic to hold onto it's punch.

Once the pasta was done and drained I added the basil to that pot along with a scoop of sambal badjak, the shrimp extract therein lends a lot to this dish (not to mention the heat!) and toss. The rest is mere assembly: add the veggies to the pasta, top with cheese and and a little cilantro. Grabbing a slice of the baked zucchini boat and and glass of wine this fast meal wasn't going to stand a chance against the hungry horde. mmm.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Eggplant Stir Fry

You can get great eggplant this time of year. Eggplant though, is a vegetable that I have really struggled with in the past. Inspired by 'gorgeous-on-tv' recipes I have had only 'this-is-gross' experiences at home. But I'm getting better and this quick and easy stir-fry was certainly a success. Horde approved!

I modded a recipe from a book my parents bought for me a few year's back. A couple of friends from Hawaii have since recommended the restaurant, they say it's where they always send their tourist friends (which is a good thing, I think?). At any rate, it's a great little book with stunning photos of the food and approachable recipes.

I chopped a lb of tri tip strips quite small and marinated for a few minutes in hoisin sauce, ginger and a little soy sauce. Meanwhile I cut up one largish eggplant (I wanted to get some of those great pale japanese eggplants but my asian grocer was out) a couple yellow bell peppers and nearly a whole head of garlic (aw yeah).

Heating up the wok and a little oil to the smoking point I first fried a third of the beef until it was well seared and removed to a plate. Adding a smidge more oil if necessary I added a third of the eggplant and a third of the peppers and tossed for about five minutes until it was nearly cooked through. Then I added a spoonful of yellow bean sauce and the beef back and tossed it all together until the veggies were completely cooked. Turning off the heat throw in a handful of thai basil and give that a quick toss. Done!

I split this portion between the kids and readied the wok for another go round. Repeating the same steps Wife's portion was done in another 5 minutes and mine 5 after that (but to mine I added a generous portion of sambal badjak, I like it hot!!). Everybody takes a scoop of steamed jasmine rice on the side and we have a weeknight dinner done in no time.

Beet Tart and Pumpkin Risotto

Inspired by recent posts by RhubarbSky and Orangette I tried my hand at a beet tart. It was not a hit though. At least not with the rest of the horde.

Lacking a stand mixer and the patience to make do without, I just fashioned my crust by pulling out one from the freezer at the grocery. It was probably a little sweeter than it should have been, but it was easy.

Apart from that I followed Orangette's recipe exactly. I loved it, but I like beets. I have yet to convince the rest of the family of their merits but this time it just meant more pie for me. I actually made two of them, the second one I brought to work where it was a huge hit. Two factors came into play though. 1) only people that liked beets tried it and 2) I think it was a little better the second day, chilled.

I think if I get the chance to do it again (likely not for the home crowd) I may try to make a layer out of the wilted and strained greens and increase the feta to about 6oz, it could have used a little more of the salty cheese 'punch'.

Along with the tart I made a nice pumkin risotto, that did recieve a warm enough reception to make it onto a future menu. I like to cook with the little green kabocha pumpkins that litter the produce stands this time of year and this was a great way to use one. I picked out a smallish specimen and halved it, then shaved off the green rind with a sharp chef knife and diced into 1" cubes. The process takes a little patience but I wound up with enough for two meals so I just froze half of it.

For the rice I think I made about a cup and a half of arborio rice and heated a quart of beef broth. First heat the rice in a heavy skillet for few minutes with some olive oil and a little diced onion. Once the onion starts is well sauted then deglaze with a little sherry. Then add a ladelful of beef broth.

protip: if you dip the base of the full ladel back into the broth it won't drip!

The rice will readily soak up the broth, just have a wooden spoon handy to keep it from sticking to your skillet. Keep adding the broth, ladel by ladel, until your rice soft and creamy (basically I just described the instructions on the back of the rice package, you just follow those).

Normally i won't add any of my veggies to my risottos until the rice is done. I like the vegetables a little crisper to offset the creaminess of the rice, but if they are too firm without a little cooking I'll add them a little sooner, as the rice is nearing completion. Things like asparagus, carrots ...or pumpkin. Once the rice and the pumpkin are done though, add a handful of finely grated romano cheese, a can of white cannelini beans and several stalks worth of fresh basil (but not the stalks themselves). I like to use the thai basil, it has an extra anise like flavor that is brilliant here. Add pepper and salt if necessary (between the stock and the cheese it should be already pretty well seasoned).