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Friday, April 30, 2010

Mahi Mahi Corn Chowder and Popovers

I know that most people are probably sick of these unseasonably cold storms and ready for the sun to start shining, but to tell you the truth, I sort of like them.  They've inspired me lately to experiment with cozy soup recipes, and now....well, I'm a little obsessed.

Not to say I don't love the warm weather. Actually, I revel in it. But I've JUST gotten into all the variations and limitless possibilities that come with making soups- just in time for the Sacramento heat to start stretching it's scalding fingers across the valley and force us to flee indoors to the safety of our AC or into the American River where we'll spend all day floating with sixers of Simpler Times.....

Ok, ok.  I AM ready for summer.  But I'm NOT ready for my soup obsession to stop!

I just had to come to terms that I'll have to experiment with cold soups- something I'm not a huge fan of (though I do love me some good gazpacho).  It's just not the same.  I guess I could concede to the fact that warm weather does not mean the death of warm soups- I mean, in Peru, even in the dead of summer, soup is always always ALWAYS the first course (and man, do they make some good soups).  Maybe I just need to wrap my head around that philosophy.  Maybe I should try always having a soup on hand like that for a starter, and see if that practice can survive a Sacramento summer.  Maybe....

Or maybe I can resign to putting the stockpot back on the shelf until the leaves start falling and the wind starts blowing.  Maybe I can supress my soup craving with an abundance of summer smoothies and fresh salads and heralicious pasta sauces.

But maybe not.  We'll see.

For now, until I lose that lovin' soup feeling, I'll continue to experiment.  I've been wanting to make a corn chowder for a while, and when I came across a recipe in Good Eats for a talapia corn chowder, I almost died, thinking "I WANT NOW."  No talapia in the fridge, but I did have mahi mahi, which I thought would be an easy substitute.  However, the recipe reviews were not great.  Many complained that the chowder was too thin, and for me, this was a dealbreaker.  I do not do thin chowders.  For me, a good chowder is thick and creamy and chunky.  It's got to really warm your soul.  Thin, runny chowders are unacceptable.

So I did some scouting, looking up other corn chowder recipes, until I came to the Barefoot Contessa's recipe where she uses turmeric, and I thought, "Yes. Mama like."  (Sidenote- although she uses a lot more fat than I usually like, I ADORE Ina Garten's recipes, and can usually alter them just enough so I don't feel too guilty about make them.) So using a combination of suggestions from Ina and Good Eats, plus a little divine culinary inspiration, I came up with this recipe. And I love it I love it I love it. I was a little scared that the mahi would make it too fishy, but it didn't turn out that way at all.  In fact, I LOVED the addition of fish, and I honestly don't know how I could ever go back to just plain corn chowder.  It was a combination that made me excited, yet a little apprehensive, but turned out to be absolute perfection.

 I used russet potatoes only because we had tons leftover from Ty's birthday, but I think baby reds would be slightly less starchy and add some accent color.  You'll notice that my measurements for this recipe aren't really exact- partly because I like the fact that you can tweak it to your own tastes, but mostly because I just sort of threw things in a pot and added by taste.  When I went back in my head to try and actually remember everything I did, it took a while.  Some suggestions- depending on how thick or thin you like your chowders, add or subtract the amount of stock.  I actually used a little less than two boxes, because I like the chunky ingredients to really clutter up the soup.  Increasing the amount of potatoes will help as well- as they cook down, the starches will act as thickeners.  You can add more dairy if you like it creamier, like a traditional New England clam chowder (I didn't go that far), or you can add more lemon juice if you'd like a more acidic bite.  As always, play around with the measurements! There is some room for error here, but I wouldn't sweat it- you can always add more of something to balance it out.

Oh, the beauty of soups!

Mahi Mahi Corn Chowder

3-4 Tbsp olive oil
5 strips of bacon, chopped
2 1/2 c chopped mirepoix  (celery, onion, carrot)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste (I like a lot of pepper!)
3 Tbsp flour
a couple glugs of a good IPA beer
2 32 oz boxes of chicken or veggie stock
4 c chopped potatoes
3/4 - 1 c half and half or whole milk (or a mix!)
mahi mahi filets, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 12 oz cans of corn
3-5 Tbsp lemon juice 3 scallions, chopped, for garnish

In a large stockpot cook chopped bacon and olive oil on med-high heat until bacon is crispy.  Remove bacon bits with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add mirepoix and butter to rendered fat.  Reduce heat to medium, stirring occasionally until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and all spices to mixture and give it a good stir, allowing those flavors to meld for 3-4 more minutes.  Add flour and reduce heat to med-low, incorporating for about 1 or 2 minutes.  Add beer, and cook for another 1-2 minutes.  Add potatoes and stock, bring to a boil, then reduce for a simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes or so.

When the potatoes are softened, add corn, reserved bacon, half and half, and mahi mahi pieces, continuing to simmer.  The fish should cook fairly quickly, within 4-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.  Serve, topped with a garnish of chopped scallions and a popover on the side.

adapted from Ina Garten

1 1/2 c milk, room temp
3 large eggs, room temp
1 1/2 c flour
3/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted, but not hot, plus more for greasing the pans

*I made this recipe with muffin tins- if you have popover pans, you may have to adjust the cooking time slightly.  Also, if you forget to take the eggs out of the fridge until the last minute (like I did), warm them to room temp by placing them in a warm water bath for a few minutes.  Works like a charm.

Makes about 18 popovers.

Preheat oven to 425.

Grease muffin tins liberally with butter. Really get it in there.  Set aside until oven reaches temp.

Whisk together eggs, flour, salt, milk and butter.  No need to incorporate in any particular order. The batter will be very thin, and that's ok!

Pop the greased-up pans into the oven for exactly 2 minutes.  Remove heated pans and fill muffin tins halfway with batter.

Return to oven and bake for 27 min.  In this time you should try to do everything in your power to NOT open the oven door.  If you're anything like me, this will be very, very difficult...I'm a notorious peeker.  This is especially hard to do on your first popover batch, when you don't really know how your finicky oven will treat these delicate little puffs of goodness.  So you may have to play with the bake time, depending on your appliance. Ina's original recipe called for 30 minutes, which was too long for mine, and I ended up with popovers darker and crispier than I would have liked.  They should puff up above the tin, and be slightly crispy on the outside and full of...well, nothing on the inside (except delicate, eggy, buttery air).

These were delicious with a little extra butter (BAD ASHLEY, BAD), then dipped in the soup. I think I may have a new popover obsession....and they're so EASY.  Easy to make, easy to eat.  Since they consist mostly of air, it's reeeally easy to eat 3 or 4.....or 5 of them.  I plan to play around with different variations, so I'll keep you updated.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Lemon Garlic Cream Fusilli with Roasted Tomatoes, Peas and Spinach

I know it's a long name, but I had to fit everything in to really convey the full experience.

Every culinary endeavor is like a puzzle for me:  how to use the ingredients I have to create something awesome WITHOUT having to make a trip across the street to the grocery store.  When you don't have a lot of money and your husband is in grad school and the state's budget cuts are seriously impeding finding a job (*shakes fist defiantly at the capitol building*), you really have to get creative.  I can't go out and simply buy a $10 chunk of greuyer whenever I feel like it (though sometimes I do).  I don't like to splurge on out-of-season veggies or primo cuts of meat.  So this daily challenge is something I revel in.  It's my own personal little Iron Chef episode, and the fewer ingredients, the more exciting (or frustrating, in some cases) it can be.

But now that volleyball season is over and Ty comes home early, I can sometimes send him to the store for that much-needed missing ingredient that I just HAVE to have (but could probably do without).  I'm a little spoiled in a way, though I know he doesn't mind walking across the street for a few minutes while I whip up a fantastically healthy and delicious meal.  So see?  It all balances out.

So the other night when I sent him to the store for milk, he didn't question it.  He just put on his headphones and good-naturedly started out the front door.  When I yelled down the hallway as he was leaving to also get some half and half, cream, and a quart of whole milk, he sort of looked at me funny. 

"A bag full of dairy?"

"I'll make you ice cream."

I'm a pretty good wife.

Truthfully, this dish could be made without a cream sauce, but something about the cream and lemon and garlic mixture compliments the sweetness of the peas so perfectly that I couldn't skimp.  If you wanted to cut out the dairy, make sure you save about a half a cup of the pasta water to throw in, along with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil.  This also tastes great, and is really nice in the summer heat when you can't stand the thought of milk products.  But tonight, in the wake of an unseasonly cold and rainy storm, I was craving a cozier meal.

What I love about this dish is the fact that it is so chock-full of veggies, it's almost like a salad and pasta in one. No need for a side salad with this one- it's already incorporated.  Although I do feel the need to express that a nice zinfindel and some crispy garlic bread are almost required to complete the perfection of this meal.  So remember: don't skimp.

I'm too embarrassed to post a picture of the final dish because I actually roasted the tomatoes a little too long and they disintegrated, making the final meal look like a hot mess.  But it still tasted good.  (Trust me?)

Lemon Garlic Cream Fusilli with Roasted Tomatoes, Peas and Spinach

12 oz whole wheat fusilli pasta
1 c frozen peas, thawed
12 oz grape or cherry tomatoes
a couple handfuls of fresh spinach
1/3 c parmesan reggiano, finely grated
olive oil
salt and pepper
parsley, for garnish

for the sauce:
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
juice from 1 lemon (meyers work best- more juice)
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 c milk or cream
1/2 shallot, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400.  Place the tomates on a baking sheet lined with foil, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven for about 7-10 minutes, or until they start popping.  Once the skin looks a little wrinkley and they are softened, remove from the oven.  You do not want to over roast the tomatoes or they will fall apart once they are mixed into the pasta. 

Transfer the tomatoes to a large serving bowl.  Add spinach leaves and peas.  Set aside

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil.  Add a big pinch of salt, and throw in the pasta.  Follow the suggested cook time on the box and cook to al dente.  Once the pasta is cooked to your desired firmness, drain the water and add the pasta to the spinach, peas and tomato mixture.  Cover the bowl with a plate, lid or foil.  This will trap the heat and help to wilt the spinach a little while you make the sauce.

For the cream sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan on low heat.  Add shallots and sautee for a few minutes, until the shallots are softened.  Be careful to control the heat and keep it low, because you don't want the butter to burn.  During this time, warm the milk separately.  You can do this either in a microwave or on the stove.  You do not need it to be hot, just warm, and you do not want to scald it.  Once the shallots are softened, whisk in the flour one tablespoon at a time.  The mixture will bubble and grow a bit.  Continue whisking until it becomes thickened, then slowly add the milk, about 1/3 of a cup at a time.  Continue to whisk as you add the milk, until the butter/flour mixture is smoothly incorporated.  Add garlic, salt and pepper, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for at least two minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.

Remove the cover from the serving bowl and pour the cream sauce over the pasta.  Add grated parmasan and mix gently.  Sprinkle a little reserve parm and chopped parsley over the top for garnish and serve.  Yummy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Heal-Me Won-Ton Soup + Potstickers

Traveling can sure take a lot out of you.

Tyler and I have been sick, altogether, for the past two weeks- some sort of nasty bronchial thing, where you feel like you have one of those weird prickly pod things that fall off the trees from elementary school lodged in the back of your throat, and every time you swallow it's like the roughest grade of sandpaper scratching against your tonsils.  Not strep, luckily, but let me tell you, we sure have been eating our fair share of soups. 

Thank god TJs has cheap chicken stock, because I had to practically buy out their entire shelf for the week to get us through this.

I started making the go-to chicken noodle, without the chicken, so I guess you'd call it veggie noodle with chicken broth.  Please don't ask me to explain. Let's just say I have nothing against the flavor, I just don't want chunks of chicken-y flesh floating in my soup.  So I subbed in some mushrooms, threw in some noodles, and we sipped and sipped the sweet healing broth.

But after a couple days, I was still sick, and now sick of chicken noodle soup.

We ordered in for pizza one night (bad idea), and the next day we were back to soup.  I've been experimenting with asian cooking a lot lately, and decided to try my hand at a nice and simple won ton soup.  For sickies everywhere, this is my favorite heal-me meal.  It must be the combination of ginger and garlic- maybe it's in my head, but that duo makes my immune system flex it's sad little sickly muscles and say, "I'm here! I'm aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive! Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeal meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"

You could be a go-getter and really drag this recipe out by making the actual won-ton wraps from scratch....if you want.  Personally, when I'm sick, I like the least amount of prep as possible.  Thai Kitchen has won-ton wraps you can buy in the grocery store- I found them at Safeway- the square ones work best.  This recipe is so easy, with not a whole lot of ingredients; it may look like a lot, but the spices and flavors in the broth are mirrored in the meat, so there's not a whole lot of shopping to do.  I plan to make this recipe again and again and again and again, and may never order take-out Chinese as long as I live...... least the soup.

Heal-Me Won-Ton Soup

1/4 lb ground turkey, pork or chicken (your choice)
1 large shallot, finely diced
3 green onions, finely diced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp sesame oil
3-4 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp garlic, finely diced
2 Tbsp grated ginger
1 dash of fish sauce

2 32 oz containers of chicken or veggie broth (chicken is best)
1 1/2 c mirepoix (french word for a mixture of onion, celery and carrot), finely chopped
3-4 Tbsp diced ginger
2-3 Tbsp diced garlic
1-2 tsp red pepper flakes (amount depends on how you like your heat)
olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
3 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
10 oz white button mushrooms, sliced

5-6 leaves of napa cabbage, chopped in 1 in pieces
Thai Kitchen square won-ton wrappers
3 green onions, chopped, for garnish

Coat the bottom of a large stock pot with olive oil and bring to medium heat.  Once the oil is hot, add in the mirepoix and sautee 3-4 minutes, until slightly softened.  Add diced garlic and ginger, along with red pepper flakes.  Cook about 3 more minutes, being carefuly not to let the garlic burn.  Add mushrooms, seame oil, and rice wine vinegar.  Sautee about 5 more minutes, until the mushrooms being to soften.  Add stock and kick up the heat to medium high.  When the soup comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover for about 20 minutes to allow the flavors mingle and love on one another.

While the soup is simmering, prepare the meat.  This means combining all meat ingredients completely.  Bare hands work best, but if you get squeamish around ground meat, you can use a large fork.  Once everything is mixed together, line a clean, dry plate with won-ton wrappers.  With a small spoon, scoop up a small amount of meat and place in the center of each wrapper.  The amount should be a little more than a teaspoon, but less than a tablespoon.  You don't want the meat to spill out when you cook your wonton, so make sure you don't put in so much that you cannot seal it shut.

Fill a small bowl halfway with water.  Dip a finger in the water and "paint" two edges of the won-ton wrapper.  Fold the wrapper over so it now looks like a triangle.  Pinch the edges together- the water will act as a seal to keep the edges together (much like an envelope).  Do not allow any air inside the pocket; the wrapper should encase the meat completely.  Made sure all the edges are sealed.

Drop the won-tons one by one into the simmering broth.  Continue to simmer for 2-3 minutes, or until the won-tons float to the surface.  This will tell you the meat inside is fully cooked.  Then turn off the heat, stir in the chopped cabbage leaves, and serve.  Top with fresh chopped green onions.

*If you have extra won-tons left over (and no doubt you will): 

Potsticker Sauce

1/2 c soy sauce
1/4 c rice wine vinegar
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4-1/2 tsp sesame oil
olive oil
1 tsp sugar

For the sauce:
Coat a small saucepan with olive oil and bring to low heat.  Add garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes and sautee until flavors combine, about 1 minute or so.  Then add sesame oil and cook about 30 more seconds.  Add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer.  Remove from heat.

For the potstickers:
Bring a large saucepan full of water to a boil.  Drop in the won-tons.  They will sink to the bottom at first.  Continue to boil until the won-tons float to the surface.  Once they are are floating, remove from boiling water.  Transfer the won-tons to a large skillet coated in oil, with the heat on medium high.  Fry until each side is browned and crispy.  Transfer from the skillet to a plate lined with paper towels.  Plate, and serve with potsticker sauce.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sweet and Spicy Bean Dip

We're baaaaaaaaack!

And it feels SO good to be home.  Don't get me wrong- I had a great time in both Hawaii and St. Louis, but it has been a very busy two weeks.  Especially this last weekend in St. Louis.  This was my very first trip to the midwest and it was not at all what I was expecting.  St. Louis is BEAUTIFUL in the springtime, and in addition to the incredible wedding we went to at the City Museum (if you haven't seen their website, you should check it out- inSANE sort of 10-story playground made of all recycled and donated materials) we also visited the top of the famous arch and the Botanical Gardens.  A big thank you to Alex's family who graciously housed us and toured us around the city- it was an amazing trip.

However, after two weeks of travel across 5 different time zones, Ty and I are finally back and have had a little time for some much needed rest and healing.  Ty has been sick with a nasty bout of laryngitus, and has unfortunately given it to me just as he has started to feel better.  We got in last Sunday after midnight from St. Louis, just in time for me to start my new long-term sub position at Albiani Middle School (7th grade!).  Needless to say, after two weeks of traveling, our lonely little fridge was a hot mess.  I cleaned out what I could before we left, and what was left was not looking so good.  So did I run out and go grocery shopping as soon as I got home?

Hell no.

We ate pretty poorly last week.  Boxed Mac and Cheese (at least it was Annie's), frozen raviolis, and cereal. Lots of cereal.  I did the best I could to make do with mostly canned and boxed goods until I had the willpower to actually make a shopping list and go out into the world.  Then late in the week I got a very specific craving for Trader Joe's spicy bean dip- a slightly sweet, beautiful black bean concoction that comes in a disappointingly small jar.  I found a list of the ingredients online, and low and behold, I had everything I needed!

I had to play around with measurements a little, and added a few ingredients, but I think it came pretty close to the original.  Next time I would suggest to add a little more peppers, since the jalapenos I used were a little milder than I would have liked.  Also, I know it's a black bean dip, but I don't know HOW the TJ's version is  Mine turned out more of a dark brownish color.....but trust me- it still tastes great.

Sweet and Spicy Bean Dip

2 cans black beans, loosely drained
4 oz tomato paste
2-3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (I used Braggs)
1 1/2 red onion, chopped
1 jalepeno pepper, chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
olive oil
2 tsp honey
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbsp salsa

Pour about 3-4 Tbsp of olive oil (more than you would usually use) in a medium skillet and turn on medium heat.  Add onions, garlic and jalepeno and saute for about 5 minutes.  Then add chili powder and cumin and cook for another 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat.

In a food processor, add ALL other ingredients.  Once the onion mixture has cooled a bit, add that as well.  Mix on low until all ingredients are incorporated.  Occasionally scrape down the sides mix again. If the dip seems a little thick, you can add a little water to thin it out- but be careful!  Only add a tablespoon at a don't want runny bean dip. (Ew.)  Add salt and pepper to taste, and a couple dashes of tapitio if you like (I did).  The dip should be nice and smooth, so don't worry about can't really hurt it.

I dug into this before I even had the chance to put it in a bowl and make it pretty.  It goes great with some homemade nachos too!