Monday, April 27, 2009

Pasta with Chorizo, Red Peppers & Queso Fresco

One of the main staples of our dinner repertoire is a very simple dish we call "Sausage Pasta." It started as a combination of two pasta recipes - one with sausage and onions (which required a side dish and I'm usually too lazy to make a side), and one with broccoli and parmesan (good as a side, but...). I'll post that recipe soon, but here's a variation I've had bouncing around as an idea for ages and the result is delicious. The basic idea is almost too easy to be good - sauteed onions and garlic, some sort of sausage, any short pasta, a complimentary vegetable, and a cheese to top it off. There is a dinner out there for pretty much every sausage flavor (maybe not brats...).

Pasta with Chorizo, Red Peppers & Queso Fresco
1 regular onion, sliced (or 2 of the small ones that come in the bulk bags - such a deal)
4 gloves of garlic, sliced
4 chorizo sausages, casings removed (or a little less than a pound of bulk sausage)
1 red bell pepper, sliced into about 1 inch pieces
1 t cumin
1 T oregano (fresh when possible)
hot sauce (we like Cholula) to jazz it up a bit
about 4 cups of uncooked rigatoni or penne
Queso Fresco*
  • Put a pot of water on for the pasta.
  • In a large pan, saute the onions in a few tablespoons of olive oil (over medium heat, so they brown but don't burn), stirring often. When most of the edges are beginning to brown, add the garlic and saute that until it starts to brown.
  • Add the chorizo to the onions and garlic, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks. You may have to add a bit more oil, but the chorizo will release its fat any second now so add sparingly.
  • Add the cumin and oregano.
  • Have the pepper ready so that when the pasta goes into the water you can add it to the sausage mixture. If you have good brown bits stuck to the pan, splash just a little of the pasta water into the pan and scrape them up.
  • When the pasta is cooked, toss it with the sausage mixture, and some hot sauce to taste.
  • Serve sprinkled with the cheese and cilantro.
*I'm going to test cheddar or maybe asiago- Queso Fresco is $8 a package around here and that's a little rich for my blood.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blackened Fish Tacos

I don't know where my weakness for fish tacos came from. When I was growing up tacos were something served in a hard shell, nothing else (and a burrito was ground beef with taco seasoning, cheese, and sour cream in a tortilla - no variations), but a few years ago I discovered fish (soft) tacos and I'm never going back. Yes, these tacos would probably be more exciting if I bothered to buy some cabbage to shred up and sprinkle on top (it's such a great crunch!), but I'm never able to use up the rest of the cabbage, so I skip it.

Blackened Fish Tacos
serves two big eaters (not that I am one, but...)

1 pound (or a little less) of a flaky white fish (use whatever is on sale, or try the frozen section at Trader Joe's)
blacken seasoning to sprinkle
1 lime
6-8 corn tortillas
whatever you like in your taco - we do sour cream, a simple salsa (usually tomatillo), avocado, cilantro, hot sauce, and cheese (cheddar when we're feeling broke, queso fresco when we're not)

  • Sprinkle one side of the fish with a generous amount of the blacken seasoning. Heat a small amount of oil (probably not olive, canola or something like that) in a pan. When it's hot, place the fish in the pan spiced side down - now you can sprinkle the other side.Cook each side for about 4 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, do your little bit of prep for the tacos.
  • When the second side is almost done, break it up a bit (one great thing about fish for tacos is that you don't have to worry about it all falling apart).
  • With the pan still hot, squeeze the lime over the fish and cook for just a minute or two longer to get rid of the extra moisture and finish the fish.
  • Heat the tortillas and build your tacos (I like my tortillas toasted on a dry cast-iron griddle I have, but as long as they're warm, they'll be great).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Best Everyday Dressing, 2 ways

A Big Salad, a.k.a using up Easter Eggs

The love of a salad compose (basically Seinfeld's Big Salad) is one of the gifts my trips to France gave me - tender greens, a simple vinaigrette, an egg in some form, always bacon (or lardons when I find/make them), cubes of Gruyere when I'm feeling flush, and whatever else I can get my hands on (tomatoes, asparagus tips, green beans, artichoke hearts, avocado, and on). I don't eat many vegetables and I really don't eat salad. It's usually a waste of calories (almost no nutritional value and little taste), but great ingredients and this dressing make it a worthy dinner (especially in the Summer or when you need to use up some Easter eggs).
This dressing made the lemon way is my favorite for Caesar salad or marinating chicken for the grill. If you do the vinegar option you can just keep blending and it will thicken into a spread (almost) that's great on toasted bread. This is my Mom's famous "Mom Dressing" that everyone loves above all other dressings. When she used to make it I'd save a piece of bread so I could clean my plate completely (I've also been known just to lick it).

Best Everyday Dressing, 2 Ways

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon) OR red wine vinegar
2 - 4 cloves of garlic, chopped (I use all 4, but I like my dressing garlicky)
1 T mustard (pretty much anything but yellow)
S & P to taste
1/2 cup olive oil

  • In a smallish glass measuring cup (I use a weird 3-cupper I have, but a 2 will work fine) combine all the ingredients except the oil. I give this a little stir with the spoon I used for the mustard to let the acid start eating up the other stuff. If you add the garlic, etc... to the oil it will all be coated in oil and won't blend as well (maybe it's all in my mind, but this order just seems to make a better dressing).
  • Now add an equal amount of olive oil - a little over 1/4 cup - and blend it with a hand blender* in short bursts until it's the consistency you like. I know most recipes say to stream in the olive oil, but I don't find that to be true unless eggs are involved.
  • Now taste it. I like a very acidic dressing, so I'm usually done here (except for adjusting the S & P), but now's the time to add more oil if you like a mellower dressing.
*If you use a food processor just check the consistency a little more often, but even a dressing that almost gets turned into mayonnaise will still be great - call it Creamy Italian! You can even shake it in a jar, but then you have to mince the garlic and it doesn't get as thick as I like it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Braised Moroccan Chicken

This may be surprising to many of you who know me, but I think my food flavor soul mate is actually Moroccan. I cook mostly Mexican, French, and plain-old American food at home, but the combination of mint and parsley, paprika and yogurt and almonds and honey and, well, a lot of things associated with Moroccan and North African cuisine just can't be beat (it all falls apart when I think of how often sweet and savory are used together because I don't mix my sweet and savory). The recipe below is like so many things I make - if you vary the spices, but keep the rest the same, you have another great dish. Change the spices to curry powder and it's my most basic Indian dinner, or change the spices to Italian, and the beans from garbanzo to white, and you have a great braise to serve with a big salad or sauteed greens. Hmm... you could even make the spices Mexican, and the beans black, and serve it with lime and japalpeno rice... So many possibilities.

Braised Moroccan Chicken Thighs
8 chicken thighs (with or without bones)
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken stock
1 15 oz can of tomatoes (with liquid)
1 15 oz can of garbanzo beans (drained)
1 T paprika (smoked if possible)
2 t cumin
white pepper to taste
smidge of cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1 lemon (or 2 T red wine vinegar)
chopped mint and parsley
plain yogurt (preferably not lowfat)
  • Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large, deep pan. Saute the onions until they just begin to brown, then add the garlic and saute until it just begins to brown.
  • Have your stock ready and your cans opened, then sprinkle the spices over the onions and toast the spices until the pan is dry (and starting to make you worry you'll burn it).
  • Add your chicken thighs (breasts will work too) and splash in a little stock so that things don't actually burn. Cook this all together for a few minutes to allow the spices to soak into the thighs. This was an accidental innovation! I used to always sear the thighs first and add them back in here with all the other ingredients, but something about sauteing them for just a bit with the spices and onions created my best batch ever.
  • Add the stock, garbanzos, and tomatoes and bring to a nice bubble (but not a crazy boil). It will be ready in about 30 minutes, but it's even better if you simmer for an hour adding just a smidge more stock if needed.
  • When you're about to serve it, add the lemon or vinegar and adjust the salt.
I like to serve this with couscous and the garnishes mentioned above. Follow the directions on the package (or from the bulk container, which is the cheapest way to get couscous), but add a splash of red wine vinegar and a pat of butter to the boiling water.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I heart My Slow Cooker

There are a lot of new-fangled slow cookers out there (removable inserts for easy cleaning, multiple heat settings, timers to change from low to medium to high), there are also a lot cookbooks with slow cooker recipes that range from vegetable soup (vegetables in slow cooker = mush) to chocolate cake (why?), but I love my $1.00 thrift store special! I think that there are two things that work well in a slow cooker and both are different ways of doing meat. The recipe below is my favorite. Change the cans to 2 of green salsa and you have chili verde, change the seasonings to something Italian (and the cans to just tomatoes) and you have a great main dish to serve with pasta or polenta.

Slow Cooker Pork Taco Filling
3 to 4 pounds pork
1 can of El Pato tomato sauce
1 can of Herdez Salsa Ranchero
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 T ground cumin
1 T oregano
1 T chili powder
tiniest smidge of cinnamon

  • Trim the fat from whatever boneless pork is on sale (but don't go crazy, fat=flavor). If you're doing meat in the oven, the fat renders and drips into the pan, but if you're doing meat in the slow cooker all the fat stays in the cooker.
  • Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper. Heat a little oil in a large frying pan and brown it on all sides - you're not cooking it now, just creating flavor (because brown also = flavor). Put the meat in the slow cooker and put the lid on.
  • In the same pan, saute the onion until the edges start to brown, scraping up any good bits the pork left behind. Then add the garlic and saute just until it starts to brown.
  • Sprinkle the onions and garlic with the cumin, oregano, cinnamon, and chili powder. Have your cans open and ready so you can toast this mixture until the pan is dry and things are sticking. Then, quick, dump in your cans and bring to a bubble (I never add anything cold to my cooker) scraping the bottom to get all the toasted goodness off.
  • Pour this over the meat in the cooker and give it a bit of a stir so that the meat is coated. Scrape down the inside of the cooker so that no sauce is splashed above the line of sauce/meat (this helps with clean-up and prevents burned edges).
  • Cook on High for 6 to 8 hours.
  • Serve this in any way that you like tacos. We usually toast some corn tortillas and top with cilantro, sour cream, and a squeeze of lime. It's also great with beans and rice, or as a sandwich.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Camarones Feast

I can't help it. Now that I've started, I just want to get in the habit. This was one of the best meals we've had lately. We were getting ready to go to Mexico and tried to recreate a fabulous meal we'd had there the year before. It made a lot of dishes to wash, but all of the elements were very simple - Shrimp (sauteed with lime, garlic, and cilantro), rice, Easy Pinto Beans, avocado salad, and a farmer's market squash that John rubbed with Blacken Seasoning and roasted in the oven.

Blacken Seasoning

We use this when we make one of our favorites - fish tacos, but it's also great to sprinkle it on potatoes or squash before roasting. If you mix this in a grinder that you also use for coffee beans grind some stale bread (especially the heels) before and after so your spices don't taste like coffee and your coffee doesn't taste like cumin. You can also just mix it in a jar and give it a shake before using it.

Blacken Seasoning

3 T cracked pepper
2 T kosher salt
1 T dried thyme
1 T paprika (smoked or not)
1 T dried mustard
1 T granulated garlic
2 t cayenne (that's the little t for teaspoon!)
1 T powdered sage
1 T cumin (even better if you've toasted and ground cumin seeds)

Easy Pinto Beans

Easy Pinto Beans

4 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 30 ounce can of Pinto beans with the liquid (I like Sun Vista brand)
1 15 ounce can of tomatoes with the liquid
2 T pickled jalapenos, diced (watch out, these bring the heat!)
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
juice of 1 lime

Saute the garlic in a little oil in a largish frying pan until the garlic has started to brown. You can easily use a smallish sauce pan, but the liquid cooks down quicker in a frying pan and I'm always running late with this.
Add the pinto beans, tomatoes, and pickled jalapenos. Simmer, stirring once in a while so the beans don't stick, until they are the consistency you like. For us, it takes about half an hour. Stir in the lime juice and cilantro and simmer about 5 more minutes.
It's a great side dish for the feast shown above, but these also make a perfect filling for enchiladas or tacos (cooked a little longer so they aren't too runny).
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