Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Chocolate Zucchini Carrot Spice Cake

If you have ever grown zucchini (or had a friend or neighbor who has) you know that this is the time of year for baseball-bat-sized vegetables that aren't good for much other than the compost bin. But this cake, oh my, this cake is so moist, so perfectly chocolaty without being over-sweet, that you'll never regret letting your zukes stay on the vines too long again (or you might go beg your friend to rescue one from the compost heap in exchange for a slice). I don't do nutritional information, but this has to be relatively healthy - no butter and lots of veggies.
It's so good, you'll even buy zucchini to make it. My Mom often made this at the holidays and it's always a hit. It doesn't even need ice cream on the side and I never say that about cake.

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon each of:
   baking soda
   baking powder
1/2 teaspoon each of:
1 1/2 cups grated zucchini
1 1/2 cups grated carrots (peeled first)1 bag (16 oz) chocolate chips
1 cup oil (canola or something other than olive)
4 eggs

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and oil a 9x13 pan.
  • Sift all of the dry ingredients together into a large bowl (or the bowl of a mixer).
  • Stir in the carrots, zucchini, and chocolate chips.
  • Beat the eggs and oil together until well combined.
  • Add the wet things to the dry things and mix well.
  • Pour into the prepared pan.
  • Bake for 50 to 55 minutes. If you test with a toothpick you might spear a gooey chocolate chip and that might make it seem like it's not done. Mine took the full 55 minutes.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pozole - Mexican Pork & Hominy Stew

I first had Pozole when I was living in New York on the edge of Spanish Harlem. A friend took me to a tiny Mexican restaurant that served the soup every Friday. It was a steaming bowl of broth, slow-cooked pork, and hominy served with onion, cilantro, lime, avocado, radishes, and hot sauce on the side (imagine Mexican Pho). It was instantly my favorite soup. Later, when I was turning all the foods I loved into soups for work, I developed a recipe that didn't have everything on the side so that it would be easier to serve. I've often said that this is the best recipe I've ever developed myself (maybe the best-tasting dish I know how to make), but I was never sure if I should really call it Pozole. The first time I ordered Pozole in Mexico I was sure I needed to come up with a different name for mine because it was, again, had a delicious clear broth with all the fixins on the side - not so much like the thick, red stew I make. But then, wait, I ordered it somewhere else on another visit and what came to the table might have come from my own kitchen! I made John try it to confirm I wasn't giving in to wishful thinking. I discovered that I make Pozole Rojo. Hurray!

Pozole Rojo
serves 8, so I freeze it (without the avocados) or make it when friends are coming over
printable version

2 pounds boneless pork (use whatever cut is on sale)
1 onion (yellow or white, not sweet), rough chop
4 cloves of garlic, rough chop
2 T cumin
smidge of cinnamon
2 cans (15 0oz) diced tomatoes
1 can (4 oz) diced green chilies
1 T dried oregano
1 t dried sage (or a couple fresh leaves)
1 bay leaf
1 dried ancho chili*
3  limes
1 bunch (about 2 cups) cilantro
1 can (29 oz) hominy
8 to 10 cups chicken stock (or pork stock if you have it, but who does?)
Avocado for on top

I make this in my slow cooker so that I can have it on a weekday, but you can make it on the stove top if you're going to be home for a few hours to stir.
  • Heat a little oil in a large saute pan (or the bottom of your soup pot) to nice and hot, but not smoking. 
  • Sprinkle one side of the pork with salt & pepper and put this side down in the pan. Sprinkle the other side now. 
  • Sear the meat for about 5 minutes per side (until it's all nicely browned, but don't worry about cooking it through) and then transfer it to the slow cooker.
  • In that same pan, saute the onions and garlic (you're going to puree later, so don't waste time with careful chopping) until the edges are starting to brown.
  • Sprinkle the onions and garlic with the cumin and cinnamon. Have the cans of tomatoes open and ready while you toast the spices until you're worried they're sticking. 
  • Dump in the tomatoes, green chilies and the rest of the spices. Stir well to get all the good bits off the pan. Remove the seeds and stem from the ancho and tear it into pieces before adding it to the rest. Anchos are not very spicy, so you may want to sprinkle in some cayenne here if you want a spicier soup.
  • Put all of this in the slow cooker along with 8 cups of the stock, cilantro (reserve a little for garnish later), and the juice of two and a half limes. Cook on high for 4 hours (about 2 hours on the stove top - until the meat is falling apart).
  • Remove the meat and the bay leaf. Blend what's left in the cooker until it is smooth (using an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender).
  • Break the pork up into bite-sized pieces. Add it back into the soup along with the hominy. Add more stock until it is the consistency you like. Cover and cook on high for another 2 hours. My slow cooker is small so I actually have to switch to the stove top at this step, stirring more frequently.
  • Serve the soup with chopped cilantro, a wedge of lime, and cubes of avocado.
* I don't make many recipes with "specialty ingredients," but Pozole is one of them. It just isn't the same without the ancho chili (dried poblano). They're in many of the grocery stores in Seattle, or online. If you really can't find them, try substituting (maybe roasted peppers and jalapenos?) and let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Turkey & Green Chili Chili

I was supposed to take a pretty picture of this chili so that I could put it with the post, but when I got home from work at 8:30 on a rainy evening my house was so full of the smells of spices and limes and chilies that I completely forgot about taking pictures. Chili and the Slow Cooker are best friends. All the spices that give Chili its flavor can be gritty and harsh if they aren't cooked for a while, but I pretty much refuse to make most things that have to be tended over a long period of time (I've never roasted a turkey or made a pot roast in the oven or baked a loaf of yeasty bread). Except for rare special occasions, I run out of patience at about an hour. This Chili requires about 20 minutes of working time. It's also a perfect September recipe because it has a Summery feel, but it's warm and comforting (for weather that can't make up its mind). On top of that, it freezes well for leftovers.

Turkey & Green Chili Chili
(Printable Version)
serves 4 to 6

1 onion, diced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
20 oz. ground turkey (I never have just a pound because of the stupid way it comes packaged around here)
2 T cumin
4 T chili powder (I use one low in salt from a natural foods market)
1 T dried oregano
1 t garlic powder
cayenne to taste (start with a pinch)
14 oz (2 cans) Herdez Salsa Verde, or your favorite brand
8 oz (2 cans) diced green chilies
4 cups chicken stock
4 to 6 cups cooked beans (white or pinto) depending on how thick you like your chili
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
juice of 2 to 4 limes (I like 4, but it's pretty limey)
sour cream for garnish
  • Saute the onions and garlic for a couple of minutes and then add the cumin, chili powder, and cayenne. Saute until the spices are toasty or until they start to stick to the pan.
  • Add the turkey and cook until it's no longer showing pink (it doesn't matter if it's cook all the way through).
  • Add the oregano, garlic powder, salsa, green chilies, and stock to the pan and bring to a simmer. You can skip this step and just put it all right in the slow cooker if you want. I find that mine works a little better if the ingredients are warm when they go in.
  • Transfer this to the slow cooker and add the beans. Cook on high for 4 hours. 2 hours will do (in most slow cookers) if you're in a hurry or if you're doing this on the stove top.
  • Add the cilantro (reserving some for garnish if you want) and the lime juice. Cook for another 2 hours.
  • Top with sour cream and cilantro and serve with corn bread or toast.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Coq au Vin (the quick version)

A few years ago we made Coq au Vin for a friend's Birthday Dinner. We used a great recipe from the Balthazar cookbook (which is one of my favorite French cookbooks). You have to plan ahead to marinate the chicken overnight and then the whole process takes about 4 hours the next day. It is by far one of the best comfort food meals.
Here in Seattle, the first week of September has been more like the first week of October, so of  course I instantly started craving Fall/Winter meals. I wanted Coq au Vin, but we've been cooking so much (two food blogs in one household it a lot to keep up with!) that I knew I wouldn't have the time or patience for the long version of this French classic. We brainstormed and came up with a great quicker version (it's a little silly to call it "quick" because it still takes 30 to 45 minutes of active time and about an hour and half total, but that's a lot less than usual). I know, there's no real substitute for time, but sometimes we just don't have time. I cheated a little by using a roux to thicken the sauce. Coq au Vin is really all about the sauce. A great alternate name for this dish would be Mushroom, Bacon, Red Wine Gravy with Chicken. Serve it with mashed potatoes - incredible.

"Quick" Coq au Vin
serves 4

1 onion
2 carrots
2 celery stalks
4 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
4 fresh thyme sprigs
fresh cracked black pepper
1 T tomato paste
1 bottle red wine (I used a Cabernet)
1 lb crimini mushrooms, sliced
1/3 lb bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or about 3 lbs with bones)
2 cups chicken stock (I always use Better than Bouillon at half strength and add more if needed)
2 T butter
2 T flour

I know I'm getting a little Rachel Ray with this recipe by having a couple things going at once (which I usually find totally unrealistic - all of her 30 minute meals would take me an hour), but that's what makes the sauce for this so good without as much time.
  • Roughly chop the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic. You don't even need to worry about getting all the skin off the garlic or peeling the carrots because this will be strained. Saute all of this in a little olive oil in a sauce pan for about 5 minutes (the onions will just be starting to color).
  • Add the tomato paste and saute until the bottom of the pan is light brown with stuck tomato paste.
  • Add the bottle of wine, the bay leaves, pepper, and the thyme sprigs and scrape the bottom of the pot to get all the brown goodies off. 
  • Let this simmer until it has reduced by half, stirring a couple times, while you work on the rest. I stick my stirring spoon in the liquid to measure so that I have an idea of when half will be. By the time you need this later in the recipe it should be ready.
  • On high heat, saute the mushrooms in a little olive oil  in a deep sided saute pan (or a pot if you don't have a saute pan big enough). Keep them moving so that they get some good brown edges, but don't burn - mushrooms like high heat. Set these aside on a plate for later.
  • Cook the bacon in the same pan until it is nicely browned. Set aside with the mushrooms. Leave just enough of the bacon fat in the pan for searing the chicken.
  • Sprinkle one side of the chicken with salt and pepper. Place this side down in the hot pan with the bacon fat. Now sprinkle the other side of the chicken.
  • When the first side has some good brown edges, flip it and do the other side. You're not cooking through here so don't worry if they're still raw in the middle.
  • When the second side of the chicken has browned, strain the reduced wine and add to the pan. It should bubble and lift off the good brown bits that have formed on the bottom.
  • Add the stock, cover, and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little water (or thinned stock) if needed. 
  • After 20 minutes, flip the chicken over and simmer uncovered for 10 more minutes.
  • When you've flipped the chicken, it's time to get your roux ready. Don't be intimidated, roux is just cooked flour.
  • Melt the butter in the pot you used to reduce the wine. When it is bubbling, sprinkle the flour over it and whisk to make it smooth. 
  • Keep whisking until the flour has started to lightly brown, then ladle in about a cup of the cooking liquid from the chicken and whisk a lot. (I think this is the scary step because the roux will start to thicken the liquid right away and I always worry I'm making lumps, but just keep whisking and add more liquid if it seems too thick.)
  • Add this to the chicken along with the mushrooms and bacon. Give it all a good stir.
  • Taste for salt. Whenever I cook with stock I add very little salt until the end. Even half-strength stock, or low-sodium stock, is pretty salty.
  • Simmer for about 5 minutes more (or longer if you feel like it isn't thick enough, but you'll have to stir more now that the roux has been added) and you're done.
Seriously, it's worth all the effort.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Corn & Chicken Chowder

This is my the first soup of the season and I'm not sad to see the our weekly menus turning toward Fall dishes. After I left my last kitchen job I had to take some time away from soup (I still have mild PTSD around Butternut Squash thanks to that mole soup I made once a week at Essential), but I'm slowly re-learning all my old favorite recipes. I remember now that the reason I was (mostly) a soup chef for 4 years was that I love soup - the comforting warmth of it, the fact that it takes a little set up, but then is mostly left alone, and I also just love things served in a bowl.
This Fall I hope to post Pork Posole (both the long way and a quick variation), a Portuguese sausage and Kale soup that's so good, two kinds of Chili, Rosemary and White Bean soup in the slow cooker, just to name a few. I'd love to hear your favorite soup ideas.
If you're doing corn and chicken at a late Summer barbecue, cook a little extra so that you can use the leftovers for this chowder.

Corn and Chicken Chowder
serves 4 to 6

1 yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
1 T cumin
1 T oregano
1 t dried sage (or a few fresh leaves)
1 t mustard powder
2 bay leaves
smidge of cinnamon
smidge of cayenne
8 cups stock (or enough stock base to make that)
2 pounds chicken (cooked and cubed)
6 ears of corn, cooked (or 2-3 cans)
2 fresh jalapenos
2 russet potatoes, cut bite-sized (I like skin on)
8 shakes hot sauce
6 T each of butter and flour
2 cups cream
  • Like just about every recipe I know, start by sauteing the onions in a little oil until they're just starting to brown. Then add the garlic and saute until it just starts to brown.
  • Add the spices (except the oregano) and let them toast for just a minute or two.
  • Add the oregano, stock, corn that's been cut from the cobs, the cobs too(!!), potatoes, chicken, and jalapenos.
  • Allow this to simmer (not boil) for about an hour. Give it a stir from time to time to make sure it doesn't stick. Add more stock if you need to.
  • Remove the corn cobs and add the hot sauce.
Now we're going to make a roux to thicken the soup. Don't be afraid. Just read this through first and if you haven't made a roux before have someone there to help pour the liquid for you because that's the scary part.
  • Melt the butter in a frying pan (best if it's not non-stick) over medium-low heat.When it is bubbling, have a whisk and a ladle ready.
  • Sprinkle the flour over the butter while whisking. Keep the butter and flour moving (but you don't need to go too crazy) and you should notice the color start to lightly brown. The mixture should also be bubbling. If you were making gravy you'd keeping going until the flour was dark brown, but this is for chowder so you just want a light brown.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and add the cream in a steady stream (not a dump or you might get lumps) while whisking vigorously (now you can go crazy). Add a couple of ladles of the broth from the soup so that the roux stays smooth.
  • Add this roux, cream, and broth back into the soup and stir well.
  • Adjust the salt and pepper.
  • Try adding a little lime or cooking the onions with bacon and bacon fat.
Here's a quick summary of my tricks for soup:
-use more spices than you think you should,
-sneak in some mustard powder (it's often the secret something that makes my soups flavorful and I don't even really like mustard!),
-use a stock paste instead of liquid stock (like Better Than Bouillon) because then you can control the stockiness and also because a lot of liquid stocks taste too much like carrots or celery or fake things,
-add tough and sharp things (meats, fresh sage, beans, onions) in the beginning so they can mellow, add soft things (basil, soft veggies, dairy) at the end so you don't end up with mush.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Pasta with Artichoke Hearts, Roasted Tomatoes, and Red Onions

There was a lot of pressure on last night's dinner. The night before we had a disaster dinner. We'd gone to see Julie & Julia and, since we didn't have time to make Boeuf Bourguignon, we decided to splurge on the ingredients for a really good Carbonara. If I hadn't burned the pancetta into gross little bits of fat/stryofoam I would be putting that recipe on right now (it's so rich and easy). So then, last night as I was throwing together a pantry pasta to go with the best, simplest grilled chicken (I'll turn that into a link soon) I was worried that it would flop again (we had bad burritos earlier in the week and once in a while we go on a stretch of disaster dinners).
Nope, this is one of our new favorites.

Pasta with Artichoke Hearts, Roasted Tomatoes, and Red Onions
serves 2 as a main or more as a side

1 can artichoke heart quarters
1 can of fire-roasted tomatoes, or (even better) equivalent of home-roasted tomatoes (that will also be a link soon)
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/2 of a red onion, thinly sliced
a sprig or 2 of fresh rosemary
3/4 pound short pasta (Penne or similar)
Parmesan cheese for on top
lots of olive oil, salt, & pepper

  • Start this super-fast sauce when you put the pasta in the water. Most short pastas cook in about 10 minutes and that's about how long this sauce takes.
  • In a large pan, saute the onion in a good bit of olive oil (a little more than is really necessary because this will be part of the sauce) until it is just starting to brown. Add the garlic and saute until it's also starting to brown.
  • Add the rosemary, tomatoes, and artichoke hearts. If you're using canned tomatoes, cook out some of the liquid before adding the artichoke hearts.
  • When the pasta is done you can either snag about a 1/4 of the cooking liquid and add it to the sauce or just do a bad job of draining it and enough liquid will still be with the pasta. Either way, add the pasta and some of the cooking liquid into the sauce.
  • Check the salt and pepper levels and adjust as needed.
  • Once you plate it, sprinkle generously with grated Parm.
  • This is perfect side for best, simplest grilled chicken (link soon), or as a vegetarian dinner (Hi Kelly).
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