Thursday, February 25, 2010

Weeknight Dinners

Lately, I've only been posting meals that I make on the weekends.  It's not like I don't cook during the week.  Really, I do.  I just never post any weeknight dinners here because, well, they're really simple.  But simple is not bad; in fact, simple can often be spectacular, especially when it comes to food.  Weeknight dinners around here are cooked off the cuff with whatever's in the fridge and pantry.  Most meals depend on what my roommate and I get from our weekly CSA pick-up.  We're not picky eaters and we certainly don't need anything fancy, but we like fresh, good-tasting food that's natural and nutritious.  And that's how I try to make dinner every night of the week.  It's very economical for us to eat in, and there's usually enough to take for lunch the next day also.  The following dishes are just what I happened to make this week.  Most of the time, weeknight dinners involve little more than cutting things up and throwing them in a pan for a couple of minutes, or roasting them in the oven.

Swiss Chard with Tomatoes and Basil

1 bunch Swiss Chard, washed, dried, and chopped
2 tomatoes, diced
about 10 leaves basil, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a bit of olive oil in a pan over medium heat.  When oil is hot, add Swiss chard.  When the leaves have wilted down just a bit, add the balsamic vinegar and tomatoes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Just before serving, add basil and incorporate.  Serve with roasted potatoes (below).

Roasted Potatoes

4 red potatoes, cut into bit sized pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place potatoes in baking dish and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Bake in oven for 35 to 40 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until potatoes are gold brown.

Capellini with Roasted Eggplant

1 pound capellini pasta
1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes
1 white onion, diced
a pinch of brown sugar
1 medium-sized eggplant, cubed into 1-inch pieces, generously salted, and set in a colander to drain for a couple of minutes
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly rinse the eggplant to get rid of excess salt.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper and bake on a cookie sheet or in an oven proof dish for about 40 minutes, until eggplant is golden brown.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Add pasta and cook until al dente according to instructions on package.  Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water.

Meanwhile, heat a bit of olive oil in a skillet or medium-sized sauce pan.  Add onion and cook until translucent, about 7 minutes.  Season with a bit of salt.  Add tomatoes and bring mixture to a bubble.  Add brown sugar and lower heat; simmer for about 20 minutes.  Season with a bit more salt, if needed.  At this point you can either mash down the tomatoes and create a chunky sauce, or you can puree the sauce with a hand blender or in a food processor (be careful, the sauce is hot!).

Toss pasta and pasta water with sauce.  Serve with roasted eggplant.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mushroom Congee with Tofu and Bok Choy

Congee is one of my favorite comfort foods.  It reminds me of my family and of home, and of how good food should be.  My favorite congee is the congee that my aunt makes the day after Thanksgiving, using the leftover turkey to make the stock to cook the congee in.  I love congee as a breakfast food, too, as it is just as capable of curing a hangover as it is warming me right up.  Pickled vegetables (radishes, cucumbers, bamboo shoots) with my congee are a must.

I don't think there's a specific method to making congee - it's a lot of eye-balling and tasting and cooking it how you like it - and it's basically just cooking a little bit of rice in way too much water.  I've had congees that are very thin and watery, and the rice grains are still pretty much intact.  I'll also had congee that's mushy and thick.  The consistency depends on how long you cook the rice for - I prefer mine to be on the thick side so it can hold up to any fixings that I scoop up with it.  For this week's post I made a mushroom congee that I served with tofu, shiitake mushrooms, and bok choy, along with some pickled vegetables that I found at the nearest Asian supermarket.

A note on my Chinese-food-cooking skills: they're not that great, but I'm working on them.  My mom doesn't know how to cook, so I didn't grow up learning any amazing traditional recipes.  I did, however, grow up eating amazing Chinese food, and I trust that I know what certain dishes should taste like.  This mushroom congee was pretty good, if I do say so myself, but doesn't quite compare to a congee made with meat.  Because white rice is so, well, white rice, congee definitely comes out better when made with something juicy, meaty, and fatty (what doesn't come out better when made with something juicy, meaty, and fatty?).  As for my mushroom congee recipe, I think that if I had sauteed the mushrooms first with a bit of soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, and black vinegar, well, it probably wouldn't have hurt.  Keep that in mind if you're making this.

Mushroom Congee

1/2 cup raw white rice
5 cups liquid (water or stock)
1/2 pound of mushrooms, sliced thin (I used dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted them in warm water, and used that water as part of the liquid that I cooked my rice in)

Combine rice and liquid in a medium-sized pot.  Cover and bring to a boil, then let simmer, still covered, for about 30 minutes.  Add the mushrooms to the rice and continue to cook for about 20 to 30 minutes more, uncovered.  Remove from heat and divide into serving bowls.  Drizzle with a bit of sesame oil and soy sauce, and serve with tofu dish (recipe below - don't forget to spoon some of the sauce from the tofu dish over your congee!) and pickled vegetables, or the toppings of your choice.

Tofu, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Bok Choy

1 pound firm tofu, drained
1/2 pound baby bok choy, washed and trimmed (but still intact)
1 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and cut in half
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
1 inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small bunch chinese chives, sliced thin, or cut with shears
vegetable or peanut oil

Press the tofu by placing it in a kitchen towel between two cutting boards and weighing down with something heavy, such as a cast iron skillet, for up to an hour.  Once tofu is pressed, slice crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces.  In a large skillet heat 3 cups of water with 2 tablespoons soy sauce and bring to a simmer, then add tofu.  Simmer tofu for 15 to 20 minutes, then remove the tofu and set aside, reserving  the liquid in a bowl or measuring cup.

Heat a bit of oil in a pan over medium heat.  Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, then add bok choy and mushrooms, mixing to combine.  Add Shaoxing rice wine and reserved liquid from the tofu and simmer until bok choy and mushrooms are tender and liquid has reduced a bit.  Add tofu to the pan and heat through, then add chives and incorporate.  Cook for about a minute more, then remove from heat and serve.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Birthday Dinner

In honor of my roommate's birthday, we hosted a small dinner celebration at our apartment yesterday. I made a potato, tomato, and kale stew that is just the kind of hearty dinner you want when it looks like this outside (which it did in New York this week):

... or just when you want to feed your friends something hot and delicious. I really love making this stew with kale, not only because I'm obsessed with kale right now, but because it imparts such a lovely flavor and texture to the dish. Of course, since my roommate is vegan, I made some vegan stew, but I also made a batch with meat for our carnivorous friends. Served over brown rice, this stew made for a filling birthday dinner.

Note: I made this when I came home from work, and I didn't prepare anything before hand, so some things were cooked in such a way as to save time. If I had more time, I probably would have made it a one pot meal, starting by browning the meat, adding the tomatoes, bringing to a boil, and then adding the potatoes and other vegetables and putting everything together to stew away for an hour or more. When making this dish (especially when making it with meat), I suggest you give yourself a bit more time to do it that way. As it was, though, I boiled the potatoes separately and also cooked the meat through separately and didn't really let it stew very long with all of the other ingredients. It still worked out, but I am sure the dish would have been more flavorful the other way.

Potato, Tomato, and Kale Stew

1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch kale, stems trimmed, then washed, dried, and chopped
1 12 oz. bag frozen green beans
1.5 pounds potatoes (I used a combination of red and yukon gold), cut into bite-sized pieces
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 pound boneless chuck, trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes
olive oil
salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add potatoes and cook until just tender, but not falling apart. When the potatoes are done, drain and return to the pot over medium-low heat. Add the can of tomatoes and a bit of salt to taste. Let the potatoes cook in the tomatoes until very tender and falling apart. Meanwhile, heat a bit of olive oil in a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and saute until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Season with a bit of salt. Add kale and cook until leaves are bright green and tender. Season again with a bit more salt. Add frozen green beans and cook until heated through and tender. Add kale mixture to potatoes and tomatoes and mix to incorporate. Taste, and season with salt and pepper accordingly. Set aside half of this stew for your vegan friends.

In a different skillet, heat a bit of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the beef and brown evenly on all sides. Add the other half of the potato, tomato, and kale stew and mix gently with a wooden spoon to incorporate. Cook over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes. Serve this half of the stew to the carnivores.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Vegan Empanadas

I am loving my Sunday cooking ritual. While I do cook during the week, on Sundays I can cook to cook, not just cook to eat, you know? Anyways, this last Saturday was my friend's birthday, so Sunday I was feeling particularly hungover and angry at Monday for being tomorrow. I almost backed out on Sunday dinner, but then I thought better of it. So I made these empanadas, and I'm so glad I did, because they were delicious! My friends and I shared a wonderful meal and I was reminded once again of some of the joys of cooking: feeding my friends and curing my hangover.

I made this recipe vegan for my roommate, but I am sure you can substitute the vegan shortening for regular shortening or butter. You might have to experiment a bit with it to get the dough right. Also, the recipes for the different fillings below make quite a lot of filling. If you want to use all of the filling in empanadas, make two batches of the empanada dough. I used the leftover filling for lunch the next day.

Vegan Empanadas

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegan shortening
1/2 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift or whisk flour and salt together. Cut shortening into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter. Incorporate water and knead. The dough should be pretty dry. Form into a small disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Once dough has rested, flour your working surface and rolling pin and roll dough out to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut out circles using a floured cookie cutter or rim of a bowl. You should be able to get about 8 pretty large circles out of the dough. Spoon filling of your choice into each empanada, making sure not to overstuff the empanadas. Brush a bit of water around the edges of each empanada, fold in half, and use a fork to seal around the edges. Brush a bit of butter to achieve a nice browning, if you'd like. Bake on a cookie sheet for about 35 minutes, until empanada crust is cooked through and golden brown.

Eggplant Filling

1 medium sized eggplant, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 cup diced tomatoes, canned or fresh, with their juices
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a bit of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add diced onion and let cook until onion is translucent. Season with a dash of salt. Add eggplant and cook until tender, about 8 minutes, then add garam masala and mix well. Add diced tomatoes and their juices, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Let simmer until most of the juices have reduced and the eggplant is very soft. Season with pepper and a bit more salt.

Potato and Broccoli Filling

2 yukon gold potatoes, diced
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
shredded monterey jack cheese

Bring a medium sized pot of water to boil. Salt water, add potatoes, and boil until just cooked through, but not falling apart. Meanwhile, heat a bit of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add broccoli to pan and saute, letting the broccoli brown a bit, until tender. Season with salt and pepper. Add cooked potatoes and toss with broccoli. After spooning this filling into the empanadas, add a sprinkling of cheese before sealing.

Black Bean Filling

1 can black beans
1/2 yellow onion
2 bell peppers (I used one red, one green)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a bit of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add diced onion and let cook until onion is translucent. Season with a dash of salt. Add peppers and cook until tender. Add beans and red pepper flakes, cooking until beans are heated through. Season with pepper and a bit more salt to taste.

Apple Filling

3 baking apples, such as golden delicious or granny smith, peeled, cored, and diced
1/4 cup butter or Earth Balance vegan spread
1/4 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Melt butter in a small pot or skillet over medium-low heat. Add apples, sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice, and toss to coat. Let simmer until apples are cooked through and slightly mushy.