25.3.12

About Roasted Asparagus

Why roast asparagus? Crunch and caramelization, both of which are BEST. So luckily this is pretty easy. Just make sure you use thick-stalked asparagus. And if the stalks feel particularly woody you can peel off the tough outer layer with a vegetable peeler. Then just lay them out on a foil-lined sheet pan:



Add a glug of olive oil and a couple pinches of salt and pepper, then mix all that up with your hands:



Then put the sheet pan on the bottom rack of an oven pre-heated to 450 F. After 10 minutes flip your spears over and cook for another 10 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

18.3.12

About Vegetable Soup

So the weather outside is weather, specifically unreasonably unseasonably warm weather--I think it's been in the 80s all week? RIDICULOUS. Even more ridiculous is that in the middle of all this I made SOUP for dinner. HOT SOUP. HOT VEGETABLE SOUP. Please don't bring this up in a couple months when it's 129 degrees outside and I'm in the midst of one of my annual summer WHIIIIIIIIIIIIINE sessions.

But really, I have a very good reason for making this. See, the last few weeks? I've been eating nothing but pizza and wings and poutine and all other manner of, just, crap? And my dresses maybe feel more like sausage casings? So perhaps I need to rethink my eating habits a bit? Would you like another unnecessary question mark? There you go.

This recipe is insanely healthy for you; it's basically nothing but vegetables after all. And luckily, it is delicious. It's seriously one of my favorite soup recipes, so much so that a couple of years ago I pretty much had a bowl every day and accidentally lost 15 pounds. Bonus! It's also really easy since the measurements aren't exactly precise. Like, you see how I say you need 2 cups of some sort of leafy green vegetable down there? Well, for some reason I always end up adding, like, 3 pounds of kale. (I really like kale.)

This makes a lot, but don't worry; it freezes beautifully. Here's what you need:
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1-2 stalks of celery
  • 1 medium red bell pepper
  • 3+ cloves of garlic
  • 6 cups broth or water
  • 3-4 sprigs of thyme
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 2 small zucchini
  • 1 medium head of broccoli
  • ½ medium head of cauliflower
  • ½ small head of cabbage
  • About 61 cents' worth of dark, leafy greens (or 2 cups, shredded)
  • 1 lemon
  • A couple tablespoons of fresh herbs (parsley, dill, and chives are especially nice)
First thing is that you're going to want to give all of that vegetable matter up there a rough chop. Don't worry about getting a perfect dice, because it's all gonna end up blended together anyway. (That is, unless you don't want a blended soup, in which case you should make sure each cube is perfectly symmetrical and exactly the same size. It's what the French would have wanted.)

chopped

In a dutch oven or stock pot (something big, basically), heat the oil over medium-high heat until it starts to shimmer. Saute the aromatics (your onion, carrots, celery, bell pepper, and garlic) with a pinch of salt until they soften.

sauteed

At this point you can deglaze the pan with a glug or two of white wine if you happen to have any around. When the wine has almost entirely evaporated, add the both. (If you don't have any wine then just add the broth.) Crank the heat up to high and add the thyme, bay leaves, and the rest of your vegetables.

Now, if you've got my crazy kale addiction, chances are everything won't fit in the pot so good. But NEVER FEAR. Just slap a lid on that sucker and in a scant couple minutes your leafy greens will be wilted enough for you to give everything a good stir.

kale

Once the pot comes to a boil, turn the heat way down and let everything simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or however long it takes for everything to become nice and tender without overcooking it into mush.



Fish out the thyme stalks and bay leaves and blend that shit up.



Add the juice of that lemon I told you to get, and then salt and pepper it to taste. (My guess is that you'll need a fair bit of salt.) And you're pretty much ready to go. Just ladle some soup into a bowl and garnish it with some of those fresh herbs I told you to get. (If you're feeling particularly fancy, you can also add a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt.)



Let the healthy eating begin!

16.3.12

About Prepping Greens

Not just any greens, mind you. I'm talking about the dark green leafy vegetables that are pretty much the healthiest foods on the planet.

Wait a sec, that's not actually entirely accurate. What I'm REALLY talking about is a subset of the dark green leafy vegetables that are pretty much the healthiest foods on the planet, namely the kinds with big leaves and big stalks. And what kinds are those? Oh, you know, collard greens and mustard greens and turnip greens and Swiss chard and kale. In other words, the Southern kind.

The thing about the Southern kind is that because the leaves are so big, the stalks are big. And big stalks take a lot longer to cook than leaves, no matter how big those leaves are. So in order to cook greens just right, you need to first separate the leaves from the stalks. How does one do this, you ask? Just watch this handy instructional video:



And while we're on the topic of greens, please enjoy this picture of adorable Capitals defenseman Mike Green:

greenie

14.3.12

26.2.12

About Steamed Fish with Ginger and Scallions

Hi there. It's me. Sorry I left you hanging for a few weeks; we had our annual Super Bowl party at the house and ended up eating leftover dip for, like, ever. You know, as you do. But I'm back now with what is possibly my single-favorite entree ever, my mother's steamed fish. This isn't strictly speaking a Vietnamese dish, as I'm only half Vietnamese and I've taken one or two tiny liberties with the recipe over the years, but I think you'll agree it's super easy. But please note, you'll need some kind of steaming apparatus to make this work; I don't care what kind, just some set up that allows you to trap steam and then harness that steam to cook your dinner. This dish is totes Industrial Revolution, yo.

Here are the ingredients::

Fish
Any fish in any cut will do, whether it be whole trout or salmon steaks or tilapia filets, which is what I used here.

Soy sauce
Which you will add to the

Chicken broth
in equal parts. And what parts is that? Well, we'll get to that in a sec.

Scallions
Cut your scallions into about inch-sized rods. (Heh, I said rods.) And how many scallions should you cut up? Oh, I'd say about one bunch for every two servings. As the scallions cook they end up soaking up that broth you just made up there, mellowing out, and getting dang tasty.

Fresh ginger
Peeled, then cut up into little inch-sized matchsticks. And how much ginger should you cut up? Oh, I'd say about a thumb-sized knob for every two servings. As the ginger cooks it ends up soaking up that broth you just made up there, mellowing out, and getting dang tasty.

Some sort of pepper if you want
Like serrano or thai chilis or jalapeno like I used here. You know, for a touch of heat.

Some kind of oil if you want
Like peanut or sesame or canola like I used here. You only need like a tablespoon or so, and only to give the dish a bit of richness.

Got it? Well, here's what you should do with all that: Put your fish in a heavy, heat-proof bowl--something that can stand a good steaming. Throw the scallions, ginger, and pepper on top of that. Then add enough soy/broth until the liquid is barely covering your fish. Finally, swirl a little oil on top.



Slap on a lid, bring your pot of water to a rolling boil, and let that steam until the fish is done.



And when is your fish done? Depends on how thick your fish is. These tilapia filets only took about 12 minutes, but then again, these tilapia filets were only about a quarter-inch thick. So add extra time accordingly.



It is absolutely essential that you serve this over (preferably jasmine) rice, because all that broth in there is so freaking good. So put some rice on a plate, carefully (that bowl is hot!) top it with the fish, spoon out like a shit ton of broth and scallions and ginger, and maybe top with a bit of fresh cilantro if you want.



And if you want a lot of extra heat this pairs well with sambal. I promise it tastes better than it looks.

29.1.12

About Polenta

I can remember mentioning it at least twice in passing, and it's probably pretty likely that you saw the word and thought to yourself, "Self . . . whaaaa?" MY BAD. So before I flippantly mention it once again, let's talk a little bit about polenta.

What is polenta? Well, polenta is--to put it crudely (if you happen to be Italian)--Italian grits. And what is grits? Well, as we mentioned before, grits is corms. Delicious ground corms.

If polenta is just grits, why polenta? Because polenta is Italian grits. And what are Italians other than smooth, silky, and (rico) suave. Let's face it, sometimes you need a little Gerardo in your life, amirite?

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's do this thing. There's actually two ways you can make polenta. (Well, there's probably a million ways to make polenta; I will present you with two.) You can make it according to your package directions (boil water, stir in corn meal, cook for 20 minutes, add cheese) or, if you have a little time, you can make it this way. You'll need:

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup medium-ground corn meal (I've used white corn meal here because that's what I have; you'll find yellow is more traditional)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Up to 1 cup cheese (I like parmesan, but if you want a super fluffy and creamy and outrageous polenta you can use cream cheese)
  • Salt to taste

So, slightly salt the water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Once it's going, quickly whisk in the polenta until the mixture is smooth.



Reduce the heat to a low simmer, add the butter, and give everything a whisk occasionally for the next 45 minutes to an hour.

You'll begin to notice that, unlike grits, your polenta won't maintain individual granules of corn meal. Instead, it'll almost take on the consistency of pudding. Savory, savory pudding. At this point it's time to whisk in your cheese.



Give it a taste and add salt as needed. Then, plop that goop down on a plate.



And top with your favorite slop.





And enjoy!

22.1.12

About Chicken Cacciatore

By now you've probably gotten the hang of the old put-chicken-in-take-chicken-out-put-chicken-back-in cooking thing that's been going on in these parts (cf. this and this), so this recipe should be so easy I won't even have to explain it to you. But I will, because Santa knows I do like to babble (no I don't).

Like our chicken bog before it, chicken cacciatore is almost endlessly flexible, and it's almost endlessly flexible because when Italians go out into the countryside or wherever to do their hunting, they don't have grocery stores I guess? I don't know, I think something got lost in translation. But the ingredient list that follows is just the basics, so feel free to add whatever other vegetables you want depending on what's in season or what you pick up at the grocery store because I assume you're not out in the Italian countryside where they have no grocery stores. Apparently.

What you'll need is this:
  • 2 chicken thighs
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ⅓ cup dry white wine
  • 1 can diced tomatoes


I also added a package of crimini mushrooms, cut into quarters. Also good: zucchini, summer squash, bell peppers, eggplant, uh... other vegetables.

Now, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until it gets all shimmery. Generously salt and pepper both sides of your chicken and brown them off really well for about 4 or 5 minutes per side. Then, remove your thighs and put them on a plate for later.



Add your onions and assorted veg to the pan like this:



and saute all that down until everything is softened and the onions have become translucent like this:



Add the garlic



and cook all that for up to a minute, then deglaze the pan with your white wine.



When the wine has mostly evaporated, add the can of tomatoes, with their juices. Give the pan a big stir to mix everything all up, then nestle the chicken thighs back in, skin side up.



Turn the heat down to a low simmer and braise the chicken for about 40 minutes, until your thighs are nice and tender and almost falling off the bone (TWSS or something).



Serve the cacciatore over a crusty loaf of bread or pasta or couscous or rice or polenta or WHATEVER ALREADY GOSH. And feel free to top that mess off with some fresh basil and parmesan cheese.



And as the Italian hunters say, Mangia!

15.1.12

About Chicken Bog

Well it hasn't exactly been quote-unquote cold in these here parts this season, but that doesn't mean you still don't need some down-home, rib-sticking, delicious Southern comfort food every now and again. And every time I'm feeling blue, you can bet this is what I'm making.

The beauty of this recipe is that it's infinitely adaptable. I mean, it's chicken and rice; every culture on the planet has a version (except those pesky vegetarians--what is UP with those people? (says the former vegetarian)). Mine started years ago with this Paula Deen recipe, and as you'll see it's morphed into something that may seem a little more sophisticated, but is really just a way to cram more vegetables in there (for the vegetarians, don't you know). Here goes.

For two hearty servings (plus lunch for somebody the next day), you'll--at a minimum--need:
  • 2-3 skinless chicken thighs
  • ½ cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons creole seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste

and
  • 1 cup wild rice
  • 1 ¼ cup water, vegetable broth, or chicken stock

or
  • ¾ cup long grain rice
  • 2 cups water, vegetable broth, or chicken stock

I generally start with a mirepoix of a carrot, a stalk of celery, and about half of a small to medium yellow onion. Oh, and some fresh thyme never hurt anyone:



And when I happen to have them on hand, I also like to add diced red bell pepper and fresh jalapeno. But as you can see, they're not essential. Tasty, but not essential.

Heat up the extra virgin olive oil in something with a lid, and saute your vegetables, herbs, and spices over medium-high heat until they've softened up. Then add your herbs and garlic and cook for about a minute more until your garlic becomes fragrant and you find yourself suddenly compelled to smear garlic all over your body but don't do that because that would be gross. And potentially deadly if you happen to be a vampire.



Next, deglaze your pan with a splash of white wine or sherry or even a little beer if you have it. If not, just go ahead and dump in your water or broth, making sure to scrape up all of those little brown crusty bits stuck to the bottom of your pan.

Bring your pot to a boil, then nestle your chicken thighs in that delicious brothy hot tub.



If you like it then you should a-put a lid on it (groan, sorry), then lower the heat and gently simmer for 30-40 minutes.

At this point your chicken should be mostly if not totally cooked (don't worry if it's not; so long as it's not still completely raw, which I'm not sure how that would happen but stranger things etc.) so you'll want to remove the pieces to a plate. Then, add the rice to the pan.



Let that bubble away for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, using a couple of forks or those folk-like things attached to your wrists, shred the chicken thighs.



When the 10 minutes are up, add the shredded chicken meat back into the rice. This is the point where I like to clean the leftovers out of my fridge, so if I have any collard greens or mustard greens or turnip greens or kale or sauteed zucchini or squash or whatnot, I add that too. And then you just let that simmer for another 10 minutes while the rice finishes soaking up all that delicious broth.

Give the pot a little fluff job and serve with a little Tabasco on the side.



And dig in!