Monday, February 27, 2012

Bourbon + Orange + Chocolate Soufflé

We stopped in at Dinstuhl's here in Memphis this Saturday on a lark to try to be among the first to ogle the first batch of Easter candy. Anything that has to do with the onset of springtime works for us right now. (Shelves have been cleared to make room for the Easter candy, it's on it's way and all very exciting, y'all...)

So during our trip, instead of eggs and chicks and rabbits, we bought black licorice laces and chocolate-covered pretzels and reminisced about what we chose from the store practically every week when we were kids; it  was about the same as what we selected at present. (Okay, we admit it, marzipan fruit and rock candy were brief under-age-ten Dinstuhl's phases, but other than that, things have not changed a bit.) 

One thing we came agree on candy-wise later in life as adults was their candied orange slices dipped in dark chocolate. Spotting those in the lower corner of the huge glass case, sort of hidden away amongst the truffles, brought us back to our nostalgic candy shop trips years ago in our early twenties. Remembering how great that orange and chocolate combo was back then inspired this chocolate-orange soufflé.

Bourbon + Orange + Chocolate Soufflé

(Makes four small soufflés.)

Special equipment: four one-inch by five-inch ramekins

5 eggs (separated, one yolk discarded)
1/4 cup sugar
1 bar 70% chocolate (3.5 ounces, chopped)
1 tablespoon bourbon
zest from 1 organic orange (about one tablespoon)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup half and half
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 orange (peeled, cut into segments)
1 teaspoon powdered sugar to garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Fill a medium saucepan up halfway with water and place over high heat. Place the five egg yolks into a medium-sized metal bowl along with the sugar, chopped chocolate, bourbon, orange zest, vanilla, sea salt, and half and half. Once the water in the saucepan begins to boil, place bowl with the yolk and chocolate mixture over the water so that the bowl doesn't touch the water. Whisk until all of the chocolate has melted. Remove bowl from heat, and set it aside to cool.

Place the cold egg whites in another medium bowl along with the cream of tartar. Whisk vigorously with a clean whisk for four to five minutes or until the whites form soft peaks. (Soft peaks means that you pick some of the whites up with the end of the whisk, and it forms a peak that folds over. It looks kind of like a Santa hat!)

Take half of the whisked egg whites and add them to the cooled chocolate mixture. Mix that thoroughly with a whisk. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold the remaining whites into the mixture retaining as much of the fluffiness as possible. Divide the mixture between the four shallow ramekins. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the top is craggy. Garnish with powdered sugar and orange segments.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Peanut Butter + Banana Smoothie

This is one of my absolute favorite things in the whole world, and it is so simple to make. Plus, it's a great way to use up those bananas that have gone a little dark. Just peel them and throw them into a food storage container and place them in the freezer. They'll be ready next time you want this good-for-you frozen treat.

The ripe bananas have plenty of natural sweetness, and the peanuts are a great source of protein. The texture of the blended frozen bananas is a lot like an ice cream milkshake, so enjoy! It can be your breakfast in a cup or the perfect thing to cool down after a run when, like me, you're just trying to stay on the cute side of chubby.

Peanut Butter + Banana Smoothie

3 frozen bananas
1/4 cup peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
1 1/2 cups soy milk (or milk)
1/2 cup 2% greek yogurt
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped roasted peanuts

Throw a few frozen bananas into a blender cup along with the peanut butter, soy milk, yogurt, honey, and salt. No need to be to fussy about it. Blend until smooth. Top each with a teaspoon of chopped peanuts and maybe include a paper straw.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Natchitoches Umami Pies + Yogurt Chimichurri

This is a dish that was a collaboration between me and Kelly; we served these at the collaborative brunch at Restaurant Iris this past June. I make my pies with black beans and pickled peppers. Kelly makes his with ground beef and allspice. Even the sauce splits the difference. I usually serve mine with a chunky chimichurri, and Kelly does a spicy buttermilk dip. Here is a creamy, yogurt-based chimichiurri. We found a happy middle ground and a whole new dish for both of us when we combined the two styles. I just know you'll enjoy it.

Natchitoches Umami Pies
(Makes about 20 small pies) 

1 cup dry black beans
2 cups broth
1 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup 
finely diced onion (about half of one large)
1/2 cup finely diced celery (about one large rib)
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup 
finely diced carrot (about two medium)
1 cup finely diced sweet potato (about one small)
1/4 cup chopped pickled cherry peppers (about 4-5)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon flour

Pie Crust Dough (recipe follows)
Egg wash (one beaten egg mixed with one tablespoon water)
Yogurt Chimichurri (recipe follows)
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (for garnish)

Place the dry black beans, two cups of broth, allspice, thyme, and garlic powder in a medium sauce pan over high heat. 
No need to soak the beans first. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer for an hour or until the beans are tender. In a 12-inch frying pan over medium-high heat, sauté the onion and celery until translucent and beginning to brown. Deglaze the pan with the wine and reduce until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the carrot, potato, peppers, and soy. Cook for five minutes stirring frequently. Add the cooked beans and any broth left in the pot. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to incorporate. This should tighten up any juices in the pan. Using a potato masher, lightly mash half of the mixture. Mix. Set mixture aside to cool. 

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough out on a floured surface to approximately a 12 x 16 inch rectangle. Using a drinking glass, cut as many circles out of the dough as you can. Pick up a disk of dough and place it into the palm of your hand. Spoon one to one and a half tablespoons of filling into the  center of the round. Fold both ends up so it looks like a little taco. Pinch the open sides together with your fingers until sealed. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat until all dough has been used. Place in the oven for 20 minutes. Brush the tops with egg wash and return pies to the oven for another fifteen to twenty minutes or until lightly browned.

To serve, place pies on a serving platter alongside the Yogurt Chimichurri sauce. Garnish with smoked paprika.

Pie Crust Dough

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup organic shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
about 1/2 cup cold water

Place the all-purpose flour, shortening, and salt into the food processor. Turn it on and allow it to run for a few seconds so the shortening becomes incorporated into the flour. Add the cold water one teaspoon at a time until the dough comes together by forming itself into a ball and rolling around the inside of the work bowl. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge to rest for 20 minutes.

Yogurt Chimichurri

2 cups loosely packed parsley
1-2 cloves garlic
juice from 1 lemon (1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 cup 2% Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
cracked black pepper to taste

Place parsley, garlic, lemon juice, and sugar into the work bowl of your food processor. Drizzle in the olive oil slowly as the food processor runs. Add the yogurt, salt, and pepper. Blend until very smooth. Place into a small serving dish and place in the fridge until ready to serve.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sambal Pepper Jelly + Savory Cheddar-Pecan Cookies

This is inspired by two guilty pleasures here in the South: pepper jelly and cheese straws. These two things are ever-present at any gathering of merit. I, of course, had to put my spin on it. Pepper jelly is typically served with cheddar on plain crackers. Cheese straws are just for snacking. I made an unholy marriage of the two.

This pepper jelly is different than most you'll find around these parts. I borrow a few ingredients from Asia: rice vinegar and sambal*, sriracha's chunkier cousin. The result is what my wife says is "the best pepper jelly I've ever had -- and I've had some pepper jelly." She also told me to use the natural pectin present in citrus peel as the gel in this concoction. To my surprise, it worked.

The cookies are the perfect vehicle for the jelly. Serve this at your next gathering and see if your guests don't think you are the sweetest thing they've ever seen.

Sambal Pepper Jelly
(Makes a half-pint)

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup minced red bell pepper (1 small)
1 tablespoon sambal

peel from one lemon

Place the sugar, vinegar, red pepper, sambal, and lemon peel into a small saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly as you gradually increase the heat until you bring the mixture to a boil. Continue to stir as it boils for two minutes. Pour mixture into a half-pint jar. Stir occasionally to distribute the chopped pepper as it all starts to cool and gel. Keep refrigerated for up to a month.

Savory Cheddar-Pecan Cookies

(Makes about 2 dozen)

1 cup pecans
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon smoked salt, cracked black pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons water

Place pecans, flour, and smoked salt in the work bowl of your food processor. Turn it on and let it run until the pecans and the flour are indistinguishable from one another. Add the cheddar and the butter and turn it on again. Drizzle in the water one tablespoon at at time until the dough forms a ball and rolls around inside of the work bowl; know that you may not need all the water.

On your work surface, roll the dough into a seven-inch log. Place the log on a plate in the freezer for thirty minutes to harden so you can slice it. While it's in the freezer, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Remove the dough and slice into 1/4-inch slices. Place onto a 12 x17 parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for twenty-five to thirty minutes or until lightly browned. Allow cookies to cool before serving.

* Sambal can be found in most grocery stores now. I know it's available at Whole Foods.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Vegetarian Meatballs

This recipe makes use of our very versatile mushroom meat. This is the stuff we use in place of ground beef in any recipe in order to vegetarianize it, and it's much more natural than commercially available ground beef substitutes. These meatballs made with mushroom meat are a hit over and over again in our house. We serve them on top of spaghetti, my wife's favorite, but mostly, I prefer sneaking them one at at time, popping a really too-hot-to-eat meatball into my mouth while the pasta is cooking. They also make a great little vegetarian appetizer for a party. How would you serve them?

Vegetarian Meatballs
(makes about 3 dozen small meatballs)

1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 cups mushroom meat
2 large eggs (beaten)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (less if you don't like spiciness)
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
2 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

2 tablespoons olive oil (for drizzling)
about 1/2 cup of good-quality tomato sauce (for brushing)

In a large mixing bowl, combine cheese, breadcrumbs, mushroom meat, eggs, tomato paste, half and half, red pepper flakes, oregano, and parsley. Allow mixture to stand for twenty minutes so that the breadcrumbs soak up the flavor of the other ingredients. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Using a small ice-cream scoop (about one tablespoon), scoop a portion of the mixture onto a parchment-lined, 12 x 17 inch, rimmed baking sheet. (You will want to portion them fairly close together as this makes a whole bunch of little meatballs.) Repeat until all of the mixture has been used. Drizzle the meatballs with olive oil. Place pan in the oven for a total of 20 minutes. After ten minutes, take the tray out and brush the tops of the meatballs with tomato sauce. Return the pan to the oven to finish cooking.

Serve these with your favorite pasta and spaghetti sauce garnished with plenty of parmesan cheese and minced parsley. You could also make these into little sliders on a soft bun with ricotta and tomato. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

BBQ Eggplant Ravioli

It's a Memphis thing, no doubt. I'm talking about BBQ spaghetti. They serve it all over the city from the BBQ Shop on Madison to the Neeleys' place on Jefferson to Leonard's in East Memphis. What is it, you ask? It's exactly what it sounds like. I took some inspiration from these down-home places and added a modern twist. Here smoky eggplant is enrobed in homemade pasta and served in a spicy sauce. Yes, it's exactly what it sounds like...delicious.

BBQ Eggplant Ravioli
(makes 2 dozen ravioli, serves 4)

Special equipment: pasta roller, small ice-cream scoop, fluted pasta cutter

1 1/2 cups flour (semolina or 
3 eggs (divided)
1 1/2 cups Roasted Eggplant (method follows)
1 1/2 teaspoon dry rub (recipe follows)
1/2 cup shredded smoked mozzarella
1 clove garlic (minced or microplaned)
1/2 cup bread crumbs

1 1/2 cups BBQ sauce
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon butter
4 brussels sprouts (shredded)

Place flour into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center of the mound of flour. Crack 2 eggs into the well. Using your hands, mix eggs into the dough using a circular motion. Continue to mix and knead dough until smooth and most of the flour has been picked up. Cover dough with plastic wrap or an inverted bowl and allow it to rest on the counter for at least twenty minutes.

Into the work bowl of your food processor, crack one egg, the roasted eggplant, dry rub, mozzarella, garlic, and breadcrumbs. Pulse five to seven times or until everything is well incorporated; it should resemble a wet dough in consistency.

Next, set up your pasta roller. I use the Kitchen-Aid attachment, which makes this so much easier. Flour your countertop and turn rested pasta dough out onto the surface. Smash dough into an oblong disk and feed it through the widest setting on your pasta roller. Now, it may be raggedy; if so, feed it through on this same setting until the dough comes through smoothly. Send the dough through the rollers and crank it down to a thinner setting each time. At some point, you'll have to cut the dough in half to be able to manage it. Roll it out to a #5, which will yield two three-foot-long pasta sheets.

Imagine there is line running down the pasta sheet longways dividing it in half. Using a small (one tablespoon) ice cream scoop, scoop one portion of BBQ Eggplant Filling onto the sheet of pasta halfway between that center point and the edge. Now repeat that step every inch down the length of both pasta sheets. Fold the pasta she longways so that the edges meet up. Using you hands, press dough down around the filling. Using your fluted pasta cutter, cut down the length of the edge of the pasta sheet and then in-between each lump of filling. The zig-zag pattern of the fluted pasta cutter will help hold the ravioli together on the three cut sides.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Heat BBQ sauce, broth, and butter in a 12-inch frying pan over medium heat. Cook ravioli until they float. Remove ravioli from the water directly into the warm sauce. Toss to coat.

To serve, place 6 ravioli on a warm plate and garnish with a few shreds of Brussels sprouts plus a tiny pinch of dry rub.

Roasted Eggplant:
Roast one 12-inch Aubergine eggplant over high heat on your outdoor grill for fifteen to twenty minutes. Turn it every few minutes until it's completely burned black. Place eggplant into a colander so that the liquid that's produced as the eggplant cools runs off. Once completely cooled, simply peel the burned skin away from the roasted flesh. This should produce about 1 1/2 cups roasted eggplant.

Memphis BBQ Dry Rub:
Mix together one teaspoon of each: chipotle, smoked paprika, sweet paprika, garlic powder, salt, cumin, black pepper, brown sugar, thyme, oregano, and ancho chili. Store extra in an airtight container for six months.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Smoked Dates Stuffed with Goat Cheese + Pecans

I recently spent a paltry thirty dollars on an obsession, and it changed the way I cook. I bought a stainless steel hotel pan, a perforated pan, and a lid from Lit kitchen supply on Union Avenue in order to make my own homemade, makeshift vegetable smoking device. I figured, why let the omnivores have all the fun with their smoky bacon and BBQ contests? I wanted to start smoking, too. 

Dates are one of my favorite things to smoke. The sweetness of the date and the savoriness of the smoke play off of one another beautifully. Add in a little soft goat cheese and chopped pecans to make one perfect little bite. Think of this as the veg version of bacon-wrapped dates. Put a tray of these babies out at your next party, and your guests won't believe their tastebuds. This is one hot date!

Smoked Dates Stuffed with Goat Cheese + Pecans
(serves 4-6 as an appetizer)

12 whole Medjool dates (smoked, method follows)
2 ounces soft goat cheese
1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans
Maldon sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped chives (to garnish)

Using a sharp pairing knife, split each date lengthwise much the same as you would an avocado. Remove the pit and discard it. Next, roll about 1/4 teaspoon of the goat cheese between your fingers to form a tiny ball and insert one goat cheese ball into the cavity of each date half. Add about 1/4 teaspoon of the chopped pecans to each half, garnish with salt, pepper, and chopped chives. Enjoy!

You will need some special equipment for this. Many grill-top or stove-top smokers are available nowadays. You can find them online or at almost any specialty kitchen store like Viking and Willams-Sonoma. I made my own using a 9x12 stainless steel pan with a shallow, perforated basket and a tight-fitting lid. You could also use an old stock pot with a lid and an old footed colander that will fit down inside the pot. Just remember, the lid has to fit tightly to keep the smoke in, and anything you use has to be dedicated to smoking -- it will be completely ruined for any other purpose. The main thing is that the large pan has to be at least one inch deeper than the perforated pan so there's room for the wood chips. You'll also need an outdoor gas grill and some wood chips, which are available in most grocery stores -- especially during the summer months.
The following instructions work for smoking any non-meltable foods like mushrooms, dates, grapes, sun-dried tomatoes, potatoes, sea salt, or tofu. Do not try this method with a cheese that will melt, because, well, it will melt. That said, this is a wonderful and simple way to impart a ton of flavor into some very unexpected things.

How to start smoking:

1. Soak a handful of hickory wood chips and two handfuls of applewood chips in water for about 20 minutes. (I think this is the best mix of pungent hickory and fruity applewood smoke. If you like less intense smoke flavor, go with all-fruit wood like apple or cherry.)
2. Drain chips and set them in the bottom of your smoker pan. Turn your grill on high. Caveat: I do not recommend doing this inside as it produces a ton of smoke. Place the smoker pan directly over the flame of your outdoor gas grill (the side burner works best for this) and leave it alone. After 8 minutes, you will notice a lot of smoke coming from the chips; this is a good thing!
3. Lay mushrooms, dates, tomatoes, garlic or anything else you want to taste smoky in a single layer in the smoker basket and place over the smoking wood chips.
4. Cover with a tight-fitting lid. Wait five minutes. It doesn't take long for vegetables and grit to soak up that smoke flavor. Remove whatever you just smoked from the basket and allow it all to cool. Keep items in an airtight container for up to a week.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Beer Bread Baguette

This is a little trick I developed for getting deep flavor from bread that's only risen for an hour or so. The yeastiness of the beer and the depth of the malt imparts a wonderful flavor that doesn't take overnight to achieve. I use this technique a lot when I make pizza dough, so I thought I'd give this a shot. It's super-easy -- you don't even have to knead it!

Use this Beer Bread Baguette to slice and serve with a cheese plate or grill it to make smoky grilled pimento cheese sandwiches. We even cubed some up after a couple of days, tossed it with a little olive oil, and served it atop broccoli-cheddar soup. The possibilities are endless, and it's so nice to have fresh-baked bread around the house.

Beer Bread Baguette

1 cup beer*
1 cup all-purpose flour (more for dusting)
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 envelope rapid rise (1 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon salt

(*The best beer for this is one that is quite robust like a winter ale or an IPA. You want something with some character.) 

Pour a cup of beer into a microwave-safe cup and microwave for one minute.  Place the two flours, yeast, and salt into the work bowl of your food processor, turn it on, and drizzle in the warm beer until the mixture turns into a ball and rolls around the outside of the bowl. (You will likely need just shy of a full cup of beer for this to happen.) The resulting dough ball should not be too dry and just slightly tacky. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Dust your work surface with a tablespoon of all-purpose flour. Turn the rested dough onto the surface. Press the dough into a 9x6 inch rectangle -- it needn't be perfect, though. Gently roll the long side up onto itself to form a tube. Place dough onto a piece of parchment paper. Tuck the very ends of the dough under if you want the ends to be smooth. Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut a 2-inch slit in the top of the dough and repeat the same slit every inch. This allows the dough to expand and become soft.

Place a large mixing bowl upside down over the dough and allow it to rise for an hour or until it has nearly doubled in size. With your pizza stone in place, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Slide the risen dough and the parchment onto the hot stone. Cook seven minutes, open the oven door, and toss 1/4 cup of water into the oven, but try not to hit the bread directly. Doing this will crisp the outside of your bread. Cook another 7 minutes for a total of 14 minutes or until nicely browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Mascarpone Banana Pudding (In a Jar)

My wife and I have a friendly little competition going on here at the blog. We both want to have the most popular post. I have to tell you that she is kicking my butt -- and not just a little bit. One day she had the idea to make a salad in a jar with tiny, baby ingredients. (I'm not even going to link to it because some of you would undoubtedly click on it.) (Here it is! -Amy) I thought it was pretty silly, but nonetheless, I photographed it and posted it. It was an instant sensation thanks to it being picked up by several Pinterest people and a blog called Under the Table and Dreaming, thereby knocking my vegetarian pot pie waaaaay out of the lead. So, not only did she beat me, but she had beat me at my own game: she's supposed to be making the sweets, and I'm the savory guy.

This is my diabolical plan to regain the top spot: mix the richness of mascarpone into a dessert we Southerners already treasure...and put it in a silly little jar to boot.

Don't let the kitschiness fool you; this dessert is serious.  The blended bananas and the creamy mascarpone take on the texture of pudding, but the mixture has a richness you don't get from a box. It's only lightly sweet and the puffy meringue makes you feel like you are eating a cloud. 

Mascarpone Banana Pudding
(serves 4)

special equipment: 4 small (about 1 cup) mason jars. 

1 cup mascarpone cheese (8.8 ounces)
2 medium banana (about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt (Believe me, it's a must.)
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
12 vanilla wafers (crumbled, about a cup)
1 banana (1/4-inch sliced)

meringue (recipe follows)

Place mascarpone cheese, the flesh of 2 bananas, vanilla, salt, and powdered sugar into the work bowl of your food processor. Blend until completely smooth. Divide the crushed wafers among the jars making sure they are speed evenly to cover the bottom on the jar. Divide the sliced banana among the jars adding 4-5 slices per jar. Now divide the mascarpone and banana mixture among the four jars. Leave about a 1/2 inch of space at the top of the jar for the meringue. 

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Add the meringue to the top of each jar with a spoon. Pile it on 1 1/2 to 2 inches. Place jars in the oven for five to seven minutes or until meringue is lightly browned. Place the warm jars in the fridge to cool for 15 minutes -- if you can wait that long.

For the meringue:
2 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Using your stand mixer or a medium metal bowl and a whisk, beat the cold egg whites and cream of tartar until the whites form soft peaks. (This means that when you pull the whisk away from the beaten whites, the point slowly flops over.) Add the sugar and vanilla. Whisk to incorporate.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Southern-Style Cheese Dip

Edible Memphis is an amazing publication available at The Booksellers at Laurelwood and other excellent stores and restaurants around town. I urge you to seek it out this week. This James Beard award-winning magazine is dedicated to telling the stories behind our food in an always-interesting way. It's truly unlike any other magazine out there.

The following is an excerpt from my article "Cheese Dip Road Trip," which can be found in full in the winter edition of the magazine:

According to In Queso Fever: A Movie About Cheese Dip, cheese dip as we know it was invented in central, Arkansas in the 1930’s by an Irishman known as “Blackie” Donnelly, a guy who owned a restaurant called Mexico Chiquito. Wait...cheese dip was invented in Arkansas! So that makes cheese dip a Southern classic suitable to be served alongside my grandaddy’s cornbread and my grandma’s greens. That blew my mind when I first heard it...

Pick up a copy of Edible Memphis to see the rest of the story and to read an in-depth interview with Nick Rogers, the director of In Queso Fever: A Movie About Cheese Dip

Southern-Style Cheese Dip
Makes about a 1 1/2 pints
3 small poblano peppers (or one large)
1 medium jalapeño pepper
3 small-to-medium tomatoes 
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons butter 
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon salt
Scant 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 pounds Oaxaca cheese (substitute mozzarella if needed; shredded)
1/2 pound sharp cheddar (shredded)
1  bag of corn chips 
Roast peppers and tomatoes until blackened over a high flame on your outdoor grill; this should take 5-8 minutes. Place peppers and tomatoes in a covered container and allow to cool completely. Remove stems and seeds from the peppers. Remove the core from the tomato using a pairing knife. Slip the vegetables out of their charred skins. Place roasted vegetables, cumin, and garlic powder into the work bowl of your food processor. Pulse until mixture is well incorporated. This process should yield about a cup of homemade Ro*Tel.
In a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and then whisk in the flour. Allow the flour and butter mixture to cook for about two minutes until nutty and fragrant before whisking in the buttermilk. After about 2 minutes the mixture will thicken. Add the salt and cayenne. Add the cheese in batches while stirring the mixture so that the cheese melts. Once all the cheese is incorporated, add a cup of the homemade Ro*Tel mixture and heat the mixture through.
Place everything back into the food processor and process for 3-4 minutes or until smooth. Pour warm cheese dip into a serving bowl and garnish with chopped cilantro and diced roasted jalapeño. Serve warm alongside crunchy corn tortilla chips.
Refrigerate unused portion (as if there will be any left over!). Reheat in the microwave for a minute and a half or in a saucepan over a low flame.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Grilled Radicchio Salad + Oranges + Golden Raisins

Radicchio is bitter. There is no way around it; it just is. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I love  me some radicchio especially if I can get it grown locally like this beautiful radicchio grown by Bennett-Burks Farm. The guys even handed me an old family recipe that gave me the idea for this salad. The thing with bitter greens -- hey, if they're purple, are they still greens? -- is that you have to do something to them to bring in some balance.

In this dish, I used sweet golden raisins and tangy orange segments to bring a sweet balance and some acidity to the dish. Lightly grilling the radicchio lends a subtle smoky flavor that works well here.

If you've never tried radicchio, this is the time and this is the dish. It's good stuff! Plus, it's super-fast to throw together, which is good when company comes around.

Grilled Radicchio Salad + Oranges + Raisins
(serves 4)

1 large head of radicchio (about the size of a grapefruit, or two smaller ones)

1/4 cup olive oil (divided)
1 tablespoon local honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice (from one lemon)
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

sea salt (to taste)
1/4 cup toasted, chopped pecans
1 medium orange (supremed)

Preheat your outdoor grill to high. You may also use a cast-iron grill pan for this if the weather is nasty or you don't have a grill. Just preheat the grill pan over high heat. (Be warned! Cast-iron can get pretty smoky, so turn on the vent-a-hood.) Next, slice the large radicchio into quarters leaving the root-end intact so that the leaves do not separate. Drizzle cut radicchio with 1/8 cup of the olive oil. Grill the radicchio for about 20-30 seconds per side. You want grill marks and a smoky flavor, but you don't want to burn it all up. Remove radicchio from the grill to a plate in order for it to rest while you make the dressing.

Place the honey and lemon juice in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk as you add the remaining 1/8 cup of olive oil. Add the raisins, pepper, and salt to taste. 

To assemble the salad, place once quarter of the grilled radicchio on each plate and press it with the palm of your hand. This will spread the leaves out just a bit to make a nicer presentation. Divide the dressing, walnuts, and supremed orange slices among the salads. Add sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Roast Beet Salad + Sea Salt Granola + Honey Tarragon Dressing

This is one of our favorite salads here in the Chubby Vegetarian home kitchen. The addition of granola to a salad seems unusual, but to me, its nutty flavor and crunchy texture are right at home atop sliced beets and goat cheese. What more can I say? I love it.

Don't be deterred by the amount of steps as it's really quite simple to put together. Also, there is little hands-on time. Just make sure to make the beets ahead of time since they cook for an hour and a half.

Roast Beet Salad + Sea Salt Granola & Honey Tarragon Dressing 
(serves 4)

Roast Beets (recipe follows)
1/2 cup Sea Salt Granola (recipe follows)
Honey Tarragon Dressing (recipe follows)
4 cups lettuce (Boston or baby romaine)
4 ounces soft goat cheese (crumbled)

Follow the directions below to make the beets, granola, and dressing. The beets and the dressing are proportioned correctly for this recipe, but the granola will make way more than you need for this dish. I guarantee it will be eaten. That stuff is addictive. Once your components are made, all that's left to do is assemble the salad. Start by layering beets and lettuce together like you would a caprese salad. I think each serving should get about 5-6 slices of beet. Next, drizzle the assemblage with about a tablespoon of the Honey Tarragon Dressing. Finish with an ounce of crumbled goat cheese and 1/8 cup Sea Salt Granola.

Roast Beets:
5 medium red beets 
1/2 cup white wine
4 cloves garlic (smashed)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
8 sprigs thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
2  tablespoon olive oil
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Trim 1/8 inch from both the stem end and the root end of the beet. Place beets in a small casserole dish along with the wine, garlic cloves, soy sauce, thyme, pepper, salt, and olive oil. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Allow beets to cool completely. Peel skin from the beet by rubbing it with a damp paper towel just as though you're polishing it -- the outer skin will rub right off. Slice beets in 1/4-inch slices. Discard cooking liquid or use it to make a colorful salad dressing.

Sea Salt Granola
(makes about 5 cups)

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup brown rice syrup*
1/3 cup canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups oats
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup pecans
1/3 cup pepitas/pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the sugar, syrup, oil, and vanilla. Add oats, nuts, and salt and combine. Spread it all out on a baking sheet. Bake it for 10 minutes, stir it up, and then bake it for 10 more minutes. It should be toasted and ready by then. It'll last about a week.

*Brown rice syrup is a key ingredient here, so make the effort to find it. It's not too difficult to locate. It is always in stock at Whole Foods and other natural foods stores.
Honey Tarragon Dressing

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon minced tarragon

1.2 teaspoon minced chives
1/4 teaspoon Maldon salt

1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

In a small bowl, add the lemon juice, honey, tarragon, chives, salt, and pepper together. Drizzle the olive oil into the mixture as you whisk to emulsify the dressing. Set mixture aside.