Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Huitlacoche and Sweet Potato Quesadillas With Chipotle Cream

Huitlacoche, also known as the Mexican truffle (or by its less appealing common name, corn smut), is a mushroom-like fungus that grows on corn. It invades the plant through the stalk and feeds off of the kernels. When you peel back the corn silk of a plant that has been infected with the huitlacoche fungus, it looks like the corn has gone horribly wrong. It's kind of chunky and also looks like a smear of black ink. That aside, it's delicious. I'd describe the taste as earthy, bittersweet, with a faint herbal flavor of oregano. It's quite a delicacy in Mexico. It hasn't quite caught on here.

You can find huitlacoche in some Mexican supermarkets if you look, but if you are really interested in finding it, Amazon always has a few vendors that supply it. I've served it stuffed into poblano peppers, had it served to me stuffed inside of empanadas in Austin, Texas. I have had it at El Palmar on Summer Avenue in Memphis

These quesadillas are a great thing to do when you're ready to put corn smut to good use. The mild sweetness of the sweet potato plays nicely off of the bittersweetness of the huitlacoche, and the creamy/spicy blend of the chipotle sour cream is the perfect garnish.

Huitlacoche and Sweet Potato Quesadillas With Chipotle Cream

1 tablespoon canola oil (more for cooking the quesadillas; like Whole Foods 365 brand)
1 1/4 cups finely diced sweet potato (1 small)

sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
7 ounces oaxaca or mozzarella (shredded)
7 small corn or flour tortillas
7 ounce can Huitlacoche
Chipotle Sour Cream (recipe follows)

chives (to garnish)

In a medium pan over medium heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the sweet potato and cook, turning often, until sweet potato has softened. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. Assemble the quesadillas by layering in equal amounts of cheese onto each tortilla and then continuing with equal amounts of huitlacoche and sweet potato. Close each tortilla. In a medium pan over medium heat, add a touch of oil and grill each quesadilla until lightly brown and the cheese has melted (about 2 minutes per side). Garnish with chipotle sour cream and chives.

Chipotle Sour Cream

7 ounces Mexican Crema or sour cream
2 chipotle pepper (from a can)
1 clove garlic

Place crema, chipotle, and garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth. Set aside in the fridge until ready to use.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Easy Monkey Bread

Sometimes you have to ease up a bit and go with the classic way a recipe is made. It really needs to have a good payoff, though, to be worth it.

This monkey bread is different. It will take you about 5 minutes to make for brunch this weekend if you can get over your weird Southern pride about your own finely honed biscuit recipe and just go ahead and get some buttermilk biscuits in a can -- we like Immaculate Baking Company's work in this area.

What a fun recipe to try since we have been meaning to make monkey bread forever. You should try your hand at it, too -- we cut way down on the amount of sugar and butter used in other recipes, it couldn't be easier to make, and it's a ton of fun to share.

Easy Monkey Bread

1 can buttermilk biscuits
1/3 cup cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup unsalted butter 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut each unbaked biscuit into 6 pieces. Loosely roll the pieces into balls. Set aside. Mix cinnamon, salt and sugar in a bowl. Toss into biscuit pieces a few at a time and toss to coat. Add in the walnuts and raisins. With a silicone brush, brush a bunt pan with a little bit of the butter to coat. Add in biscuit mixture and pour any of the mixture's sugar, raisins, and nuts that are left in the bowl on top. Pour remainder of butter over bread. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Invert bread onto a plate and serve. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

5 Quick Questions with Chef Ben Vaughn of The Food Nework

Justin: Ben and I became friends over food. He is one of the first chefs to invite me into his kitchen and teach me how to really construct a dish. It was in the kitchen at Grace that I nervously went from someone who had a passion for cooking to someone who could actually cook. I'll always be grateful for that. 

Amy: I was fortunate to be able to write the "Dining Out" column for Memphis Magazine before I started to focus more on home cooking, and Ben's food at his restaurant Grace knocked me over during my two little undercover visits. That article was a blast to write because I had the opportunity to share what I had found in my sweet hometown. I knew Ben's food first, but once I knew him as a person, I found him to be very inspiring, always open to collaborate with us and help us take our ideas further. Once, he improved upon and served our Cinnamon-Persimmon Sauce. That was awesome when I was just starting out and trying to be creative.

Justin: Ben has since moved to Atlanta, Georgia and taken a job as head chef at White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails. He also has his own show on the Food Network called Health Inspectors, which premieres tonightFriday, October 26, at 10:30 pm/9:30 central. He told me all about it when we met up for breakfast the other day.

Photo courtesy of the Food Network

1. You've held every job in the kitchen from potato peeler to Chef/Owner. What experience has taught you the most?
The experience I most learned from was how to motivate and inspire constantly. The restaurant business is tough with long days and nights. If I can't keep my spirits up and drive the team, teach, motivate, inspire, and build an ongoing culture, the air has left the balloon, folks. It's the small things that really keep your staff in tune, a handshake, a hug, or just a fist bump. I learned these lessons later on, and they would have been incredibly useful early on. 

2. Your food style is unique; it seems to be informed by your life experience. Tell me about the moment when your style clicked.
 My food style is my style: regionally respectful, clean, familiar, but without boundaries. I think it really clicked in Memphis right before I joined River Oaks. I knew no one in town, and I kind of wanted everyone to just say, "Where did this guy come from?" once they tasted my food.

3. You were discovered by the Food Network by answering an ad on Craigslist for a restaurant consultant while you were looking for new opportunities in Memphis. Is that right?
It sort if goes like that. It's really not a great story, I was doing what I do, and they were busy being the Food Network. After running a few restaurants in Memphis, I felt a huge calling to share my lessons learned with other restaurant chefs and owners, and that's the relationship that ultimately led to the television pilot.

4. Could you ever have imagined yourself with your own show? What has the experience of stepping into that role been like?
Honest answer – not so much, but in some ways, I'm a performer.  My stage has been the kitchen, and that's my first love; it will always call me back.

5. What dishes are you nostalgic about, and what dishes are you cooking now?
I'm nostalgic about eggs and pancakes. It's a memory of my childhood. A celebration of family coming together. Since I spend evenings in the restaurants, I miss most family dinners, so I make sure to catch up with my amazing family as often as possible over breakfast. Now I'm working on a style of food that show cases a single ingredient prepared to complete an entire plate.  For example: Duck.  On tonight's menu at White Oak, sous vide breast of duck, duck glacé, confit of leg, terrine of sweet potatoes and duck bacon, and duck cracklings...and, well, it’s not vegetarian. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Chubby Vegetarian Thanksgiving Cooking Class on Saturday, Nov. 3 in Memphis

(UPDATE: WINNERS! Commenters Ssummers and James C. Williams, you have a spot at our class -- see you next Saturday at 6! Show up and just let us know via FB message this week if you have any questions. Glad to see you then.)

We are so excited to be hosting Thanksgiving early this year -- and you're invited! Come learn how to make Acorn Squash Stuffed with Dried Apricots and Chanterelles Topped with Miracle Mushroom Gravy; try your hand at our famous-within-the-family Brussels Sprout Salad with Candied Pecans and Smoked Goat Cheese; make your own Pomegranate Cranberry Sauce from scratch; and bake a Sweet Potato Pie with a Rosemary Cookie Crust with us to finish the meal. We'll teach you how to make the TCV family favorites that our families request this time of year.

In addition to walking you through a few simple steps to a perfect vegetarian Thanksgiving, we'll discuss the wine selection for your new menu. Of course, you'll also get a taste of everything that we create at the class.

Please don't make a sad frozen tofu turkey for your guests this year. Make a fresh, seasonal meal that everyone will be talking about until next Thanksgiving rolls around. Join us, won't you.

The Chubby Vegetarian Thanksgiving Cooking Class
In Memphis at the Downtown Cooking School

Saturday, Nov. 3, 6-8 p.m

Cost: $35 per person

Click HERE to register for the Thanksgiving Dinner class with Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence or call 901.255.2562.

*CONTEST: We are giving away one place in our class to two separate commenters in Memphis or the surrounding areas. Winners will be chosen at random; to be in the running, just tell us about their best or worst vegetarian Thanksgiving meal. We know how it goes; oysters in the dressing, obviously non-veg marshmallows covering up the sweet potatoes, and that giant bird staring at you all day long while you virtually starve to death. Or maybe you have a few tricks up your sleeve when it comes to sidestepping these conundrums? Either way, leave us a comment and tell us all about it.

We will pick our winners on Friday. We can't wait to hear from you and see you in our class in less than 2 weeks!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Potato Chip-Toasted Pecan Sandies

Okay, we know, it is so devilish to put yummy, salty potato chips in a dessert, but sometimes, you get a cult recipe stuck in your head, and you have to try it out and see if it merits all the fuss. There are lots of recent recipes for potato chip-pecan sandies out there (like this one and this one, both of which inspired us), but we wanted to experiment and come up with a TCV version. Ours is packed so full of pecans and crushed sea salt chips that it's sort of ridiculous to work with the resulting cookie dough, but the effort is worth it in the end.

Potato Chip-Toasted Pecan Sandies

1/2 cup olive oil margarine (softened)
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup crushed sea salt potato chips (like Whole Foods 365 brand)
1/2 cup pecans (toasted, chopped)
1 tablespoon cane sugar (optional; for topping)

Cream margarine and both sugars in the mixer. Add vanillas, milk, and egg and mix. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together; add this to the wet mixture and mix until dough comes into a ball. Stir in chips and pecans. Chill dough in a container in the fridge for a few hours. Using a small spring-loaded, half-ounce scoop, portion the dough into 1-inch-round balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press them very flat with the bottom of a glass or the palm of your hand. Sprinkle them with a little sugar before baking if you like. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 12 minutes. (Makes 40 cookies.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hot Tamale Pie from Cookin' Crunk by Bianca Phillips

Our friend Bianca's cookbook is here! Cookin' Crunk: Eatin' Vegan in the Dirty South has lots of great vegan recipes, and after reading through it twice in the past month, we finally chose one thing to make this past weekend. 

I really had my eye on the dessert section, but since I, Amy, usually am the one cooking desserts at home and for TCV, I decided to branch out into entrée section just to set up a nice challenge. Bianca's recipe (below) led me through every step and answered any question that came up during the fun process of making this tamale pie. It turned out spicy and full of veg, just like a big, quick tamale -- minus the corn husks and also the exorbitant amount of time and prep. Check out Bianca's blog, Vegan Crunk, and be sure to get yourself a copy of her book this week. 

Hot Tamale Pie

(Yields 4 to 6 servings)

If you plan on making homemade tamales, you'd better have a whole day set aside to do so. Though the laborious task yields delicious results, who has time for all that? I created this Hot Tamale Pie as a tasty shortcut for busy folks with a taste for tamales.

Non-stick cooking spray
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal 
1/2 cup cold water
3 cups vegetable broth
1/2 to 1 teaspoon seasoned salt (depending on how salty your broth is)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño, minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 14-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons seasoned salt
1 teaspoon cumin

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10-inch pie pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Whisk the cornmeal into the water in a medium saucepan. Add the vegetable broth and bring to a low boil over medium-high heat. At the first sign of bubbling, cover and lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes or until mixture is thick, stirring often to prevent lumps. Stir in 1/2  to 1 teaspoon of the seasoned salt and set aside.
Heat the oil on medium heat in a large skillet with sides or a sauce pan. Add the onion and cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapeño and cook and stir for 1 more minute. Add the green bell pepper and cook and stir for 5 to 7 minutes or until bell pepper begins to soften. 
Stir in the tomatoes, pinto beans, corn, nutritional yeast, chili powder, seasoned salt, and cumin. Heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Spread half of the cornmeal mixture along the bottom and sides of the pie pan. Top with 4 cups of filling (if you can't fit it all in, save the surplus filling for nachos later). Spread the rest of the cornmeal mixture over the filling, taking the mixture to the sides of the pan (it’s okay if some filling is visible). Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is slightly crusty and browned. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mediterranean Chopped Salad

As many of you know, we've been on an oil-free kick. I'll admit that salad dressing has been a real stumbling block. This yogurt-based dressing, however, has been good on almost any salad -- especially this Mediterranean Chopped Salad, which is great for lunch or as an appetizer. It's filling and delicious. 

During this diet, I've also found that I really like the no-salt-added boxes of beans recently introduced at Whole Foods. The problem I have with canned food is that it tends to taste sort of like the can itself. Putting the beans in a box solves that problem, and eating the beans unseasoned leaves it up to the cook to season them as he or she wishes. Genius!

Mediterranean Chopped Salad

1 cup diced red pepper (about 1 medium)
1 1/2 cups diced English cucumber (about 1 medium)
1 large shallot (diced)
1 14.5-ounce box of garbanzo beans (drained, like Whole Foods 365 brand)
1 12-ounce jar of marinated artichokes (diced)
1 cup diced Roma tomatoes (about 2 medium)

kosher salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
Herbed Yogurt Dressing (recipe follows)
butter lettuce for serving
fresh dill for garnish

In a large bowl mix the red pepper, cucumber, shallot, garbanzo beans, artichokes, tomatoes, and Herbed Yogurt Dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat. Serve on butter lettuce leaves and garnish with fresh dill. (Makes 4 to 6 servings; keeps in the fridge for a few days.)

Herbed Yogurt Dressing

juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup 2% Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon panko bread crumbs

Whisk together the lemon juice, yogurt, Italian seasoning, and bread crumbs. Set aside.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Rice Kheer

We are completely fascinated by Indian food and culture. There is such a long history of vegetarian cuisine because there are so many vegetarians in India. A 2006 survey revealed that only 30% of
India's 1.24 billion -- that's right, with a 'b' -- people eat meat on a regular basis, while nearly 40% consider themselves to be vegetarian. That's a lot of vegetarians eating a bunch of good vegetarian food. See? Fascinating!

With the help of our friends in the know, we do our best to recreate some of our favorite Indian dishes like the Masala Dosa, and we like to put a spin on classic Indian dishes like our Indian Nachos.  Here we have recreated our favorite dessert, Rice Kheer, simply a mix of raisins, rice, cashews, and noodles or tapioca in green-cardamom-scented, sweetened milk. It is so good! Our friend Krishna from Mayuri, our go-to Indian restaurant in Memphis, was kind enough to give us a few tips on making this when we stopped by for the lunch buffet this week.

If you're interested in Indian culture like we are, you should stop by Whole Foods in Memphis this Saturday, October 13 from 1-3 p.m. Whole Foods has partnered with the organizers of India Fest 2012 to bring you a day of Indian foods to sample and also some giveaways. There's even a free Indian cooking class at 1:30 p.m.! We hope to see you there.

Rice Kheer

3 cups whole milk (like Whole Foods 365 brand)
1/2 cup cane sugar
1 tablespoon whole green cardamom pods (crushed)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (like Whole Foods 365 brand)
1/2 cup dry rice vermicelli (broken into small pieces)
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted cashews (chopped)
1/2 cup cooked and cooled basmati rice (leftover is great for this)
1/4 cup Thompson raisins  (like Whole Foods 365 brand)
1/4 cup golden raisins

Place milk, sugar, salt, and cardamom in a cold pot. Slowly raise the temperature under the pot, and stir to prevent scorching. Once the mixture reaches a boil, strain through a fine mesh strainer, and set aside. Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Sauté the vermicelli and cashews in the butter until fragrant and lightly browned. Place the milk mixture, noodle mixture, rice, and raisins in a serving bowl. After 5 minutes the noodles will be soft, and the Rice Kheer will be ready to serve. Serve warm in a small bowl for dessert. Makes 4-6 servings.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Cauliflower in Tomato Sauce + Pine Nuts & Parsley

This has been my go-to dinner for the past few weeks now that I've been on my low-carb, low-fat diet. It's fast, simple, and best of all, it's super delicious. It looks and tastes like a big helping of pasta, but it's essentially carb-free, oil-free, low-fat, and packed with vegetable nutrision.

The secret here is going to be the sauce you use. Just like regular pasta, the cauliflower is a vehicle for the sauce, so use one you really like. Feel free to gussy this dish up with an assortment of toppings like chopped rosemary or roasted mushrooms. It's a great stage for showcasing almost any flavor.

Cauliflower in Tomato Sauce + Pine Nuts & Parsley

1/2 of a large head of cauliflower (about 4 to 5 cups sliced)
1 1/2 cups good-quality tomato sauce (like our Vegetable Packed Tomato Sauce)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup parsley leaves (to garnish)
Parmesan cheese (to garnish)
Sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; the water should be as salty as the sea. Remove any leaves from the cauliflower and slice it into 1/4-inch slices. This will leave you with some large slices from the center and some smaller pieces from the edge. Heat the tomato sauce in a large skillet on medium heat. (It's best to use a fairly thick sauce for this dish so that it sticks to the cauliflower.) Drop the cauliflower slices into the boiling salted water for 3 minutes. Using a spider or mesh strainer, remove the cauliflower directly into the warm sauce. Carefully toss to coat. Divide the tomato-sauce-coated cauliflower between two plates and sprinkle on the pine nuts. Garnish with parsley, parmesan, salt, and pepper. (Makes 2 servings.)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Vegetarian Eggplant Tajine (oil-free and vegan)

This is another tasty entry in our diet diaries. This dish uses no oil, butter, or dairy, but really, you'd never know it. The ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice mixture, provides a complex array of warm spices like cumin, coriander, clove, and cinnamon and produces an aromatic mix of interesting flavors, while the simmered eggplant provides a wonderfully meaty texture.

I call this dish a tajine as a tribute to the earthenware pot in which something like this would normally be cooked. It's best described as a pie plate with an earthenware cone designed to be used to slowly simmer ingredients. Since we are using eggplant and not some tough cut of meat, a regular old skillet will do just fine for this.

Look for ras el hanout at your local gourmet specialty store. We found a great version of the spice mixture at Williams-Sonoma or you can make your own.

Vegetarian Eggplant Tajine

1 medium white onion (diced)
1 vegetarian bouillon cube
1 heaping tablespoon ras el hanout
Zest of 1 lemon
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 cup white wine (like Pinot Grigio)

1 13.4-ounce box chickpeas (like Whole Foods 365 brand)
4 cups large diced eggplant (1 large or 4 medium Japanese, peeled)
2 medium green peppers (diced)
1 15-ounce can stewed tomatoes
Sriracha (to taste)

2 cups prepared couscous
Greek yogurt, mint, and lemon zest (optional, to garnish)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet with high sides over hight heat, sauté the onion, bouillon cube, ras al hanout, zest, salt, pepper, and granulated garlic in a dry pan. Once the onion starts to caramelize (about 3 minutes), add the wine and deglaze the pan. Reduce liquid by half, and add the chickpeas, eggplant, green peppers, stewed tomatoes, and sriracha. Stir to incorporate. Place in the oven for 30 minutes. Serve over couscous.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Oil-Free & Vegan Minestrone

As I mentioned on the Facebook page, one half of TCV (the half that is about to run 26.2 miles in under 4 hours, my goal come December) is on a diet. I'm trying to shed a few pounds before my St. Jude Childen's Research Hospital race coming up here in Memphis. Not lugging a lot of extra weight makes for a much more pleasant marathon experience --  especially when you've run 20 miles and you still have 6.2 more to go. Coincidentally, some members of my family decided that since we want to lose a little weight before the holidays, we would make things interesting. About two weeks ago, the guys each put in $100, and the winner of pounds and percentage of weight lost will split the pot. Talk about all kinds of motivation! I hope I'm not giving away too many of my secrets, but here goes...

I've changed up a few things in my diet that have a a dramatic and immediate effect. We're talking a loss of about 15 pounds in 10 days. I'm actually surprised by how quickly the pounds have come off, so I thought I'd share what I've been doing. 

I've cut out carbs for the most part. I'll still have a little rice, but no white potatoes, bread, or anything like that. I'm off cheese for now, but I do still eat lowfat Greek yogurt because it's such a good source of protein. Last but not least, I've been cooking without oil and butter. I didn't think it was possible, but I've found a few ways that work.

In addition to beans and rice, I've been eating soft-boiled eggs for protien. I've also been eating lots of vegetables and salads. I've ingested an inordinate amount of cabbage in the form of kimchi, and have eaten scores of sweet potatoes, cauliflower, and portobello mushrooms. 

This particular minestrone soup is great because it contains so many vegetables, and it's really flavorful and filling. If you have it over a little rice, it will give you a complete protein, which is important when training for a race. This recipe makes a big batch; that's good because I'm pretty hungry after all that running. I've been having it for lunch almost every day. This is my second batch. It will keep in the fridge up to a week. 

Oil-Free and Vegan Minestrone

2 cups tomato wedges (about 2 large or 4 medium tomatoes)
12 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cup thinly sliced celery (about 3 ribs)
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced carrot (about 3 medium)
1 1/2 cups diced white onion (about 1 large)
1 1/2 cups wine (like Pinot Grigio)
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (less of you don't like spicy stuff)
Juice of 1 lemon

2 cups sliced zucchini (about 2 medium)
2 drained 13.4 ounce boxes cannellini beans (like Whole Foods 365 brand)
1 tablespoons capers (rinsed)
1/2 cup slices sun-dried tomatoes
1 1/2 - 2 cups vegetable stock (like Whole Foods 365 brand)
2 tablespoons tomato paste

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
Pinch of cane sugar (optional)
3 cups prepared rice or pasta (to serve)
Freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional, to garnish)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the garlic and tomatoes in a single layer on a parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until garlic cloves are nicely browned. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Once cool, mince the roasted garlic, and set aside until ready to add to the soup.

Heat a large frying pan with high sides over high heat. Add the celery, carrot, and onion to the dry pan and spread the vegetables out in a single layer. Once they start to caramelize (about 2 minutes), stir them up and again arrange them in a single layer. You will notice that the pan is starting to show a layer of brown on the surface; this is a good thing! Add the wine, and using a wooden spoon, scrape up all of the brown bits from the pan. Reduce until the wine is thick and syrupy. Add the Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, zucchini, beans, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, 1 1/2 cups of the vegetable stock, tomato paste, minced garlic, and roasted tomatoes. Stir to incorporate. Reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes or until vegetables are at a desired tenderness. Use remaining stock to think the soup if needed.

Serve over rice or even pasta (if you are into that sort of thing) and garnish with parmesan if you'd like. (Makes 6 servings.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

4 Quick Questions with Chef Brian Huston of The Publican in Chicago

Last week, we heard about a dish called Sweet Potato and Pecan Piccata secondhand -- thanks, Kelly! -- and just had to attempt to make it. Now here's the man behind the idea, Chef Brian Huston of The Publican, located in Chicago, and his very own recipe. 

The Chubby Vegetarian: The crew at The Publican seems to give an equal amount of thought and care into an eggplant or corn dish as they do into shrimp or sweetbreads. Each vegetable item on the menu looks like a stand-alone dish rather than a side dish. I made a version of your Sweet Potato and Pecan Piccata based on a friend's description, and it was fantastic. Thank you for the inspiration! So, care to share the real recipe with our readers, or give them some professional advice on making this dish at home?

Chef Brian Huston: Roast a whole sweet potato until tender (about 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven). Let cool and cut into 1/2-inch discs. Heat a pan big enough to hold the slices of sweet potato. Add about 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan and lightly brown the sweet potatoes on both sides. Add a pat of butter and equal amount of brown sugar, a pinch of chile flakes and a sprig of thyme. Once the sweet potatoes have caramelized, deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Place potatoes on a plate and top with piccata mixture.

For the piccata, pulse a stale loaf of bread, crust removed, in a food processor until it forms a rough crumb. Place crumbs in bowl. Massage the crumbs with olive oil and toast in a 300 degree oven until brown, about 45-60 minutes. While it is hot out of the oven, add freshly chopped garlic, chopped mint, and orange zest. Finish by adding toasted pecans.

TCV: What's the most unusual vegetable you've ever pickled and served at The Publican?

CBH: Watermelon rind and okra. (I know, not that unusual...)

TCV: I love seeing radishes with salt and butter on the menu. Is there anything simpler or better? One of my favorite things in the world is a tomato sandwich in the summertime with tomato, salt, pepper, and mayo. What other simple but outrageously good combinations can you think of off the top of your head?

CBH: Broccoli and olives, green beans and almonds, and eggplant and honey.

TCV: Any new techniques that you have been playing around with or any ingredients that have you smitten? 

CBH: New techniques such as shaving raw butternut squash and marinating it in a garlic vinaigrette, chryo-vacing melon to brighten the color and intensify its flavor. For a new ingredient, I love raw ground cherries in salsas.