Sunday, March 9, 2014

vegan black bean nachos

I know, I know...what kind of idiot needs a recipe to make nachos? Isn't it just melted cheese and chips?

Well, it can be. But sometimes we like to make it more interesting.

See, if you're like me, you like black beans. But I find most of the black bean recipes out there rather tiresome. I can only eat so much black bean soup, and there aren't that many ways to jazz up a can of plain ol' black beans.

But nachos? There's a way. The black beans are earthy without being overbearing. As someone who is always trying to find new ways to eat canned beans without being consistently disappointed, this was a resounding success.

I would have totally added avocado, or maybe even made guac, but the sad fact is that I think you could actually kill someone with the avocados here at this time of year. They're literally hard as rocks.

Can you tell I'm missing California (mostly just being 30 minutes from Mexico?)

Anyway, this is perhaps the world's easiest weeknight dinner, and while it's not a health food, it's March. You've got time to go to the gym later.

Plus there's no antidote for the clouds of Portland like a bright, sunny, fresh salsa.

Just look at those colors!


~*~

Serves 4 (halve it for a single serving)

tortilla chips, amount to your liking (I use plain salted, but you could get interesting with types and flavors)
cheese*
1 can black beans
1 can corn (or you can use fresh if you've got it)

salsa

2 cups cherry tomatoes, diced
1/4 red onion, finely diced
2 tbsp cilantro, finely diced
juice of 2 limes
1 tsp sea salt

*I obviously used vegan cheese. I use the Trader Joe's vegan style mozzarella as the two base layers because it melts well, and even though its texture is...interesting in other applications it's actually not noticeable at all in nacho form. I then sprinkled some Daiya on top. You can experiment with different brands. If you're using normal cheese I'd advise pepper jack, cheddar, and/or mozzarella.

_______

Set your oven to broil.

Make your salsa: combine all the ingredients and let them sit for a while to give the flavors time to make friends. (You can add some of your corn in here too!) If you don't like the bite of raw red onion, dice that up first and let it sit with the lime juice to mellow out the flavor.



Spread out your tortilla chips on a cookie sheet or other baking pan. Sprinkle on your first layer of melty cheese. Broil until it's melted (mine only took about 30 seconds, so watch carefully!)



I find that this first cheese-melting under the broiler provides a nice layer for the beans and corn to sit on without making the chips on the bottom too soggy.


Drain your beans and corn well--we don't want any excess liquid to sog up our chips!


Add on your black beans and corn along with any other toppings. Add one more layer of your base cheese and sprinkle on your top cheese. Broil again until melted. Watch carefully!



Scoop nachos out and onto a plate. Sprinkle with salsa and eat immediately.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

ratatouille

So, before you ask...no. This is not the dish from the movie. Though I have watched the movie an embarrassing number of times.

I haven't had that Thomas Keller rendition, but honestly, I think this is better. Simple, unassuming, delicious. This dish is proof that vegetables don't have to be boring.

Making ratatouille is mostly a question of technique. The key lies in "sweating"--over low heat, getting all of the water out of the veggies and releasing flavors without caramelizing and locking them in.

When you cook this way, something magic happens. The eggplant unravels softly into something far and away from horrid dining hall renditions of eggplant--delicate, mild, but delectable. Everything just sort of melds together in such a lovely way. Your ratatouille will be done in an hour--most recipes get it done in 30 minutes--but if I've got longer I just let it stew away to get all those flavors out.

It's the best to make when you've got gorgeous seasonal summer vegetables, but for those of you in frigid climates like me who say, "I just want some vegetables, dammit!"--well, it's okay if you use the stuff in the stores. It still tastes good. I won't tell if you don't. If you've got good tomatoes, add a few, but I refuse to add those horrid zombie tomatoes that are in PNW stores in February. It doesn't bear thinking about.

I eat it by the bowl on its own, but it's the best thing in the world on a sandwich with a meat--t(of)urkey works well--and a cheese, and it ages well (everyone can love that, right?)

Plus it's so beautiful!


~*~

Serves 4-5
Time: ~1 hour

2 large eggplants
1 tsp sea salt
1 large onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 small-ish yellow/green zucchini squash
2 red bell peppers
1 tbsp fresh thyme
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped (just a little bit)
2 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

_______


Heat a pan with 1 tbsp vegetable oil over medium-low heat. (Not too hot! We don't want to caramelize!) Don't use any more oil--it doesn't look like much, but we don't want the veggies to get too oily.

Wash, peel, and cut up your eggplant into even-sized pieces. Add them to the pot with salt.

Stir every few minutes, scraping up any bits that have stuck.

At around 15 minutes the eggplant pieces should all have turned brown and the volume should have shrunk. You should see that the outside is softening but should not look hard, browned, or caramelized.

Thinly slice an onion and add it to the pot with minced garlic. Stir, continuing to stir every few minutes to avoid further sticking. Add a little more salt.


After about 20 minutes your onions should be translucent and softened. Wash your peppers and zucchinis, seeding the peppers and discarding the ends of the squash. Cut your zucchini squash into thin half-rounds and your bell peppers into strips.

Add in your rosemary, thyme, and oregano, and stir to mix. Continue stirring every 5 minutes or so and scraping up stuck bits.


After a further 25 minutes, once all the vegetables are soft, your ratatouille should be done! Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.


Add your chopped parsley.


And serve!

Ta-da!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

focaccia, in about 2 seconds

Okay, so not two seconds. But it feels like it.

This isn't so much of a recipe as it is my favorite party trick. 'Cause you put in pizza dough and some stuff, and you get bread. And as someone who has gone to great lengths to make bread (ask my boyfriend about the hoagie roll disaster of 2011--or, more positively, my uncanny success with challah) I can appreciate a quick solution to the yeast-driven woes of those of us who grew up with homemade bread and now find anything else unsatisfactory. (Damn you, parents with breadmakers!)

And it's a pretty solution at that.


~*~

1 ball pizza dough*
~1/4 cup olive oil or more, be generous**
1/2 tbsp coarse sea salt (this is a great place to use a yummy, fancy sea salt)

toppings

cherry tomatoes, sliced lengthwise
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
kalamata olives, sliced lengthwise

other potential toppings

artichoke hearts, finely sliced
caramelized onions
sundried tomatoes (packed in olive oil)
anchovies
anything that won't burn to a crisp

*Different pizza doughs will do different stuff. They have different water and yeast contents. I know that Trader Joes' plain pizza dough has worked for me, but I'm sure others would. The general rule is to make it thinner than you think, to allow room to rise while baking and still be thick and crusty instead of too-fluffy and not foccacia-y. And, of course, keep an eye on it--mine was done at 1 hour but yours may be done earlier or later! Once it is golden brown on top, you should be good to go!

**Use this much olive oil. Don't skimp. Seriously. This is what makes focaccia so delicious and crusty and golden and glorious. Use more than you think you need. You can see in the pictures that mine had it pooling in the holes--this is ideal.

________



Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Let your dough come to room temperature.

Spread a thin layer of olive oil in a 9 inch pie pan. Place your dough in the pan and flatten it, pressing it out towards the edges. Flip it a few times so both sides have a thin coating of olive oil.

Using your fingers, press divots into the dough. Use the photo above as a reference. You want to make as many of these as you can without making your dough into one big hole--the surface is supposed to be craggy and uneven.


Press in your toppings at even intervals. Take your 1/4-cup of olive oil and spread it evenly around.

Sprinkle on herbs and salt.


Bake until the top is golden brown. Mine took ~1 hour.


Dip in balsamic and olive oil, or use it to scoop up some soup. Yum!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

apple crisp

The kitchen is my favorite place to be at a party. It sounds weird, I know. Most social and normal people like to be in the living room. But generally being in the kitchen entails being near both the food and the drinks--my two favorite things! I'm like a badger or something, pacing around the resources. I usually meet kindred spirits in the kitchen.

And, at the parties I like to be at most of all, there's some cooking going on. And most times I either volunteer to help--or end up cooking for myself since I have lactose issues. Either way, I somehow get roped into things. (Not that I'm complaining--I love it!)

At one particular party, I was doing my usual skulking around the kitchen when the host asked me to make a dessert. And when someone asks slightly-tipsy you to make a dessert in their house (unfamiliar territory) and you have no smartphone (unlimited recipes), you make crisp.

Because crisp is easy. It's flexible, unlike the vast majority of baking, and has the added bonus of being absolutely delicious. You can use...well, just about any fruit in the world. You just...bake it until it's done!

This is the best thing in the world to eat for breakfast if you've got leftovers--and if you're like me and brazenly eat cookies for breakfast most days, this provides you with a socially acceptable alternative.

~*~

Adapted from nowhere in particular--a little of this, a little of that. Crisp wasn't my idea, ok?
Total time: 1 hr 10 minutes

3 apples, peeled, cored, and diced (enough to fill a 9" pie pan--use firm, flavorful apples, not mealy ones)
zest 1 lemon
juice 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp sugar*
1 tbsp flour
pinch nutmeg
1 vanilla bean, seeded**

2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats***
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted (if you use salted, omit the salt)
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar (brown is preferable, but I used white sugar, replacing a tbsp with a tbsp of maple syrup for that caramel flavor and it turned out great)

*I don't use very much sugar, to let the pleasant tart-sweet flavor of the Opal apples we have here shine, but if you're using particularly sour apples (like Granny Smith), I'd add another spoon or two of sugar to the apple mix or use agave, which is sweeter than sugar. Or, you can dial back the lemon juice. Taste your apples and decide for yourself.

**I use vanilla beans whose seeds I have already used. You can seed your beans and keep them, then use the empty pods to flavor different dishes. (Just don't eat them by accident!) I tuck one into the apple mixture to give it a nice flavor and smell. If you just have a regular one, mix in the pulp and use the bean, or if you're strapped for beans, add a 1/2 tbsp of vanilla extract.

*** Most crisps call for less oatmeal and add flour to the streusel topping, but I find that all the flour doesn't add anything texturally and generally prefer more oatmeal anyway. Let me know what you think if you try it out!


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Core, peel, and dice your apples into small cube-like pieces. Lay them out in an even layer in a pie dish spritzed with a little spray canola oil or butter. Add lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon, flour, sugar, and nutmeg. Mix. Tuck in your vanilla bean (see note above).


Now make your crumbly topping. Melt butter in microwave (mine's usually done in 45 seconds to 1 minute). Add in oatmeal, salt, and sugar. The mixture may look a little wet at this point, but don't worry--it will dry out and get crunchy in the oven. Spread it over your apples and stick it in the oven.


Bake for about 1 hour--until juices are bubbly and look dark brown, and the top is crunchy. Test to make sure that you can easily put a knife through the apple pieces.


Now hide it from your friends...and enjoy. You could put some ice cream on it, but then you might just die from the awesomeness.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

dover sole & kale salad

The French language makes it possible for things to have fancy-sounding names to us humdrum English speakers, but really, they're pretty simple. Sole meunière? It's just sole fried in butter with a squeeze of lemon and some herbs.

I'm not knocking the French, though, because this is so delicious it almost makes you want to just keel over. Dover sole is wonderful, light, and flaky, and takes very kindly to being cooked this way.

I know that a French cook would probably die at the thought of putting Old Bay in the flour...which I did...so we're not gonna call it sole meunière. That lets me off the hook, right? At any rate, I think it adds a little oomph.

This recipe is so quick it'll make your head spin! And yet, it's worthy of a date-night dinner. It's a lot of butter, so perhaps not a diet food, but the kale salad balances it out, right?

RIGHT?!



~*~

Serves 2
Total time: 30 minutes

4-5 filets Dover sole
5 tbsp butter
~1/2 cup flour
pinch each of salt, pepper, and Old Bay seasoning

kale salad

1 bunch lacinato or dinosaur kale
1 tbsp olive oil
handful walnuts, crushed
1/2 organic Opal apple, diced*

dressing

juice of 1/2 lemon
~1 tbsp mustard
~1 tbsp honey
~1 tbsp capers
salt and pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

*I've become an apple snob since moving to the PNW. You can use whatever you want. If it's not organic, you should probably peel it.

________

Heat a skillet to medium-high heat.

I like to do the salad first, since the fish cooks so quickly and the skillet needs time to get to temperature.

Wash your kale. Tear off bite-sized pieces off of the stems. If the stems are supple enough to come off when you tear, then you can use them, but once they become hard and woody on the way down the stalk...we don't want those.

Add them to your mixing bowl with your tbsp of olive oil. Massage the kale. Yes, rub the oil into the leaves. There is some debate surrounding the efficacy of this in reducing the sometimes bitter taste of kale--I just do it because it makes it less toothy and dry and it becomes all oiled up and lovely...just generally more palatable.

Kale. Mmm.

Chop up your apple and add it in with your kale. Toss in walnuts and whatever else you're adding.

In a small glass or jam jar, add in dressing ingredients except olive oil. If you've got a lid, you can just put the olive oil in and shake the jar with the lid on. If you don't (I couldn't find mine) then stir with a spoon or a whisk as you slowly add in the oil to create your emulsion.

Yay! Wait to dress your salad until the last possible moment before you eat!

Salad at the ready!

Spread flour on a plate and add in spices, mixing well. Lay out sole filets on flour one at a time and flour both sides. Your skillet should be ready.

Floured.

Add in your butter. Wait until it melts and the foam begins to turn brown. You should be able to smell a faint nutty smell.

Turn down the heat to medium-low (this is critical so your butter and fish don't burn!) Add in your filets with space in between them, doing this in batches if necessary. I add a little extra salt and pepper on each side when I cook them.

Butter and fish.

Cook 2-3 minutes on each side, until the flour coating has turned a light brown.



Remove to plate and serve immediately with your salad. Don't forget to pour the brown butter in your skillet all over your fish. (If you don't, Bearcat and I will judge you forever!)

Just look at that withering stare.

Bon appétit!

Friday, January 17, 2014

beet ginger apple juice

To the man who checked me out at Trader Joe's the other day: Yes. I am deranged for having left San Diego. Maybe even a little self-loathing and masochistic.

I mean sure, we avoided the polar vortex, but sitting in front of a light box every day in order to be happy is a little too Philip K. Dick-universe for me.

So what do you do when you want, more than anything, to believe that you're somewhere sunny? Juice! Make your own, with whatever happens to be on hand. I found a nice stall with a $1 10 pound bag of beets, which is way more than any normal person needs.

Alors...jus!

~*~

2 beets, washed, peeled and chopped (preferably organic)
1 cup water or more if needed
1 apple, cored and cubed (preferably organic)
1 knob ginger
1 squeeze of lemon juice

Don't wear white clothes (or light colored clothes you really care about) while doing this. And...it may look like you murdered someone, but the red will come off your hands in a few washings!

Wash, peel, and dice all your ingredients. Put into a blender and blend with water. Strain through cheesecloth, discarding pulp.

This mixture...well, let's just say it's not for the faint of heart (or you just gotta really like beets, like me!) I think it's really yummy, and I don't add any sugar. If you don't want straight up beet juice, mix one part this mixture with one part orange juice or apple juice.


Enjoy!

Monday, January 6, 2014

DIY almond milk

The unfortunate reality of processed food is that it usually has a whole lot of crap in it.

For example, my soymilk that I buy at the store has a whole bunch of sugar. It's also fortified with vitamins and has extra protein, which is great, but sometimes I just want to make something so that I know exactly how much of everything has gone into it, y'know? And while I am part hummingbird, I've been trying to consume a little less sweet stuff.

So here's something for those of you who are trying to incorporate DIY into your diets...or if you're just looking for something fun and easy that you can make yourself that's good for you.

It is a zillion times better than the store kind.

Note: Almonds are expensive. At the end of this process you're going to end up with a bunch of crushed almond. So, what do you do with it? I like to eat it as is, as breakfast cereal, but sometimes I roast it in a 300 degree oven, checking every 15 minutes until it is golden brown. I then grind it up into almond powder. You can use this to bread just about anything and to thicken sauces. You can also replace about half of your flour in cookie recipes with this almond flour and it is decidedly delicious. Experiment!

~*~

Makes ~3 cups almond milk

2 cups almonds
8 cups water

optional flavorings, add as many or as few as you like

1 tbsp chai tea (if you add tea leaves, blend them with your almonds)
1 vanilla bean, seeded
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
pinch cardamom
2 tbsp cocoa (for chocolate almond milk)

Rinse almonds. Place in container to soak with 4 cups of water overnight, or for two nights for a creamier milk.


Once your almonds are soaked, rinse them off and put them in your blender.



Add 4 cups of fresh water.


Pulse a few times to break up the almonds, then blend for a few minutes.


Bust out your cheesecloth, an old, clean t-shirt, or some layered paper towels.

Cheesecloth is pretty cheap at the store--you get a bunch of it and can wash it and reuse it.

Strap it over your container, or lay it over a mesh strainer, and strain your almond mixture. If you let it drain naturally, that's great, but I get impatient and smoosh it down, probably sacrificing some of the almond milk as I go. I scoop out the crushed almond meal periodically and save it in a separate container.

P.S.: This container was not super ideal for this process, but I had already started and it was too late. If you use a wider-mouthed container, you'll have to scoop out the pulp less often and it will be way less annoying.

Et voila! Here is your almond milk. You can add seasonings to your taste, and sweeten it with sugar, honey, or agave.

Store for up to 2 days in the fridge. I have usually drunk it by that point because it is so good, but if you'd like to store it longer, bring it to a boil and it will keep a few days more. It separates naturally in the fridge, but with a good stir it will be back to normal.


Yum!