Friday, June 25, 2010

Two Words That Will Change Your Summer: GRILLED PIZZA

Photo by Robbie Stout

Last night we had a pizza party at the Lazy S Ranch. Seven of us devoured 8 pizzas and consumed prodigious volumes of adult beverages. It was a glorious evening, I assure you.

This could be my absolute favorite way to make and eat pizza. This recipe is especially fantastic because it allows you to whip up pizza with a bunch of garden veggies at the height of summer without heating up the kitchen.

There are three keys to making this pizza:

The first key is to keep your toppings light. The beauty of this pizza is its simplicity. But more importantly, anything besides a very, very thin pizza will not cook all the way through on the grill. My Margherita style pizza below is great, but you can change the toppings to whatever you like, as long as you go easy.

The second key is reading the directions all the way through before you start your cooking. Grilling pizza requires you to be quick on your feet.

The third critical key is to make sure your grill is very clean. A dirty grate will cause the dough to stick.

You’ll also need a wooden pizza peel—that’s the paddle you see at a pizzeria that the chef uses to transfer the pizza into the oven. It can be found at any kitchen store—or even in the kitchen section in a store like Target for less than $20.

Recipe makes 4 personal-size pizzas (we did a double batch last night).

Prep time: 3 cocktails

Double Batch Neapolitan-Style Thin Pizza Crust (click here for recipe)
2/3 pound mozzarella cheese, grated (3/4 a pound, if you’re a cheese lover)
28 ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, or equivalent garden tomatoes
20 or so basil leaves, torn up a bit
4 TBSP olive oil
4 minced garlic cloves and chili pepper flakes (both optional)

As dough rises, open tomatoes and transfer the tomatoes and juice to a food processor. Puree until you have a nice tomato sauce consistency—a few chunks are fine. Transfer to small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stirring often, cook until the tomatoes have reduced into the thickness of marinara sauce, about 30 minutes, but will vary depending on water content of tomatoes.

When you’re 15 minutes away from making your pizzas, bring your grill up to heat. It should be hot enough that you are able to hold your hand about 5 inches above the grate for 3-4 seconds. On my grill, that’s slightly below medium heat.

When the dough is done, divide into 4 equal balls. Roll out the first one on a floured surface into a 10” thin crust. Don’t pinch up the edges like you would with other pizzas. Transfer to a floured pizza peel. Brush the top of the crust with a layer of olive oil.

Now transfer the pizza to the grill. It’s not as tough as it sounds. If you’re careful, it will just nicely slide right off the peel onto the grill. There might be a bit of sag. You can try to adjust it with a metal spatula, or just not worry about it.

Cook for about 90 seconds, or until the crust just begins to get nice grill lines and turn golden. With the pizza peel or a metal spatula, scoop up and flip the crust.

Now work fast! Quickly, ladle on a quarter of your sauce, garlic, and chili flakes. Evenly sprinkle a quarter of your cheese. Top with the basil. Don’t spread the toppings all the way to the edge; leave a little naked crust.

Close the lid and cook 3-5 minutes, or until the cheese melts. After the first couple minutes of cooking, open the lid and check the bottom of the crust every minute or so. If your grill cooks unevenly, part of the crust may cook faster than the rest, so you might have to rotate with the spatula to prevent burning.

When it’s done, remove with the pizza peel, slice, and serve.

Now repeat with the other 3 dough balls.

Enjoy the pizza with your adult beverages and friends and call me tomorrow to thank me.

Neapolitan-Style Thin Pizza Crust

Unlike American-style thick crust pizzas, this is a fairly authentic Italian pizza, the crust is thin and both crisp and chewy when prepared correctly. It is delicious. Note that with this crust, you'll generally need a pizza stone (unless you're making grilled pizza). You can usually purchase one fairly inexpensively at a kitchen shop.

Makes enough for 2 personal-sized (10") or 1 largish (14") pizza.

1½ cups white, unbleached flour
¾ tsp salt
1 packet (scant 1 tsp) dry active yeast
½ cup warm water

In mixing bowl, combine flour and salt.

In a small dish, whisk together the water and yeast with a fork for at least 30 seconds.

Work the yeast/water mixture into the flour with your hands. Continue to knead well on a floured surface or with kneading attachment of a mixer for 5-10 minutes. Set aside, covered with a damp towel, in a warm place, until the dough has doubled in size—about 2 hours. BUT you can accelerate the rising process by placing the bowl in the oven and switching it on to broil for 30-60 seconds. Then switch off for a while. The idea is to bring the oven up to 100-120 degrees to facilitate faster rising (30-60 minutes). But be careful not to forget about it when you turn it on.

Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and knead it for a few more seconds then roll out on a floured surface.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash and Coconut Soup

More of a fall-ish soup, but I had an old butternut squash lying around, so I thought I'd give it a whirl. Turned out fuckin' delicious, if I say so myself. The brown spices, maple syrup, and coconut milk complement each other well and make this a really hearty, creamy (though vegan), complex soup. Serve with some good, crusty bread, if available.

Prep time: 2 cocktails

A 1.5 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1” cubes
2 TBSP olive oil
3 TBSP butter (for vegans, you can use olive oil)
1 small onion
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
2 cups veggie stock, store-bought or homemade (click here for recipe)
1/2 cup water
½ tsp salt
3 TBSP maple syrup
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cardamom
4 Star anise pods (don’t use broken ones, as you’ll want to fish them out later)
A few minced fresh sage leaves or a dollop of crème fraiche (optional)

Preheat oven to 375. When oven is hot, toss the squash cubes in a mixing bowl with the olive oil. Then transfer to a cookie sheet and arrange so they aren’t touching. Place in oven and cook until they become a bit browned and are soft all the way through, about 30-40 minutes. Remove from oven.

While butternut squash is cooking, heat the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven on medium heat. Add onion and sauté until golden-brown, about 8 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients (but not the squash). Simmer 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Fish out the star anise pods and discard.

Add squash and cook another minute. Transfer soup to a blender or food processor (you might have to do this in batches). Process until completely smooth. Return to the pot and bring back to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and continue to cook, stirring frequently for 5 more minutes, or until you reach the desired consistency (or add water, if your soup is too thick).

Add the sage leaves, crème fraiche (if using) and a few grinds of black pepper as a garnish. A drizzle of olive oil is also great.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Heirloom Tomato Bisque

It's finally summer! And though we're still a few weeks away from our first tomatoes here in Colorado, many of you in warmer climates are already harvesting the first Mortgage Lifters and Brandywines.

This is a GREAT recipe for a beginning home canner, as cracking a jar of rich, creamy, delicious garden tomato bisque in mid-winter is nothing short of miraculous. And if you're like me, the ultimate comfort food when you're sick is grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup--for which this recipe is perfect!

If you're canning, this recipe is good for a large batch (it makes 6-7 quarts). Obviously, if you don't want to preserve the soup, you can scale it down.

Also, this preparation results in a fairly uniform, smooth soup, but there usually remain a few small bits of tomato skin after preparation. If you want to, remove the skins by blanching the tomatoes for a minute and peel skins off. This will give you a uniformly smooth soup, but I find that it’s not always worth the trouble.

And remember: ONLY use fresh homegrown or Farmers' Market tomatoes. If I hear of anybody using Styrofoam grocery store or canned tomatoes, I'll personally come to your house and kick your ass for defacing this recipe. The simplicity of this recipe relies on you using only the best, sweetest, most flavorful tomatoes available.

Prep time: 1-2 cocktails (not counting reduction time)

1 quart veggie stock--preferably homemade (click here for recipe)
12-14 pounds ripe local tomatoes, cored and quartered
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup), divided
2 medium onions, chopped
4 TBSP flour
1 quart half-and-half
¼ cup sea salt
Black pepper
Agave nectar

In a very large stockpot, combine the veggie stock and tomatoes on high heat. Stirring occasionally, bring to a boil and reduce to medium.

Once you’ve got the tomatoes started, melt half the butter in a skillet or wok over medium heat. Add the onions, and sauté until transparent, about 5 minutes. Add onions to the tomato mixture and stir well. Continue to simmer the tomatoes until they break dow fairly well, about 20 minutes.

As you cook the tomatoes, melt the remaining butter in a medium saucepan over slightly-less-than-medium heat. Add flour and whisk constantly for 3 minutes. Stir in half and half and bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat a notch and continue to whisk constantly for 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

In batches, combine a few ladles of the tomato mixture with some of the half and half mixture in a blender and puree very, very well. Place this mixture in a fresh pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add salt and a good dose of pepper. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until you’ve reached a nice thick-soup consistency—about 1-2 hours, depending on the water content of your original tomatoes. And depending on the sugar content of your original tomatoes, the amount of agave will vary. Add until the sweetness of the soup just begins to come through, this is usually a few TBSP for most heirloom tomatoes, but will be more for paste tomatoes.

Adjust seasoning, if necessary. Enjoy now, or can the batch, according to your pressure canners' instructions for creamy soups.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sweet and Tangy Sun Dried Tomato Salad Dressing

I’m rarely a fan of salad dressing. If you use great lettuces and veggies, little more than oil, vinegar, and one or two extra ingredients are necessary. I’ve never understood why people drown delicious, fresh vegetables in disgusting, processed salad dressing. But then I realized one day when I harvested some lettuce from the garden that was less-than-perfect and didn’t have anything else ripe to accompany it, that I needed a big, blockbuster dressing. This is what I came up with. So anytime you have a salad that is less than inspirational in terms of freshness or variety, this makes a great dressing that will add a great flavor without all the chemicals and nastyness of a store-bought dressing. Simple and deeeeelicious!

If you're throwing a salad together with a little advanced notice, adding chilled Incredible Jerk Tofu is amazing with this salad dressing.

Prep time: 1/2 cocktail

1 cup rehydrated sundried tomatoes
3 scallions, whole
3 TBSP honey
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
3 TBSP soy sauce (and a few dashes more, if needed)
½ cup canola or olive oil
½ cup water

Combine all ingredients in blender and purée until smooth. Add additional water if you want a lighter consistency to the dressing. Top any salad with the dressing!

Jamaican Black Bean Burgers

My buddy Arturo has been nagging me since I started this food blog to post this recipe. So I think I better dedicate this one to him.

This one isn't nearly as spicy as some of my other jerk recipes. It just has a nice, full Caribbean flavor. Along with the cucumber and papaya, this makes an absolutely delicious meal (ignore the radishes and lettuce in the picture--I ate all the cucumber before I got around to photographing).

The mayonnaise and Pickapeppa are also totally indispensible in this recipe. If you don't already know and love Pickapeppa, I can tell you that it is the single greatest substance known to man. Seriously. It's a Jamaican barbecue sauce made with cloves, mango, and other delicious tidbits. Pickapeppa is available at any large grocery store or natural food market. It makes everything delicious--from eggs to steak to Jamaican sushi. And for Chrissakes, make your own mayonnaise. It takes less than 2 minutes and is far better than the garbage you buy at the store.

Note that if you wish to save some time, you can use store-bought jerk paste, but the spiciness and saltiness of different varieties varies significantly, so be sure to taste as you go.

Prep time: 2 cocktails

1/2 cup vegetable or olive oil, divided
2 cans drained black beans, drained, rinsed, and mashed by hand or in food processor
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup bread crumbs
½ cup oatmeal (not instant)
¼ cup white flour
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup jerk paste (click here for recipe)
½ tsp salt
Pepper to taste
1-2 papayas or mangoes, peeled, seeded, and sliced
1 cucumber, sliced
Mayonnaise, homemade (click here for recipe)
6-8 buns

In a large bowl, combine 1 TBSP of the oil, beans, egg, bread crumbs, oatmeal, flour, onion, garlic, jerk, salt and pepper. Stir well. Let sit 10 minutes.

In a large frying pan, heat the remaining oil over medium heat. When hot, scoop out a half cup of the mixture and form with your hands into a patty shape (if you have wet hands, this will be easier… and if dough is still too sticky to work with, add another TBSP or two of flour, until it becomes workable). Cook for 5 minutes on each side, or until browned, firm, and a bit crisp. Add more oil, to the pan, if necessary.

Serve on buns with slices of papaya, cucumber, mayonnaise, and Pickapeppa.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

International Sushi: Four Ways

Pics (top to bottom):

--The Chinaman is Not the Issue
--I Want to Dreadlock and Roll Every Night (And Sushi Every Day)
--The Muppet
--The Music Critic

So world-famous music blogger Kathleen Tarrant came over last night for a novice chef sushi-off. I'm not sure who won, but I was surprised at how easy, fun, and fast sushi-making is. We covered four very-not-Japanese styles of cuisine with our rolls: Chinese, Jamaican, Brazilian, and American.

My recipes are in regular font, hers are in italics.

Whose cuisine will reign supreme? You be the judge!

Prep time: 2-3 cocktails (for all four rolls)

Sushi Rice (for 4 rolls):

1 ½ cup white sushi rice (don't use any other type!)
1 ¾ cup water
3 TBSP rice vinegar
2 TBSP sugar
1 tsp salt
4 sheets of nori (available at any natural grocer or Asian market)

Start by washing the rice. In a large bowl add cold water to the rice. Stir it around with your hands for several seconds and strain out water. Repeat this process over and over until the water is clear after swishing. It can take a while.

Bring water to a boil. Add rice, cover, and reduce to a low simmer. Cook 20 minutes (a little less if you're at sea level), and remove from heat. Let it rest, still covered, for 15 minutes.

While rice sits, whisk together vinegar, sugar, and salt (to get everything to dissolve, you might want to warm the mixture up in the microwave for 45 or so seconds.

After your rice has sat for the 15 minutes, VERY GENTLY stir in the vinegar mixture--be careful not to mash any of the rice.

You want to start building the rolls while the rice is still hot. On a sushi mat, lay a sheet of Nori, followed by rice, followed by toppings. It's difficult to describe sushi rolling. So I recommend you just hop onto YouTube and pull up some sushi rolling directions. A few minutes of video will have you rolling like a pro!

Two rolling notes:
1)We didn't bother with plastic wrap--as some of the directions recommended--and our rolls turned out fine.
2)Use a SHARP knife when you cut the rolls and rinse off and dry the knife after each slice you make. Failure to do so will result in mangled sushi.

The Chinaman is Not the Issue:
This is my nod to The Big Lebowski as the finest cinematic masterpiece ever made. And the beautiful simplicity of Chinese cuisine. Only a few ingredients here, yet the result is more delicious than a White Russian in Jackie Treehorn's Malibu Estate. If you don't get these cultural references, call me. I'll come to your house tonight and show you a movie that will change your life.

It really brings the room together.

1 very small sweet potato, baked and peeled
½ tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
½ tsp salt
A couple splashes coconut milk (water is an acceptable substitute)
Prepared sushi rice
Several carrot matchsticks, sliced lengthwise
1-2 scallions, sliced lengthwise
Several thin slivers of orange zest
2 TBSP hoisin sauce
2 TBSP soy sauce

Mash the sweet potato, Chinese 5-spice, salt, and coconut milk or water with a fork.

Construct your roll: On nori, spread the rice. Add the mashed sweet potato, carrot, scallion, and orange zest.

Slice into 8 or so rolls.

With a fork, whisk together hoisin and soy sauce for dipping.

And remember, Dude, Chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please.

I Want to Dreadlock and Roll All Night (And Sushi Every Day):
Jamaican sushi? YES! It's the culinary equivalent of a reggae-themed anime film. It sounds so oddly intriguing that you at first want to check it out for sheer novelty value. But next thing you know, you're telling all your friends how cool it is!

This recipe calls for Pickapeppa sauce. If you don't already know and love Pickapeppa, I can tell you that it is the single greatest substance known to man. Seriously. It's a Jamaican barbecue sauce made with cloves, mango, and other delicious tidbits. Pickapeppa is available at any large grocery store or natural food market. It makes everything delicious--from eggs to steak to Jamaican sushi.

Prepared sushi rice
2 ounces steamed crab meat
2 TBSP whipped cream cheese (or more to taste)
Several matchsticks of cucumber, sliced lengthwise
Several matchsticks peeled mango

Pickapeppa sauce for dipping (or a combination ½ Pickapeppa, 3/8 soy sauce, 1/8 wasabi)

On nori, spread the rice. Add crab, cream cheese, cucumber, and mango. Roll up and slice into 8 or so rolls. Dip into the Pickapeppa. Savor. Repeat.

The Music Critic:
Music critics, as people, tend to be a little crabby and sour due to low pay and perceived lack of appreciation of our inherent genius. We also can be more than a little nutty due to many hours in the sun at sprawling music festivals. If there is one group of people that can be embodied by something that looks so homogenous on the outside but is overflowing with what to the untrained eye can look like insanity…it’s music critics. If you don’t like it…well…we liked your old stuff better, anyway.

Prepared sushi rice
2 ounces cooked crab meat
¼ avocado, sliced thinly
1 TBSP almonds chopped coarse
3 sundried tomato halves slivered
½ lemon (about 2 tsp lemon juice)
Soy sauce

Assemble the roll with rice, crab, avocado, almond, and sun dried tomato. Squeeze the lemon juice over everything before you roll it up. Roll and slice into about 8 rolls. Dip into soy sauce,

The Muppet:
Based on one very simple, timeless thought; you put the lime in the coconut. It healed Kermit. It can heal you.

Coconut/Cilantro Dipping Sauce
½ of a 14-oz can of coconut milk
2 TBSP skim milk
2 tsp white flour
2 TBSP chopped cilantro

Heat both milks until they reach a boil on medium/high heat, turn down to low, whisk in flour. Remove from heat, add cilantro. Let cool.

Once you've finished with the dipping sauce, it's time to make the roll.

1/2 of a 14-ounce can of black beans, drained
1 1/2 tsp prepared wasabi
Prepared sushi rice
2 ounces sushi-grade raw salmon, cut into strips
2 strips peeled cucumber (½ inch thick), cut lengthwise
1 scallion, sliced thinly lengthwise
3 tsp lime zest or 4 small slivers of lime rind

Make a black bean mash by mashing the beans and wasabi together with a fork (note that you'll have some left over).

Spread the rice on a nori mat. Top with all the remaining ingredients for the roll. Slice into 8 or so pieces. Dip into the coconut-cilantro dipping sauce.

Mexican Fried Potatoes

I make this recipe at least once a week. It makes a great addition to huevos rancheros, breakfast burritos, tamales, tacos, and is great by itself with ketchup or hot sauce. You can omit the cayenne and substitute a couple minced jalapenos or other hot peppers and add them in with the onions. You can also adjust the amount of seasoning up or down, depending on your personal taste.

Also, you can add lots of other ingredients to this for a Mexican style hash. I love adding bell peppers, sliced carrot, green onion, zucchini, and even flash-fried broccoli. Toss in anything you’ve got laying around. Bacon or chorizo lovers will be in heaven by combining those items with these potatoes.

One final note—I love to substitute one of the potatoes with a sweet potato when making this as a breakfast dish. The sweet-spicy combination is unbeatable and goes so well with eggs, beans, and a tortilla or two.

Prep time: 1 cup of coffee

3 medium to large russet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 TBSP vegetable, canola or corn oil, divided
½ medium onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup shelled raw sunflower seeds (optional)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground oregano
1/2-1 tsp cayenne
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated cheese (optional)

Toss the cubed potatoes into a medium-size saucepan or pot. Fill with cold water until the water line is an inch above the potatoes. Add 1 TBSP salt. Put the pan over high heat and bring to a boil. After the water has boiled for 1 minute, remove from heat and drain potatoes in a colander.

While your potato water heats up, put 1 TBSP of the oil into a frying pan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until transparent or even just beginning to turn a bit golden. Add garlic and sunflower seeds and sauté another minute or two. Remove from heat and transfer this mixture to a bowl.

Give the frying pan a quick rinse and dry and return to medium-high heat, warm the remaining 2 TBSP oil in the pan. Add your drained potatoes and fry, stirring occasionally, until they get start to get nice and golden brown on the outside and cooked all the way through, about 12 minutes. If potatoes start to stick, add a bit more oil. Add salt to taste (don't be shy; it can take a fair bit) and the rest of the spices and continue fry, stirring, for 30 more seconds. Now add the onion/garlic mixture and fry for yet another 30 seconds. Potatoes are done!

Upon removing from stovetop, immediately dish up the potatoes and top with the cheese if you’re using it.

Zen and the Art of Tamale Making

First a word about tamale culture and philosophy…

There is nothing better than homemade tamales. Tamales are a special dish in many areas of the Americas and Caribbean. Because they are so labor-intensive, they are usually prepared only in large batches for special occasions, such as Christmas or weddings. While I can hardly claim to have the tamale-making skill of a Mexican grandmother, these tamales are certainly better than anything from a store or restaurant. Tamales take a long time—2 to 4 hours—to prepare, but the reward is a cache of crowd-pleasing food that will keep almost indefinitely in the freezer. And that way, any time you need a quick meal, simply toss a few tamales straight into the stovetop steamer or microwave. In a couple minutes, you’ve got a fantastic meal.

You can fill a tamale with anything from fried plantains to king crab. The most simple, traditional tamale is usually just stuffed with green chilies and cheese. Shredded chicken, pork and beef are also very common. I like about any semi-traditional filling ingredients including corn, roasted chilies, sautéed spinach, Mexican fried potatoes (click here for recipe), Muy Tasty Burrito Beans (click here for recipe), roasted hot or bell peppers, chopped zucchini, sautéed onion, seasoned tempeh, roasted pumpkin, etc. Typically, you’ll want to avoid overly-soggy vegetables like tomatoes. And when you use a moderately soggy vegetable like sautéed spinach or zucchini, you’ll want to take any drying measure possible, such as patting the spinach dry or salting and straining the grated zuchs.

Tamales need to be served with a good sauce. While many sauces or salsas are good, I most highly recommend salsa rojo (click here for recipe).

My favorite filling follows. But be creative and use whatever Mexican style ingredients you like best.

Also, keep it simple. A tamale doesn’t need more than a couple dominant ingredients. Like so many traditional dishes, it isn’t fussy—its beauty comes from balance, elegance and simplicity.

This will make about 35-40 tamales.

Prep time: A six-pack

3 cups Muy Tasty Burrito Beans (click here for recipe)
1 batch Mexican fried potatoes (click here for recipe)
1 pound jack or cheddar cheese, grated (about 4 cups)
6 Anaheim peppers (optional)
1 cup corn, frozen or fresh (optional)

Roast the peppers in the oven on the broil setting on a rack until they blacken well, turning occasionally. This should take roughly 10 minutes. Make sure you do this in a ventilated area; it creates a lot of smoke. Remove from oven, then put them in a dry paper bag, closed nice and tight until they cool, about 20 minutes. When cool, remove skins, stems and seed pods under cold running water. Then chop the pepper “meat” fairly finely.

Combine chopped peppers and all other filling ingredients together in large mixing bowl when everything is cooled enough not to melt the cheese. Stir well and set the filling aside.

Now you’re ready to make the masa dough. You’ll want to use masa harina, a type of flour made from hominy. It’s available at virtually any grocery store in the Mexican foods aisle. The dried corn husks that you need are also found there.

1 package of dried corn husks
9 cups masa harina
7 cups water
1.5 TBSP salt
2 ¼ cups oil, preferably corn or canola
1 cup fresh or frozen corn (optional)
String or twine (optional, but makes the process easier and faster)

Start by soaking the corn husks in a big bowl. Submerge them in hot water and let them soak for at least a half hour. You’ll want at least 50 husks. You’ll also need something heavy to set on top of the husks so they remain submerged. I use a brick.

Now you’re ready to make the masa. Combine masa harina, water, salt, oil, and corn in a large mixing bowl and mix well with a mixer or by hand.

It’s now time to assemble the tamales. This is the most time-consuming part of the operation and is a lot smoother if you can recruit a couple assistants and make an assembly line.

Take a fully-soaked corn husk and figure out which is the smoothest side. Set on the counter with smooth side facing up. The stuffing amount will vary depending on the size of the corn husks. Spread a thin layer of the masa dough on the husk, leaving about ½-inch space to the edges. Make sure there are no gaps or holes in the coating. Now spoon a bit of filling on top, stopping a bit short of the dough’s edge.

Roll the tamale cigarette-style. When you roll it up, make sure you the dough’s edges meet to enclose all the filling. Tie the two ends securely with the string. If you don’t have string, you can tear strips off soaked corn husks to do the job, but this takes a bit longer and the husk strips are easy to tear when tightly pulled.

At this point, you can freeze any tamales you don’t plan on cooking right away. Just stack in a large Tupperware or zip lock bag and place in freezer. You can later prepare frozen tamales by following the steaming directions (but add a couple extra minutes). Frozen tamales can also be steamed inside their husks right in the microwave (though most purists would pooh-pooh the practice). Microwave cooking times vary on size and number cooked, but typically ranges from 3-10 minutes.

To steam right away, use a bamboo or metal steamer. Stack the tamales so there’s lots of circulation space. Cover and cook for about an hour or until the masa gets nice and firm and doesn’t want to stick to the wrapper when you open it up. Don’t forget to check the water level occasionally! Steaming time varies from 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on tamale thickness and how tightly they’re packed in the steamer.

Remove from husks before you eat (duh!). Smother with the aforementioned Salsa Rojo or other sauce.

The Best Pesto (Besto) EVER!

I must confess that I hate most of these new-wave pesto recipes that you often see at restaurants. Sorry, but I want good, solid pesto, not some mango-wasabi-walnut pesto “sauce.” And even restaurants that serve authentic pesto often screw it up. So I give you what I think is an ideal pesto recipe which properly balances all the component flavors. I hope you’ll like it as much as I do.

Also, to take advantage of cheap summer basil prices (or your garden), you can make a huge batch of pesto and freeze it. When you freeze the pesto, you can do so in ice cube trays, then empty the trays into a sealable container or bag. Now you have an entire year’s worth of pesto already divided into single serve portions in your freezer! Do note that as time progresses, stored pesto loses its saltiness, so if it has been in the freezer for more than a couple months, you’ll likely need to add salt to taste when you thaw it.

This pesto is also good when mixed with some red sauce and used as a pizza or lasagna sauce.

Pesto is traditionally served chilled on hot pasta, so put it in the fridge until you use it. Go easy when serving. A little pesto can go a long way.

Prep time: 1/2 cocktail

3 cups packed basil (approx. 3 ounces)
2-3 cloves garlic
¾ cup pine nuts
¾ cup good extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil
½ cup grated parmesan cheese (preferably Parmesan Reggiano)
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients in food processor. Mix until smooth.

Classic Cesar Salad

Store-bought Cesar dressing is to a real Cesar salad what Kraft Shake Cheese is to Parmesan Reggiano. That is to say, store-bought Cesar dressing tastes like shit, is full of garbage additives, and is an all-around rip-off. Making the real thing only takes a few minutes and is infinitely more gratifying and delicious.

And for what it's worth, Cesar salad is not Italian, nor is it American. It was originally conceived at a Tijuana hotel in 1924 by Chef Cesar Cardini when he ran out of normal salad ingredients over the busy 4th of July weekend and threw together the few remaining ingredients he had left. The result is a salad dressing that is delicious, bright, crisp, and perfectly balanced.

This dressing recipe makes enough for about one really nice big head of romaine. If you aren't a huge fan of anchovy, don’t worry, it’s well hidden in this recipe.

Prep time: 1/2 cocktail

2 egg yolks
1 large clove garlic, minced
A 2-oz tin of anchovies, with oil drained
1 TBSP Dijon mustard
1 TBSP red wine vinegar
1 TBSP Balsamic vinegar
A pinch of salt
Lots of freshly ground pepper
1/3 to 1/2 cup neutral-flavored oil, like canola, grapeseed, or avocado--NO olive oil
Romaine lettuce
Croutons, homemade or store-bought
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional, but very good)

Combine first 8 ingredients in a small mixing bowl and whisk well (or use a food processor). Then very gradually add in oil, whisking the whole time. The more oil you add, the thicker the dressing becomes, so add a bit extra if you want a creamier consistency.

Rinse and tear lettuce up. Toss dressing with croutons and lettuce. Top with parmesan and additional fresh cracked pepper.

Best Vegetable Stock EVER

This is a great recipe for those occasions when you find some sad carrots or wilted celery in the back of the fridge. DON'T throw it out! Instead, use these and any other veggie scraps as a starter for a batch of veggie stock.

If you do any home canning, you can preserve a big batch so you always have it on hand. Though stock freezes well, so portioning out a few gallons and throwing it in the freezer until you need it is a great alternative to the overprices, tasteless salt water that passes for stock at the supermarket.

This recipe calls for the pressure cooker. Food writer Mark Bittman once wrote in his New York Times column how much more concentrated and delicious the flavors become (not to mention a faster preparation time) when you use a pressure cooker. That said, if you don’t own a pressure cooker, a large stock pot or Dutch oven will still work.

As with any stock recipe, feel free to add any other ingredients that sound good—from lemon peel to thyme to fresh turmeric to sage leaves.

3 quarts water
1 leek, chopped
½ onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 clove garlic, minced
1 small bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 bay leaves
4 celery stalks, chopped
20 peppercorns
2 TBSP + 1 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients except salt in the pressure cooker. Bring to boil over high heat. Put on the lid and reduce heat. Bring the cooker up to manufacturers’ recommendation and process for 25 minutes. When done, strain out and discard veggies. Stir salt into broth.

If you’re not using a pressure cooker, bring the pot to a boil over high heat, reduce to simmer and cook, uncovered for at least two hours. You’ll want to add additional water as it boils off. When done, salt to taste and strain out and discard veggies.

Hey Everybody, I Am Pho King!

Pho is widely considered the national dish of Vietnam. Pronounced “Fuh,” it lends itself well to puns (go back and read the title of this post again). Pho is a soup of noodles, rich broth, spices and, traditionally, beef. In this recipe, I substitute tofu for the beef, but I otherwise try to remain true to the traditional spirit.

There are a couple substitution options for this recipe. You can use seitan instead of tofu, if you like. Also, you can use any type of long, thin noodles. Traditionally, this dish is served with very thin rice noodles. But if you want a healthier version, whole-wheat angel hair or vermicelli is just fine.

Prep time: 2 cocktails

1 pound tofu, cubed cut into 1” cubes
6 ounces whole wheat angel hair or 12 ounces rice noodles
1 small head garlic, unpeeled, cut in half horizontally
1 small onion, unpeeled, quartered
2 medium shallots, unpeeled, halved
1.5-inch piece ginger, unpeeled and sliced
3 cinnamon sticks
1 TBSP whole black peppercorns
6 pods star anise
5 cloves
8 cups veggie stock (click here for homemade recipe)
3 TBSP Braggs, tamari, or fish sauce
1.5 cups cabbage (and/or greens like chard, kale or spinach), coarsely chopped (optional)
8 ounces bean sprouts
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
1/2 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1 lime, cut into wedges
Hoisin sauce
Siracha sauce
½ cup peanuts coarsely chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly oil a cookie sheet with a high-temperature oil, like sesame or peanut oil. Arrange tofu so that cubes ore not touching. Bake until the bottoms become a bit toasty golden, about 15 minutes. Then switch the oven to broil and cook until the tops do the same. Turn off oven and set tofu aside.

While tofu is cooking, heat a large dry pot on medium high heat. When hot, combine garlic, onion, shallot, ginger, cinnamon, peppercorns, star anise, and cloves. Dry fry these items until the onions get charred, about 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. When onion is charred, add stock and Braggs and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook, uncovered, 30 minutes.

As the broth simmers, cook your noodles.

Now remove broth from heat and run through a strainer. Discard the solids and return to stovetop. If using, add cabbage and/or greens. Bring to boil for 3 minutes and remove from heat.

Now assemble the soup. Take a large bowl and add some noodles, tofu and bean sprouts. Ladle hot broth over the top of everything.

Serve soup with a tray of accessories and garnishes that includes the cilantro, lime, scallions, hoisin, Siracha and peanuts. Add these to taste.

Homemade Sauerkraut

STOP buying sauerkraut at the damn store! Making sauerkraut at home is easy, cheap and delicious. You just need a non-reactive ceramic or stoneware crock, some cabbage and a few weeks. It's especially handy if you have a garden with enough space to grow a few extra heads of cabbage.

You can also add anything that you would like to flavor the kraut, including onion, garlic, peppers, and carrots. Prepared kraut will keep for weeks in the fridge or is a great idea for your first home canning adventure.

5 pounds cabbages

Let the cabbage sit at room temperature for 24 hours before starting. Wash, quarter, and remove cores. Let dry completely, then shred into dime-thick pieces. Mix the salt and cabbage together very well in the crock. With a wooden spoon, gently tamp and stir the cabbage for a few minutes. If there isn’t enough liquid that has come up past the top of the cabbage, add additional water.

Cover the cabbage very tightly with a clean cloth, then place a tight-fitting clean plate on top of everything and weight the plate with a clean weight (water-filled jars work well).

Allow it to ferment at room temperature for roughly 3-4 weeks. If your house is warm, it may ferment faster, if it is cool, it can take even longer.

After the first couple days of fermentation, you may need to start skimming off the scum layer that forms on top of the liquid. Then replace the plate and weight. Add a bit of fresh saltwater if the brine level drops below the plate. Taste the kraut occasionally to see when it has reached the suitable fermentation flavor. Transfer to a to mason jar and store in the refrigerator or enjoy it as your first canning project, though canning can kill many of the highly beneficial bacteria found in the finished product.