Saturday, September 29, 2012

Thai Peanut Stir Fry

New to Thai food? Intimidated on how to get all the sweet, salty, spicy, and sour flavors to meld? Have no fear... This recipe kicks more ass than Chuck Norris. You'll be pro at (quasi authentic) Thai food in no time!

Prep time: 2 cocktails

1 block of firm Tofu, chopped into 1" cubes
3 TBSP peanut oil
2 cups chopped veggies that are good to stir fry (broccoli, cabbage, bell peppers, and bok choi are all good options)
5 cloves garlic, minced
2-inch segment ginger, grated finely with microplane or finest side of cheese grater
1 TBSP soy sauce
1/2 cucumber sliced into thin wheels
1 underripe tomato, sliced into 6-8 wedges
A handful of Thai basil leaves, torn up roughly
Several handfuls of prepared rice noodles or a couple cups of prepared rice
Double batch spicy Thai peanut sauce
Optional garnishes: chopped peanuts, lime slices, cilantro leaves, chopped Thai chilies

Preheat oven to 350. Arrange tofu cubes to a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray so they aren't touching. Bake until the cubes get nice and crispy golden, but not totally dried out, about 30 minutes depending on the water content. You'll want to flip them with a tongs halfway through.

When the tofu is done, heat the oil in a wok over medium high heat. Throw in your chopped veggies (NOT INCLUDING the tomato or cucumber), plus the garlic, and ginger. Stir fry for 3-6 minutes, or until veggies begin to get a little tender. Add tofu, soy sauce, cucumber, tomato, and and basil leaves stir fry another 90 seconds or so.

Serve the stir-fried veggies on top of the noodles or rice and cover with the peanut sauce. Add garnishes and eat more heartily than Chuck Norris at a the Badass Buffet.

Best Damn Garlic Dill Pickles on Earth

Not to brag... but I get loooooots of comments when I share my pickle with other people. They typically wax on about how firm it is. They comment me on how delicious is is. Then they always ask if they can have more. Finally, they tell all their friends about how amazing the experience was.

And now that it's September, it's the perfect time, for you dear reader, to get involved in the love for pickle.

This is actually a preparation I prefer to home canning cucumbers, as it doesn't require any canning equipment, the cukes stay more crisp, and I think the flavor is better. Instead of canning, these pickles are brined at room temperature. While the brine acts to preserve cucumbers, they still must be refrigerated after a few days out and will only stay good for about 7 months in the fridge (after that, they don't go bad, but they start to get a little overly briny).

Also, I recommend you buy a case of 1-quart mason jars with lids (usually about $12). Spare salsa or pasta sauce jars you have sitting around the house will not work.

Finally, I recommend you only use cucumbers fresh from the farmers’ market or out of your own garden. The fresher the cucumbers, the crisper the pickles will be. Pickling cucumbers sold at the stores are usually several days old and will make inferior pickles.

Prep time: 1 cocktail

For each jar of pickles you’ll need:
5 heads fresh dill (not the springs you buy in the little packages in the herb section, but real, nice big heads, found at some gourmet grocers, health food stores and farmer’s markets in late summer)
Fresh pickling cucumbers, available at any farmer’s market or most health food stores
2 cloves garlic, quartered
2-4 hot peppers, halved
20 whole peppercorns 
20 whole mustard seeds 

Brine liquid (enough for 3 jars’ worth or so):
1 1/2 cup white vinegar (only use white vinegar)
1/2 cup salt
3.25 quarts of water

In a large mixing bowl or other container, put the cucumbers in an ice bath. Keep the bowl in the refrigerator for 3-6 hours. Do not let the ice melt; replenish the ice if it is almost melted. This is an optional step but the ice bath makes the pickles nice and crisp.

To make the brine, combine vinegar, salt and water in a pot. Bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Once it boils, remove from heat and allow to cool for at least 5-10 minutes but you can also let it cool all the way to room temperature.

In bottom of jar, place 2 dill heads, peppers garlic, peppercorns, mustard seeds. Take cucumbers out of fridge. Put as many in each jar as you can without forcing. It’s okay if they’re a bit snug. Any really big cucumbers need to be cut in half lengthwise to allow the brine to penetrate completely. Top with remaining dill head(s). Fill the jar completely up with brining liquid.

Seal and let sit out at room temperature for three days. Gently shake the jars once or twice a day to allow flavors to mingle. You can invert the jars and let them set upside-down for a day or two.

After three days, put pickles in fridge. You can open and begin eating in another week. Stays good in fridge at least three months.

Salmorejo: The Hero of Late Summer

It's the end of summer and time to appreciate those last few heirloom tomatoes. Try salmorejo! Salmorejo is a chilled tomato soup that originates from the south of Spain that is similar to gazpacho, but is much simpler. The key to making salmorejo well is to only use top-quality tomatoes (from your garden or the Farmers’ Market only), olive oil (organic, virgin, cold-pressed), and bread (good European-style bread, no Wonder Bread bullshit!). Using top-quality ingredients will make all the difference for this soup.

Typically, this soup is served with slivered Prosciutto or Serrano ham, minced hard-boiled eggs, and crostini. You could also serve it with any high-quality baguette bread and even some good hard cheese—such as Parmesan Reggiano—on the side. The consistency is almost more like a dip than a soup, so you’ll dunk your bread or other accompaniments in it as you eat.

Prep time: a few sips of your late summer cocktail (after the overnight soak) 

1 Kg (2.2 pounds) fresh tomatoes, tops removed and quartered
1 cup olive oil, divided
½ cup red wine vinegar
2 slices bread, chopped up a bit
3 cloves garlic, halved
1 tsp salt

Soak the tomatoes, ½ cup of olive oil, garlic, vinegar and bread overnight in a big bowl.

The next day, blend the bread/tomato mixture and salt in blender or food processor, adding the remaining ½ cup olive oil very slowly as it mixes.

Depending on the consistency you like, you can blend in some water too at this point, but I like to keep it fairly thick, so I don’t add any.

Serve cold with any of the garnishes listed above, or anything else that you think would go well. 

Awesome Tangy Tomatillio Salsa Verde

This is a pretty traditional restaurant style green salsa or as a zippy tamale smothering sauce. If you're a heat fanatics, you can scale up the pepper count—I usually make it with three jalapeños and a habenero.

Prep time: 1 cocktail

1.5 pounds tomatillos, with husks left on
4 Jalapeños (or other hot peppers), whole
5 medium-sized cloves of garlic still in husks
¾ cup onions, chopped coarsely
10-12 sprigs fresh cilantro
Juice of 1.5 limes
½ tsp salt
20-30 fresh oregano leaves (or 1 tsp dried)
A good amount of fresh cracked pepper

Preheat oven to broil. Place tomatillos on a cookie sheet or baking pan. Pan should be big enough so that tomatillos aren’t too crowded. Broil tomatillos until the skins blister and they begin to expel some of their juices, about 10-15 minutes. Let cool a few minutes and remove husks.

Heat a dry frying pan over medium to medium high heat. Add peppers and garlic. Stirring occasionally, pan roast them until they blacken and blister a bit. The garlic will take about 6-8 minutes, the peppers will take a bit longer (it’s impossible to over-char your peppers, so don’t worry too much).

Remove garlic husks and chili stems. Put everything except the onion in a food processor or blender and puree. Once it’s relatively smooth, add onions and pulse a few times to break the onion up into little chunks. Adjust salt and pepper.

Refrigerate and serve. Flavor gets even better after a day or two.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce

Thai Spicy Peanut Sauce

Radically good for dipping or to top stir fried veggies and noodles.

Prep time: 1/4 cocktail

3 TBSP peanut oil
1-inch finely grated ginger, grated with microplane or finest grating of cheese grater
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup all natural, unsweetened peanut butter
3 TBSP soy sauce
2 TBSP agave nectar
Juice of one big lime
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp cayenne (or more to taste)
1/4 cup onion, minced very finely
a handful of peanuts (optional)
water, if necessary

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat then add garlic and ginger. Saute a 45-90 seconds, then add all other ingredients EXCEPT onion and peanuts. Whisk until it's all uniform. Continue to whisk frequently until sauce reaches a boil. Add a little water if you need to adjust the thickness, then add onion. Boil one more minute and remove from heat. Add peanuts. Serve hot over noodles and veggies or use as a dipping sauce. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Caribbean Tortellini with Garlic, White Wine, and Fruit

One of my favorite summer dishes! This recipe isn’t recommended with other pastas, like ravioli. And be sure to use just use plain old cheese tortellini… Fancy tortellini with stuff like spinach pasta or sun dried tomato filling will make this dish very weird. 

Prep time: 1 cocktail

1 pound frozen or fresh plain cheese tortellini
1TBSP soy sauce
1 big pinch dried basil and oregano
dash of black pepper and red chili flakes
1/3 cup canola oil
8 cloves garlic
¼ cup white wine
1 big banana, sliced into ½ inch-thick wheels
6 canned pineapple rings, cut into eighths (tiny pizza-shaped wedges), RETAIN JUICE
1 big handful grapes, each grape sliced in half
4-5 green onions, chopped

Prepare tortellini and drain. Set aside.

In small bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup of the canned pineapple juice, soy sauce, basil, oregano, pepper, red chili flakes. Set aside.

Combine oil and garlic in food processor or blender. Puree well.

Heat a large frying pan on medium high heat. Add garlic oil mixture. Sauté 30-60 seconds, but DON’T let the garlic turn brown. Add wine. Continue to cook for 20 more seconds.

Add soy sauce/spice/juice mixture.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.

Now add all the fruit and tortellini. Stir everything frequently until the whole thing comes back up to a boil (about 60-90 seconds). Don’t overcook or else fruit will disintegrate. Stir in onions, remove from heat and serve.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

My Moroccan Stuffed Tomatoes Bring All the Italian Grandmothers to the Yard!

This years' tomato harvest in my garden would make an Italian grandmother weep with joy. I've been picking 25-30 pounds of heirlooms a week! Needless to say, I'm getting pretty creative in the ways to use the cute little buggers. 

Because you are hollowing out the tomatoes, you want them to be very firm, so use only those that are just not over-ripe and soft.

When you scoop out the tomato guts, there’s no reason to throw them out! I boil them down on into a tomato sauce that is a great base for pasta sauce, salsa, or many other dishes.

Prep time: 2 cocktails

1 cup raisins
3/4 cups whole, raw almonds
7 TBSP olive oil, divided
1 medium eggplant, skinned and cut into ¼-inch cubes
1 medium onion, diced
1 TBSP ras el hanout, (click here for recipe)
1 tsp dried ginger powder
1 14-ounce can fava beans or garbanzo beans, drained
1 tsp salt
1 cup of prepared brown rice
10 large tomatoes
Hard-boiled eggs (optional)

Heat a couple cups of water until almost boiling and combine the water and raisins in a soup bowl. Set aside for a little while until the raisins plump up. Then drain the water and set the raisins aside.

Preheat oven to 375. Bring three cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan on high heat. Add almonds and let them blanch until they begin to float, about 2 minutes. Remove and drain water. Allow to dry for a minute, then spread the almonds on a cookie sheet and place in the oven. Bake the almonds, stirring every couple minutes, until they become toasted, but not burned. Remove from heat and let cool. Reduce oven heat to 300.

Heat 4 TBSP olive oil over medium heat in a large pan or wok. When warm, add eggplant. Sauté 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add onion and sauté until it becomes a bit transparent, about 5 more minutes. Then add in ras el hanout and ginger. Sauté a couple more minutes, then remove from heat.

In a food processor, combine the beans, remaining oil, salt and ¼ cup of water. Puree until very smooth.

In a large mixing bowl, combine raisins, almonds, eggplant/onion mixture, bean mixture, and rice. Stir well.

Take the tomatoes and slice off the tops. With a spoon, scoop out the guts, being careful not to tear the walls. You can save the tomato innards and use as suggested as above. Stuff the hollowed tomatoes with the mixture. Bake on an oiled cookie sheet for about 20-30 minutes, or until the tomato skin becomes a bit wrinkled and the insides are all hot. Note that cooking time can vary significantly based on tomato size and type.

Serve with warm hard-boiled eggs that have been sliced, if desired.