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68 Days of Gourmet: Day 25

I love black bean soup. It’s easy, healthy and hearty. It’s been so cold here lately so I thought black bean soup and cheese quesadillas would be a great dinner. This was my first time making this recipe and overall I was very pleased with it. I was hoping for a little more kick spiciness-wise but otherwise it was perfect. The leftovers were even more tasty the next day. This will definitely be in my regular soup rotation!

Spicy Black Bean Soup
(Recipe adapted from Gourmet, December 2008)
Printable Recipe: Spicy Black Bean Soup

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh jalapeño (2 inches), seeded and minced
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 (19-ounces) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups water (I used half water/half chicken broth)
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf

Directions:

Heat oil in a 4-to 5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Saute onion and jalapeno for about 5 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano and salt and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Add black beans, water and bay leaf and simmer, covered. Stir occasionally until soup has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes.

Transfer 2 cups of soup to a blender or food processor (I recommend a food processor – use caution when blending hot liquids!) and purée . Return to pot and heat, stirring frequently. Discard bay leaf. Season with salt and serve.

Yield: 6 servings

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68 Days of Gourmet: Day 19

I have said this before but I have to say it again. Weekly menu planning and shopping makes life so much easier. I have converted so many friends to this practice and believe me, it’s life changing. First, you save tons of stress by not having to worry about what to make for dinner and having time to make it to the store. Second, you save money by planning meals based on weekly specials and only making one trip. On average I spend between $65-$80 a week on our groceries. Whenever I go to the store for just one meal, I never leave without spending $20-$30. That would quickly add up if you were making nightly trips. Also, if you don’t already have a plan, there’s the added temptation to go out instead of cook.

All that said, tilapia was on sale for $3.99 a pound this week. It was just too good of a deal to pass up and tilapia is one of the few fish that I can get Brandon to eat without grumbling. I found this recipe on Epicurious and was surprised to see that it had received 456 reviews and had a 4-fork rating. It sounded like something we’d really enjoy. This recipe was so simple to make. You could have this on the table in 20 minutes – easy. The chili lime butter was so full of flavor and wonderful melted over the pan sauteed tilapia. Brandon told me at least 5 times during dinner that he loved this preparation and wanted to add it to the regular rotation. We also decided that the chili lime butter would be good melted over grilled flank or skirt steak.

Don’t be scared of the peppers in the butter. The flavors are very balanced and it’s not overly spicy. I had a couple bites with some kick but nothing too bad. The lime juice and zest really add a brightness to the dish. This is a great fish dish to add to your collection.

Chili Lime Tilapia
(Recipe adapted from Gourmet, July 2003)

Ingredients:

FOR CHILI LIME BUTTER
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon lime zest, finely grated
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon minced fresh Thai or serrano chile (preferably red), including seeds (I used jalapeno because it’s all I had)
1/2 teaspoon salt

FOR FISH
6 (5- to 6-oz) pieces skinless tilapia fillet or farm-raised striped bass fillets with skin
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

FOR THE CHILI LIME BUTTER
Mix together the butter, peppers, shallots, lime zest and juice and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

FOR THE FISH
Rinse fish and pat dry. Generously salt and pepper and then dredge in flour and shake off excess. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add oil and heat until shimmers. Carefully place fish into skillet and cook about 2-3 minutes per side, until fish is golden brown and reaches an internal temperature of 135 degrees.

TO SERVE
Serve each piece with a dollop of chili lime butter. The butter will melt and spread over the fish.

Yield: 6 servings
(I made the full recipe of butter and only 2 tilapia fillets. We had a little bit of leftover butter but not tons – we are fatties and it was delicious! We kept spreading more on! :) )

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68 Days of Gourmet: Day 15

I saw this recipe in The Gourmet Cookbook as I was putting together our menu for the week. I knew this would be a huge hit with Brandon and I haven’t made meatballs in forever. This dinner was surprisingly quick and easy to put together given that you make your own tomato sauce. I put the sauce on to simmer, assembled the meatballs and stashed them in the fridge while I was doing some things around the house. I put pasta on to boil and cooked the meatballs once we were ready to eat.

Overall, I would have to say that the meatballs were a definite success but I would use a different sauce recipe next time. I loved the combination of veal, pork and beef in the meatballs and they held together beautifully. No falling apart while cooking – this could have been helped too by the time they spent in the fridge prior to being cooked. I found the sauce to be a little too thin. At first I attributed this to my laziness, the recipe calls for pulsing whole tomatoes a food processor. I just stuck some kitchen shears in my whole tomatoes and cut them up so they were more diced than pureed. Then I read the reviews on the online recipe and saw that others had issues with the thin sauce too. I think this could be helped by adding a little tomato paste and maybe using crushed tomatoes instead of whole. Or just use your favorite marinara recipe (see my favorite recipe here) and skip this one all together. Also, if you’re big on sauce and serving this over pasta you may want to double the sauce.

The meatballs are a definite winner though. I recommend using this meatball recipe next time you make spaghetti and meatballs. I’m so excited to use the leftovers for meatball subs tonight! (They were so good I couldn’t resist snapping a photo to share. Yum!)

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
(Recipe adapted from Gourmet, January 2002 and The Gourmet Cookbook)

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 (28- to 32-ounce) can whole tomatoes or crushed tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, finely diced, divided
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Shot of red wine (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 cup fine fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 lb meatloaf/meatball mix (mixed ground beef, pork, and veal)
5 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (optional)

Directions:

Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and add garlic and about 1/4 of your diced onion.  Cook for about 5 minutes, until onion softens and becomes transparent. In the meantime, if using whole tomatoes, pulse tomatoes with juices in food processor until chopped. Add tomatoes, oregano, Italian seasoning, splash of wine and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to pot. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 minutes (can simmer longer if necessary).

While sauce is simmering, stir together bread crumbs and milk in a large bowl and let stand 5 minutes until bread crumbs have absorbed milk. Add meat, rest of onion, 3 tablespoons parsley, red pepper flakes and remaining teaspoon salt. Blend with your hands until just combined (do not over mix). Form 2-tablespoon amounts into meatballs. You should have about 20.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Carefully add meatballs and sauté in 2 batches, turning occasionally, until well browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to tomato sauce using a slotted spoon.

Simmer meatballs, covered, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, about 5 more minutes. Serve over pasta and sprinkle with remaining  2 tablespoons parsley.

Yield: 4 servings

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68 Days of Gourmet: Day 5

jeweledrice

I was tasked with bringing a starch side dish to a family dinner last weekend. Brandon was cooking a turkey breast on the Big Green Egg as our meat. I decided not to make anything potato based since Thanksgiving is coming up so soon. I found this rice recipe when I was researching recipes for 68 Days of Gourmet and thought it sounded different. Brandon isn’t the biggest fan of rice but I love it. He also isn’t the biggest fan of dried fruit but I love that too. I thought our family dinner was the perfect time to try this since I would have a larger audience who would appreciate my rice and dried fruit side dish!

The method for preparing this rice is really different. Read the recipe directions below and you’ll see what I mean. I was pretty nervous about the final product turning out but I trusted the recipe and it turned out exactly right. I was scared the crust would be a burned mess but it was perfectly golden. The butter drenched toasted almonds on top were the perfect finish.

This rice is a great side dish for richly spiced pork and chicken and complemented our turkey breast well too. The leftovers were great with the Spiced Chicken I made for dinner on Tuesday night. A note, this recipe makes a ton of rice so you may want to half it if you’re feeding a smaller crowd.

Jeweled Rice with Dried Fruit
(Recipe adapted from Gourmet, November 2004)

Ingredients:

3 cups basmati rice
4 quarts water
3 tablespoons salt
1/2 cup dried apricots (3 1/2 oz), quartered (I omitted these)
1/2 cup golden raisins (3 oz)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (2 oz)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup slivered unsalted roasted almonds

Directions:

Rinse rice in several changes of cold water in a large bowl until water runs clear. Drain in a large sieve.

Bring water and salt to a boil in a 6-quart heavy pot. Add rice and boil, uncovered for about 5 minutes – starting from the time the rice starts to boil. Stir occasionally. Drain in sieve.

Mix together dried fruit in a bowl. Melt 6 tablespoons butter in a cleaned and dried pot. Stir in cardamom and pepper and combine. Alternate layers of rice and dried fruit over the butter mixture, beginning and ending with rice. Mound loosely, don’t pack it in. Make 5 or 6 holes in rice to bottom of pot with round handle of a wooden spoon. Wrap lid of pot in a kitchen towel, folding edges of towel up and over the lid (keeping towel away from burner). Cook rice over low heat, undisturbed, until tender and a crust forms on bottom, about 30 to 35 minutes. Do not lift the lid while the rice is cooking. Remove from heat and let rice stand, tightly covered and undisturbed, at least 30 minutes.

While rice is resting, heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small skillet over medium heat and cook almonds, stirring, until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes.

Spoon loose rice onto a platter, then break crust into 1-inch pieces and scatter over rice. Sprinkle with almonds.

Yield: 10-12 side dish servings

Notes:
*Rice can stand off heat up to 1 hour. Just keep covered and undisturbed
* If you’re short on time, you can skip letting the rice stand after cooking. Spoon loose rice onto a platter and then dip bottom of pot into a large bowl of cold water for 30 seconds to loosen crust.

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thaibasilchicken

We visited my family in Atlanta last weekend. While we were there we stopped by the Dekalb Farmer’s Market. It’s not really a farmer’s market but it is a mecca for foodies. They have a huge and varied selection of vegetables, fruits, seafood, cheeses, meats…the list goes on and on. This was Brandon’s first trip and he was taken in by the chili selection. We ended up coming home with four or five different types of chili peppers so you’ll notice a recurring theme in my next few blog posts as I try to find inventive ways to use them.

Today I decided to use the Thai Chilies (also known as prik kee noo). I did some research this morning and landed on Spicy Thai Basil Chicken. This is a pretty basic Thai dish but I thought it’d be fun to make at home with our chilies. I ended up using a combination of two recipes and was pleased with the outcome. I was pretty scared that this dish would be over the top spicy (since I used about 8 chilies and they’re supposed to be a 9 in hotness on a 1-10 scale) but the spice was very manageable. It was a nice slow and constant burn.

If you’re a fan of Thai stir fries and like a little spice I highly recommend this recipe for an easy weeknight meal. I served it over jasmine rice.

Spicy Thai Basil Chicken
(Recipe inspired by Andrea Meyers and Thai Food and Travel)

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons canola oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 bell pepper, diced (red, yellow, green – whatever you have)
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced into thin strips
8 Thai chilies, sliced into then rounds (can substitute serrano or jalepeno if necessary)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
15 basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
Jasmine rice, for serving

Directions:

Heat a large skilled over medium-high heat. Add oil and heat until shimmering. Add garlic, shallots and peppers and saute for about 1 minute. Add chicken and chilies and continue to cook for about 5 minutes, until chicken is no longer pink. Add fish sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce, water and basil leaves and cook for another minute or two. Stir in cornstarch/water mixture and cook for another minute, until thickened.

Serve over rice.

Yield: 4 servings.

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lasagnapan

I have a confession. There are a few simple things that I just cannot seem to master. Among those are pancakes, gravy, biscuits and lasagna. Seriously, who can’t make pancakes and lasagna? It’s embarrassing. Well, last weekend I was craving traditional lasagna. This is strange for me because I’m not the biggest traditional meat lasagna fan – I usually go for the veggie stuff. I’m good about trying to overcome my culinary weaknesses so I decided to give it a go. I researched recipes for longer than I’d like to admit before finally deciding on this Sausage, Cheese and Basil Lasagna on epicurious.com. I figured if it had received 4-fork reviews from 325 people it must be good.

I’m happy to report that it wasn’t just good…it was awesome. I probably said to Brandon five times during dinner, “Wow, this is really delicious. I can’t believe I made good lasagna.” I loved the flavor combination with the homemade sauce, Italian sausage and fresh basil. I’ve decided that I prefer using all Italian sausage versus a sausage/ground beef mixture. If you’re going to make this lasagna DO NOT skip making the homemade sauce. It is so simple and makes a huge difference in the flavor.

Now on to modifications that I did make to the original recipe. First, I read multiple reviews that there was not enough sauce. I corrected this by using a smaller pan – 9 x 11 instead of 9 x 13. It was just Brandon and me and we can never finish a whole pan anyway. Alternatively, I recommend increasing the sauce recipe by one half. It would have been nice to have extra sauce for the leftovers too. Second, I was totally not in the mood to deal with cooking and draining lasagna noodles. I decided to throw caution to the wind and just use uncooked noodles in the lasagna (I didn’t even use the “no-boil” noodles). I rinsed them in water first to dampen them and made sure they were completely covered by sauce. I was extremely pleased to find that they’d cooked perfectly when I served the lasagna.

One final recommendation is to make sure to let  your lasagna rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. I think this makes the biggest difference in having a pretty lasagna that holds together and doesn’t turn into a mess on the plate.

So now that I’ve overloaded you with my ramblings and recommendations, here’s the recipe.

Sausage, Cheese and Basil Lasagna
(Recipe source epicurious.com, originally printed in Bon Appetit)

Ingredients:

FOR THE SAUCE
1 pound spicy or sweet (your preference) Italian sausage, casings removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained

FOR THE FILLING
1 1/2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 (15-ounce) container plus 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese (about 6 ounces)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

FOR THE ASSEMBLY
12 lasagna noodles
3 cups grated mozzarella cheese (about 12 ounces)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
Nonstick cooking spray
Aluminum foil

Directions:

FOR THE SAUCE
Brown Italian sausage in a large saucepan over medium heat until crumbly and cooked through. Drain and wipe down pan.

Heat olive oil in same pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook for about 5 minutes, until they begin to look transparent and soft. Add garlic, red pepper and oregano and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add crushed and diced tomatoes and cooked sausage and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

FOR THE FILLING
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until combined.

FOR THE ASSEMBLY
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a 9 x 13 glass baking dish with cooking spray. Spread 1 1/4 cups sauce in bottom of baking dish. Arrange 3 noodles on sauce. Drop 1 1/2 cups filling over noodles and spread evenly to cover. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layering of sauce, noodles, filling and cheeses 2 more times. Top with remaining 3 noodles. Spoon remaining sauce over noodles. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses. Spray large piece of foil with nonstick cooking spray. Cover lasagna with foil, sprayed side down.

Bake lasagna 40 minutes. Carefully uncover and increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake until noodles are tender, sauce bubbles thickly and edges of lasagna are golden and puffed, about 20 more minutes. Remove from oven and let stand at least 15 minutes before serving.

Yield: 8 servings

lasagna

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marinara

Last weekend we picked up some fresh pasta from Pasta Provisions here in Charlotte. It’s a great locally owned Italian grocery. We chose their garlic and rosemary linguine. I was stumped on what sauce to serve with this pasta. Brandon loves red sauce so I decided to keep it simple with an easy marinara full of tomato, garlic and basil.

My dad shared this marinara recipe with me years ago. It’s super simple and so much more flavorful than jarred pasta sauce. It was the perfect complement to our pasta and reminded me that I should keep this in the freezer at all times so I can avoid using jarred sauce on  week nights!

Easy Marinara
(Recipe source my Dad)

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed and diced
1 stalk celery, broken into 4 pieces
1 carrot, finely diced
32 ounce high quality crushed tomatoes (recommended San Marzano)
2 bay leaves
Dash of sugar
Shot of red wine
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh basil, julienned

Directions:

Heat large saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add onions and saute for about 5 minutes, until they begin to become translucent. Add garlic, celery and carrot and cook for another 5 minutes. Add wine, tomatoes, bay leaves, sugar and red wine. Simmer for 1 hour over low heat, uncovered. Season with salt and pepper and stir in fresh basil right before serving.

Yield: 4 servings

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