Category Archives: Dinner

Christmas tamales

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Sigh.  Christmas?  It’s March.  I know.  And I don’t really have any excuses either!  I guess I just fell out of the habit and it’s been hard to get things started again.

So I’m going to make a goal of at least one weekly post.  Here is what I’ve been meaning to write about since Christmas!

Are you a holiday traditionalist, or do you like to mix things up?  We definitely fall into the latter group.  We hosted Christmas dinner this year for the first time in our new house, and we spent weeks thinking about what we would make.  Then the New York Times had an article just in the nick of time which gave us our inspiration.

We’ve made tamales many times before, but it never occurred to me to make them for Christmas.  I didn’t know they were the traditional Christmas meal in Mexico!  They are labor-intensive, but then you’ve got a perfect, healthy and portable meal for weeks!  They freeze easily and can be tossed right in your lunch bag.  They’re also great for camping.

In the past we’ve used Alton Brown’s dough recipe/assembly, but this time we adapted the one in the NYT.

I think the pork filling is more traditional, but here is my veggie version.  We made both kinds.  Approved by my Mexican neighbor :).

Tamales

For the dough:

  • 1 cup shortening
  • 4 cups dry masa
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups warm stock

For the filling:

  • 1 medium-large pepper
  • 1 medium-large onion
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • teaspoon chile powder
  • 1 can beans (or two cups cooked beans)
  • About a half cup shredded cheese
  • Salt, pepper to taste

Assembly:

  • Package of corn husks
  • A very large stock pot
  • Steamer rack

Method

Heat enough water to cover the corn husks in a large bowl.  They will float so devise a way to keep them covered — usually something heavy like a larger bowl or dish on top will work.

Pour simmering water over husks and let soak for 30-60 minutes.

For the filling…

Saute some finely chopped garlic, a pepper and an onion with some chile powder, salt, pepper etc.  Add some beans — about a can or two cups worth.  We used pinto beans this time but black beans are great too.  Heat the beans through, adding some water or stock by the tablespoon if the mixture gets too dry.

Toss in a bowl and mash up coarsely with a fork or potato masher or whatever.  You can also use a food processor if you want it to be more of a paste.  Allow to cool to room temperature and mix in some shredded cheese if you want.  While it is cooling, mix the dough.

The dough

Use an electric mixer to cream the shortening, and then slowly add the dry ingredients.  Add the stock a cup at a time until the dough is soft and pliable, but not too wet.  You can also do this step by hand but it’s a little more laborious.

Assembly

Spread a layer of dough about a 1/4 inch thick on each husk, leaving a little space on the top, the edges, and more space at the bottom.  I find this easiest to do by hand.  How much filling you put in each tamale depends on the size of the husk — they can vary widely — but definitely avoid over-filling and err on the side of too little.  Ease the dough away from the husk and bring together over the filling in the center.  This video has a demonstration starting around minute 13:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCrn5zlGjig

Wrap the husk around the tamale, fold over the bottom and tie with a string.

Steam all of the tamales for about an hour, until they release easily from the husk.

Serve with salsa, guacamole, cheese, etc.

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Enjoy for many meals to come!

-R

Moroccan-spiced chickpea and squash stew

The temperature has dropped, fall produce is showing up at markets, and I am starting to crave warm and spicy autumnal foods.  But there are still so many tomatoes to be eaten!  This recipe perfectly blends the summer and the fall, making it a delicious shoulder-season meal.  Grilling the squash lends a beautiful, smoky flavor to please carnivores and herbivores alike — but you could roast it as well.

I actually had some delicata squash pop up out of the compost in my garden in my old house.  I bought one more from the farmer’s market.  You could use any kind of orange winter squash.

This recipe is very flavorful but I think even those who prefer more mild dishes could handle it.  As strong and fragrant as the cinnamon will smell, it actually lends just a very subtle touch in the end and works perfectly with the cumin.

Moroccan-spiced stew with chickpeas and grilled squash
Adapted loosely from here, and probably some other recipes for inspiration; there are a lot of google results for “Moroccan squash stew.”

1 lb squash — butternut, acorn, delicata, or even pumpkin
4-6 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
2 cups chickpeas (or one can)
4-5 small red potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, slivered
1 bunch greens (I used Tuscan kale, but spinach would be find)
A few hot peppers (I had some cayenne but you could use jalapeno, serrano, etc)
2 teaspoons freshly ground cumin
1 cinnamon stick
bunch of coarsely chopped celery, carrot, onion for stock
salt and pepper to taste
For garnish:  bunch cilantro, plain yogurt, hot sauce
Quinoa (healthy) or couscous (authentic) for serving

Make the stock:  toss a few handfuls of coarsely chopped celery, carrots and onion (I actually freeze celery/carrots in bags for this  purpose), plus the cinnamon stick, some dried mushrooms, a few peppercorns, thyme, etc — whatever sounds good in a stock — and cover with water.  Simmer until reduced in half, about an hour or so.  You will need two cups of stock.  Strain and set aside.  (NOTE:  you can obviously buy pre-made stock, but if you’ve got time, may as well do it yourself).

Peel and seed the tomatoes.  I’ve always just blanched them, but recently came across this easier method.  Chop them coarsely.

To prepare the squash, peel them, cut in half, scoop out seeds, and grill.  They do not need to be fully cooked at this point, just charred.  When they are done and cool to the touch, dice them.

Saute the onion in a large pot over low-medium heat for about 10 minutes with the cumin (and cinnamon stick, if you are using premade stock).  Add the tomatoes, garlic, chickpeas, potatoes, peppers, and grilled squash.  Raise heat to medium-high and cook for another 5-10 minutes or so, until the squash and potatoes are somewhat cooked and the tomatoes are getting saucy.  Add the stock.  Add the greens.  Simmer everything together until it is flavorful and stew-y, about 30-60 minutes (the longer the better!).  Check periodically if you need to add more stock.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

When it is done, garnish with cilantro leaves, hot sauce, plain Greek yogurt, etc.  Serve over quinoa or couscous.

Mmmmmm.

 

 

Spaghetti Vongole

 

We interrupt your regularly scheduled program for…a recipe that isn’t vegetarian.  Or is it?  As they lack a central nervous system, there seems to be a debate on the vegan-friendliness of bivalves.  I don’t know what the answer is myself, and oysters, clams and mussels are not something I would normally eat, but for ambiguous food groups such as this, I sometimes will adopt a “when in Rome” attitude.    And in Rome we certainly were, on the coast of North Carolina where fresh-off-the-ship local clams were sold everywhere on the roadside.

I do not find the sight of a slab of flesh on a plate visually appealing at all.  But clams and mussels tossed together with pasta just looks so pretty.  They are a more sustainable type of seafood, earning yellow and green ratings from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s seafood watch; you can even grow your own oysters right off your pier, as my family does.  Of course, with water pollution and over-harvesting an ever-present risk, populations are in decline worldwide, which is my main reason for avoiding seafood, but the occasional indulgence is certainly okay.

I make the tomato sauce from scratch in this recipe as tomatoes are abundant, and I was on vacation, so why not?  But throw in a can of tomatoes instead, and you have yourself an easy dinner to make during the week.  I think you could also add in some cream with the wine to give this sauce a creamy base.

Spaghetti Vongole (e cozze)

1 onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
5-7 tomatoes
1/4 cup white wine
~dozen clams and/or blue mussels (note:  “vongole” means clam but you could use mussels in this recipe too, it would just technically be called “spaghetti vongole e cozze”).
Salt, pepper, herbs to taste (Italian seasoning, fresh basil, crushed red pepper, etc)

Place the shellfish in a bowl of cool water for about 20 minutes to allow them to filter out any sand or debris.  Scrub and clean the shells (“debeard”).  Discard any with cracked or open shells.

Bring a well-salted pot of water to a boil for the spaghetti (hint:  save energy by boiling pasta in water for only two minutes, turn off the heat, and let sit in the water for the remaining time).

Peel and seed the tomatoes:  cut the woody stem out of the center and score the bottoms.  Dunk in boiling water for 30 seconds, remove and put in a bowl of ice water.  Remove peel and squeeze out seeds. Coarsely chop.

In a large saute pan (a deeper one, with a lid), saute onions, black pepper, and any  seasoning 5-10 minutes over medium heat.  Add the garlic toward the end.  Deglaze with  white wine and add the tomatoes.

Add the clams to the pot, cover, and allow to steam until the shellfish have opened, about 10 minutes (mussels will open earlier than clams).

Remove mussels and clams from the pot with tongs and set aside temporarily.  Allow the sauce to cook down to your preferred consistency.  It will probably be very watery at this point thanks to the bivalves, so it may take another 20 minutes or so.  If there is a lot of water, you can turn the heat up to high to burn it off more quickly, but keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t overcook.

When the sauce is done, toss with clams and pasta.  Shave some fresh Parmesan on top, add some fresh basil.  Savor the glory of summer!

-R

Grilled pizza with cilantro pesto, cotija and veggies

 

Happy Fourth of July!  Kinda lame having this holiday on a Wednesday, but whatever, I’ll take it!  I’ve had a leisurely morning sleeping in, running around the lake with my dog, and enjoying a sublime breakfast and coffee.  Ahhh.

It’s too hot too cook much in my kitchen so we’ve been taking the cooking outdoors.  I’m sure by now you’re familiar with the amazingness of grilled pizza.  It’s been a trend for a few years now and I don’t see it going away any time soon — it really allows you to achieve the texture and flavor of a brick oven pizza without the brick oven!  It is a treat we look forward to every summer.

The inspiration for this pizza was from a restaurant outside of Charlottesville, the Blue Mountain Brewery, where I was visiting a couple weekends ago with some friends.  Cilantro pesto pizza.  WHY hadn’t I thought of this before?!  Cilantro is my favorite thing ever.  This pizza was pretty awesome, but this is Bounteous after all, and you know I think homemade is always better  :).  Not that I am claiming any special talent, but just because I can make it how I like it, use high-quality ingredients and not cut any corners.  So here is my version:

Cilantro pesto pizza with queso blanco, cotija, and veggies

The dough
I love this neo-neopolitan pizza dough, but when grilling pizza we’ve always used this method from the Washington PostHere is the direct link to the recipe that accompanies the article.  The dough is so chewy and delicious.

The sauce
I’ve made this cilantro pesto before, which is why I am surprised I never thought to put it on pizza!  It is super easy and quick.  I doubled this recipe to make enough to generously top four pizzas:

Cilantro Pesto
1 cup packed chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup safflower oil, or other mild vegetable oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Toast the pine nuts on a dry skillet and remove when browned and fragrant.  Puree all ingredients together.  Voilà.

The toppings

Cheese — the pizza I had at Blue Mountain Brewery was topped with an inordinate amount of cheap mozzarella and goat cheese.  I thought it would balance the cilantro well to stick with a Central American flavor profile and went instead with a mixture of cotija and queso blanco.  Similar texture…but better.
Veggies — do whatever you’d like, but we went with red onion, cherry tomato and jalapeno.  It was perfect.  Grill the veggies beforehand if you want them cooked more thoroughly on your pizza — otherwise they’re only on the grill for a couple minutes.

Method
I’m not the grilling expert in my family, so reference the Washington Post article for the specific details — but in a nutshell, the grill will get very hot and the dough will cook very quickly.  The idea is to sear the dough on one side, with the grill covered.  Flip, add your toppings, close the cover again and let that side cook for another minute or two.  Again, since the time on the grill is so brief, pre-cook your toppings if you want them more done.

This was one of my favorite pizzas we’ve ever made and it’s definitely going into the regular rotation.  Grilled pizza is the perfect addition to your holiday barbeque today!

Happy 4th,

R.

It’s too hot!

Okay, I shouldn’t be complaining, because I am by some miracle one of the few people in the DMV who hasn’t lost power…not sure how that happened, as it tends to go out at the first sign of drizzle.  But while I am enjoying the luxury of the internet on my computer and a functioning freezer, in terms of escaping the heat, I can still commiserate with those without electricity.  Damnit, it’s hot!

I have but one AC unit cranking in the bedroom, which seems to make the rest of the house just barely tolerable, as long as I don’t move around too much.  It’s hard to be motivated to do much of anything in these conditions.  Laundry gets done out of necessity, but vacuuming might have to wait till August or September.  Eating is a challenge.  It may be December before I am cool enough to turn on my oven again.

So I’m scouring the archives for some frosty inspiration…

Green monster smoothie anyone?  This has become my go-to breakfast — who wants hot oatmeal in this weather?

For some frozen treats try fresh peach ice cream, Aztec chocolate ice cream.  Top with a kumquat sauce!  Or try some homemade popsicles.

Don’t feel like turning on the oven or stove?  For a light and refreshing salad, try one with watermelon, feta and basil or perhaps this colorful salad with Asian sesame dressing.   Or whip up some fresh Thai spring rolls.

Refresh your body with a spa day at home using homemade ingredients…like this mermaid skin scrub or avocado hair treatment.  Scour pinterest for hundreds more ideas!

How do you stay cool in the heat?  I have a feeling it’s going to be a long month…

Visualize

-R

Garlic Scape Pesto

I have long heard about the wonder of garlic scapes, but had never actually seen them before.  Not usually sold in grocery stores, nor in the big but run-of-the-mill farmer’s market of my rather provincial hometown, scapes are the green tops of garlic.  They are harvested once a year to give the bulb of the garlic a chance to develop, and contain the flavor of garlic without the extreme bite.  So of course, when I saw some at my local market in my new city, I had to buy some.

 

But what to do with scapes?  I did not have a recipe or even a vague idea in mind, I just knew I had to have them.

Turns out, there is one clear answer:  make pesto.

Basil pesto is, to me, the quintessential summer dish.  Nothing else conjures the sensation of summer quite like it.  I’d never really ventured out into other forms of this classic sauce, because I love it so much.  But after all, the word pesto simply means to pound or to crush, and can describe any kind of sauce made in the same manner.  And I have to say this one really does rival basil pesto in deliciousness.

Please feel free to experiment with the amounts!  If you really like cheese…by all means add more!

Ingredients

2 cups chopped garlic scapes
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan or pecorino or both
1 Tablespoon sunflower seeds or pine nuts
Salt and pepper to taste
A Lot of olive oil

Blend the seeds/nuts in a food processor.  Add the scapes and blend.  Begin gradually adding olive oil until you like the consistency.  Blend in the cheese.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Voilà.

-R

A tropical barbeque

Welcome summer!  It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to update.  What can I say…it’s wedding season!  But finally, a free weekend, and I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!

The summer season began with a HOT Memorial day weekend, and while it has cooled off temporarily it’s looking to reach into the 90s again soon.  It’s been…an adjustment.  But I’m trying to embrace summers in Washington with no AC, and what better way than to bring a taste of the Caribbean to you?  After all, it’s too hot to turn the oven on, and we had to inaugurate this shiny new addition to our backyard:

Thus we came up with a menu inspired by the tropics:  Chicken/tempeh with a jerk marinade, golden steamed cabbage, coconut rice, and fried plantains!

To make the Jerk marinade:

These traditional Jamaican flavors are SPICY and not for the faint of heart!  I rather naively slathered it onto my tempeh, but please, go easy on it if you can’t handle extreme heat.

This can obviously be used for any kind of meat, but tempeh, a cultured soy product, is a great vegetarian alternative for the grill.  It is easy to work with and soaks up flavors fast!

I believe Mr. R adapted his recipe from this one.  Scotch bonnet (habanero) peppers are key, as is allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, sugar…  stay with me here, I know these sound like the ingredients for Christmas cookies, but the flavors meld together perfectly.  Thyme is also important, and sometimes you’ll see various aromatics like onions, garlic, scallions, and ginger thrown in too.  I am by no means an expert so please feel free to weigh in if you are.  Compare and contrast different recipes and see what looks good to you!

Do not try to replace the scotch bonnet peppers, however.  It just won’t be quite the same.  Check out a Latin grocer if you can’t find them at your regular grocery store.

Blend up all the ingredients and rub onto the protein and let sit, in a container or bag, for 30 minutes or so in the fridge.  I will say it again — go easy!  It will be SPICY!

Simply grill the tempeh over direct heat for about 5 minutes on each side. And now your vegetarian friends can join in the joy that is grilling during the summer!

Coconut rice

This recipe is DEFINITELY one I am working into my regular meal rotation — it was fantastic!  Not to mention it smelled amazing during the preparation as well.  It also made a freaking ton of rice and we had leftovers all week.  With black eyed peas worked in — it’s a complete protein!

Ingredients
Adapted from here
2.5 cups long grain basmati rice
1 can coconut milk
1 cup dried black eyed peas
4-6 cloves garlic, crushed
4-6 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3 teaspoons salt
a few sprigs of fresh thyme, or a dash of dried thyme if unavailable
1 scotch bonnet/habanero pepper, minced

Cook the beans as you normally would — soak for several hours or overnight and then simmer for an hour.

Add the coconut milk to the beans cooking in their pot, then bring to a boil with the salt and seasonings, plus the scallions, garlic and pepper.

Stir in the rice and reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook for 20-30 minutes, until rice is done, liquid is absorbed, and your kitchen smells like heaven.

Golden steamed cabbage
Adapted from this website.

I love all brassicas — they are my favorite vegetables — and cabbage is no exception.  This adds a pretty note of color to your plate!

Ingredients
1 head cabbage
Assortment of 2-4 sweet and hot peppers, including scotch bonnet
1 medium onion
a few sprigs of fresh thyme (or dash of dried)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Salt and pepper to taste

Thinly slice the cabbage, removing the center core.
Heat a large pan with a generous amount of olive oil or butter and saute the peppers and  onions with salt, black pepper and turmeric briefly, until translucent.  Add about 1/4 cup of water, adjusting as necessary, and then add the sliced cabbage to the pan.  Cover and allow to steam until cabbage is translucent, tender and reduced in size.  Remove cover and allow excess water to steam off if necessary.  Adjust seasoning to taste.  Savor.

Fried Plantains

 

A tropical dinner is just incomplete without fried plantains.  They are simple but taste great with accompaniments such as guacamole.  We followed Alton Brown’s method.  They came out great!

This meal was something new and different for us and such a fantastic way to welcome summer with friends.  I can’t wait to make it again!

-R