Thursday, October 28, 2010

Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

I made this recipe without even realizing it.  I was trying to think of a yummy spice mixture for roasted pumpkin seeds, so I used the same spices as for Chex Party Mix: salt, garlic salt, and Worcestershire sauce.  (Side note: in my family, we call it "What's-this-here-sauce"). Turns out, someone has already thought of using that spice combination over at  I used double the amount of spices though, and peanut oil instead of margarine. I also quadrupled the recipe. 

We had some friends over to carve pumpkins this year so I had seeds from 6 pumpkins to roast!  After everyone went home, I picked through the pumpkin innards and collected the seeds, trying to remove as much of the stringy stuff as possible.  Then I put them into a large bowl of cold water and agitated them with my fingers to clean them even more.  The stringy pulp sort of sinks while the seeds float, so you can skim them off with a slotted spoon.  I laid them out in a single layer on baking sheets to dry overnight.  They tend to stick to whatever you lay them on, so make sure you don't use paper towels or anything that will leave lint or a residue, (unless you like a little insoluble fiber on your seeds, then have at it).  I used wax paper, but I would have used parchment if I had had some.

If they are still pretty wet the next day, you can put them into a low temperature oven (the lowest it will go) for a couple of hours (I did that). If you know of a better way to dry them please enlighten me!  At this point, you can proceed with the recipe.     

Happy Halloween!

Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
adapted from
makes about 2 cups

Note: All measurements are approximate, so add more or less according to your personal preferences.  I have also tried this spice mixture on hulled pumpkin seeds with equally yummy results.    

2 cups raw whole pumpkin seeds
1-2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1-2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 350 F.  

In a large bowl, toss the seeds with the oil.  Add the spices, and toss to coat.  Spread onto baking sheets in a single layer.  Bake for about 15 minutes, stir (rotate baking sheets if baking more than one sheet) and bake for another 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown.

Cool on baking sheets.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature if you're going to eat them soon, or in the fridge or freezer for longer storage.  They will go rancid if you leave them at room temperature for too long, so I'm told.  Mine never last that long.  

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pan-Roasted Celeriac with Rosemary Butter

We had a strange visitor in our CSA box a few weeks ago.

I won't tell you what Amy and I think it looks like, but let's just say if you cut the green tops off and put two of them side by side it would be more obvious.      

Celeriac, also called celery root, is related to other root vegetables like parsips and carrots.  It was developed from celery but was bred for its root rather than its stalks.  It smells and tastes like celery and parsley.  It can be cooked just like a potato - mashed, boiled, roasted, fried, etc - so it makes a good low-starch side dish.  

I figured Bittman would have a solid way to cook this, and of course, he did not let me down.  I think you could pan roast anything in butter and I would probably eat it.  

One tip if you decide to make this: don't be lazy and cut your celariac into different sized pieces.  I cut mine into a mix of 1/2-inch and 1-inch pieces because I didn't care and was trying to be quick.  I then got super impatient waiting for them to cook, and as a result, I took them out of the pan before some of the larger pieces were really as soft as they should have been.  The smaller pieces tasted delicious - melt in your mouth, soft and buttery texture - while the larger pieces weren't as soft in the middle, and had a slightly raw flavor.

Bittman says to work in batches if you have more than what will fit into a single layer in the pan.  I had a pretty large pan but couldn't get them all in there.  I was fine with working in batches, until I read how long they take to cook - 30 minutes.  Batches?  Are you kidding me?  Forget that!  I'm not going to hover around in the kitchen for an hour cooking a side dish.  Don't be like me and just try to rush each batch.  I suggest you either get two pans going, or just make half the recipe.   

Pan Roasted Celeriac with Rosemary Butter
adapted from Mark Bittman - How to Cook Everything
Serves 4-6

This side dish would go with any grilled or roasted protein.  If you can't find celeriac, you could use parsnips, rutabaga, turnips, potatoes, or carrots instead.  

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, sage, thyme, or a combination 
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 pounds celeriac, trimmed, peeled, and cubed (see note above)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves

Add the butter to a large skillet set over medium-high heat.  When melted, add the rosemary sprigs (and other herbs if using) and garlic.  Let them sizzle until fragrant for a couple of minutes, turning down the heat if they start to brown.  

Add the celeriac to the skillet, arranging it in a single layer.  There should be some space between pieces, so you might have to work in batches or get another pan going (if you try to crowd the pan it might steam rather than brown, and that's not what you want)  Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the celeriac is soft and golden brown on all (or most) sides, turning the pieces occasionally.  When the rosemary and garlic get brown, remove them from the pan.  

Sprinkle with salt and pepper and the minced rosemary, stir to combine, and serve.  

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fish Fillets in a Curry Sauce with Gulf Coast-Style White Rice Pilaf

I love Indian food, but some recipes can be really time consuming.  This dish, however, is perfect for a weeknight.  We got the recipe from Madhur Jaffrey's Quick and Easy Indian Cooking.  All the recipes in this book are designed to be prepared in about thirty minutes.  I like Indian side dishes, so I often make those to go with plain baked chicken or tofu.  That way I am still making something cool but not expending a ton of effort.  In this case, I guess I paired an Indian main dish with a Mexican side dish.  The rice is from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless.  Plain white rice would have been fine too, since you have a curry sauce to soak it up, but Joe wanted to make this rice.  It has a really nice flavor that seems to complement just about everything we've made it with so far. 

Fish Fillets in a Curry Sauce
serves 4-5

Ideally, you would use dark, oily fish fillets from bluefish or mackerel, but any fish fillets - cod, haddock, halibut - will work.  We had a bag of frozen cod fillets from Costco so we used those.  Use the thickest fillets you can find, and it's optimal if the skin is removed.  I thought the curry sauce was quite spicy, so if you are a wuss about spice like I am, use half the amount of cayenne.  We used bread crumbs from the freezer; whenever I have extra crusty bread I made a big batch of bread crumbs and they can store indefinitely in the freezer.  They can be baked for a bit at a low temp in the oven if they seem moist when you remove them.    

2 pounds thick fish fillet or fillets
2 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground tumeric
5 tablespoons bread crumbs, plus more if needed (made from dried bread, homemade or store bought)
4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup curry powder
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Make sure you have a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to its highest temperature.  

Lay the fish in a baking dish.  Combine the milk, salt, pepper, cayenne, and tumeric in a large measuring cup or pitcher and pour over the fish.  Set aside for 15 minutes while you get the other ingredients ready.

Remove the fillets from the milk mixture and press into a plate of the breadcrumbs to cover all sides.  Five tablespoons wasn't really enough for us so we added more.  Reserve the milk (this will become the sauce, but don't worry, you'll boil it).  Put the fish into a shallow baking dish lined with foil.  Scatter two tablespoons of butter over the top of the fillets and bake for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the milk mixture into a small saucepan and turn the heat to medium-low.  You want it to heat but not boil in this step.  In a small, heavy saucepan, heat the remaining two tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat.  When bubbling, add the curry powder, and cook for one minute, stirring constantly.  Add the flour, and cook for two minutes, still stirring.  It should keep bubbling.  

Off heat, whisk in the hot milk.  Return the pan to the heat and turn it up to medium-high.  Stir with a whisk until the sauce comes to a boil, then let it boil for about a minute, whisking the whole time (If you don't whisk constantly, I predict that the milk will foam and overflow, creating a huge mess on your stovetop and burners, since that has happened to me when cooking other things like this).  Add the cilantro and lemon juice and stir to combine.  

To serve, place some fish on each plate and pour some sauce over the top.  Serve immediately.

Gulf Coast-Style White Rice Pilaf
serves 6-8

Note: Normally the recipe has you start the rice on the stove and finish in the oven.  However, since I was already using the oven for the fish, we cooked the rice completely on the stove-top, with great results.  We also added peas like his other rice recipe.  

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 1/2 cups white rice
1 small white onion, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped or crushed through a garlic press
1 3/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth (we are rocking the jar of bouillon these days)
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

If using the oven, adjust the rack to the middle and heat to 350 F. Set a 3-quart oven-proof saucepan over medium heat.  When hot, add the oil, rice, and onion.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  The goal is to get the grains of rice to turn from translucent to milky-white.  If you care about appearance, try not to let the rice brown, but if you don't care, don't worry about it.  Add the garlic and cook for a few seconds, until fragrant, then add the broth and 1 teaspoon salt (or more if using low sodium broth).  Stir to combine, then let it come up to a boil.  

If using the oven, cover the saucepan and place in the middle of the oven.  Bake for about 25 minutes (If adding peas, scatter about 1 1/2 cups of them - still frozen is ok - over the top of the rice after it has baked for 20 minutes, then re-cover and bake 5 minutes longer).  Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes.  Fluff the rice with a fork (and mix in the peas), and sprinkle with the chopped parsley.  

If not using the oven, after the rice has come to a boil, turn the heat down to low and let it cook for about 20 minutes (just like you would normally make rice on the stove).  Add the peas over the top, and cook 5 minutes more.  Fluff with fork and sprinkle with parsley as above.  

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Pretty basic post, but this hummus recipe is just so good.  Our friend Nate introduced us to the wonders of homemade hummus about a year ago.  With college football games to watch nearly every Saturday for the next couple of months (go Beavs!), I decided I needed to rotate in some healthier game day snacks.  

The day I made this hummus was also the day I went to the farmers market and bought - I'm not even joking - 16 beautiful bell peppers.  And they were hands down the best bell peppers I've ever eaten.  Buying them at their peak is the way to go.  Considering that they were local, organic peppers, they were really cheap!  I read that they freeze well, so here goes nothing:

I froze them two ways: halves and slices.  I laid them out on cookie sheets in a single layer and stuck them in the freezer for about an hour so each slice/half was individually frozen (I did this in batches over the course of a football game).  Then I gathered them up and stuffed them into freezer bags, so I can take out as much as I want and it won't be in one huge chunk.  My low-budget foodsaver is using a straw to suck out all the air.  Works pretty well!  

I read that frozen bell peppers make good stuffed peppers too, you don't even have to thaw them first, just load them up with your filling and bake!  I'll be sure to post about how that goes this winter.

Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
makes about 2 cups

1 - 15.5 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
1/4 cup tahini (I like roasted tahini as opposed to just plain.  Stir very well before measuring)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup water
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
3 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Put all the ingredients into a food processor and and process until smooth, about 30-40 seconds.  Transfer to a serving bowl.  Chill in the fridge for about 40 minutes to let the flavors develop.  Serve cold with pita chips, fresh pita bread, crackers, or crudités.

You can make this up to two days ahead of time.  Store in the fridge, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mexican Pizza

We are very attached to our favorite refried bean recipe, but recently we tried out Rick Bayless's version.  It's really easy and delicious too!  They are different from the Test Kitchen version in that instead of pureeing the beans in a food processor before cooking, you just mash them in the pan at the end, coarse or smooth, depending on your preference.  One less kitchen appliance to clean, so you gotta love that!  

We used the beans on the Mexican pizza we made for dinner one night.  This is a pretty hearty pizza, so we had a couple small slices each and a big salad loaded with veggies. 

We used our favorite America's Test Kitchen pizza dough, Rick Bayless's Fried Beans recipe (see below), ground beef cooked with Rick Bayless's Garlicky Ancho Chile Rub (we had extra after using it for the steaks), and scattered some queso fresco, chopped tomatoes, sliced green onions, and sliced olives over the top.  After we took it out of the oven, we sprinkled on a little chopped cilantro.  You could modify this in numerous ways depending on what you like or what you have on hand.   

Fried Beans (Frijoles Refritos)
adapted from Rick Bayless - Mexican Everyday
makes 2 1/2 cups, serving 4-5

2-3 tablespoons rich-tasting fresh pork lard, vegetable oil, or bacon drippings (if you want creamier beans, use 3 tablespoons)
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped or crushed through a garlic press
3 1/2 cups home-cooked beans with just enough cooking liquid to cover OR two 15-ounce cans beans (we used black beans)

Heat the lard, oil, or bacon drippings in a large (10-inch) skillet over medium heat.  Add the garlic, cook for about one minute, stirring constantly, until fragrant but not brown.  Now add the beans.  As they come to a simmer, coarsely mash them using the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher (he also suggests a bean masher, but I don't know what that is).  Leave them chunky or keep mashing until they are smooth - it's up to you.  Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring almost constantly, until they have the consistency of very soft mashed potatoes.  Taste and season with salt as needed.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Grilled Red-Chile Steak with Sweet Plantains, Red Onion, and Chipotle Salsa

Another great recipe from Rick Bayless.  This rub is fantastic.  We used it on the steak for this recipe, then a few nights later we sprinkled it over pan-fried potato wedges, and a few nights after that we sprinkled it over ground beef.  I'm sure you'll find many uses for it as well.

We have a charcoal grill, and since it would be a waste to use a bunch of coals to grill just one steak, we grilled two T-bone steaks, splitting one for this meal and saving the other one for lunches/dinners later in the week.

Plantains kind of look like bananas, and they really should be "black-ripe" for this recipe.  Think of a banana that is so black it's squishy - that's the color you want.  Except that bananas need to be thrown away (or quickly made into banana bread) when they get that ripe, but for plantains, it's just right, and they don't get squishy.  It just means they will be nice and sweet.  

If you go to the store and find only green plantains, you can still buy them, but you'll have to wait until they are ripe before you can make the recipe.  That's what we ended up doing, since our store didn't have any ripe ones.  Boy, was that an AGONIZING week!  Every day we'd get home, check the plantains, and be disappointed because they weren't quite ripe enough yet and we'd have to figure something else out for dinner.

Grilled Red-Chile Steak with Sweet Plantains, Red Onion and Chipotle Salsa
Serves 4

Notes: The first time we made this, we went to two stores and could not find ancho chile powder, so we bought a package of whole anchos and ground them up ourselves.  We have a small coffee grinder dedicated to grinding spices only.  To remove color and odors between spices, grind up some white rice.

For the Garlicky Ancho Chile Rub:
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped or crushed through a garlic press
1/3 cup ground ancho chile powder (available from national companies such as McCormick, Mexican groceries and internet sites).
4 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
4 teaspoons ground black pepper
5 teaspoons salt

A 1 1/4 pound flank steak (or an equivalent weight of rib-eye, strip steak, chuck steak, or whatever else may be your favorite)
2 black-ripe plantains
Vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
About 1 cup of your favorite smoky chipotle salsa, for serving

Heat one side of a gas grill to medium-high heat.  Or light a charcoal fire and let it burn until the charcoal is covered with white ash but still hot - move the coals to one side.  

Mix together all the ingredients for the rub in a small bowl.  Spread a heavy coating on each side of the steak(s) - you will need 1-2 tablespoons to heavily coat a 1 1/4 pound steak.  Store the extra rub in the fridge. The only thing that will eventually spoil in the rub is the raw garlic, and even that will last a long time, so it should keep for several weeks at least.

Trim the ends off both the plantains, then split them in half lengthwise (don't peel them).  Drizzle the cut surfaces of both the onion and the plantains with the oil.  Lay the plantains cut side down onto the hot part of the grill.  Do the same with the onion.  Cook about 2-3 minutes, or until well browned, then flip and cook the other side.  Move the plantains and onion to the cooler part of the grill while you cook the steaks.

Lay the steak(s) on the grill, directly over the fire.  If using a very lean cut of meat, lightly spray with oil before grilling.  Cook for about 3-4 minutes, or until nicely colored underneath, flip and cook on the other side until almost as done as you want it, 2-3 minutes more for medium-rare.  Move to the cooler part of the grill with the plantains and onion and let it gradually finish cooking for a few more minutes.

On a cutting board, peel the skins from the plaintains and chop into small pieces.  Chop the grilled onion as well.  Slice the steak into nice thin slices.

Serve it Rick's way:  Put the chopped plantains and onions into a bowl and toss with about 3 tablespoons of the chipotle salsa.  Divide the mixture among the four plates.  Lay the steak slices on top, and serve with more salsa.

Serve it Robyn's way:  I thought the salsa was pretty spicy, so I piled all the components onto my plate and put a dollop of salsa on the side to dip my fork into.  I liked the flavor of the smoky salsa A LOT, but I wanted to control how much I had with each bite.  :-)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Classic Mexican Red Rice

I can't contain how excited I am to have discovered this great recipe!  I am usually not impressed with typical Mexican-American red rice, but I feel like I've never given it a fair shot, because I don't eat at good Mexican restaurants to begin with, and growing up we always made our Mexican rice with instant rice and a spice packet.  So it's almost like saying I'm not impressed with Top Ramen, which should go without saying.  It's all about the ingredients you start with.

Does adding peas to Mexican rice seem weird to anyone else?  It made me feel like I was making fried rice.  But I have to admit, I love the added burst of color they add to the dish.  And I'm always trying to add extra veggies so this is something I can certainly get on board with.  

Since I'm just an amateur cook, I don't know if this is true or not, but it seems like cooking the rice in oil first like Bayless suggests help to keep the rice from clumping together at the end.  This is a technique I want to remember for other rice dishes as well.  

My favorite way to eat leftover Mexican rice?  Mix in leftover taco meat and/or kidney beans, shredded cheese, and chopped tomato for a delicious one-bowl meal.    

Classic Mexican Red Rice (Arroz Rojo)
serves 6-8

Notes: We made this with fresh salsa from the refrigerated section of the grocery store (I love Emerald Valley brand).  A jarred non-refrigerated variety would work too.

Bayless has a whole list of other vegetables you can add if you want - halved garlic cloves, chopped onion, and sliced mushrooms can be added with the rice, and cubed carrots, parsnips, butternut squash, or kohlrabi can be added with the salsa.  Chopped snow peas or green beans can be used instead of the peas.

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 1/2 cups medium-grain white rice
1 cup of your favorite bottled tomato salsa
1 cup good quality chicken broth
1 1/2 cups frozen peas (optional)

Set the oven to heat to 350 F.  In a 3 quart oven-proof saucepan over medium heat, add the oil and rice.  Cook the rice in the oil, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, or until they all have turned from translucent to milky-white.  Some of them might start to look a little toasty - that's ok.  

Add the salsa, broth, and 1/2 teaspoon salt (that how much salt to add if using normally salted salsa and broth).  Stir together to thoroughly combine, then let it come up to a boil.  

Cover, and move the pot to the middle rack in the oven.  Bake for about 20 minutes.  Uncover, scatter the peas over the top (if using), replace cover and bake for about 5 minutes longer.  Remove from heat and let stand about 5 minutes.

Fluff the rice to release the steam and mix in the peas.  

Bayless also gives instructions for preparing this dish in a rice cooker.  First, sauté the rice in the oil in a separate skillet, then scrape into a rice cooker, and add the remaining ingredients.  Don't use the peas, or cook them separately in the microwave and add them in just before serving.  

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Swiss Chard Tacos with Caramelized Onion, Fresh Cheese and Red Chile

Joe and I have just come across an awesome cookbook:  Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless.  He demonstrates how Mexican food does not have to be limited to things slathered in cheese lying alongside dull rice and beans (that's not even very authentic).  It can actually be very fresh, delicious, and even healthy.  His advice is similar to Mark Bittman and others, advocating small portions in general, especially of meat, and loading up on the veggies.  That's my kind of cooking!

This recipe is a prime example that Mexican cooking can be healthy.  True Mexican tacos do not necessarily have to consist of the seemingly standard fillings like ground beef, cheese, lettuce and tomato.  While living in various parts of Mexico he's eaten tacos filled with a yummy mix of braised greens and onions, so he developed this recipe based on those.  Use good chicken or vegetable broth for best flavor.  I added sliced orange bell pepper because I had one on hand that I wanted to use up.

Swiss Chard (or Spinach) Tacos with Caramelized Onion, Fresh Cheese and Red Chile
adapted from Rick Bayless - Mexican Everyday
serves 4

A 12-ounce bunch Swiss chard (or collard, mustard, or beet greens), thick lower stems cut off
OR 10 ounces cleaned spinach (about 10 cups)
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil, olive oil, fresh pork lard or bacon drippings
1 large white or red onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped or crushed through a garlic press
About 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
12 corn tortillas
1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled Mexican queso fresco or other fresh cheese such as feta or goat cheese, for serving
About 3/4 cup bottled smoky chipotle salsa, for serving

Slice the chard crosswise into 1/2 inch slices (if using spinach, small leaves may be left whole).  Heat the oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for about 4-5 minutes or until the onion is golden brown.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes.  Stir for a few seconds until fragrant, then add the broth or water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the greens.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until the greens just about tender.  Spinach only takes a couple of minutes, while chard will take about 5 minutes.  Collard greens will take a little longer, about 7-8 minutes.  

When the greens are tender, remove cover and turn the heat up to medium-high.  Cook until the mixture is nearly dry, stirring often.  Taste and season with salt if needed.  

We usually warm flour tortillas in a dry cast iron skillet over high heat.  This method does not work so well with corn tortillas.  They are best when they are warmed by steaming, whether in the microwave or in an actual steamer.

This is how Bayless recommends warming corn tortillas:

In the microwave: Drizzle 3 tablespoons of water onto a clean kitchen towel, then wrap the tortillas with it.  Put this packet into a microwavable plastic bag and fold the top over but don't seal it.  Microwave at 50% power for 4 minutes.  Let stand 2-3 minutes before serving.  

In a vegetable steamer (the kind without the little post sticking up the in middle): Fill a pot with about 1/2 inch of water and set up the basket in the pot.  Wrap up to 12 corn tortillas in a clean kitchen towel, and set inside the steamer basket.  Cover, and turn the heat up to high.  Once you can see steam, wait one minute, then turn off the heat.  Let the tortillas sit in the steam for 10 minutes before removing them from the basket.  
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