Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pasta e Fagioli & Caesar Salad

No pictures this time.  Just a warning.

I'm a big fan of pasta e fagioli - nothing much better than beans, tomatoes, veggies, broth and pasta simmering together to make a filling meal on a cold night.  Literally meaning "pasta and beans", this is yet another dish that originated as a peasant dish (much like cassoulet, corned beef, beef stew, etc) that has transcended its humble roots and become something that is served in restaurants and homes all over the world.  I've usually made this from a mix of dried beans and seasonings - one of the few times I tend to make soup from a mix (admittedly, because the mix is *really* good),  However, like always, I had a Test Kitchen recipe that I wanted to give a whirl and (surprise, surprise) it came out amazing.  Combined with a Caesar salad, it was a great meal.  I liked it so much, I'm posting the recipe.

Pasta e Fagioli (adapted from America's Test Kitchen)
2 slices bacon, minced
1 small onion, minced
1 celery rib, finely chopped
pinch of salt
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp dried oregano
pinch red pepper flakes
1 can diced tomatoes w/ juice
1 can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed (the recipe originally calls for 3/4 c, but I wanted more)
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
2 oz ditalini

Cook bacon in large saucepan over medium-low until fat is rendered and just starting to crisp, 5 minutes.  Add onions, celery, pinch of salt and cook until soft, 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic, oregano and red pepper, cook 30 seconds.
Stir in tomatoes and juice, scrape up fond.  Add beans, heat to simmer, reduce to low and cook until slightly thickened, 5 minutes.  Add broth, water and 1/4 tsp salt, increase heat to high and bring to a boil.  Add pasta and cook until al dente.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

See?  20 minutes for some of the most delicious pasta fagioli you'll ever eat.  Trust me on this one, folks.

Monday, October 26, 2009

After last week absence, we're back and better than ever!

Udon with Stir-Fry and Five-Spice Tofu
Recipe courtesy of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

Last week, I had planned on making a giant pot of pasta e fagioli, using the most awesome Bean Cuisine mix as a base.  However, the weather was rather unseasonably warm, and the idea of making a giant pot of bean soup didn't really appeal to me so much.  As the week went on, my desire to cook dropped even more, so no true meatless (although I did eat pizza on Wednesday since it was D&D night, technically meatless, but a bit outside of the theme of eating meatless).

In the meantime, I had picked up the Sunday Dinners at Moosewood cookbook, since I've made a dish or two that have come out well from Moosewood.  Too bad this cookbook had way too many side dishes and appetizers, as opposed to more meatless main dish recipes that I was looking for.  Enter Vegeterian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison, which has literally TONS of main dishes that I am all about.

It took me literally 20 minutes to cook this meal from start to finish.  I sliced the leeks, peppers, shiitakes and tofu all while the water was boiling for the udon.  The sauce was a mixture of vegetable stock, hoisin, soy sauce, tomato paste, garlic, crushed red pepper and lemon zest.  Once the udon was dropped into the water, everything was stir-fried together.  You saw what the dish looked like plated, this is what it looked like when we were done:

Absolutely delicious - between the textures and the flavors, everything was in contrast but yet still in balance.  If I was going to change anything, I'd add even more mushrooms, and I'd cut the tofu into chunks instead of into strips.  Other than that - I may just make this again next week.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

Grilled Cheese with Portobello, Red Onion and Tomatoes, Roasted Red Pepper Soup
Recipe courtesy of the Top Chef Cookbook

There's not much I like more in this world than grilled cheese and tomato soup.  I'm a bit particular about it, too - white bread, American cheese, tomato soup made with milk (not with water), and dunking my sandwich in the soup.  Awesome.  Nothing I want more when the weather turns cold.  Stephanie is especially partial to my tomato soup recipe, but I wanted to give this one a try.  Plus, it's a great recipe for a Meatless Monday.

First step was to saute and roast some thinly sliced portobellos, grape tomatoes and red onions with some white wine and balsamic vinegar.


Next, I melted some butter with some fresh thyme to get some awesome infused flavor.

Finally, the sandwich assembled on sourdough with some shredded Monterey Jack and provolone, brushed with the infused butter, topped with the roasted vegetables, grilled up in the frying pan.

The red pepper soup is nothing more than a traditional tomato soup base, but with a couple of roasted red peppers and some basil thrown in, then blended.  The verdict - AWESOME!  Then, for dessert:

Grilled cheese, tomato soup, warm and chewy cookies for the win.
What is your favorite cold-weather comfort meal to cook?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

One from Michael Mina

Olive Oil-Poached Rack of Lamb
Harissa Ratatouille, Rosemary-Scented Potatoes, Rosemary Gremolata
Recipe courtesy of the Michael Mina Cookbook

My school is off for Columbus Day for the first time ever, I believe, so I took the opportunity to cook up something a little more involved than my usual Sunday fare.  Needless to say, involved doesn't really do this recipe justice, as I ended up using practically all my pots and pans, completely dirtied up my kitchen, and ended up having my entire sink filled to the brim with dirty dishes.  Was it worth it in the end?  Well, keep reading.

I've had poached fish and chicken before, but this recipe intrigued me:  a rack of lamb poached in olive oil, along with traditional aromatics for lamb:  garlic, shallots and rosemary.  I set up one of my bowls over a simmering pot of water, very much the way I'd melt chocolate, but instead dumped in a half a head of garlic, some rosemary sprigs, a halved shallot and 3 cups of olive oil.  I brought it up to heat by bringing the water to a simmer, trying to level my oil temperature at around 135-140...too bad it jumped up to about 160 and I couldn't bring it back down.  Alas, I figured it would drop a bit when I put in my lamb, and it ended up leveling off at around 150, which is a little high a temperature for lamb to be cooked to, but I risked it.  After poaching for 25 minutes in the oil, I pulled the meat out of its bath, then browned it quickly for a minute or 2 on each side in a screaming-hot skillet.

While the lamb was cooking, I made the harissa sauce (roasted red pepper, garlic, red pepper flakes, cumin, coriander, caraway, parsley, olive oil, salt) in the blender and the gremolata (lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, chopped rosemary, olive oil, salt & pepper).  The potatoes were cooked very similar to the lamb, but at a simmer as opposed to a poach, in a bunch of olive oil with some rosemary and shallots.  When they were done, they were fork-tender.

Let me tell you a bit about the ratatouille.  Red and yellow peppers, zucchini and eggplant all diced and sauteed, then set aside.  In the same pot, some onions, garlic and tomato paste, which is then supposed to get mixed into the vegetables.  However, this is where our story turns sour, because I burnt my hands on the pot where I was cooking the onion/garlic/tomato, and dropped the pot, which proceeded to spray tomato ALL OVER my kitchen.  I was PISSED (at myself), and I don't do to well when I'm that mad.  Fortunately, I still had some red onion and my tomato-paste-in-a-toothpaste-tube, and I was able to whip up some more real fast...but I was still really annoyed.  After the ratatouille was made, the harissa got mixed in, and it was time to eat.

How did it taste?  Well, the lamb ended up being perfectly cooked, and was flavorful and rich.  The ratatouille was interesting but enjoyable - Stephanie kept on saying she was surprised by it because the harissa was such an interesting flavor that was unexpected (but not unpleasant) when eating ratatouille.  The potatoes were...well...rosemary-scented and awesome.  I did have a Top Chef moment though, because I totally forgot to spoon the gremolata over the lamb - but Steph didn't even notice so I didn't say anything until afterwords.

The verdict:  DELICIOUS.  Would definitely make it again, and hopefully without the mess ;)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Meatless Tuesday?

Baked Falafel
Lettuce, Tomato, Tahini Sauce
Recipe courtesy of ChowVegan 

My cooking schedule got a bit thrown off this week, so we ended up delaying our Meatless Monday into a Meatless Tuesday-into-Wednesday.  Oh well, no big concern, especially since we had falafel *again* this week.  Don't get me wrong - I am not complaining by any stretch of the imagination.  I would eat falafel every night, I absolutely love the stuff.  However, I think Stephanie might not be too happy (although she is a confirmed falafel freak, she did the happy dance when I told her I was going to make it again this week.)

When I was thinking about making falafel, I wanted to avoid the traditional method of preparing it, which is deep-frying.  Now, I make no bones about my love of all things deep-fried, but I was looking for a baked version for 2 reasons:  eating a deep-fried meal negates the whole point of a Meatless Monday, and I hate deep-frying inside my home.  I perused a number of recipes, and settled on this one - even more non-traditional since it calls for canned beans.  The only change I made to it was I didn't use as much onion, and I jacked up the oven temperature to 450, so they formed a crispy crust.

My only issue is the pita bread - I'm in need of a good Middle Eastern market to get quality pita, since Wegmans brand just isn't up to snuff.  Throw the falafel in a good pita with some shredded lettuce, diced tomato and a heaping spoonful of tahini sauce, and I (and Stephanie) are happy people.