Sunday, November 28, 2010

Chinese Beef and Peppers

My mom used to make a fantastic beef and green pepper dinner, and I remember it being smothered in a fantastic tomato sauce, but when I saw Jessica's recipe over at Foodmayhem, I knew I didn't have time to call mom for her recipe (which I will. very soon.). Nonetheless, this is a fantastic dish, and very simple to make. I may never need takeout again.

If you want Jessica's awesome step-by-step photo instructions, be sure to hit up the direct link to the recipe below. I adore Foodmayhem, so I know you won't be disappointed by their many awesome recipes (I also recommend the Garlic Knots and Ma Po Tofu recipes).

Chinese Beef and Peppers

1 pound flank steak
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon rice wine
1/2 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 1/2 medium green bell pepper, sliced
any spicy chili, small thin slices (optional)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons vegetarian oyster sauce

1. Slice flank steak against the grain in 1/4″ slices. For thicker parts of the flank steak, you may need to slice the strip in half so it’s not too wide.
2. In a medium bowl, mix beef with soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar. Set aside for 15 minutes.
3. While beef is marinating, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok or similar on high. Add peppers with a sprinkle of salt. Stir and fry for a minute, and remove from heat and set aside. The peppers should still be crisp. After the peppers rest for a few minutes, they will excrete some liquid (amount varies with different peppers). Drain and discard the liquid.
4. When beef has rested 15 minutes and peppers are ready, mix cornstarch into marinated beef.
5. Heat 2 tablespoons oil on high in a wok or similar. Add beef and stir quickly, separating the slices. When beef has started turning color with some pink spots remaining, add vegetarian oyster sauce. Stir quickly to distribute. Add peppers back in. Give a few good tosses and serve with rice immediately.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pot Roast in the Slow Cooker

I use my slow cooker year round, even if it may seem a little odd to most folks. Despite its usefulness for producing tender meat out of tough cuts in the winter months, it's also great for the summer, when you don't want to heat up your kitchen. But during the fall and winter, it still gets more use since I'm a comfort food lover. There is simply nothing greater than walking into your home after a long day and smelling pot roast. It's incredibly satisfying to every sense, even touch. Tender, falling apart meat is soft on the tongue and usually puts me into a state of ecstasy. Each time I eat pot roast, I remind myself why I could never give up meat. I.just.can'

I know a lot of people don't like to make pot roast in a slow cooker because of past experiences with grayish meat, but if you brown the roast first before adding to the slow cooker, the meat is a nice golden color and never produces the gray tones everyone decries. Here's what it should look like after only 3-4 minutes of browning:

And here is what the slow cooker pot will look like before the slow cooker works its 8-10 hour magic:

Slow Cooker Pot Roast
(from All Recipes)

4 pounds chuck roast
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of paprika
1 packet dry onion soup mix
1 cup water
3 carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 cup frozen peas

1. Take the chuck roast and season with salt, pepper, and paprika to taste. Brown on all sides in a large skillet over high heat.
2. Place in the slow cooker and add the soup mix, water, carrots, onion, potatoes and celery.

3. Cover and cook on low setting for 8 to 10 hours. Add peas during the last 20 minutes of cooking.

Note: The original recipe calls for 3 potatoes, peeled and cubed, but I omit them because I prefer to serve pot roast over mashed red potatoes.

Meatloaf and blizzards

Snow! Glorious, glistening snow! The Palouse region of eastern Washington is currently under a blizzard warning, so what better time to blog about comfort food than a day spent snuggling with furry children? Some serious inches have dropped since it began snowing last night, with no sign of slowing down anytime soon, and every time it snows, I break out the slow cooker or start craving meatloaf and pot roast (which will be the subject of my next post).

Despite its resurgence in the foodie world, meatloaf remains one of those meals that people tend to view as unappealing, perhaps because of its "blue plate special" connotation. My mom made the most fantastic meatloaf--simply put together with no fancy ingredients, and delightfully moist. I'm recreating her excellent meatloaf here, along with cauliflower puree, which is a healthier option than mashed potatoes (although I do include a potato so the consistency isn't too soupy).

Snooty Snark's Meatloaf

8 oz. ground pork
6 oz. ground beef
4 oz. tomato sauce
1/4 cup minced onion
1 egg
Salt and pepper
3/4-1 cup instant oatmeal
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tbsp. Worcestershire

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together pork, beef, tomato sauce, onion, egg, salt and pepper by hand. Add oatmeal to mixture a bit at a time, adding more if the mixture is too wet or less if the mixture is just dry enough to hold shape.

2. Coat a 5"x9" baking dish with cooking spray and place meatloaf into loaf pan, shaping to conform to dish. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes. Mix ketchup and Worcestershire in a small bowl and set aside. Remove from oven and drain out fat, then brush with ketchup and Worcestershire. Bake another 25-35 minutes, or until meat is cooked through.

Cauliflower and Potato Puree

1 head cauliflower, white florets cut into pieces
1 Yukon Gold potato (you can use any potato, but Yukon yields the best consistency)
3 tbsp. butter
Splash of half and half
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

1. Steam cauliflower for 10-15 minutes, or until florets are tender but not mushy. Boil Yukon potato (cut into pieces for faster cooking time) until a knife cuts through potato easily.

2. Remove potato and cauliflower from heat and pour into food processor along with butter, half and half, and s&p. Pulse until desired consistency. Taste for seasoning, adjust if needed, and serve.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fall Vegetable Soup (and a little note on chicken stock)

Looking through some recipes for fall soup inspiration (and generally feeling very tired of butternut squash, pumpkin, and the like), I stumbled upon a recipe that included a number of my favorite ingredients, including kale, zucchini, and cannellini beans. I was going to come up with my own soup recipe based on my inspiration search, but this was too easy and too appetizing to pass up.

Ian is not a huge fan of kale, but he'll eat it if it's torn into tiny bits, so I was careful to include only tiny bits. He's also a fan of the tuna melt, so to soothe the sting of having to eat kale and a bunch of other vegetables, I broiled up a tuna melt. I'm not including the recipe for the sandwich since it's pretty darn self-explanatory, except I will note that to the tuna mixture I always add a splash of red wine vinegar and I prefer rye to any other bread for toasted perfection. The red wine vinegar adds a little tartness that is perfect with melted cheese.

Now before I post the recipe, I have one further caveat, and it's about something everyone can do easily, but due to the modern convenience of canned chicken broth, few ever bother to attempt. That something is chicken stock, and it's super, super easy to make, in addition to offering way more taste and nutrition than the watered down, salty versions you find in your local supermarket.

There are quite a few methods of making stock, but my favorite is the method that uses up chicken bones you might have otherwise thrown out and veggies that are nearing their toss date (including bits you normally would cut off a vegetable and throw out during prep, such as celery tops and leaves).

Here's my method for making chicken stock:

Bones of one or two cooked chickens, picked clean
3 cloves garlic
1 onion, quartered
Leftover leeks
Few stalks of celery plus leaves
2-3 carrots
Bay leaf
handful Italian parsley
water to cover
salt and pepper as needed

1. Throw all ingredients in a soup pot and cover with cold water, except salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to a simmer, add a few shakes of fresh ground pepper, and cover. Let simmer for 4-5 hours (I do my laundry, clean the house, all the usual Sunday activities).

2. After 4-5 hours, add salt to taste. Remove from heat and let cool. Pour into a container and refrigerate or freeze.

Note: I've never skimmed the fat off the broth, as I tend to agree with Elise of SimplyRecipes that the layer of fat is a kind of insurance against bacteria entering the container and contaminating the chicken broth. I'm a fan of healthy fats, and chicken fat might be a bit taboo these days, but it offers all the flavor you'd want in a homemade soup. I never include the layer of fat in a recipe, by the way, I just remove it when I'm ready to use the stock. You can skim the fat off if you wish.

Also, note that if you refrigerate the stock as opposed to freezing it, you'll need to boil it every third day to ensure it doesn't spoil.

Vegetable and Kale Soup

1 tsp olive oil
1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 celery, diced
1 zucchini, diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 tsp dried basil, to taste
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes with juices
1 15 oz can of cannellini beans or white beans, drained and rinsed
6 cups of vegetable or chicken stock (I used chicken)
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
2 cups of kale, chopped

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat with the olive oil. Add the onion once it's warm and sauté for 2 minutes then add the minced garlic and stir constantly for 60 seconds. Add the carrot, celery, basil, diced tomatoes and chicken broth. Stir the soup, mixing everything together, then season with sea salt and black pepper. Simmer on medium low heat for 45-60 minutes (depending on how soft you like your veggies). Add the kale, zucchini, and white kidney beans, taste and re season if needed. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes. Enjoy.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Portabella Mushroom Burgers and Black Bean Couscous with Feta

I love me a good burger, and if there's bacon on it, even better. In fact, if you order a bacon cheeseburger anywhere in the United States, I instantly manifest, wearing a bib and ready to feast. Despite my love for burgers, I also love the veggie options that are currently out there. When I was first introduced to veggie burgers, it was of the tasteless cardboard variety and I never thought a good substitute would make its way to my plate, so I never ordered one again.

That is, until I tasted the Black Bean Chipotle Burger from Morningstar Farms. Don't get me wrong--the texture is somewhat mushy and the patty tends to fall apart if you stare at it too long, and it can never replace the bliss I feel from eating a meat hamburger, but it's pretty darn good compared to the hockey pucks that used to have the veggie market cornered.

My other favorite type of burger is the mushroom burger. Portabella mushrooms are like the meaty burger patty of the fungi world, and the hold marinades pretty well, so if you're one of those who appreciates the juices that flow from a beef patty and are disappointed by the dryness of veggie burgers, try this simple marinade and grill recipe.

In addition, while fries are the standard accompaniment to burgers (and I happen to adore piping hot fried foods in moderation), I decided on couscous with black beans, cherry tomatoes, spinach and feta as a lighter alternative packed with fiber and protein.

Portabella Mushroom Burgers
4 portabella mushroom caps, cleaned
1 shallot, finely minced
1 garlic clove, finely minced
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. dried oregano
Kosher salt and pepper

1. In a medium bowl, mix shallot, garlic, oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Place mushroom caps in a shallow baking dish and pour marinade over to cover. Let stand for 30 minutes, turning the caps over occasionally.

2. Heat a grill pan (I used my George Foreman) to nice and hot. Add mushrooms to grill and cook 3-4 minutes a side. While on grill, place sliced cheese on and allow to melt on mushroom caps. Serve with lettuce, tomato, avocado, caramelized onions, or whatever else floats your boat on a steamed whole wheat bun. Enjoy!

Black Bean Couscous with Feta
1 1/4 cup chicken stock
1 cup couscous
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 medium zucchini, cut into bite sized pieces
1 1/2 cups baby spinach
15 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
4 tbsp. feta cheese

1. Heat chicken stock and 1 tbsp. olive oil until it comes to a boil, then add couscous and remove from heat. Cover and let stand while preparing rest of ingredients.

2. Heat remaining olive oil over medium heat. Saute zucchini in oil until soft, about 5-7 minutes. During the last three minutes, add halved cherry tomatoes and saute.

3. Fold zucchini-tomato mixture into couscous, along with baby spinach (I chiffonade the spinach) and black beans. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper if necessary.