Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

There is such thing as the best tortilla chips.... and damn Chicago, you better not take the best for granted. El Ranchero chips -- loving known as the green bag chips -- are legitimately on the short list of things I miss about Chicago. Yes the friends and world-class restaurants were great, but the damn tortilla chips were the tops.

Another Chicago expat friend of mine was kind enough to pick up a bag for me and you can't possibly enjoy such a scarce resource with gross jarred salsa. It was only appropriate to make a great salsa inspired by one of Chicago's best chefs, Rick Bayless. Mexico One Plate at a Time on WTTW was always one of my winter guilty pleasures.

Tomatillos are readily available in grocery stores and make for a nice departure from the typical tomato stuff. The green color is gorg too.

Homemade salsa is really easy when you make it in the food processor. Totally worth 5 minutes of effort when you compare with the quality of most jarred salsas.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
1lb tomatillos, husks removed
2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeds removed and chopped
1/4 cup water
Salt, to taste
1/2 white onion, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Heat broiler to high. Halve tomatillos and place cut side down on baking sheet. Broil for 4 to 5 minutes until slightly blackened. Use tongs to flip over tomatillos and broil for another 3 to 4 minutes.

Add roasted tomatillos, jalapenos and water to food processor and buzz until smooth. Taste and add salt, tasting until just right.

Rinse onions under cold water before adding to salsa with cilantro. Serve and enjoy with the world's best tortilla chips (or whatever you can find).

Monday, April 21, 2014

Middle Eastern Spiced Meatloaf

Meatloaf isn't glamorous. It's not out to impress you or win beauty awards, but its friggin delicious and you'd be hard-pressed to find any meat-eater who doesn't love it. While the classic is always enjoyable, I was in the mood to spice things up... literally.

This is kind of a cross between kofte and meatloaf, with the familiar shape of meatloaf and the deep spiced flavor of kofte. This isn't a hot spice necessarily, but rich and complex. And since it's not meatloaf without ketchup on top, I made a cinnamon-y twist.

This is one of the fun things about learning a basic recipe, like meatloaf. Different spices and fillings, make it a versatile go-to. I think some sort of Vietnamese take may be my next foray. The point is that you should have fun with it and make it your own. Put the stuff in there that you like. So long as you don't put anything too wet, you'll be good.

Aren't those red peppers and herbs gorgeous in there? Such bright, fresh ingredients for a dish that is synonymous with being old-timey or drab.

What you get is a refreshing and unexpected twist on classic comfort. It's kind of a fun way to expand your horizons.

Middle Eastern Spiced Meatloaf
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 red pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup milk
1lb ground beef
1lb ground turkey
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup dates, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons mint, finely chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 t cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil over medium heat and add red pepper. Saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Allow to cool. In a small bowl, combine milk and panko. Allow bread crumbs to soak up milk. 

In a large bowl, combine cooled red pepper, bread crumb mixture, beef, turkey, beaten egg, dates, parsley, mint, paprika, nutmeg, cumin, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Use clean hands to combine mixture, taking care not to pack it or overmix. Turn out mixture onto a lined sheet pan and form into a 2-inch thick loaf. 

In a small bowl, combine ketchup, cayenne and cinnamon. Spread in a thin layer over meatloaf. 

Bake loaf for 45-60 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before slice. Serve over tabbouleh or couscous. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bleu Cheese Asparagus Orzotto

I'm just going to answer the question now... orzotto is not a word. Mark Bittman made it up and I thought it was clever. One of the great things about cooking is that you can mess around in the kitchen and no one can tell you you're doing it wrong. You're your toughest critic really. And how refreshing in a world of client critique and performance reviews. I'll take it.

...and back to the subject. The mind wanders. What I mean about this recipe is that it's treating one ingredient different than the package calls for, but yields great results. In this case, I treated Orzo pasta just like risotto. It goes against all the rules of pasta, because you don't boil it and it goes against all the rules of risotto because it isn't arborio rice. But you know what? It totally works. Look at you, such a rebel!

The key takeaway here is the technique, which creates a flavor packed pasta dish in 15 minutes. Way more tasty than ordinary noodles. I've put it together with some springy favorites, but the flavor combinations are near endless. 

Bleu Cheese Asparagus Orzotto
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 bunch chives, minced
1lb orzo pasta
1 bunch asparagus, cut in 1-inch pieces
1/2lb shrimp, deveined and tails removed
4oz bleu cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted

Start by bringing chicken stock to a simmer in a saucepan. In a separate heavy bottomed pot, melt butter and olive oil together. Once foamy, add chives and cook for 1-2 minutes until softened. Add orzo to buttery pot and stir until toasted, about a minute. Add a ladle of warm chicken stock and stir until orzo soaks up liquid. Continue adding chicken stock one ladleful at time until orzo absorbs all liquid and is tender. 

While the orzo cooks, blanche asparagus in boiling water for 2-3 minutes and shock in an ice bath. 

When the pasta is nearly cooked, add shrimp and cook for 3-4 minutes or until pink. At the last minute, stir in bleu cheese and asparagus. Top with chopped walnuts and a few fresh chives. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sesame Asparagus Noodles

Asparagus are always welcome friends at the market. They're the first fresh thing to greet you after months of sub-par winter produce daze. They're as much a sign of winter ending for me as seeing little purple crocus in the park. And good gracious they are tasty.

I like them really crisp, so I usually blanche them or quickly saute in the pan with a bit of olive oil and salt. This time I was craving something a bit different, so I thought sesame would be a nice change of pace. Put those pretty green stalks with airy rice noodles and some red pepper, and you've got yourself a meal.

Rice noodles are about as easy as it gets.... just soak in cool water. Follow the package instructions closely though. An oversoak can turn them into a mushy mess. 

Toss the softened noodles with grilled and chopped veggies, herbs and dressing. Garnish with crunchy peanuts and sesame seeds.

Enjoy and be thankful for this first sign of spring. So much more good and beauty is to come.

Sesame Asparagus Noodles
1 package rice noodles
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
2 red peppers, cored and cut into large chunks
1 tablespoon canola oil
Juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup peanuts, chopped
Sesame seeds

Prepare rice noodles according to package directions -- usually about a 15 minute soak in cool water; noodles may vary, so follow package instructions.

Toss asparagus and red pepper in canola oil. Grill over high, direct heat just until cooked through; about 3-5 minutes. Cool and roughly chop.

Whisk together lime juice, sesame oil, soy sauce and rice vinegar. Pour over noodles and toss with asparagus, red peppers, cilantro and green onions. Garnish with peanuts and sesame seeds. Enjoy!