Archive by Author

Venison Nacho Fries

20 May
There's lettuce on it, so that makes it healthy, right?

There’s lettuce on it, so that makes it healthy, right?

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m the worst. No like really, if the point of a blog is to create content, I am literally the worst.

Well, I still do ONE thing like a blogger; please believe my email signature still has redneckfresh.com in it! Right. So this is not a super fancy post, but it WAS a super delicious, cheap, and fast dinner. I had a bag of frozen (raw) french fries in my freezer for….ever and decided that it was probably time to go ahead and use some of them. And because of the redneck part of redneck fresh, I always have venison in the freezer, so the taco meat was easy.

Now, I’ve heard of what I made being called Irish nachos, or something like chili cheese fries…but the real part of this recipe that ought to interest you is the taco meat. It’s got nothing canned in it, it’s fast, it’s versatile, and it is delicious. There’s a bunch of it left in my fridge right now, and I made a taco salad with it for lunch today. I’m babbling. Let’s get to it.

stuff

taco meat

mmmmm.....frozen taters.

mmmmm…..frozen taters.

1 lb. ground meat (I used venison, you could use beef, chicken, turkey; since it’s taco meat you can get away with really lean meat because it doesn’t need to hold together)

1 T. vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 jalapeño, chopped

2 tomatoes, chopped (I used romas because they were on sale and have a lot of moisture in them)

1 c. chicken stock

1 t. dried oregano (Mexican oregano if you’ve got it)

3 T. cumin

1 T. Lowry’s seasoned salt (am I allowed to use brand names? Well either way, it’s delicious.)

everything else (all these numbers
are -ish, make your own how you like them)

4 c. frozen french fries

enough oil to fry in

1 c. shredded cheddar cheese (I shred block cheese, it’s way cheaper and tastes better)

1/2 avocado

1/4 c. shredded lettuce

2 T. finely chopped fresh jalapeños

steps

Put a tablespoon of oil on medium-high heat and chop up your veggies. If you’re in a hurry, say because you don’t start making dinner till after 8 when you get home from a meeting, start the oil on medium heat then chop veggies in the order you’re going to add them to the pan, because it’ll save you time. You’ll throw the onion in first, then the garlic, then the jalapeño. The goal is caramelized, but not burned.

Cast iron skillet, how I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Cast iron skillet, how I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Once the jalapeño hit the pan I added the dried oregano and let it cook for a second before adding the tomato. I think putting dried seasonings into oil before there’s a lot of water added helps them to release the most aroma and flavor (Indian style cooking does this). After 30 or so seconds, I added the tomato and then the meat, seasoned salt, and cumin.

So here’s the deal with taco meat; it’s awesome. There’s a different consistency to it than there is to other browned meat or to chili. It’s somewhere between the two. So once the meat is cooked turn down the heat to just above low, and you’ll use the chicken stock to make it the consistency you want. I have a freezer full of chicken stock I made when I was making a bunch of King Ranch Chicken for a church event. I didn’t ever make stock for myself before pretty recently; it’s awesome. You should do it. But I digress. I ended up putting half a cup of chicken stock in, then starting the frying oil, and adding the rest of it while I was frying up french fries.

I wok enough that I won't make any wok puns in this caption.

I wok enough that I won’t make any wok puns in this caption.

I decided to use my wok when I was frying up the french fries; because of the shape of a wok you can deep fry in significantly less oil than with most pots, which is good. Also because of the shape they get hot really, really fast.

When you fry french fries, they’ll always turn out better if they go into the fryer frozen. It allows the outside to get crispy right when the inside finishes cooking. This is why a lot of times when you go to burger places that brag about their really fresh french fries, you’re disappointed with how they’re soft and greasy.

So here’s the deal; while you should throw your fries into the oil frozen, you should also not throw things like blocks of ice into hot oil, because crazy splatter, and such. But this blog is called REDNECK fresh, so sometimes we have to do things that are…redneck. So maybe the french fries had been in my freezer for like a year and frozen into chunks of ice and potatoes.

You shouldn’t do stupid things like throw ice into 350 degree oil. Seriously, it’s dangerous. But I’m both experienced AND foolish, so I did, and I had my video camera running as I ran away from said oil and ice.

Right. So after not burning your kitchen down, cook up your fries in small batches till they’re golden brown and you have enough of them to start building your nacho fries. There’s enough meat here to make healthy portions of fries for at least five people. Lay down a nice layer of fries, then spoon some taco meat over the top.

I've always wanted to use an online GIF builder. Thanks, nacho fries!

I’ve always wanted to use an online GIF builder. Thanks, nacho fries!

If your fries are still hot and you’ve kept your meat simmering, you can then grate cheese right over the top and it’ll melt nicely. It also helps to have your cheese close to room temperature when you grate it, again, for the melting.

Okay, so you’ve got your fries, meat, and cheese down, time to add your garnishes. Put some chopped fresh jalapeños, some chopped or sliced avocado (or guacamole if you’re feeling extra fancy), and some shredded lettuce on top, and you’re ready to go. I meant to put some chopped onions on mine, too, but I forgot. They would’ve been tasty.

Like I said earlier, the worthwhile part of this recipe is the taco meat. The nacho fries were awesome, but the taco meat really came out great with the fresh veggies. Let me know in the comments what your favorite thing to do with taco meat is.

Let’s eat!

–N

Advertisements

Pecan Mushroom Chiles Relleños

6 Jun

So….

Look at them, all oozy like that. They're taunting you.

Look at them, all oozy like that. They’re taunting you.

I haven’t posted in, well, many, many units of time. But in that time I have completed the most ridiculous semester of my life, graduated from seminary, and moved back to Texas. So maybe I’ll post more now, or maybe I’ll even get back on a regular schedule.

Anyways, I made these chiles relleños tonight and they were really delicious. So now I’m going to tell you how that happened.

Stuff

12 oz. Oaxaca Cheese (mozzarella if you can’t get Oaxaca)

8 whole poblano peppers

6 oz. mushrooms

So I didn't use the flour, or the egg, because I didn't fry them. Also you can't see the pecans. Basically this is a bad picture.

So I didn’t use the flour, or the egg, because I didn’t fry them. Also you can’t see the pecans. Basically this is a bad picture.

3/4 c. pecans

1 bunch green onions

3 T. Mexican crema (could sub cream and lemon juice, but you’d be sad)

1 T. cumin

1 T. smoked paprika (it needed color. Paprika is a color, not a spice.)

1 t. oregano

pepper

toothpicks

Garnish

queso fresco

1/2 bunch of cilantro

4 oz. Mexican crema

1 t. cumin

1 t. salt

Steps

IMG_2161

Sorry, wonderful cheese maker, if this is a copyright infringement. I’m just trying to spread the good word of your magical cheese!

First, take your 8 poblano peppers, put them into a produce bag, twist it shut, and microwave them for 3 minutes. “But Nathan,” I hear some of you saying. “Doesn’t microwaving stuff in plastic destroy my body or something??” I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that if you want to pre-steam poblano peppers painlessly, you’ll let Chef Mic do the heavy lifting.

While the peppers are steaming (and after they finish, since you can just leave them to continue pre-cooking as they cool down) shred 12 oz.  of Oaxaca cheese (also known as Mexican melting cheese). A word about Oaxaca cheese. It is magical, wonderful cheese. Have you ever noticed how quesadillas at Mexican restaurants taste way better than the ones you make at home? Oaxaca.

This is what it looks like out of the wrapper. It's stringy and delicious.

This is what it looks like out of the wrapper. It’s stringy and delicious.

Or how some enchiladas have magically stringy, melty but not greasy cheese in the middle of them? Oaxaca. Where people go wrong (I think) is that when they make Mexican food at home, they assume that jack cheese or cheddar or name-brand “Mexican blend” is what they should put inside of things. Don’t do that. If you can’t get Oaxaca, by far the most similar cheese is mozzarella. Yeah, I know, weird. But true. Okay so rant aside, grate 12 ounces of cheese into a mixing bowl.

I think my favorite thing about this recipe is the texture variation that the chopped pecans add. So chop some pecans and put them in the bowl with the cheese, or you’ll be missing the best part. A rough chop is fine, but make sure you don’t have any glaringly large pieces.

Don't be afraid to experiment with the filling. I'm certainly not.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with the filling. I’m certainly not.

Chop up the mushrooms (with the same basic theory as the pecans, don’t leave any pieces so big that they won’t cook through while everything else does), and chop up the green onions, and throw everything into the mixing bowl. Add the cumin, smoked paprika, oregano, some black pepper and a little bit of Mexican crema to help mix it all together, and then, well, mix it all together. For those of you wondering, Mexican crema is a slightly sour cream that is really great in sauces and fillings. If you can’t find it, yogurt, sour cream, or regular cream would all do okay as a substitute.

At this point, turn your oven on to 425 degrees or so (if you have a convection oven, convecting is a good idea here) and it’s time to assemble peppers. I could talk you through that annoyingly, or I could just post bigger pictures with helpful captions. Let’s do that.

IMG_2168

Cut a slit down the side of the pepper with your knife. Don’t go quite all the way to either end, especially the top, as that would make the top of the pepper fall off when you clean out the seeds.

Take a spoon and gently remove the seeds and ribs from inside the pepper. The first one or two may take you a minute, but you should get the hang of it. Be thorough, poblanos are spicier than I thought they were.

Take a spoon and gently remove the seeds and ribs from inside the pepper. The first one or two may take you a minute, but you should get the hang of it. Be thorough, poblanos are spicier than I thought they were. Somehow, I forgot to include a picture of myself stuffing the peppers. So do that, with about 1/8 of the stuffing mixture per pepper.

Once you've stuffed the pepper, stick a toothpick through it to help keep it from totally collapsing while it cooks.

Once you’ve stuffed the pepper, stick a toothpick through it to help keep it from totally collapsing while it cooks.

Okay, now it’s time to bake. Put the peppers into a glass baking dish and throw them into your 425 degree oven uncovered for 15-20 minutes. My dish was just barely big enough, so I had to stagger my peppers, alternating which end was on which side of the pan. Keep an eye on them while they’re cooking; the outsides should start to blister and the insides should start to bubble, but you don’t want anything to burn.

While your peppers are in the oven, you can make the garnish sauce that you’ll see in the “finished product” picture at the bottom of this post. It’s similar to sauces I’ve put on here before, but really helped to tie the dish together. Put 1/2 a bunch of cilantro, 1 t. of cumin, 1/2 t. of salt and 4 oz. of Mexican crema in a blender, and blend till the cilantro has disappeared. This stuff is delicious on anything. I would put it on my cereal in the morning if I thought that was socially acceptable.

At any rate, it’s time for plating! I served my rellenos with some Spanish rice and corn on the cob, which was really only a side because we had some in the fridge. Serve your relleno with the cilantro crema sauce and some crumbled queso fresco.

I was feeling fancy, so i employed the, "spoon full of sauce traced down the plate" method.

I was feeling fancy, so i employed the, “spoon full of sauce traced down the plate” method.

Let’s Eat!

– N

Tomato Poblano Bisque

12 Nov

This barely qualifies as a post, but I haven’t actually made a post in months, so here we go.

So I did not take any pictures of this soup I made, but I made it and people thought it was pretty tasty. So I’ll write about it. I made enough to feed a small army, so the numbers can obviously be adjusted.

Stuff

12ish red tomatoes (I think it was 4.5 pounds of tomatoes)

3 poblano peppers

10 cloves of garlic, chopped

3 large white onions, chopped

1/3 can chipotles in adobo

1 small can tomato paste

3 T. cumin seeds

1 pint heavy cream

1/4 c. olive oil

3 T. butter

salt

pepper

hardware: immersion blender, large soup pot

Steps

Pull stems and stickers off of the tomatoes. Put them in the large pot and cover them with water. Put them over high heat and cook until they boil for 2 minutes. Fish them out of the water, set them aside, discard the water. While the tomatoes are cooling, turn the broiler on in your oven or turn on your stove and roast the poblano peppers. Set them aside to steam while you do the next steps.

Put the oil and butter in the soup pan over medium heat, and then add the cumin seeds and cook them until they start to brown. Add the onions, garlic, and a couple tablespoons of salt, and sauté until bordering on caramelized.

While the onions are sautéing, peel the skins off of the tomatoes and remove the stem bases, too. I left the seeds in my tomatoes because I didn’t want  a textureless soup, and needed the volume. Also, pull the seeds and stems off of the poblanos.

Dump the tomatoes and poblanos into the pot with the onions and friends. If you really want to have fun/speed up the process, smash the tomatoes between your fingers on their way in. Sauté all this for 10 minutes or so, then add about a quart of water and some more salt and some black pepper (probably 2-3 more tablespoons, but taste it). Let this simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes.

After the soup has simmered for 30 minutes or so, add the canned peppers and tomatoes and stir to combine. Now, it’s time to blend everything. I had all kinds of fun pulverizing soup down to a consistent texture with my blender. Make sure you don’t miss stuff, should take a couple minutes to get a consistent texture.

Once you’ve got consistent texture soup, it’s time to add and cook in the cream. With the blender on, trickle the entire pint of cream into the pot.

At this point, you should taste what you have made and make sure it’s actually delicious. Is it missing something? Nobody is stopping you from exploring the depths of your spice cabinet. I was a little light on garlic, so I added some of the powdered variety. Not spicy enough? There’s cayenne for that. Have some fun.

Anyways, let the cream cook in for another 15 minutes or so, then serve this soup with some good french bread.

Lets Eat!

–N

PS: I really hope to put out a real post sometime soon, but I make no promises.

Mediterranean Chick Pea Salad with Creamy Cilantro Vinaigrette

6 Mar

Sorry about the focus here. I still haven't mastered photo taking in my apartment, the lighting is kinda wacky.

Redneck Fresh goes Mediterranean for this week’s posting. I realized I hadn’t made anything that bordered on healthy in way too long, so I decided that I should probably, you know, fix that problem. I bought some really good feta cheese at that magical cheese shop I keep talking about, I had some chick peas in the pantry I’d been looking to cook, and so here we are. I ate this stuff for the better part of a week — it was cheap, healthy, and delicious. Also, go ahead and make this stuff a day or two in advance, as it marinates in the dressing, it just keeps getting better and better. Anyways, let’s get to it.

Stuff

Salad

1 bag (2 cups dry) chick peas (garbanzo beans are the same thing)

1 red onion

2 Persian cucumbers (or 1 regular cucumber, deseeded)

So many herbs. Mmmm, herbs.

3 sprigs of mint

1 lb. of grape tomatoes

Creamy Cilantro Vinaigrette

1/2 bunch parsley (curly or flat leaf)

1/2 bunch cilantro

1 T. cumin seeds

1 T. dried thyme

4 garlic cloves

1/4 c. olive oil

1 T. red wine vinegar

juice of 1 lemon

1/3 c. greek yogurt

1/2 a serrano pepper

1 t. salt

1 t. pepper

Steps

Salad

Before I go on, let me explain to you why I specifically said to use dry chick peas and not the crappy ones from the can. I will ALWAYS tell you that you should use real beans and not dry ones. Always. However, this time I went ahead and had a friend test the recipe, and he used canned beans. He said that, while it was a good recipe, the beans were a little overwhelming and mealy. Mealiness, aside from being one of the grossest words in English, is near the top of the list of reasons that canned beans are the worst. For something like a salad where the beans will be the primary vessel for all the flavors, you can’t be messing with that crap. Right.

So make the beans the way the bag tells you to, or do what I did and boil them, unsoaked, on high in a heavy pot with a bunch of water and 3 tablespoons of salt for 3 hours. It worked well. You want the chick peas done but not mushy. Also, what’s the deal with chick peas and black eyed peas? Do they really think they’re fooling anybody? We know you’re beans, give it up.

Anyways, drain the beans and throw them into a big salad bowl/mixing bowl/whatever you’re going to want to keep this salad in. Take the red onion and dice it into small pieces that are fairly uniform. I actually got in a hurry with this part and was not pleased with the fact that there were awkwardly sized chunks of onion floating around on my plate, be less lazy than me. Throw the onion into the bowl with the peas, and now we’ll cut up other fun things.

The reason I used persian cucumbers is because I didn’t have to skin or deseed them before I cut them into quarters and then cut those quarters into little slices. If neither of these things bother you, use real cucumbers. Cut all the grape tomatoes in half and throw them into the bowl, too. Now it’s time to learn the only interesting thing about this recipe from a technique perspective: How to chiffonade mint! I’ll line up some pictures, check the captions for the how-to.

Pull the leaves off of a mint sprig and stack them neatly on your cutting board.

Roll up the mint leaves like a tiny, tightly-wrapped burrito.

Cut thin slices off of your mint burrito, making beautiful little ribbons of mint.

Take this pile o’ minty goodness and sprinkle it over the top of everything else that’s already in your bowl. Wait to put the cheese in till the last minute so when you’re mixing you don’t turn the cheese into goo. Now, let’s make some salad dressing.

Creamy Cilantro Vinaigrette

Remember, leafy plants like herbs are mostly water anyways, so they'll turn into liquid no problem.

So this recipe is very simple, but requires some equipment. Namely, it requires a blender. I have an immersion blender which I call a stick blender, but my friends make fun of me for not using its proper name. I have weird friends. Anyways, I really just took all the ingredients listed for the dressing and then proceeded to blend the crap out of it. I didn’t do any pre cutting or anything else, I just threw it all in a cup and let my stick blender do its thing. Oh, and spilled everywhere. Yeah that was kind of crappy.

If you’re using a regular blender, be sure to put all your liquid ingredients at the bottom of the blender and mix things around with a spoon several times to make sure you get everything.

The color you’re looking for is almost neon green — as the yogurt and herbs emulsify, the color becomes really cool. Once you get there, give it one more stir to check for lumps (especially garlic, stems of herbs, or pieces of the serrano) and then you’re ready to dress and toss the salad.

So I had a little less dressing than the recipe calls for (since I kind of dumped the rest all over my counter when my blender exploded) but I feel like the full amount would have been even better.

There really isn’t a lot to dressing a chick pea salad; pour the dressing in and mix everything up. I added the cheese after I had done a quick toss with the dressing to keep from beating it up too bad. If you’re using pre-crumbled feta, just dump it in, if you’re using a brick of feta, crumble it up with your fingers.

As I said earlier, this stuff can sit for a few hours or even overnight to be super double awesome. If you want to serve it with a little bit of pizzaz (what a great word!), save some of the cilantro and parsley and cut it up and throw it on top as a garnish. In terms of serving suggestions, I made a ground venison thing that I served this on top of, and that was a fantastic pairing. If you want the recipe for said ground venison, share this post with somebody and let me know you did (with a comment or a post on the facebook page or something)

Seriously, the ground meat stuff was a perfect compliment. You want to reshare.

Let’s Eat!

– N

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

27 Feb

Gumbo sticks to your ribs better than any other soup ever. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Alright friends, this time, I’m managing to make my weekly post quota a whole two weeks in a row! Gumbo is one of my all-time favorite foods, and it’s a lot of fun to make. Also, the moment that you dump your cajun trinity into the roux and it sizzles is my all-time favorite smell in the world. Yes, I’m aware I have an oddly specific all-time favorite smell.

Anyways, we had an awesome luncheon at the church where I’m an intern after service, and I made this gumbo. It went over pretty well, but I was amazed how few yankees have ever had gumbo! It’s not that hard to make (other than roux, but it’s more intimidating than it is difficult), and is a great way to get rid of extra stuff sitting in your fridge. So let’s get on to that gumbo. Also, this is a big recipe, you can definitely scale it down for, you know, groups smaller than 30-40 people.

Stuff

4 lbs. chicken (I used boneless skinless thighs, because dark meat is the best.)

Cooking in the church's big, new industrial kitchen was way nicer than cooking in the kitchenette in my apartment.

3 lbs. andouille sausage (any smoked link sausage will do, andouille is just the most authentic cajun one)

3 large onions

3 large green bell peppers

7-8 stalks of celery

10 cloves of garlic

2 lbs okra

1 bunch parsley, chopped

2 T. fresh thyme, chopped

3 T. cajun seasoning

1 T. cayenne pepper

3 bay leaves

4 oz. chicken base

1 c. vegetable oil

1 1/2 c. flour

Steps

Mmm....chopped veggies.

I was cooking on a pretty tight schedule, so I made this gumbo faster than normal. However, it was the best chicken and sausage gumbo I’ve ever made, so maybe that was a good thing. First, you have to cut up your cajun trinity.

The traditional French trinity of vegetables is onions, carrots and celery. The French Canadians that moved to Louisiana modified their French methods, substituting bell peppers for the carrots. The inclusion of these three vegetables in the base of most cajun and creole foods adds the distinct flavor that makes it all so good. So. Good.

Chop up the onions, celery and bell peppers. I’ve already taught you how to cut onions, so we’ll move on to the celery and bell peppers. Celery is pretty easy to cut up, you just, you know, cut it. Sometimes with bigger stalks you’ll have to do more than just cut across, do this by putting some slices parallel with the stalk through the thickest part of the celery, then just cut them up in thin slices. Celery breaks down quickly when you cook it, so it doesn’t have to be perfect. Bell peppers actually take some work and are a little counter-intuitive the first time you cut them, so I made a handy diagram:

Chop! That! Bell Pepper!

Okay, now your vegetables are cut up. Smash your 10 cloves of garlic and throw them in with the veggies, and set this aside while you make yourself some roux. Before you make your roux, remember one thing: it is not as hard as you think it is. People are all so scared to make roux, but if you’re paying attention it’s not particularly difficult, I promise.

Here it is right after the flour was added. Make sure you stir all the lumps out, but that will happen anyways since you will be stirring for many units of time.

If you read that and you’re confused, either you have been making roux for a long time and also don’t buy the hype, or you are saying, “Why does he keep using the word roux, what in the world is a roux, and how do you pronounce it??”

A roux (pronounced rue) is a basic gravy and one of those French holdovers in Louisiana cooking. Basically, you’re browning flour in oil in approximately equal parts. I guess equal parts are maybe supposed to be by weight, or something, because by volume I always end up using more flour than oil.

Put a big, huge pot on medium-high heat and put the oil into it. After it gets warm, dump the flour into the pot, too. I used a whisk this time, a lot of salty vets of the Cajun world will tell you that you have to stir roux with a wood spoon. I usually take their advice, because they’re saltier than I am. If you don’t like wooden spoons or, like me, you didn’t have one, a whisk works well too. The hardest part of making roux is that you have to stand in front of the stove for 10-15 minutes stirring almost constantly. NEVER let roux sit untended for more than 20 or 30 seconds or you will be making burned flour instead of roux.

This is the roux right before I added the vegetables. At this point, things move fast, I was scared to pause long enough to take a picture even.

A lot of people measure the length of time it takes to make roux by the number of beers they drink while it’s cooking. Because I was at a church and it was 9 a.m., I measured how long the roux took by looking at it. Good gumbo roux is a two beer roux, which means it’s a very dark roux, toeing the line between dark and burnt, even. The color you are looking for, as the picture tries to show, is chocolate brown. Somewhere closer to milk chocolate than dark chocolate. However, if you cross from dark chocolate to black, throw out what you have made, for it is burnt and will taste awful.

The aroma is intoxicating. No but really, so good.

You will probably be concerned at some point that nothing seems to be happening even though the flame is on and you are stirring. However, once the color of the roux really starts to change, it will change FAST. I cannot over-ephasize how quickly you’ll need to work once you hit that magic chocolate point. When you get there, quickly grab the vegetables and throw them into the pot in order to release that magical, magical smell that I was talking about earlier. Seriously, if they could bottle that I would wear it as cologne every day and not care what everybody else thought. Stir the veggies in quickly, then add almost a gallon and a half of water. Turn the heat up and bring everything up to a boil. As you cook, taste for salt level, and add water if things are too salty. Remember that your sausage will make everything saltier, too; that’s why there’s no salt in this recipe.

Once all your veggies are in the pot, go ahead and add all your herbs and spices including your chicken base. I had never used chicken base before, only bullion and broth or stock; chicken base is super, super good, I’m now a believer. Obviously, you could use bullion or stock instead of water if that’s what you had and or wanted to use, but, like I said earlier, this is definitely the best chicken and sausage gumbo I have ever made.

Cuttin' chicken.

Let this mixture cook for like an hour while you prep everything else and, if you work at a church, go to the first half of the worship service and give the “words of liberation and grace.” Cut up your chicken into one inch cubes, slice your sausage into rounds, and set them aside.

Throw the chicken into the pot, but hold off on the sausage for awhile. Smoked sausages like andouille come fully cooked, and you want the sausage to retain some of the sausageness, snap and flavor. After the chicken has cooked for about ten minutes, add the sausage and prep your okra.

Some people don’t like okra. When people say that, sometimes I have to quench the desire to shoot back, “Well I don’t like you.” After I escape this tendency, I explain that, for stews like gumbo, a thickener like okra helps to make sure that the broth has the proper consistency and that some of the extra fat is absorbed.

Sorry it's a little out of focus, I took all these pictures with my iPhone.

Rinse the okra thoroughly, because sometimes it is very dirty. Cut the okra into round slices, and throw the caps away. Keep the bottom tips though, because they will quickly dissolve into thickener.

Add the okra to the gumbo pot. Stir it occasionally for 15-20 minutes, and then you will pretty much be ready to serve the okra. I made a hotel pan full of rice in the oven while I was cooking the okra, because you traditionally serve gumbo over rice, piping hot. Gumbo also keeps really well, the flavors keep on mixing and deepening over the course of a few days. The two things I did not have for this gumbo are file powder, which you serve with the gumbo, and crusty French bread, because I forgot to buy it. Have I mentioned I love gumbo? Man, I love gumbo. This is a little bit spicy a recipe for people who like bland foods, you could probably cut the cayenne down quite a bit if you do not like spicy food.

The gumbo, sitting on rice, being awesome.

Let’s eat!

–N

Smoked Gouda Cheese Sticks

20 Feb

These things were really good. Your cardiologist might beg to differ.

Yeah, so I haven’t posted in 5 months. WHAT? FIVE MONTHS?? How did that happen? Yeesh. I sincerely apologize for failing so hard at blogging. Maybe I’ll be better at it now? Yes? Yes. I will.

Anyways, there was a Methodist potluck here at school and I decided to make something new and exciting that would impress my Methodist friends. I was desperate for inspiration and down in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan when I had an epiphany. I was at a legendary cheese shop with the most ridiculous prices in the world (seriously, it probably disproves some basic pillars of economic theory to sell cheese this cheap) and then I started thinking about fried cheese sticks.

Did you know that everybody loves fried cheese? It’s true, even the lactose intolerant folks in the world love the forbidden fruit of breaded and fried sticks of moldy milk. Since this is true, it must be the case that we make cheese sticks out of lots of kinds of cheese, right? Wrong. I have never seen cheese sticks made out of anything but mozzarella. This upset me greatly. After I suppressed my rage and calmed down, I bought a 3 pound log of delicious looking Smoked Gouda (for NINE dollars. I told you this cheese shop defied economics) and got to work. Let’s get to it.

Stuff

3 lbs of smoked Gouda

1/2 can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

Not pictured: Panko. Mostly because I hadn't bought any yet.

1/4 c. olive oil

4 cloves garlic

1 T. black pepper (plus more for breading)

1 c. flour

1 c. cornmeal

3 eggs

1/2 c. water

8 oz. plain Panko bread crumbs

a lot of vegetable oil

Steps

I decided I would marinate the gouda overnight for three reasons. The first and most obvious is that I love things that have strong flavors, and marinates help do that. The second is that you want to fry cold cheese, and cutting the gouda into strips would warm it up — more on that later. The third is that you need to moisten the cheese a little bit before you bread it anyway. Right. so on to cutting the cheese. Ha.

I'm way more proud of this graphic than I should be. Also, a 3 lb. log of Gouda is a LOT of cheese.

Mucho queso.

Cut one inch thick rounds out of the Gouda, and then cut said rounds into sticks that are about half an inch across. It is important to pay attention to keeping the rounds uniformly an inch thick, because if you don’t you’ll end up with cheese slivers instead of cheese sticks, and slivers don’t fry well.

Once you’ve got your cheese cut up, put it in a big zipper bag. Add half of the contents of the can of chipotle peppers. A couple of the peppers themselves are good to include, but the magic here is that adobo sauce. It is liquid flavor magic. Mince the garlic cloves, throw them into the bag too. Add the olive

Cheese. In a bag. With happy fun friends like chipotles.

oil and black pepper, close the bag, and shake it up to make sure everything gets a relatively even coating. Use a straw to suck all the extra air out of the bag (cheese doesn’t like being stored with air) and put the bag into the fridge overnight so the flavors can all get happy together.

When you’re ready to fry, set yourself up an assembly line of frying happiness. First, put a big pot (I use my dutch oven) of vegetable oil on the stove on medium or medium-high heat. Make sure you have a good 3″ or so of oil in the pot.

fresh out of the marinade bag.

The reason you want to use a lot of oil when you’re frying is that it maintains temperature much better when it gets hit with the cold cheese sticks. Also, you need to be able to fully submerse the sticks or they won’t fry, they’ll just soak up grease.

To make your breading assembly line, mix the flour and corn meal on a plate or in a shallow

Floured.

bowl.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs and water together until they’re super smooth. Put the bread crumbs on a plate with about a teaspoon of cracked black pepper. Once the oil is hot, get out the cheese sticks and start breading.

Ordinarily, I like to fry stuff at 350-375 degrees, but for the cheese sticks I was aiming

Breaded.

to keep the oil right around 320. Because you want the cheese to start to melt before the

breading burns, it’s necessary to fry a little cooler than normal. I was frying 8-10 cheese sticks at a time and it worked wonderfully.

To bread your cheese sticks, first roll each stick around in the flour until it has a uniform light coating on it. Then give it a quick dunk in the egg wash and then coat it completely with panko bread crumbs. I used a small plate to transfer the breaded sticks into the frying oil, it worked out pretty well.

I've told you this before, but you should really invest in some cast iron cookware. It maintains temperatures for frying so, so well.

Once a flight of cheese sticks are ready for their hot oil bath, gently lay them into the oil from the plate. Surprisingly, I did not have any issues with these things sticking to each other in the oil, so don’t worry about perfect placement. They do not need to fry for very long, about a minute was plenty of time while I was cooking. You’re looking for a deep golden brown. When the sticks are ready to come out of the oil, use a set of tongs to pul them out individually, gently shake all the excess oil off, and lay them on some paper towels to absorb all the extra grease.

Using paper towels to drain is always a good idea. I was able to stack another set on top of these with a layer of towels in between with no sogginess issues.

This whole process is pretty messy. My assembly line was cheese to flour, flour to egg, egg to bread crumbs, into the fryer, wash hands while cheese is in fryer, pull cheese sticks out with tongs, and repeat. This means I rinsed my hands like 10 times.

Panko is a bizarre and wonderful substance that has an incredible ability to remain crispy and not greasy. That made these cheese sticks really pop. They were super delicious.

I served the Gouda sticks with a delicious chipotle aioli dipping sauce that really brought out the subtle chipotle flavor from the marinade. If you share this blog, I will send you the recipe for the aioli. You want to get the recipe for this aioli, I promise. These things were really, really good. I made what I thought was way too many, but I had no problem giving all the rest of them away.

Seriously, you want to repost or email this to people so you can get that aioli recipe.

Let’s Eat!

–N

Beer-Battered Onion Rings

19 Sep

The light through the window makes the onion rings look divine. They were almost that good.

So I’ve been a pretty terrible excuse for a blogger as I’ve gotten re-situated back in NYC. I have done a little bit of cooking/I’ve taken some pictures, so I do have stuff to blog about, I just haven’t done it. But I think I’ve got a schedule figured out now, so hopefully I will begin to suck less at updating.

Right. So a little while back we had a student activities potluck and I decided that I didn’t want to make ludefisk or green bean casserole. Even though most fried things don’t keep for more than a few minutes, I’ve always thought onion rings that had been sitting for a half hour or so were at least as good as the totally fresh kind. Also, since I just moved back up here, my dutch oven hadn’t been cooked in for like 4 months and needed me to fry in it to re-season it. So onion rings it was. They were a big hit at the potluck. If you decide to make these things as a side dish with a complete meal, send me pictures of how they turn out/what you pair them with! Down to business.

Stuff

Check out my sweet new butcher block table! Thank you Swedes for making furniture I can afford.

2 big yellow onions (or white onions if you enjoy wasting money)

Flour, +/- 1 cup

Yellow corn meal, +/- 1 cup

Lots of vegetable oil

1 egg

1 T. Worcestershire Sauce

Beer (I ended up using about a cup of beer, which was less than I thought I would need. Also, because this is a very simple recipe, do not use crappy beer. I bought a toasted lager that had enough flavor and color to really stand out. I’ve made beer batter with cheap domestic light beers, and it’s fine for some stuff, but definitely not for this. Use beer with character and color)

1 t. garlic powder

Pepper

Salt

Seasoned salt

Steps

My overwhelming affinity for cast iron is definitely one of my redneck tendencies.

First of all, a word about frying hardware (again, as we briefly discussed this with the fried chicken recipe). There is nothing in the world that has ever been better for frying things than cast iron. Really, there is nothing that is better for cooking almost anything in than well-seasoned cast iron. I live in a hotel room sized studio apartment and I have 5 pans: a nonstick sauce pot, a cast iron skillet, a cast iron dutch oven, a wok, and a cast aluminum (I think) grill pan. That’s a long way of saying you can make almost anything in a cast iron skillet or dutch oven if you learn to take care of them right. I fear I’ve lost you on this rant though. Back to making onion rings.

So the general idea for frying onion rings is to fry in relatively hot oil (375 or so) that is deep enough to maintain an even temperature and allow you to fry several rings at once. It can get expensive to use a lot of oil, but there are lots of ways to strain and reuse oil that has been used for deep frying. So go ahead and use a lot of oil (I had 3-4″ of it in there) and put it on medium high heat. If you’re still not comfortable with estimating oil temperature by the way it looks/how things sizzle, get a candy thermometer to use until you are. If the oil gets above 400, turn it down, it can get dangerous; if it gets below 350, turn it up or you’ll be eating soggy greasy fried goods.

I put my liquid in before I put my egg in. I don't know why, but it worked out fine.

While your oil is heating up, make your beer batter. Start by putting a cup of flour, a cup of cornmeal, 2 T. of salt, 1 t. of garlic powder and a full T. of black pepper in a big mixing bowl. Use a whisk to mix this up, and then it’s time to start adding wet ingredients.

There are not exact numbers on this batter recipe because you are aiming at a certain consistency. start by adding enough beer (and your egg) to start to make a dough. Whisk your batter until it’s smooth, but not so much that all of the delicious bubbles from the delicious beer escape. Beer batter is good because it’s light and fluffy. The consistency you should be aiming for with this stuff is thinner than pancake batter but thicker than crepe batter. if it’s too thin, it won’t stick to the onions, it’s too thick, it will all stick to  a couple of onions. If you make it too thin, there is a really easy fix. Instead of panicking or eating onion rings that are really just greasy onions with some goo on them, add a little bit more flour and cornmeal.

So now you have hot oil and batter. That means it’s time to cut your onions into rings. When you’re at the store, buy the really big onions. Like huge. Then do this:

Remember to be gentle when you’re separating out rings from the onions. Also remember that sections of a sphere like an onion have an iceberg-like shape, so be sure you aren’t trying to push the wide part up through the narrower part of the thing. And don’t worry too much about getting every single ring; a little bit of wasted onion is not the end of the world/you can always chop them up and use them in anything else.

I used a 2 fork method: one for the batter side and dropping them into oil, one for moving them around in the oil and pulling them out.

I was actually surprised how many rings I was getting out of each of the onions I bought. I thought I’d need 5 or 6 of them at least, and I just used 2. Once I’d cut about 2/3 of an onion into slices, I started battering and frying. I was able to fry about 5 rings at a time. It may take a few tries to get the right level of batter on them — I would shake them on the fork a little bit to get an even but not overly gloppy coating.

Gently lay the rings into hot oil and cook them for about 2 minutes apiece or until they are golden brown. This batter came out a little bit lighter colored than traditional onion rings, and they were freaking beautiful.

As you pull the rings out of the fryer, shake the excess oil of of them, put them on a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle them with some seasoned salt.

Sizzle sizzle!

Make sure you season them while they’re still hot. If you season stuff right after it comes out of the fryer it absorbs the seasoning and tastes much better.

I did not serve these rings with any ketchup or anything because I wanted people to taste the beer batter. Between the beer and the garlic powder and the copious amounts of black pepper, ketchup really would have just gotten in the way.

Rings anyone?

Let’s Eat!

–N

Campechana

29 Aug

What's better than shrimp or crab? Shrimp and crab.

This meal was made on South Padre Island, Texas! I was on an end of the summer family vacation, and so I had to make something with local seafood while I was down there, so shrimp and crab campechana was the best choice. Also, my mom has a big garden and I brought some of her home-grown produce, and that made the campechana even better. It is the perfect delicious summer beach meal.

For those of you who don’t know, campechana is a combination of pico de gallo, shellfish and avocado that is a lot like ceviche.  It is delicious, and the next time you have enough money to buy a bunch of crabmeat and shrimp (which does not happen for me very often) you should make it. Therefore, I’ll go ahead and tell you how.

Stuff

Home grown vegetables look cooler.

1 1/2 lb. shrimp

1/2 lb. lump crabmeat

3 avocados

3 tomatoes (or 8-10 small homegrown tomatoes)

1 large red onion

5 jalapeños

1/2 a bunch of cilantro

6 cloves garlic, plus one head

2 limes

one small yellow onion

1 t. cumin seeds

2 T. mayo

salt

pepper

Steps

The water boiled up like this, and ended up boiling out of the pot, onto the stove, and requiring a massive cleaning.

Take a pretty big pot, put in a couple quarts of water and set it on a burner to boil. While you’re waiting on water to boil, take all of the pico ingredients listed above (tomato, red onion, 4/5 jalapeños, 6 cloves garlic, 1 lime, 1 t. salt, 1 t. pepper, and 1 t. cumin seeds) and make pico de gallo. I didn’t pull all the seeds out of the tomatoes in this pico, but I was using those delicious little homegrown ones and did not want to waste any of them. I did, however, make sure to seed all of the peppers, because these homegrown jalapeños I used are HOT. At some point while you’re chopping things, the water on the stove will boil. When it does, throw in 2 tablespoons of salt, a head of garlic with the top cut off, a jalapeño sliced in half, an onion cut into quarters, and some cracked black pepper and let it keep boiling until it’s at a screaming rolling boil. I say screaming because shrimp taste funny if they poach instead of boil, so you want your water to be hot enough that it gets back to a boil quickly when you add shrimp.

Boiled shrimp. You should probably go ahead and eat a couple to make sure they're good.

Throw the shrimp in the pot, and once it comes back up to a boil let them cook for 3 minutes. Pull them and throw them into a colander full of ice to stop the cooking, and then go back to making your pico. Once you’ve made the pico, it’s time to peel and de-vein the shrimp.

A word about de-veining: it really, really does not matter. Some people are convinced that the little vein in shrimp that is full of mud and “such” is disgusting, but most of those people won’t eat seafood anyways, so whatever. If you must de-vein, my word of advice is to use a small knife. I never use small knives for anything, but you kind of need to feel the point of the blade along the top of a shrimp here, and so you’re going to need a knife small enough to handle with one hand while you do that. You know what, I’m done trying to explain this process, look at the picture:Once you’ve peeled your shrimp, throw them into the bucket with the pico. Sadly, I didn’t have any serving buckets, so I just used a pyrex dish. Once the shrimp and the pico are hanging out together, add the lump crab meat, lime juice, cumin seeds, about a teaspoon of salt, pepper and mayo, mix well, and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. I don’t know why, but that mayonnaise is completely necessary to get everything to marry together properly. Once you’ve mixed everything up you can let it sit for awhile (even in the fridge for a couple hours if you’re not ready to eat it just yet). When you are ready to serve is when to add the avocado, as brown avocado is not as good as not brown avocado. I have some cool pictures of how to cut avocados up into little pieces, but I’ll save those for those of you who repost. Serve this stuff with chips, and you’ll have an appetizer that’s really a meal. If you have leftovers, you can do some pretty cool stuff with them (salads, omelets, sandwiches). Yum.

Beach-front seafood bliss.

Let’s Eat!

–N

Chipotle Chimichurri Steak and Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus

15 Aug

Mmmm....steak

Hello friends! Sorry about the delay between entries, I’ve been traveling and not really had access to the internet. So I was on the move from Phoenix back to Texas, where I’ll be for a couple weeks before I head back to NYC. This past week I got a chance to make dinner with some friends in Houston that are on the paleo-diet, and so I went a drastically different direction than my recent vegetarian-friendly entries. Chimichurri is an Argentinian sauce heavy on cilantro and garlic that is spicy and delicious.

Ordinarily, I would save the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus for a bonus recipe, but because I’ve been a lazy person and not posting for awhile, I’m just going to give it to you at the end of the post. It was particularly delicious. Anyways, a big thanks to Dana and Pat for giving me stuff to cook, a place to cook it, and a fun meal! On to the stuff.

Stuff

for the steak

This is a terrible picture. Dana has a super nice camera that I'm not smart enough to use. She took most of the pictures, they are very good. This one, she did not take.

4 steaks (I used 3/4″ T-bones, and ended up being pretty pleased with them)

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 c. of soy sauce

4 T black pepper (yes, a whole tablespoon per steak)

1/4 c. olive oil

for the chimichurri

2 bunches of cilantro

5 cloves of garlic

2-3 chipotle peppers

1/2 c. olive oil

1/2 c. red wine vinegar

I've been told more pictures = better blog. Here's more pictures.

1 t. black pepper

1 t. salt

for the asparagus

2 bunches of asparagus

8 thin slices of prosciutto

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 c. balsamic vinegar

1/4 c. olive oil

1/4 c. dijon mustard

1 T. black pepper

1 t. salt

Steps

Steak

This is a very simple marinade by my standards. I generally leave good steak alone.

First, marination. For the steak, take all the ingredients that aren’t steak and put them onto the ingredient that is steak. Traditional South American steaks aren’t cut super thick, but I do not think that you would be detracting from your experience by using thicker steaks than I did here. Also, get a good solid dusting of black pepper and garlic onto each steak — I actually put a little bit of marinate on each one individually, I didn’t just throw them all into a bag like I often will. With steak, you’re trying to create the right kind of texture to sear well, and an even coating of seasonings aides in that process. At this point, let your steaks sit for an hour or 2 (or even overnight if you feel like refrigerating them), and go do other things, like make the chimichurri and asparagus.

Now, grilling. When I grill steak, I try to grill steak on as hot a grill as I possibly can. This is because I believe that

The photography here makes me look like I'm flipping a steak like a pancake. I'm not. Really cool picture, though

steaks should be seared to lock in all the delicious juices and then cooked not a minute past medium-rare. If you ask for a steak cooked medium, I will scowl at you and then go ahead and make it, but I won’t be happy about it.

I was using a propane grill at the apartment complex that got pretty stinking hot. I let it heat up for about 15 minutes before I started cooking the asparagus, and then cooked them for awhile before the steaks hit. Once I was ready to put steaks on, I cooked them for two minutes a side on a fire that was probably close to 525 degrees. By the time you get everything flipped and then pulled off the fire, that’s close to 5 minutes total, which is not a lot of time, but remember that I was working with fairly thin steaks. Also, for those of you who are environmentally prevented from grilling things, I’ll do an entry on cast-iron skillet steak cooking when I get back to NYC.

One last thing about steaks — let them sit for at least 10 minutes before you serve them. Meat does this crazy thing where it reabsorbs its natural juices as it cools off, so if you let stuff cool some, it turns out way more juicy flavorful and tender. It’s worth the wait, don’t get impatient.

Chimichurri

Not pictured: garlic.

Chimichurri sauce is delicious. It is also very easy. Essentially, you combine all of the ingredients in the blender and blend it until it’s not chunky anymore. If you wanted to half the recipe I used, you totally could, because we had a bunch left over, but extra chimichurri sauce is not a bad thing to have in your fridge for a few days.

We don't need no stinkin' stems.

In terms of little things you may want to know, I broke the ends off of the cilantro, as demonstrated in this lovely photo, before I put them into the blender. I threw the stems away. While cilantro stems taste good, they’re more watery than the leafy parts are, so they would have made the sauce runny. However, I definitely didn’t cut up the cilantro and remove the stems from in the leafy part, I just got rid of the bottom stems. I did this with a twist and rip method, which is much quicker and easier than a “use a cutting board and a knife and make more stuff dirty” method.

Not only does getting some serious lean into your blending stance make you look cooler, it also greatly increases blender performance.

Chipotle peppers are delicious, and were great in this sauce, but if you can’t find them you can use any dried chiles. Because of the oil and vinegar, if the sauce sits for 30-45 minutes the peppers will become reconstituted enough to be delicious instead of papery. Also, our chimichurri was pleasantly spicy, but if you’re a chilehead like me you would have preferred that I put 4 chipotles in it.

Lastly, if you do something dumb, like forget to put the garlic in the blender before you make the chimichurri, don’t panic. (Note: I might have forgotten to put the garlic in the blender before I made the chimichurri.) Just chop whatever you forget (assuming it’s solid and not liquid) and then throw it in. You’re chopping it so that you don’t have to over-process everything else just to get what you did wrong small enough for consumption. Anyways, let this delicious sauce sit for at least 30 minutes, which should be enough time to prep the asparagus and grill everything.

Asparagus

Break me off a piece of that asparagus...that isn't really edible...

Some of you may not love asparagus. I say to you, “stop being dumb.” Stuff’s crazy delicious, and apparently good for you.

Before you cook asparagi (probably not the right plural, but it is very fun to say), you have to break off the tough and woody ends. This is the end of the asparagus that does not look like a little tree. to break them, hold the asparagus by the end you want to break off in one hand and the middle of the stalk in the other and bend it till it snaps. Throw away the crappy part, and put all the not crappy parts together in a casserole dish facing the same direction. You’ll thank me for telling you to make them all face the same direction later. Once you’ve snapped all of the asparagi, it is time to marinate them.

I actually stole the idea for prosciutto-wrapped asparagus from a friend that had them at some restaurant, but those were seasoned very basically. I like really big flavor, so I combined my normal grilled asparagus marinate with the prosciutto wrapping technique and this is what we got. To marinate the asparagus, put you vinegar, oil, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper on top of the asparaguses (see, that’s siller looking than asparagi) and then swirl them around to coat. Remember though, keep them all facing the same direction or face grave inconvenience at the next step. These things could keep overnight in the fridge at this point, but as long as they sit for 10-15 minutes they will be fine.

bundled 'gus.

To make the little bundles of aspara-joy you see in the pictures, simply take a piece of prosciutto out of its packaging (the stuff is thin and delicate, so be careful) and lay it on your cutting board. Take a section of the asparagus —approximately as many as you think is a reasonable sized serving for one person — and set them on top of the prosciutto about 1/4 of the way from the left side of the prosciutto to the right. Now, fold the left piece of prosciutto over and then roll the whole bundle all the way to the end of the prosciutto carpet. Repeat until you are out of asparagus. Also, a little too small is going to be much easier to manage on the grill than a little too big, I had one blow up and was really embarrassed.

Gus on grill. Dana takes awesome photos, yes?

When you’re grilling these things, they will tighten up as they cook, and you’ll need to be sure not to beat them up too much or they’ll fall apart. Ours took about  15 minutes on a hot grill, turning 1/4 turns frequently. When the asparagus started to look done (flecks of black on the ends and more wilted and, well, cooked than they did before), I moved them to the top rack of the grill so that I could make my steaks. You could achieve the same results as my 10 minutes high/5 minutes indirect heat method by cooking 20 minutes or so on a more medium grill.

Once I had everything done, I tried to plate the steaks with the chimichurri sauce in a way that looked really pretty. I did not succeed, but I do think that this stuff looks pretty tasty.

Medium rare achieved.

Let’s Eat!

–N

Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese Vinaigrette

28 Jul

The finished product, with marinated grilled tempeh on top. Hint: grilled tempeh might be the bonus recipe.

So my last post most certainly held up the redneck part of the name, but it was severely lacking in the fresh department. I decided I really needed to do something that focused on fresh veggies and big flavors. I have recently rediscovered how good arugula is, and wanted to take on the challenge of making an arugula salad.

Also, I have a brilliant idea here to enhance my readership. If you repost the link to this page, I’ll email you a bonus recipe! Every week, we’ll have the same deal: you repost, I email you a recipe that compliments the week’s blog entry. Just leave your email address as a comment, I’ll leave it pending so that nobody else sees it, and then you’ll get a delicious bonus recipe. Anyways, back to the salad.

While I’ll go into particulars when I get into the breakdown, the key to making a good salad that has a lot of different ingredients is balancing amounts and flavors. Also, don’t feel compelled to scour the earth for every single thing in this salad, it’s a salad: the point is to use the stuff that looks fresh and delicious when you go buy groceries. Let’s get on with it.

Stuff

This salad served three hungry adults 

Salad

Someday, I'll take a good ingredient picture. Today is not that day.

1 tub of baby arugula

2 carrots

1 red bell pepper

1 yellow bell pepper

2 cups sliced mushrooms

1/2 red onion

1 ripe tomato (I used the on-the-vine kind)

6-8 fresh strawberries, sliced

1/2 c. chopped walnuts

1/4 c. (more or less, I kept adding more) grated parmesan

1 T. olive oil

1 t. balsamic vinegar

Vinaigrette

1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

4 T. goat cheese

1 lemon

1/4 c. white wine vinegar

2 cloves garlic

1/3 serrano pepper

1 t. fresh rosemary

1 t. fresh oregano

1/2 t. cumin seeds

1/2 t. black pepper

1/2 t. white pepper

1 t. salt

Steps

For steps, I’m going to break this down into 3 parts: roasting the peppers, making the vinaigrette and assembling the salad. I also used roasted red peppers in the  grilled pizza entry, so if you haven’t made that yet, you can use this there, too.

Roasted Peppers

I used one red and one yellow pepper to make the salad more colorful.

Aside from the peppers themselves, y0u will need a plastic sack for this. If you like wasting money, you can use a ziplock bag; if you don’t like wasting money, a normal produce sack from the grocery store will do just as well. Roasting peppers intimidates people for some reason, but it’s actually crazy easy, and makes peppers sweet and delicious.

If you’re using a grill to roast peppers, kick it up to high heat. If you don’t have a grill or don’t want to waste a bunch of charcoal, you can use your gas cooktop (on high). If you don’t have a gas cooktop, you can use the broiler function (on high) in the oven. If you don’t have an oven, you can buy roasted red peppers at the store.

Seriously, burn the crap out of them. These aren't quite done yet. The grill wasn't super hot, so it took me like 20 minutes.

Anyways, roasting peppers: put pepper over heat and burn the crap out of it. Really, that’s what you do. If it’s on a grill, keep turning the pepper until all of the outer skin is blistered and black; if it’s on a gas stove, set the pepper directly on the pot guard on your stove and turn (with tongs) often until all of the skin is blistered and black; if it’s in the oven, put the pepper directly under the broiler, close to the heating element (with something underneath it to catch any runaway pepper juice) turning ever 3-4 minutes until it’s blistered and black.

You can almost see that steam doing work on those peppers.

Once you have blistered all of the skin on the bell peppers, pull them from the heat into a plastic sack and tie it closed for 10-15 minutes. Try to get most of the extra air out of the bag before you seal it. The heat in the peppers will continue to steam the insides, and the steam will also cause the blistered and blackened outer skin to peel off of the delicious roasted inside of the pepper way more easily. While my peppers were steaming, I went inside and grated carrots and made the salad dressing, but you can do whatever you’d like, I suppose.

Step 1: peel.

Once your peppers have been sitting for awhile, open up the bag and pull one out and set it on your board. Starting from the bottom of the pepper, peel off the blistered and nasty external skin to reveal the sweet and well cooked peppery goodness on the inside. when you get up close to the stem, don’t worry too much about

Step 2: clean.

getting every bit of skin off; you’re going to cut or pull out the stem and seeds anyway. once peeled, run either a knife or your finger up the side of the pepper to open it up, and then tear out the stem and wipe out any seeds you can. Then lay the pepper flat on  your board and cut it into little delicious strips. Also, the pictures to the right are

Step 3: cut.

better at illustrating this than my verbose ramblings. I left my peppers in pretty big pieces, I think I probably should have made the strips about half the thickness and length that they ended up. So do that instead. Alright, now, let’s learn how to make goat cheese vinaigrette.

Goat Cheese Vinaigrette

This is the kind of goat cheese I used. Please don't sue me, goat cheese manufacturer.

This is a relatively easy and super delicious salad dressing with a little bit of sneaky heat to it. Because it’s goat cheese instead of mayonnaise that makes it creamy, it’s also not particularly bad for you. You’ll need a blender to make it, though; if you can figure out a way to do this without a blender, you are way more dedicated than I am.

Take the goat cheese, olive oil, vinegar and the juice from the lemon and put them in the blender. Add all of your dry ingredients (salt,  black and white pepper, cumin seeds), and then add the herbs.

If you also have an herb garden, make sure to wash the herbs and squeeze the water out of them before they go into the blender.

I used oregano and rosemary because that’s what we had in the garden; I pulled the rosemary leaves off of the stem, same with the oregano, and then put the little leaves into the blender whole. Rough chop your serrano pepper (don’t add any seeds, it’s plenty hot as is) and smash your garlic cloves with your knife before you throw them into the blender. Now, blend on liquify (or whatever your high setting is) until the entire combination is, well, liquified and all the chunks of things are completely gone. This recipe actually makes enough dressing for two salads this size, but making any less would be difficult in a normal-sized blender. My dressing ended up sitting out for about 45 minutes, and I think that helped it to develop a more consistent flavor. Also, if your dressing starts to separate back into oil and not-oil while it’s sitting out, that means you didn’t blend enough. Scrape the sides of the blender down and whir that puppy again.

Salad

Baby arugula is a little bit milder than mamma arugula or daddy arugula. If you used regular arugula, you'd probably want to add another carrot.

One thing anybody that cooks for more people than themselves on a somewhat regular basis should own is a decent looking, pretty big salad bowl. Tossing a salad in a bowl that is small is usually messy. I was pushing the limit with this bowl, and narrowly avoided a couple of blowouts.

Throw all the arugula into your salad bowl. Wash, peel, and grate (on the larger-gauge grater holes) your carrot into the bowl too. I know a fair number of people who don’t love carrots and would probably skip them if they made this salad. This is a cry not to, and here is why: Arugula being the only leafy thing in a salad is overpowering. Arugula has a delicious, peppery spicy taste as far as greens go, and that’s great, but it’s too much on its own. Carrots are a low-volume way to temper that arugula flavor with some sweetness. Since carrots are sweeter than actual greens, you can use less carrot for the same effect on flavor as cutting arugula with romaine or some other boring kind of lettuce. Because of this, I say to you spare the carrot, spoil the salad.

Confession: Right after I snapped this picture, pieces of onion shot out from under the knife and all over the floor. Cut onions with both hands.

After your carrot and arugula are in the bowl, add your onion slices. I cut my onion the way this picture shows me cutting my onion because short slices of onion are my favorite fork-sized morsels. If you’re partial to thinner slices or chopped onion, by all means, go to town. After I cut onions into 1/4 moon slices, I broke the layers up with my hands as I put them into the bowl.

This is a good picture of how I cut up the strawberries.

Throw the peppers you roasted into the bowl, and then slice your strawberries. Don’t get so obsessed with using all of the strawberry that you end up putting some of the white stuff from up near the top of the berry into the salad, nobody likes that stuff.

I cut the medium-size vine-ripe tomato I put into my salad into twelfths, I think. It worked out well. Add your nuts and parmesan, and now it’s time to dress and toss. If I had been in Texas, I would have used pecans instead of walnuts, because pecans are cheap in Texas and delicious everywhere, but walnuts are cheaper most places, so I used them instead.

Before I put my mushrooms in the salad (I used sliced baby portabellas), I sautéed them for 5 minutes over medium-high heat in a tablespoon of olive oil. Right as they finished, I splashed a little bit of balsamic vinegar on them to get them to caramelize a little bit, and then I let them sit and cool for five minutes so that they didn’t wilt any lettuce.

I put about 1/3 of my dressing in to start, then after the first toss I added a little bit more.

When you’re dressing and tossing a salad, you have to pay attention to what you’re doing and how everything looks. Also, I have a friend that claims that you should never dress salad and always serve dressing on the side: He is wrong. If you toss a salad with salad dressing, you get a nice even coating on everything, and you can pair your dressing with your salad properly for it to be really delicious. Also, while you’re tossing your salad, pay attention to how it looks and what it might be missing. I had to add more walnuts and parmesan than I originally had in there

This is a pretty good shot of the sweet salad tongs.

because they all disappeared comparative to the volume of everything else. Start with between 1/4 and 1/3 of the dressing you have, then toss thoroughly, taste a piece of lettuce, and decide if you need to add more dressing. It is much easier to add more salad dressing than to take some away. I used these sweet, bear-paw style salad tongs to toss and serve — make sure to get way down to the bottom of the bowl and mix everything up throughly. Like I said at the beginning of the post, I served this salad with grilled tempeh on top, and it paired great. If you’re feeling more carnivorous, this would go great with a sliced grilled steak served on top, or maybe some grilled pork tenderloin. I don’t think I would pair this salad with chicken, though: the chicken doesn’t have a strong enough flavor profile to add anything to a meal with a salad like this one.

Some salads are weak meal replacements. This is not one of those salads.

Let’s Eat!

–N