Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cookbook Spotlight :: Joy of Cooking

I have what seems like seven thousand cookbooks.  There are some in my collection that I constantly refer to, others that I use when I need to feel inspired, and still others that I never use but I have the best of intentions!  I seem to buy cookbooks at a higher-than-average rate.  In fact, I often find myself reading Amazon reviews of cookbooks and an hour will slip by without me even noticing.  And there are evenings when I like to kick back on the couch with a glass of wine and a cookbook.  I just read those babies cover to cover like a Shakespearean classic or a Twilight book.  (Had to go with both ends of the spectrum with that analogy!) 

more cookbooks....

and another one that seems to have gotten away from the pack(s)!
There are a few cookbooks that every kitchen should have and some that you should either pass on or check out from the library first.  If you're me, any trip to Williams & Sonoma or your local book store results in a few unanticipated purchases, but hopefully this series of reviews will help you navigate the cookbook world.  Today's spotlight is on:
Joy of Cooking

Oh how I love this cookbook.  In my kitchen though, it's more of a kitchen dictionary than a truly revolutionary source for recipes.  Joy of Cooking has everything you need -- from recipes to guides on how to use ingredients and kitchen tools to menu ideas to nutrition information.  Want a quick primer on which wine to serve with your dinner?  Joy's got it.  Throwing a cocktail party and want to serve up some fancy drinks?  There's a section on booze drinks.  Mozzarella sticks....homemade pasta...chocolate cake...EVERYTHING is in this cookbook.  And before each section is a quick preview that gives you overall tips and tricks of the pros so that your food comes out great.

The recipes themselves are also quite good (there are 4,500 of them)!  You can use them in a pinch when you have a craving for something but don't have a recipe for it or when you are wondering whether or not you're supposed to peel turnips before you cook them.  It's way easier to look something up midway through your cooking in a book than on the internet...cookbooks are supposed to get dirty!

I've used this cookbook for french toast, the glaze for cinnamon rolls I made earlier this month, and hundreds of other things since I got it as a gift a few years ago.  It is about 1,000 pages of pure information.  Every kitchen should have this cookbook.  Whether you are a beginner or an experienced cook, Joy of Cooking is an incredibly helpful resource.

In short, you should probably buy a copy.  My mom actually found one at goodwill for $5!  Not a bad find for something so useful.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Couscous with Pine Nuts and Cheese

I've turned into a huge fan of leftovers.  When I was growing up, I shunned leftovers like the plague.  Even when my mom cleverly disguised them as something new and interesting, I still refused.  No leftovers for me!  But now I LOVE them.  It makes packing a lunch so much easier.  When the work weeks get busy or I go out a lot for dinner, my lunches really suffer.  This week is going to be packed with happy hours, dinners, and other post-work activities, so tonight I whipped up a super simple couscous right before I went to bed so I'd have something tasty for lunch.  It also would make a wonderful side dish or served up with a side of veggies.  This recipe makes two large portions, or 3-4 side portions.

1 cup dry couscous
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tbls olive oil (optional)
1/3 cup pine nuts*
1/3 - 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
1 tsp garam masala
Salt & Pepper

Cook the couscous according to the package directions.  Generally, you bring the stock with the olive oil to a boil.  Add the couscous, cover the pot, and remove from heat.  Let sit for about 5 minutes until the couscous has absorbed the liquid.  Fluff with a fork.

While this is cooking, toast the pine nuts in a small pan over low heat.  It should take about 5 minutes.  Shake the pan often so that the nuts don't burn on one side!

Add the cheese, toasted pine nuts, garam masala, salt and pepper.  Mix everything together and adjust the seasonings to taste.  If you happen to have some, throw in some chopped cilantro or parsley, if that's your style.  I also top each serving with another drizzle of oil.  Couscous can be a little dry, but this is a mild flavorful dish that would make a great lunch!


*Food Tip: Nuts will go rancid if they are not used quickly.  If you keep them in the freezer, they'll keep longer and you won't have to go to the store as much.  Yay!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Green is the New Black -- Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day is an effort to promote awareness and educate people about how our actions impact the Earth.  What we do today is going to have implications that extend far beyond our nation's borders and our own generation. 

One way you can honor the Earth today is to make a change to your food consumption.  I read somewhere that each purchase you make and every meal you eat is a vote.  So today vote for agricultural practices that benefit out planet instead of harm it, vote for our farmers who raise animals in humane and ethical ways, vote for local Minnesotan produce, vote for chemical-free gardens, and vote for the Earth!

You can find a ton of great resources at Local Harvest and Minnesota Grown.  Go green for the Earth today and maybe you'll find a healthier and more satisfying way to live!

***How will YOU honor the Earth today?***

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"You Are What Your Food Eats"

Wise words from an inspired food blog based here in the Twin Cities!  I stumbled upon 20food when I was scouting out other MN food blogs and immediately felt a bond with these bloggers.  They are a group of 20-something locavores who are committed to eating ethically and sustainably farmed foods.  Sound familiar?  The contributors post about growing their own foods and then cooking with these home-grown items, but a recent post TOTALLY caught my eye and I decided I had to share it with my own blog audience (friends, family, and the occasional and well-welcomed visitor!). 

Grass Fed for Life is about a little trip to Southern Minnesota to see how our some of our food is raised before we consume it.  A quick word: if you cannot stand to see how your food is produced (ahem, watch Food, Inc.) then you probably should not be eating it.  But this particular post discusses a visit to a successful family farm that raises cows and produces organic, chemical-free dairy products.  It's a heartening, informative discussion of the necessity of eating naturally and healthily produced foods.  Do check it out.

A Guide to Wicked Awesome Boston Eats

This last weekend I headed to Boston with the 'rents to watch my dad attempt his fifth Boston Marathon.  We've been quite a few times in the past, so it was kind of a challenge to find new and interesting things to do that fit within the marathon-preparation purview.  But we did manage to check out some new places in this historic city, and I insisted on a few foodie locations along the way! 

Stop One: Haymarket
We had quite a bit of time between our arrival in Boston and our hotel check-in (I didn't plan it...not my fault) so we trekked over to Haymarket, Boston's open air market.  It's not a farmer's market, so they were selling things like bananas and mangoes, but because Boston is a seaside city, they certainly had a fair amount of seafood for sale!
more produce....
BAM!  Fish heads!
It's a really fun place to go wander around and listen to some wicked awesome Boston accents.  (Disclaimer: ever since I heard a guy talking about how he got "wicked hammered" on the T, I haven't been able to stop using the word "wicked" in everyday conversation!)  Plus you can literally eat your way through the market.  Just don't buy a mango and expect to eat it...knives aren't easily carried around and wielded while walking through town!  The market also runs along some shops that sell ethnic eats that looked delish.  It's a great area of town so be sure to check it out.

Stop Two: New York Pizza

My dad runs with the Alzheimer's Association team, and on our first night there, he and my mom went to the pre-race banquet in one of the Boston suburbs.  I was exhausted and irritated with traveling, so I opted out.  I then had to find somewhere to eat dinner!  A quick google search on my Blackberry for "takeout pizza in boston theatre district" came up with New York Pizza on Tremont Street.  It's so small that they don't even have a website (as far as I can tell), but it was pretty delish pizza for $3.50 a slice!!  I chose the feta/spinach slice and salivated the entire walk back to the hotel.

It was the biggest slice of pizza ever!

It certainly wasn't the most tasty pizza in the world, and it probably won't win any awards, but if you're in Boston craving a quick slice of pizza for a super awesome price, this is a pretty great place to go!  Mmmmm, cheesy pizza.

Stop Three: Mike's City Diner

The next morning we headed out to the South End of Boston (different than South Boston, mind you) to see a new area of town.  The South End is so awesome -- I can't believe we'd never checked it out before.  It's quieter with lovely brownstones and parks filled with people and their dogs.  And Mike's City Diner is a classic in this neighborhood.  They had photographs inside of everyone from President Bill Clinton to Mitt Romney enjoying the diner eats.  It's a tiny, bustling diner with big portions of greasy diner food, which I just can't get enough of.  I ordered a classic breakfast of eggs, homestyle potatoes, and toast. 

The breakfast potatoes were phenomenal.  They were cooked with onions to add some depth of flavor and, by looking behind the counter, they are cooked up by the bucketful.  So they had some crispy edges but were all melded together in a giant potato mash.  I ate every single morsel of food on my plate.  Top it all off with a giant ceramic mug full of coffee and I was in heaven.  If you're ever in Boston, you must take a walk to the South End and check out this diner. 

Stop Four: Boston Olive Oil Company

Are you serious?  An entire STORE dedicated to delicious, flavored olive oil?  I couldn't get there fast enough.  The Boston Olive Oil Company is a wonderful little shop on Newbury Street and it is literally a haven for olive oil lovers like myself.  They have vats of different flavored olive oils and vinegars and tiny paper cups for you to taste test the varieties.  While they have pieces of torn up baguette to dip into the oils, I'm not going to lie -- I actually sipped some of the oils right out of the cup.  No shame here.  After trying every single option, I settled on harissa flavored oil.

Oh. My. Goodness.  This was astounding!  The olive oil itself is a bright, orange-ish color and the flavor is rich with a bit of a kick.  As I walked around the store with my precious bottle I started dreaming up all of the great dishes I could cook using it.  But mostly I'm excited to buy some freshly baked bread and dip it right into a plate full of this tasty oil.  Good news for all of us locals?  They take online orders!

Stop Five: Sweet

After watching some elite runners get their world record on, my mom and I decided to drop into this charming little bakery, Sweet, for some cupcakes.  We felt obligated to eat up the calories that those runners depleted during their runs.  This bakery is adorable and right on Newbury street....close to the olive oil company as well!  They offer regular cupcakes, tiny cupcakes, and these:

FROSTING SHOTS!  I don't have a huge sweet tooth, but I have a lot of friends who do.  So I saw this and immediately thought of a few Minnesota girls who would loooooove having this $0.50 option!  My mom and I ordered two mini cupcakes -- I tried a red velvet and carrot cupcake. 

Both were sweet, tasty, and in perfect two-bite portions.  Getting two minis was the perfect way to try out a few of their delicious offerings.  If you need a sweet treat in Boston, check out this charming place.

Ugh, this post is already out-of-control long, and I still have so many places to talk about!  My dad's pre-race dinner was at Davio's near our hotel.  It's an Italian steakhouse and they had an indulgent macaroni and cheese made with truffle oil.  My dad, a classic-food eater, couldn't rave enough about this dish.  On race day, my mom and I got some breakfast at Finagle a Bagel, which had one of the lightest, freshest tasting bagels I've ever tasted. 

But I guess the two high points of our trip were (1) watching the fastest marathon race on record and seeing an American woman .02 seconds away from taking home the victory....

....and (2) capping off the trip with some coffee from Dunkin' Donuts!!!

If you head out to Boston, add some of these to your list of must-visit places.  There are TONS of other amazing places that I have either been to in the past or did not get the chance to check out this time around.  If you have any restaurants that I should go to the next time my dad attempts Boston (I'm so not fast enough to qualify!) let me know!  We're starting to run out of ideas!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Taste Thursdays!

I grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis, so even though I'm now a St. Paul resident, I'm still partial to the Star Tribune newspaper.  When I decided to do something grown up, which apparently meant signing up for daily paper delivery, I was super psyched to start getting the Strib's Thursday paper because of the Taste section.  An entire section of the newspaper dedicated to food?  Done and done.  Plus Thursday's sudoku is sometimes just too hard for me......

Since I'm doing this blog thing now, I thought it would be good for me and good for you (whoever you are) to try out some of the recipes from the Taste section.  So as often as I can, I'm going to read the Thursday Taste section, find a fabulous recipe to try, make it that night, and post it for you all to read.  As if I didn't already have enough to do!

Today's section had a highlight on mango, but what caught my attention was the big, front-page picture of scones.  I love scones.  They are delicious, ridiculously easy to make, and incredibly versatile.  You can make them sweet for dessert or breakfast, or you can make them savory for a side or, well, breakfast.  Plus it got a little chilly tonight, so I figured a warm pastry would be a great addition to my Thursday night TV.  The recipe was for a cream scone with raisins or currants, but I thought I could top that standard recipe and make some cranberry orange scones.  This recipe will make 8 scones.

2 cups all purpose flour
3 tbls sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Zest from one orange
1 1/3 cup heavy cream (I used one cup cream and 1/3 cup milk)
Sugar for dusting

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and make sure one of the racks is in the center. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Add in the dried cranberries and stir to combine.  Add in your orange zest. 

Make a well in the bottom of the bowl and pour in your cream/milk.  Stir with a wooden spoon until incorporated and a dough starts to form.  Pull out the dough and place on a lightly floured surface.  Knead the dough a few times just to make sure everything is incorporated and you have a workable dough.

Separate the dough into two equal pieces and form each of those into a disc about 1 inch thick.  Cut each round into four pieces.

mmmm love those flecks of orange zest!
Place the pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet, with a little space between each one.  They will grow!  Brush the pieces with milk or orange juice and sprinkle sugar on top.

Bake at 400 degrees for 7 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake another 15 minutes.  Let cool for a bit, then dive right in.  YUM.  Serve with some tea, or in my case, a Surly CynicAle.  Not bad for the Star Tribune!

But now for the truly intriguing question of the day.  How the heck do you pronounce "scone"?  I've always said it as rhyming with "bone" or something like that.  But according to the Strib, it's actually pronounced as rhyming with "gone".  What?!?!  Is that for real??  It was hilarious to talk to my co-worker about making scones tonight using that pronunciation, but my go-to source for all things pronunciation related ( confirmed that MY way of saying "scone" is correct.  Can anyone point me in the right direction?  I need an additional source besides my local paper.  (Sorry, Strib.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Black Bean & Rice Tacos

Today the weather was sublime and I went out for my first run wearing a tank top!  But I have a horrible affliction that causes me to be completely grossed out by the mere thought of food after I'm finished with a run.  Usually after weekday runs its not so bad, but after burning nearly 2,000 calories during a 20-mile marathon training run, you need to eat something!  I've tried to get creative with getting food, especially protein, into my system post-run.  Today was an easy, breezy run, so I built up my appetite while cooking these FANTASTIC rice & bean tacos.  You need to try this dish immediately.

I modified this recipe for black beans and rice from Simple Food Daily, my friend's food blog, and it's been my substitute for the elusive Costa Rican "gallo pinto" ever since.  While I'll eat the rice and beans totally plain, I often use the combo as the protein source in some soft shell tacos.  Tonight I also whipped up an impromptu mango salsa and put together some pretty fab taco fixins.  And in the forty minutes or so it took me to cook all of this up, I had my post-run appetite back!  BONUS!!

While the rice was cooking up in my rice cooker, I threw together this mango salsa.
1 mango, peeled and chopped*
1/4 red onion, chopped fine
1 roma tomato, chopped
1/2 jalapeno, seeded, chopped
1 lime
Salt & pepper to taste
Handful cilantro, chopped

Combine the mango, red onion, tomato, and jalapeno.  Squeeze the juice from the lime over the salsa.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Mix in the chopped cilantro. 
ahhh it was so good!!!
Let the salsa macerate while you prep the black beans and rice.
1 tbls olive oil
1 cup cooked, long grain white rice
1 can black beans, drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 yellow or white onion, chopped
2 tbls cumin
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet or large skillet.

Add the onion and the garlic and saute for 3-4 minutes until the onions are translucent.  Stir frequently so the garlic does not burn.  Add the cumin and stir around to toast the spice for about 1 minute. 

i always have a can or six in my cupboard!
Add the drained black beans to the pan and squish them with the back of your spoon.  Saute for about 4-5 minutes.  Add in your cooked rice and stir to heat through.  YUM.

Now you are ready to assemble your tacos!  Additional ingredients: soft tortillas, diced or sliced avocado, cheese, and some plain Greek yogurt (yes, it's just the same as sour cream).  A quick word on the cheese before I continue.  I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for the standard, shredded "taco seasoned" cheese.  But I've grown to really love queso fresco, a Mexican cheese that is dynamite with any Mexican fare.  It literally translates to "fresh cheese", and it's a crumbly, mild cheese that is very refreshing.  You may have seen a certain Food Network chef promoting a brand of queso fresco on TV....

He's not lying though -- this cheese is delish!  It comes in pretty big containers though, and I can never quite go through it all before it spoils.  So I tried to find a decent substitute in smaller packaging.  I picked up something called Shepherd's Way Sheep Cheese, and on the little sign it said something about "fresco" so, to me, that sounds like a decent substitute.  Plus it was made in Northfield, MN (yaaaay St. Olaf!).  It turned out to be a pretty good replacement for queso fresco!  But if you can use it all up, I'd totally recommend buying a big ol' wheel of queso fresco and trying it with this dish.  Or maybe just plain.....

Okay, where was I?  Right!  The tacos!  So I heat up my tortillas in little aluminum foil packs in the oven to get toasty.  On top of the tortilla, add your rice & beans, the mango salsa, some queso, diced avocado, and a little dollop of Greek yogurt.  OMG it's sosososososo good! 

I really piled on those ingredients, but I did manage to eat it like a real taco.  I have to admit that it did fall apart after about three bites so I ate most of it in little pieces with my fingers.  Even though these tacos are a little classy, there's no need to be classy while eating them. 

it was hard to stop eating long enough to take this picture...
So I managed to get some protein and a fab-tastic dinner after this run.  And because this is a pretty healthy meal, and because I went running, I paired it up with a nice, cold beer.  (Who am I kidding...I always pair things up with a beer.) If you're looking for a great dinner to go with this fun spring weather, well this is it!

*Food Tip: I had planned on finding a video that would demo how I cut a mango, but I found one that was even BETTER!  Holy easy mango chopping.  I learned about mango chopping on some public access channel last summer (disclosure: I don't have cable!) and apparently I've been missing out on a way easier method.  Oh well.  Now we both know!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fruit Crisp

I'm not a big dessert lover.  Don't get me wrong -- I do enjoy desserts.  But I'm more of a main-course kind of girl.  Still, I hadn't baked anything in a while and I wanted to mix up my kitchen routine.  I was debating between a chocolate pudding tart and a strawberry rhubarb crisp, both from Barefoot Contessa's new (and awesome) cookbook, "How Easy is That?"  I posted up the inquiry on Facebook and the tart was the winner! 

Rhubarb isn't readily available right now, so I figured out a different fruit combination.  THEN I had a fruit disaster at Whole Foods!  They didn't have fresh peaches and when I got home, I saw that half of my raspberries and half of my strawberries were moldy or rotten.  DISLIKE.  So I had to pull some of my frozen fruits out of the freezer, and it still ended up working out great!  I've made a strawberry rhubarb crisp in the past and it's a fantastic combination.  Because these fruits are a little sweeter, and because they were frozen, the recipe had to be adapted a little bit.  But it's a warm, yummy dessert that is satisfying without feeling sinful. 

8 cups fruit total (I used a mixture of strawberries, raspberries, and frozen peaches, all in about equal portions)
1 cup sugar, divided
1 1/2 tsp orange zest
1 tsp lemon zest (optional if using combo of very sweet fruits like I did)
1 tbls cornstarch (if you are using frozen fruit, use a bit more cornstarch, perhaps another 1/2 tbls)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (or the juice from the orange and the lemon you zested)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 1/2 sticks cold, unsalted butter, diced

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Toss your fruit with 1/2 cup of the sugar and the zests in a large bowl.  In a measuring cup, dissolve the cornstarch in the fruit juices, then mix it into the fruit.

Pour the mixture into a 8x11-inch baking dish and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

To make the crumbly topping, combine the flour, remaining sugar (1/2 cup), brown sugar, salt, and oatmeal together with a spoon or your hands.  Add the diced butter into the bowl and use your fingers to incorporate it into the dry ingredients.  As a point of reference, it's kind of like you're pinching the chunks of butter or smearing the butter into the flour mixture.  You can use a fancy mixer too, if you like.  It should end up being a moist and crumbly topping.

Sprinkle the topping over the fruit, making sure to cover the entire fruit surface with the crumbly topping.

Bake for one hour, or until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden.  Serve with ice cream and a sprig of mint, or just eat it up for a Sunday lunch.......what, I don't do that....

***Now which do you prefer -- a chocolate-based dessert, or a fruit-based dessert??***

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fried Rice

After a few days of fundraiser activities, I was completely wiped out.  I was laying on the couch watching Friends (no surprise there) and kept trying to get motivated to get up and go to the store to buy dinner ingredients.  Then I'd wake up a half an hour later....think those same thoughts....and pass out again.  Instead of going to the store, I rummaged around in my refrigerator and found some ingredients to make a quick and easy fried rice.  I was barely lucid when I made this, so I'm sure it'll be a snap for all of you!  Like my vegetable noodle soup, this is a great dish for using up random veggies that you have in your crisper. 
1-2 cups cooked white rice, chilled*
2 tbls canola, vegetable, or grapeseed oil, divided
1 shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into rounds
1 cup broccoli florets, washed and cut
Handful of mushrooms, wiped clean, stemmed, and diced
Soy sauce
Sriracha, optional
2 eggs, optional

Heat a bit of oil in a non-stick pan or wok over medium-high to high heat.  Once warmed, add the shallot and garlic.  Saute for 1-2 minutes.  Add your chopped veggies and saute for another 1-2 minutes.  Add a few turns of soy sauce around the pan and 1-2 tbls of sriracha if using.  Stir to incorporate and cook for a couple of minutes.  Remove the veggies from the pan and place in a medium-sized bowl. 

Add a bit more oil to your pan and throw in your chilled white rice, pressing it down to form an even layer in the pan.  Let the rice fry up for 2 minutes or so without stirring.  After 2 minutes, stir the rice around to continue frying for another 3-4 minutes or until it's as fried as you'd like.  Add a bit of soy sauce if desired, just for color (and because I have an obsession with soy sauce).  Remove the rice to the bowl with the veggies.

Put a bit more oil in the pan and add your protein of choice.  I love egg fried rice, so I crack two eggs into the pan and scramble them up.  Add everything back into the pan and toss it around to reheat. 
if you're lazy like me, you can just scramble the eggs in with everything else!
Serve up your fried rice and enjoy!  The best part about this recipe is it can be yours to customize.  Don't like a lot of soy sauce?  Reduce the amount (you crazy person).  Love bean spouts?  Add 'em on right at the end!  Have some extra pad Thai noodles?  Try this recipe out using those instead.  This is one of my personal dishes that I never make the same way twice.  So use this as a jumping off point to create your own version of this delicious fried rice.  If you come up with some great ideas, let me know! 
Makes 1-2 servings.

so easy and SO good!

*Food Tip: I've made fried rice using both recently-cooked and chilled rice.  If you use chilled rice, you get a much better fry on the rice and the rice will taste more nutty and have a bit of a bite to it.  Using cooked rice will be just fine, but it will be a little softer and not as fried rice-y as if you used chilled.  I tend to make a huge batch of rice in my rice cooker on Sunday evenings and refrigerate it so that I can use it during the week for anything that comes up.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Food Philanthropy

I am a volunteer with a non-profit animal rescue in the Twin Cities called Pet Project Rescue.  If you know me, you've seen my obsessive facebook posts about this organization!  But it's awesome, and I'm so glad that I got involved with them.  Plus, they were the fab people who saved my kitty Drizzle before I adopted him.  Loves it!

Last night Pet Project Rescue hosted its annual fundraiser with the support of Summit brewery.  It was crowded, crazy, and completely awesome.  But, for purposes of this blog, I was so impressed by the number of restaurants that donated food for snacking and gift certificates for the event's silent auction.  These places were so supportive of Pet Project Rescue and its mission -- I was floored by the outpouring of support.  So I thought I'd give a little shout out to the places that donated the AMAZING snacks for the fundraiser!!  Thank you to: Pizza Luce, Q-Cumbers, The Liffey, Crave, Sarah from Sassy Lu Salon, Chipotle, A Piece of Cake, and Confectionery Cake Shop.  And a huge thank you to the tons of other businesses who donated gift certificates to Pet Project Rescue!  (A special shout out to Cafe Twenty Eight, the breakfast spot for me and my college friends!)  Here are some pictures of the tasty treats!

veggies, fruit, and hummus with pita chips

holy awesome cake decoration!

food from crave -- i only wish i would have been able to try some!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mexican Rice

You know that delicious Mexican rice that always comes as a side dish whenever you go out for tasty Mexican food?  It's never highlighted on the plate, but it always tastes so good?  You know what I'm talking about?  Excellent.  'Cause I've got a recipe for a pretty good homemade version of that fantastic rice side.  It's so good, you can even build your dinner around the rice, instead of the other way around! 

My aunt Lori told me about this recipe a while back, but recently I was visiting with her and she mentioned that she keeps it on hand and eats the rice with eggs in the morning.  Ummm, YUM.  I took a trip to Costa Rica with my Spanish class in high school and one of my favorite memories of that experience was their traditional rice and beans for breakfast with a side of freshly cut papaya.  I knew this would be totally different, but I loved the idea of a revisiting the rice-for-breakfast phenomenon.
i actually made this breakfasty treat for dinner...i don't usually drink beer in the mornings!
The recipe is from a website that eventually credited Cooks Illustrated as the source.  The recipe itself says it's pretty finicky, and while I didn't play around with the ingredients, I'm sure there's some room for creativity!  So enjoy this rice as a classic side, a yummy main course, or a great twist on your morning eats.

12 ounces tomatoes, very ripe and cored (or canned tomatoes work fine*)
1 medium white onion
3 medium jalapenos (honestly, I used 1 super giant-sized one -- it was huge!)
2 cups long grain white rice
1/3 cup canola oil
4 minced cloves garlic
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tbls tomato paste (may omit if using canned tomatoes)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced
1 lime

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and make sure one of your oven racks is in the middle.

Put the tomato and onion in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  Transfer the tomato/onion mixture to a measuring cup and save 2 cups of the mixture.  Discard the rest or save for another day.

Remove the ribs and seeds from 2 jalapenos and discard.  Mince the jalapenos and set aside.  Mince remaining jalapeno (ribs and seeds for extra spice, but remove if you don't like spicy rice) and set aside. 

Rinse your rice in a fine mesh strainer under cold water until the water runs clear.  This is a very important step to achieving the fluffy rice that doesn't stick together.  Omit at your own peril!

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed ovensafe 12-inch saute pan or Dutch oven with a tight lid over medium heat for about two minutes.  Drop in a few grains of rice and if they sizzle, then the oil is ready to go.  Add the rice and stir until rice is lightly golden, about 6-8 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and the 2 minced jalapenos.  Cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 1/2 minutes.  Stir in the broth, tomato mixture, tomato paste (if any), and salt.  Increase heat to medium high and bring to a boil.

Cover the pan and transfer to the oven to bake until the liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, about 30-35 minutes.  Stir halfway through the cooking.

When the rice is all cooked, stir in the chopped cilantro and fresh jalapeno to taste.  The recipe says to "pass with lime wedges" but I thought that was weird so I just squeezed the entire lime right into the rice.  It added a little extra freshness and zip to the rice -- so do that instead!

If you want to make this a breakfast treat (or a breakfast-for-dinner treat), cook up some eggs in your favorite way (I like mine over hard) and serve the eggs over a bowl of the steaming rice.  The rice freezes well, so you can enjoy it any way you like at your leisure. 
Makes 4-6 servings.

*Food Tip: I don't mean to be a food snob....well at least not entirely....but if you are relying on out-of-season grocery store tomatoes, you'd be WAY better off getting the canned variety.  Tomatoes from the grocery store are grown (ahem, modified) to be able to withstand long trips to their ultimate destination without rotting or bruising.  While that's a pretty interesting scientific achievement, it makes for tasteless and hard tomatoes.  Not a fan.  Either go fresh or go canned.  Seems weird...but it's true!

What restaurant eats do you wish you could recreate in your own kitchen?  Maybe I'll test some of them out!