Thursday, July 31, 2008

Oh Brother, Part 1

A few years ago my brother Paul and I made a dinner for a crowd. We picked a Louisiana theme -- the food was very tasty and the meal went over well. He'd lost the recipes and asked for them today, so I thought I'd post them here.

The first is a really good way to use some of that summer corn.

Cajun Corn Maque Choux
Adapted from Southern Living, DECEMBER 2001

1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups corn kernels (fresh or frozen, thawed)
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup chopped green onion tops
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Sauté onion and bell pepper in hot oil in a large skillet over medium heat 8 minutes or until tender. Add corn and tomato; cook, stirring often, 15 minutes. Stir in green onions, salt, and pepper; cook 5 minutes.

Makes 6 servings


This recipe makes a LOT -- 12 servings. Obviously, you could scale the recipe down if you're not feeding a mob. This dish uses the tasty Holy Trinity of Louisiana cooking: Onion, celery, and green bell pepper. The addition of a healthy amount of parsley is pretty standard, too, not to mention the roux.

Grillades and Grits

Grillades (gree-YAHDS) and grits, like salt and pepper or bread and butter, are an assumed pair in New Orleans. It sounds like dinner, and sometimes it is, but brunch is the most popular menu spot for the Creole dish.

4 1/2 pounds round steak (we used petite sirloin, pounded)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
Vegetable oil
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 bay leaves
2 cups water
Cooked Grits

Cut meat into serving-size pieces; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour 1/2 cup oil into a Dutch oven. Fry steak in batches in hot oil over medium-high heat until browned (about 2 minutes on each side.) Remove to platter, and repeat until all meat is browned.

Measure pan drippings; add enough oil to drippings to measure 2/3 cup, and return to Dutch oven. Add flour; cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, 10 minutes or until roux is caramel colored.

Stir in onion and next 5 ingredients; cook until tender. Stir in tomatoes, next 3 ingredients, and 1 cup of water, stirring well.

Return meat to Dutch oven. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove and discard bay leaves. Serve with Cooked Grits.

Yield: Makes 12 servings

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Weekend Food Exploits

Lately I've gotten back into the routine of going to the grocery store every weekend. Stocked pantry/fridge = meal flexibility and a lot fewer restaurant meals. Late spring through early fall I also stop by one of the produce stands run by Howell's Farm. They specialize in tomatoes, but also grow a nice variety of squashes and eggplants, peppers, and corn. Yesterday's trip was a little different -- I started my day with a visit to the Nashville Farmer's Market.

The FM has traditionally been a disappointment; few farmers and lots and lots of resellers. The interior market has had some interesting shops and restaurants, but that's somewhat in flux now. Half the facility is taken up with a flea market that is 99% knock-offs and mass-produced cheap, gaudy junk. There's an effort underway to renovate and reposition, including trying to get more actual farmers selling more actual local product. The effort has been surprisingly controversial ... but more about that another day.

I went to the FM hoping to score some decent peaches, and was also interested in seeing what the general selection was like these days. One seller had some peaches from KY, which counts as local. None that I inspected were really ripe; I've got four on my counter and hope they'll be worth eating. I also picked up a loaf of whole wheat bread from what I think was a Mennonite couple who had a table of baked goods. Made a Bradley tomato sandwich with it for lunch -- it was good, soft bread for all of it being whole wheat. I saw a huge variety of squashes and peppers, including cute pint baskets of cherry-tomato sized, mixed-variety heirloom peppers. I was hoping for fresh onions or garlic, fresh herbs, maybe some strawberries, and ... exotica. I was disappointed, but did go to Howell's stand there and pick up some things I usually get from them -- zucchini, eggplant (small white and Japanese), Bradley tomatoes (low-acid and thin skin), cherry tomatoes mentioned in yesterday's post (which I discovered today are called Black Cherry), plum tomatoes, Peaches-and-Cream corn, some pickling cucumbers, and some red potatoes. A goodly haul.

Sundays have become a cook-for-the-week-and-the-freezer day, and today was no exception. I used the pickling cucumbers to make a quart of refrigerator bread-and-butter pickles, using kind of a hybrid of several recipes. I'll write about them in a couple of weeks, after the first tasting. With the eggplants, plum tomatoes, zucchini, and previously-purchased purple bell pepper and Vidalia onion, I made Cooking Light's Gardener's Ratatouille. I've been making this every summer since the recipe was first published in 2002. The unconventional colors of some of the vegetables (purple pepper, white eggplant) made it even more colorful than usual. Delicious, too!

I was going to link to the recipe, but it's no longer available on the Cooking Light web site, so ... here it is. (Note: It's also in the Cooking Light 2002 Annual recipe book.)

Gardener's Ratatouille
Cooking Light, Aug 2002
Robin Taylor Swatt

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 cups chopped plum tomatoes -- (about 1 pound)
2 cups chopped eggplant -- peeled (TL note: I've never peeled them)
1 1/2 cups chopped zucchini
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 clove garlic -- minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 3 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Add tomato, eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, and garlic. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in oregano, and remaining ingredients; cook, uncovered, 5 minutes or until most of the liquid evaporates. Yield: 4 servings (serving size: approx 3/4 cup).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Pasta Salad for Supper

A few months ago a pasta salad presented on PBS's Everyday Food caught my eye. It used a pasta shape I really like (cavatappi) and two of my favorite things -- goat cheese and asparagus. What made this dish unusual was that the dressing was made just of the goat cheese and some of the hot pasta cooking water. The hot water turned the crumbly cheese into a creamy sauce. I have made the salad as written a couple of times, once for a potluck. But I knew that, more importantly, I'd be storing that goat cheese technique in my back pocket for future use. (See the full recipe here: Creamy Goat Cheese Pasta with Roasted Asparagus).

So, this afternoon I was contemplating supper, and remembered that I had some goat cheese in the refrigerator I needed to use. The problem was that had gotten really strong, and as much as I like goat cheese, eating this stuff straight wasn't going to be all that pleasant. I was trying to think of a way to dilute it, when it hit me to make a salad similar to the Everyday Food recipe, but just add some mayonnaise to smooth out the flavor. I didn't have asparagus on hand, but did have broccoli. No chives, but yes green onions. So ... I cooked some Barilla Plus Pasta Elbow Macaroni.

Side note: Barilla Plus is my pasta of choice these days because I'm trying to eat whole grain whenever possible, and as much as I love brown rice, whole wheat bread, etc. I just. Don't. Care. For. 100%. Whole. Wheat. Pasta. (That doesn't make me a bad person, does it? Didn't think so.) Barilla Plus is a nice intermediary pasta with the advantage of a little protein boost. It doesn't come in cavatappi (at least in my store) but the elbows also have little ridges like cavatappi and do have a little twist to them.

Anyway, back to the pasta salad. During the last few minutes of cooking the pasta, I added a good fistful of broccoli florets. Drained and rinsed the pasta/broccoli, reserving a little of the water. Put the goat cheese in a bowl, added the hot water and stirred until smooth. Small plop of mayo (reduced-fat, of course), squeeze of lemon juice, sliced scallion. Added the pasta and broccoli along with just a little slivered leftover grilled chicken, along with some quartered Cherokee-purple-type cherry tomatoes fresh from the farmer's market this morning.

I was very pleased with the end result, and will definitely be doing this again.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cook for your family -- or else!

You may not know about one of the best video satirists out there right now. She's not on The Daily Show or SNL, but is a contributer to a web site called Current. She's Sarah Haskins, and she produces a series of short video essays under the banner Target Women. She takes on advertising and marketing aimed at women, and is insightful, articlate, and hilarious. The most recent essay looks at the amazingly persistent idea that a woman's first duty is to prepare food for the family, and thanks to the dreck put out by the fast- and processed-food industries, she can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan, as they say. Thankfully, like Sarah, I'm single and free to cook ... or not ... without the risking the censure of society and the enmity of family members. Enjoy!

To see more of Sarah's videos, visit

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A "Grate" Way to Use Summer Vegetables

Mark Bittman, the NY Times columnist and cookbook author, has been doing a blog for a few months. I generally enjoy his columns and recipes, although he sometimes displays a foodie-elite attitude that gets on my nerves. (For example, one blog post focused on his trying to find good uses for microwaves, an appliance he previously disdained. At least he was tryin'.) One recipe he posted in the blog (cleverly named Bitten) has been a repeater in my house the last few weeks. It can be made with just about any gratable vegetable, but I've just used zucchini so far. I can see lots of potential for riffs and variations with herbs, seasonings, toppings, and vegetable mixtures. As you can see from the ingredient list, these don't burst with strong flavor, but simple flavors are OK sometimes. I really like the fact that they are mostly a vegetable dish rather than a batter-heavy true fritter. A larger serving is hearty enough to serve as a main course with several additional sides. You could also use them as a base under something like a piece of grilled fish or chicken. I LOVE to top mine with a little dollop of reduced-fat sour cream or whole milk yogurt. A squeeze of lemon is lovely too.

Italian-Style Vegetable Pancakes

Mark Bittman, New York Times

Yield 4 servings

About 2 pounds zucchini, eggplant or turnips, peeled if necessary
1/2 onion, peeled and grated
2 eggs, lightly beaten (I use 4 egg whites)
1/4 cup flour or plain bread crumbs, more as needed (I tend to use more)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 to 4 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil (I use cooking spray in a non-stick skillet)

Grate vegetables by hand or with grating disk of a food processor. In a bowl, mix together all ingredients except the butter or oil. The mixture should be fairly loose but not liquid; add a little more flour or bread crumbs if necessary.

Put the butter or oil in a large skillet and turn heat to medium-high. When the oil is hot, put large spoonfuls of batter in the pan. Cook, turning once, until nicely browned on both sides, 10 to 15 minutes total. Serve hot or at room temperature.

The full blog post is here: Italian-Style Vegetable Pancakes

Monday, July 14, 2008

Mahogany Glazed Tofu

Today I made an interesting recipe from another Blog, Enlightened Cooking. Camilla is professional, a multiple contest winner, cooking instructor, etc. Her food always looks very tasty and is healthy and light as the blog name implies. I've been enjoying her writing for several months but this is the first recipe of hers I've made.

I can't say I ever crave tofu, but as I mentioned previously I'm trying be more "flexitarian." So, I've been looking for tofu recipes where the tofu isn't the dominating element. Even though this recipe has very few ingredients, the glaze is the star. Mahogany Glazed Tofu is a very quick dinner that has some strong, interesting flavors going on. Because I was just cooking for me, I only made one serving rather than the full four. I made one major change in that I added cubed baby eggplant with the tofu, and then used enough glaze for 2 servings. I will definitely make this again!

The blog I linked to originally is now invitation-only. So, I've added the recipe here. It really is good!

Mahogany Glazed Tofu with Scallions & Rice

from Enlightened Cooking, now invitation-only

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained (fresh tofu, not vacuum-packed)
1/2 cup cornstarch
1-1/2 tablespoons canola oil
4 thinly sliced scallions
Hot cooked brown or white rice

Combine the vinegar, lime juice and brown sugar in a heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer 18-20 minutes until reduced by about half to a thin glaze. Whisk in the hoisin sauce and mustard. Cover and keep warm.

While glaze is simmering, cut the tofu into 24 large cubes and pat dry with a paper towel; sprinkle with salt. Place the cornstarch in a medium bowl; dredge tofu triangles in cornstarch to coat. Heat the canola oil in a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the tofu to the skillet and stir-fry on both sides until golden brown.

Toss tofu in the saucepan with the glaze and serve immediately over rice, garnished with green onions. Makes 4 servings.