Category Archives: cooking

cooking

Bean, Cheese, and Kale Tacos

tacos

Tonight, I decided to make tacos from some half-used ingredients I had lying around the kitchen. They actually turned out really well, so I thought I’d share the recipe. It seems that often my favorite meals end up being the ones that arise from cleaning out the fridge. Trying to answer the question “what ingredients to I need to use?” often engenders more creative cuisine than “what would I like to cook?” Here are approximate recipes for 12 tacos (4 servings):

Beans
beans

  • 250g (1/2 lb) dried beans (I used Rio Zape, but any kind will do)
  • 1/2 a medium onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2-4 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Soak the beans in water to total about 4 cups for at least 6 hours. Heat the oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Once the onions start to become translucent, add the carrots. After another couple minutes, add the garlic and sauté for a minute. Add the beans and their soaking water, a bit of salt and pepper and the cumin. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to low. Let the beans simmer until tender (about an hour) stirring occasionally. You might need to add water to keep the beans mostly submerged throughout cooking. Once the beans are tender, mash them to desired consistency.

beans cooking

Kale

  • 4-8 stalks, cut into narrow strips (I used black/Tuscan kale, but any variety will do)
  • juice of half a lime
  • handful of cilantro, chopped
  • 1 jalepeno pepper, seeds removed and finely chopped
  • salt to taste

After chopping the kale sprinkle a little salt on it. Squeeze and mash the cut leaves with your hands until they start to give up some of their juice. Add the remaining ingredients, stir it together and let stand for about an hour.

Tortillas

  • 200g (1 3/4 cup) masa harina
  • approx 250 ml (1 cup) warm water
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder (optional)

Measure the masa harina and baking powder into a large bowl. Use your fingers to slowly stir in warm water until the dough forms a slightly sticky ball. Cover the ball in plastic wrap and allow it to rest at least one hour. Form 12 equal sized balls from the dough. Heat a cast iron skillet or heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. Using a tortilla press or rolling pin, roll tortillas to about 1/8 inch thickness. Cook for about 1 min each side.

Assembly
Spoon a dollop of beans onto each tortilla, and add a little shredded cheese. Top with the kale mixture and garnish with crumbled dry salty cheese (I had feta lying around, but cotija or any such variety will do).

cooking

Granola!

Granola, Cooked

Inspired by a write-up in a recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated, I decided to make granola today. The recipe I used didn’t differ much from recipes I’ve used in the past, but a key technique — tamping down the raw granola and not stirring during cooking — resulted in a much chunkier texture.

(Meta) Recipe

  • 5 cups rolled oats (raw) 
  • 2 cups chopped raw nuts
  • 2/3 cup sweetener
  • 1/2 cup fat
  • spices
  • 2 cups dried fruit
  • any other adjuncts you desire

For the sweetener, I used a mixture of equal parts maple syrup and turbinado sugar. I imagine that any combination of sugar based syrups and sugars would work as long as there is enough moisture to hold the oats together. I used olive oil for the fat. For spices, I just used salt (1/2 tsp) and cinnamon (1 tsp). I used raisins for the dried fruit. If you are using roasted instead of raw nuts, include these with the adjuncts rather than the nuts.

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 325˚. Mix the sweetener, fat and spices thoroughly in a large bowl. Stir in oats and nuts, and mix until evenly coated.
  2. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper and pour the mixture onto the sheet. Tamp the mixture down until it evenly coats the sheet.
  3. Bake for around 45 minutes until golden brown, rotating the baking sheet once. Do not mix! Remove from oven and allow the granola to cool completely before handling.
  4. Break the granola into the desire size of pieces. Add the dried fruit and any other adjuncts you might want — I added some shredded coconut.
Tamped down and ready for the oven.
Tamped down and ready for the oven.

Comments

This definitely was the best result I’ve had making my own granola. It is still a bit on the sweet side for my taste, but it seems that lowering the sugar content might also result in a less crunchy concoction. I’ll have to experiment next time. I’m excited to have the granola over yogurt for breakfast tomorrow!

 

cooking

Buttermilk Biscuits

Biscuit
Last week, Alivia and I decided to stick to a firm budget for food. We had devised such a plan before, but fell off the budgeting bandwagon once our schedules became sufficiently hectic. The exciting part of finding yourself on Friday night with only one dollar remaining in the weekly food budget is that it forces you to get creative in the kitchen. For whatever reason, some of the best meals I’ve ever cooked have come from days when I’ve needed to work with a severely limited list of ingredients. Last night was one of those meals.

We had a ton of greens (kale and beet greens), a pint of buttermilk, a can of tomatoes, and the usual cooking staples (rice, flour, butter, etc.) at our disposal. So I decided to make sautéed greens, Spanish rice and buttermilk biscuits. The greens and rice turned out well, but the biscuits were the stars of the show. I’d never made buttermilk biscuits before, but it turns out they are relatively easy to make and ridiculously delicious. Here is a recipe for about 12 biscuits:

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp butter (very cold)
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Method

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Cut the butter into 1/4 inch cubes and add to the flower. Mix around and mash with a pasty blender or fork until the butter is in pieces a bit bigger than grains of rice and is evenly distributed. Add the buttermilk and stir until just combined. Roll the (sticky) dough onto a well-floured surface and spread the dough out by hand until it is about 3/4 inch thick. Fold it in half, pat down and repeat four or five times. Work quickly so the butter doesn’t soften. Once the dough is rolled out for a final time, cut the biscuits into circles (I used a small glass as a cookie cutter). Put the biscuits on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for 8 – 12 minutes until lightly browned on top.

Comments

I was surprised at how decadent these biscuits turned out to be. I suppose any small starchy morsel with a half tablespoon of butter per serving is bound to taste alright, but I was still blown away.

This morning, I made a variation of eggs Florentine with the leftovers: two halves of a biscuit topped with the sautéed greens and a fried egg on top of each (who has the patience to poach eggs?). It was easily the best breakfast I’ve had this year. Highly recommended.

cooking

Cold Brew Coffee

The Hungarian mathematician Alfréd Rényi once said, “A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems.” Usually tea is my hot caffeinated beverage of choice, but lately I’ve been craving coffee. Perhaps this is due to the frigid temperatures in my apartment.

Yesterday I decided to start an experiment with cold brew coffee. I’ve been seeing a lot of cold brew for sale lately, and apparently a lot of coffee connoisseurs are excited about it. In the cold brew process, coffee grounds are steeped for an extended period of time at room-temperature. At lower temperatures, many of the less-soluable chemicals in regular coffee don’t dissolve, so the cold brew has a different flavor profile.

For my first attempt at cold brew, I used a 1:10 ratio of coarsely ground coffee to water: 100g of coarsely ground coffee in 1 liter of water. I let the mixture sit in my chilly (55 degree) apartment for almost 24 hours before filtering it through a coffee filter and bottling it. The result was about 750ml of concentrated coffee – just enough to fill an empty liquor bottle.

Cold Brew

To serve the coffee, I mixed about equal parts cold brew (gently heated), boiling water and scalded milk. The result was what I thought to be a fairly faithful representation of café au lait, but the flavor is definitely smoother, less acidic and a bit nuttier. Overall, I’d consider the experiment a success and I look forward to trying other drinks with my cold brew. I may consider making it more concentrated next time so that I can use more boiling water. That way I won’t need to heat the cold brew at all to get a suitably hot beverage.

 

cooking

CSA Box

For the last year or so, Alivia and I have been somewhat regularly getting community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes from the South Central Farmers’ Cooperative. Here is this week’s bounty:

I really enjoy getting the CSA boxes for a variety of reasons. First, the quality of the produce tends to be fantastic. Everything is organically grown, and most of it is grown in LA (the coop’s original farm is at 41st and Alameda in South Central). I like the idea of supporting urban farming. Also, at $20 for a box, it tends to be a great deal.

Getting the CSA box does present some challenges though. The boxes tend to contain a lot of fresh vegetables for two people to eat in just one week. So when we get a box, we have to do a little bit of strategizing to avoid spoilage. Also, we don’t get to choose what vegetables come in the boxes–they contain whatever produce is ready for harvest. Especially when we first started getting the boxes, I was unfamiliar with some of the vegetables and had to do so research to figure out how to cook them. For the most part, I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with the novel produce. The CSA introduced me to kohlrabi which has become one of my favorite vegetables.

This week’s box contained:

  • 2 heads of Romain lettuce
  • 2 avocados
  • 3 oranges
  • green onions
  • swiss chard
  • radishes
  • kohlrabi
  • cilantro
  • parsley
  • green cabbage
  • beets
  • arugula

Hopefully Alivia and I will manage to eat it all before it spoils!

cooking

Pizza!

For the first time in a while, I made pizza from scratch tonight. I used my usual recipe for 4 pizzas:

  • 20 oz flour (tonight I used 14 oz white and 6 oz whole wheat)
  • 14 oz water at about 110 F
  • 1 packet of yeast
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary

As usual, I mix all of the dry ingredients (including the yeast) and add the water, mixing with a spoon until well-combined. Then I knead the dough on a floured surface for a solid 8 minutes until the dough had a nice elasticity. After letting the dough rest for a little while, I cut it into 4 pieces and formed the pieces into balls. Then I set the dough aside to ferment, while I start the sauce.

I use a very simple sauce recipe:

  • 1 26 oz box of crushed tomatoes
  •  a few tablespoons of olive oil
  • 6 cloves of garlic, quartered
  • 2 dried red chilies, crushed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • any fresh herbs I need to use (basil and oregano are nice)

This makes enough sauce for 6 or more pizzas, but it freezes well. I add all of the ingredients to a sauce pan and let it simmer (covered) for a couple hours, then blend it with an immersion blender.

When the sauce is simmering after the dough has doubled in bulk, I form the dough balls into disks about a half inch thick and let them sit for a while.  Now is a good time to start preheating the oven to the highest possible temperature setting (in my case 500 F). Following a hint from Peter Reinhart (author of this bible of bread baking) I decided to put my pizza stone directly on the bottom of the oven instead of on a cooking rack. This is also a good time to disconnect any over-sensitive smoke detectors.

Once the dough rounds puff up a bit, I form them into pizza shapes while I wait for the oven to heat up. Once everything is preheated and ready to go, I gently transfer the first dough round to a peel dusted with corn meal. I top it with a few dollops of sauce, a healthy dose of shredded mozzarella and any other toppings that need to be cooked. Then into the oven for not more than seven or eight minutes.

The result is this:

Before today, the biggest problem I had with the pizza was that the crust on the bottom wouldn’t get that almost-burnt caramelization you see on pizza from a wood burning oven. But placing the pizza stone directly on the bottom of my oven seemed to do the trick:

Nice and crispy but not quite burnt! Peter Reinhart has never steered me wrong… Right after coming out of the oven, I put a couple handfuls of arugula dressed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the pizza, followed by the obligatory grated parmesan cheese:

The verdict: delicious. Never again is my pizza stone sitting on a rack above the bottom of the oven. At least not for pizza.

cooking

Lentil and Brown Rice Stew

For the past couple months, I’ve been experimenting with a recipe for a lentil and rice stew. Like most things I cook, the initial inspiration for this recipe was necessity: what can I cook without having to go shopping? Here is the recipe for tonight’s incarnation:

Ingredients (makes about 6-8 entree-sized servings)

  • 1 small yellow onion, medium dice
  • 3 medium carrots, medium dice
  • 3 ribs of celery, medium dice
  • 4 tablespoons fat (I used half butter and half olive oil)
  • 1.5 cups dry lentils, soaked for a few hours
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 2 teaspoons berbere spice mix, more if you like the heat (see Notes)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • water for cooking

Method (cook time ~7 hours, mostly unsupervised)

  1. Cover lentils with a few inches of water, and let them soak for about 4 hours. They will absorb quite a bit of water.
  2. Dice the onion, carrots and celery to about a quarter inch dice.
  3. Heat a large pot (enameled cast iron works well) to medium high heat. When the pot is hot, add the fat of your choosing, and once the fat is nice and hot, add the onion, carrots and celery. Turn down the heat to medium and saute until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. I usually let them brown a little bit too; it gives the final product a bit more sweetness.
  4. Add the berbere spice and a bit of salt and pepper to the mirepoix. I usually start with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt since the berbere has salt in it too. Stir until the spices are evenly distributed.
  5. Drain the lentils and add them to the pot. Add the rice and stir until all the ingredients are evenly distributed.
  6. Add 5 to 8 cups of water depending how thick you want the stew. Increase heat to high until the stew reaches a full boil. Then reduce heat to low/medium low and cover.
  7. Allow stew to simmer for about 2 hours stirring occasionally. If it seems to dry, you can add water, a little bit at a time. Once the lentils and rice are tender, add salt and pepper to taste.

Notes Like most stews, this one seems to improve with longer cooking times — it’s always better reheated the second day.

Berbere is a spice mix used in East African cuisine. It is possible to buy a mix, but I like to make my own and keep it sealed in the freezer. That way, I can personalize it to my taste. The mixture I use is primarily ground red chilies and paprika, but also includes salt, ginger, onion and garlic powders, fenugreek, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and allspice.

This stew is a good base to use up just about any vegetables you have lying around. Roasted squash, baked (or microwaved) sweet potato, kale and tomatoes are all good additions. Additions of cooked vegetables or greens should go in after the rice and lentils are cooked tender, while tomatoes can go in after adding the spices to the mirepoix mixture and before adding remaining ingredients.