Succotash

I recently got back from a trip to Canada. I’ve been dreaming of going to Vancouver for a few years now, thanks to a cooking show I watched while in college. I think it was Giada De Laurentiis, checking out the restaurants and attractions.

Despite the drought, it was more beautiful than I expected (standards of beauty get lowered significantly after living in a rain-choked Texas for about 7 years), and it would have been beautiful even if I wasn’t snide.

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Other than the restaurant Giada went to, I didn’t have an idea of what the food scene would be like once we got up there. I knew I wanted poutine. I’d heard about good local breweries. My friends were mixed in their recommendations or warnings about Tim Horton’s, but other than that, I was a blank slate.

Most nights, we’d kind of wander into restaurants, getting what was convenient or close, or what seemed good enough to stop the bus for and get down. (On that note, if you’re interested in Tibetan food and are in Vancouver, you should check out the Yak & Yeti bistro.)

But one night, our Canadian friend got off work early and was able to prepare a tasty-ass dinner. Fresh salmon, grilled, and succotash. Of course I love salmon and it was wonderful, but what really stuck out to me was the succotash. Before that night, it’d never been real. “Succotash” is from the Loony Tunes universe–it was part of a catch phrase, not food! But it was real, and it was surprisingly tasty. We even had to make a new batch once we made it back to Texas, only three nights later.

Succotash

Looking online, there is absolutely no single definition of succotash. Our Vancouverite made no pretense of measuring ingredients, either making it from memory or winging it. So that’s how I learnt–just watching over his shoulder. Consequently, this recipe won’t have any objective measuring terms–you’ll have to decide what you like. I was told that corn and beans make a whole protein, and including the corn brings together the three sisters (at least symbolically) so they seem worth keeping together.

 

There are definite changes you can make to this. Add peppers, don’t use bacon, toss in some herbs or greens. Make it what you want.

1/5 or 1lb bacon
corn cut from 2 ears of corn
1 or 2 cans of beans
2-3 tomatoes
2-3 yellow squash
fresh thyme

1. Prep everything by cutting the corn off the cob and chopping the rest into smallish, bite-sized pieces (not the beans, they’re ok)
2. Fry the bacon until desired crispiness
3. Remove bacon from pan
4. Use desired amount of bacon fat (probably 1-2 tbs) to fry up everything else
5. Fry until veggies are desired tenderness (should’t take long at all). Add the bacon back in sometime before the end.

 

Although I didn’t remember at the time of making our Texas batch, the Canadian batch also included 1 large jalapeño chopped into thin strips (how did Texans forget a pepper?!), fresh thyme and basil, a yellow pepper, green and yellow zucchini, and some ground cumin.

Russian Mushroom Soup

There is a surprisingly tasty and enchanting restaurant downtown. It feels like your European grandma’s house–full of lace, fancy cabinets and glassware (though mismatched), and creepy/homey/charming trinkets. Although my grandmother isn’t Russian, I could see elements of her European roots here.

I realized the first time I ate there that I didn’t know what to expect of Russian food. I patted myself on the back for recognizing some of the names, but by no means could I expect what flavors would work together, which pictures matched up with the food, or most important of all–which infused vodka to accompany everything.

To introduce myself, I got a few smaller dishes, and the crowd I was with was down with sharing, so we all got to taste some of each others’. What left the strongest impression on me was the mushroom soup. It felt like hunter-gatherer food. Light and refreshing, but also somehow sustaining and filling. The broth wasn’t thick and the ingredients hadn’t been stewed down, but the flavors somehow worked together marvelously.

Now that I’m on this mushroom kick and the cold weather swooped in for a visit, we tried to make some at home.

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Russian Mushroom Soup

  • 2 morells (feel free to skip this expensive ingredient that we bought on a whim)
  • handful of woodear mushrooms
  • handful of oyster mushrooms
  • 1 cup or so of porcini mushrooms
  • 1/3 cup pearl barley
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 bunch of fresh dill
  • 1 bunch of fresh parsley
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1 med onion
  • 2 med potatoes
  • 1/2 of a celery root
  • 1/2 of a fennel root
  • 1 parsnip
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tbs peppercorns
  • 1/2 tbs whole allspice

 

  1. In a skillet, saute the mushrooms and onions. If you’re using fresh everything, great, if not, rehydrate the dried ones first.
  2. In a separate pan, cook barley as per package instructions.
  3. As the mushrooms approach done-ness, bring to a simmer 4 – 6 cups of water with the roughly chopped celery root, fennel, carrots, parsnips and bay leaves in a separate soup pot. After about 10 minutes, add the potatoes as well.
  4. Once the mushrooms have lost all their moisture and have gotten somewhat mushy, add them to the soup pot. Let simmer for about 10 minutes
  5. Add nearly the rest of the ingredients : barley, peas, garlic, peppercorns, and allspice. Let simmer for 10 minutes
  6. Add the parsley and dill.
  7. Let stew until the flavors have melded beautifully, about 10 more minutes.

I found the whole peppercorns and allspice lent a good flavor to the soup, but I got tired of crunching down on them. Now, I wish I had used a cheesecloth or something to keep them in the soup. I’ll experiment with that and let you know, but if you have any suggestions for me I’d be very appreciative! For added flavor, you could use broth instead of water.

Salmon Alfredo

I don’t cook with fish much because I’ve always been afraid of messing it up. But I watched my mom cook some on the grill a little while back so I figured I’d give it a try.

To cook the salmon, I let an oiled non stick skillet heat up for a while (to mimic the heat of a grill), then put the salmon on, skin down.

Then put on whatever seasonings you like, salt and pepper are always good.

As it’s cooking, you’ll notice the bottom change colors, and the color change (from red-pink to salmon-pink) will elevate up the sides of the salmon. It’s pretty neat; you can almost see it happening. A few minutes in, we topped it with some fresh basil…

…and covered the skillet to finish cooking it all the way through to the top.

Once you cover it it doesn’t take long to finish. (This was my first time cooking salmon. It might be faster to cover it the whole time and have it still end up the same…? I don’t know.)

And while that was going, I had the pasta boiling and was making an alfredo sauce. if you’ve read more than one article from here, you’d know that I love cream based sauces. It helps a lot that they’re super easy to make. Just reduce some cream, toss in some cheese (parmesan if you want to make a real alfredo sauce) and stir/add cheese until it’s the right consistency. This time I used rosemary asiago and a small handful of mozzarella.

Once everything was done, I combined the sauce and pasta, then flaked the salmon with my hand and a fork and tossed that in too.

Soo yummy. It’s good cold for nighttime picnics and it reheats well for lunch at work.

Stuffed Pork Chops

This is another idea inspired by something my mom said last time I was in town. It’s really simple and it’s a new way to handle pork chops.

Besides the normal seasonings (salt, pepper, and olive oil) all you need is:

Pork chops
And the white thing next to it, I don’t know the official name. I’ll call them mozzarella roll-ups. Basically imagine a sheet of mozzarella with prosciutto and basil layered on before rolling it all up together. In other words, super tasty. A lot of grocery stores carry them in the deli section, but if you can’t find any, you could easily replicate it with the three ingredients just being together.

Start by slicing the mozzarella.

And you should probably just eat the end pieces because they’re the best part and they’re funny shaped anyway.

After that, butterfly the pork chop. The technique is pretty simple and I’ve talked about it in another article. Then put the mozzarella inside.

Now it’s time to get ready to bake. I lined my pan with foil so that it’d be easier to clean, but it’s not necessary. I also but a little olive oil on the pan and on the pork chops themselves. Then I salted and peppered both sides.

I chose to bake these, but you could easily cook them on the stove. To bake it, I cooked it at 375 for 16 minutes then checked on it. They needed a few more minutes after that, so I’d say it took about 22 minutes total.

And to complete the meal, I paired the chops with baked asparagus.

They were super tasty and made me happy. I can also vouch for they’re skills as leftovers as I brought some to work the next day and it was still awesome.

Three cheese and basil risotto

I had risotto for the first time a few weeks ago and ever since I’ve wanted to make my own. It’ simple in idea, but seemed daunting because of it’s mystery to me. And for once, I only made enough for two people! (It’s always a good idea to make a text batch of something you’re not familiar with.)

Here’s what I used:

1/2 cup arborio rice
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
A couple basil leaves
Some Parmesan (I’d say about half a cup)
Some Ementaler (I’d say a little more than a quarter cup)
A little blue cheese (about two tablespoons)
1 tbs white vinegar (to imitate the white wine flavor in the dish I first tried)
Black pepper to taste

First, I sliced the basil into strips and put it in a saucepan with the broth and a little pepper. I brought it to a boil over medium heat in order to let the broth soak up the basil flavor, but also without having a lot of the water boil away. Once it started boiling, I reduced the temperature to low and let it sit for 8 minutes.

While that was going I sliced the cheese.

I sliced it because my grater is currently out of commission. The point is, you want it to be small enough to melt quickly, so slice or grate it as you like.

When the broth’s about 2 minutes from done, start frying the rice on medium.

I’m not saying deep fry it or anything, just get a pan with some oil and there you go. This is where I added the vinegar. I didn’t want it to be too pronounced, so I added it early so that some of it would boil off. This would also be a good place to add some garlic or onions, if that’s your kind of thing. And FYI, from this point on, you’re going to be stirring constantly.

Let that cook for about 2 minutes, then add 2 ladle’s full of broth and a little bit of cheese.

When all the broth’s absorbed, add some more! Remember to keep stirring the whole time and keep repeating this until there’s no more broth. Do a taste test to make sure they’re not too al-dente, then turn off the heat and serve!

Pesto without a recipe

For a long time, watching my mom cook, I was always baffled. Any time I’d ask her something about measurements, she’d say something enigmatic like “do what looks right,” or just simply “enough.” And that was pretty frustrating, until I started playing with food the grown-up way. I am not a baker at heart; I am much too imprecise. But that doesn’t mean I can’t show people how to make something. Last night I made pesto for the first time and it was very simple. You only need a few ingredients and either a food processor or a blender.

Basil
Olive Oil
Parmesan
Nuts

I used walnuts, but I think tradition says to use pine nuts. I’ve also had it with pecans and it was super tasty. So basically, feel free to use what you have in the pantry. And as far as the parmesan goes, I wouldn’t recommend buying shredded cheese (because in all shredded cheeses they have to add chemical stuff to prevent caking, and that’s just not my style), but you don’t have to shred it; I just cubed mine.

Basically, put in half your basil and a little bit of each of the ingredients, then blend and taste. That way you know that nothing will be too over powering and you have ingredients enough to perfect it. If you like the way it tastes, add the rest of the basil and the same amount of the other ingredients. It’s not hard to figure out, despite it’s intimidating nature. You want it to end up smooth and completely blended, so it might take a while before it’s perfect.

And pesto is super great; there are tons of delicious things you can do with it. If you want to stay simple, just throw it on some pasta instead of the more used alfredo or tomato sauce. It’s great as a dip with chips or pita bread, or a spread on sandwiches. It’s also pretty dang healthy. I made mine into a creamy pesto that’s going to be paired with some mushrooms sauteed in white wine in a fillo dough pocket. But that’s yet to be made and therefore yet to be photographed, but expect it soon!

Goat Cheese Toastlets

I don’t really know what else to call these. If you have a better idea, feel free to let me know.

Basically, I came up with these as an idea for finger food for my French class’ end of the year party. I did warm them up before serving, but after tasting them cooled, they worked fine that way too. They end up looking pretty and they’re not too hard to make. (Cutting the cheese to make sure it stayed spherical was the hardest, but I’ll give you some tips to make it easier.)

I made three flavors, one that I knew was really tasty (goat cheese and honey) and two that I was pretty sure would work (cheery preserves, and basil-lemon-pepper). And for this all you need is:

A loaf of mini toasts (I got mine from the grocery store deli)
Goat cheese (I had 4 4oz logs)
Honey
Cherry preserves
Basil
A lemon
Pepper
Olive oil

Before you start anything, make sure to refrigerate the cheese. The cheese must be very cold (but not frozen) to ensure nice slices. So I kept mine in the back of the fridge while I prepped the other ingredients.

I started by slicing the basil into strips.

Thinner would work too, but I was kind of rushing. I mainly wanted them to be straight so they’d be pretty.

Next I juiced the lemon,

laid out the toasts,

and started cutting up the first cheese log.

Cutting it is, like I mentioned above, kind of hard. You want to make sure the cheese is very cold, and the knife, hot. I kept the cheese in the back of the fridge until the moment I needed it. And I kept a bowl of hot water in the sink to use to warm up and clean the knife between every slice. I found that a very sharp, non-serrated knife worked very well, and there was a certain technique I used to make sure they came out ok.

I started by warming the knife, drying it quickly with a paper towel, then going straight into the cut. I didn’t pull back and forth, because when I tried that, the knife just crumbled the cheese along the horizontal. So I just pushed straight down, trying to hold the log and keep if from smooshing in on itself. Then I shimmied it off the knife because just pulling it off would have broken it in half.

I posted the video on my brand new YouTube channel, in case you’re having trouble seeing it here.
Perfect Goat Cheese Medallions
And if you happen to have a YouTube account, feel free to subscribe! I plan on adding more videos once I get a big enough memory card.

Most of the medallions were placed directly on the toasts, but the savory lemon-basil toasts were coated with a little olive oil first. I’ll start with the sweet ones because they were more simple.

Place cheese

then add toppings. For the jam, I topped the cheese with a heaping teaspoonish of cherry preserves.

And for the honey I just squeezed on a pinwheel shape.

The lemon-basil had a few more steps. After olive oil-ing and cheese-ing the toasts, I brushed on the olive oil and cracked on some pepper.

Now I topped them off with the basil before baking them, but it might be better to do this step after baking. The basil won’t crisp up and it will still look as pretty as when you plucked it.

Now for the baking, I popped them in a 350 degree oven until the cheese was a little melty and soft. I didn’t want too high a heat because I was worried about the toast becoming inedibly hard. And don’t worry about the goat cheese not melting; it’s not like other cheeses and it won’t melt much.

Porc aux herbes de provence

Yay for a little French influence!

I honestly don’t know enough about herbs and spices as I would like. Dill makes me think of pickles and rosemary goes well with chicken. Bam. There you go. That’s all I know. So I decided to experiment a little. In the bulk section of my grocery store, you can buy various spices. I decided to try out herbes de provence. I’m slightly familiar with the blend, in that I know it’s tasty and I’ve been to where it comes from (hoo-ray study abroad!). It’s a blend of various herbs such as rosemary, thyme and lavender. (There’s more, it’s just that the label doesn’t say them all.)

Also walking around the store, I discovered that pork tenderloin was on sale. So there you go, porc aux herbes de provence. This also works really well with chicken, if you’re not a fan of pork.

I started out by cutting the tenderloin into chunks about 2 inches wide.

And once they were all cut up, I took each one and made cut tiny slits, not penetrating all the way through, into which I could put the seasoning.

At first I would make two slits, but one works just fine. Then, I put a pinch-ful of herbs into the slit, and covered then with minced garlic.

Like I have mentioned in an earlier article, I’ve started using the pre-minced garlic from the produce department. It’s not quite as flavorful, but it’s super convenient. Especially here where you just need a spoon to put some in and poof you’re done.

The whole process took surprisingly little time, and I even cut up two tenderloins (which made enough for 6-8ish people, so one’s fine if you’re only making this for a few people). As I was cutting them, I placed them in a pan already lined with olive oil.

And when they were all done, I added a little salt and pepper, then covered and cooked them on a medium heat for about 10 minutes.

They weren’t done yet, but this is where I checked on them. All that juice was their own; I didn’t add any water. I didn’t flip mine, but I did rotate and move them around. I flipped a few to test, and they passed–nothing fell out and they didn’t break, but it’s not necessary. Cover and cook some more and check periodically until they’re done.

That night I served them on rice, but they also go really well with an alfredo sauce.

Raspberry Mojitos

So this nice little cocktail is something sweet and tasty you can enjoy this Valentines Day. Personally, I made mine virgin (I’ve got school in the morning, plus I didn’t have any rum laying around), but add what you want. I wouldn’t recommend too much though, because they taste so nice on their own.

All you need is:
Sugar
Water
Raspberries (fresh or frozen)
Mint leaves
Sparkling water

First you start by making a simple syrup, which is equal parts sugar and water. I only made two glasses, so I only used a 1/3 cup sugar and a 1/3 cup sugar. You can heat it over the stove, but in a microwaveable container works just fine.

I heated it for 30 seconds, stirred, and heated again for 20. Your times might vary depending on the weather and power of your microwave.

Next, blend or mash your raspberries (I used my handy dandy food processor). For two glasses, I blended 3/4 cups frozen raspberries. I chose frozen because I knew I wouldn’t use up all of them, plus they’re cheaper. And then put equal amounts into each glass.

Next add your mint leaves. I used about a sprig per cup. And bruise them with a spoon (basically just stir and make sure to mush them up some).

There are a couple different methods for dealing with the mint. What I did probably yielded the least flavor. Another thing you could do would be to rip the leaves apart into strips before adding them to the glass. And yet another would be to drop them in before the raspberries with a little sugar and stir them around dry–the coarseness of the sugar will help break up the leaves and give you more oil.

Next squeeze half a lime into each glass, add the simple syrup equally, then top it off with bubbly water and stir. (If you plan on adding the rum, put it in before the bubbly water.)