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.

Mushroom Surprise, Part 2

Hello again!

The overtime has yet to calm down, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten you. Today I’ll post the tantalizing finish to The Mushroom Surprise Saga. The mushroom bacon from the last post was used as a topper for this more complete meal.

We got a sampler pack of mushrooms and tried half of them as the “bacon” and the other half went into this … stir fry? We basically sauteed vegetables that seemed wonderful together, then tossed it on top of some miso-quinoa.

Since there was no meat in either of these recipes, I did pull a few savory tricks out of my bag. When cooking the quinoa, I added some Liquid Aminos and red miso paste. If you don’t have liquid aminos, you could use mushroom broth, beef broth, or even soy or Worcestershire sauce. They all have a similar flavor profile to me, with slight variations.

Cook the quinoa according to your usual methods (bring 1 part quinoa and 2 parts water to boil in a pot, once boiling, turn heat to low, cover and cook the quinoa for 15 minutes. remove from heat and let sit for 5. fluff and serve) but with the extra additions. If you want to be super exact, you can pour your liquid element into a the measuring cup you’ll use to measure the water, to make sure you end up with the proper 2 parts liquid.

As for the interesting bits, I used:

Asparagus

Brussel Sprouts

Shallots

Alba Clamshell Mushrooms

Walnut oil

 

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Start by:

  1. Chop the asparagus into bite-sized bits, and the brussel sprouts in half. Go ahead and chop the shallots too, but set them aside.
  2. Cook the asparagus and brussel sprouts in medium heat until just starting to get tender, use the walnut oil.
  3. Once those are tender, add the shallots. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes or so. (You can probably add the shallots and mushrooms at the same time, it’s just a matter of a difference of texture).
  5. Eat it!

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Honey Jalapeno Chicken

So recently I’ve learned a few things. One, roasting chickens is awesome. It’s cheap, easy, tasty, and impressive. Two, allspice is delicious.

I’ve been trying to save up money because I’m going to Costa Rica in August, so I’ve been eating a little cheaper (hah) but still pretty well. Chicken’s a good way to go with it, especially when you buy whole ones. They also give you a pretty good chance to experiment with flavor. Every time I’ve prepared chicken this way it’s been completely different, and it’s not hard to be creative.

This time honey jalapeno was the start.

Ingredients:
Whole chicken, thawed and innards removed
5 jalapenos
~2/3 cup honey
~3/4 cup water
~1/8 tsp allspice, ground
black pepper

The first thing I did was cut up the jalapenos and push them under the skin of the breasts and thighs. All five didn’t fit in there. The rest I put inside the cavity, save one which I used for the sauce.

Next I made a sauce to baste the chicken with as it was cooking. I combined the jalapeno, honey, water, allspice, and pepper in a saucepan and cooked on medium to start, then kept it on 2 as the chicken was cooking.

To go with the chicken, I scalloped some potatoes and put them in a pan under the chicken, to catch the drippings. Don’t cut them too thin, because they’ll just cook too fast and stick to the bottom if you do.

As for baking, there should be instructions on the packaging. I think it was 350 degrees for 20 minutes/lb. Mine was a five-pounder so it took a while. I started the chicken off with a little sauce, and every 15-20 minutes I brushed on some more. The whole process is very easy to walk away from, so long as there’s a timer going.

When there was only 20 minutes left, I opened up a can of chestnuts I had in the pantry and threw them in with the potatoes. (Chestnuts are amazing. If you’ve never had them, I highly recommend you do. They go really well with chicken and potatoes and drippin’s.)

With the chicken done and the oven on, I decided to make some asparagus to go with it. The timing worked out perfectly because by the time the asparagus was done, the chicken was cool enough to cut.

And wa-bham–cheap, easy, tasty dinner.

Ceviche is actually pretty easy

Not only that but it’s also quite tasty.

Basically ceviche is cured seafood. Shrimp, in this case, but many different types of whitefish are also used. It’s something to be played with, but there are some basic ingredients:
Seafood (1 lb shrimp)
Peppers (1 poblano)
Onion (1/2 yellow onion)
Tomato (1)
Citrus (combination of lemon and lime juice)

It’s definitely a patient food, especially when you use shrimp, so expect to spend a lot of time waiting. We let it sit for about an hour, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start with the first step.

First, cut up your veggies. Smaller parts will distribute flavor better, but you can be as coarse as you want. It’s optional to cut up the shrimp, but I did in hopes of it being done sooner.

Next mix it all together nicely and cover with lemon and/or lime juice (some people throw in other flavors like orange or pineapple, which are good for taste, but aren’t as acidic as lemon or lime, so they shouldn’t be the majority). Add a little salt too, just because a little salt is almost always a good idea. Then here comes the tough part: let it sit for an hour in the fridge. You can stir every once in a while as you like (I definitely did–I hate waiting), but it’s not necessary. When the shrimp have become opaque and pinkish (when they look cooked), they’re done.

To help kill the time, I decided to make my own tortilla chips. I’ve fried tortillas before, which makes a good, hearty, crunchy chip, but this time I decided to try baking.

They came out thick and still kind of bready, but they served their purpose. They are very simple and easy to play with. I went with the basics and just brushed on some olive oil, salt, and pepper. To cook them, I heated the oven to 375 and flipped them often. When they first came in the oven, I flipped them after 30 seconds, to make sure they didn’t stick, them let them cook on each side, 5 min at a time, until they were the consistency I wanted. It’s kind of an involved process, so it really helped pass the time.

Fancy Croutons

This is just a little something you can do to a) use up stale bread b) make an ordinary salad a little bit more interesting.

To start off, you need some slices of bread.

And some seasoning. I just used some basics from my pantry: olive oil and garlic salt.

Move the oven rack to the top or second to top rack and preheat the oven to 350 degrees, then cut the bread into strips.

Then sprinkle on the seasonings.

And bake. After the first 5 minutes I checked on them and decided they needed 8 more. This might vary, so if your hands are up to it, submit them to the poke test. (Poke them to see if they’re dry and hard enough for you.)

What makes it special after this is the presentation. Place three or four croutons down then serve the salad on top.

This could easily be turned into it’s own thing too. Imagine the biscotti possibilities! The croutons were tasty on their own and, depending on the bread, probably even kind of healthy for you. If you want to make something sweet, sprinkle on some cinnamon or nutmeg and poof it’s a whole different thing. Definitely worth the experiments.

Tabbouleh, Hummus and Pita Goodness

For a few weeks I’ve had the urge to make tabbouleh, pretty ever since I noticed mom’s mint plants and tried to think of things she could make with them. Once I got back in town, I decided to experiment.

Turns out mine isn’t very authentic–I didn’t know what I was doing, ok?–but it’s still really tasty.

I used:
A box of couscous
1.6ish oz sundried tomatoes (you can go more or less–I was using leftovers)
12 kalamata olives
4 oz feta
1 tbs garlic
1 lemon’s worth of juice
Around 4 tbs olive oil
2/3 oz mint (the size of the package from the store)
2 oz parsley

Cook the couscous as per the instructions (boil water, stir in couscous, turn off heat and let sit for a few minutes).

And while that’s going, get all your cutting/chopping done. Though it may be prettier, it tastes better if the mint and parsley are chopped finely. I left them kind of chunky and every once in a while there’s an explosion of parsley that overpowers everything else.

Then toss everything in and stir. It tastes really good chilled, so while it’s chilling, you can make the pita bread and hummus.

I used my handy dandy super awesome bread machine to mix the dough and I got the recipe from an awesome book my mom uses and my grandma recently gave to me.

It’s very similar to your basic bread recipe and it’s easy to find recipes online. (I didn’t want to mess up anybody’s copyrights.)

It bakes in a super hot oven which, I guess, helps it poof and rise so much that it forms a pocket. I baked mine on the pizza stone my aunt gave me and it came out so fluffy and pockety that we finished it almost before I got to take pictures.

But the dough does take a long time to make, so feel free to do other things. If you don’t have a bread machine, it’s not impossible to make dough. Just mix/knead all the ingredients together then cover it and let it sit somewhere humid for about an hour. This helps to activate the yeast and distributes it evenly throughout the dough. If you’re low on humidity, cover the dough with a wet paper towel then with a cloth towel and if you can, take a shower and let it sit in the steam.

And to top it off, we made hummus. The process is very similar to making pesto: it’s all on taste.

Here’s what I used:
1 can of garbanzo beans (aka chick peas)
Tahini (about 2 tbs)
Olive oil
Lemon juice
Cumin
Garlic (optional but delicious)

Just blend it together, taste it, then add whatever you need until it’s done.

Mixing the three is really tasty and feels feasty. It’s definitely a social food.

Beef and Two Mushroom Soup

…or stew, I’m not quite sure.

We weren’t feeling well the other day, plus it conveniently rained, so I decided to make a hearty soup. Soups are really easy to play with and they’re hard to mess up.

Following my wont, I made a pretty freaking huge batch. But that’s ok, ’cause I like it so much.

I used:
Two 32 oz containers of beef broth
About a pound of potatoes
1 yellow onion (cut to your liking)
3 stalks celery
About a pound of meat (optional, personally I’m not big on meat in soup for some reason–but if you still want the protein, toss in an egg or two)
Button mushrooms
Wood ear mushrooms
Salt
Pepper
Nutmeg (it works really well with savory beef dishes)

Start by cutting your veggies. I diced the onions, cut the potatoes into 1 inch ish cubes, the baby carrots in half, and the celery into 1/2 inch ish slices. And toss them into your soup pot with your seasonings. If you want it to be thick, you can add some corn starch here. A few teaspoons should do.

Now pour in your broth, stir, and start cooking. I covered the pot and warmed it to a 7 for 15 minutes. When I checked on it to stir, I lowered it to 5 for another 15 minutes. (I have a crazy powerful stove and was worried about the veggies on the bottom.) You basically want to make sure that the potatoes are as soft as you want them. (The other veggies are going to be super soft too, so if you want them a little crunchier, add them at the half way point.)

While the soup’s warming up, prep your mushrooms. (Pretty much just slice them.)

I just used some normal button mushrooms and some dried wood ears. Normally you’d have to reconstitute the wood ear mushrooms because they’re dried up, but not so much when you’re adding them to soup. (Although, I did the first time I made ramen.)

With the mushrooms in the pot, add the beef, cover and cook for another 10 minutes.

The mushrooms will have changed size and color, and that’s a tasty thing. And now just serve when you’re ready.

Double Feature: Asparagus and Potatoes

So here are two things people at home wouldn’t normally bake, but turn out so good when you do. I say this, because most of the time I just microwave my “baked potatoes.” And I’ve never even made my own asparagus before this (but when my parents did, they steamed or boiled them).

And what’s nice is that you only need three ingredients to season them:

Olive Oil
Salt
Pepper

I only have normal table salt, but if you have something with more texture, like kosher salt, that would be even more awesome.

Also, you only have to use one pan, And! you leave the oven at the same temperature the whole time–350 degrees Fahrenheit.

So start by preheating your oven to, you guessed it, 350 degrees. And while that’s warming up, prep your pan and wash your produce.

I put foil down so that the pan would be easier to clean, but if you don’t have any lying around, don’t worry about it. Now focus on the asparagus while the potatoes dry.

Start by pouring a little olive oil on the pan, then role the asparagus around so the whole stalk gets a light covering in oil. I just used my hands, but if you have a brush, feel free to use it.

Now sprinkle on however much salt and pepper you want. Set those aside and move to the potatoes. Basically, do the same with them; cover them with oil completely, then pat on the salt and pepper until you’ve got a nice coating. Also, don’t forget to poke holes in the skin for good ventilation.

The potatoes should be higher up, on the rack itself, with a pan beneath it to catch any drippings. And since you’re making asparagus, that pan can catch the drippings.

The asparagus will be done in 10 minutes.

So just pull out the pan and move the asparagus to a plate with some tongs or a heat-resistant spatula. This should be done quickly so that you can put the pan back in the oven. (There’s not a whole lot of drippings, but it’s good to make sure your oven doesn’t get dirty.)

The potatoes will take about an hour total (but this depends on the size and number, so I’d recommend checking on them after the first 30 minutes).

Even though it’s much faster to microwave them, they taste so gooooood baked… Mmm… The skin comes out so crispy and there’s a slight crust of salt and pepper on the outside. It’s incredible. Do be careful though, because they’ll be hot for a little while (but they’re perfect for melting butter or cheese).

Manicotti

So this is a super tasty Italian dish. Basically imagine giant penne pasta filled with a delicious cheese mix and covered in your tomato sauce. Yum. And another thing that’s neat is that vegetarians can have it (as long as you don’t pick a meat sauce).

All you need is:
A box of manicotti shells (mine had 14 inside)
30-32 oz container of ricotta cheese
1 jar of sauce (mine was 26 oz)
1 package of mozzarella (8 oz is fine)
1 package of a stronger tasting cheese, like parmesan, asiago, or romano (they generally come in 6 oz for some reason)

And all of this cost around $10, so it’s a pretty cheap meal to make for a couple people, or to have delicious left-overs.

First you start by boiling the noodles.

Just follow the instructions on the box. It should take about 7 minutes.

And while that’s going, mix the cheeses. Just combine all the ricotta, about a cup and a half of mozzarella and about 3/4 cup romano. Now would also be a good time to preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

When the pasta’s done, make sure you set them down either separate from one another, or with olive oil so that they don’t stick together. And I found that it’s better to pull them out of the water with tongs than it is to try to drain the pot. You’re less likely to break them that way.

Now for filling the pasta, you have a couple of options. I happened to have a piping bag laying around, so that’s what I used.

But if you don’t have one, you can use a plastic bag. Just put all the cheese in a big zip-top bag and cut off a corner. Voila, it’s a pastry bag that you don’t have to clean up afterward.

Before placing them in a pan, pour out about half of your sauce.

Then place them in whatever pattern pleases you. It doesn’t matter if they touch, just try to make them fit. I used a 9 x 13 pan and I still had to make a 2nd tier, so don’t worry; it’s very forgiving.

I had a little cheese mix left over, so I mixed it with the rest of the pasta sauce then poured it over the whole thing. After smoothing it out with a spoon, I covered the top with the some of the leftover mozzarella and romano.

Then cover the top with foil and bake for about 35 minutes, until it’s bubbly and delicious.

One thing I forgot to mention (and to do myself) was the fact that you can add things to the cheese mixture if you’re feeling adventurous. The cheese is salty, so I’ll leave it up to you if you want to add any, but I would definitely recommend a little pepper and whatever herbs you like. Also, you could throw in some roasted veggies or leftover chicken. Have fun with it.