Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Ingredient Itch-Spaghetti Squash

Tasty leftovers for lunch:-)
Have you ever been introduced to something and found yourself on a bit of a rampage with it?  A new style, new author, new hobby, or, say, new ingredient, that you just can't get enough of?  I call this an itch. My previous such ingredient itch obsession was the variety of Masalas available at any Indian grocery store, and trust me, there will be a raving post about on those soon. However, my most recent craze revolves around spaghetti squash.  Up until two weeks ago I had never once cooked with it. Then, while dining at a friend's home, I had my first ever taste of what I now can't stop eating.  It was not a pleasant introduction- it was similar to meeting someone with super clammy hands and an overly firm grip, who holds on too long while maintaining awkward eye contact.  The sauce was a white wine cream sauce, with ground pork sausage and onions-completely the wrong texture and flavor marriage.  Not only that but it was bland!  Nothing with white wine, sausage, or onions has any excuse to be bland. No, no, no.  I kept eating it thinking:  This could be better, I can't judge this poor ingredient with the clammy hands, maybe it's just uncomfortable in it's outfit.  I know this can be better.  And oh my, could it.
Over the last 2 weeks I have made no less than 6 preparations of squash. I'm finding it to be a fantastic go-to healthy meal during the week because it is SO fast to cook!  Chop a squash in half, scoop it out, and chuck it in the microwave (yes, the microwave) for 8 minutes.  You're 3/4 of the way to the table because while the squash is cooking, you can get a good jump on chopping, melting, and preparing everything to go with it.
 Easiest preparation-as shown in leftover form, above, involves only cooking the squash, topping with butter, salt and black pepper and peas,  followed by grated parm. Totally addicting. Even the most complex casserole preparations only take about 40 minute start to finish. 
Spaghetti Squash is my current love, and an added bonus: at only 42 calories per serving of squash, I'm finding that I don't mind splurging a little on the things that go with it, or dessert;-)

I didnt even get to snap a picture of this one because we were ravenously hungry, it came together so quickly, and we ate every bite! I'm sure I'll be able to post one, soon:-)

Moroccan Spaghetti Squash
Adaptated from the February, 2002 issue of Gourmet, as shown here on Epicurious
Serves 2

  • 1  spaghetti squash, cut in half and scooped of its seeds
  • 1 full size sausage link-cooked*. We were lucky enough to have a Moroccan sausage from Kramarczuk's that we brought back from our trip to Minneapolis, but many sausages will do, depending on the flavor you want
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • 1-2 oz raisins
  • 1 carrot, shreded
  • * If your link is raw, cook it in a medium saute pan before starting the steps below, and do not discard the fat in the pan. 

    Put the squash halves in the microwave uncovered for 8 minutes. 

    While the squash is cooking, take the time to mince the garlic, measure the spices out into a small bowl, measure carrots and raisins, and chop your sausage into 1/2 inch rounds, and then in half again so you have approximately 24-30 half circle pieces, depending on the size of your original sausage.
    Melt the butter in a medium saute pan over medium heat, when it is all melted, add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes.  

    Add the spices all at once and stir to combine until the aroma fills your kitchen
    Add the carrots and the raisins.
    Add the sausage, and stir the entire mess up- remove from heat.
    Remove the squash from the microwave, and pull the strands it into a large bowl.
    Pour the entire contents of the sauce pan over the spaghetti squash, and toss to mix-enjoy!

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    Thursday, March 7, 2013

    Remember That Time We Couldn't Find the Fish Sauce?

    Updated Linguini alle Vongole with Fish Sauce

    Really, we couldn't find it.  We were making Pad Thai and we needed it. I looked for it.  I looked in the refrigerator on every shelf, I looked in several cabinets, some drawers, the freezer-just in case.  When I couldn't find it, I asked my roommate to look for it.  She looked in all of these places, too, to no avail!  I looked again, positive it was there, and then grabbed my keys, flew out the door, and went in search of a store that would have fish sauce-in Jacksonville. First stop was the co-op near my house.  They had all of the ingredients for Pad Thai except fish sauce. Bollucks.  
    There is only good 1 Asian grocery store I've been able to find in Jacksonville, Florida.  There are several that make the claim, but just one that fits the bill.  It was closed. Side Note: If you ever find yourself in the position of needing a defining attribute for an Asian grocery store-check the number of different spring roll wrappers.  If there are less than 20 with dried seafood in them, you're at the PF Chang's version, not the realest of the deal we can get here in the states.
    I ended up hitting a Publix (this isn't a real grocery store in my mind, either, but it's what we've got to work with) and bought the generic, Thai Kitchen fish sauce.  When I got back to the house, my roommate hopped up proudly holding the rogue bottle of fish sauce we had been hunting for earlier! The Buck assured me he had seen it in the fridge, but said nothing because he assumed that we weren't daft enough to have both  missed it. I felt foolish. Not the most exciting story, but the result was that we had two bottles of fish sauce.  
    I don't know about you, but I don't need two bottles of fish sauce at a time. Or so I thought.  
    Image 1
    My favorite!  Try several brands
    til you find the one you like best
    The following day I spent the better portion of 2 hours daydreaming about things to do with my new-found abundance of fish sauce.  I looked online for suggestions but found very few that were inspiring (Oh, you mean I can use Thai fish sauce in Thai dipping sauce? Get out of here, I never knew that!) So I was left largely to my own devices.  I thought of hundreds of things to do, some crazy, some dull, some that would be just awful (Nuoc mam as an underlying flavor in a savory brownie, anyone?). At the end of the day as I was driving home, I was thinking of simpler things. I thought of the idea of trying linguine with clams, and adding fish sauce to the wine stock as the clams were boiling. It's a classic mix of flavors with a few twists.  The Fish sauce gives the traditional dish a hit of umami, and it was absolutely delicious.  

    Updated Linguini alle Vongole with Fish Sauce
    generously serves 1 as meal, or 2 as an entree with appropriate sides

    120 grams of dry linguine
    1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
    2 cloves of garlic, finely minced or pushed through a garlic press if you are lucky enough to have one
    1/4 of an onion, in extremely thin slices (optional, I love onions but there are those who do not) 
    1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
    6 clams of your choice, soaked, scrubbed and washed.
    1/2 cup white wine (The wine really sets the tone for this dish, so pick one you know you like.  I personally like a good Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio) 

    Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  I like to use the time the water is boiling to mince the garlic, chop onions, and get my other ingredients measured and ready to go by the stove, plus-as we've discussed- any time wine is involved in the dish it's acceptable to indulge while cooking.  You can do the next bits two ways:
    1) Wait for the pasta to finish and then begin the sauce (if you're alone, this is easiest)
    2) Be bold and try to time the sauce to be done nearly at the same time as the pasta (if you have help, this involves them)
    Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan on medium, and add the onions.  Saute for about a minute, and then add the garlic.  Turn the heat up and add the red pepper flakes and a generous pinch of sea salt. Stir just to mix in, and add the fish sauce.  It should boil upon contact with the pan, if it does not, continue to stir until the fish sauce boils and slightly reduces.  At that point, add your clams, and then pour the wine in and cover with a clear lid.  Boil until the clams open, occasionally shaking the pan about to be sure the juices mix in with your sauce.  **At this point, do not be alarmed if the sauce tastes too salty or too rich, it dilutes significantly when coating the pasta. Give it a chance to shine, and wait to salt until the very end!** 
    The very last, perfect bite:)
    Once the clams are open, tumble the pasta into the pan and stir about vigorously to mix.  Et Voila, you have a delicious take on a classic.  

    Monday, March 4, 2013

    Waking Up is Hard to Do

    "Coffee & Fruit" Breakfast Quinoa
    (Or...Breakfast Quinoa Base with Infinite Room for Variation)
    It's about 15 minutes past the point I should have fallen asleep in order to be re-charged for a long day in the lab tomorrow, but I can't sleep.  We just put a deposit down on a house today, and I'm scheming. Breakfast Scheming.  Breakfast is a pain for me.  I hate waking up earlier than I have to.  I have been known to skip breakfast, to occasionally use dry shampoo instead of a morning shower, and to keep a toothbrush in my car for those mornings when I have to wake up and fly out the door in less than 2 minutes to get to work on time....I know.  I know.
    BUT.  Since I discovered my new breakfast routine, things have a bit been better.  I already know that this is the breakfast I'm going to make in some variation for the new house almost daily, and that since it gets ME out of bed, its sure to get The Buck to wake up, too.  Cooking anything IN coffee is a great way to make your house smell insanely good in the morning, too:-)

    Now, there are those who argue that you should cook quinoa for breakfast overnight to just grab-and-go in the morning.  You might think I would agree, given my ill adaptation to morning times...I do not.  I would rather eat this-piping hot, while sipping coffee and reading the news- than bring anything to the office to re-heat.  For one thing, there is a definite mushiness associated with re-warmed breakfast cereal type foods that I do not find appealing.  For another, taking the extra half hour in the morning gives me energy and sets the tone for a great day. Especially with a breakfast like this that doesn't leave me stalking the pastry bar at 9:05....

    It's not a new concept, but this is my favorite version to date.  If you prefer the 1:2 ratio of quinoa to liquid, be my quest and add more coffee or water as you like.  If you like raspberries, use them mixed with Berry Cobbler Coffee.  If you hate bananas, dont add them. As always, guidelines only:

    2/3 cup obscenely flavored coffee (my personal favorite is anything Bananas Foster flavored, but depending on what you add later you can be quite inventive)
    1/3 cup water
    1-2 tbsp cream or coffee creamer  (I do 1 tbsb cream with a dash of vanilla extract just because I try to avoid HFCS, but I've honestly done this with flavored coffee creamer and it works just as well, all depends on how healthy you feel like being on a given morning)
    1 Cinnamon Stick, if available  
    2/3 cup quinoa-rinsed!
    2 Tablespoons Dried Blueberries
    1 Tablespoon Coconut Flakes
    1 Teaspoon dried pumpkin seeds
    1 Tablespoon Walnuts
      (I just have little measuring spoons in these jars already, but any size spoon will do, really)
    1/2 Banana, sliced
    Brown Sugar, to taste

    Combine coffee, water, cream, cinnamon stick, and quinoa in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil. Once boil has been reached, turn down the heat and simmer from 15-25 minutes-depending on your desired doneness-with a lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape. 
    Gives you the perfect amount of time to do hair, makeup, brush teeth, and begin to peruse the morning news or crossword puzzle...

    Return to stove and fluff quinoa with a fork. Add blueberries, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts, and stir to combine. Line the bottom of a bowl with sliced banana. Transfer quinoa to the bowl, top with a small amount of cream, and brown sugar to taste. It's about as tasty as one could expect quinoa to be in a breakfast, and it's a great powerhouse to start your day

    Tuesday, February 5, 2013

    Mild Hangover Cure = Peas and Curry

    Garam Masala Risotto

    I Love Peas.  Can't get enough of them, they're like caviar in vegetable form when cooked properly.  They pop delicately and burst forth fresh spring flavors even in the dead of winter. When placed into a spicy and earthy curry, their subtle flavor somehow becomes the highlight of a bold dish. When I came up with this recipe, I had a mild hangover only a good curry could fix. However, I had no chickpeas, no potatoes, no meat. Just a terrible temper, an onion and some peas....really I was in a quandary. To get my curry-pea fix, I did the only thing that made any kind of sense to my agitated mind: I used risotto as my vehicle.

    Risotto is a wonder dish that can morph into many things.  The traditional version made with white wine, onion, butter, rice, and parmesean is a great starting place, but once you're comfortable with the basics there are so many other things you can do!

    For instance, the following replacements will morph the traditional version into a warm, comforting desert that is perfect eaten in the winter months next to a fire with a glass of hot buttered rum:

    Traditional Fall Apple
    Stock Spiced Tea
    White Wine Calvados
    Onions Apples
    Parmesean  Marscapone

    Creating a caramel and using boiled milk instead of broth will give you a the richest, creamiest rice pudding imaginable   If you add coconut milk and green or red curry paste to the broth, you can make a fabulous Thai inspired risotto. Hmm, I should add those recipes as well at some point.

    For this particular version, I did the following to make a generous serving for one:

    The Cooking Liquid
    3-4 cups water
    2 tablespoons garam masala
    1/2 cube vegetable boullion (If you have homemade vegetable stock on hand, more power to you-it would be amazing)
    1/2 teaspoon salt (more to taste)

    The Pan
    1 tablespoon butter
    1/2 of a small yellow onion
    Dash of Tumeric, Cumin, Coriander, and Cayenne
    1 tablespoon Garam Masala
    1/4 teaspoon sea salt
    1/3 cup arborio rice
    1/3 cup frozen peas (Fresh would be wonderful as well, but never ever ever canned)
    White wine (I used a Pinot Grigio-no sweet wine for this recipe, buttery would work best)

    Start by combining all of the elements of The Cooking Liquid in a pot and place it on a back burner over medium heat, enough to simmer but not enough to boil.

    While the broth is heating up, pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy a few sips.  Finely chop the onion half and set aside. Combine the Tumeric, Cumin, Coriander, Cayenne, and Garam Masala into a small bowl so they are ready to simply toss in the pan. Measure the Arborio and peas separately and set aside. Grab a measuring cup and set it near the broth to be used as a ladle while cooking. Sip more wine...

    Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium to medium high heat just until it begins to brown.  Throw in the onions and spices, and saute until the onions become translucent   At this moment, add your rice and stir to ensure the butter mixture evenly coats the grains.  Continue to saute the rice until it just begins to look different,'ll know it when you see it. Usually between 1-2 minutes Spill some of your wine into the pan to deglaze. (you're cooking for yourself, after all, so don't get squeamish! If you were to prepare this for anyone else I'd advise having some wine set aside, though, for propriety's sake)

    Add approximately half of a cup of The Cooking Liquid to The Pan, and simmer. Stir slowly and frequently. Nay, constantly. After the initial liquid cooks down and is absorbed by the rice, add another dose. Continue this process of adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup increments, and allowing it to cook down, until your rice has reached the consistency you desire and you have a nice, thick, creamy sauce. Add the peas, and continue to cook for 2-4 minutes before transferring the entire concoction to a bowl.

    Grate Parmesean over the top, if you wish, and enjoy!

    Note:  Adding a protein to risotto is easily done, just cook it in advance, have it chopped or shredded and on a plate, and add it to the pan when the rice is just prior to your desired consistency. Never add meat too soon or it will overcook and ruin the entire dish.

    I've made this several times since the morning of its conception, it never fails to satisfy:-)

    About Me

    Jacksonville, Florida
    Here's my story: I have resigned myself to the fact that I will remain in Jacksonville for another 2 years, biding my sweet time until my boyfriend completes his Coast Guard tour. Harumph. So, you might wonder, what does one do when they determine that they're willingly sacrificing their personal freedom in a flagrant defiance of all things they once felt defined their sense of self? Well, I am here to tell you. They mourn their past life in which food and culture played a significant role. They cry over the unavoidable truth that Jacksonville has about as much culinary charm as one might expect from a city that venerates "Salt Life" and believes Town Center is full of fine dining. Shudder. And then they cook. A lot. And write. A lot. Because they need an outlet. That's me- I need an outlet. And Cooking and Writing are IT. So while I wouldn't dream of telling anyone in person that I'm scared of the next 2 years, at least I can put it out there somewhere and get it off my chest. Phew! And at least I have someplace to document all of this cooking I'm doing now that I'm 1200 miles away from all of my favorite take out ;-) Silver linings abound.