Friday, October 24, 2008

Digging into the archives

It's been an embarrassingly long time since I've written on here. And the reason for my silence is that I haven't been cooking much at all. It's sad, really, and I miss it, but between my three jobs I just haven't had the time. I guess this is the reason that the whole 30 minute meals shtick has been so successful! Anyway, here's hoping that I get into the kitchen sometime soon--maybe this weekend. In the meantime, here are some items I made (fairly) recently, but never got the chance to write about.

First up is one of the many pasta dishes Anne and I often make for dinner, this one featuring fresh tomatoes, broccoli rabe (one of my favorite greens) and spicy Italian sausage:

Slightly more adventurous in its flavors was this monster turkey burger that I made a while back, perched atop a toasted potato roll and topped with cheddar cheese, raw onion, tomato and sliced avocado:

An adventurous turkey burger? you might be wondering, as I'm willing to bet that you've eaten many a turkey burger that leaves something to be desired (such as, well, flavor or moisture). But, at least the way I make them, the answer is yes. I use several different "recipes" for turkey burgers, but they all have two things in common: one, aggressive seasoning; and two, a little dollop of plain full-fat yogurt in the raw meat mixture to ensure a juicy final product. This time around, I made a Mediterranean-style burger, flavored with onion, garlic, cumin and coriander, but you can really add in anything you want: a few options that come to mind are slow-cooked caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, feta cheese crumbles, and chopped fresh herbs. Just don't use them sparingly.

Rigatoni with Broccoli Rabe, Tomatoes and Italian Sausage
Serves 4

1. Place 2 tbsp. of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3-4 links of hot Italian sausage and cook, shaking pan occasionally, until meat is set and partially cooked through. Remove sausage from pan and allow to cool slightly. Slice sausage into rounds or half-moons and return to pan, sauteeing until sausage pieces are browned. Set aside. Place a large pot of water on the stove to boil.
2. Lower skillet heat to medium. Add half of a large white or yellow onion, chopped, to the pan. Season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion becomes translucent. Add 3-4 large tomatoes, chopped, to the onion, and season with more salt and freshly ground black pepper. Lower heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have wilted and released their moisture. Add reserved sausage to pan and cook over low heat until sauce has thickened.
3. When water comes to a boil, salt heavily and add half a head of chopped broccoli rabe. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon to the pan of sauce.
4. Add about half of a 1-lb. box of rigatoni or other shaped pasta to the water and cook until just shy of al dente. Remove with a slotted spoon to the pan of sauce and stir well, cooking until pasta is done, about 3-4 minutes. Garnish with fresh olive oil and parmesan cheese and serve.

Mediterranean-Style Turkey Burgers
Serves 4

1. Place 1 - 1.5 lbs. of ground turkey meat in a large bowl. Add generous amounts of ground cumin, ground coriander, dried oregano, salt and black pepper, and a small amount of red pepper flakes. Add 1/4 of a finely-diced white or yellow onion, 2-3 cloves of minced garlic, and 2-3 tbsp. of plain full-fat yogurt. Mix to combine, avoiding over-mixing. Shape meat into 4 thick burgers.
2. Over a hot grill or grill pan or under a hot broiler, cook the burgers to medium-well, about 5-6 minutes per side. If using cheese, place slices over burgers after they have been flipped and about 4 minutes before they will be done. Serve over toasted buns with desired toppings.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Superior snacking

A good snack can be just as satisfying as a meal when you put in the effort and strive to create something more imaginative than the default cheese and crackers, apple with peanut butter, or whatever your personal go-to nosh might be. I've made myself some tasty snacks lately and thought I'd post them here.

I think my favorite snack in the whole wide world is guacamole. It was the dish that converted me to avocados after years of finding their texture unpleasant, and it hasn't lost its charm since. My "recipe" is simple: avocados, mashed but with some chunks left intact; tomatoes, finely diced; green onions, tops included, finely chopped; minced garlic, chopped cilantro and plenty (plenty) of fresh lime juice and salt. Vary the proportions to suit your own tastes; you can't go wrong:

Onto another classic: the fried egg. What it lacks in invention it makes up for in sheer savory satisfaction. Salty, a little bit greasy, and from its shell to your mouth in about three minutes, the fried egg is the perfect snack, especially when eaten late at night, sprinkled with hot sauce and perched atop a slice of buttered toast:

And I've saved my most off-the-cuff creation of late for last: the "Mexican" "pizza." I conceived of this most inauthentic bite when staring into my fridge, which on a recent afternoon was nearly as empty as my growling stomach, and spotting the following items: corn tortillas (featured in the taco post below), a block of Swiss cheese, some grilled hot Italian sausage links, a small container of leftover already-chopped scallions and tomatoes, a jar of salsa, and some beginning-to-wilt fresh cilantro. And then the idea for this "pizza" struck me. Here's how I made it. First, I sliced a sausage link into thirds lengthwise and seared them in a hot cast-iron pan, rendering some more of their fat and crisping them up a bit. I removed the sausage and warmed a tortilla in the pan; it soaked up the aforementioned pork fat and looked good enough to eat on its own. But I didn't stop there. I sliced up some Swiss and laid it on the tortilla, ran it under the broiler to melt then cheese, removed it, sprinkled on some scallions and tomatoes and finally placed the sausage slices on top of the whole thing. After one more run under the broiler, I crowned this increasingly vertical stack with a good spoonful of corn-and-black bean salsa and showered it with torn cilantro leaves. OK, yeah, so it was a good 10 minutes' work for a snack, but it was well worth it: hot, smoky, crisp and yielding all at once, this little number pleased my palate as well as my stomach:

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Taco night

Stop me if this scenario sounds familiar. You're sitting in your home in the late afternoon/early evening, and your stomach is--gently at first, and then with increasing insistence--starting to remind you that dinnertime is approaching and that you'd better come up with a plan. So you sort of poke around your fridge and cabinets, but there's really not much of anything in the house; you put off the question and do something else for a while, but, inevitably, hunger wins out and inspiration follows quickly on its heels. Such was the case for me earlier this week, when I wanted to cook something for dinner but didn't want to have to make a shopping trip. I had chicken and rice, but couldn't think of anything interesting to do with them, until I spied a can of refried beans in the cabinet. All at once it came to me: tacos. I put in a phone call to my roommate, who was returning home from work, and asked her to pick up corn tortillas, lettuce, an onion and some cilantro; with the chicken, rice, beans and tomatoes I already had, we could whip up a quick and filling meal. And that's exactly what we did.

I'm not going to provide a recipe, because you can put anything you like in a taco. Our particular version featured a corn tortilla base; a scoop of white rice cooked with a little olive oil, onion and cumin; canned vegetarian refried beans; grilled chicken breast coated with cumin, coriander, crushed red pepper flakes and salt; shredded lettuce; diced tomatoes and onions; and sprigs of fresh cilantro: