Friday, April 26, 2013

Tenderloin Shish-Kebabs with Mixed Veggies

As we started eating less and less meat, we found that something unexpected has happened to our taste buds.  Sure, we smell a burger grilling and have vegetarian’s remorse.  But, on the whole, it’s been surprising how well we’ve been able to cope without copious amounts of meat.  It’s almost as if our digestive system has adjusted to the new normal and has recalibrated—by drastically reducing—its desire for carnivorous meals.

In fact, instead of getting bored with eating vegetables, I find that I actually have more of a hankering for them.  When I’ve been consuming a lot of roasted root vegetables, I might get inordinately excited over a fresh salad.  When salads have accompanied most meals, I might salivate over a baked potato or grilled asparagus.  In other words, eating more vegetables hasn’t reduced my appreciation for vegetables but instead has increased my desire for them.  On the flip side, I find that I can go ever longer without craving meat.  Odd, huh? 

Case in point: this past weekend.  During our official “Lent” period, we looked forward to each Sunday when we could “break” our “fast” and eat as much beef, chicken, and pork as possible.  We inclined towards larger pieces (whole roast chicken, double-cut pork chops, oh my!), even if it meant having to pack away our leftovers in the freezer.  But last Sunday, as we cast about for our special weekend dinner, we kept on dismissing the usual.  We even thought—gasp!—about having fish again.  On a Sunday!

We finally settled on shish-kebabs because we had chunks of tenderloin left over from when I trimmed side muscle meat off a roast.  After defrosting the beef, I cut them into ¾-1 inch pieces and went about chopping red and green peppers, and red and yellow onions into similarly sized pieces.  After cleaning caps off of cremini mushrooms, I threaded everything onto skewers.

For a simple marinade, I combined ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 large minced garlic, ½ teaspoon oregano flakes, and fresh ground salt and black pepper.  (When you stir this mixture, you get a chunky dressing.)  I then spooned the mixture over one side of the shish-kebabs on skewers, and then turned and spooned over more marinade on another side, slathering over as much surface area as possible.

You need not let the kebabs marinate too long.  Just heat and oil the grill, cook just 2-3 minutes on 4 sides until vegetables are nicely charred.  Because these are beef tenderloin skewers, you need not worry too much about timing.  Medium-rare is how we like our beef, and that was just enough time for the vegetable pieces to acquire a nice char.  But even if you ended up cooking for longer, tenderloin doesn’t dry out much.  It’s almost a foolproof technique for cooking meat.

I paired these kebabs with Persian Dill Rice which is essentially Basmati Rice with a large amount (2 tablespoon or so) of chopped dill mixed in at the end.  Yum Yum.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Balsamic Glaze

With our continuing flirtation with a vegetarian lifestyle, we are finding that former side dishes are morphing into weekday main courses.  Case in point: Roast Root Vegetable Salad.

It used to be that we might have served some variation of a roasted root vegetable salad as a side dish for a large dinner—as we did so last Thanksgiving.  But such dishes are special enough that we can tweak them slightly, add a different and less elaborate side, and they become a respectable dinner.  This is one of Will’s favorite vegetarian main courses because it combines sweet (roast sweet potato), savory (caramelized onion), nutty (toasted nuts), creamy (crumbled Stilton cheese), and tart (balsamic glaze).  So, sure, it might not be “umami,” but these 5 interesting flavors combined with a side of quinoa make for a yummy and nutritious dinner.

You’re thinking: How would one have the time to roast vegetables in the middle of the week?  Well, I don’t.  On a weekend afternoon when we are home for more than an hour—say, while doing a spot of spring cleaning?—I turn the oven on to 400 degrees and start peeling and chopping.  Then, in go the vegetables to roast for 45 minutes (up to an hour), and then cool to room temperature.  They smell heavenly then, but I pack them up in containers and they stay in the fridge until Monday or Tuesday.  That way, after I get home from teaching, I start on the quinoa, crumble some cheese, toast some nuts, and warm the veggies (oven or microwave).  Everything is ready by the time the quinoa finishes its cooking in 15 minutes.

Roasted Vegetables:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and combine in a jelly-roll pan peeled and (½ to ¾ inch) chopped root vegetables of various kinds. 

I like to revolve the dish around sweet potatoes, and then add—depending on what I have that week—beets, parsnips, and/or carrots.  Then I might include a smaller amount of less sweet root vegetables like turnips, but I would stay away from adding more than just a few pieces of stronger-flavored ones.  Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac have their uses—especially when mashed with lots more potatoes and butter and cream—but they can overwhelm in larger portions.

Also add similarly-sized chunks of red onion.  They caramelize nicely, and they give a nice contrasting taste and texture to the root vegetables.

Then drizzle extra-virgin olive oil, grind salt and pepper, and mix.  Then roast for 45 minutes to an hour (checking every 20 minutes to stir and check).  When roasted, remove from oven and let cool.

Stilton is nice because it’s a little less pungent than other blue-veined cheeses and also has a nice creaminess.  It’s an assertive flavor that stands up nicely to the roasted root vegetables and onion.  Sometimes, I like to tone that down a bit—usually that decision being made for me by what’s actually in my cheese bin—with feta or goat or even just a sharp cheddar cheese.

Whatever cheese you use, just crumble—or cube harder cheeses in ¼ inch pieces—to sprinkle over the top of warmed veggies.

I usually have walnuts, almonds, and pine nuts around, but you can really use any kind of nut you are particularly fond of.  Just coarsely chop and lightly toast either in a small pan over medium-low heat for 5 minutes or in a 300 degree oven for 7 minutes.

Balsamic Glaze:
When I asked Will which garnish he absolutely cannot do without for this dish, his reply is prompt: the Balsamic Glaze.  I usually make a batch of it myself and keep it in a small squeeze tube for this purpose.

Serve with quinoa, the grain-like seed that is considered a “superfood” for its high nutritional value, and you’re all set!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Stir-Fried Chow Mein with Odeng: Step-by-Step

Some time ago, I wrote a post about various uses of a product called “odeng” (some stores might call it fried “fishcake”) which is a nice item to have in your freezer for weeknight meals.  Since I see there has been quite a lot of traffic to that post, I’ve decided to provide step-by-step directions for making a quick vegetarian mid-week meal.

“Specialty” items you need:

A jar of teriyaki sauce—nothing too sticky sweet or thick.  I like Soy Vay’s Veri Veri Teriyaki sauce.  (Or, I make my own when not pressed for time.  Quite simple to do with chicken broth, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and a little sugar.)

Chow mein noodles.  Here, I use an Organic brand I get from Costco.  Other times, I’ve also used thicker udon noodles or thinner yakisoba noodles.

Other than these two items, you need—of course—odeng sliced thin (or another meat or shrimp or tofu in bite size pieces), and then any other varieties of vegetables you have in your refrigerator.  Always include some sort of julienned cabbage and carrots and onion of some sort.  I also happened to have sugar snap peas and red pepper that I julienned. 

Optional: Sriracha hot sauce.

Now you’re ready to get started.

1) First, heat some canola oil in a large non-stick sauté pan, then add the vegetables, salt and pepper, and then stir fry until crisp tender.   Just a few minutes will do the trick.  Do not overcook!

2) Once you remove the vegetables to another bowl, add a little more oil and stir fry the odeng slices until just beginning to brown on the cut sides.  Put odeng slices in a bowl.

3) Once again, add a little more oil and then put in however many packages of chow mein noodles as you would like.  I like to use two and then have leftovers for lunch.  Add just a few spoonfuls of water to help break up the noodles and make them a bit more pliable, and then pour in about 4-5 tablespoons (for the two packages for instance) of the teriyaki sauce.   You can always add more to taste after everything is mixed. 

4) Add the odeng slices and quickly give another stir, and then add the vegetables and reheat.  Vegetables, noodles, and odeng slices should acquire a nice glow of sauce.   Serve with Sriracha.

Friday, April 5, 2013

An Extra Special Weekend Brunch: German Pancake with Mixed Berries

We broke our meat fast on Easter Sunday by going to a place where Will can find reliably good bacon: Walker Brothers Pancake House.  The very first time we had their bacon, we wondered whether it was a mistake.  Can a restaurant serve up such thick, meaty, almost chargrilled-tasting fabulous bacon and not go broke?  We have come to appreciate the uniqueness of other Chicago-area brunch places since then, but we’ve never quite given up the allure of that bacon.

When we went there for our Easter breakfast—early, before 8:30 am, if you want to snag a table without waiting in a long line—Will did indeed get his bacon.  I got their special Apple-Cinnamon Pancake which is a plate-sized puffed up pancake layered with thin slices of apples and covered with a gooey caramel topping (that will tear off the roof of your mouth if you are too hasty).  I thought about getting another specialty, the German Pancake or a Dutch Baby (the smaller version of the German Pancake), but we decided to forego those since we can make those at home.

I was introduced to the German Pancake over 20 years ago and had a simple recipe then.  Hay Day Country Market Cookbook also has a recipe which turned out surprisingly like the traditional German Pancake—even if they call it “Oven-Puffed Pancake with Berries and Orange Sauce” (p.18-20).  To be honest, I think they added the berries and the orange sauce so that they would be able to claim it’s something other than plain old “German Pancake,” but that’s quite fine with me.  I skip the orange sauce and supply powdered sugar and lemon wedges (the traditional accompaniments for a German Pancake) along with warmed maple syrup.

Follow these simple steps for a not-too-sweet and rather impressive looking large pancake that should easily serve 4 (or more).  Be sure to have everyone ready since this pancake is best—ok, most impressive-looking—right out of the oven.

Ingredients and Steps:

1.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees while you assemble your ingredients together: 3 T butter, ¾ cup flour, ½ t kosher salt, 3 eggs, 1 cup milk, 1 t vanilla extract, 1 (overflowing) cup of mixed berries.

2.  Put a 10-inch cast iron pan in the heated oven with the butter in it.

3.   Mix together eggs, milk, vanilla and then add this mix to a large bowl containing flour and salt.  Blend together with a hand mixer just for 1-2 minutes to thoroughly combine the liquid and dry ingredients.  By this time, the butter should be bubbling.

4.  Carefully remove the cast-iron pan from the oven and pour in the pancake mixture.  Quickly sprinkle berries on top.  Place the pan back in the oven, and bake for about 12-15 minutes or until the pancake is browned on sides and well puffed-up.  The picture above shows the pancake only a few minutes into the baking.  The picture below shows the pancake when it’s nearly done.  Observe how high the pancake rises around the sides of the pan.

5.  Remove pan from the oven and lift the pancake onto a serving platter, being careful not to let the pancake deflate too much (though it will certainly deflate a bit).  Serve with lemon wedges, powdered sugar, and warmed maple syrup (if you prefer).

Note: Try to let everyone see the baked pancake before cutting into it since the pancake will quickly collapse once you cut it.