Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sambosa-style leftover pockets

You might have noticed my obsession with finding new ways to use crunchy spring roll wrappers, from "nests" to tubes to stacking layers. I have not yet posted how this obsession began, which was trying to figure out how to use up a package of spring roll sheets after I bought them and then realized I have no talent at deep-frying things. (I either get the temperature too low and oil-sog whatever it is, or I get it too high and splatter myself and the kitchen.)

The only way I could figure to make the spring rolls crispy was to give it a lot of flat surface area, then fry on each side with a little oil. It ended up being much more akin to a Mediterranean sambosa, except square instead of triangular. To use up the rest of the package, I ended up just making fillings from whatever scraps I had in the fridge — mushrooms and cheese, mashed meatballs, rice and beans. It worked with a wide varieties of cuisines, which isn't that surprising given that Africa, Western Asia, India, and South America all have variations on the samosa / samoosa / samuza / sambusa. Now I keep some shells around in the freezer for the purpose of energizing leftovers with a little bit of a twist.

2 spring roll sheets per pocket (my favorite is O'Tasty)

1) Peel off one shell from the package. These can dry out rather quickly so I like to peel off just one at a time as I'm using them.

2) Fill the center with leftovers. (I never measure, but probably 3/4 cup would be about right.)

3) Fold two opposite corners on top of each other.

4) Fold the other two corners on top of them.

5) Peel off another shell, and place the first pocket corners-down in the center. (The thin side is probably damp at this point, which is why you need two layers.)

6) Fold two opposite corners on top of each other.

7) Apply a small dab of butter to the two remaining corners, and fold them into the center. (You'll need to butter to get them to stick, since hopefully you've kept the moisture off of the outer layer.)

8) Heat a teaspoon or two of oil in a non-stick skillet until piping hot, then add the pocket.

9) Cook each side until lightly browned, and both sides are crunchy and breakable. You don't need for one side to finish before starting the next; you can keep flipping it so that you don't run the risk of scorching either side.

10) Let cool until you can pick it up easily with your fingers, then serve. (Repeat process for as much leftovers as you need to use up; usually two of these fills up one person.)

Bonus leftover stir-fry pics:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Not-too-sticky Cracker Jack

We stopped up microwaving popcorn several years ago when Amanda discovered this easy recipe for cooking popcorn on the stove (and I had switched to stainless steel pans with glass lids, which are imperative to pulling off the recipe). It's fast, easy, and way more delicious than pre-packaged popcorn once you get the process down.

Because I like to post recipes on this site that are original, or at least incorporate my own twist, I started experimenting with different powdered topping ideas to post, but never could get one that I loved. Then a few weeks ago Corin asked what Cracker Jack was after hearing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," and, not wanting to buy him some (if he didn't like it I wouldn't finish it, since it's way too sticky for me, molar-wise), I improvised a version of it on the stove with brown sugar. It turned out better than anything I had slaved over inventing.

2 tbsp peanut oil
1/8 tsp salt
3 tbsp popcorn kernels
1/3 cup salted peanuts
1 1/2 tbsp brown sugar

1) In a three-quart stainless steel saucepan, add oil, salt, and 3 to 4 popcorn kernels. Cover with glass lid.

2) Heat at a high heat (my knobs go up to 10 and I cook it at 8) until those kernels have popped.

3) Remove pan from heat momentarily, remove lid and add the rest of the kernels (replacing lid), and shake pan for 30 seconds. Place back on heat until all kernels have popped.

4) Immediately after popping has ceased, remove lid and sprinkle brown sugar on the popcorn and toss in the peanuts. Replace lid quickly to keep the steam inside and shake well to coat evenly for about 20 seconds.

5) Pour your sugar-sweet popcorn into a large serving bowl and enjoy!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Taco night with fresh flour tortillas

There's no real need to make your own tortillas these days, but we've been attempting to cut down on the amount of processed foods we eat. Prepackaged tortillas are often full of preservatives and stabilizers, so I thought I'd see how difficult it would be to make our own. It's somewhat time-consuming but the degree of difficulty isn't hard, and I like the taste of them better because they're never gummy or tough.

As a bonus, I'm sharing my recipe for taco meat to complete a taco-night menu (with last week's Mexican coleslaw). Until recently I'd always just cooked up ground beef with some taco seasoning when making tacos, but the end result made a lot of little balls of beef that would roll out of the tacos with the slightest tip. I decided to approximate the more smooth mixture you find in restaurants by using an immersion blender to get the pieces small.

The tortillas (makes 8):

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 tsp coconut oil, warmed to liquid
1 tsp honey
1/4 cup + 2 tsp whole milk

1) In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add oil and honey and stir mixture until all wet ingredients are little flour-covered bits. (Traditionally tortillas are made with lard, which I don't usually have on hand, so I went with coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature and melts when warm, like lard, and it worked very well.)

2) With your hands, knead the flour mixture to further incorporate the wet ingredients until no little bits remain. It will stick together when you squeeze it in your palm, and then break apart like a sandcastle.

3) Add the whole milk. This bit is tricky, as you might need to add a 1 tsp more, depending on the accuracy of your other measuring. Stir in the milk with a spoon until mostly incorporated, then use your hands again to further knead until it has the consistency of soft dough. Add more milk if it's too dry and cracking.

4) Divide the dough in half, then again, and again, so that you have 8 not-quite-golf-ball sized pieces. (The pictures are of a half-batch.) Cover the bowl and let the balls sit for 30 minutes.

5) Prepare an area for rolling out the tortillas by dusting it (and a rolling pin) with flour. Slowly roll out one dough ball at a time, flipping it between rolls, until it is eight inches or so in diameter and very very thin.

6) Place each tortilla as it is completed on a cast iron skillet heated to medium-low. Cook 1 to 2 minutes on the first side and 30 seconds to a minute on the second side, until both sides have little brown specks on them. Set them aside in a stack as they finish.

Taco meat (serves 8):

3/4 pound ground beef (I usually use 3 frozen 1/4-lb hamburger patties)
1/2 cup water
1/8 cup tomato paste
1 tbsp taco seasoning
1 tbsp chipotle Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup sweet onion, diced
1 15-oz can pinto beans, drained

1) Place beef, water, tomato paste, taco seasoning and Tabasco sauce in a large skillet covered with a lid. Cook over medium-high heat until the beef is starting to turn brown. (If using frozen patties, flip them once so both sides get a little brown.)

2) Use an immersion blender to pulverize the beef. Add onions and beans.

3) Continue to cook, uncovered, until beef is thoroughly done and the mixture is moist but not drippy.

4) Taco construction: On a plate, layer one tortilla, a little sour cream, the meat mixture, shredded cheese (optional), and Mexican coleslaw. Fold in half. Repeat for as many tacos as you'd like and dig in!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Pico de gallo & mexican coleslaw

Pico de gallo:

When we first moved to Seattle 10 years ago, we stayed in a hotel with a great little restaurant down the street called Todo Mexico that served an amazing pico de gallo with their chips. We'd often go just for that taste, and it took us a few years to realize that you could order it as a huge side dish to go, and maybe another year to think to try to make it ourselves.

Other places I've had pico de gallo it's either been a lightly seasoned tomato topping, or a heavily jalapenoed tomato salad, but what I love about Todo Mexico's is that it's instead marinated in lime juice. Below is a rough approximation of the quantities I use, even though I rarely measure.

2 cups fresh tomatoes, de-seeded and diced
1/2 cup sweet onion, finely diced
1/2 cup green cabbage, finely diced
1/2 (loose) cup cilantro, finely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp lime juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp green pepper Tabasco sauce (optional)

1) Mix all ingredients together and serve with chips. Voila!

Mexican coleslaw:

This is a much more recent addition to our repertoire. Just a few months ago we got addicted to it at Puerto Vallerta here in West Seattle. It's mostly cabbage and vinegar so you'd expect it to taste like sauerkraut, but instead it's like a tangy spicy crunchfest. This is great because it's not at all labor-intensive to make, and it keeps for a long time, making it easy to always have on hand for nachos, soft tacos, gorditas, etc.

1/2 head cabbage
1 large tomato
1 4-oz can diced green chiles
1 1/2 cups vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp kosher salt

1) Coarsely chop the cabbage and tomato, and toss in green chiles.

2) Stuff tightly into a bowl with an airtight lid available, add vinegar and water, and let soak in the refrigerator for two hours, covered.

3) Drain liquid (you can reserve it to make another batch later if you want to), toss with salt, and either serve right away or store lidded in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. You can eat it straight with chips or use as a counterpoint topping for most Mexican dishes (soft taco recipe coming soon!).

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Garlic scapes

This week's entry isn't so much a recipe as it is a recommendation that you try garlic scapes (or garlic spears, as they're sometimes called). They're only available for a short window in mid-May to early June, and some years I miss it, so it's also a reminder to me for years hence.

Garlic scapes are essentially baby garlic, harvested before the heads mature and all the garlic flavor is still in the stem. Lightly sauteed, they taste something like a garlic asparagus. (They don't cook like asparagus, though: asparagus when overcooked is very tender, whereas scapes get tough when overcooked.)

My pictures are of garlic spears, which have straighter stems and larger bulbs. I prefer scapes, given the choice, but whenever I run across either in stores I just grab them.

Ingredients (serves 2):
1/2 lb garlic scapes
2 tsp butter
2 cups dry pasta of your choice
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp butter
flaked or shredded parmesan cheese

1) Boil the pasta for the amount of time indicated on the box, usually 7-9 minutes.

2) Cut the scapes into bite-sized pieces. (Since they can get a bit tough if overcooked, you don't want to risk having to struggle biting through long pieces.)

3) Saute the scapes in butter for 3 minutes on a high heat. (If using spears with the larger heads, saute the heads for 2 minutes separately, then add the stems and do 3 more minutes.)

4) When the pasta is done, drain in a colander, Mix butter and lemon juice in the still-warm pot, and then flavor the pasta with it.

5) Layer the pasta first, then parmesan, then scapes on top, and serve hot.