Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In the mood for summer - Tilapia Tacos

After a particularly grueling work week, I settled into a soothing weekend of long (slow) walks and simple cooking. I saw some beautiful fresh corn at the market, and, while it seemed a bit early, I couldn't help myself. I find that I often put my meals together in the same way that I pick my outfits – I find one random item, whether minor or major, and then build everything else around it. Thus, I built my meal around the corn and decided to make fish tacos.
For the tilapia, I prepped the fish by giving it a quick rinse, patting it dry and seasoning with a bit of salt and pepper. I added the zest of one orange and one lime, a squeeze of lemon juice and a little bit of sriracha and let the fish marinate while I prepped my toppings. I sliced some fresh radishes, boiled my corn and cut the kernels off, got out some sour cream, chopped cilantro and halved a handful of super sweet cherry tomatoes - et voila.  

To cook the tilapia, I sauteed a couple finely sliced shallots in olive oil (and a smidgen of butter) over medium heat. Once the shallots were translucent I added the fish and cooked for about 2 minutes per side. It was that simple. I cooked some black beans to serve with the tacos and put salsa out for those who wanted it. It was the perfect taste of summer (the corn was wonderfully sweet and juicy).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pasta Inspiration

The latest issue of Bon Appetit sucked me into trying more than the just the Rhubarb Crostata. They had an article discussing 10 steps to making fabulous pasta dishes and I have thrown myself into that, trying a different sauce using the same basic method each week. The first one I tried was the pasta with sun gold tomatoes.
It is not tomato time yet but I couldn't help myself. I bought two baskets of cherry tomatoes and tossed them in a saute pan with a few cloves of minced garlic, a coating of olive oil and some sea salt and crushed red pepper flakes.
I partially covered the pan as instructed, swirled and waited for the tomatoes to blister. Meanwhile, I added my pasta to a pot of boiling salted water. The pasta was supposed to cook for 7 minutes and I pulled it out after 4ish - which seemed to work well. Before dumping the pasta water reserve a few cups to add to your sauce (I always reserve more than is actually called for - can't hurt to have extra on hand). I popped all the tomatoes (a very satisfying process) and added in the ultra al dente pasta and 3/4 cup pasta water. Keep tossing with your trusty tongs (another Bon Appetit must and common restaurant staple). 
Once the sauce has thickened, add in 1/2 cup cheese and some shredded basil (they say to add in more cheese and some olive oil - I didn't think it needed that much and just added a little more salt and pepper, to taste). I love this recipe - I love my tongs and my pasta water and the simplicity - and I loved the addition of the toasty breadcrumbs on top. 

P.S. There were no leftovers.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Piggie Pie

As I said earlier, I hang on to my food magazines for much too long. I flip through each a couple of times before I feel that I really I've gotten as much out of it as possible – only then am I ready to let go and recycle. This past weekend (while recuperating from a nasty cold), I was reading through a particularly mature copy of Saveur (circa. summer 2010), and stumbled upon an article giving a rundown of the best of the best when it comes to meat cookbooks. There were many I had expected – mentions of Lobel's Meat Bible and Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage meaty tome – but there were also some unknown (to me, at least) treasures. I was immediately drawn in by the title of the book "Pig: King of the Southern Table," but my knees started to quiver when they mentioned a dish called "Texarcana Pork and Bean Pie with Cornpone Topping." Having little to no knowledge of Southern cooking, I had no idea what this title actually meant but, I wanted it (and I thought I might be able to actually taste it in spite of my stuffy nose). Off I went!

I struck it rich, and found the recipe (and maybe even the whole cookbook . . ?) online through Google Books (very exciting).

I changed things a wee bit – just a smidgen. I didn't have lard (I don't use it often enough to keep a tub on hand, but I certainly hope to someday), so I substituted butter and browned 1 pound (perhaps a little more) of ground pork with one diced onion. Once browned, I added 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin (was out of chili powder . . . woopsy), a light sprinkling of cayenne, and salt and pepper. I added a can of pinto beans, crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce and simmered for 20 minutes. I didn't add the raisins as instructed because I often don't like sweet items in my savory foods (particularly when it comes to raisins - like in noodle kugel - although I do like them in tagines, which is, admittedly, completely contradictory).

While it was simmering away, I made the 'cornpone' topping by mixing together 1 cup cornmeal, two tablespoons flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 cup milk and 2 tablespoons melted butter (I didn't have shortening either). 

Once the pork mixture had simmered, I stirred in one can of crisp, sweet corn (I added corn instead of the raisins) and about 3/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese. I popped it all into a casserole dish and finished it by spooning the cornpone mix on top. I put the casserole in a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes, until the cornpone topping is golden brown in color.

To add an extra bit of nutrition, I served the pie with sour cream and a little fresh cilantro. While not haute cuisine, I loved this pie and had it for leftovers atop a baked potato which was also quite tasty. Definitely good cold weather food (aka summer-in-San-Francisco food). 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Rhubarb - I just can't get enough

I find myself looking forward to the change of seasons with a new verve, as I look forward to the produce that comes with the time of year. Living in California, it is easy to lose this sense, as one can get virtually any type of produce all year round. While it might be trendy, I've taken to eating what is actually in season and can be found locally (how novel). These weeks of spring have brought some of my favorite seasonal treats - rhubarb (which is really east coast - reminding me of a particular 4th of July in Massachusetts, eating way too many rhubarb crisps during a picnic at Tanglewood, mmm) and English peas. The amount of rhubarb I have been wanting to eat has driven me to search for new rhubarb recipes (I virtually always go the strawberry-rhubarb-pie-or-something-like-it route) and yesterday I found a recipe for rhubarb streusel cakes and decided that sounded quite craveable.

I adjusted some things, for the original version click the link above. To make the streusel, combine a scant 3/4 cup whole wheat flour, 2/3 cup packed brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Cut in (or use a mixer, if you don't want to break a sweat) 5 tablespoons chilled salted butter. You can stop when the mixture is crumbly OR you can add 1/4 cup oats (I love oats in my crumbly toppings). Set the topping aside in a cool place.

This is when I turned on the oven to 375. To make the batter combine 3/4 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon each of baking powder and salt. In a large bowl cream 1 stick butter with 3/4 cup sugar. Beat in 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Then, starting and ending with the dry ingredients, alternately add in the flour mixture and 1/2 cup whole milk (which I didn't have so I used cream mixed with low fat milk  . . woops).
Everything is set except for the rhubarb. Uniformly dice 1/2-pound rhubarb (I ended up finding it light on rhubarb, so I recommend using about a cup and a half or two cups worth diced rhubarb if you can fit it in your tins). Toss the diced rhubarb with 3 tablespoons powdered sugar - more if you use more rhubarb. 
I spooned the batter into a six-muffin tin, sprinkling a little layer of rhubarb in the middle of the cakes and then adding the rest of the fruit on top, finishing each cake off with a generous helping of streusel. Bake the cakes for about 25-30 minutes (until a toothpick comes out clean and the streusel is browned).