Friday, June 24, 2011

On Being Mexican and Eating Mango

Being Mexican is the best for a lot of reasons but the main one, you guessed it, is the food. It is unfortunate that most people end their lives without tasting real Mexican food. Their only references are Taco Bell and Cafe Rio. Hey, I like $.89 tacos as much as the next girl, just don't try to call it Mexican food.

We have so many wondrous dishes. Pozole, caldo de pollo, mole, mole de hoya, coctel de camaron, tamales (pozole, chicken soup, mole, beef stew, shrimp cocktail, tamales - respectively). Some are rich and decadent, some are light and subtle. Some keep you warm in the winter, others refresh you in the summer. A few even cure hangovers.

We also eat lots of mangoes. In a lot of forms. Mango water (English speakers would say juice, except it's not strictly juice. It's complicated.), mango ice-cream, mango lollipops and my favorite mango with lime and salt and chili powder. The latter is a street food, gloriously found in LA. Or you can just make it yourself as the ingredients are mango, lime, salt and chili powder. In fact, we eat virtually every fruit and vegetable this way.

You can imagine my surprise when, after going online to find further mango inspiration, I find a recipe for a mango salad that calls for mango, jicama, lime, salt. I'm sorry, but where I come from that's called being Mexican. Let's start working on some real recipes, Food Network. Thankfully, I found another mango salad recipe that ended up being delicious and not quite so obvious.

Some mango knowledge: Mangoes are high in Vitamin C. They keep quite well in the fridge (unpeeled). And to know when a mango is ripe just squeeze it gently. It should have a tiny bit of give. Too much means too ripe (or bruised) too little means it still needs a bit to ripen. Just bring it home and put it on a counter and it'll ripen in a couple of days. Then you can stick it in the fridge. Your mango should be sweet and delicious when you cut into it. And a little messy. Come to think of it, I should have done a mango peeling and cutting tutorial. I'll just make that my next post.

Ok, I got the following dressing from and made the salad from things that live in my fridge.

Shout out to Father-in-Law, who fixed this pic for me.
Mango Salad
Serves 4 with a bit of leftovers (trust me, you'll want leftovers)

2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
3 tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 firm ripe mangoes, cut into cubes
1 large tomato, cut into cubes
4 green onions, chopped (green parts and all)
1/2 cup of sprouts (optional, duh, it's not like any of these ingredients are holding a gun to your head)
1/3 fresh cilantro leaves

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a small bowl then slowly pour the oil while beating well with a fork or whisk to emulsify the mixture. Combine salad ingredients, pour the dressing and enjoy enormously.

You can buy sprouts at most supermarkets or you can grow them yourself. Blog post about that to come.

Ok now, if this doesn't say summer, what does?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Choppin' Broccoli (or Onions)

A bit ago Father-in-Law wondered out loud to me how professional chefs chop an onion. This got me thinking, "How DO professional chefs chop an onion? And why is this secret knowledge?" I feel like not telling us how to really chop things is how professional chefs keep us ignorant and going to their restaurants. I know how to chop an onion and I still eat out. Why the insecurity, Chefs? We're all just eaters.

Anyhoo, let us break the bands of ignorance and arm ourselves with the knowledge of the onion chop.

First things first. Get yourself a proper knife and a proper cutting board. Make sure your knife is sharp. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but a sharp knife is safer than a dull knife, not to mention easier to work with. Also, make sure it has a smooth edge, not a serrated one. There is a time and place for a serrated edge but chopping vegetables is not it. Make sure your cutting board is either wood or plastic. Prolypropylene is the plastic you want. It's softer so it'll keep your knife sharp and your wrists in good repair. If when you chop, your cutting board makes a clackity-clack noise, get rid of it immediately. Not only does it kill your knife but it kills your wrists and hands. I think that's it...

1. Grab your onion and stand it up. Then cut through the root.

2. Cut end off, practically at the tip. Don't cut the root off because that's going to help you keep the onion together later.

This is a good time to peel your onion.

3. With a flat palm hold your onion down as you cut across it horizontally. Stop when you get close to the root. Starting towards the bottom of the onion, do this 2 or 3 times depending on how big you want your end product to be. And make sure you still have all your fingers.

4. Holding your onion firmly from the sides (so it doesn't fall apart on you) cut across vertically 5 or 6 times. Obviously cut all the way down, just make sure you're getting close to, but NOT cutting off, the root. And keep your fingers out of the way.

5. Wrap your hand firmly around your onion. I usually put the heel of my hand close to the root and curl my fingers. This protects my finger tips and also gives my knife a guide as to where it is supposed to go. Notice it is my first set of knuckles, not my fingertips, that are close to the knife. PLEASE watch your thumb. Make sure it is curled in as well, otherwise you will cut part of it off and then you'll have to start over because no one wants to eat a bloody onion.

We're chopping, we're chopping... True story: The guy who designed my knife is named Ken Onion, no joke.

6. When you get close to the root you can call it quits and move on or you can flip it 90 degrees so it's flat on it's side then repeat the vertical slicing 5-6 times.

7. And we finish by cutting across.

Yay! Knowledge is power. Once you get the hang of this, chopping onions will go by super fast making your favorite dishes, like guacamole, will be a quick reality. Practice makes perfect so go out and chop onions.

Let me know how it goes or if I can research some more chopping techniques for you guys (or guy? I don't know how many readers I have). Also, sorry if the pictures look backwards, I'm left-handed.

Chop safe!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Super Soup

An empty fridge is the mother of all invention. The other day I was circling my kitchen, as I tend to do when I don't have an immediate task, trying to figure out what to make for dinner. It was a Saturday and I was bitter that a. I had to cook and b. the fridge was pretty close to empty.

I eventually stopped pacing and decided to take another look to see what was laying around. Here is what I found: cabbage and barley and stock. To the soup pot!

Cabbage and barley have been hailed as superfoods. A term that I believe to be overused, but nonetheless flattering for my two main ingredients. Cabbage is pretty much a cancer reverser, filled with antioxidants and a good helping of Folate and Vitamins C. Barley, among its other accolades, is a fiber powerhouse. Not only is that good for our digestive health, but also for our heart health, or haven't you been watching the Quaker Oats ads?

I must confess that cabbage and barley are not the only two things that went into the soup so I feel this is a good opportunity to get preachy and say that one should always have onions, garlic, celery and carrots around. This is the basis for an innumerable amount of soups and other dishes. Plus, they are quite healthy in their own right.

One last thing, Toddler really liked this, I just put some in the Magic Bullet so cut up some of the bigger pieces.

Cabbage and Barley Soup with Fennel

Serves 4(ish) as a main dish

2 tblsp olive oil*
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup barley (most common is pearl, but any will do)
6 cups reduced sodium chicken broth**
1.5 tsp fennel seeds
2 cups (Half a head) cabbage, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp parsley chopped

In a medium to large pot heat olive oil. Add onions, carrots, and celery. Cook until vegetables soften. Add garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add barley and stir to coat with oil. Add broth and fennel seeds. Simmer uncovered for about 40 min or until barley is cooked through. Add cabbage and continue cooking for 4 minutes (if cooked much longer cabbage will start losing a lot of its nutrients). Salt, pepper and parsley to taste.

Sorry I don't have a picture, we ate it all.

*Carnivore note: instead of using olive oil chop up some bacon cook it and use the fat renderings to cook the veggies, then proceed with the recipe.
**Vegetarian note: Go for it. Substitute chicken for vegetable stock.

Enjoy! Let me know how it goes.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Finger Foods with Pan-Roasted Carrots

Sometimes I forget that I'm the parent and thus responsible for teaching manners. Today was one of those days. It's just so hard to think when I'm hungry. Toddler and I ate our entire meal with our fingers. We had roast chicken (purchased, ask me if I feel guilty), steamed green beans and pan-roasted carrots. I really don't see where a fork even fits in.

Ok, now, let me honor the carrot for a few brief moments.
Fact: The Dutch developed the orange carrot. Helps to understand their national color.
Fact: Carrots are chock-full of Vitamin A (as are all red/orange veggies), made up mostly of beta-carotene. These are high in anti-oxidants and maintain skin cells.
Fact: Carrots will in fact help you maintain eye-health and restore it if it has gone downhill.
Fact: Eating raw carrots only gives you 3% of their nutrients. Eating cooked carrots gives you 33%.
Fact: Eating enough carrots will turn you orange, not necessarily useful unless you want to be nice and tan before your vacation. If you want to tan more easily drink carrot juice before heading out into the sun. True story.

I usually don't like cooked carrots because they are typically overcooked and all their sugars have turned bitter. Bleh. However, this Barefoot Contessa recipe is so simple yet so right. I have tweaked the cooking method, from oven to stove-top, to fit the time frame of a normal human too poor to live in the Hamptons.

The high heat in the recipe allows the sugars on the outside of the carrots to caramelize and keep the middle still in tact. I usually go a little heavy on the salt because I feel that brings out the sweetness in the carrots. Cooking them in batches makes it so the carrots have room to actually caramelize, if you put them all in together they would just crowd each other and steam - unless you have a really big pan. Also, don't stir too much, allow the carrots to get those delicious charred marks, if you stand in front of the stove poking at the carrots, that won't happen.

Pan Roasted Carrots
Serves 2.5 (depending how much you like carrots)

8 medium carrots, thinly sliced on a bias
1-2 tblsp vegetable or canola oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat 1 tblsp of oil in non-stick pan on high heat. Oil should be enough to easily cover the bottom of the pan, but not have your carrots swimming in it. Add half the carrots and stir to coat with oil. Add salt and pepper. Cook carrots on high for 4-5 min or until they begin char at the edges.
If needed add more oil to your pan and throw in the second batch of carrots.

Presto! Super quick, vegan, gluten-free, and good for you - what more could you want?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Cheese Ravioli with Tomato Bacon Sauce and a side of Thoughts

I was reading a cookbook by a famous-ish cookbook author today and at the introduction of the appetizer section she writes, "I try to approach every meal as if it were a celebration..."
"Really?" I thought, "This doesn't get exhausting for you?"
Ugh, that sounds like the worst. I love planning menus, but "approaching every meal like a celebration" just makes for an over-tired mom and a wife that won't put out. Not a win-win.

Instead, I approach cooking calmly and collectedly and like someone who doesn't have a housekeeper. On Sunday night I make a loose menu for the week, on Monday go shopping and make sure my fridge and pantry are stocked, and every day I assess: How much time do I have? What will trick my toddler into eating vegetables? What sounds delicious?

Sometimes I time-splurge and make gnocchi from scratch while leaving everything else, toddler excluded, unattended. But give me a break, that only works when the stars align. Most of time I rely on my bag of tricks and make something that is quick and covers most of the food groups.

Last Monday this more or less fit both:

Cheese Ravioli with Tomato Bacon Sauce*
(Disclaimer: I got the idea to put bacon in the sauce from a friend. Please no one sue me.)

Serves 2.5

1.5 lbs of any frozen cheese ravioli (I used Kirkland), cooked according to instructions on package

6 strips of low-sodium bacon, roughly chopped
1 tblsp (good, if you can) olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Two medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tblsp parsley
Pepper to taste

Add bacon to a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Cook for 4-8 min or until bacon is barely crispy and has rendered its fat. Add olive oil and garlic, cook for 30 seconds until fragrant then turn off burner and add tomatoes (make sure you get the juices from the tomatoes) along with parsley. Add pepper to taste.

Drain the ravioli, put in a medium bowl then pour tomato bacon sauce over it, toss and serve.

*Do not, I repeat, DO NOT salt this without tasting it first. Even if you use low-sodium bacon, this dish is plenty salty as is. You've been warned.

Serve this at room temperature with a green salad and it makes a very nice summer dinner. If you're vegetarian you might want to try tofu bacon or substituting bacon altogether for deeply caramelized onions (recipe below). If you choose the onion option, you are allowed to salt the sauce a bit.

Enjoy! Let me know how it goes.

Caramelized Onions
4 tblsp butter
1 tblsp olive oil
2 medium white or yellow onions, preferably Walla Walla or Vidalia, thinly sliced
2 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt

Note: Non-stick pans will work but cast iron or stainless steel are preferable for the delicious browning.

Melt butter with olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, sugar and salt. Occasionally stir, scraping up brown bits. Cook until onions are a deep golden color. This may take a while, about 20-30 min. Just throw these on the stove first and then make the rest of the meal. Make sure you taste for salt at the end, adjusting little by little.