Archive for January 2010

Tortilla de Patata

January 23, 2010

I am part of a gourmet lunch club at work.  When we get our schedules coordinated, we meet monthly and have a meal around a theme ingredient or cuisine type.  In the past, we’ve done Indian, cranberries, beans and legumes, chocolate (including savory dishes), and probably one or two more that I can’t remember.

This month, we joined forces with the other group that really “got into it” as well (as opposed to one group who went out to eat).  The theme was Mediterranean food.  I have spent time with Spanish friends and in Spain and one of my favorite dishes is the Tortilla de Patata.  I was fortunate to receive instructions from my dear friend, Charo Rueda.  If I hadn’t seen Charo make one, I don’t know that I’d ever have had the courage to do the plate flipping thing.  It’s well worth it!

Tortilla de Patata

5-6 yellow potatoes, peeled* and sliced not too thin, not too thick (1/8″-ish)
1 large onion, diced
2 cups olive oil – yes, TWO CUPS
2 t. salt
6 eggs

Have ready:  the widest round plate you’ve got.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying or high-rimmed saute pan at medium-high
heat.  Test the oil to be sure it’s hot enough by putting a little piece of potato in
it and watching for little bubbles all around the potato.

* – About peeling: I normally keep peels on to keep the good nutrients in food and I like the texture of peels.  However, out of respect for the good home cooks of Spain, I peel my potatoes for this.  All of the Spanish women I saw cooking peeled everything.  With knives.  Quickly.  It’s truly impressive.

Fry the potatoes and onion until the potatoes are soft and some of them are a little brown, about 20 mins.  Once fried, you have two options:  drain the oil out of the pan and use that pan for the tortilla, if medium sized, or, I used a strainer to take the potatoes out of the bigger pan and into a good medium sized non-stick pan (and then I hear Charo’s voice in my head that I’m so American to use two pans).

Important Note & Caution: It is essential that your non-stick is really non-stick.  If any food sticks to the pan, the tortilla won’t work well.  I’ve even bought a cheap, new non-stick pan when out of town just to make one tortilla.

Okay, so you’ve got your drained potatoes and onions in the non-stick pan.  Salt them liberally and stir a bit.  Now, put the heat at medium-low.  Beat the eggs in a bowl and add to the pan.  Be patient here.  Let it cook slowly.  Watch for the edges to be cooked.  Use a spatula to check for browning underneath.  When the sides are cooked and it’s brown on the bottom, loosen the sides with your spatula.

Here’s the hard part:  Place the large, round plate over the pan and flip the tortilla onto the plate.  Then, slide it into the pan so the raw-egg part is down in the pan to get cooked.  Cook until the bottom is lightly browned.

Serve at room temperature.

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Vietnamese Bun – Rice Vermicelli Salad Bowl

January 23, 2010

In preparation for my friend and co-teacher Karen to come over for dinner after work one evening, I asked her about her taste preferences, banned foods, etc.  She mentioned that she likes the spice of Asian food.  I hadn’t cooked Asian food for awhile, so I decided on my favorite Vietnamese dish:  rice vermicelli salad bowl, or Bun.

Rice Vermicelli Salad Bowl – Bun with Lemongrass Chicken (or Tofu)

For 4 bowls:

1 package bun – rice sticks/rice vermicelli, cook according to directions.  (I find that boiling works better than soaking for most dried rice products.)
2 carrots, julienne cut (okay, now I want a mandoline)
2 cucumbers, julienne cut
2 cups lettuce, gently sliced to make ribbons
Lemongrass Chicken (below)
Nuoc Cham vinaigrette dressing (below)
to garnish:  lime wedges, basil, mint, and Sriracha/Rooster Sauce

My recipes came from a great and highly recommended book:  Vietnamese Home Cooking for Everyone.  Lots of photos and ingredient information.

Lemongrass Chicken (Could easily be adapted for tofu)
10 oz. chicken meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 T. cornstarch
1 T. vegetable oil
2 t. salt
Cooking Sauce:
2 T. chopped lemongrass
1 T. vietnamese soy sauce or teriyaki sauce (I did half reg. soy/ half teriyaki)
1/2 T. each fish sauce and sugar
1 t. chili flakes (I used 1/2 t. with the idea of spicing it up later w/Rooster Sauce to taste)
1 t. chopped garlic
2 dried chili peppers (I left these out to allow custom spicing)

1/2 red onion, diced
16-20 Thai Basil leaves
1/4 c. coconut juice (I flat out forgot to add this)

Sprinkle chicken with salt and cornstarch.  Combine cooking sauce ingredients in a small bowl.
Heat oil in wok or other pan and saute chicken over medium high heat until lightly browned.
Add cooking sauce.  Cook and stir for a minute.
Add onion, basil and (if you remember unlike me) coconut juice.  Cook about 1 minute.

Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce
1 c. boiling water
1/2 c. fish sauce
1/2 c. sugar
2 T. lime juice (juice of 1 lime – microwave for 10-15 sec. first for max. juiciness – my Aunt Jane’s trick)
1/2 T. peeled leek in vinegar (I skipped this)
1 t. chili paste
1 carrot, shredded

Nuoc Cham Vinaigrette Dressing
1 c. Nuoc Cham dipping sauce
1/4 c. Japanese rice vinegar
1 T. lime juice
1 T. vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced

Simple Spinach, Pear & Parmesan Salad

January 17, 2010

I can see a category emerging:  Rehearsal Foods.  This evening, our “Koffee House Players” group had a little dinner after a rehearsal for a parody skit for our synagogue’s Koffee House/Open Mike night.  The plan was soup & pizza, with desserts and/or salads brought by others.  I put together this salad and was asked for the vinaigrette recipe.  Always a sweet compliment!  I’m glad I had photographed the salad and written down the dressing recipe.

Simple Spinach, Pear & Parmesan Salad

Approx. 8 oz baby spinach leaves (about 1/2 of the container of organic stuff from my beloved Costco)
1 pear, cut into 1 1/2″ slices
Approx. 1 oz. parmesan cheese, shaved (as much as possible with a cheap cheese slicer)
Freshly ground black pepper

Vinaigrette:
2 t. lemon juice
1 t. white wine vinegar
1 t. dijon mustard
1 t. agave nectar (I think honey or sugar would work fine)
1 t. salt
1/4 c. olive oil – the more olive-y tasting, the better.  I used the California Estate stuff from Trader Joe’s.  I’m almost out and am contemplating my next pilgrimage to Vegas – my closest Trader Joe’s – 6 hours away.  What I will do for good, cheap wine and good, cheap olive oil…

Whisk the lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, agave nectar, and salt together.  Drizzle olive oil while whisking.

Sour Fruit & Sweet Fish Sauce: The Curious Flavor of Nam Pla Wan

January 17, 2010

I had a lovely morning at the Asian grocery the other day.  I was buying a green mango and the guy at the counter asked if I had eaten one before.  I said I hadn’t and was buying it out of curiosity.  He said that when it’s hard, it’s really sour.  Then he asked if I like spicy stuff and I said “YES!”  So, he went to an aisle and got me a jar of some Thai dipping sauce. Here’s a fuzzy photo of the jar.

I tried it with a granny smith apple.  It was different, and a bit disconcerting, to taste something salty and somewhat fishy with my apple.  So, I gave myself permission to just eat the rest of the apple, but I found myself continuing to dip it into this interesting sweet/salty/sour/spicy stuff.  I look forward to trying it with the green mango when I have the patience to cut it up!

Recession Special: Bulk Bin Bean Soup – Dressed Up

January 17, 2010

Occasionally, I’ll try a multi-bean soup mix.  This time, I had a beans & barley mixture from the bulk section of one of my local stores.  My friend Wendy and I put together an impromptu 4-course meal with things we had in our respective fridges instead of going out to eat one evening. This was the first course, followed by some Trader Joe’s multigrain pasta & TJ’s Organic Vodka pasta sauce.  Then stir-fried onions, zucchini, and shrimp (seasoned with garlic & lemon pepper), and some of the leftover thumbprint cookies for dessert, washed down with a $3.49 bottle of Malbec.

Here are my guesses on proportions & spices I used:

Bulk Bin Bean Soup
1-1/2 cup bean and barley veggie soup mixture
2 cups of different vegetable stocks (I use Trader Joe’s broth packets & some powdered stuff)
3 cups of water
About 1/2 teaspoons each:  garlic granules, onion powder, marjoram and basil
Plenty of salt & pepper

Cook in slow cooker around 8-10 hours on low. Garnish with carmelized onions and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  *Voila*  A cheap, but sort of elegant, little bowl of soup.

Thumbprint Cookies – something with leftover jam

January 11, 2010

I wanted to make cookies as a music practice snack for me and the guys I play with.  Looked in the cupboards and drawers for chocolate chips – nope…raisins – nope.  I checked the fridge and saw that I had a lot of jam left over from making doughnuts in December.  I found this recipe and made a few adjustments.  I have loved thumbprint cookies since they were a treat while shopping with my mom in downtown Montpelier, VT when I was young.  Little cookies with blue and pink frosting from the little bakery near the Grand Union were unforgettable.

Slightly Healthier Thumbprint Cookies with Jam

3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened (but not too soft).  I used part butter, and part vegan buttery sticks
1/2 cup white sugar (I think they’d work with sucanat substituted for half the sugar)
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup fruit preserves of any flavor

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cream butter, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla until combined well and creamy.  Add flour and mix with mixer until blended.  Roll into 1″ balls and press down with your thumb or a small spoon.  Fill the thumbprint with about 1/2 teaspoon of preserves.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until the bottom of the cookies are golden. (I have NEVER seen a cookie bake in 8 minutes in any oven I’ve used at any point in my life, so I take the 8-10 minute guideline in recipes as 10-12 minutes.)  Cool on a wire rack.

The “I can’t believe it’s a $30 knife” knife

January 3, 2010

Based on the recommendation from America’s Test Kitchen, I bought the Victoronex 8-Inch Chef’s Knife.  Now, I’ve got the MAC Santoku, and a couple of beautiful Global knives, but this knife is quickly becoming a favorite. Here’s the link to it at a $29.99 price at Amazon.