Monday, May 28, 2012

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone is probably one of my favorite soups- I have fond memories of eating the canned version (Progresso) whenever I needed a quick meal.  It wasn't until a couple years ago that I realized I could just make it myself!  It's a vegetarian soup but it's so filling you don't even think about it.  Between the vegetables, pasta, beans, and richness from the Parmesan rind this soup is truly a meal in itself.  Aside from the time it takes to prep the vegetables it's pretty easy to make. 
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 potato, peeled (optional) and cubed (1/2 inch pieces)
2 carrots, diced
1 cup diced green beans (1 inch pieces)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can red kidney beans
1 can cannelini beans
1/2 cup peas
2 quarts chicken stock (or vegetable stock) plus 2 cups water
1 Parmesan cheese rind
3-4 fresh thyme sprigs
1 cup uncooked ditalini (or other small pasta)
Salt and Pepper

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the celery and onion with 1 teaspoon salt.  Cook for about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Next, add the carrots and green beans.
 After a few more minutes, add the potatoes to the mixture.
Next, add the stock, water, tomatoes, and beans.  Bring to a simmer and add the Parmesan rind with a couple thyme sprigs.

After it has been simmering for about 15 minutes, add the pasta and cook for 6-8 minutes before serving.  Taste for more salt- it will probably need some if your stock is unsalted.  Also, add 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
You don't want the pasta to cook for too long or it will be mushy.  If you aren't planning to eat all of the soup in one sitting, another option is to cook the pasta separately and just add some to each bowl when serving.  Otherwise it will keep soaking up the broth as it sits in the fridge. This soup would be great with other vegetables as well- it's great for a cold or rainy day (not that we've had any recently)  Enjoy!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pan-fried Okra

Fried okra is something I grew up eating because it was one of my mom's favorites.  She coated it in cornmeal and pan-fried it with the slightest amount of oil, but let me tell you- that was the closest anything ever came to being "fried" in our house.  It was one of those foods I knew I didn't like, but eventually after seeing my mom and sister eat it up like popcorn I slowly came around.  Some people don't like the texture of okra but I actually enjoy the slimy center and crunchy seeds.  Sean is one of those people, so I don't make fried okra that often. (Though I do admit ordering it whenever I see it on a menu.) However, when I see fresh okra in season at the grocery store I can hardly resist to pick up a package of it with memories of my childhood swimming around in my head.  I added a few more components than my mom does in her recipe and made an accompanying dipping sauce.  I know she would say this hides the taste of the okra, but it was really the only way I could guarantee Sean would try it.  I was quite pleased when he went back for more than one piece.  He didn't call it "good" but said it was the best he's had, so I took that as a great compliment!

1/2 lb okra (I did a little less because I was only making it for the two of us... so mainly just me)
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Dipping Sauce:
1/2 cup mayonnaisse
2 tablespoons sriracha
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Slice up the okra and put it in a bowl with the buttermilk.  Stir and let it sit for about 5 minutes. I read that the buttermilk takes some of the sliminess away from the okra so I decided to try it.  It also helps the cornmeal coating stick.

Meanwhile, mix the try ingredients together in a separate bowl for the coating.  Take the okra out of the buttermilk and place it into the cornmeal mixture.  Mix with your hands until all of the pieces are evenly coated. 

Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  When it is hot, place the okra in the pan and make sure it is evenly spread out.  

Cook for about 5 minutes or until you see the bottom of the pieces starting to brown.  Then, flip each piece and cook for about 3-4 minutes longer until all of the okra is a golden brown color.  Drain on a paper towel and sprinkle with a little more salt while it is still hot.
For the dipping sauce, combine all ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Serve along side hot okra.  Yum!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tabbouleh Salad

Tabbouleh is one of the most popular salads in the Middle East- and now I know why.  I had seen it on restaurant menus, but was never really sure what it was.  After I watched Ina Garten make it on the Food Network one day, I was inspired to make it myself.  This version is made with bulgur wheat, lemon juice, fresh cucumber, mint, parsley, and green onion.  Mixing in feta cheese at the end adds some saltiness (and deliciousness) but the flavors of everything combined are amazing.  This salad is so fresh and healthy- it will definitely become a regular on our spring and summer menus. 
A note about bulgur wheat- this was a new ingredient for us, but we both really liked it.  It is a grain that has a texture similar to quinoa or cous cous and it is slightly nutty in taste.  In this recipe it is soaked in lemon juice, water, and olive oil, which gives it a wonderful flavor.  The best thing about it is the nutritional value- it is high in protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals.  Also, it's a lot cheaper than quinoa.
1 cup bulgur wheat
1 1/2 cups boiling water
Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 English cucumber, seeded and diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 cup thinly sliced scallions (green and white parts)
1/2 cup chopped mint
1/2 cup chopped parsley
4 oz crumbled feta cheese (we used feta with peppercorns)
Kosher salt

Place the bulgur wheat in a large bowl.  Pour in the boiling water, 1 teaspoon salt, the lemon juice, and the olive oil.  Cover and let it sit at room temperature for about an hour until all (or mostly all) the liquid has been absorbed. 
We still had a little bit of liquid in ours, but the bulgur wheat tasted like it was fully cooked.  The lemon juice and olive oil really give it a great flavor.

 Next, stir in your chopped vegetables and herbs.  Mix to combine well.  Finally, add the crumbled feta cheese.  Taste to see if it needs more salt or pepper.

Refrigerate until ready to eat- it does taste better after it's had some time to let all of the flavors come together, but there's nothing wrong with digging in right away.  This is a great dish to bring to your summer potluck!  We had ours along side Cuban spiced pork tenderloin.  

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Brazilian Cheese Bread (Pão de Queijo)

If you've ever eaten at a Brazilian steakhouse, you probably remember the little tasty cheese puff rolls they serve right after being seated.  Despite the fact that you are preparing for an all-you-can-eat meal of freshly sliced steak at your table and an awesome salad bar to accompany it, these rolls are so addictive that it's impossible not to eat a few.  They are light and airy, but at the same time have a chewy center with a texture that is unique to any other bread I've had.  This comes from the use of tapioca flour, which has a texture similar to corn starch.  The puffs are also cheesy and savory- and you can alter the flavor by using different types of cheeses.  Best of all, this recipe is so easy it doesn't even feel like "baking".  You just whiz up the ingredients in a food processor, pour into the muffin pan, and in 15 minutes they are done!  These are a great start to any meal and an easy way to impress your guests with something new.  They are also gluten-free.

1 egg (best at room temp- (either let it sit out, or place it in a bowl of lukewarm water)
1/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup milk
1 1/2 cups tapioca flour (the same as tapioca starch- which we found in the Hispanic section of our grocery store)
3/4 cup shredded cheese (any cheese will work- start with something more neutral for your first time.  We've made them with Parmesan, cheddar, farmer's cheese, blue cheese, and different blends- it all works!)
1 teaspoon salt

Warming up the egg!
Blue, Parmesan, and Cheddar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare a greased mini-muffin pan.  (We've never tried them with a regular sized muffin pan, but it might work.)  Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.   

Pour the batter into each muffin cup until it is just below full and continue.  There should be exactly enough for all 24 mini-muffin cups.  

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops are puffed and slightly golden.  Let cool slightly before removing from oven and serve either hot or warm. 

Chewy Cheesy Center