Thursday, May 27, 2010

Good Quesadilla, Bad Quesadilla


One irony about cooking is that it's often the simplest dishes, the ones that seem un-screw-up-able, that you are most likely to -- wait for it -- screw up. Maybe it's overconfidence, or maybe it's that simplicity does not always equal lack of difficulty. Or maybe it was a combination of the two that led to last night's Quesadilla Fail.

A quesadilla seems like a no-brainer, right? But I made two fatal errors, both intended as concessions to "health-consciousness": (1) using whole-wheat tortillas; and (2) using the toaster oven instead of frying in a generously buttery saucepan. The result was a goopy, curdly mess inside (I had included some leftover pork and beans, which did not help the aesthetics) and resembled leather in both appearance and taste outside; in short, it did not deserve to be called the Q-word.

So tonight, I was taking no chances. I vowed that my next quesadilla would be the ultimate quesadilla.

First I covered a big white-flour tortilla with thin-sliced cheddar. You want to leave a margin around the outside of your fillings (proportionally, think the width of a pizza crust in relation to the toppings) so the filling won't all ooze out when you cut it, and it won't be unwieldy to handle.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Pork and Beans

Inspired by Alyce's pimp-my-prepackaged-foods post, I would like to share another "semi-homemade" strategy: recycling restaurant leftovers.

Most of us usually end up throwing out that sad tin of food we get wrapped up to go, myself included. In fact, the more expensive the entrée, the more likely it is to be unappetizing when reheated. (I'm thinking the continuum goes from pizza to duck breast.) However, if you disguise leftovers as ingredients in dishes rather than just microwaving them, they're much more appealing.

In this case, I combined some leftover restaurant pork ribs with a can of pink beans and some other refrigerator go-tos for a really flavorful, totally homemade-tasting dish. (If you have leftover pork chops or something similar, you could dice these. Diced ham, sausage, or, hell, hot dogs would also work. It's pork and beans, people, you're supposed to work with whatsoever hunk of meat you have.)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Consider the Lamb Chop

A lot of people do not like lamb, or at least they believe they don't. Being a girl of Middle Eastern descent, I find this extremely difficult to wrap my mind around, as I know my Armenian-sistah-from-anothah-mothah Alyce would agree. Dude, lamb is delicious.

My theory is that reg'lur 'Merickan folks have all too often been burned by the experience of having lamb over- or undercooked, in both of which cases it is really gross. (I have this exact same theory about another Middle Eastern staple, eggplant; luckily Alyce is on the case with a forthcoming baba ghanoush recipe that should hopefully serve as an eggplant gateway drug.) Overcooked lamb is tough and unpleasantly chewy and loses its flavor; undercooked lamb is just, well, bloody and gross.

But well-cooked lamb is deeply flavorful and exquisitely rich and earthy -- so much so that you can make it with some really simple accompaniments, such as a green veggie and potatoes, and you immediately have a sophisticated and well-balanced meal. (I made steamed asparagus tossed in lemon juice and a splash of olive oil, mashed potatoes with roasted garlic, and a cucumber-feta-tomato salad tossed with balsamic vinegar.) Lamb was also made to pair with a full, likewise earthy red wine. Have I sold you yet? Okay, so here's the way to make the super-simple lamb chops I prepared recently.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

just a little tip- add chorizo!

hi everyone,
it has been a hectic couple of weeks, doing some freelance work, traveling a bit, and in the midst of it all, i got pretty sick. when i'm too busy to go to the grocery store, i fall back on my pantry.
today i arrived home, still congested, after a whirlwind trip down to Orlando to watch the Celtics take game two of the Eastern Conference finals!

Sorry, I digress.

I got home, and with only a few hours before heading out to tutor and getting a haircut, needed something to eat, and grabbed a can of soup. I wasn't happy about having to eat a can of soup, and a "Healthy Choice" low sodium, can of soup at that. I needed to eat it, but I also needed to jazz it up a bit, so I grabbed some chorizo that I had in the fridge, cut it into little pieces, threw it into the pot, crushed a clove of garlic in there, and then added the can of soup.
I know that with the addition of chorizo, it was no longer low sodium, or the "healthiest" according to the label, but it was much tastier, and I felt satisfied.

Remember, you can doctor up prepared sauces, soups, salads, anything, with the tools you have in your kitchen- sautee a little onion and garlic, and then add the jar of pasta sauce, or even a can of crushed tomatoes, and you've got a much fresher tasting, more satisfying option. The key is keeping a stocked pantry and being creative with what you've got when you are working with prepared foods.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

fiddlehead fail.

A couple of weeks ago I went on 50-mile hike to help raise money for a great organization, Project USE
It was an incredibly beautiful hike through the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey, as you can see from this lovely photo that my friend and co-hiker Sarah took as we reached a peak during sunrise

It was a very strenuous, very fun hike. Along the way we saw a rabbit, a turkey vulture, even a porcupine! But most exciting was the spotting of Fiddlehead Ferns! (photo also by Sarah Gormley, thanks Sarah!)

Now I don't know about you, but I really really love fiddlehead ferns. For anyone that isn't familiar, from the lips of Wikipedia: "Fiddlehead ferns refers to the unfurled fronds of a young fern harvested for food consumption. The fiddlehead, or circinate vernation, unrolls as the fern emerges from the ground with new growth. As fiddleheads are harvested early in the season before the frond has opened and reached its full height, they are cut fairly close to the ground." From Wikipedia's mouth to your ears! we started picking them and pretty soon had a nice half pound of la fiddleheads.

I was very excited-Fiddlehead ferns have always been a treat, the sign that it really is spring, my mom would sautee them with some olive oil and garlic, and to me they have always tasted just like the color green should taste. I got home from the hike having completed 21 miles, just a tad sore (ha!), and the next day i tackled the foraged fiddlehead ferns.

Like Ketchup, But Better

I like to think of this DIY condiment as being to ketchup what Avatar is to 2-D movies. (Of course, I haven't seen Avatar, because I always have to be different -- hell, I never even saw Titanic -- but that's beside the point. It's an analogy, people.) Basically, it's a roasted tomato relish with a rich tomato flavor and a hint of sweetness. You know, like ketchup, but better. (Hence the title of this post. Come on, try to keep up.) It can be used as anything from a sandwich spread to a sauce for fish (more suggestions below, under the jump).

This is a great way to use up tomatoes from your garden, or ones that are starting to get squishy. If your market has a section of discounted-because-it's-about-to-go-bad produce, this is a perfect opportunity to utilize it. If you've got options, plum tomatoes (the oval kind) might be best for this, but obviously, since I just told you to go ahead and use tomatoes that are about to go bad, we're not going to be too particular here.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Curried Chicken Salad

Curried chicken salad, cucumber, and feta in whole-wheat wrap
Lately I am obsessed with curry powder -- the yellow-orange, vaguely Indian, commonly-found-in-supermarkets kind rather than any of the myriad other varieties. Contrary to popular belief, it is not "spicy" in the sense of being hot -- there's actually a sweetness to it. Curried chicken salad is super-simple to throw together, and in about five or ten minutes, will yield you the fixings for a five-day workweek's worth of sandwiches (yes, squeamish types, a chicken-and-mayo-based mixture will keep that long) that you can throw together in minutes in the morning. And, of course, it will be a lot cheaper than buying comparable sandwiches day to day.

I start by shredding leftover chicken, which means pulling it off the carcass with my fingers and then pulling apart those scraps so they're like strands. (You could use store-bought roast chicken, but that kind of defeats the point of this blog, now, doesn't it.) I shred the chicken directly into a large Tupperware container, so as not to have to dirty a bowl. (Note: The curry powder might stain your Tupperware yellow. If you care about this, you're really neurotic.)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

You Can Make This Yourself!: Hummus

hello happy cookers!

something that I make pretty frequently and is everyone's favorite ethnic dip (no not me) is Hummus!

there is rarely a time when I don't have the ingredients on hand, because they really are standard pantry/fridge items that keep, as well as being (in total) much less expensive than buying hummus in the store.

I know there are a fair number of brands of hummus out there that people enjoy, Sabra (left) being one of them. But as you can see, you're paying $4.29 for some hummus that you could make at home, tailored to your own tastes and preferences, and spend a lot less.

What you're going to need:
A can of chickpeas (I usually use Goya, but have heard good things about the Trader Joe's brand as well) about $0.66
Tahini (I buy my tahini from Sahadi's in Brooklyn) 16 ounces for $4.35. 16 ounces of tahini will last you a long time, and tahini keeps well in the fridge.
Lemon juice- what, $0.50 for a lemon?
Salt- i can't remember the last time i bought salt, how much is it?
Garlic- ah garlic, i buy so much of it, and yet never think about the price. maybe $0.50 a head?