Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fantastic World Foods Vegetarian Chili

So I got all of these Fantastic World Foods products on sale at my neighborhood Jewel a while ago, and I decided it's time I started doing something with them. I bought four packages of their Nature Burger mix, 4 packages of organic whole wheat couscous, and 2 packages of vegetarian chili.

For some reason, I assumed that the chili was just the nature burger crumbled up instead of an actual chili mix, complete with spices. Sometimes I do that - I just decide that something is going to be a certain way without really looking at it or thinking it through. So I was not altogether pleasantly surprised to discover that it came pre-seasoned and spiced. All you needed to add was a can of beans and a can of tomatoes.

Naturally, that was not enough for me. For one thing, once I opened it and smelled it, I could tell right away that it wasn't going to be spicy or "chili" enough for me. It was going to need some major doctoring.
Doctor Dejamo to the rescue. It came out good enough that I will use the second box readily enough, and will even consider getting more after that is gone. It cooks up in less than half an hour and all I need to have on hand are beans, tomatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil, cumin and chili powder, all of which I usually have.

This was excellent to take to work for lunch.
Doctor Dejamo's Chilied up Chili
Makes 6 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
2-1/2 cups vegetable broth or water
1 package Fantastic World Foods Vegetarian Chili
1 14.5-oz. can black beans or kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 10-oz. bag frozen Trader Joe's Fire Roasted Corn (or regular sweet corn)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp chili powder

Heat olive oil in large pot. Add onion, garlic and jalapeno and cook until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Add chili mix and stir well. Add all other ingredients except the corn. Reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes. Add corn and simmer until heated through.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Oh-My-God! New Rebozo: "The Best of Casual Mexican Cooking"

Happy Memorial Day. To those of you here in the states for whom it's a holiday, I hope you're enjoying it. To those of you for whom, like me, it is a day off, I hope you're enjoying that as much as I am. To those of you who have to work today, I hope you are getting paid time-and-a-half for it. For those of you who have to work and don't get paid time-and-a-half, isn't that illegal?

Life has been distracting me again and I haven't felt like posting. I have been cooking a little, but I don't really have anything to show for it yet.

My friend Lynda and I have been trying to get together for about 3 months now, but things have kept coming up that have caused us to reschedule again and again. Our schedules finally cleared up this past week and we decided to meet for dinner after work on Tuesday night.

Lynda suggested a Mexican restaurant in Oak Park called New Rebozo. I checked out the link she sent me and it looked pretty good so we agreed to meet out there. I was a little concerned about how long it might take to get there, but it's about a half-mile walk down Harlem from the Blue Line to Madison Street so it was convenient and easy to find. Of course, once I got to Madison Street I turned the wrong way first, but that's because I'm an idiot and ignored Lynda's directions so I can only blame myself for that. But I saw some other restaurant possibilities on my little detour, so it wasn't a total waste of time, and I still managed to get there just before Lynda.

We were there early in the evening; the restaurant was virtually empty when I walked in and I waited about five minutes (long enough for me to step back outside to check their hours to make sure they weren't still closed) before the hostess came to seat me. But when she did come out, she was nice and friendly and seated me right away. Lynda walked in less than a minute later. After that our service was fine.

Lynda ordered a margarita and, while I was tempted, I opted for iced tea instead. But Lynda let me have a taste of her margarita and it was excellent. The drinks had just arrived and we barely had time to dip our chips into some salsa when an energetic, smiling man practically hopped over to our table with two plates in his hands. I had already read about this from Lynda's link so I realized that this was Francisco Lopez, the owner.

"Oh my god! How are you tonight?" he asked. "Fine," we said. "Oh my god! Let me show you our specials tonight. Oh my god! They are so good!" He then proceeded to show us what was on the two plates.

On one plate was a form of chile relleno that, I must admit, looked as good as the ones I am used to eating in Texas and have not been able to find up here in Chicago. It was full of nuts, raisins, and cheese and looked truly delicious. But once I set eyes on the second plate (that Lynda had already told me about), I had made up my mind what to order.

The cuisine at New Rebozo is based on the cooking of Lopez's mother. The specialty of the house is 12 different mole sauces. They make six a week, and the second special consists of four enchiladas, each served with a combination of the six moles. The night we were there these were the moles:
mole poblano (what most people think of when they think of mole)- made with chocolate and poblano peppers
mole verde (mole pipian) - made with pumpkin seeds and ancho peppers
peanut mole
cashew mole
macadamia nut mole
chestnut mole

The first two moles were each served with a whole enchilada; the other four were split between the other two. The hardest choice I had was what kind of enchiladas I wanted. I have only recently realized that I do not care for chicken in most traditional Mexican dishes. It just does not have a strong enough flavor to hold up to the other ingredients. Beef has almost too much flavor, and I do not care for that much melted cheese in any dish. Pork has become my favorite taco and enchilada filler, but they did not offer pork. Oddly enough, one of the choices was guacamole, which I suppose is not that far of a stretch from avocado, but still seemed a little unusual. The last choice was chorizo, and while I am not a fan of Mexican chorizo (at least the greasy Tex-Mex version I was used to from home), I opted for two guacamole enchiladas and two chorizo, hoping that the chorizo would be closer to the Spanish version. They did not offer me choice of which enchiladas to go with which moles, so I hoped for the best (not that I would have necessarily known which flavor would go best with which filling anyway).

They chose well. One chorizo enchilada came with mole pipian, and the other was split between the peanut and the chestnut moles. A whole guacamole enchilada was served with the mole poblano, with the other split between the cashew and macadamia nut moles.

All were delicious. The mole poblano was a little sweeter than I was expecting, but the sweetness was immediately counterbalanced by one of the most deceptively complex mix of spicy and smoky flavors I have ever encountered. It was absolutely perfect, with all of the flavors swirling to the surface and back so there was no one overwhelming taste. It was the perfect combination of sweet, spicy, and smoky.

But as nearly perfect as it was, my favorite was the mole pipian. The more subtle flavors of this mole, which came with the chorizo enchilada, were truly sublime, perhaps because they were less familiar flavors to me and I could not identify them all. The most familiar was the musky flavor of the roasted pumpkin seeds. If I had to choose only one mole next time, that would be it.

The other moles were all delicious, but the flavors were all somewhat similar. The macadamia nut was my least favorite (in all fairness, it's also my least favorite nut, though), and the peanut was a little bland. The cashew mole was tasty, and the chestnut mole was rich and luscious. It was a little too sweet though (and I can't believe I'm the one who's saying that), but would have been something to behold as turned into some kind of dessertB.

Lynda chose steak that came with the mole poblano and the mole pipian. The presentation was exquisite - the steak was rolled and somehow placed vertically inside a ring of grilled onion which sat on the plate with the moles each on one half of the plate. It looked awesome and she said it was delicious.

There were some oddities, however. The salsa was good and spicy, but the chips looked and tasted like they were baked, and I did not care for them very much. Each entree was accompanied by a plate of Spanish Rice and black beans. The black beans were rich and flavorful, but the rice looked like it was made with frozen mixed vegetables and I wasn't even tempted to try it.

After we had finished our dinners, Fernando Lopez came running back to our table. "Oh my god!" he exclaimed. Are you ready to try the oh-my-god delicious dessert?" If I hadn't been so full I would have tried something, but I will have to save that for my next visit.

All in all, this is a truly unique restaurant that, even with the few not-so-great chips and Spanish rice, will definitely have me going back for more.

And in the meantime, I plan to find me some mole verde recipes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Hot off the Grill (and a Little Hot under the Collar)

Yesterday I stopped at my neighborhood Jewel on the way home from work to pick up a few things, one of which was strawberries. I have grown quite fond of slicing them up and serving them with my late night treat of fat-free French Vanilla yogurt. The way they had them displayed in the store (they were on sale), the packages were stacked in a high narrow pile between an equally high pile of cantaloupes on one side and pineapples on the other. In addition, there were boxes of pineapples stacked waist high on each side of the floor. There was a woman there before me, slowly and laboriously reaching for a package, inspecting it closely, then just as slowly putting it back and reaching for the next one. The way the strawberries were arranged, it was impossible for more than one person to get to them at a time. There was another woman standing just to the side of the woman, who was obviously waiting her turn to get at them. I had no idea how long she had been there, but she gave an impatient little shake of her shoulders and wandered off just about the time I walked up.

Now I am all for checking out your produce before you buy it, or anything else for that matter. Certainly you want nothing but the best. But this woman checked out each and every box of strawberries, slowly and deliberately, and was taking her time about it. She seemed oblivious to the fact that there was someone there, obviously waiting for her to finish. For every five or six boxes she inspected, she would put one in her cart. Did I mention that she moved agonizingly slowly as she reached up, grabbed a box, put it close to her face, and then just as slowly reached up, put it back, and moved slowly over to the next box?

After about 5 minutes (that felt like 20) I just couldn't take it anymore. I was sure she was finished after she had put the fourth box in her cart but no, there she went again, reaching for yet another one.

I couldn't help myself. "Jesus," I said, to no one in particular. But she heard me, turned her head, and said "Do you have a problem?" All sorts of possible responses circled in my head, and I'm not terribly proud of the one I chose. "I was just wondering if you were ever going to finish," I said as I walked away, hearing her say "Looks like someone is having a bad day" as I pushed my cart away from the strawberries. "Yep," I said, and pushed on.

And immediately felt bad about it. Certainly she had the right to spend as much time as she wanted inspecting her food before she purchased it. Lord knows I'm picky enough about that kind of thing, although I will say that if I notice someone else hovering around the same section, I will try to accommodate them so we both can get at our desired product.

So I felt kind of bad as I went off and bought the other things on my list before going back to the strawberries after she had gone. And I had little pricks of shame as I caught glimpses of her as I worked my way around the store.

And found myself being extra super nice to everyone else I ran into for the rest of the evening.

It has taken a couple of false starts, but I think I'm finally getting the hang of my George Foreman grill. It's not quite as easy as the "set it and forget it" philosophy of the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie, but it comes pretty close.

I mentioned in the previous post that I have already been successful with a lamb chop. Tonight I'm getting some burgers ready to see how well that goes. My only real disappointment so far is that all of my research has shown that it is not a good idea to try to grill chicken legs, or the breast with the bone in for that matter. But it's a minor setback because otherwise I am quite pleased and looking forward to exploring the possibilities even further. Grilled pineapple, anyone?

Last night I grilled zucchini. I cut each one into three lengthwise strips, seasoned them with salt, pepper and Penzey's Sunny Paris spice blend, and grilled them in two batches of three each. About six minutes per batch, and they cooked just right. I'm especially thrilled that it worked so well with the zucchini, because it is a difficult vegetable to cook properly. It has so much water in it that it goes from raw to mush in seconds flat. It held up just beautifully in the grill. Tender but not mushy, it definitely had some substance.

Of course, this may just be a passing fad, but I plan to enjoy it. Do you, or does someone you know, have a George Foreman grill? What kinds of things can it do?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Slow Cooker Chicken Legs Paprikash with Roasted Pepper Sauce

OK. It's been a couple of days now since the tragic deleting of the post and I am ready to try to re-create it. As I'm sure you all know, this second version will not come close to reaching the wit, creativity, and intelligence of its predecessor. So it goes . . .

I haven't been too creative in the kitchen lately. Sometimes I get a little carried away with the possibilities and will buy ingredients for two or more preparations for the same ingredients and not realize it until I get home and have too many options. The end result is usually less than satisfying whichever way I choose to go. I had not been terribly pleased with anything I had created in a while. Perhaps that's another reason I have been taking refuge in the comfort of old stand-by recipes.

The weekend before last I had bought some chicken legs so I thought I might take a stab at some kind of Marsala with mushrooms, peppers and sweet cream Sherry I use for my Mexican Wine Cookies and which usually gets a little questionable before I can use it up. So off to the grocery store I went to get the mushrooms, peppers and some shallots I thought would make it a little classier than if I just used plain old onions.

And on the way home from the grocery store I stopped at Best Buy purely on an instant-gratification impulse and bought myself a George Foreman grill. Before you laugh, let me tell you how this came about. They have one at work and my boss was grilling herself a beautiful tuna steak in it and she said to me, "You have to get one of these." And her tuna steak did look beautiful and easy, smelled heavenly, and cooked itself smokeless (unlike the "Great Grill-Pan Lamb Chop Smoke Disaster of 1999" which set off my smoke detector and left a greasy pall in my apartment for over a week even if it was the best damned lamp chop I ever had at home). So I thought maybe it was time I considered getting one. What finally decided it for me was when she mentioned that her mother even roasted vegetables in it. Visions of roasted peppers, eggplant, and zucchini danced in my head. And then, whenever I mentioned to any of my friends that I was thinking of getting one, they all either had one themselves or had friends who used them regularly.

So I bought it and brought it home and, having no self-control whatsoever, decided I had to use it right then and there. So I cup the peppers in half, brushed them with olive oil, and threw them on the grill. I had to do it in two batches, even with the larger grill I had opted to buy, but it only took about 20 minutes for both. They peeled relatively easily after sitting in a saran-wrap covered bowl. So ok, the GF Grill was a good thing. (I have since grilled a lamb chop in it with just a little, manageable amount of smoke. It was delicious).

The only problem was that I had roasted a major component of my Chicken Marsala dish. It so discouraged me that I threw the chicken legs into the freezer and ended up sauteeing the mushrooms and shallots with the sherry and eating them for dinner that night. But my freezer is still too full, even with all my work on Operation Freezer Burn, so I took them back out last weekend and started thinking about what I should do with them.

I didn't feel like putting a lot of time and effort into it, so I decided to use the slow cooker. I really liked the slow cooker drumsticks I made last summer so I thought I would do something along those lines. Early Sunday morning I cut a large onion into eighths and put it in the bottom of the cooker, added the chicken legs and seasoned them with salt, garlic powder, pepper, and a ton of Hungarian sweet paprika. I had planned to make Muhammara with the roasted peppers, but they were still sitting in a bowl on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator waiting to go bad so I applied triage and threw them in with the chicken legs. I added some red wine and a little bit of water, turned the cooker on, and let it go until late afternoon.

The chicken had cooked beautifully, and the paprika had infused everything with a deep rusty reddish-brown tone. The cooking liquid looked and smelled divine, but it was thin and there was a lot of it so I needed to figure out a way to make some kind of sauce with it. Inspiration hit and I put it into a saucepan and brought out my super-duper handy-dandy hand blender and pureed it. I mixed a couple of tablespoons of the sauce with a tablespoon of flour and poured that back in and let the whole thing simmer for about an hour while I cooked up some brown rice.

The end result was absolutely delicious. The sauce was thick and rich; chicken tender and full of flavor. It was just the success I needed in the kitchen to motivate me to keep experimenting and creating. Which is a really good thing because the farmers markets are just now starting up again for the season here in Chicago and I am raring to go.
Slow Cooker Chicken Legs Paprikash with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Serves 6-8

1-2 large onions
4-6 roasted, skinned and seeded red, orange, or yellow bell peppers
8 chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks), skin removed
1/2 cup red wine or Sherry
1/2 cup water
salt to taste
garlic powder to taste
black pepper to taste
2-3 Tbsp Hungarian sweet paprika
1 Tbsp flour
chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Cut onion(s) into wedges and layer on the bottom of the slow cooker. Add the roasted peppers. Lay four of the the chicken legs over the vegetables and season to taste with the salt, garlic powder and pepper. Sprinkle half the paprika liberally, making sure every piece of chicken is well coated; repeat with the other four chicken legs.

Carefully pour in the wine and the water, avoiding the chicken so the spices don't wash off. Set slow cooker to low and cook, 6-8 hours or until chicken is done.

Remove chicken from slow cooker and keep warm. Pour the liquid into a three-quart saucepan and, using a hand blender, puree the mixture. Spoon 3-4 tablespoons of the liquid into a small bowl and add 1 tablespoon of flour. Mix thoroughly, making sure there are no lumps. Pour back into the saucepan with the pureed sauce. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about one hour, while you prepare brown rice.

Serve the chicken over the brown rice and spoon the sauce liberally over the chicken and the rice. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Dog Ate My Blog Post

Or she would have, if I had a dog. The truth is, I absent-mindedly moved away from the page just as I was finishing my post so I accidentally deleted the whole darned thing.

And today I notice that Blogger has a new feature that automatically saves drafts every minute. Where was this feature on Wednesday night, I'd like to know?

I was too discouraged to even think about it until today. I will most likely rewrite and post it tomorrow.

So much for my return to blogging :(

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Middle Eastern Turkey Burgers

I took a little unannounced vacation from blogging last month. Work is still taking up a lot of my brain cells and while I have been cooking, I haven't been doing a lot of new things to write and talk about.

I'm still finding myself remembering old standby recipes that I haven't made in years. Operation Freezer Burn is still plodding along, but it seems like I am still putting more things in than I am taking out so I am always looking for things to take out. I had two packages of ground turkey in there, and I was thinking of making the Turkey Walnut Loaf I had reviewed from the 12 Best Foods Cookbook. But it was a surprisingly warm day and I didn't want to use the oven. I considered making some kind of Bolognese sauce for pasta, but it just felt like it would be too much bother.

That's when I remembered a recipe I've had forever - something called Middle Eastern Turkey Burgers. I found this recipe back in the mid '80s. At that time, the only Middle Eastern food with which I was familiar were the falafel sandwiches we bought from a cart off the Drag at The University of Texas. They were delicious, but I didn't know they were made from chickpeas. The only chickpeas I knew were those gross garbanzo beans dried out and languishing in a bowl at the condiment end of the salad bar, and who in their right mind would ever eat one of those? As I've mentioned before, tabbouleh was a tasteless mess of bulghur interspersed with little bits of minced tomato and cucumber, garnished with parsley, that someone would inevitably bring to one of our potluck parties that sat untouched at the table and would eventually be thrown away.

Even with my limited knowledge of Middle Eastern cuisine I was pretty sure this was not a terribly authentic recipe. But it is surprisingly good; somehow the added ingredients are just enough to keep the turkey moist and flavorful.

The original recipe suggested making sandwiches with pita bread, but they weren't terribly satisfying that way. I like them served over brown rice with a lemon-tahini sauce. Actually, they're really good with tzatziki, and I guess Greece is close enough, flavor-wise.

I often take these to work for lunch. They travel well and reheat beautifully.
Home Cookin Chapter: Poultry

NOTE: I have no idea where I found this recipe. If you recognize it and know where it came from, please let me know.

Middle Eastern Turkey Burgers

1 lb. ground turkey
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 clove garlic
1 tsp grated lemon peel
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 cup plain yogurt

Combine turkey, 1/4 cup green onions, garlic, lemon peel, cumin and blend well. Shape into 4 patties. Grill until done.

In small bowl, combine yogurt with remaining green onions.

Good over brown rice with lemon tahini sauce or tzatziki.

Servings: 4

Exported from Home Cookin 5.4 (www.mountain-software.com)
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