Potato, Leek, and Mushroom Filling

Recently, I was fondly remembering some potato & mushroom empanadas I made about a year and a half ago for our friend Elizabeth’s going away party when she left Kalamazoo for Utah. Debbie and I catered the party, and I would immodestly say that our food was a great success. The mojitos on hand and the gin and tonics being mixed by a well-regarded K College anthropology professor upstairs from the gathering probably didn’t hurt either. It was a good party.

Well, what do you know? I’m making a potato & mushroom dish wrapped in pastry again and Elizabeth has forsaken Mormonland for Kalamazoo. Plus sa change, plus c’est la meme chose. I should really write that in Latin or Ancient Greek, since she’s a classicist, but AltaVista’s Babel Fish doesn’t have an automatic Latin or Ancient Greek translation. Liz, I hope you get a coming-back party half as good as your going-away party was.

The last time I made something like this, I fried them. This time I used a dough that didn’t require frying – and it didn’t come out as well as it should have, so I’m not going to bother with putting it up here yet, as it needs too much work. However, I will put up this filling, and when I get home and have access to the recipes on my home computer, I’ll put up the empanada dough that you have to fry, which I cribbed from Martha Stewart. A pie crust would also be a fine wrapping for this filling, and it would not require frying. Or you could just eat the filling by itself, no harm, no foul.

Ingredients

1 lb. new potatoes, scrubbed and chopped into ½ in. pieces
2 T. canola oil (plus more for the pan)
4 leeks, white and slightly green parts, chopped into very narrow slices
(To clean leeks, slice the trimmed leeks lengthwise, hold them together, and run them under cold water until all the grit is gone.)
1 dry pint mushrooms, cleaned and chopped into ¼ in pieces, stems included
½ t. paprika
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350. Toss the chopped potatoes with the 2 T. of canola oil in an 8×8 baking pan and season them with salt. Place in the oven and roast until tender but not browned, about half an hour. Remove from the oven, place in a large mixing bowl, and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a little oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, toss in the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until they lose most of their volume and begin to brown, 15-20 minutes. Remove the leeks from the pan and place them in the mixing bowl with the onions. Add the mushrooms and a little oil to the empty pan and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have given up their moisture and it has evaporated. They’ll also be substantially reduced in volume – the whole process should take about 10 minutes. Turn the mushrooms into the bowl with the potatoes and leeks. Add ½ t. paprika plus salt and pepper to taste, and mix well.

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Cream of Broccoli Soup

I usually set aside broccoli stems. I sometimes make cream of broccoli soup. I sometimes slice the stems into matchsticks and use them in stir-fry or fried rice. I sometimes end up putting the stems in the compost bin. When I do get around to making soup, there is usually a large amount of raw stems and a small amount of leftover cooked flowerets left. I peel the stems and chop them into dice, cook them, then chop up the flowerets finely and add them at the end.

The first time I made this for Michael, it was the height of summer, and he was living on North 4th Rd. in Arlington. I believe that this took place in that brief period before we officially moved in together. I had the ingredients for it and so I made it, though I think it was 95 degrees outside. Since Michael did not have a dining room table, we sat on the floor in the bedroom (as close to the air conditioner as we could bear) and had Cream of Broccoli soup and popovers and pretended it was winter. I made popovers when I made this soup this week, too, in fact. It’s a good accompaniment.

This is a good blueprint for “Cream of” soup – you could use cauliflower, potatoes, asparagus, carrots, peas – it’s pretty flexible. The white wine gives it a nice tartness and keeps it from being too Campbell’s-y.

This is adapted from the new Joy of Cooking – they put too much water in it, (as I did the first time I made it) so I’ve reduced it, along with a couple other small changes.

Heat in a soup pot over medium heat until the butter is melted:

¼ c. water or stock
1 T. unsalted butter (optional – you can use oil instead)

Add and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender but not browned, 5-10 minutes:
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

Stir in:
2 c. vegetable stock
1 c. white wine
1 ½ lbs. trimmed broccoli stems, diced

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the broccoli stems are tender, 15-20 minutes. If they aren’t tender after 20 minutes, continuing to cook them until they are tender is fine. Overcooking them a little will be easier on your blender than undercooking them a little. Once the stems are tender, puree the soup – a standard blender will handle it in two batches. Return the soup to the pot and stir in:

the reserved chopped broccoli flowerets
1/3 c. heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
¼ t. paprika

Simmer briefly and serve (in warm bowls, if you’re that coordinated). Garnish with chives, if you have ‘em, a dash of paprika, or a swirl of cream.

Tofu and Onions in Caramel Sauce

This came from a recent New York Times food section. It was good, but not as great as the story about it had lead me to expect. A perfectly serviceable tofu recipe, though, as long as one is patient with melting sugar. Mine seized after I added the soy sauce, so I added a tablespoon or two of water and brought the heat up. It eventually melted.

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup nam pla (Asian fish sauce) or soy sauce (obviously, I used soy sauce)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 pound firm tofu, cut into chunks of 3/8 inch to 1 inch
1 tablespoon butter, optional
1 tablespoon lime juice or vinegar, or to taste
Salt if necessary
White rice for serving.

1. Put sugar and a tablespoon of water in a 10- or 12-inch skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. Cook, shaking pan occasionally, until sugar melts and browns a bit. Turn off heat, and carefully add nam pla or soy sauce. Turn heat to low, and add onion. Cook, stirring, 5 to 10 minutes, until onion is very tender. Add pepper and tofu.

2. Gently simmer, turning tofu once or twice in sauce so it is glazed and heated through, about 10 minutes. Stir in butter, along with lime juice or vinegar. Taste, and add salt, more pepper or lime juice or vinegar if you like. Serve immediately over rice.

Adapted Rick Bayless Tamales

I love watching and reading Rick Bayless, but I haven’t cooked many of his recipes. They always sound delicious, but they’re almost always not recipes for a weeknight. There are usually 12 things that need to be prepared – not just chopped – *prepared* – before the dish can even go together. This even tries my patience, and as a frequent preparer of Indian food, I have a pretty high tolerance to bajillion-ingredient recipes.

But I wanted to try a new tamale dough recipe, so I thought I’d give Mr. Bayless a chance. He might not even recognize this recipe, I’ve stripped it down so much – I just wanted a basic tamale dough, and this started out as Juchitan-Style Black Bean Tamales, and was meant to be steamed in banana leaves. I was not going to go that far on this occasion. I have abridged the ingredients and simplified the preparation. Also, I’ve used veggie broth instead of chicken broth and butter as the fat instead of lard or vegetable shortening. I should probably find a non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening to use in tamales, but they’re so much effort, I’d hate to make a batch that didn’t work out because of the fat.

Why did I use a recipe at all if I’m going to decimate it, then? I stripped this down to make sure it was a good basic recipe – I usually load my tamales up with a variety of things, including spinach, cheese, beans, onions, and tomatoes. This makes them inauthentic but good, and a solid basic recipe helps that a lot. They were good to begin with, though next time I’ll probably add a little bit of sugar. So here’s my very adapted, totally bare-bones tamale dough. I promise a more tasty and elaborate version next time.

Ingredients:
1 package dried cornhusks, soaked in hot water for at least 30 minutes
5 ½ oz. butter (room temperature)
1 ¾ c. masa harina mixed with 1 c. plus 2 T. hot water, then allowed to cool (I popped it in the freezer and stirred it a few times)
2/3 c. cool vegetable broth
½ c. chopped cilantro
1 t. salt

Place a steamer rack in a large pot and fill with water to almost touch the steamer. Set it on a burner turned to medium heat. If it comes to a boil before you’re ready to put the tamales in, just turn it down slightly.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter for a few seconds until smooth. Continue beating as you add the masa (fresh or reconstituted) in three additions. Add the cilantro. Beat in enough broth to give the mixture the consistency of soft (not runny) cake batter; it should softly hold its shape in a spoon. Season with salt, about 1 t., depending on the saltiness of the broth.

To form the tamales, shake a cornhusk dry and place it in your dominant hand with the narrow end facing toward your body. Using a spoon or measuring cup, place about 1/3 c. filling on the corn husk, near the right-hand edge and about halfway down. Slightly shape it into a log shape. Roll the husk shut from right to left and set it down. Tear a thin strip from another husk, fold the narrow bottom of the husk containing the tamale over and tie it with the thin strip. Set the finished tamale aside and repeat with the remaining dough.

Place all the tamales, open ends up, on the steamer rack, and steam for 1 hour. Remove the husks before eating. (You laugh, but it happens.) Serve hot with salsa on top.

A Fava Bean Endorsement & Spinach Salad

I like preparing Cento brand fava beans. Rather than “de-pod, skin, and cook,” or “soak and cook,” the instructions are “open jar and drain.” They come in a glass jar and we buy them at the Italian Depot on 1st St. near Bullard here in Fresno. Fava beans like being dropped into a spicy tomato sauce and served over pasta, and they also are fond of being tossed with olive oil and greens to make an almost unbelievably healthy and tasty salad. This is great as a meze – a component of a meal of small dishes.

No Chianti jokes, please. Thank you.

Ingredients:

2.5 oz. fresh spinach, (about half an Earthbound Farm box’s worth) cut in shreds
1 jar Cento fava beans, drained and rinsed briefly
¼ of a red onion, slivered
2 T. olive oil
1 T. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Toss all ingredients together. Good both immediately (with nice crispy spinach) and later (when the spinach will have wilted from the oil and salt.) After the spinach has wilted, I’ll happily toss a cup or so of the bean-spinach mixture with more whole spinach leaves or other greens to make a meal-type salad.

Spherical Zucchini

Quel disappointment! I bought some of these recently – in both green and yellow – just to see whether they were any better or not – my verdict is not. They were about baseball-sized. I sliced them and broiled them with a little oil and salt. Mine came out extremely watery. If I had been making more of an effort with them, I probably would have salted them beforehand and let them sit, but I really did just want to see how they came out with little effort.

I will stick with the smallish regular ones.

Asparagus with Shallots

Nothing too fancy, though the ingredients sound a bit arch.

1 T. butter
½ T. oil

½ c. chopped shallot
2 bunches thin asparagus, washed, ends snapped

salt and pepper

Place the butter and oil in a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Toss in the shallots, and sauté until they are tender and just beginning to color. Add the asparagus on top of the shallots, plus 3 T. water, and slap a tight lid on the pan. Reduce the heat to medium. Allow the asparagus to steam for about five minutes, then remove the lid and salt the asparagus to taste. Then (using tongs makes this easiest) turn the asparagus so the pieces on the top go to the bottom and vice versa. Replace the lid and steam for another three minutes. It may be done after eight minutes, but it may take as much as ten total. If there is still some water remaining once the asparagus is cooked, raise the heat to high briefly to evaporate it, stirring occasionally to keep the shallots from burning. Season with pepper and more salt if necessary and serve hot.