Saturday, January 31, 2009

Left Over Remix: Tortilla Pie

I always seem to have tortillas in the refrigerator left over from taco night. We love a tacos or burritos for a quick dinner on a weeknight, but between Ira and I, we don't really finish up the whole package in one night. The tortillas get pushed to the back of the fridge and then I remember them days later, sad and stale.

A while back, my Mom suggested Martha Stewart Recipe for a tortilla pie as a good way to use up stale tortillas. Its also made primarily of ingredients I generally have on hand so I don't have to worry about getting anything special. Easy and fast. Fun to eat. Its a good thing. Oh shit. That's copyrighted. Its a good food object.

Tortilla and Black Bean Pie
  • flour tortillas
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped and seeded
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 32 oz can black beans, drained
  • 12 ounces beer or 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen corn
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (8 ounces)
Using a paring knife, trim tortillas to fit a 9-inch spring form pan, using the bottom of the pan as a guide. Here I had large Burrito tortillas, so one was enough for each layer. Smaller tortillas can also be used, just overlap them and trim using the bottom of your spring form pan as you would with the larger.

If you don't have a spring form pan, you could probably use a pie pan or even a cast iron, but the shape of your pie might not be as nice or as easy to cut and get out, but it will work. However, this pie would probably look awesome in a cast iron pan. Use bottom of your pie or cast iron pan as a guide.

Saute the onion, garlic and cumin in oil over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add beans and beer to skillet, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer until liquid has almost evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes.

Beer? Fancy that, I just happen to have some lying around; another perfect excuse to use up that Budweiser!

Stir in corn and scallions, and remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Fit a trimmed tortilla in bottom of spring form pan; layer with 1/4 of the beans and 1/2 cup cheese. Repeat three times, using 1 cup cheese on top layer.

Bake @ 400 degrees until hot and cheese is melted, 20 to 25 minutes. If you used a springform pan, remove the side mold. Garnish with extra scallions and sour cream. Cilantro is also nice. I cooked a side dish of rice made with salsa verde and coconut milk as a side dish. Yum.

**A quick note: The last time I made this, I noticed the tortillas tasted a bit mushy. I made a note to toast the tortillas over my burner before assembling. This may give it a more crispy texture, perhaps. It will give it a little more smoky flavor too probably.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Warm It Up. The Mircrowave I mean. Choc. Cake In A Mug

When I read Sarah's comment on the yesterday with this recipe, I knew I had to try it. Its quick, easy and best of all, I got to give my much neglected microwave a little attention. Thanks, Sarah!


I don't know if I would recommend eating this, as it feels like play dough, but it's a fun way to spend 5 minutes of your life and it's pretty much guaranteed to make you giggle.
  • 4 tablespoons (1/4 c.) flour
  • 4 tablespoons (1/4 c.) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (1/8 c.) cocoa
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
  • A small splash of vanilla extract
  • 1 large coffee mug

- Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly.
- Pour in the milk and oil and mix well.
- Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract, and mix again.
- Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts.
*Please note that it's normal for it to rise while in the microwave. Do not be alarmed and scream as I did.

I used a small pic to cut the cake away from the mug sides.

Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired.

It does look like play dough. or something else. gross.

- EAT! (this can serve 2 if you want to feel slightly more virtuous).

Well, this cake is not awesome. But it is fast! I agree, Sarah, it is enough for two. So I cut mine in half, but we got to eat off the same plate. Early Valentines dessert? Yeah, that's right Ira, this is all you're getting. Aw poor Ira. I'm just joking. Sheesh.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Toasty Winter Obsessions

I've been trying not to complain, but this is the worst winter I've experienced in Chicago. Its the most snow with the worst cold. Normally its one or the other. My 12 mile round trip bike commute is killing me.

To combat the winter chill and anger, I've been focusing on recent obsessions of mine, which help warm my cold winter attitude.

Toasting anise seed and curry powder in olive oil.

If you've read my last couple of recipes, you'll notice almost every dish begins with toasting spices. This easy technique of infusing the pungent flavor of spices in hot oil is an awesome way to release the warm earthy aromas of the seeds and really make the flavors pop. I've become obsessed with this method common in Indian cooking if not just for the amazing smells alone. The sweet exotic aroma of toasting curry powder warms me to my toes. The intensity of flavor which results from this simple procedure is a quick way to infuse a sultry tropical sensation into an average winter soup and warm me right up.

Do you have any suggestions for easy ways to warm up and cure the winter seasonal depression (and anger) of cabin fever? I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Beer Braised Fennel Potato Mash

No ordinary mashed potatoes can ever be good enough for my Lamb Meatloaf. To spice up my all American mashed potatoes, I've added fennel bulb as well as toasted anise seed to lend a full bodied yet subtle licorice flavor. A bit of toasted black caraway adds a light lemon flavor to balance the slight sweet of the fennel and anise. I love a creamy mashed potato best, so I braise the crunchy fennel bulbs and puree them before adding.

I don't like things to go to waste and I do so love product placement, so I felt there was nothing better to braise the fennel in then the hidden Budweiser we found cleaning up from our Christmas party.

(Someone hid two 30 packs of Budweiser around the house and forgot about them, so I've had 60 Budweiser to use up. Great product placement, right? Cooking with it instead of drinking...what does that say?)

This picture documents the way I spent my Saturday night before the Inauguration Bash. Looks like someone was having a drunk fest, unfortunately it was the leeks and fennel.

I had some leeks from my parents garden laying around so I threw those in as well.

My beer braised fennel and potato mash turned out deliciously. The beer gives the fennel a slightly bitter flavor to compliment the sweet of the bulb. When added to the potatoes, the fennel also lends a subtle yet complex flavor. Here's what I did:

Beer Braised Fennel and Potato Mash
(scaled down to 4-6 servings)
  • 1 large bulbs of fennel, quartered
  • 1-2 leeks, halved, cleaned and washed
  • 3 lbs red potatoes (about 6 large red potatoes)
  • 2-3 cans of beer, enough to cover the fennel and leeks
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs anise seed
  • 2 tsp black caraway seed
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
Begin by braising your fennel and leek bulbs:

Prepare your leeks and fennel for the roaster. Cut the stalks off the fennel bulbs and remove the outer layer, which are usually too thick and woody to use . I find these cuttings are good in soup stock, so you may want to place in a plastic bag and throw in the freezer for the next time you make stock. Waste not, want not, blah blah. Ok, anway, cut your bulb in half or in quarters depending on its size and set in a roasting pan. On to the leeks. Leeks are hard to clean and even bulbs purchased from a store, will often have dirt in the layers, to make sure to do an additional rinse. I find its easiest to clean the leeks by cutting in half and running my fingers through the layers under the faucet.

Place leeks in the roaster with the fennel and pour enough beer to cover the vegetables. Lager or another kind of light beer works great. I don't suggest an ale or any hoppy beers because it will be too bitter.

Braise your fennel and leeks in a preheated oven at 400 degrees until soft and easily pierced with a fork, usually about 60 - 90 minutes. Remove from oven. Drain liquid and place fennel and leeks into a food processor.

Puree in food processor until smooth. Small chunks of vegetable are fine, but if there are bigger ones, you may want to remove them if they won't process down. Once processed, set aside.

Next we'll prepare the mashed potatoes:

Boil your potatoes. You can boil your potatoes whole or cut depending on your preference. I cut mine into quarters generally. Place in a pot and fill with water until potatoes are covered.

Place over medium high heat and bring water to a boil. After water is boiling bring heat down and allow to continue to boil until potatoes are soft and easily pierced with a fork.
Make sure you stir your pot a few times while boiling so you don't get any potatoes sticking to the bottom of the pot.

While potatoes boil, toast your seeds. Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Test the oil with a few anise seeds. The seeds should sizzle in hot oil, but not darken immediately. If they darken immediately, turn heat down a bit and allow to sit for a couple of minutes. If the seeds don't sizzle turn the heat up.

When the oil is right, add all the seeds allowing them to toast until turned dark brown; remove pan from heat. The black caraway seeds won't change color because they are already black so use the anise as a guide. Toasting seeds is one of the best parts of this dish because the air becomes so pungent with the aromatic smells.

Assemble your potatoes. When the potatoes are cooked, drain water. Using a hand mixer or a potato masher, mash potatoes roughly. Add toasted seeds in oil, butter, milk, Parmesan cheese and 1/4 c. of your fennel mixture. Mix using potato masher. Add salt and pepper to taste, start with 1/4 tsp of each and add more if necessary. Taste, and add more fennel mash, salt and/or milk and butter to taste. If you like your potatoes more creamy, add more milk and fennel, if you like it more salty add more salt and/or Parmesan cheese.

I love these mashed potatoes! Salty and sweet, with complex full bodied flavor, I highly suggest them to pair with any meats cooked in a Middle Eastern or Indian manner. In this dish, home grown American tastes live in peace with the subtle exotic flavors of the East.

Notes on spices: Black caraway and anise seed may not be regulars in your spice rack, particularly the black caraway. Anise seed should be available in most grocery stores. If you can't find the anise seed, you can probably use fennel seed although this will not give exactly the same punch to the potatoes. As for the caraway, you can skip it entirely or if you still would like a bit of lemon flavor you could use perhaps 1/8 tsp of lemon zest.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Personal Lamb Meatloaves with Lemon Gravy

Meatloaf is the ultimate comfort food (unless you're vegetarian). For all of us meat eaters, there's nothing like a good meatloaf to warm the belly on a cold winter night. To fancy this homey dish up a bit, I decided to use lamb meat instead of ground beef and fill it with an array of herbs and vegetables to add to the flavor and texture as well as make the meal slightly more healthy. Everyone loves personal portions, so using a muffin pan will allow for small circular loafs perfect for a solo serving. This way you'll be sure to have enough for each member of your party, but I warn you to make a few extra because with a dish like this people often want seconds.

Lamb Meatloaf Medallions
  • 1 1/2 lb ground lamb
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 c. bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. labna. You can also use yogurt or sour cream
  • 1/3 c. milk
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sumac (optional)
  • 1 onion diced
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme (remove stems and use only leaves)
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary (remove stems and roughly chop needles)
  • 1 large carrot diced
  • 1 small head of broccoli with flowerettes cut in small pieces
  • 1 Tbs cumin seed
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
Lemon Gravy
  • 1/2 c. butter (1 stick)
  • 3 Tbs flour
  • 1 clove of garlic chopped
  • 2/3 c. milk
  • 1/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp poultry seasoning
  • salt and pepper to taste
In a skillet heat oil over medium heat. When hot, add cumin seed and allow to toast for a minute or so until slightly browned. Add carrots and cook for a couple of minutes, then add broccoli. Cook until slightly soft but not thoroughly. Remove from heat.

In a bowl, mix ground lamb and ground beef using your hands. Lamb is a lean meat, so adding a bit of beef will help the meatloaf to be moist. Add all ingredients including the carrots and broccoli and mix together with your hands.

In a sauce pan, melt butter and saute garlic for a couple of minutes. Over low heat, mix in flour, and cook until bubbly. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. Cook over medium low heat stirring constantly until sauce thickens. When you first add milk and lemon sauce will appear curdled, but will cook out as sauce thickens. I based this recipe off this recipe which I found to be too salty, so I cut down the amount of butter and salt. So season to taste.
Tips on the gravy:
  • If gravy is too thin, add more flour and stir.
  • If gravy is too salty, add more milk and add flour to help thicken extra liquid
  • If you have a gluten allergy you can substitute corn starch for the flour.
Spoon the meatloaf mixture into your muffin tins creating a small well in the center with your finger. Add 1 Tbs of lemon Gravy into the well. This will help keep your meatloaf moist.

Bake @ 350 for 25-30 minutes. Lamb has a slightly red coloration when cooked, so your meatloaf when done may be slightly pink looking. Don't be alarmed by the color and overcook.

I served my meatloaf over a bed of beer braised fennel and red potato mash and drizzled with the lemon gravy. (Stay tuned for that recipe tomorrow!) This dish was savory and comforting, but slightly exotic with the Mediterranean / Middle Eastern spices and flavors.

Not long after I'd planned this for my menu, excited about what I thought was a very maverick form of serving meatloaf, Ira sent me a link to this Chicago Gluttons review of the Meatloaf Bakery in Lincoln Park.
"Seriously, I give this place 5 stars for even existing. A bakery full of meatloaf? A cupcake of... MEATLOAF?" -Emily S
Any time I think I am being original, I realize there is someone else doing it as well. I guess great minds think alike!

Notes on the recipe: I have used Labna which is a tart form of Middle Eastern yogurt cheese. You can easily substitute plain yogurt or even sour cream. Sumac has a lemony tart flavor, which when eating the meatloaf on its own, sets off the savory lamb flavors. The sumac is an additional flavoring which can be eliminated if you don't have it without compromising the general flavor of this dish.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Fancy and Fried: Deep Fried Oreos

I wanted to avoid the typical ideas for an Obama inspired Dessert. When a friend suggested Deep Fried Oreos, I was intrigued. I'd never heard of this before but I soon found out its a dish commonly served between the elephant ears and the tilt-0-whirl. Chocolate and cream with a good dose of all American down home values. I just needed to reinterpret the idea to be fancy and posh enough to take over the White House. This is what we came up with:

Obama's Deep Fried Oreos:
Makes about 3 dozen

Double Chocolate Cookie Crips:
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp coarse salt
  • 1/4 pound (4 oz) milk chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
Cookie Filling:
  • 1 8 oz. container of whipped cream cheese
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbs baking powder
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 3 Tbs melted butter
  • 1 1/2 - 1 3/4 c. milk
Oil to deep fry in, about 1 quart

To start we need to make our cookies: Double Chocolate crisps, based on this Martha Stewart recipe, with a few minor changes.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Melt 1/2 your chocolate chips (2 oz) ounces of chocolate with the butter in a double boiler (a small heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water); let cool slightly. While chocolate is cooling, mix together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

Put chocolate mixture, sugar, egg, thyme and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until combined. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture. Fold in chocolate chunks.

On cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, scoop 1/2 tsp dollops onto tray about 2" apart. Bake at 300 degrees for about 10 minutes. Watch the cookies and when cracks develop in the surface, they should be done. Let cool on a wire rack. The original recipe says the cookies should be soft, but for our needs, feel free to let them sit out a little longer when cooling before putting in an air tight container because we want them to be crispy! Because they don't need to be moist you can make your cookies up to a week ahead. I did!

Take two cookies of approx matching shape and size and spread filling of whipped cream cheese in the middle and sandwich together. Chill.

Mix your batter: Mix together the dry ingredients. Mix together the wet ingredients. Mix the wet and the dry. Whisk all the lumps out. I've used a general pancake batter recipe, but you want the batter to be a little more liquid to coat the cookie but not be overly thick, so add more milk if you need it.

Heat up your oil on a burner over medium heat. I like to use a wok because I have more control. Its not as deep but I have a wider surface to dip the cookies in. I usually keep the burner around "4" on my dial which is just a little below medium. The oil usually takes about 5-10 minutes to get up to heat. Test the oil with a drop of batter. A small piece should not brown right away but take a minute or so, but not too long.

When your oil is ready, dip your cookies in the batter and drop them in the oil. BE CAREFUL of hot oil! Be gentle when you drop the cookies in. The cookies seem to float, so you need to flip them in the oil so each side gets cooked.

I allow them to cook until they are just golden but not longer. When done, take out and sit in a bowl lined with paper towel to absorb excess grease.

To finish this dish in a accordance with my undertones of middle eastern flavor, I served the cookies with vanilla ice cream drizzled with a pomegranate syrup (just a simple syrup see recipe below) and garnished with fresh pomegranates and thyme.

Upon frying, the cookie and filling switches roles; the cookie melts and the filling cooks. When biting into this decadent but deliciously down home food, I felt immediately warmed, by all the new insulation the fat deposits from this dessert where providing my stomach and thighs.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Weaving a Forkable Conversation

What started out as a project of documenting my cooking projects, has grown into an ongoing conversation about food from the Forkable point of view. I get really excited when people tell me they've tried a recipe, or been inspired by something I've written about. Its slightly surreal to think people are participating in the blog all the time and I may not even know it.

People can hang out with me in my kitchen, experience my food and most importantly share conversation and meet new friends and like minded foodsters. I love the way food and a comfortable home environment can be such a social lubricant to allow people to enjoy a social experience even with complete strangers.

This is one reason, why I love the Forkable Supper Club events. They provide opportunities for me to meet readers in a real environment outside of the blogosphere.

"Coming alone and not being the most outgoing social person, there was the initial worry that this would be similar to sitting at a table at a lousy wedding with people you have nothing in common with where the conversation starts and stops with "how do you know the bride/groom?"......but we all came for the same reason, a reason more unifying and interesting than just to see Britney and Jeff unite in holy matrimony. We all shared an appreciation for good food made by hand and shared as a community...Anyway, everyone was enjoying themselves as evidenced by the decibel level (which was dramatically lower when the plates of food were brought out.) " -Nellie S.

This blog is weaving a conversation from my regular life through the internet connecting me with people I may never have met before. In a previous post I asked for volunteers to photograph my events, and almost immediately I received a response. In exchange for 2 seats at the last event, Alyssa Miserendino, took all the amazing photos you see in this post. Things like this have given me a small glimpse of the networking possibilities available and make me want to develop this Forkable community even more then I have in the past.

I've got to figure out a way to encourage more back and forth discourse with readers so we can gain by a collective experience and knowledge far greater then I can ever provide. I've been afraid to ask for comments in the past because I didn't want to look vain, seem demanding or also allow for the possibility of looking pathetic if no one responds. But please, please, I'm not too proud to beg. Leave me comments and let me know what you like and don't like. Please tell me if you've tried a recipe and did something different then I did, or if you think I left something out.

Where all the plates clean because everyone liked the food, or because I didn't give large enough portions? Let me know!

OK!! Enough of that. Thank you so much to everyone who came to the Inaugural Ball and help make it such a wonderful event! I enjoyed meeting you all so much and I hope you had fun. And thank you Alyssa for all your photos which makes everything look more beautiful then it is in real life (except in the fish eye lens photos where my head may appear twice as large as it does in real life...I hope!)

Click here for a full set of Alyssa's Images and here for my flickr photo set.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Innaugural Hopes

The living room of the Forkable International Headquarters was filled with Hope on Sunday night. Hope for our nation, and the belief in one man to help usher in a new more prosperous day for all Americans. The evening also held the hopes of one small Chicagoan that the evening of food and fun she had planned for so long would be successful. There was hope a group comprised mostly of strangers would be comfortable and mingle with ease in her. Most importantly, she felt hope that she had made enough food for all the soon to arrive guests and that it was good food, not crap.

As I thought of my own hopes, I wondered about those of my guests, most of whom, thanks to the TimeOut Chicago publicity, I had never met before. Where they nervous about going to a stranger's house? Where they experiencing any of the last minute social anxiety I was having about meeting so many new people at once. I hoped they were as excited as I was.

I can only wish our countries hopes are answered as wonderfully as mine were Sunday night. Everyone had a great time and loved the food, so they say. I was very proud of the fare.

Photo by Alyssa Miserendino

The appetizer of curried Butternut squash served in a mug sided with a freshly baked bread stick was a hit.

Photo by Alyssa Miserendino

The warm taste of the toasted curry was a subtle but nice sensation to balance the sweet of the squash as well as warm the tummy on a cold winter night. The entre of personal lamb meatloaf medallions also fit a blustery winters eve with its hearty homey feel, made slightly exotic with the middle eastern spices.

The lamb meatloaf prepared with thyme, rosemary, sumac and and a medley of vegetables was served over a dollop of beer braised fennel and potato mash with toasted anise and black caraway seed. Delicious lemon gravy and a garnish of mint pistachio gremolata gave the hearty meal a fresh lightness and a touch of sweet.

The dessert was perhaps the biggest hit. The deep fried "oreos" made of a chocolate wafer sandwich filled with a cream cheese filling was served with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with pomegranate syrup, fresh pomegranates and thyme. The crispy cookies melted in the deep fry and were decadently cakey. The tart pomegranate offset the sweet of the cookie and ice cream and was beautifully finished by the aromatic subtlety of the thyme. At least that's what I was going for. Recipes to follow soon, I promise.

I had all the food ready to go and thanks to the efforts of my amazing kitchen comrades, Meg Gustafson (above left) and Shayna Swanson (right), the evening was very smooth. The courses came one after the other as one would hope. Thanks so much for all your help guys!

Stay tuned for more photos of actual guests (yes, there were people who filled up the empty dining room) and for recipes for all the treats. But right now, I've got to get ready to watch the Inauguration ceremony.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Inaugural Bash Sommeliering

"Eat Drink and Be Merry" from Flickr

I've had a few requests for wine suggestions. Be warned I am no Sommelier, but these are my picks. All of the wine suggested below can be found at Sams Wines and Spirits, my mecca.

If you like white, a Spanish Albarino would go great with the Butternut Bisque. My personal favorite is Can Feixes which goes for around $14 a bottle.

If you are a red person, (Commie!) a Cotes Du Rhone or a petite syrah would go great with the lamb. Also my favorite Sicilian budget buy: Colosi is tasty for only $11.99 a bottle.

For the dessert perhaps a Port or something, but for me, I'm not that into dessert wines.

Here are two online web pairing resources for more info:

Sam's Wine Pairing Wine Pairing Tool

If you like beer (who doesn't) a bold amber or dark ale would be nice. Porter or stout would match the evil weather.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow! But for now, its to the kitchen! I have soo much to do.