Thursday, July 29, 2010

veggie surprise

When I was a kid, my mom used to make veggie surprise. And while I'm sure it was just her way to use up extra veggies before they went bad, I got pretty excited about it. Veggies changed, but usually revolved around onions, garlic, tomatoes, fresh spinach fettucini — maybe some yellow squash, zucchini, broccoli, carrots — whatever was around. Faced with some soon-to-be-not-so-fresh veggies in my fridge, I thought back to my mom's veggie surprise. I even found a few more surprises to add in. Surprise! This organic-wonder sausage was on sale, use it. Surprise! You've got 3 boxes of 2/3-empty pasta, use it! Surprise! I'm going to need some wine, so I'll throw a (teeny) bit in.

About one second before I dumped my veggie (and sausage and pasta) surprise into a big bowl, surprise! My mom called, and her house was flooding. See, here in Florida, it's so hot in the summer, our air conditioning systems break. Usually, it happens on Friday. After 5. On Fourth-of-July weekend. So I plopped a lid on my jumbo travel Pyrex, and we hit the road. Twenty minutes later, we moved the piano, shop-vacced up the water, and lined the baseboards with towels. And surprise! We all sat down to dinner together. (But I didn't bring my big-girl camera, so there's no photo from dinner. Enjoy my leftovers-lunch shot from my iPhone.)

I'll post what I made, but let's not call it a recipe — it's really just about finding some veggie flavors that work together. Toss it with pasta. Spoon it over rice. Surpise yourself.

Veggie Surprise

4 links hippie organic sweet Italian chicken sausage, sliced 
1 leek, thinly sliced
1 orange bell pepper, sliced
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1 small head of broccoli, cut into small florets
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 c. white wine
16 oz. pasta (I used a combo of penne, whole wheat penne, and capatavi)

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta, cook according to directions. Drain and keep hot, reserving a cup or so of the pasta water to use in case your veggie surprise needs to get more saucy.

Bring a skillet to med-high heat, and brown the sausage, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the sausage, and add the leek and bell peppers. Cook until just soft and slightly browned, about 5-6 minutes. Remove the veggies, add the broccoli to the pan, just browning, 2-3 minutes. Throw everything back into the pan — the sausage, leek and bell peppers. Add the tomatoes and white wine, stirring until the tomatoes just start to pop.

Mix together the pasta and veggies. Enjoy.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Chinese dumplings

Right after college, we moved to San Francisco. It was a we're-moving-to-a-big-liberal-city-so-take-that-Florida-we-don't-need-you moment of carefree fancy and naivete. I worked for Greenpeace and on a Master's in activism and social change (I know, I know ... a degree in protesting), Nick studied creative writing and worked at a downtown suit-type lunch bar. We were poor, I was vegan, and our apartment had mold. But we lived by the beach, rode public transportation with a giddy sense of newness, and explored the misty wonderfulness of it all with reckless abandon — shows at the Fillmore, people watching at Hippie Hill in the park, hiking the coastal trail, baby-sized burritos in the Mission, sushi in the Sunset, picking through records at Amoeba, dodging the homeless in the Haight.

And then reality crashed our party. We both left our graduate programs, realized we really missed our East Coast family and friends, and made plans to make the move back home. But first, we gave ourselves a few months to really live it up, go for broke (drop that metaphor). I left my low-paying (albeit world-enhancing) gig at Greenpeace to return to my serving roots at the fabulous Marina restaurant Dragon Well. And with the peer pressure gone, I ditched veganism. I mean, I love food too much to cut out so much yummy stuff. Long meat-story short: there were dumplings. And there was a woman (Mrs. Lo?) whose sole job was to make dumplings. And their pork-goodness was unparalleled. I ate at least one a day until we moved back east. The end.

The Right Coast is good to us — we live by the beach, but there is no fog (or mold). Nick has his dream job, editor of Eastern Surf Magazine. We just bought a house; I have decor-itus. Our two pups romp in the yard. Almost all of our dear, dear friends and family are close(ish). But there are no dumplings (or baby-sized burritos, but that's another post). So, after a sandy day on the beach, I made dumplings. And life was good.

There was grease all over my kitchen. I burned the first batch. I couldn't master the little pleats — who do you think I am, an engineer?? But oh man, were they good. Spicy. Fresh. Ginger. Fried. Steamed. And the sauce? Swoon. I poured extras over plain rice the next day — instant meal.

Chinese dumplings
an amalgamation from various recipes. A little bit of this, some of this, and a whole heap of this.

This recipe makes 45-50 dumplings — you can freeze raw dumplings on a baking sheet and then store in a freezer-safe bag.

1 lb. ground pork*
6 napa cabbage leaves, minced**
3 green onions, minced
7 shitake mushrooms, minced
1/3 c. bamboo shoots, minced
1/4 c. ginger, minced
3 tbl. soy sauce
2 tbl. dark sesame oil
2 tbsp. corn starch
1 package of frozen dumpling skins (gyoza), defrosted overnight in the fridge or 40 minutes or so at room temperature
corn starch slurry — 1 tbl. corn starch and 1/4 c. water mixed in a little bowl

* If you don't do pork, you could substitute an equal portion of chopped, raw shrimp. If you're totally veggie, add more (and different types of) mushrooms and some carrots.

** Make sure you salt the cabbage, as it draws out the water. Your non-soggy dumplings will thank you. After you mince the cabbage, mix in about 2 tsp. of kosher salt. Let it sit for 15 minutes. Put the cabbage in a cheesecloth (or thin kitchen towel) and squeeze all the water out.

Combine the pork, cabbage, green onions, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil and corn starch in a bowl. Mix well (I used my hands).

Scoop 1 tsp. pork mixture into the center of one dumpling skin. Use your finger to trace some of the corn starch slurry around the edge of the dough. Starting in the middle, fold it up, making sure you press the edge together well. Press to create a flat bottom. Keep on moving.

When you are all done making your dumplings, heat a large nonstick pan with 1 tbl. of cooking oil over medium to medium-high heat (how high you go will depend on your stove and pan — my first batch burned on med-high, so medium worked better for me). When the oil is hot, add the dumplings, flat side down, not touching, to the pan. Let fry for 1 minute until the bottoms are light golden brown. Pour 1/4 c. of water into the pan and cover with a tight fitting lid (you will get some flying grease — beware). Turn heat to medium and let the dumplings steam for 3 minutes. Remove the lid and let the remaining liquid cook off, about 1 minute. Remove to plate, wipe the pan clean with a paper towel and repeat with remaining dumplings. Serve with dipping sauce.

dipping sauce

1/2 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. chili sauce with garlic
1 tsp. minced ginger
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 green onions, minced

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl or jar. Stir, shimmy or shake. Relish in all that is good.

Monday, July 19, 2010

chocolate cupcakes with summer strawberry frosting

Ah, the perennial joy of chocolate and strawberries. A joy made more sensational by summer strawberries, juicy and at their peak — so ripe (in a good way) that your whole fridge smells sweet for the short time the berries reside there before being gobbled up in some form or another. And while it's perfectly healthy and advisable to munch them solo style — juice dripping down your lips, leaned over the sink — what isn't improved by chocolate?

Enter a moist little cupcake, chocolate in an understated way. Not dark. Not bitter. Just a pleasant base for the star of the show — a light frosting flecked by tiny red pieces of strawberry.

I made these cupcakes first for fun — we ate them on the back porch after dinner while the pups ran wild. (Later, one of the aforementioned pups took it upon herself to steal a chocolate cupcake from the table, after which all manner of fretting and worrying ensued, before the Internets and their figures talked me down from the emergency-vet edge. It turns out our not-a-bit-guilty pup wouldn't slip into a toxic chocolate coma. But that's another story — one best told from a couch or over a glass of bourbon.) I brought the leftovers into work, where they served as more than a few folks' Monday morning breakfast. Hey, fruit = healthy, right? A request for more turned into my first paid (yikes!) gig as a teeny-tiny caterer. This blog coincides with my launch of Kitchen Little Catering. I'm stapling my first dollar to the wall! You can't have it! But you should make these cupcakes.  Moist. Chocolate. Strawberries. Sinful amounts of butter.

chocolate cupcakes
barely tweaked, mostly in the directions department, from Love and Olive Oil 

1 c. all-purpose flour
2 tbl. whole-wheat flour (or almond meal)
1/3 c. cocoa powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. coconut milk (make sure you shake and stir before measuring and adding to other ingredients)
1/3 c. canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 c. sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and line your muffin tin with paper liners.

Into a large bowl, sift both the flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. In another bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, canola oil, vanilla extract and sugar. Pour the wet mixture into the well of the dry ingredients, and stir until smooth, taking care not to overmix.

Pour the batter into liners, filling each 2/3 of the way to the top. (I used a medium cookie scoop, using about 1 1/2 scoops per cupcake.) Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick (or a butter knife, if you're like me and spill the toothpicks every time you try to pry open the box) comes out clean. Let cool completely on a cooling rack.

strawberry Swiss meringue buttercream
adapted, every so terrifyingly, from Confessions of a Tart, which itself is adapted from all-knowing Martha

For me — the girl who, until she made her own, scraped the frosting off cakes of all types — this is enough frosting for at least 24 cupcakes. The good, no great, thing about this recipe is that it can be stored (in an airtight container, in the fridge for one week or the freezer for 3 months), brought to room temperature and re-whipped  (with paddle attachment) to use again.

4 egg whites
1 c. sugar
pinch of salt
3 sticks (24 tbl.) unsalted butter, room temperature
10 oz. (just a bit more than 1 c.) fresh strawberries (if frozen, thawed)

Cut the tops of the berries, and puree them. (I used my food processor, but I imagine you could use a blender no problem.)

Combine the egg whites, sugar and pinch of salt in a heat-proof bowl. Set the bowl over just-barely simmering water (taking care that the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water or that the steam escapes). Whisk until the sugar has dissolved and the egg whites are hot to touch. For me, this took about 5 minutes — the mixture should be smooth and hot.

Transfer to your mixer's bowl, and whip with a whisk on high until the whites form stiff, glossy peaks. This will take about 10 minutes.

Add the butter, 1 tbl. at a time, to the mixture. Allow each tablespoon to incorporate before adding another. At this point, your bottom lip might begin to quiver. Basically, your sweet, sweet frosting will start to look like shit — curdled milk, cottage cheese and all manner of horribleness. And then it will get worse. But have faith in the Martha — just when you're ready to collapse on your kitchen floor, a smooth and lovely buttercream will appear. Really. It just happens.

Now, switch to the paddle attachment on low speed. Add the vanilla extract, and beat for about one minute, until just incorporated. While still on slow, gradually add the strawberry puree, and beat for 3-4 minutes. The strawberries will be all incorporated and pinkness reigns.

Decorate how you like. For taste, I prefer a whisper of frosting, so I make tiny poofs with a star tip. But feel free to create towering masterpieces, as you'll certainly have enough frosting to be free with it.