Monday, February 22, 2010

Vegetarian Chili

A while back, I ran across a post on Erin's Food Files that caught my attention. First of all, the recipe for Braised Tuscan Chicken with Fennel and White Beans sounded like something I would really enjoy. Tuscan flavors always appeal to me, and I am pretty much addicted to white beans. It sounded like an excellent dinner recipe, but I noticed that there was more to her post than this recipe. Erin had gotten the recipe out of the "Diary of a Tomato" cookbook that she had received as part of a case of Muir Glen 2009 Reserve Tomatoes. I have gotten in the habit of buying Muir Glen organic tomatoes recently, and the idea of getting 4 cans of their limited edition tomatoes for $7 appealed to me!

The box of tomatoes was like a gift, but since it was really just groceries I didn't even have to feel guilty about ordering it! The Fire Roasted tomatoes were perfect for this vegetarian chili, which I made last week. Joe and I are giving up meat for lent, and this year we're going all out. The last two years we've had some loop holes, like it's ok to eat the meat in the freezer, or seafood is on the good list. This year we said no meat. Period*. So veggie chili it is!

I usually just make up chili recipes depending on my mood, using a "bit of this, bit of that" type approach. But this recipe was really good, and I'm posting it partially to remind myself to make it again! The ratio of beans: tomatoes: peppers: onions was right on target, and I have to admit that sometimes my invented chili recipes end up to thick. I thought this was a perfect meal with some sour cream and cheese on top, and with masa bread on the side. And really, if you're a meat lover and can't live without it, I don't see why you couldn't just brown some ground beef or turkey and add it in. It's a solid chili recipe either way!

Vegetarian Chili

from Muir Glen's "Diary of a Tomato" cookbook


1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped (1 cup)
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped (1 cup)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 fresh jalapeño or serrano chiles, seeded, finely chopped
2 cans (15 oz each) black beans, drained, rinsed
2 cans (14.5 oz each) Muir Glen® organic fire roasted or plain diced tomatoes, undrained
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon coarse (kosher or sea) salt
1 cup frozen organic sweet corn

Sour cream or plain yogurt, if desired

Shredded Cheddar cheese, if desired

Chopped fresh cilantro, if desired

The various Fire Roasted tomatoes are great for chili

1. In 4-quart saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic and chiles; cook 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender.

2. Stir in black beans, tomatoes, water, chili powder, cumin and salt. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in corn. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 5 minutes longer.

3. Top each serving with remaining ingredients.

I love colorful meals, and this is a perfect example of why.

* Ok, so that was a tiny bit of a lie. Our only exception so far has been our lunch on Saturday at Mercat a la Planxa. But it was Restaurant Week, and we've been wanting to go to Mercat for months, so we decided it wasn't our fault that Restaurant week falls during lent. Right?!? Maybe next year we should give up eating out!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Urban Belly

Living in Chicago, there is always plenty of good food to be had. Joe and I try to get out and sample as much as we deem financially responsible, and we have pushed ourselves to try new places frequently. One place we had heard a lot of buzz about was Urban Belly, a casual Korean noodle joint owned by chef Bill Kim and his wife. We actually went over the summer (seems so long ago!), but I never got around to actually blogging about it. I guess I was just waiting for the right time, and it seems that that time is now!

Yesterday, the James Beard Foundation announced the Semifinalists for the 2010 awards, and I was excited to see that Bill Kim was among the Best Chef nominees for the Great Lakes region. Based on the meal we had at Urban Belly, I felt like this was something he really deserved. What I really like was that Urban Belly is casual, non-pretentious, and relatively inexpensive. This restaurant is an example of a classically trained, accomplished chef doing his take on food from his childhood. You can tell this place is a labor of love, and this nomination shows that the James Beard foundation is not only focused on the kind of fancy, expensive food that none of us "real folks" can eat. If you're in Chicago, I'd recomend trying out Urban Belly for yourself. Or, if you're coming to visit me some time soon, remind me and we can go together!


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cranberry Oatmeal Nut Bread

Recently I've been in the mood to experiment with more yeast bread recipes, so I picked up The Bread Book by Betsy Oppenneer from the library a couple weeks ago. I was trying to convince Joe that I needed a bread baking cookbook, because it is a totally different genre than any of the other cookbooks I own. I really want to buy The Bread Baker's Apprentice, but I felt like I should play around with bread baking recipes a bit more before I invest in another new cookbook.

So many of the recipes in this book appealed to me, but I decided to start out with a breakfast bread that sounded perfect for toast. This Oatmeal Cranberry bread was originally a recipe for all-purpose flour, but I decided to do half AP and half whole wheat. I used dried cranberries and pre-chopped walnuts, and this bread really came together easily. It was hearty and dense, with a nice subtly sweet flavor. I thought my loaf ended up a little doughy, which could have been from subbing flour. I would probably cook it a little longer next time, because I'd really like to keep it at least partially whole wheat flour. The doughiness wasn't an issue at all once I toasted it, and we ate the loaf of bread within a few days. I would highly recommend this recipe to any breakfast toast eaters out there! Look for more bread baking in the future, as I continue to explore various yeast bread recipes.

Cranberry Oatmeal Nut Bread
from The Bread Book by Betsy Oppenneer

Yield: 2 loaves (I did 1/2 recipe and it worked well)

2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
2 (1/4 oz) packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 1/2 to 5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 large egg plus 1 Tbsp cold water, for egg wash

Pour the boiling water over the rolled oats and cranberries. Stir, cover, and let cool for about 45 minutes.

In a large bowl, stir the yeast into the warm water. Add the brown sugar, salt, oil, 2 cups of the flour, the walnuts, and the cooled oats and cranberries. Beat vigorously with a dough whisk or heavy handled spoon for 2 minutes. Gradually add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough forms a mass and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead, adding more flour, a little at a time as necessary, until you have an elastic dough and blisters begin to develop on the surface. Put the dough into an oiled bowl, and turn the dough to coat. Cover with a towel and let rise for about an hour, or until doubled in size.

Turn the dough out onto an oiled work surface. Divide the dough in half and shape into loaves. Fit the loaves, seam side down, into well-greased loaf pans. Cover with a towel and let rise for 45 minutes. About 15 minutes before the end of rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Just before baking, brush the egg wash over the top of each loaf, taking care not to let it drip onto the pans. Sprinkle with rolled oats. Bake the loaves for 30 to 35 minutes or until they are browned and shrink lightly from the sides of the pan. Immediately remove the bread from the pans and cool on a rack.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Homemade Lasagna

Like I mentioned in the last two posts, last week I made multiple Italian dishes. This lasagna was inspired by my new pasta rollers, which I'm always looking for excuses to use. Lasagna is the easiest way to use homemade pasta, because you only have to roll the dough into sheets. You can trim the sheets to fit the pan, and that's basically all the work you have to do with them. Fresh pasta doesn't need to be boiled before baking the lasagna, which makes things a bit easier.

This is the type of dish that I make a little differently each time, depending on my mood and what ingredients I have on hand. We wanted this version to be vegetarian, but I prefer using a red sauce instead of a creamy white sauce like most vegetarian lasagnas. I used a sauteed mix of mushrooms, asparagus, and spinach for the veggie layer. I added fresh thyme to the ricotta to boost the flavor, since I had extra in the fridge and hate wasting fresh herbs. For the sauce I used Spicy Tomato Basil sauce from earlier in the week. I knew I would be making this lasagna, so I planned ahead and doubled the sauce when I originally made it.

My layering always starts with sauce on the bottom, to avoid having the noodles really get stuck on the pan. Then I go noodles -> ricotta -> veggies -> sauce -> cheese -> repeat. I like to end with noodles, sauce & cheese on top. That's pretty much the extent of the recipe I'm going to give you, though, because I think lasagna is a perfect dish to play around with and make your own.

The finished product

Lasagna is not a dish for people who avoid cheese. The more the better!

Fresh Pasta Recipe
2 cups of flour
3 eggs
1/4 cup semolina
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt

Process the ingredients in a food processor. Dump onto the counter, and knead until the dough is elastic and pretty smooth. Wrap in plastic, and let rest for at least 30 minutes before using the pasta rollers.

Ricotta Layer
1 (15 oz) container ricotta
1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Veggie Layer
1 package baby bella mushrooms
1 lb fresh spinach leaves
1 bunch asparagus
2 cloves garlic
salt and pepper

Tomato Sauce
Spicy Tomato Basil Sauce

Cheese Layer
1 package shredded mozzarella cheese (fresher would be better, but I'm kind of lazy!)
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Leftover bow-tie pasta!

My pasta recipe made 4 layers worth of noodles, but I only needed 3 layers. I made the last of the pasta dough into bow-ties, which I froze for future use. Bow-ties are really easy to make. Just cut squares, and pinch the middle of opposite sides together. Freeze them in a single layer, then move to a plastic bag.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Biscotti

I went on an Italian food kick last week, and these biscotti were an excellent recipe discovery that came from my binge. While biscotti are an Italian treat, I'm pretty sure this peanut butter and chocolate version was strictly Italian American! It was my first time making biscotti, which is a shame for any half Italian foodie to admit. They weren't hard to make at all, although they're a little more time intensive than some cookies because you have to flip them a couple times as they cook. The end result was so worth it, though. I've been snacking on these all week, and would highly recommend you give them a try!

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Biscotti


* 10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons)
* 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
* 3 large eggs
* 1 1/4 cups sugar
* 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
* 1/2 cup smooth natural peanut butter, room temperature
* 1 1/4 cups dry roasted peanuts
* 1 1/4 cups chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chunks (about 6 ounces)


Position racks evenly in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Melt the butter over medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally. Continue to cook until the butter browns and gets a nutty aroma, about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl.

Beat the eggs in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until light and pale yellow, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the sugar while beating. Then slowly add the butter and vanilla until evenly mixed, about 30 seconds more. Add the peanut butter and mix until combined.

While mixing slowly, add the dry ingredients to the wet, in 2 additions, mixing just until absorbed. Fold in the peanuts and chocolate pieces.

Divide the dough evenly into thirds, and put each portion in the center of a baking sheet. Shape the dough with slightly wet hands into logs about 2-inches wide and 15 inches long. Bake until set and brown around the edges, about 25 to 30 minutes. (For even baking take care to rotate the pans-- top to bottom and front to back--about half way though.) Cool logs on the baking sheets for about 10 minutes.

Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Carefully transfer the logs to a cutting board. Cut logs crosswise, with a long serrated knife at about a 45 degree angle, into 1/2-inch thick cookies. Place cookies cut side down on the baking sheets. Bake until crisp, about 8 minutes. Flip the cookies over and bake until golden brown, about 8 minutes more. Cool biscotti on the baking sheets. Serve.

Store cookies in a tightly sealed container for up to 3 days.

Crispy Polenta with Spicy Tomato Sauce

This recipe jumped out at me from a recent email I received from Epicurious, and I remembered originally seeing it in Bon Appetit a month ago. I love polenta, but prefer it when it's not really soft. Crispy, pan-fried polenta appeals to me much more than the traditional bowl of cornmeal mush! I also liked the idea of trying a new tomato sauce recipe, with pine nuts and some spice to change things up. I loved this meal! We had it for dinner one night, but it could have been a great recipe to serve to guests, with a vegetarian and meat sauce to serve with the polenta. 

I made the sauce almost exactly as the recipe was written, and was very pleased with the results. I did add more red pepper flakes, for just a little more spice. I also skipped the fennel seeds, just because I didn't have any on hand.  I made a double batch, and used some for the lasagna I made a couple days later. I still had some sauce left over to freeze, so there is another easy pasta dinner in our future. 

You can find the original polenta recipe here. It seemed far more complicated than it needed to be, though, so here is what I did instead. First, I buttered a 9 x 13 inch pyrex dish. I bought a box on instant polenta, and followed the package directions to cook it. It thickens up really quickly, and then I spread it in the baking dish. I used a spatula to spread the polenta out, then let it cool. Once it was cool, it was very easy to cut into squares.  If you're making this for multiple people, you can go ahead and fry it all up according to the directions below. Or, if you're only eating some of the polenta, I would recommend just frying as much as you're planning to eat, and putting the rest back in the fridge. Then it'll be nice and crispy each time you make a new batch!

To cook the polenta, follow these directions from the original recipe.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Cut polenta lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 6 squares. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add polenta squares. Sauté until crisp and beginning to color, about 8 minutes per side. Transfer polenta to small baking sheet; place in oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining polenta, adding oil to skillet as needed.

Divide polenta among plates. Top with warm Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce. Garnish with fresh basil sprigs, if desired.

Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce

* 4 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes with added puree (from two 28-ounce cans), divided
* 1/4 cup pine nuts
* 4 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
* 3/4 cup finely chopped onion
* 4 large garlic cloves, minced
* 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (finely crushed in plastic bag)
* 3/8 teaspoon (or more) dried crushed red pepper
* 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil, divided
* 1/3 cup dry white wine
* 1 teaspoon dried oregano

print a shopping list for this recipe

Freshly ground black pepper Place 1 cup crushed 
tomatoes in blender. Add pine nuts and blend until very smooth, about 1 minute.

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-low heat. Add onion, garlic, fennel seeds, and 3/8 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper. Sauté until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add remaining crushed tomatoes, 2 tablespoons chopped basil, wine, and oregano. Scrape in tomato mixture from blender and stir to combine. Simmer sauce 
until flavors blend, 5 to 6 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and more dried crushed red pepper, if desired. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, cover, and chill.

Rewarm sauce. Mix in remaining chopped basil.

I served the polenta with roasted cauliflower. I tossed cauliflower florets with olive oil and Tuscan Seasoning from the Spice House, then roasted at 375 for 15 to 20 minutes.