Saturday, February 27, 2010

Italian Fried Potatoes

Back when I was a kid, when we went out to dinner, we usually ended up at The Pasta House. Remember that old one that used to be at the end of the strip mall in front of the Target in Ballwin? This was back before they brightened the place up to appeal to the chain restaurant crowd. The restaurant was small, kind of dingy, and if I recall correctly, had a brick floor, so your table and chairs were always wobbly. We loved that place. What I remember about the food was that my dad always ordered the tortellini (we called it "tartellini" in the same way others called highway 44, "highway farty far") and my mom and I always got an order of Italian Fried Potatoes. These weren't just any old french fries. They were garlicky and had onions and some kind of strange olives (didn't taste like the canned olives we ate at Christmas) and were best when they were cooked until they were super crispy. I had tried a few times when I was younger to recreate those potatoes with no success. When I was 20, I befriended someone with some insider information about the restaurant. He told me the secret to the Italian Fried Potatoes. A small, but important detail. 17 years later, I share that secret with you.

Italian Fried Potatoes (my version - this isn't the Pasta House recipe)
4 russet potatoes
1 medium onion
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of kalamata olives
olive oil

Scrub and dry 4 russet potatoes.

Now here comes the big secret: they use baked potatoes to make the IFP's. (In hindsight, I kind of feel dumb for not having figured that out.) So stab the taters with a fork to prepare for microwaving.

And microwave until cooked. These guys took about 9 minutes. I rolled them over several times during the process.

In the meantime, prepare the onions, garlic and olives.

I slice the onion, chop the garlic, and halve the olives. (The picture shows more garlic than we used for the potatoes. Something else I was cooking required garlic, so I chopped it all at once.)

Once the potatoes are cooked, let the cool off for a bit.

After they have cooled, slice into wedges. The thinner you slice, the crispier the final product. Be careful though, they will fall apart if you slice em too thin.

In a small pan, saute onions and garlic on medium low heat with some olive oil, a little bit of butter and some salt and pepper.

Cook until tender and sweet, then remove from heat.

In a large non-stick pan, over medium high heat, add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
Cook potatoes in batches. Make sure the potatoes aren't crowded in the pan.

Cook them, turning carefully, until golden brown and crispy. Keep the first batch in 350 degree oven until second batch is done.

After the second batch is brown, add olives to the pan and cook for a minute.

Add potatoes from the oven, and onion and garlic mixture. Toss in pan until everything is heated.

Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with parsley, salt and pepper.

Ok, not healthy or good for you in anyway, but these potatoes are so delicious. And the leftovers are good cold right out of the fridge.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Taco Tuesday!

Made tacos last night, but wasn't planning on documenting them here, but I wound up creating some kind of weird condiment that I thought I would share.
Cleaning out the fridge (a usual theme), I had the heart of the celery left from an older package. This is the pale, leafy part that I like to use in stocks and soups. Not planning on making any stocks or soups, I decide to cut up the heart, leaves and all, into little pieces to make a celery salad to go with our tacos. A little celery heart, some shredded carrots, some green onion, a little bit of Caribbean red pepper, a little salt and pepper, and some olive oil and lime juice.
Now I had put out some shredded lettuce, sliced green onions and black olives for the tacos, but I was feeling crazy, so I put some of my celery salad on my taco. (The tacos were made with chicken that had been marinated in olive oil, lime juice, vinegar, cumin, garlic, Caribbean red pepper and salt and pepper.) Since there was some repetition in the flavors, I thought they might complement each other.
They were really tasty this way. Kind of sweet, smoky, and spicy all in one.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Homemade Veggie Burgers

Here's a fact about me. I don't like to eat ground meat. There are notable exceptions. Every once in a while I like a Steak n Shake single steakburger with mustard, onions, pickles and ketchup. And during baseball season, I will sometimes enjoy a bratwurst at Busch Stadium (but ONLY after I have consumed at least 2 beers.) So where most people would enjoy a hamburger, I opt for the veggie burger. One of the few seriously over-processed foods that we keep in the house at most times is a box of Garden Burgers. The Captain and I have talked about making our own veggie burgers and yesterday, for the first time, I did. And they were awesome. I got the recipe here:

3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 lb mushrooms, roughly chopped (combination of crimini, shiitake, and Portobello)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
6 cloves minced garlic
2/3 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, or 1 tsp dried parsley flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

I started with a mix of white button mushrooms and baby bellos (aren't those really just criminis?) Probably the most complicated part of the recipe was cleaning and dicing the mushrooms.

A couple of tablespoons of oil, the mushrooms, onions and garlic go into the pan. I seasoned everything with a little salt (French grey - thanks, Jeanne) and pepper.

It takes about 10 minutes to evaporate all the liquid off of the mushrooms.

I removed the mushrooms from the heat to cool and got to preparing the rest of the ingredients. Place oats, bread crumbs, parmegiano reggiano, herbs, more salt and pepper and red pepper flakes (not in the recipe, but added of course) in a large bowl.

Mix with two beaten eggs.

After mushrooms have cooled a bit, add them to the oat/breadcrumb mixture, combine and let them all sit for about 15 minutes. (The Captain thinks it looks like dog food at this point -yay!)

Form into 4 - 6 patties.

Cook the patties over medium heat in a non-stick skillet with a little bit of oil.

They held up in the pan surprising well and got a nice little crust on them.

I served em on a toasted bun, with lettuce, pickles, mustard and ketchup. Because it's not my recipe I can say this without feeling like I am bragging: these were fantasically good. I sense the reign of Garden Burgers in this home coming to a fast end.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Black Bean Chili with Butternut Squash

I'm always on the look out for interesting recipes that contain winter squash. Sometimes, winter squash just seems like a one trick pony to me. It's delicious roasted, but you never really see much done outside of that. So I am playing around with the epicurious app on my (relatively) new phone and I find a recipe for Black Bean Chili with Butternut Squash and Swiss Chard. I've actually got everything on hand, except the swiss chard, so I decided to attempt this squash recipe that is vastly different from any squash recipe I have ever seen.

Here are the substitutions I made:

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 small onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons chili powder (plus a little bit more)
2 tablespoons ground cumin (plus a little bit more)
1 1/2 cup dried black beans, soaked
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 14 1/2-ounce can whole tomatoes in juice, diced

I've got a ton of dried black beans that I bought at the Mexican grocery store, so I'm substituting those for the canned beans in the original recipe. That means I have to start out a day before. I soak a cup and a half of dried black beans 24 hours in advance of making the recipe.

After the beans have soaked for 24 hour, we are good to go. I saute 3 small onions with 4 cloves of garlic. After a few minutes, I add the butternut squash and let that cook for another 5 minutes or so. Then I add the cumin and the chili powder. Let that cook for another couple of minutes.

Drain the beans, and add them to the pot along with the 2 and 1/2 cups of vegetable broth and the can of tomatoes. I added some black pepper and some french grey salt that my sister gave me.

Then I let it simmer on the stove for an hour. I tasted it, and added more cumin and chili powder. The crazy thing about this vegan chili is that it is incredibly meaty. It tastes just like regular chili.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Spaghetti with Bacon and Asparagus

Last night, around 4 am, I woke up and couldn't fall back asleep. Instead of counting sheep to lull myself back into slumber, I decided to play "Think Up Dumb Names That Rachael Ray Would Call What We Had for Dinner Last Night". The name would have to be annoying, and at the same time, not contain any information about what actually is in the recipe. I came up with "Kitchen Sink Pasta", "Odds and Ends Pasta", and "Clean Out The Refrigerator Pasta" before I gave up and fell back asleep.

So the whole point of this is that last night, I wanted to see what kind of dinner I could make with what we had in the fridge. I wanted to combine all the leftover bits from meals we had had previously and some of the staples that I always keep on hand. I came up with the following:
Spaghetti with Bacon and Asparagus
Enough for 4 people

3 slices of bacon, cut into little pieces (Use more if you have it)
1 handful of asparagus
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 half of a box of spaghetti
1 1/2 cups of heavy cream (Do not use half and half - the salt will make it curdle)
1 cup of parmigiano-reggiano
1 tsp of red pepper flakes
Salt and Pepper

Here are some glamour shots of the stars of the dish.

Add bacon to hot pan.

Render the fat. When bacon is crispy, pour off excess bacon grease.

Add garlic and saute for about a minute.

Add heavy cream, scraping the browned bits from the pan. Keep pan on medium heat while cream reduces.

While the cream is reducing, blanch the asparagus in the pasta water for about a minute. Let the water return to a rolling boil and...

...add the spaghetti.

After the pasta has been cooking for about 5 minutes, add the parm and the red pepper flakes to the cream sauce. Salt and pepper after tasting.

Cook for another few minutes, add the asparagus and heat for another minute.

Drain the pasta, mix with the sauce, top with more parm and some green onions, and serve with toasted bread.