Conquering ravioli

I learned how to make pasta from scratch just about a year ago. Ever since then, I’ve been obsessed with trying to get the perfect ravioli. My biggest challenge was getting the perfect shape, with the beautiful looking pillow top of filling, the perfect scalloped edges and consistently sized, every single time.

I started out going kind of free style like I learned in the class I took at The Chopping Block. (If you haven’t been there, consider checking them out the next time you need something for the kitchen or want to take a cooking class. They know their stuff and I’d rather give them my money than some big box culinary store. Although some of those stores have a place in my heart, too. I digress.) Some of my earlier ravioli turned out flat, too big or too small to fit the amount of filling and some just fell apart once they hit the water. I even tried this tool, which only sent me on a profanity-laden rage when the pasta got stuck to the mold and screwed everything up. The taste was always pretty good, but the final product and presentation was missing what I was aiming for.

Today, I decided to try that mold again. This time, I decided I’d coat it with flour first. I’d show that ravioli maker who was boss. So I went about rolling the dough, filling it with my goat cheese filling, and when I turned it over – YES! It fell right out all in a perfect, beautiful sheet of lovely, pillow-topped ravioli.

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Unfortunately, that’s where the near visual perfection ends. It’s apparent that I have much to learn in the art of ravioli making. Although my uncooked ravioli looked awesome, once cooked, some fell apart. Almost all had been deflated. I think what did them in was too much air inside with the filling and a weak sealing. Bummers. To be fair, this is only my 4th time making ravioli.

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Black bean pepper jack burgers

Spring may be on the way but there’s still plenty of comfort food season left. Not wanting to miss out, today I decided to make black bean burgers. The recipe is simple, using the typical black bean burger ingredients, but this one has the cheese mixed in.

The only alteration I made to this was to add quinoa to the mixture. I also made my own salsa. There’s no reason to buy the jarred stuff when you can make your own with just a few simple ingredients and about 15 minutes. The recipe says it makes 4 burgers, but they are small, so if you want heartier portions, maybe increase the ingredients to one and a half or twice the amount listed below.

When I make these again, I’m going to add some sriracha to the mixture. The pepper jack was yummy, but didn’t give as much spice as I was hoping for.

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Ingredients (Adapted from Fine Cooking)

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 15.5-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 oz. finely grated pepper Jack cheese (1/2 cup)
  • 1 large scallion, minced
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil; more for the plate
  • 4 whole-wheat hamburger buns, toasted
  • Jarred salsa, for serving  (I made my own, recipe below)
  • Sliced avocado, for serving

Quick Salsa

  • 10-15 cherry tomatoes (I used these because regular tomatoes have not been very good lately)
  • ½ jalepeno, with seeds if you want some heat
  • ¼ red onion, diced
  • 2 tsps chopped cilantro
  • 1 garlic clove

Put the oats in a food processor and pulse three times to roughly chop. Add half of the beans and pulse into a coarse paste, about 6 pulses. Add the egg, cumin, and 1/2 tsp. salt and process to mix well, about 1 minute. Transfer the bean mixture to a large bowl. Stir in the remaining beans, the cheese, scallion, and cilantro.

With wet hands, form the bean mixture into four 1/2-inch-thick patties and transfer to a lightly oiled plate. Refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes to let the burgers set up.

Heat a large heavy-duty skillet (preferably cast iron) on high heat until very hot; add the oil and swirl the pan to coat the bottom. Cook the burgers until browned, with a good crust, 2 to 3 minutes; then carefully flip and cook, flipping again if necessary, until the burgers feel firm when pressed with a fingertip, another 3 to 5 minutes. Serve the burgers in the buns, topped with the salsa and avocado.

Favorite food books, Part 1

There seems to be an endless supply of books about food, cooking, processed foods, chefs, restaurants, baking, chefs that own restaurants, chefs that write books, cook books, “how to” books, reference volumes, don’t eat this, eat that, food marketing…..every damn thing.

I fancy myself an avid reader of all types of these books. I’ve read quite a few of them; some stand out more than others, here’s a list of my favorites, in no particular order.

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss
I loved this book because it really dove into the food marketing industry. Moss wrote about the food industry in a way I hadn’t seen before, with new insight into how processed foods are developed and marketed. It’s also a good book that illustrates the role the processed food industry has played in the obesity epidemic in the United States, and also what role they’ll play in helping to reverse those effects.  It’s an excellent read for the curious mind and for those that have an interest in learning more about food marketing.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
He’s known as kind of an asshole, but Anthony Bourdain has a sort of jerkyness that is almost charming. He’s a no-nonsense, doesn’t-fuck-around kind of guy. He’s serious about his kitchen. Kitchen Confidential is a great read and I most liked the chapter about what it’s like to work in a real kitchen. It’s food for thought for those that are interested in the culinary profession. A fun read too, this guys had some crazy adventures!

The New Food Lover’s Companion by Ron Herbst
Nary a day passes that I don’t open this one. Even if I don’t need to look up something specific, I will grab this book, open to a random page and just read what’s there. I love this book and consider it a must-have for anyone that enjoys cooking or learning about food.

The Professional Chef, by The Culinary Institute of America
Written by one of the most prestigious culinary institutions in the United States, The Professional Chef is as beautiful as it is informative. It’s geared toward professional chefs (duh) and written much like a text book would be, but it’s easy to consume for us lay people that are not professional chefs. At over 1200 pages, it’s quite an undertaking to get through. But it’s also great to browse through to look at the recipes and awesome photographs.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
It’s the original exposé about the food industry; specifically, the meatpacking industry. It’s graphic in its detail of the awful conditions workers were forced to work under, the abhorrent ways in which meat was handled and sold, and the plight of low-income immigrant workers. I think it’s pretty relatable to today’s world, even though we’ve made vast improvements in the way meat is processed; we’ve yet to make as much progress where immigrant labor and poor working conditions in this industry are concerned.  If you haven’t read this one yet, put it on your list of books to read before you die.

Two Salad Sunday

This nasty winter is making me crave fresh, healthy salads. I’ve been on a major grapefruit kick and since they’re in season right now, I wanted to incorporate them into a salad. I saw this recipe for a grapefruit/beet salad a couple weeks ago and have been dying to try it out.

Since I couldn’t find white grapefruit OR white beets, I had to improvise.  I grabbed a regular pink grapefruit, blood orange, and golden and red beets.

In the end, it was a lot of work for not a lot of payoff. It wasn’t awesome, but it wasn’t horrible either. What I gained from it was learning how to cook beets (tricky to peel after they’ve been roasted), and also that cutting citrus into nice hexagon or pentagon-shaped slices is a pain in the ass and will take some more practice.

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Fortunately, I had better luck with the next salad.

The second salad today was this quinoa salad with sweet potatoes and apples from Food & Wine Magazine. I’ve had a bag of quinoa sitting in my pantry forever and this seemed like the perfect recipe to put it to use. The flavors of everything together, along with the sweet potatoes were just the sort of thing I had been craving. We gobbled this one up in no time!

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Recipes

Grapefruit and White Beets with Yogurt and Tarragon (Adapted from Bon Appetit)

  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 4 medium white or Chioggia (candy-stripe) beets (about 1 lb.)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 white grapefruits
  • ¾ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup fresh tarragon leaves

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Toast pine nuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 6–8 minutes; let cool.
  • Increase oven heat to 400°. Place beets on a sheet of parchment paper set on top of a sheet of foil; rub beets with oil and season with salt. Close up parchment and foil around beets. Place packet on a baking sheet and roast beets until tender, 40–50 minutes. Unwrap beets and let cool.
  • Peel beets and thinly slice into rounds. Toss beets and vinegar in a medium bowl; season with salt and let stand 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, finely grate ½ tsp. zest from 1 grapefruit and set aside. Using a sharp, small knife, cut all peel and white pith from both grapefruits; discard. Thinly slice grapefruit into rounds.
  • Place yogurt in a small bowl; season with salt and mix well. Spoon onto plates. Top yogurt with beets and sliced grapefruit, then tarragon, toasted pine nuts, and reserved grapefruit zest.
  • DO AHEAD: Beets can be roasted 2 days ahead; let cool. Cover and chill. Pine nuts can be toasted 1 day ahead; store airtight at room temperature.

Quinoa Salad with Sweet Potatoes and Apples (Adapted from Food & Wine)

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa
  • Salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch dice
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 large Granny Smith apples, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 8 packed cups baby greens, such as arugula or kale (about 6 ounces)

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400°. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the quinoa and toast over moderate heat, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add 3 cups of water, season with salt and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer the quinoa for 16 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Fluff the quinoa, spread it out on a baking sheet and refrigerate until it is chilled, about 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, on a baking sheet, toss the sweet potatoes with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 25 minutes, stirring once, until golden and softened. Let cool.
  • In a large bowl, whisk the remaining 6 tablespoons of olive oil with the vinegar; season with salt and pepper. Add the quinoa, sweet potatoes, apples, parsley, onion and greens and toss well. Serve right away.

Make Ahead: The quinoa and sweet potatoes can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Chopped weekend!

Terry and I (read: I) love to watch Chopped. I don’t care if it’s rigged, I’m sure that like many reality/competition shows, there are some behind the scenes shenanigans going on that give contestants an upper hand. I still like to watch it because it’s a pretty decent way to learn about unusual ingredients and new ways to cook familiar ingredients and how flavors may work together.

So a while ago, we started playing Chopped at home. The ingredient list started out fairly easy and up until yesterday, the hardest thing I had to use was pre-cooked polenta that was packaged in a tube, not unlike some chocolate chip cookie dough products are. This weekend, I had to use a sangria-flavored soda, and it tasted NASTY. It was bitter, carbonated and just gross. The rest of the ingredients were a slam dunk: banana, Pillsbury pizza dough and fake meat crumbles.

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I had the fortune of still having a fridge stocked with some good leftover stuff from last weekend’s Super Bowl menu, so I was feeling pretty good about this one. One thing I knew for sure was that I was NOT going to cook a pizza. That’d be too obvious. So I immediately went to empanada.

I also knew that I would mix the banana with gruyere cheese – this flavor combination is actually really good with a dessert and I’d soon find out, in a main course as well. So I just had the nasty sangria left to figure out and then that was pretty easy – bury it in a vinaigrette and call it a day.

I started out by cooking down some garlic and shallots in olive oil, then put the crumbles in that to get it cooked up. While that was cooking, I mashed up the banana with some olive oil until it became a smooth liquid, and that went into the crumble mixture.

I chopped up some romaine, green apples and red onion, tossed them together to make a slaw and dressed it with the sangria vinaigrette and garnished it with roasted peanuts.

The pizza dough was rolled out and seasoned with some cumin and crushed black pepper to give it some flavor, filled with the crumble/banana mixture and then topped with shredded gruyere before being formed into the empanada.

Once the dough was cooked through, it was time to plate up and serve dinner! Terry thought the cumin overpowered the flavor of the banana, but I thought it was just right.

Not a bad go of it!

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Mini tacos two ways: Peanut-panko tofu and tequila-glazed shrimp with boozy salsa

I was looking for the perfect mini food for the big game, and had these two recipes on my list of things to try. Both were amazing, and with a few tweaks, can be made even tastier the next time around.

For the tofu tacos, I subbed arugula for the cabbage, any greens would probably work if cabbage isn’t your thing.

For the shrimp tacos, I subbed tequila for rum, because that’s what I had at the house and didn’t feel like buying rum just for this.

Peanut-crusted Tofu Taco

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Tequila Shrimp taco

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Recipes:

Peanut-crusted Tofu Taco (Original recipe found here).

Makes 4 mini-tacos.

  • 1  (14-ounce) package water-packed extra-firm tofu
  • 1/2 cup salted, dry-roasted peanuts
  • 1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1/2 cup light coconut milk
  • 1  large egg, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
  • 2 cups thinly sliced cabbage
  • 1/3 cup sliced green onions
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1  jalapeño pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 8  (6-inch) corn tortillas
  • Lime wedges (optional)
  1. Cut tofu lengthwise into 4 (1/2-inch-thick) slices. Place tofu slices on several layers of heavy-duty paper towels. Cover tofu with additional paper towels; let stand 5 minutes. Cut each tofu slice, lengthwise, into 1/2-inch-thick strips; cut strips in half crosswise.
  2. Place peanuts in a food processor; process until ground. Combine peanuts and panko in a shallow dish, stirring well. Combine milk and egg in a shallow dish, stirring well. Place flour in a shallow dish.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Dredge half of tofu in flour; dip in egg mixture. Dredge in peanut mixture. Add coated tofu to pan, and sauté 4 minutes or until golden and crisp, turning to brown on all sides. Remove tofu from pan, and drain on paper towels. Repeat procedure with 1 tablespoon canola oil, tofu, flour, egg mixture, and peanut mixture.
  4. Combine cabbage and the next 4 ingredients (through jalapeño). Drizzle the cabbage mixture with remaining 1 tablespoon oil; toss to coat. Heat tortillas according to package directions. Place 2 tortillas on each of 4 plates; top each tortilla with 1/4 cup slaw. Divide tofu evenly among tacos. Serve with lime wedges, if desired.

Rum-glazed shrimp with boozy salsa (Original recipe found here).
Next time, I want to try it with scallops – shrimp are a lot of freaking work to clean up!

Makes 10 mini-tacos.

  • ¼ c. red onion
  • 2 T honey
  • juice of ½ lime
  • ¼ c. orange juice
  • ½ c. Captain Morgan White Rum
  • ¼ c. chopped bell pepper
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 ½ tsp cornstarch
  • 10 10-15 ct. shrimp
  • 10 mini-tortillas (we cut circles out of small tortillas)
  • 1 c. shredded romaine lettuce
  • 1 avocado, peeled, seeded, and cut into small cubes
  • 1 c. boozy tropical salsa, recipe below
  1. Finely chop the red onion, and bell pepper (I used orange bell peppers because they’re attractive), then combine everything except the cornstarch and shimp in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk together the ingredients, making sure the honey is fully dissolved in the marinade. Taste it before you add the shrimp! Make sure it’s delicious.
  2. Devein shrimp and remove shells up the tail. Add the shrimp to the marinade and let them rest for an hour in the refrigerator.
  3. Preheat your grill or pan to medium-high heat. Take the shrimp out of the refrigerator and skewer them (this isn’t strictly necessary, but I find they’re easier to handle this way), reserving about a cup of the marinade.
  4. In a small bowl, add about a tablespoon of the marinade to the cornstarch, whisking briskly until no lumps remain. Brush the shrimp on both sides with the reserved marinade. Grill the shrimp for about a minute on each side, flipping them every 30 seconds and brushing the hot side with the reserved marinade after flipping, until they are bright pink and slightly charred.
  5. Remove the shrimp from the skewers. Place one shrimp on top of each mini-taco, then top with lettuce, avocado, and salsa. Fold them in half and use a toothpick to secure. Serve immediately.

Boozy Tropical Salsa

Makes about 3 cups.

  • 1 c. finely cubed fresh papaya
  • 1 c. finely cubed fresh mango
  • 1 c. finely cubed fresh pineapple
  • 1/2 c. finely diced red onion
  • 1 jalapenos, seeded and finely diced
  • juice from 4 key limes (about 2-3 TBS)
  • 1 TBS Captain Morgan White Rum
  • 1 TBS orange juice
  • 2 TBS finely minced cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Add all of the ingredients to a large bowl and toss gently to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings (juices, cilantro, salt, jalapeno) as desired. Keeps in the fridge for a few days.