Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Classic French Nicoise Salad

The nicoise salad is one of my favorites, yet I somehow always forget about it. Like most salad's it's ingredients always change depending on taste and preference. The French are the originators of the nicoise salad, especially in the Nice area (if you don't know about France, Nice is not "nice" like it's spelled, it is pronounced like neece, or niece).  The big difference is that the French make the nicoise salad with no cooked vegetables. Of course, over the years people have changed the recipe and typically cooked vegetables can be found on a nicoise salad in restaurants today.

I have made the nicoise salad a couple of times and I typically use the same ingredients.
  • Green beans
  • Red potatoes
  • tomatoes
  • Olives (kalamata - but there are nicoise olives you can use)
  • Egg
  • Greens
  • Tuna (canned)
  • Capers are also a good addition, but I haven't used them 
I have had a nicoise salad with salmon and I have seen it with anchovies, but for budget purposes and ease of preperation, canned tuna is usually my first choice.

When making this salad you can take many different directions. You can steam the green beans and boil the potatoes or you can roast both of them. You can use a hard boiled egg, poach an egg or fry an egg (you can also omit it). You can use as much, or as little of any ingredient as you want and you can add in other ingredients depending on the flavors you want. Typically the salad is served with a vinaigrette, but I typically marinate my tuna in oil, lemon juice and spices and that usually provides enough of a dressing for me. 

I mean seriously... how can you say no to a salad looking like that? Unless you hate all of those ingredients on that plate, if you say no to this salad - you are a little insane.

I think one of the reasons I like this salad so much is because I have a little obsession with having a lot of different flavors in one place. I love bowls that have a lot of ingredients where I can get multiple flavors at once. It's also a good salad to make when you have a couple lingering ingredients left in your pantry or fridge.

Seriously, you can put anything you want on this salad, these are just the typical ingredients. If you want to prepare this salad like I did all you really have to do is slice up the tomatoes and olives. Marinate your tuna in about two tablespoons of olive oil and lemon, parsley and salt and pepper (depending on how much tuna you used - my mom had this salad with me so I marinated two servings of tuna).

To prepare the potatoes and green beans:

Preheat the oven to 350

Trim the edges of the green beans and quarter the potatoes. Toss with olive oil and salt and pepper.
Keep the green beans and potatoes separate on a cookie sheet, you will be removing the green beans before the potatoes.

Set the timer for 20 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove the green beans (make sure they have browned a little and are more tender than crunchy). Once 10 more minutes have, passed remove the potatoes. These should also be a bit brown and tender. The potatoes are so good, you might be tempted to snack on them while preparing the rest of your salad. At least, that's what I was doing.

This salad would be great paired with a light fresh wine. I'd recommend a sauvignon blanc, but I am biased because that's my favorite and I think it goes well with everything.

Bon Appetit!

Here are some other great nicoise salad recipes:

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mushroom Potato Tacos

I can easily spend hours on hours searching for different recipes. Sometimes I base my grocery list of a couple specific recipes and sometimes I search for recipes based on one or two ingredients I already have. Other times I just come across a recipe and am lucky enough to have the ingredients available. This is what happend when I found Vegan Splendor's Vegan Mushroom Meat Tacos recipe. I honestly don't remember how or why I found this recipe, but I am sure happy I did.

Mushrooms are so versatile. You can pretty much make anything with them, add any seasoning and turn them into something delicious. Mushrooms are thicker and tougher than most veggies and have a consistency that some say is like a meat substitute, which is exactly the idea for these delicious tacos.

Unfortunately I didn't have a few of the ingredients the recipe called for, so I will definitely have to try and make them again (adding in eggplant and the olive mix).  For my version of the mushroom tacos I still put the mushrooms in a food processer but I added the onion, garlic and some grape seed oil and mixed until the mushrooms looked like the texture I desired.

  • 6 mushrooms sliced
  • half a white onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove
After I processed the above ingredients I sauteed some slices of red potato in oil and oregano, just to give the taco a little bit more meat to it. 

To get the mushrooms to really soak up some flavor the vegan splendor recipe recommends putting the mush-seasoning mixture in the oven. I thought this was quite strange but I did it anyway. What a great idea! Seriously... 

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Before putting the mushroom mix in the oven I added some chile, pepper and cayenne seasoning to them and tried to coat the mix as best I could. 

I laid out the mushroom, onion, garlic mixture on foil and then placed all of that on a pizza pan. I did not have as large of a mixture as the recipe called for so I only set the timer for 20 minutes and kept my eye on the oven to check for the "release of juices" as the recipe said. 

While the mushroom mix was roasting I created a nice slaw for the top of my taco.
  • Cucumbers
  • Cilantro 
  • Pickled red onion
I'll admit, cucumber sounds a little strange, but it gives a nice light, crunchy taste to the slaw. I will definitely be using that type of slaw again in the future. 

All the while I was checking the mushrooms and I noticed that juices were beginning to be released. Once the 20 minute timer went off I felt pretty satisfied the mushrooms were ready. (the juices had started to brown and burn on the outside of the mix on the foil as well)

I put the mushroom mix, potatos and slaw on a whole wheat tortilla and topped the whole thing with siracha. Good stuff! 

Here is a quick recipe for pickled red onions:
  • Whole red onion sliced
  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • any other seasonings you'd like
    • garlic
    • peppercorns
    • salt
    • bay leaf
    • red pepper flakes
Bring vinegar mixture to a boil. Once boiling add red onions in and let simmer for 1 - 2 minutes or until the onions turn a nice pinkish color. Let the onions cool and add them to a glass jar. Store in refrigerator. These babies last a lot longer than a regular onion, and they have a great taste to them.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Going Out to Eat - Always an Experience

Even though it is a passion of mine, sometimes coming up with recipes, cooking and cleaning can get quite exhausting. It's on those days I like to go out and have someone cook my food, bring it to me and clean up after me. I was a server for almost 6 years, so I have a great appreciation for these people, but I also have high expectations. Unfortunately, a lot of servers in any type of city (large or small) really don't care about your experience, just about the tip. Lately when I have gone out, something is not up to par, whether it be the service, or the food. Luckily I haven't been to a place in a while where every aspect is horrible.

It's always nice to go somewhere and be pleasantly surprised with good service, and good food. While visiting San Antonio a couple weeks ago my mom and I decided to get out and try something new. I have found that sometimes it's hard to decide what food you want and where you want to go when there are a ton of choices available to you (actually I have this problem regardless of how many choices I have). Mom wanted guacamole, so I racked my brain for a place where we could get good guacamole that is also different.

Now let me share something - I am not going to give the name of this place, or give it a review, that's not what this blog is about (although that would be fun).

I just want to share a great experience centered around food and drink. 

So... I was racking my brain and it hit me - I knew of the perfect place. I had nailed it, this restaurant offered four different guacamole's with one being your typical recipe. Lucky for us, we went on a day when it was all day happy hour, so all drinks and appetizers were half off. When the server came to greet us we already knew what we wanted - Guacamole three way (which they offer). As soon as I said guacamole, the servers face fell - He told us that they were temporarily out of avocados. My mom laughed and said what? "That's what we came here for." Literally, that's the only reason we went to that specific restaurant. The server said he would go check on the avocado situation while he was getting our drinks. Not less than two minutes later, the manager came up to us and told us the situation and that they had sent a chef to gather more avocados. Of course, we said it was no big deal and that we would get something else why we waited (because we were getting guacamole, no matter what).

I was impressed by this situation. Not only did the server inform the manager about our situation, the manager came right away to talk with us and also, the server went ahead and took our guacamole order so that we could get it as soon as they had more avocados. We ended up getting a taco and a mushroom chalupa to share while we waited for our Guac trio.

Let me tell you, despite the set back my mom and I were extremely happy. All the food was delicious, the drinks were unique, we got our guacamole, and we got pretty much everything on happy hour. These are the restaurant experiences that are worth sharing, and trust me, a lot of experiences aren't worth even mentioning.

My mom and I agreed, we would definitely have to come back for all day happy hour again soon. Thank you to the great servers, managers, chefs and restauranteurs that cause these great experiences. Keep up the good work.

** Sorry this post has no pictures, this post was solely for sharing an experience and I was so entranced by the food, that taking pictures was the farthest thought from my mind.

Monday, August 20, 2012

International Monday - Indian

I have a good friend loves food as much as I do. Although she dabbles in the meat department she usually sticks to eating vegetables and other "weird" food items as often as she can. A couple of weeks ago she invited me to her place for a "french" night where we enjoyed wine and cheese and great company. This event sparked the idea for an International Monday post. A day where a recipe from around the world will be featured, whether it be one from our weekly gathering, or just one I decided on alone. This time, I went solo.

This week, I am going to focus on an Indian-inspired dish. Don't worry, most Monday's the dishes will be pretty common ethnicities... at least for now.

I love Indian food, the flavors and spices are so unique. My favorite indian dish is definitely chana masala. I have made it before, and let me tell you, it is not all that easy. It involves a lot of ingredients and a lot of steps, but it is definitely worth it because the end result is flavorful and delightfully filling.

This time around I decided to make a simpler kind of dish. It actually might not be classified as "indian" but it has some of the same basic ingredients. Cauliflower and chickpea curry is sweet, spicy and savory all at the same time. Sweet from the coconut milk (which I recommend you always have in your pantry), spicy from the curry and other spices, and savory from the chickpeas (another pantry staple) and cauliflower. I had an idea of how to create this dish before I started it, but I decided to do some research for accurate measurements and other tips. I came across this recipe from Epicurious and of course, decided to make my own with the appropriate modifications. The Epicurious recipe used tomatoes and also called this dish a stew, but I'd consider it to just be classified as a curry. When I think of stew I think of carrots, potatoes and meat (blek).

Cauliflower Chickpea Curry
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 can chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans)
  • 1/2 chopped onion
  • 3-4 tablespoons of curry powder
  • 1 1/2 cups of cauliflower florets (mine was roasted from the day before)
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable stock
  • cilantro to taste
Heat oil (of your choice) on medium-high heat. Add onions and saute till brownish in color and fragrant. Stir in curry powder till onions are coated and the powder looks as if it is soaking into the onion (in a way seems to be caramelized). 

Add cauliflower (I prefer my florets to be kind of small) and chickpeas and stir, then add the coconut milk and vegetable stock. Bring the mixture to a boil. Once the liquid is boiling (you may have to higher the heat for a good boil) reduce the heat and cover. Make sure the liquid is still boiling (light bubbles - or simmer) for about 15 minutes or until the liquid is a little thicker or until the cauliflower is the texture you would like (firm, tender etc.) Stir in the cilantro and serve by itself, with rice, couscous or quinoa. I also top mine with siracha. 

This dish made three or four moderate servings. One day I even put the mix into a tortilla. It's a great dish to make ahead for a busy week, or if you are on a budget.

Like I mentioned before, coconut milk and chickpeas are definitely two essential ingredients you should have in your pantry. Both can be used many different ways and provide unique textures and flavors in different combinations. Chickpeas are of course perfect for homemade hummus and coconut milk is good for soups, drinks or ice cream, in other words another replacement for milk.

One day I will make chana masala again, hopefully it will be as good as the first time I made it. Don't let indian food scare you, it's true that some people don't like the curry flavor, but there are many dishes that are worth trying - meaty or veggie. Don't think you can brave it? At least try some chai tea.

By the way... I think next Monday will be Thai food - but there are still 7 left to decide.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Grilled Mahi Mahi - Two Firsts

My good friend came to visit this past week and she has really gotten into eating healthier. After two days of eating out, we decided we should make something healthy at home. My friend typically doesn't eat fish but when we were discussing what we should make she got excited and suggested we grill mahi mahi. I was a little nervous about this because 
  1. I have never grilled anything before (without a guy around)
  2. I have never cooked mahi mahi. 
Regardless, we decided to go for it. We made a pitcher of sangria (red sweet wine and blood orange italian soda), prepared our fish and carried everything out to the grill. Luckily, my apartment has two gas grills - I am sure we wouldn't have been brave enough to try grilling any other way.

Here are the ingredients and directions for grilled mahi mahi: 
  • 1 fillet of mahi mahi
  • Spicet seasoning (sprinkle to desired taste - I made sure the filet was covered and rubbed the seasoning in)
  • 1 large sheet of foil (about two hands length)
Sprinkle and rub seasoning on fish and let sit for 5-20 minutes depending on what else you are doing. Put the mahi on a sheet of foil and create a foil pocket by turning up both sides and sealing them together. The point of this is to trap the steam in order to cook the fish. Press all four corners together and seal, twisting the corners together.

Heat the grill to medium - medium lo. Put the foil packet on the grill and grill for about 15 minutes. 
(My friends boyfriend suggested we keep the fish on the grill for 8-10 minutes... I checked the fish at 9 minutes and it was not yet cooked all the way so I added 6 more minutes for good measure). The temperature of your grill will determine how long you should cook the fish for. 

When checking to see if the fish is ready, try flaking the meat with a fork. If the meat comes off easily in flakes and the meat no longer looks opaque, but a whitish creamy color all the way through you should be good to go. 

We decided to grill some green beans and have an avocado for our side, but you can always make pasta, rice or any other vegetable to accompany your mahi mahi.

Thinking back, I wish we would have thrown the avocado on the grill as well - I guess I will have to try that next time. 

So my first attempt at grilling and cooking mahi mahi was definitely a success! I will have to make this dish again, and next time I won't be intimidated by the big scary man grill... because honestly grilling really isn't that hard, you just get a little sweaty.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Poached Salmon (Leftover)

Poached salmon is my new favorite food venture. I have made it a few times and am quite determined to perfect it. After doing some recipe research, I found that like everything else, there are several ways to poach salmon. Most recipes recommend you poach the salmon in water and wine, actually wine is very common when cooking with seafood. I don't mind it because I usually have a bottle, or two, on hand.  Most poached salmon recipes call for a dry white wine, typically a sauvignon blanc. 
This recipe from Simply Recipes is pretty easy and is the recipe I got inspiration from.
I am not going to provide a recipe for my poached salmon yet because I would like to try a couple more recipes before officially posting one to call my own. The great thing is that there are so many different ingredients you can use with poached salmon: dill, lemon, oregano, white wine, tomato juice (from real tomatoes, not cans), red wine, garlic etc. I decided to use white wine, water, oregano and garlic in my latest version of poached salmon.

Poached salmon is  not only delicious, but once it is cooked you can store in the fridge and use it for breakfast, lunch or dinner the next day. The day after I poached my salmon I decided to make a wrap. I laid out a leaf of kale and filled it with left over poached salmon (cold). I then decided to add a bit of brie cheese to the mix. I wanted to put cucumbers and red onion and capers in the wrap but the kale leaf was kind of small so I decided to make a side salad instead. The good thing about a wrap is that you can use as much or little of each ingredient, depending on what flavors you want most. 

Leftover Salmon Kale Wrap with Cucumber Side Salad
  • 1 leaf of kale
  • leftover poached salmon
  • sliced cucumbers
  • pickled red onion
  • capers
  • two small slices of brie cheese

Other good ideas for leftover poached salmon are eating the salmon solo or with a dairy topping (yogurt, sour cream, or even cottage cheese) combined with lemon and dill, quiches or even pasta salad. You have the choice of leaving the salmon cold or heating it up by sauteing or putting it in the oven (regular or conventional). 

Keep your eyes peeled for when I actually post my poached salmon recipe. It may be awhile, but I want to figure out which flavors are best. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Raiding the Pantry Part II - Soup

I am going to go ahead and move forward with the assumption that most people making an average income have certain weeks where they know they really shouldn't be spending money. It's during these weeks that one has to become inventive and really explore the possibilities of what remains in the pantry, fridge and freezer.

This was my week. It's funny because it's the first week of August as well. August always reminds me that fall is soon to come, even though here in Texas we have had 13 days in the 100s. Regardless, I took inventory of the food I had left for the week and determined that I should go ahead and make a soup. I have never made soup before, so I was a little nervous as to how it would turn out. I must say, quite a success and a lot easier than I thought.

I had about a cup of frozen corn in my freezer and a zucchini I had bought from the local food market that needed to be used up. I did some research online for good soup recipes and decided to go ahead and wing it from the information I gathered.

I boiled the corn according to the package directions. As I was doing this I sauteed garlic, onion and about 3/4 of a zucchini. Many of the recipes I read used vegetable broth. I had vegetable bouillon cubes , and in the spur of the moment decided that instead of using another pot and more water to make the "veggie broth" I would just through the cube into the boiling water cooking the corn.

Once the corn was cooked I added the corn and the liquid to the sauteed mixture (garlic, onion and zucchini - I added pepper in as well). I let that simmer on low-medium heat for about 20-30 minutes. Once the mixture looked pretty well cooked through I scooped out the main ingredients and put them into a food processor. I decided not to include all of the liquid that was leftover because I desired a creamier textured soup. I pureed the cooked vegetables for about a minute or two and VOILA, I created my first batch of soup. This soup, as easy as it was had flavors of sweet and savory. I added a swirl of siracha to give it a kick and decided that soup was a good dish to cook no matter what the season. I imagine the soup would have been just as tasty cold, but I decided to eat it warm the next day and was still completely satisfied with my creation.

It would be nice to have someone else's opinion on the taste and texture, but that's part of the reason I am writing about my food experiences. I have discovered a passion for cooking and for food, if I can give some kind of inspiration for someone to either re-create the same dish or make something of their own than great, hopefully someone else can become just as passionate.

I have mentioned before that I don't really use measurements. So far this philosophy hasn't let me down... it sure didn't with this soup. I can give an estimate for those people that rely on recipes, but as I say: be creative and don't worry so much about the recipe, but more about the flavors (and textures) you want to achieve.

Vegan Corn & Zucchini Soup

  • 1 tablespoon of oil (olive or grapeseed)
  • apprx. 1 cup of frozen corn
  • 3/4 - 1 whole zucchini
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 vegetable bouillon cube
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 white onion sliced (or chopped)
  • Pepper and salt to taste
Cook the frozen corn in water according to package directions. (If you have veggie or chicken broth instead of cubes, go ahead and cook the corn in that - why not?)
While the corn is cooking, sautee the garlic and onion in the olive oil. Add the zucchini till it is almost cooked through. Add the corn and liquid to the sautee pan. Cover and cook for approximately 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and scoop mixture into a food processor (depending on how creamy or liquidly you want your soup, leave or add remaining liquid).
Process the mixture until desired texture. (whether you want it kind of chunky, or smooth).

Enjoy soup hot or cold! I also put a swirl of siracha, for a little kick. Relish the options you have with this dish. So many ingredients can be used and there are so many different ways to create it.