Archive for Dinner

Like sriracha? Then you gotta try gochujang

Like many of you out there, I’ve long been a fan of sriracha. The bright red sauce made of ground chilies and garlic is a staple in Asian cuisine, yet like so many other condiments it’s a multicultural star that enlivens everything from eggs to hamburgers.

On a recent trip to South Korea, I found something even better: gochujang. Like sriracha, gochujang is a condiment made from red chilies. And as with sriracha, it pairs well with a variety of foods. It’s also absolutely addicting. Gochujang is a regular at the tables in Korea (it goes great with barbecue, as seen below in Seoul), but like sriracha it deserves a place at yours.

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Last-minute Thanksgiving 2013 survival guide

The countdown is on. We’re just days away from Thanksgiving 2013, and you’re probably busy planning your holiday feast.

By now you have hopefully purchased your turkey. And if you bought it frozen like most home cooks, remember to thaw it in the refrigerator.

Things can move pretty fast this time of year, and I’m not just talking about the onward rush of the holidays. Now more than ever is the time to take a deep breath and enjoy the moments rather than stress about them. This advice is also relevant in the kitchen.

As the holiday cooking season moves into high gear, it’s good to slow down and remember to enjoy the process. If you can think of what you are doing as an expression of love instead of a bunch of work, it will make the day that much more enjoyable.

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Yes, you can cook with cactus

There are some things that one can’t help but bristle at upon the notion of eating. Sure, we’ve all heard about the “delicacies” involving insects and offal in other countries, but what I bring to the table here is much simpler in nature yet can be just as confounding for the uninitiated: Cactus.

That’s right — those desert-loving plants known for their sharp spines can actually be eaten.

Two of the most popular edible portions of cacti are the pads, called “nopals,” and the pears, cactus fruit that in Spanish is known as “tuna.” The former are the flat, broad portions that look like paddles. Once their needles are removed, they can be grilled, baked or simmered.  The latter can be peeled and eaten as is. Their delicious fruit is surprisingly sweet, with a texture that’s a cross between a kiwi and a pear.  Fresh cactus pads and cactus pears can be found at Hispanic markets such as Northgate, as well as some well-stocked mainstream grocers. Thankfully, the work of removing the needles has usually already been done.

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Recipe: Get keen on quinoa

Peer closely at quinoa, and you may think you’re looking at something aliens would ingest. Tiny spheres with what appear to be pale tails, the granules of quinoa are mysterious. They’re also delicious.

Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is also an oddity when explaining what exactly it is. Though quinoa cooks in less than 20 minutes by simmering it in liquid like rice, it’s not a true cereal grain. The quinoa that you can find on grocery shelves near the rice section are actually the seeds of a crop plant that, believe it or not, are related to beets and tumbleweeds, of all things.

Humans have been eating the stuff for thousands of years, and more recently I’ve seen it landing on the menus of upscale restaurants. Quinoa is a nutrition powerhouse. Hailed by the Incas as the “mother grain,” it is low in fat and high in protein and fiber. It’s also gluten-free.

Quinoa is a snap to cook. If you can boil water, you can make it. Once cooked, it has a hearty, grain-like flavor. It’s also extremely versatile. Quinoa can be served warm or cold, and mixed with everything from peppers to pears. The recipe below brings cranberries, red onion, celery and pecans to the party for extra flavor and crunch. Oh, and those tails? They’re actually the seed’s germ. Once the disc-like granules are cooked, they expand and the germ separates from the seed. Looks odd, tastes great.

Let’s make a quinoa salad that acts as a super snack or side dish.

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Parsnips have something to prove

Countless times you’ve reached for the lettuce, grabbed some carrots and inspected the asparagus, all the while ignoring a far more interesting item. This other vegetable was there the whole time in the produce section also hoping for some attention, but too often it gets lost among the staples. On a slow day it might get a quizzical look before you move on to fetch the milk.

It’s the parsnip, and it deserves some respect. Parsnips are a root vegetable, and though they’re available year round, winter is their time to shine. If they were orange, you might mistake them for carrots. Similar in shape and related to that other veggie, parsnips are a pale tan in color. Taste-wise, they are a bit sweeter, and texturally not quite as crisp.

They’re also delicious. Parsnips can be eaten raw, but with a woody center they don’t offer the satisfying crunch of a carrot. Impart some heat, though, and things get far more interesting. Because of their soft, almost creamy texture when cooked, parsnips can deftly be inserted into a batch of mashed potatoes, boiled along with the spuds. They can also be simmered in soups.

I prefer to roast them, either alone or with carrots and onions. The dry heat of the oven helps intensify parsnips’ flavor and adds visual appeal via the browning effect that culinarians and “Jeopardy” contestants know as the Maillard reaction.

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Last-minute Thanksgiving survival guide

The countdown is on. We’re just days away from Thanksgiving 2012.

By now you have hopefully bought and are thawing your turkey — in the refrigerator, remember — and are finalizing the last small details of your Thanksgiving feast.

Things can move pretty fast this time of year, and I’m not just talking about the onward rush of the holidays. Now more than ever is the time to be take a deep breath and enjoy the moments rather than stress about them. This advice is also relevant in the kitchen.

As the holiday cooking move into high gear, it’s good to slow down and remember to enjoy the process. If you can think of what you are doing as an expression of love instead of a load of work, it will make the day that much more enjoyable.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Easy recipe: You can rock these Ranchero Beans

I probably don’t need to tell you that beans are magnificent. Yes, you probably already know that they’re packed with stuff like protein, fiber and other nutrients that will do your body good, all while being very low in fat and simple sugars. They are also extremely inexpensive. Even in canned form, at about a buck a pound, it’s hard to find a food that packs this much nutritional density for the price.

Beans are also very adaptable. And that’s a good thing, because let’s face it: When eaten alone, popular beans such as pintos aren’t exactly multifaceted in their flavor. But throw in other ingredients and some seasoning to the party, and the beans that anchor a dish can be eaten and enjoyed in a whole new light.

I recently stumbled upon one such dish – ranchero beans – in the deli section of a Ralphs of all places, and was surprised at how well the humble pinto livened up with a larger culinary cast. I promptly decided to re-create this recipe myself, adding even more impact with additional ingredients.

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Recipe: Hearty Tomato Basil Soup

As autumn sets in and the temperatures outside fall accordingly, nothing warms the body and soul quite like a sturdy bowl of soup. Among the easiest, least expensive and most nutritious to make is tomato soup. Served as an appetizer or a dinner with bread or sandwiches, it is a perennial favorite that can be tailored to a variety of tastes.

If your idea of making soup is opening a can and turning on a microwave, I have good news for you: Making it the homemade way involves not a whole lot more work, yet tastes worlds better. And because you control the ingredients that go into your soup, there’s no guessing as to how much sodium or other less-than-good-for-you things lurk in that bowl.

My version of this soup uses canned tomatoes in diced and crushed form. Not only are these main ingredients inexpensive, they’re always “in season” and ready when you are. Because this tomato soup relies on the real thing and plenty of other veggies, it’s thick and hearty. This recipe calls for chicken broth, but for a vegetarian version, vegetable broth can be used instead. The soup can be served chunky or blended for an even texture. If you have an immersion blender, now is the time to use it. The pureeing can also be done in small portions in a regular blender.

Lastly, I like to introduce both dry and fresh basil leaves for added essence. If you want some kick, add crushed peppers or even a dash of horseradish to the mix. Here’s how to make tomato soup.

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Make this: buffalo blue cheese dressing on a wedge

We all know that restaurant food usually costs far more than what you would pay to make the same thing yourself, and most of the time we’re OK with that. When it comes to things like good steak or seafood, it can make sense to have a professional chef perfectly cook an item of food whose base cost would still be relatively expensive even if you were to buy it at the store. This is especially true with ingredients like USDA Prime-graded steak or sushi-grade fish, which are often reserved for the food-service industry and thus are more difficult to attain.

Salad, on the other hand, is just the opposite. The menu item that vexes me most is the iceberg wedge. Basically it’s a wedge of iceberg lettuce slathered in blue cheese dressing and often garnished with small tomatoes and maybe some onions. It’s delicious and a fine complement to a hot summer day. But for the $10 or so restaurants can charge for this starter, it’s a rip off.

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Easy recipe: Stuffed bell peppers

Know what’s better than eating delicious food served on a beautiful dish? Eating delicious food and the equally delicious dish it’s served in. If you’ve ever had soup in a bread bowl, you’ve already enjoyed this experience. But summer is around the corner, and soup is going out of favor. Thus we turn our attention to something in season, a versatile something that’s not only great on its own, but one that can act as a delicious bowl: the bell pepper.

Bell peppers are available year-round, but they can be pricey in the milder months. Now that summer is nearly here, so are the deals on bell peppers, including the usually more expensive orange and red varieties. I recently scored half a dozen for just a few bucks at Sprouts Farmers Market. Though peppers are great cut up and grilled or roasted, “Why not use them whole and stuff them?” I thought.

When I was young, my mom made stuffed bell peppers regularly because they come together quickly, can be bolstered with a variety of leftovers such as rice and vegetables, and even freeze well for future lunches and dinners. They also stretch your dollar. If you can find peppers cheap, the only other main ingredient required is ground meat. Beef was the staple when I was young, but I now prefer leaner turkey or chicken. Seafood lovers can go a more exotic route with crab or shrimp, and vegetarians can get stuffed by using whole beans or tofu as foundation for the filling.

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