Posts tagged ‘tomatoes’

January 22, 2012

Texas Chili

When I started dating my boyfriend, born and raised in El Paso Texas, there was one point in our relationship when it was almost over.  It was a chilly California evening, and I was preparing dinner while he opened the latest Netflix (which we have cancelled due to their price increase – bastards!).  Beer in hand, I started to serve up my warm chili, excited as ever to dig in.  This is when the evening turned… I had made the ultimate Texas blunder.  A mistake that could not be rectified… I had put BEANS, yes, I said it, BEANS in the chili!  WHAT?!?  I was then lectured on the fine making of chili and the short list of ingredients that qualify to be a part of this dish (beans was not one of them).  Needless to say, he ate it.

I learned my lesson, and have over the years perfected my bean-less chili with just the right amount of heat and spice.  I’ve experimented with many combinations of chiles, most of which were new to me after moving to Houston, and have been delighted by the variety of flavors I can unearth.  This chili develops a hidden smoky flavor, not like barbecue, but a delicate heat with warmth and spice from Anaheim chilies, cayenne and a touch of jalapeño.  The subtle sweet tomato and flavorful tender meat warms you from the inside out.

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs ground beef (80/20 or 85/15)
  • 1 tbsp. light extra virgin olive oil
  • I yellow onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 3 jalapeño, finely diced with seeds removed (leave the seeds in if you like it hot)
  • 2 Anaheim chilies, finely diced with seeds removed
  • 3 tsp. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 3 tsp. cumin
  • 3 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. jalapeño powder
  • 1 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt (to taste)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground pepper (to taste)
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with green chile and garlic
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp. red pepper paste
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tbsp. semolina flour (for thickening)
  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • Grated cheddar cheese (topping)
  • Sour cream (topping)
  • Onions (topping)

Method

  1. Heat a large, heavy bottom pan on the stove on medium with a tbsp. light extra virgin olive oil
  2. When the pan it hot, add in diced onion and cook on medium for 5 mins
  3. Add garlic, jalapeño and Anaheim chilies and cook additional 5 mins until onions are translucent
  4. Add in ground beef and brown meat, use a wooden spoon to break it up into small pieces and turn occasionally until brown on all sides.  The meat will continue to break up as you cook it but this helps it along.
  5. Brown meat, then add chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, jalapeño powder, cayenne, salt and pepper and stir to coat the meat evenly
  6. Add cans of tomatoes, tomato paste, red pepper paste and water and stir
  7. Bring the chili to a low boil and reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes
  8. Add sugar and flour and stir.  Cover again and simmer for another 30-40 minutes
  9. Taste and see if you need to add more salt/pepper.  Be light-handed, you can always add more, you can never take it out. (TIP: you happen to add too much salt, the one thing that might help save your dish is to add some sugar.  It helps to mellow it out and remove some of the acidic flavor)
  10. Top with cheddar cheese, onions and sour cream and serve in a large warm bowl

 

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December 6, 2011

Thyme Couscous

Like pasta, couscous doesn’t have much of a flavor itself.  But that’s one of the best things about it; you can add a variety of flavors, textures and spices to make it fit any mood.  When I’m already busy putting together a main dish, couscous is the perfect addition when you have your hands full.  It only takes 5 minutes to create fluffy, delicate pillows of joy.

Since couscous is so delicate, you need to be careful with the spice level and what you use.  It will add a great deal of flavor; so if you add something spicy like cayenne that’s all you’ll be able to taste.  I also want to steer you away from using dried herbs, fresh ones are in a completely different category.  It’s like comparing a fresh, crisp Fuji apple to those chewy dried fruit slices better known to me as foamy rubber nothingness.  Couscous cooks in 5 minutes, so the dried herbs don’t have a chance to reconstitute and end up getting stuck in your teeth apart from anything else.  So have fun with fresh herbs, and enjoy these combinations.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. Line baking sheet with foil and distribute pine nuts evenly
  3. Toast pine nuts for 10 mins.  Remove when they’re slightly golden around the edges and set aside to cool
  4. In medium saucepan, add couscous, water, butter, salt, fresh thyme and garlic powder. Stir with fork to distribute thyme.  I pinch the thyme with my fingers before adding it in as it helps release the oils and favor.
  5. Bring to a light boil, quickly stir with fork, remove from heat and cover
  6. Let stand 4-5 minutes
  7. Fluff with fork
  8. Add cooled, toasted pint nuts

Here are some of my other favorites!

Basil and Sun-dried Tomato Couscous

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped (add it after the couscous has cooled or the leaves will turn dark brown)
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp. black olives (optional)

Curry and Raisin Couscous

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. curry powder
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 2 tbsp. fresh mint, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp. toasted ground peanuts

Cranberry & Feta Couscous

  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup crumbles fresh feta
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup toasted, slivered almonds
  • Fresh parsley for garnish
August 31, 2011

Pasta Ponza

Wait for it…. go!  I dash for the sink where I scoop up a big clump of freshly cooked pasta and try to navigate it into my mouth before I got caught.

I guess my Italian heritage runs strong, as I’ve always had a strong love for pasta.  In fact, you might call it an addiction.  No matter what time of year, pasta always has a place on my menu.  I remember my mum cooking her homemade spaghetti and the smell of fresh garlic and leeks throughout the house, no matter how much I try to replicate it never seems to come out the same.  During the summers, I would load up on pasta carbonara the night before a big swim meet, hoping the pasta gods would help me pop my time and qualify for the county swim meet.   While the ratio of sauce to pasta has changed over the years, the aroma and flavor of a warm bowl of pasta will always be the same.  I’ll eventually share all my favorite pasta dishes, but the one I have today is something you can whip up on the busiest of nights, and I promise you wont go to bed hungry.

If you’ve ever picked up a container of bright cherry and pear-shaped yellow tomatoes and couldn’t resist buying 2 or 3 cartons, then this recipe’s for you. Their sweet, crisp flavor breathes summer, and they’re the main ingredient in pasta ponza. Part of the attraction of this recipe is its adorable name. Wouldn’t it make you smile to say (even to yourself) that you’re going home to make ‘pasta ponza’ for dinner?

The sauce gets most of its flavor from combining several varieties of tomatoes. The recipe suggests half red cherry and half yellow cherry tomatoes, but you could use any combination you’d like.  The sauce is so simple, you start by placing the tomatoes and capers in a baking dish, drizzling them with olive oil, sprinkling them with seasoned bread crumbs and roasting the mixture in the oven for about 30 minutes.  Done, that’s it!  I know, could this be any easier?!?

When it’s ready, the breadcrumbs will be golden-brown and crunchy, and the tomatoes will be slightly broken down, juicy and very intense.  Once added to the pasta, the salty bite of the Pecorino-Romano really brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes, and the breadcrumb topping coats each piece of pasta with mild Italian herbs and creamy cheese.

This is a staple in my busy workweek, and it’s just as good the next day for lunch.  Quick tip: when you reheat it the following day, add a splash of water to the bowl to get the sauce back to its creamy consistency.

This recipe is inspired by Giada De Laurentiis, and of course I tweaked it to make it my own, and I encourage you to do the same.

Ingredients

  • Butter for greasing
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) red cherry or grape tomatoes cut into halves
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) yellow cherry or grape tomatoes cut into halves
  • 1/3 cup capers, rinsed, drained and roughly chopped (if you really like capers throw in a few more, I usually do)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1/2 cup Italian-style seasoned breadcrumbs (plain breadcrumbs are too bland, I really recommend these, and if you can;t find them throw in a handful of Italian seasoning to give it some flavor)
  • 1 pound ziti or other short tube-shaped pasta
  • 1 1/4 cups Pecorino Romano or Asiago cheese, grated (Please don’t buy the cheese in a green can, buy the good stuff, you’ll thank me later)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or parsley
  • If you need to make this pasta more appealing to a meat-loving loved one, feel free to add grilled chicken, Italian sausage or crumbled bacon.

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 8-inch glass baking dish.
  • Place the tomatoes, capers, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in the prepared baking dish. Toss to coat. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the tomato mixture. Drizzle the top with olive oil and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the top is golden.
  • Cool for 5 minutes.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat (add the salt after it’s boiling so it flavors the pasta… go, on, throw in a small handful, do it!).
  • Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water to add later when creating the sauce.
  • Place the pasta in a large serving bowl. Spoon the tomato mixture on the pasta. Add the cheese and toss well. Add a little of the pasta water to help create a sauce, it helps the cheese melt and coat the pasta tubes.
  • Sprinkle with the chopped basil and more cheese and serve immediately.
  • Return for seconds!
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