Banh mi meets the cabbage wrap

March 30th, 2012 :: 6 comments :: permalink

I’ve only had a Bánh Mi on a few occasions and every time it was from Whole Foods. They are pretty good, depending on who is behind the counter that day, but I wanted to see if I could make one more to my liking. I’m all about flavor and heat, so I wanted to add more of a kick than I’ve tasted in one of these before. I considered many sandwich vessels, mostly different breads, but once I spotted bright purple cabbage in the store, I wanted to figure out a way to use it.

Most vegetarian Bánh Mi’s are served with tofu. I eat tofu every once in a while, but I’m not a huge fan of the texture. I decided to make mine with paneer (a firm type of cheese used in many Indian recipes). It doesn’t have a strong flavor to me, but has a nice crispy texture if you stir fry it.

I mixed lemongrass, cilantro, garlic, salt, and ginger in a food processor, which made a bright green paste. It smelled awesome. I’ve never used fresh lemongrass before, so there was bit of a learning curve there. I had to experiment and make a couple of guesses about which part of the stalk would be the most useful, but figured it out in the end. Once the paste was made, I separated it into two bowls. In one I added my paneer and in the other I tossed some chicken for Dustin. Both bowls went into the refrigerator for a bit to soak up all the flavors.

While I waited, I cut tons of peppers for that heat and carrots for a crunch. In another bowl, I mixed vinegar, salt, and sugar, then dropped in my veggies and let everything sit for about 30 minutes.

I quickly pan fried the paneer and the chicken in separate pans. Who knew that being a vegetarian would double the cooking and clean up time? I toasted some regular Italian loaf, spread on some lemonaise, then topped it with the paneer (or chicken) and my spicy peppers and carrots.

Although I didn’t try the chicken Báhn Mi, it had an awesome smell. I’m sure chicken does a great job at soaking up all the flavors. Finally, I used the beautiful bright cabbage with my paneer and few edible flowers to make a dramatically more colorful Bahn Mi wrap. The cabbage gave a nice crunch and balanced out all the flavors in the toppings. I’d say this was a successful experiment and though I can’t decide which version tasted the best, the cabbage wrap was clearly the most eye appealing.

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Pate Brisée Fruit Crisp

March 16th, 2012 :: 6 comments :: permalink

This winter we were all about comfort food, which worked out great for baking, keeping the house nice and toasty, and making the apartment smell awesome. Now that the weather is quickly shifting to spring like, our appetites and eating habits are in need of change. This brisée fruit crisp isn’t super sweet, but light and crispy and exactly what I had been craving.

Well, maybe “light” is a relative term–look at all of that butter! Making the dough is really easy if you have a food processor, much messier if you make it by hand. The final product isn’t super sweet, but a great balance between the richness of the butter and the tart flavors of the raspberries.

I made the dough in the evening and refrigerated it overnight. The next morning I was ready to continue so I began by rolling out the dough with a rolling pin. As an added bonus, you can freeze extra dough for later. I had a few pears handy, so I decided they should join the raspberries at the bottom of my pastry.

Wrapping the dough around the fruit may seem like a complex task, but there is really is no rhyme or reason to how you do it. Dab it with a little egg wash and it comes out of the oven looking like something from a bakery.

 

 

Not So Vegetarian – Short Rib Caldo

March 8th, 2012 :: 4 comments :: permalink

As Chicago residents of several years now, Dustin and I have become bigger and bigger fans of Rick Bayless‘s local restaurants. We’ve been to Frontera Grill, have plans for Topolobampo, and have had more than one O’hare travel experience saved by Tortas Frontera. A month rarely goes by, however, without us visiting Xoco, his casual but classy take on Mexican street food. We typically go for their amazing sandwiches, but on a recent visit Dustin decided to try one of their soups. The Short Rib Caldo caught his eye and it’s been a favorite of his ever since. A couple of weeks ago, while looking for projects to include here on Chickypea, he said we should try one of the vegetarian soup recipes on Bayless’s site, but I suggested he do something heavier. As luck would have it, he found a short rib soup recipe based on the Xoco dish. He takes it from here…

Once Joann suggested something heavy, I didn’t look back. Recipe in hand, I dragged her to a local butcher, confessed my ignorance to the staff, and said I was looking for short ribs and oxtail. A quick conversation followed, something about flanken cuts, then what looked like a huge piece of meat was carried to a nearby bandsaw, cut, and wrapped in white butcher paper. Oxtail came next. I guess it never occurred to me that oxtail was a literal name for something, but I immediately understood once I saw an 18 inch long intact cow tail go onto the counter scale. Oxtail…now I know.

Further research revealed that oxtail, when simmered for hours, was especially good at releasing gelatin into broths to thicken soups. Seems a likely reason for its inclusion here considering how little meat came from it compared to the short ribs. Step 1 of the recipe called for all of the meat to be simmered for hours after a quick sear in a hot pan. Short ribs, oxtail, and a sliced white onion joined several cups of water in a large pan for about 5 hours. At the end of that time, it was allowed to cool. I lifted out some of the onions and refrigerated the broth so it its fat would separate by morning. The meat was also removed from the broth and shredded by hand before a night’s rest in the fridge.

The next morning was veggie time. Zucchini, fingerling potatoes, cilantro, arugula, guajillo chiles, ancho chiles, and a couple of limes were all appropriately cleaned, cut, and prepped to join the meatfest in time for lunch.

Preparing the chiles was especially fun as neither Joann nor I had done anything quite like it before. Both types of required chiles were sold dried and the recipe called for them to be toasted in a hot dry pan. Our arm-breakingly heavy cast iron Lodge skillet came in handy here and provided a great visual background to the reds and dark scorch marks of the chiles. Pretty stuff. After toasting, the peppers were soaked in water to rehydrate, then joined a couple of other ingredients in the food processor to yield a paste. This then went into a smaller pan to be cooked and reduced slightly.

The next morning, the broth that had been refrigerated the night before had separated as planned, making the fat easy to skim off the top. It was very clear at this point that the long simmer the night before had done its job and the broth itself was thick and gelatinous, exactly as refrigerated leftovers of Xoco’s soup appear before reheating. I was on the right track. The broth and shredded meat were placed in our largest pan along with several cups of chicken broth and brought up to a simmer.

While the meat and broth were heating, the potatoes and zucchini that had been washed and cut earlier went into the oven for roasting. The chile paste was added to the quickly heating broth and meat mixture, immediately creating the soup’s trademark red color. Once the veggies were done roasting, they were added to everything else and the nearly complete soup was simmered for about a half hour.

I have to confess some surprise at how complex this recipe was, but looking back I think I understand why nearly every step was necessary. Much respect to those who understand details like these well enough to recommend them in the first place. While the final product wasn’t Xoco quality, it tasted fantastic. One thing that I’ve always enjoyed about this soup is how the arugula’s strong flavor balances the meaty and peppery flavors of the soup perfectly. A squeeze of lime also adds a bit of lightness to what is really a hearty dish and the veggies provide a much welcome texture variation from everything else. Really fantastic to eat and a pride-inducing dish to make.

The full recipe can be found at Rick Bayless’s site, which also has a number of other interesting recipes to try.

 

Baked Egg Medley

March 1st, 2012 :: 2 comments :: permalink

I woke up bright and early at 6am, on a Saturday of all days. Instead of tossing and turning for two more hours, I got in full Type A mode. I originally wanted to make a simple omelet, but like anything I do, it evolved.

I started by scavenging through the fridge for any left behind morsels. It was definitely time to make my way to the grocery store. Luckily I had garlic and green peppers, which are my go-to veggies for just about any dish. I also found a bit of spinach, one Thai chili, tomatoes, and sliced roast beef. I would usually prefer Chorizo sausage over sliced sandwich meat for what I had in mind, but I had heard sandwich meat was tasty as well, so I went with it. And so began my early morning baked egg experiment (haha… “eggsperiment”).

I sauteed my veggies and roast beef with some salt and pepper in an oven safe pan, until the veggies were golden brown. At the same time, I preheated the oven to 350°. Cooking usually helps to wake Dustin up on weekend mornings,  so I thought the smell of something in the oven would be especially tempting. In the same pan, I cracked four eggs on top of the sauteed veggies and roast beef, then put everything in the oven. It took about 30 minutes to bake before the top just started to brown.

This is probably one of the heartiest but easiest breakfasts I’ve made lately. Its flexibility makes it particularly great. All you need are eggs, salt and pepper, and what ever else happens to be in your fridge. I served it with a side of buttered toast and a hot cocoa. The house smelled lovely all morning and I got “awesome girlfriend” compliments at the same time.

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