November 27, 2011

Black Bean Tortilla Bake

When I was married, I only had a few dishes that I felt like I could make well. I expanded my repertoire by often trying out new dishes. This was before the internet had a lot of good resources (or at least none that I knew of - or wait, did I even have internet then? yes, I'm not that old), and so I relied on people sharing recipes with me and my two cookbooks: Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens.

I must have made a lot of things from those two books, but as the years have gone by, most haven't entered my permanent repertoire. This dish is one I discovered more recently, but I'm really not in the habit of even opening up these cookbooks anymore, except for some basic recipe like buttercream frosting or pie crust.

What I love about this dish is that it simplifies a multi-dish Tex-Mex meal by putting it into one sloppy dish (see photo below). I really don't make too many casseroles, but this vegetarian dish is yummy, pretty easy, and makes enough for two meals. There are optional garnishes, but please don't skip the sour cream.

Black Bean Tortilla Bake
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

splash olive oil
1 c. chopped onion (1 large)
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 c. chopped green pepper (1 large)
1 14-1/2-oz. can tomatoes, undrained and cut up
1/2 c. bottled picante sauce or green salsa
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 15-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained (or 2 c. home-cooked beans)
6 6-inch corn tortillas
1 c. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
optional garnishes:
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 c. shredded lettuce
sliced green onions
sliced pitted black olives
sour cream

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Saute for a few minutes and add green pepper. Saute a few minutes more. Add undrained tomatoes, picante sauce, and cumin. Bring to boiling and stir in beans. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for 5 minutes.

Spread one-third bean mixture over the bottom of an 8x8-inch square pan. Top with 3 tortillas, overlapping as necessary or tearing into pieces to more evenly cover the beans. Add half the cheese. Add another one-third of the bean mixture; top with remaining 3 tortillas. Add the remaining bean mixture and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake, covered with foil, in a 350 oven for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes. Serve warm with some or all of the optional garnishes.

November 23, 2011

Mexican Wedding Cookies

When I receive a plate of assorted holiday cookies, if there are any Mexican Wedding Cookies, I usually eat those first. I don't remember my mom ever making them, and I don't think I've made them before now. But they are so worth it and they aren't hard to make at all. I love the shortbread flavor and the pecans. In my book they don't even need the powdered sugar coating, but others disagree.

Mexican Wedding Cookies
from Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

1 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
big pinch of salt
1 tsp. water
1 c. pecans, toasted and finely chopped
powdered sugar, for coating the cookies

Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds in the oven; preheat the oven to 350. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a bowl by hand), beat together the butter, granulated sugar and vanilla on medium speed just until smooth. Stir in half of the flour and the salt, then add the water. Mix in the remaining flour and the chopped pecans.

Using your hands, form the dough into 1-inch balls and place them about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake, rotating the sheets midway through baking, until the cookies feel almost, but not quite, firm, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely on the baking sheets.

Sift some powdered sugar into a bowl. Toss the cooled cookies a few at a time in the sugar until completely coated with a thick layer (there is relatively little sugar in the cookie dough, so be generous when coating them).

Storage: The dough can be frozen for up to 1 month. Store the baked and sugar-coated cookies in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

November 20, 2011

Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips

I fell in love with this recipe for pumpkin bread years ago. I got it from a family friend, and then when I went away to college I missed it so much I had to contact her and get the recipe. I love that it's heavy on the spices, and spice and pumpkin both accompany chocolate so well.

Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips
from Paige B

3 eggs, well beaten
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 1/4 c. pumpkin
1 c. oil
2 1/4 c. flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
2 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2/3 c. chocolate chips

Cream eggs and sugar and until fluffy. Add pumpkin and oil and mix. Sift together dry ingredients and mix with pumpkin mixture. Fold in chocolate chips. Divide evenly between 2 loaf pans. Bake 45 minutes at 350 or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool for 20 minutes in the pans, loosen and remove from pans, and allow to completely cool on a wire rack.

November 18, 2011

Stuffed Grapeleaves

Grapeleaves are one of those items I've seen at the store and wished I could buy. They seem so exotic, which might explain the high price. Deterred by the price, I always declined, since I didn't even know what to make with them anyway. Then recently I was at a grocery store in a different part of town than usual, and they had a kosher section. Intrigued (diversity is not too prevalent where I live), I strolled the aisles looking for something interesting. They had a rather large jar of grapeleaves for a decent price. So I bought them and figured I could do something with them.

This recipe for stuffed grapeleaves appears to be pretty standard. I used almost all ground lamb and a little ground beef, but if you don't like lamb, stick to beef or turkey. Also, this appears to make TONS of grapeleaves. I made a fourth of the recipe and still had too much.

I enjoyed these, but the husband said not too good. We're not that used to lamb, so that could have been part of it. Otherwise, I guess they're kind of like stuffed bell peppers, but in grapeleaves.

Stuffed Grapeleaves

from Converging Cuisine

2 lbs. ground chuck or turkey
1 lb. long grain white rice
1 small onion, finely diced
1 small green pepper, finely diced
1 clove minced garlic
8 oz tomato sauce
8 oz tomato sauce or paste
salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon

Mix ground chuck, rice, onion, green pepper, garlic and tomato sauce in large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pour in some tomato sauce enough to moisten the meat. You want the meat mixture to be slightly moist, but not so it’s so wet that it is falling apart.

Place enough grapeleaves in the bottom of a large pot to cover the bottom of the pot. This will keep the grapeleaves from sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning.

Lay out a grapeleaf with the vein side up. Cut out the protruding stem, if needed. Place a small amount of the beef and rice at the bottom 1/3 of the leaf, tuck in the sides of the leaves over the meat, and begin to roll up like a cigar.

Continue rolling the grapeleaves, and laying them in rows on the bottom of the pot, which has been lined with unfilled leaves. When the first layer of grapeleaves has lined the bottom of the pot, start the new layer in the opposite direction, so that the rows criss-cross each other. This will allow the liquid to get to all the leaves easier than it would if they were all going the same direction and packed in tightly together.

Keep rolling up all the leaves, and stacking the layers, until there are no more leaves, or no more filling, or the pot is full. Leave a few inches of empty space at the top of the pot to allow room for the liquid, the plate, and for the liquid to boil and bubble up over the leaves without spilling out of the pot.

Once you’ve got your leaves all rolled, place a plate upside down over the leaves. This will keep the leaves from floating during cooking, and coming unrolled.

In the bowl that the meat mixture was in, scoop out a 8 oz can of tomato paste and mix with enough water to cover the grapeleaves.

Pour the tomato/water mixture over the leaves until they are just covered.

Add a teaspoon or so of salt, and a squeeze of half a lemon into the pot.

Cover the pot with a lid, and bring the leaves and liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to medium, and let cook for about 30 minutes or until meat is cooked thru and rice and leaves are tender. If you have a lot of leaves, this may take longer – to test, just take out a leave from the top of the pot and taste it.

Once the leaves are cooked, remove from heat. Take out the plate, and start removing the grapeleaves with a pair of tongs, arranging them on a serving platter.

If desired, reserve the rest of the sauce from the pot, and use a little bit of it to pour over leftover leaves before reheating them.

November 11, 2011

Fennel-Arugula Salad

I can't believe I haven't mentioned this before on this blog, but one of my all-time favorite flavors is anise. Black jelly beans and black licorice are sublime. I know many of you will think I'm crazy, but anise flavor pops up a lot in nature. There's aniseed, star anise, fennel, fennel seed and Thai basil, all with anise overtones.

I've been wanting to try fennel for some time now, but didn't really know how to use it. That's where this salad comes in. I found this recipe in the doctor's office. They have a special health channel playing in the waiting area, and Ellie Krieger came on and showed how to make this salad.

Raw fennel is amazing - it has the crunch of celery but the flavor of anise. I might have to start including it with raw veggie platters. This salad is simple but interesting - now I can have licorice for dinner (well, sort of).

Fennel-Arugula Salad
from Ellie Krieger

1 medium bulb fennel, thinly sliced into half-moons
5 cups arugula (5 ounces)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Toss the fennel and arugula together in a large salad bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, orange juice, vinegar, shallot, orange zest, salt, and pepper. Add to the fennel and arugula and toss to coat.