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Frito

This dish is one of those family classics that is very simple, but has stuck around for a reason.  Craig grew up on this dish, and when we moved out of the dorms in college and started making dinner for ourselves, it was one of the first recipes he requested from his mom.  At first, I was a little skeptical – Craig calls this “Frito pie,” which sounded odd to me.  After the first time he made it, though, I was completely won over.  What’s not to like about a crispy, cheesy Frito topping?  Of course, we had to make this recipe our own over time and put our own spin on it.  We have probably made this dish every couple of months or so for the past five years, and we now have it perfected to the way we like it. 

Last year, sadly, Craig’s mom passed away.  A couple of months later, wanting to assemble her best recipes and hold on to them, his dad and his sister were on the hunt for this recipe.  It seems the original copy had somehow disappeared from his parents’ house.  Well, I was so happy to be able to tell them that I still had the copy she had made for us during college, and I quickly sent it back their way.  This is a recipe that will certainly live on in our household, and we are looking forward to getting our own kids hooked on it someday as a family classic handed down from their grandmother.

Frito Pie

Our adaptations to Sally’s recipe

ingredients

  • 1 lb. ground meat (the original, of course, is ground beef, but I almost always use ground turkey or chicken)
  • 1 cup finely diced onion
  • 2 Tbsp. chili seasoning (I make my own using chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper)
  • 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • ¾ cup water
  • 6 oz. Fritos (as an interesting aside, I think that when this recipe was written, that was the standard size for a bag of Fritos. Now, needless to say, bag size has expanded and you will have Fritos leftover.)
  • 1 can beans (I usually use black beans, but the original calls for kidney beans. Pinto beans are also really good in this dish.)
  • 1 small can sliced black olives
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar or a Mexican blend)
  • Toppings of your choice, such as: sour cream, diced avocado or guacamole, shredded lettuce, diced fresh tomato, pico de gallo (the toppings were another modification that Craig and I made to the original, and I think they make it much more interesting.)

directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brown the meat in a large sauté pan or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, chili seasoning, tomato paste, and water.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer uncovered for 5-10 minutes, until mixture has thickened and water has evaporated, stirring occasionally.

2. Spray a round, high-sided casserole with cooking spray. Layer ingredients as follows: ½ of the Fritos, ½ of the meat mixture, ½ of the beans, ½ of the olives, and ½ of the cheese.

3. For the second layer, add ingredients as follows: remaining meat mixture, remaining beans, remaining olives, remaining Fritos, remaining cheese.

4. Bake at 350, covered, for 30 minutes.  Remove the cover and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until cheese and chips start to brown on top.  Let cool 5 minutes before serving with toppings as desired.

Yum – check out that crispy, Frito-y crust…

Frito done

chipsters

You may or may not remember my brother from my Kung Pao shrimp post about a year ago. Well, in the past year, my brother graduated from college and moved to Alaska for a position with the Alaska Army National Guard. For the summer, though, he is working in a resort kitchen – skills that will no doubt come in handy when he gets his own apartment next month. I wanted to send him some love, so I made these cookies to ship up to him. Since I knew they would take about 4 days to get there even with expedited mail, I needed a cookie that could stand up to several days in transit. One of my internet friends suggested this recipe, and these cookies came out great. They had lovely flavor from the fresh nutmeg and cinnamon, and the peanut butter was not too overwhelming. I will definitely be making these again in the future. Oh, and by the way, they apparently stood up to the shipping fairly well and were enjoyed thoroughly – see the bottom picture below!

Chocolate chip – peanut butter chipsters

Source: Dorie Greenspan via Proceed with Caution

ingredients

3 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup peanut butter–chunky or smooth (but not natural) (I used smooth)
1 cup sugar
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chunks, or 1 1/2 cups store-bought chocolate chips or chunks (I used Ghirardelli semisweet chips)

directions

Getting Ready:
Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. (My oven is very small – I had to bake one batch at a time).

Whisk together the oats, flour, baking soda, spices and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter, peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition, then beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients, beating only until blended. Mix in the chips. If you have the time, cover and chill the dough for about 2 hours or for up to one day. (Chilling the dough will give you more evenly shaped cookies.) (I chilled it for about 4 hours).

If the dough is not chilled, drop rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto the baking sheets. If the dough is chilled, scoop up rounded tablespoons, roll the balls between your palms and place them 2 inches apart on the sheets. Press the chilled balls gently with the heel of your hand until they are about 1/2 inch thick.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 7 minutes.(I definitely found that they were on the longer side of this baking time, even wanting them barely done so that they would stay soft during shipping). The cookies should be golden and just firm around the edges. Lift the cookies onto cooling racks (or my classic – brown paper bags) with a wide metal spatula – they’ll firm as they cool.

Repeat with the remaining dough, cooling the baking sheets between batches.

with note

My parents happened to be visiting my brother when the cookies arrived, so my dad took this picture of my brother and my mom opening them. As you can see, I packed wrapped each layer in foil and put them in Gladware. I also put a layer of plastic wrap between each layer.

cookies arrive

Homemade Pasta

pasta

I recently had a week off in between finishing up my Master’s degree and starting my permanent job.  Since Craig was tied up with studying for the bar exam, I had to come up with fun things to do on my own.  Naturally enough, these things revolved largely around cooking (and eating).  One of the things I decided to do was try this homemade pasta recipe from The Pioneer Woman Cooks.  It looked so simple and non-intimidating – no rolling the pasta through a press as I had done in a cooking class a few years ago (the only other time I made homemade pasta other than this gnocchi).  I thought the idea of pairing this rustic pasta with a rustic bolognese, as they did, was a great one, but I used my trusty 4-hour bolognese recipe.  This time around, though, I made it a turkey bolognese with half ground turkey and half turkey Italian sausage.  This pasta was very tasty and surprisingly easy to whip up.  The only trouble I had was that after I cut the noodles with the pizza cutter, I couldn’t get them apart and into the water.  They were fully cut apart in the middle, but still slightly attached on the ends.  Craig had to help me go back through with a paring knife and separate them individually, which was a pain.  Next time, I would either just use the sharp paring knife to begin with or, if I used the pizza wheel, I would move each noodle to a plate as I cut them.  Try these noodles – nothing beats homemade!

This is me cutting the pasta, oblivious to the fact that I won’t be able to move it to the pot in a few minutes.  Don’t be like me.

pasta cut

Homemade Pasta

Recipe from: The Pioneer Woman Cooks

ingredients (for 2 servings)

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup flour, plus more for rolling out dough

directions

1. Place flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center.  Crack eggs into the well and slowly mix together with your hands.

2. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for several minutes, until it becomes smooth and pliable, adding more flour as needed.  Cover lightly with a towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rest for about 10 minutes.

3. Roll the dough out on the floured surface, as thinly as possible.  Keep in mind that the noodles will plump up when cooked.  Cut the noodles into very thin strands using a sharp knife or a pizza wheel (see my notes about this above).

4. Boil the noodles in well-salted water for 2-3 minutes and dress as desired.

pasta done

Mahi

When I was a freshman in high school, my family took a trip to Hawaii.  I’ve always loved to travel, and I could spend hours leading up to a trip reading Fodor’s and Frommer’s guides, picking out places I have to go and, of course, things I have to eat!  One of the food items that caught my attention at that time was the bento box.  I believe this is a concept the Hawaiians picked up from Japanese cuisine, as our local Japanese place makes them as well.  Basically, it’s a divided tray of various meats, salads, rice, etc. that are designed to compliment one another – a more fun version of a boxed lunch.

For some reason, bento boxes came back into my mind recently, and I decided to make one with some mahi mahi I’d picked up.  I ultimately decided I wanted to make quick Asian pickles, and after consulting a few quick pickle recipes, I came up with my own concoction.  The key was slicing them very, very thin on the mandoline.  I was extremely happy with how they came out, and I can’t wait to make a bigger batch once my garden cucumbers are ripe (they have huge flowers – it won’t be long now).  I was really bummed that I didn’t have any fun, divided plates to make this dish a true bento box, but otherwise, everything was very good.

Quick Asian Pickles

After consulting a few other pickle recipes, I came up with this one on my own

ingredients

  • Half of a large English cucumber or several small pickling cucumbers
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • 1 ½ Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • Light green parts of 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • Dash of hot sauce
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1/8 tsp. grated fresh ginger

directions

1. On a mandoline, slice the cucumber into very thin rounds.  Lay the rounds in a single layer in a strainer and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar.  Set aside for 15 minutes.

2.  Meanwhile, combine the vinegar, scallions, hot sauce, soy sauce, ginger, and another small pinch of sugar in a small bowl.

3.  Add the cucumbers to the rest of the ingredients and toss to combine.  Add additional salt to taste.  Let stand 10 minutes and serve.

For Bento Box:

ingredients

  • Homemade teriyaki sauce
  • One 1/2-pound mahi mahi filet
  • 1 cup shelled edamame
  • 1 cup Jasmine rice
  • Quick Asian Pickles

directions

1. Prepare rice according to package directions.  Meanwhile, preheat the broiler.  Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray and place the fish on it.  Broil fish until just firm, about 7 minutes.

2. Thaw edamame under cold water.  Pat dry with a towel.  Sprinkle with kosher salt.

3. Plate the rice.  Cut the fish in half for 2 portions and gently dip each half in the warm teriyaki sauce to fully coat.  Add a serving of the edamame and a serving of the pickles, all atop the bed of rice.  Serve and enjoy!

eggplant risotto

I rarely use specific recipes when making risotto – to me, risotto is a blank canvas, like pasta, waiting for the next combination of ingredients I can come up with to put in it.  However, on our honeymoon last year, I was reading a particularly good issue of Food and Wine which featured this risotto recipe in an article about cruising the Mediterranean with Jacques Pepin.  I went back to that issue recently, where I re-encountered this recipe and immediately decided to finally put this specific risotto on my weekly menu.

This risotto was a perfect blend of flavors.  It really tasted like all of the great flavors in a good eggplant parmesan combined in each bite.  The only changes I made were to add the fresh tomatoes later in the cooking process than they instruct, in order to preserve more of their fresh taste and texture, and to make sure that I cooked the risotto in the same pan as the eggplant, scraping up the browned bits into the rice.  This gave the finished dish extra flavor.  I also used butter to start the risotto instead of olive oil and added white wine as that’s just the traditional way that I know. A key ingredient in this dish is ricotta salata, which is a dried, crumbly cheese with a slightly smoky taste.  We liked it with the ricotta salata, but Craig was less sure about it than I was.  In keeping with the Mediterranean theme, I think this recipe would also work great with feta in place of the ricotta salata, and I might try that as well.

Eggplant and Tomato Risotto with Ricotta Salata

Recipe from: Food and Wine, May 2008

ingredients

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

3 garlic cloves, minced

Salt and pepper

1/3 cup dry white wine or vermouth

4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth, for a fully vegetarian dish)

1 small Vidalia onion, minced

1 pound tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1 cup Arborio rice

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1/2 cup crumbled ricotta salata (2 ounces)

2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

1/2 cup julienned basil

directions

1. In a large sauté pan with high sides (the same pan you want to use for the risotto), heat the olive oil. Add the eggplant and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned all over. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Transfer the eggplant to a bowl and set aside.

2. In a saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a rapid simmer. In the sauté pan, heat 2 Tbsp. of butter. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until thoroughly coated, about 2 minutes.

3. Add the wine and cook, stirring and scraping up the browned bits in the pan, until the wine is nearly absorbed. Add the hot stock 1 cup at a time and stirring until it is absorbed between additions. When the rice is about half cooked, add the chopped tomatoes, reserving a small handful for garnish. The risotto is done when the rice is al dente and suspended in a creamy liquid, about 25 minutes total.

4. Remove the risotto from the heat. Vigorously stir in the remaining 1 Tbsp. butter, then stir in the ricotta salata and parmesan cheeses. Stir in the eggplant and basil, reserving a little basil for garnish. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to bowls. Garnish with reserved chopped tomatoes and basil. Serve right away.

koshary

For a long time (as in, 5 years!), I had been wanting to make a version of a dish my husband loved on his study abroad trip to Egypt. The only problem was, the dish isn’t at all common in the U.S., and since I wasn’t there, I had never tried the dish before. That made it hard to know if the recipes I saw online, most of which were vague and seemed not to be written by native English speakers, would turn out similar enough to bring him back to his good memories of the dish. When I stumbled across an article about the dish on Gourmet’s website, written by an American chef and calling for cooking each ingredient separately, I knew I had found my challenge.

Koshary is sometimes referred to as “Egypt’s national dish.” It’s a street food classic that combines lentils, rice, mini pasta, and chickpeas, all covered with a spicy tomato sauce and fried or carmelized onions. It sounds strange, but what I learned after eating it (and enjoying it very much) is that this dish is ALL about the texture. The combination of different textures makes this dish addictive and tasty.

It was a lot of fun to tease Craig about making him a “surprise dinner” and give him clues to see if he could figure it out. Some of the clues I gave him were that it was a vegetarian meal and that I had never had it before. What finally tipped him off was when I complained, after standing over 3 burners on a hot day, that I didn’t know how people in its country of origin could stand making it given the hot weather. After tasting it, he said that this version tasted pretty authentic, although he would have liked it spicier, and he really appreciated that I made it for him as a way of remembering his trip. I will make this again – it’s good! If you try this (and I hope you do), I think my version minimizes the number of dirty dishes and streamlines things over the original I’ve linked to.

Egyptian Koshary

adapted from: Francis Lam, gourmet.com

ingredients

1 large onion, sliced thinly

6 oz dry lentils, picked over and rinsed

8 oz small pasta (I used ditalini, which was great, but you can also use elbow mac)

1 cup (uncooked) basmati rice

1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas, rinsed and drained

dash ground cinnamon

1 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp coriander

3 cups homemade or store-bought arrabiata, fra diavolo, or other spicy tomato sauce

Hot sauce

Extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Note: you will need a skillet, a pasta pot, a saucepan, and a large bowl in order to cook all of the ingredients separately.

directions

1. In the skillet, caramelize the onion. Coat the bottom of the pan with oil and heat over medium-high. Get it hot, so that the onion sizzles when it goes in. Quickly toss to coat the onion in oil, then turn the heat down to low or medium-low. Stir it occasionally while it’s still pale, then more frequently when it starts to take on color, so that it caramelizes evenly. It will take at least 20 minutes to caramelize. Once they are done, remove from heat and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, in the pasta pot, bring water to a boil to cook the macaroni.  Once it boils, cook the pasta to al dente. Here is the trick to saving time in cooking all the ingredients separately – reserve most of the boiling water by pouring it into a large bowl. Drain the pasta and toss with a little olive oil so that it won’t stick while it’s cooling.  Cool completely. 

3. Return the hot water to the pasta pot and return it to a boil. When it boils, add the lentils. Turn it down to a lazy simmer, and cook partially covered, checking them after 20 minutes. Cook to al dente, which will probably take about 25 minutes. Drain the lentils and let them cool slightly.

4. While the lentils are cooking, cook the rice in the saucepan. Bring the rice, 2 cups of water, and the cinnamon, cumin, and coriander to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook 15-20 minutes according to package directions. Once it’s done, remove the pot from the heat and set aside to let rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Then, remove the cover and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to the large bowl. Fluff with a fork and let cool slightly.

5. Meanwhile, in the now-empty saucepan, warm up the spicy tomato sauce, adding more hot sauce if desired (or, each person can add more to their own serving).  While that’s happening, heat some olive oil in the skillet. Get it really good and hot, and throw in your pasta. Don’t touch it for a minute; let it get a bit brown and crusty. Toss it, and let it toast for a while.

6. Combine the pasta with the rice in the large bowl, then add the lentils. Sear the chickpeas slightly in the skillet. Add the onions to the pasta, rice, and lentil mixture and toss to combine. Add more salt and pepper to taste. To assemble the dish, add a serving of the mixture to a shallow bowl. Top with the warm tomato sauce, then garnish with the toasted chickpeas. Serve with additional hot sauce if desired.

The big food-related news around here? We have a garden! After a year and a half on the waiting list, we found out in March that we would receive a plot in the community garden near our home. Set on federal park land here in Washington, DC, our community garden has been in continuous operation since the victory garden days of World War II. Each season, dozens of neighborhood families use their plot to grow vegetables and herbs using organic methods.

The plots are extremely large – ours is 23 by 28 feet – so figuring out what to plant and where is the first task. We bought Burpee’s guide to organic vegetable gardening right away, and it has been extremely helpful already. We’ve determined a basic layout and set aside space for putting a table and chairs for relaxing. Our apartment has no outdoor space, so this area will be wonderful to have.

After pulling some of the many weeds and laying out 3 beds, we planted arugula seeds in early April and Swiss chard seeds last week. Here is our full planting list:

Arugula seeds – early April (done and sprouted)

Swiss chard seeds – mid-April (done)

Broccoli seedlings – ASAP

Thyme – ASAP

Chive plants (regular chives and garlic chives) – ASAP when I can find an already-growing bulb

Tomato seedlings – mid-May

Basil (regular and Thai) – mid-May

Bell pepper seedlings – mid-late May

Cucumber seedlings – mid-late May

 

I am so excited to make things with my garden produce and hang out in our outdoor space. Below is a picture of Hobbes and me in the garden the first week we went (in late March). I can’t believe I was wearing a fleece in that picture because today it’s supposed to hit 90 degrees! Hopefully, the greens will grow nicely in the warm weather this weekend. As things progress, I will certainly share my best garden recipes and lessons learned with you!

garden