Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Spanish-style Octopus

Ever since we returned from Barcelona in June, I've been wanting to try and cook an octopus (pulpo). A friend recommended a fishmonger at the French Market at the Ogilvie Metra station, so I picked up a one-pound octopus on the way home from work today.

Got home and had no idea how to prep and cook an octopus, so I did a little internet research and learned you have to boil the sucker for an hour! But I had a fresh octopus in hand; no turning back now!

I put a pot of water on the stove to boil, with about 2 tablespoons of kosher salt. After rinsing the sea creature under cold water, I proceeded to dispatch the rest of it. First I cut off its head (channeling the Queen of Hearts). I cut the head in half, and removed the yucky bits (some crunchy and gooey bits). Then I cut through the webbing between each leg, up to the center of the body, and cut off each leg, discarding the remainder of the body. Once the water came to a boil, I tossed the pieces in, put the heat on low, covered the pot, and let it boil for 45 minutes.

Since I'd originally been inspired by Spain, I decided to prepare it tapas style (thank you to Mark Bittman), with olive oil, paprika, and potatoes. After 45 minutes, I added a medium Yukon gold potato cut into large chunks, 3/4 tablespoon of smoked paprika, and 1/4 tablespoon of hot Hungarian paprika (because I like it hot). I let that boil for 15 minutes until both the octopus and potatoes were easy to pierce with the tip of a knife.

To serve, I placed the potatoes on a plate, put the octopus on top, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled a little more smoked paprika on top.

¡Buen provecho!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Simple tomato sauce

We've harvested hundreds of Roma and cherry tomatoes over the last few weeks, so I decided it was time to make some pasta sauce. I've adapted this recipe over the last couple years from a variety of sources.

Here's what I used for this batch:

75-100 Roma and cherry tomatoes
2/3 cup basil leaves
1 white onion, roughly chopped
8 cloves of garlic, roughly diced
1 tablespoon butter
salt & pepper
Tools used:
3 quart covered sauté pan
large bowl
Melt the butter in the pan on low heat, and add the onion and garlic. Let those simmer a while until they caramelize - the onion will become a bit translucent.

While those are cooking down, start chopping your tomatoes. I chop the cherries in half and the Romas in quarters. Once the onions and garlic are ready, add the chopped tomatoes to the pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. I like to throw about a quarter of the basil leaves in at this point as well. Throw on the lid, and let the mixture simmer for a couple hours.

After a couple hours, the mixture will look soupy, like the photo at right. Add the remainder of the basil leaves.

At this point, you can put it in the blender, but I like my sauce a little thicker, so I drain the sauce through a colander placed on a bowl. What remains in the colander goes in the blender for a rough chop. If it's a little too thick, you can add some of the stock leftover in the bowl.

Remember when blending hot things to take the middle piece out of the lid so it can vent, and cover with a dish towel (I used a red one in this case, so splatters wouldn't stain). If your blender lid doesn't have a little piece to take out, remove the whole lid and cover with a towel. Blend until you like the consistency.

You can use the sauce fresh, or store it in the fridge for later, or freeze it for a special winter treat!

Monday, August 9, 2010

They All Flock to the Guac

Want a rather tasty guacamole but don't feel like going through the effort to make it from scratch? I understand -- getting tomatoes, garlic, onion, cilantro, chiles, etc. and chopping them up just sometimes is a pain. And really after all, don't we all do the same thing when it comes to cilantro? We buy that giant bundle for a dollar or so at the store, use 1 tablespoon of it, and then set it in the fridge to finish out the rest of its days. We convince ourselves that we'll use it again, but hey, I know how it goes and it just probably isn't in the cards for that bundle of cilantro.

Susan and I usually have an avocado or two around the house. You can buy them when they are unripe to sit on a few days before you decide its fate, or get them ripe ready to use from the grocery store. Determining the ripeness of an avocado is easy to do as well. You want to press on the fat, bulb side of the avocado. It should give a bit but still be somewhat firm. If it is super soft, the flesh inside is already going to have started going bad. If it is hard and doesn't give, it isn't quite ready to eat yet, but still is a fine candidate for purchase as long as you don't plan on using it that day.

So here is the trick. Go to a larger Jewel or Dominicks. In their ethnic (aka Mexican!) food isle, you will likely come across a bunch of Frontera Foods salsas. In case you are unaware, the entire Frontera line is owned/designed by Chef Rick Bayless. If you're lucky, they will have the Frontera guacamole mix available. Cut up a couple avocados, pour in a bit of the Guacamole mix, mash it up, and enjoy. It is a quick way to get a very tasty guacamole without all the extra effort. The difference over Dean's neon green disgusting guacamole and that gross powdered version is highly apparent. If you happen to have a chile or some cilantro, mix it in as well, but it is quite fine to eat as is.

Carnita Bonita

Well, I've neglected everyone over the past couple weeks by not making any posts. To be fair to our growing reader population, I've decided to give up one of my cherished recipes. An always tasty attraction and a fan favorite at Cinco de Mayo parties -- here are Matty Carnitas.

3-4lb pork shoulder
4 tsp salt
4 tsp garlic powder
4 tsp cumin
2 tsp mexican oregano (or regular if you can't find mexican)
2 tsp ground coriander seed
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 bay leaves
a little chicken broth or water

Combine salt, garlic powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, and cinnamon in a bowl. Coat the pork shoulder all over liberally with the dry rub (go nuts, that chunk of pork is thick inside). You may have some extra left over and a lot will just fall off as you're doing it. I apply it to a fresh pork shoulder which is usually a little damp out of the package and takes the rub fairly well. Place in fridge over night if you can for best results, but it can be used right away.

Place in crock pot on low for 6.5 hours with 2 bay leaves and enough water/broth to lightly cover the bottom. Be careful not to rinse off any of the dry rub when placing the liquid in.

When time is up, remove the pork from the crock pot and coarsely chop it up into pieces however you fine you'd like it (mine vary in size from small bits to 1-2" pieces. This takes like 30 seconds as its already super tender and falling apart. Just give it a once over with a chefs knife and you should be pretty good. Spread the meat evenly on a cookie sheet that has a little depth to it.

Now, using a ladle or big spoon, take the rendered fat from the crockpot (you should have a good amount), and pour over the meat just enough to dampen them all pretty good.

Place in a broiler on high for about 10 minutes or until you see the fat bubbling on the top of the meat (like it does when you cook bacon). Mix up the meat a bit then put back in for another 5 minutes. The goal here is to crisp some of it up which adds nice contrasting texture.

And now the carnitas are done. Traditionally I have them as tacos (with flour or corn tortillas) with cheese and whatever other toppings you like. I recommend making the following salsa to use with it. It is fantastic with carnitas, and you will be really glad you did.

Roasted Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa.

5 tomatillos
3 cloves of garlic
2 chipotle peppers (you'll also find these at most grocery stores in the ethnic food area .. they come in a small metal can and say chipotles or chipotles in adobo sauce)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup of water

Buy 5 good sized tomatillos and cut them lengthwise. If you haven't used tomatillos, you want to take the husk off of them and give them a quick rinse in cold water (as they are sticky) before you cut them.

1. Roasting the tomatillos and garlic
Lay a square of aluminum foil on a griddle or skillet set over medium heat. Set the tomatillos on top and turn regularly until soft and blackened in spots, about 10 minutes. While the tomatillos are roasting, toast the garlic on an uncovered spot on the griddle (or use another skillet) turning frequently until soft, about 15 minutes. The garlic skin will black and brown in spots as well. Cool, slip off the garlic skin and chop each clove into quarters. Allow both to cool off.

2. Finishing the salsa
Place the tomatillos, garlic, 2 chipotles out of the can, 1/4 of water into blender or food processor and puree. Scrape the salsa into a dish, season with salt and stir. Add more water if necessary to give it a light, saucy consistency. If a smokier flavor is desired, stir a teaspoon or two of the sauce from the canned chipotles.

Serve salsa at room temp or slightly chilled.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Refreshing summer pasta salad

This is by far our favorite thing to make in the summer. It's a little labor-intensive - requiring some chopping and squeezing - but it's entirely worth it. Originally from my Aunt Sally, we've adapted it a bit for our tastes.

1 box orzo, ditalini or another small pasta
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
2/3 cup olive oil
lemon zest
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped basil
1/4 cup chopped dill
pint grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
yellow bell pepper, diced
1 avocado, diced
1/4 lb. feta chunks (we use 2 boxes)
Optional: chopped kalamata olives, capers, chopped artichoke hearts

Cook and cool the pasta. Since this is a cold salad, you can dump the cooked pasta in a colander in the sink and run cold water over it.

While pasta is cooking/cooling, chop up all the things you have to chop and squeeze the lemons. Shake the lemon juice, olive oil, lemon zest, and s&p together in a jar. Mix the dressing, veggies, and herbs into the cooled pasta, and then dig in!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

South Side Community Garden Tour

This tour of four community gardens on the South Side of Chicago was led by Neighborspace - a non-profit urban land trust that permanently protects and helps manages the city's community gardens - and the Chicago Park District - which hosts many community gardens in its open spaces.

Despite the overcast day, it was great to explore in some neighborhoods with which I'm not very familiar and see some spaces made magnificent by local gardeners. They were all a mix of flowers and produce, but I will of course focus on the food.

Rainbow Beach Victory Garden - oldest community garden in Chicago

Jackson Park Growing Power Garden

Our tour was led by high school students, employed here over the summer.

65th & Woodlawn Community Garden in Woodlawn

Brickyard Garden in Hyde Park

The final tour of the summer will focus on North Side community gardens on August 28th. Sign up; it's free!

See Seeding Chicago's post about the tour.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Beet & goat cheese quesadillas

Beets are a new-found love of mine; I didn't grow up seeing them except occasionally in salads. The great thing about beets is that you can eat the whole darn plant! Here's a recipe I concocted in order to use the whole veggie.

Getting as close to the root (what is generally referred to as the beet) as possible, cut off the greens. Toss the beets into a pot of boiling water. Trim the stems of the greens up to where the leaf begins, and discard the stems. Since beet greens grow close to the ground, rinse the leaves very well in colander under cold water.

Finely dice some garlic (and onion, if you'd like) and place in a pan with olive oil that's been heated over a medium-low flame. When the garlic starts to sizzle, toss in the beet greens, put a lid on the pan, and turn the heat down to low.

While the greens are cooking down, check on the boiling beets. If a fork can easily pierce the skin, they're ready! Dump the beets into a colander, and start rinsing and peeling them under cold water. Just start rubbing the skin with your fingers, and it will start to peel off. Once all the beets are peeled, cut them into thin slices.

By now, the greens should be done cooking and look wilted. Crumble some goat cheese onto a tortilla. Scoop the warm greens mixture on top, and put the tortilla back into the pan - still on low heat.

When the goat cheese starts to melt, place the sliced beets on the top, and crumble some more goat cheese on top. Salt and pepper as you'd like, and put another tortilla on top. Carefully flip the quesadilla over in order to brown the second tortilla and get the new cheese all melty.

Once the other side is browned, and the ingredients are warmed all the way through, slide the quesadilla onto a plate, cut into quarters, and garnish with any leftover sliced beets.