Thursday, May 20, 2010

Vegan Mushroom Spring Rolls

That's right, I said vegan! I do cook healthy things, too, yaknow. I have to admit, though, that vegan dishes have been a rarity for me, and the night I made these was the first time I made an all-vegan meal. Last Thanksgiving (remember the Buttermilk Cake with Brandied Cranberries?) I had a handful of vegan dishes, but not the whole meal, by far.

I made these in honor of my friend Melissa's annual birthday-weekend visit to New York. She's a vegan chef in Chicago, and is one of the two people who convinced me vegan food can actually taste good and not be processed nastiness and doesn't, in fact, have to consist almost entirely of soy products. So, of course, I invited Haley, the other of the aforementioned two, to join us for dinner.

Spring rolls are not terribly hard to make, if you can wrap a burrito you can do this. There's a lot of chopping and shredding and sauteeing to be done, and it takes a little practice to get the rice wrappers to behave how you want them to, but after you've made the first few you'll get the hang of it and they'll be done before you know it.

Vegan Mushroom Spring Rolls

1 red onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 1/2 cups sliced or chopped mushrooms, shiitake or baby bellas or oysters.
1 cup white cabbage, shredded or finely chopped
1 cup carrots, shredded
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 package rice paper wraps (spring roll wraps)

Salt to taste
Canola oil for frying

In a wok or large skillet, add a little oil and sauté onions and ginger. Add the mushrooms and stir. Add the cabbage, carrots and chives. Season. When mixture is soft, place in colander to drain. Add the sesame oil and cilantro when mixture is cooled.

Pour boiling water into a wide pasta bowl. When it's cool enough to put your hands in, carefully dip one rice wrap at a time into the water just long enough to make it soft. Lay a heaping tablespoonful of filling in a line on the center of the softened wrap. Fold one long side over, fold both the short sides in, then roll toward the remaining edge. Set aside and repeat until all are made before frying. Start heating the oil about halfway through.

When the oil is hot, place a few rolls in it spaced apart. They should get opaque and brown gradually. (If they seem to be soaking up the oil, it is too cool. If they are getting dark brown it is too hot. But you probably know all about frying stuff, right? Right.) Set aside on paper towels to drain as you fry the rest.

Serve with dipping sauce. I generally just put bits of the following in a tiny bowl until it's a nice rich color:
soy sauce
rice wine vinegar
scallions, chopped

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chicken Fingers

Normally I make this recipe in the form of popcorn chicken, but somehow that doesn't ever seem to photograph well, so I've been unable to post the recipe here. Luckily for you my roommate has a super crazy better-than-mine camera and now everything seems to photograph well! Phew!
I have been playing with variations of this recipe for years, and once upon a time a friend of mine made me fly from Brooklyn to the Midwest for her birthday party and make a big batch of this despite her boyfriend being a chef. Ohh snap. And So Began my smugness about my kitchen skills. But, I gotta give credit where credit is due, my darling roomie Catherine showed me what's what when it comes to technique - there was something about the way I was making this that worked beautifully sometimes and not so well others, and she pointed out the key. Lucky you! You can use vegetable, canola, corn, or peanut oil for frying. I use a mix of vegetable and peanut oils, but we're fancy at my house, and you don't have to be. Plain old vegetable oil works just fine.
If you want to make the honey mustard we poured over the chicken fingers in this photo, stir together in a bowl: honey, dijon mustard. Yes it's that easy.

Chicken Fingers or Popcorn Chicken

2-3 lbs boneless chicken
1 cup cup all purpose flour
3 eggs
1/2 cup of milk
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp adobo
1/2 tsp paprika
oil for frying

Put about a cup of flour into a wide shallow dish and set aside.
Preheat the oil in a deep skillet or frying pan, or even a wok.
Whisk the eggs, milk, and spices with about 1/4 cup of the flour. Cut the chicken into pieces the size you prefer (small for popcorn chicken, strips for fingers). Dip chicken pieces one at a time in the egg mixture then place into the flour. Set the floured chicken aside on a wire rack or paper towels, whatever you've got, and let them rest a minute while you prepare another round. 
A handful at a time, give the chicken a second round through the egg mixture and the flour, then straight into the oil. Fry until golden brown and drain on paper towels.
To keep early batches warm, I recommend putting those paper towels on a cookie sheet, maybe with a wire rack under the towels, in the oven on low heat.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Chicken & Black Bean Tacos

So I'm on a Mexican kick. Sue me. I get a thrill (or at least a full stomach) out of making standards with my own twist, as I think we all know by now. This is just another example, and it's definitely worth trying. Really quick and easy and healthy, too! Well, depending on how much cheese and sour cream you put on them...

Chicken and Black Bean Tacos

flour or corn tortillas, small is better.
2 chicken breasts
1/2 cup mojo sauce/marinade*
1 can of black beans, drained
baby spinach
sour cream
panela (crumbly white Mexican cheese)

Marinate the chicken breasts in mojo overnight, I use a giant ziploc and toss it in the fridge. It's still good if you only marinate for an hour or two, but way better if you give them a day.
If you have a grill, or an iron grill-pan for your stove, that's best. If not, you can cook the chicken in a skillet, just give it 10 minutes or so on each side. While the chicken is cooking, throw the beans and some fresh black pepper in a sauce pot with a smidge of butter or olive oil over medium heat. Stir from time to time and add water or more oil if the beans start to stick.

In a shallow frying pan over low/medium heat, warm the tortillas enough that they can fold without breaking, one at a time. set the already warmed ones under an ever-so-slightly-damp cloth to keep them warm and flexible.

Cut the chicken into thin strips. If it looks a little too pink in the middle for your comfort, as often happens with grilling, throw them into the frying pan for a minute with a bit of marinade til they're definitely thoroughly cooked.

Place some spinach leaves in the center of each tortilla, place beans and chicken on top, garnish with sour cream and panela and a little hot sauce if you're so inclined.

See? Easy!

*Mojo can be bought in the Mexican and/or condiment aisle at most grocery stores, but here's a quick list of the contents if you want to do it yourself and keep some handy in a jar in your fridge - just throw it all in the blender. Boom. You're done:

  • 6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup minced yellow onion
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chopped oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tuna & Cheese Quesadilla with Pico de Gallo

Sorry, folks, I've been a busy bee the past couple of ...months. One of you was kind enough to send me a nudge asking for more recipes, and I couldn't help but comply. The good news is I have moved out of the hood and into a swank new apartment near a glorious park with a wonderful new roommate who cooks as much as I do, and let me tell you, it's great to have a fellow foodie in the house! Oh the bouncing of ideas that goes on in here!

And so, I bring you another variation on one of my favorites, the tuna melt. This is what I came up with for dinner tonight after a nice little raid through the pantry and the fridge. Yes, there happened to be pico de gallo hanging out in the fridge, which my roomie made the other day. Her recipe consists of "some tomatoes, some onion, some cilantro, and lime juice." There you have it.

Tuna & Cheese Quesadilla
1 can of tuna, drained
2 tsp mayonnaise
1/3 cup cheddar, finely shredded (add some jack if you want)
1/4 cup panela
salt & pepper to taste
2 tsp butter, in 2 pieces
2 corn or flour tortillas

In a small bowl, stir the tuna, mayo, and cheeses. Melt half the butter in a smallish frying pan or skillet over low heat. As soon as it is liquefied, place one of the tortillas in the butter and spread the tuna mixture on the tortilla. Place the other tortilla on top. When the cheese looks melty, carefully lift the quesadilla out of the pan and toss in the other half of the butter and set the quesadilla back in it as soon as the butter is melted.
Turn the heat up closer to medium and cook until the cheese is completely melted and the tortilla is crispy and slightly browned. Top with sour cream and pico de gallo.