Monday, August 31, 2009

Southwest Shepherd's Pie

After speculating that one could use the taco filling recipe to make a kind of Tamale Pie, I just had to test it out! Elspeth isn't keen on tortillas but loves Shepherd's Pie, so I thought she might really enjoy a Southwest version of it. I don't really like the name Tamale Pie (what does it mean?), so opted to focus on its relationship to Shepherd's Pie.

I went to my trusty Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, figuring she must have a cornbread recipe, and she did. I halved the recipe and spread it over an 8 inch square Pyrex pan about 2/3 full of taco filling. Sadly, I'm still without a regular oven (long story), so I had to adapt for the toaster oven. Madison wants you to bake the cornbread at 425 degrees, but I put the toaster oven on 400 and reduced the cooking time to 20 minutes. About halfway through, I needed to cover the pie with foil, as the proximity to the burners in the toaster oven was over-browning the cornbread.

We were very pleased with the end result and will definitely be making this again.

INGREDIENTS
1 recipe Taco Filling
1/2 c. cornmeal
1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 c. milk
1 egg
2 TBSP butter, melted
1 1/2 TBSP agave nectar (or honey or sugar)

DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat a full-size oven to 425 degrees or a toaster oven to 400 degrees
  2. Firmly pack the taco filling to fill an 8 inch square pan to about 2/3, then butter the remaining top 1/3 of the dish
  3. Whisk together the dry ingredients for the cornbread in a small bowl and make a well in it
  4. Measure the milk into a 2 cup liquid measuring cup then add the remaining ingredients to the cup and whisk together
  5. Pour the wet ingredients into the well of dry ingredients
  6. Stir until the batter just comes together
  7. Spread the batter over the taco filling quickly and place in the oven
  8. Set the timer for 10 minutes to start if using a toaster oven, then check to see if you need to cover with foil. If using a regular oven, start with 20 minutes
  9. Take the southwest shepherd's pie from the oven when the cornbread is cooked-through and lightly browned and the filling is bubbling

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Taco Filling for Health Foodies

I grew up eating a lot of ground beef hard shell tacos. In fact, I didn't know that other kinds of tacos existed until I was well into my 20s. Once I discovered more traditional Mexican tacos, I sought them out and ate them with delight. However, there is a place in my heart and stomach for the tacos of my youth, at least a healthified version of them.

I recently had the pleasure of picking up delicious Mexican tacos and handmade corn tortillas from a restaurant called La Tarasca in Centralia. My husband and I will always plan our drives to and from Portland based on visits to La Tarasca.

I thought it might be nice to fill those fabulous tortillas with my taco filling. It had the same kind of texture contrast as Shepherd's Pie, it turns out, and was quite tasty. The filling is also great with hard taco shells (we get the brands that don't have trans fats), chips, in wheat tortillas or supermarket corn tortillas. Heck, you could probably even make some sort of Tamale Pie with it by covering it with corn bread batter and baking it.

I base my recipe on a Cook's Illustrated ground beef taco recipe, but I made adjustments to the spice quantities because I add so much extra stuff. In addition, I took out all of the hot chile and substituted smoked paprika for the chili powder to ensure a toddler-friendly meal. Finally, though I made the recipe with ground beef this time, I have also had great success with vegetarian 'grounds' (we like Yves). I suspect you could also use ground chicken or turkey. Whatever protein you use, you'll need to taste several times to adjust the salt and flavoring level to your preference.

I use my food processor (quelle surprise) for all of the vegetables except the garlic, for which I use our garlic press.

If you were so inclined, I bet that some finely chopped red or yellow bell pepper would be another nice addition to the filling.

INGREDIENTS
2 TBSP oil
2 small or 1 large onion finely diced
3-5 cloves garlic, finely minced or put through a press
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (mild)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp dried oregano
Salt
1 lb ground beef
1 can drained pinto or black beans
1 bunch greens, washed and finely chopped/processed
4 carrots, washed and finely chopped/processed
1 c. chicken or veggie broth (low or unsalted)
1/2 to 1 tube tomato paste (we use Amore in the squeeze tube, you could also use a small can)
1 tsp brown sugar
3-4 tsp vinegar (cider or red wine would work best)
Pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onion
  2. Cook, stirring, several minutes until the onion is softened but not browned
  3. Stir in the garlic and spices and continue cooking for another minute
  4. Add the ground protein item, and stir well to break it up into smaller pieces
  5. Cook until the meat is no longer pink (for veggie grounds, just cook for a few minutes)
  6. Add the beans, greens and carrots as well as the tomato paste and stock
  7. Put a lid on the skillet to steam the veggies--about 5 minutes
  8. Remove the lid and stir then add the brown sugar and cider vinegar
  9. Taste and adjust seasonings to your preference
  10. Use as a filling for hard or soft tacos, burritos, etc

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Zucchini Bread Two Ways

As promised, here are two recipes for zucchini bread. I am a big fan of the traditional cinnamony zucchini bread. But some ten or twelve years ago, I was introduced to the concept of chocolate zucchini bread. It sounded odd, but I was hooked after one bite. It's one of the easiest chocolate desserts I know. Sometimes I make a kind of Mexican chocolate zucchini bread by adding one heaping teaspoon of cinnamon to the cocoa.
The recipe for each kind of zucchini bread makes two loaves, so what I do (or try to do) is combine the recipes to make one loaf of each kind at a time. That's how I'll present the information here; if you want to make two loaves of the same kind, I'll give some shorthand quantities at the end.
I just tried making a full (two loaf) recipe of the chocolate zucchini bread and baking it in a Bundt pan at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Worked really well, though getting it out of the pan (though greased and floured) was problematic. I think it's because the melty chocolate chips stuck to the pan. However, I scraped out the stuck parts, molded them back to the cake, and shook icing sugar over it and it looked fine. Elspeth (the birthday girl reaching the big 2) was impressed, anyway.

INGREDIENTS FOR ONE TRADITIONAL AND ONE CHOCOLATE ZUCCHINI LOAF

COMMON MIXTURE
3 eggs
1 c. oil (anything but olive oil, really)
1 1/2 c. evaporated cane juice sugar
2 c. grated zucchini
1 tsp vanilla extract

TRADITIONAL LOAF DRY INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 c. chopped toasted walnuts (optional)

CHOCOLATE LOAF DRY INGREDIENTS
1/4 c. evaporated cane juice sugar
1/2 c. chocolate chips (we love Trader Joe's Dutch process chips)
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1 1/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and grease and flour two loaf pans
  2. Get out two medium-sized bowls. In one bowl, whisk together the traditional bread's dry ingredients. In the second bowl, do the same for the chocolate zucchini bread's dry ingredients (leave out the extra vanilla for now)
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the common wet ingredients and stir in the grated zucchini
  4. Pour half of this mixture into each of your other bowls (if you want to be more precise, pour the mixed ingredients into a measuring jug and calculate half from there)
  5. Stir the ingredients together in each bowl just until it all comes together
  6. Add the remaining teaspoon of vanilla extract to the chocolate bread
  7. Fill the loaf pans (one batter-type per pan, of course)
  8. Bake for one hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each loaf comes out clean
  9. Cool on a rack for ten minutes before removing breads from pans. Continue cooling (or slice off some and have with a good cup of tea)
These breads freeze really well. I also learned that grated zucchini freezes surprisingly well, so if you've got extra, you can save it for later use.

If you want to make two traditional loaves: 3 eggs; 1 c. oil; 1 1/2 c. sugar; 1 tsp vanilla; 2 c. grated zucchini; 3 c. flour; 1 tsp salt; 1/4 tsp baking powder; 1 tsp cinnamon; 1 tsp baking soda; 1 c. chopped nuts

If you want to make two chocolate loaves: 3 eggs; 1 c. oil; 2 c. sugar; 1 TBSP vanilla; 2 c. grated zucchini; 1 c. chocolate chips; 1/2 c. cocoa powder; 2 1/2 c. flour; 1/2 tsp salt; 2 1/2 tsp baking powder; 1 tsp cinnamon (optional); 1 1/2 tsp baking soda

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Zucchini and Summer Squash Experiments

We've started to receive summer squash and zucchini in our CSA basket and I've been trying to find something to do with it besides zucchini bread (recipe to be posted). Generally speaking, I'm pretty bored by savory zucchini and summer squash dishes. The best preparation so far has been grilling, but even then I wouldn't say that I look forward to eating it.

However, the newsletter that comes with our CSA basket had a recipe for Oven-Baked Zucchini Spears, which sounded intriguing. It's a take on fried mozzarella sticks, substituting zucchini for the mozzarella and cooking in the oven instead of the deep fryer. I thought, well, what the hell. It called for dipping the zucchini in water (this seemed a bad idea to me) and then coating it with an herbed bread crumb and Parmesan mixture. Of course, I planned to omit the Parmesan, and also I was going to use egg white instead of water. The spears were then to be served with marinara sauce.

Stuck in my memory was also this post from the Chowhound Home Cooking Board outlining how one could use the waffle iron, originally for eggplant, but also for zucchini and summer squash. I decided to merge the two ideas together and do an egged breadcrumb-coated zucchini on the waffle iron. The idea is that the squash is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside without having to use gobs of oil. I planned to serve it with My Favorite Pizza Sauce.

Well, it was a complete failure, at least from my perspective. Evan and Elspeth seemed to enjoy it somewhat, even if it was not the most raved-about meal of the year. I tried versions with squash I had pre-salted (to leech out some of the water) and squash I had not. I tried a version with some grated Parmesan, hoping to make something tastier for the two Es.

I originally cut the squash too thick, but even when I cut it thinner, I still wasn't happy with the result. In addition, I had sticking problems even when I greased the (non-stick) waffle iron. I didn't really like my coating either, truth be told. I had gone to our co-op (largely so Elspeth could get the free 'kid-pick' fruit she adores so much) so ended up with hippie panko which may well not be very good. I added dried thyme, oregano and rosemary as well as a bit of garlic powder and salt and pepper. It didn't quite mesh, even when I dramatically upped the salt (since it was bland, bland, bland in addition to being slightly bitter).

My dreams have been dashed! I had in my mind that somehow the squash/zucchini would be fluffy and light and crispy all at the same time. Or at least yummy in some way. I am not sure I have the energy to keep plugging away. If any dear readers (all five or maybe ten of you, for whom I'm very grateful) figure out a worthwhile recipe, do let me know.

We did have an edible meal, since we had 6 ears of corn to gobble up and the pizza sauce is tasty. We did consume all the squash, too, it just wasn't worth the effort of making it.

I got discouraged (and sugar crash-y) before waffling up all the squash I had prepared, so I have some slices left to use up. Tomorrow's meal will be much simpler, as well as a much safer bet. Call me trashy for liking French bread pizza, but I have always had a soft spot for it since the Stouffer frozen variety entered my life in my teens. (God, that stuff tastes nasty now, though, so I would only eat homemade). I'm going to grill or broil the remaining squash and use it as one of our pizza toppings along with some spinach and probably chorizo. We have an Essential Bakery focaccia onhand that is pretty tasty, so that will be our base. I am confident that it will be a tastier meal than what we had tonight, with no waffle iron to clean afterwards!

FRENCH BREAD PIZZA
1 loaf 'French', focaccia or other bread (we use baguette a lot) either homemade or storebought
1 recipe pizza sauce (it's great to keep some of this around in the freezer)
Grated mozzarella cheese to taste (we use the pre-grated low moisture stuff--nothing highbrow for a French bread pizza! You could use fresh if you like)

TOPPING OPTIONS:
Spanish chorizo pieces that you've pre-frizzled in a pan to get rid of some of the oil
OR for a veggie pizza, just sprinkle a little smoked paprika on top
Lightly pre-steamed greens (I'm going to process ours since it can be hard to bite off if you use large leaves)
Thinly-sliced zucchini or summer squash that you've pre-broiled or grilled lightly
Chopped kalamata olives
Gently-toasted pine nuts

DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat your oven or toaster oven to 350 (or so)
  2. Slice your desired amount of bread horizontally and place both cut sides up onto a baking tray
  3. Spoon sauce on the pieces of bread
  4. Add toppings and cheese
  5. Bake for 10 minutes (or so--really depends on oven size, temp and kind of bread and cheese) until cheese is melted and bubbling