Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Every One is Not a Winner

Just because a recipe sounds good doesn't mean that it will be a winner when you make it. This can be true even when the beautiful picture depicting it makes your mouth water just looking at it or if it contains some of your favorite ingredients. When you collect as many recipes as I do, you’re bound to run into a few flops. This week I ran into a bunch.

The first, Black Bean Pork and Zucchini from Cooking Light, sounded like my kind of recipe. I like black beans. I like zucchini. What could go wrong? Well first off, I must admit I didn’t exactly follow the recipe. I had chicken in my freezer, but not pork, so I actually made Black Bean Chicken and Zucchini. I’m not sure if chicken and pork made all that much difference in the recipe, but something didn’t taste all that great about this recipe to me. I think it might have been the black bean sauce or the ginger. In any case, I don’t think I’ll be making it again. I’m hoping to find another recipe I do like with black bean sauce since I have a whole jar of it in my refrigerator.

The second flop wasn’t a huge surprise – Roasted Beet Pizza. It actually wasn’t that bad, considering it was a pizza with beets on it. My big mistake here was that I didn’t let the beets cool long enough after roasting them and before slicing them to put them on the pizza. Since they were so hot, I couldn’t slice them thin enough. If they had been sliced thinner the pizza would have been easier to eat. Instead, the beets fell off as I bit them. I forgot to put the honey and salt on after cooking and also substituted red beets for the golden beets the recipe called for. The pizza was topped with shallots and feta cheese, which tasted good together and may be all I put on my pizza next time.

Finally, I made Sesame-Miso Cucumber Salad. I can just about make creamy cucumber salad in my sleep, so I thought trying something new would be good. The dressing is a spicy Asian one that is supposed to made with sesame seeds, white soybean paste or soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil and honey. Having spent all my grocery money on black bean sauce, I used soy sauce for the soybean paste and olive oil for the sesame. This one wasn’t the biggest flop, but I don’t think I’ll save the recipe either.

So three recipes, three flops. But is there one common denominator? Actually there is. Well, besides me, anyway. All the recipes were not made according to specifications. Would making them exactly as described, with the exact ingredients have made a difference? There's probably a lesson to be learned there, but I guess I’ll never know. I have too many other mouthwatering recipes in my stack to try.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Submarine Pizza

Tomatoes! What a surprise to find one in my CSA box today. With bacon in my refrigerator and a head of lettuce in the box as well, I had BLT on my mind. But I still wanted to try something a little different.

After a little searching, I settled on BLT pizza from a recipe I found on allrecipes.com because it would require minimal preparation and still feel as if I had done a little cooking.

Side note: I usually like to make my own pizza crusts, but I had two packaged flatbreads on hand from when I moved, and I knew they would speed up the preparation. If you haven’t tried them, the flatbreads are a brand called Flatout and they make a great substitute for homemade crust for personalized pizza. And the best part is they only have 100 calories and have 8 grams of fiber.

The original BLT pizza recipe called for topping the crust with olive oil, mozzerella, tomatoes, and bacon before heating it in the oven. When the pizza is done, you top it with shredded lettuce that has been dressed with mayonnaise.

Although I’m sure that would have tasted fine, I wanted to try something different with the lettuce and make it a little more salad like. I made a vinaigrette with olive oil, red wine vinegar, basil, oregano, and garlic powder. It reminded me a little of the oil and vinegar dressing I remember from a sub shop when we were kids. On top of the pizza after it had been removed from the oven, it tasted a bit like a BLT sub sandwich.

The pizza was a good combination of hot and cold and it was a fun way to try an old favorite. Plus the tomatoes tasted wonderful among the bacon, lettuce, and of course cheese.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fabulous Fennel (and Grapes)

I’m having all kinds of discoveries already this CSA season. As noted in my last post, only on my second box, I’ve found a favorite new way to cook zucchini (with raisins!), and today I found out that I like fennel. What’s even more strange is that this recipe has grapes in it. That has to be the surprise ingredient of the season.

The recipe was so simple it barely had a name, only appearing as Fennel, Chickpeas, Peppers and Grapes on the piece of paper I had torn from Whole Living magazine. It was part of an article titled, “Culinary School” and fell under 2. Roasting.

The article said that most people know about roasting vegetables, but that adding fruit or beans to roasted vegetables could add a greater dimension. The instructions were simple, just slice the vegetables, drizzle with olive oil and toss in some herbs and salt and pepper.

In addition to the aforementioned fennel, chickpeas, peppers and red grapes, the recipe also called for garlic. For spices, I used dried oregano instead of fresh, since I didn’t have any on hand. After tossing with olive oil, I cooked them at 450 degrees for about 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Roasting took the edge off the fennel, a vegetable that for my taste tends to overpower a dish. Part of the problem I’ve had in the past is finding the right flavors to go with its licorice taste. This dish, which combined the spicy taste of peppers and the sweet taste of grapes, along with the roasted chickpeas somewhere in the middle, seemed just right. Roasting also seemed to soften both the flavor and texture of the sometimes stringy vegetable.

All in all I was surprised again by the addition of the sweet grapes in such a strong dish. But the article was right. The grapes, and the chickpeas, did add a different dimension. This recipe will go on the top of my fennel recipe pile for the future. It's also a good reminder to try adding a few unexpected tastes here and there.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Trying Out the New Kitchen

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I like zucchini pretty much any way you slice (or shred it). It was a nice surprise to find it last week in my CSA box, only the second of the season. It seemed early, but I wasn’t about to complain.

Since I’ve only been in my new home about a week, it’s nice to have an old friend, and something I can cook with my eyes closed, at my side. I’ve been eating it raw and on pizza, but I wanted give my new kitchen something a little harder to produce tonight. Well, not really hard, but at least little more complex, if only in flavor.

I found the recipe for Spaghetti with Zucchini, Walnuts and Raisins in a stack of those I shoved in my hutch before I moved. I had been tempted to toss the whole stack out in the last days of packing, but luckily my hutch could be moved with the contents intact as long as they weren’t breakable. Knowing a stack of recipes fit the bill, I felt better tossing them in there than in the trash.

I had most of the ingredients on hand, only substituting penne for spaghetti. The raisins were picked out of a bag of trail mix. I thought about leaving them out entirely, as they’re not my favorite ingredient, but decided to keep them in as they were pretty much the thing that made the recipe different from any other I had made before.

The recipe was from Real Simple, which as the name suggests means it was pretty simple. But as with most of their recipes, they don’t tend to be too boring, even if they are easy. It was a good recipe to try out the flow of the kitchen. I was pleased with how the kitchen worked and was able to whip the whole thing up in about 15 minutes. I was also pleased with the taste when I sat down at my new table.

The raisins gave the dish a nice unexpected sweet taste against the garlic and toasted walnuts. Of course the pasta and zucchini were good, but there’s no surprise there. I’ll be adding this recipe to the binder I keep of successful CSA recipes. That is, as soon as I find it.