Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Baked Oatmeal

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Unfortunately, the fact that I am decidedly not a morning person usually robs me of the opportunity for a leisurely morning meal. Lunch is the new breakfast, I say.

But my wonderful neighbor, Jackie, forwarded me this recipe, and I was intrigued. I told her so, and in typically Jackie form, she responded that she was going to make some and that I could taste hers. I did, and was hooked. Hearty, with just a barely-perceptible hint of sweetness, mostly from the dried fruit - but not so much that it whacks out my blood sugar (something I have to watch - too many carbs in the morning makes for a grumpy Michelle). I like steel cut oats because you can still discern the individual grains - this dish showcases that trait well. Also, it keeps well in the refrigerator, so even in a pre-caffeinated state, I'm able to carve out a hunk and warm it up (or not) for a super quick breakfast on the go.

The original recipe is here, but I've modified it a smidge and added quite a few of my own notes, so I'm reposting it below.

Baked Oatmeal

Ingredients:
• 1 lb steel cut oats
• 1 cup walnuts, or other nuts
• 2 tablespoons yogurt, kefir, whey or buttermilk, for soaking (I used FAGE yogurt)
• dash unrefined sea salt
• 6 large eggs
• 2 cups milk (original recipe called for whole; I used 2%)
• 1/8 cup agave nectar (optional)(the original recipe called for "up to 1/4 cup maple syrup." I am aware of the recent controversy over agave nectar, but had purchased some before this news broke and needed to use it up, so opted to use that rather than the maple syrup)
• 1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries (I strongly prefer the latter, but use whatever you like)
• 1/2 cup dried unsulfured apricots, diced
• 2 tablespoons cinnamon
• 1/4 cup coconut oil, plus extra for greasing baking dish (any other relatively flavorless oil will work, here - Jackie used canola oil, and hers tasted great, too.)

Directions:
Pour the steel cut oats and nuts into a ceramic container or large mixing bowl.
Add enough filtered water to completely submerge your oats and nuts (you will be straining the oats later, so I'd suggest that you use more water rather than less so you are sure you have plenty for the oatmeal to soak up.)


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Oats and nuts before soaking. I forgot to take a photo of them in their bath.

Add the salt and the fresh yogurt, whey, kefir or buttermilk. Allow the oats and nuts to soak, covered, overnight in a warm place in your kitchen – about eight to twelve hours. [Yes, this seems weird - particularly the part about leaving the dairy out overnight. But I did it and I'm still alive.]

After the mixture of oats and nuts has soaked overnight, dump them into a colander to drain and place the mixture back into the ceramic container or mixing bowl.

Preheat the oven to 375° F and grease a 13 x 9-inch rectangular baking pan with coconut oil.

Beat together the eggs, milk and maple syrup/agave nectar (if you’re using it), until well-combined and frothy.

Pour the mixture of eggs, milk and maple syrup/agave nectar over the soaked oats and nuts, stirring well. [The original recipe described this as a porridge-like mixture, but mine was distinctly un-porridge-like. The oats/nuts were still distinctly separate from the egg mixture.]

Gently fold in the dried fruit, cinnamon and coconut oil.

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Apricots on the chopping block.

Pour the mixture into a greased baking pan and smooth it out with a rubber spatula to ensure even baking and a good appearance. Again, mine was pretty liquidy and didn't need much "smoothing."

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No smoothing needed.

Bake in an oven preheated to 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 40-45 minutes or until the oatmeal achieves a golden-brown color on top and a knife inserted into its center comes out clean and liquid-free.

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Like this.

Cut into squares and serve. I like mine with a dollop of FAGE yogurt on top.

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Hello, breakfast!

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

El Naranjo


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"Honest."

That is the word my friend Penny de los Santos used to describe the dishes emanating from El Naranjo, a new(ish) food trailer that has garnered some serious buzz since arriving on the scene about a month ago. Indeed, just a few minutes of visiting with owner/chef Iliana de la Vega helped me understand the element of her food that so spoke to me, but that was so hard to put my finger on:

"I cook as if I'm cooking for my family," she said. "I've just expanded my definition of 'family' a little."

Yes, the meal we shared here - under the trees, in the rain, tended to by a welcoming Chef de la Vega, who insisted on pulling dry(er) chairs out for us from under the awning of the house where her trailer is parked and wiping them down herself - spoke of community, of tradition, of family. For me, the mole in particular - a rich, complex concoction tasting deeply of chocolate, paired with tender pork - evoked a feeling of comfort that seemed somehow larger than the dish itself.

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No ordinary mole ($11)

We also sampled the molotes, little cigars of corn masa that were stuffed with either chorizo and potatoes; or plantains, black beans and cheese, then fried ($4.25 for three)...

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...and an order of tacos, one al pastor and one cochinita pibil. At $4.50 for two generously-filled tacos, these are the bargain on the menu.

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We crowned our meal with an order of fried plantains with cream ($2.95):

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Despite the modest surroundings, Chef de la Vega - who previously owned an acclaimed restaurant in Oaxaca also called El Naranjo and who is currently an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America - takes as few shortcuts as possible, making most everything from scratch. The one exception to this, at least at the moment, is that they purchase their tortillas - but that may change in the future when they have more space (they are hoping to eventually open a restaurant in the house where the trailer is currently parked).

El Naranjo is showing Austin, once again, that remarkable food can be found in the most unexpected places. I loved everything we tried here and am thrilled that Chef de la Vega and her family have decided to expand their definition of "family" to include Austin.

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El Naranjo
85 Rainey Street
Austin, TX 78701

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Peanut Butter Noodles

When I was but a fledgling foodie, my mom used to make a dish she called Peanut Butter Noodles. As a college student, I think I may have tried to recreate it a few times (probably without consulting my mom, because that's what college kids do). I vividly remember one such experiment the very first time I ever visited Austin, back in 1992. My boyfriend at the time and I were staying in some co-op where we didn't know a soul, and we put the leftovers in a big tub in the fridge. We giggled the next day when we discovered that they had been devoured by somebody who likely had no clue whatsoever what they were eating. We later discovered how very un-strange that really was after moving in here.

For some reason, when I heard that the next Austin food bloggers' potluck was going to be a picnic, this long-lost dish popped into my head. I dug around a bit online and found this recipe, then consulted with my mom to get her take on it. Based on her recommendations, I modified it somewhat, so I'm posting my revised version here.

One particularly great thing about this dish is that it tastes good cold, so it's perfect for summer picnics, potlucks, or make-ahead dinners.


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Peanut Butter Noodles

Ingredients:
• 1 lb extra-thin dry spaghetti noodles
• 1 Tbsp sesame oil
• 4-5 garlic cloves, peeled & minced
• 1/2 Tbsp peeled, minced fresh ginger
• 1/2 c peanut butter (either smooth or crunchy works fine - if you use the crunchy, you might want to omit the peanuts)
• 1/4 c chopped dry-roasted peanuts (you may want to omit these if using crunchy peanut butter)
• 1 Tbsp soy sauce
• 1 Tbsp dark brown sugar
• 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
• 1 tsp Chinese hot oil (with or without seeds, depending on your preference)
• 1/4 c hot water
• 1 cucumber, sliced
• 1 c shredded chicken (I was lazy and bought a pre-roasted whole one - which was nice because I had plenty left over for another meal.)
• 6 scallions (both white and green parts), sliced
• Salt (to taste)

Directions:
Cook the spaghetti until it is al dente, then toss it in the sesame oil. (Confession: I missed this step when I made this, so there was no sesame oil in mine. Honestly, I didn't think it too lacking, although it might add a nice dimension of flavor. However, I'm inclined to blend the oil in with the rest of the sauce rather than tossing it with the noodles separately).

While the spaghetti is cooking, you can make the sauce. Put the garlic, ginger, peanut butter, soy sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, and chili oil in a blender and blend until it is smooth.

The original recipe then suggests that you pour in the water while the blender is still running. My blender blew a fuse partway through this process, so I ended up using a food processor to make the sauce, and I knew that was not going to fly (or, more accurately, that it was going to fly. Everywhere. So I poured the water in, then processed it, and it worked fine.

Toss the spaghetti in the peanut sauce, then toss in the chicken, cucumber, scallions and peanuts. Salt to taste.

Note that the sauce tastes pretty strong and a little harsh straight out of the blender, but it mellows significantly after being tossed with the pasta. If you're nervous, you can add the sauce bit by bit, tasting it as you go.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Austin Food Bloggers' Potluck - Version Picnic

Ah, spring. Let me count the ways that I love thee. I shall celebrate thee by attending a food bloggers' potluck, oh yes I shall.

Thanks to our fearless leader, Addie Broyles, the Food Bloggers' Potluck made a comeback for 2010 in the form of a picnic at Patterson Park. As seems to frequently be the case when it comes to food blogger potlucks, I was really late, but I still got to see lots of my food blogger friends and make a few new ones. Here's a little glimpse of some of the tasty treats that graced the picnic table:


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I loved these little tartlets by Natanya of Fête and Feast.

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Delightful empanadas by Kristina from GirlGoneGrits. Loved the sauce!

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Korean barbecue by Tanya, who was a friend of Peter from Tasting Buds.

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Pão de queijo by Jennie of MisoHungry.

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Beautiful quinoa dish by Megan of stetted.

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Massive cookies by Lisa from LisaIsCooking. Yum!

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This strawberry-rhubarb pie was absolutely divine. I am really, really hoping that the woman who brought it, Shelley from FranishNonSpeaker, might post her recipe (pleeeaaaase?)!

If you want some real potluck eye candy, be sure to check out the gorgeous event photos taken by Aimee Wenske on her blog!

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sake Dinner at Kenichi

Last week, I had the great fortune of attending a Sake Dinner as a guest of Kenichi and courtesy of Jennie Chen. I'd visited Kenichi before on maybe 2-3 other occasions and had always had a nice time, but it had been quite a while, and I was very excited to be back and to check out the pairings they had waiting for us.


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Kenichi's main dining area (note that the sake dinners are served in their private dining area, not in the main dining room).

As the guests arrived, we were offered our choice of two different cocktails made with sake - one was a canteloupe martini and the other was a mojito of some kind...raspberry? Obviously, I got the martini, and it was wonderful - very light and full of fresh canteloupe flavor. A nice way to kick off the evening.

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The elements of each course were introduced first by Kenichi's sake director, Brandi, then by Kenichi's Chef Mark Stroubal, which meant that the meal was not only enjoyable, but educational. Did you know that Kenichi carries a whopping 75 different sake labels? Their collection is the third largest of the restaurants in the U.S.

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Chef Mark taking us on a taste tour.

Our amuse bouche was textured beets served with a spring onion dashi. These were served with a carrot-infused Ty•Ku Black Ginjo (which you can see hiding behind the amuse plate). I would not have thought to infuse sake with carrot, but it definitely worked - the sweetness and earthiness of the carrot provided a nice contrast to the salty, crispy beets on the left of the plate and the surprising smokiness of the dashi.

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The first course was Chef Mark Strouhal's famous scallop brulée with smoked fuji apples and mizuna. No sooner had I put this tender morsel in my mouth than I began to furtively seek out another that I might steal from an unsuspecting diner. Alas, it appeared that everyone else had already consumed theirs and was doing the same.

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This dish was paired with another Ty•Ku offering, their White Daiginjo. As you can see below, the sake pours were very generous. I had six of these, plus the carrot-infused sake with the amuse, plus the canteloupe sake cocktail. Don't you be calling me a lightweight.

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For our second course, Chef Mark put together a lovely udon soup with radish, uzura (quail egg), and black cod cakes. This whole dish was wonderful, but the uzura really blew me away - it just sort of simultaneously melted and exploded with wonderful flavor the moment it was placed in your mouth.

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I won't inundate you with repetitive photos of the sake since they all look more or less the same, with the only differences being that some were clear, some were cloudy (Kenichi's sake director, Brandi, explained that the term "cloudy" is a preferable to "unfiltered" since all sake is filtered). I will tell you each of the pairings, though, as I was very impressed with all of them. I have typically not been as fond of clear sakes, as many of them taste rather harsh to me, but I found every single one of the sake pairings at this dinner to be smooth and easy to drink. This particular course was paired with a Watari Bune 55 Junmai Ginjo.

For the halfway point (I know! Only halfway?!?), we indulged in a tai sashimi served with white soy and lemon vinaigrette, negi (Japanese green onion), grapes, crispy rice, and balsamic creme. This was paired with a Shichi Hon Yari ("Seven Spearmen") Junmai.

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The fourth course - oh! the fourth course! - gave me shivers. Easily one of the most delicious things I've eaten so far this year (can you believe we're already almost 1/4 into the year?). Steamed sea bass with coconut and candied ginger, served with Minogawa Awa Yuki Nigori Junmai. I just love sea bass anyway, and this was perfectly prepared to bring out the rich, buttery texture of the fish, with the microgreens, coconut and candied ginger providing a nice point of interest, both texturally and flavor-wise. MmmmMMMMMMMM. More, plz.

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Pork belly is hugely popular right now, and for good reason - it is supremely decadent and kind of hard to mess up. Our fifth course showcased a lovely piece of pork belly with a star anise demi-glace on a bed of pickled cherry congee. The sake pairing was a Tentaka Kuni ("Hawk in the Heavens") Junmai.

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Get in mah belly, belly.

I felt pretty good about myself to be crossing this finish line (and I felt pretty good generally after all that sake and delicious food). For dessert, we had sweet kabocha dumplings with blood orange, strawberries, and creme fraiche gelato, served with Kenichi's own label sake - Tanuki's Magic Daiginjo.

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I had an absolutely wonderful time and thoroughly enjoyed the meal, the sake pairings, and the fine company. Many, many thanks to Kenichi for having me and to Jennie for the invitation!

If you're interested in experiencing one of Kenichi's Pairing Dinners for yourself, call the restaurant for details about their next one or follow them on Twitter. Also, I highly recommend that you keep an eye on John Knox's Flickr feed; he is a far better photographer than I and was enthusiastically shooting photos throughout our meal.

See?

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Lamb Kofta

A couple of weekends ago, I had the great fortune of wandering about a couple of Austin's fine farmer's markets with the elusive Penny de Los Santos. At the SFC Farmer's Market at Sunset Valley, we dallied to visit with Loncito Cartwright of Loncito's Lamb fame (Loncito does not have a website, but you'll love Penny's blog post about a gathering she attended there). Penny picked up a couple of pounds of ground lamb, all the while raving about a lamb kofta recipe she knew of. When Penny raves about food, I listen, so I stocked up on some of Loncito's best ground, myself.

Later, Penny sent me her recipe via Twitter. Of course, since Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters apiece, there were a few quantities missing, so I sort of filled in the blanks. As a result, I can't really promise that this recipe is exactly as Penny intended it to be, but I can assure you it was quite delicious all the same.

Lamb Kofta
Ingredients:
For Kofta:
• 1 lb ground lamb
• 1/2 small onion
• 3 cloves garlic
• 2 tsp cinnamon
• 1/2 tsp nutmeg
• 1/2 tsp cumin
• 1 egg
• salt (to taste)
• pepper (to taste)
• red pepper flakes (to taste)

For cucumber yogurt sauce:
• 1/2 seedless cucumber
• 7 oz plain yogurt (I am partial to FAGE Greek Yogurt (Total 2%))
• juice from 1/2 lemon
• salt (to taste)
• pepper (to taste)
• olive oil (apparently optional; this was in Penny's list of ingredients, but I completely forgot to use it and I thought my sauce turned out fine without the added oil.).

Purée the onion and garlic in a food processor (you can also grate it with a grater if you don't have a food processor or don't feel like getting it out). Mix the purée with the ground lamb, the egg, and all the spices. Form the lamb into hotdog-like shapes on skewers if you'd like to grill them (if this description is too confusing, check out the photos on this blog post from The Food in My Beard). If you prefer to cook them in the oven, you can form the meat into smaller oblongs in a rectangular pan and bake them at 425° F for 10-12 minutes.

While the meat is cooking, you can whip up the yogurt sauce. Dice the cucumber, then combine it with the yogurt, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Voilà. You're done. So easy and SO good. Serve the lamb with warm pita bread, the cucumber sauce, and fresh diced tomato. Penny leaves off the tomato and drizzles hers with honey, which really brings out the subtle flavors in the lamb. Marvelous.


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