Week 5, Recipe 4–Rachel Ray’s Super Nachos

Before we get to the recipe, can we please talk about this?
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Boyfriend and I were in New York a few weekends ago, and we went to the (heavenly) SoHo Harney & Sons. I ordered us some biscotti with our tea and Boyfriend was like, “What is biscotti?” (He’s from Alaska.) Since then he’s become obsessed with it, so, naturally, yesterday he just invented his own recipe and made chocolate almond biscotti from scratch. And it’s delicious. It’s not quite as hard as normal biscotti, but it was his first attempt ever, after all. 

As domestic as I was yesterday, Boyfriend beat me at my own game without even trying. In fact, I couldn’t make the nachos until he was done with the kitchen.

Recipe 4 was Rachel Ray’s nachos, because, though we are not football people (AT ALL), I figured I might as well make some sort of game day recipe, as we do like sitting in the living room and pigging out. They turned out nice.
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This is actually three recipes in one. It’s chips, covered in cheese sauce (which was amazing), covered in meat and bean sauce (which… meh), covered in pico de gallo (for which I made liberal use of my food processor). Congruous to my self-imposed rules, I stuck to the recipe as much as possible, which was partially easy because Rachel Ray is like, “Put whatever you want on these nachos!” and partially difficult because I TOTALLY wanted to alter the pico de gallo until it just turned into salsa or guacamole. And I really wanted to season the meat a different way. And… look, I used pork instead of beef. Because pork has a much smaller carbon footprint. Yes, that is the way I am.

You may have noticed that I usually make vegetarian food. I cannot call myself a true vegetarian because I eat seafood, and, clearly, sometimes I make stuff with meat. I do this partially for boyfriend’s sanity, because he is definitely a carnivore and a plate full of meaty nachos makes him really happy, and partially because I do enjoy it– it’s the factory farming that turns me off to the whole idea. That said, when I do eat meat, I want it to be awesome, and, well, I would have made it spicier than Rachel made it. But of course my meat-starved Boyfriend thought it was amazing and delicious and he loved it. So, while this recipe got his approval, take that with a grain of salt.

The cheese sauce was the really amazing thing. I would definitely make it again for nachos, or just for fun. And it was nice that the nachos can go back into the oven to warm up, since we kept eating off the tray for a couple hours, which would be very useful if we were, in fact, football people, instead of killing time waiting for Downton Abbey to start. It was fun to do something sort of Super Bowl-y, for once.

Last year we did nothing at all, and we couldn’t figure out why people were setting off fireworks until I said, “Oh, doesn’t New York have a team in the Super Bowl? They must have won.” Boyfriend replied, “That was today?” ❤

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Week 5, Recipe 3–Shepherd’s Pie

As I mentioned, recipe 3 was Shepherd’s Pie, from 100 Best Vegetarian Recipes by Carol Gelles (which was also a Christmas gift from my aunt… you could say that she inspired this little project). One thing I definitely like about Carol is that she’s very specific with her ingredients, describing them in weights and volumes instead of, say, “one large onion,” because what’s a large onion? That can vary depending on where I grocery shop, so I appreciate that she more or less eliminates the guesswork. However, I found out that her recipes are not completely dummy-proof, as I should have added a dose of common sense to this one. Here it is:

2 tbs vegetable oil
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbs all-pupose flour (I used whole-wheat, because that’s what I have)
1 1/3 veggie broth
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp black pepper
2 cups brown lentils
10 oz frozen mixed vegetables (I measured out precisely 10 oz with the kitchen scale that Boyfriend got me for Christmas <3)
2 cups mashed potatoes (I used instant flakes, because SHE SAID THAT’S OKAY, which was nice and quick but made me feel a little like a cheater)

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In a saucepan, cook the onion and garlic in the oil until soft. Stir in the flour until absorbed. And the broth and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Stir in lentils and mixed vegetables. Spoon into a greased loaf pan.

Okay, here’s where things went pear-shaped. I followed the recipe exactly. Stirring the lentils and veggies into the broth soaked up almost all of the moisture (as you’d expect), and nearly immediately looked to be in danger of burning if I stopped stirring. Luckily, the recipe told me to spoon it into the pan. I thought, “These lentils aren’t cooked yet… will they cook in the oven? That doesn’t seem possible. Neat trick! I’m learning things!” Stay tuned.

Put the potatoes on top of the pie. (The recipe says to pipe them in using a pastry bag, which did not happen. Using a fork works just fine, but leave a hole to let the pie vent.) Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes…

…unless, when you take out the pie and give it a taste, the lentils are totally not cooked and quite chewy. (Damn. No neat trick.) In that case, splash some extra broth around the edges and in the vent hole and put in back in the oven for like 20 minutes, until the lentils are at least edible. Kick yourself for not cooking the lentils before you put them into the oven.

So, this recipe was okay. The potatoes were delicious, and I think I’d make it again, with a few changes. For one thing, it was a tiny bit bland… I’d like to try cooking some celery with the onion and garlic, because celery adds a lot of flavor. And I’d add tomatoes, because I love them, and they’d add some moisture. And maybe some beans, instead of dry lentils?

Would that still be Shepherd’s Pie? Or would it them turn into just a mash of foods I like? Doesn’t Shepherd’s Pie usually have beef? So does what I made even count as Shepherd’s Pie? If not, what is it?

Boyfriend said it was okay. But to be fair, he was totally immersed in Minecraft, and probably only noticed that he was getting calories of some sort that wasn’t disgusting. Such is the power of Minecraft. You start confusing your hunger with that of your avatar, and as long as one of you isn’t starving, you can play indefinitely.

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Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Soup Recipe (#2)

1 eggplant, sliced
2 1/2 lbs tomatoes, diced
1/2 yellow onion in large chunks
1 red bell pepper, sliced
Olive oil to coat veggies
1 1/2 qts veggie stock
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
Salt and cayenne to taste
1 tsp lemon juice

Coat the veggies in oil and roast at 350 degrees until the skins split and they start to brown (this took me an hour). When done, put in a pot with all other ingredients and reduce to 1/3 by boiling uncovered for 20 – 30 minutes. Puree. Adjust seasonings and serve. (AND DIE OF HAPPINESS.)

Don’t change a damn thing.

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Caldo de Queso Recipe (#1)

1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 large, uncooked potatoes, unpeeled and cut into large chunks
1 large yellow onion, wedged
3 scallions, finely chopped
2 cloves roasted garlic
6 Anaheim green chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, cut into strips
1 1/2 tbs dried oregano
1 qt vegetable stock
5 large roasted tomatoes, chopped
1 qt whole milk
2 1/2 lbs Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste, cilantro for garnish

Cook the potatoes in the oil. Saute in the onions and scallions with the potatoes. Add garlic, chile, and oregano. Drain excess oil. Add stock and bring to a boil. Lightly stir in tomatoes and slowely add milk. Lower heat to a simmer and add lbs of cheese (tip: SLOWLY, and stir it in well). When cheese melts, add salt and pepper to taste. Top each bowl with remaining cheese and cilantro.

LIke I said before, this makes a ton, and I’d just use better (read: hotter) pre-roasted, pre-chopped green chile, if you have the means. 

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Some Cooking Resolution Rules

Thirty-three minutes until Shepard’s Pie! To distract myself from the wait (I skipped lunch again today. Apparently I do that a lot; see recipe #2. But you know what I DID have? Lots of raw tomatoes with salt! I do that a lot; see recipe #2), I’m going to lay out a couple self-imposed rules. I’m pretty early into my year-long cooking experiment, but I’ve had these rules in mind the whole time. 

I’m going to follow the recipes the best I can, even though my instinct is to substitute or add ingredients (it was all I could to to not sprinkle cheese on top of the Shepard’s Pie topping just now, and I always want to add a little wine and a spoonful of sugar to any soup recipe), because the point is to learn and try, not to make everything the way I would already make it.

That said, some things can’t be helped. Like, tonight’s recipe called for the mashed potatoes to be put into a pastry bag and piped in on the top of the pie, but I just patted them on with a fork because no pastry bags live in my kitchen and I’m too hungry to fashion one out a ziplock and you know what? It looks just fine and I bet it will taste exactly the same. Also, I saw a recipe in one of my books that called for “1 tbs honey, mesquite flavor if possible.” Mesquite honey? I’m totally not hunting that down for one tablespoon.

The other rule I’ve got so far is, clearly, I can make up for any recipes that I don’t get to every week. I thought about making it one a week, or else I’m a failure, but that would make me already a failure, and Boyfriend and I are planning on moving a very large distance this summer. So I’ll aim instead for 52 recipes total and strive to meet that goal. 

I’m also going to start including the (abridged) recipes with the posts, because sharing is great, and I’ll retroactively add the ones I’ve already done. If I don’t add enough detail, let me know in a comment, and I’ll try to be clearer! Also, if you try one of these recipes and YOU make substitutions or additions, I’d love to hear about them.

That’s all for now!

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Week 4, Recipe 2–Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Soup

Continuing my New Year’s resolution to try a new recipe every week, last night I made Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Soup, also from Lon Waters’ Vegetarian Southwest. Allow me a small disclaimer before I start describing this (AMAZING, DELICIOUS, whoops, there I go) soup: I love tomatoes. I’m probably in the 80th percentile of tomato-loving in the Northern Hemisphere. I don’t put them in my dessert or anything, but I’ll eat tons of them plain with just a little salt because tomatoes are great. However, I know not all people are nuts about them (like Boyfriend, for example). Also, I didn’t have lunch yesterday. So know that my adoration for this soup is probably unusual. 

That said, HOLY BALLS.
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It is so mind-boggeling delicious. The roasting gives the eggplant and the tomatoes such a fantastic warm flavor. I did not waste a single drop. As I was licking off the food processor blade (I KNOW), I thought of how I usually only do that when I make potato leek soup, and that eggplant and tomato is probably much better for me. The recipe was supposed to serve six, but it actually only made four largish bowls. I was glad Boyfriend didn’t want seconds so that I could have thirds. 

The soup isn’t very labor-intensive (in fact I did a lot in my new Minecraft world while it was cooking), but as always, roasting vegetables in the oven takes a long time. The recipe calls for an entire eggplant and two and half pounds of tomatoes, which took about an hour to roast. Then the veggies go in the broth and herbs and boil for about half an hour. (More Minecraft!) The only thing that’s kind of a pain is pureeing the soup, but it only took two batches in the food processor. 

Do I even need to say that I would definitely make this soup again in a heartbeat? I don’t think I’d even change anything, though I did add a little dab of Greek yogurt. Boyfriend said it was “a little too tomato-y” but that he liked it enough, once added some crumbled Ritz crackers. He surprised me a lot by not minding the eggplant, which he usually hates, so I’m calling it a success. 🙂

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Week 3, Recipe 1–Caldo de Queso

I made a New Year’s resolution (a week or two late) to try one new recipe a week this year. I started last night with Caldo de Queso, the first recipe in my new book, Vegetarian Southwest by Lon Waters, which was a Christmas present from my aunt. Image
I’d describe this soup as a mild version of my green chile stew (one of my favorites), plus tons of milk and cheese– a quart of whole milk and two pounds of cheese, to be exact. Side note, you know how some recipes say they serve four and it really means that it’ll make four small bowls or three large bowls, which is really just enough to serve two? (Maybe you don’t; I eat a lot.) Well, ol’ Lon wasn’t kidding around. When he says his recipe serves six, he means it makes like twelve bowls. My soup pot was FULL, and I think I even used less chopped potatoes and tomatoes than he intended. I should have known that it would make a lot given that it called for a quart of milk and two pounds of cheese, but it didn’t really hit home until I’d already started. Anyway, I think I’ll be halving his recipes from now on. It doesn’t help that the soup is really, really rich… I was a trouper and had two bowls, and I felt like I’d eaten a feast.

For this recipe I tried roasting my own (Anaheim, meh) chile in the oven for the first time. I don’t think chile needs olive oil to roast, because it took forever. After I scooped out the tomatoes and put the chile back in, I finally turned the broiler on high and got the skin to start blistering. Even with lots of big blisters, it took a long time to get the skin off the chile, and Anaheim chile is so mild that I’m not sure it’s worth the time and effort. If I made it again, I’d substitute the Anaheims for good old pre-roasted frozen Hatch green chile. But the halved red and yellow cherry tomatoes (not exactly what the recipe called for, but the large tomatoes at the store weren’t ripe) roasted nicely and were yummy and very pretty in the soup. The broth was half veggie broth, half milk, and was really good, but even with all that time, some of the potatoes weren’t quite done, a problem that would possibly be remedied by halving the recipe. 

All in all, this recipe was very tasty and I’d make it again with some changes. And it got the boyfriend approval rating. (Which is good, because he’ll be eating the leftovers for days.)

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