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Food52’s Smokin’ Hot Vegan Vaquero Chili

I found the recipe for SpiceBoxTravelsSmokin’ Hot Vegan Vaquero Chili soon after the food-blogger posted it on Food52, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. In part, I was fascinated by the beans themselves: no boring brown, the Vaquero is dappled in black and white, patterned like an Appaloosa horse.

Vaquero beans, chipotle, orange pepper, onion, carrots, spices

But the recipe also got me thinking: Given The Professor’s focus on taste, interestingness, and satisfaction, a good chili would be an easy A+, right? Mouth-tingling flavor? Check. Belly-filling beans? Check. And this recipe, with its surprise ingredient, seemed to check the interesting column too.

I had to try it ASAP. So I Googled myself to heirloom bean-grower Rancho Gordo‘s website to order some Vaquero beans, waited a week for UPS to deliver the beauties, and started them soaking.

Then I diced and sauteed and boiled. And boiled some more. And a few minutes more. Finally the beans were done and I stirred in the surprise ingredient: dark chocolate.

Food52’s tester had noted that “Adding the melting chocolate at the end more than compensated for the depth meat would have added, and rounded things out for a great balance of flavors.” The tester also mentioned that she had adjusted the spice, adding just one of the chipotles in adobo sauce that the recipe called for and only a pinch of cayenne.

So with the kids in mind, I added just one chipotle and nixed the cayenne altogether. I also cut down on the chocolate — a little. And there my problems began. For the recipe to work, the sweetness needed to balance the smokin’ heat. Yet I hadn’t added much of the spice. So the result was too sweet for The Professor and me, and yet still too spicy for the kids.

The Cook will try SpiceBoxTravelsSmokin’ Hot Vegan Vaquero Chili again in a few years, when her eaters are ready for more spice. In the meantime, any curious cooks out there should try this recipe. As The Professor said, “The chocolate makes the recipe very rich.” And when a meat-lover calls a vegan dish “rich,” that’s saying something.

You can find the recipe here. Note: I had to cook the beans much longer than the recipe indicates.

Pasta with Olives, Garlic, and Herbs … and Kale

The story behind this recipe for pasta with olives, garlic, and herbs goes like this: It was cold and I didn’t want to go out to the store. So I flipped through my cookbooks and scoured my favorite cooking sites for a recipe I could make with ingredients that I had on hand. Which brought me to this Cook’s Illustrated‘s recipe. (Note: You will need a subscription to access the original recipe, although you can see my adapted version below.)

The kitchen wizards at Cook’s Illustrated wrote two paragraphs about “why the recipe works” but let me focus on five words: “ingredients that would boost flavor.” And indeed, the dish is bursting with flavor. Briny Kalamata olives. Garlic. The kinda-sweet, kinda-savory intensity of sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil. Not to mention the punch of the basil, with a nice assist from some parsley, an under-rated herb as far as I’m concerned. But getting back to flavor, The Professor agreed with Cook’s Illustrated and gave the dish an A for taste.

“It’s not as satisfying as, say, the lentil minestrone soup,” he added, though he gave it an A- in that category. I should mention that I tossed some kale — parboiled and sliced into crinkly ribbons — into the dish, adding both color and a bit more substance to the meal. I suspect that, without the kale, the dish would have ended up in the B-range for satisfaction. Kale, parboiled and sliced into think ribbons

Pasta sauce of olives, sun-dried tomatoes and kale

On interestingness, it scored a B+. “In an odd way, the stronger the flavors, the harder it is to maintain interest,” said The Professor, always on the lookout for a paradox. Though, in truth, it’s no paradox: A recipe that combines different, compatible flavors, giving an eater a slightly different combination of tastes with every bite, is always going to be more interesting than a dish whose ingredients meld into a single, dominant flavor. But at least the bread crumbs, sprinkled on top of the pasta as it is served, added an interesting crunch.

In any case, an interesting dish isn’t necessarily a tasty one. And — if you like olives — you will love this easy pasta, which walked away with an A- grade overall.

Pasta with Olives, Garlic, Herbs – and Greens

Adapted from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe

Ingredients

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4-6 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained, rinsed, patted dry, and cut into thin strips

1 cup Kalamata olives, rinsed and coarsely chopped

2 large slices white sandwich bread, torn into quarters

1 3/4 teaspoons salt

1 pound rigatoni or other short pasta

1 bunch kale or other dark leafy green

1 cup finely grated Parmesan

3 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, chopped

1 1/2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, roughly torn

ground black pepper

Instructions

1) Combine 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon garlic, tomato paste, red pepper flakes, sun-dried tomatoes, and olives in a medium bowl.

2) Put a pot of water on to boil. Add remaining salt and parboil the kale for 3-4 minutes. Cool, squeeze dry, and slice into thin ribbons.

3) Pulse bread in food processor until coarsely group, about 16 one-second pulses.

4) Heat remaining olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the bread crumbs and stir until they begin to brown. Add the rest of the garlic, stirring regularly until the garlic is fragrant and the bread crumbs are golden brown. Transfer to plate and let cool.Wipe out the pan.

5) Return water to a boil and add the pasta.

6) While pasta is cooking, add the olive mixture to the pan. Cook until the mixture is rusty red, about 4-6 minutes. Add 3/4 cup water from the pasta pot to the olive mixture and simmer for two minutes. Add the kale and stir to coat. Then remove pan from heat.

7) When pasta is just shy of al dente, drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add olive mixture to pasta and toss over medium heat until the pasta absorbs most of the liquid, about 2 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan and adjust consistency with reserved pasta water.

7) Remove pan from heat and stir in herbs. Adjust seasoning with pepper. Serve topped with remaining Parmesan cheese the bread crumbs.

TEDx Boston’s FoodSleuth Adventure

Just a head’s up for The Roasted Beet’s local readers: TEDx Boston is planning a fun food adventure on Saturday November 5. Here’s the description from the website:

Team up with others who love food to scavenge for ingredients in little known haunts in Boston or at amazing farms in the greater metropolitan area, as your schedule permits.  You tell us your availabilit, and we will match you with a destination and team you up with other scavengers.

Ask the questions you’ve always wanted to at the source, and share your ingredients and the story of your journey with the other adventurers at the final dinner, which will be staged by the participants at Clover Harvard Square with assistance from Clover staff. Take part in revolutionary discussion around food production and consumption, contemplating your role in the food chain.

You can apply here. I’d love to see you there.

Hello again …

I know what you’re thinking.

The Professor must be really hungry.

But let me assure you that his belly is quite full. And the kiddos are cruising up the growth charts as well. So despite my …  sabbatical, shall we call it, from The Roasted Beet, The Cook hasn’t stopped cooking.

I’ll be writing about many of the new recipes I’ve tried soon … as soon as I find the time to master Photoshop. For you see, last summer, in an attempt to raise the quality of The Roasted Beet’s photographs, I started shooting in RAW, a format that allows for lots of tweaking and polishing and generally produces better images than those shot in the more basic JPEG format. If you know how to convert the RAW files, that is. And, ahem, I don’t. So for the immediate future, it’s back to JPEGs.

But enough photo-jargon. Next up: a write-up of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Ultimate Winter Couscous.

How to Grill Vegetables

The July/August 2011 issue of Cooks Illustrated includes an “Essential Guide to Grilling Vegetables.” The piece covers everything from how different vegetables should be prepped (skewer cherry tomatoes, rinse but don’t dry green beans, and no need to salt eggplant as you would if you were using any other cooking method) to a list of “Top 5 Vegetable Grilling Principles.” (Note: You need a subscription to access most of the recipes, but you can sign up for a 2-week free trial.)

It’s definitely worth a read. We, by which I mean The Professor, followed the Cooks Illustrated advice last night to grill some zucchini. In my experience, a crisp zucchini can quickly turn into a soggy side dish. Not this time. Following the advice to slice 1/2-inch planks and cook them at medium-hot heat for 8 to 10 minutes, turning once, our zucchini  turned out “crisp-tender” — as promised.

I served it alongside a spring risotto with fava beans and roasted rainbow carrots.

New Jody Adams Blog

Just a heads-up that Jody Adams, the lovely and wonderful chef/owner of Rialto in Cambridge, has started a new blog, The Garum Factory. To be accurate, she and her husband, Ken Rivard — a writer, photographer, and the home cook — have started a blog together.

They describe it as: “our two-cents worth in the struggle to keep what you cook tasty, interesting and easy enough that you actually want to spend time in the kitchen. This blog is about how to cook what we cook at home.”

This Cook will be peering through the window into Jody and Ken’s home kitchen, and hoping to pick up some recipes to share on The Roasted Beet. After all, “tasty” and “interesting” are two of The Professor’s three grading criteria.

Super Tasty Blueberry Crisp

This is a most delicious recipe for blueberry crisp. It is off-topic in that I usually write about vegetarian dinners, rather than desserts. But I will say this: The Professor *loves* it and if I served it for dinner he would give it an A!

I’m posting it not because I’ve cooked it recently (hence no picture), but because a loyal subscriber (hint hint) asked if I had any blueberry dessert recipes and, after typing it into any email on the iPad’s ridiculously small key-pad at 5:45 am this morning, I realized that I hadn’t set up the smtpblahblah correctly and the message sat in my outbox all day. So I figured, why not retype it here. Because it is so yummy. So yummy that The Professor forgives me for all of the cooking experiments that I foist upon him. Not to mention the frozen ravioli  that I serve up when I’m too tired to cook.

With that said, this recipe fills one 10″ pie dish + 4 ramekins or 8-10 ramekins

Blueberry Crisp for 8-10

Ingredients:

4 pints blueberries

1 1/3 T flour

1 1/3 lemon juice

topping:

2/3 cup flour

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup oats

3/4 t cinammon

7.5 T butter + more

Heat the oven to 350 degrees

rinse berries and dry well

gently mix the berries with the Ts of flour and lemon juice

set aside as you dump the rest of the topping ingredients into a food processor and pulse until they resemble course bread crumbs

divide the berry mixture among the baking dishes and top with the crumble

bake for 30-40 minutes. check at 30 and if the topping doesn’t look crisp enough, add more slivers of butter.  And more still until it looks crispy.

I’ll post a photo the next time I made it. In the meantime, trust me … it’s soooo tasty.

Roasted Red Peppers — aka Betsy’s Peppers

Yesterday The Professor reminded me that it had been a while since I’d made Betsy’s Peppers — the red peppers, stuffed with tomato, olives, garlic and basil and then roasted. Given his initial suspicion of the dish, I felt a pleasant rush of yesIwasrightness, and decided to indulge his craving.

“I have two red peppers and all of the other ingredients, so I could make them tonight,” I offered.

“I might want more than two halves,” he responded.

So I drove to the grocery to buy more red peppers. On the way I thought about the recipe and what to serve it with. The last time I had made the peppers for dinner, I’d thought of them as a side dish and paired them with a leek frittata and a salad. But once I realized just how much The Professor liked Betsy’s recipe, I started to wonder whether roasted peppers could be turned into the star of the dinner plate.

Since then, I’ve cooked two different recipes for stuffed red peppers and served them as entrees. (You can read about those efforts here and here.) Now was my chance to give Betsy’s Peppers a shot at entree status.

I devised a two-pronged strategy. First, I served the peppers with polenta mixed with a generous amount of Parmesan cheese.

Toasting Pine Nuts

I also made two additions to the recipe. First, I added toasted pine nuts to the stuffing mixture. Partly because my going-on-four-year-old loves pine nuts and I thought it might encourage her to eat more. And partly because pine nuts, olives and garlic seemed like a classic Italian combination. Continuing the Mediterranean theme, I sprinkled feta on top of the peppers just after removing them from the oven.

Red Peppers stuffed with tomatoes, olives, and pine nuts

The pine nuts, it turned out, were over-powered by the strong flavors of the olives and garlic, and didn’t add much to the dish. But The Professor did like the addition of feta and loved the polenta … almost too much. As he put it, “the polenta was doing a lot of the heavy lifting for the meal.”

The peppers alone, he said, were strong on taste and interestingness. But he felt they lacked on substance and gave the overall meal a B+. “The chick peas in Giada’s peppers made them more substantive,” he said.

I reminded him that he’d described Giada’s peppers as “kind of bland,” but I took his point. And, to be fair to Giada, the feta idea had been hers. So I’ll consider chick peas. Maybe that will push the meal of Betsy’s Peppers and Polenta into A- territory.

food 52’s Spring Pea and Ricotta Torte

For several weeks, I’ve been re-reading food52’s recipe for Spring Pea and Ricotta Torte with Lemon and Mint. I love peas. I love ricotta. I love lemon and  mint. And the photograph looked so good I wanted to lick it.

How much more perfect a dinner be?

Or so I thought.

Last night I served it with a simple salad and felt so very sadly underwhelmed. It wasn’t just that The Professor said “it verged on mushy.” After all, he also said that it tasted pretty good. And he helped himself to seconds. And then thirds.

Still I don’t think any of us found it a terribly satisfying meal. Including the camera, which snapped not a single lovely photo of my effort.

Looking back at the original picture, which looks much greener than my result, I wonder if I shouldn’t have added more than the two cups of peas the recipe called for. Or at least added more of the peas into the puree?

In any case, tonight we ordered in.

Amanda Hesser’s Cardinal Rules for Making Aioli

Rain. Rain. More rain. If it were April, I’d be OK with it. April showers bring May flowers and all of that. But we’re in the last half of May and it seems as though spring is never going to end!

Okay, maybe I want it to last a little bit longer. Long enough for me to make this wild ramp pesto.

Still, I’m looking forward to less rain and more grilling. And so I was thrilled to see Amanda Hesser’s post about making aioli — a “sauce that can help you sail through summer,” she writes.

The Professor loves aioli. But when he makes it … well, there’s no good way to say it, so: he cheats! He starts with mayonnaise rather than eggs. And truth be told, the result isn’t bad. But Amanda Hesser makes it sound so easy to make fresh aioli, that I’m going to have to try it. You’ll find her recipe(s) here. In the meantime, here are her Cardinal Rules:

  • Let your egg come to room temperature.
  • Find a friend/spouse/child to pour in the oil as you whisk.
  • Don’t wimp out on the whisking: count it as exercise!
  • If your aioli breaks, stop what you’re doing. Start a new aioli and whisk the broken aioli into it.
  • I mix canola and olive oil because I find all-olive-oil aioli overpowering.
  • Always taste aioli at the end and adjust the acid and salt.
  • If your aioli is too thick, add a little water to thin it. If it’s too thin, you’re stuck with it but it will still taste great!