Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Corn and Bean Skillet Pasta




This was meant to be an empanada recipe. A spiced pie crust (probably like the one I used in this post) would be wrapped around a seasoned fresh corn and black bean mixture. Little savory hand-held pies.

What threatened to kill me was making the crust. I just couldn’t drum up the ambition to measure and blend and roll and cut and fill and bake. I put it off until several tomorrows before I just gave up. Well, almost. I still had the nice seasonal corn, and some really good home-cooked black beans (I bought them dried from here). And so, as often happens when I’m too busy or exhausted to do what I really want, I fall back on my motto of hearty supper simplicity: When in doubt, toss it with pasta.


And that’s all this is: peppers, corn, beans, spices, tomatoes and scallions tossed with rotini pasta and covered with melted cheese. You could put whatever you like on your tacos (or in your empanadas or enchiladas or whatever) in a pasta toss like this. you could also use whatever cheeses you like or have on hand (I used Colby-jack and pepper-jack). Maybe you won’t impress anyone with your pastry skills or anything like that, but you’ll make something delicious in a pretty small amount of time. I know that’s been one of my main goals lately!


I served this simple pasta dish alongside this Zucchini Skillet Cornbread. Since the oven was already on for that, it was worth it to keep it hot just a little while longer to melt the cheeses on the top of my pasta dish. It was a good combination, I must say, and made a meal full of healthy vegetables. And I know I'm not the only one with that as another of my main goals!


Corn and Bean Skillet Pasta

6 ounces short pasta (I used rotini)
2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
1 cup finely chopped bell pepper
½ teaspoon salt, divided
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1-2 fresh chile peppers, minced
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 cup black beans
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 (15-ounce) can fire roasted tomatoes
½ cup finely chopped scallions
1 cup shredded Colby-jack cheese
½ cup pepper jack cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and set aside.

2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large, ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the bell pepper and ¼ teaspoon salt. Saute until the pepper is browned, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the garlic and chile and cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Stir in the corn, beans, cumin, chili powder and remaining salt. Cook until the corn and peppers are tender. Stir in the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Stir in the cooked pasta.

4. Stir in the scallions and remove from the heat. Sprinkle the cheeses over the top of the mixture in the skillet. Place in the oven and bake about 10 minutes or until bubbly and the cheese is melted.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Another recipe like this one: Pasta with Yellow Squash, Corn and Bacon

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Zucchini Cornbread



 
Well, it’s that time of year. Time to go back to school. Time to think about winding down the summer activities. Time to figure out how to cram all that zucchini with which you’ve found yourself into something, anything. To test the concept that just about any baked goods can be made to accept a healthy dose of shredded zucchini, I tried it in cornbread. Not bad, I must say.

 
This cornbread, which is based on the buttermilk cornbread in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and a zucchini cornbread loaf in Bon Appetit magazine, is very moist, but not mushy. (I’ve found that such is the trick with zucchini additions.) It tastes like good cornbread, with just that little bit of vegetable flavor from the zucchini.

 
I really like to bake my cornbread in a cast iron skillet. It tends to bake quickly and evenly while still getting nice brown and crunchy edges. This cornbread, for all its extra moisture, was no exception. I added a little spice in the form of cumin and chili powder to perk up the usually bland zucchini, and the buttermilk gives it just a bit of tanginess.

This is a savory cornbread with very little sweetener (just 2 tablespoons of honey). I’m sure you could make this a sweet cornbread by simply increasing the honey. As it is, this moist, savory cornbread is a good accompaniment for a saucy, spicy chili. Or the simple corn and bean skillet pasta dish that I made recently. More on that soon.

Shortly after I made this cornbread, a kind neighbor gave me a very large zucchini, so I think I’ll be stuffing zucchini into even more dishes. Luckily I have a good handful of proven ideas!


Zucchini Skillet Cornbread

3 tablespoons butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup stone-ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons honey
10 ounces shredded zucchini (from about 1 medium-size zucchini)


1. Preheat oven to 375 F. While the oven is heating, place the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet and place it in the oven. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cumin, chili powder and salt. Whisk to combine well. Set aside.


2. In a medium-size bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a whisk. When the butter in the skillet has melted, brush it all over the bottom and sides of the pan. Gradually whisk the remaining butter into the eggs. Whisk in the buttermilk and honey until well-blended. Stir in the zucchini.

3. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture. Stir until just combined and all of the dry ingredients are moistened. Pour into the buttered skillet and spread the batter out evenly.

4. Bake at 375 F for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with no moist batter clinging to it. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan. Slice and serve warm from the pan or cool completely.

Makes 8-10 servings.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Garlic and Herb Vegetable Dip



 
It’s been a relatively mild summer here, but now the hot days have hit us. Days in which we count on relief in the form of refreshing, chilled food that requires little time in the kitchen. Since the football preseason is also going strong, some of us might be feeling the pressure to bring on the tailgating treats. This simple, creamy dip is just right for all of the above.

All you need to accompany this is a few fresh, crunchy vegetables: carrots, celery, bell peppers, green beans, cucumbers, etc. The basic herb formula of chives and parsley goes with everything without giving offense. And cream cheese and sour cream, well, they’re just dip, you know. They don’t have a chance of becoming dull or boring with the zip they get from a pinch of lemon zest and pretty powerful zing from fresh garlic.

Take it from someone who has thrown this simple, delicious dip together many times after misplacing the recipe, tossing in whatever herbs I have on hand, thinking I had what I needed and didn’t and therefor making emergency substitutions: there are a lot of ways you could go with this to satisfy your personal taste. You can use buttermilk, yogurt or cream in place of the sour cream. Dill and thyme are other herbs that work well. Scallions, especially the green parts, are always a good substitution for chives as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure I forgot there was garlic in this for a while and I still made good dip.

 
This is so easy and delicious that you’ll always want to have a bowl of it in the refrigerator, whether it’s just to fill a hunger gap when it’s too hot to cook, or to fill a gap in an epic snack spread.  (I think the recipe could be easily doubled.) Perhaps it will also make you want to have dip-able vegetables in the refrigerator at all times as well. I don’t suppose there could be anything bad about that!


Garlic and Herb Vegetables Dip
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine (November 2009)

I used reduced-fat dairy ingredients to make this dip, but I’m sure the full-fat versions would be great. I don’t recommend fat-free.

1 small clove or ½ of a medium-size clove garlic
¼ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
½ cup (4 ounces) cream cheese
¼ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons minced chives
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground

1. Finely chop the garlic and sprinkle with the salt. Continue to chop and press the garlic and salt together to form a paste as demonstrated in this post.

2. Place the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Add the garlic-salt paste. Using an electric mixer, blend the ingredients on medium speed until very creamy and well-combined. Serve as a dip with fresh vegetables.

Makes about ¾ cup.



Thursday, August 21, 2014

Blueberry Coconut Muffins


At this beautiful peak of produce season, I tend to just eat fresh vegetables without much embellishment or cooking, keeping things simple, improvising and revisiting favorite recipes that I like to make each year. The result: no new recipes and, therefore, no new posts. Oh well.


But hey, there are still some berries out there, and even if there aren’t you can use frozen berries and make these sweet coconut muffins. I swirled some blueberries into these, because, well, blueberry muffins. They don’t need much explanation or excuse.

The batter for these muffins is based on this one for Coconut Cranberry Quick Bread, which I made (and loved!) something like a million years ago. I’ve wanted to try a blueberry version of this quick bread in muffin form for quite some time, and I’m really glad I finally got around to it. Perhaps not having a line-up of new recipes utilizing fresh summer produce or a metric tonne of zucchini to use up has its upside: Nothing new to try means finally getting around to trying something I should have tried long ago!

I had forgotten how much I loved this coconut quick bread/muffin batter. It’s quite sweet, giving argument basis to those who would argue that muffins are really cake. So be it! And being reminded of how good this delicious baked-good moistened with coconut milk and chock-full of shredded coconut is just gives me even more tasty ideas for what to do with it. How about adding pineapple or dates? Raspberries? Chocolate? Or turning the batter into a rum cake? Well, at the rate I’m getting around to trying new things, you might get to test these ideas out before I do. If so, let me know how it goes!


Blueberry Coconut Muffins
Adapted from Cooking Light January/February 2005

I used sweetened flaked coconut in this recipe. I think you could use unsweetened coconut. The result, of course, would be less sweet muffins, but, since these are a sweet muffin, that’s probably fine.

As you can see in the photos above, I neglected to sprinkle coarse sugar on top of the muffins, which I think is a nice touch, especially when the muffins are freshly baked. The recipe here includes the step of using the coarse sugar garnish.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup butter, melted and cooled
1 cup coconut milk (I used light coconut milk)
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 cup coconut
2 tsp turbinado sugar, optional


1.  Preheat oven to 400 F. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray or line it with cupcake liners.

2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Stir with a whisk until well combined.

3.  In another medium bowl, lightly beat the egg with a whisk.  Whisk in the melted butter, then add the coconut milk and vanilla and whisk until well combined.

4.  Pour in the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just moist.  Gently stir in the cranberries and coconut.

4.  Spoon batter into the prepared muffin pan.  Sprinkle evenly with turbinado sugar if desired.

5.  Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center, or a wooden pick inserted into a muffin comes out without any wet batter clinging to it.  Remove muffins from pans immediately; place on wire racks to cool.

Makes 1 dozen muffins