Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Pinterest Dinner Revolution

There are two revolutionary, world-altering developments that have taken place in my kitchen within the last couple of months:

1. We bought a rice cooker.
I had a rice cooker once before; a cheapie I brought with me to my dorm room in college. The rice tasted undercooked and gross, and when I moved into my first apartment it went in the trash. Over Christmas I got a few gifts I already owned from Costco, so I took them back and wandered the giant aisles for a worthy use of my store credit. Matt suggested a rice cooker, a nice digital one--even this upscale model was only $40, much less than most kitchen splurges I've indulged. We made white sticky rice the night we got it and...


"Why have we been torturing ourselves all these years?" Matt wanted to know. No, stove-top rice isn't the same as gently steamed, happy grains. I should have known; every serious Asian cook I know has one. But we've branched out into cooking our own grainy blends in it (random rice pilafs): quinoa, vermicelli, couscous, whatever. With some chicken broth and herbs at the end, it's like my Wizard shortcut side dish maker.

2. Pinterest.

I'm sure you've probably heard about this new social media breakthrough. If not, maybe you should log off of Eats of Eden for a minute and go hit it up.

No, please stay here. I love you...

Anyway, Pinterest has been a total revolution in meal inspiration for me. Flipping through cookbooks doesn't work; I need a good chunk of time to get much out of them. Websites like Allrecipes or Epicurious are great if I know what I'm looking for, but just to browse, they're overwhelming. Pinterest displays pictures of food (and of course a million other things) in this clean, aesthetically-pleasing fashion that allows you to just absorb and be naturally drawn to what looks good. I haven't gone and followed every recipe I've tried on Pinterest to the letter, but I have used ideas to create new dishes.

Within the last week, I found myself liking and repinning this image: Thai Peanut Enchiladas. A pretty picture definitely helps (I wish I was a better food photographer! Maybe I should take a class). Thinking about the flavors, though, and I couldn't get it out of my head. Thai peanut! Mmm, savory, with just a hint of sweetness. Enchiladas! Damn I love enchiladas. So cheesy, and everything tastes good in a tortilla (don't believe me? Just ask KOIFusion).

The damn things wouldn't stop rolling around in my head. It was a craving for something I'd never even tasted: but I wanted to. How could this not be good?

I clicked through the picture to the recipe, and found a beautifully written recipe that went a little too deep for what I wanted to do tonight. First off, the peanut sauce was homemade. The batch was big, and I would probably mess up the sauce anyway. I am TERRIBLE at Asian sauces. The filling was very veggie-heavy, when I like a little more creaminess to my enchiladas. I took the basic concept and several of the ingredients, hit up Uwajimaya for a big bag of Japanese-style rice and a can of coconut milk (plus some bao for Matt; he loves the bao), and my dose of youthful nostalgia for my Sailor Moon-worshipping days.

I made a coconut rice in the rice cooker, which is as simple as cooking short-grain rice with one cup of coconut milk, two cups of water and salt. Parsley or cilantro is stirred in at the very end, after the rice has fully cooked. This would be my stand-in for traditional Spanish rice. I also stir-fried onion and bell pepper, melding curry and fajita favorites. The meat filling was similar to what I usually use: rotisserie chicken, sour cream, cumin and shredded cheese, but this time I added a hefty spoonful of Thai chile paste.

I bought a good-quality bottled Thai-style peanut sauce (use one that's similar to a dressing, not the thick Satay-style. And definitely don't use either Taste of Thai or Trader Joe's versions, because I've tried both and they're gross). The brand I used, which worked very well, is called Elki. I know I've seen it at Whole Foods and New Seasons, and I just bought it today at Uwajimaya. The right consistency for this type of dish, and a flavor that isn't bizarre. Seems I'm not the only one who can mess up sauces...

The peanut sauce was used just like you would enchilada sauce. A thin layer at the bottom of the pan, then drizzled over the enchiladas before they bake.

I thought these needed guacamole too. Avocado and peanut sauce? How wouldn't that work perfectly?

"I'm really skeptical about these enchiladas," I kept hearing from the living room. And I guess, who wouldn't be? I bet you're skeptical right now, thinking I'm out of my god-damn mind.

Well dear reader, go get yourself some peanut sauce, because this is the best thing I've made in 2012. Sorry cassoulet and souffle, I could eat these pretty much every day of the year. The peanut sauce is a bit like mole, marrying that sweet and savory line. The guacamole and tortilla makes your mind think Mexican, but then you get that coconut-infused rice and the red pepper, and your mind is officially blown.

"I'm so sorry I doubted you," Matt came around. "You could serve this. You could charge people and serve this. This is amazing."

Well, that would be awesome. But instead, I'll just hand you guys over the recipe and hope you believe me enough to try it. And follow me on Pinterest! Let's be inspired together.

(p.s. sorry for the craptastic picture. They may not be as pretty as the first pic, but I bet I win Chopped Mexican/Thai fusion basket edition).

Thai Peanut Enchiladas

1 batch of coconut rice, as described above
1 bottle good-quality peanut sauce
8 flour tortillas
1 cup of sour cream (plus additional 1/2 cup for topping--feel free to use light, I always do)
1 cup shredded cheese, your choice (I usually do a mix of mozzarella and sharp cheddar)
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tbsp red chile paste
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 cups rotisserie chicken (either cooked and shredded, or from a rotisserie chicken from the store)
Vegetable oil
Guacamole for topping

Preheat oven to 375 and coat the bottom of a large Pyrex pan with approximately half of the peanut sauce. There should be a thin, but fully-covered, layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan. Add the onion and pepper and saute until softened, about 7 minutes. Transfer the mix to a plate and reserve. If necessary, add additional tsp oil to the skillet and warm chicken through. Turn off the burner and stir in the sour cream, cumin, lime juice and chile paste.

Assemble enchiladas by first adding approximately 1/3 cup of rice down the middle of the tortilla, then another 1/3 cup of chicken mixture, and top with 1/3 cup of pepper and onions (obviously just eyeball this; you want a decent amount of filling but don't pack it like a burrito). You should exhaust your supplies at eight enchiladas, which is the capacity of a Pyrex pan. Drizzle the enchiladas with remaining peanut sauce and top evenly with cheese. Bake for 18 minutes, then remove from the oven and add dollops of remaining 1/2 cup of sour cream. Bake an additional 5 minutes.

Serve with guacamole.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

2012 Culinary Adventure February Edition - No Falling!

Happy Valentine's Day, all! I took a stand against VD on a Tuesday (what kind of bs is that?!), and held Valentine's Day Observed on Sunday. The menu read like this:

Crab Cakes with Sriracha Aioli
Herbed Rice Pilaf
Grilled Asparagus with Hollandaise
Chocolate Souffle

Astute Eats of Eden readers will recognize dessert as one of the 12 in 2012 adventures. I've never made a souffle; in fact, I didn't even own a souffle pan. I had to go to Sur La Table to get one; I forgot to register for that when we got married. Got distracted by the fondue pot. And note to anyone playing along at home: they don't sell souffle dishes at Target. Boo.

But see that raspberry-hued sexy digital Cuisinart mixer? That would be my Valentine's Day Observed present! It beat the whipped cream so fast and efficiently I almost overwhipped it into butter. But more on being whipped later.

I'd like to talk a smidge about the crab cakes, because they were fantastic. Since we weren't spending an obscene fortune at a sit-down restaurant for Valentine's Day dinner (bad service, sad little portions... BUT THERE'S A BALLOON ON YOUR TABLE! Yay...), I didn't feel bad buying a pound of lump crab or the really good chunk Callebaut chocolate at Whole Foods. I read about ten different recipes, and my end result was a hybrid of several techniques. I didn't want them to be too "busy" (Ina Garten's recipe) or too "bready" (the one in "Pure Foods"), but definitely flavorful with enough binder to keep the cakes together. The end result was a mix of cooked onion, breadcrumbs, Penzey's Cajun spice, mayonnaise, worcheschire and Tabasco. I used a 1/3 cup measuring cup to pack and shape the cakes, then let them take a long chill. Warm cakes disintegrate on the grill. If I were to do them again though, I'd add an egg to the mix. Several of my cakes died in the flipping process (a very thin, wide spatula is a MUST!), which made me crabby. But most kept it pretty much together, so it wasn't a total loss. Sriracha aioli (you could easily do just plain mayonnaise, too) is the perfect moist, spicy accompaniment to these meaty, slightly sweet cakes.

All right, enough expensive protein bragging. On to the adventure! I like to think that souffle is a healthy dessert, since it's primarily egg whites. I am probably delusional, so don't quote me. Especially since I had to melt down that lump of chocolate in my ghetto double-boiler, then mix with 3 egg yolks. My first experience with Callebaut was at the food distributor company, when I worked on making a manual on how to temper (melt) chocolate in the microwave. Yes, you can do it, but you can also make lasagna in the microwave. It doesn't mean you should. Gently melting over simmering water doesn't take that long, and keeps you in control of the chocolate.

The souffle itself is built on a foundation of whipped egg whites. They are whipped on their own until they form soft peaks. Judge how strong your peaks are by turning off the mixer and turning it upside down so the beaters stand up. If the tips immediately droop and seem soft, yep, soft peaks. If they're high and strong, you've got stiff peaks and the whole whipping portion of the recipe is probably about over. Then it's time to fold the chocolate into the egg whites. I hate this part, because it's like peeing in snow. Poor, pure egg whites! At least chocolate is delicious, even though it's the color of poo.

You have to stick it in the oven ASAP at this point, so the bubbles in the egg whites don't get tired and pop. We've all heard the stories of tragic fallen souffles, and I had no reason to think I stood any better chance of a successful souffle than anyone else. But maybe it's an urban myth, how fragile these dishes are. Because the dish took maybe 20 minutes to assemble, and though it wasn't a skyscraper of a puff like some pictures I've seen, it couldn't be described as "fallen." The dessert was deeply chocolatey but light--as Matt described it, "it's like a warm, fluffy brownie." He even went back for seconds, which is freakish because he doesn't even like dessert.

"There's lots of savory souffles too," I said, "cheese souffles..."

"Breakfast souffles?" He asked hopefully.

"Why yes, yes there are."

"We should try that this weekend."

Adventure success--encore requests!

Next month I'll be making my first Moussaka. Opa!! Until then, enjoy your Valentine's Day.

Chocolate Souffle
Originally featured in Gourmet magazine
  • 1/3 cup sugar plus additional for sprinkling
  • 5 oz bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
  • 3 large egg yolks at room temperature

  • 6 large egg whites
  • Accompaniment: lightly sweetened whipped cream
  • Special equipment: a 5 1/2- to 6-cup glass or ceramic soufflé dish
  • 1/3 cup sugar plus additional for sprinkling
  • 5 oz bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
  • 3 large egg yolks at room temperature

  • 6 large egg whites
  • Accompaniment: lightly sweetened whipped cream
  • Special equipment: a 5 1/2- to 6-cup glass or ceramic soufflé dish

Preheat oven to 375°F. Generously butter soufflé dish and sprinkle with sugar, knocking out excess.
Melt chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and stir in yolks (mixture will stiffen).
Beat whites with a pinch of salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Add 1/3 cup sugar, a little at a time, continuing to beat at medium speed, then beat at high speed until whites just hold stiff peaks. Stir about 1 cup whites into chocolate mixture to lighten, then add mixture to remaining whites, folding gently but thoroughly.
Spoon into soufflé dish and run the end of your thumb around inside edge of soufflé dish (this will help soufflé rise evenly). Bake in middle of oven until puffed and crusted on top but still jiggly in center, 24 to 26 minutes. Serve immediately.