I took a little hiatus over the summer to focus on some other things (house hunting: it’s time consuming. Ditto for grad school). But now I’m looking forward to sharing some of the exciting things we have going on here at Team Villegas.

We started looking for a home last March, and right about when we had given up hope, a lovely little place appeared in the San Rafael neighborhood in the south part of Five Points. It’s a lovely little Victorian with a lovely original fireplace, a lovely back patio and, most lovely of all, a whole basement’s worth of storage space. The seller had done some grand updates, but it’s still charming and cozy and perfect for our little family.

And the food this summer! It breaks my heart to have not shared everything with you! There were homemade picked radishes and peppers, pizzas that didn’t end in disaster, green chile (don’t worry, I WILL share that one), my first successful pie crust, more watermelon than you could shake a stick at…it was a good summer, and Colorado has some fabulous produce. We’ll be getting right back on track with the cooking as fall (hopefully) brings the temperatures back down below 90 (please, please, please).

Have fun checking out the new blog. 

I definitely just ordered this. And I kind of want to order all their other salts as well.
wcfoodies:

The Filling Station in NYC sells roasted-bacon-infused sea salt. They recommend it on eggs (duh), popcorn (yes), potatoes (obv), and even chocolate - I think I’d simply sprinkle it on some juicy heirloom tomatoes layered on aioli-slathered sourdough toast and call it the best damn BLT ever.
(The bacon comes from ethically raised heritage pigs, no word on the sea salt’s pedigree.)

I definitely just ordered this. And I kind of want to order all their other salts as well.

wcfoodies:

The Filling Station in NYC sells roasted-bacon-infused sea salt. They recommend it on eggs (duh), popcorn (yes), potatoes (obv), and even chocolate - I think I’d simply sprinkle it on some juicy heirloom tomatoes layered on aioli-slathered sourdough toast and call it the best damn BLT ever.

(The bacon comes from ethically raised heritage pigs, no word on the sea salt’s pedigree.)

notexactlyhip asked: Got any good recipes with primary ingredients of spinach and tomatoes?

One of our favorite things is this spinach dip - it is really easy and really really good: http://bit.ly/dDpj3S

My mom makes this great spinach slad with strawberries, feta and candied pecans. I’d also try a wilted spinach salad with warm bacon dressing and tomatoes and hard boiled eggs.

Or some we have been doing a lot is sauteeing vegetables (spinach and tomatoes work well) and tossing them with about or 3 cups of cooked quinoa and some sort of italian-type dressing that you like, and a little cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds or pecans or pine nuts. It is hard to screw up.

Welcome home.

There are two things I need to confess:

  1. I ate meat twice while I was visiting a friend in Los Angeles. One was a pot roast sandwich with macaroni and cheese on it. One was an In ‘n’ Out burger. They were both worth it.
  2. Kevin has been traveling a lot, and I’m fairly certain you all don’t want to read about me eating egg sandwiches and bowls of cereal for dinner. Thus, a brief hiatus.

However, Kevin came back from two coast-to-coast business trips Sunday night, and I wanted to make something special. He loves Indian food more than almost anything, and it’s one of the best vegetarian cuisines, so it was the clear winner. We had discussed making saag paneer after seeing some paneer at Whole Foods one day, and it sounded like the perfect thing to make on a rainy, gray Sunday evening.

Saag paneer is basically creamed spinach, with chunks of mild, squeaky paneer cheese folded in. It’s comfort food for me. I ate it for the first time on a date with some dude in Loveland that we called Manpurse. He didn’t last, but my relationship with saag paneer is eternal.

Since it’s creamy and rich, I wanted to pair it with something something spicy and bright. I made this curried eggplant with tomatoes and basila lot last summer, and was looking forward to trying it again. It’s basically just a simple, one-pan saute that reduces to a fragrant vegetable stew. It’s extremely low calorie, but you wouldn’t know it - the curry and Greek yogurt work together to make it seem rich, and the chickpeas add enough protein to make it filling. I nixed the rice and opted to serve it with some garlic naan instead, and probably used more like a half cup of basil leaves. I also very nearly forgot to put in about half of the important ingredients, because I was very focused on the saag paneer’s consistency. Luckily, Kevin came home in the midst of the cooking and took over the end phases of the eggplant: never overlook the importance of a well-staffed kitchen.

Now, a bit about curry. We make a lot of curried things in our little apartment, and every time, I think to myself, “I wonder if our neighbors hate us.” I’m sure most of them think it just smells nice, like dinner, but I’m super paranoid about it.

I didn’t always like curry - I had to learn, and taste, and try, and keep trying, and cook with it before I came to terms with its complexity, heat levels and variations. But back in college, I lived with a very good cook who grew up in Australia. She made a lot of curry. At the time I assumed there was some sort of Australian rule that dictated a love of curry, but I think she just liked it. I never ate any, but the smell…it invaded my upstairs room, I felt that it permeated my clothing. It lasted for days. Or at least I felt like it. I think I was just not used to such pungent spices (I hadn’t done much cooking on my own at that point). I thought I hated curry. HATED IT.

But now, as I simmered the eggplant, tomatoes and spices, I loved it. It was warm. It was home. 

The saag paneer was very fun to make, because in addition to the fact that I got to fry cheese in ghee (have I told you how much I love ghee?) I also got to grind whole spices into a lovely custom spice mixture. I used food52’s recipefor the saag (be aware that it needs quite a lot more cream and salt than the recipe calls for - keep tasting as you cook!), which included nutmeg (pictured above). How pretty is the inside of that nutmeg?! Lovely. If you’re interested in grinding your own whole spices (you can find a good variety in bulk spice sections of the grocery or in most specialty ethnic food markets) a garden-variety coffee grinder does the trick just fine. You can use a mortar and pestle, but the coffee grinder will give you a finer consistency and less hand fatigue.

And there’s the finished feast! Now, Indian food isn’t necessarily the most gorgeous cuisine int he world. Anything that requires a good amount of braising and liquids and legumes generally isn’t going to be seriously exciting to look at. But for a chilly spring night, it was just the thing to welcome home a weary traveler.

But my house still smells of curry.

Meatless May

"We should go vegetarian for the month of May," Kevin said.

I laughed. He looked at me.

"Oh, are you being serious?"

He was.

We talked about it a bit, and decided that while we do eat mostly vegetables for many of our meals, going vegetarian for a month might make us be a little more creative with our protein sources. We also want to see if it makes a difference in how we feel, and we want to make the most of the excellent spring/early summer produce that comes on the market during the next month. And so.

Vegetarians.

I was a vegetarian for about seven years. That stint was brought on by a particularly fly-ridden and bloody visit to a Grecian meat market in Athens. For the rest of the trip, I ate eggplant.

Then one day in college, I really, really wanted a turkey sandwich. And that was the end of it. Not that I eat a lot of meat now. Especially when I lived alone, I rarely cooked meat for myself. I’m slowly becoming slightly more resigned to handling bloody chunks of flesh, but I’ve never been fond of meat preparation. A few weeks ago, we cooked whole branzino and the whole experience scarred me so badly I could barely watch Iron Chef last night. Scaling a fish is one of the most horrible things I’ve ever done. EVER. And there are still fish scales stuck in the nooks and crannies of the kitchen. I digress.

Oh, how I love meat, though. A good steak. Roasted chicken. Bacon. Salami. Pork, pork and more pork. This month will be difficult.

We are, however, making some concessions. Eggs and cheese are OK. We’ll still use butter and milk. We haven’t come to any conclusions regarding those “meat replacement” substances (frighteningly real-looking hot dogs and chicken nuggets? is that cheating?).

Yesterday, after a lovely brunch at Argyll (where we said goodbye to our cherished meat products via eggs Benedict and corned beef hash) we decided to take a little trip to Middle East Market, down on South Colorado Blvd. Never been there? Yeah. Neither had we. But now we’ll go all the time! Great place to find reasonably-priced whole and ground spices (even hard to find ones, like fenugreek). Plus all sorts of baked goods, specialty cooking ingredients (pomegranate molasses) and preserves. Also, lots of hookas.

We loaded up on some dried chickpeas, tahini and a mysterious spice blend labeled “falafel seasoning.” Then we finished up our shopping at the grocery and went home to prepare our Middle-Eastern feast.

While we quick-soaked the chickpeas for the falafel and hummus, we decided it was cocktail hour. The result:

Clementine-Watermelon G&T

  • Gin (I don’t know, about an ounce per person)
  • Tonic (we love Q Tonic, about 4 ounces per person)
  • Half a clementine per person
  • One inch-square cube of watermelon per person
  1. Muddle the watermelon with a mortar and pestle, or in the bottom of a glass.
  2. Add a few ice cubes. Pour the gin over the ice.
  3. Squeeze the juice from half a clementine in the glass.
  4. Top it off with the tonic. Stir.

We made the hummus and tzatziki first, so the flavors would have time to develop before we ate. Hummus is easy, and basically doesn’t vary much from preparation to preparation, so it doesn’t matter what recipe you use. It DOES matter that you have a really good food processor. Or a stick blender. Or both, as the case may be.

Tzatziki (Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce)

  • One cucumber (sliced, salted and drained and patted dry to reduce moisture)
  • about 10 oz of Greek yogurt
  • about 1 T fresh chopped dill
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • Juice of one lemon
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  1. Put all of the above into a food processor (again!)
  2. Pulse until incorporated; it should still look a bit chunky
  3. Taste and adjust salt and pepper
  4. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours before serving

Poor little food processor. It worked so hard.

For the falafel, we used this recipe from the New York Times, but we left out all the seasoning aside from salt and pepper, and added about 3 tablespoons of the falafel seasoning mix we bought earlier. We suspect it contained most of the same things. In any case, t was delicious. We also found the falafel fried better and cooked more evenly if we formed then into discs or patties - that way they browned on both sides and we could flip them over instead of rolling the balls around the pan hoping for uniform color. Someday, when we have a deep-fryer…

Chopped cucumber, tomato and olives graced the table, along with some pita. I can honestly say this little meal ranked up there with some of the best falafel and tzatziki I’ve had. Course, everything seems to taste a little better when you make it yourself.

And we barely even missed the meat.

Tags: read

Before we tire of this.

In a few months, we will have too much zucchini.

We will lounge on our fainting couches in the heat of July and bemoan the number of summer squash in the fridge. We will cry at the sight of them.

But now, they feel like summer. Combined with some heirloom tomatoes, and dressed simply, they are perfect. So perfect, in fact, that we’ve made the above dish twice in the last week.

Sort of like a crustless tart, my mom’s been making this summer squash and tomato gratin for years. I’m sure the recipe came from somewhere, but we don’t know any more, and I make it from memory anyhow. Easy enough for a weeknight, but it still looks pretty. I’m using the term “gratin” loosely here - there’s a negligable amount of cheese - because everything is thinly sliced, layered and baked. Excellent side for any meat. I always want there to be leftovers, but there never are.

Summer Squash and Tomato Gratin

  • 2 small zucchini or summer squash, sliced into 1/8 to 1/4-inch pieces
  • 2 medium tomatoes, sliced as thinly as you can
  • Three cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • Handful of herbs - whatever you have on hand, but lots of basil is especially nice
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated parmesean cheese
  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Oil a 9- to 10-inch oven-safe pan (a pie pan works well), and arrange the sliced squash and tomatoes so they overlap, in a spiral pattern, alternating between vegetables so the tomatoes are evenly distributed.
  3. Sprinkle the garlic slices about, and add the minced herbs on top of that.
  4. Drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil over the top, and sprinkle with about a tablespoon of parmesean cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Bake for about 40 to 40 minutes, until the slices are cooked and have begun to caramelize. Serve warm or at room temperature.

"Civilian" by Wye Oak. I listened to this album yesterday while making my butter and it went well with the clouds and cooking. I love this song the best.

Tags: listen Wye Oak

Butter is better.

I am no Paula Deen. And having recently returned from New Orleans (sorry for the break) I can wholeheartedly say that I love vegetables. Fresh, healthy, nutrient-rich vegetables. Not always, say, the vegetables that oftened accompanied my entrees in the South - boiled within an inch of their fragile little lives, doused with salt and butter and sometimes bacon. Vegetables that lack color and texture. Vegetables that are hardly vegetables.

Except you, collard greens. You, I will eat boiled with bacon and love every bit of you until I die of heart disease. Sara + collard greens = BFFs, forevers.

Anyhow. Vegetables. I write about them a lot here, and we try to do some interesting things to them, laregely because we have SO MANY of them every week. But this week, our vegetables were mostly about what we put on them: lemon-parsley compound butter.

You hypocrite! I hear you screaming at your computer. You just said you do not advocate buttery vegetables!

Not true, my friend. With the right butter, you hardly need to use any at all, and it adds a freshness and elegance to the most simply prepared and humble of vegetables: the beet.

Compound butters are ridiculously easy to make, but they will make you look fancy and impressive if you whip them out at dinner time. Oh, this little old thing? It’s just a porcini-sherry compound butter. No big deal.

All you do is let a stick of unsalted butter soften, then whip it with a fork (or a stand mixer if you are making a lot of butter). Add your other ingredients and whip them in. This time, I added a quarter-cup of minced parsley and about one whole lemon’s worth of lemon zest (later, I used the lemon to make vinaigrette. Waste not, want not and all that). The idea is that you get your components evenly distributed, and that there are enough of them chopped small enough to give the mixture a uniform texture and allow the flavors to intermingle well.

Then, you make a little butter sausage by rolling it in a tube in some saran wrap and twisting the edges.

And let it refrigerate at least 10 minutes or until you’re ready to use it. You can keep it in the fridge for about four days, or in the freezer to use as needed for up to four months.

We roasted some large beets in tin foil packets, then sliced and dressed them while they were hot with a few thin slices of the butter, and a little salt. Lovely little side dish, light and lemony.

Some other ideas for compound butters (much love and thanks to the America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook for the above recipe and some of these ideas). Compound butters are great as sauces on meats, as well as over nearly any simply prepared vegetable.

  • Porcini mushroom and sherry
  • Fines herbs and lemon
  • Rosemary, thyme, oregano and garlic
  • Minced olives
  • Parsley and minced capers
  • Honey and lavender
  • Cumin and lime
  • Chili pequin and cilantro
  • Parmesean and garlic
  • Whatever other things you like, that don’t ahve a ton of moisture and are highly flavored.

Side note: we served the beets with a salad and Pan-Roasted Chicken Breasts with Dijon Sauce and Crispy Pancetta. You must make this recipe. It is easy and wonderful and all happens in one oven-safe pot. Seriously. Go buy chicken and make this immediately. It is THAT GOOD.

Slow cooking on short notice.

After spending a long time ruminating about how unfortunate it is that I don’t have time to make ratatouille, I met Kevin for coffee and we talked about dinner.

"How about calabacitas?" I asked.

"Um. Yes. Duh." He said.

And so, a plan. For those of you unfamiliar with calabacitas, it is a sort of succotash made by sauteing diced zucchini or summer quash, small-diced onion, fresh corn, in olive oil, with some diced, fresh-roasted chili peppers thrown in at the end. We use a hefty amount of cumin and salt in ours, but seasoning is adjustable to your tastes. Try to use a 1 (zucchini):1 (corn):.5 (onion) ratio on the vegetables, but it’s not a science. Kevin likes to chill it and serve it cold as a sort of salad-like accompaniment. Hard to screw up, easy to love.

Naturally, we wanted to have some tacos. Kevin found a pressure-cooker recipe online that we worked with, and if you’re short on time, it’s a really good solution for very good carnitas without the whole “braising for four hours” thing. Plus, pressure cookers don’t usually require any extra oil and make even lean cuts of meat pretty tender. Here’s our adaption:

Pressure-cooker carnitas

  • 1.5-2 lbs pork shoulder, diced into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 cups chicken stock (though beef or vegetable would probably work just as nicely)
  • 2 T cumin
  • 2 T chili powder
  • 2 t salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  1. Combine all ingredients in the pressure cooker and stir. Then get your pressure cooker all sealed up and up to temperature, reduce heat to medium and let it cook away for 30-40 minutes. All the while, make sure you check on the pressure cooker witha  look of fear in your eyes, reassuring yourself that it is supposed to be making that terrifying hissing noise every few seconds. This will make cooking more interactive!
  2. When it’s done, let it cool off and release the pressure. Then open the lid, and drain the liquids from the meat. This may be a good time to reduce the liquid and make a nice pan sauce, but we were too hungry.
  3. Taste the meat chunks for seasoning - it’s not too late to adjust if things aren’t to your liking. Put them on a baking sheet under a broiler for a few minutes, just until the outside starts to caramelize. This will give you a texture that you’re more familiar with if you eat carnitas a lot. Then shred with a fork, and eat it however you want.

We used the calabacitas as a taco filling along with the carnitas, hot sauce, lime and pico. Not bad for a Wednesday night! Plus, I’m having some interesting thoughts about the possibility of a pressure-cooker ratatouille. Tacos solve so many problems.