Thursday, October 28, 2010

The best thing I ate this week...Don't be a hater.

I feel sorry for brussel sprouts. These little green cabbage-like vegetables get such a bum rap. But, if you've ever had them cooked just right, you know what I know: these little green orbs are divine.

Tonight, when I had a bag of brussel sprouts but none of the ingredients I usually cook with them(like potatoes, bacon, heavy cream), I looked to my Joy of Cooking cookbook. This is where I turn when I forget at what temp to best bake a potato or when I need a quick recipe to help me utilize a boatload of zucchini from the garden. When in doubt, I always gravitate to it, the old standby, the cookbook that's been with me longer than my husband has, longer than the Paula Deens and Rachel Rays that sit shiny on the bookshelf.

This recipe (which I came across on page 353 to be exact) was really quick and easy, producing brussel sprouts that were caramelized and brown on the cut side, yet soft and tender at the same time. Since I grew up fearing brussel sprouts with all my might, I'm still amazed when I find myself popping these nutty little cabbages into my mouth like candy. Tonight I was even more amazed when my four year old was doing the same thing.

Brussel Sprouts Cockaigne

12 brussel sprouts (I used a 1 pound bag)
3 TBL butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed

Rinse the brussel sprouts, pat them dry, and slice in half lengthwise. Warm butter in a medium sized skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic, stir, and cook until starting to brown. Remove garlic from skillet and discard. Place sprouts cut side down in the garlic butter. Cover and cook over low heat until tender, 15-20 minutes. Arrange on a platter or in a bowl and drizzle with any remaining butter.

Note: Since I didn't have any remaining butter, I finished mine with a drizzle of walnut oil (but you could use olive oil), salt, pepper, and grated parmesan. A squeeze of lemon juice would also be a nice touch.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The best thing I ate this week...a tower of tender tri-tip

Recently, I've been spending a lot of my time with my new friend, Yelp. Or if you haven't discovered it yet, the search engine that will help you find the best wings, donuts, sushi, or whatever you are craving, wherever you are, and however hefty or skimpy your budget may be. On a recent trip, Yelp told me where to find a great bagel in San Francisco (where I happened to also stumble upon the best chocolate dipped coconut macaroon of my life), the perfect Italian meal in the North Beach area of the city, and it told me where to find a stellar, affordable lunch in San Luis Obispo, where we stopped for a bite on the way home.

Despite all of the good food I ate in San Francisco (no offense, San Fran, I loved your pumpkin ice cream, tortellini carbonara, and that thick slab of pesto pizza), it was this tri-tip sandwich at Firestone Grill in SLO that practically brought me to my knees.

Let me start with what I normally dislike about tri-tip sandwiches. Often times the beef is overcooked, and most of the time it is tough and cut too thickly. Sometimes the roll is too hard, sometimes the meat pulls out of the sandwich as you bite it, sometimes the whole affair is just too dry.

But like a modern day Goldilocks, when I bit into this sandwich, I knew it was just right. The soft hoagie roll - generously buttered and toasted - was piled high with thin slices of tri-tip and smeared with a sweet barbecue sauce. The meat was pink, tender, thinly cut, and piled at least ten slices high atop the roll. The sauce oozed out, almost taunting me to hurry up and eat. But I knew better- this was a sandwich to savor. With every bite, I could hardly wrap my brain around the faint crisp of the buttered roll, the texture of the flavorful meat, and the uber sweetness of the sauce. They all sang with a gospel-like amen in my mouth.

At $7.99, the tri-tip sandwich was one of the most expensive items on the simple menu of burgers, sandwiches, and salads at this happenin' college student hangout. Sitting outside in the sunshine - after a stretch of bone chilling rainy days braving San Fran's public transportation system with two exhausted little boys in tow - savoring my sandwich and a few crispy onion rings, I was the happiest woman in the world. That is, until I finished the last bite of my sandwich.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Best thing I ate this week: my first moqueca

The best thing I ate this week was, well, pretty much everything I tried at Moqueca Restaurant at the Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. Not only did we love the food, but the atmosphere at Moqueca offered a nice change of pace. The dining room of this family owned restaurant is filled with vibrant artwork, and the service is refreshing.

Though not pictured, the risoles, made for a delicious appetizer. Little pockets of dough (think mini empanadas) were each stuffed with a single beautifully seasoned shrimp and deep fried until bronze like sun kissed skin. The crust was crisp on the outside, but really doughy on the inside...making them a joy to eat, especially when dipped in tartar sauce. We also tried the frito misto, an assortment of fried seafood, that came with a light yogurt sauce (pictured above).

But the real showstoppers of the evening were the Caipirinha cocktails (the national cocktail of Brazil, made with cachaça, sugar and lime) and the moquecas. What is a moqueca, you might ask? Moqueca is a traditional Brazilian stew, made with tomatoes, cilantro, onion, olive oil, and seafood cooked slowly in a clay pot in the oven.

We opted for one moqueca with filled with fish, shrimp and calamari, and another full of chunks of mahi mahi. Our server told us they were enough for two to share, but three could easily enjoy one as well. The sauce was light and tangy, the seafood soft and tender from cooking in the sauce. We spooned it over glistening white rice and pirão (fish stock thickened with yucca flour), then added a few drops of hot chili oil, as our ever patient server instructed us to do.

There's something so magical about eating out of a rustic, clay pot; and something so refreshing about finding a high-end restaurant off the beaten path. This is one of those restaurants that the moment you leave, you are already thinking about when you will return and what you will order. For me, I'm already looking forward to going back for the bobo de camarao (a rich stew similar to a moqueca, but filled with shrimp and mixed with coconut milk).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Roasted Beet Hummus

I stumbled upon this recipe online one day, and just couldn't wait to try it. Not only because I adore beets, but also for the fun color. It comes from Dinner with Julie, but unfortunately, isn't posted any longer. So, here it is, for the next time you want to make an appetizer that's a real conversation starter. You may want to play with the amounts of salt, garlic, and lemon juice to really make it your own. And if you want to make it even faster, you can buy the pre-cooked beets at Trader Joe's.

Roasted Beet Hummus

1-2 beets, greens trimmed

1 19 oz (540 mL) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 large garlic clove, peeled

juice of a lemon (2-3 Tbsp., or to taste)

1/4 cup (60 mL) thick plain yogurt
2 Tbsp. (30 mL) tahini

1/2-1 tsp. (2-5 mL) cumin

1/4 tsp. (1 mL) salt, or to taste

2-4 Tbsp. (30-60 mL) olive or canola oil

Wrap the beets in foil and roast at 350ºF for an hour, or until tender (you can bake them alongside other stuff, while the oven is on). When it’s cool enough to handle, peel and cut into chunks.

Put all ingredients except the olive oil into the bowl of a food processor and purée, pouring the olive oil in through the feed tube as it blends, until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning if you need to. If it’s too thick, add more olive oil, yogurt or water.

Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 4 days before serving. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.