Smoky Cashew Dip

It’s been longer than I’d like to admit since I last posted a recipe here. I haven’t stopped cooking. It’s simply that I hadn’t made much until December that I had to write about, and we all know how busy December can be.

To motivate myself to write more, I came up with a new food goal for 2017. This year, I’m going to use up all the extraneous ingredients in my pantry. We all have them – those random ingredients that we buy for a single recipe, only to put the rest back into the cabinet, to be pushed back behind all the cans of tomatoes or boxes of pasta or canisters of cocoa powder (if you’re me). I’ve inventoried my pantry and refrigerator, and on my fridge is a list of all the ingredients that I have that I should use up. It’s more than a once-a-week cooking task. I doubt I’ll write about all of them, but I hope I’ll find some great things to share.

That said, I decided to make this recipe long before I decided on 2017’s food goal. I found this smoky cashew dip when I happened to read an email from Bon Appetit, which I usually don’t read. It’s my new favorite thing – by which I mean I’ve made it three times in the last week. I don’t eat dip, but I make an exception for this one, as it’s simply cashews, chiles in adobo sauce, water, and salt to taste.

Chiles in adobo sauce are something that recipes only use a tablespoon or two of, meaning I store the remainder in my fridge to hope that I can use before I feel obliged to throw it away. I’ve never used up an entire can, until now. (For those curious, I’ve brushed the adobo sauce on grilled pork before.) The chiles add a little spiciness and smokiness to the ground cashews. I generally can give or take cashews, but this dip makes it worth buying them.

Other things I like about this dip: it takes less than 5 minutes to make. It’s high in protein and fat (to make up for all the crackers you might eat it with). It’s also gluten-free and vegan.

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Beef with Capers and Garlic

I decided upon the perfect thing to make for dinner while my husband was out of town one weekend. I would try the recipe for Beef with 100 Cloves of Garlic. Actually, I came across two competing recipes (second one here), both adaptations of the same original. I love garlic, and although my husband likes it, I didn’t want to force him to try a recipe with a flavor so intense.

The original of this recipe took beef, garlic, olives, and red wine. I don’t like olives, but somehow I like capers instead, and I decided that the briny capers would make them a decent substitute for the olives. I cooked this on the stove, then transferred it to the oven for slower cooking. I would have made a crockpot version of it, but I didn’t have time the evening before to prepare it for the slow cooker. I made this dish on a Friday, so that my leftovers wouldn’t scare my coworkers if they were too intense.

This recipe was indeed intense and flavorful – very rich. A little went a long way – think, tapas-style, where you’re satisfied with a few bites.

Beef with Garlic and Capers, with Italian Bread
Beef with Garlic and Capers, with Italian Bread

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Kung Pao Sauce

For the Chinese New Year, I decided I would season the wok that I’ve had for several years but never used. I’d never seasoned a wok before, and I didn’t do a good job the first time. The basic idea behind seasoning a wok is to incorporate oil into the hot metal wok to make it non-stick. You heat a wok; add oil; let the oil heat up (and likely smoke); and coat the inner surface of the wok with the smoking hot oil. You’re supposed to go through this process two or three times, but I was impatient; I decided to try cooking in it before it was ready, and the food stuck. So, lesson learned: go through the seasoning process two or three times before cooking, or else.

Now that my wok is more appropriately seasoned, it cooks well. To test it, I made a stirfry. Nothing fancy – just some broccoli and cabbage that I bought on sale. I can crank my gas burner up high because the wok doesn’t have a nonstick coating, and so it cooks everything quickly. It’s awesome.

I didn’t really have a recipe for a stirfry, but my friend Brion shared Ming Tsai’s Kung Pao sauce recipe with me, and that seemed like a great way to flavor my food. I honestly think it took less than 10 minutes to make.

simple stirfry with Kung Pao Sauce

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Coriander-Crusted Tuna with Black Bean Salsa

It’s just the beginning of March, but tonight I had a taste of summer.

Last summer I made various salsas to go with chicken and fish. Sure, they were all kind of similar, but you can’t really go too wrong the combination of tomatoes, bell pepper, cilantro, and lime juice. I particularly like the combination of cilantro and lime.

When I was specifically looking for a recipe to cook tuna (the first one I made was a sesame-crusted tuna that I didn’t really cook properly), I came across the recipe for Coriander-Crusted Tuna with Black Bean Salsa. I wasn’t interested in it at all while the temperatures were freezing. Cold weather is hearty comfort food weather, not fresh, lively food weather. But now the weather’s warmed up slightly, and so I finally decided to give it a shot when some produce was on sale. I figured even if the tomatoes and peppers weren’t at their best, they’d still be worth trying. This also didn’t have too many carbs, which meant that I could make it for me and Alex.

I made the salsa before I cooked the fish because I didn’t want the fish to get cold. I used a can of regular, store-brand black beans, but I made sure to rinse them really well. I substituted about 2 cloves of garlic for the green onions, since I forgot to buy some, and I used an orange bell pepper. I dried off the tuna with paper towels before I seasoned and cooked it, and I think that helped me get a nice crust on the tuna. I cooked it in a nonstick skillet at medium-high heat, for closer to 3 minutes on each side than 2, since I wanted it a little more done. I served it with a little avocado on the side.

Coriander-Crusted Tuna with Black Bean Salsa

This dish cooked up pretty quickly – we were eating dinner within 30 minutes. Alex and I both really enjoyed this. The coriander and cumin were tasty on the fish, and it cooked really well in the skillet. The salsa tasted bright and fresh. It was a good combination of flavors, although it would have been better with the green onions instead of the garlic I added. Overall, this was a really good recipe, and I’d definitely make it again.

341: Chicken with Green Chile-Almond Sauce

I decided to make Chicken with Green Chile-Almond Sauce. I bought some almond milk when it was on sale and had a coupon, and used 3 tiny cans of chopped roasted green chiles. I combined almond milk, almonds, green chiles, broth, and garlic in a saucepan, brought it to a boil, and simmered it until it looked reduced, about 30 minutes. I used 2 and a half regular-sized chicken breasts, so I cut the full pieces in half, butterflied them, and used a meat mallet to flatten them so I could cook them better. After I cooked the chicken in a skillet, I pureed the hot almond-chile sauce and added it to the chicken. I simmered it for about 9 minutes, until the chicken was done. I didn’t add any cream or sesame seeds for garnish. We ate this over rice.

Chicken with Green Chile-Almond Sauce

This was pretty good. Green chile is a pretty subtle flavor to me. Alex said that this had just the right amount of spice; it tasted like green chile without being too spicy. (I think that sums up my experience with green chile.) Green chile is pretty popular in Albuquerque and New Mexico in general, I think, so this would be a good introduction recipe if you wanted to experience something like that cuisine. The recipe was pretty easy to make; it was tasty but different. I’d make it again.

258: Skillet-Cooked Shrimp with Romesco Sauce

I don’t cook shrimp very often, but I decided to make Skillet-Cooked Shrimp with Romesco Sauce. It seemed like a good use of my tomatoes and a red bell pepper that I had.

No single step of this recipe was particularly time-intensive, but it still took me about 30-40 minutes to cook it. First you broil a red bell pepper so that you can peel it. Meanwhile, you combine olive oil, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, parsley, and shrimp, and let it marinate for 15 minutes. You cook almonds and a little bread in olive oil, add garlic, red bell pepper, and tomato, and cook for a few minutes until the tomatoes break down. You blend that with some red wine vinegar and salt, and set aside. Then you finally cook the shrimp for a few minutes until pink. I used medium-large shrimp (some that were on sale), rather than jumbo shrimp.

Skillet-Cooked Shrimp with Romesco Sauce

This was pretty good. I don’t think I’d had romesco sauce before. It was sweeter than I had expected, from the red bell pepper and my tomatoes. I could taste the nutty flavor of the almonds and toasted bread in the sauce. The shrimp were fine. This recipe didn’t wow me, but it was solid enough otherwise. It was easy to follow, and 30-40 minutes doesn’t seem like too long to make a sauce and shrimp to go with it.  I won’t make it again, but if you like romesco sauce, give this a try.

242: Steak with Fresh Mango Salsa

I made Grilled Steak with Fresh Mango Salsa, but I pan-fried the steak instead of grilling it. I otherwise followed the directions. This was a pretty fast and easy recipe to put together.

Steak with Fresh Mango Salsa

This was pretty tasty. The spice rub for the steak was just okay. The ginger gave the mango salsa warmth without making it spicy like a pepper would. I really enjoyed the salsa, although I might skip the rub for the steak. I’m glad I tried this recipe.

212: Cucumber and Peach Salsa

To use up another cucumber, I decided to make Cucumber and Peach Salsa. As with most salsas, the worst thing is chopping up all the ingredients. I had actually blended the chipotle in adobo sauce before I froze it, so I used a teaspoon of that mixture in this salsa.

Cucumber and Peach Salsa

We had this salsa over fish, and with chips. It was spicy from the chipotle, but sweet from the preserves. The coolness of the cucumber and peach contrasted nicely with the spice. I enjoyed this and would make it again.

151: Broiled Tuna with Peach and Pepper Salsa

I decided to make the recipe for Grilled Halibut with Peach and Pepper Salsa, but with tuna instead.

I didn’t peel the peaches for the salsa because I don’t mind eating the skins. I omitted arugula because I didn’t find it at the store. I used somewhere between a half and one teaspoon of habanero that I minced and froze a few months ago, rather than chopping a fresh one. I made the full recipe of salsa.

The marinade for the fish was pretty simple and quick to make. I halved the amount of marinade because I made half the quantity of fish. I broiled the fish instead of grilling it, and at first I didn’t have my oven rack high enough, so it wasn’t searing (crisping? charring? I don’t know what to call it) like it should have. Moving the oven rack up did the trick, but I overcooked it to get a better outer texture.

Broiled Tuna with Peach Salsa

I enjoyed this recipe more than I expected. I didn’t really expect to enjoy the peaches with the red peppers or the scallions, but I did. I had the right amount of spice in the salsa. I liked the sweet and spicy together, but it wasn’t too spicy. The marinade for the fish was okay – it didn’t add a lot of flavor, but it did go nicely with the salsa. I had the leftovers for lunch the next day (I heated the fish separately) and enjoyed it just as much then. This was a good accompaniment salsa, and I’d definitely make this recipe again. It’s a great hot weather food.

Fiesta – 106-108

Cinco de Mayo seems like a good excuse to make a complete Mexican meal. We took this outside last year (chips and salsa, chicken burritos, black beans, margaritas, and fresh air), and I loved it! I decided that we’d take our folding table and chairs outside this year too and have a private fiesta in the back yard.

The menu for this year (all from Eating Well magazine):

#106: Mexican Rice
#107: Beer & Tequila Carnitas
#108: Simple Fire-Roasted Salsa

I made almost all of this the night before. I was actually cooking at about 10pm so that it would be easy to finish everything up and take it outside to eat in the fresh air while we still had plenty of sunlight.

The salsa was the easiest, and actually the last thing I made. It said I could use 28 ounces of fire-roasted canned tomatoes, but the ones I found all had seasonings added, and I wasn’t sure that would be appropriate for the salsa. So, I drained a 28oz can of tomatoes, put them in a broiler pan with the jalapeno, and broiled them for about 10 minutes. After this cooled, I seeded the jalapeno, put it on top of the tomatoes in a blender cup, added the garlic and salt, and blended until I thought the jalapeno was minced small enough. Salsa was ready.

I used brown rice instead of white rice in this recipe. First I cooked the rice in a little oil. Next went in onion, then garlic and salt, and then an 8oz can of tomato sauce. After that, I added the broth and turned down the heat to let the rice simmer. Once it was cooked, I put it in a container, topped it with frozen vegetables, and put it in the fridge so I could reheat it the next day. When I reheated it, I stirred it gently so that I wouldn’t make the rice mushy. This worked out pretty well.

Carnitas: I was pretty excited about this recipe. You start by rendering a small amount of pork fat that you trim from the pork shoulder as you cut it into one inch pieces. You then saute 2 cups of onion, 4 diced poblano peppers, and some garlic, salt, and pepper. After the onion is soft, you add the pork and continue to cook until liquid covers the meat. You reduce the heat for about 10 or 15 minutes, and then you increase the heat to reduce the liquid.

As you can tell, this is a labor-intensive recipe. As I’m reviewing it, I’m getting frustrated with the different temperature changes and additions that you have to do to follow the recipe. I’m also remembering how late it was as I was cooking it.

This is where I (purposefully) departed from recipe procedure a little bit. I knew I wanted to eat this around 6pm the next day, but it was already late and the recipe would need to cook another hour. I’d already thought about putting it in the slow cooker, so I turned off the heat and transferred the mixture to the crockpot. I put it in the refrigerator overnight, and the next morning I added the large can of tomatoes, 1 cup tequila, and 2 bottles of dark beer, and set the machine to low.

There was lots of liquid left when I got home, so I transferred the pork and juices to a large pot on the stove. I cooked and stirred it until the liquid had thickened up, reaching the consistency necessary to put the meat on tortillas.

a Cinco de Mayo feast

The salsa was a little spicy, but was fine otherwise. I prefer my salsa with cilantro, but I’d probably make something like this recipe again.

The Mexican rice was pretty much just like what comes with my entrees at Mexican restaurants. If you enjoy that, this is the recipe for you. I generally prefer rice to either stand out on its own, or to be unseasoned so that I can eat other flavorful foods with it. I’m not a huge fan of rice like this -with just enough flavor that it distracts me from what I pair it with, yet not so much that I want to eat it by itself – so I will choose a different recipe to make next time.

Alex thought the carnitas were okay. He didn’t like the beer flavor in them. I originally thought that 4 poblano peppers in the carnitas would be excessive, but it cooked long enough that it wasn’t particularly spicy, even though the peppers were spicy when I cut them. I wonder if the length of time that I cooked it changed the flavor. I enjoyed the recipe, but I wonder if it would have been spicier if I had cooked it all on the stove as the recipe had called for.

I liked the carnitas, but after having leftovers, I’m not a big enough fan of the recipe to eat it too much. I might try the recipe again, without slow-cooking, and without the beer, but it’s just as likely that I’d find a different carnitas recipe to try.