Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bacon, Kale and Sun-Dried Tomato Quesadillas

We try to have Tuesday Taco Night here at Chez Gourmess as often as we can.

When I have time, I make my own tortillas from scratch, but the rest of the time I use plain store-bought flour tortillas. I've learned (as in many things in life), if you're making stuffed tacos and burritos, the bigger the better. So stock up on the twelve inch, burrito-sized tortillas when you can find them. And, unless you've found a whole wheat version that's soft and sturdy, just stick with white flour kind. The extra carbs won't kill you and there's nothing sadder than rolling up a tortilla full of goodies, only to have it rip in half. Ugh!

I usually make sure I have Taco Night ingredients on hand like salsa, cheddar jack cheese, sour cream, jalapenos, a protein of some sort (grilled fish, portobello mushrooms, chicken or steak; pulled pork; soy crumbles), grilled peppers, chopped tomatoes, lettuce, cilantro, avocado, hot sauce, and so on. But, this week I was crazed at work and discovered that I only had tortillas in the house. Boo!

Thus, I decided to make some savory quesadillas using the fridge/pantry items I did have. And, while it wasn't traditional "Taco Night" fare, it was delicious.

Bacon, Kale and Sun-Dried Tomato Quesadillas
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Red pepper flakes
1 TBS minced fresh basil
1 cup cream cheese
Olive oil cooking spray
2 12-inch (burrito size) flour tortillas
1 cup chopped kale
6-8 strips bacon, cooked

Minimal MESS/ingredients/clean-up: Category 1

To Do:
  • In a mini food processor or blender, pulse together the sun-dried tomatoes with their oil, the garlic powder, a pinch or two of red pepper flakes, and the basil until well blended. 
  • In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the tomato mixture with the cream cheese until combined. Alternatively, you can just buy a jar of sun-dried tomato spread to mix with the cream cheese -- or even flavored cream cheese would be great to have handy for dishes/emergencies like this.
  • Spray a large round-bottomed pan with enough room for the tortilla to fit inside, with cooking spray and turn the heat on medium-high.
  • Spread one tortilla with most of the tomato mixture (be sure to get the edges) then top with the kale and bacon and place inside the pan. Sprinkle with salt/pepper.
  • Reduce the heat to medium.
  • Spread the remaining tortilla with the rest of the cheese mixture, focusing on the edges, then place it spread-side-down over the kale/bacon. Press them together with a spatula.
  • Cook for about 3 minutes or so. Peek at the tortilla on the bottom -- if it is browned and getting crispy, carefully flip* it over.
  • Let the quesadilla cook a few minutes more until all sides are browned, then slide it onto a cutting board.
  • Cool for a minute or so, then cut into pieces.
Serve with a tasty salad like my Avocado, Cranberry & Kale Salad for a quick, lovely dinner.

*Note: If flipping your giant quesadilla seems easier said than done, use this trick. I'm sure you can imagine how many flips I've flopped, being the GourMESS and all...and it works every time:
    • Place a large, heat-safe plate upside down, over the quesadilla in the pan. 
    • Turn off the heat, with one hand, carefully tip your pan upside down, while holding onto the plate/quesadilla with your other hand. (Doing this should put the plate right-side up in your hand.) 
    • Return the pan to the stove.
    • The plate in your hand should be holding your quesadilla with the bottom, browned tortilla facing you. 
    • Turn the heat back on, and slide the quesadilla back into the pan, unbrowned side-down.
    • Yay! You did it!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Whole Wheat Pasta with Country Sausage, Wilted Greens and Ricotta

Now that colder weather is upon us, I've been craving and cooking dishes with heat.

Dishes like this lovely pasta I whipped up with crumbled pork country sausage (plain because the sweet/spicy versions always disappoint), cherry peppers, wilted greens, and my sweet and creamy "drunken onions," all topped with a cooling dollop of fresh ricotta cheese.
It's spicy, but not unpleasantly so -- it hits you with a slow, gentle burn, not a fiery fierceness. And, all of the other flavors help balance out the heat: spicy, salty, sweet, earthy, creamy, yum.

You could say it's like a warm blanket of flavor...

Whole Wheat Pasta with Country Sausage, Wilted Greens and Ricotta
13.5 oz. whole wheat, medium-sized pasta shells
1 TBS unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 TBS brandy
1 garlic clove, minced
1 lb plain pork country sausage, casings removed, and crumbled
Kosher salt/ground black pepper
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1 small hot red cherry pepper, seeds/stem removed, and finely diced
2 cups finely chopped kale, chard, spinach or a mix of greens
1 cup chicken stock
8 oz. fresh ricotta

Minimal MESS/ingredients/clean-up: Category 2

To Do:
  • Fill a large pot with water and a few handfuls of salt, and bring to a boil. Boil pasta until al dente, then reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain the rest and set pasta aside.
  • Meanwhile, make the drunken onions: In a heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven, heat 1 TBS butter over medium-high heat until melted. Add in the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened and translucent. Add the brandy and cook a few minutes more, until alcohol has burned off.
  • Add the garlic and crumbled sausage to the onions, and cook until the meat is browned and the garlic is soft. Season with salt/pepper and add the chili flakes.
  • Stir in the cherry pepper and greens, and cook until pepper has softened and the greens are wilted.
  • Pour in the chicken broth and stir to mix well.  Cook for a few minutes, until all the flavors are combined.
  • Reduce the heat, then add the cooked pasta to the pan and heat until warmed through. 
    • Note: Stir in the reserved pasta water a bit at a time if the pasta mixture seems too dry.
  • Scoop into bowls and top each dish with a dollop of ricotta before serving.

A very tasty way to keep toasty!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Going Gaga for Babaganoush

So, I have to admit it. I'm in love with the humble eggplant.

Last year, it was kale -- this year, those deep purple oblong aubergines are all I want to cook.

I've curried them with tofu. I've simmered them with tomatoes, spices and garlic in zaalouk. I've grilled them to top everything from pizza to bison burgers. And, I've roasted them with chickpeas and bacon for a simple pasta sauce. I've even microwaved them Mark Bittman-style, with breadcrumbs, lemon and honey. But, I hadn't made the creamy, dreamy delicious eggplant dip that is Babaganoush.

Until today. And I must say, it is quite delish.

Gourmess' Babaganoush
Olive oil
3 medium-sized, firm eggplants
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Smoked sea salt
2 TBS tahini
2 TBS lemon juice
1/2 tsp honey
4 TBS, fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/8 tsp smoked paprika

Minimal MESS/ingredients/clean-up: Category 1
To Do:
  • Prick the eggplants all over with a fork and drizzle them with olive oil before placing them on a baking sheet lined with foil, and into a 450 degree oven. 
  • Roast until they deflate a bit, and the skin is charred in spots -- about 20-25 minutes. (Note: You can also use a grill or char the eggplants carefully over your burner's open flame, but I had other things cooking on the stove, so I used the oven instead.)
  • In the meantime, on your cutting board, use your knife or the back of a spoon to smoosh the garlic and 1/4 tsp of smoked salt, into a paste. (Note: I love using the smoked salt in this dip, but if you don't have it, plain old Kosher salt will do.) 
  • Then, in a medium-sized bowl, mix together the garlic/salt paste, tahini, lemon juice, and honey until well incorporated, and set aside.
  • When the eggplants were done, I let them cool until they were easy to handle, then cut them in half lengthwise and scooped the pulp into my food mill, turning it several times until I had a lovely purée. (Discard the skins/stems.) Alternatively, you can put the pulp in the food processor and blast away, but I think the mill gives it a velvety texture and if you use a disc with fine holes, it gets rid of the seeds -- which can be plentiful if your eggplants are overripe.
  • Add the tahini mixture to the eggplant and mix well. Stir in the parsley (save a pinch or two for garnish) and season with a bit more salt, if needed. 
  • Transfer the dip to a serving bowl and top with the reserved parsley and the paprika.
  • Scoop up with warm pitas or spread on toasted bread and top with bacon, lettuce and tomato for a tasty spin on a BLT. I call it the BBLT.
And that, my friends, is how you put an eggplant (or three) to good use.