Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tostada Salad... Salad {with Avocado-Cilantro-Lime Dressing}

Salads... in their most basic form... require little in the way of a recipe. They can be as simple as a few amazing leaves of fresh, just-picked lettuce that are left completely undressed and set alongside an entrée, to a more involved medley of veggies, grains, nuts... and more... tossed with a variety of greens and a homemade vinaigrette to create a meal that's satisfying enough to be plated on its very own for dinner. I suppose this thinking of what requires a recipe and what might not is the reason my salad file here is a bit sparse.

We eat a lot of salads, however... and sometimes convert other things into salads so that we can turn to them frequently, with little guilt and lots of satisfaction... like this Tostada Salad Salad.

What began as a pretty decadent tostada salad -- with deep-fried corn tortillas piled high with chicken and beans, lettuce and cheese, salsa, onions, avocado, and sour cream -- became a healthier form of its former self... and a bit more honest in its claim as a salad.

In this Tostada Salad Salad, white corn tortillas are very lightly brushed with some extra virgin olive oil and baked in the oven.

The meat has been replaced with black beans, sautéed with onion and garlic and punched up with one of our favorite salsas.

Then... piled high atop these crispy, bean-spread tortillas is a mix of fresh greens and goodies to mimic all the flavors of a great tostada... though in a much lighter, healthier form. There's jicama, white corn, green onions, toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds), black olives, cilantro, and grape tomatoes that are then tossed

with the greens and lightly drizzled with some extra virgin olive oil and freshly squeezed lime juice.

And then... rather than a random addition of diced avocado, an entire avocado is mashed with just a bit of lime juice, salt and pepper...

and dolloped atop the salad and tossed until fully incorporated. This mash creams up the "vinaigrette" (which is really just a relaxed drizzle of oil and acid), threading through the colorful kaleidoscope of flavors to properly attire the salad in an avocado-infused dress, confidently unadorned with the heavy accessories of a more decadent offering -- just a simple, good salad...

not really a recipe.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Mushroom-Veggie Pots Topped with a Parmesan-Parsnip Mash

Food... like fashion, design or decor... is fluid. New discoveries... new flavors... are always forthcoming and celebrated. And yet, it is that very fluidity that oftentimes brings you back full circle... re-worked, re-tooled, re-created... where the core of what is revered remains intact.

I've never been a huge fan of chicken pot pies. I like them, sure enough, but rarely did I find a crust done well enough to warrant the inclusion of all that dough... certainly not before dessert. More times than not, the crust in pot pies overpowers the essence of the pie... what's inside. Like most anything, it really comes down to personal preference. I like my pie dough to surround a bubbly, fresh and fruity filling. Given this liking, I've made my savory pot pies "naked"... as in the filling kind of stands on its own... savory, seasoned and soothing. I always loved that the crust... basically a wafer-thin disk of buttery, golden puff pastry... simply lay atop a bowl of tender chicken and veggies nestled in a delicious, yet simple broth. Then, I decided I actually preferred a mashed potato cap atop these bowls and did away with the crust altogether... more a la Shepard's Pie than Pot. And then, again... as we've moved more and more towards a vegetarian diet, I re-worked, re-tooled and re-created this classic to fit our current day preferences. And that's where this recipe came to light.

Mushrooms, particularly shitake, are a great substitute for poultry. They are meaty, flavorful and satisfying. They offer a sense of satiation that I think is sought after in vegetarian fare. Together with onions, carrots, celery, peas, and corn, you have the makings of a great filling. And, rather than going the mashed potato route, I opted for a parmesan-parsnip mash to crown the top. Parsnips are a wonderful alternative to potatoes. And with a good sprinkle of parmesan they are only that much more enchanting. Much of what is satisfying, inspiring or revolutionary is simply a re-creation of a classic... even if just from a bit of its core. Classic is... classic. Self-defined.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Broccoli Chips

In the middle of finishing up a couple of twice-baked potatoes a couple of weeks ago, I offered up a little bowl of these "chips" to nibble until dinner was ready. I had cut the tops off a couple of stalks of broccoli and was roasting the florets to crown our potatoes when I felt a slight pang of guilt in tossing the large stems in the trash, as is often done.

On most occasions I happen to like a bit of stem tossed in with the more popular floret caps of broccoli, but not on this. Rather than discard them entirely I figured I'd slice them into thin disks with the help of a mandoline and toss them lightly with some good olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper before popping them into the oven to roast. If they tasted horrible, I'd throw them out with nary a blink of the eye. And if they tasted good, they'd be an unplanned, before-dinner snack.

While I abstain from eating potato chips, except on rare occasions, I happen to love them and am always interested when something is written up as being a great alternative. Kale chips, for example, got a lot of press there for a while. I tried those. I love kale. The chips? Not so much. These little broccoli chips, however, are different. I have to say that this is the absolute closest I've come to thinking I could eat these in the place of potato chips and truly not be totally forlorn at the substitution. 

This particular revelation would be something that I'd text or email to our girls rather than post here, given that it's not much of a recipe. However, in the midst of reading Grant Achatz' book, life, on the line -- completely enthralled with his story, his professional determination, his personal strength, his playful and nostalgic inspirations, and his steadfast commitment to an ideal -- I got to page 230 and changed my mind. Here, Achatz' business partner and co-author, Nick Kokonas, recounts some of Achatz' newest creations in an update written to their investors, and is obviously impressed with his chef's ability to coerce meaningful and profound flavors from unique... and sometimes unlikely... ingredients. Broccoli stems, Kokonas relates, are often tossed aside, thought of as the "offal" of the vegetable world, and yet Achatz has chosen to feature them in a stunning Poached Broccoli Stem plating. I had to laugh thinking back to these chips. I love the idea of putting to use bits of things that you wouldn't normally think appealing. I can only imagine the wondrous flavor of Achatz' broccoli stem creation if a simple little roast of what commonly lands in the compost heap can produce a nibble as tasty as this.