Tamale.

tamales!

In case you haven’t noticed, the holidays are upon us. Sure, we celebrate all sorts of holidays throughout the year, but these few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas? Those are the “real” holidays. These are the days where we all eat too many cookies, mounds of fudge, and every other goodie you could possibly imagine. Every day at work begins with something brought in, lunch ends with a sweet treat, and the few hours after lunch before you leave for the day? Man, those are the hours where we really, and I mean really, need some chocolate.

I have to admit here, that Chris and I aren’t full of holiday traditions. We haven’t had a Christmas tree in years; since we are never home on Christmas we’ve never felt the need. I have a box of decorations that I’ve collected over the years, and they remained in the back of the storage closet once again this year. I don’t have a tried and true cookie recipe, or a special offering that just always works at the holiday parties. Just tonight, I started burning a candle that smells exactly like Christmas, and it made me realize that we need to make some of our own traditions.

pulled pork

Of course, this is all starting next year. We head out east soon, and by the time we’re back, it’ll almost be New Years Eve. That means two more years have gone by without me finally doing Christmas cards. Whoops.

On the flip side, and without knowing it, I think we did start one tradition this year. I clipped a recipe for tamales years ago. I kept flipping past it, thinking it was just way too much work (the one in my stack that I keep flipping past now is a yeasted donut recipe. But I can’t give up yet!). I finally, after a couple of years, got rid of the tamale recipe, figuring I’d just eat store-bought tamales instead of slaving in the kitchen to make my own. But then I recently found another tamale recipe, and right around Christmastime, when folks seem to make tamales over big gatherings of family members.

masa-ancho dough

Chris and I had a recent lazy weekend, the type where well-intentioned hikes (which we’ve not done in months, it seems!) are ruined by rain, and suddenly Saturday night was right around the corner and we had nowhere to be – not even a Christmas party on a December weekend! We’d run a few errands, driven around in horrible downtown San Francisco traffic, and decided that we were most definitely staying in that night. Meanwhile, we neared a Mexican market that had every little ingredient I needed, so I decided it was meant to be. Much to Chris’ chagrin, it ended up being a project for the two of us, although I have to admit I really didn’t put him to work until it was actually time to make the tamales. After a few iterations, we finally had a good system down – he spread the masa onto the husk and portioned the pork on top, and I rolled the husks, folding the dough over the pork, and then tied the ends with strings of corn husk.

I’m not sure who got the shittiest end of that deal. The husk strings kept breaking, and sometimes the husks themselves weren’t the right size, but on Chris’ end he was dealing with my constant critique-ing of his portioning, and I’m not sure how many times I told him, but dang, he really wanted to LOAD those things down with pork, and there just wasn’t room! At the end of the night, literally around 9:30, we were able to taste our efforts, and I promise, it was worth it. We had leftovers for a couple more meals, and we froze the rest, knowing there are always nights when cooking just doesn’t happen. Tamales are perfect for that.

But most importantly, we (at least, I) really appreciated how and why this tamale-making festivity has become a yearly tradition in so many families around the holidays. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of time, but a lot of yield, and a few hours of spending quality time with the ones you love is the most special result of it all (even if the tamales are outta this world). It’s something to look forward to every year, and since 2013 is just around the corner, I’m already thinking about tamale night next December. Tamale night, a tree, some decorations, and maybe, just maybe, some Christmas cards.

Don’t hold your breath on that one.

tamale-makin'

 

Chipotle Pork Tamales w/ Cilantro-Lime Crema
adapted from Cooking Light, December 2012; serves 14 (2 tamales each)

time commitment: forever. just kidding. sorta. a good 5 hours total, but about 2-3 of active time (lots of pork-cooking and tamale-steaming).

printable version

ingredients
filling
1 T olive oil
1 (3-pound) Boston butt (pork shoulder roast), trimmed
1/2 t kosher salt
1 c chopped onion
9 crushed garlic cloves
1 t cumin seeds, toasted
6 chipotles chiles, canned in adobo sauce, chopped
1 c no-salt-added chicken stock
1 t grated orange rind
1 t unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 t ground espresso

crema
3 T chopped fresh cilantro
2 T no-salt-added chicken stock
1 T lime juice
1/4 t salt
1 (8-ounce) container light sour cream
1 large garlic clove, minced

masa
2 1/2 c no-salt-added chicken stock
2 ancho chiles
1 c corn kernels
4 c instant masa harina
1 1/4 t salt
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 c chilled lard

other
Dried corn husks

instructions
Preheat oven to 300 F.

To prepare filling, heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil, and swirl to coat. Sprinkle pork evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add pork to pan; sauté 10 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove pork from pan. Add onion and garlic to pan, and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cumin and chipotle chiles; sauté for 1 minute. Stir in 1 cup stock and the next 3 ingredients (through espresso); bring to a boil. Return pork to pan; cover. Bake at 300 F for 3 hours or until pork is fork-tender. Remove pork from pan, and let stand 10 minutes. Shred pork. Return pork to sauce.

Meanwhile, prepare crema by combining all crema ingredients; chill.

To prepare tamales, immerse corn husks in water; weight with a plate. Soak 30 minutes; drain.

To prepare masa, combine 2 1/2 cups stock and ancho chiles in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH for 2 minutes or until chiles are tender; cool slightly. Remove stems from chiles. Combine hot stock, chiles, and corn in a blender; process until smooth. Combine masa harina, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, and baking powder, stirring well with a whisk. Cut in lard with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ancho mixture to masa mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead dough until smooth and pliable. (If dough is crumbly, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until moist.)

Working with one husk at a time (or overlap 2 small husks), place about 3 tablespoons masa mixture in the center of husk, about 1 inch from top of husk; press dough into a 4-inch-long by 3-inch-wide rectangle. Spoon about 1 heaping tablespoon pork mixture down one side of dough. Using the corn husk as your guide, fold husk over tamale, being sure to cover filling with dough. Use husk to seal masa around filling. Tear 3 or 4 corn husks lengthwise into strips; tie ends of tamale with strips.

Steam tamales according to whatever method works best for you. My smoke alarm goes off constantly if I turn the oven on too high, so this method in this recipe doesn’t work well for me. I put them tamales in a bamboo steamer on the stovetop, and steam for about 1 hour. It takes longer, but I don’t have to constantly open windows and wait for the fire truck to show up… [This recipe says: preheat the oven to 450 F, then place tamale, seam side down, on the rack of a broiler pan lined with a damp towel. Repeat procedure with remaining husks, masa mixture, and pork mixture. Cover tamales with a damp towel. Pour 2 cups hot water in the bottom of a broiler pan; top with rack. Steam tamales at 450° for 25 minutes. Remove and rewet top towel, and add 1 cup water to pan. Turn tamales over; top with cloth. Bake for 20 minutes or until set. Let tamales stand 10 minutes.]

Once ready, serve tamales with crema. You can also freeze them after steaming. Reheat by resteaming for a shorter time, or by heating in the microwave.

Rustica.

I’m going to make this one short and sweet, unlike the recipe below, but I’m all about irony and opposites, so who cares.

I’m going to guess that this is going to be my last post for a while. We are headed to Greece (GREECE!!!!!) on Saturday, and you best believe, I won’t be bloggin’ over there. Plus, I swear I haven’t cooked much of anything lately, and I had to dig into a rough draft of this recipe from like, I dunno, a couple of months ago, to have something to share with you today.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve made some stuff – but typically it’s a piece of toasted bread, a fried egg, some cheese, and a couple of slices of avocado (you don’t need a recipe and pictures for that, right?!) or maybe a throw-together version of the best thing in my life food-wise, chilaquiles.

We even went to Portland the other week, and camping/backpacking again (first time since the Lost Coast!) this past weekend, and I could probably share some pictures with you, but I didn’t take that many.

Man, I’m slack.

But if I had a little time on my hands, a little snippet of a morning where I could plan a little, I’d totally make this pie again. If I had any veggies in my fridge, it would totally be the way to use them all up, but I doubt a bunch of celery would be all that good by itself…

I’m hoping you do have a little more time at home this week to make this, because I promise it’s totally worth a little bit of preparation. When I made this thing ages ago (or at least it seems like ages), I made the dough the day before, and when it came time to roll that stuff out and stuff the pie, I added every little piece of veggie that I had left into that thing. Lots of cheese, too. It was marvelous, and we ate it for three days straight, which might be boring to some of you, but to me, it was just delightful each and every time.

And with that, adio! I promise to take pictures in Greece, and maybe make some baklava again, or in the least, something with a good Greek olive oil ;).

Pizza Rustica
adapted from Cooking Light, April 2012; serves 8

time commitment:  2 hours, 30 minutes (about 1 hour active time, includes refrigeration of dough and baking time)

printable version

ingredients
crust
7 3/4 oz all-purpose flour (about 1 3/4 cups), divided
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
1/3 c extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 c water

torta
2 medium red bell peppers
2 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 lb kale, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 T chopped shallots
2 t minced garlic
2 (8-ounce) packages cremini mushrooms, sliced
8 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
2 oz fontina cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup)
1 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)
1 T chopped fresh thyme
1/2 t kosher salt
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 large egg white
Cooking spray
1 T fat-free milk

instructions
To prepare crust, weigh or lightly spoon 7.25 ounces flour (about 1 2/3 cups) into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 7.25 ounces flour, 1/2 t salt, and baking powder in a food processor; pulse 2 times to combine. Combine 1/3 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup water in a small bowl. With processor on, slowly add oil mixture through food chute, and process just until dough begins to form a ball (dough will be crumbly). Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead 3 minutes; add enough of the remaining 2 tablespoons flour to prevent dough from sticking to hands. Divide dough into 2 equal portions. Press each portion into a 5-inch circle on plastic wrap. Cover with additional plastic wrap. Chill at least 30 minutes.
To prepare torta, preheat broiler to high. Cut bell peppers in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place pepper halves, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten with hand. Broil 10 minutes or until blackened. Place in a ziploc bag and seal. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel and coarsely chop.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil; swirl to coat. Add kale to pan; cook 1 minute or until greens begin to wilt. Place kale and bell peppers in a large bowl. Return pan to medium heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add shallots and garlic to pan; cook for 1 minute. Add mushrooms; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Place mushroom mixture and kale mixture in a fine sieve; let drain 5 minutes. Place vegetable mixture in a large bowl. Add ricotta and next 7 ingredients (through egg white) to vegetable mixture, stirring to combine.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Slightly overlap 2 sheets of plastic wrap on a slightly damp surface. Unwrap one dough portion, and place on plastic wrap. Cover dough with 2 additional sheets of overlapping plastic wrap. Roll dough, still covered, into an 11-inch circle. Place the dough in freezer for 5 minutes or until plastic wrap can be easily removed. Remove top sheets of plastic wrap; fit dough, plastic wrap side up, into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Remove remaining plastic wrap. Spoon vegetable mixture into prepared pie plate.
Repeat with remaining dough and then place over vegetable mixture. Remove remaining plastic wrap. Press the edges of dough together. Fold edges under, and flute. Brush top of dough with milk. Cut several slits in top of dough to allow steam to escape.
Bake at 375° for 45 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Cool 30 minutes. Cut into 8 wedges.

Reuben.

Do you remember, way back in school, when you learned the phrase, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”?

Those Greek philosophers always had the coolest quotes, didn’t they? And then, we made stone statues of them, and stuck them in places we all like to visit, so we can stand in front of them and get our pictures taken. Good times.

But Aristotle was onto some shit. I mean, I’m sure the phrase doesn’t work for everything, but think about it for a second. Okay, a minute.

A building: sure, all the individual pieces are significant in the structural integrity of the building, but generally they all function together to create one whole unit that doesn’t topple over. A body: lots of organs, bones, muscles that truthfully aren’t too entirely useful on their own, but together, usually something pretty neat happens.

Food: duh, you can have dozens of individual components that separately may be a little lackluster, but if you know what you’re doing, they are magical when you put them together. A reuben sandwich could possibly be the best way to prove this.

Take corned beef. Sorta weird if you just picked up a slice and ate it for lunch. And sauerkraut – that mess is nasty by itself. I mean, you wouldn’t get to a restaurant and say, “I’d Iike a nice bowl of sauerkraut. That’s all.” Would you? Okay, I’m sure someone would. And cheese? Ok, totally not a good example, because I could probably eat a block of cheese. But you see what I mean, right?

I don’t really like corned beef. And I definitely don’t prefer sauerkraut. Swiss cheese isn’t my favorite either. And that orange colored Thousand Island dressing that is really similar to “secret sauce”? Probably only something I’d consider licking off my arm if it dripped off of my Big Mac. Or I suppose, in this context, my Reuben.

Because, even though these ingredients separately aren’t much to write home about, they are killer when you slap them all between a piece of rye bread, toss said concoction into a buttered skillet, and cook until warm and melty. And what’s maybe the best part? It’s all done in a matter of minutes, a true “whole” that is waaaaaay better than the “parts”.

Reuben Sandwiches
adapted from Cooking Light, May 2012; makes 4 sandwiches

time commitment: under 30 minutes

printable version

ingredients
dressing
1/4 c canola mayonnaise
1 T chili sauce
2 t finely minced dill pickle
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1/2 t grated onion

sandwiches
8 slices rye bread
3 oz Swiss cheese, shaved (about 3/4 cup)
4 oz lower-sodium corned beef, thinly sliced (such as Boar’s Head corned beef, top round, cap-off)
1 c organic sauerkraut, drained well
2 T butter

instructions
To prepare dressing, combine the first 5 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well.

To prepare sandwiches, arrange 1/4 of cheese on bottom slice, then 1/4 of beef, then 1/4 of sauerkraut. Slather 1/4 of dressing on top slice of bread and top sandwich.

Heat a cast iron skillet or saute pan over medium-hi heat, and add butter until melted. Place sandwich in pan (1 or 2 at a time, depending on size) and cook until heated through, about 3 minutes per side. Use a spatula to flatten the sandwich some for even cooking. Serve immediately.

BLT.

For the longest time, I had a crazy strong aversion to any recipe or dish that involved the term “wilted”. I always thought it was a fancy way of saying “we cooked this stuff for waaaay too long, but hey! just toss something crunchy in and with it and it’ll be like new”.

That being said, the new-ish craze of grilling lettuce was certainly not anything I was excited about or intrigued by at. all.

But then I tried a salad with grilled romaine lettuce. Hells yes.

And charred-like tomatoes. Hells bigger yes.

And then I combined those with blue cheese, prosciutto (what’s not to love about this, really!) and croutons. Shit just got real around here, no?

Charred BLT Salad
Adapted from Cooking Light, May 2012;  serves 4

time commitment: less than 30 minutes

printable version

ingredients
3 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, cut crosswise into ribbons
1 1/2 c (1/2-inch) cubed whole-grain bread (about 2 ounces)
1 pint grape tomatoes
1/8 t kosher salt
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
2 romaine hearts, halved lengthwise
Cooking spray
1/4 c chopped green onions
2 oz blue cheese, crumbled

instructions
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil; swirl to coat. Add prosciutto; cook 4 minutes or until crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove prosciutto with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels. Add bread to pan; cook 3 minutes or until browned, stirring frequently. Combine prosciutto and bread. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan. Add tomatoes; cook 5 minutes or until skins begins to split, stirring frequently. Pour tomatoes and olive oil into a small bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

Coat cut sides of lettuce with cooking spray. Place lettuce, cut side down, on a grill rack coated with cooking spray. Cook 2 minutes or until well marked. Place 1 lettuce half on each of 4 plates. Divide prosciutto mixture and tomato mixture among servings. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon onions and 1/2 ounce cheese.

grillin’ the most

I can’t tell you people how often I’ve gone into a grocery store with a list, only to leave without at least one item on said list. And not on purpose.

And I should add here, that I am quite the strategic little planner when it comes to grocery shopping. I don’t always shop at the same neighborhood Whole Foods, but in general the layout of most grocery stores is the same. So I write my list according to what I’ll walk through first. I load up on produce and stuff from the dairy/meat section (the outer parts of the store), then my list thins out once I hit the inside of the store to the processed/canned goods. Word on the street is that’s a big deal in eating right.

So with my planning, not only am I increasing the likelihood of “eating right”, but also I’m increasing the likelihood that all the things on my list will be found – especially important for the many times I leave my pen in the car and can’t cross things off.

And yes, I do try to make a list on my iPhone, but I find it hard to walk through the store holding my phone up. It’s almost as bad as texting and walking (I suppose it’s the same as texting and walking, but also pushing a cart, so actually worse). Those are the folks I want to punch in the face, so I figure I should try to stick to the pen and paper.

Anyway, I’d decided to join the hoards of 6:00 shoppers in the downtown area Trader Joe’s last week for a change of scenery, and also because I knew for once I could get everything on my list there without having to go to another grocery store. It was, needless to say, mass chaos. People pushing through to grab the $1.99 arugula and the free samples of artichoke dip, and meanwhile the stockers were pushing their carts through the store with a “kill or be killed” sorta mentality. But no bigs – I went into it knowing it would be crazy, and crazy was what I got. I also ran into Judy! That never happens.

I’d found all of my produce, and then lo and behold, I found totally fresh corn on the cob (meaning, not already shucked and put into plastic containers for a higher price), so I went to put back the other one, and somewhere in the mix I absolutely forgot to grab the fresh corn. So when I got home to make this GRILLED CORN and bean salad, I just had a bunch o’ beans.

Solution? I texted my dear husband and asked for a last minute stop for some corn which, he obliged to, knowing his dinner depended on it. I grilled fresh corn, onions, and jalapeños and tossed them all with beans and tomatoes, and a perfect summer salad (4th of July party, anyone?) was made.

The End.

p.s. Last Friday I posted some 4th of July recipe suggestions. Click here and scroll to the bottom! Happy 4th :).

Grilled Corn & 3 Bean Salad
Adapted from Cooking Light, June 2012; serves ~12

printable version

time commitment: 30 minutes

ingredients
1 c halved heirloom cherry tomatoes
1 t salt, divided
3 ears shucked corn
1 medium white onion, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
2 jalapeño peppers
1 T olive oil
Cooking spray
1/3 c chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 c fresh lime juice
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 diced peeled avocados
1/2 c queso fresco

instructions
Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.

Place the tomatoes in a large bowl, and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let stand 10 minutes.

Brush corn, onion, and jalapeños evenly with oil. Place vegetables on grill rack coated with cooking spray. Grill corn for 12 minutes or until lightly charred, turning after 6 minutes. Grill onion slices and jalapeños 8 minutes or until lightly charred, turning after 4 minutes. Let vegetables stand 5 minutes. Cut kernels from cobs (if you’re smart, you’d do this over a bundt pan so corn doesn’t fly everywhere). Coarsely chop onion. Finely chop jalapeño; discard stem. Add corn, onion, and jalapeño to tomato mixture; toss well. Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, cilantro, and next 4 ingredients (through kidney beans) to corn mixture; toss well. Top with avocado and queso fresco.

easy cheesy

Shortly after Chris and I officially started dating, we went on a road trip with his parents up to Pennsylvania to visit family. His parents grew up in the Northeast, so the area up there is special to them. I remember that Chris was pretty excited about it, and I remember Barry, my now-father-in-law, teaching us the “ways of the road” – things like freeway etiquette and so forth.

One of the basic tenets of freeway etiquette is this: when lanes are merging, each car in the merged lane lets one car from the merging lane in. It keeps traffic flowing as smoothly as possible. The douchebags trying to speed past and butt in are otherwise honked at, flipped the bird, or if it’s warm enough outside, you roll your window down and yell all sorts of obscenities at them. Welcome to the Northeast.

Needless to say, the “foreigners” always get yelled at. Most people unfamiliar with city driving will undoubtedly let cars and cars and cars in, especially the nice Southern folk. The Midwesterners are the ones who cut people off, as do the New Yorkers. The West Coasters? I dunno, maybe they just stay on the West Coast (I can’t blame them). Don’t you just love stereotypes?

Speaking of stereotypes, Philadelphia has always been stereotyped as the place to go for cheesesteak. This is something I’d think of as a pretty freakin’ awesome stereotype, sorta like saying that Southerners give the best hugs (it’s true), that Italians make the best pasta (also true, in my experience), and that San Francisco has a lot of hipsters (generally awesome, but sometimes annoying).

It was almost 10 years ago that we went on this road trip, so I can’t for the life of me remember where we went to eat, but I know they insisted on going to one specific place for a Philly cheesesteak. I don’t think it was in Philadelphia, since I don’t think we went to Philadelphia on that trip. I remember Barry really hyping this place up, and getting more and more excited about it the closer we got. And even though it wasn’t in Philly proper (I think), I remember being pretty blown away by the caliber of meat-filled sandwich goodness. I remember a lot of gooey cheese and if my memory isn’t failing me and instead plugging in nonexistent happenings, I think Chris’ parents even came across someone they knew in the restaurant, which to me, further solidifies the awesomeness of a place. So forgive me if I made that up, but I really don’t think I did.

I’m not sayin’ this recipe I’m sharing is the same caliber of awesomeness as a Philly cheesesteak. First, it needs three times as much cheese, then twice as much steak, and less veggies. I think I’ve even heard that some Philly cheesesteak places use Cheese Whiz now, and that’s definitely not going on with this sandwich. But at the end of the day, when you live on the other side of the country amidst, let’s face it, restaurants with a greater focus on avocado and turkey sandwiches (which are nothing to ignore out here), it gets the job done.

And for sure, that’s a memory I know is accurate. Probably because it only happened a couple of weeks ago, but still, it’s true.

Philly Cheesesteak
Adapted from Cooking Light, March 2012; makes 4

time commitment: 30 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1 (12-ounce) flank steak, trimmed
1/4 t kosher salt
1/4 t black pepper
2 portobello mushroom caps
2 t olive oil, divided
1 c thinly sliced onion
1 1/2 green bell peppers, thinly sliced
2 t minced garlic
1/2 t Worcestershire sauce
1/2 t lower-sodium soy sauce
2 t all-purpose flour
1/2 c skim milk
1 oz provolone cheese, torn into small pieces
2 T grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 t dry mustard
4 (3-ounce) hoagie rolls, toasted

instructions
Place beef in freezer for 15 minutes. Cut beef across the grain into thin slices. Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Remove brown gills from the undersides of mushroom caps using a spoon; discard gills. Remove stems and discard. Thinly slice mushroom caps and cut slices in half crosswise.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add beef to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until beef loses its pink color, stirring constantly. Remove beef from pan. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add onion and sauté 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, bell pepper, and garlic and sauté 6 minutes. Return beef to pan and sauté 1 minute or until thoroughly heated and vegetables are tender. Remove from heat. Stir in Worcestershire and soy sauce and keep warm.

Place flour in a small saucepan, and gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk until blended. Bring to a simmer over medium heat; cook 1 minute or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat. Add cheeses and mustard, stirring until smooth. Keep warm (mixture will thicken as it cools).

Hollow out top and bottom halves of bread, leaving a 1/2-inch-thick shell; reserve torn bread for another use. Divide the beef mixture evenly among bottom halves of hoagies. Drizzle sauce evenly over beef mixture; replace top halves.

A Nice Change of Pace

This past weekend was completely unlike the one that preceded it. For a ton of reasons. But let’s first state the obvious, most polarizing difference: this past weekend, Chris was on his way to China for a week (yes, without me – again!), and the weekend before it, we were both in the country.

Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s move on.

The other big difference is that two weekends ago, Chris and I took our first overnight backpacking trip into the Ventana Wilderness near Big Sur, going “balls to the wall” and hiking a round-trip 23 miles of bonkers up-and-down trail, where we saw mountains, redwoods, waterfalls, pretty greenery, the ocean, and at the final point for the night, a campsite right near natural hot springs. Which means we also saw hippie naked people, our own stinking dirty clothes, and freeze-dried food that didn’t taste half-bad.

It was pretty amazing, to say the least. Amazing and really, really hard. I’m pretty proud of us for roughin’ it out there, and can’t wait to do it again. (Here’s the pics, if you’re interested. There aren’t many since we were more focused on things like not toppling over from the weight of our packs!)

This weekend, I was left to my own devices, and I definitely didn’t go backpacking. Instead, I painted my toenails and fingernails (purple!), I got a massage, I went for a run and a couple of small bikes rides, and I survived my first hot yoga class. Just barely, though.

I also managed to sit out in the sunshine and soak in some Vitamin D. Ironically enough, I watched the “new” Twilight movie and read plenty of ‘Salem’s Lot, too. I did not sleep in a coffin, in case you were wondering, but I did wake up to my second memorable earthquake since living in San Francisco, which is noteworthy.

It wasn’t the same as my usual weekends around here lately – hiking and such – but it was certainly a nice change of pace. And it kept me from sitting in a quiet house with two lazy cats staring a me.

And while I could have easily procured a few microwave dinners to get me through the week food-wise, I had some produce leftovers from last week, and I decided that I couldn’t go one more day without making one of my very favorite dishes, bibimbap. I can’t put my finger on it, but the combination of flavors in bibimbap something that I seem to crave every now and then, and the taste isn’t comparable to anything else I know of. It’s the mixture of veggies with soy sauce and sesame oil, the Korean chili paste, the textures of all the different, individual cooking of ingredients, and the runny, fried egg on top that I absolutely can’t resist. I made enough for 2 servings this time (the recipe below is still scaled to 4, but it does half easily) and I ate leftovers so quickly that I almost poked myself in the face with my fork.

I took a picture with my phone and texted it to Chris, thinking he’d be totally envious and ready to come home right away. But then I remembered he was in, well, China. There’s good food in China.

And then I licked the rest of the chili paste right outta the bowl. I mean shoot, no one’s watching, anyway. But would I care if they were? Prolly not…

Bibimbap, previously: Beef & Asparagus Bibimbap
Korean, previously: Korean tofu tacos

Vegetarian (or not) Bibimbap
Adapted from Cooking Light, March 2012; serves 4 

time commitment: 1 hour

printable version

ingredients
1 c uncooked short-grain brown rice
8 oz extra-firm tofu, drained (or sirloin, chicken, or pork)
1/3 c water
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
2 t sugar, divided
2 t garlic, minced & divided
1 t fresh ginger, minced & divided
1/4 t crushed red pepper
1 c carrots, julienned
2 T lower-sodium soy sauce
3 T dark sesame oil, divided
1 c fresh bean sprouts
5 oz shitake mushrooms, sliced
9 oz fresh baby spinach (usually a large bag)
4 large eggs
4 T gochujang*
1/4 t kosher salt

*gochujang is Korean chili paste. You can usually find it at Whole Foods (the Annie Chun brand) or other brands in Asian markets

instructions
Cook rice. Bring 2 c water and rice to boil in medium saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until water is absorbed. This can be done days in advance to cut down on cooking time.

Meanwhile, cut tofu into 3/4-inch-thick cubes. Place tofu in a single layer in between a kitchen towel. Let stand 30 minutes, pressing down occasionally.

Combine 1/3 c water, vinegar, 1 t sugar, 1/2 t garlic, 1/2 t ginger, and crushed red pepper in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add carrot, and remove from heat; let stand 30 minutes. Drain.

Combine remaining 1 t sugar, 1/2 t garlic, remaining 1/2 t ginger, soy sauce, and 1 T oil, stirring with a whisk. Remove tofu from paper towels. Place tofu in a medium bowl. Add 1 T soy sauce mixture to tofu; toss gently. Let stand 15 minutes.

Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over high heat for 4 minutes. Add 1/2 T sesame oil; swirl to coat. Add rice to pan in a single layer; cook 1 minute (do not stir). Remove from heat.

Turn on oven just enough to warm and then turn off. Keep the following components warm by putting them on a baking sheet and keeping them in the oven until all pieces are sautéed. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 t oil; swirl to coat. Add 1 1/2 t soy sauce mixture and bean sprouts to pan; sauté 1 minute. Remove sprouts from pan; keep warm. Add mushrooms to pan; sauté 2 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 t soy sauce mixture; sauté 1 minute. Remove mushrooms from pan; keep warm. Add 1/2 T oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add tofu to pan; sauté 7 minutes or until golden brown. Remove tofu from pan; keep warm. Add 1 t oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add remaining 1 t garlic and remaining 1 T soy sauce mixture; sauté 30 seconds. Add spinach to pan; sauté 1 minute or until spinach wilts. Remove spinach from pan; keep warm.

Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining 1 t oil to pan, more if desired. Crack eggs into pan; cook 4 minutes or until whites are set. Remove from heat.

Place 1/2 c rice in each of 4 shallow bowls. Top each serving evenly with carrots, sprouts, mushrooms, tofu, and spinach. Top each serving with 1 egg and 1 T chili paste. Sprinkle evenly with salt.