Corn and Black Bean Salsa: Quick, easy, and versatile

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I truly believe that in cooking sometimes the last thing you want to do is make a whole bunch of different things.  However, if you can create one thing that can serve multiple purposes then you have a real  advantage in making life easy.  This salsa is the perfect example.  This week we had two different Mexican inspired dishes on our menu.  You will see one tomorrow and the other in the next week.  This chunky, fresh salsa found its way into both meals.  And actually if we decided to, dipping was not required.  This is my very favorite dipping salsa.  I exclude the tomatoes because I don’t like them but you can add them if you want.  The beans, and actually the cumin in the dish make it a very refreshing change from your typical everyday salsa.

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The two versatile ways that I used it this week were actually to enhance starches.  For the meal you will see tomorrow, I added it to the quinoa that went into our vegetarian fajita burritos.  It gave a nice body and richness to the main ingredient. The other time I used it as a non-dip, I added some spoonfuls to a brown rice that was a side dish for a Mexican spiced chicken.  The absolute best part of this salsa is that there is no cooking involved, just add all the ingredients into a bowl, mix, and refrigerate for a few hours to merry the flavors.  Its quick and easy and can be used as a great party appetizer or incorporated into other dishes.

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Corn and Black Bean Salsa

  • 2 cans black beans, drained
  • 1 can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1/2 cup cilantro
  • 6 Tbs olive oil
  • the juice of two limes
  • 1/4 cup red onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup green onion , minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 cup tomatoes, chopped
  1. Mix everything except the tomatoes in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. When ready to serve, mix in the tomatoes

JUST THAT EASY!

Mushroom Risotto: A dish with an intimidating history

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I will never forget the first time that I ever tried a risotto.  I was studying abroad and we were on a class trip to the coast of Greece (rough, I know).  We spent most of the afternoon indulging in all of the fabulous Greek scenery and also taking advantage of some of the differences between laws in Europe and the United States just as any other under 21 college student would.  We stopped into a small ocean side restaurant to enjoy some dinner and I chose to try the risotto.  It was the most amazing experience.  I never knew that a dish made from rice could be so rich and creamy.  I have been craving it ever since.

The other thing that I have always felt about risotto is that no home cook, let alone an average home cook with no actual training, could possibly accomplish this dish.  I guess I felt this way because I used to watch “Hell’s Kitchen” with Gordon Ramsey on TV all the time.  The one thing that seemed to be the downfall of every cook on that show was their inability to properly prepare the risotto when stuck on the appetizer station in the kitchen.  So I always assumed that my hankering for risotto would go ignored until I came across it in a restaurant.

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A couple of weeks ago I tried a recipe for a stuffed pepper that claimed that the filling was risotto.  I decided to try it because I figured if the risotto failed, I could cook some rice, add the appropriate flavor-ants and rescue the dish.  What I discovered however is that not only is risotto actually quite simple to make, but that it actually only takes ONE PAN, which if you have a terrible dishwasher like we do, means you are much obliged to have fewer dishes to wash.

I found a recipe for a mushroom risotto online and decided I would try my hand once again.  After staring preparation I realized that the recipe wasn’t really what I wanted but the method was there, so for the first time, I am claiming at least a little bit of originality in the recipe.  So the cut up today is almost everything.

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Mushroom Risotto

  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 small onions, chopped fine
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 stalk minced celery
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups short-grain rice
  • up to 5 cups chicken stock (I only needed 3, but this fluctuates)
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat
  2. Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is tender.  Add the parsley, celery, and mushrooms and cook over medium-low heat until the mushrooms are soft and the celery is tender.
  3. Add the milk to the skillet and stir in the rice.  Simmer and add the stock, about a cup at a time and stir in until the stock is absorbed.  Continue to add doses of stock until the rice is cooked.
  4. When the rice is cooked, remove from the heat and add the Parmesan.  Serve hot.

Smoky Mac n Cheese: You would never know that there is no bacon

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As we continue our adventure of recipe cut ups, I have an interesting opportunity to try and solve one of the problems I have had making mac n cheese for a while now.  My mom and I have always enjoyed the flavor that can be added to mac n cheese when you include bacon in the dish.  However, the bacon is never as satisfying in the dish when I eat it.  It may be a preparation issue but if simply crisping the bacon and then adding it to the dish before putting it into the oven is not the appropriate procedure, then I don’t really want to take the time to make it work.  The solution that I discovered in one recipe is to replicate the smokyness that you get from the bacon with smoked cheddar cheese.  At first I was hesitant to use the cheese because after my wife opened the brick and sampled it (I don’t enjoy raw block cheese so I had her test it) I noticed that it had a very similar aroma to smoked salmon, which is also something I don’t particularly enjoy.  But after melting it down in the sauce, and adding my other cheesy cut up, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the flavor was mostly the same as when bacon and straight cheddar are used.

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And the other great part about this dish is that you can prepare it whenever you have time, then refrigerate in the casserole dish until you are ready to bake it.  Just add another ten minutes of covered cooking time at the front to ensure you have a hot center when  you go to serve.

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So while we have solved the bacon dilemma, this was not really my cut up, just the method used in the recipe.  I did make one small addition.  In the past when making a baked mac n cheese with a stove top prepared, flour thickened sauce, the sauce often comes out slightly grainy.  It may be the cheese or it may be the flour  but i wanted to find something that would melt down completely and could add a little richness to the dish.  My little addition was some goat cheese.  It provided a rich mouth feel to the sauce as well as a tasty little tang.  The other thing that I have learned in my last two mac n cheese recipes I have tried is that the addition of mustard (preferably dried, but a small amount of brown mustard can do the trick but over power very easily) can add a very nice depth of flavor.

And for those that were wondering, I did cut myself yesterday…while shaving.

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The following is the recipe that I followed, it makes a small amount that is perfect for just my wife and I.  If you are cooking for more, go ahead and double most things and use a 13×9 baking dish.  The only thing I wouldn’t completely double is the chicken stock.  Don’t go out of your way to buy a box of broth when a can will do the trick even though you are just a couple ounces short.

Smoky Macaroni and Cheese

  • 80z elbow macaroni
  • 3oz smoked cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 of an onion, chopped
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1 Tbs flour
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, but cook for the very low end of the time, if not even a little shorter to ensure that your pasta doesn’t come out over-cooked after baking
  3. In a sauce pan, cook the onions in the chicken broth for about 5 minutes over medium- high heat or until the onions are just tender.
  4. In a tightly sealed container, shake together the half-and-half, mustard, pepper, and flour
  5. Add the flour mixture to the pan and cook over medium heat stirring often until it just starts to bubble
  6. Remove from heat and add both cheeses to the pan and stir until most of the cheese is melted
  7. Put the macaroni into a small, 2qt casserole dish.  Pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni and mix together
  8. Bake the dish, covered with tin foil, for 10 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for about 10 more minutes or until the sauce is bubbly.  Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

This recipe was adapted from a recipe found in my mother-in-laws recipe books that was taken out of a newspaper, likely the Oregonian.  There is no discernible way to know how old it is or who wrote it for the paper.