Roasted Mushroom Tortas

So I know I went on a rant a couple of posts ago about how  you should make Mexican night in your house more exciting, well Mr. Pea made these for us last week and let me tell you  it turned our Mexican night into a fiesta!  We are still on this healthy  kick and during the week are not indulging in meat, it’s not a crazy diet or anything, it’s just a personal choice. Good thing I got Mr. Pea to like veggies as much as I do, otherwise I think we would not be speaking at this point.  A good compromise for us, is to let him try out a new Mexican dish.  I am a big fan of the sandwich, and that is basically what a torta is, a Mexican sandwich, and it  is a delicious Mexican sandwich at that.

So next time  you head to the store to grab ingredients for your American style tacos, try making tortas instead! They can be made with meat also, we have made them with roasted pork, chicken, steak and chorizo, but I have to say I didn’t miss the meat at all in these roasted mushroom tortas we made.  I think  that  is a good rule of thumb, if you don’t miss the meat when you are eating the dish, does it really need it? Just something to think about.Don’t get me wrong I eat meat, just not as much as I used to and I think I am much healthier for it!

Roasted Mushroom Tortas

(serves 4 people)

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Ingredients:

For Roasted Mushrooms:

•    8 ounces crimini mushroom, stems removed, thinly sliced
•    7 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, thinly sliced
•    8 ounces oyster mushrooms, thick stems removed, thinly sliced
•    3 tablespoons olive oil
•    6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
•    1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, from about 2 limes
•    1 teaspoon salt
•    3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

 For the Refried Beans
•    2 tablespoons olive oil
•    2 garlic cloves, minced
•    one 15-ounce can black beans

For the Torta
•    4 bolillo rolls (El Rey Supermercado, has the best bolillo rolls I have ever had!)
•    4 ounces goat cheese or Queso Chihuahua cheese ( I am not a fan of goat cheese, but Mr. Pea is)
•    1 ½ cups arugula (can substitute  with shredded lettuce)
•    Chipolte mayo (Just mix 1/4 cup of mayo with teaspoon of Frontera Chipolte sauce)
•    Avacado, sliced
•    Sliced tomatoes (optional)
•    Sliced red onion (optional)
•    Roasted mushrooms
•    Refried black beans

Directions:
For the Roasted Mushrooms: Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Toss mushrooms with olive oil, garlic, lime juice, and salt in medium-sized bowl. Dump into 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil. Place in oven and cook for 10 minutes. Carefully remove foil, and continue roasting until mushrooms are browned, and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 40 minutes. Remove baking dish from oven. Add cilantro to dish and toss well. Set aside.

For the Refried Beans: While mushrooms are roasting, pour two tablespoons of oil in 12-inch stainless steel skillet set over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until it just begins to brown, about one minute. Dump in beans and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, and then mash beans with potato masher or back of a large spoon. Keep mashing until they look like mashed potatoes, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat, and cover skillet.

For the Tortas: Slice rolls in half lengthwise, and remove some of the soft insides. Spread one ounce of cheese on cut side of each top half. Spread two tablespoons of refried beans on cut side of each bottom half.
Divide mushrooms between each bottom half. Place bottom halves on baking sheet and place in oven. Warm them for five minutes. Remove from oven, top each with a handful of arugula, a couple slices of avacado and tomato, and  a drizzle of chiplote mayo, and top half of roll. Return to baking sheet, and again transfer to oven. Warm for just two minutes. Serve immediately.

Delicioso!

Matzo Ball Soup

Ever since I mentioned Ella’s Deli on a previous post, I have been craving matzo ball soup! It just so happens that Mr. Pea stumbled upon a fantastic recipe that perfected the recipe for matzo ball soup this past week. Perfect! We are two peas in a pod that’s for sure!

Well I couldn’t give you the recipe for matzo ball soup without talking about some of my favorite kosher style deli’s that I have been to that are not only great but are worth the trip! The first place I already talked about, and will talk about again because it is one of my favorite places, is Ella’s Deli. This kosher style deli is located in Madison, Wisconsin and is a stop we have to make every year on the drive out to Memorial Day camping. This place has been around since 1976, and there is a reason why it is still around today, it is SOO good! They have good matzo ball soup but they also have sweet and sour cabbage soup and chili that are pretty amazing as well. If there is one thing you go to a deli for it is corned beef, and I think you all know my feelings on corned beef, since I declared it my favorite meal on St. Patty’s Day. But this corned beef sandwich piled high on rye bread is one of my favorite things to eat hands down. If you leave room for dessert, which I never can do, they have a twelve page dessert menu to fulfill your sweet tooth! It is not just the food that makes Ella’s one of my favorite places, it is also the atmosphere of all the animated displays, nostalgic trinkets and toys from years past, and the tabletop games to keep you entertained while you wait for food. Also, if you go there during the spring, summer and fall months, no trip to Ella’s is complete without a ride on the 1927 Parker Carousel! So much fun!

The next place I want to talk about is one of our local favorites Benji’s Deli. Formerly, known as Benjamin’s (which is neat, because Mr. Pea’s name is Benjamin), this kosher style deli is a family favorite, and most of our family dinners take place here. I just have to say, I have NEVER had a bad meal at Benji’s and I have been going there for years! It has been around for 35 years or so, so they must be doing something right. Oh yeah everything! Best known for their corned beef served on Miler Rye, a local bakery that makes the best rye bread I have ever had. If in the corned beef mood, I usually steer towards their take on a Ruben sandwich, the Gonzo sandwich. What is a Gonzo? It is for those people who don’t favor sauerkraut. That’s right I am just going to say it, I HATE sauerkraut! Sorry for my bluntness, getting back the sandwich, the Gonzo is a corned beef sanwich, with Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, thousand island dressing and Cole slaw, served on Miller’s rye bread. It is the best, and it has all of the good stuff from a Reuben and none of that awful kraut!

I hate to even mention this next place, because I just found out (only a few minutes ago) that a few months ago when I last went to this deli, was the last time I will EVER get to go, because it is CLOSED! To add more sting to the open wound we were (ironically enough) there on their last day of service! My heart just dropped when I read this, we were even planning a trip to go back for Mother’s Day, it is a sad day when a good place like this becomes another victim of the recession. Well in effort to let this next place live on after it has closed, I must tell you all about it. It is called George’s What’s Cooking Family Restaurant and was located in Waukegan, Illinois. I loved this place for their bread baskets alone. No matter what time of the day you go, you get a fresh bread basket stocked full of all kinds of fresh bread, crackers and bread sticks. Also, if I haven’t mentioned it before, I am a huge pickle fan! But I don’t like just any pickle, they have to be whole kosher style dill pickles, other pickles simply just do not compare! This place had some good pickles. They also are known for their corned beef, soups (sweet and sour cabbage soup, matzo and borscht), and their American diner food was excellent as well. Anything I had there, had been well amazing! Well I will always remember George’s and it surely will be missed.We had some great memories there that I will look back on, including a brunch for Mother’s Day with Mr. Pea’s late grandmother, Grandma B.

So if that sad story didn’t didn’t make you hungry for some Matzo Ball soup, I don’t know what will.

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MATZO BALL SOUP
serves about 6 people (makes 14 balls)

Ingredients for the soup:
2 chicken thighs (skin on!)
8 cups chicken stock (low-sodium, organic if possible)
2 cups small diced carrots
1 cup small diced celery
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley stems

Ingredients for the balls:
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons rendered chicken fat (melted and cooled slightly)
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup matzo meal
4 egg whites

Directions:

Place the chicken thighs in a cold pan, skin-side down, over medium heat. Allow to cook for about 15 minutes until the fat has rendered and browned. Remove from the pan, leaving the fat behind. Combine the stock and browned thighs in a soup pot over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Cook gently for 30 minutes. Remove the thighs. Add the carrots, celery and parsley stems. Cook for 5 minutes and turn off the heat.
Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks, chicken stock, chicken fat (from the pan with the thighs), parsley and salt. Stir in the matzo meal. In another bowl, whisk the whites until they form stiff peaks. Add half of the whites into the matzo mixture and stir (the mixture will be quite stiff). Then gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

ImageBring a pot of water to a boil. Use a 1/4-cup scoop to form the balls and drop gently into the water

ImageAdjust the heat so the water is barely simmering and cook for 15 minutes, when they float to the top that is good it means they will be light and fluffy.

ImageRemove the balls with a slotted spoon and place into the soup.

ImageHeat gently for 15 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

Zucchini Fritters

I love  zucchini! Honestly, I can’t think of a veggie that I don’t like, except for maybe peas. That’s funny considering my hubby calls me sweet pea.  I can’t remember exactly when he started calling me sweet pea, but I do remember an adorable little card he gave me, when he first realized he loved me,  with one little sweet pea on the front. I thought it was the cutest card I had ever received, especially  because  it was a blank card and he poured his heart out inside. Mr. Pea always writes me the best cards. Anyways enough about Mr. Pea, I think I should mention that I don’t hate all peas,  I like snow peas in my Asian stir fry  and I do snack of sweet pea pods, I think I just don’t like the  mushiness of the peas all by themselves. Or maybe  I am still traumatized by this pasta salad  my mom  used to make when I was little, that had more mushy peas in it then anything else.

So getting back to zucchini, last night Mr. Pea and I decided  to make a second attempt at these zucchini fritters we had tried making once before. Needless to say the first time around they didn’t  turn out that great, because it has been months  since our original attempt.  Since, we were eating vegetarian this week I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try these out again.  This time I decided to cook them,  and they turned out pretty good. I think the next time we make them, we will have the recipe down. The third times the charm right?

Well I wanted to share this recipe with you all and  maybe you can attempt to make them perfect the first time. I do have a few tips to share with you  from what we have learned in both attempts. See photos and tips below.

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Zucchini Fritters

Zucchini Fritters with Tzatziki

Serves 2, Yield=6

2 cups coarsely grated zucchini
1/2 cup coarsely grated potato
kosher salt
pinch of flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon (or whatever herb you like)
1 tablespoon chopped basil (or whatever herb you like)
zest and juice of one lemon
1/4 cup diced white onion
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. Place the grated zucchini and potato in a fine sieve and let drain for 30 minutes.  Then  take mixture and wrap it in paper towel and squeeze out excess liquid. Then spread the veggies out to allow for maximum surface area exposure and sprinkle all over with kosher salt. Let sit for another 30 minutes to drain.

2. Meanwhile, make the tzatziki and chill until ready to use.

3. After the 30 minutes, squeeze veggies out and wrap in paper towels. Squeeze again. [Note: The veggies will not drain out enough liquid on their own in the colander, so squeezing them with a paper towel is a critical step to mopping up that moisture.] Open up the paper towel and spread out your veggies. Sprinkle with a pinch of flour to soak up leftover moisture.

4. In a bowl, whisk together egg, herbs and lemon zest and juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add onion and let marinate for 10-15 minutes. Combine with the grated zucchini-potato mixture. Stir well and let sit for a few minutes.

5. When preparing the fritters, take a handful of the mixture and roll in to ball squeeze lightly removing some liquid then sprinkle or roll in flour to bind together  before placing it on the  skillet.

6. Preheat over to 200˚F. Place a foil-lined cookie sheet in the oven. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter. When foam subsides, drop a spoonful of your fritter batter in. Gently pat with a spatula to flatten out the fritters, which will help make them crispy.

6. Cook about 3 fritters at a time until golden brown on each side. Place fritters in the oven while you make additional fritters. Serve as soon as possible with tzatziki on the side.

Tzatziki:
16 Ounce(s) yogurt
1 peeled, seeded, finely chopped cucumber
4 cloves finely minced garlic
1 Tablespoon(s) olive oil
2 Teaspoon(s) red wine vinegar
5 mint leaves
1 Pinch(s) salt

You can use Greek Yoghurt instead of regular yogurt and then you can skip the next step.

If using regular yogurt: Place the yogurt in a tea towel, gather up the edges, suspend over a bowl, and drain for 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Place the chopped cucumber  food processor to finely chop  then place in a tea towel and squeeze to remove the liquid; discard liquid. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the drained yogurt, cucumber, salt, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and mint.  Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week.

Yields 1 1/2 cups

 

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TIP: Let the potato and zucchini  drain for an hour,  first drain in a fine  sieve for 30 minutes, then place mixture into heavy duty paper towels and squeeze them, after you got a good amount of liquid squeezed out spread the mixture out in a colander and sprinkle with salt (This will draw out excess moisture).  Make sure  you place in the sink or a bowl because they  will need to drain for an additional 30 minutes. 

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TIP: After  you have let it drain for an hour, you can squeeze it out in paper towel again and then do this next step. Sprinkle flour on  mixture to soak up any additional liquid. 

ImageTIP: Mix together the onion, lemon zest and juice, and  herbs  and let marinate for 10-15 minutes or so to absorb the flavor, you can probably skip this step  if  you use fresh herbs, but I think the onions suck up that flavor  making your fritters more flavorful in the end.

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TIP: Use room temperature eggs. This gives the eggs more volume and will make the fritters more fluffy.

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TIP: When you take the zucchini and potato mixture and transfer it into the egg, onion and spices mixture let sit  for a few minutes to soak up egg mixture.  When combined drain out  from the bowl any excess liquid  not soaked up from  the zucchini and potato mixture.

TIP: This next step we didn’t do but I recommend  you try. When preparing the fritters, take a handful of the mixture and roll in to ball squeeze lightly removing some liquid then sprinkle or roll in flour to bind together  before placing it on the  skillet.

Enjoy!

Stewed Vegetable Tacos

One of the first recipes Mr. Pea and I have ever made from the Rick Bayless cookbooks were these Mexican-Style Zucchini Tacos. They are delicious and I will have to share the recipe  with you all whenever we make them again.  We make them a lot during the summer months, so hold tight.  In the mean time, last night Mr. Pea found another Rick Bayless veggie taco recipe he wanted  to try, and if this recipe was as good as the zucchini tacos, I was all for it!

Tacos are a wonderful food. I remember  when I was younger  loving taco night in our house.  They weren’t anything special  just  your ordinary ground beef, lettuce, tomato and cheese tacos that most American households make for dinner.  Ever since I met Mr. Pea, we have Mexican night  like once a week sometimes twice!  It is our favorite thing to cook and  there is just so much more to Mexican cuisine then just tacos. Don’t get me wrong I love tacos just as much as the next person, but when there are dishes like tortas, enchiladas, tamales, tostadas, it is hard to beleive I spent my whole childhood only eating ordinary tacos. So if your going to hold a Mexican night in your household, make sure you don’t just make  ordinary tacos, step outside the box and make something delicious, flavorful and special, there are  so many options!

Ingredients

12 ounces fresh mushrooms, washed and chopped into 1/2 -inch pieces

1/2 medium onion, diced

1 Red Bell pepper, sliced into strips

6 oz can of sweet corn or fresh sweet corn( they didn’t have any fresh at the store sadly)

1  jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and finely minced

2/3 cup any poultry broth or water

1/2 small lime, juiced

1 tablespoon lard or shortening

1 ripe, large tomato, roasted or boiled, cored, peeled and roughly chopped
    OR 3/4 of a 15-ounce can tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Salt, about 1/2 teaspoon (depending on the saltiness of the broth)

Directions

1.   Cook the mushrooms.   Place the mushrooms, onion, chile, broth or water, lime juice and lard or other fat in a medium-size saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, cover and cook 3 minutes. Uncover and cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms begin to fry in the fat.

2.   Finish the mixture.   While the mushrooms are cooking, puree the tomato with the garlic in a blender or food processor. When the mushrooms begin to fry, add the tomato mixture and cilantro, and cook about 5 minutes, until the liquid has reduced and the mixture is thick. Season with salt and cool before using.

3. Prepare the Tacos. Heat skillet with a little veggie oil (rub oil into skillet,) place two corn tortillas with just enough cheese in between to help them stick together (about 1 tablespoon), let them heat on each side but brown on one side (brown side is the outside part). Fill with veggie mixture and top with cheese, avocado, tomatillo salsa or hot sauce if you wish.

Enjoy!

Italian Stuffed Tomatoes

So after our recent trip to Baltimore, I have been craving tomatoes. I blame it on the amazing friend green tomatoes I had at the restaurant The Point for my addiction. Also, this week Mr. Pea and I decided  we needed to eat vegetarian, and I have to tell  you that  I am so happy about it. That is not sarcasm, I am serious if it wasn’t for my love of bacon and pork in general,  I think I could be a vegetarian, I love veggies! We have had a lot of great flavorful meals  this week too. Monday we had  this recipe I am about to share with you the Italian Stuffed Tomatoes. Tuesday we had Gnocchi with onion, mushroom and zucchini with a tomato cream sauce. Wednesday we had delicious Stewed Vegetable Tacos that I will be sharing with you all very shortly. Tonight  we are having Zucchini Fritters with a Greek Orzo Salad. I have to say it has been a deliciously good week.

So Mr. Pea has made Risotto many times, it is not the easiest thing to master that’s for sure.  I remember the many attempt of Mr. Pea to make  the perfect risotto, some were too stiff, some were too liquidy (not a word  but you get what I mean) and some just didn’t have enough flavor. I have to say though  that  the risotto he made Monday night for these stuffed tomatoes  was the best risotto he has ever made, it was perfect!  I would eat the risotto all by itself, if it weren’t for my crazy obsession with tomatoes. Good thing my crazy obsession with tomatoes  is no longer due to excessive heartburn caused by you guessed it, tomatoes.

Tip: Move very slowly  when putting pan into oven, tomatoes do roll 🙂  Oh,  and  make sure you cover your baking sheet with foil for easy cleanup!

 

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Mushroom Risotto :
•    8 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
•    1/4 cup unsalted butter
•    2 tablespoons olive oil
•    2 cups finely chopped onions
•    10 ounces white mushrooms, finely chopped
•    2 garlic cloves, minced
•    1 1/2 cups Arborio rice or short-grain white rice
•    2/3 cup dry white wine
•    2/3 cup grated Parmesan
•    Salt and freshly ground black pepper, optional
•    8 tomatoes, tops sliced off then cored and seeded, reserve a little tomato flesh
•    Mozzerella Cheese

Bring the broth to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan.
Melt the butter in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add the onions and saute until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the chopped white mushrooms and garlic. Saute until the mushrooms are tender and the juices evaporate, about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice and let it toast for a few minutes. Add the wine; cook until the liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of hot broth; simmer over medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Continue to cook until the rice is just tender and the mixture is creamy, adding more broth by cupfuls and stirring often, about 28 minutes (the rice will absorb 6 to 8 cups of broth). Mix in the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Stuffed Tomatoes:

Sprinkle the cored and seeded tomatoes with salt and place upside down to drain (or do what I do and dig out carefully with a spoon)
Stir the risotto, mozzerella, ½ cup of parmesan, 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs and any leftover chopped tomato in a large bowl to combine.
Stuff each tomato with the mushroom stuffing and top with thin layer of mozzerella then breadcrumbs. Place tomatoes on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, until the cheese is melted.

Tamales

Mr. Pea is a huge fan of Mexican cooking, his favorite Mexican chef is Rick Bayless. If  you want to know anything about Mexican cooking  Rick Bayless  is your go to on any subject. We went to his restaurant in Chicago, Illinois Frontera Grill and the food  was melt in your mouth  fantastic.  Mr. Pea has collected all of his books and for Christmas last year I gave Mr. Pea  the complete set of his  television show Mexico One Plate at a Time. A few years ago I took Mr. Pea to this cooking demonstration/meet and greet  with Rick Bayless and I think it was one of Mr. Pea’s favorite memories of his life- he was so excited.

I don’t get the opportunity to cook very many Mexican dishes, because Mr. Pea  usually is the one cooking. But one of Mr. Pea’s favorite dishes is tamales. Mr. Pea doesn’t have the patients  for assembling the tamales so I usually prepare them.  I never liked tamales, until I made them homemade.  I never realized how fluffy and delicious they could be.

TIP: To get perfect tamales every time, check the dough. Fill a glass with ice cold water drop a little ball of dough in the water. If it floats the tamale be nice and fluffy. If it sinks it will be very dense (not very good), don’t worry you can still fix it, put the dough in the fridge for 20 minutes or so, take it out and test it again.

Check it out!

Tamales
MAKES APPROX. 16 TAMALES

Dough
2 Cups Maseca for tamales ( it is a type of flour they sell at El Ray Mexican Foods-most of this stuff is there)
2 Cups Lukewarm chicken broth or water
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 Cup lard or vegetable shortening

Combine Maseca, baking powder and salt in a bowl, work broth or water with your fingers to make soft moist dough. in a small bowl, beat lard or shortening until fluffy, add masa (dry mixture) until dough has spongy texrure. Prepare tamales with desired filling.

Tamales
1 1/4 lbs. boneless pork shoulder (you may substitute with chicken or beef- to make it real easy just get a roasted chicken from the store and shred the meat)
16 corn husks
Prepared Masa (dough mixture)

Soak Corn husks in cool water 10 min or so or until they are easy to work with. Spread masa on corn husk forming a square shape (leaving a 1/4 inch from the top edge of the corn husk). Place in the middle of the square a tablespoon of meat, then take the edges and fold them together so the meat is inside Masa and then roll like a burrito leaving the top edge of corn husk open, tie with strip of corn husk or you can use butchers twine. Place open side face up in steamer, Steam for 1 hour.