Monday, July 30, 2012

Strong as Popeye

If spinach helped Popeye become a strong sailor man, it definitely is beneficial to the rest of us! 

When I'm trying to figure out what I would like to cook next, I try to revolve it around one ingredient that I can buy in a bigger quantity and use in multiple recipes. Last night, that super ingredient was spinach! 

I love spinach. Its beautiful earthy green leaves are versatile for both a bed of fresh salad or cooked down into in a savory dinner dish. It's funny how so much fresh spinach can cook down to about half of the original amount. Either way, spinach packs a nutritious punch of vitamins and minerals. 

This luscious leafy green vegetable is a wonderful source of vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, iron and magnesium. Eating just a little monounsaturated fat (the fat in olive oil and salmon) with your spinach will help the body's absorption and use of vitamin A. How else do you think that Olive Oil helped Popeye become so strong and healthy? 
I used spinach in the creation of 2 meals: the Popeye Special and a Baked Potato Salad

Popeye Special (left) and Baked Potato Salad (right)

Baked Potato Salad
2 1/2 lb sm red potatoes, quartered
2 C fresh green beans, about 1 to 2" cuts
1/2 red pepper, thin slices
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 cups fresh spinach

Total time: about 60 minutes (including prep work)
Heat oven to 425 degrees. 

In large bowl, mix potatoes, green beans, red pepper, olive oil, oregano, garlic salt and black pepper. Place on greased large baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes. 

Remove baking sheet from oven. Gently mix in spinach on baking sheet using a spatula or large spoon. Place in the oven for another 15 minutes. 

This Baked Potato Salad retained a fresh, garden taste while baking in the oven. The heat left the vegetables with a nice crisp texture without blackening them or leaving them with a burnt taste. The next time I make this dish, I may try to replace the fresh oregano with fresh rosemary for a different herbal taste. 
Popeye Special
1 lb ground beef
1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
1 med red pepper
1/2 C celery, chopped
6 sm green onions, chopped
8 oz fresh spinach
1 tsp fresh oregano
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp black pepper
6 eggs, lightly beaten

Total time: about 25 minutes (including prep work)
In frying pan over medium heat, add ground beef and mushrooms. Cook until the ground beef is no longer pink. Drain excess beef juices. 

Add red pepper, celery, green onions, spinach, oregano, garlic salt and pepper to the pan with beef and mushroom mixture. Cook until all ingredients are equally mixed and spinach is beginning to wilt, about 1 to 3 minutes. 

Add lightly beaten eggs to the frying pan. Gently cover and mix in eggs to the ingredients in the pan. Let mixture sit until eggs solidify. Flip mixture occasionally using a spatula to cook all of the eggs. 

I think this recipe would be fantastic as a hearty breakfast or a quick dinner. The recipe originally did not call for oregano, but I added it because the flavor seemed a little bland without it. The next time I make this recipe, I may venture out to try different vegetables since this recipe seems fairly versatile. 

Before last night, I had no idea how to chop a green onion, but this video was extremely helpful:

For both of these recipes, I used bagged spinach (which can be found near the bagged lettuce). Using bagged spinach took out some of the prep time for each recipe if I had used a head of spinach, but both options are fresh and recommended over canned spinach any day. 

Steve was my only guinea pig for these dishes (as he will probably be for a majority of them...what a lucky guy!) as well as trying them myself. While he usually doesn't like mushrooms or peppers, he had no complaints about either in these dishes (and he wasn't just being nice!). He suggested that if he were a kid, these would be good recipes to get him to eat his vegetables. Overall, these 2 dishes were successful and made plenty for leftovers for lunches for a couple days. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tonight, I'm feeling Corn-y

Earlier in the week, I was generously given 5 husks of organic corn. Instead of making the usual corn on the cob, I wanted to make the most of the fresh sweet corn. With such a bounty of yellow kernels, I found a recipe for corn stuffed tomatoes and shrimp tacos with corn salsa (from a July 2010 issue of Light & Delish).

I, of course, loving to make changes where (I think) I can to make a dish healthier, took my own liberties with these recipes. According to the audience I was serving (Ali and Steve), the changes were a success!

The following recipes are the exact version that I made:

Corn Stuffed Tomatoes

2 1/2 C fresh corn kernels (raw)
1 C cooked brown rice
1/2 yellow pepper, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1/4 red onion, chopped
4 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
2 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1/4 tsp ground cumin
6 medium vine tomatoes

Total Time: about 60 minutes (including rice cooking time)
Start by cooking brown rice. In a medium pot, combine 2 1/3 C water with 1 C brown rice. Bring to boil. Turn heat to low and cook for 45 minutes. Fluff with fork.
After rice has finished cooking, combine all ingredients in a large bowl (with the exception of the tomatoes).
Slice off and gut inside of the tomatoes and fill with corn mixture.

By not cooking the sweet corn and just placing the kernels into the mixture, there was a perfect crunch (along with the peppers and onion) to the soft texture of the rice. The lemon juice brought out the sweetness in the vegetables and added the perfect tang. The fresh cilantro and cumin brought out the natural flavors in the other ingredients but added flavors that made the dish complete. I loved this dish and it also got high remarks from Ali and Steve.

Shrimp Tacos with Corn Salsa

Corn Salsa
1 C fresh corn kernels
1 can (14.5 oz) fire-roasted petite diced tomatoes
1/3 C red onion, diced
1/4 C fresh cilantro, chopped
fresh lime juice from 1 lime

Over high heat, cook corn kernels until corn is lightly charred, about 2 minutes (using fresh corn). Add tomatoes and onions and cook for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Add the juice of 1 lime and cilantro.

Shrimp Taco
8 corn tortillas
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3/4 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
fresh lime juice from 1 lime

Total time: 30 minutes
Heat oil, garlic and cumin in skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp and cook until shrimp is cooked through ( (should look pink), about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Toss with lime juice.
Warm tortillas by placing them on a warm skillet and flipping once or twice over medium heat until tortillas are warm, about 15 seconds.

A couple years ago, I made this dish for my family, but I think this time I fixed my mistakes. It is much easier (and cheaper) to use fresh shrimp instead of buying frozen shrimp. The first time I made this dish a couple years ago, I used frozen shrimp (which I forgot to devein before cooking). By using fresh shrimp, it was much easier to devein and peel.
If I were to make this dish again, I would have bought better tortillas. I bought 99cent tortillas, which seem to break apart easily and had a gritty texture.
The shrimp were delicious and went perfectly with the warm corn salsa.

The combination of corn stuffed tomatoes and shrimp tacos with corn salsa went perfectly together because they shared similar flavors, but were also different in their own respects. The fresh corn tastes way better than frozen in these dishes. The fresh corn gave the dishes a sweet taste that could have other wise been bland and boring. Overall, both dishes were given high remarks by my dining companions.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

My "First" Meal

Don't get me wrong...I have created meals before. It's not my first time using a frying pan or an oven and I'm not holding a knife, wielding it around thinking "how do I use this thing?". But my goal is to take my culinary expertise farther than being able to make a grilled cheese with tomato.

Starting tonight, I want to be able to develop different skills, create beautiful meals, and truly understand food and recipes for more than its nutrient content. I know I'll never fully master (if anyone has completely mastered this) the art of cooking, but at least this is a start to a lifelong useful skill.

Tonight, I will be serving Corn Stuffed Tomatoes and Shrimp Tacos (both recipes courtesy of a July 2010 issue of Light & Delish) to Steve, my boyfriend, and Ali, my wonderful cousin. If there were any 2 people that I would want to share this experience with, it would be them.

I'll update after my summery, slightly Spanish creations have been composed.