Sunday, March 20, 2011

Southwestern Veggie Skillet

I love eating a huge breakfast from a cast-iron skillet. It reminds me of the Short Stop, a funky little train-car diner where we used to get all kinds of fattening, greasy and terrible-for-you foods when we were kids. Many of these foods were served directly in their own iron skillet, so you didn't miss out on a bit of that saturated fat. My version is actually quite good for you (although it's a little higher in fat than something I would eat on a daily basis, it's the good fat, so I suggest you loosen up, particularly if it's Sunday morning), especially when served with a side of Irish steel cut oats cooked with maple syrup, blueberries and strawberries. If I had a cute little diner of my own, I would cook this delicious skillet of breakfasty, potato-ey goodness while back-talking sassily to my customers, chewing gum and wearing a fabulous beehive hairdo with a pencil stuck in it and a paper hat, like Chrissie Hynde in the Brass in Pocket video. But you can feel free to just wear your pajamas.

3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
10 oz. fingerling potatoes, sliced into rounds
1 large onion, halved and sliced
6 oz. button mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 medium zucchini, seeded and diced
2 scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts divided
1 cup diced tomato
1 avocado, diced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
hot sauce

Heat your cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, and add potatoes. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add onions, mushrooms and smoked paprika, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, and cook 5 minutes more. Stir frequently, but not too frequently. You want everything to brown.

When it's all getting nice and brown and delicious-smelling, toss in your zucchini, the white parts of the scallions, and the tomatoes. Cook until the zucchini begins to turn golden brown, about 4 more minutes.

Remove from heat, and top with sliced avocado, green parts of the scallions and cilantro. Serve with lots of hot sauce.

Note: You can certainly fancy this simple recipe up in many ways. If you have a nice chile lying around, say a poblano or a jalapeno or whatever, chop that up and add it with the mushrooms and onion. If you wanted to throw some of that nice, melty tapioca cheese on top and run it under the broiler for a minute before adding the avocado, green onions and cilantro, I won't argue with you. Tofu sour cream and/or whatever kind of salsa you have lying around, like maybe some black bean salsa, would be nice. But sometimes simplicity is the thing, and you really don't need any of this stuff. And finally, if you are like my friend Danya, and you eat like a bad-ass paleo cave woman, then you can replace the fingerlings with some diced, blanched sweetpotato.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Irish Tea Biscuits

St. Patrick's Day is here, and that means soda bread of all kinds. These tea biscuits are quick and easy to make. This is definitely not a real Irish soda bread, which is traditionally made with flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk, and never fancied up with currants, caraway or buttery goodness of any kind. My Nana made a very traditional soda bread when we were kids, and although I still use her recipe at times, I've come to really like this moister, lighter version quite a bit, too.

Don't try to substitute for the soy milk - I made a batch with rice milk, which I prefer for non-cooked uses, such as cereal and tea, and it just doesn't sour the same way. You will also need to consider your flour - a high-protein flour will make a tough biscuit. Although I prefer King Arthur all-purpose flour for many recipes, I do keep Gold Medal unbleached all-purpose flour on hand for dumplings and the like, and it works very well here, too. If you wanted a whole wheat version, whole wheat pastry flour is a good substitute. Do not substitute regular whole wheat flour, unless you're planning a hockey game and need a puck.

Some people say that they hate caraway seeds, but those people are freaks. It's my opinion that people who don't like caraway seeds are using too many. A heaping teaspoon will perfume your biscuits with light caraway flavor, without punching you in the face while screaming CARAWAY! If you really and truly cannot stomach caraway seeds, then fine, I still disagree with you, but leave them out. And if you don't have any currants, I don't mind if you want to use raisins. I also don't mind if you want to soak those currants or raisins for an hour in a big splash of Irish whiskey and a little boiling water to get them nice and plump and boozy. Just drain them well before you mix them in.

Start souring the soy milk before you do anything else, to give it time to get nice and thick. Serve these biscuits to your old lady friends (and all of your other friends) with a nice, hot cup of tea, and they'll thank you, dearie.

Irish Tea Biscuits

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons soy milk (combined soy milk and vinegar will equal 1 1/4 cups)
3 cups low-protein all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick butter substitute (1/2 cup), well-chilled
1 heaping teaspoon caraway seeds
3/4 cup Zante currants

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix vinegar or lemon juice with soy milk. Allow to stand while you prepare remaining ingredients.

Grease a sheet pan or standard muffin tin.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Toss with a fork. Cut butter substitute into small pieces, and rub into the flour mixture using your hands, until it resembles coarse crumbs. (If you want to do this step in the food processor, partially freeze your butter substitute, and pulse into the flour mixture five or six times. Remove to a medium bowl to finish the recipe.)

Mix in the currants and caraway seeds. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, and add the soured soy milk all at once. Using a rubber spatula, mix, turning the batter until the flour is just incorporated. Do not overmix!

Divide the dough into 12 even pieces. Work quickly, as you need to get these into the oven while the baking soda and soy buttermilk are reacting with one another. If using a sheet pan, lightly pat each piece into a circle. If using muffin tin, simply place dough in the wells of the muffin tin.

Bake for 14-15 minutes, until the biscuits are lightly golden brown.

Serve warm. With more buttery spread and maybe some homemade jam if you want to get really crazy.

Makes 12.