Monday, December 31, 2012

NYE Detox

The holidays are coming to a close...finally.  I have had my fill of cheese trays, cookies, roasted whatevers, and booze.

There was lots and lots of booze.

So as we head into the last night of decadence for the year, I thought I might do something for my liver, and beets fit the bill nicely.  A fabulous source of iron and antioxidants, beets help your liver function at its fullest capacity.

I love borscht, a soup popular in eastern Europe, but it's usually made with beef stock and sour cream.  I thought I might play around with this soup and see if I could make it more veggie friendly.  Here is what I can up with.

Roasted Borscht-ish

This bowl of purpley love is bright and satisfying.
This hearty soup is a smoother version than traditional borscht.  Try adding wilted beet greens or cabbage to the soup to increase its nutritional punch!

3 large beets
4 leeks
2 parsnips
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, whole
6 cups water
6 sprigs thyme
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1 lemon, zest and juice
2 Tbl. olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400.  Peel beets and cut into 3/4" chunks.  Remove dark green leaves of the leeks and slice in half lengthwise.  Rinse leeks under cool water to remove any grit and pat dry.  Transfer beets and leeks to a parchment lined baking sheet along with the garlic.  Drizzle with 1 Tbl olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.  Add thyme sprigs and roast in the oven until caramelized, about 40-45 minutes. Remove from oven and discard thyme.

In a large stock pot, saute onions and parsnips in the remaining 1 Tbl olive oil until softened.  Add beets, leeks, and garlic.  Add water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Puree soup using an immersion blender or food processor.  Add lemon zest, juice, and dill.  Adjust seasoning. Garnish with dill (and, if'n you have a mind, a dollop of Greek yogurt).

Monday, December 24, 2012

Comfort and Joy

 I love a good hash.

It's quick, cheap, and comforting.  And, it's one of the ultimate improvisational foods as you can mix and match your favorite ingredients (or simply use up what is in your refrigerator).  Traditionally, it's a combination of meat, potatoes, and spices, but I find it's just as delicious without the meat.  Play around with different combinations of root vegetables like sweet potatoes, rutabagas, parsnips, turnips, and leeks.  Add hearty greens like collards or kale. Try different fresh herbs or spices.

Here's a spicy little dish that is a go to of mine.  I hope it brings you comfort and joy!

Chipotle and Rosemary Root Veggie Hash

Warm and incredibly hearty, this dish is perfect for brunch or as a satisfying night curled up in front of a movie.  I highly recommend drizzling a little bit of fruit preserves over it right before you serve it as the sweetness balances out the heat perfectly! (I like fig or blackberry)

1 sweet potato, cut into 3/4" cubes (about 2 cups)
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4" chunks
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 3/4" chunks
8 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
8 oz Brussels sprouts, shaved
1 cup black beans
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbl olive oil
2 tsp chipotle powder
2 Tbl fresh rosemary, minced
2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
salt 'n pepper

In a large saute pan over medium heat, bloom chipotle powder in the olive oil for one minute.  Add onions and saute until tender, about five minutes. Add garlic and cook for one minute.  Add mushrooms and cook until nicely caramelized. Add the sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, sprouts, and rosemary.  Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the veggies are tender but still have a little bite, about 10 minutes.  Add beans and deglaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gettin' Spicy

One of the things I love most about urban living is the bodega, that little corner store that has a just a little bit of everything in it.

There are about four within walking distance of my apartment, and each one has it's own distinct character.  There's the Italian grocery with oodles of pastas, grains, and pickled salads; the predominantly Eastern European store offering up strange cuts of meats and curious packages with lots of "K"s and "W"s on the labels.  And two Mexican bodegas with a host of fresh produce and spices galore.

Feeling adventurous, I trotted on over to the rack filled with dried chiles in cellophane bags with red, white, and green labels, and I grabbed two: chiles de árbol and cascabel chiles.  Chiles de árbol are basically a substitute for cayenne, small and spicy.  Cascabels are gorgeous, chocolate brown little bundles of smoky, lightly spicy love.  I figured the combination of the two would make for an amazing backbone for some hearty, winter dishes.

Here's what I came up with.

*You can find these chiles in most grocery stores.  Look for them in the produce section (on that strange rotating rack of bagged spices that you never look at) or near the end of the Mexican aisle!

Cascabel Spiced Eggplant and Zucchini with Wilted Kale

The warm, earthy notes of the cascabel chiles mixed with the slight heat of the chiles de árbol are perfect on a cold winter's night!

1 medium eggplant, diced into 3/4" cubes
2 zucchini, diced into 3/4" cubes
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
3 cups kale, stemmed
1 15oz can fire roasted tomatoes, coarsely chopped
5 dried cascabel chiles
3 dried chiles de árbol
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup Roasted Veggie Stock
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp cumin
2 Tbl olive oil

Place cascabel and chiles de árbol in a bowl and cover with boiling water.  Set aside for 10 minutes.

While the chiles steep, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic, cumin, and cinnamon, stir to coat onions, and cook for 1 minute.  Add eggplant and zucchini, and saute until veggies begin to brown but still have some bite to them, about 7-10 minutes.

While veggies cook, drain the softened chiles reserving the liquid.  Place chiles in a food processor or blender with one half of the liquid.  Puree until smooth.

Once the veggies have browned a bit, stir in tomatoes, the chile puree, and the remainder of the steeping liquid.  Simmer for about 10-12 minutes, reducing the liquid.  Add kale and veggie stock, stirring until just wilted.

Serve over rice, grains, pasta, or large pieces of grilled bread rubbed with garlic.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Quickie Broccoli Pesto made it through Thanksgiving and have just crossed the threshold into Holiday Land.

Or in my case, tech. 

For those of you who aren't familiar with the term "tech," it's the week before a show opens when all of the fabulous production elements come together.  Not only do the actors have to remember their lines, music, and choreography, they must do so while dealing with costumes, lights, sound, and a band.  And really long rehearsal days.

So now is the time to have a plan for a healthy and fast meal.

Broccoli Pesto is super fast, super filling, and super tasty.  And, this recipe makes a ton so you can nibble on it throughout your hectic week.

By the way...If you are in Chicago this holiday season, come see "We Three Liza's" at the Steppenwolf Garage!  I'm the one in purple.

Broccoli Pesto

Blanching the garlic mellows out that intense raw flavor while still snazzing up the broccoli.  Mix it up with some quinoa, spread it on sandwiches, or thin it with a little bit of water and serve it over pasta.

3 heads broccoli
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup almonds
4 Tbl olive oil
2 1/2 Tbl red wine vinegar
3/4 cup fresh basil
salt 'n pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cut broccoli into florets and chop stems into 1" chunks.  Once the water boils, add broccoli, garlic, and almonds.  Cook until broccoli is tender but still a vibrant green, about 5-7 minutes.

Drain broccoli and reserve 1/3 of the florets, placing them in an ice bath to shock the veggies and stop the cooking process.

Place remaining broccoli, garlic, and almonds in a food processor with basil and 1/4 cup water.  Puree mixture until relatively smooth, adding just enough oil to help things along.  Adjust seasoning to taste.  

Pesto will keep in the refrigerator covered for five days.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Taking Stock in Stock

I've always thought making your own stock was a big waste of money.  Basically you are boiling the crap out of whatever you are using, making it inedible by the end.

And then, I tried making a roasted vegetable stock.

Great Gaia, is this stuff good!  And, when you come right down to it, it basically costs the same since you make about 3 quarts of the stuff.

I made a batch last week, and I have been amazed at how many ways I've found to incorporate it into my cooking.  Here's one of the dishes I came up with...

Roasted Vegetable Stock

1/2 pound carrots, cut into 1" pieces
2 parsnips, cut into 1"pieces
3 ribs celery, cut into 1" pieces
8 oz crimini mushrooms, halved
2 red onions, quartered with skins on
1 red pepper, cut into 1" pieces
1 head of garlic, halved
thyme bundle
1 bunch fresh parsley
3 bay leaves
2 Tbl tomato paste
1 tsp crushed red pepper
12 cups water
2 Tbl olive oil
salt 'n pepper

Heat oven to 450.  Arrange vegetables on a roasting pan or baking sheet in a single layer.  You may need to use two pans.  Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and crushed red, and toss to combine.  Throw on the thyme bundle and bay leaves, and roast those suckers for 35-40 minutes, turning veggies half way through the cooking time.

Once veggies are nice and roasty, transfer to a large stock pot and cover with 12 cups of water.  Add parsley and tomato paste.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer covered for one hour.

Pass stock through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on solids to release as much liquid as possible.  Discard veggies and store in air tight containers.

Baked Polenta with Mushroom Gravy

I love this dish on a cold night.  The crispy polenta is the perfect vehicle for the earthy mushrooms, and it comes together quickly, especially if you use store bought polenta!

For the gravy
8 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
8 oz oyster mushrooms, sliced
8 oz shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbl olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup cognac
2 Tbl fresh rosemary, minced
2 sage leaves, minced
2 cups Roasted Vegetable Stock
2 Tbl flour *
fresh parsley for garnish

Over medium heat, saute onions until golden about five minutes.  Add garlic and cook for one minute.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add mushrooms and cook until browned, about five to seven minutes. Stir in sage and rosemary.  Add cognac, and flambe to burn off the cognac.  Once the flames have extinguished, sprinkle with flour and cook for about two minutes until the flour has browned slightly.  Add stock.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for five minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Preheat oven to 425.  While mushrooms cook, slice polenta into cakes.  Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and brush lightly with olive oil.  Bake cakes in the oven for 10 minutes, flipping half way through, or until lightly browned and crisp.

Place the polenta cakes on individual plates, spoon over gravy, and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

*If you are avoiding flour, bring stock to a boil with 1/2 cup diced potato.  Once a fork slides easily into the potatoes, transfer to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Add to the pan.

For the polenta

This takes a little bit of care, but it's a great work out for your arms!  Polenta can be made without the dairy, if'n you have a mind.

2 cups water
1 cup milk
1 cup polenta
pinch cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
4 sage leaves, minced
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese

Bring milk and water to a boil with plenty of salt, bay leaf, and a pinch of cayenne pepper.  Slowly whisk in polenta, reduce heat, and continue whisking for about 10 minutes.  We don't want a clumpy mess.  Once the polenta is incorporated, switch to a wooden spoon, stirring occasionally, and continue to cook until polenta is smooth.  You may need to add more milk or water.  Discard bay leaf and stir in sage and mascarpone.

Line a 9 x 9 class dish wish plastic wrap, allowing for overhang.  Spoon polenta evenly into dish and cover with the extra plastic wrap.  Chill in the refrigerator until it is firm. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Terrine Terrain

As you might suspect, I love Thanksgiving.

It's a holiday that is a celebration of food, family,  While I don't necessarily care about the latter, although I have been known to jump into a friendly Turkey Bowl competition with friends, the thing that tugs on my heart strings most is having the opportunity to give thanks for loved ones near and far and to eat some deliciousness.  And to spend the day cooking, drinking, and laughing with a glorious bunch of fools I call "family."

I have always thought that preparing a meal has more to do with self-expression and love than sustenance. As my former professor at Northwestern, Dwight Conquergood, so wisely spoke, "Food is not feed." It tells a story of who we are, where we come from, and brings communities together. 

Folks are usually obsessed about The Bird on the big day.  But what about the other, veggie friendly contributions to the feast?  It takes a village, no?  Our table is filled with roasted Brussels sprouts, braised turnip greens with apples, mushrooms, peas, and sweet potatoes (without the marshmallow, thank you very much).  There are a host of dishes that capture the flavors of the season and are still healthy!

So, if you are headed off to a potluck Thanksgiving (or hosting one yourself), might I suggest bringing along some Pomegranate Couscous with Grilled Eggplant and Kale or Farro with Butternut Squash, Apples, and Dried Cranberries

Or, if you have the mind, take some time to assemble this delicious terrine.

Grilled Vegetable Terrine

This is a total showstopper and is surprisingly easy to make.  Yes, there are many steps, but you are basically layering veggies in a pan and turning it upside down!  Your friends don't have to know and you receive the accolades from serving this beautiful dish!

1 large eggplant, cut into 1/4" rounds
2 large zucchini. cut lengthwise into 1/4" strips
1 red pepper
2 yellow peppers
1/2 cup quinoa, cooked
16 oz frozen spinach, thawed
3 cloves garlic
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup almonds
1 cup basil leaves
2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
2 tsp tahini
Walnut and Fig Pâté (recipe follows)
4 Tbl olive oil (divided)

Char peppers directly on gas burners, turning frequently until completely blackened (or roast in a 450 degree oven for approximately 30 minutes until charred).  Place peppers in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Set aside.  Once cool enough to handle, remove core, seeds, and skin and slice into 1/2" wide strips.

Squeeze thawed spinach in a dish towel to remove as much of the liquid as possible.  Heat 1 Tbl olive oil with one one clove of garlic smashed.  Once garlic has browned, discard and quickly saute spinach in garlic oil for 1-2 minutes, until aromatic but still a vibrant green.  Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.

On a grill pan over high heat, grill zucchini and eggplant slices in batches.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

In a food processor, puree sun-dried tomatoes, almonds, basil, and balsamic vinegar.  With the motor running, drizzle in remaining 3 Tbl olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a small bowl, combine cooked quinoa, tahini, and 1/4 of the cooked spinach.

Now we're ready to get down to business.  Line a 9 x 5 loaf pan with plastic wrap, allowing for at least 4" overhang.  Of the remaining spinach, gently press 2/3 onto the four edges of the pan.  Place eggplant in a single layer on the bottom and cover with half of the pesto.  Layer on zucchini slices and cover with mushroom pȃté. Layer in peppers and spread over quinoa mixture.  Add another layer of eggplant, pesto, and zucchini.  Cover with remaining spinach.  Fold excess plastic over terrine.  Cut a piece of cardboard to fit snugly inside the rim of the pan.  Place a couple of cans on top to weigh it down and refrigerate over night.  Unwrap plastic wrap and invert on a serving platter.

Pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Mushroom, Walnut, and Fig Pâté

This earthy spread is as delicious as it is versatile.  Spread it on dark bread toast point with some arugula as an appetizer, thin it out with roasted vegetable stock for a hearty pasta sauce, or spread it on sandwiches with roasted veggies.

8 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 medium shallots, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup dried black mission figs, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup cognac
thyme bundle
3 Tbl olive oil, divided

Heat 1 Tbl olive oil over medium flame and saute shallots until translucent, about three minutes.  Add garlic and cook for one additional minute.  Add mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaf and saute until browned, about five to seven minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

While mushrooms brown, toast walnuts in a dry saute pan until aromatic.  Add walnuts and figs to mushrooms, and cook for two to three minutes.  Add cognac and cook until the cognac is completely evaporated.  Remove from heat, and discard herbs.

Pulse mixture in a food processor while drizzling in just enough oil to provide some moisture.  Mixture should be smooth but still slightly chunky.  Allow pâté to come to room temperature before serving.  Keeps in refrigerator covered for three days.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Dinner in 15 minutes or under

I love taking my time when I cook. Nothing melts away the stress of the day like spending time playing in the kitchen, coaxing out flavors through roasting, baking, or braising.

But, sometimes, time is not on your side, and you need to get something healthy that comes together in minutes.  In those moments of harried reality, I turn to one of my fave ingredients, the Brussels sprout, for inspiration and sustenance.  By shaving the sprouts, or thinly slicing them, you cut your cooking time by over half!  Deglazing your pan, which simply means using a liquid to scrape up any delicious browned bits of food, makes for a quick sauce for your dish.

Here are two quick meal solutions featuring the littlest of cabbages.

Brussels Sprouts with White Beans

This dish comes together in minutes and is totally satisfying.  The quick saute leaves the sprouts crisp which balances out the creamy texture of the beans.  Try with cannellini beans, too!

1 1/2 lbs. Brussels sprouts
1 1/2 cups Northern white beans (15 oz can, drained and rinsed)
1/2 cup shallots, sliced (1 large shallot)
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of crushed red pepper
2 Tbl olive oil
2 Tbl lemon juice (about half a lemon)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt 'n pepper

Over medium heat, saute shallots in oil for three minutes, until translucent.  Add garlic and crushed red pepper and cook for one minute.  Be sure to season with salt as you go.

While onions cook, trim off the ends of the sprouts while leaving the base intact.  With base side down on your cutting board, thinly slice (or what I refer to as shaving) the sprouts.  Once the shallots and garlic have become fragrant, add sprouts to pan.  Cook for about four to five minutes, until sprouts are tender but still crisp.  Add beans and heat through.  Deglaze the pan with lemon juice and stir in parsley.

Adjust seasoning and serve!

Brussels Sprouts and Grapes (quick edition)

This is a revved up version of the slow roasted  Brussels Sprouts with Red Pearl Onions and Grapes. Tons of flavor in a fraction of the time! Serve over quinoa for a filling meal.

1 1/12 lbs Brussels sprouts, shaved
1 1/2 cups red seedless grapes, havled
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup sweet onion or shallot, sliced
1 1/2 Tbl tarragon vinegar
2 Tbl fresh tarragon, chopped
2 Tbl olive oil
salt n' pepper

Over medium heat, saute onion or shallots in olive oil until translucent, about three to for minutes.  Add garlic and cook for one additional minute.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add sprouts and grapes and cook until sprouts are tender yet crisp, about four to five minutes.  Deglaze pan with tarragon vinegar.  Garnish with fresh tarragon, and you're done!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Quickie Dinner

The holidays are going to be on us sooner than we expect.  That means zero time for anything.  In fact, I've gotta scoot to rehearsal so here is a fast and healthy dinner, ready in 15 minutes (or less)!

Whole Grain Penne with Kale, Black Olives, and Capers
Add some pine nuts at the end for a nutty bite!

16 oz whole grain penne
1 large bunch kale, stemmed and torn (about 8 cups)
1 medium shallot
1/3 cup oil cured black olives, pitted and halved
2 Tbl capers, drained
2 Tbl olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced

juice of 1 lemon
pinch red pepper flakes
2 Tbl parsley, chopped

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and prepare pasta according to package directions (minus one minute).  Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.

While pasta cooks, heat oil over medium flame and saute shallots until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for one minute.  Add olives and red pepper flakes and cook until heated through, about 3 minutes.  Add kale and toss to wilt, about 2 minutes.  Add capers, lemon juice, and pasta.  Stir in enough pasta water to finish wilting the kale and make a light sauce.  Adjust seasoning and serve.

Easy, peasy, cool breezey.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

Looking for a diary free dinner that is full of flavor and takes about 15 minutes to make?

Give this a whirl!

Penne with Sun-Dried Tomato "Pesto" and Wilted Spinach.

The smoked paprika adds a surprising depth of flavor to the dish.

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbl pine nuts
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 Tbl red wine vinegar
1 tsp fresh thyme
1/4 cup olive oil
pinch of crushed red pepper
2 1/2 cups fresh spinach
16 oz whole grain penne

Cover tomatoes and garlic with boiling water in a bowl and allow to steep for 15 minutes.  Drain and reserve 1/4 cup of the liquid.  Transfer softened tomatoes and garlic to a food processor.  Add pine nuts, vinegar, paprika, thyme, red pepper, and 2 Tbl of the reserved steeping liquid.  Pulse until smooth, adding more water if necessary. With the motor running, add olive oil.

Prepare pasta in salted water according to the instructions.  Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water and drain.  Return pasta to pot, add 1/2 pesto, spinach and pasta water.  Toss until pesto becomes a smooth sauce and spinach has wilted.  Garnish with pine nuts.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gravlax love

Nothin' screams "Fanciness" like gravlax.

Gravlax is a good ol' Swedish/Norwegian tradition of curing salmon with salt, sugar, and dill.  Although it's a bit time consuming, it is super easy to make and is guaranteed to impress!

Serve on toast points of a dark bread with cream cheese, tomato slices, red onion, and capers.  Try it in a frittata or on a flat bread pizza with arugula.

So yummy.

2 lb salmon filet, skin on
2 cups salt
1 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2 Tbl black peppercorns
2 Tbl coriander seeds
2 Tbl anise seeds
1 Tbl ground cumin
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup fresh dill, coarsely chopped

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.

Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and sprinkle with half of the mixture, enough to lay out the salmon.  Place salmon on top and cover with the remaining salt mixture gently pressing into the flesh of the fish.  Wrap tightly (and I mean TIGHTLY) in plastic wrap.

Place salmon bundle in a shallow casserole dish, and place another, smaller dish on top.  Weight down with a couple of cans or anything with some heft.

Place in refrigerator for at least 48 hours, turning every twelve hours and discarding any liquid that seeps out.

Remove salmon from plastic wrap and rinse thoroughly under cold water.  Pat dry, and cut into thin slices using a serrated knife.  Discard skin and dazzle your guests.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Autumn Love

I love fall.

Crisp weather, beautiful leaves, and everything smells like corduroy and fireplace smoke.  It's like a John Irving novel, minus the orphans.

And, warm, comforting flavors begin to creep their way into my cooking.  Apples, mushrooms, bitter greens, turnips, parsnips, gourds of all kinds, and earthy spices like cinnamon, cumin, and nutmeg fill my kitchen with comforting aromas.

So on this beautiful fall day, I offer up some autumnal love with farro.

Farro with Butternut Squash, Apples, and Dried Cranberries

Striking a great balance between sweet and savory, this dish can serve a crowd!  Perfect for your Thanksgiving table or a meat-free movie night with friends.

2 cups farro
4 cups butternut squash (1 medium squash), peeled and diced into 1/2" cubes
1 large onion, cut into thin slices
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and cut into slices
3 cloves garlic, 2 minced and 1 lightly smashed
3/4 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbl stone ground mustard
3 Tbl red wine vinegar
1 cup vegetable stock
2 Tbl coconut oil
pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbl fresh sage, minced
1 Tbl fresh rosemary, mince (plus 1 sprig)
6 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 cups arugula
salt and pepper

Bring 4 cups of salty water to a boil with 1 garlic clove, bay leaves,  and thyme and rosemary (tied into a bundle).  Add farro, reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes.  Drain water, remove garlic and herbs, reserve.

In a large saute pan, heat oil over medium high heat and saute onions until just beginning to become translucent, about 10-12 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add cumin, nutmeg, and remaining two cloves of garlic, minced, and cook for 1 minute.  Add squash and cook for about five minutes, adjusting seasoning.  Add apples, rosemary, and sage and cook until apples begin to soften, about four minutes.

In a small bowl, combine mustard, vinegar, and vegetable stock.  Add to pan, scraping up any bits with a wooden spoon.  Add reserved farro and cranberries.  Toss to combine and cook over medium heat for six or seven minutes until farro is tender but still al dente.  Remove from heat and stir in arugula.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Simon and Garfunkel Punkin' Biscuits

I've been playing around with this recipe, and, darn it, these suckers are good! 

A little bit of the Simon and Garfunkel herb mix (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme...minus the parsley) make these savory bites a great vehicle for poached eggs, sopping up chili, or served with braised short ribs.

And I'm no baker, so if I can do it, you can!

It's like a meatless Punkin' Egg's Benedict!
Savory Punkin' Biscuits

3/4 cup pumpkin puree
2 eggs
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp fresh sage, minced
2 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
2 tsp fresh thyme, mince
2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 2/3 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 400.

In a large mixing bowl, combine pumpkin, 1 egg, 1 cup cheese, butter, herbs, salt and pepper until smooth.  In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda.  In thirds,  add dry ingredients to the wet stirring to combine thoroughly until incorporated.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a 1" thick disk.  Using a 2" biscuit cutter (I use my Clabber Girl tin as my southern husband told me was proper), cut out biscuits and transfer to a baking sheet.  Reform dough and roll out again until you've got 12 biscuits.

Beat remaining egg and 1 Tbl water to make an egg wash.  Brush egg biscuit and top with remaining cheese.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Cool slightly and chow down!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The French Connection

I believe Julia Child put it best when she said, "Butter."

When I think of French cooking not only do I conjure up images of that Gentle Giant of the Kitchen who pioneered the cuisine in America, I think of incredibly rich food laden with butter, cream, and booze. It is comforting, seductively aromatic, and, above all, incredibly delicious.

While there is nothing wrong with indulging in a buttery pastry every once in a while, and I may be so bold as to say that there is nothing better on a cold winter's day than Boeuf Bourguignon, perhaps the most decadent of beef stews filled with bacon, cognac, wine, butter, and beef, (Yes, Nicole, I went there) it is clearly NOT the most healthy of culinary choices.

But, before we condemn the French to the coronary ward, we must further explore the many other delicious, and healthy, offerings found in their cuisine.  A huge variety of vegetables, herbs, and legumes make up a great deal of the French palate.  Eggplant, zucchini, garlic, truffles, haricots verts, carrots, leeks, and a huge array of mushrooms are just a smattering of healthy additions to their diet.

So I say let's draw inspiration from the French and adapt their techniques and flavors into something a bit more fitting for a vegan lifestyle.

As Julia would exclaim, "Bon Appétit!"

Culinary Term:  mise-en-place

Mise-en-place means "things in place" or basically your set up before you cook.  By preparing and cutting all of your vegetables before you begin cooking, your time in the kitchen in much more efficient and fun!

French Lentils with Braised Leeks Vinaigrette

2 cups green lentils
2 yellow onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 fennel bulb, cored and diced
2 Tbl tomato paste
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
thyme bundle
3 bay leaves
2 Tbl olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup cognac (optional)
1/4 cup fresh parsley
2 Tbl red wine vinegar

In a heat resistant bowl, cover lentils in boiling water and set aside for roughly 15 minutes. Use this time to set up your mise-en-place with your vegetables.  When slicing your vegetables, try to make them as similar in size as possible to ensure even cooking time. (i.e. slice carrots in half, then quarters, then eighths until they are in "matchsticks".  Stack up matchsticks and cut into small cubes.)

In a large pan, saute onions in olive oil until they soften, about five minutes.  Add garlic and cook for one minute.  Add carrots, celery, red pepper, fennel, thyme and bay leaves.  Season with salt and crushed red pepper, and cook until veggie are tender but not brown, about seven to ten minutes.  Add tomato paste and cook for three minutes.  Deglaze pan with wine and cognac (if using). Cook until liquid has reduced by half.  Add lentils and stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cook covered for 15 minutes until lentils are tender.  Stir in vinegar and parsley.  Adjust seasoning.

For the Leeks

6 leeks
1 Tbl olive oil
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
2 Tbl Dijon mustard
2 Tbl lemon juice
1 Tbl fresh tarragon
2 Tbl fresh parsley

Prepare the leeks by removing the dark leaves and trimming off the roots to remove the hairy bits but keeping the bulb intact. Using a sharp knife, slice leeks in half lengthwise and rinse thoroughly to remove sand.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil.  Working in batches, brown the leeks on both sides, about two to three minutes.  Don't try to do all of the leeks at once as they will steam as opposed to caramelized.  Return all of the leeks to the pan, cover with stock, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer covered for about 10 minutes or until a paring knife slides easily into the leeks.  Remove from pan.  Over a medium flame, whisk in mustard, lemon juice, and herbs.  Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, divide lentils on to plates. Top with leeks and spoon over vinaigrette.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pomegranates: The Great Stress Reliever

We've all heard that pomegranates are good for you, chock full of antioxidants and other healthy stuff and junk.  But the big question is, "How the [beep] do you get those seeds out?!"

Simple, my friend, you whack 'em out!

Yes, another wonderful benefit of pomegranates is they stand in for all of the frustrating people in your life as you beat the seeds right out of their pretty little hull.  Slice the fruit in half, and, with a wooden spoon, whack the red skin over a bowl.  Not only will you release those delicious seeds from their home, but you will release any tension you may have experienced from Maggie in tech support who, once again, lectured you on proper email etiquette or from that guy on the train with chronic halitosis who simply would not stop talking to you about hot tubs.

So, whack your way to a healthier and stress free new you with a little help from the pomegranate!

Pomegranate Couscous with Grilled Eggplant and Kale

An amazing combination of tart pomegranates, earthy eggplant, and a bright pop of kale.

1 2/3 cup pomegranate juice, divided
2/3 cup water
1 cup whole wheat Israeli couscous
2 cloves garlic, minced
Thyme bundle
1 Bay leaf
1 bunch kale, stemmed and shredded (about 3 cups)
5 baby eggplant
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 cup fresh parsley
1/4 cup fresh mint
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 Tbl lemon juice
2 Tbl honey
3 Tbl olive oil
1 pomegranate, seeds removed

In a medium sauce pot, bring 1 1/3 cup pomegranate juice, water, garlic, thyme and bay to a rolling boil. Add couscous and stir.  Cover and reduce heat, stirring occasionally until couscous is fully cooked.  Set aside.

Slice baby eggplant into thin disks. Grill eggplant on a lightly oiled grill pan over medium high heat in batches, just until grill marks appear.  Combine salt and cumin.  As you remove them from the grill, lightly sprinkle each side with the salt mixture while eggplant is still warm. (If desired, reserve on eggplant and slice it lengthwise.  Grill and arrange as a garnish on top of the dish).

Remove stems from kale, tear leaves into smaller pieces, and place into a bowl.  Add a splash of pomegranate juice, 1 Tbl lemon juice, and a drizzle of olive oil.  Using your hands, "massage" the kale to break down the fibers.  Kale will turn a vibrant green and begin to smell like bananas (weird, no?).  In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining pomegranate and lemon juices and honey until combined.  While whisking, slowly drizzle in oil to taste.  Season with salt and pepper.

Add couscous, eggplant, walnuts, parsley, mint, and pomegranate seeds to the kale.  Toss well with the vinaigrette.  Garnish with a few grilled eggplant slices and pomegranate seeds.  Serve at room temperature.

Monday, October 8, 2012


I totally believe that parsley is perhaps the most underrated herb out there, but who knew that it would be so good for you?!

A little web digging, and I uncovered that parsley is an excellent source of Vitamin K (which promotes bone health and helps blood coagulate), a nice source of Vitamins C and A, and is rich in antioxidants.

Who knew?  I just thought it was tasty.

An extra bonus when enjoying this fabulous Curried Quinoa Tabbouleh!

Curried Quina Tabbouleh

Rich in protein and full of flavor, this dish comes together so quickly it will become one of your quick Go To Meals.  

1 cup quinoa
2 cups vegetable stock
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp curry powder
2 cups parsley, finely chopped
1 cup mint, finely chopped
3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 cup English cucumber, finely copped
1/2 red onion, minced (about 3/4 cup)
15 oz garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
juice of 1 lemon (plus 1 Tbl)
2 Tbl olive oil
salt and pepper

Rinse quinoa thoroughly.  In a medium pot, combine quinoa, stock, garlic, curry powder, and 1 Tbl lemon juice.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and cover. Stir occasionally and keep covered until liquid is completely absorbed, about 20 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine parsley, mint, tomatoes, cucumber, onions, and garbanzos.  Fluff quinoa with a fork and add to the herbs.  Toss thoroughly with remaining lemon juice and olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Chill before serving.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

An Education: Asian style

Sometimes people get freaked out by food.

Most of the time it's because of a horrible, life-altering childhood culinary fiasco such as canned Brussels sprouts or a lobster boil gone terribly awry.  I remember sitting at my grandmother's table when I was four years old, breathlessly awaiting her infamous Yorkshire pudding, which I had never had the honor of tasting, and being terribly disappointed when this bready, eggy thing appeared before me soaked in roast beef drippings which she called, "gravy."  This was definitely not pudding.  And I refused to eat it, and I have yet to return to that dish.

I think most folks, after having a traumatic food experience in their youth, develop a fear of food and tend to stick to what they know.  Which is unfortunate in my eyes.  Thankfully, I have adopted a more adventurous attitude towards food, and I'm willing to try just about anything at least once, and I have been pleasantly surprised by what I have discovered: a world of palates and ingredients just waiting to be enjoyed.

Recently, I was delighted to spend an evening at one of my favorite Korean joints in Andersonville, Jin Ju, with one of my former students and her family on the eve of her moving into her freshman dorm room.  As we sang choruses of "Sunrise, Sunset" (for I do think of my students as one of my own), I had to soothingly convince them that Korean food is not made from strange meats and that they will enjoy themselves. Fortunately, this soon to be University of Chicago student turned and said, "Well, college is about new experiences.  I might as well start now."

Everyone dove into the food a bit trepidatiously at first.  But the instant the instant they encountered those simultaneously exotic and homey flavors, they were convinced.  Warm scallion pancakes, sour and bright kim chee, Korean style "pot roast" over sweet potato vermicelli in a sweet and savory broth.  Their first step outside their comfort zone was a success.

After that night, I played around in my own kitchen to see what sort of exotic, hominess I could come up with inspired by Asian ingredients.  Here is what I came up with.

Asian Caramelized Pork with Cucumber Soba Noodle Salad

Yes, the chopping is extensive, but this sweet and savory dish comes together in minutes after the prep work and is totally worth the chopping effort.

4 4oz pork loin chops (trimmed)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp ginger, grated
1 Tbl fish sauce
1 Tbl rice vinegar
2 dried red chilis

Get your aggression out!  Place chops, one at a time, between two piece of plastic and pound away on those suckers until they are about 1/2" thick.  I use a rolling pin.  Slice in half and transfer to a bowl.

In a small saucepan, heat sugar over medium high heat.  As sugar begins to melt, swirl in one direction to prevent burning.  As soon as sugar has become a beautiful caramel color, reduce heat and add onions. Cook for about a minute, stirring with a wooden spoon.  Add ginger, fish sauce, vinegar, and chilis. Cook for about two minutes, and pour over pork.  Let it marinate for a bit (perhaps while you are making the noodles...).

Heat a grill pan over medium high heat.  Grill pork for about 1-2 minutes on each side.  Serve with noodles.

Soba Noodle salad

10 oz soba noodles
1 English cucumber, sliced
2 carrots, grated
4 scallions, thinly sliced
2 red jalapeños, thinly sliced and seeded
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup fresh mint

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1 Tbl honey
1 Tbl fish sauce
1 tsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Prepare soba noodles according to the package directions.  While still warm combine noodles, vegetables, and herbs in a bowl.  Whisk together vinegar, honey, fish sauce, ginger, and sesame oil.  Pour dressing over noodles.  Toss to combine.  Chill for 30 minutes.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

My name is Scott and I am a snackaholic.  I can go through a bag of chips faster than you can say, "Ruffles."  And if they are covered in some sort of exotically flavored powder, I'm done for.  Sweet Maui Onion, Wasabi and Mustard,  or good old fashioned Sour Cream and Onions...I like salty snack treats that taste like other things.

As I have turned over a new leaf, I no longer buy those delicious (yet completely fat and sodium laden) treats.  But, I still like to snack.  So nowadays, I bust out my trusty grill pan and make some grilled and marinated veggies to snack on.  I first encountered this method while working at Bari Ristorante e Enoteca in Memphis, TN. The process is a little time consuming but well worth the work. These bad lads are great on an antipasti plate, in a pannini, or thrown into a spinach salad, couscous, or a chilled pasta salad.  Or just about anything!

Personally, I love making flatbread pizzas with them. Play around with different vegetables and herbs, like peppers, thinly sliced carrots, and spring onions.

Grilled and Marinated Zucchini and Eggplant

This is a method; you decide the quantity.

Garlic, thinly sliced
Capers, drained
Basil, finely chopped (or oregano, mint, or parsley)

Olive oil

Preheat a grill pan over medium high heat. Using a mandolin, slice zucchini length wise in thin, ¼” strips. In batches, grill zucchini until grill marks just barely become visible through the side remaining up (about 3 minutes). Flip and grill for another minute. Set aside to cool.

In a flat container, create one even layer of vegetables. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Add a few slivers of garlic, a few capers, and basil. Drizzle with oil. Continue to layer until all of the vegetables have been treated. Cover and refrigerate, allowing the vegetables to marinate for at least 3 hours.

Repeat process with eggplant substituting oregano or mint for the basil.

The key to this is moderation. Don’t go too crazy!

Makings for a great pannini:  zucchini, eggplant, peppers, and arugula with homemade pesto.
If you have a pannini press, schmear just a little bit of pesto on the bread and stack your veggies up for some sandwichy goodness.  If you don't have a pannini press, use your grill pan and weight down the sandwich with a cast iron skillet.

Basil Pesto

I know this isn't vegan, but it sure is tasty.

3 cups loosely packed basil
5 cloves garlic
¼ cup almonds
1 lemon, zest and juice
¼ cup parmesan cheese

¾ cup olive oil

In a small food processor, combine garlic and almonds with a little bit of salt and whir away until they form a paste.  Scrape down the sides and add basil, zest and juice. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the cheese. Store in an airtight container with a layer of olive oil on top (this helps it retain its vibrant green color).

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fall has fallen

I know I'm not alone in saying that October is my favorite month.  It starts off with warm-ish, sunny days, moves into an explosion of brilliant colors, and ends with Halloween (or as I like to call it Gay Christmas).

And we get to enjoy the warm, earthy, spicy flavors of fall.

I had a couple of chicken sausages in my fridge, so I thought I would try to play around with to refine a tailgate treat:  sausages.  Here is what I came up with.  It is not only fast, but way yummy!

Warm Apple and Radicchio Slaw with Chicken Sausages

The sweetness of the apples and honey balance out the bitterness of the radicchio.  Paired with the sausage it becomes almost like a warm, sweet and sour sauerkraut.

1 onion, thinly sliced
1 small head of radicchio, cored and thinly shredded
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1 Tbl honey
1 Tbl fresh rosemary
1 tsp stone ground mustard
1 Tbl cider vinegar
2 Tbl olive oil
Salt and pepper

In a large skillet, saute onions in olive oil over medium heat until translucent. About five minutes.  Add apples and cook for an additional three to five minutes until apples begin to soften and brown slightly.  Add radicchio, mustard, honey and rosemary.  Toss to combine.  Cook until radicchio just begins to wilt.  Add vinegar and toss.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately.

for the sausages

8 chicken sausages*
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white wine
drizzle of olive oil

In a large pan, bring sausages, water, and wine to a boil.  Once liquid evaporates, drizzle with olive oil and brown sausages.

*Most chicken sausages are fully cooked.  However, if yours are not, double the amount of liquid to cook sausages thoroughly.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Nearly Palak Paneer

I love Indian food.

With it's rich, spicy flavors and warm, inviting aromas, Indian food is one of my favorite comfort foods.  Whenever I eat it, I feel as if I am wrapped in a soothing sari of love. 

But I have never attempted to make it at home.  I think having an Indian buffet right around the corner for eight years was the main reason, although having the tiniest kitchen known to man didn't help, either.  So, now that I have moved and have some elbow room, I thought I should give it a whirl.

Indian cuisine varies from region to region, however, there are several ingredients common to most Indian food.  Chick peas, lentils, and potatoes seasoned with warm spices like ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and chilies tend to cross over into all of the regions resulting in a beautifully fragrant array of deliciousness.

One of my favorite dishes is palak paneer, a wonderfully smooth combination of spinach and paneer, or Indian farmer's cheese.  As you know, I'm a true midwesterner with a passion for the cheese.  But for some folks, dairy is a no-no.  I look at this as an opportunity to play in the kitchen.  Since Indian food is primarily vegetarian, why not make it vegan as well.

Here is what I like to call Nearly Palak Paneer, a spicy (and dairy free) riff on that traditional spinach and cheese dish.

Nearly Palak Paneer

While this is not necessarily a traditional saag, it sure hits the spot!  Baking the tofu not only adds texture to an otherwise creamy dish but a pop of additional flavor as well.  If you aren't in the mood for tofu, try adding chick peas to the mix for that extra bit of protein.

1 16oz package frozen chopped spinach (thawed and mostly drained)
2 red peppers
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
3 cloves garlic
2" fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp galangal
2 Tbl garam masala
2 Tbl olive oil
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup soy milk

For the tofu

16 oz firm tofu
2 Tbl soy sauce
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350.  Slice tofu in half through the middle and place between several sheet of paper towel.  Press to release as much liquid as possible.  While the tofu drains, whisk together soy sauce, turmeric, and cinnamon.  After about ten minutes, remove tofu from paper towels and cut into 1 inch cubes.  Toss in soy mixture and place on a baking sheet.  Pop in the oven for 35 minutes, turning about half way through.  Tofu should be firm to the touch, but not browned.

In a food processor, place thawed spinach, garlic, and one red pepper coarsely chopped.  Blend until smooth.  You may need to add a bit of water to help encourage things.  Set aside.

In a large saute pan, heat oil over medium heat and cook onions until translucent (about ten minutes).  Dice the remaining pepper and add to onions.  REMEMBER TO SEASON AS YOU GO WITH SALT!  Once the peppers start to soften, add ginger and jalapeños.  Cook for two minutes.  Add turmeric, galagal, curry powder, and cinnamon, and stir well to combine.  Cook for two minutes until spices are fragrant and fully incorporated.  Add pureed spinach mixture and 1/4 cup water.  Bring to a boil and reduced to a simmer for about five minutes.  Stir in soy milk.  Add tofu and garam masala.  Stir well to combine spices, and cook for two more minutes.

Serve with naan or over rice.

*Tofu can be prepared up to three days in advance.  Simply cool, wrap in plastic, and store in your refrigerator.  Bring to room temperature before using.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Veggie Quickie

Stanislavski writes that an actor prepares.

And I would like to state that a healthy eater must prepare as well.  "Ugh!" you may think, "I've already given up meat and dairy, now I have to do work?!"

"Nay," I say, fellow healthy eater.  Think of it as preparing yourself for the weekly battle towards health.  When I was a teacher, I would set aside a couple of hours each Sunday to prepare for the week.  I would make a couple of soups, vinaigrettes, and whatever else suited my fancy so all I had to do when I walked in the door at 9:00 (yes, teachers pull very long hours) was combine a couple of ingredients, reheat a few things, and dinner was served (and, quite often, the next day's lunch was ready to go in the fridge).

When you are making some quinoa, or any other grain, double the batch.  It will keep for a couple of days in your refrigerator.  Same holds true for beans, vinaigrettes, and soups.  Just add some fresh veggies and a little creativity and dinner is ready in no time!

Remember the Six Ps:  Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance!

Culinary term of the week:  chiffonade - a cooking technique in which herbs and leafy green veggies are cut into long thin slices.

Sauteed Swiss Chard with Leeks and Golden Raisins

The slightly bitter and earthy greens are balanced nicely by the sweetness of the raisins.  Serve on top of quinoa or whole wheat Israeli couscous for a flavorful and filling meal!

1 large bunch of Swiss Chard (about 3 cups)
1 leek, white and light green parts
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, peeled and grated
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 Tbl cider vinegar
1 Tbl warm water
1 Tbl honey (optional) 
2 Tbl stone ground mustard
2 Tbl olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (for garnish)

In a small bowl, thoroughly combine water, vinegar, and honey. Soak raisins in the mixture while you prepare the other ingredients.

Remove dark green leaves from the leeks and slice down the center without cutting all the way through.  Rinse under cold water to remove any grit.  Cut leek into thin, circular slices.  Saute leeks over medium heat in the olive oil until just beginning to brown (about the time it takes to prepare the chard).  Be sure to season with salt and pepper.  Add garlic to leeks and cook for one minute.

Rinse chard and pat dry.  Holding on to the stems, fold leaves over, and remove leaves, reserving stems.  Lay leaves one on top of the other.  Roll into a cigar shape, and slice into 1/2" wide pieces.  You have just made a chiffonade.  Cut stems into 1/2" pieces, discarding any super thick pieces.  Add leaves and stems to the leeks and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper, and toss to wilt the greens.  Cook for three to four minutes.  Once greens have begun to wilt, add carrots, mustard, and raisins along with their liquid.  Toss to combine and cook until liquid has evaporated and stems are tender (about three minutes).

Serve immediately.  Garnish with toasted pine nuts.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Cookbook Inspiration

I love a cookbook.

Not only do they provide you with tasty morsels to satisfy your belly, but they are snap shots of a particular time in culinary history.  You have your classics; Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking comes to mind, in which time honored techniques and traditions are carefully laid out for the reader.

Who doesn't love cooking over an open flame in your living room?
You have little gems from particular eras that highlight, thankfully, times gone by.  A favorite of mine is Life's 1958 Picture Cook Book with chapters titled "Man's Job: Steak," "French Lesson in Innards," and "Luxury with Leftovers,"filled with such delicious ideas as Fried Celery with Chicken Livers and Flaming Fruitcake.  I swear one day, I'm going to cook my way through that thing.

As cooking trends change and develop, nothing is better for information and inspiration.  A fabulous cookbook is Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London's Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi.  Nothing but veggies in this one and the photographs qualify as food pornography.  It was the photo of Black Pepper Tofu that enticed me, but the recipe is far from what you would call healthy.  Fried tofu in a rich sauce that calls for 12 tablespoons of butter...oy.  Of course I had to make it.  And then I had to figure out how to make it a bit healthier.  Here's what I came up with.

Healthier substitutions:  coconut oil instead of butter, tofu noodles instead of fried tofu, added veggies.

Black Pepper Tofu Noodles with Shiitake and Crimini Mushrooms

The sauce is the star here: warm, bold, and spicy without too much heat!  And it's basically a chop and drop kind of dish!  If substituting rice noodles, slightly under cook them and don't let them linger too long in the pan, otherwise they might disappear on you!

tofu noodles (16 oz package)
1 1/2 cups shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced
1 1/2 cups crimini mushrooms, sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 shallots, sliced into rings
2 red jalapeños, sliced into rings (remove seeds if you want to take the spice level down)
2 Tbl fresh ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
3 Tbl whole black peppercorns
2 Tbl coconut oil
3 Tbl soy sauce
1 Tbl honey
1 Tbl cider vinegar
1/4 tsp sesame oil (optional)
2 green onions, thinly sliced lengthwise
cilantro for garnish

In a large saute pan, heat oil over medium heat and saute mushrooms, browning them slightly. About five to seven minutes.  Add garlic, shallots, jalapeños, and ginger and continue to cook until the shallots are translucent.

In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, honey, vinegar, and sesame oil until honey is fully dissolved.  In a spice grinder (or, if you want to be old school, you can bust out your mortar and pestle), coarsely grind the peppercorns.  You don't want whole chunks, but you don't want finely ground pepper either.

Once the onions have cooked, add sauce to pan and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon.  Add peppercorns and stir.  Add tofu noodles and toss to combine.  Allow to cook for about three minutes so noodles can absorb the sauce.  If sauce is too thin, add 1/4 cup vegetable stock.

Garnish with thinly sliced green onions and cilantro.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pucker Up for Some Vinegar

Are you looking for a way to liven up your food without adding any fat?

Play around with vinegar!

Whenever you are cooking, you are trying to present a variety of well balanced flavors.  These days, you can find a myriad of flavored vinegars at your local grocery store.  And, the best part is you don't have to spend a fortune to find some tasty ones, too. Unless you want really good balsamic...then you're gonna shell out the big bucks.  The acidity in vinegars and citrus can add delightful brightness and zing to any dish...even cocktails!  I found a lychee vinegar that is fabulous with cucumber gin and soda.

Use vinegars to deglaze roasted vegetables, add a bit into the cooking liquid when preparing grains, zing up sauces, and, of course, make a host of different vinaigrettes.

To prove vinegars brightening power, I've decided to tackle that notoriously feared (and greatly under appreciated) vegetable:  the Brussels sprout.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Red Pearl Onions and Grapes

Roasted grapes?!  "How odd," you might think.  Roasting intensifies their sweet flavor and its a fabulous foil to the tart vinegar.  I bust this bright and colorful dish out for almost every holiday. If you can't find red onions, white works just fine.

2 lbs Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 lb red pearl onions
2 cups red seedless grapes
2 cloves garlic, whole
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 Tbl tarragon vinegar
thyme bundle
2 Tbl chopped tarragon
2 Tbl olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400.

To prepare the onions, bring a medium bot of water to a boil and blanch the onions for about 2 minutes.  Drain and set aside to cool.  Once they are cool enough to handle, remove the skins using a sharp paring knife. 

Trim off a little bit of the nubs of the sprouts and slice in half.  This will keep them intact.  In a large oven proof skillet or rimmed baking sheet, combine onions, sprouts, and garlic.  It's important that the veggies have room otherwise they will steam instead of roast...we don't want that.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Toss to coat and add thyme and bay leaves.

Pop those babies in the oven.  After 15 minutes, remove from oven and give them a good stir.  Drizzle with 1 Tbl of the vinegar.  Return to oven for another 5 minutes.  Remove from oven and add grapes, remaining 1/2 Tbl vinegar, and 1 Tbl chopped tarragon.  Give it a little stir and return to oven.  Roast until grapes begin to split, about seven more minutes.

Remove bay, thyme, and garlic.  Sprinkle with reserved tarragon.

This is great as a side or over farro or quinoa for a main dish!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hankerin' for Fall

I always get antsy towards the end of summer.

I'm tired of being hot. 

I want to buy school supplies and wear cute sweaters.

So I thought I would force the issue by cooking with some fall flavors.  And meat.

Beer Poached Sausages with Caramelized Onions and Balsamic Apples
Mmmm...grilled meat.

Nothin' screams fall like some fancy, schmancy tailgate food.  This can be made ahead of time...just toss the sausages on the grill and gently reheat the apples and onions.

1 lb Italian sausage, in casing
1 pint beer (something dark)
1 large onion, quartered
1 clove garlic, smashed
3 bay leaves
1 Tbl coriander seeds
3 dried chilies

In a large pot, bring all of the ingredients, including sausages, to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.  Remove sausages from poaching liquid and transfer to a hot grill.  Char on all sides.  Serve with onions and apples and coarse ground mustard.

For the Onions and Apples

1 large onion
1 Granny Smith apple
4 Tbl butter
2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
salt 'n pepper

Slice onions into long, thin pieces.  Melt butter over low flame and add onions.  Season with a pinch of salt and toss to coat.  Let them do their thing for a while (about 30 minutes), stirring occasionally so they won't burn.

While onions caramelize, peel and core the apple.  Slice into quarters, then into thin wedges.  Once the onions have begun to turn a golden brown color, add sliced apples and cook for about five minutes.  Apples should be tender but not mushy.  Turn up the heat and add balsamic.  Cook until vinegar has reduced by half.  Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper.  Yummy.

Friday, August 24, 2012

It's Tofu Time: Breakfast Style

 I was never one for breakfast.

Usually I was still full from the night before or I had overslept and had to get out of the house or I thought skipping a meal would help my waistline. 

And then I started making smarter choices about food, and I have fallen in love with breakfast once more.  Consuming less animal products means a better night's sleep, less bloating, and, basically, not feeling weighed down so much.

One of my new faves is a tofu scramble.  Nothing against the humble egg (in fact, I have become quite the poach master general in our house), however, one egg contains almost 70% of the daily recommended dietary cholesterol values.  Oy!  So to be a little more heart smart, I have discovered the wonders of tofu.

On its own, tofu tastes like...nothing.  But with a little bit of love, it can transform into something versatile and delicious for breakfast.  Combine with a few leftovers from the fridge (quinoa, pesto, collards, spinach, tomatoes, salsa, etc.) and you have a fast, flavorful, and nutritious breakfast ready in minutes.

Culinary Terms of the Week:

Sweat:  When you sweat vegetables, you release moisture from them and they start to smell...just like you do when you sweat.

Bloom:  Blooming a spice mean maximizing the flavor by heating the dried spice for a short amount of time. When you bloom a spice in oil, you lose the gritty texture and have a more pleasant mouthfeel.

Mouthfeel:  Perhaps one of the grossest-sounding culinary terms in the book.  It just a way to express the texture of your food (i.e. smooth, crunchy, creamy, etc).  Please, never use this in my presence.

Basic Tofu Scamble
Scrambled Tofu with Spinach

A basic recipe that's great to play with.  The turmeric provides a beautiful golden color, and makes the tofu look like scrambled eggs! Perfect with whole grain toast and fruit.

8 oz firm tofu
4 green onions, chopped
1 Tbl olive oil
2 tsp turmeric
salt n' pepper

In a large skillet, heat oil and turmeric over medium heat.  Bloom the turmeric for about a minute.  Add onions and sweat the vegetables until tender but not translucent.  While onions cook, place tofu between a couple of sheets of paper towels. Gently press to release as much of the liquid as possible.  Crumble tofu into skillet, season with salt and pepper,  and cook for about five minutes until heated through. Serves two.

Once you've mastered this basic technique, you can play around with different combinations.

Breakfast Burrito

This is perfect for those workout days.  The beans and quinoa give you an extra punch of protein.  A great way to use leftover black bean Confetti Salad.

Tofu Scramble
1/2 cup cooked quinoa, divided
1/4 cup Confetti Salad
1 avocado, sliced and halved
2 whole grain tortillas

Prepare Tofu Scramble.  Divide quinoa and beans among the tortillas.  Top with tofu and fold over.  Top burrito with avocado slices.

Tofu Scramble with Pesto Quinoa, Sauteed Spinach and Tomatoes

A perfect dish for brunch! Just adjust the quantities (this recipe serves two).

Tofu Scramble
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
3 Tbl pesto
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups spinach
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbl olive oil
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper
Basil to garnish

Prepare Tofu Scramble.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat.  Saute garlic for one minute.  Add tomatoes, season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper, and cook until they begin to soften, about five minutes. Add spinach and cook until just wilted, no more than two minutes.

Combine quinoa and pesto.  To serve, divide pesto quinoa on to two plates, topped with spinach and tomatoes, then the tofu.  Garnish with basil.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Power of the Sofrito

Folks in the culinary world are always talking about "depth of flavor," but what exactly do they mean by this?  Quite simply, you are trying to get the most bang for of your buck and coax out as much of the delicious goodness from your food.

One of the best ways of achieving great depth of flavor in your cooking is through braising, a process of cooking something for a long period of time in liquid.  AND, one of the best ways to braise is to start with a sofrito.  A sofrito is a combination of aromatics, such as onions, garlic, and celery, that are chopped up super fine and cooked for a long period of time.  A staple in many different cuisines, this slow cooking process caramelizes the natural sugars in the veggies resulting in a rich, dark flavor that is perfect as a base for soups and sauces.

At this time of year, when farmers markets are practically overflowing with eggplant, I like to make a large batch of Eggplant Ragout and freeze it for future use.  This hearty, earthy sauce is a wonderful substitute for traditional marinara.  Use it in lasagna, as a sauce for grilled mushrooms or tofu, or add cannellini beans and fresh herbs and serve over grilled bread for a rustic, peasant meal.

Yes, it takes time to prepare, but you will have a TON of sauce (about 8 cups) that freezes so well for future culinary adventures that it is well worth the time.  Patience, my friend...patience.

Eggplant Ragout
Eggplant Ragout with Yellow Tomatoes and Cannellini on Grilled Bread

2 large eggplants
3 carrots (peeled, chopped into 1" pieces)
3 celery ribs (chopped into 1" pieces)
1 red bell pepper (chopped)
5 cloves garlic
1 6oz can of organic tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine (optional)
3 cups vegetable stock (plus 1 cup is you omit the wine)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 bay leaves
10 sprigs of thyme
4 sprigs of oregano
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (or more to your liking)

Preheat oven to 450.  Using a fork, poke holes in the eggplant and place on a baking sheet.  Roast in the oven until the insides are all roasty toasty goodness and the outside looks like a deflated balloon.  About one hour.

Combine carrots, celery, bell pepper, and garlic in a food processor.  Pulse until a moderately chunky paste forms.  You may need to do this in batches.  This will look kind of soupy, but remember you have just mashed up a whole lot of veggies with a high water content.

Over a medium flame, heat oil in a heavy Dutch oven.  I use cast iron for this.  Transfer mixture and brown that veggie paste, stirring occasionally and careful not to burn the veggies. This takes some time, about 30-45 minutes.  Season with salt, pepper, and crushed red.  Be sure to taste and adjust the seasonings!  After about 15 minutes, when some of the liquid starts to reduce, add bay leaves and a bundle of thyme and oregano.

Once the veggies have caramelized, add tomato paste and...brown it.  This should take about 5 minutes.  Once you have a fragrant glop on your hands, de glaze the pan with the wine.  Reduce liquid by half (this is important other wise your sauce will taste like wine).  Add vegetable stock, bring to a boil, and simmer.  Remove bay leaves and herb bundle.


By this point, your eggplant should be roasted.  Remove from oven and cool slightly so that you can handle it.  Slice eggplant lengthwise.  Scoop out the flesh and add to the sauce, discarding skins.  Here is where an immersion blender comes in handy to smooth out the sauce.  If you do not have one, puree eggplant in a food processor before adding it to the sauce.  The ragout should still be a bit chunky.  If thinner sauce is desired, add water until you have attained the desired consistency.

Ladle sauce into air tight containers.  Keeps in the fridge for about 4 days, freezer for 3 months.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Two fer...

I love soup.  It's homey, comfort in a bowl.  And I especially love the cooling goodness of a chilled soup in the summer.

Plus it's super easy to make.

The trick is to layer your flavors into your pot instead of just doing a whole lot of chop and drop.  Thomas Keller, of French Laundry fame, speaks of the importance of taking time with your food preparation.  Not to say that you need to spend hours over a stock pot, but allowing the flavors of each ingredient to develop (especially when you use so few) adds tremendous depth to your food.  Once you have a handle on the basic methods, you can play around with the ingredients. 

Here are two variations on a carrot soup that will knock your socks off!

Chilled Curried Carrot Soup

This refreshing soup is great as an accompaniment to a Kale Salad or Curried Israeli Couscous.  The tartness of the lime juice plays nicely with the sweetness of the carrots and coconut.

1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2" pieces
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
2 Tbl olive oil
3 Tbl curry powder
1 tsp salt
5 cups water
1 can of coconut milk
zest and juice of one lime
2 green onions, chopped

In a stock pot, heat oil and curry over medium heat, stirring for about one minute.  Add onions and saute until tender.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add carrots and stir to coat with curry infused oil.  Cook for 10 minutes.  Add stock and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 15 minutes.

Using your perfectly functioning immersion blender, puree until smooth.  Pass soup through a sieve, discarding all of the solids.  Stir in coconut milk and lime juice and zest.  Chill completely.  Serve with a wedge of lime and chopped scallions on top.

Change up the herbs slightly and you have a totally different taste experience...

I'm sorry...I love this picture.

Chilled Carrot Soup with Dill

This is a fantastic little soup for hot summer nights. Serve with a salad and some crusty bread and, vi-oh-lay, you've got dinner!  I find that veggie stock muddles the taste of this soup, so I recommend using water.

1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced
1 yellow onion, chopped
5 cups water
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 sprigs dill, plus 1 Tbl finely chopped
2 sprigs thyme
2 Tbl olive oil

In a large pot, heat oil over a medium flame and add onions. Saute for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Create a bundle with the dill and thyme, and throw it into the pot.  Add carrots and cook until they soften a bit.  Add stock, zest, and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and discard the herb bundle. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. Ladle the soup into a bowl through a sieve, pressing on solids and discard the pulp. Stir in reserved dill and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Garnish with a sprig of dill (and maybe a dollop of yogurt or sour cream).

Monday, August 6, 2012

Feelin' Just Peachy

When I was 16, I shot my first commercial.

It was for a St. Louis based grocery store chain called Schnucks.  I know...unfortunate family name, no?  The spot was one of those "how many happy people can we show eating fruit in a minute" type situations.  It was spring time, and they were getting ready for the summer fruit push.

I had stumbled into the gig; a mother of a friend of mine was a food stylist on the shoot and they needed a few fresh faced teens to stage a car wash and laugh and eat peaches.  A lot of peaches.  I think I ate about 27 in an hour, while being squirted with a garden hose in a parking lot on a beautiful (and chilly) spring day.  We tossed peaches to one another, taking a bite and making smiley faces to the camera.

It took me a while to muster up the strength to eat another peach.  Like Prufrock.  Only younger.

Fortunately I have lifted my peach embargo and have been enjoying this seasons crop of particularly delicious fuzzy fruits of the South.  Last week, Jerre and I, mountain weary, traveled to St. Louis to celebrate my mom's birthday.  And we made this...

Roasting brings out the natural sugars and intensifies the flavors.
Roasted Peach and Red Onion Salad with Bitter Greens

The sweetness of the peaches and onions is balanced with the bitter bite of arugula and radicchio.  Soak the radicchio is cold water for 15 minutes or so to reduce some of the bitterness.  If it's fired up, try grilling the peaches, onions, and radicchio for a fun variation!

4 peaches (almost ripe - firm to the touch, but not quite soft)
1 large red onion
3 Tbl fresh tarragon, finely chopped (plus two whole sprigs)
5 sprigs thyme
4 cups arugula
1 cup radicchio, sliced into rounds
1 English cucumber
1/4 cup hazelnuts
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tsp rice vinegar
zest of 1 lime
4 Tbl olive oil, divided

Preheat oven to 425.

Slice each peach in half, removing the stone.  Slice into quarter and then into eighths.  Place on a rimmed baking sheet.  Slice onion in half through the fuzzy bulb end.  Remove outer skin and slice off most of the hairy end but not all.  This will hold your onion slices together.  Slice onion as you did the peaches, first into quarters, then eighths.  Add them to the peaches and drizzle with 1-2 Tbl oil and season with salt and pepper.  Toss to coat.  Scatter thyme and tarragon sprigs about the baking sheet and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes until they begin to brown.  Remove from oven and set aside. Discard herbs.

On a smaller baking sheet, roast hazelnuts for 5 minutes or until fragrant. Remove from oven and set aside.

While the peaches roast, bring orange juice to a boil in a small saucepan and reduce by half.  Skim off any foam that may rise to the top.  When the juice has just about reduced, add the finely chopped tarragon and lime zest.  Set aside and cool slightly.  Add vinegar and slowly whisk in remaining oil until you have achieved your desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

Toss arugula, radicchio, and cucumber with the vinaigrette.  Divide among four plates, and top with peaches and onions and sprinkle with hazelnuts.