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.