Sunday, May 12, 2013

Super Green Pasta

This super green pasta dish needs no witty introduction. All you need to know is that it's tasty and good for you!

Even the spinach pesto has ZERO oil in it.

Just make it. You'll be happy you did.

Super Green Pasta

It's a leafy green explosion:  spinach two ways, collard greens, and basil (which I am counting as a leafy green).  Comes together super quickly and is way tasty!

16 oz whole wheat penne
4 cups spinach, divided
1 cup pine nuts
3 cloves garlic
4 oz. fresh basil
1 Tbl tahini
1/3 cup water
juice of 1 lemon
1 onion, chopped
1 bunch of collard greens, stemmed
2 cups frozen peas (defrosted)
2 tsp olive oil
crushed red pepper

In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and get those onions in there.  Season with salt and crushed red pepper, and saute for about five minutes.

Remove stems from collards and lay leaves on top of each other.  Roll into a cigar and slice into thin strips.  They should stay rolled up, so slice them in half again just to make them a bit more bite size.  Add to the onions, toss, and season with a pinch of salt.  Add 2 Tbl water and allow greens to wilt, about five to seven minutes, stirring frequently.  Once greens are cooked, add peas and heat through.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in heavily salted water until just under al dente (about half the recommended cooking time).  Drain pasta and reserve 1 cup of pasta water.

In a food processor, combine pine nuts, garlic, tahini, and lemon juice and pulse until a smooth paste forms.  Scrape the sides, season with salt, and add 2 cups spinach, basil, and 1/3 cup water.  Pulse until smooth.

Add cooked pasta to the pan.  Add remaining two cups of spinach, the pesto, and slowly add water until you have reached to desired consistency.  Delish!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Gorilla Wraps

Gorilla wraps.  Those little vegan, burrito-like treats wrapped in a collard leaf seem to be popping up everywhere lately.

Drew Barrymore swears by them, crediting their fibery, leafy goodness for helping her shed her baby weight.  Personally, I think the weight loss is due to half of the wrap falling out onto her plate.  These suckers can be messy!

Kidding aside, these little babies are a tasty way to get your veggies and feel totally satisfied.  The trick is using larger leaves and not over stuffing them.  The ingredients stay in the wrap, and you can eat more of them that way!

I've been drawn towards Asian flavors lately, so I thought I would play around with the wrap idea.  Soy, wasabi, and ginger spice up mushrooms and walnuts, while carrots, daikon, and cucumber provide some delicious crunch. 

Just don't over stuff!

Asian Inspired Gorilla Wraps

This recipe is pretty much "method cooking" and can be adapted to suit whatever mood you palate is in.  Play around with different regional flavors with the mushroom and walnut mixture (Tex-Mex, curry, Mediterranean) and additional fixin's!

8 oz mushrooms
1/2 yellow onion
1 cup walnuts
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cup long grain or wild rice, cooked
8 large collard leaves
1 Tbl soy sauce
1" fresh ginger, grated
2 Tbl hoisin sauce
as much wasabi paste as you can stand
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp olive oil

wrap fixin's
daikon radish
carrots, grated or julienned
cucumbers, chopped
onion, red or green

In a food processor, combine mushrooms, onion, walnuts and garlic, and pulse until it forms a chunky paste. 

In a large saute pan, heat oil and cook the mushroom mixture with soy sauce, ginger, and wasabi until veggies are cooked through, about five to seven minutes.  Deglaze pan with the vinegar and cook an additional minute.  Set aside to cool.

Remove stems from collards.  Hold the stem and fold the leaf.  Gently pull the stem about 3/4 of the way.  You want to leave a large enough area to place the stuffing.  Now, start layering!  Rice, then mushroom mixture, and veggies.  Fold sides over, then gently roll collard into a burrito shape.  Enjoy!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Corn and Avocado Salad

Warm weather is coming to Chicago.

I swear it is. 

This week, flowers started to bloom.  A giant glowing thing in the sky made an appearance.  And, little green things started to appear on tree branches.  If memory serves me, I believe they are called "leaves."  I'm in the mood for something fresh, fast, and uncomplicated.  And super tasty.

I love guacamole, so I played around with the idea of a chunky guac salad.  Here's what I came up with...

Corn and Avocado Salad

This salad comes together in a flash and utilizes one of the few veggies I buy from the freezer section:  corn.  As the season progresses and fresh corn appears in your market, try grilling the corn right on the cob for an extra boost of flavor!  Bulk this salad up with black beans and quinoa and serve it over spinach.

2 cups frozen corn, thawed
2 large avocados, cubed
1 sweet onion (preferably Vidalia), chopped
1 red pepper, ribs removed and chopped
10 oz cherry tomatoes, halved
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
1/2 cup cilantro
2 limes, zest and juice
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
2 tsp olive oil

Combine first seven ingredients in a bowl.  To make the vinaigrette, combine lime zest, juice, cumin, and salt in a bowl.  Slowly whisk in oil.  Pour over veggies and toss to combine.  Easy, peasy, cool breezy.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Moroccan Inspiration

I love playing around in the kitchen.  Perhaps it is the act of creation, but I derive so much pleasure spending time dancing around a soup pot making an point of inspiration a culinary reality.  I particularly love trying to recreate restaurant dishes at home and putting my own spin on them.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery, no?

I recently had a simply divine Moroccan Spiced Eggplant, which was served over jasmine rice.  The warm, earthy spices (like cumin, turmeric, ginger, and a hint of rosemary) balance the unique flavor of the eggplant, which can be slightly bitter at times. I'm a huge eggplant lover so I thought I should try to figure out how to make it at home.

Here's what I came up with

Moroccan Spiced Eggplant with Kale

The vinegar soaked raisins add a delightful sweet and sour note to the dish.  I serve this over quinoa instead of rice

1 eggplant, cut into 3/4" cubes
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15oz can diced tomatoes
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups water or vegetable stock
4 cups kale, stemmed and chopped (1 bunch)
herb bundle of 1 sprig rosemary and 5 sprigs thyme
2 tsp olive oil
salt to taste

In a large pan over medium heat, heat oil until it shimmers and saute onions until golden, about five minutes.  Add cumin, turmeric, paprika, and garlic.  Bloom spices for one minute.  Add eggplant and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add tomatoes, herb bundle, and water.  Stir to combine thoroughly.  Cover pan (or place a piece of parchment paper over it) and simmer for 20 minutes.

While the eggplant simmers, soak raisins in the vinegar.  Once the eggplant mixture has thickened slightly, remove herb bundle and add the raisins, vinegar, and kale.  Cook, stirring frequently, until kale has just barley wilted.  Season with salt to taste.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Mom's Taco Salad 2.0

One of my favorite dishes growing up was my mom's taco salad.

And, being a woman of Swedish decent from upstate New York, you know her recipe was muy auténtico.  Ground beef became delicioso taco meat thanks to the chemists at Old El Paso and their rust colored taco seasoning packet.  Iceberg lettuce, kidney beans, tomatoes, and onion were tossed together with almost an entire bottle of Thousand Island dressing (for a true south of the border taste) then topped with a pound of cheddar cheese and half a bag of crushed taco flavored Doritos.  Mmmm...yummy and olé.

Of course I would love this as a kid.  In fact, there are several adults I know now who would eagerly devour this concoction.  And need a side of defibrillator in between bites.

Challenge:  take a delicious taco salad and figure out how to make it healthier.

Replace ground beef with a flavorful combination of mushrooms, walnuts, onions, and garlic.  A combination of spinach, arugula, and Romaine replaces the bland iceberg lettuce now dressed with a fresh pico de gallo.  And, top off with shredded carrots instead of cheese.


Meatless Taco Salad

16 oz crimini mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 cup onion (about 1/2 an onion), roughly chopped
1 clove garlic
1 cup walnuts
2 tsp olive oil
1 Tbl groun cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp chipotle powder
a pinch of cinnamon
2 tsp Kosher salt
6 cups greens (Romaine, spinach, arugula, shredded cabbage if you like)
1 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
2 avocados, sliced
4 oz. cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 carrots, grated

For the pico de gallo

4 oz cherry or grape tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup red onion, roughly chopped
1 jalapeño, diced (ribs and seeds removed)
3 Tbl cilantro
1 lime, zest and juice
splash of red wine vinegar 
pinch of salt

In a food processor, combine mushrooms, walnuts, onion, and garlic and pulse until mixture is a chunky paste.  In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat and add mushroom mixture.  Season with cumin, coriander, chipotle powder, and salt, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook until slightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Set aside and cool slightly.

To prepare the pico de gallo, combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until combined. This should be slightly chunky.

In a large bowl, toss greens, black beans, and 2/3 of the carrots with enough pico de gallo to coat.  Divide evenly on four plates.  Top greens with mushroom mixture, halved tomatoes, avocado slices, and remaining carrots.  Add more pico de gallo if you wish!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

No Cheese Mac & Cheese

I am a mac and cheese connoisseur.

My love affair began when I was first introduced to that little blue box filled with elbow shaped pasta and a crazy looking orange powder.  Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was one of the first things my mom taught me how to "cook." It was better cheesy living through chemistry.  Later on, in my college years, I discovered the beauty that was Velveeta Shells and Cheese.  What's not to love about gooey cheese-like sauce squeezed out of a foil packet that didn't need to be refrigerated?  It was creamy goodness.

As an adult, I was introduced to a variety of new cheesy pasta love, mac and cheeses of all varieties:  truffled, Stilton, smoked cheddar with bacon.  You name it, I ate it.

And then I realized how so not good for you it is. 

So in the spirit of healthier eating, I thought I would play around with the ultimate comfort food to see what I could come up with.  Granted, nothing takes the place of real cheese (or even real fake cheese food like Velveeta), but its a delicious substitute that will satisfy the mac and cheese craving.

No Cheese Mac & Cheese

Nutritional yeast and earthy cauliflower combined with a puree of almonds provide a tasty alternative to real cheese. I add the tender outside leaves of Brussels sprouts for a little bit of color and texture.

1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets
6 cups butternut squash (approximately one medium sized squash)
1 cup almonds, blanched
2 cloves garlic
1 cup water
1 Tbl Dijon mustard
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp fresh nutmeg
thyme bundle
1 lb whole wheat pasta (shells, macaroni, penne)
1 lb Brussels sprouts, outer leaves only (optional)

Place cauliflower, squash, garlic, garlic, and thyme in a large stock pot.  Cover with water, salt liberally, and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook until a fork slides easily into the vegetables, about 15 minutes.  Drain thoroughly and discard thyme bundle. 

In a food processor, puree blanched almonds and water until smooth, about five minutes.  Add cooked vegetables and garlic and process until smooth.  Add mustard, nutritional yeast, paprika, and nutmeg.  Pulse to combine.

Cook pasta according to the directions on the box, taking off a couple of minutes so the pasta is just under al dente.  Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid and drain pasta.  Return pasta to pot.  Add squash puree to pasta and stir to combine.  Thin sauce by slowly adding the pasta water until you have achieved the desired consistency.  Stir is blanched Brussels sprout leaves, if using.  Serve with a sprinkle of nooch.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Unleash Your Inner Bobby Flay

So there I was, standing in the produce section of Devon Market, just soaking in the huge variety of the bounty before me.  Dandelion greens, purple kohlrabi, parsley root, mountains of herbs, chiles or all shapes and sizes and potency, tomatillos...

Tomatillos?  I don't think I have ever made anything with tomatillos.  I mean, I know I have purchased them before, but I don't think they ever made an appearance in a dish.  They simply met an untimely end, wasting away in the veggie drawer of my fridge.

I know that they are a relative of the gooseberry and are a staple in Latin American cuisine.  After taking stock of what I had at home and going through my rolodex of south of the border falvors, I Unleashed my inner Bobby Flay, grabbed a couple tomatillos, some limes, fresh cilantro, and some chiles and ran back to my kitchen.

Here is what I came up with.

Fast and delicious!
Spicy Black Bean and Red Cabbage Salad with Tomatillo Salsa

This fiber rich salad is tangy, sweet, and spicy, and it comes together in minutes.  You can control the heat level by removing the seeds from the jalapeño for a more mild flavor.

1 28 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1/4 head of red cabbage (about 1 1/2 cups), sliced into thin strips
1/2 red onion, minced
1 jalapeño, minced
1 medium shallot, minced
2 tomatillos, husks removed and coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp red wine vinegar
juice of 1 lime
2 tsp honey (or more to taste)
2 Tbl fresh cilantro, chopped
3 cups arugula
salt n' pepper

Combine tomatillos, jalapeño, shallot, garlic, cumin, vinegar, lime juice, honey and cilantro in a food processor.  Pulse until everything is incorporated but still a little chunky.  Season with salt and pepper.

Combine beans, corn, and cabbage in a large bowl.  Pour half of the salsa over and toss to combine.  Allow to sit for about 10 minutes so the dressing can be absorbed a bit.

In another bowl, toss arugula in remaining salsa (or enough to coat the greens).  Divide greens onto four plates.  Top each plate with the beans, cabbage, and corn.  Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Phinally Phigured Out Pho

It's hard to believe that it has been almost a year of Meatless Monday recipes.

And I think we should up the ante by trying our hand at a favorite of mine, pho.  Pho is a traditional Vietnamese soup usually consisting of rice noodles, fresh herbs, and either chicken or beef.  I love this dish for its amazingly aromatic broth; it's like an Asian version of chicken noodle soup.

Since we are trying to incorporate more of a plant based diet into our lives, I thought I would monkey around with a traditional recipe to find a more veggie friendly version.  What we've got is a fabulous vegetarian broth (if you omit the optional fish sauce) that will warm your soul on a chilly end of winter's night.

Now, you're going to freak out. 

Either by the list of ingredients or the phrase "char the onion over an open flame" or the word "cheesecloth."  But don't!  Yes, this appears to be a little more intricate than usual, and it does take some time.  And, I believe that you can do it!  So let's dive in!

Big bowl of yummy.
Veggie Pho

For the broth
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 3" piece ginger
1 turnip, cut into large chunks
1 lb carrots, cut into large chunks
2 leeks, white and light green parts
8 oz button mushrooms
2 stalks lemongrass
6 star anise
5 whole cloves
5 cardamom pods
1 2-3" cinnamon stick
1 tsp black peppercorns
12 cups water
1 tsp fish sauce (optional)

Soup accompaniments
rice noodles
edamame, cooked
thinly sliced onion
sliced jalapeño
bean sprouts
snow peas
lime wedges
fresh cilantro and basil

Using tongs, char the onion and ginger over an open flame.  If you have an electric stove, blacken the onions and ginger in a dry non-stick skillet.  Slice ginger in half lengthwise.

Trim the lemongrass, and bruise by whacking the stalks with the back of your knife.  (Kind of like you are chopping with the dull side.)  Cut into small chunks.

In a large stock pot, add onions, carrots, leeks, mushrooms, turnip, ginger, and lemongrass.  Place star anise, cardamom, cloves, peppercorns, and cinnamon stick in a cheesecloth pouch and add to the pot.  (Don't have cheesecloth, use a tea ball!)  Cover with 12 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer covered for 2 hours.  After an hour, season with salt (or fish sauce, if you are using).

After two hours, remove spice pouch and drain through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth (paper towels or coffee filters will work, too) discarding solids.

Voila! Pho broth.

Now it's kind of "build your own" from here.  Traditional garnishes are rice noodles, herbs, onions, and chiles.  I like adding edamame and snow peas in mine.  But play around! 

To cook rice noodles, soak them in cold water for about twenty minutes.  Throw into boiling water for three minutes and drain.  They are going to stick, but to lessen the stickiness invert a small bowl in the colander so the noodles can drape over it.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Meatless (and Oilless) Monday

So my good friend Nicole threw down the gauntlet.  Make a vegan meal completely oil free.

And I panicked. 

How could you possibly make something tasty without oil?!  Well, as Nicole pointed out, without oil doesn't mean without fat.  She pointed me towards nuts, olives, tahini, seeds, avocados and the like.  And she's always wanted me to cook with nutritional yeast (or more affectionately referred to as "nooch").

Okay.  This occasional carnivore is totally diving into some oil-free vegan love.

Whole Wheat Shells with Almond Garlic Sauce and Green Things

A perfect substitute for those alfredo lovers.  Creamy, extremely flavorful, and filled with green things, you would never guess that it is oil free!

1 cup blanched almonds
1 cup water
16 oz whole wheat shells
3 cloves garlic
8 oz frozen peas
1/2 lb asparagus, sliced into thin diagonal pieces
2 1/2 cups spinach
1 1/2 Tbl lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh mint
1/4 cup fresh basil
1 Tbl nutritional yeast
salt and pepper

In a food processor or blender, combine almonds, water, garlic, and a pinch of salt and puree until smooth.  Just leave that sucker running for about 5 minutes.

Cook pasta in salted water until just before al dente (usually about half the suggested cooking time).  Drain pasta and reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid.

In a large pan over medium heat, whisk together almond puree and 1 cup pasta water for about 3 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add remaining cup of water, peas, and asparagus and cook for another 3 minutes until the sauce has thickened.  Add lemon juice, mint, basil, and nooch.  Stir to combine.  Add pasta and cook until pasta is al dente, about another 2-3 minutes.  Fold in spinach, and toss to wilt.  Spoon into bowls and garnish with toasted almonds, mint, and basil.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Split Peas Ain't Just For Soup!

While living in Memphis, J and I had a Sunday tradition of going out for Indian food for lunch.  A lazy morning was made even lazier when we piled into the car for the three block trip to India Palace and its incredible buffet. 

As I write this, it is Sunday, J is in Memphis, and I am feeling a bit blue.  I thought I would cheer myself up with some Indian inspiration, so for Meatless Monday I offer up this tasty creation...

Yellow Split Peas with Chiles, Cilantro, and Mint

This flavorful dish is a bit more mellow take on spicy Indian dishes.  Remember, the heat of a chile is in the seeds and ribs.  If you want to make it spicier, leave 'em in!  This dish can also be made with dried chick peas or red lentils.

1 cup dried yellow split peas
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2" fresh ginger, chopped
2 chiles (such as jalapeños), seeded and chopped
1 Tbl coconut or olive oil
3 cups vegetable stock or water
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
2 Tbl fresh mint, chopped
2 Tbl fresh cilantro, chopped

Thin strips of jalapeños, ginger, and tomato to garnish.

Place split peas in a bowl and cover with warm water.  Allow to sit for 20-30 minutes.

In a food processor, grind the ginger and garlic into a paste.  You may want to add just a pinch of salt to help it along.  In a large pan over medium heat, saute the onions, chiles, and garlic and ginger paste in the coconut oil until they begin to brown, roughly seven minutes. 

Drain peas and add to the mixture with the cumin.  Stir to combine and cook for three minutes.  Add water or stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes until peas are tender and the liquid has reduced by one third.  Add salt, mint, and cilantro.  Serve with naan or over rice.

Garnish with thin strips of jalapeños, ginger, and tomato.

TIP:  The smaller the chile, the hotter it is.  I use a pretty mild jalapeño.  To prepare for cooking, slice off the stem end, then cut in half lengthwise.  Remove seeds and ribs carefully with a knife.  And remember to wash your hands!

TIP:  Peas can be soaked ahead of time in cold water.  Just pop 'em in when you are headed out the door before work!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Pixar Inspiration

Have you ever seen the movie, Ratatouille?  That delightful flick from Pixar, featuring a French rodent with culinary proclivities, warms my heart whenever I think about it.  Not only is it about pursuing your passion despite all obstacles (it's a hard life for a rat in a kitchen), it exposes its audience to the disciplined and inspirational world of cooking.  Anything that encourages young people to have a deep appreciation for food is A-OK in my book.

Now,  have you ever eaten ratatouille?  I haven't.  I mean, I know it's a French peasant dish featuring eggplant (or aubergine to our friends on the other side of the pond), zucchini, red peppers, tomatoes, and onions.  There are several ways to prepare it.  Some say you simply saute the veggies and serve it as a side dish.  Others suggest you make a delicious sauce with the tomatoes, peppers, and onions,  layering the eggplant, zucchini, and sauce into a casserole dish and bake it.

I've been a little soup and stewed out lately, so I thought roasting the ingredients, adding whole grains and some kale, and turn it into a salad (delicious hot or cold) would be a fun variation.  Plus it's a great way to get the kids involved in the kitchen.  Allow me to explain with some yummy...

Roasted Ratatouille Salad with Barley and Kale
The flavors of France with a little kale love!

This bright, hearty dish surprised my dinner guests.  The zing of lemon plays wonderfully with the earthy vegetables.  The addition of barley (or farro if you have a mind to) makes this a filling main course or a great side with fish.

1 1/2 lbs eggplant, cut into 3/4" cubes
3 cups zucchini, cut into 1/2" half moons (about 3 small or 2 medium zucchini)
1 red pepper, seeds removed cut into 1/2" pieces
16 oz cherry tomatoes
1 red onion
4 cloves garlic
8 cups kale (about 1 bunch, stemmed and torn into small pieces)
2 cups cooked barley or farro
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 2 tsp
1 Tbl Dijon mustard
4 bay leaves
2 sprigs of rosemary
10 sprigs of thyme
1/2 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
lots of salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450.

To prepare the zucchini, remove the ends and cut in half lengthwise.  Place flat end on your board and slice into 1/2" moons.  To prepare the onion, hold furry root end and slice off the opposite end.  Cut onion in half and remove skin.  Slice off the furry bits, keeping the root still intact, and slice each half into 4 wedges.

Place eggplant, zucchini, onion, pepper, garlic and tomatoes into a large bowl.  Drizzle with 2 tsp olive oil, season liberally with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.  Divide veggies evenly on to two baking sheets lined with parchment paper or foil.  This will help them roast, not steam. Create two herb bundles with the rosemary and thyme.  Place one on each baking sheet along with 2 bay leaves and 2 cloves garlic.  Roast veggies in the oven for about 35-40 minutes, giving them a good stir half way through the cooking time.

While the veggies roast, place kale into a bowl.  Add juice of half the lemon and a tiny drizzle of olive oil.  Using your hands, squeeze the kale to break down the fibers a bit.  This is a great way to involved the kids!  Keep mashing on the kale until it reduces in volume by half, turns bright green, and smells a little like bananas.  (I's weird.)

Allow veggies to cool slightly.  Discard the herbs and set aside roasted garlic cloves. Once they are cool enough to handle, give them a rough chop and transfer to a food processor or blender.  Add mustard, the juice from the remaining half of the lemon, salt and pepper, and process until smooth.  With the motor running, add enough olive oil to make a light vinaigrette.

Add roasted veggies, barley, and chopped parsley to the kale, dress with the vinaigrette, and toss to combine.  Serve warm or at room temp.

TIP:  Veggies and barley can be made up to two days before hand.  Store in air-tight container in the fridge, and bring to room temperature before adding the kale.

TIP:  When preparing the barley or farro, add a bay leaf to the cooking liquid.  I recommend using a good vegetable stock.  And, as always, make a double batch to use later on in the week.  Most grains will last for a week!

TIP:  If you a preparing your grains while the veggies roast, spread out the cooked grain on a baking sheet to help cool faster.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Southern cookin' ain't the healthiest.  If it can be fried, it will be.  If it can be cooked for hours, it shall be.  And if you can put butter in it, on it, or near it, it will be smothered.

That's why I like cornbread.

Had a hankerin' for some, so I whipped this up...

Chipotle Thyme Cornbread

Perfect side for chili or hearty soups.  Let the leftovers (if there are any) hang out in the fridge for a couple of days, dice into cubes, drizzle with olive oil, and pop 'em in the oven for a bit.  Blammo!  Cornbread Croutons!

1 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus 2 Tbl
2 tsp chipotle powder
1 Tbl fresh thyme, minced

Preheat oven to 425.  Coat a cast iron skillet with 2 Tbl vegetable oil and place in oven while heating.

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk and oil.  Pour the wet into the dry and stir to combine.  Pour batter into preheated skillet (I love that sizzle) and bake until top is golden and crispy, about 20-25 minutes.

Allow to cool.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Umami Love

Salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and...umami?

Yep.  There's a fifth taste out there.  Umami is that deliciously savory taste usually found in meat and seafood.  However, many vegetables are filled with umami.  Tomatoes, celery, cabbages, mushrooms, and spinach are rich in umami flavor, as are soy sauce and green tea.  So if you are looking for something that satisfies your savory urges without eating anything with a face, try incorporating these flavors into your food. (My favorite new trick:  grating dried porcini mushrooms into vegetable soups and stews before adding the liquid and using soy sauce instead of salt.)

So try this quick umami-licious recipe!

Mushrooms and Wilted Spinach with Barley

I felt like a rock star when I discovered Trader Joe's has a quick-cooking barely!  Ten(-ish) minutes and you have something satisfying on a cold Chicago night.  It's been raining all day, so I needed the savory comfort of umami.

8 oz baby bella mushrooms, sliced
8 oz oyster mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
8 oz button mushrooms, sliced
1 large onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
16 oz. baby spinach
2 tsp olive oil
2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
pinch of crushed red pepper
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 Tbl fresh parsley, chopped
3 cups cooked barley, divided.

In a large skillet, heat oil until it shimmers.  Add onions, season with salt and crushed red pepper, and saute until tender (about five to seven minutes).  Add mushrooms and saute until browned, roughly 10 minutes.  Stir in garlic, rosemary, and thyme, and cook for two minutes.  Deglaze pan with the vinegar, and add spinach, parsley, and 1 1/2 cups of barley.  Remove from heat and toss to wilt the spinach.  Divide remaining barley onto four plates, and spoon mixture on top.  Serve immediately.

Note:  You can use only one kind of mushroom.  I just like the subtleties the variety provides.  This also turns into one heck of a soup.  Just add all of the barley with 4 cups vegetable stock or water, bring to a boil and simmer for ten minutes.  Add spinach at the very end.

Tip:  Dried rosemary and thyme are great in this dish, if you don't have fresh herbs on hand.  General rule of thumb, use half the amount of dried herbs as fresh.  But never use dried parsley.  It's gross and flavorless and annoying.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Cold Weather Comfort


It's snowing.

And whenever the weather turns nasty, I become incredibly lazy.  And hungry.  I don't want to leave the house, so it's time for a good old pantry raid to see what I can cook up for dinner.  Black beans, quinoa, canned tomatoes. A jalapeño dying in the fridge and an avocado ripening on the counter.

Sounds like soup to me!

Tomato and Black Bean Soup with Quinoa

Warm and satisfying, this protein packed soup is great for those cold nights in front of the tube.  And all you really need is a can opener!  Try serving it with cornbread, baked polenta cakes, or a simple green salad.

4 cups black beans (2 16oz cans)
canned whole tomatoes (28 oz)
2 Tbl olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 jalapeño, minced
1 1/2 Tbl cumin
1 tsp chipotle powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 cups water
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 cups cooked quinoa
salt n' pepper

In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and saute onions, jalapeño, and garlic until softened, about five minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add cumin, chipotle, and cinnamon and cook for two minutes or so allowing the spices to bloom.

Using your hands, squish the tomatoes to break them into more palatable chunks. (This is great for the kids to do!)  Add tomatoes and their liquid to the pot along with the black beans.  Give a good stir to combine.  Add water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes.  Add cilantro.  Transfer 1/3 of the soup to a food processor or blender and puree.  Or, give a couple of pulses with an immersion blender.  Return to pot.  This helps give the soup some body.  Stir in quinoa and serve.

Garnish with avocado slices and cilantro.

TIP:  Make a double batch of quinoa so you have some for later in the week.  Store in an air-tight container in the fridge.

TIP:  This soup freezes beautifully! 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Some Mediterranean Lentil Love

I love rapini.

It's kind of like if spinach and broccoli had a baby and the baby was bitter about it. Also known as broccoli rabe, it's (oddly enough) a member of the turnip family and has a nutty, slightly bitter taste.  Super nutritious and easy to prepare, this super green veggie is perfect for a side dish or as a component in a larger dish.

Like this...

Rapini with Red Lentils

The slightly bitter notes of the rapini play beautifully against the sweetness of the carrots and onions as well as the briney hues of the capers.

1 cup red lentils
1 bunch rapini
2 carrots, diced into 1/2" cubes
1 rib celery, diced
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbl capers, drained
2 Tbl red wine vinegar
2 Tbl olive oil
1 Tbl fresh rosemary
1/4 cup fresh parsley

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil.  Add lentils, reduce heat, and cover.  Cook for about 15 minutes (but you may want to check them after ten as red lentils cook pretty quickly). Drain and set aside.

While the lentils cook, fill a large, deep skillet about 2/3 of the way with water.  Salt liberally and bring to a boil.  Trim the ends of the rapini and plunge into the water.  Cook for about 2-3 minutes until bright green and tender.  Drain rapini and set aside.

Return pan to heat.  Drizzle in oil and saute onions for five minutes.  Add carrots, celery, garlic, and rosemary.  Cook until carrots begin to soften, about five to seven minutes.  Add rapini, lentils, capers, vinegar, and parsley.  Stir to combine and cook until heated through.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately.