Thursday, July 24, 2014

Grilled Ham and Cheddar with Strawberries and Arugula

As I am wont to do in my culinary experimentation, I've gotten into a bit of a phase - sandwiches with fresh fruit. This certainly isn't an original idea on my part, but with all the amazing fruit I've been getting at the farmers' market lately, I've been inspired to keep going beyond the leftover cranberry turkey sandwich I devour so voraciously at Thanksgiving.

The croque monsieur and Monte Cristo may be the reigning royalty of ham and cheese sandwiches, but this quicker, healthier alternative isn't all that far behind. Sharp cheddar cheese is an obvious partner for smoky ham, and the sweet strawberries, bitter arugula, and tangy Dijon mayo hit all the taste buds those featured players miss. I find myself rushing around even more than usual these days, and this has made meal time especially important, my time to refuel and recoup mental and physically. Even if there's just a small window for a bite to eat, there's almost always time for a sandwich. And if I can sneak in a bit of time for few simple, delicious finishing touches, it makes it all the better.

Grilled Ham and Cheddar with Strawberries and Arugula
serves 1

1/2 tablespoon light mayo
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Splash of balsamic vinegar
2 slices whole grain bread
2 or 3 medium to large strawberries, thinly slicd
A few leaves of arugula (about 1/4 ounce)
2 to 3 ounces sliced smoked ham
1 ounce shredded or thinly sliced sharp cheddar cheese
Cooking spray

1. In a small bowl, combine mayo, mustard, and vinegar and mix thoroughly. Spread on one slice of the bread. Top with the strawberries, lightly smashing them.

2. Place the arugula on the second slice of bread and top with the ham and cheese. Place the other slice of bread on top.

3. Preheat a pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Place the sandwich in the pan and cook, flipping once halfway through, until bread is golden and ingredients are warmed through. Cut sandwich in half and serve promptly.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Grilled Ham and Chèvre with Raspberries and Arugula

Leftover turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving is what first introduced me to the idea of fruit and meat together in a sandwich. As soon as I discovered that delicious combination, no Thanksgiving was complete without it, but with my kid palate, I didn't give it much more though than that. Then I discovered the glorious Monte Cristo in high school, which just isn't complete without a smear of strawberry jam. Now I especially love apples and pears and on my grilled cheese, apricots with pork, and avocado with practically everything, so it should come as no surprise that I'm embracing all the wonderful local berries of the farmers' market on my sandwiches.

Although I put uncommon (some might say excessive) thought into almost everything I eat, I never ceased to be amazed by how a simple meal, like a sandwich and chips (kale, in the above picture), can really turn a day around when I'm feeling drained. Whether I'm mentally fatigued from stress or physically fatigued from manual labor, sitting down to a good meal can turn it all around, even if it's ready a few minutes later because I need to prep all the accouterments. And it's all the little touches here that make this sandwich special. The smoky ham and tangy goat cheese form the savory core, but the sweet-tart raspberries, peppery arugula, and creamy mayo mixture make them even better by hitting every kind of taste bud in each bite.

Grilled Ham and Chèvre with Raspberries and Arugula
serves 1

1/2 tablespoon light mayo
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Splash of balsamic vinegar
2 slices whole grain bread
1/4 cup fresh raspberries
A few leaves of arugula (about 1/4 ounce)
2 to 3 ounces sliced smoked ham
1 ounce goat cheese, sliced or crumbled
Cooking spray

1. In a small bowl, combine mayo, mustard, and vinegar and mix thoroughly. Spread on one slice of the bread. Top with the raspberries, lightly smashing them to an almost jam-like consistency.

2. Place the arugula on the second slice of bread and top with the ham and cheese. Place the other slice of bread on top.

3. Preheat a pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Place the sandwich in the pan and cook, flipping once halfway through, until bread is golden and ingredients are warmed through. Cut sandwich in half and serve promptly.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Baked Banana Bread Oatmeal

I've been baking my steel-cut oats for years. Baking steel-cut oats takes a few hours of moderately attended time on the stove to 30 minutes of hands-off time in the oven, but I'd never thought much about applying the same approach to old-fashioned oats. After all, they cook fairly quickly on the stove top, even faster in the microwave, and can even be soaked for overnight oats instead. But with a little extra time for a leisurely breakfast on the 4th of July, the idea crept back into my mind, and since it was a holiday, I decided to make them extra luxurious.

Coconut oil has made the rounds as the latest super health food, but I eat it because it is delicious. I've always loved coconut-flavored foods and I'm happy it has gone from culinary villain to nutritional superstar (like another favorite, eggs) so I can eat it without guilt. And the glorious tablespoon in this recipe is really what takes it from good to exceptional. Banana, walnuts, and cinnamon call up all the familiar favorite flavors of banana bread, but coconut oil makes it as delicious as a piece slathered in butter. I like the complex sweetness of maple syrup here, but just as you may choose the lower calorie option of milk or banana, you may want to reduce or eliminate the amount of sweetener. (Like I said, this was a holiday breakfast for me.)

The recipe here is for an individual serving, but this is a great opportunity to scale up for a crowd of people or many breakfasts for one. With all the ingredients at the ready, it's easy to make several servings with individualized additions at once, which can either be baked in individual ramekins or a jumbo-sized muffin pan.

Baked Banana Bread Oatmeal
serves 1
adapted from Chocolate-Covered Katie

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
Pinch of kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
2 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts or pecans
2 tablespoon mashed banana
3 tablespoons milk of choice
1 tablespoon coconut oil, coconut butter, or melted butter (you can substitute extra milk or banana, but it will be much less rich)
1 tablespoon maple syrup, honey, or brown sugar, or to taste

1.Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a small baking pan, loaf pan, or 1-cup ramekin with cooking spray.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together oats, salt, cinnamon, nuts, and brown sugar (if using). In a separate bowl, mix together banana, milk, coconut oil, and maple syrup/honey (if using). Add wet ingredients to try and mix to thoroughly combine.

3. Pour mixture into baking dish and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until firm. (Cooking time will vary based on the baking dish and whether or not you used oil). Raise the heat to broil and continue cooking for 3 to 5 more minutes or until the top has a nice crust. Turn oatmeal out onto a separate dish, if desired, and serve promptly.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Greens, Pear, and Ginger Smoothie

Although some parts of my gardens have taken some real hits from gopher activity, what I call my "salad garden" is actually doing pretty well. The ample supply of lettuce, arugula, and multiple kinds of kale has definitely dampened the pain of my eggplant casualties and I've been happily squeezing those garden-fresh greens into my diet at every available opportunity. There have been salads and kale chips and leisurely weekend omelettes galore, but my quick weekday breakfasts can definitely benefit from a bit more of the green stuff too.

It wasn't always the case, but smoothies have become a regular part of my weekday routine, and I quite often squeeze in a little bit of extra nutrition by burying some greens in my fruity smoothies. Despite its place the forefront of the health food craze, raw kale can be a little too much for some people, so use spinach if the bitterness is too much. Sweet pear and honey counteract some of the assertive kale flavor, with the sour lemon juice and spicy ginger doing their part as well. Adding chia seeds or flaxseed, especially if you let them soak overnight, will thicken the smoothie up, but it's ready to drink as soon as you finished blending it.

Greens, Pear, and Ginger Smoothie
serves 1

1 to 1 1/2 cups dairy or non-dairy milk of choice (or coconut water)
2 ounces baby spinach or kale, washed and dried
1 ripe pear, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon freshly-grated ginger
1 teaspoon honey or agave, or to taste (optional)
1 tablespoon chia seeds or ground flaxseed, optional.

1. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Asparagus, Mushroom, and Provolone Wraps with Swiss Chard Pecan Pesto

One of my big "secrets" to feeding myself well and in a hurry is having a cache of delicious sauces at the ready. I prefer the nights when I can linger over the cooking and eating of my dinner, but when things are busy, I follow a general recipe of protein + veggie + grain + sauce, using whatever I happen to have on hand that sounds good. Often I resort to a bottle of teriyaki sauce from Whole Foods, but it is so much better when I can dip into a batch of homemade spicy peanut sauce or pesto, like this one.

There are some pesto purists out there that might object to a non-pine nut and basil-based recipe, but I'm not one of them. As long as the combination of greens/herbs, nuts, and cheese is delicious one, I'm all for it, and I might even eat a vegan pesto from time to time. This wonderfully rich and savory sauce is a happy companion to pasta, as pestos tend to be, but there are so many more possibilities, like this wrap.

I've included instructions for cooking the asparagus and mushrooms from scratch, but I came up with the wrap when I had extra grilled asparagus and mushrooms from my Father's Day cookout to use up. If I'm firing up the grill, I always cook beyond the meal I'm about to eat because nothing beat the smoky caramelization al fresco cooking achieves. Pesto adds another savory layer to charred vegetables and smoky provolone in this simple wrap, a satisfying sandwich for carnivores and vegetarians alike. Although I definitely prefer this warm, it's still pretty good cold, so give it a try even if you don't have the time or tools for a hot wrap.

The pesto recipe makes far more sauce than you'll need for these wraps, so get creative with the rest. After you've had a bowl or two of pasta, try drizzling some on your eggs, perking up a tuna melt, making a salad dressing, or combining it with whatever protein and veggies are on the menu that day.

Asparagus, Mushroom, and Provolone Wraps with Swiss Chard Pecan Pesto
pesto adapted from The Kitchn
makes  approximately 1 1/2 cups

For the pesto:
1/2 cup chopped pecans
8 ounces Swiss chard, trimmed, rinsed and chopped
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

For the wrap (ingredients per wrap) :
4 ounces asparagus, trimmed
4 ounces cremini, shiitake, or portobello mushrooms, thickly slice
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 whole grain tortilla
1 to 2 slices provolone cheese

For the pesto:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast them in the oven until they are golden and fragrant, about 10 minutes

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Have a large bowl of cold water ready. Drop the chopped Swiss chard into the boiling water. When the water returns to a boil, swirl the kale around a few times until it becomes limp.

3. Drain the Swiss chard and plunge it into the cold water. Drain again, then place the chard on a clean dishtowel and blot away the moisture.

4. Place the nuts, chard, Parmesan, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a blender and puree until uniformly smooth. You may need to add more olive oil to reach desired consistency.

5. To refrigerate, cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pesto. Will stay fresh for up to 3 days. To freeze, place desired portions in small containers with plastic directly on the surface of the pesto, or place in plastic freezer bags, and freeze for up to two months.

For the wrap:
1. Prepare a grill over medium-high heat. Meanwhile toss asparagus spears and sliced mushrooms with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill vegetables until charred in spots and tender, about 2 to 4 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the asparagus spears and mushroom slices. (Alternatively, saute the vegetables in a pan over medium to medium high heat).

2. Preheat a pan over medium heat. Lay tortilla on a flat surface and place cheese in the center of the tortilla, cutting slice(s) in half, if necessary. Top with asparagus spears and then sliced mushrooms, and drizzle a tablespoon or two of pesto over the top. Roll up the tortilla, using a little extra pesto to help seal, and place, seam side down, in the pan. Cook until tortilla is golden brown and cheese is melted, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Slice in half and serve promptly, with extra pesto on the side.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Pomegranate Banana Oatmeal Smoothie

I don't juice, in the steroid or produce fashion. In my mind, juicing is just a fad that, while at least getting people to drink something better than soda, is just a way of removing all the fiber from what could be a much more nutritious and satisfying use of fruits and vegetables. Smoothies, on the other hand, those I'm all about. You can probably blame my grandma's homemade Orange Julius' for the beginning of my smoothie adoration, but now they're a much more frequently an easy way to enjoy a nutritious breakfast no matter what else is going on.

This smoothie has a short list of ingredients and each one is really important to texture, flavor, and nutrition of this tasty breakfast. The oats provide whole grains and a hint of texture, yogurt brings filling protein and creaminess, banana adds a bit of sweetness and thickness, with the honey balancing out the sweet-tart antioxidant punch of the pomegranate juice. I err on the side of tart with this recipe, but you may want to increase the honey if you've got a real sweet tooth or want to enjoy this as a dessert(-ish) treat instead. And if you don't mind sullying its beautiful ruby hue, tossing in a handful of greens is great way to squeeze a little extra nutrition in as well.

Pomegranate Banana Oatmeal Smoothie
serves 1

1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup plain (or vanilla) low-fat yogurt (soy or coconut milk yogurt for vegans)
1 banana, preferably frozen, sliced
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1 teaspoon honey or agave, or to taste

1. In a blender, combine oats, yogurt, banana, juice, and honey; puree until smooth. Serve immediately.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Stir-Fried Asian Greens and Mushrooms

I am a shameless bargain hunter, even at the farmers' market. So when I saw that one of my favorite farms had a special on mustard greens and mizuna, I had to pick up one of each. Mustard greens have become more well-known in recent years, appearing in Indian, African, Chinese, and Japanese cuisine, but mizuna hasn't reached quite the same level of awareness. Mizuna, also known as Japanese mustard, is a peppery green, with a flavor similar to arugula, though a little less assertive in my opinion. It can be pickled, incorporated into a salad (e.g. in lieu of frisee), or, as I have chosen to do here, used in a stir-fry.

With leftover rice or a rice cooker, this meal truly takes 20 minutes, and would take even a bit less with pre-sliced mushrooms. While the mushrooms cook, there's time chop the greens and whisk the sauce together, which cook up quickly as soon as they get tossed in the pan. The earthy mushrooms and piquant greens complement each other nicely, but it's the balanced sweet, savory, toasty sauce that brings everything together. This would be a fine side dish on its own, but becomes a meal over a bed of rice or noodles, and more satisfying one with the addition of tofu, chicken, beef, or pork.

I used cremini mushrooms and mizuna to start, but there's certainly room to experiment with shiitakes, oyster mushrooms, hen of the woods, or just plain old button mushrooms. I like the peppery punch of mizuna, but bok choy or tatsoi would make fine substitutions, as could other non-Asian greens like mustard greens or even collards or kale. The bottom line - pick a mushroom, pick a green, and get to cooking.

Stir-Fried Asian Greens and Mushrooms
adapted from Gourmet
serves 2

8 ounces mushrooms (shiitake, cremini, etc.), sliced
1 tablespoon canola oil
Kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons rice vinegar (not seasoned)
1.5 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/4 teaspoons sugar or honey
3/4 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
3/4 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
4 to 5 ounces Asian greens (mizuna, tatsoi, etc.), chopped into large pieces
Rice, noodles, or other grain, for serving (optional)
Sriracha or other hot sauce, for serving (optional)

1. Preheat a pan over medium high heat. Add oil, and when it begins to shimmer, add mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are browned and tender, about 5 minutes. Add mizuna and cook, stirring frequently, until the greens are slightly wilted, another 1 or 2 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, whisk vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, ginger, and sesame oil together in a small bowl. Pour vinegar mixture over vegetables and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until sauce coats all the vegetables and is cooked to desired consistency, usually another 2 to 4 minutes. Serve promptly over rice or noodles, drizzled with hot sauce, if desired.