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.