Thursday, August 29, 2013

Creamy Red Potato Salad

I can't believe we're already at summer's end. While I am anxious to transition into fall, my favorite season, Labor Day weekend is one last chance to enjoy the trappings of summer. There are many foods I rarely eat if not at a backyard barbecue or picnic, potato salad being one of them. The last time I was struck by a craving I was dining solo, so I decided to create a single-serving recipe. I really enjoy experimenting with recipes on the single serving scale, which gives me the opportunity to adjust the balance of flavors many times before presenting my newest creation to a crowd (though I'll do a bit of tweaking at that scale too). Most of the time I gravitate towards the vinegary potato salads instead of the heavy, creamy variety, but this simple dressing strikes a nice balance between the two. A generous helping of fresh herbs helps give the potato salad a lighter feel, and nearly any one you love will do, with dill being my personal favorite. There's no reason to skip this starchy delight when you're dining alone, a perfect partner to a meaty meal off the grill or a towering sandwich from the deli.

Creamy Red Potato Salad
serves 1

6 ounces baby red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
1 1/2 tablespoons light or regular mayo (or sour cream or yogurt)
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped herbs (dill, chives, parsley, etc.)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl whisk together mayo, mustard, vinegar, and herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add hot potatoes to mayo mixture and toss to coat evenly. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Linguine with Scallion Sauce and Sauteed Shrimp

I hate waste. But despite all my best efforts, when I buy a bunch of scallions, some of them too often end up going to waste. Part of the generous bunches I pick up for a penance at the farmers' market linger the fridge, their greens slowly wilting to a sad, wrinkly pile destined for the compost heap. It's not that I don't like scallions, but in most of the recipes I cook that use them, scallions are an accent rather rather than the main event. This simple recipe makes scallions the star, the whites pairing with garlic and red pepper to infuse the shrimp with lively flavor and the greens pureed to a fresh sauce that unites the delicate shrimp and hearty pasta. While created as a way to use up oft-neglected vegetables, this pasta is delicious enough warrant to their specific purchase, the scallion sauce also a wonderful companion for chicken and other summer vegetables like zucchini, corn, and tomatoes. For an extra rich note, add a sprinkling of Parmesan, feta, or goat cheese certainly wouldn't be unwelcome, a final special touch to a vibrantly summer meal.

Linguine with Scallion Sauce and Sauteed Shrimp
adapted from Gourmet
serves 4

3/4 pound scallions (about 3 large bunches)
8 garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound medium shrimp (about 24)
12 pound dried whole wheat spaghetti or linguine
6 to 7 tablespoons olive oil

1. Cut enough of scallion greens into 2-inch pieces to measure 3 cups and finely chop white parts. Mince garlic. Shell and devein shrimp.

2. Fill a 6-quart pasta pot three fourths full with salted water and bring to a boil for scallion greens and pasta.

3. In a deep 12-inch heavy skillet cook finely chopped scallions in 2 tablespoons oil over moderately low heat, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a blender and wipe skillet clean.

4. Blanch scallion greens in boiling water 30 seconds and with a slotted spoon transfer to blender. Transfer 1/4 cup scallion water to blender and reserve water remaining in pot over low heat, covered. Blend scallion mixture with 2 tablespoons oil until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Season sauce with salt and pepper.

5. In skillet heat 2 tablespoons oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and sauté half of shrimp, turning them, until golden brown on both sides and just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer shrimp to a plate and keep warm, covered. Sauté remaining shrimp in same manner, adding remaining tablespoon oil if necessary, and keep warm in skillet, covered.

6. Return water in pot to a boil. Cook pasta in boiling water, stirring occasionally, until al dente and ladle out and reserve 1 cup pasta water. Drain pasta in a colander and add pasta and shrimp to skillet with sauce and 1/4 cup reserved pasta water. Heat mixture over low heat, gently tossing (and adding more pasta water as needed if mixture becomes dry), until just heated through.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Grilled Zucchini, Corn, and Goat Cheese Salad

I've not yet met a vegetable that I couldn't grill. During the colder months I have a tendency to default to roasting vegetables, but it summer I'll toss almost anything on the grill. Meat tends to be the focus of grilling endeavors, but veggies deserve just as much attention. And if you're going to the trouble to fire up the grill for your steak, why not throw some corn and zucchini as well? That very action (along with the stereotypical bumper crop of zucchini) was the impetus for creating this recipe. I like to grill my vegetables until they get a nice char and infusion of smoky flavor, while still crisp enough to hold their shape, but in a pinch any prepared zucchini or corn would work here. The pungent goat cheese, fresh dill, and toasty walnuts are the perfect complements to the smoky grilled veggies, a wonderful balance of satisfying richness and light freshness.

If you've grown tired of bread, muffins, fritters, cookies, soup, salmon cakes, sandwiches, and burgers (or share my craving for constant variety) and still have zucchini left to use, give this recipe a try. With just a few extra minutes time at the next grill out you'll have the makings of a light and delicious meal to balance out a carnivorous barbecue indulgence.

Grilled Zucchini, Corn, and Goat Cheese Salad
serves 1

1 to 2 ounces baby spinach or lettuce, washed (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons thinly sliced or chopped red onion
4 ounces roasted or grilled zucchini
2 tablespoons roasted corn
2 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts
1/2 ounce crumbled goat (or feta) cheese
1/2 tablespoon fresh dill
Salad dressing, for serving

1. Distribute greens evenly on a plate and and top with red onion, zucchini, corn, walnuts, and goat cheese. Sprinkle dill over the top, drizzle with dressing of choice and enjoy!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Cheesy" Kale Chips

I know kale chips have become quite popular in recent years, and as much as I like to buck the trends sometimes, I have to admit that they are damn tasty. So tasty in fact, that companies think they can charge $6 for a 2 ounce bag! Granted, these commercial varieties are usually dressed up with a delicious seasoning and I make the simple olive oil, salt, and pepper variety, but that price tag is just ridiculous. Commercial kale chips are also never going to be as good as the ones you make yourself, so I decided to take on the modest challenge of dressing mine up a bit.

Nutritional yeast is one of those "hippie" ingredients I've heard about for eons, often as a popcorn topping, but never used myself. I'm vehemently opposed to fake cheese or cheese substitutes of any kind, so perhaps it was the perpetual "cheesy" description that put me off. Once I got around to trying it out myself, I had to admit it is kind of accurate (if you're a vegan, this is probably as close to cheese flavor as you're going to get). I more think of it as adding a concentrated savoriness, and a subtle dusting make these chips feel like super-healthy Doritos instead of super-healthy potato chips. And who can't use an extra boost of B-vitamins? My omnivorous diet may not leave me lacking in those vital nutrients, but I'll certainly take an extra energy boost wherever I can get it. A recipe like this almost makes me feel like a Portlandia-esque parody, but as long as I'm not ironically enjoying these kale chips, I think I'm in the clear.

"Cheesy" Kale Chips
serves 1

2 ounces baby kale leaves (or mature kale, cut into small pieces), washed
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon nutritional yeast

1. Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F and prepare a cookie sheet.

2. Toss kale with olive oil and salt in a large bowl and spread in an even layer on the cookie sheet. Roast, turning frequently, until leave are crispy have a touch of browning around the edges, about 22 to27 minutes.

3. Remove kale from the cookie sheet and return to bowl. While kale is warm, add nutritional yeast and toss gently to coat. Serve promptly.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Best-Ever Beet and Bean Burgers

On weekdays, I'm typically all about quick and easy, but on the weekends I can I like to dive into culinary projects. These burgers are one such labor of love. I'm not going to lie to you and say that these aren't somewhat of a project, as many different components have to be prepared before mixing everything together, but with a free afternoon and little bit of planning, you can have hearty cache of meals. In order to keep the process moving along as efficiently as possible, I cooked the onions and processed the beans while the beets were roasting in the oven and rice was cooking in the rice cooker.

Although it should be obvious, if you HATE beets, you should probably skip this burger. While the flavor doesn't smack in you in the face, it can't be completely ignored. But if you're on the fence about beets or looking to give them another try, this burger might be the right way to go. Beets were not a vegetable that I grew up with (my dad was subjected to the overcooked 1950s version and didn't want to do the same to me), so I didn't really get to know this vegetable until it arrived in a CSA box a few years ago. I'll admit that undercooked beets still taste a bit like dirt to me, but I've really come around on this veggie, particularly the pickled and roasted varieties. The double-cooking of the beets in this burger gives them a deep flavor, long roasting process bringing out their inherent sweetness and pan-searing creating a glorious layer of caramelization. Black beans provide the hearty backbone of these sturdy burgers with starchy support from rice and oats and vegetal reinforcement from the onions and garlic. The prunes and cider vinegar were the real surprise ingredients, the former adding a complementary and binding sweetness, the acidic punch of the latter elevating the carefully curated list of spices.

Though the long list of ingredients and instructions may seem overwhelming or intimidating, if you've got a couple hours and want to meditate through the rhythms of the kitchen (as I do), this recipe was made for you. Each shred, stir, and slice melts a little stress away, feeding the soul in the present and the body in the future.

Best-Ever Beet and Bean Burgers
adapted from The Kitchn (inspired by the veggie burgers at Northstar Cafe in Columbus, Ohio)
Makes about 6 burgers

3 large red beets (about 1 pound)
1/2 cup brown rice (uncooked)
1 medium yellow or white onion, diced small
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (gluten-free, if necessary)
2 (15.5-ounce) cans black beans
1/4 cup prunes, chopped into small pieces.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons spicy brown or dijon mustard
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 large egg (optional for non-vegan burgers)
Salt and pepper

To serve:
Sliced cheese (provolone, jack, cheddar, Swiss, etc.) (optional for non-vegan burgers)
6 hamburger buns
Condiments and toppings of your choice

1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Wrap the beets loosely in aluminum foil and roast until easily pierced with a fork, 50 to 60 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. Meanwhile, bring a 2-quart pot of water to a boil. Salt the water generously and add the rice. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the rice until it's a little beyond al dente. You want it a little over-cooked, but still firm (not completely mushy). This should take about 35 to 40 minutes. Drain the rice and set it aside to cool. (You can also use an equivalent amount of leftover rice or prepare rice using a rice cooker).

3. Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Stir the onions every minute or two, and cook until they are golden and getting charred around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. A few wisps of smoke as you are cooking is ok, but if it seems that the onions are burning, lower the heat. A dark, sticky crust should develop on the bottom of the pan.

4. Add the garlic and cook until it is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the cider vinegar and scrape up the dark sticky crust. Continue to simmer until the cider has evaporated and the pan is nearly dry again. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

5. Process the oats in a food processor until they have reduced to a fine flour. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

6. Drain and rinse one of the cans of beans and transfer the beans to the food processor. Scatter the prunes on top. Pulse in 1-second bursts just until the beans are roughly chopped — not so long that they become mush — 8 to 10 pulses. Transfer this mixture to a large mixing bowl. Drain and rinse the second can of beans and add these whole beans to the mixing bowl as well.

7. Use the edge of a spoon or a paper towel to scrape the skins off the cooled roasted beets; the skins should slip off easily. Grate the peeled beets on the largest holes of a box grater. Transfer the beet gratings to a strainer set over the sink. Press and squeeze the beet gratings to remove as much liquid as possible from the beets. (You can also do this over a bowl and save the beet juice for another purpose.)

8. Transfer the squeezed beets, cooked rice, and sautéed onions to the bowl with the beans. Sprinkle the olive oil, brown mustard, smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, and thyme over the top of the mixture. Mix all the ingredients until combined. Taste the mixture and add salt, pepper, or any additional spices or flavorings to taste. Finally, add the oatmeal flour and egg (if using), and mix until you no longer see any dry oatmeal or egg.

9. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or transfer the mixture to a refrigerator container, and refrigerate the burger mixture for at least 2 hours or (ideally) overnight. The mix can also be kept refrigerated for up to three days before cooking.

10. When ready to cook the burgers, first shape them into burgers. Scoop up about a scant cup of the burger mixture and shape it between your palms into a thick patty the size of your hamburger buns. You should end up with 6 large patties.

11. Heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add a few tablespoons of vegetable oil to completely coat the bottom of the pan. When you see the oil shimmer a flick of water evaporates on contact, the pan is ready.

12. Transfer the patties to the pan. Cook as many as will fit without crowding; I normally cook 3 patties at a time in my 10-inch cast iron skillet.

13. Cook the patties for 2 minutes, then flip them to the other side. You should see a nice crust on the cooked side. If any pieces break off when you flip the burgers, just pat them back into place with the spatula. Cook for another 2 minutes, then cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for 4 more minutes until the patties are warmed through. If you're adding cheese, lay a slice over the burgers in the last minute of cooking.Serve the veggie burgers on soft burger buns or lightly toasted sandwich bread along with some fresh greens.
Recipe Notes:

• Freezing Burgers: Burgers can be frozen raw or cooked. Wrap each burger individually in plastic or between sheets of parchment paper, and freeze. Raw burgers are best if thawed in the fridge overnight before cooking. Cooked burgers can be reheated in the oven, a toaster oven, or the microwave.

• Grilling Burgers: While I haven't had a chance to try grilling these burgers, they are firm enough to do well on a grill, particularly if you cook them in a grill pan or other device. You may also want to add an egg to the mix to help the burgers hold together better.

• Making Your Own Beans: Northstar makes their own black beans for their burgers. If you would like to do this, try cooking your beans with an onion, a clove or two of garlic, and some dried ancho or chipotle chile peppers for extra flavor.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Pesto Zucchini Melt

The zucchini just keeps a'coming, and so do the recipes I have to share. While most of what I've shared so far this season has been my take on someone else's recipe, this was the first recipe the came to me without any external inspiration. As a born-and-bred Wisconsin girl I've made my fair share of fancy grilled cheeses, so it only seems natural that use that template to use up the bountiful crop my Wisconsin garden has bestowed upon me. Zucchini is admittedly mostly a good canvas, so the gooey cheese and herby pesto are the real stars here, providing a fresh and crunchy base nicely contrasted by a hint of sharp red onion. With a plentiful herb garden I also have a plethora of homemade pestos at my disposal, but this is scrumptious with even the store bought variety. Pesto, whether store-bought or homemade, is one of the best shortcut ingredients to keep around, punching up pastas, proteins, eggs, sandwiches, and salads with minimal effort. All the satisfying richness of grilled cheese, with an element of sneaky vegetable nutrition, this twist on a comforting classic is a winter staple with a bit of summer soul.

Pesto Zucchini Melt
serves 1

1/2 cup shredded zucchini
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon mayo
1 tablespoon pesto
2 tablespoons thinly sliced red onion
Whole grain tortilla, bread, or pita
1 ounce thinly sliced or shredded mozzarella and/or provolone
Canola or olive oil cooking spray

1. Place shredded zucchini in a colander, sprinkle with salt, and toss to combine. Allow to drain for at least 15 minutes, then squeeze in a paper towel to remove excess moisture.

2. Mix zucchini, mayo, and pesto together in small bowl. Spread mixture evenly one one slice of bread, top with red onion and cheese, and place second slice of bread on top.

3. Preheat a pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Add sandwich and cook, flipping once, until filling is warm and cheese is melted, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Remove from pan, slice in half, and serve promptly.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Grilled Tacos with Poblanos and Corn

This began as a tuna tacos, morphed into pork tacos, and has ended up as my choose-your-own-protein-adventure taco recipe of the summer. Although I've found it suits nearly any protein, for me this really started with the poblanos and corn.

It would be hard to pick the one thing I most anticipate arriving at the farmers' market, but it just might be sweet corn. I pick up a few ears every week that it's available to grill and slather in butter, and that preparation is so perfect that sometimes I forget to use it anything else. Poblanos are probably my favorite pepper, the perfect combination of flavor and heat for salsa, tacos, or nearly any other Mexican dish you throw at them. It was with these two ingredients that I cemented the idea of grilling tacos for dinner one Sunday night, the protein of choice (tuna steak), one of convenience rather than inspiration. My search for fish tacos led to the typical white fish recipes and my base recipe, courtesy of Eating Well. When I discovered that my hearty tuna steak was a delicious choice in lieu of lighter tilapia, I was prompted to try additional proteins, finding them just as successful. Each one complements and contrasts differently, but the simple dressing of bright lime, smoky cumin, and earthy oregano finds nearly universal success. You can easily further dress up these tacos with jalapeno slices, cilantro, and salsa if you like, but even in their simplest incarnation you won't be left wanting.

Grilled Tacos with Poblanos and Corn
adapted from Eating Well
serves 1 to 2

1 poblano pepper
1 small red onion, cut in half
1 ear corn on the cob, husk and silks removed
1/2 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
4- to 6-ounce tuna steak or other protein of choice (tilapia, pork cutlets/tenderloin, steak, chicken breasts/thighs, firm tofu, portabello mushrooms etc.)
3 to 4 corn tortillas, for serving
Salsa, for serving
Sliced jalapeno, for serving (optional)
Fresh chopped cilantro, for garnish

1. Prepre a gas grill over high heat. Meanwhile, brush cut sides of onion, poblano, and corn with oil and season with salt and pepper.

2. Once grill is hot, reduce to heat to medium high and brush with oil. Add onion, poblano, and corn and grill, turning periodically, until surfaces are blistered and blackened, about 4 to 6 minutes per side for the onion and poblano, 2 minutes for the corn (four sides). Remove from heat and allow to rest until they can be easily handled. Remove blackened skin from poblano, if desired, slice pepper and onions, and place in a medium bowl. Remove 1/4 cup corn from corn cob, add to the bowl, and toss everything with lime juice and spices.

3. Season tuna steak or pork cutlets with salt and pepper. Generously oil the grill again and add tuna or pork.

For tuna: Allow to cook until fish releases easily from the grate, about 4 minutes. Flip fish and continue cooking to desired level of doneness, usually about another 4 minutes for the other side. Remove fish from grill, allow to rest for a few minutes, and flake into large pieces.

For pork cutlets: Grill 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until internal mixture reaches 160 degrees F. Allow to rest for a few minutes, and thinly slice.

Add protein to vegetable mixture and toss to combine.

4. Wrap tortillas in paper towels and microwave until warm and pliable, about 30 seconds. Add vegetable mixture to tortillas, garnishing with salsa, jalapeno, and cilantro. Serve promptly.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Zucchini Quinoa Burgers

As I've mentioned before, veggie burgers are one of my staple lunches and finding recipes to use up  my ample zucchini crop is my primary culinary concerns of the moment. When I found a recipe from one of my favorite sources that combined these two culinary projects, I knew there was no way I could pass it up. And I was certainly not disappointed with my choice.

The structure of these burgers is made of three subtly flavored canvases - zucchini, chickpeas, and quinoa - with a light and lively flavor coming from a combination of fresh herbs, Dijon, lemon juice, and smoked paprika. The dill is the most aromatic and forward of all the flavors, its scent instantly perfuming the air, followed quickly by zesty Dijon, earthy oregano, smoky paprika, and bright lemon. Each of these flavors hits your taste buds at a slightly different time, the taste evolving slowly as you taste each bite.

The texture is, as always with veggie burgers, the greatest challenge here, but if you take a little care when shaping and flipping, you shouldn't have too much trouble keeping these patties together. (And the great thing is, if they do seem like they might fall apart, you have the perfect excuse to melt some cheese on top). I've frozen uncooked and cooked burgers and they both fared well in future feasts, a perfect way to resurrect this plentiful summer veggie in just a couple of days or when the snow begins to fly.

Zucchini Quinoa Burgers
adapted from Food52
makes 6 burgers

2 tablespoons olive or canola oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup onion, chopped finely
1 1/2  cups zucchini, julienned on a mandolin or grated on the largest setting of a box grater
1/2 cup pumpkin or sunflower seeds, raw or toasted
3/4 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
Black pepper to taste
1 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas (1/2 heaping cup dry or one 15-ounce can, rinsed and drained)
1 cup cooked quinoa (1/3 cup dry)
2/3 cups water
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1. To prepare chickpeas, soak beans overnight. In the morning, rinse them and discard soak water. Place beans in a pot with enough water to submerge them by several inches. Heat to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 45 min to an hour, or until beans are tender. Drain and store in the fridge for up to three days.

2. To prepare quinoa, rinse quinoa in a sieve. Add to a small pot and add 2/3 cups water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook, with a lid slightly ajar on the pot, until the water is absorbed and you can see the thin “ribs” of the quinoa becoming detached from the grain. Fluff, cover, and let sit for a few moments. Store in the fridge for up to three or four days.

3. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium sauce pan. Saute onion and garlic until tender. Add zucchini, and continue to saute until zucchini is cooked through and onion is translucent. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

3. Grind seeds, sea salt, and pepper in a food processor till they’re broken into a fine meal.
Add quinoa, chickpeas, the dijon mustard, lemon, dill, paprika, and oregano to the mixture. Pulse to combine a few times. Then, run the motor to continue mixing the mixture. You may need to stop it a few times so that you can scrape the sides of the processor and start the motor again. You want the beans to be broken down and for the mixture to hold together well, but you don’t want to process so extensively that the mix has no more texture. If you need to add a little water to the mixture, that’s totally OK.

4. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and add the zucchini, onion, and garlic. Mix with hands (as if you were making meatloaf). When everything is incorporated, season once more with salt and pepper, to taste.
Shape mixture into six patties with hands. Heat remaining 1 tbsp olive oil in a sautee pan on medium heat. Cook burgers for five minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Alternately, you can bake them at an oven set to 375 degrees for twenty-five minutes, flipping once halfway through. Serve.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Zucchini Salmon Cakes

Are you sick of zucchini yet? No? Good. To my own surprise, I'm not either. I've been successful in my quest to not freeze any of my ample zucchini crop (from only one bunch of two plants!) and thus I have even more zucchini recipes to share. This might seem like a bit of a duplication of genre since I've made Zucchini Fritters in the past, but the addition of salmon makes this main dish instead of side, and a uniquely delicious creation in its own right. Zucchini fritters and salmon cakes are both delicious, so combining them is a sure-fire recipe for dinner success and an easy way of achieving my goal of eating fish at least once a week. I love this recipe not only for it's simple fresh flavor - rich salmon, fresh herbs, and zucchini in a lovely balance - but for being an easily scalable recipe that quickly feeds one on a busy weeknight that could also accommodate a small feast. For me, this meal satisfied the former, a quick bite between loads of laundry on a hectic weeknight. Like all busy people, I'm often tempted to skip dinner or just cram something into my face, but I find if I can spend few minutes preparing an eating a healthy dinner, it is really valuable to my physical and mental health. If you too hit the trifecta of limited time, healthy zucchini supplies, and a craving for fish, this recipe is the ideal solution to your culinary woes.

Zucchini Salmon Cakes
adapted from Gourmet
serves 1

1.5 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1.5 tablespoons chopped chives (or other fresh herb)
1/2 teaspoon grainy mustard
1 dash cayenne (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound skinless salmon fillet, chopped
2 tablespoons bread crumbs, preferably whole wheat panko
1 small zucchini, coarsely grated (3/4 cup)
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Whisk together mayonnaise, lemon juice, chives, mustard, and cayenne in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper

2. Stir together salmon, bread crumbs, zucchini, and mayonnaise mixture in another bowl.

3. Form salmon mixture into 2 (3-inch) patties. Heat oil in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot, then cook salmon cakes, carefully turning once, until golden and salmon is just cooked through, about 6 minutes total.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Grilled Spicy BBQ Chicken (or Shrimp) Pizza

I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't love pizza. But while I had a tendency to crave a doughy, thick crust pizza in my younger days, now I'm all about the crispy Neapolitan-style. Madison has a number of delicious Neapolitan style pizza places which I enjoy frequenting, though sadly there's no way to get that 900 degree wood-fired deliciousness at home. But making pizza on the grill, be it gas or charcoal, isn't a half-bad substitute. The crust cooks quickly, achieving the glorious bubbles and blackened spots of a Neapolitan oven, picking up a wonderful smokiness from charcoal or wood chips. But that's where the similarity to Neapolitan pizza ends in this recipe. If I'd added the classic basil, tomatoes, and buffalo mozzarella I might be able to pass this off as in the Neapolitan spirit, but my choice of toppings take this in a very different direction.

Barbecue chicken pizza, which I believe was originally created by California Pizza Kitchen, has become a fairly standard (and beloved) menu option. The sweet-spicy barbecue sauce is a fine substitute for the regular tomato variety, a lovely companion to sharp red onion, spicy jalapeno, juicy chicken, and rich cheddar cheese. If your genes aren't working against you, cilantro adds a lovely fresh note, but feel free to leave it off if you'll be serving cilantro-haters.

Grilled Spicy BBQ Chicken (or Shrimp) Pizza
serves 1

4 ounces whole wheat pizza dough
2 tablespoons barbecue sauce (I used Howling Wolf)
2 tablespoons finely chopped or thinly sliced red onion
1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno pepper (add seeds or ribs to desired level of heat)
1/4 cup shredded cooked chicken breast (or cooked, chopped shrimp)
1 to 2 ounces (1/4 to 1/2 cup) shredded cheddar cheese
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)

1. Preheat a gas grill over medium to medium high heat. Meanwhile, roll pizza out on a into a round or oblong shape, about 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick, depending on desired thickness, and brush both sides with oil.

2. When grill is hot, transfer crust to grill. Replace the lid and cook for 3 minutes without disturbing. After 3 minutes, check the crust for doneness, cooking for an additional few minutes if necessary. Transfer crust to a peel or baking sheet.

3. Spread crust with barbecue sauce and top with onion, jalapeno, and chicken. Sprinkle cheese over the top and return the pizza to the grill. Reduce heat to medium low, replace cover, and continue to cook until cheese is melted, about 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle cilantro over the top, if desired. Slice and serve promptly.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Veggie Burger

Homemade veggie burgers are one of work lunch staples. I make them in big batches, and because I live with someone who won't touch the non-meat burger variety, I don't have to worry about my the fruits of my labor mysteriously disappearing. But truth be told, these are so incredibly easy that it would hardly matter. Black beans are my go-to bean for a burger because they are not only delicious on their own, but also able to merge successfully with a wide range of flavor profiles and ingredients. This burger takes a decidedly Tex-Mex approach, blending hearty beans and rice with spicy jalapeno, smoky cumin, and deep, rich ancho chiles in just the time it takes to blend a few ingredients together in the food processor. As with any veggie burger, the challenge here is keeping them together in the pan, so be a bit ginger when flipping them and allow for a little rest in the fridge before cooking if you have the time.

I wouldn't be a good Wisconsin girl with saying I think these burgers are just begging for a slice of melty cheese. Assertive sharp cheddar is an excellent choice, made even more perfect with a few final touches like lettuce, red onion, and salsa. All the goodness of a bean burrito in portable, freezable burger patty form, these are a welcome sight at any meal, even making for a fine breakfast with a fried egg.

Veggie Burger
adapted from Bon Appetit
makes 6 burgers

2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed
1/2 cup chopped white or yellow onion
6 slices pickled jalapeño
1 tablespoon prepared barbecue sauce
1 teaspoon chili powder, preferably ancho
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 large egg white
1 cup cooked brown rice
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons canola oil, divided
6 hamburger buns
Lettuce, red onion, tomato, salsa, avocado, etc. (for serving)

1. Set aside 1/2 cup beans. Pulse onion, jalapeño, barbecue sauce, chili powder, cumin, and remaining beans in a food processor until a chunky purée forms.

2. Transfer purée to a medium bowl and mix in egg white, rice, and reserved beans; season with salt and pepper. Form mixture into 6 patties about 1/2-inch thick; cover and chill 1 hour (this helps bind patties so they stay intact while cooking).

3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Working in two batches and adding remaining 2 tablespoons oil between batches, cook patties until browned and crisp, about 5 minutes per side. Serve on buns with desired toppings.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Zucchini Soup with Garlic and Basil

The zucchini keeps coming and thus so too do the recipes. Much to my own surprise, despite the fact I've eaten zucchini in some capacity every day for a couple of weeks, I'm still not sick of it. To my credit, I've made a real effort to mix up my preparations, from fritters to cookies to pastas to salads to sandwiches to chips and everything in between. For all the recipe ideas my coworkers and I have discussed, I got a few quizzical looks when I said I was going to make zucchini soup. But what better kind of recipe to make when you need to use up a lot of one vegetable? Were it just your basic butter + onions + broth + salt and pepper recipe, this soup would be pleasant and fresh, though not terribly interesting, but the generous amounts of basil and garlic make this soup profoundly flavorful. This recipe is a perfect for using up those zucchini too large for grilling or sauteeing when you've tested the limits of your love or zucchini bread (or have a bounty in the herb garden as well). Happily frozen for later use, this will store the bounty of summer in your freezer (perhaps next to some zucchini bread?) until the depths of winter when you'll have exhausted your love of root vegetables. Simple, flavorful, freezable, and easily multipliable, this recipe will easily turn mountains of summer squash into days of dinners, either for the dog days of summer or the depths of winter.

Zucchini Soup with Garlic and Basil
adapted from The Kitchn/Gourmet
makes about 1 1/2 quarts

4 tablespoons unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil
1 white onion, sliced
8 to 9 large cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, about 4 medium
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth or water
1/3 cup packed basil leaves
Salt and pepper

1. Melt the butter (or heat in the oil) in a heavy 4-quart pot over medium heat. When it foams, add the sliced garlic and onions and cook on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft and translucent. Keep the heat low enough that the garlic doesn't brown; you want everything to sweat.

2. When the onions are soft, add the zucchini and cook until soft. Add the broth and bring to a simmer. Simmer at a low heat for about 45 minutes.

3. Let cool slightly, add basil, then blend with an immersion blender until creamy, or transfer to a standing blender to puree. Be very careful if you use the latter; only fill the blender half full with each batch, and hold the lid down tightly with a towel.

4. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Like most soups, this is significantly better after a night in the refrigerator to let the flavors meld.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Grilled Bratwurst Pizza

As a Wisconsinite, I've eaten more than my fair share of bratwurst. And while there's no real way to improve on a classic - on a (preferably toasted, possibly pretzel) bun with coarse mustard, onion, and sauerkraut - it's not say that it still isn't worth experimenting. Some may say that bratwurst is a bit of sacred cow (or perhaps more accurately, sacred pig), but I still like to use it in a little less conventional ways. I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that bratwurst has an almost universal appeal here, as does pizza, so why not throw the two together? You get all the flavors of the cookout staple - mustard, onion, and kraut - with the added bonus of a healthy layer of melted cheese (another Wisconsin staple). Putting these ingredients together as a pizza also has the added bonus of introducing a much greater surface to the grill, the crust soaking up all the smokiness your charcoal or gas grill has to offer and attaining a magical crisp and chewy texture. This indulgent summer cookout treat will transition nicely into fall, even if the temperatures force the cooking indoors, the perfect companion to a mug of cold beer and Packer game, a reality not so far away.

Grilled Bratwurst Pizza
serves 1

4 ounces whole wheat (or white, in a pinch) pizza dough
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons drained sauerkraut
2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
1 cooked bratwurst, sliced (depending on size, you may not need the whole thing)
2 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

1. Preheat a gas grill over medium to medium high heat. Meanwhile, roll pizza out on a into a round or oblong shape, about 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick, depending on desired thickness, and brush both sides with oil.

2. When grill is hot, transfer crust to grill. Replace the lid and cook for 3 minutes without disturbing. After 3 minutes, check the crust for doneness, cooking for an additional few minutes if necessary. Transfer crust to a peel or baking sheet.

3. Spread crust with mustard and top with sauerkraut, onion, and bratwurst. Sprinkle cheese over the top and return the pizza to the grill. Reduce heat to medium low, replace cover, and continue to cook until cheese is melted, about 5 to 10 minutes. Slice and serve promptly.