Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mashed Avocado Chickpea Salad

With so much food preservation technology, in terms of both additives and refrigeration, there aren't too many things that are immediately perishable anymore. But once you crack open an avocado, you better get to it. Not that this is a problem, mind you, but it does mean I have to challenge myself to make something other than ungodly amounts of guacamole, which I eat with reckless abandon. Avocado is a common healthy substitution for mayo, and I thought I'd give it a spin in my mashed chickpea salad, which has become a staple of my lunch diet.

Avocado adds a thicker creaminess than mayonnaise, but it comes with a lot more nutrition and flavor than even olive oil mayo. Lemon juice is there not only to prevent the avocado from taking on an unpleasant oxidated brown color but also to add a bright acidic note, punctuated by spice from the red pepper flakes. This sandwich is rich and filling enough as is, but it certainly wouldn't suffer if turned into a melt with a slice or two of oeey-goeey cheese.

Mashed Avocado Chickpea Salad
serves 1

1/2 cup cooked chickpeas, coarsely mashed
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
2 ounces mashed avocado (or 1 ounce mashed avocado + 1 T. mayo)
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice, or to taste
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro or other herb (optional)
Pinch red pepper flakes, or to taste (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Whole grain tortilla, bread, pita, or crackers for serving (optional)
Lettuce, greens, or alfalfa sprouts, for serving (optional)

1. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and stir well to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top bread with chickpea mixture and greens, if desired, and serve.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Red Flannel Hash

When it comes to quick dinners, eggs are nonpareil in my book. Father Winter reared his ugly head and after spending an hour or two shoveling after work, I needed a hearty dinner and I needed it fast. Red flannel hash often appears around St. Patrick's Day, but this ruby-hued beauty of a dish is a lovely meal all winter long.

My CSA provides an embarrassment of riches in the root vegetable department, along with some healthy (okay, disturbingly large) heads of cabbage, so this recipe is practically a love letter to the ingredients already in my fridge. The relative amounts of each ingredient aren't all that important, so assemble the ingredients in whatever ratio makes you happiest or helps you clean out of the fridge. After all, this began as a humble, hearty peasant breakfast, so there's no need to be to fussy with adhering to the recipe perfectly. 

Without too long of a cook time, the beets become sweet and caramelized, happily mingling with the starchy potatoes and crisp-tender cabbage. If you like your veggies with a little more texture, or simply can't wait to chow down, cook the eggs and serve promptly, but if you want this to stew the veggies down to a meltingly tender crimson mash before adding the eggs, it's equally delicious that way. The runny egg yolk glazes each bite with richness, but the traditional corned beef or some sausage or bacon certainly wouldn't be unwelcome for an even heartier meal.

Although it won't be red flannel hash without the beets, this template is still primed for experimentation with other root veggies, the celeriac and rutabaga in my fridge already clamoring for a starring role in the sequel. 

Red Flannel Hash
adapted from The Kitchn
serves 4 to 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 white or yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3-4 red or Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and diced small (or shredded)
3 beets, peeled and diced small (or shredded)
1/2 head red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
4-6 large eggs

1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and cook until the onions become soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, herbs, and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Stir until the garlic becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2. Add the potatoes, beets, and another 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir everything together, cover the pan, and turn the heat down to medium. Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until the beets are tender. Don't worry if the potatoes start to fall apart a little - they are meant to! As you stir, be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan every so often to work in the browned bits from the pan.

3. When the beets are tender, stir in the cabbage. Cover and cook for another 3-5 minutes, until the cabbage is wilted. Give the mash a taste and add more salt and pepper if desired.

4. At this point, you can serve the mash right away or you can turn down the heat and let it simmer for as long as a half an hour. You can also take the mash off the heat completely and re-heat it when you're ready to serve.

5. Five minutes before you're ready to serve, crack the eggs around the circumference of the pan. Cover the pan and let the eggs poach for 5 minutes for runny yolks or 7 minutes for firm yolks. Scoop onto plates and serve.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Winter Squash and Greens Lasagna Rolls

I do not eat enough lasagna. For something that I love so much, it appears on my dinner plate far too infrequently because it's generally a meal for a big crowd, not for just a couple of servings. Enter lasagna rolls, which make both an elegant dish for a large gathering, but are also easily freezable  individual portions. I've long been thinking I should give them shot, only dissuaded by the effort of assembling all the individual rolls. But when a favorite coworker that I persuaded to join the same CSA told me this was her favorite use of our copious deliveries of winter squash, I knew I had to try it. Neither one of us are the kind of women who go in for "skinny" recipes, but despite that moniker, this recipe is absolutely delicious.

Butternut squash and spinach are the original combination, and quite delicious, but this recipe can certainly extend to other winter squash and hearty greens, like acorn squash and Swiss chard or delicata squash and kale. I object on principle to fat-free dairy (perhaps it's my Wisconsin roots), opting instead for part-skim, which I prefer because of the slightly lighter texture. The nuttiness of whole wheat noodles complements the sweetness of the squash and earthiness of the greens much better than the regular white variety, but any kind will make a suitable canvas for this comforting meal. Rich and cheesy, but packed with nutrition, this cozy meal will satisfy on even the coldest of winter nights.

Winter Squash and Greens Lasagna Rolls
adapted from SkinnyTaste
makes 9 rolls

1 pound butternut or other winter squash, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 cup shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

9 whole wheat or whole grain lasagna noodles, cooked according to package directions to al dente
10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach, kale, or Swiss Chard heated and squeezed well
15 ounce part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 ounces shredded mozzarella (or mozzarella-provolone blend) cheese

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add butternut squash and cook until soft. Remove squash with a slotted spoon, reserve about 1 cup of the water and set aside, then blend until smooth with an immersion blender, adding 1/4 cup of the reserved liquid to thin out.

2. Meanwhile, in a large deep non-stick skillet, add the oil, sauté the shallots and garlic over medium-low heat until soft and golden, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add pureed butternut squash, season with with salt and fresh cracked pepper and add a little more of the reserved water to thin out to your liking. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese and set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Ladle about 1/2 cup butternut sauce sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 12 baking dish.

4. Combine spinach, ricotta, Parmesan, egg, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Place a piece of wax paper on the counter and lay out lasagna noodles. Make sure noodles are dry. Take 1/3 cup of ricotta mixture and spread evenly over noodle. Roll carefully and place seam side down onto the baking dish. Repeat with remaining noodles.

5. Ladle remaining sauce over the noodles in the baking dish and top evenly with shredded cheese. Put foil over baking dish and bake for 40 minutes, or until cheese melts and everything is hot and bubbly. Makes 9 rolls.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Steak, Edamame, and Cabbage Stir-Fry with Peanut Sauce

I don't know people with nut allergies survive sometimes. Not only do tons of products you'd never suspect have the potential to contain trace amounts, but nuts add flavor and nutrition to so many meals. Personally, I'm a sucker for anything with peanut butter or peanut sauce. For dessert, peanut butter and chocolate are an undeniably wonderful pair, but peanut butter and chilies make just as great a pair in savory applications.

I came across this while looking for ways to use up a formidable head of red cabbage but the truth is, just about any veggie would taste great stir-fried and drizzled with this peanut sauce. The sweet, savory, spicy sauce is the perfect contrast to the fresh and crunchy vegetables, rich enough to be filling, but not so much as to bury the steak and edamame. I love this with warm ingredients straight from the wok, but I can see this sauce in cold noodle dishes (or leftovers) or as a dipping sauce for spring rolls or dumplings as well.

Steak, Edamame, and Cabbage Stir-Fry with Peanut Sauce
adapted from Eating Well
serves 4

1/4 cup smooth natural peanut butter
1/3 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
4 teaspoons canola oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces pound flank steak, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 small head Savoy or red cabbage, thinly sliced
2-5 tablespoons water
2 medium carrots, grated
1 cup cooked edamame
1/4 cup chopped unsalted roasted peanuts, (optional)
Sriracha or other hot sauce, for serving (optional)
Rice or noodles, for serving (optional)

1. Whisk peanut butter, orange juice, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and red pepper flakes in a medium bowl until smooth. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add steak and cook, stirring, until browned and barely pink in the middle, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

2. Reduce heat to medium. Swirl in the remaining 2 teaspoons oil. Add cabbage and 2 tablespoons water; cook, stirring, until beginning to wilt, 3 to 5 minutes. Add carrots and edamame (and more water if necessary to prevent sticking or burning) and cook, stirring, until just tender, about 3 minutes more. Return the steak and any accumulated juices to the pan, then pour in the peanut sauce and toss to combine. Serve topped with peanuts and hot sauce over noodles or rice, if desired.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Leek and Potato Soup with Winter Greens

Even at its most basic, potato leek soup is thing of beauty. Some sort of alchemy occurs when those two elements come together with just a little fat, salt, and water and the result is positively addictive. But that doesn't mean it's not worth tinkering with. This version is a slightly elevated version of  the basic, starting with an intensely flavored, silky homemade stock. Making stock from scratch certainly lengthens the time from fridge to table, but there's plenty of time for all the other prep work while it slowly simmers on the stove. The addition of fresh spinach or other winter greens ups the nutrition factor and lightens the body, with the final finishing touches of bright lemon juice and fresh dill uniting all the elements. A classic with a little hint of something extra, this soup is simple, soul-warming, from-scratch cookery at its finest. And that's exactly what you need when winter rears its ugly head.

Leek and Potato Soup with Winter Greens
adapted from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics
serves 6 to 8

10 cups water
3 leeks, sliced down the center and well-rinsed
1 1/2 cups peeled and coarsely chopped carrots
4 cups coarsely chopped potatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups baby spinach, kale, or Swiss chard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (or 2 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Add water to a large soup pot. Cut the dark green tops off the leeks, rinse well to remove any hidden sand, and stir them into the pot. Add the carrots, about half of the potatoes, the thyme, and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer the stock for about 45 minutes.

2. While the stock simmers, remove the root ends from the leeks, peel of the outermost later, and chop the white and most tender green parts.

3. In a large sup pot, saute the leeks in olive oil until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Strain the stock and add it to the fennel and leeks. Add the rest of the potatoes and simmer until soft, about 15 minutes. Stir in the spinach, dill, lemon juice, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

4. Puree the soup in batches in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth and silky. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Baked Chicken Nuggets

Even as a grown adult, sometimes I have cravings for foods usually relegated to the kid's menu. This certainly doesn't mean I'll be ordering a PB&J or buttered noodles at a restaurant, but I have been known to whip up a batch of chicken nuggets or chicken strips at home. It's true that I could pop over to McDonalds to try and satisfy this craving, but deep-fried meat sponges aren't exactly what I'm looking for.

These chicken nuggets just take minutes to prepare, and achieve a crunchy, delicious coating even without the more cumbersome traditional flour-egg wash-bread crumbs coating procedure. Parmesan and whole wheat bread crumbs would provide enough flavor on their own, but a favorite seasoning blend is a great way to set a flavor theme and pair the nuggets with side dishes if you're feeling suitably sophisticated. Whether feeding actual children or just filling up on nostalgia, these healthified nuggets are a great way to get dinner on the table in a hurry without the ramifications of the drive-through version.

Baked Chicken Nuggets
adapted from SkinnyTaste
serves 4

1pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into even bite-sized pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons olive or canola oil
1/2 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs, preferably panko
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon favorite purchased or homemade seasoning blend (seasoning salt, garlic salt, barbecue seasoning blend, etc.)
Olive or canola oil cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 425°. Spray a baking sheet with olive oil spray.

2. Put the olive oil in one bowl and the breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and seasoning in another.

3. Season chicken with salt and pepper, then put in the bowl with the olive oil and mix well so the olive oil evenly coats all of the chicken.

4. Put a few chunks of chicken at a time into the breadcrumb mixture to coat, then on the baking sheet. Lightly spray the top with olive oil spray then bake 8 - 10 minutes. Turn over then cook another 4 - 5 minutes or until cooked though.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mini Pumpkin Pie with Whole Wheat Walnut Crust

You've done a lot of eating lately, and you're going to do a lot more. Moderation, in all things, is important, but I think it's okay to let loose the reins a bit this time of year and celebrate gastronomically with friends and family. You can always make resolutions on January 1st, right? I sampled everything on the Thanksgiving buffet (twice), but I will be trying to scale back from that Bacchanalia until Christmas feasting begins. Because it's the holiday season, I can't give up seasonal treats entirely, and this delightful little pie is perfect for indulging in modest portions without lots of leftovers. The whole wheat and walnuts make it a little more virtuous than your average crust, but it still holds the luscious filling that a pumpkin pie warrants. Cream cheese makes this pie especially rich and creamy, with sweet pumpkin eagerly soaking up vanilla, maple, and spices. A holiday tradition made miniature, this dessert is the perfect ending to an intimate holiday gathering.

Mini Pumpkin Pie with Whole Wheat Walnut Crust
adapted from Dessert for Two
serves 2 (generously) to 4 (scantily)

1 ounce (1/4 cup) walnuts
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2-3 tablespoons cold water

3 ounces Neufchâtel or cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons pure maple syrup, preferably Grade B
1/2 teaspoon homemade or purchased pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. First, toast the walnuts in a 350° oven for about 10 minutes, or until fragrant.

2. In a small food processor, pulse walnuts, flour, and sugar together until nuts are finely chopped and ingredients are combined. Add the diced butter and oulse a coarse meal forms.

3. Add the vinegar and 2 tablespoons of the cold water and pulse just until a dough forms. Use the remaining tablespoon of water if dough is not coming together.

4. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, press into a disc, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Once 30 minutes has elapsed, Preheat the oven to 375° and remove the dough from the fridge and lightly flour the counter.

5. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out into an 8” circle. Gently move the dough to a 6-7” pie (or tart) pan. Gently fit the dough into the pan without stretching the dough. Fold the excess dough over to form a double edge. Prick the bottom with a fork in several places, and then bake on a small sheet pan for 13-15 minutes.

6. While the crust is baking, beat together the cream cheese, pumpkin and egg with an electric mixer. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until very well blended. Pour this mixture into the crust gently. Bake the tart for 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted 1” from the crust comes out clean. Let cool and serve cold or at room temperature.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pureed Beet Soup

I celebrated the way most Americans do this past weekend - by stuffing myself to the gills. Vegetables were certainly part of the feasting, but a far higher percentage of my diet was dedicated to meat and starches than usual, so a veggie-packed week is definitely in order the balance things back out. Beets are the last vegetable remaining in any great quantity in my fridge before my next CSA delivery on Wednesday, and a hearty beet soup is the perfect remedy to both of those problems.

Beets are a somewhat polarizing vegetable, and one I only came to appreciate in adulthood. While there can certainly be a soil-like nuance, when cooked properly they are a wonderful balance of earthy and sweet. This soup is beautifully simple, the classic pureed soup formula exploiting both of those elements, with the oft-forgotten final addition of acid that is so important to letting all the flavors bloom. Vegans or those really looking to cut back can omit the sour cream, but that final touch is what really enriches this soup and makes it hearty enough for a light winter meal.

Pureed Beet Soup
adapted from Martha Stewart
serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pounds beets, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice or red wine vinegar
Sour cream, for serving (optional)

1. In a large Dutch oven or pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion. Season with salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.

2. Add beets, broth, and enough water (4 to 5 cups) to cover. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium, and simmer until beets are tender, about 20 minutes.

3. Using a blender or an immersion blender, puree broth and vegetables until smooth. If using a blender, work in batches and fill only halfway, allowing heat to escape: Remove cap from hole in lid, cover lid firmly with a dish towel, and blend. Transfer to a clean pot as you work. Adjust soup's consistency with a little water if necessary. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Stir in sour cream, if desired, and serve.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013 in Review - Leftovers Redux

When it comes to holiday feasts, I'm mostly a traditionalist. This year, as in years past, I cooked up an entirely homemade feast of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, candied sweet potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts and squash, rolls, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. While I relished each bite freshly prepared, the leftovers might be better than the main event. I ate my fill at dinner time and picked at leftovers throughout the day on Thursday, but Friday when was the experimenting began.

Leftovers found a new fate as soon as I woke up Friday morning, starting with oatmeal with candied sweet potatoes (made with butter, maple syrup, and walnuts) and cranberry sauce.

Sweet potatoes, turkey, and cranberry sauce found their way into my lunch in the form of turkey fried rice with sweet potatoes, peas, and a cranberry teriyaki sauce. If hadn't eaten all the squash and Brussels sprouts the day before, I would have used them here in lieu of the peas I had to retrieve from the freezer.

Cocktail hour is a fine way to start Friday night, with cranberry sauce finding a purpose there as well. In a take on a smash cocktail, I combined gin, cranberry sauce, lemon juice, and simple syrup, topped with an optional splash of soda water.

With my appetite properly whetted, I moved on to the main course - a turkey and Gruyere melt with cranberry sauce, a side of gravy for dipping, and candied sweet potato hash.

Saturday's lunch was a slapdash shepherd's pie, a fine place to use up turkey and any lingering veggies, or a way to sneak some fresh ones in.

The last of the mashed potatoes were devoured in a hearty Sunday morning breakfast of potato pancakes, dunked in the last of the gravy, and scrambled eggs with veggies.

Lunch was a bit lighter fare, the penultimate bits of turkey added to a spinach salad of red onion, dried cranberries, toasted walnuts, and blue cheese, topped with a cranberry sauce vinaigrette, and accompanied by the last of the rolls.

Breakfast for dinner is in the works for tonight, the very last of turkey likely finding its way into a hearty clean-out-the-fridge hash or quinoa stir-fry, officially closing out Thanksgiving and helping me get ready for my next winter CSA delivery on Wednesday.

So tell me, how did you use your leftovers?