Sunday, December 28, 2014

Butternut Squash, Blue Potato, and Gruyere Gratin

I hope you all had a merry Christmas! No holiday is complete without a menu of delicious food and hopefully your menu included a cheesy delight like this one. Truth be told, I served pretty traditional individual scalloped potato stacks alongside ham, individual delicata squash sformatos, roasted carrots and parsnips, and crescent rolls, but I wouldn't have balked at this substitution in the slightest. The flavorful blue potatoes and butternut squash form an alternating earthy and sweet structure within which nutty cheese and vibrant herbs mingle. While I enjoy it primarily for its flavor, it's a healthier substitute for some of the fattier and starchier side dishes, and gluten-free for any guests with that dietary restrictions (vegans and lactose-intolerant people will have to look elsewhere). When trying to be a locavore in northern climates, it can take some effort to keep things interesting, but this recipe definitely did my winter CSA veggies justice.

Butternut Squash, Blue Potato, and Gruyere Gratin
adapted from the New York Times
serves 6 to 8 as a side, 3 to 4 as a main

1 large garlic clove, cut in half
1 pound blue potatoes, scrubbed, peeled if desired and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1 pound butternut squash, peeled and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence
3/4 cup, shredded Gruyère cheese (3 ounces)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper
2-1/2 cups low-fat milk

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Rub the inside of a 2-quart gratin dish or baking dish with the cut side of the garlic, and lightly oil with olive oil or butter. Slice any garlic that remains and toss with the potatoes, squash, thyme, rosemary, half the cheese and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Arrange in an even layer in the gratin dish.

2. Pour the milk over the potatoes and squash, and press the vegetables down into the milk. Place in the oven, and bake one hour. Every 20 minutes, remove the gratin dish and press the potatoes and squash down into the liquid with the back of a large spoon. After one hour, sprinkle on the remaining cheese and bake for another 30 minutes, until the top is golden and the sides crusty. Remove from the oven, and allow to sit for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Serve hot or warm.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Great Dane Inner Warmth Stew

The Great Dane is a Madison institution both for its delicious brews and its fantastic food. Although my tastes tend toward the carnivorous when I'm dining out, it's also a fantastic place to eat vegetarian if you're so inclined. I can't recall a dish of the herbivorous or omnivorous variety that I've been disappointed with. My home cooking trends toward the plant-centered, so I couldn't pass up trying out a recipe from a favorite restaurant when my CSA farm suggested it in one of the latest newsletters.

There's no ingredients in this dish that's unexpected, but they just couldn't make a better family of flavors. This stew is both boldly garlic-y and ginger-y, bought into silky harmony with squash and tomatoes by the rich and creamy peanut butter. Timid taste buds may want to stop there, but I can't resist heating with up with generous amounts of spicy peppers or hot sauce, cooled perfectly by tangy yogurt and fresh cilantro. This is great on its own, over rice, or scooped up by naan or pita, a wonderfully satisfying vegetarian main even for the meat-eating set. Accompanied by a starch, this recipe fills four bellies generously, but can easily be scaled up to feed a ravenous (holiday?) crowd.

Great Dane Inner Warmth Stew
adapted from Crossroads Community Farm
serves 4

¼ cup of olive oil
½ of a medium onion diced
4 tbsp minced garlic
4 tbsp minced ginger
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
16 ounce tomato juice or one 8-ounce can tomato sauce plus 8 ounces water
14.5 ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1-1 ½ pounds squash such as acorn or butternut, peeled and cubed into 2″ pieces
½ cup of peanut butter
Hot peppers, optional
½ bunch of cilantro chopped, plus more for serving
Yogurt, for serving (optional)
Hot sauce, for serving (optional)

1. Sauté onions, garlic, ginger, black pepper and squash in oil until they start to soften.

2. Add tomato juice, tomato strips and salt.Simmer until the squash is tender. Add peanut butterand hot peppers, if using. Mix well and simmer until a thick stew is formed.

3. Serve over steamed rice with additional cilantro, yogurt, and hot sauce, if desired.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Turnip, Leek, Potato, and Spinach Soup

Despite, or perhaps because of, it's simplicity, leek and potato soup is one of my favorites. Through some beautiful culinary alchemy, potatoes, leeks, butter, salt, and water turn in something magical that needs no further enhancement. But that certainly doesn't mean there isn't room for experimentation! This riff on classic pays homage to the classic Potage Parmentier without hiding the extra zing from the turnips or hint of earthy greens. It's surprisingly filling for such a light dish, able to become a meal with just a salad or a heartier one as a companion to your favorite sandwich. Tossing in some beans, cooked grains, or a poached egg (or any combination of the three) is my favorite way to fortify this recipe, and create a delicious, healthy meal out of the orphan ingredients in my fridge. The extra soup freezes beautifully, and there will still be plenty to save even after you dig in heartily.

Turnip, Leek, Potato, and Spinach Soup
adapted from the New York Times
makes 8 servings

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large leeks, white and light green part only, halved lengthwise, cleaned and sliced or chopped
Salt to taste
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds turnips, peeled and diced
1 large russet potato (about 3/4 pound), peeled and diced
2 quarts water, chicken stock, or vegetable stock
8 ounces baby spinach or kale, chopped
A bouquet garni made with a bay leaf and a couple of sprigs each thyme and parsley
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Chopped fresh tarragon and/or chives for garnish

1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat and add the onion, leeks and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute. Add the turnips, potatoes, water or stock, salt to taste, and the bouquet garni. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender and the soup is fragrant.  During the last few minutes of cooking, add the spinach by handfuls, cooking until the just wilt down. Remove and discard the bouquet garni.

2. Blend the soup in batches in a blender (cover the top with a towel and hold it down to avoid hot splashes), or through a food mill fitted with the fine blade. The soup should be very smooth. Strain if desired. Return to the pot. Stir and taste. Adjust salt, add freshly ground pepper, and heat through. Serve in small bowls or espresso cups, garnished with chopped fresh tarragon and/or chives.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Butternut Squash and Tahini-Yogurt Dip

It's been far too long since I've shared a recipe, but that isn't because I've stopped cooking. I picked up an ample winter CSA box last month (and again this week) and those vegetables have kept me plenty busy, just in more quick-and-easy preparations, which may or may not be worthy or recipe status. A good portion of them went into the Thanksgiving dinner I hosted, and although I keep it pretty classic for holidays, this non-traditional appetizer was one of my favorite things I ate all weekend. The sweet and caramelized butternut squash is perfectly complemented by rich, nutty tahini and tangy yogurt, with the heat of the cayenne or hot sauce providing the perfect final zip. The sweetness of the butternut squash best complements the diverse palate of flavors, but even acorn squash or pumpkin could do in a pinch. This hearty starter deserves a robust dipping implement, like roasted root vegetables, pita chips, or crusty bread, but also made a great spread on a Thanksgiving leftover sandwich. I'm not too far from putting together my menu for Christmas dinner, and this recipe was delicious enough it just may make another appearance.

Butternut Squash and Tahini-Yogurt Dip
adapted from Food and Wine
serves about 8 to 12 as an appetizer

1 head of garlic
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
One 1 1/2-pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup plain lowfat or nonfat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup tahini paste
3 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
Pinch of cayenne pepper or dash of hot sauce, to taste (optional)
Toasted pumpkin seeds, for serving (optional)
Roasted vegetables, for serving (optional)
Hearty crackers or bread, for serving (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 425°. Cut 1 inch off the top of the garlic head and place the head on a piece of foil; drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and wrap it tightly. On a large baking sheet, toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Set the garlic on the oven rack. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, turning occasionally, until squash tender and golden brown and garlic cloves slip easily from their skins. Let cool.

2. Scrape the roasted squash into a food processor. Squeeze the garlic cloves from their skins into the processor. Add the yogurt, tahini, lemon juice and cayenne pepper. Puree until smooth, adding a little water if the dip is too thick. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the dip to a serving bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Top with the toasted pumpkin seeds, if desired, and serve with roasted vegetables and hearty crackers or bread.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Warm Green Bean, Tomato, and Chickpea Salad

My work schedule has been insane lately, leaving me much less time to cook that I'd like, so when I'm able to carve out the time, I really want to make it count. For me, making the most of that limited kitchen time means cranking out a big batch of something healthy, delicious, and versatile. This recipe fits that bill perfectly. Packed with tons of fresh vegetables and herbs, filling beans, and savory cheese, this salad is delicious with a slice of crusty bread, over rice or pasta, as a bed for a juicy salmon fillet or chicken breast, or all on its own. This recipe is very versatile depending on what's available - green beans could be swapped for asparagus, sugar snap peas, or even Brussels sprouts, white beans for the chickpeas, Parmesan for the feta, and almost any fresh herbs for the parsley. My garden might be in its death throes with winter's impending arrival, but there's still enough time to use the scrappy ends of my horticultural endeavors in a delicious meal like this one.

Warm Green Bean, Tomato, and Chickpea Salad
adapted from Martha Stewart
serves 4

1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch length
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for the pan
Coarse salt and ground pepper
3 wide strips lemon zest, cut into thin matchsticks, plus 3 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved, or 3 medium tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1/4 small red onion, sliced
1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 1/2 ounces feta, crumbled (1/2 cup)
2/3 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. Preheat a large pan over medium heat, add a splash of olive oil, and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook beans, stirring occasionally until browned in spots and just shy of crisp-tender, about 6 to 8 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice and oil and season with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes and onion to the pan and cooking continuing until the tomatoes collapse and onions start to soften, about 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in chickpeas and cook until mixture is warm, another minute or two.

3. Remove the pan from heat and toss with the dressing, feta, and parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature, either over cooked grains or with a slice of crusty bread or pita.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

BBQ Cauliflower Grilled Cheese

As a born and bred Wisconsin girl, I never need an excuse to eat a grilled cheese, but as the days grow short and the temperatures drop, I crave them even more. I can't complain about even the most basic version, provided it's served hot with a cup of tomato soup, but there's certainly plenty of room for creativity too.

Roasted cauliflower is another food I just can't get enough of, so I figured why not toss it on my grilled cheese? It makes my sandwich tastier and healthier and is a wonderfully easy way to sneak in more of those veggies we all need. Fall and winter are prime time for roasted vegetables, so you may have some leftovers hangimg around as I perpetually do, but it's well worth cooking up some just for this occasion. The creamy barbecue mayo is the perfect sweet and spicy sauce (if you use a quality BBQ) and the touches of red onion and greens have just enough acidity and freshness to contrast the rich and nutty Gruyére. It takes a little more time and a few more ingredients than the bare bones version, but the upgrade to gourmet is completely worth it.

While the long days and warm temperatures of summer are fading away, there are no shortage of wonderful things to embrace about fall, especially the culinary fare. And I can't wait to keep the cozy meals coming.

BBQ Cauliflower Grilled Cheese
serves 1

1/2 tablespoon light mayo
1/2 tablespoon barbecue sauce
2 slices whole grain bread
2 ounces raw cauliflower, cut into approx. 1/4-inch thick slices (or leftover cooked cauliflower)
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.
A few thin slices of red onion
A few leaves of spinach or other greens (optional)
1 ounce Gryuere, thinly sliced or shredded
Cooking spray

1. Preheat a pan over medium heat. If using raw cauliflower, toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the cauliflower in the pan, flat side down, and cook until the first side is nicely caramelized, about 4 to 6 minutes (depending on the thickness of slices). Flip the cauliflower over and cook until the other flat side is also nicely browned and tender, another 4 to 6 minutes.

2. In a small bowl, combine mayo and mustard and mix thoroughly. Spread on one slice of the bread.

3. Place the spinach on the second slice of bread and top with the cauliflower, red onion, and cheese. Place the other slice of bread on top.

4. 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, about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Cut sandwich in half and serve promptly.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Spicy Tomatillo Soup

With a number of record low high temperatures in Wisconsin this week, you would think my gardens would go on strike. But despite their distinctly summer soul, my tomatillo plants are still generously gifting me with a respectable amount of fruit. It won't be all that long until I start picking up my winter with all its glorious roots, so I certainly don't object to eating up these lighter veggies for a while yet. I'll admit my tastes are drifting towards fall, falling victim to the siren song of all things apple and pumpkin, but my taste buds don't object to that dichotomy.

Despite being located on opposite sides of my yard, my cucumbers also missed the memo about the fall slow down, so I was happy to use up some of those as well. All the veggies keep this soup nice and light with low calorie yogurt creaminess making it gently filling. (For vegans, avocado would make a nice substitution). It can be as spicy as you like, depending on whether you remove the ribs and seeds from the peppers, balanced by the roasty garlic and acidic lime. Add only a little water if you'd like this as as light main course, but it can certainly be stretched to many side dishes if you dilute it further. 

My favorite season might be well on its way, but it's too early to completely turn my back on the light and spicy tastes of summer just yet. Bring it on garden! I'm still ready for you.

Spicy Tomatillo Soup
adapted from Martha Stewart
makes 4 servings

2 pounds tomatillos, hulled and washed
6 garlic cloves
1 to 2 jalapeño or serrano chiles
2 cups diced cucumber
1/2 cup roughly chopped onion
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1 cup homemade or low-sodium canned vegetable or chicken stock, skimmed of fat
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup plain yogurt
Water, to thin (optional)

1. Heat broiler. Place tomatillos, garlic, and serrano chile in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast until tomatillos are soft and browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Turn all items; continue cooking until other side is soft and browned, about 5 minutes more. Remove from heat; let cool slightly.

2. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack; let cool completely. Peel garlic, seed peppers, if desired, and place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add tomatillos and any accumulated juices along with cucumber, onion, cilantro, stock, lime juice, and salt; blend until mixture is smooth. Add yogurt and desired amount of water; process until they are just combined.

3. Transfer to a large bowl or plastic storage container; cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Serve cool, at room temperature, or slightly warm.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Simple Tomato Soup

It's hard to complain about my gardens producing too much, but it can to be challenging to make sure than none of what my moderately green thumb has cultivated goes to waste. But as is so often my move, when I've got a lot of something to use up, I turn to soup, which turns out to be the perfect move as the temperatures dipped sharply into fall this week.

This recipe is an ideal example of simple perfection. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about, fancy ingredients and techniques when they're called for, but sometimes all you need (or have time for) is the simplest of recipes. And fortunately for me, my tomatoes only needed that treatment. There's enough butter to be subtly rich, a touch of tomato paste up the umami factor, and herbs from the garden for a versatile freshness to make this a suitable side for almost anything.

If you do manage to have any of this left over, it freezes beautifully, saving a taste of late summer though the depths of winter. But in the crisp fall air, who can resist the siren song of grilled cheese and tomato soup? I know I can't, especially when I can toss a few slices of apple from a local orchard in with my ooey-goeey Wisconsin cheese.

Simple Tomato Soup
adapted from Food and Wine
makes 4 first course servings

3 tablespoons unsalted butter (or olive oil)
3/4 cup minced sweet onion, such as Vidalia
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes—peeled, seeded and chopped, with juices
1 teaspoon tomato paste
2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth or stock
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (basil, cilantro, parsley, etc.)

1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, along with the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the broth  and season with salt and pepper. Simmer until the tomatoes are broken down, about 15 minutes. Add the fresh herbs and puree the soup until smooth.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Chilled Cucumber Avocado Dill Soup

While zucchini is the cucurbit that most often gets recognized for its bounty, the real all-star in my garden this summer is the humble cucumber. I've used them generously in sandwiches and salads, as a happy vehicle for dips, and even in beverages, but there's only so many a girl can eat before they turn from fresh and crunchy to sad and soft. I'm not growing pickling cucumbers, so the most obvious bulk preserving method is out, but fortunately there's not much that can't be turned into soup. The eight pounds of cucumbers required for this recipe might have seemed ridiculous to me at one time, but this year that wasn't even enough to temporarily exhaust my ever-renewing supply.

As you'd expect from something primarily composed of cucumbers, this is a delicate and refreshing soup, especially when generously flecked with fresh dill, also from my garden. It gets hints of sweetness and acidity from the honey and vinegar, and sparing touch of avocado makes it luxuriously creamy without adding any heaviness. Enriching with avocado instead of cream means this freezes well, so whether you need to grab quick lunches for the next few weeks or want to taste summer once the snow begins to fly, this soup has you covered.

Chilled Cucumber Avocado Dill Soup
adapted from Cooking Light
makes 6 servings

11 large cucumbers (about 8 pounds), divided $
1/4 cup honey, divided
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 ripe avocado, peeled and seeded
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
Dill sprigs (optional)
Hot sauce, such as Tapatio or Sriracha (optional)

1. Cut 5 cucumbers into 3-inch chunks. Place half of cucumber chunks and 2 tablespoons honey in a blender or food processor; process until smooth. Pour pureed cucumber mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a bowl. Repeat procedure with the remaining chunks. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.

2. Peel, seed (optional), and thinly slice remaining 6 cucumbers; place slices in a bowl. Add vinegar and remaining 2 tablespoons honey; toss well to coat. Cover and chill 8 hours or overnight.

3. Working with pureed cucumber mixture in sieve, press mixture lightly with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to squeeze out juice; discard solids.

4. Place half of marinated cucumber slices, avocado, and 1 3/4 cups cucumber juice in a blender or food processor; process until smooth. Pour cucumber mixture into a bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining cucumber slices and 1 3/4 cups cucumber juice; reserve any remaining juice for another use. Stir in chopped dill, salt, and pepper, seasoning to taste. Divide soup between 6 bowls and garnish with dill sprigs and hot sauce, if desired

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Avocado Yogurt Dressing

Food can be both very healing and very damaging to your physical and mental health. Unfortunately, I was recently diagnosed with shingles, and after getting the appropriate prescriptions and advice from the doctor, I set to work figuring out how I could help heal myself through food and other lifestyle choices. If you're not familiar with shingles, it is the chicken pox virus reactivating in your nerve tissue, causing headaches, achiness, fatigue, and a blistering rash that makes the affected area as sensitive as an open nerve (the right side of my torso and back, in my case). And what's worse, this usually lasts around a month. Considering a light breeze or simply my shirt touching my skin causes a lot pain, I've had a much more relaxed lifestyle lately, leaving me with ample time to do some research on what else I could do to heal myself. I'm a scientist, so I'm very critical when it comes to buying into to folk remedies and the like, but I did find some evidence that diets high in lysine and low in arginine can help fight off viruses in the same family as shingles. I was disappointed to find out this means cutting back on nuts and chocolate, two of my favorite things, but I don't mind getting permission to eat a little more cheese, eggs, and meat, and the avocado and yogurt that compose this dressing.

And it doesn't get much easier to sneak in some edible medicine than making a dip or dressing! The avocado and yogurt are wonderfully rich and creamy, and the lime, garlic, and hot sauce liven it up just enough with brightness and spice. I've happily poured this over salads, spread it on sandwiches, used it as a dip for crackers, veggies, and chicken strips, and even used it in a dressed-up tuna salad. Whether you're looking for a little extra nutrition or simply a delicious new condiment, this dressing has you covered.

Avocado Yogurt Dressing
makes about 2 cups

1 large avocado (about 6 ounces flesh)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 cup yogurt
1/4 cup + 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves
1/2 T. hot sauce (I like Chipotle Tabasco or Sriracha), plus more to taste
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1. Blend all ingredients together in a food processor or blender. Taste and season with additional salt and hot sauce, if desired

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Chicken, Blueberry, and Feta Wrap

I've got a pretty good thing going with putting fresh fruit on my sandwiches, so I figured there was no reason not to continue. Raspberries, strawberries, and cherries have all gotten their turn, and it's only fair that blueberries get a chance to play too. Michigan might be known for blueberries, but we do pretty well here in Wisconsin as well, but when their season is so fleeting, you've got to chow down on them when you can. While in this prime blueberry time, you'll find me adding them to salads, oatmeal, and yogurt, preserving them en masse in Perfect Blueberry Syrup, and just generally adding them to everything that I can. Like the other fresh fruit sandwich recipes I shared, this recipe relies on the harmony of fresh fruit, bitter greens, and salty cheese, a template with infinite combinations yielding delicious results. Sweet pops of blueberry liven up each bite, mingling perfectly with the savory feta and crunchy veggies that surround the chicken with complementing, contrasting flavors. The chicken isn't strictly necessary here, but it does make this into a much more filling meal; vegetarians can substitute white beans for the same satisfying result. This wrap is good warm, room temperature, or cold, so whether you eat it as soon as it's prepared for dinner or the following day for lunch, you won't be disappointed with your meal.

Chicken, Blueberry, and Feta Wrap
serves 1

4 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast
Cooking spray
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon light mayo
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Splash of balsamic vinegar
1 whole grain tortilla or wrap
A few leaves of arugula (about 1/4 ounce)
Thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup fresh blueberries
1 ounce feta cheese, sliced or crumbled

1. Preheat a pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and cook, flipping once halfway through, until internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F. Set aside to rest for a few minutes, then slice into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch thick slices.

2. In a small bowl, combine mayo, mustard, and vinegar and mix thoroughly. Spread on the center of the tortilla. Top with the arugula and red onion and then the blueberries, lightly smashing them to an almost jam-like consistency.

3. Add the cooked chicken and feta and roll up the tortilla. Cut in half and serve.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Gruyere and Sweet Cherry Melt

With all the great fruit at the farmers' market right now, I just can't help but keep going with my fruit-in-sandwiches trend. Madison may be home to the largest producer-only farmers' market in the country, but unlike the markets of California or other warmer climes, we are not lucky enough to have fruit year-round. So I'm making hay while the sun in shining, and putting all these lovely berries and stone fruit into so much more than desserts.

Though Wisconsin is only blessed with fruit for part of the year, we are always a great land of cheese, so there are no shortages of pairings at my locavore disposal. As a born-and-bred Wisconsin girl, my refrigerator is never at a loss for a variety of cheeses, but as soon as I picked up a gorgeous wedge of Gruyere from Forgotten Valley Cheese, I knew that nutty savoriness was destined to be paired sweet Door County cherries. A few slices of red onion and handful of arugula from the garden provide the right counterbalance of bitterness and acidity, and although this would certainly be delicious with grilled chicken, turkey, or ham, it is more the flavorful enough in its vegetarian form.

Gruyere and Sweet Cherry Melt
serves 1

1/2 tablespoon light mayo
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 slices whole grain bread
4 or 5 sweet cherries, halved or thinly sliced (about 1 ounce)
A few thin slices of red onion
A few leaves of arugula (about 1/4 ounce)
1 ounce Gryuere, thinly sliced or shredded
Cooking spray

1. In a small bowl, combine mayo and mustard and mix thoroughly. Spread on one slice of the bread.

2. Place the arugula on the second slice of bread and top with the cherries, red onion, 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 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.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Easy Portobello Burgers

I, like so many Americans, celebrated Memorial Day weekend with plenty of cooking out. As Monday evening rolled around, after my grill had seen brats, steaks, and corn that got slathered in butter, I was ready to detox my diet. But just because I needed to eat healthier doesn't mean I wanted to eat blander or put the grill away just yet. The perfect solution? Portobello burgers.

Now if you have your heart set on a carnivorous meal, this isn't going to do it for you. My biggest issue with fake meat is products is exactly that - they're so fake. A mushroom is not beef and tofu is never going to be chicken, so why can't we just celebrate these delicious plant products for what they are? And this portobello "burger" is damn tasty. It might not be the same as biting into a big patty of beef, but these portobellos are still a perfect base on which to pile all your favorite burger toppings. A quick marinade of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and garlic deeply infuses the mushrooms with flavor, while also keeping them from becoming a desiccated puck on the grill. Because the "burger" itself is so virtuous, there's absolutely no shame in topping them with a generous smear of the mayo-mustard mixture, plus a slice of cheese if you like as well. And if you still must have some meat, this mushroom is pretty delicious piled right on top of a beef patty.

Easy Portobello Burgers
adapted from Cooking Light
serves 4

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 (4-inch) portobello mushroom caps
Cooking spray
1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise
1 to 2 tablespoons coarse grain or Dijon mustard
4 whole grain sandwich buns
Tomato, lettuce, and thinly sliced onion, for serving

1. Combine first 5 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag; add mushrooms to bag. Seal and marinate at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours, turning bag occasionally. Remove mushrooms from bag; discard marinade.

2. Prepare grill to medium heat. In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise and mustard and season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Place mushrooms, gill sides down, on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 4 minutes on each side. Place buns, cut sides down, on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 30 seconds on each side or until toasted. Divide mayonnaise mixture evenly between top halves of buns. Place 1 mushroom on bottom half of each bun. Top each mushroom with toppings of choice; cover with top halves of buns.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Spicy Lentil Wraps with Tahini Sauce

No matter how hard I try, I will always have far more bookmarked recipes than I have time to try, much less perfect. In order to keep my culinary to-do list manageable, I have a couple of methods for whether a recipe is really worth a shot - either I'm so excited to try I make it immediately, or it keeps popping back into my head. This recipe is more of the latter variety. The first time I saw it mentioned on The Kitchn, I immediately saved it, but with a few weeks of work lunches in the freezer already, there wasn't room for this one too. But every time I popped over to The Kitchn, I couldn't help thinking about this recipe, so it went right to the top of the queue as soon as my freezer cleaning was complete.

I can't say I've been disappointed with anything I've bought at Trader Joe's, so the fact that this wrap was modeled on a Trader Joe's offering definitely intrigued me. Dried lentils are something I always have around, their quick preparation and affordability making them an absolute pantry staple. Bulgur gets a spot for the same reason, so this meal was practically destined to be in my life. It may not be as quick and easy and picking up a sandwich at the store, but portioning and freezing the leftover lentil mixture makes the extra effort well worth it.

Quick cooking, affordable ingredients aside, this wrap is all about sauces. The homemade versions described below are worth it if you have the time, but even store-bought red pepper paste and tahini will leave your taste buds happy. The lentils and bulgur are the spicy, smoky soul of this wrap, but it's the spicy, savory red pepper paste and creamy tahini that really makes it delicious. Crunchy greens are a nice contrast from the tender filling, my only complaint with this wrap being the somewhat brittle tortilla I used to wrap it all up since I didn't have any whole grain lavash on hand. But you know what? I can't say I really minded scooping up the lingering bits that fell to my plate, those remnants extending my meal a few more delicious bites.

Spicy Lentil Wraps with Tahini Sauce
adapted from The Kitchn
Makes 6 wraps

1/2 cup lentils, preferably red, rinsed
2 cups water
3/4 cups fine grain bulgur
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 scallion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 (approximately 9x12-inch) sheets whole grain lavash or whole grain tortillas
3/4 cup red pepper paste (recipe below, or use store-bought)
2 cups shredded cabbage, spinach, or other greens
Tahini sauce to serve (recipe below)

1. Combine lentils and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 20 minutes.

2. Turn off heat and stir in bulgur. Let stand until water is absorbed and bulgur is soft, about 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent. Stir in cumin and red pepper flakes and cook for another minute.

4. Add onions, scallions, parsley, and salt to lentil-bulgur mixture and stir until well combined. Let cool before using to make wraps. (If you want a smoother texture closer to the Trader Joe's version, you can run the filling through a food processor, but I like it just as it is.) You can freeze the filling in an airtight container if not using all at once.

5. To assemble, lay out a lavash sheet with the shorter end closest to you. Spread 1 1/2 tablespoons of red pepper paste across the lower 1/3 of the sheet. Top with the lentil-bulgur mixture, and then the cabbage. Roll from the bottom up, and spread an additional 1/2 tablespoon of red pepper paste across the top end to help seal the wrap. Repeat for remaining wraps.

6. To serve, cut each wrap in half and serve with tahini sauce on the side.

Red Pepper Paste
makes about 3/4 cup

6 red bell peppers, cored and chopped
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Olive oil to cover (if refrigerating)

1. Combine bell peppers, cayenne pepper, and salt in a food processor and puree.

2. Pour the puree into a skillet over low heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced to a paste. This can take up to 2 hours.

3. Let cool before using. To store, pack the paste into a jar, pour enough olive oil on top to cover, and refrigerate.

Tahini Sauce
makes about 3/4 cup

1/4 cup tahini
2/3 cup or more warm water
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon crushed garlic
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Place all ingredients in a small bowl and mix with a fork until well combined.

2. Gradually stir in small amounts of additional warm water until the desired consistency is achieved.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Cauliflower Chickpea Salad with Curry Yogurt Dressing

A large head of cauliflower goes a long way. I may have purchased my last head to take it for a spin in fried rice, but there was plenty left for additional culinary creativity. Cauliflower has become quite the popular crucifer lately, and although I've loved in since I was a kid, it was Dijon-Roasted Cauliflower that spurred my more recent obsession with it. I've found that cauliflower makes a fine soup, veggie burger, or addition to pasta, but when the weather gets steamy and you want a little cauliflower in your diet, this is the way to go.

This salad formula is yet another example of my workhorse salad template (greens + fresh or cooked veggies + nuts + fresh or dried fruit + cheese; add beans or meat for extra protein) put to good use. The flavors and ingredients here borrow a little bit from both Moroccon and Indian cuisine, absolutely delicious despite the lack of authenticity. A combination of cauliflower and chickpeas make up the most belly-filling portion of this salad, and although I greatly prefer the combination, you could certainly double either the cauliflower or chickpeas in lieu of using the pair. Leftover roasted cauliflower and chickpeas make this meal even quicker and easier, both well worth the effort of cooking up an extra-large batch. The combination of sweet and chewy raisins, crispy and toasty almonds, and salty feta cheese contrast provide varied accent in each bite and the spiced creamy dressing pulling it all together nicely.

Cauliflower Chickpea Salad with Curry Yogurt Dressing
serves 1

2 ounces cauliflower, cut into small to medium florets with at least one flat side (or leftover Dijon-Roasted Cauliflower)
Olive oil cooking spray
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons regular or Greek yogurt
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
2 cups (about 2 ounces) spinach, salad greens, or lettuce
1/2 ounce thinly sliced red onion (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup canned chickpeas, thoroughly rinsed and drained, preferably roasted
1 tablespoon raisins
1 tablespoon toasted sliced almonds
1/2 ounce/2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
Salad dressing, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Toss the cauliflower and chickpeas with olive oil to coat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast until tender and browned, about 15 minutes, depending on floret size.

2. Meanwhile, combine yogurt and curry powder in a small bowl. Add water, about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon at a time, to achieve dressing consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Spread salad greens on a plate and top with red onion, cauliflower, chickpeas, raisins, almonds, and feta. Drizzle with salad dressing and enjoy!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Cauliflower Fried Rice with Shrimp

Unless I'm medically required, you'll never catch me signing up for a restrictive diet. I'm not dropping gluten or becoming a vegan, and you'll certainly never catch me going paleo. But just because I don't buy in fully to one of those lifestyles, it doesn't mean I can't glean a few good ideas. The recent popularity of the gluten and paleo diets has led people to find a lot of creative alternatives for bread and grains, one of them being cauliflower. Although I'm not about to stop chowing down on (whole) grains, I am definitely for adding more vegetables to my diet, so I decided to give cauliflower rice a shot.

Fried rice is one of my go-to dinners when I'm short on time, have a lot of odds and ends in the fridge that need to be used up, or both, and I figured incorporating this new prep into a tried-and-true favorite was a good place to start. Other than using cauliflower, this a classic fried rice recipe, full of all the flavors you hope to find in your Chinese take-out and the perfect vehicle to test drive this new substitution. And you know what? This turned out just as wonderful as the original. Grated cauliflower has a strikingly similar texture to cooked rice and soaks up flavors just as eagerly, with the added benefit of picking up an even more delicious brown crust. It may not replace the original version, but this certainly hasn't seen its last appearance at my dinner table.

Cauliflower Fried Rice with Shrimp
adapted from The Kitchn
serves 2

1/2 head cauliflower
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, plus more for finishing
2 eggs, beaten
8 ounces shrimp, peeled (and deveined, if desired)
1/2 cup diced or shredded carrots
1/2 cup frozen peas
4 scallions, sliced into thin rounds
2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 to 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/2-inch freshly grated ginger
2-3 cloves minced garlic 
Sriracha or other hot suace

1. Cut cauliflower into quarters. Grate cauliflower using grater or food processor until coarse.

2. Place a skillet over medium heat and add a teaspoon of oil. Scramble the eggs, breaking them into small curds. When the eggs are just barely cooked, scrape them into a clean dish and set them aside.

3.  Add another teaspoon of oil to the pan, add the shrimp, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until shrimp is opaque and cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp.

4. Add another teaspoon of oil to the pan and stir in the grated cauliflower. Make sure all the grains of cauliflower are coated with a little oil, then spread the rice into a thin layer across the bottom of the pan. Let it cook for a few minutes, then gather it together and spread it out thin again. Continue until the rice is toasted and beginning to brown.

5. Add two tablespoons of soy sauce, one tablespoon of rice wine vinegar, and ginger and garlic and stir. Add the peas and carrots, cooking until they are tender and warmed through. Stir in the eggs, shrimp, and scallions.

6. Taste and add more soy sauce and rice wine vinegar if needed. Finish with hot sauce and sesame oil, to taste

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Quinoa Salad with Balsamic Roasted Mushrooms

I'm getting back to basics lately. At least for the time being, my culinary ambitions are taking a back seat to my professional and personal ones, so the meals I'm making are a little less Top Chef and a little more Better Homes and Gardens. I last shared a main course green salad, created using one of most-used recipe templates, and now it's time for a basic grain salad, another indispensable arrow in my culinary quiver.

The basic template for this recipe isn't all that far off from my main course green salad version. Greens + onion + veggie + fresh or dried fruit + nuts + cheese is still a great combination, but here they either mix with or rest atop a bed of whole grains, instead of being an accompanied by a roll or slice of crusty bread. The chewy, nutty quinoa is an especially good grain to play off the rich elements of funky blue cheese, crunchy almonds, and tart cranberries, with the fresh spinach and scallions mingled throughout keeping it light. The tender, tangy mushrooms add another distinct flavor and texture, but if fungi aren't your thing, roasted chickpeas or grilled chicken breast are nice substitutions (or additions).

Grain salads are often delicious cold, room temperature, or warm, so what is a hot dinner warm night can be a delicious lunch the following day, whether or not you have access to a refrigerator or microwave.

Quinoa Salad with Balsamic Roasted Mushrooms
adapted from Whole Foods
serves 4 (as a main) to 6 (as a side)

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 pound cremini or shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 cup red or white quinoa
4 cups (about 4 ounces) tightly packed fresh spinach or arugula, chopped
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 ounces crumbled blue cheese
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.

2. Whisk vinegar and Dijon mustard together in a large bowl. Add sliced mushrooms to bowl and toss to coat with the vinegar mixture. Spread mushrooms in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until tender, stirring occasionally, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven.

3. While mushrooms roast, prepare quinoa according to package directions. When quinoa is ready, remove from heat, add spinach and scallions and toss to wilt vegetables slightly.

4. Add mushrooms, almonds, cranberries, and blue cheese to quinoa mixture and stir to mix well. Serve with remaining dressing on the side.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Broccoli Strawberry Salad with Goat Cheese and Almonds

One of the highlights of spring for me is the Dane County Farmers' market moving back outside onto Capital Square after spending the winter indoors. I feel fortunate to live somewhere that has a year-round farmers' market, especially up here in the great white north, but I love it so much more when I get to buy my produce in the fresh air of the early morning. Dominated now by root vegetables and greens, the offerings are relatively modest right now, but as the farmers' market bounty grows, so will my consumption of salads like this one. Spinach and onions are available now, but soon berries and crucifers will join them, this salad getting increasingly delicious as the season progresses.

This salad follows my general template for main-course salads - greens + onion + veggie + fresh or dried fruit + nuts + cheese. It's not a revolutionary formula, but I use it so often because it works. The spinach is fresh and crunchy, red onion provides astringency, and the roasted broccoli is tender and smoky, creating a delicious veggie base for the all finishing touches. The sweetness of the strawberries pops against these ingredients, especially with the addition of rich and toasty almonds and creamy, tangy goat cheese. Balsamic vinaigrette is an especially good choice for this salad, the extra acidity another nice contrast, but a honey mustard dressing is great as well. I eat plenty of salads all year long, but when the grass is green and the sun is warm, they taste all the more delicious.

Broccoli Strawberry Salad with Goat Cheese and Almonds
serves 1

2 ounces baby spinach or lettuce, washed (about 2 cups)
1/2 ounce thinly sliced red onion
2 ounces roasted or grilled broccoli (about 1/4 cup)
1 ounce quartered or sliced strawberries (about 2 tablespoons or 3 to 4 small to medium or 2 large strawberries)
2 tablespoons chopped toasted almonds
2 tablespoons crumbled goat cheese
Salad dressing, for serving

1. Divide spinach evenly between two plates and top each with red onion, broccoli, strawberries, almonds, and goat cheese. Drizzle with dressing of choice and enjoy!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tacos with Mushrooms, Kale, and Chile-Caramelized Onions

Remember that new taco obsession I predicted? It has most definitely come to pass, yet another recipe theme from Joe Yonan I can't resist exploring. There's a long list of foods that become a tasty meal when wrapped up in tortilla with some cheese and hot sauce, but all the subtle additions that make these tacos much more than mushrooms, greens, and cheese.

They may share some spices and salty cheese with their predecessors, but these tacos are a different and delicious beast. The onions are infused with a familiar spicy smokiness, but the sprinkling of sugar amps up the caramelization and fuses all the flavors quickly. Mushrooms, while not terribly interesting on their own, are the perfect flavor sponges for vibrant spices used here, while also picking up a brown crust of their own along the way. The greens add a nice bit of nutrition, color, and freshness, completed nicely by the salty cheese and final dash of heat over the top.

Out of corn tortillas or not in the mood for tacos? This hearty, spicy, and earthy concoction could also be served over rice or other grains, happily wrapped up in a burrito, or topped with some runny eggs. No matter what you decide to do with this vegetarian taco filling, it won't leave your taste buds or belly disappointed.

Tacos with Mushrooms, Kale, and Chile-Caramelized Onions
adapted from Serve Yourself by Joe Yonan
serves 1

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground ancho, chipotle, or other chile
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 small red onion, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 or 4 corn tortillas, preferably homemade
6 ounces oyster, cremini, hen of the woods, or other meaty mushrooms, cut into large pieces
1/2 cup frozen or 1 to 2 cups fresh baby kale or spinach
1 ounce queso fresco, soft goat cheese, or feta cheese, crumbled
Salsa or hot sauce of choice, for serving

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it shimmers, sprinkle in the ground ancho, cumin and cinnamon and cook until the spices sizzle and are very fragrant, about 30 seconds. Toss in the onion slices, stirring to break them apart. Cook until the onion starts to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, salt, and sugar. Decrease the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft, about 10 minutes.

2. While the onions are cooking, warm the tortillas and wrap them in aluminum foil to keep warm.

3. Increase the heat under the skillet to medium-high, add the mushrooms, toss to combine, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms exude their juices and are just shy of tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add greens and cook, stirring frequently, until greens are warmed through and mushrooms are tender, another couple minutes. Remove from the heat.

4. Lay the tortillas out on a plate. Divide the mushroom-onion mixture among the tortillas. Top each with a few crumbles of the goat cheese, a bit of greens, and a drizzle of salsa, and eat.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Avocado Pasta

For as much as I'm into food and cooking, food trends will often pass me by. Yes, I've put bacon and Sriracha in many recipes, and made many a batch of kale chips, but I missed it when Avocado Pasta made the rounds a few years ago. And it's a real shame that I did, because I could have been eating it for years.

Now a lot of recipes claim to be 15 minute meals, but this one really is. The time it takes for the water to come to a boil and the pasta to cook is more than enough to blend up some avocado, lime, garlic, and cilantro to create the simple sauce. I like to spice it up with a bit of red pepper flakes and hot sauce, but this sumptuously creamy sauce is quite tasty even with just a bit of salt and pepper. Cilantro and lime are my favorite combination, but basil or parsley with lemon are lovely as well. You may also want to add a bit of Parmesan (or nutritional yeast, for vegans) for an even savorier sauce, or chicken or shrimp to make it an even heartier meal.

The only disadvantage to this dish is that, because of the avocado in the sauce, it doesn't reheat well and should be eaten as soon as it's made. But with a meal this tasty, you probably won't end up with any leftovers anyway.

Avocado Pasta
adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod
serves 2

4 to 6 ounces whole wheat spaghetti or fettuccine
1 large ripe Avocado, pitted and peel removed
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste (optional)
Kosher or sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Hot sauce, to taste (optional)

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta to the pot and cook until al dente, or according to the package instructions, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.

2. While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce by placing the avocado, garlic, lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper into a food processor or blender. Process until smooth and creamy. Add pasta cooking water, a tablespoon or two a time, to achieve a pourable consistency.

3. Combine the pasta and avocado sauce, adding pasta water as needed to thin the sauce and coat the pasta. Serve warm, garnishing with hot sauce, if desired.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chickpea, Spinach, Feta, and Pepita Tacos

It looks like I'm falling into another Joe Yonan recipe theme - tacos! And why wouldn't I be? Tacos are undeniably fantastic. No matter your dietary restriction or preference, there's a taco out there for you, a peaceful culinary neutral zone where everyone from carnivores to gluten-free vegans can find something delicious to fill their belly.

My own taco preferences run quite the gamut as well. While you won't find me in the drive-through getting Doritos Locos tacos, I might be chowing down on anything from the quick-and-easy crunchy ground beef variety to handmade corn tortillas stuffed with long-cooked carnitas. This meal, however, lies somewhere in between. I took a shortcut and bought my tortillas, and though I didn't spend all day lovingly crafting my taco filling, I spent just enough time prepping and crafting this complex filling to still make it feel like a special treat.

The list of ingredients might seem a little long, but I promise this is just the right amount of complex. The basic combination of onions, beans, garlic, tomatoes, and greens form a healthy, filling, and delicious base, but it's the luxurious finishes - feta, avocado, and pepitas - that make these tacos so special. They're smoky, spicy, salty, fresh, and rich all at the same time, a wonderful variety of flavors and textures incorporated into each messy bite. You might end up with a few delicious juices dripping down your chin, but these tasty tacos are worth every bit of  inconvenience.

Chickpea, Spinach, Feta, and Pepita Tacos
adapted from Serve Yourself by Joe Yonan
serves 1

3 or 4 corn tortillas, preferably homemade
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground ancho chile
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 small shallot lobe, thinly sliced or 1/4 cup finely diced onion
1 small tomato, chopped (or substitute 1/2 cup canned crush tomatoes in their juices or even salsa)
1/3 cup cooked chickpeas, preferably homemade, drained and rinsed
1 ounce (about 1 cup) lightly packed spinach, chard, or baby kale leaves, stacked, rolled, and thinly sliced
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 avocado, peeled, seeded, and sliced cut into chunks
1 ounce queso fresco or feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas; see note)
Hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Tapatio, for serving (optional)
Cilantro, for serving (optional)
1/2 lime, cut into wedges, for serving (optional)

1. Warm the tortillas and wrap them in aluminum foil to keep warm.

2. Pour the oil into a medium skillet over medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the ground ancho, stir to combine, and cook until it sizzles and becomes very fragrant about 30 seconds. Add the garlic and shallot and cook until the vegetables start to soften and slightly brown, 4 to 6 minutes.

3. Stir in the tomato and chickpeas and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomato softens and starts to break down. Add the spinach and cook until the spinach wilts, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Lay the tortillas out on a plate and divide the chickpea-spinach mixture among them. Top with the avocado and feta and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds. Serve with your choice of hot sauce, cilantro, and lime wedges.

Note: To roast the pumpkin seeds, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees F for 5 to 7 minutes, until the seeds are very fragrant. Immediately transfer to a plate to stop the cooking and allow the seeds to cook completely. Alternatively, toast them in a skillet over medium heat, tossing frequently.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Roasted Salmon, Scallion, and Barley Bowl with Miso Sauce

Scallions appear in so many recipes as garnish, but it's rare to find a recipe that makes them a major player. This means that when I end up buying a bunch to use sparingly in a recipe like Spicy Thai Coconut Quinoa, the remnants either end up garnishing anything remotely appropriate or just going to waste. It's much more interesting to make them a principal player in an composed dish, and I fortunately didn't have to look too far for inspiration.

Like virtually every vegetable I've encountered, roasting brings out the best in scallions, cultivating a smoky sweetness that tempers their typically sharp edge. That same cooking technique creates a beautiful crust on the salmon, meaning you only need a few minutes to get both ingredients ready for the oven, and a couple quick check-ins during the cooking process. I chose barley for my grain base in this dish, but rice or even quinoa could work, though I particularly love the combination of chewy barley, tender fish, and soft and crispy scallion bits. Miso, though expensive and typically only available in fairly large containers, is a great umami-packed shortcut ingredient that introduces a ton of flavor to any dish with just a scant amount. The saltiness is balanced by the acidic vinegar, rich and toasty sesame oil, and sweet honey, happily uniting the barley, scallions, and salmon.

Healthy, delicious, and ridiculously quick and easy, this recipe is enough to make me buy scallions for more than a finishing touch.

Roasted Salmon, Scallion, and Barley Bowl with Miso Sauce
inspired by Saveur
serves 2

2 bunches scallions (about 1 pound), trimmed
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup pearled barley
Two (4- to 6-ounce) salmon fillets
1 tbsp. white or barley miso
2½ tsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1½ tsp. honey
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Sriracha or other hot sauce, for serving  (optional)

1. Prepare barley according to package directions. Set aside and keep warm.

2. Heat oven to 450°. Toss scallions with enough olive oil to coat, salt, and pepper and spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake, stirring once, until golden and wilted, about 15­ minutes, adding salmon partway through (see next step).  

3. Brush the salmon fillets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the salmon fillets about 5 minutes into the scallion roasting time, depending on the size of the salmon fillets, making sure to allow at least 4 to 6 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness. Roast until salmon is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

4. Transfer barley to a serving dish and top with scallions and salmon, flaking if desired. Whisk miso, vinegar, sesame oil, honey, and red pepper flakes, if using, in a bowl until smooth and drizzle over the top. Serve promptly, garnishing with hot sauce, if desired.