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red quinoa, kale & roasted cauliflower

April 7th, 2014 | No Comments »

I have a tendency not to share these dishes we eat, mostly thrown together with ingredients from the fridge that likely need to be used up before they become this years compost material. This ‘Cowboy Cooking’, as Mike calls it, is a strange gift that I have, an ability to see what’s available and be able to make something delicious from it. Plenty of people do it, I’m sure.

I just need to share it more often. Because the results are often pretty spectacular.

On one of my last trips through CostCo, I came across a 4-lb bag of red quinoa for $15.99. At $4 a pound, this gorgeously colored grain was significantly less expensive than any bulk option I’d ever seen anywhere, and I snatched a sack off the shelf as if they might vaporize right in front of my eyes. Cooking off a large pan at a time, I freeze what I don’t use, which then helps the ‘Cowboy Cooking’ at some point down the road. My favorite means of preparing this delicious grain is to use half coconut water and half coconut milk, along with smoked paprika and turmeric, as it creates a flavor bomb that blows off the top of your head in delight, as well as mixing in that beautiful yellow color that turmeric is known for, making the end result even more gorgeous. Pretty food makes everything better, doesn’t it?

red quinoa ~~ kate in the kitchen

I realize that everything about this dish screams of the current love of all things kale and roasted cauliflower and blah, blah blah with the addition of the ubiquitous quinoa, and more blah, blah, blah coconut water, and where is the creativity or uniqueness in any of that?? You’re right. There isn’t any. Maybe you’ve already done this dish; tossed together a pan of burnished cauliflower with your own uniquely cooked quinoa, and a pan of silky, slowly braised kale that’s pungently scented with garlic and thought that you were a million ways brilliant like I did. There’s nothing to it. And that’s part of why I want to share this delicious and superbly easy dish. There IS nothing to it. Which means you don’t need a whole resume of skills to get a fantastic dinner on the table. Or really, a lot of hands-on time.

red quinoa, roasted cauliflower, braised kale ~~ kate in the kitchen

Let’s take that quinoa: it’s one of the simplest grains ever to cook. Forget that whole 2:1 ratio of water to grain, though; with quinoa, it’s wrong, and will result in a mushy, unappetizing food that no one in your house will want to touch. Here’s the deal: one cup of quinoa needs 1-1/4 cups of liquid. That’s it. It needs a simple simmer, and then…. here’s the easiest part; it needs about 15 minutes of you ignoring it on a hot pad when it’s done. Yup. Take it off the heat when the water is absorbed, set it aside, covered, and ignore it. You can ignore it for an hour and it won’t care. In fact, it LOVES to be ignored. You can cook it in the morning and ignore it all day until dinner and it won’t care. Your result, however, will be a toothsome bite to the grain that reveals all of quinoa’s beautiful tastes. Nothing mushy here, folks.

And that kale? Have you ever found curly kale to be tough and chewy? Not to your liking? Try a slow braise of it, on the lowest heat setting your stove will offer, with just a tiny bit of liquid. I promise you this method will render the toughness right out of this nutritional bomb, making it silky, smooth and delicious to eat. Start with a small onion, or shallot, add a few cloves of garlic, then drop the chopped kale in the pan, stir for a few minutes, add enough liquid to cover the bottom of the pan, a pinch of kosher salt, and cover it to cook. You can ignore this one too for a while and it’s ok. Curly kale doesn’t mind. Stir it a few times, and after about 20 minutes or so, the kale will start to show you it’s better side. If it still tastes tough when you sample a leaf, give it more time. Add another pinch of salt, too. It helps break down the cellular walls and tenderize the leaves.

The tender cauliflower, nutty grain and silky kale make for a mouth-awakening dish. And just for fun, I dumped in a bunch of cooked lentils that I had in the fridge to add to all the lip-smacking goodness. This dish…. it’s good when it’s hot; it tastes great at room temperature, and it’s wonderful chilled too. Easy. Endlessly versatile. Colorful. Healthy. It’s got it all. Now YOU need to get it all.

 

Red Quinoa, Braised Kale & Roasted Cauliflower

1 c. red quinoa, washed well and drained (regular white is fine, too)
1-1/4 c. water (or combination of equal liquids such as coconut water & coconut milk)
1 T. ground turmeric
1 T. smoked paprika
1 bunch curly Kale, washed and de-stemmed
1 medium shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 head Cauliflower, washed and broken in to bite sized pieces.
Salt and pepper to taste.

In a small saucepan, bring water or liquids to a boil. Add the quinoa, turmeric and smoke paprika and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and allow to cook until the liquid has been absorbed. Keep covered, remove from heat and set aside for at least 15 minutes, or up to several hours. No need to chill. Fluff the grains before utilizing.

Meanwhile, heat your oven to 400°. Place cauliflower on a baking sheet and drizzle with a bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt. Mix well and place in hot oven. Stir occasionally and roast until fork-tender and browned in spots.

In a medium skillet, heat a small amount of oil and sear the shallot and garlic until tender and slightly browned. Add the kale and stir until coated. Pour about 1/3 cup of water in the pan, sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt on the kale and stir to combine. Cover the pan, reduce to the lowest heat setting and allow to cook, stirring once or twice, for 20-25 minutes. Taste a kale leaf; if it still tastes chewy, cook for 5-10 more minutes. The kale should be silky and tender in your teeth. Keep the heat LOW.

Combine the quinoa, cauliflower and kale in a large bowl and taste for seasoning, adding more salt or pepper if desired.

{NOTE: I don’t include cooking times for this recipe, or any of mine really, because your oven and stovetop is not the same as mine. Instinct, as a cook, is a necessity; your browned cauliflower might look different than mine. Your onions could cook quicker, and your Low setting on your stove could be higher than mine and cook that kale faster. Trust. Taste as you go. And trust some more. Your mouth will tell you when it’s done.}

 

food bloggers unite: feeding south africa

February 10th, 2014 | 2 Comments »
“It is our moral obligation to give every child the very best education possible. In order to learn, children need to be nourished. The Lunchbox Fund ensures that ever child is equipped to embrace the future and change it for the better.”
— Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

This year’s event by The Giving Table focuses on South Africa, and The Lunchbox Fund, which “…..has been feeding impoverished and orphaned schoolchildren since 2005. It brings communities together with the help of small local businesses and entrepreneurs, and provides vulnerable students with healthy meals that nourish their bodies and minds.” 

  • The Lunchbox Fund identifies schools or forms partnerships with locally based NGOs or community organizations in order to evaluate and identify schools. It funds distributers to buy and deliver food, monitor the feeding scheme, implement a Project Manager, and deliver reports back to them for evaluation.


Maybe you were here last year when I told my own personal tale of being hungry, and the impact it had on me. Last year’s cause focused on children in the USA that went hungry every day, on families that struggled to make ends meet and provide enough food. But children go hungry all over the world. And we know they do. But what do we do about it?

What have YOU done about it? What are you WILLING you do about it?

While breakfast is one of my favorite meals ever, lunchtime is a treasured routine, a suspension in the middle of any day when all activity stops and we sit down to nourish ourselves for the rest of the day. As far back as I can recall, I have so many memories of lunchtime; from being able to come home for lunch when I was just a kid (do any school children actually do this anymore?? It was such a treat.) to a break in the action of high school to gather in the lunchroom and catch up with everyone. Then, we enter the workplace, and those moments when work ceases and we pick up our lunch totes, or head out for a quick fix. Weekend lunches of leisure and leftovers. It all resonates. I’ve always enjoyed lunchtime, no matter where I am, or how old I’ve become.

I cannot imagine being in school and not being able to eat lunch. When my boy was young, and when he allowed me to pack a lunch for him, I wanted it to be something special that he enjoyed and we worked together to make it fun, to be something he looked forward to and would eat when the time came. He would help me pack his tote, make sure that he had a napkin or the right utensil for his yogurt, a cup of dressing to dip his carrots in, an apple cut up just so. When he wasn’t looking, I would slip in a note just for him. Eventually, he wanted school lunch just like the other kids, and when he got home, we always talked about what he ate, why he liked it and what he didn’t. One day, I clearly recall when he told me how he and a few friends shared their lunch with a new boy in their class who had no food. When he asked me why that boy wasn’t given lunch, or didn’t bring any with him, I had no answer. We talked about how it was always a good idea to share if someone had none.

 

  • Lack of food can diminish concentration, erode willpower, and strip away a child’s potential; without food, a child’s attendance and performance at school is severely jeopardized. 
  • 65% of all South African children live in poverty. Receiving food encourages these children to stay in school and obtain their education.


We know, as adults, that being hungry makes it hard to concentrate. We know how it can affect our work, and most of us keep snacks at hand to ward off hunger if our meals don’t carry us through, but imagine being a child, in school and trying to concentrate while hunger gnaws at your belly. There are no snacks. Likely there’s little at home to even start the day. And there may even be no promise of food throughout the entire school day. No one should have to live like that.

Can you find it in your heart to donate even a small dollar amount to help? All you have to do is click on this link..….. it’s so easy, and so profound. We all spend money throughout our days that provides us with simple pleasures that we take solely for granted; our daily latte fix, that cup of yogurt with all the fancy toppings, a candy bar, a soda, the latest fashion or gossip magazine, even the money we spend on our own daily lunches. Where does that money go? Would you consider donating only $10 dollars? Most people spend that every day and rarely can recall on what, but $10 would help fill The Lunchbox Fund and provide 100 school children their only meal of the day for an entire year. Can you imagine the impact of that small of a donation?  Compare that to a cup of yogurt, or your fancy latte and I think you’d agree it’s money well spent.

My lunch now is always fairly simple. I like quick, nourishing salads for my midday meal, or simple foods like an apple and peanut butter, a handful of nuts, hummus and vegetables, a quick meal of leftovers from the previous night. I like the calm of a quiet half hour to eat, to taste and enjoy, to watch the sun out the window and just be.

This raw kale salad has been on repeat in my lunch repertoire since discovering it’s simple tastes, the crunch of pistachios and the dreamy, chewy dates that bounce off the tart dressing. It’s a breeze to prepare, and taste much better the next day, after the lime juice, miso and sesame oil have a chance to penetrate the kale, soften it fully and infuse it with flavor. Make it the night before and by lunchtime, it will be perfect.

Raw Kale Salad with Lime-Sesame Dressing,
Pistachios & Dates

For the salad:

One bunch Lacinato Kale, washed, stems removed and rough chopped
1/3 c. pistachios, roasted & salted (or raw, if you prefer)
2 Medjool dates, pits removed and minced
1 t. fresh squeezed lime juice
Pinch of sea salt

For the dressing:
2 T. toasted sesame oil
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 T. fresh squeezed lime juice
2 t. white or brown miso
2 t. honey
2 T. white or brown sesame seeds, crushed
Pinch of sea salt

Place kale in a bowl. Drizzle with the teaspoon of lime juice and the pinch of sea salt. With your hands, gently massage the lime juice and kale for a few minutes until it becomes soft. Set aside

In a measuring cup or small bowl, place the crushed sesame seeds and sea salt. Drizzle with the lime juice, sesame and olive oils and whisk gently to combine. Add the miso and honey and whisk together thoroughly. Taste for seasoning. It should have a nice balance of tangy, salty and sweet. Adjust with a bit more miso or honey, if desired. Drizzle half the dressing over the massaged kale and toss to combine. Add more dressing if needed, but you may not use all of it. Add the pistachios and minced dates, toss well and serve. Salad will deepen in flavor if allowed to sit for a few hours, or overnight.

lift, swim, eat, repeat

January 22nd, 2014 | 2 Comments »

It’s frigid outside, again, although nowhere near as cold as it was a week ago. In the pool room of the Y, the sun is making the water sparkle, when it’s able to peek out from the whirling dervishes of snow kicked up by the intense Northerly winds. The snow devils block the two story high windows, but even on this deeply cold day, the warmth in the pool is welcome. I slip in to the water and feel the shock of the cold over my entire body, shivering a little as I push off from the wall.

I’m sore this morning, as our Body Pump class has started a new release, changing the sequences and challenging our muscles all over again. This happens every six weeks, and I equally anticipate it, and dread it. And I love it. And hate it. Change is hard, and this physical change that I’ve been putting myself through for the last 14 months has forced me out of my comfort zone more times than I ever expected. Some mornings, just stretching, and rolling out of bed elicits groans and tender first steps. Going up and down stairs can hurt for the first treads after a good leg workout, and those first strokes in the pool, like today, felt tough, but freeing. Swimming takes the hurt out of muscles torn and battered, challenged through lifting, forced into re-building and growth. But the first 100 yards or so can almost bring tears to my eyes as the soreness abates, the tendons and ligaments stretch and recover. I swim to make it better, then, the next day I lift the bar, clip on the plates and tear myself up all over again.

I’ve always been active, but in previous years, most of that activity was in warmer months, saving my nordic ski habit for Winter. As much as I love the skinny skis, it wasn’t enough, and I knew I needed more; more weight training as I age to help ward off osteoporosis and keep good skeletal health. More cardio to keep my lungs healthy, in a family with history of asthma. And more movement to keep me from languishing through a Winter, sinking in to a soft chair, one eye on the calendar, waiting for Spring, for my bike to come down from the rafters in the garage so I can spin the tires once more. Starting was difficult, keeping at it to make it a habit was even more difficult, but one day I awoke and felt excitement at the thought of another Body Pump class, in realizing it was a swim day and anticipating how good I would feel when it was all over. The rewards were reinforced even further when clothing began to loosen, my shoulders strengthened and those bike rides didn’t feel so strenuous any longer. In 14 months, I haven’t lost a single pound, but everything looks different, and pants that were snug before I started can now be pulled over my hips without even being unbuttoned.

I love this article … stop a moment and go read it, as I think you’ll find it fascinating, too. I was a skeptic, and at one point would have scoffed at the information, but now, I’m a believer, and a convert and gladly head to the YMCA six days a week for one more Body Pump class, or to slip through the water, admiring the sparkling sunbeams on the pool floor as I swim. All the aches, the hurt and fatigue, the sore muscles and mind-numbing but uplifting after-burn combines to motivate me every day, to be better, and stronger.

Soups and hearty warm stews are a constant these days. Nowhere in your kitchen repertoire can you find a dish that is so versatile and so accepting of the varied means to an end. Minestrone is designed to take in the leftovers lurking in the fridge, the odds and ends of vegetables that don’t have a place otherwise, to steep together, to create something that fills you up after a cold day has taken the last of your coping skills away, or a good workout has drained your energy. I love that a good soup or stew tastes better in subsequent days, that the flavors meld and deepen, almost, like continual exercise does with our bodies, becoming something else altogether.

Perfect Minestrone

1 large onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 celery stalks, with leaves, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced (adjust to taste, I am a garlic lover)
2 small zucchini, peeled and diced
1/2# fresh green beans, cut to 1/2″ pieces
1 bunch fresh kale, rough stems removed and chopped (sub chard, collards, or spinach)
1 32-oz container Pomi* Tomatoes (use equivalent of your choice)
1/4 c. quinoa (optional, but I like the heft and nutrition it adds)
1/4 c. fresh chopped parsley and oregano (basil and thyme are also good)
Parm-Reggiano shavings

In a large stockpot, heat a small amount of oil and add the onions. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are opaque. Add the carrots, celery and green beans and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to brown a little, maybe 10-15 minutes. Moderate the heat to prevent them from scorching.

Add the garlic and a pinch of kosher salt. Stir to incorporate and cook for a few minutes until it’s wonderfully fragrant. Add the  zucchini and the tomatoes and a quart of broth or water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender enough to pierce with a fork, but not completely soft.

Add the kale, the pasta and the quinoa, if using. Depending on what pasta shape you use, cook until the pasta is al dente. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper. Make sure the pasta is cooked, but also remember that it will continue to absorb liquid as the soup sits.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with a sprinkling of the fresh herbs and some shavings of cheese. Serve with a good bread, if desired.

*- Pomi Tomatoes are a packaged brand of tomatoes available in most grocers. The container is aseptic, with no BPA and the taste is phenomenal, fresh and clean. It’s one of my favorite brands of canned tomatoes on the market.

NOTE: The original version of this recipe called for pasta, as most Minestrone soups do. I subbed in quinoa for a GF option but you can use any small pasta shape of your choice if you wish. The photo shows Orzo pasta.

 

KATE’S NOTES: A good Minestrone is designed to use up vegetable odds and ends. While these make for a delicious soup, use whatever you have available to make your Minestrone unique, and to use up what’s in your refrigerator.

heirloom flavor {review & recipe}

September 19th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

I have been fortunate lately to receive some really nice books for review purposes. This particular one, ‘Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday’s Best Tasting Vegetables, Fruits & Herbs for Today’s Cook’ by Doreen Howard, was highly anticipated, as our CSA offers many heirloom varieties, an option that was a huge draw for me in selecting it in the first place.


Come in to my kitchen…

try everything once, including grilled cabbage

September 4th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

It’s pretty rare that I won’t try something new. For food, that’s a given; and I’m willing to try most everything once. You can never say that you don’t like something if you never try it, and more often than not, you should try a food a minimum of five times before declaring it off limits. Certain foods, however, I have taken one bite, just to say “I’ve tried this.” but there was never any chance of a repeat performance.

Like beef tongue. And for the record, I realize that it’s ‘beef’. But when you walk in to your culinary class at 6:45am, bleary eyed and in search of coffee and a massive, pale, gross looking slug of WHAT-THE-HELL-IS-THAT??? is laying on the counter, to which your instructor glibly tells you ‘That’s beef tongue.’, it truly turns your stomach. You cannot even imagine how enormous the tongue of a cow is unless it’s laying on the counter in front of you. Think of what you see, then add about 18 inches. Plus, cooking that thing is…. pungent. Then you have to peel it, and that’s as horrible as it sounds, because it’s truly wretched when you hear, and see it happening. I asked my instructor if my grade would be based on eating the beef tongue and he shook his head, thankfully. I took one taste, though, fresh with the memory of that pale slug looking thing, and the ripping of skin in my head and that was the end of that.

These days, the list of foods that I eat is extensive, no more surprising that 90% of them, I’m betting, were foods I didn’t touch even 10 years ago; beets, fennel, tomato, chard, spinach, mushrooms, eggplant (jury is still out on that one), salmon, onions, squash (both varieties), fresh herbs, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts…. it just goes on and on. The expansion of your palate will never be a quick and perfect thing, and that’s ok. As long as you never stop trying new foods, new methods of cooking foods and keeping an open mind to it all, there may come a day when mushrooms are on your plate because YOU put them there. This is no more surprising to me than being jabbed with a pin, as mushrooms were so revolting to me for so long that I nearly gagged just being in the same room with them.

My work allows me a constant window to people’s eating quirks. And even after 2-1/2 years at this  job, I still am surprised to come across food aversions. I’m not talking about avoidance for health reasons, such as lactose or gluten issues, I’m talking about people who visibly shudder when I serve salmon. “It’s fishy.” is the standard response. And they don’t want to hear that it’s only fishy when it isn’t fresh. That the cooking method goes miles towards making it taste good. That even if they haven’t eaten it in 20 years, they really should try it again. Once someone makes up their mind that they don’t like a food, it’s pointless to even open their minds again.

And that’s sad. If that had been me 10 years ago, my life, my meals and my mind would be terribly stagnant. And what’s the worse that can happen? You make a dish and end up not liking it? Maybe it was the method. The seasonings. It was overcooked, or undercooked. Did anyone really love kale the first time they ate it? I sure didn’t. But I kept on trying, because if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained.  Which brings me to Grilled Cabbage.

My only exposure to warm cabbage in a meal was when I was young and the corned beef with cabbage dinner was prepared in our house. The smell was nauseating, and I couldn’t eat the pale, limp cabbage that was the result. With this memory, I’m not sure how I decided that grilling it might be better, but I’m always willing to take a shot and see what I hit. Something about that additional smoky grilled taste caught in my head, and I drizzled olive oil over sliced cabbage in an oven safe skillet and sprinkled it with a bit of sea salt.

Then I set the entire pan in the middle of a very full grill.

This was totally new for me, and I wasn’t even sure I would like it, but I let it brown all over, tossing it occasionally with tongs as it cooked. When it seemed tender, but still a bit crisp, I took it off the heat and scattered a handful of crumbled blue cheese on it.

A tentative first bite, and contemplative chew revealed the smoky taste I was looking for, and a surprisingly crisp yield. A pop of blue cheese sealed the result; it was really good. Unbelievably, outrageously good; so good that I ate the entire pan, a half head of Napa cabbage, along with the rest of my dinner.

You know when you’ve had something extraordinary happen, and it seems to fill you with a sense of wonder? Like the air around you has shifted and you can almost feel a change taking hold of you? This, coupled with the start of September, a new month, and all around me seeing my friends children go off to school in new clothes, to new schools, from new homes and new states and begin brand new experiences and somewhere inside you, this time of year says ‘What was will never be the same again.’

And I don’t think I’ll look at a plain head of cabbage again, now that I know what heat and smoke can do to it. So try something new, and keep your mind open to possibilities and just TRY those foods that you maybe once hated, that maybe made you gag or roll your eyes. You just never know, do you?

What are some foods that you eat now that you once couldn’t stand??

Grilled Cabbage

Napa cabbage, shredded, but not too fine
Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Blue cheese crumbles (or feta, if you are so inclined)

Heat grill to high, or prepare coals to make a good hot base.

In an oven safe skillet, or a cast iron pan, lay cabbage in one layer as best as possible. It will shrink a bit, so you can wedge it together at the beginning. Drizzle with about 1/4 cup of olive oil and sprinkle with a teaspoon of sea salt, or to taste. Place pan on grill grate and shut the lid. (Remember…. the handle will be HOT. Keep an oven mitt or towel close by, with a set of tongs)

Allow to sit, undisturbed, for about 15 minutes, then toss lightly, pressing it back to one layer. This helps with the browning, which provides tons of flavor. Cook, tossing occasionally, until cabbage is wilted and browned all over. How long you cook it depends on how crisp or soft you wish it to be. My pan was probably on the grill for (maybe) a half hour, possibly less, and the end result was crisp, but still tender.

Remove from heat and toss blue cheese on top. Allow to cool slightly, and consume warm. Season with pepper, if need be.

raw pea salad for your Summer

June 27th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

I’m fairly certain that you don’t feel like cooking when the heat index soars. No one really does, and even though we’re still a bit behind on our growing season, the bounty at the Farmers Markets is such that you can arrive home, dripping from a hot, steamy walk among the tables with an overflowing sack of fresh vegetables and make something cool, refreshing and satisfying for dinner without turning on your oven. Like this raw pea salad.

Come in to my kitchen…

sweet corn & goat cheese spread

August 1st, 2012 | 4 Comments »

It isn’t much, I admit. This spread, or dip or whatever you wish to call it was a lightning bolt of inspiration one night when I was craving something different to put on our favorite grilled dinner item- a loaf of pillowy ciabatta bread stuffed with an assortment of grilled vegetables.

Sweet corn is in that stage of ripeness and availability right now that finds it everywhere you turn, and we’re consuming it several times a week, as well it should be. We’re so blessed in Minnesota to have an abundant crop of the good stuff, ready on road side stands, in the Farmers Market and a few select amazing Minnesota grown varieties in the local grocers as well. Sweet corn that bursts when you bite it, needing little besides a drizzle of butter and salt to make it wonderful. Have you tried mashed avocado on sweet corn? You must. It’s simply divine. And this creamy, slightly tart-sweet spread also lends itself highly to corn, hot from the grill or bubbling stock pot of water.

Beyond the goat cheese and sweet corn kernels, stripped from the cob, you could do any additions to this, with endless possibility. Fresh herbs are a must; I used lemon thyme, oregano and parsley (my basil is overgrown and bitter from the heat- big sad eyes here) but if you have good basil, by all means, use it in this spread. Add a pinch of sugar to balance the tart; combine some Southwestern flavors like cumin, lime juice and zest and chili powder for a big ol’ kick. Add curry powder and lime juice  for an altogether different interpretation. Since the sweet corn supply is endless, your variations on this could be as well.

Sweet Corn & Goat Cheese Spread with Fresh Herbs

1 ear sweet corn, cooked and kernels stripped
2 oz soft plain goat cheese
1 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 t. fresh lemon zest
3 T. mixed fresh herbs
Pinch of brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in the work bowl of a food processor and process until fully combined, scraping bowl occasionally. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if it’s too sweet, or a bit more sugar if too tart.

Just a note on this: I have a tiny little food processor, like a quart sized one and it was perfect for making this spread. In a larger bowl type of processor, you may not have a confined enough space to get it to mix properly. Try it in a regular blender, or in a deep pyrex measuring cup with an immersion blender if you have either of those options. This made about a cup’s worth of spread, but if you want to make more, increase the ingredients accordingly.

millet & chickpea salad

July 8th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

Summer kind of smacked us around this past week in Minnesota. We’re a state that lives for Summer, for beach time and hours spent outdoors engaging in just about any activity that means we escape our houses and enjoy the weather, but then there are those Summer days that are so hot, so thickly humid and uncomfortable that we have no choice but to stay home, avoid the triple digits outdoors and attempt to entertain ourselves while the sun tries to burn holes in our roof.

I’ve experienced some hot Summers in my lifetime; 1988 was a blistering hot Summer that saw temperature records fall by the score, knocking out ones that had stood the test of time since the 1930′s. I was living in a third floor walk-up apartment with no A/C and I’ve never been so miserable in my life. One evening in July, as I sat out on the stoop with other exhausted and over-heated residents of our building, the night air at 10:30 was still hovering around 105°. Trying to sleep was impossible. At 3:30 that morning, I finally gave up and turned on the radio, only to hear that the current temperature was 88°. During that particular Summer, we saw a stretch of weather where the temperature did not fall below 85° for more than a week. At that point in time, central air-conditioning was still a novelty.

I don’t recall much about what I ate during that sweltering Summer, and having this cool, crunchy and fresh salad around might have made those awful days a bit more tolerable, but at that point in my life, my culinary exploits were just about non-existent. Thankfully, for our current heat wave, and after a quick and sweaty trip through the Farmers Market, we were stocked to the hilt with fresh greens and lettuces and crisp vegetables, making this dish a mainstay of those sticky days blessedly spent inside our comfortable, fully air-conditioned house.

Not familiar with millet? Most of us in the USA see it only in birdseed, and that’s a sad fate for us humans, but terrific for the birds. Millet is widely cultivated  in the form of pearl millet in India and parts of Africa, and is popular there due to it’s high productivity and and short growing season. In the USA, the most widely cultivated form of millet is proso millet, grown and used as birdseed. Millet is an ancient grain, known for being the least allergenic and most digestible of the gluten-free ancient grains that are becoming more popular. Millet is high in fiber and all the B vitamins, iron, calcium and zinc. It cooks in less time than quinoa and has a pleasantly sweet and nutty flavor.

This salad, born of desperation and some choice nightmares over stressful memories of past sticky summers, made our stretch of housebound days feel a bit easier. Even in the cool comfort of home, with the heat and humidity kept at bay by closed shades, eating becomes almost an afterthought. There’s no comfort in foods that are heavy or rich; no desire for flame or heat, and when the mood strikes to eat something, it’s good to just reach in the refrigerator and pull out a bowl of summertime goodness. The crunch and snap of fresh vegetables, the headiness of herbs cut straight from the garden outside your door and a blind eye turned from the weather forecast was welcome relief as the calendar page turned to July.

This salad is endlessly versatile, and if Millet isn’t available, you can use just about any small grain you wish. With the wide variety of fresh vegetables in season, as well as delicious greens, putting your own personal thumbprint on this salad is a cinch. I loved the addition of the radish greens to the salad, offering their unique peppery bite, but if you use them, seek out organic radishes to insure that the greens aren’t laden with pesticide residue. And as always, with time in the refrigerator, this salad takes on a lot more flavor.

Now we’re all set for the next heat wave. Let’s just hope it’s not too soon.

Millet & Chickpea Salad

1/2 c. raw millet
1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced (remove the seeds if desired)
1 small bunch radishes and their greens, washed and sliced
1 c. fresh chopped herbs such as basil, oregano, thyme and parsley
1/4 c. good quality olive oil
2 T. white or red wine vinegar
Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

In a small saucepan, bring 1-1/2 cups of water to a boil. Rinse millet in a wire mesh strainer until the water runs clear. Add millet to boiling water with a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Test the grains. They should still be firm, with a bit of softness, like rice. All the water might not be absorbed either. If tender, remove from heat and drain remaining water. Spread cooked millet on a parchment lined baking sheet to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the cooled millet, chickpeas, cucumber, and radish, greens included. Whisk the oil and vinegar together in a small measuring cup, season with salt and pepper. Pour over vegetables and toss to coat. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if you wish. Add half the herbs, toss together. Chill for about an hour. Taste before serving, adding more seasoning and herbs to boost flavor.

cauliflower two ways

July 5th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

Cauliflower is so endlessly versatile, and to think up until a few years ago, I’d only eaten it raw or boiled. Boiled? Ugh. Steamed is a much better, albeit bland, option, but if you allow it to go too far in the steamer, it’s lack of inspiration becomes legendary. The epiphany, thankfully,  was the pan of deeply roasted cauliflower that changed my mind about the stark white florets forever. I’ve tried it mashed like potatoes, and also pureed smooth with parmesan for a creamless alfredo sauce. But time and again, I placed a pan loaded with it in to a hot oven and devoured the results.

That was about it for that vegetable, and I was fine with it. I could eat cauliflower year-round, and I do, but now with a few new methods in my arsenal, I can enjoy this vegetable a whole lot more.

I came across this fried ‘rice’ recipe for Cauliflower on Shanna’s blog and knew that I had to get that going in my own kitchen. While I do love fried rice to the depths of my heart, it’s best when you have cold, cooked rice on hand and that’s not just something that materializes in this kitchen every day. But a head of cauliflower, ground in a few pulses in your food processor and mixed with the same type of seasonings in a hot wok can be a dynamite substitute, with a lot less calories and carbs.

And simple doesn’t even do this justice. It’s ridiculous how easy and quick this is. I spent more time prying the leaves from the core of cauliflower than any other aspect of putting this together, including chopping an onion. Given that you’re basically pulverizing the vegetable, you can use the core of it as well and no one would ever know the difference. In less than 10 minutes after heating up my wok, we sat down to steaming bowls of this fragrant meal.

Shanna has two options for this recipe on her blog, which is a wealth of beautiful writing (with a love story that’s almost as good as ours…..) and this base of ground cauliflower could really withstand just about any treatment to create your own version. I made a rich curry flavored dish, enhanced with ground pistachios for flavor and as I tossed and cooked it, inhaling the fragrance from the wok, I started thinking of all sorts of vegetables I could add to this to make it better and deeper in flavor, and in a second round of this simple meal, I added in some leftover vegetables from a coconut curry stir fry that Griffin had made, as well as a few handfuls of cold rice and the results were equally spectacular. This will be a new favorite in our house, you can bet on that.

Another mind-blowing option for Cauliflower that I’d been thinking about lately is to prepare it on the grill. I’ve seen methods of doing this by slicing through the head, creating a ‘steak’ and laying that on the grill. In my attempt to cut my Cauliflower though, my ‘steaks’ broke apart, leaving me with no other choice but to toss them on my grill plate to cook. Probably one of my best purchases for outdoor cooking, my cast iron grill plate lays directly on top of the grate and is perfect for cooking all manner of small foods; I can grill peppers and onions for fajitas, asparagus without losing any stalks, mushrooms, small fruit and a wide range of other foods, and it was perfect to create this smoky, sensational grilled cauliflower. I could barely contain myself from eating the entire bowl of it.

My most favorite marinade to use on grilled vegetables is a spicy mustard vinaigrette, brushed or tossed with the vegetable prior to being placed on the grate. It imparts terrific flavor, with just a bit of punch from the mustard. I’ve found that it works well on almost every vegetable I’ve ever grilled. Which, admittedly, has been A LOT. I love to grill just about anything.

Cauliflower Fried Rice

1 small head cauliflower, leaves removed and broken in to large chunks
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. fresh ginger, minced
1 t. crushed red pepper flakes
Coconut oil for cooking
Soy sauce and sesame oil to finish

Place the cauliflower in the work bowl of your food processor and pulse to break it down. You want small pieces but not too deeply ground up. It happens fast too, and I need about 3-4 good pulses before it’s perfect.

Heat  a small amount of coconut oil in your wok, or other large deep skillet. Add the onion and cook, stirring continually, until it’s softened, maybe 5 minutes tops. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for several more minutes. Add the cauliflower and stir to mix everything up. At this point, once the cauliflower is warmed, you can be done. I cooked it through a bit so it wasn’t completely crunchy, retaining just enough bite to be toothsome. It’s entirely up to you.

Drizzle the cauliflower with a bit of soy sauce and sesame oil, if desired, before serving.

 

RECIPE NOTES: This can be treated like any fried rice recipe, using vegetables to bulk up the finished product. The variations you can make are positively endless.

raw pea salad with jicama, cucumber & mint

June 27th, 2012 | Comments Off

I’ve never liked peas. Never. But again, as always, I’d been exposed only to frozen cooked peas, often overdone and alarming in their color and consistency. Even the smell made me want to gag.

But then again, up until just last year, I’d never had peas fresh, raw and straight from the shell. I popped this raw pea in to my mouth in a moment of bravery and bit down. It was, obviously, a revelation, and the continuation of these eye-opening food experiences as an adult has been nothing short of wondrous, proving that it is never, ever to late to learn about new foods.

Still, I’d never decided to push myself in to making something with raw peas until this summer when the idea began forming in my head for this salad. Coupled with the opening day of the Shoreview Farmers Market near us (and a day off of work for me) I picked up two baskets of sugar snap peas and spent an ungodly amount of time shelling them. As I stood there, thumbs slipping through the shells, watching the peas tumble in to the water, I thought back over time to how many women had done this task before me, sitting on a breezy porch or back steps in the warmth of late Spring, a basket of peas in their lap listening to the ‘plup plup’ of tiny peas hitting the bowl. I love the nostalgia of food, how the simple means of connecting with our sustenance has been practiced for generations, going back in time when eating local wasn’t considered trendy because it was all anyone could ever do. Sometimes I long for that ability to connect, to be caught deeply in a season of plenty sitting right outside my kitchen door.

Maybe I was born in the wrong era.

I couldn’t begin to tell you where the urge for this salad came from; it arrived with the heat blasting Minnesota, wringing us out in humidity and a continual dance of thunderstorms bringing severe damage, flooding and devastation. I’ve been shocked and saddened every day as photos flit across my screen showing the aftermath of these storms. Amidst all the chaos and rain-soaked days, the idea shimmered like the waves of sunlight, boiling up in me and urging itself along. Peas. Jicama. Cucumber and especially the mint. For some reason in my head, it all worked so I shelled, chopped, mixed and crossed my fingers. A squeeze of fresh lime juice, a few shakes of cumin and salt and a spoon lifted to my mouth assured me that my mind was right, as right as heat in the summertime and peas that will always need shelling. Right in the ways of that only simple can be.

I’d be completely at home in the wide open country, on an open back porch under the sunshine and immensely fresh air. I know I would. But in my lifetime that’s unlikely to happen. I won’t be picking sugar snap peas in my garden, warm in the heat, listening to them fall in a bowl but rest assured, I will be making this salad again. From the first bite, to the next and finally a stolen spoonful the following day to remind myself of how good it was, how fresh and summery it tasted in my mouth, it was so perfect, so crunchy sweet and all mixed up with flavor and snap. Here’s to the joy of Summer time.

 

 

Raw Pea Salad with Jicama, Cucumber & Mint

3# shelled sugar snap peas
1 c. english cucumber, peeled and diced fine
1 c. jicama, peeled and diced fine
1/4 c. chopped mint
1/3 c. good quality olive oil
3 T. fresh squeezed lime juice
1 T. fresh lime zest
1/2 t. ground cumin
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine the peas, cucumber, jicama and mint. Whisk together the oil, lime juice and zest, cumin, salt and pepper. Adjust to taste and pour over salad. Stir to combine, adjust salt and pepper. Chill for an hour before serving; taste for seasoning.

 

This salad was excellent served atop a bed of fresh salad greens, too. The vinaigrette dresses the greens beautifully.
Once chilled, the olive oil will solidify slightly;

you can let the salad sit at room temperature for a few minutes if that doesn’t appeal to you.