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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.

cold weather coping, with Vegetable Shepherds Pie

December 31st, 2013 | Comments Off

There’s no shortage of weather folklore to be found, in which the rhythm of the seasons can be a harbinger for predicting coming temperatures. This one seemed particularly fitting to our current weather in Minnesota.

When leaves fall early, Fall and Winter will be mild;
When leaves fall late, Winter will be severe.

Our whole theater of seasons in Minnesota was far, far behind the norm this year, with snow falling on May 1st, the growing season extended to near the end of October, and Autumn leaves peaking weeks behind schedule. Is it all an indication that our Winter will continue to be caught in a deep freeze? Stick around.

Decembers as of late have been all across the board for weather; we’ve had monster blizzards (December ’10) that dumped nearly 2-1/2 feet of snow on us, and Christmas weeks that have had nothing but hard rain (December ’12).

This December, it’s been the season of sub-zero temperatures.

It’s a languid post-Christmas week (languid for me as I took 9 days off after Christmas), and we’re already experiencing a second round of deep cold and unpleasant wind chills, of complaining and groaning over why one lives in such a place, running through Instagram photos of island vacations past, to dream of warm sand and sunshine and forget that exposed skin could acquire frostbite in just 10 minutes exposure outside. We bake to ward off the chill, simmer kettles of soup or slowly braise a comforting pot, cuddle under blankets, binge-watch Netflix and Hulu or movie catalogs, or just plain deal with it when the temperatures plummet and the wind bites with gnashing teeth at our skin. But one thing remains; we’re all in this together.

Cold weather isn’t much of an issue with me. I’ll add another layer, pull out the thick, warm wool mittens, tug on some leg warmers and keep my head down from the wind. Inside, I slip on wooly hand warmers, sheepskin slippers and invite the cats for a snuggle. Cranking up the oven helps too, as adding warm, cozy foods to the menu is the best way to keep warm from the inside.

This Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie was created as a vegetarian entree I was designated to bring for a Christmas gathering with my in-laws. I wanted something that would be universally accepted across the board by all the various dietary needs of our extended family; the Primal eaters, the wheat-free, the dairy-free and the meatless. It covers all those bases with it’s lush pile of heavenly roasted vegetables bathed in a balsamic glaze and a simple shower of salt and pepper. I chose not to use a binder to hold it all together, and instead of rich, buttery potatoes coating the top, I used roasted sweet potatoes, spun to a silken mass with a hand-mixer, touched only with good seasonings. The result was remarkable in flavor, eye-catching in presentation. I was thankful that it was so well-received, and grateful to have still a large portion to bring home and consume, post Christmas, as the deep cold set in.

Don’t be put off by the long recipe; you roast most of the vegetables, which can be accomplished while the sweet potatoes and beets do their thing in a hot oven. You’ll spend some time prepping those veggies, but putting it all together happens quickly. You can make the recipe in two 8×8 pans, saving one in the freezer for another time. Another elegant presentation would be to portion out ramekins for individual servings, an ultimate dinner party delight. The recipe makes plenty of filling to do with as your creativity leads you.

Best of all, when the temperatures drop and your belly growls it’s hunger at you, this feeds you with warmth, good health and well-being. For the upcoming winter, you’ll love having this in your repertoire.

Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie

3 Parsnips, peeled, cut to 1/2” chunks
4 medium carrots, peeled, cut to 1/2” chunks
2 stalks celery, cut to 1/2” pieces
2 8-oz pkgs whole baby portabella mushrooms, quartered
1 medium onion, halved, sliced thin
4 cloves garlic, peeled and rough chopped
3 cups Brussels Sprouts, trimmed and halved
4 small to medium gold beets (from one bunch) scrubbed, greens removed if needed
5 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed well
1/3 c. mixed fresh herbs, minced (oregano, parsley and thyme are delicious)
olive oil
salt and pepper
balsamic vinegar

Heat oven to 400 degrees. You will be roasting all of the vegetables except for the celery, onion, mushroom and garlic. They will all take different amounts of time to finish, so start with the ones that will take the longest: poke the sweet potatoes a few times with a sharp knife and place on a foil lined baking sheet. Wrap beets well in foil. Place both in hot oven and roast until tender. A fork should slip easily in to the beets when they are done. Set aside to cool.

In a bowl, toss parsnips with a bit of olive oil and salt and scrape onto one side of a baking sheet. Repeat with carrots, and place on the other side of the baking sheet. Roast in hot oven until just tender. Place back in bowl and set aside. Repeat with Brussels sprouts, roasting until just tender. Scrape from pan in to bowl with parsnips and carrots.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter. When bubbling, add mushrooms, and sauté over medium-high heat, stirring regularly, until they release their liquid. Add onion and celery and continue to cook, stirring often, until they soften, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat slightly, and cook for about 10 minutes, allowing the mushrooms to brown in spots and become very fragrant. Stir in garlic and sauté for about a minute, then add about 1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar. Scrape up any browned bits in the skillet, and simmer until the vinegar is absorbed. Add in the parsnips, carrots, and brussels sprouts and 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar. Stir to combine and allow to simmer over low heat for a few minutes. Turn off the heat. Peel the beets, chop in to bite sized pieces and stir in to vegetable mix with the fresh herbs. Scrape entire pan in to a 9×13 baking dish.

Peel sweet potatoes and place in a bowl. Mash with a fork, or potato masher until smooth and creamy, season with salt and pepper. Spread evenly over vegetables. Place back in the oven for 15-20 minutes to heat through.

down time, and a recipe

October 16th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

October is a great month for many good happenings in the kitchen, like baking, and soup simmering, and fragrant dishes of all kinds, but THIS October is different as I’m in the midst of a 3-week detox, with many a limitation on what I’m eating. I’m hoping it helps to re-set some health issues I’ve been having, and support more consistent sleep patterns.

It isn’t all bad. I’m actually allowed a lot of delicious foods and I’m never hungry, but I’m wishing I could make pumpkin bread and eat a thick slice dredged in good butter. I’ll be celebrating Halloween by doing just that.

Until then…..


This recipe is so perfect for right now. We’re being drenched in Autumn rain and it’s become quite gloomy outside. Fall color has it’s own beauty against the dull and gray rainclouds, though, and inside your kitchen, this dish can bring a blaze of burnished color to a chilly and uninspiring day.

I first made this dish last Winter and we absolutely fell in love with it. While it does take a bit of work, the flavor is compelling, and well worth a bit of time. Pour a glass of good wine, or a delicious craft beer and sip while you cook, stir and inhale.

 

Caramelized Vegetables with Pearl Couscous

Salt
2 c. pearl couscous
Grapeseed, or coconut oil
1 large sweet potato (about 3/4 pound), peeled and diced, about 1/4″-1/2″
1 large onion (about 1 pound), finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3-inch piece fresh ginger — peeled and chopped fine, about 1 tablespoon
1-8oz pkg portabella mushrooms, sliced, with stems removed
1 T. balsamic vinegar
2 T. soy sauce
3 big leaves chard or kale, stalks removed and leaves finely chopped — about 2 cups (I subbed in the equivalent of arugula)
Freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan, optional

Heat a large pot of water to boiling and salt it generously. Cook the couscous until barely al dente — about 5 minutes. Drain and toss with a generous drizzle of oil so that the grains are lightly coated with oil. Set aside.

Heat a large sauté or frying pan (the largest you have — you want plenty of room and hot surface) over high heat. Drizzle in a little grapeseed or coconut oil (not olive oil — you want an oil with a high smoke point) and heat until very hot. Add the sweet potatoes and arrange them in one layer. Cook them over high heat until they are beginning to caramelize and turn brown — about 4 minutes. Flip them over and cook for another 3 minutes or so.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the onions, sprinkling them with about a teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are beginning to turn brown. Add the minced garlic and chopped ginger and stir them into the onions. Push the sweet potato and onions to the edges of the pan, making room in the center.

Add the sliced portabella mushrooms to the hot center of the pan and cook them for 4 minutes without turning them. Then flip and stir them and cook for another 4 minutes. Once browned, stir them in to the sweet potato and onions. Keep the heat at medium, or slightly higher. Stir the vegetables occasionally. You want them richly browned.

At this point everything should be getting well-cooked; the onions should be quite dark brown and the garlic should be golden and soft. The potatoes should be softening.

Whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce, and 2 tablespoons of oil. Pour this into the pan with the vegetables and mix everything together, scraping the bottom as you go. Cook all the elements together for about 3 minutes on medium heat. Then turn the heat up to high, as high as it will go.

Add the couscous gradually, shaking in about a cup at a time, stirring and scraping constantly. Cook the couscous over high heat with the rest of the vegetables for about 5 minutes, letting the couscous get browned on the bottom of the pan, then scraping it up. You are developing a little more color and flavor on the pasta, and helping all the flavors combine. (I cooked this a bit longer to get more flavor in the couscous. The browning of it smells glorious)

Finally, toss the greens into the mix and cook for 1 more minute or until the greens are barely wilted. Turn off the heat and taste. Add salt and pepper if needed. Serve hot, with shavings of Parmesan if desired. (We didn’t even consider the parmesan. And I don’t think it even needed it.)

in the good ol’ Summertime…..

July 16th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

When you think of the month of July, what comes to mind? Heat. Sun. Humidity. Thunderstorms. Exploding growth in the garden. Balmy, beautiful Summer nights. Popsicles. Ice cream. Grilling outside. Fresh produce from the Farmers Market.

In one word, quintessential Summertime.

It’s very warm as I write this, too; nearly 80 degrees and it’s only 8AM. Yesterday, as I walked to my car after work, the sun shimmering over the parking lot, and opened the car door to the furnace inside, I thought back to April, and it’s never-ending snowfalls. The blanket of snow we awoke to on Griffin’s birthday on the 19th, the Earth Day storm and parade of cold, sopping wet days. The May Day snow. Rain, rain and more rain in May and a Memorial Weekend at the lake where we needed to run the furnace, and a simple sweatshirt wasn’t enough to keep the chill at bay.

As I sat in my car, feeling the suffocating heat, I thought ‘This is what we waited for in the Spring. This is what we love, our theater of seasons, our scorching Summer.’ The idea of even raising one breath of complaint about it went out the window. It was hot, all right.

Thank goodness for that.

We’re not cooking much these days, although I did roast a whole bunch of vegetables the other day while the A/C churned out some crisp air. Today I plan to make a big batch of these Ridiculously Healthy Millet, Kale & Yam Burgers. And as always, with the surge of heat I get the urge to bake. Crazy, isn’t it? We’ll see what I come up with. But we still need to eat, and simple foods are passing through our kitchen, with lots of fresh salads, some quick stand-bys and a few Yee-Hawww cowboy style, throw it all together and see what happens kind of meals.

For a bit of inspiration, check out these oldies, but goodies from my Recipe Box.

Chard with White Beans and Fresh Herbs

In July, two years ago, I fell head over heels in love with Chard. We ate this quite often that Summer, and ever since.

Fettucine with Braised Kale

We also fell hard for Kale. This was one of the recipes that completely changed my mind about that green.

Ratatouille Gratin

When zucchini, tomato and eggplant are at their peak, there is nothing finer than this dish.

Roasted Radish & Caramelized Onion Tart

 We had a lot of vegetable revelation in 2011; this time was all about roasting Radishes.

Herb Flatbread with Pesto & Caramelized Onions

Simple and so delicious; make a big batch of the onions to keep on hand and it’s even easier.

Pickled Radishes

Perfect on a sandwich, or just straight from the jar. I really need to do these again.

Kale Slaw with Peanut Dressing

Gotta love the crunch of these raw salads. I’m addicted to them.

Super Simple Strawberry Vinaigrette

If you’re flush with strawberries (and if not, you should be!) this simple salad vinaigrette is extraordinary.

Cheesy Creamed Corn with Cilantro

This delicious and simple recipe came from my very last issue of Gourmet magazine, back in 2009.
(A moment of silence for the loss of a great work of art)

What are you eating during our hot and wonderful Summer?? Anything good you’d like to share??

grilled bok choy

July 10th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

We rolled right in to July with perfect Summer weather. Our CSA share started too, and we’ve been enjoying a lot of wonderfully fresh organic fare, including some large and sumptuous heads of Bok Choy (Joi Choi). I promptly split one in half, dropped it on a searing hot grill and called it dinner.

 

Come in to my kitchen…

curried vegetable & smoked salmon chowder

April 4th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

March gave us some exceptionally warm days, but the past few weeks haven’t been quite as toasty. Once the sun drops lower in the sky, I’m still shrugging in to sweatshirts and occasionally drawing wool slippers on my feet. I’ve got soup on the mind, with the chill in the air, but not the hearty simmering pots that I dreamed of in January.

What I’m dreaming about is this succulent chowder, light and refreshing for Spring, brightly colored with vibrant greens and flavored with the rich taste of smoked salmon. This is a simple soup to put together so it won’t be interfering with your outdoor time and you won’t feel bogged down from it when you finish.

The first time I made this soup I think we darn near polished off the entire pan. What was left over was barely worthy of lunch the following day, and instead of slipping this in the ‘Done’ pile and never looking at it again, I kept it front and center, and dropped another chunk of lovely smoked salmon in my grocery cart for a second showing. It’s a surprising recipe, as on first glance it just doesn’t look like a whole lot. Then you lift the spoon to your mouth and taste the coconut milk broth, rich with curry flavor, the delicious vegetables and then, the sharp smoky fish. It’s a bit sweet, it crunches and it delights.

The soup is wide open for your own personal interpretation too, employing just about any vegetable you have on hand. You could skip the smoked salmon if it isn’t to your liking, instead adding maybe some grilled shrimp or scallops for a bit of boldness. The curry is completely adjustable too. Add more for a bigger kick, if you like. Or just substitute turmeric to add the bright and sunny color. While I used broccoli and kale, I think green beans and bok choy would be delicious in this soup. Not a fan of corn? Skip it. Add peas instead. Or chunks of dark orange sweet potato. That’s the best part of this recipe; it’s superbly easy to make it your own.

Curried Vegetable and Smoked Salmon Chowder

Coconut oil for cooking
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced (I’ve used yellow onion too)
1 jalapeno pepper, cored and seeded, thinly sliced (for extra heat, use a serrano)
1 T. minced fresh ginger
2-4 garlic cloves, finely minced (the amount you use is entirely up to your taste)
2 Broccoli crowns, sliced to bite size (can sub in cauliflower)
2 c. fresh kale, roughly chopped (can sub in baby bok choy, chard or spinach too)
1 c. frozen corn kernels
1/2# smoked salmon
2 T. red curry paste (substitute your basic curry powder if it’s all you have)
1 15-oz can light coconut milk
3 c. broth of choice, or water (I filled the coconut milk can twice)
1 T. fish sauce, or fresh squeezed lime juice
1 T. pure honey
Cilantro, basil or mint, fresh lime wedges, crushed peanuts for toppings, if desired

In a medium stockpot with a lid, warm about a tablespoon of the coconut oil and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, maybe 10 minutes or so. Add the jalapeno, ginger and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring. Pour in the coconut milk and broth (or water) and stir together. Then add in the curry paste, fish sauce, and honey and stir well to incorporate, add in the broccoli, kale, and corn. Stir to blend, then bring to a simmer, cover and allow to cook until the broccoli is tender to your liking. Add in the smoked salmon and heat through. Top each soup with some of the fresh herbs, a squeeze of lime juice and chopped peanuts, if you like those. The soup is perfectly fine without them as well.

 

red rice pulao with roasted vegetables

March 31st, 2012 | 3 Comments »

When I was 15 or 16, my Mom broke her left elbow roller skating. Outside of the fact that my MOM -gasp!- was roller skating (and apparently getting rather cocky about it) she happened to be left-handed, and in breaking her elbow, this rendered her incapable of doing much of anything. She lamented one day, as I helped her in the kitchen, “I wish I had learned to use my right arm more.” and somehow this struck a chord with me, as did her inability to manage even the most mundane of daily tasks.

It’s been in the back of my mind since then to train my hands to work equally. Although my left handed writing looks like an overly caffeinated six year old, and my knife skills in my left hand are nothing compared to my right, I can whisk, scoop, stir, twist, grind, mix and pour from either right or left. I can reach and function and do just about anything needed during the course of my day without having to switch gears, hands or mindset.

There is always more that your body can do, when allowed. If you’ve learned how to type on a standard keyboard, then you can teach your non-dominant hand to do any number of things. Even though one side of our brain dominates, and we develop a set of skills with that dominant hand, there is far more that one is capable of if you’re willing to put your mind to it.

That goes for recipe usage too. Recipes are not cut in stone; they should serve as a guideline, a base from which we can expand exponentially in many different directions. I love recipes because someone else has already done most of the work for me, but I am free to remove this and substitute that, increase this or decrease that or look at how it comes out in one form and think “I know this can be better.” and then trust that my skills can take me there. These skills have been especially useful in the re-development of this incredible Red Rice Pulao.

The origin of this recipe comes from Robin Asbells New Whole Grains Cookbook, which, in a soft yet grand way simply changed my life in 2008. Long before the intense embrace by food lovers of all things whole grain, I’d run through a bookful of recipes using quinoa, millet, bulgur and various rices, finding great things to love about these simple staples. Grains are one of the easiest foods to work with in any kitchen, and require no special treatment. Particularly fond of the vibrant rices available, this Red Rice Pulao made for an chewy and delicious experience, and like many wonderful recipes on this blog, I simply posted it once and never went back. What a mistake.

Because that means no one’s ever going to see it, as really, does anyone look in to the archives of a food blog? Rarely. And I loved the recipe when followed to a ‘T’. As I thought about it again, with more capability to be flexible in my cooking, I decided a second go of this dish was in order and am I ever glad I stepped up and made a few changes because this 2.0 version is light years better than the original. No offense to Robin, but the very task of cooking is to learn to feed oneself in the manner that makes you happiest. No cookbook author outside of us knows what makes us happy; only we do, and we owe it to ourselves to learn just enough kitchen skills to take the humblest of foods, such as rice and vegetables, and make them extraordinary. Let the recipe author be your guide, but let your imagination, your tastes and your skills drive you to cook with instinct instead of blind faith.

Task-wise, this has a few moments of chopping and prep, but largely you are passing a great deal of idle time as rice simmers, and vegetables roast, while heady fragrances take over your home. This isn’t high-tech stuff here; with the heat of an oven and the magic alchemy of boiling water with rice, you can make an exceptional dish that tastes far more grand than it’s humble beginnings. If you’re unfamiliar with red rice, it’s an intensely chewy rice, often found labeled as Himalayan Red Rice, or Wehani. Properly cooked, it takes up to an hour, all hands off. Finished, it’s a really hearty and satisfying grain, deeper in flavor than brown rice, not as earthy as wild rice. This dish is easily a main course, or can be eaten as a side with any number of proteins. I can vouch that it’s especially good with grilled pork tenderloin.

Here’s where you get to decide what you do with this recipe, because if you want, outside of making the rice you can experiment wildly, with everything else. Instead of carrots and cauliflower, add whatever vegetables you have on hand, or swap almonds, walnuts, pecans or peanuts for the pistachios. This is your base, and when you read through it, your tastes will direct you, just as they should. Trust those instincts. And enjoy.

Red Rice Pulao with Roasted Vegetables

1 T. oil of choice
1 T. chopped ginger
1 T. brown mustard seeds
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 t. chili powder
1 t. ground turmeric
1 c. red rice or brown basmati rice
2 c. water
1 T. brown sugar
1 t. salt
2 T. lemon juice
1 head of cauliflower, cut to bite sized pieces
2 medium carrots, sliced
1/2 c. shelled pistachios or toasted slivered almonds

In a 2-qt saucepan, heat oil briefly and add ginger, mustard seed and shallot. Cook for a few minutes, until the ginger is fragrant and the seeds are popping slightly, then add chili powder and turmeric. Stir it up well and cook for a few seconds until the smell is amazing. Add rice, water, brown sugar and salt, stir it up good to combine it all and bring to a boil. Cover tightly, reduce heat to low. The amount of time needed to cook the rice will depend on what rice you use. Test the grains after the time specified on the package, and adjust to your personal taste. Allow to cool slightly. If you are using a true red rice, be patient with it. The time required for me to make mine was slightly over an hour. And every minute was well worth it.

While the rice cooks, heat the oven to 400°, and toss the vegetables with a bit of oil and salt. Since these two cook differently, I put the cauliflower on one pan, the carrots on another and roast until each are tender, shaking the pan often, and stirring to insure even browning. They can hang out in their finished state, until the rice is done.

If you love a good deep flavor for pistachios, take a few minutes and toast them in a skillet over medium heat. It’s well worth it, and that rice gives you plenty of time.

When the rice is done and cooled, dump it all in a large bowl and add the roasted vegetables. Toss together gently and add a few tablespoons of those nicely toasted pistachios. Toss a bit more, taste and add salt and pepper if you wish, then serve it, topped with more pistachios. This dish is good whether served cold, hot or at room temperature. You can garnish it with chopped scallions too, for a bit more flavor.

know gnocchi?

November 18th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

I started using gnocchi a few years ago and love how it can make such a quick seamless meal. A few sauteed veggies, a protein option and a bit of sauce makes dinner in less than 15 minutes. This quick little potato dumpling is mainstream now, on dinner plates everywhere. I suppose it’s pretty simple to make, but the few times I gave it a go from scratch it came out gluey and heavy. Now I just purchase packages of shelf-stable gnocchi and save myself the time and energy.

My favorite method for cooking gnocchi is to sauté them in a skillet with a bit of butter and olive oil until they plump up and brown on the outside. The texture is a bit better than what you get from boiling them. I’m not a huge fan of dousing these with sauce either, as the texture gets too soggy so when I use them in a meal, it’s a little more spartan.  A plate of gnocchi, with sauteed greens and roasted chickpeas sounds really good right about now, but this is the recipe in my archives, which is golden for versatility.

Gnocchi In a Flash

 

1 pkg shelf stable gnocchi
2-3 boneless chicken breasts, cut to strips
1 medium red pepper, cored and seeded, cut to strips
1 bunch spinach, washed and de-stemmed* (equal to a 10-oz bag)
1/4 c. canned diced tomato with italian seasonings
1/2 c. fresh mozzarella, cut into small dice
1/3 c. fresh grated parmesan cheese
Fresh basil to garnish

Season chicken breast strips with salt and pepper. Heat oil in 10-inch skillet, add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until strips are cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove to bowl. Add red pepper and cook 3-5 minutes until tender. Add to chicken. Wipe out skillet with paper towel and add about a teaspoon of oil. When hot, add gnocchi and cook about 5 minutes until browned and slightly puffy. Add chicken and pepper to pan, and in bunches, add in spinach, stirring quickly until it’s all wilted. Toss in diced tomato and mozzarella cubes and shave some parmesan over the top. Stir to mix and allow to cook for 3 minutes or so until hot. Serve immediately topped with fresh basil.

 

What’s on YOUR plate this month??

fall in to soup

November 3rd, 2011 | 2 Comments »

Fall weather and a steaming bowl of soup seamlessly slip in to one another every year. Once the weather turns from the sultry summer sun to that burnished hazy look of Fall, where the leaves outside burn crimson against the blue sky and the air chills down the moment the sun slips to the tree line, a steaming bowl of soup seems as natural as taking a breath.

I used to be afraid of soups, in a life so far past that I can’t recall even the precise reason why. I think I didn’t understand how to properly build the flavor of soups, from the slow caramelization of the vegetables, to the added broth and simmer, the final seasoning; a pot of soup intimidated me, and I would marvel over those consumed at cozy cafe lunches, wondering what I could do to achieve such a grand blend of flavor and texture. The truth, once discovered, astounded me in it’s simplicity: a good pot of soup is built like a good house is built, from the ground up. Once this simple procedure is set, the possibilities are endless.

The Soup and Stew category in my Recipe Index is loaded with content. No truer testimony to that perfect soup achievement can be found anywhere else; we’ve enjoyed some amazing, delicious and hearty soups over the years. I may not be the best at photographing them, but I certainly can make them now. I’m so glad too. There is so much love in a pot of soup, simmering on the stove, chasing the wild winds of Fall or Winter away, while keeping time with the hum of the furnace. They fill the house with warmth, with scent and with promise. And the versatility of soup, at least in my head, makes it a perfect meal to eat most every night, no special occasion, or long stretch of time needed. And then there is the health aspect of it, because you know I need to mention how perfect a bowl of thick vegetable soup can be, once you ignore the call of butter and cream. Some of my most perfect bowls of soup have been made from a handful of sadly forgotten vegetables from the refrigerator, past their prime for anything but to be chopped, sauteed and simmered to a delightful, steaming finish.

And bread. Let’s not forget the perfect match to a perfect meal. A loaf of good sturdy bread. Soup and bread, like Fall and sweaters, just fits; it rolls of the tongue seamlessly, and makes perfect sense. A spoon in one hand, chunk of bread in the other, eagerly soaking up the broth and bits of herbs still clinging to the bowl. In my previous life working in an artisan bakery, a loaf of bread and a bowl of soup from the lunch counter was a regular meal, something I craved daily. And I still do. I can dip a saltine cracker in my soup, or nibble on corn muffins too, but nothing tastes better with soup than bread.

These days, without meat to bulk up my soups, I’m consuming them simply loaded with vegetables, and often, legumes. Thick bunches of chard, or spinach or kale make for stellar soups, along with sharply flavored carrots and a host of other possibilities. I’ve made several pots of green soup, throwing in baby bok choy along with the other hearty leafy greens, then pureeing it smooth, sipping it from a  mug, feeling the bright green goodness flowing through me.


This hearty bowl of Ribollita, or Tuscan Bread and Tomato Soup, used up the very last tomatoes from the garden at the lake. Mike came home from a few days there with a sack of sadly misshapen and bruised fruit, the last of a summer bounty and I quartered them and roasted a large pan worth, reserving the tomato liquid and oil to help flavor this pot of soup. The tomato flavor was out of this world; sweet, deep and lush, and a large bag of chopped dinosaur kale added green goodness. This isn’t a brothy soup, and you don’t need to roast your own tomatoes to achieve it, given the availability of excellent canned products. Place the pot on your stove on a gray afternoon, and simmer it slowly. This one doesn’t take much time at all, but the flavor will fool anyone in to thinking it simmered forever.

What is YOUR favorite soup? Do you like to make it at home?

 

Ribollita Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 dried bay leaf
10-ounce bag frozen spinach
2 cans cannellini beans with liquid
6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock, for a vegan adaptation)
One 15-ounce can (1 3/4 cups) tomato pureé
9 ounces day old bread, torn in pieces, about 3 cups
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
Parmesan, grated (optional)

Heat a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, onion, carrots, celery, and bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the frozen spinach and sauté for a moment to break up any large clumps.

Add beans, stock, and tomato pureé. Bring soup to a boil. Stir in bread and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until soup thickens slightly. Remove from heat and stir in chopped basil. Remove bay leaf and serve topped with grated Parmesan.

Recipe from Apartment Therapy: the kitchen Written complete, with no modifications

 

Those soups above? You’ll find them on my site if you follow these links:

Quick Three Bean Chili

Chorizo Black Bean Soup

Andean Quinoa Stew

There’s a few other good recipes on my site you might like:

Zuppa Arcidossana- one of my most favorite soups from my meat eating days

Hearty Minestrone - Forgive the horrid winter photo and just make that soup. Wow.

Chili Blanco – from 2007, so far back in the archives, and an amazing recipe.

And for some more delicious soup recipes out there, my friends have been Souper crazy as well:

Amy gives you an amazing array of Fall soup options.

Laurie shares an African Peanut Soup that I can’t wait to make.

Angharad gives us even more soup recipes to enjoy

 

What’s on YOUR plate this month??

vegetables outside the box

October 17th, 2011 | 6 Comments »

I spent a significant amount of time this past summer wandering up and down the aisles of our local farmers markets, as many, many people do. But I don’t venture in to the larger markets in Minneapolis or St Paul, instead preferring to go to the small satellite ones in the suburbs. I can always find what I needed, and as was the case this past year, I found a whole lot more than I ever anticipated.

Each summer for the last 5 years it seems some type of theme arises from a particular food I discover and experiment with; it might be a food type, such as the summer of 2007 when I learned a great deal about cooking with whole grains like quinoa, millet, bulgur and a multitude of colorful rice varieties. Or it might be a particular food, like in 2008 when I took the humble burger in different directions, and 2009 found me falling in love with beets and getting my fill of learning about those. In 2010, what I experimented with was a killer job. Cooking went by the wayside last year, but this summer, with a better schedule and actual time off during the week, trips to the Farmers Market were a must, and in those weekly visits, I came across a multitude of vegetables that I’d never tried or even considered prior to this past June.

And what was different about this year was the increase in the need for vegetable based meals, since we walked away from meat consumption in May and never looked back. So stretching the imagination and reaching for foods that were unfamiliar was going to have to stick. I needed to expand my palate, and this was the perfect spot to do so.

If I could pinpoint one item that I really learned a great deal about this year it would be Greens. Kale and chard crossed our plates and made appearances in our kitchen nearly every week. Enormous bunches of chard could be purchased from the market for a dollar a piece and easily could feed us for 2 meals or more, depending on what I did with it. I discovered the joys of making Chard Chips, and fell in love with a simple chard side dish, sauteed with a few cloves of garlic and simmered gently to bring out it’s deeply rich and slightly sweet flavor. I love Rainbow Chard for it’s colorful stems.

Then, in one visit to the market in Maplewood, I came across a giant bunch of greens on a farmers table and asked curiously “What is this?”

“That’s Sweet Potato Leaves.” She said, smiling widely. “They’re like spinach, only a little sweeter.”

Here was yet another enormous bunch of greens, and for a dollar as well. What did I have to lose? I handed over a buck and placed the bunch in my sack and as I turned away, the farmer said with a smile “Those are going to become your favorite green!!” To which I simply smiled and said ‘Thank you!’

She was 100% correct. I stripped the leaves that evening and sauteed them for dinner and with the first bite, I was raving over how tender and amazing they tasted and couldn’t wait to return the following week for more. Also known as Kamote, or Camote leaves, and as other dark leafy greens they are loaded with vitamins and minerals like iron, magnesium and calcium, making them a good choice for healthy eating. Each week I could, I returned to that market, and that farmer and scooped up large bunches of Sweet Potato leaves. While many cultures also eat the stems, I consumed only the leaves, tossing the stems in the garden to compost. Imagine my surprise when I noticed after a few weeks that those stems had taken root and were growing new leaves. I managed to get a small crop of my own Sweet Potato leaves from my garden before the first frost in September. Now that’s a nice bonus.

I’ve been on the fence with Eggplant for a while now, fighting back and forth with it, hoping to fall in love even when I fall on my face, but for some reason I keep trying and I’m really glad as I have discovered more ways this summer to enjoy Eggplant. I came across Rosa Bianca eggplants too, and was immediately drawn to their unique colors.

But I also came across a completely new (to me) eggplant; a tiny orange one with grooved sides that looked a lot like a mini pumpkin.

The farmer told me that they could be roasted like regular eggplant. What she didn’t tell me, and what I discovered a bit too late was that this little orange variety is very bitter and is considered a delicacy in SE Asian cuisine. One bite and I had to admit that I’d found a vegetable I couldn’t eat.

A few more unique vegetables crossed my doorstep this summer, due to a relationship with Ocean Mist Farms. I was contacted by a representative of Ocean Mist back in July and asked if I was interested in some fresh Fennel to try. While Fennel isn’t really anything new, it was not a vegetable I’d done much with and while I did like it, the cost had always been prohibitive. I agreed to the Fennel they would send, and soon a case of it arrived at my house, holding six large, aromatic and superbly fresh bulbs. We had a wonderful time enjoying the light anise flavor, roasting them with potatoes and carrots. Fennel becomes so nicely sweet when roasted. I also added fennel to a slaw salad I made, loving it’s crisp texture and added taste to a favorite summery dish.

Recently, Ocean Mist contacted me again, offering to send me a vegetable I’d never even heard of: Cardones. Curiosity won me over, and I accepted. I had no idea what I was going to receive.

Cardones, or Cardoons, are very popular in Italy, come from the Thistle family and are considered a distant cousin of the Artichoke. They look like mutant celery, but they cannot be eaten raw. The internal part of the plant has slim silvery gray leaves that look like sage. And they are HUGE. Check out those stalks!!!

This was nothing like I’d known before; and I was initially at a loss as to what to do. After some research online, I decided to make a creamy cardone soup out of one of the bunches. They require a long simmering time, and mixed with onion and leek, it offered a warm and fragrant scent to a chilly evening. The finished soup was smooth, mild and creamy, and as we discovered, tasted amazing with some leftover wild rice pilaf stirred in to it.

The next two stalks I roasted, and this method was the best tasting. I tossed the slices with a bit of olive oil and a splash of an asiago caesar salad dressing I had on hand and after a nice long turn in a 425° oven, they were tender and flavorful enough to toss with pasta. The experience with Cardones was really interesting; I kept expecting celery flavor, but instead got something so unusual. It was like artichokes but richer. Cardones are similar to Artichokes in that they will discolor when cut apart, and should be soaked in acidulated water to prevent brown spots from forming. I did discover too, that they will change color even after cooking, and the roasted pieces I had in the refrigerator turned a strange shade of greenish gray after a day. The taste does not change though, even when they look just a bit unappetizing. I’m sure they have a lot more use in the kitchen, and maybe I’ll come across them again so I can experiment more.

WHAT NEW VEGETABLES ARE YOU LEARNING ABOUT?
ARE THERE VEGETABLES YOU EAT NOW THAT YOU NEVER THOUGHT YOU WOULD LIKE? 

DISCLAIMER:
Ocean Mist Farms provided me with both the case of Fennel and the Cardones free of charge.
I have no obligation to post any feedback or information on them, and all opinions are my own.