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Planning for Inspiration

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I believe that I have mentioned this before, but for all of you who are new to reading our blog, it is worth noting that my husband and I typically squeeze and entire week’s worth of home cooking into two far-too-short weekend days. Perhaps because of this, I approach a weekend full of cooking through the lens of a notorious and slightly obsessive planner.

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Yes, it is quite likely that I spend far too much time during my evenings paging through recipes, perusing blogs and forums, reading online reviews or comments, checking for not-to-be-missed sales, and browsing through pinterest images for new ideas. Often times these searches are shaped by the ingredients included in that week’s CSA haul – search pinterest for “kale” or “garlic scape” and you are quite likely to be entirely overwhelmed by the sheer wealth of recipes and photos that turn up in the query. Occasionally a dish will be planned out to make use of a pantry ingredient that has spent a bit too much time on the cupboard shelf – and I spend my time scanning the glossaries of old cookbooks for “mung bean” or “sticky rice” in hopes of striking upon an inspiring image or intriguing combination of ingredients.

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By the end of the week, my cooking plan for the weekend has taken shape. I have a peg board where I pin up the weekend’s top candidates, including recipes, photos of plating ideas, designs for canning labels, themes for a new blog post etc. I scan our pantry and cupboard for required ingredients, making sure to note what additions are needed. Come Friday morning, my grocery list is well sketched out, organized by section, and I know well which items will require a trip to a specialty store. But unlike my loving husband, who has laser-like focus when it comes to executing on a well-documented shopping plan, I have a tendency to get a bit distracted at the market.

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I have a very difficult time not being swayed by a beautiful pile of peak season produce. I guess this should not be surprising to you given that this is, after all, a blog about cooking with in-season fruits and vegetables. Above all, I have a huge soft spot for heirlooms – if it looks a bit different than the average head of cauliflower, or bunch of beets, I cannot resist the urge to take it home and put it to use, looking for any discernible difference between the standard produce variety and whatever local breed I have happened upon.

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Often times I find that the nuances of a certain type of fruit or even of a variety of veggie at a certain time of year, make the produce better suited to a certain application. Petite early season beets are amazingly tender and their subtle sweetness shines through when simply roasted and served on a salad. Late season beets have a more pronounced earthiness and stand up well to slow roasting on the grill where they pick up a smokey flavor and can then be puréed into a rosy pink beet dip with a bit of dill, yogurt and tahini.

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The point of all of this is that, cooking from the farmers market requires a bit of flexibility. Even my best laid plans for, say, ratatouille can be foiled by a sudden dearth of eggplant. Or I may find that the peaches I purchased were too tart to be simply sliced and served atop pound cake. But all is not lost, the too tart peaches may be better suited to another application, for example – they might be delicious if marinated and grilled as an accompaniment to pork chops.

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I recently made it home from Whole Foods with a curiously tall bunch of celery. As it turned out this celery was far more bitter than the typical variety and, as such, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of munching on it raw, and even a thick glob of peanut butter couldn’t cut the bitter undercurrent. I sat for a while and flipped through cook books looking for a recipe that would make use of the bitter celery. When I happened upon a recipe for a celery and mushroom risotto I was inspired. I suspected that the celery, when sautéed in butter, would take on a softer, nuttier flavor and hoped that the herbaceousness would bring a lightness to the often times heavy dish. Though we did not have mushrooms on hand, they were not missed, but if you are inspired by the idea, feel free to toss some in with the celery as it sautées.

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Celery Risotto – Inspired by The Meat Free Monday Cookbook (Serves 5)

6 C Water or Stock
1 TBSP Butter
1 TBSP Olive Oil
2 Leeks, Halved and Sliced Thinly
2 Sprigs of Thyme, Minced
2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
6 Stalks of Celery, Cut into Small Dice
1/4 Cup White Wine
460g (2.5 Cups) Arborio Rice
28g (1/4 Cup) Grated Parmesan Cheese
56g (1/4 Cup) Fromage Blanc (or Ricotta)
Chopped Parsley to Serve

Place the water or stock in a saucepan (pick a saucepan with a well-filling lid.) Put the pan over medium high heat and bring to a boil, once boiling, put the lid on the pan and lower the heat to keep the liquid at a simmer.

In a wide sautee pan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and thyme and sautee until soft. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Add the celery to the pan along with a small pinch of salt and sautee until the celery softens, stirring occasionally.

Once the celery is soft add the wine and cook until the liquid has almost completely evaporated. Add the rice along with a ladle of the simmering liquid and stir until the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Continue adding stock, one ladle-full at a time, until the rice is cooked to your liking (I like mine to still have a firm, but definitely not a crunchy, texture.) Once you have reached a nice texture remove the pan from the heat and add the cheeses. Taste the risotto for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed.

Serve hot topped with parsley and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

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Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Summer Corn

The sheer quantity of produce that passes through our small kitchen during the course of a week can be, well, unnerving – to say the least. But somewhere between the panic and exhaustion that comes from tackling such a mountain of fruits and veggies, something odd happens. In addition to the boxes of farm fresh produce from our CSA, and baskets I bring in from the garden, we have been buying produce by the case full from whole foods during their frequent summertime sales. Maybe we are just crazy (and I think there is a good likelihood of this being the case) but this undertaking has led to important changes in the way we cook, in the way we approach purchasing produce, and in our understanding of a whole slew of fruits and veggies.

Its no wonder that our Grandmothers, and their mothers before them, were/are such formidable cooks. There is a strange intimacy that comes from taking on 25 pounds of peaches, from tackling a bushel of peak summer tomatoes, or even from trying to keep pace with an ever growing population of summer squash. In peeling, dicing, pitting, skinning, shocking, jamming, baking, roasting, charring, etc, etc… you learn the many ways in which a fruit or vegetable can be used, and discover some of the subtle flavor and cooking nuances of the specific variety. Simply as a means of creating diversity in dealing with an unending and often unchanging wealth of summer crops, the seasonal chef must adapt different techniques and apply varied flavor profiles to a given fruit or veggie. With a wealth of information at our fingertips via the world wide web we are fortunate to have an amazing array of recipes to choose from at the click of a button. Our ancestors didn’t have it so easy.

Our grandmothers and their mothers, and their mothers before them relied on cooking techniques and preservation methods passed down through generations. Since the dawn of cultivation, farmers have worked throughout the harvest season to preserve peak season bounty for the colder months. In fact, practices of freezing (in cold glacial environments), fermenting, and drying date back to 10,000-12,000 BC. Practices of curing, with salt and then oil and sugar, followed these first preservation techniques. Canning was initially developed in Napoleonic wars when the French Royalty offered a bounty to anyone who could devise a method of preserving foods for long distance transport to the battlefields. Curiously it was not until Louis Pasteur made important discoveries about microbial organisms that the French understood why the canning technique developed earlier actually functioned to prevent food decay and food-born illness.

Indeed, we in the penchant for produce kitchen have turned to food preservation from time to time to tackle an unruly crop of cucumbers or glut of okra. But some vegetables are just too tempting to put up for later use. Enter the red bell pepper – one of my all-time favorite vegetables (second only to carrots, which hold a key corner in my veggie loving heart.) The red bell is a beauty to work with. It can be roasted and cured for sandwiches, charred and diced for salsa, it makes a keen addition to hummus, and all of that is, of course, considering you can resist the temptation to bite into its sweet crunchy flesh. OK, that sounded a bit morbid – but you get the point. These are the bells of the summer ball. Right up there in the running for Veggie Patch Prom Queen with the fan favorite, the tomato.

Both of the aforementioned contenders – tomato, and bell pepper, make an appearance in this delightful summer soup. The tomatoes and bells, once charred and roasted, are pureed to a beautifully smooth soup along with roasted shallots and garlic. The result is a soup that is creamy without the addition of any dairy. Sweet with no sugar, and beautifully smoky from the roasting and hint of paprika. It is topped off with a gremolata of sorts made from summer corn, shallots and herbs that gives the soup a sweet pop of summer flavor.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Summer Corn (adapted from a similar recipe found on Food 52)

4 Red Bell Peppers, Cut in Half and Seeded
1.5 Pounds Heirloom Tomatoes, Tough Parts of Stem End Removed, Quartered
8 Large Unpeeled Garlic Cloves
4 Shallots, Halved
2-3 Cups High Quality Chicken Stock (Preferably Home Made) At a Low Simmer (lid to keep from evaporating)
1/4 TSP Hot Smoked Paprika
1/2 TSP Aged Sherry Vinegar
2 Ears Sweet Summer Corn, Shucked, Hairs Removed, Cut From the Cob
1 Shallot Finely Minced
1 TBSP Chopped Fresh Thyme
1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Cilantro
Salt and Pepper to Taste
High Quality Olive Oil for Serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place Halved Peppers in a large mixing bowl along with tomatoes, garlic, and shallots and add just enough olive oil to give a light coat. Sprinkle with salt and a few grinds of pepper, mix well and place in a single layer on a sheet pan (use 2 if too crowded.) Roast in the oven for 45-60 mins, rotating every 15 minutes to ensure even roasting. At the 45 minute mark, if the shallots and garlic appear quite browned but the peppers are not yet well charred, remove the shallots and garlic from the pan and continue roasting for the last 15 minutes, or until the tomato and pepper skins are charred.

Once the tomatoes and peppers are sufficiently charred, remove the pan from the oven. Place the tomatoes and peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam. Steam the tomatoes and peppers for 5 minutes before peeling them. Reserve any juices that collect on the roasting pan (if not too charred) and in the bowl.

Holding the tomatoes over the sink, remove the worst of the seeds and place them in a blender along with the red peppers. Remove any remaining peel from the roasted shallots and roughly chop. Peel the garlic and add to the blender along with the chopped shallots. Add any accumulated juices, and 2 cups of the stock, smoked paprika, and a pinch of salt, and blend until completely smooth. Taste, if too thick add additional broth as needed – remembering that the corn will be added in at the end. add sherry vinegar to taste and set aside.

Place shallot in a bowl along with the corn, thyme, and cilantro. Stir to combine. Pour soup into serving bowls and top with a spoonful or two of the corn mixture and a light drizzle of olive oil and serve.

Summertime and the Living is Easy – Greek Salad with Wheat Berries and Bulgarian Feta

The last few weeks in Nashville have been riddled with sweltering hot afternoons and equally steaming evenings. With little respite from the heat our garden began to look depressed and tired, its little green stems drooping towards the ground, leaves yellowing. Water as we would the veggies protested the heat, our cucumbers became warped and deformed from a lack of moisture, pinching in at their “waist”to resemble barbells. The tomatoes cracked under the pressure.

At a canning class organized by Delvin Farms (who run our CSA) the farmers asked the participants to pray for rain. And perhaps the power of those prayers – palms to palms, foreheads to ground, or swishing feet in dance – brought down upon us the rain that so swiftly ensued, but not more than two days after that class entered the deluge. Days and days of rain, almost unsettling amounts of rain poured down upon our city, a city already a bit wary of copious downpour following the recent flood that took out much of its low lying tenements, burying entire malls in water, closing roadways and barring much of Nashville’s commerce for days on end.

As humans, we have an amazing ability to adapt to changes, our bodies adjust to temperature fluctuations with relative ease, we weather the rain and snow, inhabit barren desserts, and marshy wetlands, indeed we are capable of so much variety. It always amazes me that with such an uncanny ability to thrive in almost any climate, almost any area, that many people are downright unreceptive to change in their own lives. Rather then spending the sullen sweltering days standing over the stove or grill moaning about the heat, I try to target my cooking to techniques that suit the hotter climate, saving steamier projects for those unseasonably cold days that take us by surprise during the summer months.

In our kitchen, one of those rainy day projects typically involves cooking a large batch of whole grains. Rather then spending time boiling and cooking grains like farro or wheat berries for a salad, I typically cook a large batch once or twice a month and freeze cooled portions in bags for later use. They defrost fairly quickly and, provided you cool them completely before freezing they should keep well for 3-4 months (not that they will last that long 🙂 I would recommend running cold water over the grains or dunking them in an ice bath and then draining them well before freezing as this will keep them in the best condition possible throughout their time “on ice.” I do my very best to flush out as much air as possible before freezing the grains to keep them fresh.

With the grains cooked this salad is fairly easy to throw together on a sweltering summer day. It does require a fair bit of chopping, but I have a feeling that this is something that many produce lovers are well accustomed to – those veggies don’t chop themselves now do they. Personally, I would not used dried oregano in the stead of the fresh oregano listed here, if you cannot find it, I would reach for mint, or basil as a substitute before rummaging around for the dried oregano as it wont bring the zing that is needed to balance out the dressing. I love the sharp tang of Bulgarian feta in this dish, it is pungent and unctuous and adds a slightly gaminess to the otherwise straightforward dish. As the salad does follow fairly traditional “Greek salad” lines it would make a nice addition to a pot luck dinner or picnic, and may be a nice way to get new diners indoctrinated into the grain salad “movement” (I know its not really a movement but it should be!) So without further ado, I give you my new favorite grain salad – Greek style. Enjoy!

Greek Salad with Wheat Berries and Bulgarian Feta

This Recipe makes a large bowl – enough to feed a small picnic crowd or large family gathering, it can easily be halved for smaller get-togethers.

4 Cups Cooked Wheat Berries (Farro or other hearty whole grains may be substituted)
3 Cucumbers Cut into 1/2 inch Dice
2 Pints Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
1 1/2 Red Onions, Halved, Sliced Thinly, Slices Cut into Thirds or Quarters
2 TSP Sugar
Juice of 1 Lemon
1 TBSP White Balsamic or Good White Vinegar
4 Small Cloves of Garlic, Peeled and Sliced
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 TSP Salt
2 Green Bell Peppers, Diced
2 TBSP Fresh Oregano, Finely Chopped
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Parsley
About 20 Pitted Kalamata Olives, Rougly Chopped
1/2 Cup Crumbled Bulgarian Feta (or substitute another brined feta)
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Place the Cucumbers and Tomatoes in separate colanders and sprinkle liberally with kosher salt (don’t worry about the amount of salt, it will be rinsed off later) This salting helps draw some of the water out of the vegetables so they don’t make the dressing watery later on. Allow the cucumbers and tomatoes to sit and drain in the sink while chopping the other veggies.

Place the Onions in a large bowl with the sugar, lemon juice and vinegar and toss to combine. Allow to sit for at least 5 minutes to take the bite off of the onions. Add the garlic and slowly whisk in the olive oil, add salt and pepper to taste.

Rinse the tomatoes and cucumbers well with water and drain. Add to the bowl with the dressing along with the bell peppers, parsley, oregano, wheat berries and olives. Toss well, seasoning as you see fit, remember that the feta will add a bit of additional salt. Crumble the feta over the top just before serving and toss lightly (if combined too early the feta will color and look murky.) Serve to friends and enjoy!

A Classic – Early Summer Ratatouille

In a flash, a bang, and a pop, the wedding has come and gone. Was it everything I could have hoped for? Yes, absolutely but at the same time it was also so much more. I want so much to thank all who attended, and all of those who, in presence or in absence, have  supported and encouraged our union.  Your smiles, your embraces, and tears of joy have affirmed what I have always known in my heart – that I have found my best friend, my soul mate, my partner in life.

I want to extend a special thank you to the Reverend Doss, who gave such eloquent voice to the feelings that Dustin and I share – to Kathy and Mike for lending their ceremony to us and allowing us to make it our own. Dustin and I hope to follow in your footsteps as we share times of joy and sorrow, holding on to the good memories, and learning from our missteps. A true thank you as well to all of the attendees (particularly to Ken and Alicia and the Padalino family) who were so amazingly understanding and patient with us through the date change – through your support and kindness, and patience with our vision, we were able to enjoy a truly beautiful evening as a unified family. To those who traveled in from far away we appreciate you making the trek to join us, you presence helped make the day a truly memorable occasion. To Kristen, our patient photographer – thank you for making me smile, for your grace and poise and keen eye for detail.

To my new sisters and brother, thank you for the hugs and kisses, and for the amazing warmth and acceptance you have shown me. To my own sister a thousand thank yous for your patience with me, I know I can be a real trial. You showed amazing grace and support in the nerve biting moments before the big event. Thank you for loaning me some of your keen fashion insight, we both know how clueless I can be. To Peggy, thank you ever so much for your support with the flowers, you helped make our big day a beautiful success. To Gram, thank you for your endless support, for your wisdom and your prayers, we know we have angels looking out for us.

To my own parents, its hard to even begin. Thank you for your years of teaching. For thousands of hugs and kisses, and for the occasional tough love it took to keep me, your “head in the clouds” daughter, on track. It is through your guidance that I have learned to be loving, and your perseverance through times of adversity has taught me to stand tall, and above all – to never let the [bad guys] get me down.  Thank you both for giving me such a special day, to Mom for her beautifully executed vision (it truly was a Mid Summer Night’s Dream) and to Dilip for his beautiful toasts and for that – often silent but always felt – support. Thank you both for the gift of allowing us to all share this day together as a family.

Just as love, family, and friendship are timeless and fill us with warmth, this dish that follows is a true classic. It takes advantage of the plenty of the summer harvest and transforms it into a light stew, full of sustenance and comfort. Leftovers can be easily transformed into a wealth of different dishes – from tarts, to pot pies, to soups, to bruschetta. To all of those who have supported us, this one is for you. We hope that it warms your hearts as you have ours.

Early Summer Ratatouille

2 Small Eggplant Cut in Half and Cut into 1/2 Inch Slices
4 TBSP Olive Oil, Divided
3 Red or Yellow Bell Peppers
3 Bay Leaves
3 Sprigs Thyme
1 Sprig Rosemary
2 Red Onions, Cut in Half and Sliced Thinly
6 Cloves of Garlic, Peeled and Sliced
3-4 Zucchini or Yellow Squash (a Mix is Great Too!) Cut into 1-Inch Cubes
5 Plum Tomatoes, Scored with an X on the Bottom
At least 3 Cups Boiling Water
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Parsley
Small Splash of Good Balsamic Vinegar (optional)
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Heat the broiler to high. Place the eggplant in a single layer on a cooling rack atop a baking sheet (see the first photo above for an illustration.) Brush with 1 TBSP of Olive Oil, sprinkle with a spattering of salt and pepper and place beneath the broiler and grill until just browned (depending on the evenness of your broilers heat distribution you may want to rotate the pan half way though.) Remove the tray, flip the eggplant, brush the other side with another TBSP of olive oil, sprinkle on a bit more salt an pepper and repeat the broiling until just toasted and remove.

Set the cooling rack aside to cool and place the bell peppers on the baking tray. Pop the peppers in the oven under the broiler and cook until charred on all sides. Remove the peppers to a bowl, cover with saran wrap and allow to steam for 5 mins.

While the peppers steam place the remaining 2 TBSP of olive oil in a large sautee pan over the stove. Add the bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary, sautee one minute, stirring often. Once the herbs are very fragrant add the onions and sautee until very soft (about 5-7 mins) and almost translucent.

While the onions sautee place the tomatoes in a bowl and cover with 2-3 inches of boiling water. Allow to cool before removing them with a slotted spoon to a cutting board. Peel off the skins (these should slide off easily now.) Quarter the tomatoes and remove the worst of the seeds. Place seeded and skinned tomatoes on a cutting board and chop roughly. Transfer tomatoes along with their accumulated juices to a bowl and set aside.

When the onions have cooked for 5-7 mins add the sliced garlic to the onions in the pan and sautee another 2-3 mins, stirring often.

Remove the peppers from their bowl, leaving the accumulated juice inside. Peel and core the peppers. Slice thinly and return to the bowl with the juice.

Add the zucchini to the onion herb mixture and sautee stirring regularly for 4 mins. Add the peppers, tomatoes, and their juices and cook another 3 mins, stirring. If the dish appears too dry or starts to stick and brown on the bottom add a 1/4 cup of broth or water to loosen. Add the eggplant and cook until just heated through. Be careful not to overcook the zucchini.

Remove the pan from the heat. Scatter parsley over the dish and stir, taste and season as needed with salt and pepper adding a dash of balsamic if desired. Carefully fish out the bay leaves and what remains of the rosemary sprig and thyme (the parts that have cooked into the dish are fine to remain in place.) Serve warm, cool, or transform into a myriad of other dishes from tarts to bread soup.

Power Through It – Super Foods Salad

I apologize, ladies and gentlemen, for the lapse in our posting, but it has been a long week and a half. Since we last posted Dustin and I have packed virtually every item in our little home into boxes. We have meticulously planned our move, transferred utilities, found adequate transportation, and recruited assistance from very kind friends, only to find that on our planned moving day our road will be closed virtually all day for Nashville’s Music City Marathon. We will not have access to our street, or to the alley behind it, and will not be able to park within a 4 block radius of our current dwelling. So much for meticulous planning. After spending Saturday morning panic stricken, I came up with a slightly nutty plan B that will put our now free morning to use by installing the raised beds we have planned for our very first home vegetable garden.

A few weeks back I spent several hours perusing the Burpee catalog for the best possible array of organic seeds that could be direct sown into the garden. Just before ordering Dustin and I ventured out to Whole Foods, where we discovered that our local store had its own great selection of seeds, with no shipping required. Our current design is for four – four by four foot raised beds, arranged according to the length of the growing season (some we are hoping to get two seasons out of – be reaping, tilling, and resewing in late august) and the amount of water needed to grow the crops. We are also planning a salad table, a shallow, portable, and lightweight raised bed that can be used for growing delicate salad greens and have high hopes to grow “trash can” sweet potatoes.

I never used to be much of a fan of sweet potatoes. In my mind, they were part of the “potato” category, which I dismissed entirely as bland and starchy. It wasn’t until 2 years ago, on a camping trip in Kentucky, that I finally realized how wrong I had been to eschew this brilliant tuber. The powers that be that bestowed the name on this veggie got one thing right, they are indeed sweet, its hard to fathom that so many recipes for sweet potatoes call for additions of sugar, maple, or even, gasp, marshmallows. When roasted for long periods of time these bright orange gems literally ooze with sugary sweetness that is entirely their own.

In this dish, which was sparked by a sweet potato and quinoa side dish on Sprouted Kitchen, I combine sweet roasted sweet potato nuggets with smoky paprika, earthy lentils, nutty quinoa, and a zingy jalapeno dressing. The strong flavor components of the dish are inspired by the traditional smoky, hot and sweet notes of good southern barbeque. From a nutritional perspective this dish has it all covered. The sweet potatoes provide an almost unsurpassed source of Vitamin C which is best activated when combined with a small amount of fat, which can be found in the olive oil in our zingy vinaigrette. The lentils provide a great source of folate, iron, fiber, and protein. The quinoa is yet another great punch of fiber in this dish and a nice nutty and almost creamy texture to the salad. And I cannot even begin to sing the praises of Kale, it provides and excellent source of vitamins K, C, and A, as well as dietary fiber and has been hailed for its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. So don’t hesitate to dig in and enjoy this super healthy, super delicious salad.

Super Foods Salad

For the Salad Dressing
2 Jalapenos, Cut in Half (Seeds In)
3/4 C Chopped Cilantro
3 Large Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Shallots, Minced
Zest (Minced) and Juice of 2 Limes
6 TBSP Olive Oil

For the Quinoa
1 Lg Onion, Diced
1/2 TSP Ground Corriander
1/2 TSP Ground Cumin
1/2 Cup Quinoa
1 C Water

For the Sweet Potatoes
2-3 Medium Sized Sweet Potatoes (1.5-2 lbs) Cut into 1 Inch Cubes
1 TSP Smoked Hot Paprika
1/2 TSP Kosher Salt
Olive Oil to Lightly Coat

For the Lentils
3/4 C. de Puy or Beluga Lentils
2 Bay Leaves
1 TSP Kosher Salt

1 Bunch of Kale Roughly Chopped

To make the Salad Dressing – preheat the oven to 425 degrees, rub the jalapenos lightly with salt, pepper, and olive oil and roast on a foil lined sheet pan for 15 mins, or until softened and slightly browned. Once roasted, place on a cutting board and allow to cool before mincing the jalapenos. Place the minced peppers in a small bowl along with the other dressing ingredients and mix well to combine, set aside.

To make the sweet potatoes toss the potato cubes with the spices and add just enough olive oil to lightly coat. Placed on a foil lined baking sheet and roast in the preheated oven for 20-25 mins, turning the potatoes over at least once during the roasting process.

While the potatoes roast make the quinoa. Add about a tablespoon of oil to a saute pan, add onion and sautee until softened and beginning to brown, add quinoa and spices and stir, allow spices and grains to toast, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes before adding the water, bring to a boil, add a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 mins, or until the liquid is just absorbed. Turn off the heat and set aside.

To cook the lentils, place lentils in a sauce pan and cover with 1-2 inches of water. Add bay leaves and salt and bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until just tender (be careful not to over cook them as they will turn to mush.) As soon as the lentils are cooked, place the lentils in a colander and rinse with cool water (or shock in an ice water bath) until the lentils are just cooled (this will stop the cooking) allow to drain completely.

To serve the salad combine the sweet potatoes with the lentils, quinoa, and kale in a large bowl. Toss gently to combine. Add the dressing, a bit at a time, until just dressed (the kale will wilt slightly reducing the body of the salad, so err on the side of under-dressing as more can be added later.) Allow to sit for 15-20 minutes for the flavors to meld. Taste and add additional dressing, salt, and pepper as needed. Serve and Enjoy!

Who’s Got Thyme – Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

I know its practically un-American, and it would certainly make many of my Irish ancestors gasp in shock and horror to hear me say this, but I have never been much of a fan of potatoes. Yes, I know, Quelle Horreur! Now, it must be said, I have nothing against tubers – yams, rutabaga, turnips, and sweet potatoes all suit my taste just fine. But until recently I had thought of the Potato, King of the Tuber Band, as little more than a starchy calorie bomb, and, dare I say, a bit bland. Potatoes just didn’t do it for me, and with their reputation as an nutritionally devoid “guilty pleasure” I was not enticed to dig for evidence of more redeeming qualities.

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And then, light a lightening bolt, I had some potatoes which shook my world. We were in New Hampshire at an Organic Hostel and Camping ground called D Acres. It was early in the morning, Dustin and I were excited to dig into the farm table breakfast that the hostel prepared. It was the perfect filling and nutritious meal, and would power us through the many  hikes and climbs we would take on that afternoon. On this morning the hostel staff had roasted some small multicolored new potatoes they had just plucked out of the dirt behind the hostel. The potatoes were simply roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper, I took a few, expecting no major revelation in flavor, only to be thoroughly wowed.

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The potatoes that I had at D Acres that morning had this amazing mineral-y flavor that I had never tasted in a potato before. The flavor was reminiscent of a parsnip, slightly nutty and a a bit herbaceous. The farm hands attributed this amazing flavor to good organic soil and regular crop rotation, when you think about it, potatoes spend their entire growing cycle buried deep in the earth. It makes sense, therefore, that they would draw a great deal of their flavor from the soil that surrounds them.

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As I found out while doing research for this post, potatoes are not as nutritionally devoid as I initially thought. A medium-size potato with the skin provides an excellent source of Vitamin C, Potassium, Vitamin B6, as well as trace amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, folate, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. As one of the most highly sprayed crops, potatoes are one crop that I advise buying “organic” whenever possible. Look for firm potatoes with few eyes and no green splotches as these are the most evenly “ripe” and flavorful.

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Olive Oil and Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

1 Head of Garlic, Roasted
3 Pounds Organic Red Skin Potatoes, Peeled and Cut into Large Chunks
4 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/3 C Heavy Cream
2 -3 Large Springs Thyme
Freshly Cracked Pepper

Put a large pot of water on over high heat, bring to a boil and season with salt. Add potatoes and cook at a low boil until just tender.  Drain well in a colander.

Place olive oil, heavy cream, thyme, mashed roasted garlic cloves, and a pinch of salt and pepper in the bottom of the empty pot. Place over lowest heat setting and allow the garlic and thyme to infuse the olive oil and cream.

Rice the potatoes into the pot and add any remaining potato skins that would not pass through the ricer. Stir with a wooden spatula as gently as possible. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Enjoy!

Roasted Baby Broccoli and Grain Salad with Broccoli – Almond Pesto

March 22, 2012 1 comment

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With just one episode of Good Eats, Alton Brown changed my views on broccoli forever. This life altering event occurred around the time that Dustin and I first moved in together. We were sitting on the couch one night studying for goodness only knows what classes and watching the Food Network when an episode of Good Eats came on that featured a better way to cook typically distained vegetables, like brussels sprouts and broccoli, which when steamed or boiled take on that distinctively stinky vegetable smell.

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In his typically zany way, Alton described the benefits of high-temp roasting and grilling, in digestible chunks of chemistry. Essentially, it all boils down to the Maillard Reaction. What, you might ask, is the Maillard Reaction? The Maillard Reaction is the reaction which caramelizes sugars in food to turn it brown. There are many examples of the Maillard Reaction in modern cooking, from the browning of butter solids to form a nutty and complex browned butter to the charring of vegetables over an open flame. But really, when any browning of a food takes place, the Maillard Reaction is present, from grilling steaks, to making toast, to roasting vegetables or chicken, browning changes the flavor profile of a food in a way that most of us find delicious.

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Why, you may ask, do we not get the same trans-formative qualities from steaming or boiling that we do from grilling and roasting? The answer lies in the presence of water (or lack thereof.) No matter how high you crank up your burners, water’s temperature will max out at around 212 degrees, after that it is transformed into steam. In order for the Maillard Reaction to occur you need to have amino acids (protein) a reducing sugar (like glucose) and temperatures over 250 degrees. Therefore, in the presence of lots of water, no browning will occur.

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I bought these baby broccoli on sale at Whole Foods, broccoli, regular broccoli, or even Brussels sprouts, would work well in this recipe. The broccoli is divided and cooked two ways, quickly blanked for the pesto, and roasted at high temps till lightly browned to form the bulk of the salad. The salad is filled out by cooked grains, you can use any whole grain, wild rice, red quinoa, wheat berries, and bulgur will all be nice here, from a visual perspective adding some varied color into the dish may add some sex appeal to this homely looking side dish. I saved the broccoli cooking liquid (from blanching) and used it to cook the grains, not only does this save on water, but it allows some preservation of vitamins and flavor that leeched into the water during the blanching process. This dish pairs well with a lean protein such as roasted chicken, tofu, or pork for a healthy dinner or can be served as a dish of its own on top of some arugula with additional nuts and some crumbled tempeh.

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Roasted Baby Broccoli and Grain Salad with Broccoli – Almond Pesto — slightly adapted from 101 Cookbooks

3 C Cooked Grains (I used a mixture of Bulghur, Quinoa, and Wheat Berries)
2 Large Heads Broccoli, Stems Chopped, and Tops Cut into Florets

3 Medium Cloved Garlic, Smashed
2/3 C Toasted Almonds
1/3 C Freshly Grated Parmesan
Pinch of Aleppo Pepper Flakes
2 T Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice (optional – zest of 1 lemon)
1/4 C Olive Oil
1/4 C Heavy Cream

Heat oven to 455 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to a low boil.

Divide broccoli in half, toss half in a very light covering of olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper. Spread out on a sheet pan and roast until just browned, flipping half way through. Remove from the hot pan and place on a plate in a single layer to cool.

Place other half of the broccoli in the lightly boiling water for just a minute until just brightened, you don’t want these to be “cooked” we should just take the raw off of the veggies.

Cook grains in batches in the broccoli water according to cooking directions.

Place garlic and almonds in a food processor and pulse 3 or 4 times until “minced.”

Remove broccoli from the pot with a slotted spoon and drain fully in a colander. Add broccoli, Aleppo, lemon juice (and zest if using) several turns of freshly cracked pepper, and Parmesean in the processor and pulse again until small chunks appear (should not be a paste.) Add olive oil and heavy cream and process until it appears emulsified.

Place grains and roasted broccoli in a large bowl and toss. Add some of the pesto and toss until well incorporated. Add remaining pesto as desired and reserve any remainder for another use. Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

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