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 ūüôā 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 Рthat 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.

Beet Ya To It – Lovely Ginger Pickled Beets

Lately I have been bracing myself for the onslaught of summer produce that I know is on its way. I can see it each time I walk outside, the garden has entered a full on frenzy. Our tomato plants are working overtime to peek over the top of our six foot fence. The cucumbers have hatched a sinister plot to overtake the pepper plants, who I have to defend daily from suffocation by wandering tendril. The cantaloupes are mapping out an escape plan, vines creeping through their chicken wire cage out onto the driveway. And our cilantro has shot up like a confused Christmas tree, proud, towering and yet, strangely frazzled.

Next year we may need a larger plot to give our bounty ample room. And yet, even as I plan a bigger an better schema for next summer, I have no idea how we will make our way through the bushels and baskets of tomatoes the garden will bestow upon us, let alone the gaggle of cucumbers and armfuls of watermelon. Oh, and did I forget to mention, the weekly boxful of beautiful produce from our local CSA? It is going to be a busy summer.

I have already admitted defeat. The white flag is up, I know we simply cannot keep pace with the amount of veggies pouring in, and so, I will turn to the old methods of preserving and pickling. Putting up the wares we cannot consume in time. This summers posts will surely be full of recipes for pickles, jams, sauces and pastes. As I learn from my own experiments, I will share with you all the insight I gain on how to make the summers bounty stretch into the winter.

And so, without further ado, I give you the first installment in a series of summer preservation techniques. This one could not be more straight forward, it is derived from an old school recipe for pickled beets but could not be further from the squishy sugary salad bar fare found in grocery stores and low end buffets across America. The ginger brings a brightness to these semi sweet pickles that drives it into an entirely different direction. Be careful not to overlook the beets, too hard and they will be unpalatable, but they need a bit of bite to provide toothsome texture and to preserve their beautiful earthy flavor.

I have included some pieces of chopped beet stem in the recipe below, it is likely that you will need to buy beets with the greens to accomplish this. Simply snip off the beet greens and reserve them for another use. The greens taste great julienned (around 1″ width to the julienne) and saut√©ed in olive oil with a hint of minced garlic or, you guessed it, ginger. They are far more tender than collards, and slightly more so than Kale, so when saut√©ing them, tread lightly, or they will be reduced to overlooked mush.

Ginger Pickled Beets

4-5 Medium Beets With Stems
3 Inch Piece of Ginger Peeled and Julienned
1/2 C Sugar
2 TSP Kosher Salt
1-2 TBSP Whole Coriander Seeds
6 Whole Peppercorns

To prepare the beets wash the stems and set them aside to dry. Peel the beets. If you want to preserve your pretty hands and protect them from turning all red and splotchy you may want to wear gloves when handling them. The photo of the cutting board above bears witness to the staining power of this brilliant vegetable.

Cut the beets into 1/4 inch discs and set aside. Cut stems into 1/2 inch pieces and reserve.

Bring one cup of water, vinegar, salt, and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add beets and lower to a simmer, cook 3 mins, add stems and cook another min or two or until beets are just tender. Remove from stove.

Place peppercorns, ginger, and coriander seeds in a quart sized ball jar with a tight lid. Pack beets in along with their liquid. Allow to cool before lidding. Top with lid, seal tightly and turn upside down. Let sit for another hour or so before refrigerating. The beets will keep well for about 2 weeks in the fridge. The make great accompaniments to juicy summer burgers and are stunning on salads with avocado and crumbled blue cheese.

“Mariage Parfait” – Barley Scones with Strawberries and Rhubarb Jam

Its a beautiful thing when you find two ingredients that truly marry well together. Like a good relationship this melding of flavors is a partnership of sorts, where each player complements the other, bringing out the best in its partner without losing any of it’s own shine. Cooking is full of classic flavor pairings, cool mint and creamy chocolate, gamey smokey bacon and pungent sharp onions, vine ripened tomatoes and fresh creamy mozzarella cheese, and a springtime favorite – supple sweet strawberries and tangy woodsy rhubarb.

Every time I think of great pairings a scene from Ratatouille springs to mind, if you don’t know the movie, or don’t know the scene I am referencing, let me try my hand at telling the story. It all starts with a rat with somewhat discerning tastes. This cute friend, who is also the stories protagonist, ventures out with his brother in search of some good ingredients from the local garbage bin. Remy, our rat friend, finds a chanterelle mushroom, a nugget of tomme cheese, some rosemary, and grass dew drops. He treks to the top of a roof to try to roast the mushroom over the exhaust to meld the flavors when he is struck by lightening. He falls from the roof, mushroom in hand, and when he comes to he finds that he has created an amazing cheesy woodsy creation on a stick.

By no means do strawberries and rhubarb remind me of dumpster diving, or, fortunately, of lightening toasted rodents, but Remy’s revelation on how flavors meet to produce a heightened experience for the diner, is one that most good cooks are well familiar with. It’s this simultaneous transformation and showcasing of raw ingredients that drives myself, and so many other cooks, to experiment with flavors in the kitchen. I had seem a recipe for barley scones in “Good to the Grain,” which put a new spin on the idea of partnering jam and scones by sandwiching a tangy layer of between two sweet and buttery rounds of barley based dough. I wanted to adapt the recipe to fit a scheme I had to make a rhubarb jam from some beautiful stalks I found at the market.

As if the duo of Strawberries and Rhubarb aren’t enough to make you want to try these scones, the combination of these two with the sweet nuttiness of Barley Flour truly pushes these scones into rave-worthy territory. Barley flour is simply made from milled barley. It can be substituted 1:1 for 1/3 of the all purpose flour called for in most baking dishes without diminishing the integrity of the dish. It makes a nice alternative to white or even whole wheat flour not only because of its great flavor, but because with fewer calories per cup and far more fiber, it has greater nutritional value as well. Hopefully tasting these scones you will have a ratatouille moment of your own – so go on and give them a try, and if you are suddenly struck by an impulse to add a spark of your own flavor – go for it!

Barley Scones with Strawberries and Rhubarb

For the Scone Dough

1 C Plus 2 TBSP Barley Flour
1 C All Purpose Flour
1/4 C Dark Brown Sugar
2 TSP Baking Powder
1/2 TSP Baking Soda
1 1/4 TSP Kosher Salt
8 TBSP Cold Unsalted Butter Cut into Small Cubes
1/2 C Whole Buttermilk
1 Egg
10 Medium Strawberries Diced

For the Jam

4-5 Stalks Rhubarb, Diced
3/4 Cup Sugar
4-5 Thick Strips of Lemon Peel
2 TBSP Lemon Juice
2 TBSP White Wine

To Finish

2 TBSP Melted Butter, Cooled Slightly
2 TBSP Sugar

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse dry ingredients until well mixed. Add butter pieces and pulse in 4-5 short (1-2 second) spurts until batter looks sandy. Add buttermilk and egg and pulse until just incorporated. Add strawberries and pulse once or twice for a second each time to distribute.

Turn scone dough out onto a floured surface and divide in half. Pat each half into flat rounds and wrap with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator to chill while you make the jam (chill for a min of 1 hour.)

To make the jam, place rhubarb, and sugar in a sauté pan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until rhubarb releases its juices, and sugar dissolves. Allow the mixture to come to a low boil, add lemon peel & juice and wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fruit breaks down and the jam is thick, this should take 12-15 mins. Remove from heat and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before moving on to the scone assembly.

To assemble the scones, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, line a cookie pan with a silpat mat or parchment paper and set aside. Remove scone dough from the refrigerator, place on a lightly floured surface and roll each round into a 7 inch circle. Select one round to be the bottom, smear this round with 3-4 TBSP of your homemade jam. Place the other round on top of the jam smeared circle and press just slightly on the top. Brush the top lightly with melted butter, sprinkle with sugar. Cut into 8 equally sized wedges. It is best to rinse the knife with cold water between slices to keep the cuts clean. Place scones on prepared pan, leaving at least two inches between scones. Bake for 22-26 minutes, rotating the tray half way through baking. Once the scones are lightly brown and fairly fragrant remove from oven and place on a drying rack to cool. Allow to cool for 5-10 mins before removing from the tray. These are unbelievably delicious served straight from the oven, but should ideally be eaten the day they are made, this may mean you have to invite others to share, but your friends and family will thank you for it!

Grilling, Finally – Fish with Cucumber Salsa

It has been a supremely exciting couple of weeks. My bridal shower sped by in a flash, our new house is finally, starting to feel like a home. Photos are up on the walls, our spices have finally found a new roost in the organizational challenge that is our kitchen. And our first garden is growing by leaps and bounds, some days I feel as though, if I sat outside and watched, I might actually catch a glimpse of the tomatoes inching up the posts that hold them upright. They have grown at least three feet in the last three weeks, maybe it’s all the love in the air.

In addition to sewing our first garden, Dustin and I recently purchased our first grill. Our little webber smokey joe may not measure up size wise to look like the biggest and baddest around, but what it lacks in surface area, it makes up with in ease of use and pure smokey grilling flavor. Since buying the little guy, we have been grilling a few times a week.

Recently we started experimenting with fish on the grill, first a few whole sardines made their way onto the fire and onto our plates. Spurred by this “tiny” fish success Dustin and I ventured to whole foods to try a fresh catch. when we arrived we were a bit overwhelmed by the choices (and a bit by the prices as well.) I knew that I wanted to pair the fish with a cucumber salsa I saw in Bon Apetit’s June 2012 issue – we had just received a gorgeous gaggle of hot house cucumbers in our first CSA allotment of the season, and the magazine had auspiciously featured them in their “Four Chefs One Ingredient” challenge, I took this as a sign.

Getting back to the market, I asked the fishmonger which fish he might pair with a cucumber salsa. “Cucumber salsa?” he remarked quizzically, something told me this might not be standard fare for fish but I was determined it would work, and he tried to keep an open mind as we walked through potential foils for said salsa.

Initially I had thought a tuna steak would pair nicely, but not only was the tuna obscenely expensive, but it just didn’t look quite as nice as its neighbors. Salmon was on sale and in season, but the fishmonger and I agreed it might be a bit, how shall we say this, odd, with cold cucumbers. We moved on, US caught mahi mahi was a strong contender, and I was ready to put in my chips when a man in rubberized overalls laid a vision of a fillet down before me. “What’s that?” I asked my new fish friend, whose patience with me was astounding, “Mackerel,” he replied. I asked him his thoughts on the mackerel with salsa, he paused, smiled, and replied that he thought it was a “real winner.” I was sold.

As it turns out, my fishmonger friend was right on the money. Not only does the mackerel pair well with the salsa from a textural perspective, but the slightly oily flavor of the fish stands up to the fresh zing of the salsa. These are nice together with a side of grilled veggies or grill roasted new potatoes. Dustin and I mused that, with the addition of some nice shredded cabbage and a zingy crema, the grilled fish and salsa would make for some excellent fish tacos. Leftover salsa can be used in a myriad of ways, but one worth mentioning is that the salsa is quite close to a cucumber gazpacho, in fact, with the addition of some nice olive oil, a slight splash of water, and a tad more lime, the salsa leftovers may be transformed into a nice (spicy) cold soup for lunch the following day.

Fish with Cucumber Salsa (From Bon Apetit)

1/2 C Finely Diced Red Onion
2 C Finely Diced Peeled Cucumber
1/4 C Chopped Cilantro
1/4 C Chopped Mint
1 Jalapeno, With Seeds, Finely Minced
3 TBSP Fresh Lime Juice
1 TBSP Vegetable Oil

Mix first five ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir in lime juice and oil. Season to taste with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and more lime juice, if desired.

Set salsa aside and allow flavors to meld while you prepare the fish.

I didn’t specify a size or type of fish above because, really, a whole slew of fish would go nicely, pick a slightly oily and fairly flavorful fillet that looks fresh and will hold up to grilling. For grilling I prefer my fillets with skin on, but obviously with some fish, like tuna, this is not an option. The salsa in this recipe will easily provide for up to three pounds of fish, and, if you plan to make less fish, I think its highly unlikely that the cucumbery leftovers will go to waste.

Preparing the fish is quite simple. Run your fingers down the centerline to check for pin bones. Remove any pin bones with fish tweezers. Rub remaining fish with a very light coating of canola or other flavor neutral oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt and some good cracks of pepper.

Grill over high heat about 3-5 mins per side (depending on the thickness of the fillets, ours took about four mins per side and came out perfectly cooked.)

I like to serve my grilled fish with some grilled citrus, grilling lemons and limes mellows the flavor and allows it to zest up the fish (also great with grilled veggies like broccoli or zucchini) without completely overpowering it with acid, to grill the citrus simply slice it in half and place over medium heat on the grill until the flesh bears a slight char.

Coming Back to the Chopping Block – Soba Noodles with Mango and Eggplant

Another few weeks have breezed by without a post. Moving and traveling, and other general insanity have interfered with successful posting. But finally, we are moved in, mostly unpacked, and are getting back to the chopping block.

I was listening to a show in NPR last week – the host was holding a discussion on “Moms” in honor of the upcoming Mothers’ Day holiday. More specifically she was discussing how we remember our mothers – how so many of these memories are centered on family traditions and often take place in and around the kitchen. The host opined that kitchen memories are particularly strong as they are associated with sounds, tastes, textures, and scents, and put extra emphasis on how scent memories can be exceptionally stirring and long lasting.

I have always been enamored with tradition. Perhaps it is because, with a small family prone to constant change, we didn’t have many of our own. But the memories of the ones we had could not be stronger. I remember, like it was yesterday, watching my grandmother circling about the kitchen reading thanksgiving dinner. I have these vivid images of helping her cut apples into a baking pan for her family famous deep dish apple pie, which I can still whip up today simply by memory.

Today’s featured recipe is another from the pages of Ottolenghi’s “Plenty.” It has particular significance to me as it was prepared by my friend Julie and served at my bridal shower on the 5th of this month. The individual ingredients are so wild but it marries beautifully in this summery noodle salad. It is a flavor memory of a beautiful day that I am sure I will enjoy remembering for years to come.

Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango (adapted from Ottolenghi’s “Plenty”)

1/2 C Rice Vinegar
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
1/2 TSP Fine Grain Sea Salt
2 Garlic Cloves, Crushed
1 Fresh Red Chile, Minced
1 TSP Toasted Sesame Oil
Zest and Juice of One Lime

1/3 C Sunflower Oil
1 Large Eggplant Cut Into 1/2-Inch Cubes

8-9 Ounces Soba Noodles, Cooked According to Package Directions

1 Large Ripe Mango Cut into Small Chunks
1/2 Small Red Onion, Very Thinly Sliced
1/3 C Basil Leaves, Cut into a Chiffonade
1/2 C Cilantro, Chopped
1/3 C Roasted, Unsalted Peanuts, Chopped

To make the dressing place the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, about 1 minute, or until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat, add garlic, chile, and sesame oil. Allow the mixture to cool, then add the lime zest and juice.

Line a colander with a sheet or two of paper towels and set over a large plate next to the stove. In a large cast iron skillet heat the oil over medium high heat. Toss one eggplant cube in as a test. It should come out golden and crisp, not too dark, not too soggy, repeat test if needed. Once the oil is at the right temperature toss in about a third off the eggplant and fry, flipping once, until golden. Remove with a large slotted spoon or wire skimmer and place into the prepared colander. Add a bit of salt to season after removing each batch and toss to coat. Repeat the process with the remaining thirds, leaving about a minute or so for the oil to come back up to temp before adding the next batch.

Place cooked Soba noodles in a large bowl along with the red onion, mango, herbs and eggplant. Add dressing, a bit at a time until seasoned to your liking, add salt and pepper to taste. Toss, top with peanuts, and enjoy.

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!

Spring Clean Out – Bright and Herby Green Couscous

It’s a bit overwhelming to think we are moving again in less than two weeks. There are some ways in which I actually like moving. As a big proponent of the “use it or lose it” mantra, moving offers an opportunity to revamp, reorganize, and sift through any accumulated clutter. Having moved to Nashville within the last year, it was easy to determine which items we had not used since moving in and make judgements as to whether to donate them, recycle them, or hold out hope that we might find just the right use for that odd utensil, or the perfect occasion for a never worn dress.

The same clean out fervor carries over to the pantry. Spices that have not been used in the months that have eclipsed since the move in date should likely be tossed, especially if ground. And while I have a soft spot for “ancient grains,” the same does not apply to old stale ones. Nuts, too, begin to decline rapidly once they pass their peak. Dustin and I had a great wealth of couscous sitting in a Ball Jar on our grains shelf, and an old bag of shelled pistachios that were about to go over the proverbial hill. When I came across a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Plenty” for green couscous, that incorporated the tiny grains with a vivacious herb sauce and toasted pistachios, I knew I found a winner.

In the spring, more than ever, I love making bright herbaceous dishes. Perhaps it’s just that many of my favorite herbs are just starting to peek through the ground, and maybe it’s because green is the unofficial color of springtime, but bright punch flavors draw me in after the heavy stews, soups, and braises that dominate winters comfort cuisine. This salad actually pairs very well alongside a heavier dish like a Tagine, and is great a day (or even two) later over a bed of bright greens with grilled chicken, shrimp, or tofu.

From a health perspective this couscous salad covers its bases. Couscous is made from semolina flour, traditionally the semolina was rolled into tiny pellets and then tossed in flour to keep the pellets from sticking together, before left to dry. While couscous is more akin to a pasta than a whole grain, a whole wheat variety may be substituted for the traditional white variety adding additional protein and fiber to this dish. If you want to go a step further and up the ante to a full on whole grain, cracked bulgur wheat, millet, or quinoa may be swapped in for the couscous. It will alter the flavor slightly but should be a delicious and nutritious dish nonetheless.

The pistachios in this dish provide a nice textural contrast to the chewy toothsome grains, leafy greens, and soft onion. From a nutritional perspective they add a great deal as a good source of healthy fat, B Vitamins, fiber, and pop of protein. I have upped the amount of parsley in this recipe from Yotam’s original 1/2 cup because, compared with cilantro, it packs a nutritional wallop. Not only is it high in dietary fiber, but is also a rich source of Vitamins K, C, and A. So go on and dig into this bright herbaceous dish, your body and your taste buds will thank you.

Green Couscous – from Yotam Ottolenghi’s “plenty”

For the Herb Paste
1/2 C Chopped Flat-leaf Parsley
1/2 C Chopped Cilantro
2 TBSP Chopped FreshTarragon
4 TBSP Chopped Fresh Mint
6 TBSP Olive Oil

For the Couscous
1 C Couscous
3/4 C Boiling Water or Stock
1 TBSP Olive Oil
1 Lg Onion, Thinly Sliced
1/2 TSP Fine Sea Salt
1/4 TSP Ground Cumin

To Finish
1/2 C Unsalted Pistachios, Toasted and Coarsely Chopped
3 Scallions, Finely Sliced
1 Fresh Chile, Such as a Jalape√Īo, Finely Sliced (I Like This Spicy So I Substituted a Serrano)
1 1/2 C Arugula Leaves, Chopped

To make the herb paste combine all ingredients, save the olive oil, in a food processor and pulse. Add olive oil in a steady stream until the mixture resembles a smooth paste. Taste and add a bit of salt and pepper as needed.

To make the couscous, place couscous in a large bowl and add boiling water or stock. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand for 10 minutes. Fluff gently with a fork to break up any big chunks and set aside.

In a sauté pan heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, cumin, and salt and sauté until the onion is golden and soft.

In a large bowl, combine couscous and half of the herb paste. taste and add more herb paste a bit at a time until you like the balance of flavor. You can serve the remaining sauce on the side so that diners can adjust for individual taste. Add pistachios, scallions, green chile, and arugula and toss gently.

Enjoy!

Good Enough to Eat – Molasses Bran Muffins

Lately we have developed somewhat of a rhythm to our weekend cooking plans. Each weekend we tend to make a main dish, like a soup or baked pasta, a side, which is typically grain based such as a broccoli and quinoa salad, two loaves of bread, using home made starter and a recipe from Tartine, and some sort of baked good.

There is something about turning out perfectly puffed baked goods that I find deeply satisfying. Likely, this joy stems from the fact that I have failed at baking so many times in the past. Much of my recent success stems from one key piece of advice that I have heard countless times and have never really followed. And that is, that I FINALLY read the directions. All of them. Sometimes twice. Until I actually understand what is going on. And then I get down to business.

Baking truly takes a lot of preparation. First you need all of the right ingredients, you need to carefully note what type of flour to buy, the size of the eggs called for DOES make a difference. Light and dark brown sugar are not the same thing, and no, honey is not a substitute for maple syrup. Please, whatever you do, do not substitute light butter or margarine for the butter called for in the recipe, and if they don’t specify, its pretty darn likely that they are calling for UNSALTED butter. And generally, if they call for milk, buttermilk, or yogurt, you can assume that the full fat version is required, unless the author explicitly states otherwise.

Sometimes it feels as though, given all of these rules, we must take off our thinking caps and turn off our brains when we bake. But I feel it just takes a great deal more mastery before we are able to make the substitutions and judgement calls that separate the good bake hands from the true innovators that are pushing the art of baking forward. Kim Boyce, author of “Good to the Grain” is, in my mind, one of these innovators on the forefront of the baking scene. With her book on baking with whole grain flours, Kim has forever changed the way I look at whole wheat and other whole grain flours. No longer do I see these as musky, mealy substitutes that only a health nut could love. Thanks to her recipes and to those of other bakers that have understood the many nuances of baking with quality milled whole grains, I feel as though I can hone my baking skills while producing hearty baked goods which will provide nutrition and sustenance to the loved ones around me.

I think Bran Muffins get a bad rap. Often times justifiably so as many of them are dry, mealy, and totally bereft of flavor. On the other end of the spectrum are bran muffins which purport themselves as a healthy breakfast food, but are really packed to the gills with cheap low quality oils and highly refined sugars. This recipe from Boyce’s “Good to the Grain” truly does the bran muffin justice. Her use of a home made prune jam, which acts as the main source of sweetness, provides an ingenious and natural source of fruit based sugars. There is only a slight 3 TBSP of butter in the entire recipe, the additional moisture comes from buttermilk, molasses, and fruit. These make a great breakfast treat, provided, of course that you don’t bake them into muffins the size of grapefruits, as some bakeries are wont to do.

Molasses Bran Muffins – adapted slightly from Kim Boyce’s Recipe in “Good to the Grain”

Emily’s Tip – Zest the Oranges BEFORE you squeeze them to make the Juice, it is infinitely easier than trying to hold a half of a squeezed orange and zest it, trust me.

1 C Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice
1 1/2 C Dried Fruit, Cut in Half (Kim Uses Prunes, I Used a Mixture of Prunes and Figs, Raisins Would Also Work Well)
1 1/2 C Wheat Bran
1/2 C Amaranth Flour
1 1/2 C Whole Wheat Flour
2 TBSP Dark Brown Sugar
1 1/4 TSP Baking Soda
1/2 TSP Kosher Salt
1/2 TSP Ground Cinnamon
2 C Full Fat Buttermilk
1/2 C Molasses
3 TBSP Unsalted Butter, Melted and Cooled Slightly
1 Egg
1 TBSP Orange Zest (From Oranges Used for Juice – See Emily’s Tip Above)

To make the dried fruit jam, lay the pieces of dried fruit, cut side down, in a small sautee pan or skillet (that has a fitting lid), cover with the orange juice and bring to a boil. Turn off the flame/remove from the heat, cover with the lid, and allow to sit for about 30 minutes, or until the fruit is plump and has absorbed some of the orange juice. Puree in a small food processor, or use an immersion blender until you have a smooth puree.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin tins with baking spray. Measure the bran into a medium bowl, place the buttermilk in a microwave safe container and microwave in 10 second intervals until the buttermilk is just lukewarm (do NOT overheat as it will separate and look positively gross.)

Pour the buttermilk over the bran, stir, and set aside.

Sift the remaining dry ingredients (amaranth flour, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon) into a large bowl (if some does not pass through the sifter just dump it out into the bowl with the remaining dry ingredients.)

In a small bowl whisk together the remaining ingredients with 1/2 cup of prune jam (you will have left over jam, set it aside for another use or freeze it for a later batch of muffins.) Make sure the egg is thoroughly incorporated before adding the mixture to the softened bran and buttermilk. Add the entire wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir gently. Use as few strokes as possible. Once the batter is just mixed spook into alternating cups of the muffin tin (will make about 10 muffins.)

Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, rotating half way through until they reach a dark golden color. Once the muffins are done take one out of the tin to make sure the bottom is dark and golden. Place the muffins upside down on a cooling rack to ensure they stay crisp and that the bottoms don’t become soggy from steaming in the tins. The muffins fare well in a container on the counter for about 2 days. Freeze any muffins you do not plan to consume during that period. Frozen muffins defrost well if left on the counter at room temperature for a few hours.

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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!

%d bloggers like this: