Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Burger Imposter

Recipe: Dana's "Totally OK" Veggie Burgers

I have an extreme hatred (too strong?) for meat-free products masquerading around as meat dishes. For instance, Upton's Natural's, a Chicago-based company, has made a small fortune packaging things called "Ground Beef-Style Seitan" and taco salads and buffalo chik'n wraps sold with a dapper mustachioed man on the packaging encouraging all the hipster vegans out there to purchase it.... (I used a runon sentance to highlight the extend of my anger.) Perhaps part of my anger is directed at the fact that many of these prodcuts contain soy, which I cannot digest without reacting like that one scene in Bridesmaids--you know the one I'm talking about. (Although a closer look at Upton's products suggests that their products contain hardly any soy, while other brands definitely do.)

Another concern is the hipster doofuses, a term used by my mother and coined by Seinfeld, that purchase the products, as I do not want to be associated with that kind of person. The new hipster is the antihipster after all.

And lastly, if you're a vegetarian you should eat more vegetables not tofu or wheat gluten that's pretending to be something you gave up. Vegetarians should celebrate vegetables, not mourn their losses. Plus most of that food is so proccessed, you hardly recognize where it came from. Take a look at the ingredient list on your soy tacquito or buffalo chik'n wrap and see if you can find all the ingredients in your cupboard. If you can't make it yourself (or with a trained cook in your kitchen) I fundamentally disagree with eating it.

That said, I'm not trying to knock Upton's, they do a pretty good job with their products, and their ingredient list is short and free of perservatives. There are a lot of companys that don't do this kind of cooking well, frozen chik'n cubes and soy mayonaise does not a chicken salad make, and it can ruin the eating experience for the consumer.

On the other hand, the veggie burger is perhaps the one exception to my no meat substitute rule. The veggie burger is, afterall, a staple of vegetarian cooking. Whole Foods makes a couple great ones, that are made from beans and grains, and they can actually be a filling and healthy meal. Plus, beans and grains aren't really meat subsitutes so I can be sure that they are soy-free.

I still perfer to make them myself though. This recipe, while it has a long ingredient list, is actually pretty tasty. I still want to play with the texture (less on the mush, more on the crunch), but the flavors are there. Maybe it isn't the perfect subsitute for that juicy, chargrilled, piece of hamburger that you could be eating, but for a veggie burger it ain't bad.

Dana's "Totally OK" Veggie Burger

1 cup barley
4 cups veg stock
1 cup kidney beans, dried
1 red pepper, small diced
1/2 red onion, small diced
2 carrots, peeled and small diced
1/2 cup shittake mushrooms, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup almond flour toasted
2 TBS hot sauce
1 TBS Worchestshire
1 TBS Smoked Paprika
1 TBS dried Oregano
Salt and Pepper To taste

1. Heat a sauce pot over high heat. Add barley and toast until fragrant, about 2 minutes, stirring the barley around constantly. Add vegetable stock and reduce heat. Cook until barley is tender and most of the stock has been absorbed.
2. Place kidney beans in a pot and add water until the water is 2 inches above the beans. Cook over medium heat until beans are extremely tender, about one hour.
3. Saute onions, peppers, carrots, and garlic in a small pan with a little bit of oil over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
4. Heat same pan with some oil and cook mushrooms over low heat for about 10 minutes, or until all the liquid has evaporated out. Add to carrots, peppers, and onions.
5. Once beans and barely have finished cooking place in a food processor and blend until smooth. Place in a big bowl and mix with cooked veggies and seasoning. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Preheat oven to 400. Parchment and oil a baking pan. Form burgers into 1/3 pound 3 inches in diameter patties. You should make about 6. If you have a mold use that.
7. Bake in oven for 20 minutes. Remove and enjoy with a toasted bun, some pickles, ketchup, mustard, and a beer.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Gluten-Free Fad or Treatment?

Recipe: Lemon Financiers with Blackberry Jam

Sometimes I participate on a website called Food52. It's a really great resource for home cooks, food bloggers, and anyone looking for great recipes. They also have weekly contests where users can submit recipes that fall under certain themes or use certain ingredients. For instance last week's recipe was "Your Best Street Food."

This week, however, users were asked to submit their best gluten-free recipe. Gluten-free foods are fine for someone who has celiac disease or a gluten-intolerance, but there are many people (especially those who shop at my workplace), who eat gluten-free foods as part of some fad diet, confusing gluten with carbohydrates or believing that gluten-free is healthier somehow. Those are the people that give a gluten-free diet a bad name. The overprotective parent types. The yo-yo dieters. The uninformed health nuts.

I have no reason to eat gluten-free. But I have friends who cannot digest it. Who cannot eat cookies, or beer, or delicious yeasty breads without feeling ill. So as a cook, I can provide them delicious foods that do not contain anything that's going to make them sick. Not food that taste like cardboard. Or food that looks like cardboard for that matter.

I submitted a recipe for financiers to the contest. Financiers are delicious little almond teacakes, traditionally a rectangle shape, meant to look like little bars of gold. They are perfect snacks for tea parties or other dainty eating, but they also make great after work (or school) treats. This recipe is particularly light, moist, chewy and flavorful a perfect treat to make for your gluten-free friends.

Lemon Financiers with Blackberry Jam

1/3 cup rice flour
1/3 cup almond flour
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
3 egg whites
4 ounces butter, cut into cubes
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon

1. Preheat oven to 340.
2. Sift together rice flour, almond flour, and confectioner's sugar. Place into a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Froth egg whites with a whisk and place in the center of the well.
3. Heat a saute pan over high heat. Add butter and turn into beurre noisette. Allow the butter to melt and come to a boil. Constantly move the pan around until the milk solids have turned a golden brown color. Remove from heat and cool slightly before adding to the center of the well. Add vanilla extract and lemon zest. Whisk dough together to form a smooth paste.
4. Butter a rectangular or boat shaped tartlet mold (I used a round one, so whatever you have around the house is fine. Place on a baking sheet. Fill tart molds about 3/4 of the way full, using a portion scoop or a tablespoon.
5. Place in oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the paste has set. Remove from mold and let cool on a wire rack.
6. Once financiers have cooled, place jam (recipe to follow) in a piping bag using the smallest tip. Place tip into bottom of financier and pipe a small amount of jam into each cake, about 1/2 teaspoon. Garnish cakes with more confectioner's sugar. Cakes are best eaten the day of.

For the Jam:
1 pt. blackberries
Zest and juice of one lemon
3 thyme sprigs
1/4 cup honey

1. Place all ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over low heat for 20 to 25 minutes or until the blackberries have softened and the juice has thickened.
2. Remove thyme sprigs and place the jam in a food processor or blend with an immersion blender until smooth.
3. Place in an uncovered bowl until ready to use.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Grow Your Food

Recipe: Farmer's Market Quiche

Farmer's Market Quiche
I planted my first garden a few weeks ago. Well technically not my first garden. I had an herb garden last summer, which did pretty well considering my thumb's serious lack of green. But that little garden was composed of planters and starter plants so I didn't have to think so hard about it. This year I actually dug soil out of the ground and threw some seeds in there and hoped for the best. Thank god it was such a cold spring, because I started digging a little late. Anyways, the seeds have been in gestation for a few weeks now and I can actually watch the progress. My carrots are doing the best but I have yet to see progress from my beets or the spring mix.

Fresh picked vegetables are my ultimate choice for eating. Lettuce will never taste as tender, carrots will never be as sweet. The longer the veggie is out of the ground worse the taste gets. Not that store bought vegetables are bad, but they are much much better fresh. I'm sure my carrots will turn out fine, but for the rest of my diet I will turn to the professionals. Which means, this summer I will be a frequent shopper at the farmer's market.

Purple and green asparagus and green garlic
I especially love the Green City Market because of the variety and quality of the produce and the great artisan products for sale. That is not the say that the other markets around town don't have the same stuff, but the first time I saw a purple carrot or radish with a tie-dye design was at the Green City Market. It's so much fun to wander around and look at all the familiar and rare produce. I get more inspiration from the veggies at the farmer's market than I do anywhere else. It refreshes my point of view and I get a jolt of creativity any time I shop there.

The last time I went I picked up some beautiful and tender purple asparagus, fresh and crinkly spinach, and fragrant green garlic. I had no idea what I was going to make, until I brought it home and examined my bags. In the end I decided to make a quiche. It seemed like the perfect way to join the three ingredients in a way that allows their flavor to shine.

Farmer's Market Quiche

For the crust:
6 oz flour
3/4 tsp salt
3 oz chilled butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg
2 tsp water

1. Preheat oven to 350. Mix flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add butter and rub into the flour using your fingertips. Mix together until the flour looks like breadcrumbs. Make a well in the center.
2. Whisk eggs and water together. Pour in the middle of the flour mixture. Mix together to form a soft dough, working from the inside of the well outward.
3. After the dough has just come together place on a floured surface and lightly kneed the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes before using.

Slicing up green garlic
For the filling:
4 (or about 2 cups) eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
Pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh black pepper
4 stalks asparagus, green or purple or both, sliced into 1" pieces and blanched
Good handful of spinach
1 stalk green garlic, minced
1/2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded

1. Roll out dough to 1/4" thickness. Place in a greased pie pan (about 9" in diameter). Trim off extra dough from edge. Crimp edge of dough and place in oven. Par cook for about 10 minutes.
2.  Turn oven down to 300. Whisk eggs, cream, milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper together until fully mixed. You can use a blender for this if you choose. Lightly saute green garlic in olive oil in a small pan. Arrange asparagus, spinach, garlic and cheese in par-cooked dough. Pour quiche mixture over the vegetable mixture.
3. Place quiche in oven and cook until eggs have set, about 30 minutes. To test place a small skewer or toothpick in the center of the quiche. If it comes out clean, the quiche is done. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Blues

Recipe: Jicama Apple Salad

Today is Memorial day, the official start of summer. It is a blazing 90 degrees outside and sunny, the perfect day for a Start of Summer Barbecue Party. I'm sure all of you are putting together menus, getting on the sunscreen, firing up the grills, and partying like you've never partied before. But, I will be spending today in a windowless room, working over a stove, or dealing with irate customers, basically doing the exact opposite of celebrating. I don't, however, want to miss the start of summer so I decided to make a slaw to enjoy as a reminder of today's holiday. Maybe that's a cruel thing to do to myself, like a reminder of all the fun I'm missing, but I'd rather celebrate the start of summer at work than pretend it isn't happening.

I chose to make a slaw out of jicama and apples. Jicama is a really strange vegetable. It is shaped like a rutabaga or a turnip. The texture is crisp like an apple, but the flavor is bland like a potato. It is best eaten raw in salads and slaws, but then again I've never tried to cook it. To tell you the truth, I'm not much a fan of the ugly ole' jicama. I don't even think it has much nutritional value. I do, however, like to give a second chance to veggies I dislike so I decided to cook with jicama this week. 

This jicama slaw is a good way to impress your guests with your creative culinary skills. Also, it's super easy, super cheap, and super delicious. SUPER. So if you're invited to a BBQ today and still haven't thought of something to bring along, run (RUN) to the store and put together this slaw. Remember to think of me as I'm sitting in a hot windowless room wishing I was noshing on BBQ like you.

Jicama Apple Slaw

1 large jicama, peeled and thinly julienned
1 apple, thinly julienned
2 tablespoons cilantro, minced
1/4 green cabbage head, shredded
1 cup plain yogurt
1 jalepeno, minced and seeded
Zest and juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix prepped jicama, apples, cilantro, and cabbage together.
2. For the dressing, whisk the yogurt, jalepeno, lime zest and juice, sherry vinegar, and salt together until smooth. Toss jicama mixture and dressing together. Serve immediately.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Taco Taco Taco

Recipe: Corn and Black Bean Tacos

I have to be honest. I really had no inspiration for this recipe. No good memories to share, or interesting topics to write about. I've been running around like a chicken lately (and eating chicken), so I threw this dish together because it was healthy, cheap, and pretty tasty.

Wait a month before you make this recipe and use fresh corn. I caved and used frozen (yuck!), but I was really craving tacos and corn tacos especially. Whatever. I can't be a winner every time.

So eat and enjoy my friends. This was a throwaway post, but definitely not a throwaway recipe.

Corn and Black Bean Tacos

For the Sauce:
1 large jalapeño
4 fresh tomatillos, husk removed
Juice of 3 limes
2 TBS cilantro, minced
1 TBS hot sauce of choice
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 400. Place jalapeño and tomatillos on a sheet pan and roast for 15 to twenty minutes or until soft. Place jalapeño in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 10 minutes. Remove skin and seeds from jalapeño.
2. Place tomatillos, jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice, and hot sauce in food processor or blender. Blend at a high speed until sauce is smooth. Season with a little salt and pepper. 

For the filling:
1 cup black beans
1/2 onion, small diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 cup frozen corn, thawed or preferably 1 cob of fresh corn, in husk
1 large tomato, diced
1 avocado, sliced before serving
Corn or flour tortillas, as many as you want!

1. Place black beans in a large pot with onion and garlic. Fill pot with water, or until there is 2 inches of water above the beans. Cook over medium heat until beans are tender, about 1 hour.
2. Roast corn in same oven or if using fresh on the grill. For fresh corn roast in husk until soft about 20 - 30 minutes. If using frozen about 10 - 15 minutes.
3. Mix together the cooked black beans, corn, tomato, and tomatillo dressing. Serve hot with warm tortillas. Garnish with fresh avocado slices and cilantro leaves. Enjoy with a nice cold margarita and some crunchy tortilla chips.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Healing Qualities of Cheese and Beer

Recipe: Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup and Homemade Pretzels

Before I get on with my post, I need to mention the upcoming nuptials of one William the Prince and Catherine Middleton which occur tomorrow at exactly 4 AM. I am excited, yes, as any good American girl would be. There will be pretty dresses (and one extremely pretty white dress), beautiful hats, flowers, famous people (hello Elton John), and of course delicious delicious food (with the exception of the wedding cake... fruit cake? gross.) Many people have been doing posts on what to eat for Royal Wedding Parties (scones! tea! cookies!), but as I probably won't be getting up in the middle of the night to watch some handsome guy and pretty girl (His and Her Highness) tie the knot (if it were at 9 AM that would be a whole other story), I am just going to get on with business as usual.

It has been a horrible spring here in the midwest and all this bad weather gets me thinking about soup. I realize that most of my posts begin with some musing about the weather or changing of seasons but that is how I decide what to eat most weeks. Anyways, I haven't seen the sun in weeks and maybe part of it is due to the fact that I work in a windowless room all day but also it has been raining a lot. On days (weeks!) like that I want to laze around the house eating hunks of cheese and sipping on beer, as most people would (and no "Sconnie" jokes, please).  There is something wonderful about a nice piece of cheese that gets me excited. Think about it, cheese is a mixture of the culinary and the scientific. Who first thought to eat fermented milk? It's really a miracle that we eat it at all. But, the flavors can be so complex and deep and interesting in a nice piece of cheese, that I often find myself having a Ratatouille moment when I eat it. Its such an easy way to brighten a little spot in my day.

Forget pairing cheese with wine! A good Wisconsin girl like myself would reach for a beer to pair with cheese. That combination, of beer and cheese, turns a really terrible day into a good one. Well, maybe I am being a little overly dramatic, but a really good pairing can push me over the edge sometimes. I, then, remembered that there is such a thing as beer cheese soup, thus combining all of my favorite things for a rainy day, and I decided to make it.

What pairs well with beer cheese soup, you ask? A nice soft pretzel! When I was younger I was amazed that you could make things at home that you usually bought at the store. For instance, I grew up on canned pasta sauce and the first time I had it homemade was a huge revelation. From that point forward I tried cooking all sorts of things that I usually purchased (cookies, breads, cream puffs....), and dragged my friends in the projects too. I think this is one of many reasons why I ended up as a professional cook. In any case, homemade soft pretzels are something my friend and I would make to pass the lazy summer afternoons. We would get the dough made, and then turn on Ever After while the yeast kicked in. Once we shaped the dough in to the first letter of all our friend's names and then hand-delivered the gifts. Nothing says love like a hand-shaped pretzel.

If you have a case of the rainy day blues spend the day indoors and try out this recipe. Maybe it would have quite the same healing power as it did on me, but you will enjoy it nonetheless.

Soft Pretzels 

I had a little trouble with this recipe (namely the shaping of the pretzel and the par-boiling. (See the ugly looking pretzel below.) I also had some Hawaiian black salt on hand, instead of pretzel salt so that's what I used to season.

Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup

5 tablespoons butter
1/2 leek cleaned and diced
3 carrots, cleaned peeled and diced
1 large onion, diced
4 ribs of celery, diced
5 tablespoons flour
2 12 oz bottles of beer, use a pale ale or a lager
5 cups vegetable stock
1 cup milk
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons ginger powder
2 teaspoons paprika
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Garnish with chopped chives

1. Heat beer in a sauce pan bring to a boil and reduce by half. Add vegetable stock and milk and heat.

2. Sweat leeks, carrots, onions, and celery in butter until softened. About five minutes. Stir in flour. Slowly whisk in hot liquids and bring soup to a simmer. Add cayenne, ginger, and paprika and simmer soup uncovered over medium low heat for 30 to 45 minutes.

3. Take soup off stove and puree with an immersion blender or in small batches in a food processor. Strain into a clean pot.

4. Return to heat and slowly whisk in cheese in small batches, allowing the cheese to melt before adding more. Strain again if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot with chives, a glass of beer and a nice soft pretzel.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Big Hunk of Veggie on the Grill

Recipe: Cous Cous Salad with Curry Scented Grilled Vegetables

The Grill is a steely masculine piece of machinery. It's hot. It's powerful. It's smokey. Nothing can excited a crowd so quickly or so efficiently like the phrase "Char-Grilled." The Grill pairs well with a hunk of meat, barbecue sauce, and a summer barbecue. But just because it was made to cook meat it does not mean that meat is the only thing you should cook on it.

Summer officially begins the day your grill comes out of the garage and into the yard. It could be a 60 degree day in the middle of February that calls your grill out of hiding, but the calendar date doesn't matter. Once you grill summer begins. Most of my summer memories are filled with grill brats, hot dogs, hamburgers, ribs. Occasionally we would have some veggie side-dishes (corn on the cob, potatoes wrapped in foil, char-grilled butter), but firing up the grill usually meant meat meat, and more meat. Now, as I'm trying to cut back on my so-called meat addiction, I still salivate when I think about the grill. But, I need to find a healthier (vegetable-ier) way to use it.

Grilling vegetables great way to extract a lot of flavor from an otherwise "boring" vegetable. Personally, I hate eggplant, but toss it in some oil and spices throw it on the grill and I'll eat it. Most of the summer vegetables (summer squash, zucchini, bell peppers, eggplant) work well on the fact most vegetables work well on the grill. The following salad uses aforementioned summer vegetables mixed with pearled cous cous, arugula, and a curry spice mixture to create a smokey and flavorfully salad sans meat.

Veggies fresh of the grill
Cous Cous Salad with Curry Scented Grilled Vegetables

1 cup Israeli (pearled) cous cous
1 3/4 cup salted water or vegetable stock
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/4 cup canola oil
1 zucchini, sliced
1/2 eggplant, sliced
1/4 yellow bell pepper
1/4 orange bell pepper
1/4 red bell pepper
Juice of one lemon
Large handful of arugula

1. Bring salted water or vegetable stock to a boil. Toast cous cous in a hot saute pan for one to two minutes. Once water is at a boil add cows cows and cook until soft, about eight to ten minutes. Run through cold water to cool.

2. Toast curry powder, cumin, and paprika in a dry saute pan until spices are fragrant about thirty seconds. Mix with canola oil and toss with sliced vegetables. Heat grill pan or grill, clean and lightly oil the grill. Cook vegetables a couple of minutes on each side, until vegetables are soft. Cool slightly before using.

3. Small dice grilled vegetables and mix into cooked cous cous. Season with lemon juice and more salt and pepper if needed. Before serving toss in arugula.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

So I've Been Eating Fish.....

Recipes: Onigiri and Cumber Salad

I'm (slowly) cutting meat out of my diet partly because of the sustainability issues that are clouding the modern meat industry. Seafood too has major sustainability problems. Overfishing is a major concern; while efficiency in industrial fishing improved, the ability of the ocean to replenish itself has declined significantly.  According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch, our ocean's are in a state of "silent collapse." The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program is a great resource for those who would like to research sustainable seafood options.

I have not always been a huge seafood fan. I've tried Salmon in Alaska at a traditional salmon bake and at no more than a bite. I've had sushi at 6 in the morning in Tokyo freshly caught (and I mean just off the boat) and was unimpressed. I've eaten at fine dining seafood restaurants and tolerated the meal if it was drenched in enough butter. But, I am not opposed to eating seafood the way I am about farm animals. (And I'm not even entirely opposed to eating farm animals.) It boils down to sustainability. If the fish was caught in a "green" way then I'll be more comfortable eating it.

According to my favorite resource, the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch lists Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon as a Best Choice for seafood. To research other Best Choices click here or download the iphone app (SO HANDY.) As I mentioned before, I am not a huge fan of salmon. There is, however, one way that I love to eat it: with sushi rice and nori.

Onigiri (aka rice balls) are considered the Japanese soul food and are a nostalgic meal for me. When I visited Japan as a high school student, my last meal was homemade salmon onigiri made by my host mother that I ate on the train out of Kyoto.  When I studied in Tokyo almost 6 years later as a Japanese major in college, I would make late night runs to the 7/11 to grab a snack while I studied the night away. Now I make them at home and bring them to work with me for a light lunch. Onigiri is simply made by stuffing a ball of sushi rice with your favorite filling and wrapping the ball in nori (dried seaweed). It's similar to a giant sushi roll, but it's usually filled with cooked seafood, umeboshi (pickled plums), or a variety of other fillings. I prefer to fill the onigiri with canned salmon, which is weird I know, but I find the canned stuff has the flavor that is most true to my memory.

Whole Foods carries canned Wild Caught Alaskan Salmon so if you're feeling like seafood, give this dish a try. If you're on a strict vegetarian diet, you can also fill the onigiri with pickled vegetables, soy glazed bamboo shoots, kimchi, adzuki beans, or whatever else you can imagine. The trick to onigiri is to keep it really simple. My recipe has just six ingredients: Rice, water, nori, salmon, salt, and rice wine vinegar. Can't beat that simplicity.

Salmon Onigiri with Cucumber Salad

For the Onigiri
2 cups sushi rice
4 cups water
2 TBS rice wine vinegar
1 8 oz can of Wild Caught Alaskan Salmon
1 tsp salt
1 sheet of sushi nori

1. Rinse rice in cold water until water runs clear. Place rice in a rice cooker or pot and cover with 4 cups of water. If cooking in pot, cover and cook over medium low heat until rice is soft. Cool on a sheet tray in refrigerator about one hour. Once cool season rice with rice wine vinegar.
2. Drain salmon throughly and season with salt. Fill a small bowl with cold water and use that to wet your hands. Take the rice and form it into a small ball about 2 inches in diameter. Poke a small hole in the middle of the ball and fill with an ounce of salmon. Cover the hole and continue to shape the rice. If rice starts to stick to your hands rewet your hands with water.
3. Cut the nori into thin strips. Some nori come with perforated lines, so use that if applicable. Roll nori strips around the middle of the rice ball. Eat and enjoy.

For the Cucumber Salad:
2 cucmbers, washed and striped
2 carrots, peeled
3 TBS mirin
2 TBS rice wine vinegar
1 TBS sugar
1tsp sesame seeds, white, toasted
1 tsp chili flakes

1. Cut cucumbers and carrots into 2 inch long pieces. Using a mandolin or a slicer slice cucumbers and carrots lengthwise and julienne slices with a knife. Place in a mixing bowl.
2. Mix rice wine vinegar, mirin, sugar, sesame seeds, and chili flakes together and pour over carrot and cucumber mixture. Let sit in the refrigerator for one hour to overnight before serving.

Monday, March 28, 2011

March is a Fair-Weather Friend

Recipe: Late Winter Root Vegetable Gratin

March is an odd month. It's not quite spring, but you're desperately sick of winter. The weather oscillates between spring jacket and winter coat temperatures and you just wish mother nature would make up her damn mind.

March is also a pretty bad month for eating. Spring veggies aren't quite in season, but by this time I'm so sick of eating root vegetables that I would rather go back to stuffing my face with burgers. I am trying to stay creative, and (mostly) vegetarian, so because of this I've started to make some really complicated dishes.

For the most part, my cooking style can be defined by "Let's throw it all in a pot and see what happens." It could be any variety of ingredients or cuisines, but really I've become the master of one pot wonders. This is because I rely on having left overs and the one pot wonder always leaves me with a full fridge. But I'm sick of it. Just like I'm sick of root vegetables and winter.

Today I stretched my imagination, and decided to make a casserole of sorts. I guess this dish is sort of like a more elegant version of my usual tricks, but at least I don't feel like I'm eating the same old stuff every week. Warning: it was a lot of work to get all these veggies peeled and sliced, but I think they payoff was pretty great. You can definitely substitute with your favorite root vegetables or remove your sworn vegetable enemies. Its a perfect late winter dish, using up the last of our cold weather vegetables but the addition of leeks and fresh herbs gives it the freshness of spring. This can make a great side dish or be served with a salad and some bread to make a full meal.

Late Winter Root Vegetable Gratin 

1 recipe Bechamel, with 1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 leek, fine julienned
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBS butter
2 celery root, peeled and sliced thinly on a mandolin
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced thinly on a mandolin
3 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly on a mandolin
2 golden beets, peeled and sliced thinly on a mandolin
1 turnip, peeled and sliced thinly on a mandolin
1/2 bulb fennel, shaved
2 TBS fresh tarragon, minced
1 TBS breadcrumbs
Just before the béchamel is added.

1. Make béchamel according to recipe. Add parmesan during the last 5 minutes of cooking

Layering the vegetables
2. Preheat oven to 350. Caramelize leeks and garlic in butter over high heat. Once pan begins to brown, add a touch of water to deglaze the pan. Once water has evaporated and pan begins to dry, add a splash more water. Continue these steps as necessary until leeks are soft.

3. In a casserole pan, layer the sliced vegetables. Make sure the vegetables are sliced very thinly, as they will take forever to cook if they are too thick. About halfway up, add a layer of the cooked leeks, 1TBS tarragon, and half the béchamel. Continue to layer the vegetables until you have used them all up, or until the pan is full. On the top layer, add the rest of the leeks, tarragon, béchamel, and top with breadcrumbs.

4. Cook in oven until all the vegetables are soft and the top of the gratin has browned, about one hour. Enjoy with steamed greens and a nice baguette.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Brunch Should Not Just Be Limited to the Time Between Breakfast and Lunch

Recipe: Spinach, Tomato, Corn and Ricotta Omelette

Around here, brunch is everyone's favorite meal. Walk outside your door on a Saturday or Sunday morning around 10 or 11 o'clock and you'll see dozens of people hoofing it down the street on their way to their favorite brunch spot. My favorites include (but are not limited to) Uncommon Ground, for their exceptionally spicy chilaquiles, Takashi, for their ramen noodles and to see my old boss, and Bakin' and Eggs who has a Bacon Flight and I'm guilty of ordering it. What I love most about going out to brunch, besides the endless coffee refills, are those perfect brunch staples: omelets and breakfast potatoes. Everyone has their favorites, some people crave a mile high stack of pancakes to soak up their Saturday nights, some people go for the heathy and bland oatmeal option, while others like a perfectly scrambled egg, but for me I like that soft mixture of eggs, vegetables and cheese folded together like a little breakfast present and given to me with a crunchy and salty breakfast potato on the side. (Speaking of breakfast potatoes check out Frasca. They make a great hash, that is loaded with cream and parmesean. It's not for the weak of heart, but go for it if you're up for the challenge.)

But, brunch food doesn't have to be eaten only in the haze that is Sunday morning. I like to eat it at any time of the day. The omelette is my go-to meal when I've eaten all the leftovers and I don't feel like cooking much. All you need is a few eggs, some vegetable ends, and a potato to have the makings of a delicious and easy dinner.

The omelette is a tricky dish to master. I still find myself starting out to make an omelette and ending up with more of a veggie scramble but it all goes to the same place, right? So, don't worry if you screw up your first (or your hundredth) try.

Even though it's March, the fresh ingredients in this dish make me yearn for summer. If you're feeling adventurous try making the ricotta yourself. I wasn't at the time and I find store bought ricotta to be just as nice.

Spinach, Tomato, Corn and Ricotta Omelette

2 eggs
A splash of milk
2 TBS frozen corn, defrosted
2 TBS red onion, diced
2 TBS tomatoes, diced
1 large handful spinach
2 TBS ricotta
1 TBS butter
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Heat 2 TBS of canola or olive oil in a skillet. Add red onions and sweat on medium low heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and corn and cook a few minutes longer, until the tomatoes have softened. Remove from heat and reserve.

2. Heat rest of oil in a clean saute pan. Wilt spinach in pan and mix with corn, tomato, and onion mixture. Season with a little salt and pepper.

3. Whisk eggs, milk, and salt and pepper together until whites are fully blended with the whites. Heat butter in a non stick pan and add eggs all at once. Briskly jolt the pan back and forth over the flame, as if you were sauteing something, until the eggs have covered the entire size of the pan. Cook until eggs have set and remove from heat. Do not be afraid to undercook the eggs. An omelette should be nice and moist. Once the eggs have set, remove pan from heat and fold omelette on to a plate. Top with corn mixture and crumble a little bit of ricotta over the top. Enjoy with a simple salad of mixed greens or a nice crunchy piece of bread and butter.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Those Quinoa Crazy Americans

Recipe: Twice-Fried Plantains with Quinoa, Corn, and Black Bean Salad

For some reason (that I cannot quite decipher) quinoa is all the rage right now. Sure it's a healthy heirloom grain (according to Wikipedia, the most accurate source of information, it has a balanced set of amino acids making it the most complete protein in the plant family), but it's kind of expensive (so much so that people in it's native Bolivia aren't really able to afford it anymore) and the taste, while alright, has nothing on bacon. I don't really understand the craze, but we've been using it at work so much that I finally decided to give it a try at home.

Quinoa, as I mentioned before, comes from South America, most notably Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. At work we use quinoa in recipes with a variety of styles from Californian to Tex Mex, but I wanted to highlight quinoa's origin and create an original dish inspired by South America.

I have never been to South America. Guatemala is the closest I have come so I drew on experiences from that trip to create this dish. I figured it was close enough. Black beans, corn and plantains were staples for us on that trip and so I wanted to highlight those ingredients in this dish.

Twice Fried Plantains with Quinoa, Black Bean and Corn Salad

For the plantains
3 plantains (I used ripe ones, but next time I'm going to try it with green ones)
3 cloves garlic
Flour, for dredging
Salt and pepper, TT

1. Peel and slice plantains 1/2" thick. Fry slices of plantains either in a deep fryer (if you're lucky enough to have one) or pan fry them in a saute pan with an inch of oil over medium low heat. Fry until golden brown on all sides.
2. Smash plantains in a bowl with the garlic cloves and some salt. Form into patties, about an inch around and 1/2" thick. Dredge in flour and re-fry in the same oil. Fry until the patty is golden brown and crispy.

For the Quinoa Salad
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup white quinoa
2 cups water
1 red onion, diced
2 jalepenos, minced
1 cup black beans, cooked in a large pot by simmering in water
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 bunch scallions, sliced thinly
3 TBS cilantro, minced
2 roma tomatoes, small diced
1 bunch collard greens
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup lime juice
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat canola oil in a large pot. Sweat onions and jalepenos for 3 to 4 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add quinoa and toast for 1 to two minutes. Cover in water and simmer until quinoa is cooked.
2. Meanwhile heat a little more oil in a saute pan. Add garlic and sweat for 1 minute. Add collard greens and saute for 4 to 5 minutes or until greens have wilted.
3. When quinoa is almost cooked, add beans, corn, tomatoes, cooked collard greens and season with scallions, cilantro, lime juice and salt. Cook for 1 minute more and enjoy hot or cold.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

By The Movies: How to Throw an Oscar-Themed Party

One Recipe for Every Picture Nominated For Best Picture (Mostly)

I love the Oscar's. I've been watching them every year since I can remember. I love the fashion (Bjork's Swan Dress? Celine Dion's backward suit? Catherine Zeta Jones in anything?) I love when someone unexpected wins (remember young Gwyneth Paltrow winning for Shakespeare In Love?) And I love dreaming about what the life of a glamorous movie star is like.

Most years I watch the award's ceremony alone in my pajamas. If I can't be home, I tape them. But this year, I am having a party! We're going to dress up, eat fancy food, and drink fancy drinks. In honor of the movies nominated, I am going to try to have ten foods or drinks based off of the ten movi
es that are nominated for best picture. (Maybe I need a better hobby.....)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Let's Have Beans at Every Meal! Or, How To Please Your Football Loving Meataholic Friends

Recipe: Go Pack! the Vegetables in the Chili

(editor's note: I was supposed to get this post out before the Super Bowl, but due to various technical issues around the house, and working 8 days in a row prior to the Super Bowl I did not. Now our technical issues have been fixed and I figured I'd still post this. Its still a good recipe and you all can get excited for next year's football season.)

If you haven't already guessed from the picture above, I am a Packers fan. I was raised in Wisconsin and most of my Sundays throughout the fall and the winter were spent settled in front of a TV with my mom or my
grandparents watching the Packers. Granted, as a child I hated football and it wasn't until I went to college that I fully realized what all the fuss was about. Especially now, because I don't live there any more, I find myself defending the great state of Wisconsin and the Great Team of Our Time and explaining the general benefits of being a cheesehead. I, in short, have become extremely (disgustingly?) proud of my state and will indulge in a great debate about it with anyone who asks.

If you are holding sports parties in the next few months, but want to stay true to your vegetarian ways, you might want to consider putting together a vegetarian chili. (Like I said before, this was going to be a Super Bowl post, but seeing as it is no longer "current" the generic "sports parties" will have to suffice.) This is also a good dish to throw in the crock pot before you head off to work. It is delicious, easy, and satiating.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What to do with all the stuff in the Fridge

Recipe: Vegetable Fritters with Scallion Sour Cream and Sautéed Purple Kale

It's an old tale. You go to the store with the intention of buying a few fresh vegetables. The recipe you're following calls for half of whatever you bought. You swear to yourself that you'll use the rest of the veggies in a fritatta or something, but you end up going out to eat and ordering takeout and eating leftovers and then two weeks later you find a moldy tomato (cabbage, kale, carrots...) sitting at the bottom of your fridge. From then on you swear to eat frozen dinners and dried pasta, because that sort of stuff won't stink up your house. Six months later you've gained five pounds of frozen pizza weight and find the produce aisle at the grocery store and the whole cycle starts again.

The cycle can stop, my friends! The trick is to either throw all the veggies into whatever recipe you were making in the first place and screw the amount the recipe calls for, because the more vegetables the better, OR! finally make that fritatta (or salad, or whatever) that you've sworn to make but never did because you've gotten sidetracked during the week. If you're having trouble figuring out what to do with all the random assortment of vegetables just sitting there in you're fridge, try out this veggie fritter dish. Don't focus on what vegetables are in the recipe, you can substitute with what you've got on hand. Follow the recipe in the pancake batter and throw in what you have. The veggies I've included in this recipe are just what I happened to have that day. Pair the dish with some sauteed kale and a simple salad for a full meal.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Eat a Vegetable, You Disgusting Pig"

One more post today...

Everyone, watch this video. It is pretty funny and rings true.

Bread is my Obsession. Corn Bread is my Life.

Recipe: Cheddar Cheese Corn Bread

Reasons I cannot go vegan:

1. Dairy: ice cream, cheese.
2. Eggs : poached over asparagus
3. Cheesy Corn Bread: contains eggs and cheese

Yes, I realize it's weird that Cheesy Corn Bread has its own category, and bacon has none, but over the last year or so corn bread has become a little obsession of mine. It all started last year when I was working at a small restaurant and I needed to develop a corn bread recipe. I made and tasted cheddar corn bread so many times that blood stream was starting to clog with corn meal and my pores were seeping cheddar cheese. None of my recipes were right for the purpose, however, and another girl's recipe, a girl with a baking a pastry degree, was chosen. Maybe for this reason exactly, I started to search for the perfect corn bread recipe. To show that baking and pastry girl who is boss.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pizza Bread with the Italians

Recipe: Nonna's Pizza Bread

This past week, I went to Florida. First, I went to DISNEY WORLD (and ate a lot of fried food), but the real gem of the trip was a four day trip to my boyfriend's grandparent's retirement community, Dolphin Cay. First of all, they have a HOT TUB (what up jacuzzi.) But more importantly, they have a wonderful fresh garden from which they eat from every day. They have two different kinds of spinach, spring mix, celery, beets, orange, grapefruit, and lemon trees. Every morning we'd eat sweet fruit grown just outside and every night we'd have a salad of the most tender greens, pasta and bread made with really fresh spinach, or roasted red beets grown in Nona and Papa's Florida soil.

Papa did all the gardening in Dolphin Cay and Nonna was the one who cooked it (well Papa did make some great homemade wine and sausages, but Nonna did all the day to day cooking.) From the day we arrived to the day we left, Nonna stuffed us with food. No matter how much we ate, it was never enough for her. She probably would not have be satisfied, even if we were constantly eating from sun up to sun down. The food was delicious and I didn't mind being forced to eat. Everything was homemade and homegrown and I left feeling inspired to stop eating so much junk food and cook everything from scratch. (Of course when I got off the plane, the first thing I bought was a bag of tortilla chips and guacamole. But hey, I'm only human.)

One of the things that we ate every night with dinner was Nonna's Pizza Bread. Its a basic white fluffy bread with the texture of a thick and soft pizza crust. Its great for soaking up left over pasta sauce or salad dressing or with a little hunk of cheese (or homemade sausage....) My boyfriend's family has been eating this bread for years, and now I'm happy to share it with you.