Foodie Pen Pals

25 Aug

I know things have been quiet around these parts.  I could make a bunch of excuses, but instead I’ll just say that I really do intend to start posting more.  In fact, one thing I can promise is that there is a new feature that is going to FORCE me to post at least once a month!! Way to set the bar high, I know.

If you haven’t heard about it, Lindsay from The Lean Green Bean hosts this great program on her blog for Foodie Pen Pals.  Each month you are assigned to a person who lives somewhere else in the country, and you send them a care package of dry goods that are local to your area, whether they are things you made or bought.  For example, you could make some cookies, buy a jar of your favorite locally produced jam, and send some locally grown coffee beans, or something like that.  It’s a fun program and I participated for the first time this month.  Since my blog has a hefty focus on local produce, I thought this would fit nicely!

On August 31st I will reveal what I got in my first package.  It was so exciting to get a package in the mail full of carefully selected goodies from a total stranger!

In the mean time, I also have some great new recipes to share so watch this space.

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One of these days

13 Mar

I do intend to start posting again before long. I have signed up for a new produce delivery service and am testing it out to see how I like it.  In the meantime, my excuse for not cooking much and not posting at all for five months is this little man, who arrived on February 12.  He was a whopping 9 pounds 4 ounces, so I definitely have to eat a lot to keep him well fed.  Cooking is going to be a necessity, as takeout and freezer meals are starting to wear thin.

Spaghetti Squash Marinara

11 Oct

post-roast, pre-fork

I promise you with all my heart, soul and being that I do not avoid eating pasta.  I love pasta.  This recipe is not my attempt at giving you a “low carb” version of spaghetti.  I don’t believe in that.  What it is, however, is me introducing you to a gateway drug.  Spaghetti squash.   This is a fascinating vegetable that is just becoming available this time of year.

Packed with anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory effects, winter squash is considered an excellent source for cancer prevention and circulatory health.  It also happens to have a delicious, subtly sweet flavor.  Winter squash comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes, but my personal favorite these days is the spaghetti squash.  It is so called because after you cook it, you run the tines of a fork through it and watch as it magically separates into little spaghetti-like strands.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Spaghetti squash has a nice mild flavor, so you can absolutely use it the way you would use pasta, once you’ve roasted it.  Toss it with olive oil and parmesan for a simple side dish.   Throw it into a stir fry.  Or do my favorite thing of all – top it with marinara sauce and mozzarella.  This time I also added sliced cooked chicken breast to the mix, but you could certainly keep it vegetarian and call it a day.

This is a fabulous comfort food dish.  I hope you’ll give it a try.  If you need a good marinara recipe, I recommend this one or this one.

Spaghetti Squash Marinara (serves 2)

no need to trick anyone. this is yummy in its true form.

INGREDIENTS:

  • one small to medium sized spaghetti squash
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • 1 cooked chicken breast, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 1/2 cup grated mozzarella

METHOD:

1.  Preheat oven to 375.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, using a sharp knife.  Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard or save for another use.

2.  Drizzle each half of the squash (the inside part) with a teaspoon of olive oil, and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Place the squash halves cut-side down on the baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork (but not mushy).  Remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly.

3.  While the squash is roasting, warm up your marinara (and add the chicken slices to the sauce if using).

4.  When the squash is just cool enough to handle (or wear oven mitts if you like), take a fork and run the tines down the insides of the squash.  The flesh should scoop out in strands quite easily.  Get as much of it as you can without actually including any of the rind.  Divide between serving dishes and top with the chicken, sauce, and 1/4 cup of the cheese on each serving.  Serve hot.

Green Chutney

27 Sep

my "garden"

more greenery

I have a sort of, kind of, garden.  You can’t really call it a garden, as it is just a few potted plants on my deck.  And most of them tend to die after a few months in my care.  The one plant that has held on, occasionally taunting me with its near-death experience, is mint.  Occasionally caterpillars come and eat it, but I trim it back, and it grows again.

I recently came upon a large quantity of cilantro, so I thought it was time to introduce my loyal mint plant to a new friend and make that magical green sauce that they serve in Indian restaurants.  You know the one I mean?  I’ve heard it called by many a name – green chutney, mint chutney, mint and coriander chutney, poppadum sauce.  You name it.  Green chutney is the one I chose to go with as this is such an intensely green sauce.  The name is simple, but apt.

This is that spicy, thin sauce that you can have with your pakoras, your samosas, your poppadums, your naan, or just eat it with a spoon if you like.  I love to have it with any and every Indian dish, honestly.  And of course you don’t have to stick with the Indian theme.  This sauce would be great stirred into mashed avocado for an exotic guacamole, or drizzled over rice or cous cous.  It has an intense flavor that should not be underestimated.  It is magnificent.

You can also stir it into yogurt to make a milder, creamy sauce.  Personally I like this one dialed up all the way.  So showcase your herbs, why don’t you?

Green Chutney (makes 1/2 cup)

see what I mean?

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 cups (packed) cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 1 cup (packed) mint leaves
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 serrano or jalapeno pepper (seeds included; stem removed), coarsely chopped
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
  • water as needed

METHOD:

1.  Place the cilantro and mint leaves in the bowl of a food processor.  Process just until finely chopped.

2.  Add the garlic, ginger, serrano or jalapeno, lemon juice, and salt.  Process until a paste starts to form.  You may need to stop it periodically and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

3.  Add water as needed to thin out the paste to make it more of a sauce-y consistency (see photo above – I used no more than 1/4 cup of water total).   Transfer to a bowl and serve as you like.  Freeze or refrigerate the leftovers.

Lemony Roasted Brussels Sprouts

16 Sep

tiny baby cabbages

Aren’t Brussels sprouts adorable?  They are perfect little miniature cabbage heads.  And they’re extra cool looking when you buy them on the stalk (something I’ve never had the bravery or the patience to do).   Unfortunately, they also top most people’s list of hated vegetables.  I’m here to help you change that.

This is the easiest side dish ever.  Seriously.  It’s perfect for Thanksgiving, or any other warm comforting fall meal.  Last night I made Jamie Oliver’s crunchy garlic chicken (stop everything and make this recipe right away, it is so so good), and this seemed like the perfect side dish.  It’s crunchy and tender, browned and crispy on the edges, and singing with lemony freshness.  Sure, it’s still Brussels sprouts, which means they are a teeny bit stinky, but I could seriously eat these like chips.  So good.

Brussels sprouts hold a particularly noble place in the vegetable world.  One of the best cruciferous vegetables, health-wise, they have been shown to have a detoxifying effect on cancer-causing chemicals in the body.  They are loaded with antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and vitamins such as C and K.   Give them a fair shake.

Try not to overcook them, or that stinkiness I mentioned will only get worse.  You just want them to get beautifully browned, but still maintain some crunch.

Lemony Roasted Brussels Sprouts (serves 3 as a side)

the "after" shot

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 cups small Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice (juice of one lemon)
  • salt

METHOD:

1.  Preheat oven to 425.  Drizzle half the olive oil into a baking dish, and arrange the sprouts cut-side down in the dish.  Drizzle with remaining olive oil over the Brussels sprouts, followed by lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

2.  Roast for about 20-25 minutes, taking the dish out halfway through to flip the Brussels sprouts over and brown the other side.  They are done when they are browned and crispy on the edges, and starting to get tender.  Serve hot.

Sweet Potato Risotto

13 Sep

nothing fancy here

Today I gave my baby boy his first cooking lesson.  The syllabus for today included a simple, yet seemingly complex dish – sweet potato risotto.  I explained the steps to him as I cooked, and then we tasted it together.  I liked it, but he hasn’t given his feedback yet.  I think he’ll ultimately decide he liked it too.

Before you ask, no I have not gone completely crazy.  Supposedly this week is about the point in my pregnancy where my son can actually hear noises, including my voice.  It’s encouraged to start talking to the baby about now.  And since he can’t talk back, it’s hard for me to come up with interesting topics.  Hence, the cooking lesson.

Sweet potato risotto is not something you see every day, and may even seem like an odd combination – isn’t it too much starch?? No, my dear, it is not.  It is a delightful contrast of flavors and textures.  The sweet potato also happens to be an extremely nutritious root vegetable, loaded with vitamins A and C, as well as fiber.  It comes in a rainbow of colors, any of which would work here.  When cooked this way, it gets tender and delicious.  Paired with the slight bite of the arborio rice, the crunch of celery, and the fresh grassy finish of parsley, it’s really a beautiful family of ingredients.  And with fall right around the corner, it seems the perfect time to start bringing those quintessential fall flavors into the kitchen.

So here it is, my first collaborative effort in the kitchen with my son.  There are going to be many more over the years to come.  I warned him.

not rice a roni.

Sweet Potato Risotto (serves 2-3)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 shallot or small onion, diced
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 2 small sweet potatoes (any color), peeled and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1/2 cup arborio rice
  • 2 tbsp dry white wine
  • pinch of dried thyme
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan
  • chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish

METHOD:

1.  Put the broth in a small pot over high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce right down to the lowest heat just to keep warm, and keep it on the backburner.  (Literally and/or figuratively).

2.  Put the olive oil and butter in a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Cook until the butter melts completely and is just starting to sizzle.  Add the shallot or onion, along with a pinch each of salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-5 minutes, or until tender.

3.  Add the celery, sweet potatoes, garlic, and arborio rice to the pan.  Stir everything together and cook just for about a minute to lightly toast the rice.  Add the wine and stir, letting the alcohol bubble out and the liquid absorb, about 2 minutes.

4.  Begin to add the warm broth a ladle or two at a time.  After each addition, stir until the broth is almost completely absorbed into the rice and veggies, a couple of minutes per addition.  Continue this until most, if not all of the broth has been added, and taste the risotto to see if the rice is getting tender.  You may not need all of the broth (but I used it all).  This process takes about 20-25 minutes.  In the end the risotto should appear slightly creamy, the rice should be enlarged and tender but with a slight bite.

5.  Stir in the parmesan, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve garnished with the parsley.

Grain Salad with Radishes and Green Beans

25 Aug

humble yet mighty

For a long time, I thought of radishes as those pesky little veggies I had to pick out of salads in restaurants.  Either that, or a meaningless garnish carved into the shape of a tulip.  Nothing to write home about.   But now I kind of love them.  I think it takes eating radishes with a little bit of butter and sea salt to learn just how great their potential is.  But you can also slice them up really thinly and toss them into a grain salad.  That’s what we’re doing today.

And lest you need additional convincing that radishes are not merely for amateur vegetable carvery, they also happen to offer vitamin C, folate, and potassium.   They are the dieter’s friend, as they are high in roughage and water content, so you feel full faster when you eat them.  On top of all this, they are spicy, crunchy, and refreshing all at once.  Give them a go, why don’t you!  And why not pair them with green beans?

why not, indeed?

I’ve talked about green beans and their nutrition offerings before.  But in case you need a reminder, they have antioxidant and cardiovascular benefits.  When blanched and immediately cooled, they retain an incredible bright green color and a nice little crunch.  Perfect for a salad!

Which brings me to the grain part of the salad.  I hate to admit it, but I used quinoa in this salad.  I say this because quinoa is rather controversial at the moment.  If you don’t already have some in your cupboard, like I did, I implore you to use a different grain such as amaranth, bulgur, or wheat berries.  Maybe farro, if you like.  But let’s not buy any more quinoa for a while, until the shortage in South America is no longer an issue.  Quinoa’s trendiness as a super food has driven up the price so much that the very people who grow it and include it as a major staple of their diet can no longer afford it.  If you *do* have quinoa in your pantry already, then go ahead and use it here.  It has a fantastic texture for a salad like this, and it’s high in protein, too.

Grain salads are incredibly versatile, so use whatever grain you like and cook it until tender.  Drain it if the water isn’t all absorbed, and toss in a tiny bit of olive oil to stop it from sticking.  Then follow the directions below to make a delicious salad.

Grain Salad with Radishes and Green Beans (serves 2)

pretty colors make healthy food

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 to 3/4 lb. green beans, trimmed
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp white balsamic or red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • about 6-8 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup cooked grains
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 oz. cubed Gouda cheese (optional)

METHOD:

1.  Put a couple of inches of water in a large covered skillet and bring to a boil.  Add the green beans and blanch for about 1-2 minutes, until just starting to get tender.  Drain and either shock in a bowl of iced water, or rinse with cold water until no longer hot.  Cut into 2-inch lengths.

2.  While the green beans are blanching, make the dressing: whisk together the Dijon and vinegar, then add the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Whisk everything together until a cohesive dressing forms.

3.  Place the green beans, radishes, grains, and cilantro into a large bowl.  Drizzle the dressing over the top and toss everything together.  If the grains are still hot, put the salad in the fridge to cool off.  Add the cheese before serving.