Friday, December 30, 2011

Spicy Spinach and Artichoke Pasta

Okay, so the previous post wasn't the last of 2011 because I made my pre-race pasta dinner tonight instead of going out.

Usually I go out for a pasta dinner the night before a race, but the last time I did so I found myself thinking when it was served, "Hmm...$10.95 for something I could have made at home."  I won't name the restaurant, since we do generally enjoy it when we go, but their vegetarian options are somewhat limited and that night's selection didn't quite justify paying for one plate what I would have paid for the groceries had I made it myself.  It was Steve's $10.95, not mine, but still.  It's the principle of the thing. 

So, between wanting something similar tonight (without having to put hole-free clothes on, go out, wait to be seated and then wait to be served) and Steve having to work, we ended up staying in (Steve works from the house) and I whipped up a batch of - you guessed it -

Spicy Spinach and Artichoke Pasta:
Half a package of whole wheat linguine (I used Alma's)
2 tbsp olive oil
3-4 oz chopped baby spinach
1 15-oz can artichoke hearts, quartered, plus half the brine
14 oz Dei Fratelli crushed tomatoes (or whatever kind you've got)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp dried Italian herbs
sea salt to taste
fresh-ground black pepper to taste
crushed red pepper to taste

Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add spinach and stir often until more than a little wilted, about 5 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until flavors have blended.
Easy peasy.  It came out great and I'm still wearing a sweater with a hole in it, yay!

Until 2012...

Thai red coconut curry stir-fry

I made this Tuesday night (leftovers were gone by lunch Wednesday) and I'm just now getting around to blogging about it.  It's been a very lazy week at home since I joined the sisterhood of hospital staff who worked on Christmas Day.

A couple of months ago, I made my first Thai coconut curry, based on a recipe I found online, and was disappointed enough with the result that I didn't bother to write about it.  I just ate the leftovers very sulkily at work over the next couple of days.  Later, I got a little curious about this "red coconut curry" that I'd heard about, looked for a recipe that seemed reliable, went out and got some Thai Kitchen red curry paste and some fresh veggies and got down to bidniss.

This recipe was my starting point, and the author helpfully suggests alternatives based on meat-eating status and availability of seasonal produce.  I replaced the chicken and chicken broth with tofu and veggie broth (and skipped the fish sauce), and my veggie selection was different as well.  I picked up a red bell pepper, some baby carrots and a head of broccoli and sliced up the last few mushrooms I had in a package from something else I'd made a few days prior (don't even remember anymore) and pretty much followed their instructions.  Oh, I also used lime juice instead of lemon and didn't worry about the basil.  When the stir-fry was ready (I took a picture of it in the pan because it was just so pretty!), I served it over a bed of rice noodles.  Delicious! 

Of course, if you're not a vegetarian, you could make it exactly as shown in the original recipe, but the nice thing about this and so many other recipes is that it lends itself to substitution.  Maybe try it with shrimp instead of chicken?  I dunno.  The only thing I'd say is that if you actually want to have leftovers, use slightly larger quantities of veggies and meat/tofu/whatever, because it cooks down a good bit and there was only one leftover portion for the next day's lunch.  (Guess who ate it?)  And if you use broccoli like I did, be sure to stir it in near the end, since it takes very little time to cook and you don't want it to be mushy by the time the dish is ready to serve.  I added the broccoli at about the same time as the cornstarch mixture, and it came out just right.

Well, this is probably it for 2011.  If you're in the Columbia area, I look forward to seeing some of you tomorrow morning at the Cold Winter's Day 5K or tomorrow night on Main Street, where George Clinton will be kicking off 2012 P-Funk style!

Stay warm and be safe, everyone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lentils with cracked wheat and wilted kale salad

Well, today was the last of several days off from work before before I go back and - yuck - work straight through the Christmas weekend.  Oh, well.  At least I got over my cold in time to do all the fun stuff planned for this past weekend.

So, being home, I decided to cook for the fun of having a lunch not of leftovers and also so that I'd have ample leftovers for the next few days of lunch breaks at work.  I'm actually at a point now where I have too much in my cupboards, so I'm looking more for excuses to use up pantry items than the relatively scant produce in the fridge.  I asked Steve to pick up some more kale a few days ago because I was starting to want some again, and today I finally cooked it.  Nothing fancy about the kale itself, but the lemon-tahini dressing really makes this wilted salad.  It's also good atop a simple spinach salad.  Try it sometime!

Wilted kale salad:
2 tbsp Earth Balance
1 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch kale, washed and roughly chopped, stems removed
sea salt to taste (regular is okay too)

Heat Earth Balance and olive oil in a four-quart pot over medium heat.  Add kale and stir every 2-3 minutes until wilted.  Season to taste with salt.

Lemon-tahini dressing:
2 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp water
1.5 tbsp lemon juice
salt and crushed red pepper to taste

Combine the first three ingredients in a mixing bowl until smooth.  Stir in salt and crushed red pepper.
To pair with the kale, I wanted something at least vaguely North African or Middle Eastern so that no other flavors would clash with the dressing.  I looked up some bulgur wheat recipes (I was actually using cracked wheat from the Indian grocery store; technically not the same, but close enough for my purposes) and decided to go with this one, since it also gave me a reason to cook up the last of my brown lentils.  For Emeril, it's surprisingly simple.

The flavors all came together very well, but if I ever make this again, I'm going to ignore the bit about adding the uncooked bulgur wheat to the cooked lentils and then leaving it to absorb the liquid.  I found it hard to tell if the wheat had enough water or not (since the cooked lentils got pushed to the bottom of the pot and trapped some of the liquid) and kept adding water until it became apparent that there was too much.  The result was a little on the mushy side.  I was able to fix it (kinda) by turning the heat back on for a few minutes once everything had been stirred together, but still.  Bulgur wheat's just as easy to make as couscous and, if you do it right, turns out about the same as whole wheat couscous.  Live and learn.  Nevertheless, nothing was lacking in the flavor department (in part because I added a little more of the dry spices to the final mixture), and I've got leftovers for the next couple of days and a teeny bit more space in my cupboard than I had this morning.

Hopefully I'll find time to cook and blog about it once more before the holiday.  If not, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, etc. and a prosperous 2012!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

North African Vegetable Soup

When shopping for Christmas presents on Amazon last week, I came up a few cents short of the $25 minimum order that qualifies for free shipping.  So, I looked around in the food/kitchen part of their website for a little something for myself and found this prepared harissa from France.  The four-pack cost about $15.  En tube, no less!

Then I felt like a jackass when I Googled "harissa recipes," hoping to find recipes using harissa, and instead found a slew of harissa recipes I could have easily made myself.  Oh, well.  I still got something to remind me of the wonderful time I spent in Geneva and of all the weekend shopping trips in France with my Swiss and German roommates, buying groceries with ingredient lists in several languages because they were being sold throughout the European Union.

So, when I changed the search to "recipes using harissa," this Moroccan vegetable stew recipe from Sara Moulton came up in the results.  This worked out well, since I'm a little under the weather today (and, thankfully, home from work), so I haven't had an appetite for the Indian yumminess that I made the other day.  Whenever I have a cold, all I really want is liquid, so I turned this stew into a soup, used up several veggies that had been hanging around for a while and got to use some of the harissa to boot.  I made numerous changes, as shown below the photo, based mainly on what was on hand:

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic
2 tsp minced ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
4 cups vegetable broth (I used Better than Bouillon veggie base)
1.5 cups thawed frozen yellow squash, sliced in 1/2-inch rounds
1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
harissa for serving

In a soup pot, heat oil over medium heat.  Add onion and saute for 3-5 minutes.  Add celery and garlic, stir and cook for another 3-5 minutes.  Add the next three ingredients and stir to combine.  Add tomatoes and sweet potato, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes.  If sweet potatoes are not tender after this step, add the squash and chickpeas, raise the heat slightly, cover and simmer another 5-10 minutes or until sweet potatoes and squash are tender.  Turn off heat, stir in cilantro and serve.
I tasted the result before and after adding the harissa, and it's really good both ways.  I was able to taste the cinnamon more before I added the harissa than after, but I also liked how the harissa gave the broth a little more color than the liquid from the canned tomatoes could do on its own.  The harissa wasn't quite as hot as I expected (maybe I'll taste a difference once I'm no longer congested), but it was still very tasty and has great potential for being used in other soups and stews as a zippier alternative to tomato paste, particularly in Turkish recipes like chickpea and zucchini moussaka that I blogged about last year.

I'll be taking it easy for the rest of the day so that I can go back to work tomorrow and also be well enough to enjoy all the fun stuff going on this weekend, like tomorrow's holiday drop-in at work and Columbia Veg's "'Tis the Season to Party Like Veg*ns" potluck!

Hope everyone's having a happy and safe holiday season, and I'll be seeing some of you soon!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tamarind Rice and Okra Masala

Well, the holidays are here once again, which means that opportunities to overeat abound.  Since I just bought a pair of skinny jeans the other day (my first-ever time shopping at Old Navy), I'm going to do my best to restrict any holiday excesses in my kitchen to the big day (T minus 11 and counting) and to making stuff for the various parties we've been invited to.  Thankfully, my pantry is always well-stocked for making Indian food that's tasty, filling AND won't stop me from wearing the new jeans when we go out for New Year's.

Lately I've also been loading up on pantry items because I needed a break from all the cooking and juicing I'd been doing in order to keep the veggies in the fridge from spoiling.  With the exception of a bag of celery that Steve bought on sale last week, I soon found myself with an overabundance of dry goods that needed to be addressed.  One of my go-to recipes in this situation is the tamarind rice recipe from Healthy South Indian Cooking (p. 138).  Since I had a bag of cut okra in the freezer, I decided to make the okra masala from the same cookbook (p. 253) as a side dish and substitute a couple of celery stalks for the diced onion since it was the only fresh veggie in the fridge yesterday.  I made a few more tweaks with both recipes, but they're still pretty close to the originals.

Word to the wise: not for the first time with the tamarind rice, I followed the directions about soaking the split peas and then adding them to the hot pan uncooked, and (like before) I wished I hadn't.  Have you ever made six-bean soup from dried beans and some of the thicker beans didn't cook all the way through?  The result I get with the split peas is a little like that.  Not so undercooked as to render you flatulent for the rest of the day, but just a little too chewy.  I have to make a note about that in the book and just use some chopped nuts instead the next time.

As always with Indian recipes, any ingredients you've never heard of can be found at your neighborhood Indian grocery store.  Some ingredients you have heard of can also be bought there for less, like big bags of turmeric for two bucks.  If you haven't already been, check 'em out!

Tamarind Rice:
1 cup brown rice
1/3 cup yellow split peas
1 tbsp tamarind paste
2 tsp salt
1/4 cup canola oil
8-10 curry leaves
3 dried red chili peppers
1/2 tsp asofoetida powder
1-2 tsp black mustard seeds
1-2 tsp urad dal
3/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chutney powder

Cook one cup brown rice in two cups of salted water, covered with a tight-fitting lid, until all liquid has been absorbed, about 30-40 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool at least 15 minutes.  (If using white rice, use 1.5 cups of water per cup of rice.  It's also better to make it several hours or one day ahead so it can dry out and not get mushy during the cooking process described below.)

Soak yellow split peas in 1 cup of water for one hour.

Blend tamarind paste, salt and 1/4 cup of warm water in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large saucepan or wok, heat oil over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the curry leaves, red chilies, asofoetida, mustard seeds and urad dal.  Cover and cook until mustard seeds pop and urad dal is golden brown.  (If the pan is hot enough when adding these ingredients, these items will cook fast.  Watch the urad dal and dried chilies in particular to make sure they don't burn.)

Drain the water from the split peas and stir them into the saucepan, stir-fry for one minute, then add the tamarind mixture and stir well.

Add the turmeric and chutney powder and stir for one minute.  Add the rice and stir until all ingredients are combined.

Okra Masala:
2 tbsp canola oil
1/4 tsp asofoetida powder
1 tsp black mustard seeds
2 tsp urad dal
1/2 cup chopped onion (this is where I substituted celery)
2 cups frozen (or fresh, if you have it ) cut okra
1/2 tsp cayenne or to taste
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 tsp salt or to taste

Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat.  When oil is hot, add asoefoetida, mustard seeds and urad dal.  When the mustard seeds pop and urad dal is golden brown, add the celery and stir-fry for 3 minutes.

Add the okra and spices and stir-fry for another 5 minutes.  Add the tomato sauce and salt (if needed; some tomato sauces are saltier than others), reduce heat, cover and simmer until okra and celery are tender, another 5-7 minutes.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Could it be...Seitan?

Yep, my first vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner comes to you courtesy of the fake meat industry that thrives so that non-meat eaters like myself can indulge themselves without breaking any self-imposed rules.  For the unfamiliar, seitan can best be described as "wheat meat" or a high-protein substance made from wheat gluten.  Wheat's answer to tofu, if you will.

My original plan for Thanksgiving was a vegetarian take on Ina Garten's turkey roulade, but I was afraid that it wouldn't work with tofu no matter how much liquid I pressed out of it.  Plus there was the question of how fake sausage or vegan sausage crumbles would hold up in such an involved stuffing mixture.  So, I nixed that and Googled "vegetarian Thanksgiving" in search of a recipe I wouldn't have to change too much and found it here.

I did change it up, though, because to me the bread stuffing underneath the puff pastry seemed redundant.  Instead, I cooked all the veggies for the stuffing, made the gravy a little thicker and skipped the bread.  This basically left me with a seitan pot pie.  For broth, I used the liquid the seitan was packaged in.  Somehow, the combination of soy sauce and lemon juice tasted just enough like chicken broth to work.  Once it was ready, I put the mixture in a deep-dish pie pan...and here's what the mixture looked like:

...then I covered it over with the puff pastry and baked it per the recipe instructions.  Here's what it looked like when it came out of the oven.

Only having a top crust made the slices a bit harder to cut out, but the flavor certainly didn't suffer!  Live and learn: next time I'll either roll out the puff pastry a little thinner so that it has a bottom crust or I'll buy twice as much.  Something to be thankful for this holiday season - Steve liked it too!

The rest of the meal was pretty easy (pardon the sloppy photography) - green beans cooked in olive oil with salt, tomatoes and crushed red pepper went on last since everything else took longer.  Most of the work involved in making the caramelized butternut squash was the peeling.  (As you can see, I love me some Barefoot Contessa.) 

Likewise for the apple pie I whipped up for dessert - I thought I had a printed recipe but couldn't find it, so I winged it by adding to the eight or so chopped apples a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar and maybe a quarter cup of flour and eyeballed the cinnamon and lemon juice in keeping with my distance memory of making apple pies from scratch.  This was my first in at least five years.  Also yum!

So that was our humble feast.  Now that the dishes are washed and we're on to the Merlot that Steve just picked up the other day, it's time for one of my favorite things to do at Thanksgiving and/or Christmas - watch Babette's FeastWaking Ned Devine is another good one to watch during the holidays, I think.  If the library has it, maybe we'll watch Silas Marner for Christmas.  I read it in a couple of days of being snowed in while visiting the fam in Virginia last year and loved it!

Hope you're all having a wonderful Thanksgiving and counting your blessings, because they're everywhere!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Time for more juice

This made a nice combination side dish/dessert after warming up a vegetable teriyaki frozen entree for lunch today.  I had already thought about making another juice after finishing off the almost half-gallon of the Mean Green juice that I produced last time by making a double batch of the recipe, and Steve was helpful enough to pick up some more kale, cucumbers and a big bag of apples from Hendersonville, NC.  The apple, beet and carrot juice that I made today (second from the top in the recipe list) left enough of the kale unused that I'll probably make some more of the Mean Green in a day or two.

The Reboot Your Life website has a whole host of resources for people wanting to try a Reboot (juice fast) or just learn more about juicing.  As someone in the latter category, I'm already finding it very useful even though I've never even been a very enthusiastic user of my blender or Cuisinart.  You know, because of all the extra parts that have to be cleaned afterwards.  But a perusal of their juice recipes has helped me to realize that there's more to juicing than big bags of carrots or going to a lot of trouble to make fruit juices that are readily available at the supermarket. 

I'll say one thing...I'm not sure if it was the relatively high beet content or the juicer, but there seemed to be a lot of beet pulp in the bottom of the glass.  Maybe I didn't shake it well enough before pouring?  Still, it was a nice complement to the frozen entree, which, for me, is never enough food.  Must be a runner thing.

A couple more juice experiments will be happening soon...stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My initiation into juicing

Over the weekend, Steve and I watched a documentary called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, in which the overweight narrator chronicles his mission to improve his health through a 60-day juice fast.  Highly recommended, and if you live in Richland County, they have the DVD at the library.  (At least they will after we return it.) 

Anyhoo, one of the recipes featured in the film is a creation of Phil Staples, one of the people the narrator meets during his quest to lose weight and start feeling better, called Mean Green Juice.  For some reason I couldn't find the recipe on the movie website, but a Google search brought me to the blog of someone also undergoing a juice cleanse, and the blogger very helpfully provides the recipe here.  After seeing the movie and the impressive results achieved by the narrator and others, I figured it was worth my while to at least try out the juicing thing and start with a recipe from the movie.  As luck would have it, Steve inherited a juicer from an aunt who died a couple of years ago, so it was simply a matter of buying the ingredients and getting started.

I'll admit that I never really had any interest in juicing before watching the movie because it looked like more trouble than it's worth, and I'm not really into vegetable juices anyway (except for using V8 to make Bloody Marys).  I mean, if I'm too lazy to deal with the cleanup from making smoothies or daiquiris, why bother making a juice drink that I can buy at the store?

Well, as it turns out, it's really not that bad.  All I had to do was learn my way around the juicer, figure out how thinly the ingredients need to be sliced in order to fit through the chute and then take the juicer apart to clean it afterwards.  Steve was very helpful with all of the above, and the resulting juice was pretty decent.  I used a little less kale than what the recipe called for, just because the bunch that we had only added up to nine leaves and I made a double batch so that Steve and I could both have some.  All the other ingredients were in the same proportions as the recipe.  The smaller amount of kale may or may not have made a difference, but the result was very appley.  I'd actually consider having this for breakfast some time, even though I don't normally consume green things first thing in the morning. 

So now I know one juice recipe that I like, and I'll be trying my hand at some others in the near future.  If you have a juicer collecting dust like we did, break it out and give juicing a whirl!

Friday, October 14, 2011

My first stab at chili

I mildly regret not having tried my hand at chili back when I was still doing a lot with ground turkey.  It would be nice to be able to say I did that at least once, even though I wasn't the world's biggest chili fan.  I like to think that if I've had something once, or even many times, and found that it wasn't that great or was only really good some of the time, I can improve upon it at home.  Many's the time I've eaten gumbo that looked and acted suspiciously like canned tomato soup with a few random pieces of rice, okra and/or shrimp.  (I'm looking at you, Wild Wing Cafe.)  But every time I made it myself, it was great.  Not to toot my own horn, but it was.  And now that I no longer eat any of the meats that were the cornerstone of my homemade version, I can at least look back fondly upon the days when I made it and it kicked ass.

Alas, my first attempt at chili was meat-free.  Having also never eaten veggie chili before, I had to stop and think about what goes into chili besides ground meat, beans and tomatoes.  As it happened, a couple of bell peppers in the backyard were due to be picked and we had half an onion and a couple of jalapenos left over from the last time Steve made guacamole, so we had enough on hand to make a truly veggie chili.  I never thought about adding corn, although I'm sure that would have been good.  Basically, I used the above fresh veggies plus a bunch of cans of beans and one can of tomatoes, added some spices and stirred it up until I had something remarkably like chili.

Five-bean veggie chili:
2 tbsp canola oil
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 jalapeno peppers, finely diced
1/2 medium-large onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups water
2 Knorr brand cilantro cubes
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained
1 can navy beans, drained
1 can black beans, drained
1 can pinto beans, drained
1 can diced tomatoes with their juice
1 can fat-free refried beans
2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste

Heat the oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat.  Add diced peppers, onion and garlic and stir well.  Add water and bring to a boil.  Add cilantro cubes, stir well and reduce heat.  Add next four cans of beans and tomatoes; stir well.  Add refried beans and stir well to blend with liquids and thicken soup.  Add spices and raise heat to boil off excess liquid, stirring often for 10-15 minutes or as needed.  Serve alone or with rice, cornbread, tortilla chips, etc.
Not bad!  Although next time I'll probably use less water - maybe one cup or less, since the undrained tomatoes add quite a bit.  I'm really not sure how much time I spent on this, but it seemed like at least half of that time I was boiling off the excess liquid until it was thick enough to call chili.  Flavorwise, I give myself an A!  Next time (and I'm sure there will be one, since flexible recipes like these are right up my alley) I'll probably add a bit more spice, possibly in the form of the dried red chilies I get from the Indian grocery store on Two Notch Rd.  I'm sure I'll try it with corn at least once and maybe also experiment with different hot peppers from the produce section.

So, that was my lunch hour today.  Tonight we'll be going out someplace where I can load up on pasta for the big race tomorrow.  If any of you in the Columbia area are doing the Ray Tanner Home Run, hopefully we'll run into each other - and good luck!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hot Vegetable Salad

Well, I made it through all 21 days (23 days, actually) of the vegan kickstart.  I was pretty pleased with that, since I was really only trying to see how long I could last without cheese.  And now I know.

Now that I'm back to being a regular old vegetarian, I decided to attempt a knockoff of California Dreaming's Hot Vegetable Salad.  Mind you, I've never tried it; I was planning to order it at my office's holiday luncheon in 2009 but ended up spending that day at home sick.  Anyhoo, we've had a bunch of produce in the fridge for the past week and I was starting to fret about what to do with all of it when, somehow, I was reminded of this salad.  Mine's not exactly the same (I didn't have any green beans or hearts of palm on hand), but that's all right because the recipe lends itself well to adaptations.

Hot Vegetable Salad:
(Serves two)
1 tbsp Earth Balance
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 yellow squash, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 orange bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and halved
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
6-7 ounces fresh spinach leaves
1 vine-ripened tomato, diced
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp shredded Asiago cheese
1 tbsp shredded Parmesan cheese

Heat Earth Balance and 1 tbsp olive oil in nonstick pan over medium heat.  Add squash, peppers and garlic and saute until peppers begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add artichokes, salt, pepper and thyme and continue to cook until peppers and squash are tender but not mushy, another 3-5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, combine salt, pepper, lemon juice and remaining olive oil in a bowl.  Add the dressing to the spinach leaves and tomato and toss well.  Place the spinach and tomato on two 9-inch plates, cover each bed of spinach with half of the cooked vegetables and top each salad with equal amounts of Parmesan and Asiago.
Did I mention that it's equally tasty and easy to put together?  This is easily one of my shortest blog posts that actually contained a recipe!

Give this a try whenever you have a bunch of veggies you don't have any ideas for.  Maybe even use some of your veggies in the salad and some in a soup recipe on a soup-and-salad night!  If you happen to have veggies (hot or cold) left over from the salad, maybe use them in a wrap the next day with a little more cheese (and/or some drained and rinsed chickpeas or cannellini beans).  So many possibilities!

Have a great week, and hopefully I'll see some you (in the Columbia area) at the Ray Tanner Home Run next week!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Blackened Tofu with Cajun Rice

Finally - a few spare minutes yesterday in which to cook! 

So, I'm trying this vegan thing on for size.  I've done it for a day or two at a time before and I'm not making any commitments right now, but I figured I'd do the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart for however many days I can stand it and then resume eating cheese.  If you've never heard of it before, check it out - they have some yummy recipes on their website as well.

Last night's dinner was a take on a jambalaya recipe I used to make that involved chicken broth, smoked sausage and whole pieces of chicken.  Since I no longer consume any of those and I happened to have a block of tofu and some fresh peppers, onions and tomatoes in the fridge, I decided to try my hand at a vegan alternative.

Blackened Tofu:
7-8 oz. firm tofu, pressed and cut into four slices
2 tbsp olive or canola oil
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
3 tsp paprika
2 tsp turmeric

Combine the spices and spread out across a small plate.  Coat the tofu pieces in oil, then coat both sides of each slice with the spice mix.  Place in the refrigerator for at least 20 min or up to 2 hours.  (Further instructions below)

Cajun Rice:
3 tbsp olive or canola oil
3 small green and/or red bell peppers
2 small yellow onions
3-4 cloves garlic
2 large tomatoes, peeled and diced (I peeled them using the boiling water for the broth)
2 cups jasmine rice
3 cups veggie broth
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp dried oregano
black or cayenne pepper to taste

In a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid (don't put the lid on yet), heat oil over medium heat.  Add peppers, onions and garlic and saute until slightly softened, about 3-5 minutes.  Add tomatoes and cook for another 3 minutes.  Add rice, stir well and bring mixture to a boil.  Add broth and spices, reduce heat to low, cover with tight-fitting lid and cook until rice has absorbed all liquid, about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, turn on medium heat under a nonstick saute pan (or heat 1-2 tbsp oil in regular saute pan), add marinated tofu slices and cook on each side until slightly crisp on the surface (some of the seasoning may come off), about 5-6 minutes per side.  Fluff rice and serve with tofu.

Gotta toot my own horn - this was so good I didn't even mind the absence of chicken, sausage or shrimp!  I had to wing it with the spices for the tofu since I don't have a Cajun or Creole seasoning mix, but this turned out really well!  The right spice mix makes a huge difference.  If you have any garlic or onion powder in your pantry (I don't), they would probably work well in this mix too.

Just one thing- next time I think I'll either make half the rice or use a whole block of tofu and double the spice mix.  Steve and I ate all four slices (two per plate with the rice, as shown) and there was plenty of rice left over.  But then, another simple solution to the problem of lopsided leftovers would be to throw in a can or two of beans and maybe some more cayenne...?  We shall see...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Stacks of fun

I'm still at it with the stacks because I had another eggplant to get rid of.  (The one I used last week was one of two that Steve had bought.)  Steve also brought home some yellow squash because they were on sale, so now I've met my squash quota for the summer plus one.  I threw this together rather hastily because I was just that eager to use up all the squash at one time:

It's based on this recipe from the July 2004 issue of Food and Wine, but I used the squash instead of zucchini and skipped the onion, red pepper and tomato because I had a lot of squash (3 of them chopped took up a lot of space in my biggest saucepan) and none of the other things in the fridge.  No biggie - it's the flavor that matters.  I happened to have a ton of mint leaves in the freezer from when I snipped a bunch from my mint patch in early summer, so I chopped about 20 of them and added them to the pan with about half a cup of tomato sauce, 4 cloves of garlic, salt and crushed red pepper to taste.  Mix that all together, then throw in the chickpeas and leave it on the stove until the chickpeas are warm.  Easy!

For the stacking, I sliced the eggplant lengthwise into four pieces and sauteed it like before, in olive oil with ample salt, pepper and dried Italian herbs sprinkled on each side.  When the slices were cooked through, I removed them from the stove and plated up two of them, covered them with a helping of couscous that was soaking up some boiling water while the eggplant cooked and then topped that with the squash and chickpea sauce.  Yum!  I've saved myself from hospital cafeteria Armageddon once again!

Speaking of which, I'm off to work in a few minutes.  Enjoy your Thursday night for me if you have it off!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Something like the Marty

Last night's dinner was intended mainly to dispense with the leftover lemon balm pesto from the pasta dish I made on Thursday.  I had a couple of disks of pizza dough in the freezer and toppings already on hand, so after picking up a block of mozzarella I was ready to go.

This pizza is something like one they had at Hunter-Gatherer for a while that was called the "Marty" after a red-headed waitress of theirs named Marty.  Basically, it was a red sauce and all the (veggie) toppings were red in color.  Last time we went there, Marty was still working there but the pizza was no longer on the menu.  Guess it wasn't a big hit?

Anyhoo, here's my variation.  Maybe I should call it the Christmas pizza because of the green and red?

Nah, don't want to leave anyone out...

Interfaith Holiday Pizza (in August):
1/2 recipe pizza dough
1/2 recipe lemon balm pesto (2-2.5 cups lemon balm leaves, 1/4 cup olive oil, 4 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup pine nuts, 2 tbsp lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste)
8 oz. low-moisture part-skim mozzarella, shredded (not to cheap out, but because the dryness helps keep the crust from getting soggy compared to the "real" mozzarella that's packed in water)
1/2 medium tomato, diced
1 small jar diced pimientos

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Smooth out pizza dough evenly on a non-stick 12" pizza pan (or a well-greased regular pizza pan), being careful not to tear holes in it as you work the dough to the edge of the pan.  Spread the pesto evenly across the dough with a spoon, bringing it closer to the edge for less crust (or not, depending on your crust preference).  Scatter the mozzarella evenly over the sauce and then add the toppings.

Bake for 20 minutes, remove from oven and allow about 3-5 minutes to cool.  Slide the pizza off the non-stick pan (if using) and then cut into slices.
I'm a pretty spicy girl, so I enjoyed this with crushed red pepper.  Steve liked it pretty well without the added heat.

I was afraid that the amount of fat I ingested from 3 of the 8 slices last night would trip me up on this morning's speed workout, but it actually went pretty well!  Just a couple of mile repeats with a half-mile jog in between, but my times on the miles were actually pretty close to my old race times.  Hooray for pizza - and in a few minutes I'll be enjoying the leftovers for lunch!

I never thought 90 degrees could feel so much like spring, but it really does after the heat we've had to endure most of this summer.  Make time to enjoy this lovely weather while it lasts!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Lemon balm pesto orzo with carmelized mushrooms, green olives and eggplant

Wow, that's a mouthful.  I hadn't planned on serving all of this together, but since Steve brought home two medium-sized eggplants earlier this week, I figured I could skip the usual ratatouille/moussaka thing and just saute some thick slices as a side dish.  When it occurred to me that the eggplant would take up a lot of space on the plate, I decided on a more visually appealing presentation with the pasta served on a bed of eggplant and garnished with the mushrooms and stuffed olives.

The recipe was pretty much the same as here except that I used orzo, figuring that short pasta would be less awkward on a bed of something that needs cutting.  I also substituted lemon balm for the basil called for in traditional pesto because my lemon balm plant was in a greater need of thinning.  I thought at first that I had burned the mushrooms, but they still tasted good and were simply a little crispier than caramelized.  It was a fine line, heatwise, with the eggplant; on one hand I wanted it to cook through without it being too mushy, but on the other hand I didn't want to burn it.  Well, at first I thought I was burning it (and that it was just as well to hide it under all that pasta), but it really came out more like it would have on the grill.  All I used for it was a little olive oil in a nonstick pan and generous amounts of salt, pepper and Italian herb mix on each side.

It hit the spot: this morning I did my first track workout in ages - 800 meter repeats at the RNE track - and was able to meet or beat my goal time on all of them!  Hooray for pasta and hooray for eggplant!

Since my long weekend of work begins tonight, I probably won't post again before sometime next week.  Enjoy your weekend off, and I look forward to getting back in the kitchen (and telling you all about it) soon!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Polenta with Red Beans and Coconut

Today was a day off, I'm working all weekend, and a quick look at the cafeteria menu on the hospital's Intranet told me that this would be a bad weekend for a vegetarian to be at their mercy during her 30-minute lunch break.  Since the next best thing I could think of that doesn't involve cooking would be to venture out into the 100-degree weather to pick something up from the Chinese restaurant half a block away, I figured it would be best to cook enough today to last until Tuesday (my next day off).

I wish I could claim this as my own recipe, but alas...I used to make this a few times a year using the recipe from my Haitian cookbook, A Taste of Haiti (reference below).  I kinda got away from using this cookbook because meat recipes figure more prominently in it than veggies, and most of the veggie side dish recipes are for plantains and sweet potatoes.  I love both, mind you, but I can't eat them all the time.  However, I recently replayed the spinach praram sans sweet potatoes and found myself with half a can of coconut milk left over.  What to do, what to do?  Ah yes, the old coconut polenta with kidney beans recipe...

Before I give you the polenta recipe, I'm going to first provide the recipe for the Haitian ground "spice" mix that's needed at the very beginning.  I had hoped to be able to multi-task and save time by making the Zepis while everything else was getting started, but really do need it first.  Here's that recipe along with some other suggestions (since this recipe makes a lot more than you'll need for the polenta):

Zepis (Haitian ground spice mix):
1 garlic head, peeled (or use 20-25 cloves of chopped garlic from a jar if you're too impatient to peel garlic)
2 green bell peppers
2 onions (or one big onion)
3-5 scallions
3 cilantro sprigs
10 parsley sprigs
1 cup of white vinegar (my preference; book says you can also use 1/2 cup oil or 1/2 cup water)

Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor and place in a jar (or two if they're small).  Keep refrigerated. 

Suggestions: this is very similar to the sofrito sauce that I made for the pigeon pea soup last summer; just add some chopped tomatoes and a few shakes of hot sauce (I like the Yucateco green habanero sauce because it adds more heat and less vinegar).  Zepis also has some potential as a marinade for meats and veggies, and the addition of some hot peppers (or that green habanero sauce) would make it into a delicious Mexican restaurant-style salsa verde.

The recipe book offers up a traditional, time-consuming version, involving dry beans and a whole coconut that you shred yourself, as well as a quick version using coconut milk and canned kidney beans.  Since their recipe calls for a whole can of coconut milk and two cans of kidney beans, I bought one can of kidney beans at the Pig this morning and made a half-batch for lunch:

Polenta with Red Beans and Coconut:
1 tbsp canola oil
1/4 cup Zepis (Haitian ground "spice" mix; see recipe below)
1 can red kidney beans, drained
1/2 can of coconut milk
2 whole cloves
1/2 cup plain yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

Heat the oil, add the zepis and saute for 5 minutes on medium heat.  Stir in the beans and cook for another 5 minutes.  Add the coconut milk and cloves and cook for another 5 minutes.  Add 1.5 cups of water and bring mixture to a boil.  Add cornmeal slowly, stirring carefully to avoid clumps (or mash them out if they start forming) and then add salt.  Reduce heat to low and cover.  Cook for 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

I served this up with a simple, Caribbean-inspired take on a familiar side dish here in the South:

Okra and tomatoes:
1 tbsp canola oil
1 pound of frozen okra, thawed
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste
4 oz tomato sauce

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add okra and spices and cook until okra seems less sticky and/or is starting to brown.  Add tomato sauce and cook until mixture is heated through.

As you can see in the picture, the polenta doesn't hold its shape very well.  If you're concerned about space on the plate and/or don't want to have the huge quantity that I was ready for by the time it was done, consider serving it in a ramekin or a small side dish bowl.  Despite the mushy presentation, it turned out as well as the last time I made it a couple of years ago!  Try it - dishes from spicy regions like the Caribbean are a wonderful change from the ordinary in the summertime.

Stay tuned to find out what I made for dinner (and other weekend leftovers)...

Recipes from:
Yurnet-Thomas, Mirta.  A Taste of Haiti.  New York: Hippocrene, 2002.  ISBN 0-7818-0998-3

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Black Bean and Squash Casserole with Cilantro Rice

As promised, I did dispense with the large amount of spinach mentioned in my last post by replaying the spinach kootu from a couple of weeks ago.  It came out great, as always, but my plan to make it into a vegetarian alternative to the tuna/bacon/spinach pasta went up in smoke when I realized that I was all pasta'd out after my last big batch of pasta salad.  So, I just made some brown rice to go with it and that was just as good.

Tuesday was a day off, so I addressed my anxiety about the three yellow squashes that had been in the fridge for at least a week by making this casserole. 

Black Bean and Squash Casserole with Cilantro Rice:
2 cups water
2 Knorr cilantro cubes
1.5 cups basmati rice (jasmine or another long-grain works too), rinsed
3 yellow squash, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
2 tbsp canola or olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 cans black beans, drained
cayenne pepper to taste
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
2 cloves garlic
8 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring the water to a boil and add the cilantro cubes. 

Toss the squash and jalapenos in a mixing bowl with the oil, salt and pepper.

In a separate bowl, combine the black beans with the next four ingredients.

In a 10 x 13" baking dish, spread the uncooked rice evenly across the bottom of the pan.  Layer the squash and jalapenos evenly across the rice, then pour the cilantro broth over both.  Layer the black beans evenly over the squash.

Bake, covered, for 45 minutes or until rice has absorbed all liquid.  Remove from oven (heat may be turned off at this point), cover evenly with cheddar cheese and put the dish back in the oven uncovered until the cheese has melted, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Serve warm.

I don't normally experiment with casserole dishes without having a recipe to tweak, but this came out okay all things considered.  My only regret is that the rice didn't really make itself a part of the casserole because of the barrier formed by the squash.  It would have been nice for some of the cheese to reach down and mix with the rice, but alas...maybe someday I'll try it again. 

Here's what it looked like on Steve's plate:

As for the squash, it neither helped nor hindered, but it was nice to have a veggie figure prominently in the mix, unlike the standard rice-and-beans plate you can get at any of the Mexican restaurants around here.  And I normally use a 1.5 to 1 ratio of water to uncooked rice, but I made it 4:3 this time figuring that any liquid coming out of the squash would make up the difference.  I was right, and the rice came out perfectly!  So the moral of the story is...maybe don't bother making this as a casserole, and just cook everything, put it on a heatproof plate and put that in the oven just long enough for the cheese to melt over the rice?...
Except for some tomatoes that Steve picked from the plant yesterday, we really don't have anything that needs to be used up right now.  If I had to guess, my next recipe will involve pesto made from parsley, basil and/or lemon balm.  Another pizza?  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My two-day vegan cleanse

So, I had some free time yesterday morning and did a little cooking to get Steve and me through the next couple of days.  After having just a little too much fun during my weekend off, it seemed like a good idea to take a temporary leave of animal products and alcohol.  Nothing major, just a couple of days of austerity to help me feel better.  To that end, I whipped these two things together before lunch:

Summer vegetable soup:

This is loosely based on the summer vegetable soup in my Greek cookbook (The Food of Greece p. 87).  It pretty much amounts to throwing things in the pot and letting them blend until you have soup.  Since we had yellow squash from one of Steve's recent trips to the store and I had radishes and herbs from the backyard, it was easy enough to take what was fresh and add a few more things that were either canned or frozen and throw them in a pot.  So...the soup bowl pictured above contains chopped yellow squash, onion, radishes, one diced cucumber (only because we had one, also from the backyard, and the Greek cookbook said it was okay) crushed tomatoes, about four cups of veggie broth, about a cup and a half of thawed lima beans from the freezer, a few sprigs of thyme, a few chopped basil leaves, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  This ended up being my lunch and Steve's dinner yesterday.

Pasta salad:

This is nearly the same as my usual pasta salad, except that I threw in a bunch of chopped Italian parsley from the backyard along with the artichoke hearts, tomatoes (grown and given to me by a patient's wife!) and sliced black olives.  The "dressing" was just some salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil that I drizzled over the pasta and veggies right before they went in the fridge.  I left the optional shredded Parmesan out of the batch but treated myself to the cheese-included helping shown here for lunch today.  So, between that and the yogurt-honey-peanut Balance bar I had for breakfast this morning, my vegan cleanse is officially over (until next time).

SO glad we finally got some rain last night and Monday.  It's been about six days, and I've got about five little sprouts so far of the spring mix seeds I planted last week.  Not bad, considering the package said it would take 10-14 days for sprouting to occur.  With any luck I'll be able to make salads with it before summer's out.  Both boxes of radishes are coming along nicely as well. 

Also, for those of you in Columbia who know and love the All-Local Farmer's Market: they've just announced that they're expanding and will also be open on Wednesday evenings from 4-8 p.m. starting August 24.  If you haven't already, go check it out!  For more info, click here:

I've still got three yellow squash and two bags of spinach to dispense with in the next few days.  Check back to see what kind of ingeniousness I cook up next time to keep us fed and make good use of what's on hand!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Basmati Rice with Peas and Spinach Kootu

Before I go into detail about tonight's dinner, I have an unhappy update about my garden: about three weeks ago, following a short proliferation period, my yellow squash plants, zucchini plant and cucumber vine all fell prey to a powdery mold blight.  Steve did a Google search to learn more about it and found that spraying milk on the leaves helps to inhibit growth/reproduction of the mold, but it was already too late for the yellow squash, which were laid to rest in the compost bin last week.  The leaves on the cucumber look terrible, but the plant is still producing (for now), and the jury's still out on the zucchini although it appears to be making a comeback.  Lesson learned: don't encourage mold growth on members of the squash family by planting them too close together.  The "oh, screw it, it'll work out" approach worked well enough last summer, when I was mostly growing upright pepper plants, but I now know to space squashes exactly as far apart as the plant tag says (four to six feet).  Oh, well - all the more reason to expand the size of the raised bed next summer.

I've cooked a time or two since the last post and managed to use up pretty much everything in the fridge with the lunch I made on Sunday - and then a bag of spinach showed up in the fridge after I got home from work last night. What to do, what to do...

Spinach Kootu:
1/2 cup yellow split peas
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp canola oil
1 dried red chili pepper
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
1/4 cup chopped onion (I had some in the freezer)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
10 oz. chopped spinach (original recipe calls for frozen, but what the hey)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt or to taste

Boil 2 cups of water, add the split peas and turmeric and cook on medium heat (covered) until they are completely softened (up to 45 minutes).

Heat oil over medium heat in a saucepan big enough for all the chopped fresh spinach (a smaller one is okay if you're using frozen).  When it's hot, stir in the red chili pepper, mustard seeds and urad dal.  Cook until the mustard seeds burst and the urad dal is golden brown.  Slightly reduce the heat, if needed, so that these ingredients don't burn.

Add onion and garlic and stir-fry for one or two minutes.

Add spinach to the saucepan along with split peas and one cup of water (cooking water is fine).  Add the cumin and salt and stir well to blend.

Cover and simmer over low heat for a few more minutes, until the spinach has at least wilted and all the ingredients are blended.

...And since this clearly isn't dinner all by itself, I made a rice and peas dish that can be made anytime (at our house) using pantry, fridge and freezer staples.

Basmati Rice with Green Peas:
2 cups basmati rice
2 tbsp Earth Balance
3-4 shakes of cinnamon (or 4-5 small pieces of stick cinnamon)
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp cashews, coarsely chopped
2 whole cloves
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ground cardamom (or two whole cardamom pods)
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
1/2 cup frozen peas (or 1 cup if you like more), heated in microwave for 1 to 2 minutes

Rinse rice well and get 3 cups of water boiling while completing the next step.  (Cookbook says 4 but I always get a better result using a 1.5:1 water: white rice ratio.)

In a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid (i.e. one you can cook rice in), heat the Earth Balance (or butter, ghee, oil or whatever) over medium heat.  When it's hot, add the cinnamon, bay leaves and cashews.  Cook until the cashews turn golden brown.

Add the rice to the mix along with the cloves, turmeric, cardamom and salt.  Stir well and toast the ingredients for another minute or two.

Pour in the boiling water, stir, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, covered, for about 15 minutes.  The rice should be fluffy and all the water should be gone.

Stir in the cooked green peas (drain them first if necessary) and serve.
The nice thing about the rice recipe in particular is that, after serving Steve and myself, there was enough for two big leftover portions for later in the week.  I'm always glad to have leftovers when my work schedule's unpredictable, because it means I won't have to make do with the items on the largely non-vegetarian menu at the hospital cafeteria. 

Another happy discovery I made about the spinach recipe is the meaty flavor you get when you cook spinach with cumin.  Steve suggested that I figure out how to bring back the tuna bacon spinach pasta recipe, vegetarian style.  Be looking for it sometime in the near future!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Kitchen of Indian Delights

So little time for cooking these days, what with the crazy hours I've been working at the hospital, but somehow I manage...
Before rediscovering some of the Indian recipes that I love but haven't made in a while, I had one more go at gyros on Tuesday, this time using mushrooms.   Since I ran out of Greek seasoning mix the last time I made gyros, I had to whip out my Greek cookbook and figure out an approximation.  It turned out to be as simple as salt, pepper, garlic, coriander and finely chopped onion.  The recipe in the book also called for a little bit of allspice and savory, which I don't have, but I found that the mushrooms did just as well with the seasonings I did have.

Yesterday (my only day off this week, boo) I made a couple of Indian dishes in hopes of getting through the next couple of days on leftovers.  One was a batch of Bell Pepper and Tomato Rice with Cashews, and the other was Zucchini Kootu.  Both recipes are in Healthy South Indian Cooking (see Books, Links, Blogs for biblio reference) and are totally vegan.  Recipes follow this colorful, texturific photo!

Bell Pepper and Tomato Rice with Cashews:
1 cup basmati rice (brown rice works too)
5 oz. frozen lima beans
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp canola oil
2 small pieces of cinnamon stick (or just sprinkle on some ground cinnamon)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 cup onion, sliced lengthwise
1 cup tomato, diced
1 green chili pepper, finely chopped
1 cup coarsely chopped green bell peppers
1/2 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup cashew halves/pieces

Cook whatever rice you're using according to the package instructions and let cool for 15 minutes so that it's not sticky when you stir in the rest.

Cook the lima beans in just enough water to cover and 1/4 tsp turmeric until they are tender (10 minutes?), then drain and set aside.

Heat oil in a frying pan or large saucepan over medium heat.  When oil is hot, add the cinnamon, bay leaf, fennel and cumin.  Brown briefly, just enough to bring out their aroma, then add the onion, tomato and chili and saute for one minute.

Add the bell pepper, lima beans and remaining turmeric and mix well.  Cook, covered, over medium heat until bell pepper starts to become tender (3 minutes?).  Stir in the curry powder and salt.

Add cooked rice to the mixture and stir until blended.  Stir in cashew halves and serve.

Zucchini Kootu:
1/2 cup toor dal
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp canola oil
4 to 6 curry leaves
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 green chili pepper, chopped
3 cups diced zucchini
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp powdered coconut

Boil two cups of water and add toor dal and 1/4 tsp turmeric.  Reduce heat and cook until dal mashes easily with a fork (about 30 minutes; no need to mash it all, just make sure it's cooked to a "creamy" consistency).  Add water as needed until the dal is done cooking.

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  When it's hot, but not smoking, add asafoetida and curry leaves.  (This is very important when using asafoetida, because if it's added to a pan that's too hot, it could smoke you out of your kitchen.  Take it from someone who learned the hard way.)

Add mustard seeds and urad dal and cook, covered, until the mustard seeds pop and urad dal is golden.

Add onion, chili pepper and the remaining turmeric and stir.  Add the zucchini and ginger and blend well with the other ingredients.

Add the toor dal plus 1/2 cup of warm water (any water leftover from the cooking is fine), cumin and salt.  Stir well, cover and cook until the zucchini is tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the coconut powder, stir and remove from heat.

I was glad that the zucchini dish was relatively mild when I served it last night, because it seemed like a heavy seasoning blend might have clashed with that of the rice dish.  However, when I had the leftover zucchini for lunch today as a pita filling, it seemed a little bland all by itself.  The simple solution?  Stir in a little salt and cayenne pepper before nuking.  Easy, delicious lunch, and I still have some of the rice for when I get home from work tonight!

If you don't hear from me again before the weekend's over, have a safe and happy 4th!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Zucchini gyros and spinach and yellow squash salad

I was originally going to pick up some mushrooms for the gyro recipe, but I still had the zucchini picked last week and no ideas.  Plus, it seemed like there would be protein enough in the feta cheese and tzatziki sauce (yogurt, finely diced cucumber, dill, salt and white pepper), so I chopped up the zucchini instead and sauteed it in olive oil and then seasoned it as heavily as I could with the last bit of Cavender's All-Purpose Greek Seasoning that I had.  You can't see the zucchini in the photo, but it's on the pita beneath the tzatziki.  The tomato that went on this is the first one we've used from the backyard this year! 

I was all over this recipe from the July issue of Food and Wine when I saw that it called for yellow squash, but I had just enough spinach in the fridge for two side salads and figured I'd use that rather than go to the store for the Little Gem lettuce or (more likely) hearts of romaine.  I just used canola for the toasted walnuts because that's what I had, and the dressing I made was my usual Greek-style vinaigrette (salt, pepper, dried Italian herbs, lemon juice and olive oil).  As it turned out, Steve didn't want the squash on his salad, so I reserved a little bit of the chopped tomato for his salad. 

So, by using one zucchini, one cucumber, one yellow squash and the last of the spinach for tonight's dinner, I'm now down to two squash and one head of broccoli in the fridge!  There's also plenty of leftover tzatziki in the fridge, so I'll probably either make pitas with it again tomorrow or enjoy it as a topping or side dish for an Indian dish or something else that's warm and heavy on spices.

Until next time...sow what you reap, and reap what you sow!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cleaning out the fridge two meals in a row

When I woke up yesterday morning and poured my customary glass of orange juice, I couldn't help but notice the accumulation in the produce drawer:

Luckily, yesterday was a day off (my typical work "week" now being mostly long weekends), so I decided to cook for both lunch and dinner.

For lunch, the zucchini "moussaka" dish from the July 2004 issue of Food and Wine.  They don't seem to have the recipe on their website anymore, so here's a link to one of the times I made it last summer.

Ingredients from the backyard: three yellow squash (instead of zucchini), one green pepper (instead of the onion I didn't have), parsley and mint.

From the store: two tomatoes, a can of chickpeas, a can of tomato sauce (instead of tomato paste), 3/4 cup dry couscous and the rest of the seasonings (garlic, etc.).

The nice thing about this recipe is that it's so easy: I got started around 12:30, including chopping, and it was done and ready to eat by 1:00.  Steve had some as well, and I got to enjoy the leftovers today for lunch.

Later, after a few pages of the book I'm reading and a nice, long nap, dinner time was suddenly around the corner.  No problem - I've got this!

Dinner was spinach risotto-stuffed red peppers and an Al Amir-style salad on the side.

From the store: two large red bell peppers (99 cents each at Bi-Lo), spinach, arborio rice, parmesan...pretty much everything for the peppers.  For the salad: tomato, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

From the backyard: cucumbers, parsley and mint for the salad.

For those who don't live in the Columbia area, Al Amir is a Mediterranean restaurant that serves a salad that's pretty much like tabbouleh minus the bulghur wheat.  It's a very cool, refreshing summer salad that's easy to make and delicious - especially if you're using fresh, sweet cucumbers from the backyard or fresh from a local farm.

And here's what we ended up with!

So, while I did make a sizeable dent in the produce selection pictured above, I still have one zucchini, one yellow squash and some of the spinach in the fridge, plus the head of broccoli that Steve picked up when he went grocery shopping at the end of the day.  So, in the next day or two I'll figure out what I'm going to do with them...

Stay cool, everybody.  If you live in Columbia city limits and get any significant rainfall (like on Monday night), do me a favor and send those storm clouds to the northeast after a few minutes.  We could use an inch or three up here!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Soup and salad night

I'm a couple of days late with this post but very happy to report that nearly half of the veggies and herbs in Thursday night's soup and salad dinner came from the backyard!  From the store, a big handful of baby spinach, an onion, a tomato and about eight red baby potatoes.  Oh, and feta cheese and lemon juice.  From the garden, a bunch of radish tops, three radishes, two cucumbers, about fifteen oregano leaves, seven or eight basil leaves and another seven or eight lemon balm leaves. 

I'd been looking forward to making this radish greens soup for a while but wanted to wait until I already had the potato and onion before pulling up the one bunch of radish greens remaining.  The radishes were mostly non-performers this time due to overwatering (go figure - they got as much water as the first bunch that did fine), but the greens were all perfectly usable.  So, when Steve brought home the potatoes and onion one day this week, I decided that the moment had arrived and I went to it, substituting veggie broth for the chicken broth.  Also, earlier in the week he had picked a cucumber or two along with the squash and zucchini that are going off gangbusters in the garden, so I figured that a tomato and some fresh herbs and a homemade Greek lemon-oil dressing were all that I'd need to complete a Greek cucumber salad like the one featured here.

I used said handful of spinach because the recipe called for two bunches of radish greens and I only had the one.  Plus, the spinach in the fridge wasn't getting any younger, and I knew that I wanted to use up all eight of the baby red potatoes because I didn't have any other ideas for them and I wanted to soup to be equally potato-y and green or slightly in favor of the greens, which necessitated supplementation of the radish greens. 

The end result  A nice, light dinner for a hot evening!

It's going to be another hot one.  Please do a rain dance for veggie gardens across the Southeast today!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Zucchini and yellow squash moussaka

Steve took care of my vegetable garden while I worked 12-hour shifts all weekend, so when I got home Sunday night, I saw two cucumbers, three crookneck squash and a zucchini that he had seen fit to pick when he went out to water the garden that morning.  A week earlier, he had bought four zucchini that were still in the fridge this morning, so I decided to take all the zucchini and yellow squash on hand and make a bigger-than-usual batch of moussaka.  Here's one of the slices we had for dinner:

I make it with zucchini more often than I blog about it, but the last time or two it came out a big, mushy disappointment.  The problem with using zucchini instead of eggplant is that it contains more water, so even if you salt the slices and then pat them dry before baking them, more liquid comes out of them in the oven and there's nothing else to absorb them.  Until now: I decided to give it another try after stumbling upon this blogger's tip about putting down a layer of breadcrumbs before each layer of zucchini.  I skipped his suggestion about grilling the zucchini slices because it's summer and I just don't wanna.  My placement of the yellow squash and zucchini was pretty haphazard-looking in terms of the colors, but I did manage to layer complimentary shapes together so that they covered the layer beneath.

For the red sauce (the base of which was a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes), I used lentils instead of meat, as per usual, then peeled, shredded and sauteed three carrots that I had no other use for.  Since I also have a bunch of fresh herbs growing in the backyard, I also picked, chopped and threw in about 15 fresh basil leaves, 20-25 fresh oregano leaves, 5 sprigs of thyme and one sprig of rosemary.  I also had a random jalapeno that was looking a little long in the tooth, so after donning a pair of disposable gloves, I chopped that finely and added it to the sauce as well.  Salt and nutmeg to taste.  This made for a more complicated sauce than usual, but I really wanted to use up all the ingredients I could, just like when I make lasagna.

Into a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes, uncovered.  Let it rest for an hour before cutting into it, and at the risk of copyright infringement...bam!

Steve and I each had a helping like the one above and four remain, so we'll be enjoying leftovers for the next couple of days.  I'm glad I had today off, since it took about two hours for the whole thing to come together (not counting the time in the oven and cooling afterward).  Whatever I make next will probably be simpler.  Until then...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lemon balm pesto stuffed shells

As I mentioned last time, my lemon balm plant was getting pretty overgrown before I went out there with a measuring cup and removed all the big leaves until I had two fairly packed cups.  I went back inside as soon as that task was completed, since summer's already here and it's too hot mid-afternoon to spend more time outside than necessary, and promptly washed off the lemon balm and made lemon balm pesto.  This recipe was the inspiration, but I ended up making it more like a traditional pesto by adding a quarter cup of pine nuts and salt and pepper to taste.  A few days later (yesterday, in fact), I picked up some jumbo shells, crushed tomatoes and ricotta at Publix and made stuffed shells using the lemon balm pesto. 

I'm not the world's most enthusiastic baker, especially when it's hot outside, but this was every bit as tasty as my best-ever lasagna (the vegan one) and much easier to make since no layers are involved.  I now also have a favorite brand of crushed tomatoes - Dei Fratelli.  I never would have expected there to be a difference between brands of crushed tomatoes, and I generally buy the store brand or whatever's cheap.  Well, the Dei Fratelli ones were thick enough that I could have used them as the main ingredient in a lasagna sauce without having to cook it down for an hour and make a big mess on the stove, splatter guard or no splatter guard.  But I digress...

Again, the lemon balm stuffed shells recipe at the site above, where the pesto recipe came from, was the basis for last night's dinner, but I used more like one cup of the pesto (one recipe, not a double batch) and a 15-ounce container of ricotta plus another half-cup or so of grated parm.  I skipped the onion because I didn't have any.  And I didn't exactly use an entire box of the shells - maybe 30 out of 36 shells went into the pot, and I still had six left over when I ran out of the stuffing.  Oh, well - 24 stuffed shells filled my 13 x 9 inch baking dish along with the red sauce (half the can of crushed tomatoes, 4 cloves of garlic, salt and pepper to taste and about two teaspoons of dried thyme from the backyard) that I poured over it to keep the shells from drying out.  No foil, just in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.

Nice and lemony!  Between the lemon balm and the thyme, this turned out to be a very brightly-flavored dish even without using lemon juice or zest.  Plus, since it doesn't take that long to bake and the pesto and even the pesto-ricotta mixture can be prepared ahead of time, it's a relatively easy dish to make after a long day at work.  Just do some prep work ahead of time, come home and cook the shells, stuff 'em, pour some sauce over the top and in the oven they go!  They also make fantastic leftovers.

It's a hot one out there...stay cool everybody!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Fun with radishes

Here are my radishes - the first veggies I ever grew from seeds!

I was pretty anxious to use them once they were out of the ground and washed, because I've noticed in the past that radishes can dry out after just a few days in the fridge.  So, I replayed the radish sambhar recipe here but left out the bell pepper (didn't have any), used more radish than the recipe called for (all the ones pictured above) and used extra yellow split peas in place of the toor dal that I was fresh out of.  I also had a bunch of cilantro that all went in at the end.  Word to the wise: when making any recipe using yellow split peas plus veggies, start cooking the yellow split peas about 15 minutes before the rest since they take a while to soften completely (about 45 minutes).  Here's how it turned out, served over brown rice:

I also figured I'd be cheating myself if I didn't come up with a use for the greens as well.  I have a recipe on file for a pureed radish green and potato soup, but another use came to mind that also allowed me to dispense of half a block of tofu, a package of mushrooms, a zucchini and about four carrots that I had no other plans for: the hot pots that I first made back in January for Steve's birthday.  The broth was pretty much the same as before.  The rest included sliced mushrooms, zucchini and carrots cut into matchsticks, cubed tofu, the last of my rice stick noodles and radish greens sliced into ribbons.  I sauteed the carrots to soften them up a little before assembling the dish. 

Yummy as always, with or without sriracha!

This week's looking like it will be too hot for soup, so be on the lookout for some sort of salad recipe that will use at least one ingredient from the garden.  Stay cool everybody!

Friday, May 13, 2011

My very first homemade pizza!

Yep, I’m 35 and never made a pizza before Wednesday night.  While I’ve eaten plenty of it in my day (I did go to college, after all), I’ve never considered myself a good enough baker to get the dough right.  Luckily, I recently came across the Brokeass Gourmet’s pizza dough recipe, which really is as easy to make as she says (I used a mixing bowl and wooden spoon, nothing high-tech), and decided it was once again worth trying to achieve success with flour and active dry yeast. 

It was also time to take a bunch of big basil leaves off my plant before they all started turning brown and sloughing off to make room for the ones growing in behind them, so I can say that the sauce on my very first pizza was pesto rather than a regular red sauce.  A quick Google search turned up this traditional pesto recipe, which I followed to the letter except that I doubled the garlic to four cloves; two just didn’t seem like enough for the amount of basil I harvested.

With these two things made, it was just a question of rolling out a little less than half the pizza dough onto a 12-inch pizza pan (which Steve, dear that he is, went out and bought since we didn’t have one), slathering on about half of the pesto (about half a cup), covering it over with thinly sliced mozzarella and the toppings we had.  I didn't have any other ideas for the mushrooms we had in the fridge, so that’s what you see here.  Into the 400 degree oven it went for 20 minutes, and voilĂ ! 


I'm not sure if it's because of the pizza pan being non-stick or not, but the bottom part of the crust actually started to brown after about 15 minutes; it was another five minutes before the top edges were brown enough to call the pizza done.  In any case, having a non-stick pan was very handy, since we also don't have a pizza cutter.  With the non-stick pan, it was easy just to slide the pizza off the pan and onto a cutting board for slicing with a regular serrated knife.

Since I ran 9 miles Wednesday morning, I still had a few calories to replace and helped myself to three slices; Steve had two.  The leftovers were just as good for lunch on Thursday after about 40 seconds in the microwave per slice.

So, tonight I made a spinach and feta pizza - just like the one at the Hunter-Gatherer in Columbia - that turned out just as well!  This time I did whip together a quick tomato sauce: eight-ounce can of tomato sauce, half a tablespoon of dried Italian herbs, two cloves of garlic and one pinch each of salt and pepper.  I eyeballed the chopped spinach and crumbled feta, but I pretty much covered the mozzarella before putting it in the oven.  Same as Wednesday: 400 degrees, 20 minutes.

It went in the oven around 7:00, and all of it was eaten before Jeopardy was over.

Pizza, Marian style – homemade sauce and dough.  Who knows?  Maybe when some of the veggies in the backyard have ripened, they’ll also make an appearance atop one of my pizzas!  Tomato slices, mmmm….