Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Vegetable Torte
Inspired by Mark Bittman's recent contribution to my veggie repertoire, I attempted a somewhat slimmer version of his succulent vegetable torte that you can read about here.
You can also see a handsome image captured by Evan Sung. My feeble attempt leaves much to be desired but it does hold some merit for effort, desire and palatability.
As is often the case, instead of waiting until I'd made a trip to the market to have all the listed ingredients on hand, I plowed forward with one medium sized eggplant, one juicy, red beefsteak tomato, and two slim zucchinis and of course lots of fresh garlic. The depth or height, or however one phrases these measurements, was no where near as aesthetically pleasing or impressive as the professionally produced version but it didn't disappoint in the taste department.

Once again confirming that it's hard to mess up a mess of fresh vegetables.

My crumb topping contributed a little extra flavor. I processed two thick slices of the caraway rye bread I'd made the day before. Then with my handy-dandy micro-grater, I layered on a sprinkling of parmigiana regianno—the remaining holdout in my departure from all things dairy. Using the rasp-like kitchen tool allows a small amount of an ingredient to go a very long way.

I realized afterwards, that a mix of crushed pine nuts with some lemon zest and nutritional flakes would have been a better choice to top off the fresh bread crumbs - avoiding dairy altogether. Well, we'll try that next time.

All told, it was an impressive dish made from one eggplant, two zucchini and a tomato.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Caraway Rye Bread

For quite a while now, my bread choice has been whole wheat pita bread. I make a batch, 8 pitas, about once a week. I also keep a loaf of sprouted whole grain bread in the freezer for wild moments when a piece of toast begs to be made.

Recently, I've had a yen for caraway-rye bread. It's been years since I've attempted a rye, pumpernickel or heavy peasant bread, the type of bread that requires making a starter the night before, then fussing about dough temperature, weight of the flour, etc. I figured there had to be an easier way to produce a nice loaf of finely textured, full flavored bread.

With a little tweaking, a King Arthur Flour recipe that I've had since the early 90's, turned out a fine loaf. Quick to come together, with simple ingredients, mixer kneaded, two rises, and lo and behold—a fine treat resulted.

Caraway Rye Bread
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 cups white whole wheat flour (King Arthur)
1 1/2 cups whole grain organic rye flour (Arrowhead Mills)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water

Whisk together the yeast, flours, salt and sugar, add oil and water and mix until well-combined. Knead the dough. In a machine with a dough hook for about 10 minutes, by hand, knead on a lightly oiled work surface for 10 - 15 minutes or until the dough is very smooth and supple.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a towel and allow to rise for about and hour or until it has doubled in bulk.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled surface, and shape it. I made an oval to fit an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch bread pan. Cover with a tea towel and allow the dough to rise again until it has doubled in bulk and is puffy, about 45 minutes to one hour.

Bake the bread in a preheated 375° oven for 30 - 35 minutes or until it's golden brown and the interior registers 190° on an instant read thermometer.

Remove the bread from the oven and allow it to cool completely on a wire rack. Hint: for an extra-crusty loaf, remove the loaf from the pan, then return it to the oven. Turn the oven off, crack the door open about one inch, and allow the bread to cool completely in the oven.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hail to Kale

These hot humid days of summer are a perfect time to experiment with different salads. Using curly kale as the predominant green in a salad offers not only a unique taste and texture but also a plate full of great nutrition.

The secret to a successful salad made with firmer greens like kale, chard or collards is to introduce a wilting agent along with adequate time for the greens to lose some of their original crunch, without losing flavor.

Massaging the leaves (hard stems removed) with a bit of olive oil and avocado gives them a tasty head start in the softening department while providing a sensuous mouth feel, then the addition of freshly squeezed lemon juice continues the wilting process.
Allowing the salad to sit for an hour or so at room temperature before serving will give the kale time to soften up and allow the flavors to meld.

This salad is simply kale, tomato, green onions and avocado with a few pine nuts tossed in before serving, a pinch of salt and pepper and the juice from a fresh lemon. How simple is that?

For a live demonstration watch Karen Knowler on YouTube.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cauliflower in a Creative Context

I'm extremely fond of Mexican food. Recently, I was salivating over an article with directions for making outstanding fish tacos. Not exactly vegetarian fare but with that fresh in my mind, it was easy to take the next step and toss together a vibrant veggie combination on warm, soft corn tortillas to emulate fish tacos.

Steamed cauliflower florets stood in for the customary white fish, and while slivered cabbage is normally the greens of choice with fish tacos, I had dark, crisp, outer leaves of Romaine that worked fine.

A generous topping of chipotle salsa and a bit of minced sweet onion (sliced green onion would be preferable) made these little luncheon tacos a great way to use some of the extra large head of cauliflower I had on hand.

The faux fish tacos were a distant memory when a few days later I brought out the rest of the cauliflower for another quick lunch. This batch took an Indian twist by tossing them with a generous coating of spicy, hot Madras-style curry powder.

Curried Cauliflower

Years ago, when I first started cooking Indian foods after faithfully watching Madhur Jaffrey's cooking shows on PBS, I followed her instructions to prepare my own curry powders. Toasting and grinding the many seeds and spices that make up curry powder. Often, as many as 12 - 14 different spices are used in a blend. These days, I rely on the good folks at Penzey's to provide me with the convenience of great curry powders.

The Madras-style that I used with the cauliflower includes turmeric, cayenne, coriander, ginger, cumin, fenugreek, white pepper, cinnamon, fennel, nutmeg, cardamon, cloves and Tellicherry black pepper. A dynamite blend!

I tossed the curry coated florets with a little olive oil and a dusting of bread crumbs, they roasted off in a 425° oven for 25 minutes. Crisp and spicy on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Quinoa Salad
Most grains will make a great base for an impromptu salad. This quinoa based salad is a take on traditional middle eastern tabbouleh. Bulgar is normally used in tabbouleh with parsley predominating.

This quinoa salad is another example of using up what's on hand, especially the day before market day. With a cuke and a few grape tomatoes, a bunch of parsley and a bit of red onion, a cup of quinoa was quickly turned into a great luncheon salad.
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup diced cucumber (without seeds)
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, minced.
Juice from half a lemon
1 TBS olive oil
salt to taste
cayenne (if desired)
I tend to like spicy hot foods. This batch received a generous sprinkling of Penzey's
Black & Red pepper (ground tellicherry and cayenne).
Quinoa just about doubles in volume when cooked. These amounts produce, without measuring too carefully, 3.5 cups of salad.
The salad would be great with a few other vegetable additions, sweet bell pepper, perhaps and definitely should be served with a sprinkling of toasted nuts or seeds. Suggestions: toasted pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts or sunflower seeds.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Rustic Salad Redux
I've had the Rustic Salad at Dexter's a few times. Both at the Winter Park location and at the Thornton Park eatery. It's a brilliant combination of mixed greens, grilled veggies and a bit of goat cheese, served with a creamy dressing that brings out the best in all the individual components.

With small amounts of leftovers hanging about, I thought I'd do a pseudo version. Not nearly as good, but still a wonderful combination with a variety of veggies, lightly cooked, served with fresh greens, a lively dressing and no cheese.

In this case, spinach and romaine with a dusting of sunflower seeds and a side serving of fat free fresh raspberry dressing. I chopped the greens, which might not have been the best move. It tasted fine, but the presentation left something to be desired. Simply torn leaves might be a prettier option.

Asparagus, green beans, yellow squash and fingerling potatoes

Raspberry Vinaigrette (fat free)
adapted from Jill Nussinow, The Veggie Queen
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
2 Tbs filtered water
2 tsp Agave Nectar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients in food processor and blend well.
Will keep covered in fridge for 5-7 days.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Tomatoes Front and Center
with a Mexican Flair
With beautiful Ruskin beefsteak tomatoes so abundant, it's the perfect time to use them as much and as often as one can. I love having a bowl of salsa in the fridge for quick snacks or to round out a simple meal.
This salsa is simply: diced tomatoes, diced sweet onion, sliced green onion, minced jalepeño, fresh cilantro and fresh lime juice. The bowl above is the end result of using: 2 medium tomatoes, half a sweet onion, four green onions, half a large jalepeño pepper, a generous handful of minced cilantro and the juice from one lime. This makes a generous 3 cups of salsa.
I recently read a fat free version of baked corn chips. Eager to try my hand , my first attempt did not take the recipe writer's instructions to heart. "Watch closely as they burn easily." Yes, they do! As evidenced with my batch below.
But used to scoop up the juicy salsa, they were great for a first attempt. Will watch more carefully the next time, and there will be a next time, as I like corn chips,but avoid the fat and salt laden supermarket varieties.

Using store bought corn tortillas made only with masa and water, these chips are easy to make.
Just watch them closely when baking!
Preheat oven to 350°. Use 6-8 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lime juice (2 small limes); 1/2 tsp chili powder; 1/4 tsp ground cumin; 12 corn tortillas. Combine the first 3 ingredients in a small pie plate. Dip each tortilla in the mixture then stack on a cutting board. Cut thru the stack into 6 or 8 wedges.
Arrange in a single layer on two baking sheets, sprinkle lightly with 1/2 tsp of salt, if desired. Turn sheets about halfway through for even baking. Bake 10 - 15 minutes, until crisp and brown around the edges. Watch carefully, they burn easily. Turn out onto cooling rack. Store in airtight container when cool.
Using leftover salsa.

The salsa is also a key component in a black bean and corn salad I like. Simply add a can of well rinsed black beans (or use 2 cups of freshly cooked beans) and the kernels from 2 - 3 ears of fresh corn to the salsa along with a pinch or two of Mexican oregano and a bit of salt and cayenne (if you like it hot) black pepper is fine, too. Mix well, taste for additional seasonings or a bit of additional lime juice or a splash of apple cider vinegar. The salad is super topping a big bowl of greens, to roll up in lettuce or whole wheat wraps or to make an improvised taco.

Soft Corn Veggie Taco

I warmed the corn tortilla in a dry skillet over medium heat, turning after a few minutes.
The hot, soft corn tortilla is a great vehicle for the black bean salad. . . a bit messy, but fun to eat.
Fast, easy and nutritious. Tomatoes are a great food to use as a starting point for a variety of easy dishes on these hot, lazy days of summer.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Hot & Cold Salad

Cooked salad additions can be really satisfying. Occasionally, toss your everyday salad greens with an assortment of steamed or lightly sautéed veggies. Green beans and fingerling potatoes, mixed with pearl onions and grape tomatoes make for a soul satisfying addition to a big bowl of chopped romaine lettuce.

The green beans (one pound) were blanched and waiting in the wings. . . translates to the refrigerator. A light coating of olive oil in a sauté pan placed over medium heat welcomes a generous handful of frozen pearl onions. Meanwhile, bring to a quick boil in salted water, 3 - 4 sliced fingerling or new red potatoes.
While the potatoes become tender and the pearl onions have taken on a little color, add the green beans to the sauté pan. Toss occasionally.
When the potatoes are tender (pierce easily with the tip of a paring knife), drain them and slice into half inch pieces (they will be hot) and add to the sauté pan. Keep turning everything to heat through adding a pinch of salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper.
Meanwhile, wash and halve a dozen or so grape tomatoes and add to the pan. The idea is to just let the tomatoes warm a bit, don't cook until they turn mushy.
I like to add a pinch or two of Italian seasoning. Fresh basil would be superb, but a dried mix of basil, oregano and marjoram is fine. Turn out the veggies into a large bowl, taste for seasoning and sprinkle to taste with balsamic vinegar (about one generous teaspoon full).
Meanwhile, wash, dry and tear half a head of romaine leaves. Dress with a teaspoon of olive oil and the juice from half a lemon. Use just enough to moisten the leaves and let them glisten.

You can mix the romaine into the veggie bowl before serving, or for a prettier presentation, place a large helping of the dressed greens on a dinner plate, then spoon a generous portion of the sautéed veggies in the middle.
A mix of romaine and spring mix is a good alternative. Use whatever greens you have on hand. But do use a big helping of raw greens to complement the cooked veggies.