Saturday, May 30, 2009

polenta stuffed peppers

If you've been following this blog for any amount of time, you may have noticed a pattern: when I find a new basic that I like, I try out lots of different variations. This happened with frittatas. Then again with risotto. And yes, now I'm on a stuffed pepper kick!

On the train on my way home from work the other day, I was going through the contents of my kitchen in my head. We'd received the weekly CSA delivery the day before, so there were fresh gypsy peppers on hand that would definitely need to be involved in the evening's meal. Ever since I made the rice stuffed peppers last week, I'd been thinking about other potential fillings. One that kept coming to mind was polenta. So I started thinking about what would go well with peppers and polenta... Once my mind landed on black beans, I knew that was the direction I would take my next attempt at stuffed peppers.

Next, I started thinking about sauces. I wanted some spice. And maybe a little smokiness. There's an enchilada-like sauce in one of my cookbooks - it's intended in the recipe to be a roasting sauce for fall vegetables. But I thought a variation of it would be pretty tasty over my soon to be stuffed peppers, so on my walk from the train home, I popped into the grocery to pick up canned chipotle in adobo sauce (the secret ingredient!).

I could taste the peppers at this point, and was super exited to see if they would turn out as good as I imagined. As I was prepping the ingredients, I made a last minute decision to slice the peppers horizontally (rather than cut the top off and actually stuff them; since I didn't actually mix the stuffing ingredients together, this was my way of ensuring you get a good mix of flavor in every bite). I guess that means really these should be called filled peppers, but you get the idea. Here's what I did:

Polenta Stuffed Peppers
Serves 2

4 gypsy peppers (or 2 bell peppers), halved lengthwise and de-seeded
1/2 c. dry polenta (corn grits)
15 oz. diced tomatoes
1/2 cup cilantro
1 1/2 Tbsp. canned chipotle in adobo sauce
1 tsp. lime juice
15 oz. canned black beans, drained and rinsed
3 oz. firm tofu, chopped into small pieces (optional)

Make the sauce by pureeing tomatoes, cilantro, chipotle/adobo, and lime juice in a food processor until smooth.

Bring 1 1/2 cups water to boiling in a medium pot. Add polenta, mix, and turn the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally until mixture thickens.

Spread a couple spoonfuls of sauce in a baking dish and spread to cover. Place the peppers, cut side up, into the dish. Fill each half with polenta. Spoon black beans and tofu (if using) over each pepper, then top each with a generous spoonful (or more!) of sauce.

Bake 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

The peppers turned out just as tasty as I imagined! There will likely be more stuffed/filled pepper recipes to come if they keep arriving in the CSA delivery. I'm thinking perhaps my next version will feature a Greek twist...

Monday, May 25, 2009

vegetarian stuffed peppers

Eight beautiful light green gypsy peppers arrived last week in the CSA box. Gypsy peppers are similar to a bell pepper, but are smaller,  sweeter, and more delicate (thinner walls). The fresh produce from the CSA box was exuding welcome healthiness - after spending a week on vacation eating nearly every meal at a restaurant, I was ready for a serious dose of healthy food. Stuffed peppers sounded like they would do the trick. 

I did a quick search online, but was disappointed to find most stuffed pepper recipes were either meaty or involved raisins, which just sounded weird to me. So I came up with my own version. I knew it would involve rice (I thought my favorite purple jasmine rice would look really cool in the light green peppers). My criterion for the other ingredients was: would I put it in marinara sauce? If the answer was yes (and I had it on hand), it went into the stuffing. I think the peppers turned out really tasty - I'm already planning to make these again with the gypsy peppers that are scheduled to come in this week's produce box. Here's how it goes:

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers
Serves 2

4 medium bell peppers or 8 gypsy peppers
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. rice, cooked
6 oz. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
a splash of balsamic vinegar
about 1 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
about 2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
freshly ground black pepper

Remove the tops and insides of the peppers to prepare them to be filled.

Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. 

Combine onion and garlic with remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir well to mix. Spoon the filling into the peppers, sealing each with their top and placing in a baking dish.

Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees. 

Add a side salad to these peppers, and you have yourself a meal. If this recipe leaves you craving protein, you could add kidney beans, garbanzo beans, or tofu to the filling. I'll likely include kidney beans in my next iteration this week. My mouth is already watering!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

joe's pickled fish

We're back from vacation! Our trip was to the northwest and included stops in Seattle, Spokane, and Portland for visits with family and friends. Then we drove down the Oregon and Northern California coast (stopping at a number of cute seaside towns along the way) and back home to SF.

This may sound strange, but the noteworthy culinary parts of the trip were definitely in Spokane. Specifically, at JR's parents' house: JR's dad is an avid hunter/fisher/gardener and many of our meals were centered around things he'd hunted, caught, or grown. 

This particular recipe calls for some serious planning in advance - it takes 2 weeks. There's no question - food simply tastes better when there's that much planning and thought that goes into it. This was a serious crowd pleaser. To create it, Joe took bits and pieces from a couple of recipes he found online, and threw in some ideas of his own. It was fantastic (thanks, Joe, for sharing your recipe!). Here's how it goes:

Joe's Pickled Fish

Week 1: Brine the fish
about 1 pound of fish*, skinned, de-boned, and sliced into 1/4 inch strips
1/2 c. kosher salt
1 c. white vinegar
*Joe's version featured trout - you could also use salmon or herring

Mix the vinegar and salt together in a large container, stirring until the salt is dissolved. Add the fish pieces to the vinegar/salt brine. Make sure all of the pieces are covered by the liquid (add more salt and vinegar if needed). Cover the container and refrigerate for a week.

Week 2: Pickle the fish
1 1/2 c. white vinegar
1 1/2 c. white wine
1/3 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. pickling spice
1 Tbsp. black pepper corns
1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
3-4 bay leaves
1 red onion, chopped
1 white onion, chopped
sour cream to taste (if desired)

Drain the brine mixture from the fish. Fill the container with cold water. Let sit an hour, then drain and repeat several times. This is to flush the salt and vinegar from the fish. Once that's done, the fish is ready to pickle.

For pickling liquid: in a saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, and spices. Simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Once cool, add the wine (and sour cream, if using).

In jars or containers, layer the fish and onions, leaving half and inch at the top. Pour the pickling liquid over the fish/onion until all of the fish is covered. Seal the jar and put it in the fridge. Let sit for a week to ten days.


Joe made one version of the pickled fish with sour cream and one without. Personally, I liked the version without the sour cream better, but I think everyone else favored the sour cream version. We ate the pickled fish on crackers - an hors d'ouevres that paired perfectly with great time with family and friends in the eastern Washington sunshine.

Friday, May 15, 2009

peanut spinach & tofu

Maybe this is swimming rama? I think so, but I'm not totally sure. Swimming rama is a common dish at Thai restaurants - typically spinach in peanut sauce served over rice. But I'm not sure if peanut sauce + spinach = swimming rama, or if there are other requirements. And Google wasn't much help in this area - it led me to a few recipes for swimming rama, but I didn't find any good info on what it actually is. So rather than title this post "Cole's swimming rama", to be safe, I'm going to stick with peanut spinach & tofu.

Those who are familiar with my schedule know that I'm on vacation right now. No, I'm not cooking on vacation (I'm letting others cook for a change!). Rather, I'm still catching up on some items from last week when I was still in the kitch. 

Variations of this recipe are one of my favorite, easy, weeknight dishes. I typically make it with: rice + vegetable + protein + peanut sauce. The peanut sauce changes from time to time depending on what I have on hand, as does the vegetable and protein. Here's how it goes:

Peanut Spinach & Tofu
Serves 2

For peanut sauce:
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. tamari
3 Tbsp. lime juice
2 Tbsp. agave
1/2 c. natural peanut butter
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp. sea salt
about 4 oz. soy, rice, lite coconut milk, or water

2 Tbsp. coconut oil
12 oz. firm tofu, rinsed, pressed, and cut into cubes
4-6 cups spinach*

*Any good stir fry vegetable (or combo of stir fry vegetables) would be good here - red peppers, sweat peas, mushrooms, broccoli, etc.

Whisk garlic through sea salt in a small bow. Add rice milk, a little at a time, whisking after each addition until the sauce reached desired consistency.

Heat oil in a wok or large pan over medium-high heat. Stir fry tofu until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add spinach and continue to stir fry until wilted. 

Remove from heat. Add sauce and mix through. Serve over hot rice.

This will be my last post for the next week or so, as JR, Romeo, and I continue our vacation. I'm going to do something I havent' done in a really long time - stay offline. I'll be back in the kitch late next week - hopefully with inspiration from the coastal towns and great vacation meals we're sure to enjoy over the next week. I'm thinking after a week of eating out, I'll be itching to get back to stirring and cooking. See you next week!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

carrot cake

I had been wanting to make this recipe since I first saw it on 101 cookbooks a few weeks ago: a carrot cake-banana bread fusion, sweetened with nothing but dates and a little maple syrup. It was just as good as I imagined it would be. Here's how it goes:

Carrot Cake

2 c. whole wheat flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. sea salt
3/4 c. walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted
1/2 c. dates, seeded and finely chopped*
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 1/2 c. carrots, grated (about 3 medium)
1/2 c. greek yogurt
2 eggs
6 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature**
3 Tbsp. maple syrup

*The original recipe calls for dried dates, but I used 8 fresh medjools, and it turned out great.
**I had 3 oz. of cream cheese on hand, so used marscapone for the remaining 3 oz.

Combine dry ingredients (flour through walnuts) and set aside. Stir together butter and dates in a small bowl, breaking up the dates as you stir. In a large bowl, mix together bananas, carrots, and yogurt. Add the butter and date mixture, stirring to combine. Whisk in the eggs. Add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Bake 50-60 minutes in an oiled, parchment paper lined loaf pan at 350 degrees (I used two small loaf pans and reduced the baking time to about 45 minutes). The cake is done when a toothpick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from oven and let cool. Whip cream cheese and maple syrup. Frost once cake is completely cool.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

my first-rhubarb-of-spring muffins

I've been posting for so many days with recipes from our dinner party a couple of weekends ago that I've accumulated a small stack of notes on recipes and pictures of other items I've made over the past week or so. Seeing this picture makes me wish I could eat a rhubarb muffin, but alas, they were all eaten days ago!

When a few stalks of rhubarb showed up in the CSA box, I poked around the internet for ideas on what to do with them. I quickly realized why the only rhubarb I've eaten before has been in the form of a pie: nearly every recipe featuring rhubarb pairs it with flour, sugar and butter (pies, breads, muffins). I decided to follow suit and turn my rhubarb into rhubarb muffins.

For the following recipe, I took bits and pieces from a few different recipes I found, making substitutions based on what I thought would taste good and really just experimenting. I thought they turned out really well. Here's what I did: 


Cole's First-Rhubarb-of-Spring Muffins
Makes 10 muffins

1/2 c. greek yogurt
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 egg
1 1/3 c. whole wheat flour
2/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. rhubarb, diced
1/2 c. walnuts, chopped

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tray with paper liners. Mix wet ingredients (yogurt through egg) in a medium bowl. Mix dry ingredients (flour through salt) in another. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until just blended. Fold in rhubarb and walnuts. Bake 25 minutes.

Monday, May 11, 2009

dates filled with chocolate

This is my new favorite desert. Dates are one of those foods I didn't realize I loved until I moved to California. I bought my first container of them from "the date guy" at the Burlingame Farmers' Market. And I haven't been able to stop buying or eating them since. They are a great sweet snack on their own. The addition of chocolate makes them divine.

The original recipe is from Heidi Swanson at 101 cookbooks. Here's how it goes:

Dates filled with Chocolate
Serves 4

12 dates (I used medjool)*
1/4 c. heavy whipping cream
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
whole almonds**

*The original recipe calls for 48 dates - much more than I needed for my small dinner party! I stopped at 12 and used the rest of the chocolate to dip strawberries and bananas in (they'll last in the fridge for a couple of days).
**The original recipe calls for blanched almonds. I've never perfected the art of blanching almonds and didn't really understand why you wouldn't want the skin in this dessert. I roasted them instead. This added a nice crunch to the dates.

Cut one side of the dates from top to bottom and remove the pit.

Bring the whipping cream to a boil in a small pan. Remove it from the heat. Add the chocolate and let it sit for a few minutes. Whisk the chocolate into the cream until it is smooth. Let sit to thicken slightly, about 10 minutes.

Spoon the chocolate into a ziplock bag. Cut one corner of the bag to create a small hole. This is your device for getting the chocolate into the date pit cavity. Fill each date with the chocolate cream and nestle and almont, flat side down, on top of the chocolate.

Refrigerate the dates, but bring to room temperature before serving (about 15 minutes out of the fridge will do it).

We enjoyed our chocolate-filled dates with chocolate-dipped strawberries, bananas, and glasses of port.

Friday, May 8, 2009

roasted vegetable polenta

Yes, I'm still posting about dinner from last weekend. A little story for you: I *almost* had a very embarrassing moment. I had originally been planning to make butternut squash mac & cheese as the entree. All of the ingredients were on my shopping list and I was on my way out the door to the grocery store when JR came home from a run and I paused to tell him my plans for the evening's meal. "Didn't we have that last time Dave & Ashley were over?" was his response. Oh no! A quick text to and from Ashley confirmed that yes, that was the case. And while I'm certain they wouldn't have pointed out the repeat entree and would have said nice things in the same manner they did the first time they ate it at our house, serving the same thing twice (when there are so many options out there!) was simply not an option! On to plan B...

I've had polenta before. And roasted vegetables. But this was the first time I had combined the two, and the results were good. Healthy, tasty, and filling without being heavy. This entree is loosely based on a recipe in Vegetarian Food for Friends. I mixed it up by adding some different things to polenta and determining my own mix of roasted vegetables.

This was a good choice for entertaining - I did most of the prep work ahead of time (made the polenta, cut the vegetables), then roasted the veggies while we were eating apps and salads. Here's how it goes:

Roasted Vegetable Polenta
Serves 6

5 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 c. vegetable stock
1 c. polenta
2 handfuls of spinach, thinly sliced
about 10 leaves of fresh basil, thinly sliced

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and olive oil and allow the garlic to begin to cook. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Pour in polenta in a steady stream while stirring constantly. Add spinach and basil. Cook, continuing to stir, for the amount of time indicated on the polenta package (different brands can differ in cooking time - the type I used suggested cooking for 30 minutes). You'll need to stir pretty constantly throughout this time. The polenta will get increasingly creamy as you cook it. When you've reached the suggested time, pour the polenta into a 14x9 inch baking pan and allow to set (about 2 hours).

Roasted Vegetables:
2 Japanese eggplants, sliced and then halved
1 zucchini, sliced into rounds
1 red pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
1 yellow pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
2 small red onions, quartered
5 sprigs fresh thyme
5 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
olive oil
sea salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix vegetables (except for tomatoes) together in a large bowl with about 3 Tbsp. olive oil, spices, and sea salt. Spread veggies evenly in a large baking dish and roast in oven 30 minutes, stirring a couple of times.

Remove baking dish from oven. Stir vegetables. Add tomatoes and return to oven for about 20 minutes, until veggies are roasted. Note: you'll want to do the next step to add to the oven during the last 10 or so minutes of roasting time.

To assemble:
6 oz. mozzarella, sliced
balsamic vinegar

Invert the pan with the polenta in it onto a cutting board. Cut polenta into 6 squares. Put squares in a single layer on a baking sheet. Top each with a slice of mozzarella. Add pan to oven with roasting vegetables for about 10 minutes, until cheese is melted and polenta is heated through.

Remove the polenta and veggies from the oven. Put a slice of mozarella'd polenta on each plate and top with roasted vegetables. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar to each serving.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

lemon marinated artichoke salad

Salads are becoming one of my favorite springtime meal starters. This is probably at least partially due to the fact that I've been getting fresh greens from my backyard container garden. In general, great lettuce, spinach, and other leafy greens are still plentiful this time of year (though I must say, I've been very sad since the last of my arugula bolted in the warm weather a few weeks ago). Whereas I used to think of salad as lettuce, tomato, and dressing, I'm now realizing there are pretty much endless combinations, making salads much more exciting than I had thought in my early days in the kitch.

As you may have noticed, I'm on a cooking from cookbooks spree. For awhile, my posts were new creations from the kitchen. But our dinner guests from the past two weekends have prompted me to turn back to tested recipes that I have greater confidence will turn out well than my kitchen experiments.

Tonight's salad is from one of my favorite cookbooks of late: The Instant Cook by Donna Hay. I've actually had the cookbook for a few years - I made a couple of things out of it when I first got it and then retired it to the shelf. I'm finding now that I look at it again (through my new California lens), different recipes are jumping off the page, screaming to be made. Marinated artichokes would have sounded exotic (and maybe a little scary) to me in Seattle (not because they don't exist there, but rather because my time spent in the kitchen at that point was little), and I'm not even going to talk about what we ate when we lived in Texas!

This is the first time I've made this salad, and it will definitely go into the "make again" pile. Give it a shot and let me know what you think!

Lemon Marinated Artichoke Salad
Serves 4

8 marinated artichoke hearts, drained and halved
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 zucchinis, sliced
olive oil for brushing
sea salt & cracked black pepper
3 1/2 oz. baby spinach leaves
8 oz. yellow pear tomatoes, halved
4 slices feta cheese
1/4 c. flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, chopped

Combine the artichokes, lemon juice, and olive oil in a bowl. Set aside.

Brush the zucchini slices with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook on a preheated broiler about 1 minute per side (note: I think I might have cut ours a little thick, so ended up broiling it about 3 minutes per side).

Drain the artichokes, reserving the lemon juice and olive oil. Place spinach, tomatoes, and zucchinis on plates and top with feta, artichokes, and parsley. Spoon the reserved lemon juice and olive oil over the salads.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

apple zucchini crostini

I didn't think that I was a big fan of zucchini, but ever since a few showed up in the CSA box week before last, I haven't been able to stop eating them.


I even bought some from the grocery store (gasp! our small garden and CSA box haven't been enough to keep us in fresh vegetables through the week, but our farmer's market started last weekend, so that should be the last produce from the grocery store until at least fall).

This recipe is from 101 cookbooks, one of my favorite cooking blogs. I stuck to the recipe, so rather than repost it here, I'll direct you straight to the source. I think Dave summed it up well: these little toasts look so simple, making the unique blend of flavors of your first bite surprising in a really good way (Dave - I'm paraphrasing - correct me if I didn't get that quite right!).

Monday, May 4, 2009

white bean hummus crostini

I had to pause when writing the title of this post. It was originally going to be "white bean hummus bruschetta". But I realized as I was typing it that maybe really it was crostini. Not knowing exactly what makes up one versus the other, I googled it.

I learned that "crostini" means "little toasts" in Italian. Crostini is typically made from white bread that is sliced thin and toasted with a bit of olive oil and salt. Bruschetta, on the other hand, (also Italian, and originates from the Roman "bruscare," which means to "roast over coals") is grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. This new knowledge put my appetizer cleanly in the crostini family.

The following hummus recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks, Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan. It features an entire chapter on hummus. I like the black bean & orange hummus so much that I tend not to stray from it. But for our second appetizer on Saturday night, I was searching for something hummus-y and lemony; this particular hummus fit the bill. Here's how it goes:

White Bean Hummus
Makes about 2 1/2 cups

2 cups cooked cannellini (white kidney) beans*
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice**
2 Tbsp. tahini
1 medium clove garlic, sliced
1-2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. sea salt
5 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, torn into pieces
*I used canned beans, rinsing well to remove excess salt
**1 Tbsp. lemon juice wasn't lemony enough for me - I used about 2 1/2 Tbsp.

Add all ingredients except thyme and basil to a food processor. Puree until smooth, gradually adding water as desired to thin dip (I used about 2 Tbsp.). Add thyme and basil and puree briefly to incorporate ingredients.

Perfect Crostini

1 sour baguette, sliced into 1/4" thick rounds
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt

Add oil and salt to a large bowl. Add the sliced baguette rounds to the bowl and toss well. Place rounds in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake in 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, until slightly golden.

Top each cooled crostini with a dollop of hummus. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

more food & friends

Our newly engaged friends Dave and Ashley came over for dinner last night. Which meant that I spent the early part of the day pouring through cookbooks, making lists of recipe ideas and ingredients, and the latter part of the day chopping, stirring, baking and broiling.

Last night's meal was full of first time adventures with new recipes. Here's what was on the menu:

Overall, it was a great Saturday evening - filled with friends, food, and laughter. I'll post the recipes over the coming days.
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