Monday, August 31, 2009

simple roasted beets

I think I might like beets. I've been trying, unsuccessfully, for the past couple of years. I think perhaps it's finally worked. And it was possibly the simplest preparation ever that made it happen.

Let me back up a bit. Why have I been trying to like beets? Because they are beautiful and I like pretty things! Also for the nutritive value. The Complete Guide to Nutritional Health highlights beets as one of the superfoods for immunity. The beet was prized in ancient Greece, where people would offer it up to the got Apollo. Legend has it that Aphrodite ate beet to retain her beauty. Herbalists and naturopaths today still use the beet as an effective treatment for disorders of the blood and immune system (beets stimulate the immune system by encouraging the production of new red blood cells). Who wouldn't want to love such a magical food?

Fast forward to now. We've had the 3 large beets in our fridge since the weekly CSA delivery last Wednesday. When JR went out of town over the weekend (boys' trip camping in Oregon), I considered offering the beets to our neighbors. But something kept me from doing so. On a whim yesterday when I was cleaning out the fridge, I decided I'd go ahead and make them. I knew that if I didn't eat them, at least JR would when he got home in the evening (he loves beets).

My inspiration was this NYT article. Perfectly roasted beets. As I mentioned in my last post, I've been obsessed with roasting lately (yes, even in the late summer heat). This sounded like something I could handle. I don't agree with the article's claim that this preparation keeps the beets from staining - my hands were purple just like always after peeling and chopping (though I don't think the purple had the same staying power as when they are handled after roasting). Also I didn't have salad makings on hand. I was going to be brave. I was going to try the beets. Alone.

I liked them! Here's what I did:

Simple Roasted Beets
Serves 2

3 large beets, peeled and cubed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1-2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. sea salt

Mix the beets with olive oil. Roast in 400 degree oven for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Toss with vinegar and sea salt. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

roasted nectarine & fig spinach salad

I've long been a fan of roasted vegetables. Roasting concentrates the sugars and brings out a whole new flavor. But it's only recently that I started experimenting with roasting fruit. We had roasted strawberries for dessert a couple of weeks ago (just when I thought there wasn't anything better than fresh strawberries from the farmers' market - I learned there is: fresh strawberries from the farmers' market roasted and then tossed with the tiniest amount of high quality balsamic vinegar. Yum!).

As far as roasted fruit in salads go, that idea was prompted by the salad that Dave and Ashley brought over before the bike race week before last. Theirs included grilled peaches. It was fantastic. Because I've never used a grill in my life (that duty falls squarely into JR's realm in my family) and am much more experienced with a little device called the oven, I decided that roasted fruit in a salad would probably work well, too.

I started out thinking only of the nectarines that were on the counter. But when I eyed the beautiful figs also purchased from the farmers' market that morning, I couldn't resist throwing those in, too. I'm glad I did. The resulting salad was super tasty. Here's what I did:

Roasted Nectarine & Fig Spinach Salad
Serves 2

1 nectarine, sliced (I used a large, white nectarine from the farmers' market)
3 large figs, quartered
1/4 c. walnuts, toasted
3 handfuls spinach
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. olive oil

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly oil the bottom of a baking dish. Arrange figs and nectarine in a single layer in dish. Bake 15 minutes, or until edges begin to brown and fruit is fragrant. Remove from oven; set aside and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, make dressing by mixing vinegar, maple syrup, and olive oil. Toss spinach with dressing. Top each salad with fruit and nuts.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

honey ginger salmon

You may find this strange, but my inspiration for this recipe was garlicky, salty, sweet quinoa. Or rather, I was looking for something to serve with a side of garlicky, salty, sweet quinoa and it occurred to me that adapting the flavors in the recipe for a fish marinade would make the perfect match. 

In my opinion, this was both super easy and resulted in one of the tastiest salmon preparations that I've made to date! The marinade added a great flavor without overpowering the tastiness of the fish itself. It helped that I used a super fresh salmon steak from the local farmers market.

In the end, we didn't have any quinoa on hand (an issue that I'll need to remedy in the near term!). So I served the salmon over garlicky, salty, sweet barley. The texture was very different from quinoa, but the combo was still delish! Stay tuned for a recipe on the Roasted Fig & Nectarine Salad that accompanied the dish...

Honey Ginger Salmon
Serves 2

1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. ginger, minced
2 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. tamari
1/2 - 3/4 pound fresh salmon

Mix the marinade ingredients. Place salmon in baking dish and spoon marinade over the top. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spoon any marinade that's spread into the dish back over salmon. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn broiler on high and broil for an additional 10 minutes, or until salmon is cooked through. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

caramel pear crumble

Our neighbor across the street has two pear trees growing in front of her house. Last week, when Romeo the pug and I were returning home from a walk, she was up on a ladder picking the juicy ripe fruit. I asked if she could use any help and she said her only issue is that there are some of the pears are out of her reach. I graciously offered up my taller-than-neighbor husband to help with this issue. JR went up on the ladder. We were sent home with all of the pears that he picked. 

When additional pears arrived in the CSA box, I decided I needed to get serious about doing something with our growing pile of them. The current issue of Gourmet had what I thought was a beautiful pear on its cover, so I figured that would be a good place to start (upon reading more closely, I learned that the picture was actually of a quince...which now makes me want to seek quince out because I don't think I've eaten one before, and it does look beautiful!). I did locate a pear recipe in the mag, but it was for pear pie and I didn't feel like making pie crust (I have a history of mine never turning out quite right).

Still, the pear butterscotch pie recipe that I read about worked as good inspiration. What's easier than pie? Crumble. What's a good replacement for butterscotch that I have on hand? Condensed sweetened milk caramel. From there, I started playing with ideas and ingredients. Here's what resulted:

Caramel Pear Crumble

4 medium pears, peeled and thinly sliced
1 1/2 c. oat or whole wheat flour
1 1/2 c. quick cooking rolled oats
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. butter, melted
1/2 c. walnuts, chopped

Combine flour, oats, and sugar in a medium bowl. Stir in butter to create a crumbly mixture. Set aside 1 cup. Press the remaining mixture into an ungreased baking dish (I used the small oval Le Crueset; a pie dish or 8" square pan would also work).

Arrange pears over the crust. Spoon caramel over pears. Sprinkle with reserved crumble mix and walnuts. 

Bake in a 350 degree oven 30 minutes, or until top is golden brown.

We enjoyed ours warm and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was tasty, but very sweet - if I were to make it again I think I would try either using less or omitting completely the brown sugar in the crust. Even sugary sweet, however, I thought it was pretty tasty!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

chocolate cake

Before heading to Napa for our bike tour last week, we had some fellow cyclists (Dave, Ashley, and Rob) over for a carb filled dinner (the guys were gearing up for the 100 mile tour, while Ashley and I were slightly less ambitious, at 65 and 35 miles, respectively). I had planned well ahead of time for spinach lasagna to be the main course, but as of the day of, I still hadn't landed on a dessert. I turned to where I typically do in situations like this - 101 cookbooks.

A quick scan of the desserts and I had it narrowed down to two: the chocolate oblivion truffle torte and basic chocolate cake. In the end, it came down to time (or lack thereof), so I went with the simpler sounding recipe - the basic chocolate cake. 

I followed the recipe exactly, so I'll direct you to the link above rather than repeat it here. I love the fact that it uses natural sweeteners instead of refined sugar. The coconut milk also gives it a dense, rich texture. 

In place of the frosting, I served the cake topped with fresh strawberries and heavy cream whipped with melted chocolate. Heidi's note is spot on - after spending some time in the fridge, the cake becomes even more truffle-like than it begins. Delicious!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

veggie fajitas

Summer has been busy lately! My recent travels and activities are definitely resulting in a reduction in posts. I'm expecting that will continue for awhile, but will continue to cook and write about it as time permits. 

I made this dish a couple of weeks ago and it's been sitting in my "to post" pile since. It commemorated my first time using queso fresco ("fresh cheese"), a white cheese that originated in Spain and after spreading to Mexico, became common in Mexican cuisine. I found it to be similar to feta in taste, but a little softer and less crumbly in texture. Along with cilantro, it was the perfect topic to the veggie fajitas made with fresh zucchini and peppers from the CSA box. Here's what I did:

Veggie Fajitas
Serves 2

1 small red onion, sliced into thin strips
1 zucchini, sliced and then slices halved
2 red, orange, or yellow bell peppers, cored and sliced
2 Tbsp. of your favorite salsa
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
queso fresco
4 whole wheat tortillas

Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook and stir occasionally while chopping the other vegetables, adding them to the pan as they are chopped. Cook and stir until vegetables are crisp tender. Add cilantro, salsa, and black beans. Continue to cook until mixture is heated through. 

Heat tortillas if desired. Fill each with 1/4 of the bean/veggie mixture. Roll into burritos. Top with cilantro and queso fresco.

I served the veggie fajitas together with avocado salad. Delish!

Friday, August 14, 2009

soba noodle salad

Cold noodle salads are one of my favorite things in the middle of summer. This particular one is a twist on one I've made before - rice noodle salad. I think this salad is best enjoyed on a warm evening with a glass of nice, cool pinot grigio!

Soba Noodle Salad
Serves 4

1/4 c. cilantro, chopped
3 Tbsp. lime juice
2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
2 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. mirin
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
sesame seeds

4 oz. soba noodles, cooked & rinsed well under cold water
1 cucumber, chopped (peel if the skin tastes bitter)
2 carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. ginger, minced
1 green onion, chopped (including green)

Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Combine salad ingredients in a medium bowl. Pour dressing over and mix well. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Mix well again prior to serving and top with additional sesame seeds if desired.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

tomato bruschetta topping

It's been a busy week and JR has been out of town, so I haven't really been cooking. But I did make some yummy things last weekend that I can catch you up on. One was this bruschetta topping. 

I think of bruschetta as an appetizer. I typically reserve appetizer preparation and consumption for when we have guests over (in other words, not when it's just JR and myself). But I had a bunch of basil and a number of tomatoes on hand (more will be coming - I have two pots of tomatoes growing along the side of the house and our neighbors upstairs have planted tomato plants in nearly every open space that are just starting to ripen!), so I decided that even though it was just the two of us, we'd eat bruschetta! Here's what I did:

Tomato Bruschetta Topping

1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
sundried tomatoes, finely chopped (optional; I didn't have any on hand, but if I had I would have thrown them it)
2 large cloves of garlic
lots of fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Allow to sit for about 30 minutes for all of the flavors to come out. Use as topping on bruschetta or a baguette.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

polenta stacks

My first memory of polenta is when I was in high school, working as a hostess at a Northwest-Lebanese fusion restaurant on Bainbridge Island in Washington State. One of my favorite entrees at the restaurant was a polenta dish that included rounds of polenta stacked high with various vegetables (I know for certain that portobello mushrooms were one layer and tomato was another, but don't recall exactly what else was included - that was around the same time that the only food I cooked for myself were frozen burritos, in other words, before I was really paying much real attention to food).

Polenta is one of those grains that I often forget about. When I remember about it, I usually make something with it. I was reminded of its existence earlier this week when scanning my pantry in search of an evening meal. I decided to try to recreate the dish from my past, but with the vegetables I had on hand (sadly, no portobello, but eggplant turned out to be a great substitute). Here's what I did:

Polenta Stacks
Serves 2

2/3 c. polenta 
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 small globe eggplant, sliced into 1/2" rounds
2 heirloom tomatoes, sliced
4 oz. mozzarella, sliced
fresh basil leaves
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper

Heat 2 cups water in a large pot on high until boiling. Slowly add polenta and oregano. Reduce heat, stirring constantly, for 20-30 minutes, until thickened. Spoon evenly into the first 6 spaces of an oiled muffin pan (or into an 8x8" square pan - if you go this route, cut the polenta into 6 squares after it has set). Set aside and allow to set.

Cook eggplant in an oiled skillet over medium heat until tender.

Oil the bottom of a baking dish. Assemble your stacks: polenta, mozzarella, basil, eggplant, and tomato. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil under high heat for 5-10 minutes, until cheese has melted and tomatoes are sizzling. Top with additional basil, if desired. 

Friday, August 7, 2009

avocado tomato salad

I can't take credit for the "putting it in an avocado" part. Something I read recently spoke of using a mostly scooped out avocado in place of a salad bowl, and I found the idea to be tremendous (I would tell you where I read this, only I can't remember!). I decided I needed to try it myself.

The result was just as I had imagined... both beautiful and practical - it's great to get near the bottom of and realize you can scrape at the sides of the avocado bowl to bring additional flavor into your salad. It's like soup in a breadbowl, but with vegetables (and I guess in this case you don't actually eat the bowl, but I'm willing to overlook that difference and stick with the simile). Here's what I did:

Avocado Tomato Salad
Serves 2

1 large avocado
1 tomato, chopped
1  Tbsp. red onion, chopped finely
about 3 Tbsp. cilantro. chopped
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1 tsp. olive oil
a dash of sea salt

Cut the avocado in half. Scoop the flesh out of each side, leaving about 1/4 inch of avocado in its shell. Chop the avocado flesh. Put chopped avocado, tomato, and onion into a medium bowl. Add cilantro, a dash of sea salt (if desired), lime juice and olive oil, and mix. Fill each avocado bowl with the salad. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

peach tomato salad

I made my first salad from the 101 Simple Salads article in NYT. I made one change: the addition of queso fresco. It was a great blend of flavors. Here's what I did:

Peach Tomato Salad
Serves 2

2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 peaches (I used 1 white peach and 1 yellow peach), cut into wedges
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 c. cilantro
queso fresco, crumbled
red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. olive oil + 1 tsp. lemon juice

Combine all and toss well. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

heirloom tomato margherita pizza

Here's a simple pizza I made with the heirloom tomatoes we had on hand earlier this week:

Heirloom Tomato Margherita Pizza

prepared pizza dough; (I use Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free mix)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
5 Tbsp. olive oil
6 oz. mozzarella, grated
2-3 heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 bunch of basil, julienned

Prebake pizza dough according to directions. Mince garlic into a small bowl. Add olive oil. Brush garlic and oil mixture over dough. Top with half of the basil and grated cheese. Place tomatoes in a single layer, covering pizza. Drizzle with more olive oil.

Bake 15-18 minutes (or according to package directions), until crust edges are golden. Remove from oven and top with remaining basil.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

spinach pear salad with creamy maple balsamic vinaigrette

Yes, it is the middle of summer. And yes, my previous two posts have involved big pots of something on the stove (miso soup, black bean chili). What can I say - I make what sounds good: sometimes that means hot miso soup in July! Today, I'll post something perhaps more seasonally appropriate. This time of year, there is little better than a summer salad made with fresh, in-season produce.

While I'm on the topic of summer salads, I'll mention a New York Times article, 101 Simple Salads for the Season, that Marika forwarded me recently. As the title suggests, the article features a number (101, to be exact) of easy to make summertime salads. They claim each can be made in about 20 minutes or less. Marika was raving about the red salad, which is composed of tomato, strawberries, basil, and balsamic vinegar. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

OK, back to my salad. I had maple balsamic vinaigrette for the first time a couple of months ago when JR and I were driving down the coast from Seattle to San Francisco. We arrived in Mendocino in the evening to stay at Stanford Inn by the Sea (which was beautiful - it features a huge certified organic garden guests can wander through that provides much of the food for their vegetarian restaurant; we ate breakfast there the following morning, which was amazing). We were tired from a long day driving and didn't feel like cleaning up to go out to dinner, so ordered take out from a local pizzeria (slash ice cream parlor!) - Frankie's. Their organic salad featured a maple vinaigrette that was heaven in salad dressing. I've been trying to replicate it, with mixed results, ever since.

Finally, two nights ago, I think I did it. Granted, it's been awhile since I consumed Frankie's salad, so I'm not sure this is an exact match, but it tastes so good that I don't really care! Like the simple salads featured in the NYT article, this one is fast, easy, and packed with diverse flavors. Here's how it goes:

Spinach Pear Salad with Creamy Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette
Serves 2

2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. plain yogurt (I used goat's milk yogurt; greek yogurt would also be great)

3 handfuls of spinach
1 red pear, cored and thinly sliced
1-2 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 c. walnuts or pecans

Whisk together dressing ingredients. Put salad ingredients into a large bowl. Add dressing and toss to coat. Enjoy!
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