May 21, 2010

Pancetta and Vegetables with Pasta

Originally I did not intend to add pasta to this dish, but I was making spaghetti for the kids and decided to mix some plain pasta in with the vegetables.  Mmmm.  I don't eat a lot of pasta, but it was really good and added a nice balance to the flavor and texture.  I'm always looking for new ways to make vegetables, and this one is a winner.

When I was a kid my mom would sometimes stop at farmer's markets to pick up fresh produce.  I loved going!  I would have taken some of everything if she would have allowed me to, especially in the fruit section.  I could have quite happily eaten my way through the generous mounds of berries, for instance.  Generally we'd come home with only a few items, and sometimes among them would be fresh Brussels sprouts.  I couldn't figure out why mom would want them, since I'd tried them cooked and thought they taste something like, well, garbage.  But they were so cute, like baby lettuce heads, and holding a container of them on the way home I got curious and I popped a raw one into my mouth.  I found it wasn't so bad after all, and regularly requested them from then on just so I could eat a few raw ones before they inevitably got cooked.  Now that I'm older I like cooked Brussels sprouts, especially prepared this way, with pancetta and balsamic vinegar and a companion of broccoli. 

Serves 4

Pancetta and Vegetables with Pasta

2 cups broccoli, chopped
2 cups Brussels sprouts, halved and trimmed
1 tbl. olive oil
1 tbl. butter
2 oz pancetta
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. salt, or, to taste
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 tbl. balsamic vinegar
1/2 pound dry spaghetti
Grated parmesan cheese, optional

In a small saucepan, steam or boil the vegetables until crisp-tender.  In a separate pot boil spaghetti noodles until al dente, then drain and set aside. 

In a skillet heat oil and saute the pancetta until browned.  Add garlic, saute a few moments longer.  Add vegetables and saute until tender and slightly browned.  Add butter, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar;  toss wtih pasta. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve hot.

May 13, 2010

Straight-up Veggie Soup

When I had my first full-time job I didn't know how to cook yet and I was on a tight budget, so often lunch consisted of canned soup that I could heat in the microwave.  Man, how I wish I had known how simple soup is to make!  How hearty!  How delicious!  How inexpensive!  Now that I do know, I make soup all the time. My son relishes chicken noodle soup, my husband adores creamy potato soup (which I haven't shared with you all yet).  My daughter, well, she could care less about soup!  This is my new favorite soup.

This one is the easiest yet.  It's fresh, plain and simple.  It's reminiscent of canned soup but with more flavor and none of the additives.  I was a little worried I wouldn't like the tomatoes in this, but they mostly break down to give the broth a great flavor.  You may feel tempted to minestrone-ize it with pasta and beans. I can't tell you how to run your life, but I think it's perfect as is: a rich, hearty, brothy veggie soup.  Now that summer veggies are showing up at the market for reasonable prices and gardens are soon to be overflowing, there won't be a better season to make this. 

Besides, Mom always said to eat more vegetables, and this is a delicious way to stay on track.  Although, if I want my kids to eat it next time I'll have to chop the veggies up a lot smaller and serve theirs with pasta.  This time I was content that they let me have the pot to myself.

This is fantastic accompanied by sourdough bread!

Serves 6

Straight-up Veggie Soup
Adapted from "A Taste of Tradition" the Friends of St. Mary’s Russian Orthodox Church, Coaldale, PA

1 onion, chopped
2 cups green beans, fresh or frozen, cut in half
3 zucchini, chunked
1 cup celery and leaves, chopped
5 roma or 4 regular tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 package frozen chopped spinach
5 cups water
1 tbl. oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped or minced
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. pepper, or to taste

In a dutch oven lightly brown chopped onions in oil.  Add oregano and garlic, cook for one minute. Add
water and tomatoes.  Bring to a boil and cook 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, simmer, partially covered, for 30-40 minutes. 
Serve with lemon slices, if desired.

To be extra healthy, instead of water use a homemade chicken broth.

May 10, 2010

Marinated Chicken Stir-fry

Over the past week we've been to tropical islands, the Middle-East, and Greece.  Why not continue east?  I had no idea I was such a world traveler!  Now, I know this doesn't sound exciting.  Everyone has a recipe for stir-fry, right?  I never would have considered posting a stir-fry recipe until I made the best one I've ever pulled off.  My husband raved over it.  Raved!  If it wasn't Mother's Day weekend there is no way I would have gotten away with eating the last of it.  

I was inspired by a recipe for Asian chicken legs that I found in a newspaper.  The instructions are to marinate the legs in soy sauce, honey, garlic, and ginger, which is easy and super delicious, not to mention fragrant. But once I cooked the chicken legs the flavor wasn't strong enough because the juices mixed into it and watered it down.  I tried many times.

Recently I came across a Curtis Stone cookbook at the libary and I brought it home.  It's a gorgeous book, and I wanted to try everything in it.  It didn't hurt that there were lots of pics of Curtis Stone in it either (wink wink).  Anyway, there is a recipe in the book called Sticky Chicken Legs, and it was basically the same recipe I'd been trying to perfect, only the ones in his picture looked a thousand times better.  So I tried it.  I tried it, I really did.  To no avail.  Then I had a brilliant idea: to use the marinade with boneless/skinless chicken breasts for stir-fry!

This may seem elementary--now that I'm looking I see there are plenty of stir-fry recipes with a similar marinade--but I've never marinated my stir fry meat.  I think it has something to do with not wanting to add an extra step to the process.  But really, what was I thinking?  Of course the meat should be marinated!  The honey gives the chicken a nice brownness, and the combined flavors are so good.  Edamame is also my new favorite veggie.

Serves 4

Marinated Chicken Stir-fry

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
1 onion, chopped
8 oz frozen green beans, thawed
6 oz fresh or frozen edamame (shelled soybeans)
2 cups cabbage, chopped thin
1 tbl. oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbl. honey
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbl. ginger, minced

Marinate cubed chicken in the oil, soy sauce, honey, 2 cloves of the garlic, and ginger for at least one hour.  Saute in a very hot pan until chicken is no longer pink in the center.  Remove chicken from pan.  In the leftover pan juices saute the veggies, constantly stirring.  Add more soy sauce if necessary and the last clove of garlic near the end, when veggies are crisp-tender.  Return chicken to the pan, saute one minute more

Serve over rice and garnish with chopped peanuts or cashews, if desired.

May 8, 2010

Opa-style Greek Chicken with Rice

I was already making this Greek style dish when we saw on the news a report about the Greece's banking crisis.  It felt strange eating it at the same moment the Greeks were rioting at their capital.  But this dish is inspired by a fond memory.

Until recently our family lived in Miami, Florida.  We spent two years there, on South Beach actually.  It's a long story, how we got there, why we were there, but part of the reason is that three of my husband's sisters live there.  South Beach is a crazy town my friends, and if you haven't been you must go at least once.  Two blocks from our apartment was a place called Taverna Opa, a Greek restaurant where my seven year old niece begged to have her birthday party.  I knew that Opa's manager lived in my apartment building, a sharply dressed Greek man who I always seemed to be running into in the elevator (and who would not hire me as a waitress, I reminisce bitterly), but aside from this I didn't know what to expect.

When we walked in I looked around at the long wooden tables and the nicely spare decor.  I could see nothing about it that would lure a child to want to have a birthday party there.  But the food was fantastic!  Mouthwatering, in fact.  Unforgettable I say.  Everything was served family style: salads, fried cheese (saganaki), kabobs, all doused in lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. Mmmm.  I've had Greek food in numerous diners run by the Greeks back in Wisconsin.  They served Spanikopita and Souvlaki and other traditional dishes but also American fare, and all for good prices.  But at Opa's I was eating authentic all the way, and I let everyone at the table know how much I enjoyed it, then and for weeks after.

I heard a little rumor before we got there that it was acceptable to dance on the tables, and I didn't really believe it.  I mean, we were in South Beach and all, where people danced on bars regularly, but on tables?  I was proved wrong.  Right there in the middle of the long, narrow table, my niece and all the little girls dressed in princess costumes, along with their aunties, got right up on the table to dance. Then the waiters came and threw piles and piles of napkins in the air like thick confetti. 

I was a little put off.  I couldn't find my plate, those napkins were being wasted, peoples' feet were a little too close to my food.  I was happier when they moved over to the empty tables, where the kids had an absolute blast dancing and jumping from table to table (Eek!  I know that looks dangerous!  It was well supervised.)  It was chaotic fun.  To top things off a Greek belly dancer arrived to join in on the fun.  For tips, of course.  What a crazy place!  So Greek, yet so South Beach. 

I guess this dish is my tribute to Opa's fantastic authentic Greek fare and my love for Spanikopita.  I've made this many times with ground turkey and that's good as well, especially when used for a filling for stuffed peppers (heck, it's great without meat too), but I've reinvented it a bit, and the marinating makes all the difference. 

Spinach and lemon go together like love and marriage.

Opa-style Greek Chicken with Rice

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into one inch chunks
juice of one lemon, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbl. olive oil
1, 10 oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cups cooked brown basmati rice
salt and pepper, to taste
feta cheese, lemon slices, and chopped or slivered almonds for garnish, optional

Put the chicken in a non-reactive dish (non-plastic).  Mix with oil, half of the lemon juice, 2 cloves of garlic, and salt and pepper.  Cover and refrigerate.  Marinate for at least one hour, or up to three (any longer and the lemon juice will start to cook the chicken).  In a hot skillet saute the chicken until no longer pink in the middle, remove from pan.

In the leftover juices saute the onion and spinach and the third clove of garlic, adding more oil if necessary.  When the onion is translucent add the rice and the remainder of the lemon juice, saute for a minute more, salting and peppering to taste. 

Serve the rice and spinach, top with chicken and garnishes.

May 6, 2010

Quinoa Tabouleh, and other fun foods

Well this is a crazy name for a dish, isn't it?  Quinoa, pronounced, "keen-wa", is not your mainstream grain, but it's fast becoming popular.,  It is more of a seed, actually, and it has protein!  Tabouleh, pronounced, "ta-boo-lay", is a Middle-eastern salad using couscous that's heavy on parsley.  Surely you've heard of couscous, that tiny, grain sized pasta?  With this recipe, because couscous is a pasta and therefore made with flour, which I am currently trying to avoid, this cute little grain quinoa is its replacement.  Say it with me, "Keen-wa Ta-boo-lay", lol!  You feel like you're speaking in tongues, don't you? 

I may never have encountered tablouleh without the help of my best friend.  And to be honest, I didn't like it.  Way before either of us was married with children and she was dating this crazy guy, or shall we say, crazy-much-older-guy, he introduced her to the delights of Middle-eastern cuisine at a little place in Milwaukee called the Shahrazad. 

The Shahrazad?  That's the kind of restaurant I would have quickly walked past back in the day.  But she insisted that I had to try this amazing food, so she drove us twenty miles from our suburban haven through "the hood" and into the city near the UW-Milwaukee campus.  It is one of those trendy hipster locale wannabes with a generous helping of poor college students.  It was the East side.  I felt out of my element, and couldn't imagine that the food could be good enough to traverse twenty miles.  But if I felt out of my element in the neighborhood, just wait until I walked into the restaurant. 

Oh yeah, it was all decked out Middle Eastern style, complete with stucco walls, ceiling murals with gold border paint, and hookahs scattered throughout, which, when I asked the owner what they were, was told that they were for making tea. Very funny.

Well, my dear friend did not even need a menu, and anyway, it wouldn't have done me much good because the words were really foreign.  She ordered the sampler platter, large enough for two, and ding ding ding!  We could split the bill.  Before the platter arrived we were brought a generous basketful of fresh, hot pitas. Fresh pitas!  I was starting to like this place a lot.  Then came the platter.  Oh that platter! Thirteen separate dishes. Soon I was eagerly dipping my hot pitas into weird concoctions like hummus and baba ghanoush, and stuffing them with falafel and yogurt sauce like an old pro.  Those pitas were never-ending too! 

Needless to say the Shahrazad became a haunt of ours over the years whenever we both found ourselves in town at the same time, even though the service left something to be desired.  I even opted to have an anniversary dinner over a fancy restaurant. But I was a little disappointed when on another occasion I tried the tabouleh salad.  It was too much parsley in my opinion, and that day it seemed the salad had been sitting around for a while.  I've tried it maybe one other time since, and it was even worse at that location.  But recently I have been delving into this cookbook by Susan O'Brien, as I am actively trying to reduce my sugar and gluten intake.  I was surprised to find a bevvy of non-dessert recipes in there, including some great salads.

I don't know about you but, as much as I love salads I get bored with them if I make them too often.  Because I'm boring and can't think of new things to add to them.  But all that's changing now.  When I saw this Quinoa Tabouleh recipe and a few others, salad was redefined.  I happened to have all the ingredients but one on hand, which is unusual.  I don't usually have fresh parsley, lemons, and quinoa hanging around at the same time.  I mean, until recently parsley was that little green thing on my plate at the restaurant that I would eat just to gross out my brother when we were growing up.

I was pleasantly surprised by how good this was.  The quinoa was a great substitute for the couscous.  I am planning to make this often, and it's fantastic with added garbanzo beans to it to make it a complete meal, and I prefer it light on the tabouleh, but you can decide to add more than what I've listed.  (Don't tell anyone) I ate the whole salad for lunch.  It was so fresh and flavorful, and you can easily use your spoon as a shovel.  You will find out over time how I like to shovel things into my mouth. 

Adapted from "Gluten-free, Sugar-free Cooking" by Susan O'Brien

Serves 4

Quinoa Tabouleh Salad

1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup homemade broth or water
1/2 cup carrots, grated
1 stalk celery, chopped small
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 cup diced cucumber
1 cup parsley, chopped
1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained (optional), or two cups home cooked garbanzo beans

1/4 cup lemon juice
1/8 cup olive oil
2 tbl. minced garlic
2 tbl. chopped fresh mint (or 2 tsp. dried)--optional
salt and pepper, to taste

Mix dressing ingredients together in a small bowl.  Rinse quinoa well and place in a saucepan.  Add the broth or water and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer over low heat for about 12 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed.  Turn off heat and allow to cool.

Combine carrots, celery, tomatoes, and cucumber, and beans, if using, in a large salad bowl.  Add quinoa and parsley.  Pour the dressing over the ingredients and toss well.  Season with salt and pepper.

May 5, 2010

Island Curried Soup

I wasn't sure what to call this soup. I based it off a vague memory of a recipe I once tried, and since it contains coconut milk, curry, and seafood, sunny islands were brought to mind.

So I make a lot of soups and stews. A lot. When I find myself making the same few soups over and over, I like to look for something a little exotic to mix things up.

I am new to the Seattle area. One thing I love about this area of the country is the wide availability of organics and fresh foods. So I was really excited, no--unnaturally excited, to find there was a food co-op close to my home. Whole Foods Market is a good distance away, and I have a Trader Joe's right up the street, which is fan-freaking-tastic, but sometimes you need to find an elusive ingredient that only a co-op would carry.

You know what I mean by a co-op, right? It's a local store that's run by its owners, and you can pay a yearly fee to be an "owner", kind of like buying stock, which in turn gives you access to better deals and other privileges.  There you'll find bulk flours and grains of every sort imaginable, ingredients no one else would carry or have even heard of, organics organics organics, natural products, and locally grown produce. A co-op is very much involved with local "sustainability", keeping local farmers and artisans in business.  Oh yeah, and inevitably it smells like patchouli in there, or a mixture of other incense-y aromas. Your check out girl will likely also be dressed like a gypsy with various piercings and sometimes multiple hair colors--with a big, friendly smile on her face. I. Love it.

As soon as I entered the co-op I was hit with that patchouli scent, and when I saw the gypsies (hippies, rather?) I knew I was in a good place. Anyway, long story short, I picked up a few items, but I kept walking past the produce because there was a pile of fresh kale looking me in the eye. I hadn't had kale in a long time, which is a shame because it's so hearty and healthy. I don't suppose it's widely available, or if it is I somehow don't notice it in stores. That kale was staring me down, sure enough. I knew it would make a perfect addition to this soup.

But a word about fresh kale. One must soak and rinse and soak and rinse, and repeat. There are all kinds of hiding places on those curly leaves for things you don't want to eat. So if you're fortunate enough to come across a bag of kale that is pre-washed and packaged, snap it up!  You can always saute any extras with garlic and oil on another day.

This soup is warm and creamy and so comforting, and it comes together pretty quickly. The flavors blend well together. No one ingredient stands out, which is a bit of a surprise considering that on their own many of the ingredients are strong.

You can experiment with different sea food, and I think a leek would work well in place of the onion. I was all out of cilantro, but I've included it in the recipe.  And can't you just imagine some toasted macadamias sprinkled on top?

Serves 4

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 medium onion, cut in half and into thin slices
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbl. grated ginger
1/2 of a jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (or to taste)
1 tbl. oil
1 tsp. curry powder
5 cups water
1 pound mild flavored white fish, such as cod or halibut
1 can light coconut milk
a couple of generous handsful kale, chopped and stems removed
salt and pepper to taste
chopped cilantro to garnish

Saute the sweet potato, onions, jalapeno, garlic, and ginger in oil over medium heat until the onions turn translucent. Stir in curry powder, salt and pepper to taste. Add water and bring to a boil. Boil the sweet potatoes for five minutes. Add coconut milk, fish, and kale. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until kale and sweet potatos are tender. Serve hot.

May 2, 2010

Lentil Stew

I came across this recipe on the back of a bag of lentils when I was a newlywed. Lentils?, you ask, with a sickened expression (especially if you are from the Midwest). Stick with me. I was looking for a recipe that hit all the finer points, and this one did. It was cheap, it was easy, and it was healthy--a great way to sneak nutrition into my junk food loving husband. Not pretty, but deee-licious. But on our young newlywed budget, I'll be honest, 'cheap' made the strongest argument.

Maybe that's why, even though I've had some problems executing the recipe over the years, I've stuck with it until I found just the right balance.

So here was the problem:

First off, it was called, "Lentil Pilaf", and pilaf is one of those nails-on-a-chalkboard words for me. I just can't bring myself to call it that. It brings to mind a rubbery dish served in a hospital cafeteria in the 1960's by a lady with a hairnet and black horn-rimmed glasses. Un. Appetizing. So even though it is more of a pilaf, I prefer to call it "stew"(okay, so "stew" is admittedly not much better, but what can I say? It's lentils.)

My second problem with the recipe was that I could never seem to get the consistency right, even though I was using all the same measurements. I finally realized that the type of brown rice I was using had a lot to do with it.

Brown rice can be confusing to purchase. Which do you choose? There is short grain brown rice, long grain, parboiled, the this brand and the that brand. I think I've tried every type and brand on the market, and no wonder some people shy away from brown rice! Some brands taste extremely bland, others have strange textures, while still others turn out like mush.

But brown basmati? Heaven!

Brown basmati rice turns out light and flavorful, and it has this fantastic scent to it when it's cooking, not unlike white basmati rice. I think it's a perfect choice for white rice lovers to start with if they're thinking of converting to whole grains. But back to the lentils.

What will knock this recipe out of the park is a good broth. I make my own--homemade is simple and better than anything on the market. That's another post.

If you are looking to consume more complex grains, are watching carb intake, or are stearing clear of glutens or meat, Lentil Stew is compatible. And it can be altered to suit your tastes. You substitute broccoli or cauliflower for the carrots or celery or spice it up with curry powder. You could probably even add an egg or two and breadcrumbs and fry portions of it up into patties. It's one of those versatile recipes.

Depending on how you like lentils; on the firm side or soft, verging on mushy, is how you will gauge the amount of liquid you add. You can start with four cups and add more if necessary along the way. If it everything seems done and there is still excess liquid you can certainly strain it out.

Serves 8, but you can halve the sure to use around 3 cups of liquid in that case.

Lentil Stew

1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup onions, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbl. olive oil
1 tbl. butter
4 1/2 cups chicken or veggie broth
2 cups lentils, rinsed and picked over for stones
1 cup brown basmati rice
salt and pepper to taste
chopped parsley for garnish, optional

Saute the veggies and garlic in the oil and butter until onions start turning translucent. Add the chicken broth, lentils, rice, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Simmer for around forty minutes, stirring every now and then.

I often add a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, and my husband adds hot sauce.