What Do You Want for Dinner Tonight?

I know this is a loaded question to ask my husband, especially on a late night after a long day, but I aim to please, knowing the answer would be some sort of meat and potatoes…. “Barbecue chicken, potatoes and vegetables.” hmmm…. easy with a few ingredients on hand. I had broccoli, potatoes, and a pound of frozen chicken tenderloins, so a meal was born. He wondered how I was going to do this without lighting the grill or having any ready made sauce on hand, but I remembered a recipe from years ago, “Stove Top Barbecue Chicken,” knew he loved broccoli, and pictured Smashed Potatoes with Goat Cheese and Rosemary in my mind.

While the chicken defrosted, I put a few small white potatoes on to boil, washed and cut the broccoli, and whisked up a sauce consisting of ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, hot sauce, garlic powder, salt and pepper. I didn’t measure anything, but it was about equal parts ketchup/molasses/brown sugar (maybe 2T each) then a splash and dash of everything else until it tasted right. After placing the chicken in a bowl, pour the sauce over the top and marinate a few minutes. Add about a tablespoon of coconut to a hot skillet and melt over medium high heat. When it is good and hot, place the chicken and all of the sauce into the pan.  At this point turn the broccoli on to steam and stir the chicken mixture to keep from burning while it thickens. What’s nice about this method is that the oil stays separated from the rest of the sauce, so you have the benefit of the flavor and nonstick properties without consuming the calories.

By now, the broccoli is ready, so turn it off, drain the water and add desired flavoring – I used a little butter, salt and pepper. The potatoes were ready too, so I drained them and added about an ounce of soft goat cheese, went out and picked a couple sprigs of Rosemary, washed, chopped and mashed into the potatoes and cheese with salt, pepper and 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Dinner is almost ready…

To serve, I placed the chicken in a small serving dish, which made it look truly like barbecue chicken from the grill with the blackened bits and thick sauce. On each of our plates, I arranged a few garden grown tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes and chicken. The weather was nice, so we took everything out on the back porch and pretended we had just spent hours marinating, grilling and cooking. The whole meal took about 30 minutes to put together start to finish, and even though the chicken was the highlight, most of the food was plant based. Today when he was leaving, he asked “date night tonight?” and before I could answer, he said “no, let’s stay home and finish up some more food in the fridge.”

 

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Sauerkraut!

When I was growing up, my family spent two three year stints in Germany, and while overseas ate as the Germans ate. Back in the 60’s and 70’s today’s fast food was nonexistent in Europe. If we were out and about and wanted fast, it was from a street vendor – bratwurst over kraut with an Orangina to drink. I can still taste those flavors, the hot, salty, greasy sausages combined with the pungent sourness of the kraut, washed down with that orange sweetness. It was delicious, and even now as I radically changed the way I eat, those flavors are ingrained in my memory banks as something I relished. Perhaps it’s why I still seek out “healthy” versions of sausage even though I realize true healthiness would mean skipping sausage all together.

Until recently the sauerkraut was pretty much thrown out with the sausage. My husband has an aversion to sour foods, and it didn’t really bother me, mostly because I prefer fresh to processed. Then fate intervened when my friend Melissa (http://www.swapmeat.ca/) posted about her lunch that consisted of rice cakes topped with almond butter, avocado, and sauerkraut. I’m not going to lie, the combo sounded more than a little odd, but then I read this: “The health benefits of sauerkraut are endless.   Sauerkraut is one of the few foods that contain the bacterium Lactobacilli plantarum. L. planatarum is a very dominant strain of healthful bacteria which helps your digestive system in the following ways: boost the immune system by increasing antibodies that fight infectious disease help inhibit pathogenic organisms including E.coli, salmonella and unhealthy overgrowth of candida (yeast) create antioxidants that scavenge free radicals which are a cancer precursor transforms hard-to-digest lactose from milk to the more easily digested lactic acid. It neutralizes the antinutrients found in many foods including the phytic acid found in all grains and the trypsin-inhibitors in soy generates new nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, digestive aids and the trace mineral GTF chromium.  Crazy no?  I buy the unpasteurized brand shown below to make sure I’m getting all these amazing health benefits.  It’s not hard to make your own kraut either!”

Talk about a light bulb moment! I had seen fresh kraut at Whole Foods, but it costs $10 for a little jar, and another friend had just gifted me with a huge head of cabbage straight from his garden. I turned to the internet and read multiple recipes/techniques for fermenting homemade kraut. All of the methods had 2 similarities, the basic ingredients (cabbage & salt) and the basic method (fermentation). Beyond that, the possibilities were numerous.

My version includes red beets only because I had them on hand. From research I learned that nearly any hard vegetable can be added to the cabbage, such as shredded carrots, brussels sprouts, onion, celery, etc. I thought the beets would be healthful and turn it a rich color. Unfortunately the photos of the actual process have disappeared into the depths of my hard drive, but I do have the finished product. This is a brown rice cake topped with sundried tomato hummus, avocado and kraut (I haven’t tried it with almond butter!)

To make the kraut, shred desired amount of cabbage – I used one head which yielded about 2 quarts of kraut. Using a large bowl, add about 1 tablespoon of salt and massage it into the cabbage for several minutes, until the juices are released and the cabbage is reduced in bulk by about half. Next add any vegetables desired. I added 3 medium beets, peeled and shredded. Mix thoroughly. Pack the mixture into a crock. Just about anything works – online I saw people using bowls, buckets, and clay crocks. I had my counter top composting crock clean and empty, so I used it. The key is to use a container that you can cover, weighted down on the kraut, that will let gasses escape but keep oxygen out. For this I used tripled up ziplock bags filled with water. It worked beautifully, filling in all the spaces to keep the oxygen out, while providing the needed weight. Next, place it in a cool (65-75 degrees F) corner out of the way. Each week remove the “lid,” stir the kraut, taste and continue fermenting until the desired “sourness” is reached. I read to leave it for anywhere between a week and five weeks, based on taste. I left mine for four, which ended up with a mildly sour, yet earthy flavor. I did read that it may be necessary to skim off the “scum” that forms at the top of the kraut, but I never experienced that problem. It doesn’t taste anything like the canned (pasteurized) version in the store and keeps for weeks in the fridge – mine was harvested over two weeks ago and still tastes great.

Now for the reviews – I loved it, as did my dad (the real Germans), my sister ate it because I told her it was good for her. My husband, out of politeness, tasted a tiny bite and promptly spit it in his napkin. Ah well…

It is my new favorite lunch with the brown rice cakes, hummus and avocado. Here I served it with sweet potato/venison sausage hash (with edamame and pablano) and another fermented dish – Korean Cucumber Salad over greens. I will be making this again, probably with carrots next time!

Cooking with Color

It’s encouraging to see so many articles, films, pintrests and youtube videos dedicated to healthy eating, especially those that advocate consuming a mostly plant based, whole foods diet. Hopefully this is a trend that is enduring, not another short lived fad. I’ve long felt that if more people were introduced to quality  fresh produce (instead of canned and/or frozen),  there wouldn’t be so many veggie haters out there. My mom used to make creamed  spinach from a can, canned peas, canned corn and canned asparagus, frozen broccoli and frozen Brussels sprouts. Lucky for me, she preferred fresh, but the family budget only allowed for seasonal fresh ingredients. Frozen produce is fine in a pinch, and in some dishes, like soups and casseroles, it’s hard to taste a difference. A couple veggies are actually better frozen because they’re processed so quickly from the field. Petite frozen peas are most notable, so good just defrosted from the freezer and thrown in a salad or a flash reheat in the microwave, no added water.

Fast forward 30 or 40 years, and the market is a whole different story. Nearly every variety of fresh produce is available year round. I would venture to guess that the average consumer doesn’t think about what’s in season, other than noticing price fluctuations. It makes cooking a never ending adventure, especially if you try to add color to every meal. When life gets too busy I do use occasional canned ingredients, like beans and tomatoes, but I generally try to plan ahead and avoid them all together.

Following a trip to our local farmers market (at a flea market), the house is filled with a variety of fresh produce, allowing for a virtual rainbow of color on the dinner plate.

Cooking with Color

Here I concocted a sweet potato hash with sliced organic chicken-mango-jalapeno sausage (no nitrates or other  preservatives), peeled and cubed sweet  potatoes, purple onions, and broccoli with a, side salad of beets, mangoes, avocado and goat cheese over arugula drizzled with walnut oil and orange juice. No real recipe needed, just start sauteing and add as you cook, soft vegetables last. I threw the broccoli at the very end for a little extra crunch and color.

Last night, we wanted a light dinner and the produce was getting low (it’s a weekend thing), but by perusing the pantry and fridge, I came up with plenty of color. I thoroughly drained and rinsed a can of black beans (organic and rinsed extremely well), chopped an orange sweet pepper, a couple tomatoes, half of a Bermuda onion, corn and avocado and tossed in some lime juice, olive oil, cayenne pepper and salt, and put it in the fridge to marinate.  Also from the pantry I found 2 cans of Wild Alaskan salmon which I mixed with the other half of  the onion, whole wheat bread crumbs from 2 slices of bread, 2 eggs, half of a diced pablano pepper, 1/4c lemon juice, 2t dijon mustard, and salt/pepper to taste. If I wasn’t out of it, celery would be in there too. I heated up the pan, added enough olive oil to coat the bottom, and grilled four patties until golden brown on each side.

Salmon Patties and Black Bean Salad Over Greens

After flipping them, I topped with soft goat cheese, covered the pan, and let it melt/soften while the second side cooked. Since the meal already had plenty of carbs, I mixed up some baby spinach and arugula, and served everything on top. The result was a beautiful color combination and delicious meal!

Part of the trend towards fresh produce is a move away from processed grains and towards more greens. Almost any dish can be served over greens, especially spinach, which “cooks” or wilts perfectly when hot food or soup is place over the greens.

Grilled Salmon, Steamed Cauliflower, Saute’d Green Beans over Salad

Think out of the box – instead of using rice, potatoes, pasta, as a base – use greens. The possibilities are endless…

Turkey Burger Topped with Manchego and Raspberry Vinaigrette over Blanched Broccoli and Greens

Stuffed Pablano Over Greens

Rotisserie Chicken Salad with Mango and Avocado


Learning to Like Quinoa

Yes, I’m aware quinoa is a super grain, high in protein, amino acids and minerals. It should be in my diet regularly but I haven’t been able to get into the texture or flavor. I’ve tried rinsing it before cooking, but it just doesn’t do it for me.  My daughters tell me I should try putting it in the blender and grind to a flour to use in pancakes and muffins, and I admit I haven’t tried that yet.

Recently I joined pinterest, (what a time sucker) and am discovering lots of great ideas for cooking: http://pinterest.com/charcooper/foodie-ideas/ I clicked on the photo for Little Quinoa Patties and found the original recipe on Epicurious (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Little-Quinoa-Patties-365029) It caught my eye because I thought maybe the flavor of a good strong cheese, and mashing the quinoa would disguise it enough. However, I didn’t have any chives and in looking at the recipe, thought it might need a little help. That night I went out on a limb and brought the patties to a dinner gathering. It was gratifying to see that omnivores and carnivores alike dove right in. Success! These, or something similar will be on the menu again.

Quinoa Patties with Edamame (makes 12 patties)

  • 3 cups cooked quinoa, cooled (I cooked it in the rice cooker with Better Than Bouillon)
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup shelled edamame (I used frozen)
  • 1-2 cups whole wheat bread crumbs (as needed to absorb excess moisture)
  • 1-2 ounces strong cheese (I used Locatelli Pecorino Romano)
  • 4 eggs beaten
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt/pepper to taste
  • Olive oil for frying (1-2 T)

Mix the quinoa and eggs together until well combined. Add all the other ingredients, using one cup of the bread crumbs. Let rest to absorb liquid, and if it’s too runny, add more breadcrumbs. Heat a large skillet, add enough olive oil to coat the pan but not form puddles. Form the patties and place in the skillet cooking two batches of six. Cover loosely and cook over medium heat for six to eight minutes, until browned on one side. Carefully flip them, adding more oil if needed. They seem sort of loose when you are placing them in the pan, but the egg does a great job of binding them together. 

 

 

 

 

 I cooked these about 2 hours before the meal and then placed them in a warm oven for a few minutes before serving. My sister and I each had a leftover patty  the next day – they kept nicely. Glad to finally find a use for quinoa and look forward to experimenting with different cheeses and spices. I used the Locatelli because it comes from sheep and doesn’t cause the side effects that regular dairy does. These would be good to make ahead and have on hand for lunches.

 

Roasted Swiss Chard Salad

In a perfect world, I would blog nearly every day. It’s been months since I’ve been to this page, and multiple recipes and meals are photographed and ready to share. Life happens. But with the seasonal change, my inner cook emerges in a big way. Moving from summer to autumn is my favorite time of year to be in the kitchen. This year the Wall Street Journal provided a couple of recipes for Thanksgiving that are new favorites. I’m starting with the Swiss chard because greens are a favorite food and one that Americans eat far too little of. What I like most about this recipe is the use of every flavor – bitter, sweet, salty, spicy, and sour – all in one dish. If Swiss chard is unavailable, kale or collards can easily substitute. Also, roasted walnuts, pepitas, or pine nuts would be an excellent addition to this salad, best served warm.

Roasted Swiss Chard Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 2 cups stemmed seedless red grapes
  • 1.5 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2t fresh ground sea salt
  • 1/2t red chili flakes
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 t fresh rosemary
  • 2 large bunches Swiss chard, washed, dried, destemmed

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss together the cranberries, grapes, olive oil, salt and chili flakes. Spread the mixture in a shallow, foil lined roasting pan. Scatter the garlic and rosemary over the top. Place in oven and roast until fruit has softened and begins to break down, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven, stir in the chard and roast for an additional 2-5 minutes, until the chard is wilted. Transfer to large bowl, toss with salt/pepper to taste. If adding roasted nuts, toss them in as well. Serve warm or at room temperature.

A Light Autumn Meal

Chocolate Covered Kumquats

Where to start on this one??? I guess with my sweet neighbor who gave me a bunch of kumquats from her dad’s tree. She mentioned all the things she was making… marmalade, salsa, soaked in brandy… I had a bottle of rum, and oranges go well with rum, so why not? That was the beginning. Probably because of my brother, I gravitate towards infusing with fruit. He lives in France, and every year sends a jar of brandy or kirschwasser soaked fruit, usually cherries, delicious.

Anyway, this project started several weeks ago with the bottle of rum and the bunch of kumquats. I pricked each piece of fruit several times with a toothpick, plopped them in the jar, and filled to the brim with dark rum. Every week or so I checked the fruit to make sure it stayed covered as the rum began soaking into it. About four weeks later it was ready for the next step.

It was my neighbor’s idea to freeze the kumquats when they were ready. Because of the alcohol, they wouldn’t freeze solid, and by being so cold, the chocolate would solidify quickly upon dipping. After draining all the rum out of the  fruit, I spread them on a foil covered jelly roll pan, generously sprinkled brown sugar all over them and placed in the freezer for 24 hours. Oh, and the rum is very tasty, makes an excellent rum and orange juice cocktail.

Next, I needed a way to let the chocolate harden while the kumquats remained elevated. As I searched through the kitchen cupboards I found an almost empty container of quick oats and decided to cut slits in it and use it as the holder.

Then I filled a custard cup up with Gherardelli dark chocolate chips and melted them in the microwave for one minute. Working in batches of about 10 at a time, I took the kumquats out of the freezer, poked a toothpick through the stem end, and dipped it in the chocolate, covering the fruit completely. Then I poked the other end of the toothpick into the oat box. By the time I finished 10 kumquats, the first were already hardened and ready to slip  off the toothpick with a knife, put in a tupperware bowl and back in the freezer. After about 3 batches my husband came into the kitchen and laughed at the mess I made. You do have to work quickly, and after melting the chocolate 2-3 times in the same bowl, it was necessary to start a new chocolate bowl because the sugar was making the chocolate gritty. But the result is amazing. As my brother-in-law says “it tastes just like the holidays.” The flavor reminds me of spiked chocolate dipped orange peel I’ve had at a chocolatier. The only quality that may bother some is that kumquats do have seeds, which aren’t removed in the process. I let them freeze overnight, then broke out the seal-a-meal and sealed them up to save until Christmas. Hopefully between now and then, some more spiked fruit will come into the picture. I’m thinking cherries and peaches, but am open to suggestions….

Blueberry & Fig Clafoutis

Happy Father’s Day to all the dad’s out there! I feel fortunate to have a dad who raised me to appreciate the world, and a husband who is the best ever father to my children. We’re going out to lunch with my dad, but I wanted to make something special for Clarke’s Father’s Day breakfast. As in previous blogs, you’ll notice that I obsess on what’s in season in my yard.

I had never heard of a Clafoutis before (kla-foo-tee), which is typically a French dessert made from cherries and a custard-like batter. As I searched the internet for “blueberries and figs,” I found a recipe that looked interesting. As written, it was gluten free, but I decided to incorporate a little of Julia Child’s technique so Clarke would like it. As a breakfast, this isn’t as sweet or rich as a traditional Clafoutis, but it was delicious, and had all the elements of a good breakfast – protein, carbs, fruit, dairy. If you prefer to make it as a dessert, look up the Julia Child recipe. I went out on a limb, but turns out it passed the Dad Test:

Blueberry & Fig  Breakfast Clafoutis

  • 2 cups fresh blueberries (see below if using frozen)
  • about 6 fresh figs sliced lengthwise – more or less depending on the size
  • 2T butter or coconut oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 4T agave or honey
  • 2t vanilla
  • 1/4 cup flour (or your choice gluten free substitute, rice flour, corn flour, etc.)
  • 2T corn starch
  • 1/4c ground almonds
  • 1/4t salt
  • 1-2T granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the oil or butter and use 1T to coat a ceramic baking dish, preferably round.  In a food processor (or use beaters) combine the egg, yogurt, agave or honey, vanilla, flour, corn starch, almonds and salt. Mix well, until the eggs are light and fluffy. Place the blueberries in the prepared dish (if using frozen berries, put them in the preheated oven for 5 minutes to defrost slightly). Pour the batter over blueberries. Dip the cut side of each fig half in the melted oil  or butter and arrange cut side up on top of the batter. Sprinkle the granulated sugar on top. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden and the egg is set. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

A couple notes: As written, this would serve 4 generously, or 6 if you add other items to the breakfast. It went really well with fresh squeezed orange juice.  If you’re not a big fan of figs, any soft firm fruit would work as a substitute – such as sliced peaches (not too ripe), blackberries, even mango. Most important is that it’s not too juicy, which would make the custard runny. Also, sugar can be used instead of the honey or agave, but the fruit I used was especially sweet and I didn’t want to overpower it.