Sunday, July 31, 2011

quinoa salad with lemon and mint

Edwin and I have had a glorious weekend. Friday night we saw Brett Harris at the library, and then we got to have brunch with Brett and his wife Rebecca at Sunny Point on Saturday. If you aren't already listening to Brett Harris and eating at Sunny Point when you're in Asheville, you should be.

Edwin and I spent the rest of Saturday doing our favorite things: cooking (me), watching baseball (EDW), reading (both), and going out for a late afternoon Starbucks. I used a Splendid Table Weeknight Kitchen recipe for dinner last night, but I didn't really follow it that closely. It was supposed to be Chickpea-Couscous Salad with Lemon and Fresh Mint, but I made so many changes I don't know that it really was that at all. Here's what I did:

Quinoa Salad with Lemon and Mint
serves 4

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup raisins
1 cup diced cucumber
1 orange bell pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1/3 cup mint, roughly chopped
1 t kosher salt
1/2 t ground pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
juice of 2 lemons

To prepare the quinoa: cover with water by about 2 inches and simmer until tender, 20 minutes. Rinse and drain thoroughly. While the quinoa is cooking, stir together the onion, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Combine all remaining ingredients. Adjust salt, pepper, and lemon to taste. Allow to chill and serve cool.
The Splendid Table recipe didn't call for cucumber and involved kalamata olives, couscous instead of quinoa, and some celery, but the idea is basically the same. EDW and I LOVED this flavor combination. I squirted mine with more lemon juice, but Edwin was happy with his as it was served. We had the quinoa salad with cool cucumber soup, a classic from last summer, and it was perfect.
There's a lot to be said about a cold dinner on a lazy Saturday night. There's also a lot to be said about watching the Project Runway premier (and casting show, obvi), delighting in Tim Gunn, judging the competitors and eating ice cream on the couch. It was a good night for the Arnaudins.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

lemony zucchini risotto

I know it's crazy to stand over a hot stove and make risotto in the middle of the summer, but I just had to make Mark Bittman's lemony zucchini risotto* last night. I justfied it with several truths:

1. Our AC is on, because it's really too hot to try to suffer with open windows.
2. We were having the risotto with gazpacho, which I felt would be a cooling foil to the warm, creamy rice.
3. Edwin loves creamy pasta, and risotto is so close to pasta I figured I'd toss him a bone and make a favorite.

Besides, with this brown rice risotto, you parcook the brown rice, which helps it absorb water quickly and evenly, so it didn't take as long as my last risotto.

I started by parboiling the rice for about 15 minutes. I drained it well, then used the same pot to heat olive oil and saute an onion. Once that was softened, I stirred in the rice until it was glossy and coated with oil. Then the risotto process began. Instead of having a pot of simmering broth on the stove, Mr. Bittman said I could just add broth, 1/2 cup at a time, to my pot. It worked just as well as the simmering broth method, and was much easier than ladling hot broth every few minutes.

After about 15 minutes of adding vegetable broth, I stirred in 3 grated zucchini and cooked until it released its liquid and the mixture again dried out a bit. Then I continued adding broth, stirring until the pan was almost dry, and tasted as I went. Once the rice was ready, I stirred in the zest and juice of a lemon, lots of fresh basil and some parmesan cheese.
We had our risotto with gazpacho, and I have to say, I'm a genius for that pairing. The risotto was creamy and rich but the lemon flavor kept it light and refreshing, and it played perfectly with our gazpacho. Edwin was particularly impressed with the risotto, as I thought he would be. We were thrilled to have leftovers for lunch today. Bittman, Mark. The Food Matters Cookbook. "Lemony Zucchini Risotto." p. 302-3.


One of my favorite foods is gazpacho. When we had just moved to Andrews, and I was learning to cook, I tried to make it. EDW and I hadn't gotten married yet, so I didn't have a blender or really any cookbooks. I decided to try making a version from The Joy of Cooking, which my granny had let me take back after a visit one day. I was working with the 1975 edition, and dear old Irma Rombauer made me think I could do it without a blender if I just chopped everything really small.

Um, Irma? No such luck. While I've had much success with other Joy of Cooking recipes, this one was a total fail. The gazpacho I made was terrible. I think it had several unnecessary ingredients, but what sticks out in my mind is the recipe's use of beef broth.

People. Gazpacho needs no broth. If you blend it, it makes its own broth.

I actually hadn't attempted gazpacho since that day in July 2008, but when I saw my pal Lindsey's facebook post about her gazpacho, I decided to give it a go. This time, I had my trusty food processor (because really, when a recipe says to blend in batches in a blender I always pull out the cuisinart, or I just let my immersion blender do the trick) and amazingly fresh produce to work with.

And no beef broth.

I pureed two heirloom tomatoes (one from my CSA, one from darling Barbara), a red bell pepper, half a red onion, some garlic, and a couple cucumbers (we received two this week but I'm saving them for another favorite cold soup, so these are from EDW's library patrons who have a bumper crop). Instead of transferring everything to a bowl to stir in olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt and pepper, I just dumped that on top and pulsed a few more times.
Into the fridge the soup went, along with my wildest gazpacho dreams. Would it come out as refreshing and flavorful as I wanted? Or would it be another batch, like my first, down the drain?
A big thank you goes to Lindsey, for alerting me to this recipe; to my in-laws, for giving me the best Christmas present ever in 2010, the cuisinart 9 cup food processor; to Barbara, for one of the heirloom tomatoes; and to all the other farmers whose produce led me to this perfect soup.
The gazpacho was lovely. It was cool and crisp and refreshing, with the perfect amount of tang. We had it with our lemony zucchini risotto (more on that later), and I was in summer vegetable heaven. EDW liked it a lot, but he'll be the first to admit that I'm more of the gazpacho fiend in our family. It went perfectly with our risotto (seriously, check back later-- you'll cry it's so good), and I was in pure beef broth free bliss.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

CSA Wednesday!

For the week of July 18, we received:

Bell Peppers (2 orange)
Eggplant (1 purple and 2 white)
Fennel (2 medium bulbs)
Kale (lots)
Nectarines (4)
Sweet Onions (2)
Tomatoes (4)
I used the fennel, 3 of the tomatoes and an onion to make a pasta dish with greek fennel skillet,
and the eggplant went into eggplant-tofu stir-fry.
I ate a nectarine before I headed out of town Friday, and EDW finished the rest of them while I was away. When I got back Sunday, I made a modified version of summer vegetables and kale, using the remaining tomato, onion, and peppers instead of summer squash.
This dish was especially nice because I also got to use some peppers (2 mild, one hot) and heirloom tomatoes from Barbara's garden. When she asked if I'd take some back with me, I nearly teared up with excitement. Y'all just don't know how much I love Barbara's tomatoes. They were excellent with the kale.
I always get nervous when I'm going out of town and worry that we won't finish everything, but I'm always concerned over nothing. Monday night found us eating eggs, which is what we eat when we're out of groceries and waiting on the next CSA pick up.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

why I'm not a vegetarian

If you've been reading for a while, you'll know that I used to regularly cook meat. Beef, chicken, pork, turkey-- if it was an animal I'd cook it and eat it. Favorites included beef and bean chili, turkey burgers, and pork tenderloin tacos. I even announced that hamburgers were my favorite food. In the past year or so, however, I've gradually stopped cooking meat.

When we moved to Asheville, I stopped buying so much meat at the grocery store to save on money. While we'd been having meat 3 or 4 times a week, I dropped it down to once or twice. The more I cooked without meat, the better I felt. Our grocery bill was shrinking, and I was becoming more adventurous with the kinds of foods I experimented with. Since January, I've cooked with meat 3 or 4 times, and I don't know that I'll be cooking it again until I make the Thanksgiving turkey.

EDW has been on board with it all along, since we could still eat meat when we went out to dinner. Around the start of 2011, I noticed I no longer wanted to order meat when we went out. I wanted fish, or more often than not, just vegetables. When we go out to eat now, I never order meat. Edwin goes for more variety, and I'd guess he chooses meat-free options 40% of the time when we're out. When he does order meat, I take bites to see what I think.

And what have I found? I don't like chicken at all anymore. I never was a huge fan of chicken, so that's not so odd. What is odd is my aversion to beef. I loved beef, and yet, when I sample whatever Edwin's having, I always want to go back to my own plate of fish or vegetables. I haven't sampled turkey since last Thanksgiving, so I'm not sure how I'd feel about it now. I made lamb in April, and while it didn't disgust me, I would have preferred a meat free bowl of lentils instead. Pork seems to be my meat of choice, since EDW's barbecue at 12 Bones the other day tasted pretty good to me. I say pretty good-- not amazing. My tastes have changed.

I thought about making a stand and becoming pescetarian, because I know I don't want to give up fish so I'd never go full vegetarian, but I decided against it. My hesitancy is two fold:

1. I don't want to officially restrict myself with what I choose to eat by adding a label. I'm perfectly happy to let people know that I would rather eat meat-free, but I don't want to make any firm declarations.
2. I don't want to live without maple bacon ice cream.

When we were at Table for my birthday, EDW and I shared a blackberry shortcake with maple bacon vanilla ice cream for dessert, and it was heavenly. While I happily ordered marlin as my entree, I don't want to ever feel like a sellout for wanting bacon ice cream. I'm not that excited about eating straight up bacon (my aversion to meat is largely a texture issue these days), but I love the flavor it gives dishes, like the collards on my side platter at 12 Bones.
And so, blog friends, there's part of an explanation on why I eat what I eat. I choose not to eat meat, but I'm not saying I'll never eat it; I love fish, and will continue to cook it and order it at restaurants; and I probably won't ever turn down bacon ice cream.

Friday, July 22, 2011

dry-pan eggplant and eggplant-tofu stir-fry

When we go to Doc Chey's, I almost always order eggplant in garlic sauce. I get it with tempeh or tofu, and I ask for it to be extra spicy. I'm obsessed with it. The eggplant is smoky and the sauce is savory and spicy, and I love every bit about the dish. I desperately need the recipe for that spicy garlic sauce, but in the meantime, I won't try to recreate it. Instead, I'll make other stir-fries with eggplant, and work on getting the textures right.

For lunch on Thursday, I made Eggplant-Tofu Stir-Fry.* That recipe includes already prepared Dry-Pan Eggplant*, so I made that first.
Mark Bittman says dry-pan cooking is a great way to prepare eggplant, because it "turns the skin into a thin, crunchy, smoky delight, and it makes the flesh creamy and tasty." Sounded perfect.

The directions for this recipe seemed clear: "put the eggplant in a dry, heavy skillet over medium heat. Cook, turning the eggplant as they blacken on each side..." and do that "...until the skin is blistered and black all over and the flesh collapses (you'll know when it happens)."
Um. I'm not sure I knew when it happened. I cooked it for about 20-25 minutes, which maybe wasn't long enough. It definitely darkened and blistered a bit, but not completely. I was cooking brown rice at the same time, and that finished and I was ready to make the stir-fry, so I may have pulled my eggplant too soon. I pulled it out a few minutes after this phote:
Once the eggplant was cool enough to handle (and really, it wasn't, I just forged through), I chopped it into largeish pieces. I fried up my tofu, then added the eggplant and a bunch of green onions. Once those were heated, I stirred in equal parts ketchup, soy sauce, and water, and lunch was ready.
The tofu texture was great, and I liked the eggplant quite a bit. Every once in a while I had a bite that had that delicious smoky flavor I wanted, but I definitely didn't dry-pan cook all the eggplant long enough to get that in every piece. The sauce was pretty average, but with a generous squirt of sriracha, I was in lunch heaven.
Again, EDW will have this for leftovers while I'm in Raleigh for a bridal shower this weekend (hi, Emmel!), so I don't have his review for you yet. I think he'll like it.

Bittman, Mark. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. "Eggplant-Tofu Stir Fry." p. 300
Bittman, Mark. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. "Dry-Pan Eggplant." p. 294-5.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

greek fennel skillet

I made Greek Fennel Skillet* with pasta last night for dinner, because I had two lovely bulbs of fennel and some fantastic looking orange tomatoes from my CSA box to use. Per usual, I made my own adjustments to the recipe.

I started by sauteeing garlic in olive oil, followed by an onion with thinly sliced fennel. Once that was tender, I added 3 chopped tomatoes and some lemon juice, and let the mixture cook down for about 10 minutes. At this point in the recipe, I was supposed to salt and pepper to taste, but I held off and I'm glad I did. I stirred in some fresh basil and spinach (not in the ingrede list, but when are spinach and basil a bad idea?), followed by chopped kalamata olives and feta cheese. I let the cheese make everything gooey, added a lot of black pepper and just a bit of salt (the olives and feta gave it plenty of salt already), and stirred in my pasta.
EDW was at a baseball game, so I ate this solo in the kitchen. It was fantastic. I loved the juicy tomatoes with the unmistakable tang from the fennel, and the basil was a nice addition if I do say so myself. Edwin is having his leftovers for lunch today, but I'm betting he'll think this is a winner.
*Lind, Mary Beth and Cathleen Hockman-Wert. Simply in Season. "Greek Fennel Skillet." p. 124.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

CSA Wednesday!

For the week of July 11, we received:

Collards (large bunch)
Corn (4 ears)
Cucumbers (2)
Peaches (4)
Kennebec Potatoes (1 quart)
Red Onions (4)
Tomatillos (1 quart)
Heirloom Tomatoes (4)
It was quite the bounty, and EDW and I gobbled it all up.

I used the collards and half the potatoes for curried collards and potatoes on Tuesday night.
On Wednesday, I made salsa verde out of the tomatillos and used it for the dressing in salsa verde spelt berry salad, which also contained the corn, 1 cucumber, 1 red onion, and 2 of the tomatoes.
We still have a tiny bit of salsa verde leftover, even after using it to top beans and greens (this one was kale, pintos, chili powder and taco seasoning, plus two of the red onions).
The salsa also made quite the accessory to the frittata I made Sunday night, which contained the remaining red onion and potatoes.
Everything else went into making lunchtime at the Arnaudin household a treat. We had tomato cream cheese sandwiches and amazingly crisp cucumber along with our usual side of crudites (that pile of veggies behind the sandwich is what EDW and I each eat most days at lunch.)
The peaches were a great treat, but we wanted more of them. We each had one at breakfast one day and then as a little snack on Sunday.

As for the heirloom tomatoes? As much as I wanted to make like Annette Bening in The Kids Are Alright and rant, "“If I hear one more person say how much they love heirloom tomatoes, I’m going to punch them right in the face," I just can't. These tomatoes were the bomb dot com (let's bring that phrase back, shall we?), and they deserve every bit of praise they receive. If I were a gardener, I would live and die for my heirloom tomatoes, I can tell you that much. EDW and I were especially partial to the reddish purple ones.

Friday, July 15, 2011

salsa verde spelt berry salad

We received a beautiful pile of fresh tomatillos in our CSA box this week. The only time I've cooked with tomatillos has been with green chili, and that was a recipe that used canned tomatillos.

I googled a bunch of tomatillo recipes, and I seriously considered making a corn and tomatillo soup. Ultimately I decided it's just too hot for soup right now, so I went with a refreshingly cold spelt berry salad. At first I was going to use the tomatillos raw in the salad and create a cilantro dressing, but then I had a mini revelation and decided to make salsa verde and use that as the dressing.
I made Mark Bittman's cooked tomatillo salsa* first. I roasted the tomatillos, and then I cooked them down with 2 diced onions, 5 cloves of garlic, a jalapeƱo and a cup of water. The recipe called for 2 poblano peppers too, but I didn't have them and didn't want to go to the store so I skipped that ingrede. Once my salsa had thickened, I stirred in cilantro and lime juice. Mr. Bittman's recipe is for a chunky salsa, but I decided to puree mine.
Hey, blog friends? I can't even begin to tell you how amazing I felt to have prepared this deliciousness at 8 in the morning before work. This salsa is absolutely fantastic. It made an incredible dressing for my spelt berry salad, and I still have some leftover (I'm thinking it'll be great on eggs, not to mention my plans for it with today's pinto beans and kale lunch).
Salsa Verde Spelt Berry Salad
serves 4

1 cup spelt berries
2 cups cooked black beans
2 tomatoes, chopped (I used 2 heirloom tomatoes from our CSA because I'm fancy)
4 ears corn, kernels removed
1 cucumber, chopped
1 cup diced red onion
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 1/2 cups prepared salsa verde

Cover well rinsed spelt berries with 3 inches of water. Bring to a rolling boil; reduce heat to gentle simmer and cook uncovered until tender, about 45 minutes. Rinse and allow to cool.

Combine cooled spelt berries with remaining ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Not that we're on the subject, but I'd like to be: I was majorly productive when I made this salad, as I made this dinner before work one morning. I had cooked spelt berries and thawed black beans in the fridge, so I was a few steps ahead. But still. I was on the productivity train. On Wednesday morning, I:

*went to spin class (where we're recreating the Tour de France's routes each morning in a condensed 45 minute sweat-fest. I see you, Pyrenees.)
*roasted tomatillos
*chopped vegetables for salad
*showered/got dressed
*ate a bowl of oats
*read about/got excited about HP7pt2 (3D if you're cool like the Arnaudins)
*chopped onions and garlic for salsa
*made salsa
*made salad
*washed dishes

all by 9:15!

Even if you aren't an overachiever in the morning, you should make this spelt berry salad. It's my favorite of all the spelt berry salads I've made this year, and I think it could become yours, too. EDW can't really keep all the spelt berry salads straight, but he really loved this one's fresh zing of flavor.
*Bittman, Mark. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. "Cooked Tomatillo Salsa: Salsa Verde." p. 788

Thursday, July 14, 2011

curried collards and potatoes

It's been a while since my house has smelled like curry, and in honor of the closed windows (we finally caved and turned on the AC this week) I figured it was high time to stink up the place. On Tuesday (CSA box pick-up day and my favorite day of the week), I threw together a quick curried dinner.

I picked up my box on my break at work, and I jotted down my recipe plan in between checking people out (of the library, fools, I was not actually checking them out.) What I liked most about this dinner is that I could make it without an additional trip to the grocery store on my way home-- I already had the cooked chickpeas and tomatoes in my kitchen and the potatoes and collards were in this week's box.

Curried Collards and Potatoes
serves 4

2 T canola oil
1 T minced garlic
1 T minced ginger

1 medium onion, chopped

3 cups chopped new potatoes

1 1/2 t curry powder
1/2 t garam masala

1 large bunch collard greens, rinsed and torn into pieces (a pound? would you like me to mention, yet again, how I need a food scale?)

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

2 cups cooked chickpeas

salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, ginger, and onion, and cook until the onion is softened.
Add potatoes, curry powder, and garam masala to the pan. Stir to combine. Cover and cook until potatoes are almost tender, 10-15 minutes.
When the potatoes are almost tender, add the collards, tomatoes, and chickpeas and stir. Cook until heated through.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This pile of vegetables was perfectly adequate. EDW said he would have liked more of a sauce to it, but that it had great flavor. I agree: with a chutney on top or something saucier mixed in, the whole thing would have seemed a bit more put together, but it was satisfying nonetheless.
If you're looking for a life-changing curry dish, this isn't for you. If you need a quick meal with pantry staples, please try! Edwin and I both give this a solid B.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

CSA Wednesday!

For the week of July 4, we received:

Bell Peppers (2 white, 2 purple!)
Corn (4 ears)
Blackberries (1 quart?)
Cabbage (1 red, 1 savoy)
1/2 Runner Beans (1 pound?)
Red Onions (4)
Zucchini (3 small)
The blackberries were amazingly sweet and plump. EDW and I worked really hard at being good hosts by saving some for Charlotte to try. They were gone before Ashley made it. (Sorry Ash!)

I used the red cabbage and corn in festive cabbage,
and the beans went into a pasta dish. I just sauteed the beans and a tomato with some garlic and onion in olive oil, and then tossed that with parmesan cheese and cooked penne one night. It was good, but not a revelation.
The rest of the veggies --the savoy cabbage, the onions, the zucchini, and 2 of the peppers-- and a supplemental pint of local cherry tomatoes purchased from the tailgate market became roasted summer vegetables and quinoa one night.
The leftover roasted vegetables reappeared in a pesto frittata the next night. To make the frittata, I reheated the vegetables and quinoa in a non-stick skillet. While those were warming, I whisked in about a tablespoon or two of pesto in the eggs and poured that over the vegetables. I topped the frittata with fresh basil and feta cheese before it went in the oven. It was fantastic. Char, Ash and I had the remaining purple pepper in our salad with the frittata, and EDW and I finished the last white one with lunch on Monday in our boxes of crudites.

It was a nice week.