27 September 2013

The best vegetarian restaurant in Fort Collins

Tasty Harmony  is the whole package: located in a dressed-up old storefront, serving things like cashew cheese and fried seitan with gravy and mashed potatoes, and a wait staff that is heavily tattooed and pierced. The bartender even has white dreadlocks.  There is everything in the world to poke fun at here, if you're into rolling your eyes at the hippy-dippy college town stereotypes.  And who isn't?  It's fun. Here's why you should go here:

1. The food is incredible.  More details on our specific meals below, but the short-hand is that ingredients are local and organic whenever possible, plates are beautifully rendered, flavors and combinations are creative and delicious, and there is an amazing amount of time and care represented in a lot of these dishes.  That seitan?  Made in-house.  Cashew cheese and three kinds of raw hummus?  That requires special equipment and a lot of care to make properly. The house-made BBQ sauce is like none I've ever had (and better than any I've ever had), and TH is quite possibly the only place in northern Colorado where you can try jackfruit, the newest super food for vegans.  They go the extra mile--and then some--in the kitchen.

2. The drinks are incredible.  Beers are carefully chosen from the long list of possible suitors brewed in Fort Collins and surrounding towns, and they seem to keep only the best on tap.  Whole meal smoothies and shakes are the real deal--not only are they delicious, but they are packed with actual healthy goodness, like chia seeds, flax oil, and raw honey. These are not sugary shakes disguised as health food; these are honest-to-goodness health tonics packed with fruits, milks, natural protein, and nuts and seeds that will provide healthy fuel for hours.

3.  The wait staff is respectful, patient, and knowledgeable about everything that goes on in the kitchen. Ask them anything about cooking process, ingredients, flavors, and they will answer as if they have made it themselves.  And to prove how appreciative they are of first-time vegetarian diners, they have a page of terms explaining some of the more exotic ingredients and cooking processes on their menu.  It's not condescending, and there's no air of superiority.  They just know their stuff. And they always seem to be available when you need them without hovering at the table.  They leave you alone until you want their attention.

4. Meals are moderately priced by normal standards, but when you think about the price of individual ingredients and the labor-intensive nature of many of their menu items, you are actually getting an incredible deal on your food. You could easily spend $10 on a sandwich made with white bread and cold cuts at a coffee shop, but here you'll get a garlic grilled hoagie roll, homemade raw hummus, cashew cheese, grilled onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, sprouts and fresh basil for the same amount.  Oh , and a side of your choice.  Want some Southern cooked greens with that sandwich?  Good luck ordering it at Panera.  

So, let's talk details.  I had the BBQ pulled jackfruit sandwich because I was  curious to try jackfruit, finally.  I've heard about it so many times but have never been able to find it in my local stores, and quite frankly, I wouldn't know what to do with it if I did.  So, I let Tasty Harmony do the work for me.  I wasn't expecting to like this sandwich, however, because I never like anyone's BBQ sauce.  It's like a liquid candy bar: too much brown sugar and molasses, not enough salty or sour elements. But this homemade sauce was surprising: thick and very smokey, there was only a twinge of sweetness provided by the tomato paste in it.  It was salty, earthy, slightly sweet, and tangy all at once.  I actually loved it.  The fresh tomato slices and coleslaw on the sandwich was just right--very North Carolinian.  And the jackfruit itself had a tender texture and was an appropriate carrier for the sauce (it had a mildly vegetal flavor to it, but mostly it just tasted like the sauce).  The roll was an ordinary kaiser roll that had seen better days, and the side of greens I ordered were completely unseasoned, but the shaker of black and white sesame seeds and salt did the trick.  If I got it again, I think I'd ask for some mustard to put on the greens.  

We also tried the whimsically named "Kentucky Fried Freedom" plate, which had batter-fried, house made seitan cutlets served with mashed potatoes, seasoned greens, black-eyed peas, and vegan gravy.  Everything was spectacular.  The seitan really did mimic chicken pretty successfully, the gravy was nicely salty and flavorful, the potatoes were hand-mashed, and the greens and beans were both seasoned nicely.  The beans had a great al dente bite to them which seems impossible to achieve when you merely open a can.  And the greens in both of our dishes were clearly freshly cooked--still bright green and firm, these were definitely not fished out of a vat of day-old slop.  

Besides the ubiquitous half sandwich / cup of soup deal, I also love that you can choose from a long list of mock meats, vegetables, grains, and beans to make your own "Daily Plate".  It seems like the perfect way to sample everything you're curious about.  

Tasty Harmony is right around the corner from everything else you've already noticed in Old Town Fort Collins--the sports bars, dressed up pizza places, and yet another bar boasting local brews on tap.  But this place offers a truly unique dining experience and an honestly healthy alternative to the typical dining out experience in a laid-back, friendly atmosphere. I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

24 September 2013

Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Soup in 30 minutes

Today it is rainy and cold, and it finally feels truly like fall. By the time this recipe is posted, thanks to the magic of Blogger settings, it may be 90 degrees again, but right now, soup is the only thing on my mind.  This one is easy to make, healthy, and surprisingly filling.  I can imagine many substitutions--to the flavoring, roasted vegetables used, starch of choice...try it and share your brilliant ideas below!

(PS--if you want to freeze this, make the soup base and exclude the roasted veggies.  Then when it's time to thaw it, roast some fresh veggies to stir in before serving.)

Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Soup

Serves 6

1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-size pieces
smoked paprika for sprinkling
Olive oil for drizzling, plus 1 teaspoon for cooking
½ yellow onion, chopped
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon white miso
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon Sriracha
Salt and pepper to taste
5 cups water
1 diced fresh tomato for garnish, optional

Spread cauliflower out on a baking sheet, sprinkle with smoked paprika and salt, and drizzle with olive oil.  Roast in the oven at 425°F about 20 minutes, or until it begins to brown (stir once during baking time).

Meanwhile, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a Dutch oven or large stock pot over medium heat.  Sauté the onion until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the sweet potatoes and cumin and cook until fragrant, another 5 minutes or so.

Add the ginger, miso, water, and about 2 teaspoons salt and cover; bring to a boil, stirring enough to incorporate the miso into the broth.  Lower heat to medium-low and continue to cook, covered, until the potatoes are soft.

Place about 2/3 of the soup in a blender with the Sriracha and puree.  Pour blended soup back into the pot and stir to incorporate with the remaining potato and broth.  Add water if it’s too thick. Taste and season with more Sriracha, salt, and black pepper as you see fit.  Stir in the roasted cauliflower and top with diced fresh tomato if desired.

20 September 2013

The Beauty of Whiskey in a Strip Mall

Thank you, Living Social local deals, for introducing me to this oddly satisfying little whiskey bar nestled into the depressing strip mall at Drake Rd. and Timberline in Fort Collins, CO.  If I turned the right way in my seat I could avoid the reflection of windshields lined up in front of King Sooper's and just gaze at my vested, arm-banded bartender pretending it was the 1930s.

William Oliver's Publick House is all that and even more, because once you get inside, it's a pretty nice place to be.  You will curse the traffic and possibly help a senior male up the curb to his Great Clips destination, or possibly see a lady drop a watermelon outside the grocery store, but this place is actually doing a lot of things well.  I only hope they can move out of this location if enough people visit.  And if you're using the Living Social deal you got a few weeks back (every single person was doing so when I was there), be sure to tip on the full amount.  Because they deserve it.

My Living Social deal was for a four 1/2-ounce flight of whiskeys and a snack tray from their sparse menu.  I say it's sparse, but the menu is perfect and perfectly manageable--they make sandwiches, or you can choose from one of the very generously built appetizer platters.  There's hummus and veggies, chips and salsa, or an artisanal cheese plate for the vegetarians in the crowd, or meat eaters can choose from smoked salmon or the Perfect Platter, which was loaded full of spicy, crisp pickled green beans, two very garlicky dill pickle spears, the largest white cheese curds I have ever seen in my life (and they were delightfully salty), some Irish cheddar, sliced corned beef and salami, and Fort Collins-made Nita crisps (also available in low-gluten varieties with any plate).  It was delicious, the ingredients were high-quality (except for the bright yellow French's mustard.  Spicy Coleman's really would have been stunning), and the plate was positively overflowing with food.  Some people got the other Living Social deal for two pints of beer and two sandwiches, and the eager-to-please bartender made each and every one to order: "How's the mustard amount look? You want cheese?"  I mean, really, they were killing themselves to please us.

Let's talk about the whiskey.  My coupon limited me to the Colorado whiskeys available, which took up a full page in the menu and was so overwhelming I was grateful for the limitation.  There were rye whiskeys, corn whiskeys, white whiskeys, single barrel bourbons, etc. etc.  I wanted to try this place because it seemed like a low-cost way to experience some whiskey and try to learn something about it, and I did walk away with a (very expensive) favorite that I would definitely order again: Colorado's own Spring 44 Single Barrel Bourbon.  It was rich and warm, with vanilla and tobacco overtones and a lightly smoky finish.  It was actually delicious, and I am not easy friends with whiskey.

The menu at William Oliver's has 9 pages of whiskeys, bourbons, and even some moonshines, 2 pages of cocktails, and a nice, manageable page of snacks to go with your drinks.  They offer plenty for non-whiskey drinkers, including straight spirits from local distilleries around the Front Range and some great local beers on tap. Coffee and tea are also available, and you know, I bet they're actually delicious.  I do not think there is anything available at this place that they are not prepared to dazzle you with.

William Oliver's is actually a fantastic place in a terrible location.  They would do well in Old Town or near the university, and I hope to see them do well enough to eventually be able to afford those high rent districts.  In the meantime, please go to William Oliver's Publick House.  Because I want to go back, and I don't want them to go out of business because no one wants to go there on the way to Starbucks.

17 September 2013

Cook, freeze, and pack it for later: entrees

Here it is--the installment of "cook, freeze..." that will absolve you from cooking dinner for days at a time.  Perhaps you will not pack these dishes (thought you could employ this method when you have a potluck looming and want to cook ahead for it), but having a hot dish ready to pop in the oven when you come home from work is worth its weight in gold on a weeknight, and it's a hell of a lot tastier than Lean Cuisine meals.

(Psst: remember last week when I told you about all the rices, grains, and lentils you could freeze?  Don't forget about that--reheat a big bowl of rice, veggies, and lentil from the freezer, toss with a little olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and herbs of your choice, and you've got a very fast and very healthy meal on the table in less than 15 minutes.)

Many of these dishes can either simply be built and refrigerated a day before you cook it, so you can build it the night before and cook it the next afternoon, or you can cook it, eat some of it immediately, and cut the rest into individual portions, wrap in foil, and freeze for later.  Then, individual portions can be heated on a cookie tray in the oven or microwaved, at home or at work.

Brian’s Festive Turkey Meatloaf

Serves 8

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced, optional
½ yellow onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, shredded
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
½ cup plain bread crumbs
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
¼  cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons whole milk or cream
1 ½  teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground turkey

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Lay a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet.

In a frying pan over medium heat, sauté onion, garlic, carrot, and rosemary in the olive oil until soft.
In a large bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, parsley, sun-dried tomatoes, eggs, milk, salt, and pepper. Add the turkey and cooked vegetables; gently stir to combine.

Carefully pack the meat mixture into a loaf shape on the parchment-covered baking sheet.  Bake at 375 degrees F for 50  minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and slice. Put on a serving platter and serve.

Chicken and Leek Frittata

Serves 4

6 eggs
1 teaspoon grainy mustard
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, rinsed and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
4 ounces cooked chicken, shredded

Preheat broiler.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, mustard, and pepper flakes and season with salt and black pepper.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large, oven-safe skillet over medium heat until the butter has melted.  Add the leek and garlic and cook, stirring continuously until soft, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the chicken and cook, stirring, until warm, about 2 minutes.

Add the egg mixture and swirl the skillet to distribute the eggs and filling evenly over the surface.  Shake the skillet gently, tilting slightly while lifting the edges of the frittata with a spatula to let the raw egg run underneath for the first 1 to 2 minutes of cooking.  Cook until eggs are almost set, about 5 minutes, and then place the skillet under the broiler for about 1 minute.  The frittata will puff up and brown slightly.  Remove from the oven and carefully slide onto a serving platter, using a spatula to unstick from the skillet as it slides.

Cut into 4 wedges and serve hot, at room temperature, or cold.

Green Chili & Potato Gratin

Serves 6-8

4 large russet potatoes, scrubbed and sliced ¼-inch thick
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
1 cup prepared green chili sauce
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 oz. (1 cup) grated parmesan cheese
4 oz.  (1 cup) grated sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a 3-quart baking dish with butter or cooking spray.

Place sliced potatoes, and broth in a large pan or Dutch oven.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are tender but still hold together, about 10 minutes.  Drain in a colander when done, but reserve about a ½ cup of the cooking water.

Meanwhile saute the onion and garlic in a small frying pan with some olive oil over medium heat until onion is tender, about 10 minutes.  In a small bowl, combine the onion mixture, green chili, and ½ teaspoon of the salt.  Set aside.

Ladle just enough of the potato cooking water into the baking dish to lightly cover the bottom.  Then place approximately one half of the potato slices into the baking dish, overlapping slightly and dusting with a light layer of salt (about ½ teaspoon).  Top with ½  of the grated cheeses,  then all of the green chili mixture.  Cover with the remaining potato slices in the same fashion as before, then top with remaining cheese.  Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes.  Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes or until the top starts to brown.

Greens Pie

Serve 6-8

1 cup couscous
2 pounds mixed greens of your choice (lettuce, arugula, Swiss chard, dandelion greens…), chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped fresh dill
¼ cup crumbled feta or queso fresco
3 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper

Place couscous in a medium saucepan and toast over medium heat 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often to keep from burning.  Add 1 ¼ cup water and teaspoon salt.  Cover and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add onions and cook about 10 minutes or until browned.  Add greens and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  (If using lettuce, wait to add it at the end, as it wilts very quickly.)  Transfer to a colander and squeeze to release excess moisture.  Add couscous and stir. 

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Stir green onions, dill, and feta into the mixture. Stir in beaten eggs and season with salt and pepper. 

Coat a 9-inch pie pan with cooking spray or butter and spread the couscous mixture evenly in pan.  Bake 35-40 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

Heavenly Egg Casserole

Serves 8

5 cups bread, cut into bite-sized pieces
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups vegetables of your choice, chopped into bite-sized pieces (broccoli, cauliflower, peas, carrots...)
1/2 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup kalamata olives
12 eggs
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cups milk
1 cup grated cheese(s)
1 tablespoon dried oregano (or whatever mixture of herbs you like)
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

The day before building: spread out the cut-up baguette to dry and get stale on a cutting board.  Or, dry it out on a low temperature (try 250 F for 20 minutes) in the oven.

The night before eating: Heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the onion until it begins to soften, about 8 minutes.  Add the vegetables, if they are raw, until they begin to soften.  Turn off heat and stir in garlic and salt to taste.

In a large whisk together, combine the eggs, milk, mustard, oregano, 1 teaspoon salt, and more black pepper to taste. Stir in cooled vegetables and cheese.

Grease a 9 X 13 inch dish and lay the stale bread cubes in the bottom.  Pour the egg mixture over the top.  Cover with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate overnight or for at least 8 hours.  When ready to cook, uncover and bake in the oven at 350 F for 75 minutes or until lightly browned on top

Hearty Lentil Loaf

Serves 6

1 1/2 cups lentils
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water
2 onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups cooked rice (I like jasmine)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup barbecue sauce or ketchup
1/2 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large soup or stock pot, simmer the lentils in water or vegetable broth until cooked, about 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly then mash the lentils until they are half mashed.

Sautee the onions and garlic in olive oil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until soft. Combine the onions, garlic and olive oil with the mashed lentils and add the rice, salt, ketchup or barbecue sauce, sage, and Italian seasoning. Gently press the mixture into a lightly greased loaf pan. Drizzle a bit of extra ketchup on top if desired.

Bake for 1 hour. Allow to cool 5 minutes before serving.

Indian Stir Fry with Okra

Serves 4

1 tablespoon peanut oil
½ yellow onion, diced
½ small Serrano pepper, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ lb. okra, trimmed and cut into ½-inch rings (frozen is also fine)
1 (14.5-oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
½ cup cooked chick peas
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Crushed peanuts for garnish

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm the peanut oil and sauté the onion until it starts to get soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the Serrano pepper, garlic, ginger, mustard seeds, and cumin seeds and continue to cook until seeds begin to sputter, about 4 minutes.  Add the okra and cook until it begins to brown, about 8 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes, curry powder, turmeric, chili powder, and about a teaspoon of salt.  Lower to medium heat, cover, and simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add cilantro, chick peas, and salt and pepper to taste.  Combine thoroughly and serve over basmati rice with crushed peanuts on the side to pour over the top.

Mushroom and Potato Pie 

Serves 6-8

1 pre-made pie crust
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 lb. mixed mushrooms, sliced
1 large Russet potato, peeled and chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar (or other) cheese

Prebake the crust: place in the oven and turn temperature to 425°F (no need to preheat); poke the crust around the edges with a fork and place in the oven for 10 minutes, or until it starts to look dry on the surface.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and potato and cook, stirring often, until potatoes begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook another 10 minutes, or until liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and stir in the garlic, salt, and thyme.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, and mustard. Season with black pepper if desired.

Sprinkle half the cheese in the bottom of the pie crust. Top with mushroom mixture, pour egg mustard over that, and sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F and bake one hour, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Pink Mushroom Risotto

Serves 6-8

1 tablespoon butter
½ yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups short grain white rice
3 cups vegetable broth
1 ½ cups red wine, divided
1/8 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
8 oz. dried shitake mushrooms
½ cup frozen peas
Salt and black pepper to taste

Place the dried shitakes in a large bowl and cover with 1 cup boiling water; cover and allow to sit while you cook the risotto.

Heat the butter in a large, deep skillet or a Dutch oven over medium-high heat; when it melts, lower to medium heat and add the onion along with a pinch of salt.  Saute until soft (about 10 minutes), then add the garlic and rice; continue cooking until the rice becomes translucent-looking, about 4 minutes.  Stir in 1 cup of the red wine, lower heat to medium-low, and cook until most of the wine is absorbed, stirring occasionally.  Then, add the broth in 1-cup increments, covering to cook and checking periodically to see when it has been absorbed.

By now your mushrooms should be soft; remove from soaking liquid and roughly chop.  Pour the mushroom soaking liquid into the rice mixture and cook as before.  When all the broth is gone, stir in the remaining ½ cup of wine, cooking until liquid is once again mostly absorbed.  At this stage, the rice should be tender and creamy; keep adding water, ½ cup at a time, if this is not the case.

When rice is cooked, stir in the cheese, thyme, rosemary, chopped mushrooms, and peas; remove from heat, cover and warm through.  Season with salt and black pepper and serve piping hot.

Pork and Apples with Cider Cream Sauce

Serves 6

1 pounds pork tenderloin, cut into 12 (2-inch thick) slices
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil

2 tablespoons butter
3 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled and thickly sliced
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced (about ½ cup)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup apple cider
¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth
½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
¼ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

To prepare pork, place medallions (slices) between sheets of plastic wrap.  Using a meat mallet or a heavy skillet, flatten each piece to an even thickness of about ¼ inch.  Remove plastic wrap and season both side of medallions with salt and pepper.

Heat a 12-inch sauté pan or skillet over high heat.  Add vegetable oil.  When oil starts to smoke, place half the meat into the pan and sauté on both sides until well browned and thoroughly cooked.  Transfer to a plate to keep warm.  Repeat the process with the remaining medallions.

To prepare apples, reheat pan over high heat.  Add butter.  When hot, add apples, shallots, rosemary, sugar, and salt.  Sauté until apples are golden brown and tender, about 8 minutes, shaking pan occasionally.  Transfer apples to plate with meat.

To prepare sauce, add cider, broth, and rosemary to pan.  Cook, whisking to scrape any brown bits, over high heat, about 5 minutes.  Add heavy cream; reduce heat to medium and simmer until mixture thickens to sauce consistency, 5-10 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Return apples and pork to the pan with the sauce.  Simmer approx. 7 minutes or until pork seems tender and infiltrated by sauce.

Shepherd’s Pie, Made Over

Serves 6-8

1 small head cauliflower, roughly chopped
1 russet potato, peeled and chopped
2 small parsnips, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
¼ cup plain yogurt
4 oz. grated cheddar cheese (optional)
Salt and black pepper to taste

In a large pot of salty water, boil the cauliflower, potato, and parsnips until soft.  Drain and mash by hand with the garlic, yogurt, and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in cheddar cheese.  This step can be done the day before and refrigerated or can occur while you make the filling.

Olive oil
4 oz. dried shitake mushrooms, hydrated, drained of excess water, and chopped
½ cup broccoli florets and stems, chopped
1 small yellow onion, diced
½ green bell pepper, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon minced chives
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, pinch salt, and the smoked paprika and sauté until tender.  Stir in the broccoli, mushrooms, pepper, tomato paste, and red wine, lower to medium low heat, and cover.  Allow to stew about 10 minutes, remove from heat, and stir in chives and salt and pepper to taste.

Grease a a large pie pan or medium-sized casserole dish with a bit of olive oil.  Pour in the vegetable stew and smooth out so it’s even.  Spread the potato mixture on top, gently smoothing like a thick layer of icing over the stew.  If the potatoes are cold, cook uncovered in the oven for 20 minutes at 400°F before broiling; if everything is hot, place under the broiler and cook about 10 minutes, or until potato mixture gets browned.

Summer Squash “Lasagna”

Makes 12 pieces

…or you could use zucchini.  Add this to the list of recipes developed to survive the onslaught of these summer beauties that just seem to take over the garden from July to October.

4 large summer squash, cut into ½ -inch thick “coins”
4 large tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch thick slices
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
8 oz. ricotta cheese
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Dried oregano, salt and crushed red pepper flakes
Cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves

You can skip this step if you’re pressed for time, but it will help keep the moisture content down: lay all squash and tomato slices out in single layers on thick paper towels or flour sack towels, salt lightly, and place another layer of paper/ flour sack towels on top.  Allow to sit at least 30 minutes before building your lasagna.  This releases the excess water from the vegetables so they don’t become a soup in the oven.

Oil a large lasagna pan with extra virgin olive oil.  Start layering: squash coins on the bottom, a tomato slice on top of each squash coin.  Add a little salt, red pepper, and dried oregano on top, then small blobs of ricotta on each tomato slice, followed by a very thin scattering of some mozzarella.  Continue in this fashion, pressing down to compact the cheese as you go, until you’re out of all the squash and tomatoes--your last layer should be vegetables.  Scatter the fresh basil all over the top, then cover with remaining (should be the majority of the 4 cups) mozzarella.

Cover the pan with foil, allowing a little space at the top so it doesn’t stick to the cheese.  Bake at 375°F for 40 minutes.  Uncover, raise temperature to 425°F, and bake another 20 minutes or until cheese is golden brown and some of the extra liquid in the pan has reduced to more of a sauce.

Zucchini and Goat Cheese Frittata

Or make it a quiche by pouring the batter into a pre-made pie crust.

Serves 4

6 eggs
1 cup grated fresh zucchini (about 1 medium zucchini)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or marjoram
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1.3 cup grated pecorino cheese
1 small sprig fresh thyme

Preheat broiler.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and garlic and season with salt and black pepper.  Add the zucchini, thyme, and goat cheese, stirring to combine.

Heat the olive oil in a large, oven-safe skillet over medium heat.  Add the egg mixture and swirl the skillet to distribute the eggs and filling evenly over the surface.  Shake the skillet gently, tilting slightly while lifting the edges of the frittata with a spatula to let the raw egg run underneath for the first 1 to 2 minutes of cooking.  Lower the heat to medium and cook until eggs are almost set, about 5 minutes.

Cover the frittata with the pecorino cheese and place the skillet under the broiler for about 1 minute.  The frittata will puff up and brown slightly.  Remove from the oven and carefully slide onto a serving platter, using a spatula to unstick from the skillet as it slides.

Garnish with thyme, cut into 4 wedges and serve hot, at room temperature, or cold.

13 September 2013

Late Summer Noodle Bowl

Inspired by leftovers, both in the pantry and in the garden, this deeply flavored, hearty pasta dish is a little bit Asian, mostly Italian, in flavor.  McKay’s beef style seasoning is a vegetarian powdered bouillon with a unique, salty and earthy umami flavor.  You could throw in actual beef bouillon instead, but the flavor won’t be nearly as interesting.

Late Summer Noodle Bowl

Serves 2-3

Tablespoon olive oil
½ yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup corn (frozen is fine)
6-8 large leaves of lacinato kale, washed and chopped
3 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup tomato juice
1 teaspoon McKay’s beef style seasoning
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup shitake mushrooms, dehydrated and roughly chopped
½ pound whole wheat linguine
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cook linguine according to package directions in salted water.

Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium heat in a skillet.  When it shimmers, add the onion and a dash of salt  and lower to low heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and fragrant, about 20 minutes.  Add the corn, garlic, mushrooms, and kale and sauté until kale softens, about 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the tomato juice, McKay’s seasoning, and balsamic vinegar.  It will be very salty, but the tomatoes will water it down.  Pour this seasoning mixture into the pan, stir to coat the vegetables, and lower heat to simmer.  Cook another 5 minutes, then stir in the chopped tomato.  Heat through, season with black pepper if desired, and serve over pasta.

06 September 2013

Pressure cooker special: Chick Peas and Oricchiette in Silky Broth

Are pressure cookers cool again? America's Test Kitchen has a new pressure cooker-specific cook book (it's quite practical) and they even brought them out on Hell's Kitchen for a challenge last spring.  If you don't get the appeal of a crock pot (I don't), try a pressure cooker: it's fast, efficient, and yields perfectly textured dried beans, brown rice, and all cuts of meat without having to crank up the heat in the kitchen all day.  I'll admit, I have the old rocker kind, but I think this recipe will work even better with one of those new-fangled models that features a quick release (and is safer and all that crap).  But if you have the old-school kind like me, just run it under some cold water after 20 minutes to get the chick peas out before they overcook--that's how I did it.

Roasting the chick peas might seem too fussy, and this will still be a fine dish without doing that, but the nuttiness and addition of a firm texture in this stew is my favorite part of the whole thing.

Chick Peas and Oricchiette in Silky Broth

Serves 6

1 cup dried chick peas, rinsed and sorted
3 garlic cloves
½ medium carrot, scrubbed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf
4 cups water
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon paprika
3 cups Swiss chard, washed and chopped
1 small zucchini, diced
Handful fresh basil, chiffonaded
2 cups oricchiette or other small pasta shape
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Soak chick peas overnight.

Place soaked chick peas, garlic, carrot, tomato paste, bay leaf, water, olive oil, salt, and paprika in a pressure cooker and cook 20 minutes.  End cooking with a quick release and scoop out chick peas with a strainer.  Place chick peas on a cookie sheet in a single layer and salt lightly.  Place in a 450°F oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown and crunchy.  (Roasting the chick peas can be skipped if you prefer to just keep them soft.)

Meanwhile, discard the bay leaf from the pressure cooker and place the broth in a blender.  Blend until smooth, adding a little more water if it’s too thick.  Add salt to taste and replace to pressure cooker.  Stir in Swiss chard, zucchini, basil, and oricchiette and cover with a regular pot lid.  Place over medium-low heat and cook until the pasta is soft (this should take about the same time as roasting the chick peas).   If you choose not to roast the chick peas, keep them out of the liquid until the end so retain shape.

When pasta is al dente and chick peas are roasted, stir in the chick peas, chopped tomato, and lemon juice.  Serve in bowls with crusty bread.

Getting ready to roast...

03 September 2013

Cook, freeze, and pack it for later: soups and salads

Some soups end up grainy when you freeze them (I'm sorry to say that potato soups fall into this category), and salads seem impossible to freeze, but both choices are a great way to stay healthy and maintain a well-balanced diet when things get too hectic to cook.  These are some of my favorite freezable recipes because they taste just as good thawed as they do fresh.  If you freeze individual portions for bring to work, you don't even have to thaw them ahead; just grab a frozen container, throw it in a plastic bag (to catch the condensation), and it should be ready to microwave by noon.

In addition to full-on meals to make and freeze, I always find making extra of certain things and freezing helps speed up my cooking later: any kid of rice, lentils, mung beans, split peas, barley, wheat berries, couscous, and bulgar wheat all reheat perfectly (and quickly) from their frozen state. Finally, if you're going to the trouble of making something like spaghetti sauce in a big pot, make sure to keep enough to freeze--SO much better than opening a jar in a pinch!

FREEZABLE SOUPS AND SALADS with no compromise to texture or flavor:
Butternut Squash Soup with Barley and Kale

Serves 6

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
2 teaspoons salt, divided
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon butter
1 cup pearled barley
4 cups water or vegetable stock
½ cup dried shitake mushrooms, broken into bite-sized pieces
1 cup chopped fresh or frozen kale
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Dash Tabasco
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Toss the butternut squash and onion with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon of the cumin, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and the smoked paprika.  Spread onto a baking sheet and roast in the oven at 425°F for 25 minutes or until vegetables are tender and starting to turn brown.

Meanwhile, heat the butter over medium heat in a Dutch oven or large stock pot.  When it melts, add the barley, the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, and the remaining teaspoon of the cumin.  Sautee until the barley starts to toast and become fragrant.  Add the water or stock and the dried mushrooms, cover, and increase to medium high heat.  When the soup begins to boil, lower to a simmer and cook until barley is tender, about 30 minutes.  Stir in the kale, lemon juice, and Tabasco and continue to cook until kale wilts, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, stir in the roasted vegetables, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Freeze up to 4 months.

Chicken Vatapa

Serves 6

1 teaspoon canola oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
1 jalapeno pepper, minced (remove seeds for milder flavoring)
1 cup water
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 (12 oz.) can light beer
¼ cup dry-roasted peanuts
3 cups cooked chicken
½ cup coconut milk
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add onion, garlic, ginger, and jalapeno and sauté 2 minutes or until onion is soft.  Stir in water, tomatoes in their juice, and beer.  Bring to boil, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.

Place peanuts in a spice or coffee grinder (or a good old-fashioned nut grinder) and process until finely ground.  Add ground peanuts, chicken, and coconut milk to Dutch oven, stirring to combine.  Increase heat to medium.  Bring mixture to a simmer and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in parsley, cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper.  Freeze up to 2 months.

Curried Red Lentil Soup

Serves 6

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 chopped onion
1 Tbsp. fresh grated ginger
2 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. turmeric
2 tsp. salt
2 cups dried red lentils
6 cups water
1 can (14.5 oz.) coconut milk
3 Tbsp. lime juice
2-3 Tbsp. Sriracha sauce (use 2 Tbsp. tomato paste for a mild soup)
Salt and black pepper to taste

In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat and add onion, ginger, mustard seeds, cumin, turmeric, and salt when ready (oil should shimmer when hot).  Stir constantly until seeds start to sputter, about 4 minutes.
Add lentils and water, cover, and bring to a boil.  Then lower heat to a simmer and cook, covered, 15-20 minutes or until lentils are soft and start to break apart.

Stir in coconut milk, Sriracha sauce or tomato paste, and lime juice and turn off heat.  Season with more salt and black pepper to taste. Freeze two months.

Mild Winter Squash Soup

Serves 4

4 black peppercorns, plus ½ teaspoon black pepper
4 sprigs cilantro, chopped
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups water
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups peeled and diced winter squash
3-4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Using a mortar and pestle, crush the whole peppercorns with the cilantro sprigs.

In a soup pot over medium-high heat, bring the stock and water to a boil, then add the pepper mixture, garlic, and squash.  Return the mixture to a boil and add the soy sauce.  Cover and let cook until squash is fork-tender, about 7 minutes.

Turn of heat, stir in vinegar, and hand mash the soup a bit with a potato masher, leaving some chunks for texture.  Garnish with extra cilantro leaves and pepper if desired.  Freeze two months.

Rustic Chicken Stew 2 Ways

Serves 4, plus 4 more with leftover stew

A 2-for-1 meal, this “stew” can either be served in a bowl with some crusty bread on the side or left thick and pour over mashed potatoes for a heavier meal.

2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 boneless chicken breasts, trimmed
1 carrot, peeled and diced
8 oz. mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
½ red or orange bell pepper, cut into bite-size pieces
½ yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¼ cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
Bay leaf
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon butter, cold
2 tablespoons capers
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large pot of generously salted water, boil the potatoes.  Drain, reserving 1 cup of the water, and mash in a bowl with salt and olive oil to taste.

Meanwhile,  heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large sauté pan or frying pan over medium high heat.  When it smokes, place the chicken breasts in the pan and brown about 4 minutes on each side or until just cooked inside.  Remove from pan and keep covered on a plate for later use.

Add a dash of the red wine to the pan to deglaze, scraping down all the brown bits, and then cook the onion 3-4 minutes or until it begins to soften.  Add the mushrooms, carrot, bell pepper, and garlic, season with 1 teaspoon salt and the herbes de Provence, cover and cook about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When a fair amount of water has been released from the vegetable mixture and all veggies are soft, stir in the tablespoon of flour to thicken.  Add the tomato paste,  ¼ cup red wine, bay leaf, and remaining teaspoon salt, stir well, reduce heat to medium low, and cover.  Allow to simmer 5 -7 minutes.

Cut the chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces and return to the pan with vegetables; stir in the capers, cover and heat thoroughly, about 5 minutes.

When ready to serve, stir in the tablespoon of cold butter until it melts and remove from heat.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Spread mashed potatoes on each plate and top with chicken and vegetable sauce.

Stir the reserved cup of potato water into leftover sauce and serve later in bowls.  Can be frozen up to one month.

Spiced Lentil Stew

Serves 4

2 cups brown lentils, rinsed and sorted
3 ½  cups water
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons salt, divided
Bay leaf
I large carrot, peeled and cut into ½-inch chunks
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup dry red wine
2 scallions, sliced (white and green parts)
2 teaspoons cumin
½ teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Handful fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)

In a medium saucepan, combine the lentils, water curry powder, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and bay leaf.  Cover and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and cook until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.  While the lentils are cooking, you can steam the carrot in a basket over the water, or else steam the carrot in another vessel.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet,  heat the oil over medium heat and cook the onion until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and scallions and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir n the tomato paste, red wine,  cumin, coriander, the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and paprika.  Add enough water to turn into a medium-thick sauce (about ½ cup, adding a little at a time).  Add the cooked lentils and carrot and lower heat to low.

Allow to simmer 5-10 minutes, season with pepper and coriander.  Freeze two months. Can be served over rice, mashed potatoes, or cauliflower puree, all of which can also be made and frozen ahead of time (in a separate container).

Thai Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Serves 4

1 butternut squash
2 granny smith apples
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cups vegetable stock
½ cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon red curry paste (like Thai Kitchen)
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 425°F.  Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds.  Spray the flesh side with cooking spray, then place flesh side down onto a baking sheet.  Do the same with the two apples; place in the oven and roast for 20 minutes or until they are soft enough to squeeze.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large pan over medium heat.  Saute chopped onion until translucent, lower heat to medium low and cover until squash and apples are done.

When soft, remove squash and apples from oven and separate the flesh from the skin.  Place the flesh of the apples and squash, roughly chopped, into the blender with one cup of the vegetable stock, taking care to keep the cover on the blender despite the hot contents.  When you achieve a smooth consistency, pour the contents of the blender into the Dutch oven with the onions.  Whisk in the remaining vegetable stock, coconut milk, and curry paste.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and allow to simmer 15 minutes.  Turn off heat, stir in lemon juice, and serve in bowls. Freeze two months.

Mediterranean Lentil Salad

Serves 4-6

1 cup brown lentils, cooked
1 cup wheat berries, cooked
1 cup quinoa, cooked
1 large garlic clove, minced
½ red onion, finely diced
½ cucumber, peeled and diced
1 medium tomato, cored and chopped
1 ear of fresh corn, scraped off the cob
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Large handful chopped fresh herbs--basil, parsley, oregano, dill, in any combination

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and minced garlic.  Place all other ingredients in a large serving bowl, pour dressing on top, and stir to coat.  Can be served cold or at room temperature.  Leftovers kept in the refrigerator are delicious--the flavors have more of a chance to bloom. Freeze up to one month.

Milanese Rice and Farro Salad

Serves 4

½ cup farro
1 cup white long grain rice
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
¼ cup frozen corn, thawed
¼ cup mixed olives, roughly chopped
Small handful fresh basil or parsley, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil for garnish

Cook the farro: soak farro overnight (if you forget to do this, just keep an eye on it as you cook--it will take a little longer and perhaps need the addition of some water over time, but it will turn out fine).  In a medium saucepan, add the farro, 1 ¼ cup water, and about a teaspoon of salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook covered until tender, 20-30 minutes.  Drain if there is any leftover water and cool.  (This step can be done a day in advance, or you can cook a big batch and store in batches in the freezer for quick use in recipes).

Cook the rice: Bring the rice and 1 ½ cups salted water to boil.  Reduce to heat to a simmer and cook covered until tender, about 15 minutes.  Drain if necessary and cool.  This can also be done ahead and refrigerated or frozen like the farro.

When you are ready to assemble the salad, place rice, farro, and all other ingredients in a bowl and combine thoroughly.  Season with salt and pepper, drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil on top, and serve cold or at room temperature.  The entire salad can be mixed together and frozen up to one month; toss in a fresh chopped tomato after you thaw, if possible.

Moroccan Couscous

Serves 4-6 

1 ½ cups couscous
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons butter

Cook couscous and fresh ginger in a saucepan according to directions.  Meanwhile, in a dry skillet over medium heat, toast all spices until fragrant; remove from heat and add butter, stirring until it melts.

When couscous is done, fluff and stir in spiced butter and cilantro.  Freeze up to one month.

Warm Coconut Barley Salad

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 heaping tablespoon fresh grated ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, minced (remove seeds for less spice)
2 cups barley
1 ½ cups vegetable broth
1-15 oz. can light coconut milk
1 small red bell pepper, diced
½ cup frozen corn
1 cup frozen, shelled edamame
1/8 cup chopped fresh cilantro, parsley, or mint
2 scallions, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a stock pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium and sauté onion.  When it’s starting to soften up, add the ginger, jalapeno, and garlic until fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Add the dry barley and about a teaspoon of salt and toast cook another minute, stirring constantly.  Add the coconut milk and vegetable broth, cover, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and allow to cook until liquid is mostly absorbed and barley is mostly cooked, but still a little bit too chewy.  This should take about 45 minutes.  Toss in the chopped red bell pepper, corn, and edamame, stir and cover, and continue to cook another 10 minutes.  When everything seems cooked, remove from heat and stir in the cilantro and scallions.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. Freeze up to two months

Zippy Corn Salad

Serves 6 

8 ears of corn (or 4 cups corn)
2 cups cooked beans (black, pinto, garbanzo), or 1 can beans
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 garlic clove, mashed and diced
1 teaspoon dried cumin
½ tsp. salt
½  tsp. hot sauce like Frank’s Red Hot or Tapatío (or more to taste)
¼ cup lime juice
½ cup olive oil

Bring water to a boil in a Dutch oven  and drop the husked, cleaned ears of corn into it.  After 1 minute, remove corn and allow to cool.  Cut corn off the cobs and combine with other vegetables and beans in a large bowl.

Whisk dressing ingredients together and pour over corn mixture, stirring to coat thoroughly.  Freeze up to four weeks.