27 May 2016

Memorial Day for Vegans

More and more of my friends have decided to be mostly or full-time vegan, which makes good sense for a number of reasons. I am probably eating more meat now than I have for most of my adult life, but that still only means I'm including meat in about one out of every ten meals or so. Grilling is a perfect way to eat vegan, and even trick others into joining you, because you're getting all of the smoky goodness from the charcoal without actually charring flesh. And hot dogs are so fucking gross, anyway. (PS-If you are using a gas grill, we need to talk.  That is not grilling. It's one step beyond using your daughter's Easy Bake oven on your back patio.)

And that brings me to Memorial Day, because it is national law that we grill at some point this weekend. So whether you're throwing a party or just being a reclusive nuclear family this holiday, you can impose your hippy agenda on all in your orbit without even having to listen to much whining.  Case in point:

Grill tofu steaks (pressed first to remove excess water), thick rounds of eggplant, squash, potatoes, and sweet potatoes and top with one of my favorite condiments, homemade chimichurri sauce. Or cube it all and make kabobs.

Grill a pizza! It's delicious. You can make this nice whole wheat crust and put whatever you want on there. Don't want cheese? Don't bother. Here are some ideas to get you started (sorry, there are some reviews to sift through, too).

Make a veggie burger.  Here's one I published a few years ago, and here's another one I think sounds very clever, because I love corn (thought I'm not sure I'd bother to put it on a bun).

You need a dip for your chips or bread, right? How about...

Baigan Bharta

2 medium sized eggplants
3 tablespoons oil
¾ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
2 tomatoes, blended into a puree
2 green chilies, minced
2 to 3 tablespoons minced cilantro

Place the eggplant on a corner of the grill. (For future reference, if neither of these are options, then place the eggplant in a 350 degree oven and bake until soft and then broil until the outer skin is charred.) Back to the open flame eggplant, cook until it is soft and the outer skin is completely charred. Set aside to cool.

Heat the oil on medium heat for about 1 minute, and add in the cumin seeds and when they begin to sizzle, add in the red onion and sauté lightly until the onion softens and wilts and finally gently turns pale golden in corners. Add in the ginger-garlic paste and sauté lightly until the paste is somewhat dry and begins to turn fragrant.

Add in the tomatoes and the chilies and begin to cook this mixture to allow the tomatoes to turn into a thick fairly dry sauce, you should begin to see the oil leaching again from the edges. While the tomatoes are cooking, peel and discard the charred skin from the eggplant and mash lightly. Add into the tomato spice mixture and mix well.

Stir in the cilantro and mix well. Use as a dip or serve over rice.

24 May 2016

Who needs broccoli rabe when you have broccoli (and kale)?

Everyone's in love with broccolini/broccoli rabe, but it's expensive and, if you live in the sticks, it may not even be available in your local grocery store.  Now, I have a ton of kale in the garden, so perhaps I'm unaware of how difficult that is to find in a store, but I think this combination of kale and good old-fashioned broccoli comes pretty close to the fancy rabe stuff. (PS--An idiot family in Antarctica could grow kale in their yard, so you should try if you like it. It even overwinters in my Zone 4 Northern Colorado garden.) Fix it however you want; garlic, oyster sauce, and soy sauce would be pleasant too.  This is my pseudo-Italian version, great as a side or tasty just tossed with pasta.

Lemony Broccoli and Kale

Serves 6 as a side

2 teaspoons olive oil
½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 large bunch broccoli (about 3 cups chopped)
3 cups washed, chopped kale leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced
Juice of 1 lemon, zest of ½ the lemon
1 tablespoon capers
Salt and red pepper flakes to taste

First things first: wash and chop ALL of that broccoli!  Don’t throw away the stem or leaves—they’re delicious!  They taste like broccoli!  Just slice the stem kind of thinly and then chop those rounds in half so they cook to crisp-tender perfection.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and a pinch of salt and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Now, turn up the heat to medium-high and add the kale in batches, stirring constantly until it begins to wilt and then adding more.  When everything is bright green and a little wilty, shove the kale around to the outer sides of the pan and throw the broccoli into the middle, making sure each piece gets some contact with the pan. Alternate between stirring and sitting so that you get some charred bits on the broccoli. (Optional, but nice.)

Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, and capers.  Cook, stirring frequently and scraping up any brown bits in the skillet, until garlic is fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper, and serve hot or at room temperature. 

20 May 2016

A quick stop in Utah

I went to the Moab area and up to SLC this week.  It was pleasant, though I cant say they have anything on Colorado in terms of food or beer.  In Moab, I hiked in Arches (best) and Canyonlands (also nice) National Parks, and stayed in nearby Green River, which was a sad little town but way cheaper.  There was a darling taco stand set up at a brokedown gas station, and the barbacoa was delish.

In Moab, both the food and beer disappointed at Moab Brewery, but Sabaku Sushi was great, and the garden veggie roll was probably the best vegetarian sushi I have ever had. The poke was good, too.

Here's some of what I saw in Arches:


And Canyonland:

In Salt Lake City, which I had visited briefly before, I hung out mostly in the Capitol (downtown) district, where I had great coffee at a little neighborhood cafe called Alchemy, OK beer and a funny pizza thing with corn and shrimp at Red Rock, and took a pleasant walk on the Capitol Building grounds, which are lovely.

The Great Salt Lake is indeed greatly salty, though there's really no place to walk unless you go to Antelope Island (Utah Lake in Provo is kind of a better park, though smaller and not tasty).


On the way out of town I hit the university neighborhood for some tasty Vietnamese rice noodle salad at Indochine (the chicken curry was nice, too).

17 May 2016

Almond Poppy Seed Cake for Chiarra!

Remember how I was in New Orleans, all too briefly, last month, and I stopped in for coffee and dessert at Rue de la Course near Tulane after totally stuffing my face at Jacques Imo's?  Well, I was there with one of my favorite travelling and eating companions, Chiarra, and we actually split that almond cream cake at Rue de la Course.  It was delicious, and it got me thinking about an almond poppy seed cake (well, muffins) I used to make in college. Now, combine that train of thought with Chiarra's recent request for a dessert recipe and the fact that I just missed her birthday, and you have this cake recipe, slightly altered from the way I used to make it in the 90s. So,

Overeating in NoLa     +       Chiarra likes dessert

Almond cream cake      +        Remembered Chiarra's birthday

Almond Poppy Seed Cake

For the cake:
Baking spray, for pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature
2 tablespoon poppy seeds

For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1/8 cup orange juice
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8" x 4" loaf pan. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

Beat butter and sugar on medium speed with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts. Reduce speed to low and beat in flour mixture and milk alternately, starting and ending with flour mixture, just until flour is incorporated. Fold in poppy seeds. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then remove to rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the glaze: Whisk together sugar, orange juice, and a pinch of kosher salt in a bowl. Add a little water or milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to reach desired consistency. Drizzle over cooled cake and serve. 

13 May 2016

City o city is staffed by douchebags, but I love it

I have been trying to get in to City, O'City for lunch or brunch for a year (admittedly, I have not been trying that hard), and I finally managed to stake a claim on a bar seat a couple of weeks ago on a weekday at 11am. Seriously, that's all that was available. So, I will start by pointing out that this place is kinda douchey.  It's in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, and everyone who works there has this practiced disdainful look as they tell you the wait will be at least 20 minutes. And you can see that half the tables are empty.  If, however, you are willing to slump in a bar stool, you can uncomfortably perch over your food, which on the day I went, was actually the better choice, personality-wise. The very knowledgeable bartendress actually made eye contact and and had pleasant manners, though the music was very loud in that part of the restaurant.  Whatever, the food was amaze balls.

The beers on tap were great, offering a nice variety of everything that is currently trendy (sours, summer lagers, oddly spiced porters) from a number of local breweries. I had the chicken and waffles, which was actually breaded, fried cauliflower and waffles.  It was so perfectly seasoned, and everything on the plate went so well together, that I think it might have been the most carefully composed dish I have ever had. The cauliflower was generously spiced with cumin and the breading was thick and satisfyingly crunchy.  There was a perfect little drizzle of bourbon maple syrup for scraping your waffle and cauliflower through on the way over to dip the whole pile into the chive-sprinkled creme fraiche on the side.  The carrot "bacon" was not terribly flavorful, but it at least provided some visual appeal.  I have seriously had dreams about this meal since I ate it. Look, there it is!:

The old man had the BBQ bowl, which was a thoughtfully arranged heap of a whole bunch of decadent-sounding items that turned out to be surprisingly light and bright in flavor (though quite filling).  Here's everything that was in the bowl: mac & cheese with homemade cashew cheese (you could get real cheese for extra $) BBQ tofu, mustard glazed greens, creamy coleslaw, and fried shallots. Everything about it was delish, but I think we agreed that the greens and the coleslaw were actually the most interesting items in the bowl. It looked something like this:

I have no idea how many years it would take me to find a seat for a weekend brunch, but I can tell you I'm going to succeed or die trying, because there are so many more things on this menu I want to try.  I think City, O'City is particularly remarkable not for the great menu items (which are actually becoming easy to find in super-hip, super-healthy Denver and NoCo), but for the execution. The balance of ingredients and choice of seasonings was just right on everything, and to see that attentiveness to detail in any craft is very exciting.  I hate the games we have to play to get a seat (do I need to be younger? Wear skinnier jeans?), and the whole vibe in there feels a little too in love with itself, but maybe they have a reason to think they shit gold.  Cuz the kitchen staff just might.

10 May 2016

Fish piccata on the fly

...fish piccata is always on the fly, actually, which is one of the things I love about it. Even if you start with frozen fillets, this is not going to take more than 30 minutes. My recipe is heavy on the lemon and extra-saucy, because I love that stuff on everything, but you could make a milder sauce by just omitting some of the lemon juice. Try with any thin, tender white fish.

Weeknight Fish Piccata

Serves 4

for the fish:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
salt and black pepper to taste
4 tilapia fillets
2 tablespoons olive oil, or as needed
for the sauce:
1 clove garlic, minced
zest of 1 lemon
juice of three lemons
2 tablespoons capers, drained
2 tablespoons cold butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Place a serving platter into oven to warm.

Rinse and pat the fish fillets dry.  Season on both sides with salt and papper and dredge through the flour; shake off excess. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and pan-fry the fish in the hot oil until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Keep fillets warm on heated platter in oven.

Pour off all but a thin film of oil in the skillet over medium heat; cook and stir garlic until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Pour lemon juice into skillet and scrape off the brown bits into the juice. Mix in lemon zest, two thirds of the parsley, and capers and cook until sauce thickens slightly, about 5 more minutes. Whisk butter into sauce.

Lay fish fillets in the sauce and turn to coat; serve on the warmed platter and garnish with parsley.

06 May 2016

A Beginner's Guide to Stir Fries

You don't need a wok (no one buys those anymore, right?), fancy flavored oils, or complicated produce to make a tasty Asian-flavored dish, and when you're starving and impatient, you can whip up a healthy stir fry so fast you'll be ashamed you ever considered ordering greasy take-out. Keep these things handy and you'll always be ready to eat a tasty meal.

jasmine, white long-grain, white short-grain, and brown short-grain are the quickest cooking. You can make a lot and freeze portions in baggies for later use.  Just dump the frozen rice directly into a serving bowl and microwave a couple of minutes; the ice crystals that formed while freezing act to keep the rice moist and fluffed up like it's fresh. 


Noodles: rice vermicelli, udon, soba, ramen, or angel hair pasta all work. I especially like noodles with the Vietnamese and nutty sauces, below.

Then, heat up some cooking oil of your choice in a frying pan, and get to work: 

1. Proteins: you can have some cooked meat cut up into bite-sized pieces and frozen in baggies (I do this with leftover pork roast or chicken when I don't have immediate plans), baked tofu (learn how to bake your own here), or scramble some eggs and then set aside while you cook the veggies. Little mung beans or chick peas are also great in stir fries, I think.  Or skip the protein altogether--you're not actually going ot die if you don't eat loads of it for every meal.

2. Hard veggies: these will have to go into the frying pan first, as they need a bit more time to cook. Keep them crisp-tender, though, which saves on cooking time and keeps your meal from being a pile of mush. 
  • onion
  • carrot
  • cabbage
  • eggplant
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • kale, mustard greens
  • celery
  • pea pods
  • asparagus

3. Soft veggies: add these at the end and cook just until wilted.
  • bok choy, Swiss chard, spinach
  • thinly sliced bell pepper
  • mushrooms
  • corn
  • peas
  • summer squash, zucchini
  • tomatoes
  • water chesnuts

4. Some sauces: dump these in at the last minute, stir, and pour the whole concoction over rice. These will all keep in the fridge for at least a week. Sprinkle with sesame seeds or crushed peanuts if you want to feel fancy. 

Zesty: 1 teaspoon grated ginger, 3 tablespoons Sriracha, 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Mild: 2 -3 tablespoons cornstarch, 1⁄4 cup brown sugar, 1⁄4 teaspoon ground ginger, 2 cloves garlic, 1⁄2 cup soy sauce, 1⁄4 cup cider vinegar, 1⁄2 cup water, 1 1⁄2 cups vegetable broth

Nutty: 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter mixed with 2 tablespoons hot water, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon Sriracha, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, Zest and juice of 1/2 lime

Vietnamese inspired: 1 diced serrano pepper, 2 cloves garlic, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 4 tablespoons fish sauce, 6 tablespoons lime juice, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

03 May 2016

Midwest is Best: How to Salad Correctly

A colleague who grew up in New Mexico once told me about the time she spent teaching in Iowa. At the end of her first year, she had a potluck party for her college students, most of whom had grown up within 75 miles or so of their humble state U. She decided it would be fun to cook up a big batch of green chili, just like she had grown up eating in New Mexico, to share something from her culture with her students. They didn't like it.  It was way too spicy for all of them (although, being from Iowa, they were extremely polite in their rejections).  The students all brought typical Midwestern potluck fare, and my colleague was absolutely aghast.  Snickers salad, various mismatched foods frozen in aspic, and hotdish all made the list, and they were all totally foreign and bizarre ideas to her. I loved that story when she told it to me years ago, because at the time I was new to the Rocky Mountain region and was therefore just learning what about my Midwestern upbringing was not universal.  Now here I am, ten years on, and I do the same thing with my (almost always) non-Midwestern students.  When I make some of these typical flyover-country "salads" for my students, I am a traditionalist, like a faithful Civil War battle recreationist.  I do also update some of these for more healthy consumption when I'm trying not to embarrass myself with my peers. But for the record, everyone usually loves the unhealthy, Grandma Riner version...

"Oriental" Cole Slaw: this one was so awesome to me as a kid, because it had uncooked ramen noodles in it!  How radical is that?!  My mom would never make it, I realize now because she had some standards.

Serves 12
1 16 - ounce package shredded cabbage with carrot (coleslaw mix)
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 3-ounce package chicken-flavored ramen noodles, broken up
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup salad oil
1/3 cup vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine coleslaw mix, green onions, ramen noodles (set aside seasoning packet for the dressing), almonds, and sunflower seeds in a salad bowl. Chill, covered, until serving time, up to 1 hour.

For dressing: In a screw-top jar, combine oil, vinegar, sugar, pepper and seasoning from the package of noodles. Cover and shake. Chill until serving time.

Before serving, shake dressing; pour over salad and toss to coat.

Take out some cabbage and replace with finely chopped broccoli or sliced sugar snap peas
Ditch the sunflower seeds and almonds for cashews (or not)
Replace the uncooked ramen noodles with 3-4 oz. cooked angel hair spaghetti, soba noodles, etc.
Replace dressing with this ginger-sesame viniagrette

Broccoli and Raisin Salad: The combination of sweet, bitter, and salty actually makes this much better than you're probably expecting. Honestly, though, it does look like baby diaper on a plate. 

Serves 6
cups fresh broccoli florets (1 medium bunch)
3/4 cup golden raisins
1 small red onion, chopped
1/2 cup Miracle Whip
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
3 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled

In a large bowl, combine the broccoli, raisins and onion. In a small bowl, combine the Miracle Whip, vinegar and sugar. Pour over broccoli mixture; toss to coat. Sprinkle with bacon. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Blanch the broccoli
Add 1 cup boiled new potatoes + 2 chopped hard-boiled eggs
Omit the raisins (you substitute halved grapes): seriously, the sugar in the dressing is enough
Sub vegan mayo (Just Mayo is great) for the Miracle Whip

Apple Salad: My grandma made this one a lot, and I never liked it.  Somehow the mayo always ruined the apples for me (also, I hated bananas, because I was difficult). She never put mini-marshmallows in this, but I've seen it done at many a picnic. But it's still a salad, because MIDWEST.

Serves 12
4 large apples, diced
1 cup chopped celery
1 sliced banana
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup mayonnaise

In a large bowl, combine the apples, celery, banana and walnuts. Add mayonnaise; toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

I'm just going to go ahead and make this the dessert it is trying to be. Add a cut up orange in there, too--what the hell. Get rid of the celery, and replace the mayo with honey-flavored Greek yogurt thinned out with a teaspoon or two of lime juice. Now you can put it on your waffles at brunch. 

Snickers Salad: No one in my family made this, and I was always bummed.  But Julie Hanson's mom made it, and I thought she was awesome (until I found out she was an alcoholic). 

Serves who cares you're going to die anyway
6 SNICKERS® bars, diced
12 oz. Cool Whip
5-6 green Granny Smith apples with peelings on, diced

Mix diced SNICKERS® bars with Cool Whip. Refrigerate overnight. This step is important. The next day, mix in diced apples. Chill at least 1 hour. 

Are you kidding?  I just wanted you all to know that this exists. Don't make this if you are over 10 years old. However, if you are trying to suck up to a 10-year-old, you should definitely bring this to the party.  And then drink a lot, because your life must be very sad to have to curry favor with a fickle 10-year-old.