Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summer Vegetable Ratatouille

Occasionally I go a little overboard at the grocery store and especially at the farmers' market. There are just so many things that look delicious that I want to use when cooking. This desire to cook everything in sight sometimes results in way too many things in my refrigerator even though I know I only have a couple of nights of cooking at home before they'll go bad. Although I cook most nights during the week, there are those occasions when we go out or know that we will be doing something else for dinner. And weekends usually find us at Lake Hyco, which means either Mexican food in Roxboro or picking something up on the way home. This ratatouille was a direct result of having a lot of produce that I needed to cook in one night. Fortunately the flavors came together to create a really great vegetable "stew." Served over couscous or rice and topped with some feta cheese, this would make for a great vegetarian meal on its own. Or it could be served as a hearty side dish with a simple baked chicken or fish. If you find yourself with lots of vegetables that might end up going bad, try combining them instead of giving in and throwing them out. This dish can easily be tweaked to incorporate different vegetables, just add quicker cooking vegetables after the harder vegetables that need more time.

Summer Vegetable Ratatouille
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
  • 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme 
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • pinch dried red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • salt and pepper
Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.
Saute the garlic cloves for a couple of minutes, until fragrant.
Add the sliced fennel, cooking until it starts to become tender, stirring occasionally.
Add the tomatoes; cook a few minutes more.
Add zucchini, thyme, basil and red pepper flakes if desired, stirring to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
Let the vegetables cook down for about 5-8 minutes before adding white wine.
Simmer the vegetables until completely cooked but not dry.
Correct seasonings and remove thyme stems and garlic cloves (optional, some people love the cooked garlic).

For a printable recipe click here

Monday, June 28, 2010

Spiced Eggplant with Yogurt Sauce and Feta

I rarely make a dinner that is completely meat-free. I'll usually include some form of chicken, fish or pork. Although we don't eat a ton of red meat, except at restaurants, I like to include a good source of protein. I do, however, love a lot of vegetarian dishes and vegetable sources of protein. Eggplant is a hearty, meaty vegetable that works well for a main course dish that can stand up on its own without any meat. They are also currently in season for about the next month. This warm, spiced eggplant goes great with the cool and creamy yogurt sauce and salty tang of the feta cheese. I was a little nervous to serve Gavin an entire meal of vegetables but he absolutely loved it. And the whole thing takes only a little over ten minutes. I served it with a mixed vegetable ratatouille over whole wheat couscous (more on that to come) but a simple green salad with crusty bread would also be great. Sometimes meals that require very little cooking heat are perfect for very hot summer nights. The eggplant just needs to be broiled on each side for about five minutes, or you can throw them on the grill over medium to low heat. While they are cooking, you can mix up the yogurt sauce and then plate them in layers of eggplant, sauce and feta.

Spiced Eggplant with Yogurt Sauce and Feta
  • 2 large or 4 small eggplants, sliced into 1/2 in rounds
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup diced, peeled cucumber
  • 2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 oz crumbled feta cheese
Preheat the grill or broiler.
Mix together the spices and olive oil. Season with salt and peppper.
Brush the oil mixture onto each side of the sliced eggplant (add more oil if too dry).
Arrange the eggplant in one layer on cookie sheets.
Cook for about 5 minutes per side, until very tender.
Meanwhile, mix together the yogurt, cucumber and mint. Season with salt and pepper.
Plate one or two eggplant slices, top with yogurt sauce and feta, add another one or two eggplant slices and top with more sauce.

This recipe is another adaption from Bon Appetit Magazine
For a printable recipe click here

Friday, June 25, 2010

Greek-Style Quinoa Salad

After making smoked salmon with quinoa salad, all I've wanted to do is cook quinoa. It's so easy, extremely healthy and can be used in any number of ways. Like rice, it can be flavored with just about anything but takes less time to cook than brown rice with more health benefits than white rice. It's pretty much perfect if you ask me. But in the effort to not cook the same thing every night, I held off for awhile before coming up with a different quinoa dish. This Greek-style dish came about because of what I had on hand, left over from a Greek salad I had made earlier in the week. The red wine vinaigrette is easy to mix up and can be used on salads or tossed with cooked vegetables or even to marinate chicken. Home made salad dressings can be intimidating but they are actually quite easy and far superior to the store bought kind. They don't last as long as the bottled versions because they lack all those chemical preservatives but they can easily be made in quantities that you can use up that week. I used a yellow bell pepper that I had but any color will work as would the addition of cucumbers, olives or red onion. Cherry and grape tomatoes are beautiful right now at the farmers' market and at most grocery stores. This salad can be served either warm or at room temperature and as a side dish or even a simple lunch on its own.

Greek-Style Quinoa Salad
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock or water
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 yellow or red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta
  • 1/3 - 1/2 cup red wine vinaigrette (see below)
  • black pepper
Combine the quinoa and stock/water in a small sauce pot.
Bring to a boil; turn down, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Fluff with a fork and let cool slightly before mixing the quinoa, tomatoes, bell pepper and feta together in a large bowl.
Pour in 1/3 cup vinaigrette and mix thoroughly. Add more vinaigrette if the salad is too dry.
Sprinkle with black pepper.

Red Wine Vinaigrette: (makes about 3/4 cup)
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
Combine vinegar, mustard, honey and oregano and mix well.
Stream in olive oil, whisking to combine.
Season with salt and pepper. Add more honey or oil if the vinegar taste is too strong.

For a printable recipe click here

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Carrot Ginger Soup

As promised in my last post, I will share with you the carrot and ginger soup I made from a recipe I found in Bon Appetit magazine. This incredibly simple soup is surprisingly complex in its layers of flavor with the sweetness of the carrots balanced by the unique spiciness of ginger with just a hint of heat from cayenne pepper at the end. It definitely also benefits from something salty. The magazine recipe calls for chopped peanuts, which would probably taste great. Since I didn't have any peanuts, I left them off but appreciated the saltiness of the focaccia bread dipped into the soup. Although I'm generally more of a fan of soups in the cold winter months, this soup is definitely good enough to make now, despite the heat outside...hopefully you have air conditioning in your kitchen anyway. (If not, I suggest finding somewhere that does!) The soup was included in a spring edition of the magazine because carrots are currently in season. A similar soup made with winter squash (butternut or pumpkin) would be great during the colder months when those are in season.

The most work involved in making this soup is the peeling and chopping of the carrots. If you have a sharp peeler and sharp knife, this shouldn't take too long. Also, don't worry too much about the carrots looking good since they will all be pureed in the end. You want them to all be roughly the same size--the potatoes as well--so that everything cooks evenly. For the ginger, I again recommend a microplane but a box grater would also work. If you don't have either of this kitchen items, mince the ginger as small as possible. Once the vegetables have cooked and are quite tender, you can puree it either in batches in a food processor or with an immersion blender, depending on which you have and which you prefer.

Carrot Ginger Soup
  • 1.5 tbsp butter
  • 1.5 pounds carrots, peeled, sliced into rounds
  • 1 medium to large onion, chopped
  • 1 medium white-skinned potato, peeled and chopped
  • 2.5 tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 5 cups + low sodium vegetable or chicken broth
  • cayenne pepper
  • salt and black pepper
  • roasted peanuts, chopped (if desired)
Heat the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat.
Add carrots, onion, potato and ginger. Season with a pinch of salt.
Saute until the vegetables start to become tender, but without browning, about 10 minutes.
Add 5 cups of broth and a pinch of cayenne pepper.
Bring to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
Let the soup cool a bit before pureeing it completely.
Return the soup to the heat and add a little more broth to thin it to the desired consistency.
Season with salt and pepper and a bit more cayenne, if desired.

For a printable recipe click here

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Easy Focaccia Recipe: My First Bread Making Success

I don't bake. Not as a rule or anything but I'm really not comfortable doing it and I much prefer to make things up as I go along, which does not work well when baking. I've made the occasional batch of cookies before but we don't eat a lot of sweets, so I rarely take the time to make desserts. If we're craving something sweet, we usually head down to Local Yogurt, which is the most delicious frozen yogurt I've had (and I have had lots of frozen yogurt). So sweet baked goods aside, I have always wanted to explore making some savory baked goods. There's nothing better than fresh baked, homemade bread and I want to be able to do that. But the yeast and the rising and the kneading makes me nervous so I haven't ventured much into the world of bread making. I made a loaf of wheat bread once and it tasted ok but was kind of off. Definitely not something to write home about.

One week in my cooking class we made rosemary focaccia. I love focaccia and thought it would be fun to try at home. However, the recipe was pretty long and complicated, involving various rising, kneading and resting times. And then one day I was scanning the headlines on foodblogs.com and came across a very simple looking recipe for focaccia.  The blog Evil Chef Mom profressed to have a simple, surefire recipe for focaccia that was much easier than the one we made in class. I decided to give it a try as the worst that would happen would be a few cups of wasted flour and not too much wasted time. I am so glad I did! I basically did each step when I had a few minutes during the day and the result was a delicious, chewy focaccia bread that went perfectly with the carrot ginger soup I made for dinner (that recipe to come). The leftover bread heats up nicely to go with soup or sliced in half for sandwiches. The great thing about focaccia is that it's basically a blank canvas to put any flavors on top that you like. I did one half with simple sea salt and the other with Parmesan and black pepper. Chopped rosemary would be great as would sundried tomatoes and olives...or whatever sounds good to you! So if you are as nervous about baking as I am, this focaccia is a great place to start.

  • 1 package (1/4 oz) yeast
  • 2 cups warm water, divided
  • 4 cups of flour (I used 1 cup whole wheat and 3 All Purpose)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt, plus more for sprinkling on top
  • olive oil
  • any toppings you like
Dissolve the yeast in one cup of warm water.
Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl.
Pour in the water with the yeast and one more cup of warm water into the flour.
Mix together with floured hands until it all comes together. Mine was very sticky but shape it into a ball as best as possible.
Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap or with a kitchen towel.
Let the dough rise for at least 2 hours or up to 24.
Cover a cookie sheet with olive oil (preferably good olive oil as you want the taste in the dough).
Spread the dough out over the cookie sheet (it might not meet all of the edges, which is ok).
Punch down holes in the dough with your finger and allow it to rise again for about 30-45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 475F.
When the dough has risen, punch holes again with your finger.
Sprinkle the dough with a bit more olive oil and salt, as well as any toppings you like.
Bake the bread in the top 1/3 of the oven for 15-20 minutes.
Check the dough around 10 minutes and if it's starting to get brown on top, move it to a lower rack.
Remove from the oven and let cool for a bit before slicing and serving.

For a printable recipe click here

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lemon and Thyme Goat Cheese Spread

I absolutely love fresh, creamy goat cheese. I usually buy some every time I go to the farmers' market either from Celebrity Dairy or from Elodie Farms, but just about any fresh goat cheese tastes wonderful. I'll often choose one of the seasoned logs, about 4 to 5 oz of goat cheese rolled in a variety of different herbs and spices such as fresh dill, ground cumin or cracked pepper. These are all delicious served just as they are with some crackers or sliced bread. But if you buy plain goat cheese and want to add something extra yourself, this lemon and thyme spread makes for a very simple and delicious appetizer. You can easily make it ahead of time and have it ready when guests arrive, which gives you one less thing to think about while entertaining. Or just make it to snack on while watching tv or the world cup as a great alternative to the usual crackers and cheese. Thyme has a natural lemony scent and therefore goes perfectly with lemon zest and juice. Serve the spread with toasted baguette or pita slices, or a variety of slice veggies.

Lemon and Thyme Goat Cheese Spread
  • 5 oz fresh goat cheese, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • black pepper
  • 1-1.5 tablespoons olive oil
In a small bowl, mix together the thyme, lemon zest and lemon juice. Season with black pepper.
Pour half of the mixture into another bowl with the goat cheese.
Mix thoroughly to incorporate the herbs throughout the cheese.
Form the goat cheese into a ball or disc, and place it in whatever you will be serving it in.
Combine the remaining lemon and thyme mixture with the olive oil.
This can all be done ahead of time and reserved.
Pour the olive oil mixture over the goat cheese right before service.

For a printable recipe click here

Monday, June 21, 2010

Snap Peas: An Easy Summer Side

I've mentioned numerous times how much I love warm weather and all of the wonderful things that come with it. Every week there is a larger variety of produce available at the farmers' market and I've loved trying new dishes that utilize the best of what's in season. Fortunately both Gavin and I love summer squash (zucchini, patty pans, yellow squash) since I have bought it at least once or twice a week for the past few weeks. But even though it is delicious, it's nice to switch things up every once in awhile. There are a variety of fresh beans available now; green beans being the most common and popular. Also available are snap peas, which are delicious and sweet when fresh and in season. Snap peas and snow peas are often thought of as a somewhat unnecessary addition to Asian stirfries. They are usually mixed in with pre-made Asian vegetable medleys and aren't really that good. But fresh snap peas are thick and sweet and full of flavor. This easy side dish recipe has a slightly Asian feel because of the fresh ginger but goes well alongside any grilled meat or other summer entree. The fresh ginger has a nice somewhat spicy bite that complements the sweetness of the snap peas and the shallots. This is a great new side dish to try if you're at all like me and tend to get into side dish ruts, while also taking advantage of the great produce available in the summer.

Snap Peas with Ginger and Shallots
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  •  3/4 - 1 pound fresh snap peas
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Salt and pepper
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
Add the shallots and ginger, sauteing until the shallots are soft, about 5 minutes.
Trim any tough stems off of the snap peas.
Add them to the shallots and ginger and toss to combine.
Saute for a couple of minutes and then add the water.
Simmer, uncovered, for about 8 minutes until the snap peas are crisp tender.
The water should evaporate completely. If the pans starts to get dry before the snap peas are done, add a little more water.
Season with salt and pepper.

For a printable recipe click here.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Smoked Salmon Quinoa Salad

I recently went to a potluck in my parents' neighborhood to celebrate my sister's upcoming graduation from high school. I wanted to contribute a simple side dish to share with everyone and be able to try out a new recipe. I opted for a dish that could be started the day before when I had more time and only needed a quick toss together before service. Because the host of the potluck has celiac disease, I wanted to be considerate and make something gluten free. I browsed some gluten free blogs and found this amazing quinoa and smoked salmon salad, a perfect side dish for a potluck, from Gluten-Free Girl. Quinoa is a great grain for those of you unfamiliar with it. It is considered a "perfect food" because it is one of the few vegetarian options that make up a complete protein. Generally you must eat rice with beans to make a complete protein, or a piece of meat. And not that there's anything wrong with rice and beans, or meat for that matter, but I think it's pretty cool that quinoa does that all on its own. It cooks up quickly and resembles couscous. It definitely works as a great alternative to rice or pasta and is perfect for anyone who has a gluten intolerance. I cooked the quinoa the day before and then tossed the rest of the ingredients together before heading to the potluck. The salad can be served cold or at room temperature.

Smoked Salmon Quinoa Salad
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
  • pinch of salt (optional)
  • 6 oz smoked salmon, sliced
  • 1/3 cup capers, drained and rinsed
  • 2-3 tbsp prepared horseradish
  • 2 tbsp chives, chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Heat the oil and butter in a saucepan, with a lid, over medium high heat.
When the butter melts and begins to foam, add the quinoa.
Toast the quinoa for a few minutes until it's lightly browned and begins to pop.
Add the chicken stock and a pinch of salt, if desired.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15-20 minutes covered, until the liquid is absorbed.
Spread the quinoa onto a cookie sheet to cool. This can be done a day ahead.
Toss the cooled quinoa with the salmon, capers, horseradish and chives.
Add the lemon juice right before serving, adding more or less to taste.

For a printable recipe click here

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Teriyaki Glazed Fish with Ginger Rice

I absolutely love Asian food of almost all varieties...Japanese (especially sushi!), Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, you name it. Although I haven't attempted to make sushi at home (yet), I do like to experiment with Asian flavors in a lot of the dishes I make. The flavors of soy, sesame, ginger, etc. are all great to play around with and can work to make some simple and delicious meals. Because I tend to make a lot of stirfry dishes served over rice, I tend to think of the rice as merely a sponge to soak up the sauce. But recently I've been experimenting with making rice unique and delicious in its own right. Since this teriyaki fish doesn't have a sauce to pour over top, making the rice very flavorful was important. I was very pleased with the results and it didn't take much more effort than the usual pot of cooked rice. The grated ginger in the teriyaki glaze complements the infused ginger flavor in the rice. Both the fish and the rice have a nice balance of sweetness, from the teriyaki and pineapple juice respectively, with the strong, almost spicy taste of fresh ginger. The lime in the teriyaki glaze acts to brighten the sauce up and works great with the light texture of the fish. I used Mahi-Mahi but any firm white fish would work such as Grouper, Sea Bass, or Black Cod. To go along with the fish and rice, I made sauteed broccolini and mushrooms. The recipe for that dish can be found here

Teriyaki Glazed Fish
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium teriyaki sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp grated lime zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1.5 pounds Mahi-Mahi fillets
In a small pan, heat teriyaki sauce over low heat.
Stir in grated ginger and lime zest. For these, I highly recommend using a microplane as it makes the job much easier. It's also just a great tool to have in the kitchen.
Let the sauce simmer for a few minutes to extract the flavors of the ginger and lime.
Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice.
Season the fish with salt and pepper.
Generously spread the glaze over the fish.
Place the fish, skin side down, on a foil-lined baking sheet.
Broil directly under the heat for about 8 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through.

Ginger Rice
  • 2 inches ginger root, peeled and chopped into large pieces
  • 1 cup (8 fl oz) pineapple juice (or 1 x 6 oz can with a little water)
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • pinch of salt
In a saucepan, combine all ingredients.
Cover and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low and cook for about 25-30 minutes, until all liquid is absorbed.
Fluff with a fork.

For a printable recipe click here

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Farmers' Market Feast

I am absolutely thrilled that the weather is heating up and we are heading in to summer. The long days, weekends on the lake, and lots of grilling are just some of the many benefits of the summer months. Another huge plus is the abundance of produce available at the farmers' market. This past week the stands were overflowing with summer squash: zucchini, yellow squash, and pattypan squash in a variety of colors. I started my shopping trip with a big bag of these delicious squash and moved on to buy some hot Italian bison sausage and some beautiful shiitake mushrooms. Because we were heading to the lake on Sunday and staying over till late Monday, I wanted to cook all of my great finds that night. I knew the meatiness of the mushrooms would pair great with the spicy sweetness of the bison sausages, so I made a simple meat sauce to serve over pasta. The mushrooms were definitely the star of the dish so if you can find some fresh shiitakes, definitely go for it. If not, portobello mushrooms would also work really well. In addition, if you are not a huge fan of spicy food, zesty or sweet Italian sausage would be a great substitute. For the squash, I wanted to simply bring out their natural flavors and enjoy the unmatched taste of vegetables that are extremely fresh. The meal was delicious served together but either dish could be made separately, depending on what you have available. And if you get the chance, visit your local farmers' market to take advantage of the great variety and quality of produce available this time of year.

Sausage and Mushroom Pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • 6-8 oz shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup onion, small dice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 pound hot Italian bison sausage (pork, beef or turkey will also work)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 15 oz can stewed tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 pound pasta, cooked al dente
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Heat 1/2 tablespoon in a large pan.
Slice mushrooms about 1/4 inch thick and saute till browned.
Remove mushrooms and set aside.
If the pan is dry, add the other 1/2 tbsp of olive oil.
Saute onions for a couple of minutes to soften.
Add garlic and cook another minute.
Remove sausages from casings and add to pan.
Break the sausages up and brown, stirring often.
When the sausages are almost completely browned, deglaze the pan with the white wine.
Stir in the stewed tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and let simmer for 8-10 minutes to let the flavors combine.
Return the mushrooms to the pan for the last couple of minutes to reheat.
Spoon the sauce over the cooked pasta and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

For a printable recipe click here

Sauteed Summer Squash
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 pound (or more) summer squash, any variety
  • Salt and pepper
Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan.
Smash and peel the garlic, leaving it whole.
Add the garlic to the hot oil and cook till fragrant, 3-4 minutes.
Slice the squash into 1/2 - 3/4 inch pieces.
Add to the pan and saute until tender, 10-12 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.

For a printable recipe click here