Thursday, October 16, 2014

Warm Green Bean, Tomato, and Chickpea Salad


My work schedule has been insane lately, leaving me much less time to cook that I'd like, so when I'm able to carve out the time, I really want to make it count. For me, making the most of that limited kitchen time means cranking out a big batch of something healthy, delicious, and versatile. This recipe fits that bill perfectly. Packed with tons of fresh vegetables and herbs, filling beans, and savory cheese, this salad is delicious with a slice of crusty bread, over rice or pasta, as a bed for a juicy salmon fillet or chicken breast, or all on its own. This recipe is very versatile depending on what's available - green beans could be swapped for asparagus, sugar snap peas, or even Brussels sprouts, white beans for the chickpeas, Parmesan for the feta, and almost any fresh herbs for the parsley. My garden might be in its death throes with winter's impending arrival, but there's still enough time to use the scrappy ends of my horticultural endeavors in a delicious meal like this one.

Warm Green Bean, Tomato, and Chickpea Salad
adapted from Martha Stewart
serves 4

1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch length
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for the pan
Coarse salt and ground pepper
3 wide strips lemon zest, cut into thin matchsticks, plus 3 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved, or 3 medium tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
1/4 small red onion, sliced
1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 1/2 ounces feta, crumbled (1/2 cup)
2/3 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. Preheat a large pan over medium heat, add a splash of olive oil, and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook beans, stirring occasionally until browned in spots and just shy of crisp-tender, about 6 to 8 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice and oil and season with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes and onion to the pan and cooking continuing until the tomatoes collapse and onions start to soften, about 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in chickpeas and cook until mixture is warm, another minute or two.

3. Remove the pan from heat and toss with the dressing, feta, and parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature, either over cooked grains or with a slice of crusty bread or pita.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

BBQ Cauliflower Grilled Cheese


As a born and bred Wisconsin girl, I never need an excuse to eat a grilled cheese, but as the days grow short and the temperatures drop, I crave them even more. I can't complain about even the most basic version, provided it's served hot with a cup of tomato soup, but there's certainly plenty of room for creativity too.

Roasted cauliflower is another food I just can't get enough of, so I figured why not toss it on my grilled cheese? It makes my sandwich tastier and healthier and is a wonderfully easy way to sneak in more of those veggies we all need. Fall and winter are prime time for roasted vegetables, so you may have some leftovers hangimg around as I perpetually do, but it's well worth cooking up some just for this occasion. The creamy barbecue mayo is the perfect sweet and spicy sauce (if you use a quality BBQ) and the touches of red onion and greens have just enough acidity and freshness to contrast the rich and nutty Gruyére. It takes a little more time and a few more ingredients than the bare bones version, but the upgrade to gourmet is completely worth it.

While the long days and warm temperatures of summer are fading away, there are no shortage of wonderful things to embrace about fall, especially the culinary fare. And I can't wait to keep the cozy meals coming.

BBQ Cauliflower Grilled Cheese
serves 1

1/2 tablespoon light mayo
1/2 tablespoon barbecue sauce
2 slices whole grain bread
2 ounces raw cauliflower, cut into approx. 1/4-inch thick slices (or leftover cooked cauliflower)
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.
A few thin slices of red onion
A few leaves of spinach or other greens (optional)
1 ounce Gryuere, thinly sliced or shredded
Cooking spray

1. Preheat a pan over medium heat. If using raw cauliflower, toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the cauliflower in the pan, flat side down, and cook until the first side is nicely caramelized, about 4 to 6 minutes (depending on the thickness of slices). Flip the cauliflower over and cook until the other flat side is also nicely browned and tender, another 4 to 6 minutes.

2. In a small bowl, combine mayo and mustard and mix thoroughly. Spread on one slice of the bread.

3. Place the spinach on the second slice of bread and top with the cauliflower, red onion, and cheese. Place the other slice of bread on top.

4. Preheat a pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Place the sandwich in the pan and cook, flipping once halfway through, until bread is golden and ingredients are warmed through, about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Cut sandwich in half and serve promptly.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Spicy Tomatillo Soup


With a number of record low high temperatures in Wisconsin this week, you would think my gardens would go on strike. But despite their distinctly summer soul, my tomatillo plants are still generously gifting me with a respectable amount of fruit. It won't be all that long until I start picking up my winter with all its glorious roots, so I certainly don't object to eating up these lighter veggies for a while yet. I'll admit my tastes are drifting towards fall, falling victim to the siren song of all things apple and pumpkin, but my taste buds don't object to that dichotomy.

Despite being located on opposite sides of my yard, my cucumbers also missed the memo about the fall slow down, so I was happy to use up some of those as well. All the veggies keep this soup nice and light with low calorie yogurt creaminess making it gently filling. (For vegans, avocado would make a nice substitution). It can be as spicy as you like, depending on whether you remove the ribs and seeds from the peppers, balanced by the roasty garlic and acidic lime. Add only a little water if you'd like this as as light main course, but it can certainly be stretched to many side dishes if you dilute it further. 

My favorite season might be well on its way, but it's too early to completely turn my back on the light and spicy tastes of summer just yet. Bring it on garden! I'm still ready for you.

Spicy Tomatillo Soup
adapted from Martha Stewart
makes 4 servings

2 pounds tomatillos, hulled and washed
6 garlic cloves
1 to 2 jalapeño or serrano chiles
2 cups diced cucumber
1/2 cup roughly chopped onion
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1 cup homemade or low-sodium canned vegetable or chicken stock, skimmed of fat
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup plain yogurt
Water, to thin (optional)

1. Heat broiler. Place tomatillos, garlic, and serrano chile in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast until tomatillos are soft and browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Turn all items; continue cooking until other side is soft and browned, about 5 minutes more. Remove from heat; let cool slightly.

2. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack; let cool completely. Peel garlic, seed peppers, if desired, and place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add tomatillos and any accumulated juices along with cucumber, onion, cilantro, stock, lime juice, and salt; blend until mixture is smooth. Add yogurt and desired amount of water; process until they are just combined.

3. Transfer to a large bowl or plastic storage container; cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Serve cool, at room temperature, or slightly warm.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Simple Tomato Soup


It's hard to complain about my gardens producing too much, but it can to be challenging to make sure than none of what my moderately green thumb has cultivated goes to waste. But as is so often my move, when I've got a lot of something to use up, I turn to soup, which turns out to be the perfect move as the temperatures dipped sharply into fall this week.

This recipe is an ideal example of simple perfection. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about, fancy ingredients and techniques when they're called for, but sometimes all you need (or have time for) is the simplest of recipes. And fortunately for me, my tomatoes only needed that treatment. There's enough butter to be subtly rich, a touch of tomato paste up the umami factor, and herbs from the garden for a versatile freshness to make this a suitable side for almost anything.

If you do manage to have any of this left over, it freezes beautifully, saving a taste of late summer though the depths of winter. But in the crisp fall air, who can resist the siren song of grilled cheese and tomato soup? I know I can't, especially when I can toss a few slices of apple from a local orchard in with my ooey-goeey Wisconsin cheese.

Simple Tomato Soup
adapted from Food and Wine
makes 4 first course servings

3 tablespoons unsalted butter (or olive oil)
3/4 cup minced sweet onion, such as Vidalia
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes—peeled, seeded and chopped, with juices
1 teaspoon tomato paste
2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth or stock
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (basil, cilantro, parsley, etc.)

1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, along with the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the broth  and season with salt and pepper. Simmer until the tomatoes are broken down, about 15 minutes. Add the fresh herbs and puree the soup until smooth.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Chilled Cucumber Avocado Dill Soup


While zucchini is the cucurbit that most often gets recognized for its bounty, the real all-star in my garden this summer is the humble cucumber. I've used them generously in sandwiches and salads, as a happy vehicle for dips, and even in beverages, but there's only so many a girl can eat before they turn from fresh and crunchy to sad and soft. I'm not growing pickling cucumbers, so the most obvious bulk preserving method is out, but fortunately there's not much that can't be turned into soup. The eight pounds of cucumbers required for this recipe might have seemed ridiculous to me at one time, but this year that wasn't even enough to temporarily exhaust my ever-renewing supply.

As you'd expect from something primarily composed of cucumbers, this is a delicate and refreshing soup, especially when generously flecked with fresh dill, also from my garden. It gets hints of sweetness and acidity from the honey and vinegar, and sparing touch of avocado makes it luxuriously creamy without adding any heaviness. Enriching with avocado instead of cream means this freezes well, so whether you need to grab quick lunches for the next few weeks or want to taste summer once the snow begins to fly, this soup has you covered.

Chilled Cucumber Avocado Dill Soup
adapted from Cooking Light
makes 6 servings

11 large cucumbers (about 8 pounds), divided $
1/4 cup honey, divided
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 ripe avocado, peeled and seeded
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
Dill sprigs (optional)
Hot sauce, such as Tapatio or Sriracha (optional)

1. Cut 5 cucumbers into 3-inch chunks. Place half of cucumber chunks and 2 tablespoons honey in a blender or food processor; process until smooth. Pour pureed cucumber mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a bowl. Repeat procedure with the remaining chunks. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.

2. Peel, seed (optional), and thinly slice remaining 6 cucumbers; place slices in a bowl. Add vinegar and remaining 2 tablespoons honey; toss well to coat. Cover and chill 8 hours or overnight.

3. Working with pureed cucumber mixture in sieve, press mixture lightly with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to squeeze out juice; discard solids.

4. Place half of marinated cucumber slices, avocado, and 1 3/4 cups cucumber juice in a blender or food processor; process until smooth. Pour cucumber mixture into a bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining cucumber slices and 1 3/4 cups cucumber juice; reserve any remaining juice for another use. Stir in chopped dill, salt, and pepper, seasoning to taste. Divide soup between 6 bowls and garnish with dill sprigs and hot sauce, if desired


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Avocado Yogurt Dressing


Food can be both very healing and very damaging to your physical and mental health. Unfortunately, I was recently diagnosed with shingles, and after getting the appropriate prescriptions and advice from the doctor, I set to work figuring out how I could help heal myself through food and other lifestyle choices. If you're not familiar with shingles, it is the chicken pox virus reactivating in your nerve tissue, causing headaches, achiness, fatigue, and a blistering rash that makes the affected area as sensitive as an open nerve (the right side of my torso and back, in my case). And what's worse, this usually lasts around a month. Considering a light breeze or simply my shirt touching my skin causes a lot pain, I've had a much more relaxed lifestyle lately, leaving me with ample time to do some research on what else I could do to heal myself. I'm a scientist, so I'm very critical when it comes to buying into to folk remedies and the like, but I did find some evidence that diets high in lysine and low in arginine can help fight off viruses in the same family as shingles. I was disappointed to find out this means cutting back on nuts and chocolate, two of my favorite things, but I don't mind getting permission to eat a little more cheese, eggs, and meat, and the avocado and yogurt that compose this dressing.

And it doesn't get much easier to sneak in some edible medicine than making a dip or dressing! The avocado and yogurt are wonderfully rich and creamy, and the lime, garlic, and hot sauce liven it up just enough with brightness and spice. I've happily poured this over salads, spread it on sandwiches, used it as a dip for crackers, veggies, and chicken strips, and even used it in a dressed-up tuna salad. Whether you're looking for a little extra nutrition or simply a delicious new condiment, this dressing has you covered.

Avocado Yogurt Dressing
makes about 2 cups

1 large avocado (about 6 ounces flesh)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 cup yogurt
1/4 cup + 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves
1/2 T. hot sauce (I like Chipotle Tabasco or Sriracha), plus more to taste
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1. Blend all ingredients together in a food processor or blender. Taste and season with additional salt and hot sauce, if desired

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Chicken, Blueberry, and Feta Wrap


I've got a pretty good thing going with putting fresh fruit on my sandwiches, so I figured there was no reason not to continue. Raspberries, strawberries, and cherries have all gotten their turn, and it's only fair that blueberries get a chance to play too. Michigan might be known for blueberries, but we do pretty well here in Wisconsin as well, but when their season is so fleeting, you've got to chow down on them when you can. While in this prime blueberry time, you'll find me adding them to salads, oatmeal, and yogurt, preserving them en masse in Perfect Blueberry Syrup, and just generally adding them to everything that I can. Like the other fresh fruit sandwich recipes I shared, this recipe relies on the harmony of fresh fruit, bitter greens, and salty cheese, a template with infinite combinations yielding delicious results. Sweet pops of blueberry liven up each bite, mingling perfectly with the savory feta and crunchy veggies that surround the chicken with complementing, contrasting flavors. The chicken isn't strictly necessary here, but it does make this into a much more filling meal; vegetarians can substitute white beans for the same satisfying result. This wrap is good warm, room temperature, or cold, so whether you eat it as soon as it's prepared for dinner or the following day for lunch, you won't be disappointed with your meal.

Chicken, Blueberry, and Feta Wrap
serves 1

4 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast
Cooking spray
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon light mayo
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Splash of balsamic vinegar
1 whole grain tortilla or wrap
A few leaves of arugula (about 1/4 ounce)
Thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup fresh blueberries
1 ounce feta cheese, sliced or crumbled

1. Preheat a pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and cook, flipping once halfway through, until internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F. Set aside to rest for a few minutes, then slice into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch thick slices.

2. In a small bowl, combine mayo, mustard, and vinegar and mix thoroughly. Spread on the center of the tortilla. Top with the arugula and red onion and then the blueberries, lightly smashing them to an almost jam-like consistency.

3. Add the cooked chicken and feta and roll up the tortilla. Cut in half and serve.