Sunday, August 21, 2011

Summer Quinoa Salad

Campus is back in full swing. Classes to take, classes to teach, thesis to write. (And if this weekend is any indication, Madmen to watch. Hey, priorities people. I've got 'em.) I'm on a mission to find deliciously easy recipes that I can make ahead of time and have waiting in the fridge when I get home. Good thing a certain someone bought me the most massive supply of quinoa ever because I have a suspicion many variations on this simple recipe are to come. Busy schedule, please meet Summer Quinoa Salad. You two are going to be great friends, I can tell.

3/4 cup dry quinoa
1 yellow pepper
1-2 tomatoes
1 onion
1 bunch basil
1/2 cup non-fat feta
1/2 cup olive oil
1 lemon

Servings: 4

1. Bring 3/4 cup quinoa and 1 & 1/2 cups water to a boil. Cover and let simmer for 10 minutes, or until quinoa is tender.

2. Meanwhile, roughly chop pepper, tomatoes, onion and basil.

3. Whisk olive oil and juice from one lemon together with a fork. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Hint: Microwave lemon for 20 seconds for maximum juice extraction. Works wonders.

4. Let quinoa cool for a few moments, then toss it together with the vegetables, dressing and feta. Serve cold. Turn on Madmen. I mean, ahem... grade something. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fresh Polenta

Did you know you could make polenta fresh from REAL CORN?! I didn't, until I stumbled across this fortuitous little post over at food52. Yes, my friends, apparently polenta can be made without the use of those handy plastic tubes of it that I buy from the miniature (but at least existent, have to give credit where credit is due) organic section of my grocery store and even (gasp!) without a bag of corn meal.

In the summer in particular, this is fantastic news. One, fresh corn is so cheap right now. Not to mention vibrant, yellow, and gleaming inside all its husk-enveloped glory... and, hey wait, did I mention cheap?

And two, no matter what the season, polenta made this way is so delicious that I'm not entirely sure how I survived before I discovered it. (Yes, by eating many of the millions of food items in existence other than polenta I suppose, but just indulge my exaggerations for a mere moment, please.)

The following recipe for fresh polenta includes a bed of greens for it to rest upon, as well as a few poached eggs and some sauteed mushrooms to grace it's delightful presence, but you could just as easily serve it on its own (with a little grated pepper and parmesan cheese, perhaps) alongside a main dish of your choosing. Greens, eggs and mushrooms added, though, I think this makes the perfect weeknight main dish in and of itself. This recipe serves one, so double or quadruple or, I don't know, octuple, as you need to.

2 ears of corn
3 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup roughly chopped sweet onion
1 Tbsp. garlic
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth (or water, in a pinch)
1 & 1/2 cup roughly chopped cruciferous greens
1/2 cup sliced portobello mushrooms
a quick grating of asiago cheese
salt and pepper

1. Melt 2 Tbsps. of the butter in a skillet over medium heat, waiting until it begins to bubble and turn brown. Brown butter. Voila. There is nothing tastier. Nothing. (Oh wait... except fresh polenta. Need to learn to keep my story straight.)

2. Husk and then grate the raw ears of corn on the coarse side of a grater, over a large bowl. If you have a big box grater, this will be relatively quick and easy. The results will be a rather pulpy and wet mixture... dump into skillet along with butter, salt and pepper to cut the sweetness, and let cook on medium-low for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in another skillet, and brown the garlic and onion for a few minutes, until fragrant. Add the greens and broth, salt, then cover and let them wilt down to less than half their original appearance in a matter of minutes. We used kale the first time I cooked this with one of my dearest friends, at her wise and knowing insistence, and it was delicious. Back at home, I used mustard greens, as no kale was to be found. Equally effective. Any hearty green will work.

4. Using the remaining Tbsp. of butter, quickly saute the mushrooms with a little salt and pepper.

5. Poach two eggs.

6. Layer the greens onto the plate first, spoon the polenta over top and make two small indentations with the spoon, nestle the poached eggs inside, and add the mushrooms right beside them. A final grating of asiago (or parmesan) cheese over the whole thing, with perhaps a final shake of pepper, and there you are - a quick and easy budget-conscious, incredibly filling, weeknight dinner that you (and by you, I do mean me) could eat every night.

And really, aren't those owl salt and pepper shakers irresistibly cute?! I, ahem, speak from experience when I say they were. But for $5 at Pier 1 with a $10 off coupon, I can't feel too guilty.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rustic Buttermilk Boule

I debated what to name this bread for far too long. Nutty Oat Bread? But they're not really nuts so much as seeds in there, so... Seedy Oat Bread? Sounds like it belongs in a back alley, not your kitchen counter. And what about the buttermilk? The extra buttermilk about to go bad in the fridge is what got this lovely little loaf started in the first place. Ah yes, and the wheat, that's important. Buttermilk Wheat Bread a la Oats and Seeds and Things. Oh, but then there's that maple syrup that got thrown in there when I realized the honey was gone... Mildly Maplesque Pumpkin Seed Oatmeal Buttermilk Bread it is!

And then, because I couldn't say all that in one breath, I picked an entirely new and conveniently vague word to throw in there that perhaps encompasses all (or none) of these things, you decide. What's in a name anyway, right? Rustic Buttermilk Boule by any other name would taste JUST AS FREAKIN GOOD.

I may not be Shakespeare, but I AM an English major, just go with me on this one.

1 tsp. sugar
1 pack active dry yeast (1 pack rapid rise or instant is fine too)

1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup oats (old fashioned, quick, no matter)
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (or another seed/nut you prefer)
2 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. maple syrup

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda

Yields: 1 medium sized boule loaf

1. Proof the yeast by mixing it in a small bowl with 3 tablespoons warm (NOT hot) water and a pinch of sugar. Set it aside while you keep working.

2. Mix buttermilk, oats, seeds, butter (melted), and maple syrup in a large mixing bowl.

3. Mix white flour, wheat flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl.

4. Stir* 1 cup of the flour mixture into the wet mixture until combined. Stir in the yeast water. Stir in another cup of flour, then another. The dough will start to feel a little stretchy and become difficult to keep stirring. Don't feel like you have to use quite all the flour up now if you can't stir it all in... you can knead it in a minute.

5. Place the shaggy mass of dough on your lightly floured counter. Keep a little extra flour at hand to work in as you knead. You don't want your dough to stick to your hands, but it IS ok if it seems a little stickier than dough sometimes does... those oats will keep soaking up any extra liquid as the dough rises, so no worries. Knead for 10 minutes or so, until you have an actual, cohesive ball of dough.

6. Rub olive oil into the bottom of a large mixing bowl, place dough in it, flip over to coat both sides, cover with cloth, and let sit one hour. It will rise to at least twice its original size

7. Take dough out, pound down gently, knead a few more times, shape into ball, place on cooking sheet. Let rise at least 45 more minutes, OR as much as 4-5 hours. The longer it sits, the more the flavors deepen. So they say.

8. Cut three deep slashes across the top of your boule (that's just fancy for round-ish ball of dough) and brush a little more olive oil on top.

9. Bake at 350 for 55 minutes.

10. Wait at least 10 or 15 minutes, cut into it, eat IMMEDIATELY with butter. Seriously. Right then and there. You think I'm kidding. I'm not. This was totally my dinner tonight because I couldn't stop eating it.

* You do not HAVE to stir and knead this by hand. Use a stand mixer and dough hook if you so choose, or a processor, or whatever your favorite method is. I like the stir and knead by hand method, especially when I'm trying a new recipe, because its easier to tell when the dough feels ready.

Also because there just isn't much I love more on a Saturday morning than a good solid workout of dough kneading. See that laptop in the background there? Yeah, it's playing my bread kneading playlist. What, not everybody has one of those? Oh. Well then.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Caprese Bruschetta

There's no beating bruschetta for fresh and easy summer eating.

Plus, "bruschetta" is just fun to say. Especially in a terribly fake Italian accent. Go on, try it.

Long, thin loaf of crusty bread (I used Italian wheat)
1 Tbsp. minced garlic (OR a garlic clove)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Bruschetta topping:
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 red tomatoes
1 cup small, yellow grape tomatoes
1/2 sweet onion
1 cup (or more!) loosely packed basil
salt & pepper to taste

1. Slice the bread on a diagonal. Spread on baking sheet.

2. Mix minced garlic and olive oil in a shallow plate. Let sit while preparing topping to let the flavors meld.

3. Dice red & yellow tomatoes and onion to a small, well, dice.

4. Soak the onions in water for 10-15 minutes to mellow out their bite just a little.

4. Roll basil leaves up, cut into long strips.

5. Toss tomatoes/onions/basil with balsamic and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

6. Press each slice of bread into garlic-infused olive oil and place back on sheet. Toast at 450 in oven for no more than 5 minutes. (Keep a close watch on them and don't let them burn like I did!)

* If you have fresh garlic cloves, simply cut one in half and rub it over the oiled breads as soon as they come out of the oven to get the infused garlic flavor, instead of incorporating the minced garlic into the olive oil at the beginning.

Top each bruschetta just prior to serving so the bread doesn't lose its crispiness.

Love and messy finger foods,

Basil Walnut Pesto

I love to cook, but let's be honest... I also love a good shortcut. I know, call me a bad cook, but pre-made puff pastry? I'm there. Pre-bought canister of breadcrumbs at ready and at hand in the pantry? All over that.

But pesto, my friends, freshly made pesto is NOT one of those things that is just as good pre-made. It is, in fact, exponentially better when freshly made at home. I'm not exaggerating. Once you make your own, you won't ever buy a jar at the grocery store again. I'm serious.

"I have no time!" you say? No, you do. Trust me. It'll be faster to whip this up than to bother stopping at the grocery store on your way home.

"I'm not a cook!" Doesn't matter. If you have the ingredients and you have 5 minutes, you can totally do this.

But enough of the fake, cheesy dialogue before you're tempted to roll your eyes and quit reading before even getting to the good stuff. Onward to tasty and delicious pesto.

I've included the "basic formula" as well, which should let you create dozens upon dozens of fool proof pesto varieties. Basil, pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil is the most basic and traditional pesto. I used walnuts here because the flavor paired nicely with mushroom ravioli for dinner. Also, they're cheaper.

But here's the thing - if you've never made pesto before, certainly start with a classic basil pesto, but by all means - don't stop with it! ANY herb, green, nut or cheese will work. And add- ins, well, those options are endless.

Try leftover cilantro instead of basil and add a little lemon zest for zing.

Or use up some arugula instead for a sharper, more peppery flavor.

Stick with basil as your base, but add some artichoke in for complexity.

(I'm wondering what adding strawberries would do to a simple basil pesto. I'll let you know when I try!)

My Personal Basic Pesto Formula:
2 parts herbs/greens
1 part cheese
1 part nuts
1/2 part olive oil
seasoning (garlic, salt, pepper...)

*add-ins always optional (artichoke, roasted tomato, strawberries etc.)

Ingredients for Walnut Basil Pesto:
2 cups loosely packed basil
1 cup walnuts
1 cup freshly grated parmesan reggiano
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. garlic
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

1. Add basil, walnuts (EXCEPT for a small reserved handful) and cheese to food processor. Pulse until combined.

2. Drizzle olive oil in while processing. Adjust amount as needed to get the texture and thickness you want. (1/2 cup will make it pretty thick. Add more if you want a "saucier" pesto. Just do it gradually... this part is a touch and go process).

3. Add garlic, salt, pepper. Process and taste. Adjust seasoning accordingly, process again.

4. OPTIONAL: Add your reserved walnuts. Pulse only once or twice, and you'll have some larger pieces of walnut mixed in for a more textured, rustic pesto. I love it this way. But if you like your pesto as smooth and suave as possible... skip this step.

Yields: Approx. 2 cups pesto
(but that's a rough estimate... don't hold me to it. It's enough for 4 generous servings over pasta plus a little left over)

And that's all there is to it.

Serve over ravioli. (Buitoni makes a lovely mushroom agnolotti, speaking of pre-made shortcuts. Making my own ravioli from scratch is a definite on my cooking bucket list. But tonight, I wasn't quite all that ambitious.)

Serve spread on toasted garlic bread.

Serve stirred into soup for an extra flavor kick.

And if you have leftovers, freeze in an ice cube tray for ready made portions of pesto whenever you need a fresh herb fix in sauce, soup, or any other sundry recipe you can imagine adding a little pesto to.

Love and pesto,

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Roasted Eggplant Parmesan Dip

You'll have to forgive my lack of "in-progress" pictures on this one, people. Frankly, it was not a recipe I intended to blog because it wasn't a recipe I intended to be all that fantastic. In fact, it's not really a, ahem, recipe at all. It's more of a, how shall we say... a "chuck-it-all-in-the-food-processor-'cause-I'm-moving-and-I've-gotta-use-it-up"-ipe. Aren't those always the best, though? (Ok, ok... not always... once in a rare while, though! Same thing!) Either way - this recipe is quick, easy, filling and, above all, addictively delicious.

2 small eggplants
(1 medium to large-ish eggplant would do just as well)
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsp. minced garlic
(or, hey, throw full cloves in there... it's all getting processed in the end)
1/4 cup fresh basil
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. pepper

1. Cut each eggplant in half lengthwise. Place, flesh side down, in a baking pan. Drizzle with half of the olive oil. Roast in a 350 degree oven for approx. 45 minutes. Throw it on broil for a minute or two at the end to get the skins really nice and blistered.

2. Let eggplant cool for a few moments, then dump them in your food processor (I imagine a blender would work just as well), skins and all. Let's be honest, I'm just lazy and don't feel like scooping the flesh out, but you can if you want! But, do it my way, and there will be nice little flecks of deep purple all throughout your dip... a nice visual, I think, not to mention the extra nutrients you're packing in there. (Eggplant skin MUST contain some vital nutrient, right? But hey, I'm no health science major, don't ask me which one that would be...)

3. Add the cheese, rest of olive oil, and other above condiments to processor. Feel free to add more or less of any to taste (for example, I LOVE garlic... you, being a normal person and presumably less garlic crazy than I, may want to tone it down a notch...), but DO be careful with the balsamic. I found that just a few quick splashes really deepened the flavor here, but any more than that, well, just add slowly and taste as you go.

4. Process until smooth-ish, scoop out, and serve warm. It's just like spinach artichoke dip, except without the spinach and the artichokes, and, I happen to think, better. Yeah, I said it. Better than spinach artichoke dip, which is pretty much the god of all delicious appetizer-y foods. The eggplant is surprisingly creamy and the roasted flavor is quite rich and nutty.

Serve with whole wheat crackers if you have them on hand, OR do as I did and quickly toast up some tortillas, sliced in triangles, and sprinkled with a little salt, pepper, and basil, in the oven while your dip is processing.

Cheers! Time to run before I get kicked out of the library...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Chai Tea Concentrate

Cardamom. It's supposed to be a key ingredient in chai. But the first time I decided I had to make a chai latte (I mean, absolutely had to, right then and there), it just so happened that we were snowed in to our little apartment. (Well, "snowed in" by a Floridian's standards, who, 5 years later, still just stands in front of her car and stares when she walks out in the morning and there's a little ice on the windshield. I mean, what I am supposed to do with that? Ice scraper you say? What's that?) Either way, the moral of the story is this - we were snowed in, I had no cardamom lying around, and I wasn't about to venture out to try to find some.

So, not to be dissuaded by the facts, I forged ahead and made it without cardamom, resolutely throwing lots and lots of every other spice I could find into the pot to try to make up for this one missing ingredient. And guess what?It was still tasty and delicious without it! Turns out it's really difficult to ruin chai concentrate. The spices have a way of meshing and melding and just generally swirling all together into a lovely, fragrant concoction that absolutely refuses to be ruined, even by neglecting to add a key ingredient.

Now, since then, I have procured some cardamom, which I used in the batch of chai I made tonight, but at least one non-typical chai spice has stuck around from that first recipe - anise. I know most chai recipes you'll find don't call for it, but I just kind of chucked some in the pot that night to see what would happen, and I happen to think it adds a little extra zing. When it comes to chai, the spicier and more complex and layered, the better, I say. So, the anise is here to stay. If you don't have any of the below spices, that's ok. No cardamom, throw in an extra couple of cloves to make up for it. No ginger, throw in some extra cinnamon instead. Trust me. It'll be ok.

Ingredients, for concentrate:
3 cups water
6 cardamom pods
6 cloves
3 anise stars
1 inch of ginger root (you can peel it, but I don't bother)
2 cinnamon sticks (or, 2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon)
1 Tbsp. ground nutmeg
4 Earl Grey tea bags
(or any other black tea, even green tea for that matter. I just happen to love the subtle citrusy touch that Earl Grey brings to the table, and I think you might too.)

for latte:
nutmeg & cinnamon for topping

(servings: 4-ish)

This is going to be complicated, so get ready. Are you ready? Dump all the ingredients into a medium sized pot. Put on stove. Let simmer.

Yep. That's pretty much it.

Well, ok, a few more details may be in order. Let the mixture come to a boil. Let boil for 5 minutes. Turn down to medium-low, cover, and let simmer for 15-30 more minutes, depending on how long you're willing to wait. The longer you let it simmer, the stronger and more melded the spices will be, but hey... sometimes you just can't wait, and that's ok too. This recipe isn't particularly time sensitive.

Once you've let it simmer for a while, take it off the stove, strain the spices out, and you'll be left with only the concentrate. My highly technical straining method involves balancing a colander on top of a large measuring cup. The spout is handy for pouring into mugs for serving.

Fill a mug halfway with chai concentrate. Fill the other half with milk. Equal parts. Easy as that.

If you have a steamer, go ahead and steam your milk first. If you don't... use my method. Heat milk in microwave, then use the whisk attachment on your electric hand mixer. It'll get you some froth, and that's all that matters. Sprinkle a little cinnamon or nutmeg on top (or both!) and voila! Coffee bar chai latte, just in time to kick back for a little guilty pleasure Monday night TV viewing at its finest. The Bachelorette. Yes, I know, feel free to judge me, I'm judging me too. And yet, I can't stop watching...

The rest of the concentrate will last up to a week in the fridge. And hey, maybe even longer, but it's never made it longer than a week in my fridge before being used up, so I wouldn't know.