June 30, 2011

Good Morning Sunshine

I have a weakness for anything Heidi Swanson does.   I  am yet to make one of her recipes - be it from her blog or either of her cookbooks - that I didn't fall head over heels in love with.  She has the Midas touch with vegetarian food.

I also adore cornbread.  Crunchy bits of cornmeal between my teeth, oh so crumbly texture, slathered in butter and honey; sign me up.  So back in March, the lovely Miss Swanson posted a teaser PDF just before the release of her second cookbook.  I must have spent the next hour or so drooling (literally) on my keyboard, completely in awe of the six beautiful recipes and photographs it included; one of which were these millet muffins.  You better believe that once I snapped back to reality I was all over it, single minded in my task of making something - anything - from that preview.  Cabinets were scoured, shopping lists were made and shortly after these beautiful muffins came out of the oven.

Yes, millet.  It's not bird feed, it's delicious (HS has a millet fried "rice" recipe in Super Natural Cooking that's killer too).  Little crunchy balls that pop when you bite them, lightly nutty, and perfect in these muffins.  They're not quite cornbread, but they have a similar tang and crumb.  The lemon zest is my favorite addition, taking it from a nutty and wholesome breakfast, to one that has a bright lemon zing at the finish.  A little sunshine in the morning to wake you up.  I slathered them in a strawberry, champagne and rose petal jam from one of my favorite farmers' market vendors and it was a match made in heaven.

Millet Muffins
Adapted from Super Natural Every Day, Heidi Swanson

I did just a tiny bit of tinkering here, really, just a little.  Instead of just putting the millet in raw to the muffins, I toasted it in a skillet before adding it into the batter.  I like the depth that toasted grains have and it plays nicely with the flavor of whole wheat flour.  But do as you like, or just save yourself a bit of time and put it in raw.  I used whole milk yogurt, but I imagine a Greek yogurt would be a pleasant added tang.

1 dozen

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup millet, toasted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup barely melted unsalted butter
1/2 cup honey
Grated zest and 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 400F with a rack in the top third of the oven. Butter a standard 12-cup muffin pan or line with paper liners.

To toast the millet, heat a skillet over medium heat.  Add the millet and move it around the pan until it begins to smell nutty and reaches a light golden brown color, about 3 minutes.  Let cool.

Whisk together the flour, millet, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, eggs, butter, honey, and lemon zest and juice until smooth. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until the flour is just incorporated. Divide the batter among the muffin cups, spooning a heaping 1/4 cup batter into each one, filling it to a bit below the rim.

Bake for about 15 minutes, until the muffin tops are browned and just barely beginning to crack. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn the muffins out of the pan to cool completely on a wire rack.

June 17, 2011

Making it Up

It started with this.  A big bunch of wild and tangled greens tucked into a crate and set amid the sea of citrus at one of my favorite market vendors.  Agretti the sign read, "little sour one".

I love greens.  I've probably mentioned that three or four or one hundred times.  But this wild child, I'd never heard of it.  Turns out, it's something of a rarity.  Agretti grows alongside salt marshes or in salty soil and has a relatively short harvest season.  The salt in the ground imparts a salty/sour/acidic quality to the fresh green leaves, tasting reminiscent of sour grass.  It behaves similar to spinach when cooked and lends itself to many of the same preparations.  The man I bought it from, Bob Polito, who mostly grows it as a pet project recommended sauteing the tender leaves in olive oil, minced garlic and a squeeze of lemon and using that as a bed for fish.  The lemon, he said, was imperative.  I do not argue with the experts.

I walked over to the fish monger, who then sampled the green, agreed on the preparation and picked  out a beautiful fillet for me.  Dinner was decided.  I sauteed the agretti for maybe 4 minutes, just enough to get it pliable and wilty but still retain some crunch.  Indeed the lemon was imperative and I gave an extra squeeze over the top of the pan roasted fillet just for good measure. But I only made one fillet for the both of us and had barely used 1/3 of the bunch.  So, onward with the experiment.

Normally, Tastespotting  and FoodGawker are my go to resources to figure out a recipe or get recipe ideas - I like the visuals - but even Google was letting me down in the inventive idea department.  I'd already gone the sautee route and I wasn't in the mood to make a mock seaweed salad using agretti  in its place (though now that it's all gone, I could really get on board with that), so instead I made pesto.  I even broke out the big guns and purchased pine nuts for the occasion.  I remember now why I always use walnuts or hazelnuts in my pesto, pine nuts are an unholy level of expensive.  Oh how I suffer for my craft!

When I made the pesto I blanched the agretti for a few minutes before processing everything to mellow out it's acidity.  The result was light, vaguely tart and a nice change from your typical herbaceous basil variety.  I always toss in some red pepper flakes and use less olive oil than most recipes, preferring to add a drizzle once the pesto and pasta have been tossed together.  Also, I happened to have some Romano in the fridge instead of Parmesan and used that.  A little saltier, a little more pungent, it did the trick nicely.

For dinner another night, I tossed some pillows of ricotta gnocchi with a spoon full or two of the pesto.  It was light, bright and everything I could ask for in a late springtime meal.  I guess what I've been getting at the whole time is that: next time you see something new-to-you, grab it, take it home and start experimenting.  It's surprising how quickly you can turn something once unfamiliar into a new favorite.

Agretti Pesto

I don't know - I feel silly for giving you a recipe for pesto.  It's such an intuitive thing to make, tweaking to your own tastes.  All I'm really aiming for here is to 1) inspire you to experiment in your pesto making forays and 2) if you even see agretti, grab a bunch!

Makes about 1 cup

2 cups lightly packed tender agretti leaves
2 cloves or garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
salt & pepper

Set a small sauce pan of water to boil on the stove.  Strip the tender leaves from the thicker stem of the agretti, the way you might take rosemary off it's stem.  Hold onto the top of the spring and pull your fingers downward.  Blanch the agretti in the boiling water for 3 minutes and then strain and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking.

In a pan over medium heat, toast the pine nuts until they are golden in color and fragrant.

Add agretti, garlic, pine nuts, red pepper flakes and water to the bowl of a food processor and pulse to make a rough paste.  Leaving the motor on, stream the olive oil in until the paste thins and becomes smoother.  You may need a bit more than called for, but I like to add just enough to get it to a somewhat loose paste rather than something too saucy.  A little reserved pasta water in the mix with the pesto and pasta keeps things evenly coated but not too watered down.

Add the cheese, and salt and pepper to taste and pulse the food processor a few time to get everything incorporated.  Serve tossed with pasta, as a spread on sandwiches or on pizza. 

June 14, 2011

Sometimes on the Weekends

Lazy sundays with friends.  A counter top full of snacks and enough white wine to keep us cool until sunset.


Eating al fresco, on the patio, looking westward across San Diego.  Grilled oysters and summertime corn.  Shadows getting longer as sunset approaches.  This is how it should always be.

Plenty of fruits and veggies in the farmers' markets this time of year.  I tried to be selective, but I was seduced by too much of summer's bounty.

Three of my favorite things: cheese, beer and wine.  An experimental night of pairings.  From L to R; cashel blue, cana de oveja, boschetto and manchego.

June 2, 2011

Taking a Leap

There was a moment, months ago, where I mentioned applying and getting into a few universities.  It was just a passing remark, an event that was a part of a really great year, just a grain of information really.  Well that grain is much bigger now.  The size of a pebble maybe.

In just 2 months time I will be leaving my home in San Diego and setting off for a new adventure in San Francisco.  I'm excited and anxious and scared at the same time.  I've left San Diego before, lived away from home, but it was different then.  Back then it was an itch I needed to scratch.   I wanted to move away because I was relatively free of commitments and ready to take something new on, in a new town.  This time feels more like a blind giant leap.  It helps that D is going on this adventure too and San Fransisco is a city I've come to love, but the butterflies are still aflutter in my stomach.

This time around I'm leaving armfuls of wonderful friends, a job that makes me happy, my dearly loved family and sunny sunny beaches.  I'm feeling the crunch to pack in trips to Palm Springs and Salvation Mountain.  Go camping in the dessert and the mountains.  I want to spend every weekend around a BBQ with friends and every free day soaking in the sunshine at the beach.

So for those BBQs and light summertime fare, I give you this noodle salad.  Give them something unexpected, colorful and bright.  If you promise to keep a secret, I actually made this dish a while back and forgot about it until I was searching through some pictures.  Thank goodness I had the foresight to write down the recipe and changes I made (my organization sometime surprises me!) so that I could share it with you here today.  

This salad will definitely be making a return around here.  The zippy bright dressing is completely addictive, it's one of those things were I want to double the recipe to keep some extra around for my everyday salads.  The crispy crunch of cabbage and creamy avocados all tangled up in the buckwheat noodles, people I have no idea why I let this slip away from me.

Cabbage and Soba Noodle Salad with Carrot Ginger Dressing
Adapted from No Tea After 12

I actually made this with cubes of lightly sauteed tofu since sometime I find soba noodles don't entirely fill me up.  You can add them or not, it's delicious either way.  It's perfect for potlucks since it's good warm, room temp or cold and you may or may not find yourself making extra of the dressing to put on your weekday salads.  A punch of color and a little less everyday, I'd say it is well worth it to make extra and keep it in the fridge.

4 servings 

1 medium carrot, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons Japanese rice vinegar
1-inch pieces fresh ginger, grated
1 1/2 tablespoons white miso
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1/2 small shallot

8 oz. soba noodles
1 cup savoy cabbage, thinly sliced
1 cup red cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 large avocado sliced
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
14 oz firm tofu, drained, pressed and cubed (optional)

In a blender add all the dressing ingredients and pulse or puree until you've reached a smooth, if slightly chunky, consistency.  Those carrots are tough to break down completely, so don't worry if there are small chunks after a brief whir around the blender.

If you are using the tofu, once it's been drained pressed and cubed, heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in skillet over medium high heat.  Sautee the cubed tofu for 5 minutes, shaking the pan every so often, or until the tofu is a light golden color.  Remove and set aside.

Cook soba noodles according to package directions and then drain.  In a bowl, toss the drained noodles with the dressing and cabbage.  Add tofu and mix again, trying not to break or tear apart the cubes.  Serve topped with a few slices of avocado each and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.