October 28, 2011

Pick Me Up

Me and this week, we're not friends.  We're in a fight.

Monday was the first ever national Food Day.  A day to bring awareness and push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.  I would have liked to tell you about it much earlier, but my time this past week has be dedicated to organic chemistry.   Ugh, food is much more exciting than o chem.  Truth.

Two exams back-to-back on Thursday morning.  One of them at 8am and neither of them went so well.

This weekend will be filled with Halloween festivities and I just can't bring myself to get excited about them.  I have however, spent the last week admiring the houses in the 'hood, all decked out and ready for the costumed parade of kids on Monday.  Man, I wish I could still go trick-or-treating.

So next week, I'm looking at you, let's make it a better week.

These sausage stuffed peppers would be a good start.  They have the ability to get you out of a funk, because even if your day wasn't so hot, a good dinner can lift your spirits.  These peppers are really just that good, made even better by the homegrown goodness they contained.  The peppers and eggs and sausage came from wonderful, generous friends.  I even made the tomato sauce out of their tomatoes (you can used canned sauce, though I'd argue your peppers will be filled with less love than these).  The chicken stock was freshly made and aside from the spinach, the rest was pantry staples.

I know there's a million and a half recipes like this one.  Peppers stuffed with ground beef or turkey, grains, couscous, vegetables and cheese, but these ones are different.  For one, there's no baking.  Everything gets cooked in one (large) skillet on the stove top, taking much less time.  Also, the tomato sauce the stuffed pepper halves simmer in is kind of genius.  It picks up all the browned bits from the pan and catches all the juices and reduces it all to a tangy, yet rich sauce to pour over the top when serving.  Oh, and sausage kicks the butt of plain ole ground meat any day.

Spinach and Sausage Stuffed Peppers

Adapted from Food and Wine, October 2010

At a glance, this may look fussier than your standard stuffed pepper recipe - the kind where you lop off the top of the pepper, stuff it full of ground meat or grains and maybe some veggies and cheese, then set it to bake away - but it's not.  If you're swift in the kitchen, you could probably get this on the table in 30 minutes.  The extra step of browning the tops and using sausage instead of ground beef or turkey bumps the flavor way up.  Plus eating the halved peppers is far less awkward than trying to devise a plan of attack on a whole upright stuffed pepper.

4-6 servings

5 oz. baby spinach
2 slices of fresh french bread, finely chopped
1/4 cup milk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, casings removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 small to medium sized green bell peppers
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup canned tomato sauce
1 cup chicken broth

In a very large skillet, cook the spinach over high heat just until wilted, about 1 minute. Drain and press out all of the water. Coarsely chop the spinach. Rinse out and dry the pan.

In a bowl, knead the chopped bread with the milk, egg and cheese to form a paste. Knead in the pine nuts, onion, sausage and spinach and season lightly with salt and pepper. Using lightly moistened hands, divide the mixture among the pepper halves and lightly pack it in.

In the skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the stuffed peppers, filling side down, and cook over high heat until well-browned, about 4 minutes. Turn the peppers and cook until the skins are browned and blistered, about 4 minutes longer. Add the tomato sauce and chicken broth, cover and simmer until the sausage filling is cooked through and the peppers are tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to plates and serve right away.

October 19, 2011

Clean Slate, Clean Plate

A big part of our moving experience was downsizing and simplifying.  We moved from an 800 square foot 2 bedroom place to a 1 bedroom in a city where real estate is a pretty penny.  Everything we owned was scrutinized and evaluated and a lot of it was put into bags for donation or trash.  Would this even fit in the new place?

In the end it felt good.  Freeing.  There's less clutter in our lives and we know that we're surrounded by things with meaning, things that we love.

Maybe you've noticed some changes around here, too?  I've been playing around with this blog a bit in the past few weeks, seeking out simple and clean, something that felt more like me.  The me now, not the me who started this blog a year and a half ago.  I took down the old banner and replaced it with simple text because that isn't my kitchen anymore.  You'll see other places you can find me just over there to the right.  Besides here of course.  I can't be trusted to keep up with posting my weekly meal planning, so instead I'll just post links over there to what I'm cooking, what's inspiring me right now and other recipe obsessions.  Some you might find me posting about here later, others not.

See?  Simple.

Just like these little quinoa cakes.  Need I profess my love for Heidi Swanson and 101 Cookbooks again?  I could go on for days.  These little patties are the perfect kind of food.  Unpretentious, simple and so versatile.  They are a breeze to put together, cook up to a beautiful golden brown color and have endless possibilities for switching it up.  A different herb, a different cheese, serve it on it's own or as a veggie burger.  They don't crumble to pieces and they travel well.  I had them with a bit of lebneh, a middle eastern strained yogurt cheese, dolloped on top and the flavors reminded me a bit of potato pancakes.  So comforting.

Quinoa Cakes

Another rockstar recipe from the lovely Heidi Swanson.  Just savory enough and totally open to changes.  Try a different herb (parsley?), throw in a different cheese (fontina?), take it to another level with some spices, or just leave it as is.  I made the smaller patties as written, but make them a bit bigger and I think you could have a delicious veggie burger on your hands.  When I had them topped with lebneh the flavor reminded me of potato pancakes.  Only these pack much more protein and are arguably more healthy.

12 small-ish patties

2 1/2 cups cooked quinoa, cooled
4 large eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh chives
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup whole grain bread crumbs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
greek yogurt or lebneh for serving

Combine the quinoa, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the chives, onion, cheese, and garlic. Add the bread crumbs, stir, and let sit for a few minutes so the crumbs can absorb some of the moisture. At this point, you should have a mixture that you can easily form into 1" thick patties.  A good palmful amount will yield about 12 patties total.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet (I used nonstick) over medium heat, add enough patties to fit with some room between each, cover, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until the bottoms are deeply browned.  Carefully flip the patties with a spatula and cook the second sides for 7 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the skillet and cool on a wire rack while you cook the remaining patties.  Serve atop a big green salad or top with a dollop of Greek yogurt and extra snipped chives.

October 14, 2011

Beans and Greens

I have a confession to make and some of you may be a little surprised.  This soup recipe is old school Rachael Ray.  Back before she had a talk show and a hundred million cookbooks, before orange cookware became synonymous with her name.  Before even the suggested serving sizes of her recipes downright frightened me (unless I misread the recipe source and this soup was actually intended for 2?).  She has some hidden gems, recipes that I've definitely made more than once, so I guess what I'm saying is: don't judge a book by it's cover.

This is just a simple beans and greens kind of soup.  It could have been anyone's recipe really, but it just happens to come from Rachael Ray.  This is he kind of soup you crave on drizzly grey days, or when you're looking for comfort without tons of effort.  It's not the most handsome of soups, but with darkness falling earlier and earlier its muted tones are much more appropriate to autumn's palate.

Escarole is a fun green.  A little less bitter than other members of the endive family, it's wild and tangled leaves giving it the look of green leaf's less demure sibling.  I like it best with a little heat put to.  It tames the bitter and makes it more approachable.  In this soup, the wilted and stewed escarole becomes silky and its bright green color fades to something more homely.  The beans add body and thicken the savory chicken stock as they simmer away.  Pancetta is in there too, playing the much important salty role.  A tiny mountain of Parmigiano Reggiano to top it all off  and I've got my dinner all planned out for the next few days.

recipe from Rachael Ray, 30 Minute Meals

This soup is dead simple and simply perfect.  It should go without saying that when a recipe is as simple as this, seek out the best ingredients.  Homemade chicken stock and super fresh escarole from the market will make all the difference here.  I suspect cooking up your own beans instead of using canned would be even more wonderful, but it's an extra step I haven't yet taken.  I like a generous dusting of  the real-deal fresh parmesan cheese on mine and bread is a must to swipe up the last bits from the bowl.

4-6 servings

4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 oz. pancetta, diced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 large bunch escarole, chopped
2 (14-ounce) cans, cannellini beans, drained
4 cups chicken stock
A couple pinches ground nutmeg
kosher salt
Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, for topping

In a deep, large, heavy pot over moderate heat, saute garlic and pancetta in extra-virgin olive oil for 3 minutes. Add onions and cook a few minutes longer until the pancetta begins to brown.

Add the greens and wilt slightly, just so that can fit in the pot.  Add drained beans, broth, and nutmeg. Cook over moderate to medium-high heat for 12 minutes, or until greens are no longer bitter.  Season with salt and don't be shy here, salt until the flavors pop.  Serve with shaved cheese and perhaps some crusty bread.

October 11, 2011

From Veggie Box to Plate

The farm where our CSA box comes from is located in Dixon, CA about an hour and half north east from here.  There it's still warm and the summer crops are still happily providing.  This past week we had our first rain of the season and just like that I switched gears into obsessing over things like apples and pumpkins and stews.  Tomatoes, I love you, but I think it's time for a break.

I'm back and forth on my feelings regarding the aforementioned CSA box.  There's only one more box left in our trial, so I've begun to make mental pro and con lists in my head about the experience.  Quality wise, I haven't really any complaints - except that one time we got an heirloom Tigger melon that teased me with its perfume only to taste like nothing.  I suppose my problem is that some of the shopping and cooking control has been taken away from me.  My meal planning has been reversed.  Instead of using what's in season to guide my menu planning and in turn my shopping, I now search for recipes for specific ingredients and work from that direction.

Pros include the affordability and always having a house well stocked with (organic) vegetables and sometimes fruit.  I'm also all about supporting the small, local farms and avoiding Safeway like the plague.

In the meantime however, while I try and make up my mind, I still need to use up the goods in the veggie box.  I'll keep cooking the summer squashes and finding new ways to use up tomatoes and basil.  And for that I have the help of this dish I found on the NYT website.  It's honestly more than the sum of its parts which is exactly what I needed out of the recipe.  Something to surprise me and remind me to be grateful for harvest time's bounty.  Not quite stewed zucchini that maintain some bite to them melting together with sweet tomatoes and a kick of garlic and basil, it's summertime comfort food.  Fast too.

Zucchini Provencal

As suggested in the NYT column, I suspect this would be delicious served over some grilled fish, something mild and white.  We just had it with a chunk of crusty baguette and some salami for a light and simple meal.  It was delicious the next day gently warmed with a sprinkle of feta cheese and scooped up with the leftover bread.

4 side dish servings

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds medium or small zucchini thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ripe tomatoes, grated on the large holes of a box grater
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped or slivered fresh basil (to taste)

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat in a wide, heavy skillet. Add the zucchini. Cook, stirring or shaking the pan, until the zucchini is lightly seared and beginning to soften, three to five minutes. Remove from the pan, and set aside.

Add the remaining olive oil to the pan, then the garlic. Cook, stirring, just until fragrant -- less than 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until the tomatoes have begun to cook down, about five minutes. Return the zucchini to the pan, add salt and pepper to taste, and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring often, until the zucchini is tender and translucent and the tomatoes have cooked down to a fragrant sauce. Stir in the basil, and taste and adjust seasonings. Remove from the heat and serve hot, or allow to cool and serve at room temperature.

October 7, 2011


Sometimes I forget that I took pictures of food.  Sometimes I leave pictures crowding up space on my camera's memory card.  Sometimes I don't transfer them onto my computer for 3 months.  Bad food blogger.

Clearly I enjoyed tomatoes this summer.  Actually, that shouldn't even be past tense, I am STILL enjoying tomatoes into fall.  Thank goodness for living in California and thank goodness for San Francisco's Indian summers.  So if you're lucky enough to still catch the season's last trickle of tomatoes -  hopefully before it's too late and you have to hang on to these until another 9 months from now - you might consider making one of these for dinner. 

A deconstructed cocktail alongside some grass fed beef?  Don't mind if I do!

Sopes with Refried Beans, Tomatillo and Avocado Salsa, Feta Cheese and a sort of Pico de Gallo

(I added a Persian cucumber, because why not?)