April 30, 2012

Spring, Sandwiched

I've had this sandwich bookmarked for a few weeks now.  But a few weeks ago the only asparagus I could find was pencil thin, limp and priced way too high.  These are not the qualities I look for when shopping.  Instead I just stared longingly at it on my computer screen, imagining its fresh flavor, its perfect representation of spring.   I needed this sandwich in my life.

Something familiar was speaking to me, but it took me a while to connect the dots.  You see, this is practically the spring vegetable version of the tuna nicoise sandwich I made way back when.  Almost.  This one is more elemental, simple.  You char some asparagus in a skillet, just enough to get a bit of color and caramelization on the outside, but keep some of that lovely crunch.  In the pan with that asparagus goes some crushed garlic cloves that first flavor the oil, then once they soften and sweeten a bit, get smeared on the bread.  The eggs, with their deep golden yolks (straight from some happy chickens on a friend's farm), lend some creaminess to the otherwise bright flavors.  Some mustard, my favorite pickled red onions, a squeeze of lemon and a good helping of dill round out the ingredients.  It sounds like more work than it actually is.

Asparagus is now flooding the markets and I've already begun to think of new ways to redo this sandwich.  Keep the asparagus as is, top it with a bit of sauce gribiche a handful of baby lettuces, thinly sliced cucumber and a few chopped kalamata olives.  Or toss lightly steamed asparagus in a mustard and caper vinaigrette and lay it over wild arugula.  Then pile on the hard boiled eggs, pickled red onion and fresh tarragon.  Each a new springtime collaboration.

Pair any of these with a colorful fruit salad and a chilled bottle of rosé and have yourself a perfect picnic.

Spring Asparagus Sandwiches
Adapted from TheKitchn

Measurements are hardly important here, but be sure to use the best quality and freshest ingredients. They're fantastic still slightly warm right after assembling, but if you don't mind sacrificing some crunch from the bread, wrap it all up and let it sit together in the fridge for a while before serving.  Perfect for a spring picnic.

Serves 2

about 12 medium spears of asparagus
2 pieces of baguettes, about 6"-7" inches long
2 hard boiled eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
1/4 cup pickled red onions
2 tablespoons French mustard
lemon juice to taste
fresh dill
salt and pepper

Trim the asparagus by cutting or breaking off the woody ends, then cut the spears in half length–wise as best you can.  Slice your hard boiled eggs.

In a large skillet over high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the 2 cloves of smashed garlic. Sear the asparagus spears, about 3 minutes on each side, then remove from pan. You want a little bit of char, so don't move the asparagus very often. Split the baguette pieces in half.  Add remaining tablespoon of olive oil and toast the baguettes, cut side down in the same skillet just until it turns a bit golden.  Scrape/smear the garlic cloves that were cooked with the asparagus on one side of the toasted baguette, on the other side smear the mustard. 

Place half the asparagus on each sandwich, topped with sliced egg, dill, pickled onion and squeeze a little lemon over everything. Season with salt and pepper.

April 27, 2012

As Simple as....

What do you do when your fridge is overwhelmed with vegetables? Make stir fry of course! Actually, for how often my fridge is overwhelmed with vegetables (a totally good problem, by the way) I hardly ever make stir fry. It's just another one of those obvious things I overlook.

But the stars were aligned in just the right way the other night and this stir fry came to be. I had just picked up another gorgeous Mystery Box from Mariquita Farms that was just over flowing with broccoli de ciccio, colorful baby carrots, green onions and a big perky bunch of mizuna. It was on this same day that I happened across a recipe from Epicurious and dinner practically made itself - you know, after I did all the chopping and prepping.  There were some mushrooms that needed using up too, so they made their way into the mix.

Listen, a stir fry isn't the kind of thing you even need a recipe for really, but sometimes it's good to have a guide. The crunchiest ingredients go in first, use high heat and stir/toss frequently, don't even think about over cooking it, the fresh snap when you bite down is good!  And the suggestion to toss in your spicy, lacy leaves of mizuna (or mustard greens or bok choy) is pretty helpful too. Leaves on those cute flowering heads of broccoli? Absolutely include them. In the end it just becomes a beautiful tangled mess of colorful vegetables and tofu, served over some brown rice and you're looking mighty healthy.  Other fantastic additions/substitutions could be sliced bell peppers, snow peas, maybe even some fresh bean sprouts right before serving.

This isn't a game changer of a recipe, but sometimes it's just nice to have a reminder to make something simple like stir fry.

Stir Fry with Mizuna and Tofu
Adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2011

The sauce for this stir fry is pretty light in the flavor department. Hints of it here and there, just enough to give it final bright boost. Of course if you've got another favorite sauce, it would totally work here. I'd also consider adding a dollop of sriracha to the final soy/vinegar sauce, or else put a few drops on top once you plate it.

4 servings

4 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
4 teaspoons Asian sesame oil, divided
4 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar, divided
1 14-ounce container extra-firm tofu, drained
2 tablespoons peanut oil
4 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 -3 cups broccoli di ciccio (or broccolini), chopped; stems, leaves and all
2 cups mixed baby carrots
4 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
1 big bunch mizuna, any tough stems removed
salt and white pepper

brown rice, for serving

Whisk 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, and 1/2 teaspoon vinegar in bowl.

Stack 2 paper towels on work surface. Cut tofu crosswise into 3/4-inch-thick slices; cut each slice crosswise in half. Arrange tofu on paper towels and let stand 10 minutes. Pat top of tofu dry.

Heat peanut oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add tofu and cook, without moving, until golden brown on bottom, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer tofu to paper towel to drain, then place tofu on sheet of foil and brush both sides with soy sauce mixture.

Wipe out any peanut oil from skillet. Add 2 teaspoons sesame oil and place skillet over medium heat. Add green onions, ginger, and garlic. Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broccoli and toss just until it turns bright green. Add carrots, then mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms begin to release their moisture. Add mizuna in 2 batches, tossing to wilt before adding more, 1 to 2 minutes per batch. Season greens with salt and pepper. Add remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce and 3 teaspoons vinegar and toss to coat. Add tofu to skillet. Toss again, gently to blend. Season with salt and white pepper if desired. Transfer to platter.

April 25, 2012

The Great (Veggie Burger) Hunt

I am a woman obsessed. On an endless quest for the perfect veggie burger, and not the store bought kind either.  My teenage years spent as a vegetarian ruined those for me.  Plus, let's not kid ourselves, they're a rather processed food.

I don't want a veggie burger that's trying to be anything like meat.  No offense to regular burgers out there - because I love those too - it's just that I don't see the point of not eating meat but still wishing that it's replacement was vaguely meaty.  My ideal veggie burger would be free of the sog factor and not one bit mushy. It would retain it's ability to stand up to a good bun.  It would be a big vegetable party in my mouth.  

If I had any intelligence my quest would have stopped here.  I would have just put the search on permanent sabbatical and called it a day.  No really, those beet burgers are out of control delicious (if a bit labor intensive) and I would happily eat them forever.  But no.  I still give into the draw of each new veggie burger recipe I come across, hoping and praying that this next one will be "the one".  Alas, most are not and I'm left disappointed.

This burger though, it has great potential.  It's got the flavor down and it's not too fussy to make.  Black beans and quinoa are a great pair.  The beans kinda glue the patty together and the nutty flavor of the quinoa makes for a hearty flavor.  Studded throughout with bits of roasted red pepper and cilantro and enhanced with earthy spiced like cumin and paprika, this veggie burger was about this close to perfect.  Where it falls short is in the texture department.  It still mushes out the sides of the bun, it still crumbles if not perfectly balanced when stacked with ingredients.

However, I'm fairly confident that this is a correctable problem.  Adding a few eggs to the mixture before chilling would probably go a long way towards helping this patty retain a sturdy shape.  (I was hoping the addition of panko crumbs and the chilling before cooking would be the golden ticket, but you know, live and learn.)  I kept the preparation pretty standard - lettuce, tomato, red onion, mayonnaise and a good bun - and I'd recommend the same to you.  There's already a lot going on in there, no need to pile much more on.

And if you try them with eggs?  Please report back.  The weather is warming up and I see the need for veggie burgers in my life greatly increasing.

Quinoa and Black Bean Burgers

There are two parts here I know you'll be tempted to skip, but please don't.   The first is chilling the mixture in the fridge for about an hour.  The second is finishing them off in the oven.  The thing about veggie burgers is that they tend to be a little too moist and squishy in the center and that time in the fridge help the panko crumbs suck up excess moisture and the extra 20 minutes in the oven helps them firm up. That being said, mine still wanted very badly to crumble and fall apart (but not nearly as bas as when I didn't bake them!), so I think the addition of 2 or so eggs to the mixture would have really helped.

8 veggie burgers

1- 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups cooked quinoa
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 roasted red bell pepper, diced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1.4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed

In a medium sized pan heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Sautee shallots just until translucent (1-2 minutes), then add garlic and sautee about 30 seconds more. Toss in the roasted red bell pepper and turn off the heat.

Next, in a food processor, add the beans, sauteed shallot mixture, cumin, smoked paprika, and good pinch of salt and pepper. Pulse until just combined. Add the cooked quinoa and cilantro and again pulse until combined and cilantro has been chopped up a bit. Remove to bowl, add panko crumbs and stir. Let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Form mixtures into palm-sized or slightly larger burger patties, you should get about 8.

Heat remaining oil in the same pan you cooked the shallots in. Sear each patty for about 3-4 minutes on each side until nice and browned. Transfer to a cookie sheet and bake for an additional 20 minutes.

Assemble as you like and eat!

April 16, 2012

Jam and Oats

There is a trend among my favorite-est cookies; they're mainly of the oatmeal variety.  I like them chewy and studded with raisins and toasted walnuts.  I adore them during the holidays, spread out thinly and lace-like and perfumed with shredded coconut.  I even love them if there's chocolate chips instead of raisins, but not quite as much.

I think what gets me about oatmeal cookies, of the non-chocolate chip variety, is that they're typically less sweet.  Or else the sweet is balanced out by the hearty chew of the oatmeal.  Either way, I'm into it.

These guys, plopped onto well-loved cookie sheets, thumbprints pressed into their centers to be filled with a dollop of jam?  I love them too.  The soft oatmeal cookie is warmed with the slightest hint of cinnamon and brightened with a fruity center.  But wait!  There is something even better here.  This recipe is really just a jumping off point, for you to get creative with.  I see stone fruit preserves and cardamom scented cookies.  Raspberry jam and lemony oatmeal bases.  Peach and ginger.  I kept it pretty safe with the blackberry and cinnamon combo (a winning combination to be sure!), but that's only because it's what I had around.

Bonus points for whipping up recipes with pantry staples.

Oatmeal Jammys
recipe from The Treats Truck Baking Book

The possibilities with these cookies are endless. Just swap out equal quantities of the dried spices and preserves and create all new cookies.  Cardamom, cinnamon, ground ginger all would be fantastic, as would a little freshly grated lemon zest.  Any jam or preserve will do, but i would probably stay away from jelly.  A little texture does these cookies good.

About 2 dozen cookies
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
jams or preserves

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease or line baking sheets.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

Beat butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix well. Mix in vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture, mixing until fully incorporated. Mix in oats.  Dough will be a bit sticky, but not unmanageably so.

Scoop dough onto prepared pans using a spoon and place them about 2 inches apart. Using your thumb, make a hollow in each cookie. Dipping your thumb in warm water beforehand will help keep the dough from sticking.  Fill each hollow with jam (or preserves).

Bake 12-14 minutes, until cookies are fully baked and the edges are golden.

April 4, 2012

Spring Green

Have you ever had fresh broccoli?  Like picked just hours before eating, fresh?  Oh man, it's a game changer.  How anyone ever used the word bitter to describe its taste will totally escape you when you eat it that fresh.  It's sweet and mild and the "green" flavor is incredibly mellow.  This stuff ruins your commercial grocery store broccoli - and that's a good thing.

After working at a farmer's market, I take anyone's declaration that they don't care for a certain food (more specifically vegetables and fruits) as a personal challenge.  I'm convinced that they need only to try it fresh, sold to them by the same hands that grew and harvested that food to change their minds and make them a believer.  Yep, I'm that person.

You know who else I am?  I'm the one who, when you invite me over for dinner, or a potluck, or insert event here where there is this food, I bring the salad.  Or some vegetable.  I always show up with the "healthy" dish, it never fails.  I don't mean it as a commentary on what you're serving and I'm certainly not judging you (I like you! We're friends!  Your food is probably good too!), it's just that I suffer from crippling anxiety that there will be no vegetables for me to eat.

This salad of broccoli and quinoa is just the kind of dish you'd expect me to show up with for a few reasons.  First, it's just so dang pretty when it's plated.  When you top it all off with toasted sliced almonds, creamy avocado pieces and crumbled feta, it dosen't look like you're trying to cram some sort of health food down people's throats.  Second, it packs quite the vegetable punch.  Sure you can see the sweet little broccoli florets tucked in there, but every single bit of this quinoa is coated in a broccoli pesto that is to die for.  Using the freshest broccoli and just barely steaming it keep it's sweet quality intact and ensures there's no bitter taste or sulfurous smell.  What's that you say?  You don't like broccoli?  We'll see about that...

Double Broccoli Quinoa
Adapted from 101cookbooks

This is certainly a fine dish for leftovers or making ahead, but you're best off storing the elements (the quinoa, the broccoli pesto, the toppings) separately and mixing just before serving. Also, as is frequently the case with raw garlic in dishes, the longer the pesto sits, the more potent the garlic flavor gets. If the idea of a strong garlic flavor is off putting to you (or you're planning on bringing the leftovers to work for lunch) consider using less garlic, or roasted garlic in it's place could be nice too.

4-6 servings

3 cups cooked quinoa*
5 cups raw broccoli, cut into small florets and stems
3 medium garlic cloves
2/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/3 cup freshly grated Grana Padano
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup milk
crumbled feta
sliced avocado

*To cook quinoa: rinse one cup of dry quinoa in a fine-meshed strainer. In a medium saucepan heat the quinoa, two cups of water, and a few big pinches of salt until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until water is absorbed and quinoa fluffs up, about 15 minutes. Quinoa is done when you can see the curlique in each grain, and it is tender with a bit of pop to each bite. Drain any extra water and set aside.

In a big pot just barely steam the broccoli florets for 1 minute. They should turn bright green, but remain crisp and sweet. Transfer the broccoli to a strainer and run under cold water until it stops cooking. Set aside.

To make the broccoli pesto puree two cups of the cooked broccoli, the garlic, 1/2 cup of the almonds, Parmesan, salt, lemon juice and red pepper flakes in a food processor. Drizzle in the olive oil and milk and pulse until smooth.

Just before serving, toss the quinoa and remaining broccoli florets with the broccoli pesto. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Turn out onto a serving platter and top with the remaining almonds, some sliced avocado and crumbled feta cheese.