Category Archives: Vegetarian

Spring Has Sprung

Spring has definitely arrived here in Washington, DC.  The cherry blossoms are in full bloom and the tourist season has begun.

So, we’ve been staying home a bit more than usual.  After a couple of days of yard work, I was so pleased to see my herbs start to sprout and spread.  I’ve missed the light and fresh taste the herbs can bring to our meals.

I know it is a bit early for sugar snap peas, but my husband couldn’t resist them at the grocery store this week, and I decided they would make a lovely spring dish with the addition of some of our backyard mint.

Blistered Sugar Snap Peas with Mint
Serves 4 to 6

Modified from Food & Wine

2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
2 pounds sugar snap peas, rinsed and dried
1 Tbsp lemon zest
1/4 cup finely chopped mint leaves

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Put a large cast iron skillet on the stovetop over high heat until very hot. Add about 1 Tbsp of olive oil and swirl to coat pan. Add snap peas, toss a few times to coat with oil and transfer skillet to oven.

Cook for about 2 minutes, then stir/toss snap peas a few times to ensure even cooking.  Return the skillet to the oven for another 2 to 4 minutes until the peas are crisp-tender and starting to blister.

While the snap peas are in the oven, combine remaining 1 1/2 Tbsp of olive oil with lemon zest.

Remove skillet from oven.  Toss the peas with the lemon zest olive oil.  Transfer to a serving dish.  Sprinkle mint on top, toss again, and serve.

This dish is good served immediately when hot, or you can let it cool and refrigerate to serve later.

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Lies and Little Trees

My mother was a great illusionist.  Or maybe I was an unobservant child.

I remember the evening the scales fell from my eyes as I sat at the dining table.  My mother did not eat broccoli.  How could that be?

In fact, she didn’t seem to eat a lot of vegetables.  I watched the bowl of bright green steamed broccoli reach my mother, a mere mouthful amount was dished out, and it was then passed on to the next person at the table.  That small amount of broccoli was eaten, but clearly not enjoyed.  Yet, my brother and I were constantly being lobbied to eat all the green things on our plates.

Broccoli was called little trees.  We were told how delicious it was…how good for us it was.  Dessert was withheld until the entire portion of broccoli was consumed.  (Chocolate has always been a motivator for me.)

Hmph.  Unfair, I thought.  How can she make me do something I don’t want to do?  I had been fooled!  I had been lied to!

Then, I realized that I actually like broccoli.  In fact, I like all vegetables.  Really.  Even brussel sprouts and lima beans.

My mother encouraging us to eat all things green has made me a great eater.  I don’t just tolerate vegetables, I seek them out.  I experiment new ways to prepare them.  I enjoy all growing seasons.  Thanks, Mom.

Here is just one of the my recent experiments with broccoli…it is delicious paired with Asian-flavored tuna steaks or pork tenderloin.

Roasted Sesame Broccoli
Serves 4

about 1 lb broccoli, washed and trimmed to florets
2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Toss broccoli florets with olive oil and then spread onto a rimmed baking sheet.

Roast  for 15 to 20 minutes, until browned.  It will cook faster on a dark-colored baking sheet than a light-colored baking sheet.

Remove from the oven and toss with soy sauce, lemon juice, and sesame seeds.  Serve warm.

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Game Day Eats – Make Ahead Snacks

You’ve had a busy week.  Maybe things didn’t go as you planned or you are in a bit of a funk.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel – the weekend approaches.  You are looking forward to hanging out with friends and family, and you can’t wait to watch your team win the big one.

But, said friends and family are coming to your house to watch said game.  And, you are expected to feed them.

What snacks can you make in advance before kickoff?  What can you do to avoid an even longer trip to the grocery store without resorting to the freezer case?  Not that I don’t sometimes enjoy pizza rolls or  7-layer Mexican bean dip, but sometimes you want to mix it up…make something a little more special for your guests.

Or maybe you don’t.

If you do, though, then here are a couple of sophisticated snacks for even the pickiest eaters.  And, most of the ingredients are probably already in your pantry or cabinets.  They are both easiest if you have a food processor, however.

These straightforward recipes are not only perfect to make in advance and keep in the refrigerator for a few days, but they also travel well (to a tailgate or friend’s house) and they taste just as good in the fourth quarter as they did during the pregame hype.

White Bean Dip
Makes about 2 cups

1 (15 oz) can white cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 – 3 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
about 1/4 cup fresh parsley, packed, plus more for garnish
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
pita chips, carrot sticks, and/or celery sticks for serving

Place beans, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and parsley in the bowl of a food processor.

Pulse until coarsely chopped.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Pulse again until smoothly pureed.

Transfer bean puree to a small serving bowl.  Sprinkle lightly with minced parsley for garnish.

Serve with pita chips or crunchy carrot and celery sticks.

Black Olive Tapenade
Makes about 2 cups

about 3 cups Kalamata olives, pitted
1/4 cup capers, rinsed
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
juice of one lemon
about 1 Tbsp lemon zest
1 – 2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
black pepper, to taste

Add olives, capers, garlic, oregano, lemon juice, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes to bowl of food processor.

Pulse until it makes a smooth paste.

Slowly add olive oil while processor is running.

Season with black pepper, to taste.

This pungent olive paste is great spread on crostini or sandwiches.

Or include a small bowl of the tapenade on a platter of grilled vegetables (think eggplant, peppers, tomatoes) with mozzarella or goat cheeses.  Or mixed into a classic pasta salad.  You get the idea…

Let’s go team!

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Game Day Eats – Chile Lime Peanuts

When my friends and I watch sports we drink beer.  And when we drink beer we like to snack.  And when we snack we crave spicy, crunchy, and salty.

So what do I do about that craving?  Why, I make chile lime peanuts.  And, you can, too.  Have this simple snack ready for your guests by the time they hit your couch or tailgate.

Chile Lime Peanuts
Makes 2 cups

2 cups raw peanuts (skins are okay)
1 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 Tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
2 tsp lime juice (bottled okay)
1 – 3 tsp hot pepper sauce
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Stir to combine peanuts, olive oil, salt, and sugar and coat evenly.

Scrape mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet.  Roast nuts until fragrant and they begin to darken.

It took me about 25 minutes on a dark-colored baking sheet.  Open the oven and stir every 7 or 8 minutes.  Keep in mind they will still cook a bit once out of the oven.

When done, transfer the nuts back to a bowl.  Add lime juice, hot pepper sauce, and cayenne, stirring to coat evenly.

If you’ve added the maximum amount of hot sauce, I recommend you scrape the nuts back onto the baking sheet so they crisp up and don’t get soggy.

Cool nuts completely before serving.  You can make them  up to a week ahead, just store them in an airtight container.

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Presto A La Pesto

Pesto is one of those ingredients that I always try to have on hand.  By that I mean, that I make a batch every three or four weeks during the warmer months when I have access to fresh herbs.

Why?  Well, for several reasons.  First, it tastes good, especially if you make it yourself.  Second, it is ridiculously easy, even more so if you have a blender or food processor.  And, finally, pesto can punch up the flavor in a dish or help whip up an easy meal.

When I mix pesto with a bit of mayo and spread it on whole wheat bread, it makes my ordinary turkey sandwich taste like a decadent treat…

If time has gotten away from me and it is dinner time before I know it, pesto mixed in with freshly boiled and drained pasta and paired with quick grilled chicken and a bagged salad is a a meal in a flash…

Are folks coming over for drinks now?  I’ll just toast some slices of bread, spread on the pesto, and slice into triangles.  If I can top with fresh tomatoes all the better…

Lucky for me that Karen included some basil and oregano in her gift of herbs…

Basil, Oregano, and Almond Pesto
Makes about 1 cup

2 cups of fresh basil and oregano (whatever proportion you prefer)
1/3 cup unsalted almonds (raw or toasted)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a food processor or blender, add herbs and almonds.

Pulse a few times to combine.  Add the garlic and Parmesan cheese and pulse again to combine.

Slowly add olive oil in a thin stream while the processor or blender is running.  Scrape the sides and pulse again to combine.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This will keep in a sealed container in your fridge for a couple of weeks.

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Cooking Through a Hurriquake

Oh, electricity how I missed you….the hum of the refrigerator, the whir and cool breeze of the fan, the joy of showering in the light.  But, oh, wireless internet connection, I missed you most of all.  So good to have you back.

Things are gradually returning to normal here in Washington, DC after the hurriquake and several days with no power at our house.  What’s that?  Oh, you don’t know what a hurriquake is?

A hurriquake is the unnatural occurrence of two natural disasters – an earthquake and a hurricane – in one location within a short time period.  In this case, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit DC on Tuesday with a series of 4.something aftershocks over several days followed by Hurricane Irene on Saturday and Sunday.

Please know that I’m not complaining and I am very aware of how lucky we are.  We had minor losses (except for some spectacular blackberry jam!) in the earthquake and have only struggled with power loss from the hurricane.  We suffered no injuries or major property loss, and I am very grateful for that.  But….I have now had my fill of natural disasters for a while.

The lack of electricity has led to a bit more creativity in my cooking, though I did manage to mooch off friends for a couple of meals.  We enjoyed the last of the tomatoes I picked last week and didn’t can in two ways.  I used about a pint worth for a loaf of focaccia and then the last bit I grilled and turned into tomato sauce.

Tomato Foccacia
Makes 1 large loaf

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
2 cups of milk
1 1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp salt
5 to 6 cups of white all-purpose flour
about a pint of fresh, ripe cherry tomatoes
about 1/3 cup olive oil
about 2 – 3 Tbsp fresh basil, sliced into thin strips
cornmeal for dusting
salt and pepper, to taste

Warm 2 cups of milk.  Place  yeast in a small bowl, add 1/2 Tbsp sugar, and pour in 1/2 cup of lightly warmed milk.  Yeast should start to bubble and grow – proof that it is alive.

While the  yeast is “proofing,” pour remaining milk into a large bowl, add remaining sugar, salt, and 2 cups of flour.  Stir after the addition of each cup of flour.  Add the proofed yeast mixture and stir.  Add about 3 more cups of flour, again stirring after the addition of each cup.  When dough is firm and sticking together, turn out onto floured surface.  Knead, adding flour as needed, until dough is smooth and satiny and no longer sticky.  It took me about 10 minutes of kneading.  Roll the dough into a ball-shape.

Grease a steep-sided bowl and place the ball of dough inside.  Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled, about 1 hour.

While the dough is rising, I prepared the tomatoes.  Luckily, we have a gas stovetop, so with a match I could still use it to boil some water.  I dropped about a pint of cherry tomatoes into the rapidly boiling water.  Let them blanch for no more than 3 minutes.  Quickly drain them and rinse with cold water.  The blanching will make the tomato skin easy to peel.

 Remove the tomato skins and drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil.  Set aside.

When doubled, turn out the dough again onto a floured surface and knead again gently for 2 to 3 minutes.  Using a rolling pin and/or your hands, roll the dough into a rectangle shape about 1-inch thick.

Lightly dust a baking sheet with cornmeal.  Place the dough on the sheet and using your fingers push the dough to fill the pan.

Pour the tomatoes and olive oil over the top of the dough.  Push your fingers into the dough to create little indentions and an uneven surface, and also to push the tomatoes into the dough very lightly.

Sprinkle with basil.

Leave it to rise again until it is doubled.  At this point, I traveled to my brother’s apartment to use his working oven.  Just before baking, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

Bake in a 425 degree F preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until the top is crisp and golden.

We sliced the loaf into squares to make into sandwiches with fresh mozzarella and Italian cured meats.

Grilled Tomato Sauce
Makes about 3 cups

2 to 3 pounds of fresh, ripe tomatoes
about 3 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 Tbsp fresh basil
salt

Drizzle the tomatoes with about half the olive oil and place them on a grill.

Cook over medium heat until wrinkled and lightly charred, turning as necessary.

Remove from the grill, place in a bowl and add minced garlic.  Let sit for about 10 minutes to meld flavors.

If you have power, you can puree the tomatoes in a blender.  Or, you can use a food mill, like I did.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a wide, deep skillet.  Pour the pureed tomatoes to the skillet and add herbs.  Simmer sauce, stirring frequently until thickened to desired consistency.  It took me about 15 or so minutes.

Season with salt, to taste.  Use it right away, or you can put it in your freezer to enjoy the taste of summer later.

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Fermentation is My Friend

Salty…spicy…crunchy…subtly sweet.  Mmmm…  I really enjoy eating kimchee.  Kimchee (or kimchi) is a Korean dish of fermented vegetables.  Luckily, my friend Virginia is willing to make it and share her recipe for cucumber kimchee with me.

I understand that kimchee is not for everyone.  Some folks don’t like the heat of the spice.  Some folks don’t like the smell.  I suppose that it could be the fish sauce, but it adds the necessary umami flavor.  (What is umami?  It is a Japanese word for savory, one of the five basic tastes – sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.)

It could also be the fermentation factor that turns some people off the dish.  I think fermentation is fascinating, though. I do not fear the bacteria.  And not just because I enjoy beer and other alcoholic beverages.  The ancient person(s) who discovered how to cultivate yeast or helpful bacteria to create delicious foodstuffs deserves a place in our history books.  I, for one, am very grateful.  There is a character in the food world, Sandor Katz, who writes about fermentation and teaches folks how to make things like sauerkraut.  He likes to say, “that without culture, there would be no civilization.”  Of course, he means bacteria cultures, not just art and stuff.

Now, go cultivate some bacteria. Mmmm…

Virginia’s Cucumber Kimchee

6 to 10 smallish unwaxed, thin-skinned cucumbers (pickling, Kirby, or Korean)
1/4 cup salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup Korean chili powder
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/3 cup shredded carrots
2 Tbsp sugar
Glass container(s) tall enough to hold the cucumbers upright with lid

Wash cucumbers, and trim the ends.  The cucumbers need to be sliced to expose the center, but stay whole.  Stand each cucumber upright on your cutting board and slice through the center down almost the whole length, but stop before you cut all the way through.  Rotate the cucumber and repeat the slice in a perpendicular direction.

Fill a large bowl with water.  Add the salt and let it dissolve.

Fully submerge the cucumbers in the salt water for 30 minutes.

You may want to put a plate on top to keep the cucumbers under the surface of the water.

While the cucumbers are soaking, make the stuffing.  In another bowl, combine garlic, chili powder, fish sauce, carrots, and sugar.  Mix well.

After about 30 minutes, remove the cucumbers from the salt water.  Don’t rinse them.

Fill each cucumber between the connected pieces with spicy stuffing, and place them in a glass container next to each other.  Virginia often uses gloves when she fills the cucumbers so her hands do not smell like fish sauce for days on end.

Once you’ve used all the stuffing mixture, don’t rinse the bowl.  Add one to two cups of water to the bowl so you can get the last of the spice mixture and then pour it over the cucumbers.  They should be almost submerged.

Cover with a tight-fitting lid and store at room temperature for at least 12 hours.  (Sometimes Virginia leaves it on her counter for about 18 hours.)  Then, move and store in the refrigerator.

Cucumber kimchee is good by itself, but I also enjoy it with rice or as a garnish for other dishes.  We even like it on hot dogs!

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Side Dish Success

Continuing the theme of casual, outdoor entertaining…this is a standard side-dish for me whether I am hosting a cookout or bringing a dish as a guest.  It is easy to mix up, can be prepared in advance, and is widely enjoyed by adults and kids alike.

Roasted Corn, Black Bean, and Mango Salad
Makes 8 servings

2 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups corn kernels (2 – 3 ears, fresh) (frozen okay)
1 large ripe mango, peeled and diced or 1 bag frozen mango cubes
1 15 1/2 oz can black beans, rinsed
1/2 cup sweet onion, chopped
1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
3 Tbsp lime juice
1 small canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, drained and chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1 1/2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Heat oil in a cast iron (or nonstick) skillet over medium high heat.  Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in corn and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, less than 10 minutes.

Transfer corn mixture to a large bowl.  Stir in mango, beans, onion, bell pepper, lime juice,  chipotle, cumin, and salt.

Sprinkle with cilantro before serving, if using.  Serve warm, cold, or at room temperature.

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Eggscellent Mistake

My brother requested an angel food cake for Easter, and I said, “sure, no problem.”  Well, I ended up doing more than I expected on Saturday, and I scrambled to get the ingredients at the grocery store in a moment in which I was both hungry and tired.  Not such a good plan.

I thought I could save time by getting a carton of egg whites, but in my rush I didn’t read the side panel.  If I had taken the time to use my literacy skills I would have seen that this particular carton of egg whites had been pasturized to a degree that made it unusable for my purposes.  And, to make it better, I elected not to read that detail until after I had the cake in the oven.  Sigh.

Much to my brother’s disappointment, there was no angel food cake for Easter.  Apparently, the homemade Peeps and peanut butter cups were not enough when he had his heart set on a light white cake with fluffy white frosting.

I put a raincheck on baking another cake, but there was still half a carton of egg whites to use.  This need combined with my husband’s request for a light dinner, led me to make a spinach and egg white quiche.

Spinach and Egg White Crustless Quiche
Serves 4

cooking spray
1 package frozen spinach
2 cups egg whites
1/4 cup milk (whole, low-fat or no fat okay)
1 – 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I used Monterey Jack)
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
hot sauce, optional

Lightly coat a pie plate with cooking spray and set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Thaw spinach in microwave (don’t cook) and squeeze out liquid with your hands.  Combine thawed spinach with all other ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

I also threw in about a quarter cup of sauteed mushrooms and onions that were leftover from burger night.  This could be a good dish to use other leftover bits (meat and/or vegetables) and stretch them into another meal.

Pour into prepared pie pan and bake for about 40 minutes, or until liquid has set in center.

Cool slightly, slice into wedges, and serve.

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Did You Eat Your Veggies Today?

I really enjoy the taste of vegetables, and I appreciate that they are good for me, too.  But, I like to ensure that I’m doing what is best for my body and I am not consuming or serving harmful chemicals.

Because of that, I choose to shop for organic produce.  And, to me, organically grown fruits and vegetables taste better.

But, organic produce not only avoids harmful pesticides or herbicides, they may also have more nutrients.  Recent research has shown that the conventional farming industry’s desire to grow bigger vegetables more quickly by selective breeding and synthetic fertilizers can decrease produce’s ability to synthesize nutrients or absorb them from the soil.  Without the use of synthetic fertilizers, organic farming creates more stress on plants.  This stress causes plants to protect themselves by producing more phytochemicals, like antioxidants.  This higher amount of phytochemicals benefits humans who eat them.

Trust me, I understand that sometimes you don’t have a choice between organic or conventional produce or you can’t afford the options.  I do buy conventional produce occasionally, and I remain cautious about pesticide consumption.  Luckily, the Environmental Working Group has created a handy shoppers’ guide of the fruits and vegetables most likely to test positive for high levels of pesticide (the Dirty Dozen) and those least likely to test positive for pesticides (the Clean Fifteen). I downloaded an application for my IPhone that helps me keep track of what I should pursue as organically grown, or what is acceptable as conventionally grown.  So, I try and buy (or pick my own) organic options for at least produce from the “dirty dozen” list, but I’m willing to go the conventional route sometimes for the “clean fifteen” list.

The Dirty Dozen: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots, and pears.

The Clean Fifteen: onions, avocados, corn, pineapple, mangoes, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwifruits, cabbages, eggplants, papayas, watermelons, broccoli, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.

Here’s something you can do with your pesticide-free sweet peas…

Pecan Honey Butter Peas
Serves 4

16 oz package of frozen peas
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 cup pecans

Spread pecans on a baking sheet and toast in a 250 degree F oven until fragrant.  Cool and then chop.

Prepare peas according to package directions.  Drain well.

In a saucepan, melt butter.  Add honey, and chopped pecans.

Combine well and add peas.

Quickly stir, remove from heat, and serve.

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