Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Beet Risotto with Kale

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Recently, I haven't been able to update the blog as often as I like. I've been clocking in at a temp job in the city during the day, but I can assure you that I think about food all the time. Another project at home has also been keeping us busy. It's a secret... for now, but hopefully we'll have a grand reveal soon.

I have been cooking a little bit here and there. As much as VB wants to, we can't order pizza every day. A couple of days ago, I made this devilish looking beet risotto with kale. I really like beets and wanted to put them in something other than salads. The result is this flavorful and visually stunning dish that is sweet and refreshing.

The recipe is from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Initially I had doubts about this dish, but I've never tried a recipe from that book that I wouldn't make over and over again.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Green Soup

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It's been warm here in the Bay Area for the last few days. I think I can safely say, spring is here. I want to celebrate, but I soon remembered that I am allergic to spring. Now I have to add daily doses of antihistamine and decongestant to my diet. I know, it's not the worst problem that one can have. At least I'm not allergic to food.

Speaking of spring, St. Patrick's day is upon us. I didn't have St. Patrick's day in mind when I made the soup, but it's a nice little coincidence. This recipe is from the New Laurel's Kitchen. I'm not going to post it here, but I will say that this creamy soup consists of split peas and zucchini with wilted spinach and parsley. It is smooth and velvety with complex yet refreshing flavors. It is also healthy for the dieters out there -- low in fat and calories, but has the necessary proteins and nutrients. It's the perfect soup for spring.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kumquat Marmalade

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In fall 2008, I made some marmalade from the kumquats that I picked off my aunt's trees. The marmalade was so delicious that my aunt cleaned out her jar in a week. This year, I'm making this delicious marmalade again, but with a twist.

I used the same kumquat marmalade recipe as last time, except with some minor changes. You'll need:
  • 2 pounds of kumquats
  • 5 cups of water
  • 4 cups of sugar
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 3 Earl Grey teabags
First, clean and slice all the kumquats. Last year, I was a little too perfectionist and sliced them really thin. The resulting marmalade didn't have as many fruity bits as I liked. This year, I made thicker slices, about 4 to 5 slices per kumquat. Reserve the seeds and tie them in a cheese cloth bag.

Place the sliced kumquats and the bag containing seeds into a large non-reactive pot. Add 4 1/2 cups of water. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Steep 3 teabags in 1/2 cup of boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Bring the pot to boil. Add juice from 1 lemon and Earl Grey tea. Reduce heat to simmer for 1 hour. Do not overcook. It's pretty easy to overcook this, because it will appear watery. It's just fine if it appears runny. Add 4 cups of sugar. Stir constantly. Cook for another 30 minutes. The marmalade should have a rich amber color. It will gel slightly as you spoon it away from heat. Remove the cheese cloth bag.

At this time, the marmalade is done. It can be canned immediately. I got about three mason jars out of this recipe. Otherwise, you should refrigerate it before serving.

I can't really identify the Earl Grey tea in the final product, but it does add another dimension to this already delicious marmalade. If I get more kumquats, I would try to make this with only Earl Grey tea and no water and see where that takes me.

Calzone with Spinach and Ricotta

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We've made pizza plenty of times in the past. Now we're venturing (not too far) out and trying a variation that is sure to please. As far as I can tell, a calzone is just a pizza folded in half and that's my approach in making this dish.

First, the dough (adapted from The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook):
  • 2 cups of whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon of wheat gluten (optional)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/3 cups of warm water (between 110 to 120 degrees)
  • 1 envelope of active yeast
Mix together whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, wheat gluten and salt in a stand mixer. In a cup, mix together warm water, yeast and extra virgin olive oil and allow yeast to dissolve, about 2 minutes. Use the paddle attachment and turn the stand mixer on low speed. While mixing, slowly pour in water and yeast solution. When the dough comes together, replace the paddle attachment with hook attachment and knead on medium-high for 4 minutes.

Turn the dough out into an oiled bowl. Cover with wet tea towel or paper towel and let it rise until doubles in size, about 1 1/2 hours. Do not refrigerate. Punch the dough down and portion the dough. This recipe generally makes 4 portions. Cover and let the dough rise again for 20 minutes. Then the dough is ready to be rolled out.

If you don't use all of the dough in one setting, you can either refrigerate it overnight and use it the next day or freeze it and use it within a couple of weeks.

For the ricotta filling:
  • 8 ounces (or half a bag) of frozen chopped spinach
  • 1 1/2 cups of ricotta cheese
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • a pinch of ground nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
Thaw the spinach and squeeze out any excess water. Mix well with ricotta, lemon juice, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

For the tomato sauce:
  • 3 shallots, chopped fine
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 large beef steak tomato (or 2 Roma tomatoes), diced
  • 4 sprigs of thyme, stem removed
  • 1 sprig of oregano, stem removed and chopped
  • 2 whole sprigs of basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Saute chopped shallot in olive oil until softened, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 more minute. Add canned tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, thyme, oregano, basil, and sugar. Bring the pot to boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the lid and season with salt and pepper. Continue to simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until most of the liquid has been reduced. Remove the basil stems from the sauce just prior to using.

To assemble the calzone, first, pre-heat oven to 500 degrees. Roll out the pizza dough. Ladle tomato sauce to the middle of the dough, leaving about an inch of dough all around. Add ricotta mixture to the middle. Fold the dough over and pinch shut. Crimp the edges tightly. Make 3 small incisions on top of the calzone to allow steam to escape. Bake for 12 to 13 minutes. Allow the hot calzone to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

You can also try adding some mozzarella cheese and basil to the filling. It's a very fun dish to make and to eat.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Kale Mashed Potatoes with Fried Shallots

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The best food inspirations often come from the Interwebs. I stumbled upon a couple of kale mashed potatoes recipe online yesterday and thought I'd mesh them up (haw haw) and make a hybrid version. The first recipe came from Ginger Beat, with her garlicky kale mashed potatoes. The second recipe came from 101 Cookbooks, with kale and olive oil mashed potatoes.

Here's my take on this dish:
  • 2 large russet potatoes
  • 1 bunch of kale, stems removed and chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 shallot, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup of dried white navy beans or cannellini beans, soaked for at least 1 hour (or 1/2 of a 15-ounce can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed)
  • salt to taste
Bake potatoes in 400 degree oven until a paring knife can be inserted easily, about 45 minutes. Boil beans in a large pot of water seasoned with a pinch of salt until tender, about 1 hour. Boil kale in a large pot of water until tender, about 20 minutes. Reserve some of the liquid from boiling kale.

Heat up olive oil in a small sauce pan, then add sliced garlic. Fry garlic slowly until browned, about 8 minutes. In the meantime, peel the potatoes and pass them through a ricer. It's important to press the potatoes while they are still hot, otherwise you may get a grainy texture. Mash cooked white beans to a fine paste or pass them through a ricer. Add beans and kale to the potato and set aside.

Remove garlic from olive oil. Add sliced shallot and fry until brown and crispy, about 5 to 10 minutes. Pour oil with shallot into the potato mixture. Season with salt. Mash the mixture together. Drizzle in about 1 additional tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. If the mixture is not creamy enough, add some of the kale liquid and mix until smooth.

I know there's no butter or cream in this recipe, but I don't think anyone will be disappointed with this (relatively) healthy mashed potatoes. It's not as creamy as your regular butter and milk variety, but it's light, rustic and flavorful.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Vegetable Gumbo with Mustard Greens

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If there is one advice that I can give to newbie vegetarians or carnivores who need more veggies in their diet, I would say: "keep it interesting." I like to cook different styles of food, experiment with new ingredients, make a vegetarian version of a classic dish. For example, a couple of days ago, I made Indian food with curry leaves and mustard seeds -- two ingredients that I have never used before. Yesterday, I made a vegetable gumbo with mustard greens, which is another unfamiliar ingredient. The variety keeps me interested and excited about vegetables. Otherwise, I'd probably be eating the Baconator for dinner. Every night. Mmm... bacon.

The inspiration for this gumbo came from Friday Delights. You can find the original recipe here. I took the idea of a vegetable gumbo and made my version of it. You'll need:
  • 3 tablespoons of flour
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3 ribs of celery, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, minced
  • 1 bunch of mustard greens, ribs removed and chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of dried oregano
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 1 15-ounce can of red kidney beans
  • 1 22-ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup (about 1/2 of an 8-ounce can) of tomato sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped parsley (optional garnish)
In a large pot filled with water, boil mustard greens until softened, about 5 to 10 minutes. In the meantime, cook flour and olive oil together in a Dutch oven over medium low heat. Whisk constantly until the roux turns dark chocolate brown. Stir in onion, celery, and bell peppers. Cook until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, Bay leaf, jalapeno pepper, oregano. Stir and cook for another minute. Add tomato sauce, diced tomato, kidney beans, cooked mustard greens and 1 cup of the mustard greens cooking liquid. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Garnish with parsley. Serve with white rice on top.

The one thing that I will do differently next time is to add some okra. I was kicking myself for not thinking of it earlier, but okra would be a great addition to this dish. Even without the okra, this is a delicious and hearty dish. Yay for trying new things!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lemon Asparagus Couscous

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It has been raining almost nonstop for the past two months. Granted, it's comforting to know that we'll be able to shower this summer, but all that rain can dampen the best of spirits. Last weekend was the first in a long time that we had some sunlight. It put me in such a good mood that I wanted to make a dish with some spring flare. Of course, as soon as I had those thoughts, the temperature dropped to the 40s and I was caught in a hail of tiny ice cubes. We're probably not ready for spring. But at least I can pretend that it's almost here.

For this spring inspired dish, you'll need:
  • zest of 3 lemons
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup of couscous
  • 2 cups of vegetable stock
  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • 1/2 cup of pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 bunch (or 1/2 cup chopped) parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (optional)
Start by bringing the vegetable stock to a simmer. Trim off the tough end of the asparagus and add to the stock. Simmer, uncovered, until the stock reduces to approximately one cup. Remove the asparagus trimmings and add couscous, butter, lemon juice and lemon zest. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes. In the meantime, blanch asparagus and chop small.

After 15 minutes, fluff couscous with fork. Add chopped parsley, asparagus, and pine nuts. Toss together. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve.

This dish has a ton of texture and flavor. It is something that I would be happy to have for a spring lunch at an outdoor cafe. A girl can dream, right?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Classic Reuben Sandwich

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I think I'm generally pretty open-minded about food. I'd happily give almost any food a try. But certain things should remain in obscurity. Tempeh has to be one of them. It's really dense, smelly, weird looking, and totally flavorless. So I was less than enthusiastic when VB wanted to try to make a classic Reuben sandwich with tempeh. As predicted, it was like chewing a brick of dehydrated space food covered in Thousand Island dressing. But I like Reuben sandwiches enough that I wanted replace the tempeh with seitan and give it another shot.

Seitan has a meaty and chewy texture that is superior to tempeh. It tastes better too! After fully cooking the seitan, I removed it from the pot and pan seared it on all sides. Then I sliced it thin, returned the slices back into the hot pan and tossed them until golden brown. Layer in some sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing in between slices of rye bread and we have classic Reuben sandwiches. Of course, they are not the real deal. But for a vegetarian Reuben sandwich, it's pretty good.

As for tempeh, I don't think I'll be putting it onto my dinner plate again any time soon.