Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rhubarb Three Ways and Three Kinds of Homemade Sherbert!

We recently had a couple of friends over for dinner, and we decided to make it a rhubarb-centric meal, having gotten rhubarb in our CSA. But we got so ambitious with the rhubarb that we had to buy more anyway, which as you can see from the pic, delighted Gretchen.

Rhubarb is too often relegated to the dessert realm. It is fabulous in pies of course, and nice as a compote over ice cream as well. But its sour vegetal flavor makes it a useful ingredient in savory dishes too. Anything that is sweet n' sour is can probably incorporate rhubarb. If you have never cooked rhubarb before, you want to boil it with a little water and a bunch of sugar in a sauce pan until it's soft - then you can mash it up with a fork and add it to sauces. If you want it to keep its shape, just cut it into large pieces and take it off the heat when it is fork-tender. For the mashed rhubarb in these recipes, I used splenda instead of sugar to keep the calories down and it worked just fine.

I came up with a recipe for rhubarb barbecue sauce around this time last year that I made with country pork ribs with delectable results but since this year I'm doing weight watchers (lost 9.4 pounds so far!), I decided to make rhubarb bbq shrimp instead of pork ribs. Gretchen made a Mark Bittman recipe (from the Food Matters cookbook) for braised tofu with a rhubarb & black pepper sauce that was quite good (the tofu had a nice creamy texture).

I have a lot of insecurity about cooking fish and meat. I learned to cook as a vegetarian (I was strictly vegetarian from ages 14 to 21), and I've continued to cook mostly vegetarian food. When I started cooking meat I was so afraid of the bacteria that I consistently overcooked it, which is the death knell for any meat dish that isn't a long, slow braise. I still struggle with getting the cooking times right. I've been especially leary of cooking fish because sustainable fish tends to be pricey, and I'm always afraid I"ll end up messing it up. It seems easier to just pay three times as much to go to a restaurant and have someone else cook it perfectly.

But these fears are really a little irrational. Fish is one of the easier animals to cook, and there are websites everywhere with specific per-inch-of fish cooking instructions. For this occasion, I decided to make shrimp n' grits. I've only cooked shrimp once before in my life. I was staying with a friend In Mexico and she had an in-home cooking lesson on making shrimp with chipotle cream sauce. It didn't seem too hard, but I didn't like the peeling and deveining part. This time, I bought a pound of easy-peel frozen shrimp from Whole Foods, which come already deveined. They came out great! Cooking them was so easy! I don't know why I don't cook shrimp all the time, I think I'm going to start doing that. All you have to do is sautee them in a little olive oil, and as soon as they have changed colors, cut one in half to see if it's done. It only takes a couple of minutes, and you take them off the heat and have lovely, tender, flavorful shrimp (the Whole Foods ones seem to be pretty high quality). Now that I'm a convert, you will be seeing more shrimp recipes on this blog, I promise.

The best part of the meal we made for our friends though was definitely the dessert. Gretchen made three kinds of homemade sherberts-- tangerine, beet, and banana. She made whipped cream with a touch of orange flower water and chocolate sauce from taza chocolates, and we had wonderful banana splits. Beet sorbet may seems strange, and indeed it has a vegetal flavor, but with chocolate sauce, it's delicious. And adding a little orange flower water to whip cream creates a nice floral touch. I don't know how she made all of it, so she will have to explain that with the recipe below.

Rhubarb BBQ Shrimp & Grits

I used the ingredient list and roughly the proportions from my previous rhubarb bbq sauce recipe, but I just kept fiddling with it (adding a little more wine, a little more sugar, etc.) until I was happy with the way it tasted.

Rhurbarb BBQ Sauce

Makes about 2 cups
6 stalks rhubarb
⅓ cup sugar
½ cup water
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup ketchup
½ cup red wine
½ cup strong coffee
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon sea salt
⅛ teaspoon liquid smoke
8 twists of a black pepper grinder
1. Chop rhubarb and place in a saucepan with water and 1/3 cup sugar. Bring to a boil and boil for
ten minutes, adding water if necessary and sugar to taste. The rhubarb should be sweet, tart, and
soft enough to be easily mashed with a spoon.
2. Add all other sauce ingredients, stir well to thoroughly combine, and simmer for 30 minutes.

The Shrimp

Defrost and peel shrimp. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and throw in a minced garlic clove. Add shrimp, and cook, stirring about so they get cooked on both sides, until cooked through. Test one for doneness, and remove from heat. Add just enough bbq sauce to make them all have a thin sauce layer.


Follow package instructs to cook grits. Add a little cream, butter, and salt at the end.

Serve shrimp with grits! Delicious.

The Tofu Rhubarb dish is from Mark Bittman. It is a Vietnamese-inspired dish, which sounded yummy and interesting. As I made it, there were many times where I thought I had ruined it, but it actually turned out quite good. First you make a caramel, and then let the sugar burn a bit, to get that bitter/sugar flavor that is common in Vietnamese cooking. (This was the first time I thought I'd ruined it--my sugar never quite burned, but it did change texture and become somewhat hard--it softened up a again when I added water though). You then throw in a ton of onions and rhubarb, and let that cook down a bit. There is also a crazy amount of black pepper--like a tbls. This was the second time I thought I'd ruined it--SO MUCH PEPPER!!! and it is very peppery even after it's cooked down, but it was still really good. Then you put in tofu, cover, and let it steam for about 10 minutes. Right before serving you throw in a ton of cilantro. I liked the way the tofu came out--I was skeptical, since the initial dish was with fish, I thought the tofu might be bland or mushy. But actually, the rhubarb flavor seeped into the tofu, and the middle was creamy and yum.

In other rhubarb news, Becky made a really good cocktail with basil, rhubarb puree, and this really good infused pepper vodka that has both sweet and hot red peppers in it. It was delicious.

The sorbets were all made in our ice cream maker that I found under the sink in my old apartment in Brooklyn. For years, I carried it around from place to place, without ever making ice cream. Last year, I used it for the first time, and I have realized how easy making ice cream is. I made three kinds--banana, tangerine and beet. Here is the run-down of how I did each.

The banana is frozen banana. Period. After peeling and chopping up the bananas (about 4), I froze them over night. Then, I threw them in the food processor and processed them til smooth. Put them back in the freezer until ready to serve. So easy, so healthy, so good.

The tangerine sorbet is actually sherbert, from the NY Times cookbook. The original recipe called for gelatin, which I don't use, and which we didn't have, so I subbed agar agar, a Japanese gelatin from seaweed. I can't remember now, but I think I did use dairy milk and cream, since we actually had them in the apt. The last time I made it, I used almond milk, and it came out pretty much the same. The tangerine juice was from Becky's parents' trees. Processed in our ice cream machine.

The beet sorbet was modeled on beet sorbet we had in Argentina. I like the Argentine version better, but basically I used a apricot-champagne recipe that was in our latest Cooking Light magazine, and subbed beets from our CSA for the apricots. The champagne was the last bottle left over from our wedding. I roasted the beets, and then pureed them with a reduced champagne-sugar mixture. I think that might be it! Processed in our ice cream machine.

It was a great meal shared with great friends. Perfect.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chicken, Turnip N' Greens Tacos

We have so many greens and so many turnips it's becoming a little bit scary. And more are on the way tomorrow! I don't even know where we're going to put them. On Sunday I did discover two easy and tasty ways to use up some greens though -- in tacos and on pizza.

It is my firm belief that anything can be a taco filling if properly seasoned or drowned in salsa. In this case, I made a stew of turnips, carrots, garlic, chicken breast, chard, and tomatillo. I'm sure roasting your own tomatillos would improve this dish but it's just fine with one of those 79 cent cans of tomatillo sauce in the "Hispanic Foods" section of your local market. These are very tasty and healthy. I am sure they would be even better if you deep fried your tortillas and added cotija cheese and sour cream though. Here's the recipe for tacos that each have a serving of vegetables:

Chicken, Turnip and Greens Tacos (serves 2 people - 4 to 6 tacos)

8 oz boneless skinless chicken breast, chopped into medium pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large turnip, diced
3 carrots (farmer's market sized), sliced into chunks
1 bunch chard, chopped up
about 2 cups vegetable broth
1 can tomatillo sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
fresh cilantro to garnish

Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add chicken, turnip, garlic, and carrots. Sautee for about 5 minutes. Add tomatillo sauce, broth, and chard. Bring it to a boil, then let it simmer for a long time, till the liquid is reduced.

Throw it on a corn tortilla, garnish with fresh cilantro and whatever else you like on your tacos.

Kale and Italian Sausage Pizza

Not really a developed recipe here. This morning after making breakfast I threw some kale and vegetarian italian sausage into the pot I'd used for eggs and sauteed them up real quick, and then doused them with a healthy helping of Muir Glen pizza sauce, aka the best pizza sauce ever. At work, I spread this mixture onto a whole wheat pita and popped it in the toaster oven on the medium-dark setting. Out came a scrumptious morsel of kale-sausage pizza, toasty and crispy on the bottom. So yummy I didn't even miss having cheese.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Healthy Flavorful Macaroni and Cheese - Really!

So I'm trying to lose weight and have been attempting to make healthy versions of dishes that usually feel indulgent to ease the angst of constant deprivation. Hence, the pasta-sausage casserole of the previous post. I'm on a casserole kick here, and this week's is macaroni and cheese. Casseroles are great because you can make them on the weekend and put them in separate tupperwares to have for lunch all week. With this casserole, and a batch of Mark Bittman whole wheat waffles Gretchen made on Saturday, we are prepared for reasonably healthy breakfasts and lunches all week long.

This recipe is adapted from my mom's recipe, the best macaroni and cheese recipe ever-- to make her version, add another 1 1/2 tbsp of flour, double the cheddar, remove the cottage cheese and all the vegetables, and use more butter and breadcrumbs. It is so delicious. But unfortunately, not a good weight loss dish. So here is the healthier variation. I roasted about 3/4 a head of garlic for this, but it was so good that I'm going to recommend doubling that amount to 1 1/2 heads of garlic. The garlic is nestled in among the macaroni so you get little pockets of sweet garlic creaminess.

Becky's Macaroni and Cheese (8 servings)

8 oz whole wheat macaroni
1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
1/2 onion, grated
1 poblano pepper
1 pound button or other mushrooms
1 1/2 heads garlic
1 cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup fat free cottage cheese
3 tbsp flour
2 cups lowfat milk
3 tbsp whole wheat panko
2 1/2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp mustard powder
a dash of worcestershire
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Preheat your oven to 400. In a bowl, toss your cauliflower florets with 1 tbsp olive oil by hand. Salt lightly and place in a lasagna pan or on a cookie sheet. Next, wrap your garlic tightly in foil. When the oven is hot, place cauliflower and garlic in to roast. You're going to roast the garlic for an hour, but take our the cauliflower when the florets are browned. Try one to make sure they are fully cooked through. The cooking time depends on the size of your florets.

Put your toaster oven on broil, and put your poblano in the toaster, whole. Keep an eye on it -- when the skin is blackening and blistering, turn it over. When it's done on both sides, remove it from the toaster and set it aside. When it's cool, peel off the skin and chop it up.

Dice your mushrooms and sautee them in 1 tbsp olive oil until browned. At the same time, heat a saucepan of boiling water and add your whole wheat macaroni and a pinch of salt. Mine only took 5 minutes to cook. Drain macaroni and put it in a big lasagna pan.

Add poblano, mushrooms, and cauliflower to macaroni in the lasagna pan. Take your garlic out of the oven and reduce the temperature to 375. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of each clove over the macaroni, so it's studded with sweet soft roasted garlic. Mix the vegetables, garlic, and macaroni so things are more or less evenly distributed.

Now for the cheese sauce. In a saucepan, melt 2 tbsp butter. Add 3 tbsp flour, powdered mustard, salt and pepper, stirring to combine. Now add 1/2 cup milk and use a whisk to integrate the butter-flour mixture smoothly into the milk. Add the rest of the milk and your cheese, your grated onion, and a dash of worcestershire sauce. Stir until cheese is melted -- I just keep using the whisk for this.

Pour your cheese sauce over your macaroni evenly. Now, put your whole wheat panko and a 1/2 tbsp butter into a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir the melted butter into the pank, and sprinkle over the top of the mac and cheese. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Just a few stray collards

Well, we almost cooked all of our CSA vegetables. Everything left went into a batch of risotto except some collard greens and beets we are saving to make sorbet from. We used the same recipe we came up with a few weeks ago (See Risotto and Roasted Roots FTW!), but the dandelion greens were much more bitter this time. I did a little reading about them and I've concluded we must have gotten young dandelion greens last time, and old dandelion greens this time. We also used up our turnips - Gretchen braised them in a middle eastern tomato sauce with olives and raisins and we had them over quinoa with a fried egg on top. Our new delivery came in yesterday, but we haven't opened the bag yet. Anyone with expertise in how to cook old bitter dandelion greens, let us know.

We tried a new restaurant last night -- new to us, that is, called Colori Kitchen. It was quite good. It's a jovial, brightly colored Italian place with no corkage for your first bottle of wine at 8th and Olive next to the Golden Gopher. Their bread was excellent- crusty outside and soft inside, and their burrata was delicious. Gretchen had pumpkin ravioli with walnut cream sauce, and I had spaghetti alla vongole. Very good clams, but I wonder if spaghetti alla vongole can ever be a really knock your socks off dish. They are rumoured to have amazing ricotta cheesecake, but we didn't try it this time, despite our waiter insisting that the chef rides a unicorn and collects dew from an enchanted forest, and creates the ricotta cheesecake from magical dew.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Whole Wheat Pita Pizzas, Radish Cesar, and Spiced Carrot Soup

We continue with our challenge to ourselves to eat all of our vegetables by Wednesday. Yesterday at dinner, we used up ALL the carrots, half the romaine, most of the radishes, and almost all of the basil. I thought I was sick of carrots and I was dreading having to eat another bunch of carrots, but I made soup with them and it was delicious. Carrot soup is a whole different animal than whole carrots, and this is my special recipe that has a couple of unusual carrot soup ingredients. For our pizzas, we used some of the tomato salad/tomato a la checca that we made in the morning plus a little but of leftover canned tomato sauce. We will definitely make them again! The sauce a la checca (uncooked tomatoes with basil) was really flavorful on the pita pizzas, especially because we used meyer lemon infused olive oil. Here are the recipes:

Spiced Carrot Soup

2 bunches CSA/farmer's market carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 russet potato, chopped the same size as the carrots
1 tbsp chopped ginger
1 large clove chopped garlic
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp five spice powder
juice of one orange (or 1/4 cup store-bought OJ)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp honey
salt and pepper
Vegetable broth (we use Better than Boullioun, which is a concentrated vegetable paste you mix with water)

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and add carrots and potatoes. If you aren't using better than boullion or cubes, make it a saucepan of vegetable broth. If your vegetable broth is really salty, do half broth and half water. Meanwhile, heat oil in another saucepan and begin sauteeing onions, garlic, and ginger. After a few minutes of sauteeing, add 1 tsp black mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start popping, turn down the heat or if you have a stupid electric stove like we do, take the pot off the heat because it won't reduce fast enough and you don't want to burn the seeds. When the carrots and potato pieces are soft, drain them, reserving the cooking liquid. I've read that using the cooking liquid retains nutrients, and that using water potatoes have been cooked in helps with texture. Add carrots and potatoes to onion-garlic-ginger-mustard seed mixture and cover with reserved water. Mix in five spice powder, honey and salt and pepper to taste. At this point, if your cooking water is not vegetable broth, add better than boullion or a cube and stir to dissolve. Bring soup to a boil then turn down to a simmer. Use an immersion blender to blend it in the pot, or remove it to a food processor and puree it. Simmer soup for as long as you'd like -- soup is better the longer it simmers.

Whole Wheat Pita Pizza

1 big heirloom tomato, diced
2 tbsp lemon-infused olive oil (or 2 tbsp olive oil, a good squeeze of lemon, and little lemon zest)
salt and pepper
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
3 whole wheat pitas
1 cup shredded mozarrella
however many black olives you like on your pizza

Combine diced tomato, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and basil, and let them sit together for a good half an hour or more. Top pitas with mozzarella, tomato-basil mixture, and olives. Broil until good and melted and crispy. Don't drop it on the floor like we did, or you will be sad.

Tarragon Caesar with Radish

Cut up and clean a bunch of romaine. Use a mandolin to slice radish and scallion. Use the finger protector so you don't cut your finger off (you live, you learn).

In a small bowl, mix together 1 Tbls. of mayonnaise and 2 Tbls buttermilk (or milk with a little lemon juice thrown in, which goes with the Caesar feel of this salad, and is easier than buying buttermilk). Add tarragon, Worcestershire sauce (if you can find it in your fridge; we couldn't), chopped garlic, salt and pepper, and a little olive oil (lemon flavored if you have it). Toss over the salad ingredients.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mothers' Day Brunch and other uses of vegetables

Happy Mother's Day! We made brunch for my mom, including our family recipe from a village in Germany:
These steam dumplings with blueberry sauce are delicious, but you've got to get started 2-3 hours before you want to eat them because there are two rises involved. My mom loves them but doesn't want to make them herself, so it was a good choice for Mother's Day. We also had cheesy eggs, chicken italian sausage, rosemary-sundried tomato scones (homemade), Gretchen's kale and flor de jamaica salad, canteloupe, and tangerine mimosas. Not a super-vegetable heavy meal, but we did use kale and rosemary from the CSA.

Last night, we made an incredibly healthy but indulgent tasting baked pasta casserole. Each serving only has 1 oz of meat and 1 oz of pasta (measured dried), but is totally filling and cheesy and good. And, we used a ton of vegetables. Which is good, because we were hungry after hiking in Griffith Park (the pic is a flower growing out of a rock in Griffith Park).

Here's the recipe:

Becky's Super-Veggie, Cheesey, Tomatotey, Pasta Delight (8 servings)

8 oz whole wheat penne or ziti
8 oz italian sausage
3 small eggplants, sliced
1 poblano pepper, chopped, no seeds
1 humungous carrot or 2-3 normal carrots, shredded
1 onion, chopped
3 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch swiss chard, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large can of chunky tomato sauce (or a regular size can of diced tomatoes, drained, and a regular size can of tomato sauce)
1/4 cup feta cheese
3/4 cup shredded asiago
1 cup shredded mozarrella
1 tbsp italian herbs, dried
4 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil

Set a saucepan of water to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a wok or wok-like skillet and sautee poblano, onion, garlic, and carrot. In a separate pan, steam the eggplant slices until soft. After a few minutes, add the mushrooms and chard to the mixed vegetables. Continue cooking until mushrooms are cooked through. Around this time the water should be boiling. Add 8 oz whole wheat pasta to water and cook al dente. Add can of tomato sauce, dried herbs, and fresh basil to vegetables, and season with salt and pepper. Remove sausage from casing and brown in a separate skillet, then chop into small pieces. In a lasagna pan (or two small lasagna pans), put down a layer of vegetables and pasta, then a layer of mozarrella cheese and sausage, then more vegetables, and finish with a layer of feta and asiago. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Vegetables for the Week

See that? Yeah, that pile of vegetables that looks like the produce section of your neighborhood market? Yes, those are the vegetables we must eat by Wednesday at 5:00 when our next batch of vegetables arise. It consists of onions, green onions, rosemary, beets, lots and lots of carrots, lots and lots and lots of turnips, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, turnip tops, carrot tops, chard, dandelion greens, collards, kale, rhubarb, radishes, lots of lemons, lots of tangerines, basil, tarragon, parsley, oregano, 2 poblanos, and a potato.

Let's do this thing! Let's eat vegetables!! (Any suggestions?)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Chinese Black Bean Sauce Braised Turnips, Carrots, Celery and Scallions

When we got turnips in our CSA, I admit I was a bit stumped. The only things I have ever eaten turnips in are a vegetarian gravy recipe (great) and the frozen mashed kind at my grandmother's house (blah). Last night we decided to braise them with other vegetables and have them over brown rice. It actually came out quite delicious, especially the turnips, which were soft and slightly sweet. We had it with some sushi which sort of collapsed, and decided the nori worked well with the flavors of the braised vegetables so we threw some of that in too. I failed to stir around my jar of black bean sauce and the chili oil seems to have risen to the top, because it ended up VERY spicy. Here's the recipe:

1/2 onion, sliced
1 large turnip, sliced
2 scallions, chopped
2 strips fakin' bacon (tempeh bacon)
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
1 large carrot, julienned
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 tbsp Chinese black bean garlic sauce
2 cups water
1 sheet nori, ripped into small pieces
1 tbsp olive oil

In a large deep pan, sautee garlic, ginger, fakin' bacon, and onion in olive oil until aromatic. Then add the rest of the vegetables. After sauteeing a couple of minutes more, add the black bean sauce and the water and stir well. Cover and cook on medium heat for about ten minutes. Uncover and check to see how done the vegetables are. If the turnips are tender so that a fork easily piereces them, you're good. Add the nori and stir it around so it softens. Eat these vegetables as a side dish or as a main over brown rice.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Omg, so healthy!

Well, it certainly has been a healthy weekend for us. Two days in a row we have breakfasted on a soup of assorted leafy greens with poached egg, and yesterday we took radish sandwiches to the beach! I feel like a rabbit, but in a good way. On Sunday we looked up the Malibu Lagoon online and learned that there were hiking trails around and near it. So we went to the lagoon with our sandwiches and snacks, but there was no trail. After getting our feet very dirty in weird lagoon mud and watching lots of giant pelicans fly around, we decided to just walk on the beach instead. Our CSA-based fuel was radish-walnut-red leaf lettuce-mustard sandwiches and raw carrots. And we also had some pb&j and cheese and pickle sandwiches (one can't surive on radishes alone :). The vegetable sandwich was quite tasty and I think will repeated next time we hike. The rest of the radishes got braised with their greens and tossed with pasta for dinner, along with some farmer's market broccoli and mustard-panko chicken. Malibu was beautiful, but the contrast between the public and so-called private beach areas was pretty crazy. In the "private" areas (the coast can not actually be private, legally), everyone is thin, most people are white, and all the women are in bikinis. The children have surfboards and wetsuits. We saw one fully dressed woman walking purposefully with an off leash chihuaha scampering along behind her in the sand trying to keep up on its little spindly legs. In the public part of the beach, there is a more representative variety of body types and racial diversity (though it is weighted toward the white and blond, being Malibu after all). Overall, the beach was very mellow, and not crowded, and the water was actually warm. Despite my painfully sunburned shoulders, I'm glad we went.

The culinary highlight of the weekend however, was probably the least healthy -- food at El Rey de Barbacoa. To our credit, we walked two and a half miles there and two and a half miles back to get some barbacoa. Barbacoa is a very old dish that traditionally involved slowly roasting a whole animal in a put in the ground. This barbacoa was made from goat, and I don't know exactly how it was prepared but it was super soft and delicious and rich. Gretchen had a really good quesadilla on a fresh handmade tortilla, and we sampled all of the excellent salsas. We also tried a nopales salad, but concluded, as we do every time we order something with nopales, that we don't like it.

So if you have a hankering for delicious soft rich meat or fresh, thick quesadillas, you won't be disappointed at El Rey de Barbacoa at Adams and Hill. And you should call us so we can go with you :)